Wednesday, December 31, 2014

2014: Wherein the Geezer Talks About Being Poor Yet Contented

Two posts here in one day! Will wonders never cease.
2014. . . One of my most contented years, all told. Strange, though, that I was so contented.
The challenges of 2014:
Back in 2005, I made two very poor real estate decisions that have impacted my family and me big time in 2014. After retiring completely in 2010, my income was halved. In 2014, I had gone through all my reserves, money that I had set aside for retirement travel, etc. We didn’t travel, but our standard of living continued as before until 2014. This past year, we have had to account for every penny — literally. So far, thanks be to God, we have eaten well and our bills have been paid. I haven’t lived like this since I got my first apartment in 1973.
Our daughter, Sarah, has been through hell, and we have been there supporting her. Family difficulties, tetanus, money problems. . . all these have made the year a horrible one for her and a struggle for us as we try always to help.
I had a third bout with pancreatitis. This one was the least severe of the three, but it reminded me that I am getting old and that my gallbladder–less body needs a lot more TLC than I give it. My pancreatitis comes not from alcohol (I don’t drink) but from a love of rich food, especially desserts, that my body can’t handle since my gallbladder was removed in 1997.
The great parts of 2014:
Beni and I marked 39 years of being together, having met on Christmas Eve, 1975. Our life together has been a huge adventure with lots of sturm und drang, but now we seem to have grown into a friendship that sustains each of us but no longer has the drama that once took so much energy.
We all grew to love out pets even more than before. Three dogs and one cat, with three grand puppies here most of the time, make our lives much more human, loving, and enjoyable. I can’t express the sense of peace and contentment I feel when we sit down at night and all the puppies are in their places with us.
Other than pancreatitis, which lasted about a week, my health was fine. . . no thanks to my neglect of my body.
I continued to participate in the Perpetual Adoration Chapel at the parish in Winchester, Virginia. Twice a week I am there — just Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament and I — for the hour between 2 am and 3 am. These two hours of prayer, meditation, and silence have changed my life. Thank you, Lord, for giving such a great gift to me.
Beni Marie, our youngest daughter, continues to live here with us. She takes care of the house, cooks for us, cooks dog food (really!!! None of the "store–bought" stuff for our pups!!!), feeds the pups, and still has time to pursue her career in phlebotomy. She is a very sweet, caring woman who makes Ben’s life and mine much easier, healthier, and full of joy.
I pray more than last year. The older I get, the more I seem to want to be in God’s presence. Maybe its nature’s way of getting me ready for the next step.
So. . . No money, but still the most contented I have ever been.
I am grateful. Truly grateful.

If Teachers Were Paid Like Football Players

When I was a senior in high school, I won a New York State Regents’ award for achievement in a State-wide Latin contest.  I did so well because I loved Latin. I still do.
Why did/do I love Latin? Because I had teachers who excited me about Latin and who taught me well. They loved Latin, too, and they showed their love in their excellent teaching.
All my Latin teachers — in the 7 years of Latin I had — were Franciscan priests. Back then, all Catholic liturgies and our Franciscan house prayers were in Latin, but not every priest was good at it. And not every priest, regardless of the subject taught was a good teacher, although most of the priests who taught me anything were really good teachers.
The point of this reminiscence is that good teachers make a huge difference in the accomplishments of their students.
The article linked above, from this morning’s Washington Post, talks about teachers in South Korea, specifically, the salaries of good teachers. One teacher of math earns $8,000,000 a year. That’s 8 million U.S. dollars!!! A year!!!
Some professional athletes, specifically football and baseball players, earn that much and more a year, while teachers are lucky if they break $100,000 a year. My daughter, who teaches students with autism and other emotional/learning conditions, earns less than $50K a year and she has a Master’s degree in special ed. Her salary is probably above the median in Virginia where she teaches.
What is wrong here?
The Washington Post article says, "It’ hard to exaggerate the premium South Korea places on education." That’s obvious from the salaries teachers there earn. A similar article about the U.S.A. would have to say, "It’s hard to exaggerate the premium the United States places on professional sports."
Why are we willing to pay millions to sports players and pittances to teachers? Why do plumbers make more than teachers? Why, for that matter, do most people make more than child–care providers? Our social priorities are obvious, and, to me, they stink to high Heaven.
If teachers had the potential to earn millions, I’m pretty sure, given the depth of talent in our country, that we would soon have the best–educated population in the world. I have no doubt of that.
With a well–educated populace in the inner cities and rural peripheries as well as in the suburbs, I doubt that we would have many elections like the last one in which people vote against their own self–interest because of insecurities based on misinformation and prejudice about race, sexual orientation, and immigration. An educated electorate sees bullshit for what it is.
Maybe that’s why teachers earn less than almost any other professional group. As with immigration, Republicans don’t want an educated electorate because they don’t want another group that they fear.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

For the USA: Pride Goeth Before the Fall

Some days, it doesn’t pay to get out of bed. Like today. Having read this morning’s paper, along with the paper every day this week, I’m sick at heart.
I don’t write or comment about politics anymore. The reasons: (1) it’s useless – nothing is changed, neither reality nor minds; and (2) thinking about the USA and its government makes me very angry and ruins the equanimity with which I want to live out the rest of my life.
But I still read the Washington Post every morning and I still care very much about what’s happening to us.
This morning, this essay appeared in The Post. It’s by Philip Kennicott, a writer who usually reviews arts and architecture and who occasionally writes personal opinion pieces that are printed in The Post’s Style section.
This essay says so much of what I have been thinking lately. It addresses the revelations from this week’s Senate report on the CIA interrogation crimes. But, to me, it also addresses a much larger issue: the evolution of our government and country from a place where freedom, tolerance, and openness are held as ideals (though ideals never yet totally fulfilled) to a place where the values of the Spanish Inquisition, the Soviet paranoid mind set, the rage of ISIS, and the totally baseless self–love of the narcissist reign.
I have come to believe in the philosophy of "exceptionalism," but not the exceptionalism that is based on Ronald Reagan’s oratorical emptiness. I believe that the USA has become exceptionally immoral, cruel, full of hate, full of fear, and – I hate to use this word – stupid.
We gleefully abused and tortured prisoners at Abu Ghraib.
We committed unconscionable cruelties against people being interrogated by the CIA.
We close our borders to people–CHILDREN–in great need because the Republicans don’t want to give citizenship to people they believe will become Democrats, denying the immigrants the safety on which their lives may depend, and denying all of us the richness of their talents, culture, and enthusiasm.
We idolize and promote ignorance in our public life, in our schools, in our churches, in our entertainment, and in our own acceptance of absolutely unacceptable know-nothingness.
We reduce benefits to infants and children in need, making it harder for the poor among us to raise healthy and integrated people.
We allow our political masters to make decisions based on absolutely false theology, and we sit still as Republicans bring us closer and closer to a new and infinitely more destructive "Christian" war on Islam.
We force women to jump through hoops to prevent or end unwanted pregnancies yet do NOTHING to assure the quality of life of the mother and child once the baby is born.
We sit still while poor, uniformed, and uneducated people elect philosophical monsters who act against the interests of these same poor supporters.
I could go on, but I won’t.
I wish, really, that I hadn’t started.
Scripture tells us that pride precedes (and contributes to) decline. As I pray every day for the USA, I’m beginning to understand that, maybe, God’s only recourse is to let people in the USA go down the path of prideful self–destruction so that, at its end, we all can see that we are as flawed as any other people, that we are NOT exceptional in the history of the world, and that the charism of the USA was and is its openness and love of freedom.