21 June 2017

How I Feel Today. Don’t Buy The Hype. People’s Party!

By: Jon Katz

How I Feel Today

I woke up this morning to the news about the Georgia congressional race, and the apocalyptic stories about how important it was, and how it would greatly affect the political life of our country and change the course of history.

Nuts, unless you are a Washington consultant or a billionaire, in which case you are not reading my blog, this election had nothing to do with you at all.

Reading the news this morning, I felt confused, grumpy, and a bit  sad. Each day, when I sit down to the blog, I ask one question of myself: "where am I right now? Where am I today?" And I think about it and write about it. It's as simple as that.

That is the very simple formula – along with good dogs  and donkeys and Maria – that has drawn many visitors to bedlamfarm.com. And a lot of them write me every day to tell me they enjoy reading the blog even though they often disagree with me, as if to show their open-mindedness and tolerance, as if disagreement is a bad thing. In our country, isn't it the point?

I am a freak in so many ways, and one of those ways is that while I am good at annoying and confounding people, I am no good at hating them. I don't argue with hateful people on Facebook, I just ban them at the first (or maybe second and third) sign of hostility. I don't want such people anywhere near me. I am brilliant at spotting a hater, but not very good at hating.

I don't hate Donald Trump or the people who voted for him, I don't hate people who disagree with me. There is no better way on earth to live in mediocrity and stupor than to avoid people who disagree with you, that is the fatal curse of the left and the right, it dooms them both to oblivion.

But I do have my  beliefs and I do feel them strongly and so I paid close attention to the Georgia race this week to figure out if there was anything there that mattered to me or that affected me.  I was told the contest was of the greatest importance, so I watched. What a ripoff.

And there wasn't anything of interest to me. Not a thing. I am amazed that so many people bothered to vote for either one of these people, I couldn't find a single interesting idea or quote or plan for all of those tens of millions of dollars and all of the vast amounts of media hype.

Journalists, of course, no longer go out and talk to people, they sit in studios and talk about people. And then wonder why people hate them.

I wish for a true People's Party. For a candidate who would take that $25 million and pay off some student college loans, or feed the poor (think what would have been done with all of that money if there was a real political party, a People's Party,  involved) or save some National Parks. Think about how that election might turn out. Don't tell us, show us.

This race had nothing to do with me, nothing to offer me from either side, nothing for me to get excited about or involved with. Not for a second. I wished we had a People's Party for me to join, so we might one day have an election that was about things that are important to us, not to cable news pundits, data-geeks and political marketers. I would march for them, make phone calls for them, fight for the future with them.

Do not believe any pundit who tells you this race is critically important to you, whether you are a Republican or Democrat. It isn't. It has nothing to do with you, or me, whatever our different politics.

The other night, I met with some friends who are wild about Donald Trump, and we had a fine time arguing ideas, issues and meaning. It was  not necessary for any of us to hate the other, it is not a crime to be a Republican or a Democrat, not in a democracy, not yet. I am not bound by ideology, but ideas.

Lots of hard-working people gave $25 million of their money of this incredibly bland and cautious man, they even offered voters free rides to the polls in Uber and Lyft cars. Many millions more were spent on his opponent, who looked suspiciously like a timid political hack to me. She had no ideas either.

But she won, amidst great fanfare. If I were a pundit, I would be crying that such a fake and shallow political contest, run entire by bloodless marketers and geeks, could be given such importance. What did it really mean?

We are truly a sick nation if we believe this is what our democracy is all about, and this is how the fate of our democracy will be determined.

I don't have a political party any longer, I am waiting for some angel to emerge and save our souls and help my country find its faith and center again. The Georgia election was certainly not it for me.  For me, the message of Tuesday night is that I need to look outside of the system, for a populist with some heart.

What I kept wondering, what this incredibly expensive contest really about? What critical issues were raised and debated? Who inspired the voters the most with their visions for helping people, and lifting them up, and for the future? One commentator said it was really a race between the idea of Nancy Pelosi and the idea of Donald Trump.

What? Then spent $70 million on that?

I'm glad I don't live in that district, I would have no one to vote for. In fact, I don't really have anyone to vote for, the Democrats  have disgraced themselves for me, not because they lost in a good fight, but because they seem to have nothing of worth or passion to offer anyone at the moment. Like everyone else, they are all about money, their campaign was all about not having solutions or sharing them. Why should anyone vote for that? Their candidate was about as exciting as a tube of toothpaste.

To me, the swamp has completely engulfed both parties, and there are people who can stand to see it, and people who can't. In a contest like that, it seems the people who don't want to see it win, historians say it is natural for societies to turn away from the things that are fearful or ugly, until they are no longer able to hide.

For a decade, the British people didn't want to believe that war was coming, so they just decided it wasn't. Until it came. Denial is a powerful and popular cause.

The brilliant American social philosopher John Dewey once described politics as "the shadow cast on society by big business." He warned that the reduction of the shadow will not change the substance.

Since the 1970's, that shadow, writes political scientist Naom Chomsky, has become a dark cloud enveloping society and our political system. Corporate power, now swollen by the growth of financial capital rather than work or jobs or the middle class, has reached a point where both political parties are no longer independent or self-sufficient, and are far removed from the vast majority of the general population on almost every major issue.

They sure do not reflect my values. Do these people reflect yours?

The Georgia race was sold to us by the media as a contest between progressivism and corporate and anti-democratic power.  Another round of hysteria to boost ratings and make money, another blotch on the electoral process. The contest was between different wings of the billionaire class.

Last  year both candidates talked all year about reducing the gap between the rich and everyone else; they talked again and again about how the pharmaceutical companies are bilking the sick and breaking the treasure, they talked again and again, both of them, about chasing the lobbyists and big money out of Washington and politics, about jobs for the left behind, about easing the loan debt on the young, reforming the criminal justice system which leaves us with the highest ratio of people to prisoners on the earth.

More than 70 per cent of all Americans, left and right, favor addressing the deficit by taxing the very rich. Did anyone discuss that or even mention it in the Georgia congressional campaign?  Is there even a proposal for curbing the obscene profits made by drug companies at the expense of ordinary people?

I don't know if we will ever see a genuine political contest this year in America, there hasn't been one so far. For me, there is no comfort for anyone to take in a faux election like this, it was political theater, all for the benefit of political consultants and manipulable reporters and incestuous pundits and fat cable new channels.

Speaking only for myself, I would prefer to go down fighting rather than hiding. I think only the young can save us. They are not yet turned cynical and numb by this noxious system.

Maybe there is something to this idea of "fake news" after all, but perhaps not in the way we have been led to believe.

Hopefully, my People's Party is an Army gathering on the horizon to come and save us from ourselves.  I will march for them.That is where I am today.  Time to take a walk.

Posted in General
20 June 2017

The Flock, Sunrise

By: Jon Katz

Easy Sheep

Our flock is gentle and easy, they wait for us in the morning, and follow us to which ever pasture we open up. Red has gotten the flock into shape, they are easy sheep, healthy and content. We are fortunate to be able to give them good lives, green pasture, fresh and good hay in the winter, shelter from rain, wind and snow. It is a gift to see them standing or sitting out there, an ancient sight for humans, a grounding sight for us.

Posted in General

Morning Chores, A Special Feeling

By: Jon Katz

Morning Chores

My Petzval Russian lens has its own mind about focus, it picks pretty much what it wants to focus on, I am never sure until I look in the computer. I like the way the lens captured the intimacy of our morning chores, a special time for us. The donkeys love to be brushed and sit patiently while Maria combs their usually dirty and matted coat. They seem to need attention, and then go about their business. Donkeys are loving but not needy, like pets.

Posted in General

Help! Doing Good: Helping The Refugee Children. The Retreat Looms. Summer Tuition, Also.

By: Jon Katz

Next Week: Retreat

There are a number of ways to help the refugee children, now and in the future. You have done a lot.

Thanks to the Bedlam Farm Army Of Good,  the RISSE soccer team and some of the RISSE school kids will be spending three days at the Pompanuck Retreat and Farming Center outside of Cambridge, N.Y. Fifteen kids from all over the world will be coming – 14 boys and one man – Ali – and three young women and two women teachers and aides.

The women will sleep in the Round House Building a Pompanuck, the boys will sleep in a big Yurt next to an open pasture.

I am up to my neck in planning – food, classes, activities, things to bring.

Thanks to your donations and generosity – I especially thank one very generous women who chooses to remain anonymous – the kids will be eating well: pancake breakfasts, make-your-own-pizzas, sandwiches, hot dogs and hamburgers, turkey bacon and eggs, campfires at night, hikes in the woods, classes in the daytime.

We've given everyone tick instructions.  Pompanuck sits on a beautiful 90 acre tract adjoining a state forest. There is a pond for swimming, numerous hiking trails, a wide open field for practicing soccer or running, and beautiful hills all around.

This will be a precious and valuable retreat for these children, I can't tell you how excited they are. We have raised enough money to pay for this retreat – it will cost about $1,600. Maria will lead one or two hikes out into the woods, she knows them well.

I will be teaching a writing and story-telling class if anyone there wants that. The artist Rachel Barlow will be teaching an art and drawing class  (she made the 90 creativity kits we gave these kids earlier this year.) Gordon McQuerry will be teaching a music class to the members of the budding Bedlam Farm Musical Band.

Red, Fate and the new puppy, Gus, will be there. Gus starts working right away.

Mandy Meyer-Hill, a massage therapist and healer,  will be teaching a stress and movement class.

I am very excited about this retreat, if any group of children anywhere deserved it, it is these warm and loving kids.  They have been through a lot, and deserve some fun and relaxation.

I will be there and will take pictures and write about it, I will make sure you know what your empathy and kindness has done. Ali (Amjad Abdalla Mohammed) will be supervising the kids, along with the teaching aides, and he will be sleeping in the Yurt with them. We are a generous and caring people, I believe these children are coming to see that.

We are doing a lot of things for the RISSE children right now. We are buying new soccer uniforms, raising money so that the team can practice soccer indoors during the winter, funding Saturday excursions and picnics through the summer, raising money for children whose parents can't afford school fees over the summer.

In a month, 16 of these children will go to the Great Escape Amusement Park, we thank a wonderful spirit from Minnesota for helping make that possible.

I have opened a special bank account to raise money for a scholarship fund for these children to pay for tutoring, English classes, music or art or computer instruction to help them develop their own special skills and interests. There is about $1,500 alreaduy in that account.

We will begin disbursing it in the next few weeks. If you wish to contribute, you can send a check to The Refugee Children's Fund, P.O. Box 205, Cambridge, N.Y., 12816, or you can donate through the Paypal Friends And Family Program, my ID is [email protected]

The other RISSE children, the 80 not on the soccer team, have pressing needs as well, I will be writing about them more frequently in the coming weeks and months.   A number of them cannot afford to pay the summer tuition fees for RISSE's summer school, it is important for them to stay within their community and have structured activities. And to stay off the streets.

Many of their families are split up, working several jobs, or have no funds to pay the fees. Their community is their lifeblood, especially now. They need to learn in a safe place, and to be with each other.

This program is critical it provides educational instruction – English, math, art – as well as lunch, dinner,  recreational and other activities. It is essential to give these children a start on their journey to American life. Many of you have contributed to a number of different things this year, and my idea is that if a large number of people give small amounts, the pain will be lessened and shared.

it is my idea to do good rather than argue about what is good, and an Army of Good has arisen around this idea.

These children are beginning to experience the real America, the true America, a generous and loving country.

I am going to try to raise the money for these kids to attend summer school, the cost per child is $1,400 for the summer and we are trying to determine just how many are in need of tuition support.  Friday, I'm going to Albany in the afternoon to meet with some of them.

If you are so inclined, you can support the RISSE Summer Tuition Program, you can donate directly to RISSE using Paypal and major credit cards here.  You can also send the money to me at the Post Office Box or Paypal and I will forward it immediately to RISSE. Please mark your donations Summer Tuition. Thanks. The contributions are tax-deductible. I'll offer as many details as I can about this campaign in the coming days. The only figure I don't have yet is the total number of kids who need help. But I wanted to get started, this one is bigger than most and we only have a couple of weeks.

I don't believe we can raise enough money to pay all of the tuition. RISSE officials tell me that no child will be turned away, they will be admitted to the summer program whether or not their tuition is paid, but that will drain the group's resources. So I want to raise as much money as we can, without putting pressure on any of you out there.

A lot of small donations go a long way. You can donate to that program here. This is a good and deserving cause, RISSE has struggled for a long time to help people nobody else really wanted to help. It is a great thing to see the support you are already giving them, a long way from last year, when their building was burned to the ground by arsonists.

Blessings upon you.

If you are pressed financially, you can also send RISSE a message of support by donating $1 to them with a note thanking them for their good work and cheering them on. It is good for them to hear it. You can do it here.

Posted in General

What Does It Mean To Be Cute, And Why Don’t I Like It?

By: Jon Katz

What Does It Mean To Be Cute?

If you Google the word "cute," the most frequent use of the terms it is applied to puppies.

For the first time in my life, I used the word "cute" the other day. I referred to Gus, the new Boston Terrier puppy we are getting on Friday. On my social media pages, the most common words used for Gus are "cute" and "adorable." Every time I put a photo of him, that's the first word people think of.

Fair enough, puppies are supposed to be cute.

Maria insists that I am often "cute, and I accept the word as a term of endearment and affection. Yet I don't ever like it, even when I use it, even when it is used on me, and I believe I am about the farthest thing from "cute" a living being can get.  Gus, on the other hand, is another story.

What is my problem with this word? I just can't bring myself to say it, it makes me wince, and I will be careful not to use it around Gus either, I am not really into the term, even around my granddaughter Robin. I have no need of her being "cute" or wish for her to be "cute," I'm not even sure what the word means.

People like me were not raised with the idea that they were adorable, my father, mortified at my odd ways, my bed-wedding and hatred of sports, didn't think there was anything cute about me. My mother simply thought I was a genius, there is nothing cute about that.

I hope nobody sees this as criticism,  people should use whatever words they want to wish, the term "cute" is not offensive in any way, at least not to me. It just always makes me queasy.

But the term is offensive to many other people, especially young women who see the term as demeaning or trivializing. I have sometimes called Maria "adorable," but I don't think of her as "cute", for me, that is not an apt term for a person who is so beautiful and substantial. And strong.

Dictionary.com defines "cute" as attractive, especially in a dainty way, pleasingly pretty, as in a cute child, or a cute little apartment." Okay, that does seem patronizing and diminutive to me, I don't see myself (or my dogs) anywhere in there.

I have never referred to my border collies as "cute," they are working dogs, they can be beautiful but I see it as a trivializing term for them. I can't imagine what Maria means when she calls me "cute," I suspect it means she sometimes sees me as  endearing (sometimes not),  another of the dictionary definitions of "cute."

I found an interesting dissection of the term on a website called "Thought Catalog," the piece explained the differences to some women between being cute, pretty, sexy and beautiful.

Each term has different connotations for different people, and speaking only for myself, I would be very reluctant to call any woman or man "cute" at any age, it seems to focus attention on what is least important and interesting about women. I never call my granddaughter Robin "cute" because that is not what is important to me about her, or what i hope she sees as being important about herself.

Sometimes the things she does – when she dances – are cute, for sure.

I can't say I have liked the people I know who think of themselves as "cute," I most often want to slug them or get out of the room.

The writers on the website LovePanky –  a great name for a website – have a different point of view, they urge women to never take offense when being called "cute," it is nothing but a compliment they say. Men love women who are cute, according to them.

There are also many discussions online about the difference between being "cute" and "hot," but none of these apply to me or my dog, so I'll just glide over them.

I am a near absolutist when it comes to free speech, and since I use whatever words I wish, I urge other people to do the same thing. I do not tell anybody else what words to use.

I am not sure why I am so uncomfortable with the word, I think I share the feminist point of view that it is trivializing and demeaning in anyone who is over four years old, and even for some who are not.

I realize I will have to come to terms with "cute" when Gus arrives, because he strikes many people as being adorable. This is my problem to deal with, not his. He is on track to be a much-loved dog, and I am happy for him. I will conduct some "cute" exercises in my mind so that I can get more comfortable with the idea.

And I am happy to say that none of the people calling Gus cute online are saying that I am adorable.

Posted in General