Saturday, December 26, 2015

Becoming Irish


Growing up in Syracuse, New York, I never realized quite how segregated it was. I'm not talking about the horrendous racism we still face today. I'm talking about a city that had Catholic and Protestant country clubs. The city was run by the Irish, with the Italians right against their rear bumper. While I was descended from two different Mayflower pilgrims, it was the songs of the Irish that I loved.

While I hung around with my many Irish friends and learned the words to as many Irish songs as I could handle, I always felt like a visitor. I was the token non Irish friend at the table.

My mother refused to let me see my father's side of the family. In what was amazingly selfish, I missed out on the chance for substitute fathers and aunts who talked about me and my brothers every day.

It wasn't until last year that I found out my great-grandmother, Mary, had emigrated from Ireland to America. I never had to feel like an outsider, if my mother had only allowed me access to a whole group of people who really loved me.

By the way, I've used the word Irish to describe the dominant political force in my town. But to explain it fully I have to tell you that they were the great great-grandchildren of the Irish who'd come to build the Erie Canal. I didn't know anyone actually born in Ireland. And because Ireland had a major temperance movement at the end of the 19th century, I know that the heavy drinkers I grew up with weren't from the Auld Sod.

"Was your mother born in Ireland? Is there part of you that's Irish?"

Monday, December 21, 2015

American Middle-Aged Whites are Dying in Increasing Numbers


In many places around the world, we've seen mortality rates continue to decline. However, one of the exceptions is among middle-aged white Americans. These findings, announced today by two Princeton professors, Nobel Prize winner Angus Deaton and Dr. Anne Case, are shocking and may account for the support of Donald Trump.

These Americans whose education stopped at high school are dying by suicide; substance abuse; alcoholic liver disease; and overdoses of heroin and prescription opioids. The mortality rates for whites, age 45 to 54 years old, with no more than a high school education, has increased by 134 deaths per 100,000 between 1999 and 2014. At the same time mortality rates for African Americans and Latinos have been decreasing.

The increase in mortality among this subgroup is enough to raise the mortality rate of all whites in this age cohort.

It used to be you could get a job on an auto assembly line and be middle-class in America. Those hard-working union members in many industries did well enough to send their kids to college, and retire comfortably. That's no longer the case and the people who've been left behind are extremely angry, ready to blame people of color or national origin for their problems.

As the son of a man who never finished high school I find it hard to judge them. Their country changed around them and they were left with little hope. However, finding easy targets like immigrants or Muslims will not improve their situation. All I can say is "there, but for the grace of God, go l."


As I reflect on my latest blog, I'm struck by how much my home county fits in with the world in which white middle-aged Americans are dying in greater numbers every year. Both my brothers live within 15 miles of my great-grandfather's grave. They live in Oswego County, which has seen the brewery boarded up; the Nestlé plant close; and where now one of the two nuclear plants is shutting down. It's hard to find good work in this county, which lies below the Canadian border and faces Lake Ontario.

The image I believe that sums up the county is of a basement where they never completed the house that was supposed to sit on top of it. So they still live in the basement, but the last time I was there I noticed they added a satellite dish.



Friday, December 18, 2015

Katherine Pathak and the Sense of Place

It was Wordsworth, of course, who produced "spots in time"(capturing an image immortally).In poems like the "Solitary Reaper" you can experience fully the man working the fields. He portrayed the Lake district in northern England in a way that made it incredibly attractive I once stayed in Ambleside, an experience I will treasure forever.
Catherine Pathak has the same ability. I've read all of her DCI Dani Bevan series of
novels and they are  police procedural mysteries that are exciting, but are steeped in Scottish culture. After reading her novels I feel like moving to Garansay, an island off the East coast of Scotland.
Now that I've started reading her Hugh and Imogen Cross series, I'm even more awed by her capture of what it must've been like to grow up on  Garansay (although I have no idea if she ever spent time there). She is a great writer whose books are on Kindle unlimited
After I finished my first novel, Tommy Babcock, I had hoped to construct a series which would take him through the Second World War. I became disabled while finishing the book  I can no longer type on the computer. I dictate my blogs; but I get to find great authors such as Catherine Pathak and live through their writing.
By the way, a search for Garansay on Google Earth and Wikipedia only comes up with an island off Scotland called Taransay, which  makes Pathak's writing even more interesting.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Trump, the Sociopath



First of all, I would like to say that Donald Trump is not necessarily more evil than Joe McCarthy, who tried to convince us that our government was full of  communists. He's probably not more evil than David Duke of the Klu Klux Klan. And he's not powerful enough to be compared to Hitler.
That said, he seems to be the incarnation of evil, the kind of guy who comes along like Huey Long or Col. Sanders and others whose basic appeal revolves around hatred of people that don't look like us.
He wants to build a wall between our country and Mexico. This is the case although there's been a net out migration back to Mexico over the last couple of years. He wants to ban Muslims from entering the United States, despite the fact that 11,000 Americans were killed by guns, fired by other Americans, a much larger amount than the 45 people killed since 9/11 because of terrorism.
Trump was born with a silver spoon in his mouth. His daddy had a lot of money and he passed it on to his son. He's not the kind of American who comes from poverty and builds something great. He isn't  the kind of guy who has shown great compassion for people. Most everything he says is about him.
He hates Latinos. He hates Muslims. Donald Trump, in short, is someone supported by people full of hate and fear. You'll never see him in a soup kitchen ladling food to the disenfranchised.
He is a sociopath, who by definition cares only for Trump. If in the process he injures the American way of life, he'd probably say, "well the media didn't have to cover me."

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

America, the Lost



I'm descended from two different Mayflower pilgrims. I love my country, but today I look around and hardly recognize it.
When I was young, there was a rumor that a gang fight was going to occur five blocks from my house. What worried people the most was that someone might have a zip gun. (You make a zip gun with wood, some kind of substitute for a barrel and something like a very strong rubber band to trigger the bullet ). We didn't worry that someone would have a real gun because kids  and most people, didn't own pistols.
Today in San Bernardino I watched police deal with the murder of 14 people and the shooting of 17 others. All the Republicans running for president want people to have access to guns.
As a commentator from CNN, remarking on the military vehicles possessed by the San Bernardino Sheriff's office, said "America is the only place where you can buy automatic weapons and armor piercing bullets, so of course you have to have these vehicles.
Horse shit. The National Rifle Association has convinced people they have a right to armor piercing bullets and AR 15's like the killers used today. We've been sold a bill of goods and I can't wait to hear the Republicans explain why we have to put up with events like San Bernardino because owning assault weapons is a God-given right. Jesus didn't want us killing each other and when the states in the Bible Belt decided not to take Syrian refugees they never asked "what would Jesus want us to do." I'm adrift in a land in which I didn't grow up. I feel like a stranger.