Category Archives: politics

personal, local, national, and international political issues

The Concrete Killing Fields

The Concrete Killing Fields coverThe Concrete Killing Fields
By Pat Morgan
Mile High Press
20 February 2014

The Concrete Killing Fields is a thick book, but it’s a fast read. It’s almost 400 pages, but because the chapters are so short, it feels like a quick read. (There are, however, almost 50 chapters, so your virtual milage may very.) Written in a conversational style, Pat Morgan draws the reader into the harsh world of mental illness and homelessness from the perspective of a person who’s had it rough (her father was shot and killed while she was still a teenager, for example) but who has never been homeless herself.

Intertwining her own story with that of the many homeless people (mostly men, but some women, too, she says) who crossed her path in her journey from volunteer at a church’s street ministry in Memphis, Tennessee… all the way to Washington, DC, where then-President Clinton appointed her to the US Interagency Council for the Homeless… to writing her story and providing strong inspiration for readers to get involved in eradicating homelessness in our own neighborhoods and cities.

Though Ms. Morgan makes it clear (at least clear to me) that she’s writing from her own point of view and has no qualms about pointing out her human weaknesses as she sees them, I’m concerned that she’s telling the stories of other people—using them as examples of mental illness in “the system” or warnings about alcoholism—without their permission. That’s not to say that she necessarily needs permission, I wager, because there are many nonfiction authors who never ask permission in writing about their subjects, especially if they write memoir. In this case, though, I hesitate to condone it because the homeless people about whom she writes are already slipping through the cracks in “the system” and this just seems like one more thing they didn’t get to choose for themselves. No doubt, Ms. Morgan is passionate and committed, but she is telling her story, not one of mental illness and homelessness per se.

I’ll be giving this book to my sister, who was involved in outreach to the homeless people in her area during college, in order to get the perspective of someone who’s actually worked with people on the street. This book is and easy read in terms of reading it (not as much in terms of subject matter), but it just strikes me that it’s another story about someone helping the homeless—speaking for them, instead of enabling them to speak for themselves. As an advocate for self determination and giving a platform to the underheard, I would prefer to read the latter.

DISCLAIMER: I received The Concrete Killing Fields free from JKS Communications for this review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

Starlight

Starlight coverStarlight
By Scott Ely
Open Road Integrated Media
28 January 2014

Jackson, the protagonist in Starlight, has only 300 days left in Vietnam, and he wants to spend them safely behind a desk at a firebase on the Laos border. Unfortunately, the war isn’t going to let him off so easy, and a haunted rifleman who stays alive despite himself, Tom Light, is dropped off at the base one day demanding his R&R. Thing is, everyone who goes into the bush with Light gets killed, and he’s become bad luck to everyone around him. You get near Tom Light, you die; that’s the unspoken rule, and so the other soldiers keep their distance. Jackson, however, wants to learn Light’s secret to survival, and he sticks close by the sniper once Light promises him safety in exchange for writing his letters home, something that Jackson does multiple times over the course of the novel.

The Vietnamese believe that Light’s sniper scope has the power to raise the dead, and they literally bring out the rotting corpses of their kin when they discover that he’s in town. Jackson’s goal is to get out of Vietnam alive; nobody knows what Tom Light’s goal is. (He’d probably say something like, “Kill those fuckers.”)

If you’re looking for a happy ending or a fairytale, Starlight isn’t it. But maybe that’s the point; the Vietnam War itself had no happy ending, and it wasn’t exactly a romantic vision of war. Near the end of the book, Hale (the commanding officer at the firebase where Jackson is stationed) complains about conscripts: no “professional” soldier would ever lose a firefight against the enemy, especially not an inferior enemy. (I am not implying that Vietnamese people are inferior Americans or anyone else, but the war wasn’t politically correct, and this novel isn’t either.)

The novel feels unfinished. That is, there is no resolution or denouement, just like real life. The last couple of chapters bring the grim realities of war into stark focus, and neither Jackson nor Tom Light and his mystical starlight scope can save their fellow soldiers from the Viet Cong ambushing them from all sides. Starlight has a fuzzy quality to it, like looking through fogged glass and trying to see clearly. Reading the novel, I was unsure what was real and what was hallucinatory, and it’s obvious that the characters aren’t sure either.

Though it’s well written, I’m honestly not sure what to make of this novel by Scott Ely. Is it a treatise on the futility of war? How much of a lost cause the soldiers in the war felt they were? I don’t know. You should read it and decide for yourself.

DISCLAIMER: I received Starlight free from Open Road Integrated Media for this review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

Blog Action Day 2013

Today is Blog Action Day, and its theme is “human rights”.

I’m going to be honest here: I know next to nothing about human rights, except that I have enjoyed them my entire life and hope to continue doing so. Seriously, I had to look up “human rights” on Wikipedia because I was unsure what that exactly entailed. As I am not an uneducated, uncaring person, my lack of knowledge about humanity implies a sad, sad state of mind regarding how United States citizens, generally speaking, view rights within our own country and throughout the world.

I’m not asking anyone to educate me. (Education is no one else’s job but mine.) Except that I, like many other people living in the United States, also don’t have the energy or time to educate myself about things that are outside the scope of my own life. I realize I’m admitting to some serious selfishness here, but what else can I do but start where I am and move forward? I can’t (truthfully) say that I care about people in other countries without actually caring about them, and that’s not going to happen as long as they’re just numbers on a page to me.

I don’t even know where I’m going with this, actually. Maybe it’s an effort to start moving in the “I care about humans” direction? I barely have the energy to care about myself, and I can only take one day at a time at this point, but I wanted to say something to at least acknowledge the goal of equitable human rights for all humans. I’m all for that. I want us to have basic rights and freedoms, and not just if we can afford them.

I’m sorry I’m not more committed.

Entitlement

My little brother has taken to writing more and more often (something that I, as a writer myself, wholeheartedly support), and he’s working on published an article about entitlement and our generation (Millenials, generally speaking). He asked me in a text “Do you think our generation is lazy and entitled?” And I responded, “Entitled, yes. Lazy, no.” I elaborated via text:

I think it depends on two things. Social class (parents being able to afford stuff for their kids), and upbringing. If you’re dirt poor, you can’t be lazy or you’ll die. Literally. We’re not dirt poor, and we got good stuff when we were kids up to now, but our parents raised us to work for things and punished us for being stupid. So we may feel like we deserve some things (being entitled) but we’re not unwilling to work for said things (not being lazy). I think that’s generally true across our social class, at least… I think [entitlement and our generation] is interconnected with a bunch of things and it gets complicated.

I offered to elaborate more via email, but not at that very moment, and he readily accepted. And… then I completely forgot about it and other stuff came up and… well, life happened.

But! Now I’m thinking about it again and I’d like to clarify what I told my brother and go into more depth about how “it’s complicated” and since this is my internet home, I get to do that. Yay. So, onward!

I grew up on the “poor” end of a very rich town in Southern California. My friends and I jokingly called the area “the ghetto” even though it was really anything but. None of us knew what a ghetto really was, and none of us had so much as walked through one at that time. My high school homecoming game included fireworks and a parade, and there were several dances per year besides the homecoming dance and prom. The area was (and is) primarily rich white people who work in upper class jobs: lawyers, doctors, business owners, and the like. I think there may have been one black kid in my entire grade the entire time I was in high school, maybe two or three others in the school at all. We had ceramics and art, science classes with actual working equipment, lavish theatre productions, school-owned instruments for orchestra concerts, and enough college prep to drown the entire town in SATs and advanced placement classes.

My brother (and sister) and I grew up in the same town and attended the same, rich high school. We (all) attended college at private institutions. I went on to get a terminal degree, an MFA, in creative writing—something I was able to do because I was born into a relatively privileged family and was encouraged to pursue my dream instead of “something practical”. I didn’t have to work during high school or parent my younger siblings because our parents were always working (or not there at all). Our home life was relatively stable; my siblings and I share the same parents, who have been married to each other for more than thirty years. As a family, we took road trips to see our extended family in Texas and even traveled throughout the United States by car with our paternal grandparents to see the sights: the Grand Canyon, the Ozarks, and so on.

I can only speak from my own perspective, which is based in a privileged childhood. I have at times, as an adult, lived a paycheck-to-paycheck life wherein I must sometimes decide whether I should feed my cat or myself since I haven’t had enough money for both. Though it could be argued that I led a sheltered life through high school (the theme of one of my high school yearbooks is—no joke—“living in a bubble”), I was not wholly unaware that I was living said sheltered life, and when I grew up, moved out, and moved on, I became acutely aware of what a privileged youth I’d actually had. After all, I became an adult and had to pay for things for myself… and I couldn’t afford them. I lived in New York for a couple of years, where more than half of my monthly pay went to rent for my one-room apartment. I paid my outstanding bills as far as I could every month, and then I worried about food and basic necessities.

This is all to say that Millenials—at least in the upper-middle and upper classes—are entitled. We’ve been told all our lives that we can do anything we want (“follow your dreams”) and that we can have it all, as long as we work for it. Or, we can have it all, if only we pay for it. And because we’ve been raised as though we deserve everything we need and want, we also believe we deserve everything we need and want. That is, in a nutshell, entitlement. I was told that if I attended and graduated from a good college or university, I would be able to get a good job and support myself and my (potential, theoretical) family. I feel entitled to work (in my field of study) that pays enough for me to live on my own and have a similar quality of life that I had while I was growing up. And, I think that some jobs are “beneath” my station and education—though I am, in fact, working in one of those jobs right now. If Millenials are entitled, it is because our parents’ generation made us so. We want more, and we expect more.

My brother and I have privileges we’re not even fully aware of. We are given more than the benefit of the doubt based on our race; our respective biological sexes align with our respective genders. We grew up with books in our home; we are fully literate and speak well. We did not grow up in a “broken home” or split our time between separated parents. We have no visible physical disabilities or deformities; we’re healthy and young. My brother is straight and married to a lovely young woman who shares many of these privileges with us. I could go on, but I’m sure you get the idea.

Now, all that being said, my generation knows that work means work. It doesn’t necessarily mean digging ditches or hauling lumber (though that’s obviously work, too), but also means putting in more hours at the office than we do at home, forgoing a nice dinner with our friends in order to meet a deadline, and rushing every morning to be on time, eating lunch at our desks, and staying late to “just finish this one report”. Work may mean more money, but it also means more time away from family, if we even have time for a family. My generation (of which I am on the older end and my brother is on the younger end) is a generation of latchkey kids. Our parents gave us everything they never had, but they also showed us what was really important by missing our school plays, skipping teachers’ meetings in favor of meetings with clients or coworkers, and staying late at the office and compelling us—as kids—to eat popcorn and Dr. Pepper for dinner, again.

Don’t get me wrong; my ten-year-old self is totally fine with eating popcorn for dinner every day. But tell me this: is a ten year old who makes herself dinner, albeit a completely unbalanced dinner, a lazy kid? I think not. We are a generation of figuring shit out for ourselves. Don’t know how to work the microwave? Press the buttons until something happens (while simultaneously hoping nothing explodes). Can’t reach the sink to wash your hands after using the toilet? Wash ’em in the bathtub instead. Sister’s hair keeps getting ridiculously tangled? Learn to French braid.

Now, we’re the ones who are teaching our parents how to use new technologies as they become available. If something’s not obvious to my grandma (admittedly part of the generation before my parents), it’s not worth learning about at all. If she can’t learn about something by reading about it (and immediately understanding and comprehending it), she won’t bother. Millenials are masters of of trial and error. “How do you know so much about Microsoft Word?” my mother asks. The answer is: I messed around with the program until I figured out how to do what I wanted to do. Obviously, we can read directions, too, but my generation is hardly put off by complexity or mystery. We are hardly lazy. We know that work has more than one meaning, and we employ it in all its forms.

What many members of older generations assume is laziness is actually scrappy, we’ll-pull-it-together-somehow-ness. We have to think of better, faster ways to do the same things that our parents and grandparents did. It’s impossible to know everything, to do everything. More information passes through our hands in one day than ever did in the entire lifetime of someone who lived 120 years ago. We have to make difficult decisions, and we have to make them with more choices and less time. If anything, our “laziness” is a defense against the figurative floods that threaten to topple us from our precarious positions in the crows nests of our respective ships of life. Every day we step outside our doors, we are categorically not lazy.

Entitled, yes; I admit it. Lazy? No.

30 Days of Truth 19

30 Days of Truth 19

Day 19: What do you think of religion? Or, what do you think of politics?

Well, let’s think about this. According to Merriam-Webster,

re·li·gion noun \ri-‘li-jen\

Definition of RELIGION

    • a : the state of a religious (a nun in her 20th year of religion)
    • b (1) : the service and worship of God or the supernatural (2) : commitment or devotion to religious faith or observance
  1. a personal set or institutionalized system of religious attitudes, beliefs, and practices
  2. archaic : scrupulous conformity : conscientiousness
  3. a cause, principle, or system of beliefs held to with ardor and faith

— re·li·gion·less adjective

I tend to believe definitions 2, 3, and 4 over the first one; politics can become a religion if adhered to so deeply that it blinds the adherent(s). It also includes atheism, though many (all?) atheists specifically deny being part of a religion. Here’s what stands out to me:

  1. an “institutionalized system of religious attitudes, beliefs, and practices”
  2. “scrupulous conformity”

You look around at the religions (and political parties) today and tell me with a straight face that their members don’t fall headlong into those two categories. “Archaic”—yeah, right.

Now, as for what I think of religion/politics: I dislike them. I think religion is a way to keep people from thinking for themselves because they can just follow a prescribed list of rights (good) and wrongs (evil) and get into heaven without having to really do that much. Or, at least, they won’t have to feel guilty about not doing more good because they’re already doing “enough”. And they can look down on and write off other people who aren’t doing “the right thing” because whatever the other person is doing is apparently “obviously” wrong. No one in those institutionalized systems actually thinks about good and evil; everyone just conforms—and that’s the whole point. And that’s beyond distasteful to me. Give me a thinking, doubting person over someone “who just believes” any day of the week.

30 Days of Truth