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Saturday, March 31, 2018

"Can There Be Any Day But This?"


Our house church has had numerous Easter sunrise
services at this caverns entrance.
George Herbert, one of my favorite English poets, wrote this great piece not long before his death in 1633:

EASTER

Rise heart; your Lord is risen. Sing his praise
                                        Without delays,
Who takes you by the hand, that you likewise
                                        With him may rise:
That, as his death fire burnt you to dust,
His life may make you gold, and much more, just.
     
Awake, my lute, and struggle for thy part
                                        With all your art.
The cross taught all wood to resound his name,
                                        Who bore the same.
His stretched sinews taught all strings, what key
Is best to celebrate this most high day.
     
Consort both heart and lute, and twist a song
                                        Pleasant and long:
Or, since all music is but three parts vied
                                        And multiplied,
O let your blessed Spirit bear a part,
And make up our defects with his sweet art.
     
I got me flowers to strew your way; 
I got me boughs off many a tree:
But you were up by break of day,
And brought your sweets along with thee.
     
The Sun arising in the East,
Though he give light, & th' East perfume;
If they should offer to contest
With your arising, they presume.

Can there be any day but this,
Though many suns to shine endeavor?
We count three hundred, but we miss:
There is but one, and that one ever.

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Possible New Light On A Puzzling Passage

This is how you should bless the poor.
One of Sunday's lectionary texts, from Mark's gospel, is about a potentially embarrassing incident in which a woman interrupts what was likely an all-male dinner to anoint Jesus' head with some outrageously expensive perfume.

Judas, the treasurer for Jesus' band of followers, deplores this as a sheer waste, representing a year's worth of wages that could have been given to the poor. Jesus, however, goes out of his way to affirm the unnamed woman, suggesting that it was a sign of his soon-to-be burial, and that her sacrifice would be forever remembered by people all over the world. And then he reminds them that taking care of the poor is an ongoing opportunity and obligation ("The poor you will always have with you.").

In our  house church Sunday, some questions were raised about what kind of woman this was. Was she an upscale prostitute who was breaking her precious bottle of pure nard as a sign of a new found love and loyalty to God?

Or could she have been a close relative, someone quite at home in the house of the host, Simon the Leper? And might Simon have been fully cured of his leprosy by Jesus himself, and invited Jesus and his disciples to a banquet to celebrate the miracle? And if the woman was a close kin of Simon, perhaps his sister, mother or a long time friend, might she have wanted to demonstrate an outpouring of her own gratitude in this extravagant way?

We may never know for sure, but Jesus is clearly praising her for her good intentions rather than embarrassing her for her bold action.

And perhaps he is saying, That is the way you should treat the poor, with heartfelt generosity and abandon.

In any case, there may be more to be learned here than meets the eye.

Sunday, March 25, 2018

This Area Is Now Home To Millions Of Refugees

If this doesn't break our hearts, we may need a heart replacement--one of flesh instead of stone.                                























The above map, the latest one I could find, is five years old, and things have become far worse since then. It is hard to imagine the desperation of millions who have gone through the trauma of being driven from their bombed out homes and without available sustenance and shelter.

It has also become traumatic for the neighboring countries who have had to absorb this influx of homeless humanity, the very young and the very old, the sick and the emotionally scarred, all of them victims of barbaric airstrikes, poison gas attacks and other brutal acts of war.

My prayer is that the SOS (Sharing Our Surplus) campaign launched at our last Virginia Mennonite Relief Sale to provide refugee relief could be expanded to a year round fund raising (and consciousness raising) effort, as follows:

Sharing our surplus wealth in ways that offer help and hope to refugee communities.

Opposing war as primarily responsible for the displacment of the majority of the world's refugees.

Supporting Mennonite Central Committee and other agencies that offer aid to refugees around the world.

We have a local planning and strategy meeting set for 7 pm Tuesday, April 3. Let me know if you are interesting in joining this effort!

Friday, March 23, 2018

HARD TIME VIRGINIA Volume III, Number 1


Latest Parole Release Numbers Disappointing

According to the latest update on the Virginia Parole board website, only thirteen of hundreds of eligible 'old law' inmates were granted release in February, all men. Of these, only one was a geriatric release, in spite of the growing number of aging and infirm men and women who deserve to live out their final days with loved ones. And where that is not possible, a housing unit at Deerfield Correctional Center, where more medical care is available, should be dedicated to their state-funded nursing home care.

Buckingham Inmate Proposes "Computers For Firearms"

Charles Zellers, Sr., has come up with a great idea that is well worth considering. As a Lead-Inmate at the Virginia Correctional Enterprises Metal and Wood Furniture Shop, and in whatever other opportunity he’s had, he’s learned a lot about what can be accomplished with a computer, and has recommended that all inmates have access to computers for educational purposes.

Recently, he’s proposed that congregations and other organizations partner with police departments in offering computers in exchange for ammunition and firearms.

Concerned congregations other organizations in each community would ask members to donate unwanted computers and to enlist volunteers who would be willing to train others in how to renovate desktop, laptop and tablet computers. Qualified offenders could also be utilized to do this while still behind bars. 

Police departments would not only help in the effort to collect computers, but would advertise the availability of free devices in exchange for ammunition and firearms.

The goal would be to remove as many firearms and ammunition from society as possible, and especially from children and young people, and to get people educated in the use of computers.

Charles has many ideas which he is focused on implementing within whichever community he is granted parole to. These are the positive thinking individuals who are needed in society, not the ones who are continuing to violate parole over and over. Charles has served over 25 consecutive years and has been a model inmate throughout his incarceration yet the Board recently gave him a 3-year deferral which means he will be ineligible for release on parole for three years.
Among his many passions, one is to promote better education and job skills for inmates while incarcerated, and then when released to help other ex-offenders to succeed.

Co-pays Deter Prisoners from Accessing Medical Care 
by Christopher Zoukis - Prison Legal News (reprinted by permission)

More than four decades have passed since Estelle v. Gamble, the 1976 U.S. Supreme Court ruling which held prisoners cannot be denied necessary medical care under the Eighth Amendment. But when cash-strapped state Departments of Corrections charge co-pays for health care provided to sick prisoners - who earn meager wages and are the least able to afford such fees - the effect can often be the same.

According to the Brennan Center for Justice, at least 38 states charge prisoners a co-pay for medical services. Another four allow such fees to be charged by local jails. The co-pays range from $2.00 per nurse or doctor visit to a one-time $100 annual charge. Federal prisoners are also subject to fees for medical care, and charging co-pays has been a longstanding practice in prison systems.

Officially, the fees are meant to reimburse corrections agencies for the cost of providing medical services. In fact, however, they don't come close to doing so. The Pew Charitable Trusts reported that Pennsylvania, which charges prisoners a $5.00 co-pay, collected just $373,000 of the $248 million spent on prison health care in 2014 - less than two-tenths of one percent. Michigan collected $200,000 of the $300 million it paid that same year, while California collected approximately $500,000 of the $2.2 billion state prison officials spent on medical care - both less than one-tenth of one percent.

Oklahoma's $4.00 co-pay is just over the national average of $3.47. In 2016 the Oklahoma Department of Corrections (DOC) collected $250,000 from prisoners - a "very small portion" of the $84.4 million it spent on health care that year, acknowledged DOC spokesman Mark Myers.

But while the co-pays are a drop in the bucket of prison expenses, the cost they represent to prisoners and their families is high. An April 2017 study by the Prison Policy Initiative (PPI) compared the hourly pay that prisoners receive to the minimum wage earned by non-prisoners, to come up with a co-pay adjusted for prison earnings. PPI determined that 14 states collect a co-pay equivalent to charging more than $200 to employees who earn the minimum wage outside prison - over two-thirds of the $290 those workers earn in a 40-hour work week.

In West Virginia, where prisoners make as little as 4 cents per hour, the DOC's $5.00 co-pay is equivalent to one that costs $1,093.75 for minimum wage workers on the outside - also an entire month's paycheck. Even in a state like California, where the pay is higher both in and outside of prison, the $5.00 co-pay imposed on prisoners is equivalent to $656.25 for minimum wage earners in the free world.

Alabama, Georgia, Florida and Texas lack any guaranteed wages for prison labor - meaning it's possible that is those states a prisoner can never earn enough to cover the cost of medical co-pay. While those who can't afford to pay are not denied health care, the amount owed is deducted from any money they receive or earn in the future.

Prison officials acknowledge that co-pays deter prisoners from seeking medical care, but insist the fees are needed to - as Myers put it - prevent "frivolous use of the medical system."

"We do it for the same reason your insurance company does - to eliminate abuse by making the inmate put a little skin in the game," said Tommy Thompson, a local jail administrator in Tennessee.

In Nevada, which charges one of the highest prisoner co-pays in the United States, DOC Public Information Officer Brooke Keast justified the $8.00-per-visit fee by saying prisoners tend "to be people who have not put their health as a priority," so it is "a constant guess as to whether they are really hurting."

Correctional people may think it's a deterrent for this annoying population who just wants attention," said Wendy Sawyer, a policy analyst with PPI, " but in reality they probably have a lot of legitimate health concerns to be addressed."

Co-pays are charged to a prisoner's trust account, which is funded from two primary sources - prison wages and money received from family and friends. The accounts are also used to pay for commissary items like hygiene products, food, postage stamps and clothing.

As a practical matter, the use of co-pays sets up a "two-tier" prison medical system, according to the National Commission on Correctional Health Care (NCCHC) - one for prisoners who can afford both medical care and commissary purchases such as deodorant, another for those forced to choose between the two. NCCHC opposes co-pays for medical treatment.
While corrections officials are prohibited from denying care when prisoners are unable to pay, they are allowed to seize up to half the funds in a prisoner's trust account to cover outstanding co-pay costs, and negative balances can follow them even after their release. In Texas, where Estelle v. Gamble originated, Kyle Walker said she "can only afford to spend $30 to $40 every couple of weeks" to send to her imprisoned boyfriend.

"Even to just put the money in his trust fund, there's a fee for that transaction," she said. "So for them to deduct half of the money for [medical] services he's already received - it defeats the purpose of me even sending him money."

Faced with this harsh calculation, prisoners sometimes delay or decline to seek medical care - thereby not only risking their own health but also the health of others if they contract contagious diseases, while causing their medical costs to balloon if their untreated condition later worsens. Those costs often fall on the state anyway - either when prisoners are still incarcerated or after their release, when they receive medical care in the community through Medicaid or emergency room visits.

"The health of the prison population is worse on average - if not much worse - than the general public, so to have this [ co-pays] in place in any prison is unethical," said J. Wesley Boyd.


************************************
My closing piece is by retired Judge Dennis Challeen, author of 
Making It Right: A Common Sense Approach To Criminal Justice.

We want them to have self-worth
So we destroy their self-worth

We want them to be responsible
So we take away all responsibility

We want them to be positive and constructive
So we degrade them and make them useless

We want them to be trustworthy
So we put them where there is no trust

We want them to be non-violent
So we put them where violence is all around them

We want them to be kind and loving people
So we subject them to hatred and cruelty

We want them to quit being the tough guy
So we put them where the tough guy is respected

We want them to quit hanging around losers
So we put all the losers under one roof

We want them to quit exploiting us
So we put them where they exploit each other

We want them to take control of their lives, own problems and quit being a parasite...
So we make them totally dependent on us

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Celebrating Jude, "Patron Saint Of Lost Causes"

Some time ago, our daughter gave me a St. Jude candle, her good humored way of ribbing me for some of my efforts, usually failed ones, at making the world a better place. It was a good reminder of my need for divine wisdom to more faithfully and effectively "go about doing good" as a follower of Jesus.

Jude, or Judas Thaddeus, one of the twelve disciples, was an early missionary and martyr who is revered in some traditions as "the saint of lost causes" or of "impossible causes", someone I can identify with.

Here's a list of some of my own favorite causes:

1. With many others, I've been writing, speaking, blogging and praying for a patient and Spirit-inspired unity in the church. But instead of celebrating a growing oneness resulting from allegiance to "one Lord, one faith and one baptism", Jesus' followers are splintering apart as never before, each claiming to faithfully represent the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.

2. I've long been a passionate advocate for peace and a strong opponent of war as a means of resolving problems, as have multitudes of others, but people of faith seem less and less willing to renounce war-making and other forms of violence, including more and more Christians advocating for their "gun rights" to protect themselves.

3. I'm continually harping on North American believers, including myself, assuming the right to more and more wealth and insisting on the comfort, convenience and extravagance of ever newer and larger homes, garages and clothes closets. Mostly to no avail.

4. I know not all marriages should last, as in cases where there is ongoing disrespect, infidelity, addiction and/or abuse, but I keep longing for all such wrongs to be made right and to have all relationships restored and fully healed. In our community, divorce rates have remained constant while the number of marriages has actually declined relative to our population growth.

5. The current refugee crisis is unprecedented, approaching nearly one in 100 displaced people in the world today. Efforts to raise money through having a table for cash donations at last year's Mennonite Relief Sale for MCC resulted in over $40,000 raised for refugee relief, but with some 10,000 present at the Sale, that's still the equivalent to the cost of about four glazed doughnuts each. We're not yet setting the world on fire with this effort.

6. I'm increasingly passionate about bringing about change in our criminal justice system, with a restorative and rehabilitative approach rather than primarily a punitive one. Yet in spite of the efforts of citizens all over the Commonwealth, Virginia has still not even reinstated parole, and of those who are still parole eligible (incarcerated before parole was abolished in 1995) only 13 were granted release in February, and only one of these was given a geriatric release. No women were in that number.

The list could go on.

But maybe these causes aren't all hopeless. Not if we remain in tune to God's vision for a new heavens and a new earth in which shalom will finally become the new norm.

So I may just keep a candle lit to remind myself that "faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen." At least not yet.

Sunday, March 18, 2018

A Retired Judge Opposes Mass Incarceration


This book makes a lot of sense.
By Judge Dennis Challeen

We want them to have self-worth
So we destroy their self-worth

We want them to be responsible
So we take away all responsibility

We want them to be positive and constructive
So we degrade them and make them useless

We want them to be trustworthy
So we put them where there is no trust

We want them to be non-violent
So we put them where violence is all around them

We want them to be kind and loving people
So we subject them to hatred and cruelty

We want them to quit being the tough guy
So we put them where the tough guy is respected

We want them to quit hanging around losers
So we put all the losers under one roof

We want them to quit exploiting us
So we put them where they exploit each other

We want them to take control of their lives, own problems and quit being a parasite...
So we make them totally dependent on us

Friday, March 16, 2018

A Royal Case of "Chain Migration"

"Once upon a time, when judges ruled over Israel..."
In the Bible's book of Ruth, sandwiched between some of the war-ridden writings of Judges and Samuel, is the wonderful story of a young widow, Ruth, who is given a warm welcome by her mother-in-law's relatives in a foreign land.

At a time when US immigrants face increasing barriers and a lack of that kind of welcome, this is a refreshing tale. Ruth's only means of inclusion as an outsider is through her having married into a Hebrew family, not because she has any other special credentials.

Her aging mother-in-law, who herself had migrated with her late husband to Ruth's native land, Moab. is now returning in her old age. Ruth, who loves her and who sees her as her primary adopted family, insists on accompanying her.

Not only is Ruth loved and welcomed by Naomi's kin, she becomes the great grandmother of King David, the royal line of Jesus' ancestry.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

How A 'CPR' Book Can Ease Marital Distress

Sections for Compliments, Problems and Reminders.
For some time I've been encouraging couples  to keep a "CPR Book" as a way of enhancing their communication and improving their problem-solving. This can be any ordinary composition book they keep in some accessible place and use as follows:

The first part of the book is dedicated solely to compliments, the "C" in CPR. In the case of Jane and John Doe, the one side is for Jane to write words of appreciation or praise for John, and the other for John to compliment Jane. Each is encouraged to make frequently entries on their side of the ledger, whenever they think of or notice something they feel is praiseworthy.

The second section of the book is for problems, the "P" in CPR. Here either can enter whatever concern they wish on their side of the open book, something they'd like to see addressed and improved. Having these issues of concern noted on paper before engaging in a conversation or an argument gives the other partner an opportunity to think things over, and maybe even write something non-defensive about it. Thus the posted issues are being appropriately "filed" as agenda for their next "couples meeting" where they then select one or more problem solving topic to work on or at least discuss for clarification and for more work at a later meeting. 

The third part of the book is for respectful reminders, the "R" in CPR, and is meant to take the place of frequent nagging or complaining. These can be about anything either feels has already been agreed on but doesn't appear to be happening. Reminders can also become a part of a couple's agenda, as secondary problems about implementing decisions already in place. One outcome may be set time limits and/or to agree on some kinds of reinforcement needed to help each fulfill their promises.

Some couples who have tried doing this kind of CPR, along with having regular "business meetings" for the purpose of dealing with their problems, report that they have been able to reduce their random and unproductive arguments by half.

Of course, getting some help from a pastor or counselor to accomplish all this might also be a good idea.

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Zion Seniors Renew Ties, Remember Blessings

Front row: Daryl Byler with mother Betty Byler, Martha Whissen, Francis Showalter
Second row: Gerry Rush,  Helen Shank, Shirley Kuykendall, Harvey and Alma Jean Yoder, Dorothy and Norman Kreider
Rear left rows: Nellie Alger, Rowland Shank, Stuart Shank (next to wife Helen) Jim Rush, Deward Brenneman
Sixteen members and former members of Zion Mennonite Church met at the Burkholder House at VMRC's new Woodland Park yesterday to celebrate Martha Whissen's recent birthday, her 104th. We spent well over an hour sharing memories of our experiences as a part of this congregation south of Broadway that was our own family's spiritual home from the time I was asked to serve as pastor there in 1965 until the fall of 1988.

Martha Shank Whissen was a wonderful neighbor and supportive parishioner, as well as a beloved teacher in Broadway area public schools for a total of 22 years. Her recollections of past history, laced with her unique good humor, made for a fascinating and enlightening conversation, and led many others to share their stories as well.

Almost everyone there was a part of the Zion church well before (and many well after) our two decades there. And it was as if the spirits of Zion members and ministers now passed on also entered the circle in which we met and added their presence and blessing. 

Jesse Byler, a pastor and best ever mentor at Zion and at
Eastern Mennonite High School, where we both worked
when I was first called to serve at Zion (family photo taken
in Phoenix not long before they moved to Harrisonburg).
Jesse Byler, for example, was a loved former pastor and the late husband of Betty, now a VMRC resident. And there are so many others, named and unnamed, who joined this church from other communities and who added to its life and health, good people like the Kreiders, Kuykendalls, Brennemans, Hottingers, Lantz's, Millers, and many, many more.

But we also recalled scores of other church leaders and loyal members who were a part of the Alger, Shank and Showalter families that represented some of the deep ancestral roots that helped sustain this loving and nurturing congregation from its beginning.

It was enough to evoke bittersweet tears over a heritage for which we can never be sufficiently grateful. This was a congregation that was truly a family, sisters and brothers with whom we shared love and loss, pain and pleasure, times of worship and celebrations of weddings. We shared experiences of funerals and sad farewells, birthdays, baptisms and summer Bible Schools, potluck meals and service projects innumerable--and ever memorable.

Thanks and praise be to God.
This photo, provided by Daryl Byler, is of his mother Betty and sisters Cheryl and Judy, taken by Jesse in 1960 at the site of the original Virginia Mennonite Home (not visible, but on the left) and now the location of the Burkholder House where we met yesterday. The Bylers lived in a renovated milking parlor on the left at the turn of the road.

Friday, March 9, 2018

Co-pays Deter Inmates From Their Medical Care


Local jail inmates are billed a $5 copay for medical treatment.
The following article is posted with the permission of Prison Legal News:

Co-pays Deter Prisoners from Accessing Medical Care 
by Christopher Zoukis

More than four decades have passed since Estelle v. Gamble, the 1976 U.S. Supreme Court ruling which held prisoners cannot be denied necessary medical care under the Eighth Amendment. But when cash-strapped state Departments of Corrections charge co-pays for health care provided to sick prisoners - who earn meager wages and are the least able to afford such fees - the effect can often be the same.

According to the Brennan Center for Justice, at least 38 states charge prisoners a co-pay for medical services. Another four allow such fees to be charged by local jails. The co-pays range from $2.00 per nurse or doctor visit to a one-time $100 annual charge. Federal prisoners are also subject to fees for medical care, and charging co-pays has been a longstanding practice in prison systems.

Officially, the fees are meant to reimburse corrections agencies for the cost of providing medical services. In fact, however, they don't come close to doing so. The Pew Charitable Trusts reported that Pennsylvania, which charges prisoners a $5.00 co-pay, collected just $373,000 of the $248 million spent on prison health care in 2014 - less than two-tenths of one percent. Michigan collected $200,000 of the $300 million it paid that same year, while California collected approximately $500,000 of the $2.2 billion state prison officials spent on medical care - both less than one-tenth of one percent.

Oklahoma's $4.00 co-pay is just over the national average of $3.47. In 2016 the Oklahoma Department of Corrections (DOC) collected $250,000 from prisoners - a "very small portion" of the $84.4 million it spent on health care that year, acknowledged DOC spokesman Mark Myers.
But while the co-pays are a drop in the bucket of prison expenses, the cost they represent to prisoners and their families is high. An April 2017 study by the Prison Policy Initiative (PPI) compared the hourly pay that prisoners receive to the minimum wage earned by non-prisoners, to come up with a co-pay adjusted for prison earnings. PPI determined that 14 states collect a co-pay equivalent to charging more than $200 to employees who earn the minimum wage outside prison - over two-thirds of the $290 those workers earn in a 40-hour work week.

In West Virginia, where prisoners make as little as 4 cents per hour, the DOC's $5.00 co-pay is equivalent to one that costs $1,093.75 for minimum wage workers on the outside - also an entire month's paycheck. Even in a state like California, where the pay is higher both in and outside of prison, the $5.00 co-pay imposed on prisoners is equivalent to $656.25 for minimum wage earners in the free world.

Alabama, Georgia, Florida and Texas lack any guaranteed wages for prison labor - meaning it's possible that is those states a prisoner can never earn enough to cover the cost of medical co-pay. While those who can't afford to pay are not denied health care, the amount owed is deducted from any money they receive or earn in the future.

Prison officials acknowledge that co-pays deter prisoners from seeking medical care, but insist the fees are needed to - as Myers put it - prevent "frivolous use of the medical system."

"We do it for the same reason your insurance company does - to eliminate abuse by making the inmate put a little skin in the game," said Tommy Thompson, a local jail administrator in Tennessee.
In Nevada, which charges one of the highest prisoner co-pays in the United States, DOC Public Information Officer Brooke Keast justified the $8.00-per-visit fee by saying prisoners tend "to be people who have not put their health as a priority," so it is "a constant guess as to whether they are really hurting."

Correctional people may think it's a deterrent for this annoying population who just wants attention," said Wendy Sawyer, a policy analyst with PPI, " but in reality they probably have a lot of legitimate health concerns to be addressed."

Co-pays are charged to a prisoner's trust account, which is funded from two primary sources - prison wages and money received from family and friends. The accounts are also used to pay for commissary items like hygiene products, food, postage stamps and clothing.

As a practical matter, the use of co-pays sets up a "two-tier" prison medical system, according to the National Commission on Correctional Health Care (NCCHC) - one for prisoners who can afford both medical care and commissary purchases such as deodorant, another for those forced to choose between the two. NCCHC opposes co-pays for medical treatment.

While corrections officials are prohibited from denying care when prisoners are unable to pay, they are allowed to seize up to half the funds in a prisoner's trust account to cover outstanding co-pay costs, and negative balances can follow them even after their release. In Texas, where Estelle v. Gamble originated, Kyle Walker said she "can only afford to spend $30 to $40 every couple of weeks" to send to her imprisoned boyfriend.

"Even to just put the money in his trust fund, there's a fee for that transaction," she said. "So for them to deduct half of the money for [medical] services he's already received - it defeats the purpose of me even sending him money."

Faced with this harsh calculation, prisoners sometimes delay or decline to seek medical care - thereby not only risking their own health but also the health of others if they contract contagious diseases, while causing their medical costs to balloon if their untreated condition later worsens. Those costs often fall on the state anyway - either when prisoners are still incarcerated or after their release, when they receive medical care in the community through Medicaid or emergency room visits.

"The health of the prison population is worse on average - if not much worse - than the general public, so to have this [ co-pays] in place in any prison is unethical," said J. Wesley Boyd.

You can subscribe to PLN here.

Monday, March 5, 2018

Multiple Half-Slaves Do Most Of Our Work

Since by definition slaves have virtually no control over their living conditions or their compensation, is slavery a thing of the past?

Unfortunately, there are still an untold number of sex slaves and multitudes of other men, women and children in the world who are forced to live and work under conditions that virtually make them chattel.

In the first century, wealthy Romans might own 400-500 such slaves, depending on how well-to-do they were. Ironically, however, even the wealthiest of these slave owners would no doubt gladly trade their lifestyle for the kind of convenience and luxury many of us enjoy every day.

Not only do we have access to amazing medical and dental care by which we avoid the pain, discomfort and early excruciating deaths that were the lot of even the richest of these slave owners, but we have a far easier and more comfortable life by almost every measure. Of course we tell ourselves this is due to modern technology and engineering that raises our living standards without our needing actual servants at our every beck and call.

But is that really true, or have modern inventions simply removed those human beings from our sight?

First think of all the slave hands that would be needed to wake us up every morning, prepare the warm water needed for our baths, light and feed the fires needed for preparing our food, and keep our closets stocked with the clean and ready to wear garments we take for granted. Or the number of people it would take to tend the stables, feed the draft animals and manufacture and maintain the harnesses and carriages needed for the miles we now travel every day. And how many would it take to run our errands and carry the messages we send constantly? Or to grow, prepare, package and preserve the abundance of food that seems to magically appear on our tables?

So even though we think of ourselves as just flipping switches, turning buttons, dialing cell phones, inserting keys into ignitions and otherwise going about our pursuit of all the benefits we have access to, we are nevertheless incredibly dependent on the actual physical labor of hordes of half-slaves in the process. We just no longer see them.

All over the world, agricultural workers, many in extreme poverty, are involved in harvesting the crops we rely on, and tirelessly do the loading and unloading of ships, planes and 18-wheelers involved in the average 1400 mile trek from field to table. Tens of thousands of sweat-shop-wage workers in places like Bangladesh, Taiwan, Vietnam and Pakistan sew our clothes and ship them to our store shelves, where we pick them up and haul them to our bulging walk-in closets. And countless children and other workers are involved in extracting the rare metals needed for the batteries in our cell phones and other devices, and many coal miners are still risking their lives and their health every day to help power our electrical grids.

So might we each have hundreds of the world's desperately poor 'slaving' for us every day--all conveniently out of sight and out of mind?

Friday, March 2, 2018

Farmers, Not Machines, Do Massive Harvesting (warning: you may want to skip this parable)

"The right to own fully loaded, self-propelled, semi-automatic
Case/International 4700 combines shall not be infringed."
A Tongue-in-Cheek Parable in the Midst of a National Debate Over Gun Control:

Every year, an increasing number of grain and other crops fall prey to ruthless decapitation and violent forms of plant destruction where massive numbers of kernels of grain are separated and captured at the will of the farmer.

However, today's highly efficient machines known as combines (representing a technologically sophisticated 'combining' of a reaper with a threshing machine) cannot be seen as the cause of this devastating process. After all, they are only inanimate objects, not in themselves capable of doing either good or harm except at the will of the owner.

And indeed, if combines were outlawed, farmers would no doubt resort to other ways of harvesting their crops, perhaps reverting back to the use of Cyrus McCormick's grim reaper and to old fashioned threshing machines.

And if those were no longer available, the use of sharp knives, scythes and threshing floors trodden on by oxen could be another way of accomplishing the same kind of grim results. In fact, over past millennia of history, more reaping and harvesting has been done by those means than by any other.

So let's not attribute today's massive and efficient harvest statistics to the creators of any instruments, objects or technologies involved, since logically, no inventions or tools can be seen as having anything to do with what is happening to millions of acres of crops every year.

The credit or blame for this goes much deeper, to the hearts and minds of the farmers themselves.

So there. Since you can't change human nature, and since no laws can really change people's behavior, let's all just be quiet and resign ourselves to accepting the status quo.