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Category Archives: Politics

If you’d like a definition for the modern euphemism, food insecurity, or to really understand the feel of day-to-day poverty, and the desperation it engenders, read my Grandmother Johnson’s personal letters to her daughter, Carol, who left Upper Glade, West Virginia, to move to Akron, Ohio in 1953, the day she graduated high school to find a job at Goodyear. 

Virginia’s weekly letters tell a story about her struggle to hold her family together during years of joblessness. The UPPER GLADE LETTERS are poignant and warm, weary and heart breaking. Virginia DeVaughn Johnson’s determination is the only glue she had to hold the family together.

Whipped by an economy that had too few jobs, and a husband who was afraid to tiptoe into the world, a son who slowly was lost to her through schizophrenia, and my father, who she feared was a failure because he dreamed dreams that didn’t include working in a coal mine. The letters are a daily correspondence written by my Grandmother Virginia DeVaughn Johnson during the family’s often joblessness between 1953 – 1968. The letters characterize my childhood, and chronicle my father’s climb from poverty to the middle class.

Neither she nor my Grandfather were born to poverty, in fact he was born in a house locally known as the Johnson Mansion. A college stands now where that house stood. The land for the college was donated by the Johnson family. My grandmother was a writer, a poet, and a musician. Poverty engulfed them the same as it has many talented middle class people of the recent economic crisis.

My father, Hays Johnson, made it out of the grinding poverty. He, my mother and my brothers and sisters, built an impressive home from the ground up with their hands and sweat, and my parents income from both their jobs. All of his children became productive, well-respected members of their community. His sisters migrated to Ohio to jobs and husbands. My Grandmother died in that horrible lifestyle in 1972.

Now, once again, I’m watching as others quietly trudge along rationing their groceries so they can stay in a rented home, but this time migrating to a new state will probably not find new jobs for the mass of people who are out of work, and have run out of unemployment compensation. Some, especially the well-educated are leaving the nation. Brain-drain. Brain drain is catastrophic for any country.

Noam Chomsky tells us there is a class war against the poor and the poor has been redefined as the middle class, and is even encroaching on the upper middle classes. Those are fine sentiments that mean something to those who stand up against corporations, and laws that make us less well than well off, and those powers that encourage joblessness, but those words as true as they are do not get down to the floor, and scrub up the nittty-gritty, dirty bottom of the poverty of soul, heart and stomach of joblessness that degrades our humanity in a nation that has sponsored democracy with our ancestors blood, and sometimes personal financial ruination.

Poverty for black & white and all colors between isn’t lack of initiative. It is the result of skilled predators who are good at privatizing others wealth, and ignoring the betterment of the whole. It’s time it stopped. As I read my Grandmother’s letters again, I feel sickened at the waste that was her life. She may or may not have become famous but she could have lived her life, and died with some dignity, if there had been adequate jobs. Jobs wouldn’t have solved all the Johnson family problems, like a son’s schizophrenia, but it sure as hell would not have been hell on earth for her, the idealist.

EULOGY

June 29, 1910 – March 8, 1972

Virginia Devaughn Johnson, mother, poet, writer of philosophy and above all, companion and friend to those around her.

During her life she tended to the sick of body as well as those of spirit, asking nothing in return. She was a totally unselfish person.

Her life style was that of a lover of all things and activities. Matter not, they be eccentric, for her philosophy was: no human activity is alien to me, for I too am human.

She did not follow a particular religious doctrine but instead imparted her own wisdom to those who would accept it. Many did and they are here today, be what they be.

Hays Johnson

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Life at the Speed of Light

Sitting here in a cushy chair staring at a screen for half-a-day, reading whatever I want to read, I get a little philosophical, and that’s not difficult to do when I read geneticist, Craig Ventor’s book that attempts to answer the big question “What is Life? I start from disorganized ignorance, and get off the track from there to politics.

I start out wanting to understand words and concepts from Craig Ventor’s recent book ” Life at the Speed of Light: From the Double Helix to the Dawn of Digital Life, a good read by the way about how he lead his team to create synthetic life.

I highlight phrases and terms that I want to know more about like resistivity or resistance in current flowing through an object as it applies to life, and a periodic, repeating pattern or DNA, and then I come across a phrase asking “what is life, that discusses the Erwin Schrödinger “lecture to the thermodynamics of life.”

In defining life, it seems Schrödinger was unhappy associating human beings with low entropy, so he created a new rule for humans, and perpared lectures about it. The 2013 book,  Life at the Speed of Life  by J. Craig Venter, is an attempt to answer the question that Schrödinger asked in his 1944 book that influenced so many future scientists, “What is Life.”

This pastiche takes me to another search that turns up The Natural Order of Things, which has  a nice twist, wherein, Matt Ridley says that “Darwinian selection explains the appearance of seemingly ‘designed’ complexity throughout the world — not just in biology but in the economy, technology and the arts.” And, where at some point he famously says, “living beings are eddies in the stream of entropy.”

And of course I couldn’t stop there, so I applied it to politics. And the question I asked myself, are democracy and freedom, then, an expected and persistent eddy in the stream of entropy or a fluke?

Political eddies in the stream of entropy

Is then Democracy an eddy in the stream of entropy, like a living being? Democracy and freedom almost seem a fluke at times. Democracy, however, continues to persist despite the obstacle flows, rocks and boulders, if you will. It does not seem to get swallowed up in low entropy; instead it has evolved quite nicely over the centuries, regardless of our impatience or the blood spilled.

And how about resistivity in Democracy? Do some groups, cultures, people’s possess more resistivity than others? Is it due to education, or education and hard fought battles for independence? And I’m not suggesting American exceptionalism for America is without equivocation a melting pot of the world, and rationally cannot claim exclusivity since we originate from the rest of the world population.

My mother’s DNA is European and American Indian. My father’s DNA is European and African. Our last ancestor from another continent left Amsterdam in the 1500s and Ireland around 1700. We are American born, yet our cells are citizens of the world.

If I go back thousands of years I am from Haplogroups U and R, some of the oldest peoples who started with a journey from the Caucasus Mountains and a Siberian steppes, carrying a smidgen of Neanderthal in their DNA. Geographically I’m an American, but as an eddy in the stream of entropy I’ve recombined many times over, picking up a half-dozen origins of ethnicity, and so have the whole of Americans.

Seeing ourselves as eddies in the political stream

Is the DNA of freedom and democracy encoded in all our blood? *Halliburton drilling states that a difference exists between rocks filled with hydrocarbons, which are poor conductors of electricity compared with those filled with salty formation water. Are we a different kind of rock? Do we have what it takes to resist entropy of democracy.

I think we do. And for most of America’s history, internally, with the exception of the American Civil War, mostly we’ve achieved it with intelligent resistance such as that of Martin Luther King Civil Rights movement and the Women’s suffrage movement in the last century. It is my belief that an expanding world democracy as well as American Democracy, is enduring just as sure as DNA because it is encoded within us, in the dignity of each and every one of us.

 Footnote

*[Resistivity is the ability of a substance to impede the flow of an electrical current. This is a very important rock property in formation evaluation as it helps to differentiate between formations filled with salty waters (good conductors of electricity) and those filled with hydrocarbons (poor conductors of electricity). Hence, a difference in resistivity exists between rocks filled with hydrocarbons and those filled with formation water. Resistivity and porosity measurements are used to obtain values of water saturation to help evaluate producibility of the formation.]

Speedometer blurred

Blurred Politics

Do I live in the US of America, still, or are we the previous US of America, and the present Homelandia of America? Do I live in the Land of the Free or do I live in a geopolitical ideal, the Homeland? Who am I? American or Homelandian? Am I to believe in the Land of the Free, still, in the land of a noble idea, abstract, complex and enduring; or am I to cling to the artificial construct thrown up, haphazardly, after 9/11 – the Homeland?

Isn’t homeland a Nazi word? How can I feel pride in that? Isn’t homeland a self-referential name claimed by nearly every nation state at the beginning of nearly every imperialist undertaking? How can I not feel shame? For that matter, how can our European neighbors not shudder?

Who redefined me? Did I fall asleep and agree to be redefined? When exactly were we renamed the “Homeland?” Or maybe I and others like me were not asleep, maybe it was an assumption made by our leaders made when we were shocked and awed.

Is it within one person’s power to change a name, to remove it from our stationery, our websites, our consciousness? If that were so I would remove the name Homeland from our nation’s collective experience, and I’d do it before breakfast, today. It is harmful. It labels us as a nation of sheep grazing in a predefined geopolitical pasture.

After 9/11 we were redefined as a geopolitical blob redrawn forever on NSA maps to include Canada, Mexico, and Central America, to name a few, a map strategized by a failed war under dubious motives, a war followed by a similar militaristic, corporatist, administration running a shadow government – this time by a president that I thought would put Abraham Lincoln on notice as one of the greatest presidents of the United States of America.

So, yes, I’m disappointed, but in the meantime, I want our name back. I want to sweep the legislative cobwebs away, I want to take back our name and reputation. I want to stop allowing the US of America to be labeled a chunk of land with a people who need contained like an enemy. I want the US to be known as the Land of the Free again.

I’m not a Jeffersonian; I’m not an ism; I’m not much of a Democrat or Republican any more; I’m not a Libertarian or Socialist or any label; I am an American who despises the name Homeland, who cringes at it’s incarnation in print or speech.

I want to ask that we legislate the abolition of this hateful, Nazi word from our national consciousness and vocabulary. I want the word homeland to never be capitalized again in a sentence bearing our nation’s reputation. Sunset the name Homeland. Set the world aright again. We are a nation where the people still hold influence. Exercise it. We cannot be both the Land of the Free and the Homeland. It’s just schizophrenic.