Thursday, November 27, 2014

Looking for the Sun



It was cold here last night.  Our big yellow dog Mallie was a chili-dog when we got up.  Don’t get me wrong; while she is not an indoor dog, she has an insulated doghouse.  With a rug.  And a comforter.  She does all right for a backyard dog. 


While the day quickly warmed, I noticed while I was putzing around doing chores that she kept moving around in her yard.  She does that all the time.  She’s looking for that little spot in the sun where she can snooze and warm her bones.  Sometimes it’s in the doorway of the porch; sometimes it is in the pine straw at the bottom of the steps.  Sometimes it is on the other side near the fence.  On these cool days, she keeps moving around in her fenced in area seeking the most comfort.  When she moves to a spot that is a little warmer, a little more comfortable, she walks around in a tight circle for a few moments – nesting I suppose.  Then she drops down, lets out a contented sigh and usually drops off to sleep.  Not a bad occupation.


That’s the way it is with people too I think.  We are all looking for that spot in the sun where we can be just a little more comfortable, just a little more content.  Some of us have it easier than others.   Being a teacher with 35 years under my belt, I’d say that I have it pretty easy.  I make good money.  I am one of the fortunate ones.   Not too hard for me to find a little bit of sun to warm my bones.  Between Heidi and me, we do all right.

But I heard the other day that Walmart was having a difficult time even considering giving its employees a living wage. 


From Wikipedia: In public policy, a living wage is the minimum income necessary for a worker to meet their needs that are considered to be basic… A living wage is defined as the wage that can meet the basic needs to maintain a safe, decent standard of living within the community.

Seems to me that the Waltons can afford to pay their employees a living wage.  Seems to me that decision would be good for business.  Maybe people would want to work there and not just see it as a starter job, or one that they would easily give up if something else better came along.  Walmart would probably make out by keeping a continuous set of motivated employees if they paid decent enough money so that workers didn’t need to receive food stamps. 

I Googled Walmart and Living Wage and came up with some facts to put things into perspective.  In 2007 The Walton family, heirs to the Walmart fortune — had a net worth equal to that of the bottom 30 percent of Americans.  

Things have been looking up for the Walton family though.  In an article for PolitiFact.com dated November 27 by Molly Moorhead: “Today the Walton family of Walmart own more wealth than the bottom 40 percent of America."  This statement was vigorously fact checked by PolitiFact and indeed, 6 members of the Walton clan own the same as the bottom 41.5% of Americans.  In 2010, the median family in America had a net worth was just over $77,000.   Collectively the Waltons’ worth is over $100,000,000,000.  That is almost 13 million times the median income.  My thinking is that they could probably afford to pay their employees a living wage without having to dig too deep into the principle of their holdings. 



Christy Walton, widow of Walmart founder John Walton, has a net worth of 25.3 billion.  If she made a very modest 5% on that amount her interest alone would amount to 1 billion 175 million per year.  Just the interest. 

It’s hard to figure just what Walmart pays its employees.  This from Salon.com The company pegs its average hourly wage at $12.78, but that figure includes managers and excludes workers who aren’t full-time. Drawing on 2011 IBIS world data and GlassDoor.com surveys, OUR Walmart activists have pegged the wage at less than $9 per hour.  But if 1.4 million Americans work at Walmart, and their salary was increased from around $19,000 a year to $25,000, it would be the proverbial drop in the bucket for the Waltons.

Many who work at Walmart struggle to make ends meet.  And many must receive government support in order to feed their families.  According to Forbes.com, Walmart’s low wage policy costs taxpayers around $6.2 billion. It found that a single Walmart Supercenter cost taxpayers between $904,542 and $1.75 million per year, or between $3,015 and $5,815 on average for each of 300 workers.”  Honestly, to me that sounds un-American. 


I agree with Pastor Troy Jackson of the AMOS Project in Cincinnatti.  He marched with workers who were trying to convince management to pay them a living wage.  “In Luke 12, Jesus talks of a rich fool who kept building bigger and bigger storehouses for his wealth, while those around suffered…  I am here today, because the leaders of Walmart have become rich fools, so focused on their own growing empire that they are blinded to the pain and suffering of their workers, whom they are oppressing.”  



Don't get me wrong.  The Waltons should be rich.  This is America.  Sam Walton left his fortune to his heirs.  I get that.  But to hold the wealth of the bottom 40% of Americans seems absurd when many of their workers qualify for food stamps.  You'd think that would be embarrassing, even mortifying for the Walton family.  

Some of the numbers in my piece I crunched on my own (calculator.com, thankyouverymuch).  The video below is much more precise and very convincing.  If you've read this far, please watch.    



That perfect little spot in the sun.


Monday, November 24, 2014

Sarah Palin, *sigh*


I kid you not...


From The Daily Currant

Sarah Palin: Send Immigrants ‘Back Across Ocean’ to Mexico

Nov 20, 2014
SarahPalinOcean

Sarah Palin said today that illegal immigrants from Mexico should be put on boats and sent back across the ocean to their home country.
In an interview with Fox News tonight, the former Alaskan governor was asked about President Obama’s new plan to partially legalize some of the estimated 11 million illegal immigrants in America. Palin dismissed the president's idea as “amnesty” and offered an  unconventional solution of her own.
“If I were Obama I’d put all 11 million of these folks on boats and send them back to Mexico,” she opined. “The liberal media says it’s impossible to deport that many people. But I say we can do it if we have enough ships.
“Let’s commandeer all the cruise ships, all the fishing vessels and all the yachts those fat cat Obama donors own. And then let’s pack ‘em full of illegals and send these people on a one-way cruise to Mexico City.
“The long voyage back across the Mexican Ocean should give them plenty of time to think about how they shouldn’t be coming here to America and jeopardizing our freedom and prosperity by breaking our laws.”
In a speech tonight, President Obama announced an executive order shielding about 5 million illegal immigrants from deportation.
The two nations share a 1,969 mile-long land border, which touches the states of California, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas. Although the Texas portion of the border is demarcated by the Rio Grande river, this waterway is quite narrow and usually crossed by bridge - not on boats.
Republicans have criticized the plan for rewarding lawbreakers and have also lambasted the unilateral and potentially unconstitutional way in which it was imposed. Palin’s deportation alternative may be impractical, however, given the fact that there is no ocean between the United States and Mexico.
These facts were not lost on host Sean Hannity, who reminded Palin that Mexico is just a short drive from the U.S. border.
“Sean you're just wrong on that,” Palin replied. “I've been to Mexico many times and I can tell you it has excellent beaches. How can you have beaches and not an ocean?”
Palin was the governor of Alaska from 2006-2009. She served as the Republican Party’s nominee for vice president in the 2008 general election.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Fix You


A lot of times when we are in the midst of teaching, we don't really see the whole picture, don't recognize the truly important events and changes happening.  It's like watching a plant grow.  If you watch it hour by hour, day by day - you don't appreciate the tremendous changes.  But if you look away for a while and then look back.  There it is.

As Heidi and I were preparing for a presentation at the National Council of Teachers of English in a couple weeks, I was once again looking back on some of the work with my last third grade class.  It's a long story - maybe someday I'll get to the whole thing.  

The short of it is that we noticed a tremendous amount of food waste in our cafeteria.  It was mainly veggies.  Kids have to take a serving if they get a cafeteria lunch.  That's the rules.

In most cases the vegetables went from the cafeteria line to the tray to the tables where the kids eat then to the trash.  My class surveyed the school about their favorite vegetables so that we could give that information to the cafeteria manager - in hopes that the favorites could be ordered so we would waste less food.

In the meantime, our school had a food drive for a local food bank.  We became more and more interested the hunger ad homelessness in our area.  We read books, watched videos, had some guest speakers come in to educate us, we had our own food drive, did a ton of math, wrote a song, fasted, recorded a CD of original songs, raised a bunch of money, held a benefit concert at a conference at our school.  We visited a food bank and learned about the systems in place to help the hungry and homeless.  We learned facts and figures about hunger in our area and hunger and starvation throughout the world.  But most of all we changed.  

All of us.  

Here are some of the words my class wrote while we were studying hunger and homelessness in our area.  It was in the looking back over things that I could see those plants grow.  

Since we have been learning about hunger and homelessness I have changed a lot!  I changed because now I really see homeless people.  When I heard that 20,000 people die every day of hunger my heart was breaking.

When I was little I always thought that everybody was rich and had a home, but obviously I was wrong.  It helped me to see homeless in different ways.  I feel better knowing that I can help.


The world I want to see is one with no hungry people.


Learning about hunger helped me to change my heart.  I can't say, "It's all gonna be all right."  But I can say, "What can I do?"


I feel a lot more power inside of me.  I feel like I can help.  Just to know what it feels like to be hungry when we fasted together made me want to do something to help.


Hunger is like a slap in the face.  We don't have to live in that world.


I used to not even think about hunger but now I am selling my toys and stuffed animals to help with hunger.  We are all working together to make a big change in the world.  Our class is going to change the world.


Being a person who is kind and giving is something people will remember you by.  Not only should we change how we act, but we should change in our hearts.  I know that I will never feel real hunger but I can help one bit at a time.  You can feel bad for someone, but it won't help until you do something.  


There is enough food in the world for everyone and yet 842 million are starving.  I feel very blessed to have so much when other people have so little.  


One thing I know for certain is that if we give a little more and care a little more we will have a good feeling inside.  I have changed because of the people around me.  Seeing everybody be so helpful makes me want to help even more. 


I used to be scared of homeless people but now I just want to help.  If you feel bad that is good.  But if you do something about it then it is better.  Now I am doing something about it.  


We are very blessful that we don't starve and we always know where our next meal is coming from.  If you see hungry people then help them.  That means that you have changed the world.


Hungry and homeless people are just like you and me.





One question - when are we going to stop hunger for good?


Sunday, November 2, 2014

Catching Leaves


When I was a kid, my mom taught me the importance of catching leaves.  I must have been little, and I don’t know where my brothers and sisters were.  There were 7 of us kids.  I can’t imagine how I had the chance to get out in the fall on a walk with my mom.  Alone.  There was probably laundry in, dinner cooking, mending to be done, and a dozen other things that needed her attention.  But we were on a walk in the fall, just the two of us.  Our neighborhood wasn’t that old, but there were some tallish maples and oaks there.

Some leaf came drifting down and my mom caught it before it hit the ground.  She handed it to me, as if it were a gift.  She told me that you were supposed to catch 10 leaves every fall.  Now, it wouldn’t be fair to shake the tree to make leaves drop or to scoop up leaves and toss them into the air and catch them again.  No, it had to be leaves whose time was naturally up and fell in their own time.  Catching those leaves was like magic; like a talisman.  It was something you should do every year. 



Now I don’t know if she made that up herself, on the spur of the moment, or if it had been something that her own father had handed down to her.  (I’m sure that her mother wouldn’t have wasted the time catching falling leaves.)  Although I don’t remember how old I was at the time, I was young enough not to question her authority.  If she said it, it was true.  My mom loved nature.  She could sit and watch sunset after sunset with us at the beach.  Not my dad, “If you’ve seen one sunset, you’ve seen them all,” he said on more than one occasion.

When I was in high school and college she spent a few years photographing and cataloging every plant that grew in our area in Northwest Indiana.  I still have that photo album.  Under each picture she put the scientific name as well as common names.  If she didn’t know the names of plants, she would look them up or ask one of the local authorities. 

Now every year, I catch leaves.  I always shoot for 10.  Some years I catch many more than that.  I try to catch them on 10 different occasions.  It would be too easy to stand under one tree whose time has come on a breezy day and catch all ten practically without moving my feet.  While I don’t remember exactly what my mom was telling me with this catch-ten-leaves-lesson, it was probably something about the importance of being outdoors, about fresh air and the beauty of nature. 




Because while one is outside catching leaves before they touch the ground, one is NOT inside watching TV or some other sedentary activity.  More than likely, if you are in a place to catch falling leaves, you are also playing baseball, or soccer, or kick-the-can, or cream-the-kid-with-the-ball.  If you are catching leaves you are riding your bike, hiking around in the woods or catching crickets.  If you are in a place to catch falling leaves, you are in the right place to be.

I remember the last time I went to see my mom in western North Carolina when she was still “healthy”.  It was October 30.  I remember because I went with her to her doctor to get a bone marrow sample, and the people in the doctor’s office were all wearing Halloween costumes and were a little hard to take seriously.  I took a day off school to go be with her for her appointment.  Her husband Jim had died about 3 months earlier.  She sure didn’t need to go through the bone marrow biopsy alone. 


That morning, before driving to North Carolina, I was out catching leaves.  I probably looked foolish, a 54 year-old man chasing leaves in the breeze – even falling down once.  It was when I was still hoping that my mom would be OK, that she would have more time with us. She was even thinking of selling her house and moving near us.  I caught about half of my quota of leaves that morning.

I held her hand during the biopsy.  It wasn’t easy.  It was like the doctor took a corkscrew and jammed it through her skin and muscle into her pelvis.  It had to have hurt.  A lot.  She was pretty stoic throughout.  She didn’t even want to take the test.  But doctor and I sort of insisted.  I cried.  But she was strong.  The news was bad.  She was diagnosed with the disease that would end up taking her life in just a little over two months. 





Here it is, 3 years later.  This is such a pretty time of year.  Heidi and I are ready to take our Sunday morning walk.  We have a crazy yellow dog to keep us company.  It’s cool so we’ll put on layers.  Our noses will be runny by the time we get back.  We’ve just turned the heat on yesterday for the first time.  We’ll probably have our first fire in the fireplace tonight.  The leaves are turning now.  We’ve had to fish them out of the pool and blow them off the driveway.  For the next month we’ll be raking, and blowing, skimming them off the pool and sweeping them off the porch.

We’re just getting ready to go out for our walk on this pretty Sunday morning. 

And I’m going to catch some leaves.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Rwanda Again




I was in Rwanda several years back.  If you knew me then, you know that I was somewhat obsessed with that country and its history and its beautiful people.  While I was there I wrote a lot and posted all of those writings on a blog.  It is timokeefe.blogspot.com. 

While we know hunger in this country, Rwanda really knows hunger.  While we have racial issues in this country – to this day, Rwanda was nearly destroyed by ethnic violence.  Over one million people were killed there in a hundred days.  It was 20 years ago. 

Most of us don’t know a lot about the Rwandan genocide.  Our government told lies about it and did not act when they should have.  The O. J. Simpson trial of the century bought off our attention for the news.  And, after all, Rwanda is in Africa.  Put simply, if it doesn’t affect us directly, most Americans don’t care about Africa. 

What struck me most about my trip there and all of my readings and my acquaintance with the beautiful Rwandan people, especially Immaculee Illibagiza (author of Left To Tell) and our photographer/driver/translator/friend Richard, was their resilience. 

Today, while Rwanda still has its problems, it is one of the most peaceful, safest, most beautiful countries in all of Africa.  Incredible as it seems, the people have moved dramatically toward forgiving each other for the violence and murder of just two decades ago.  It is nothing less than miraculous. 

When I think of my time there, I think of verdant green hills and mountains, and the genocide memorial in Kigali, the mountain gorillas we hung out with in Virunga Park, and the little church in Ntarama where so many people were killed in one single event during the genocide.  The scars of the survivors, the smiles on the children, the sunrises so beautiful they made me cry, and the stories of survival, the hard relentless work, the mass I heard in English – the priest’s very first, and our visit to Mother Teresa’s Orphanage where they never turn anyone away.

There is no particular reason I came back to Rwanda for this blog.  Maybe I need to just because those memories are slipping away.  And I never want to forget those people, that precious time.

I'll include some photos from my trip, and a blog post I wrote back in September of that year, the words taken directly from my notebook that I obsessively recorded in while I was there.  I will come back to Rwanda from time to time.  I don't want to forget.

Children from the school at Ntarama.






SATURDAY, SEPTEMBER 8, 2007


Chopping Wood/That is Rwanda


Wednesday 7/3/07 8:00 PM

I didn’t get to finish my thoughts on Mother Teresa’s orphanage. Just one more before I forget. There were about half a dozen guyschopping firewood for cooking in a big open area inside the compound at the orphanage. Somehow they managed to haul in some huge logs. They looked like cedar but smelled different. Three feet across. Really hard wood. It was a hot and sticky day. The men were working with machetes and really dull looking hand axes. The axes had pipes for handles. Hot. Hard work. The kind of work that would have taken about an hour in the US with chainsaws and splitting equipment. Six guys. Chipping away at tree trunks with machetes. That’s like a metaphor for how things are done in Rwanda. This scene stays with me. They had their shirts off. Their dark bodies were glistening with sweat. They were relentless. We were there for about an hour and when we came out they were still chipping away with machetes and these tiny axes, hatchets really.

Then a puff of cool breeze came. Almost as one the men stopped their labor, closed their eyes and sort of leaned into the breeze. Little smiles came to their faces. Just that little pause. That tiny sip of refreshment. Then, just as quickly as it arose, the breeze left and the men went back to work. Sleek. No body fat. Thin and muscular. Determined. Uncomplaining. Facing a limitless task – That is Rwanda.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

The History of Photography





Minolta AL-F










"There are no rules for good photographs.  There are only good photographs." - Ansel Adams

When Heidi and I were young, she gave me a camera.  She got it used.  I think it cost 50 bucks back in about 1977.  It wasn’t just any old camera.  It was a Minolta Hi-Matic.  The Hi-Matic was a rangefinder.  Instead of focusing directly on your subject, you looked through a viewer and brought two little yellow images together by rotating the lens.  


While it was rather crude, even for its day, it taught me about photography.  There was nothing automatic about it.  You opened the door in back and put the film cartridge in, pulled the film across and made sure that the holes in the edge of the film reached the little sprockets on the other side.  Then you closed the door and advanced the film by snapping a few pictures, rotating a lever each time to pull the film across. 




There was a built in light meter, and you used that to set the shutter speed and aperture.  Heidi and I were self-taught.  We learned that anything slower than 1/60 of a second would likely lead to a blurred image.  Unless you used a tripod and the subject was very still.  We learned about depth of field and backlighting and when to use the flash.  



We learned to bend the rules sometimes and slow down the shutter speed for some cool effects while photographing our friends playing music in bars or while we were camping taking flashlight photos on a quarter of a second.


Canon AE-1 Program


After we were married, Heidi’s folks gave us a Cannon AE-1 (35 mm of course).  That was a sweet camera.  Great glass, single lens reflex so when you looked through the viewer you were seeing the image that was going to the film.  We got a bunch of cool lenses and attachments and filters.  When we printed out our pictures we put them into albums.  We thought we were pretty good at it. 




After a while, 35 mm became obsolete and there was a time when we really didn’t take many pictures except for special occasions.  Then an assortment of low end point-and-shoot digitals, which made taking pictures easy with relatively nice outcomes, but there wasn’t the same ownership as considering available light, setting the shutter speed and aperture, bracketing a few shots with slightly different settings and choosing the one you preferred (and LEARNING along the way). 




Now, of course, with “smart phones” I have become a fairly “dumb photographer”.   Point.  Shoot.  Apply effects (if desired).  Save.  Email or text.  We still have that old Hi-Matic, the one that recorded our early lives together.  I still break it out every once in a while to remind myself of the not-so-bad-amateur photographer I used to be.  And one day, I’ll get a digital SLR.  But for now, it’s all about being in the right place at the right time with my phone in my pocket. 




On a related note, I checked out this series of photographs taken over 40 years of these 4 beautiful sisters.  The idea was totally simple, but the effect sublime.  Four sisters sat for the same photographer every year for 40 years.  They began in 1975 – the year Heidi and I graduated from high school.  They continued the ritual 40 times.  The result is breathtaking.  When I looked at the series again this morning, I teared up a little.  I am not sure why.  Maybe it is because I see myself and my beloved in these pictures.  I know our faces are lined and our hair is graying.  While I weigh about the same, my weight is not distributed the same way it was in 1975, just graduating from Chesterton High School with my life in front of me and my dreams still being formed.  

I remembered the early pictures of my parents when they were young and frisky.  I remember thinking, Were they ever really that young?  When I misted over looking at the faces of these beautiful girls-to-women, I think it was about connecting to the changes and recognizing that beauty isn’t just with the young.  Check it out.    I'd love to know what you think.




"When I look at my old pictures, all I can see is what I used to be but am no longer.  I think:what I can see is what I am not." - Aleksander Hemon