Maximum Wage

Okay, I’m just putting this out there. Why does anyone need millions of dollars a year to survive? I mean, seriously. It’s quite obvious that it’s not necessary. The vast majority of us get by on a mere fraction of that. If Jeff Bezos lost a billion dollars tomorrow, he wouldn’t even feel it. But society would certainly benefit from that billion dollars.

Asking for an increase in the minimum wage in this country always seems to spark great controversy, even though, on the all-too-rare occasion when it happens, not only does the world not come to an end, but it causes the economy to thrive. It’s blatantly obvious that we all do better when money is more widely distributed.

So maybe we should focus more on the opposite end of the spectrum. I truly believe that there should be a maximum wage. Most obscenely rich Americans could easily maintain their lifestyles even if their income was limited to, say, 750k a year. All the rest of their profits could prop up social service agencies, education, infrastructure, health care, and yes, dammit, an increase in the minimum wage.

The fact that this idea seems so radical, the fact that it causes this reflexive flinch in the very gut of most Americans, is a clear indicator that we’ve been well trained. Even worse, this idea will never flourish because money is power, and we allow ourselves to be ruled by it. Literally.

We make it so politicians have to be rich to get elected. We make it so they are supported by the ultra rich. Even if we tried to implement a maximum wage plan, the rich would find a loophole. We have no power ourselves, and yet we’re the ones who prop up this system. We are treating ourselves as if we’re the enemy. This insanity has got to stop.

There is no reason on earth that any American should be homeless or hungry. There is no reason a child should go without shoes. There’s no reason why anyone should be deprived of health care.

By not supporting those in need, we are supporting the very people who don’t need support and never have. We shouldn’t be here. It’s obscene. And yet, here we are.

Daddy_Warbucks_-_Bad_Guys

Read any good books lately? Try mine! http://amzn.to/2mlPVh5

Quakers and Slavery

My whole life, I’ve been taught that Quaker’s were at the forefront of the abolitionist movement. Movies about the Underground Railroad almost always include a Friend or two. Quakers often hid runaway slaves in their homes. These things are true. And yet, if you dig deeper, you find that their history has been rather whitewashed over time.

You can find the typical story line on the brynmawr.edu website:

The Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) was the first corporate body in Britain and North America to fully condemn slavery as both ethically and religiously wrong in all circumstances. It is in Quaker records that we have some of the earliest manifestations of anti-slavery sentiment, dating from the 1600s. After the 1750s, Quakers actively engaged in attempting to sway public opinion in Britain and America against the slave trade and slavery in general. At the same time, Quakers became actively involved in the economic, educational and political well being of the formerly enslaved.

The earliest anti-slavery organizations in America and Britain consisted primarily of members of the Society of Friends. Thus much of the record of the development of anti-slavery thought and actions is embedded in Quaker-produced records and documents. Friends Historical Library at Swarthmore College and the Quaker Collection at Haverford College are jointly the custodians of Quaker meeting records of the Mid-Atlantic region, including Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, New York and Vermont and these records illuminate the origins of the anti-slavery movement as well as the continued Quaker involvement, often behind the scenes, in the leadership and direction of the abolitionist movement from the 1770s to the abolition of slavery in the United States in 1865, and beyond.

Again, all these things are true. So imagine my shock when I stumbled across this article entitled, “The 18th-Century Quaker Dwarf Who Challenged Slavery, Meat-Eating, and Racism”. I mean, with a title like that, one is rather compelled to read the article, right? I was expecting the typical Quaker/slavery juxtaposition, but that is not what I got. Not at all.

It seems this radical Quaker lived in a cave in Pennsylvania, and was a bit of a thorn in the side of his fellow Quakers. According to the article,

One Sunday, 18th-century Quakers living in Abington, Pennsylvania, near Philadelphia, were met with a strange sight outside their morning meeting. The snow lay thick on the ground and there was Benjamin Lay, a member of the congregation, wearing little clothing, with his “right leg and foot uncovered,” almost knee-deep in the snow. When one Quaker after the next told him that he would get sick or that he should get inside and cover up, he turned to them. “Ah,” he said, “you pretend compassion for me, but you do not feel for the poor slaves in your fields, who go all winter half-clad.”

Wait a minute. “The poor slaves in your fields?” But, um… they’re Quakers, right?

But it turns out that the Quakers only started muttering about slavery in the 1750’s, didn’t really start a true abolitionist movement until the 1770’s, and all Quakers weren’t really on the same page until the 1830’s. And yet this little guy, Benjamin Lay, was doing his radical protest thing in the 1730’s. Go, Benjamin!

Before he acted up in Pennsylvania, he had lived in a Quaker community in Barbados, where 90 percent of the people were enslaved and treated worse than horses. His protests there got him ejected from the community.

In 1737 Benjamin Franklin published Lay’s tract entitled, All Slaveholders That Keep the Innocent in Bondage, Apostates. (Good old Franklin didn’t have the courage to include his name as publisher, though. He was a slave owner himself, and profited from running ads in his gazette about runaway slaves. He only became an ardent abolitionist just prior to his death.)

Basically, Benjamin Lay was one of Quaker’s first truly dedicated abolitionists, and you don’t often hear anything about him because to admit he existed is to admit that many Quakers were slave owners, and given that they finally and quite outspokenly got on the right side of history, admitting to their slave owning past is, at best, awkward.

I had to learn more about Quakers and slavery, but it wasn’t easy. I waded through a ton of articles that touted the party line, but then I came across this one entitled Slavery in the Quaker World by Katharine Gerbner.

In it, Gerbner states that the earliest abolitionist Quaker article, called the Germantown Protest, is from 1688. It denounces slavery, but the majority of Quakers at the time rejected this article. In fact, many Quakers in the 17th century were involved in the slave trade. She further states that the Quakers of the time were all for converting slaves to Christianity, but that they felt slavery and Christianity were perfectly compatible, and that Christian slaves would work harder and be more docile.

All this information was rather eye opening for me. It just goes to show that nothing is ever as simple as it is described in elementary school history textbooks. I’ll never look at Quakers as pure abolitionist heroes again. Now I’ll see them as a flawed people who came to learn enough from their morally repugnant past to change and do the right thing.

And when all is said and done, shouldn’t that be what we all do?

220px-Benjamin_Lay_painted_by_William_Williams_in_1790
Benjamin Lay

Enjoy my random musings? Then you’ll love my book! http://amzn.to/2mlPVh5

A Failure to Completely Alter My Life

Due to various health issues (I’ll spare you the details), someone recommended a book to me that she purported would change my life entirely.

Boy, she wasn’t kidding. In order to be cured of all my ills, I must do the following, immediately, and all at once:

Do some form of sweat producing exercise for an hour a day, and completely avoid the following foods for the rest of my life:

  • Sugar.

  • All processed foods, including anything in a box, bag, or can.

  • Breads.

  • Cheeses.

  • Condiments.

  • Processed and smoked meats, including bacon, ham, salami, hot dogs, corned beef, and sausage.

  • Mushrooms.

  • Pasta.

  • Melons.

  • Potatoes.

  • Dried fruits.

  • Dairy products, including milk, cheese, and yogurt.

  • Gluten.

  • Fruit juices.

  • White rice.

  • Cashews and Pistachios.

  • Breakfast Cereals.

  • Soda.

  • Alcohol.

Upon reading this, I got tears in my eyes and immediately ate a pint of ice cream and fell into a deep, dark depression, as is my wont in moments of despair. Because I know me. There is no way I can pull this off. You may as well ask me to chop off my head and replace it with that of someone else. It’s too radical a change, it’s too overwhelming.

It’s a set up for failure.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m sure it’s all good advice. I’m sure it would be life altering. But it’s too extreme. It’s too all-at-once. And my medical condition isn’t life threatening. It’s just annoying. So the incentive isn’t the kind I’d need to completely do away with every single thing I normally eat, with the exception of salad (without dressing) and other veggies from my garden, and then be expected to get my starving butt off the couch to jog for an hour a day.

I know I’m sounding like a whiney little kid, but am I alone in this? Could you do this? Right this minute?

Apparently this must be done all at once or it won’t work. So… it’s not going to work.

Baby steps I can do. I already don’t drink alcohol or soda. I already hate corned beef. And I eat much healthier than I did 10 years ago. But this… it’s insane.

So, in essence, I bought a book that makes me feel worse about myself than I did before, and I still have the health issue. This does not make for a successful health plan. There has to be a better way.

I’m not asking for things to be made completely easy. I’m willing to make certain sacrifices. I don’t think all life solutions should be to take a pill and continue with your bad habits.

But baby steps, you know? I can’t run a marathon when I’ve barely learned to walk. You can’t expect me to quit my job, move to the country, and eat pine trees, while building my own log cabin. Tomorrow. Or even next week. And anyone who expects that much of me is part of the problem.

The first step in designing a healthy lifestyle system is that it should be at least remotely achievable. Otherwise you’re just selling low self-esteem. Thanks, but we’re already full up on that, here.

sisyphus

A big thanks to StoryCorps for inspiring this blog and my first book. http://amzn.to/2mlPVh5

Environmental Pragmatism

I care about the environment very much. I recycle. I conserve whenever I can. I turn off lights. I try to have as little impact on the planet as possible. If I could afford a hybrid car, I’d definitely have one. My purchases are green ones whenever that option is available and within my means. I have no doubt whatsoever that global warming exists, and that scares me silly.

But I do drive a car. I live in a big city. I consume. I rely heavily on infrastructure. I struggle to reduce my consumption of meat. My refrigerator is running even as we speak. I’m willing to bet that yours is, too.

There is a certain amount of damage one does simply by virtue of the fact that one is a modern human being. This saddens and frustrates me, but there you have it. This attitude is why I could never be considered environmentally radical.

I genuinely think that while we have a long, long way to go, we are trying. Every day at work I look down at the ship canal that cuts through the center of Seattle and I marvel that it’s so crystal clear. I’m sure that wasn’t the case in the 50’s.

I love that we have invented more energy efficient lightbulbs and appliances. I think it’s wonderful that our sewage doesn’t run in the streets like it did in the 1800’s, but make no mistake, the sewage still exists. At least now it gets treated, for what that’s worth.

I’m glad that we’ve taken lead out of gasoline and house paint. When I enter a modern building I don’t worry about asbestos. We have, at the very least, learned from some of our massive mistakes.

So I’m not bitter about the environment. I’m worried about it. I believe we all have a very important part to play in conserving it. But I haven’t given up hope.

[Image credit: eurocontrol.int]
[Image credit: eurocontrol.int]

Calling on the Youth of the World

I look at the state of the world these days and I think that there’s quite a bit out there for people, especially young people, to be angry about. The economy is horrible. The environment is even worse. Politicians are increasingly corrupt and I think there’s a lot of reason to lose hope. The future looks pretty bleak. Is there any wonder why violence is increasing and people are becoming more radicalized?

But there’s good news. You don’t have to sit back and let the disaster that my generation has visited upon you simply wash over you like a tidal wave. You can make a difference. Rather than resort to violence, despair or radicalization, you can make another choice.

If you are in a group, whether it be a church youth group or a club or organization of any kind, suggest that you do the two things that fly in the face of all this negativity: educate yourself, and then educate others.

How can you do this? That’s the beauty of it. Your movement can take many forms. Perhaps you should start by reaching out to another youth group that is so completely different from yours (or so you may think at first) that you can’t imagine socializing with them under normal circumstances. If yours is a Christian group, reach out to an Islamic group or a Jewish group. If you’re a dance troupe, reach out to the disabled. You get the idea. Offer to do things with the other group to get to know them. Socialize with them. Attend events together. Do team building exercises. As you get to know each other, you’ll soon discover that life isn’t a matter of “us” versus “them”. We’re all in this together.

Once you’ve become a cohesive team, take what you’ve learned and direct it outward. Speak at schools. Perform at festivals. Talk to the media. Tell them what you used to believe and then what you’ve come to realize. No group of people is uniformly evil or bad. We can work together for positive change. It’s going to be your planet long after we fools who are messing everything up are dead and buried. Create this world in your image, not in ours.

For a better world, explode stereotypes rather than pressure cookers. The future is your marathon.

TeamBuildingSwirl2

(Photo credit: http://www.wilderdom.com)

Coming Full Spiral

This morning I sort of did the walk of shame. I trained on a drawbridge that I had worked on for years, but had left two years ago to completely change my life. After working on this beautiful little bridge since 2001, I realized that as much as I love the job, there was no future in it. Lousy pay, worse benefits, and absolutely no chance of advancement.

So I sold my house, quit my job, left a 16 year relationship, moved 3 ½ hours south and got a degree in Dental Laboratory Technology and Management. I graduated with honors and applied to 198 labs throughout the US and Canada, and had no luck at all. So now I’m back where I started, doing what I’ve always done, but now I’m paying twice as much rent as I paid in mortgage, and I’m teetering on the brink of homelessness.

Now, in the movies when people make such a radical change, their life changes, radically. And frankly, that’s what I was expecting. There’s no real life primer on what to do when you gamble and lose and are right back where you started from. It’s quite humbling. Actually, it’s a crushing blow.

On the way to work today, knowing I was going to be training with my same old coworker for my same old job, I was wondering how I’d feel. Would I be getting smug looks? Would I be depressed?

Actually, as I walked up the bridge, I was surprised to discover that I felt really good. It was like coming home. I really always did enjoy working there. And it was like I’d never left. But as the shift wore on, I realized that I hadn’t come full circle, after all. I had changed. The bridge had changed. It had been modernized. It was different.

IMG_0368 This was the bridge operating console before I left.

001 This is the same room now.

So instead of coming full circle, I had come full spiral. A tight spiral, granted, but I wasn’t exactly where I used to be, emotionally or structurally. I’m older, I hope I’m wiser, and the things that used to upset or worry me seem trivial now.

I think maybe I did get something out of going to school besides a third worthless degree. I think I learned that I can roll with the punches, and that nothing in life is as permanent as I once thought, and that, oddly enough, is a good thing. Once you figure out that change is survivable, a lot of your anxieties disappear. It’s really quite liberating.

So here I am, yet again. The “here” is still here, but the “I” is someplace else entirely. It’s all good.