Inhumane Humanity

Of all the preposterous assumptions of humanity over humanity, nothing exceeds most of the criticisms made on the habits of the poor by the well-housed, well-warmed, and well-fed. --Herman Melville

Tuesday, June 09, 2015

Law Enforcement In Crisis

Police in Crisis
Let me be perfectly clear about one thing; I am not now, nor have I ever been associated with the Communist Party.  Oh wait; that’s the wrong disclaimer.

Let me be perfectly clear about one thing; I am not now, nor have I ever been a law enforcement officer.

But, I am, and I have always been a member of a community.

Community Police Officers:

It's difficult to follow the recent media articles about law enforcement without making a judgement call; very difficult.  In fact; most of us will do so quite automatically, and unlikely as it sounds, that’s exactly what we need to do.

However, the judgement calls required to fix the problem are not the one-liners on blogs and news articles such as “the cops are pigs,” “the blacks are animals,” or “the kid deserved to be beaten.”  We need sound judgement, not sound bites.  This is not about individual police officers, or an opportunity to espouse your racially-motivated hate.  It is, however, about organizational change and management.

Are we truly witnessing, en masse, rogue police officers behaving as thugs?

Absolutely not!  Certainly, in some very remote cases, there are problematic officers; either some who have forgotten their training, or some who have made it through the rigorous process designed to weed out the undesirables, but that doesn’t address the rapid rise in negative interactions community members have with their police departments.

Are our communities becoming more dangerous?

Again, no!  In the last fifteen years, violent crime has steadily decreased.

So what is happening?  Why are we finding ourselves at odds with those who have the overwhelming responsibility to “serve and protect?”

Enter; the need for critical thinking and problem resolution:

The judgement call we need to make now is far more intense and involved than the often juvenile responses we see on the Net.  We desperately need to look deeply at the changing and increasingly violent atmosphere in which our law enforcement officers and communities find themselves.

And, by “atmosphere,” I’m not referring to the violence on the streets, that violence has always been present, and is in fact dissipating.  Rather; it’s the atmosphere brought upon our community law enforcement departments by paranoia-driven fear.

As I said, I am not a police officer, but I did stay at the Holiday Inn last night.  Oh, and, I did spend thirty years in increasing management levels, from a supervisory role to a corporate/administrative role in health care.

Health care, as is law enforcement, is a crisis management world; few people see a law enforcement officer, or a health care professional, unless they’re already embroiled in crisis.  And, those they seek help from are instantly pulled into the same tense, chaotic, and dynamic maelstrom; each and every time.

For law enforcement individuals, a day at the office without extreme tension is rare.  The scenarios in which they do their thing are almost always unique and frequently on the verge of exploding into an out-of-control fireball.  A highly combustible mixture of chaos, stress and the unknown is the world they enter, instantaneously at the call of duty, and is already on the verge of ruination for many.

It is a world in which peace officers need every advantage they can garner in order to alleviate danger to others and to themselves.  So they are often at the mercy of community leaders for the tools and policies designed to give them the necessary edge.

Just as is health care, guiding effective and sound police department strategy is nowhere near simple, but that strategy can be simply developed.  And, developing an errant strategy is just as simple as developing one with quality outcomes, therefore, it's very easy to direct a department from meritorious valor to dishonor.

Militarization policies:

The militarization of our police departments shows a distinct direction our men and women in blue are heading; not of their own volition, but at the behest of our community leaders, leaders who have swallowed the hooks dropped to them, loaded with the bait for fools - “defend your communities from terror, doing so comes CHEAP.”

The direction set upon our police departments by our community leaders should, at the very least, take the vast majority of the blame for the situation with which we find ourselves straddled; a direction screaming for reversal.

From “to serve and protect” to “oppose and defeat” is a very easy step to make in their world, and the attempt to turn our police departments into an extension of Homeland Security, or perhaps even worse, a civilian military to protect us from the evil terrorists has us one foot into that step already.

That direction, coupled with the intensity of their jobs, is about to combine to make a disaster simply waiting for the radio call, giving the approval to transition; from red and blue lights, to Humvees and fifty-caliber machine-guns.

Our men and women in blue did not pursue this direction, they did not seek assignment to the anti-terrorism task force, but they are there and they need to be reassigned, before we find it close to impossible to do so.

Rather than succumbing to finger-pointing and the blame game, it is incumbent upon our community leaders to redirect our police departments; to manage them in a way in which our communities can, once again, enjoy the security of community policing, not anti-terrorism.  And those two worlds are distinctly different from one another.

The politics guiding our departments are at the most basic level, community politics.  And, local/community politics provides with us a very potent voice in community direction.  We have a far stronger voice in local affairs than we do in state and national.

With that voice, we can insist that our law enforcement departments be a part of the communities they serve, rather than the divisive force driven by ill-advised policy and paranoia which has completely engulfed our national policy-making.

But, we must now!  Get involved and tell your community leaders to return our police officers.  Homeland Security has all the staff they need.

Friday, May 01, 2015

THE SOLDIER POLICE OFFICER

Like everyone else, I watch in horror as our law enforcement agencies and officers become embroiled in the seemingly widespread and very divisive racial violence.

As we watch, we must always keep in mind that not all law enforcement agencies behave in an unprofessional, community-crippling manner.

However!  I believe there is indeed an “undercurrent” within the nation’s law enforcement culture which is gradually undermining their objectives and even their perceptions; which should be focused upon community service and protection.
There may be some readers here too young to remember a seemingly benign, even necessary event; the appearance of special police department units – SWAT.

In 1971, a police officer with the Los Angeles Police Department, John Nelson, presented an idea to a then young law enforcement inspector, also with the Los Angeles Police Department, Darrel Gates, with an idea designed to address security issues for police department personnel and citizens during periods of social unrest.

A special unit –  Special Weapons And Tactics (SWAT)  was born.

I remember the event well; I thought then, as I do now, that it was a good and very necessary idea, whose timely birth in an era of highly-charged, often politically-motivated, always violent criminal activity, was very beneficial to address a specific need.

Relying upon military tactics, equipment, and even requiring military background for those members of the LAPD’s new SWAT teams, the command structure, persona, appearance, and behavior, which had not previously been used to such a degree in police departments, became the strategy of these new teams.

Redirected towards a form of urban warfare, these new and highly effective teams began to take hold, in Hollywood and among other police departments.

However!  As with all organizational changes, be they beneficial, or destructive, a change is analogous to dropping and apple core on very fertile soil – the seeds contained within will, almost always, sprout a new apple tree; whether or not we want the apple tree.

And the United States has become a massive apple orchard, full of, not only SWAT teams, but military tactics, equipment and appearance; which brings me to my concern:

The militarization of our police departments.

As we knew it would, our apple core has not only grown a tree, but an orchard.  And it has done more.  we failed to take some dynamics into consideration when we dropped it and it has changed the very appearance of the apples.

In the short span of forty-four years, police departments across the nation have changed their tactics, appearance, equipment and quite possibly, their overall philosophy and attitude towards the communities they are charged with serving and protecting.

In a perfect storm of mission creep and group dynamics, the once rare appearance of police officers clad in camouflage BDUs, riding on added rails of and within armored vehicles loaded with assault weapons, explosives, flash-bang grenades and launchers are all commonplace now, including surplus Humvees and heavy weaponry in the streets of our communities
Ferguson PD

Dakota PD
Nebraska State Troopers
Tampa PD
Solano Sheriff Department

Don’t get me wrong; I am very much in favor of large police departments having some good equipment – for very specific details requiring a measure of safety and aggression necessary for very dangerous scenarios.

However!  What began as an excellent idea for very specific scenarios has evolved, as we should have expected, given the psychology/behavior of all groups.

Of course, racism is the underlying issue, but there are two other very obvious aspects to the scenarios we’re seeing unfold on our tubes and our PCs now.

WE ARE GROUP ORIENTED ANIMALS

We all succumb to group behavior; it’s both innate and inevitable.  From “fighting for your team” in high school, to “standing up” for your political party as adults, we follow a very basic, even primal need to gather in groups for survival, and we become an integral component of that group, protecting it against all intruders, or threats; even, at times, at the expense of our lives.

Let’s apply that primal nature to our new police departments and we have a group – a brotherhood of blue, so to speak, and the nature of that group will be, as with all groups, to ensure survival; of the group and the individuals alike.

WE’VE ADOPTED A MILITARY LIFESTYLE

We have all experienced the discomfort of transitioning from one job to another.  It’s not a particularly enjoyable transition for many, but that discomfort is in fact a positive force in learning our new jobs and surroundings, for we must abandon the old to adopt the new.

Yet, alongside the surplus equipment, military personnel too make ideal candidates for law enforcement, having many of the prerequisites for the job:
Physical abilities/conditioning
Firearms training
Leadership experience
Combat experience
Respect for discipline and authority
Experience working with/in culturally/ethnically diverse groups

And they move to new surroundings with their old, familiar comfort levels.  As our departments hire military personnel transitioning to civilian jobs, then adopt surplus military equipment, tactics and strategies, uniforms and firearms, our solider police officers will certainly transition well and bring with them that same strong sense of belonging and comfort they learned so well in their previous jobs.

And I wonder too; have we inadvertently transitioned another very strong aspect of our finely-tuned military – to effectively search out and destroy the enemy?

Are our communities now at risk of being the “others,” the “enemy?”

Have we created a scenario in which our law enforcement officers find themselves with an “us vs them” perception of their job in which those “soldiers” view all those people “outside their group” – you and me, as the outsider; even the enemy they are trained to seek out?

The vast majority of our police officers are awesome, competent, and loyal public servants; quality human beings, for whom I have very deep respect, and who understand their jobs and fulfill their responsibilities with distinction, wand absent the despicable racism we see in those who are making the news today.

However, can we honestly expect anything less than those same groups adopting the very mentality that makes a soldier a good solider, trained for nothing less than to seek out and destroy the enemy?

Especially when we make their new environment identical to their old environment by gathering hoards of surplus military equipment and adopting military tactics, command structure, etc.?


More than simply focusing on individual police officers, there are many questions that need answers and concerns in system-wide standards, both in racial profiling and overall strategy; now that we’ve tossed the apple core on the ground.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

In the End; Are We Merely Worm Food?


Many indicators seem to be directing us towards a seemingly inevitable course - the end of humanity. 

Be it anthropomorphic or just the natural course of the planet’s life and death, few can ignore the strong possibility that we’re on a collision course with destiny, perhaps the same as that of T-Rex, the Neanderthals and the Mayans.

If the predictions and indicators are accurate, think about what this means; more than the end of you and me; much, much more.  All that we’ve accomplished collectively; all that we’ve learned, discovered and made; would this just disappear as though we never existed, leaving the Voyager twins as the only testament to our existence?

Say, be it through our careless mismanagement of the planet, or through a completely unpreventable natural course of nature, it is in fact inevitable.

In the end; are we merely worm food?

I tend to agree with Jason Silva in that artificial intelligence may indeed be the next step in the evolution of humanity. 

After all, what are we but humanity’s gains, stored in neurons; electrical pulses containing our thoughts, accomplishments, perceptions - everything that is us.  Perhaps, one of the greatest technological advancements of the 20th Century, the Internet is representational of the “next step.”

And, just maybe, the artificial intelligence many seem to fear is indeed the new “us.”  

So; what do you think?

Thursday, February 19, 2015

I Wish You Ill Will

Hoarding it all
I revere stark poverty; I admire squalid living conditions; I envy never-ending hopelessness; I relish rampant crime.  I support extremely high infant mortality rates, ghastly poor health amongst children and adults alike.

For, I enjoy my piece of the pie and I not only don’t care about you missing your just desert, I fervently hope you never have one.

Seem a bit harsh?  Perhaps, even colossally insane?  How about precisely what it is - extraordinarily short-sighted and inhumanely self-centered.

The comments in support of all these claims are plastered all over the Net, on Facebook, Google +, Twitter, etc.  People enjoying the fact that they are at least comfortable, if not well off.
These hoarders worked hard for what they have and, if by the luck of birth, they are fortunate enough to advance through life with minimal resistance to success, they don’t see why anyone else should have a piece of that success.  Even if it costs them little or nothing.

Hell, even wild animals aren't that selfish; they hover over only their kill to ward off others, not the entire herd of gazelle.

Minimum Wage in the United States has been a topic of contention for more than a century, with change finally succeeding as early as 1912 with Massachusetts passing the first wage law, followed by thirteen more states and the District of Columbia.

With the help of organized labor and federal wage laws, the wealth gap in the US began to decrease for six decades.  The standard of living in began an upward movement as housing, health, and even simple creature comforts became accessible to the average American.  Everyone was generating success, happily sharing the pie.

Then along came the new poor mans folly, championed by a very wealthy, successful politician with little regard for the plight of the poor.  Welcome to “Trickle Down Economics,” an economic idea which states “that decreasing marginal and capital gains tax rates - especially for corporations, investors and entrepreneurs - can stimulate production in the overall economy.”

While this is as full of holes as a down-range artillery target, it is only a theory, all be it a very faulty one.  However, due to it’s main progenitor, it grew in popularity, along with his attacks on organized labor and the common man.

Worshiping at the alter of ignorance, the nation’s workers turned their backs on organized labor and began dismantling the very thing that gave them an edge in the battle for wealth equality.
The US worker began bulldozing virtually every gain they made prior to the 1970s; every inch of progress erased.  All on the whim of a silver screen icon; our hard-working laborers are stuck in Horror House on Highway Five.

"Unions were necessary at one time, but no longer."

Kind of like having a pacemaker and feeling better, you order it removed; isn't it?

And now, the work of tens of thousands who tried to decrease the wealth gap in the US, is disappearing.
Union and equality comparison
The really weird thing about this?  The same folks who complain about wage inequality are the very same who say they no longer need unions.  Whaaaaat?  Forget the dying heart, use that damned defibrillator on their heads, perhaps it'll revive some of their dead brain cells.

And of course, they want the entire herd of gazelle, not just their own kill.

They” don’t need raises (I already have mine)!  “They” are comfortable enough (I already have my comfort)!  “They” don’t need expensive health care (I already get mine through work)!  “They” don’t need equal opportunity (I already had mine when I was born)!

Yet, when “they” must rely upon entitlement programs simply to survive; “they” don’t need assistance using my tax dollars?





Those of you wishing others ill won't take even a moment to analyze what you’re arguing against; so I've done it for you:  With a raise of $3.25/hr in the federal minimum wage and using the BLS numbers as recipients, we’re talking an increase to ALL industries combined within the US paying minimum wages of $11.7 billion.

Now; if we apply this cost to McDonald’s ALONE, we would see an increase of $2.02 per hamburger (JUST HAMBURGERS, no other food stuff from McD’s included).

And; if we spread that out over the top burger sellers; McDonald’s, Burger King, Wendy’s, Dairy Queen, Arby’s, Sonic, Jack in the Box, Hardees, Carl’s Jr., and the 7 remaining major burger chains (total of 16 considered) the average impact on burgers alone would be a paltry $0.32 per burger. And that, as indicated, is for BURGERS ONLY; this doesn't include the plethora of other food things sold by these 16 fast food businesses.

Nor does it include any of the other fast food businesses such as pizza chains, sandwich chains, Mexican food, Chinese food, etc. which would share the burden.

In essence; how would the increase in the minimum wages impact the businesses which would carry the bulk of the burden? How would it impact you? So little it wouldn't even be worth your time to calculate the change.  In fact; it only works out to $0.46 per shopping trip at Walmart to give them a raise to $10.00/hr.

With the poverty level for an average family size of 3.14 according to the 2010 census (and yes, many families are depending upon minimum wage earnings now), the proposed raise to $10.10/hr would barely lift the average family above poverty level and that’s IF they work a full time job = 2080 hours per year.

"They deserve a break today," so, rather than wishing them ill-will, stop pissing and moaning about $0.46 and give it to them?

Friday, February 13, 2015

The True Axis of Evil
No instance; no motivational factors are tenable in the willful mistreatment of other human beings. Fear can never be the determining force of our behavior; it simply cannot be.

If we succumb to such reactionary impulses, we’re turning the entire human race into nothing more than a despicable species; the lowest form of life on the planet.

Through such abhorrent barbarism, we’re fully approving congenerous behavior, by those we consider our enemies, to be exacted upon us and our own.

There simply are no perversions of law, or manipulation of language, as the Bush Administration so ardently sought, that constitutes righteous acceptance of torture, or indeterminate incarceration.

The legacy of the Bush Administration is now and will forever be seen as nothing more than a heinous blight on the history of humanity.

Though, they will likely never be prosecuted, they have so much for which to be proud!

We owe a huge debt of gratitude for the few in power who stood up to Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Yoo, and David Addington.

They are the voice of reason among despots.  History will be generous to them.

Tuesday, February 03, 2015

Mohamedou Ould Slahi; Collateral Damage in The War on Morality in Government

Liberty Weeps
terrorism [ter-uh-riz-uh-m]   noun   “the use of violence and threats to intimidate or coerce, especially for political purposes.”
Terror and helplessness are the favored tools of evil.  Together, they destroy any semblance of sanity you may think you have; they wreak havoc upon your ability to reason, while taking you to unimaginable realms of depression and confusion.

When people, so devoid of basic humanity they no longer resemble a human being themselves, learn to use these tools, the entire human race should tremble and piss in our shoes in fear.

We’ve seen them before; Hitler, Stalin, Khan, etc….  More creature than human, wielding tremendous power and using that power for pernicious, profoundly immoral objectives; men of nightmares without end; ethos from hell, manifest from a world beyond comprehension.

Characters whose legacy chills and reviles in the realm of terror.

Thankfully, we have the United States; where the rule of law, decency and humanity are strong; a nation which reveres human rights so strongly, we send our children to war in far away nations to fight and die for those basic rights; to defend the banners of freedom, democracy, and equality.

The sword of truth, the banner of righteousness:  The US government is there for us; a safety net designed to shelter us all from aggression, both external and internal.

It is!  Isn’t it?  Isn’t that the US government’s focus; to reign in terror?

A voracious reader, I’ve read many stories.  Some have been invigorating, sad, and inspiring.  But, never have I read a more profound story than that of Mohamedou Ould Slahi.

An account, at the hands of terror, so vivid it penetrates one’s soul, and the perpetrators deserve as many adjectives one can conjure – despicable, shameful, inhumane.

And if it wasn’t for the work of those helping Mr. Slahi tell his story, it would still be hidden from us; tucked away in some dark, dank, fowl sewer by the cowards living in that sewer and who executed the plan to defile Mr. Slahi’s spirit.

Yes; the plan!

A de facto, verifiable document outlining the manner in which another human being was to be beaten, tortured, raped, and terrorized.  To destroy the human being that is Mohamedou Ould Slahi.

The fact that these people had a written plan should speak volumes of their contempt for human rights.

The plan of the government of the United States to “reign in terror.”

Guantanamo Diary.” is the horrific account of Mr. Slahi’s experience with our nation of righteousness, of ringing the sound of liberty and equality; the United States.

And, although it matters not, for such behavior defies all that the United States represents, be they guilty or innocent (I’m right about that; aren’t I?), Mr. Slahi is not only utterly innocent, he has yet to be charged by the government holding him captive in his dungeon of terror; denied all due process every human being deserves.

He has been kidnapped, has suffered “extraordinary rendition,” tortured by foreign governments, and “disappeared” to GTMO where he has suffered unspeakable crimes, at the hand of the US government.

All while reigning in terror?

And to make it perfectly clear; these crimes, while they have been committed against one man,  Mohamedou Ould Slahi, they are crimes against all humanity by those in our government consumed with hate and revenge; actions disguised in a phrase – “the war on terror.”

And that is precisely what Mr. Slahi’s story is about – hate, revenge, and collateral damage.

However, Mohamedou Ould Slahi isn’t just collateral damage in some “war on terror,” as some would have you believe.  Rather, he is the epitome of the war being waged against the very concept of equality and rights of all human beings.

He is indeed a martyr, fighting for us as much as himself.

The moment I began reading Guantanamo Diary, I knew precisely why Mr. Slahi was still being held in a box at GTMO; he has been consumed by the mother of all catch 22 scenarios, a catch 22 conceived and executed in hate.  The men who hold him will not release him, simply because he is there, and he is there because; well because!  He is a prisoner of terror who cannot be released for fear he will divulge the terror that has taken his life.

Mohamedou Ould Slahi is the ultimate “I can’t let you go because you’ve seen the real me.”
The ease with which the military and intelligence machine in this country can consume a human being the way Mr. Slahi has been consumed frightens the hell out me.  And it should terrify you.

Make no mistake!!! We have been served!  And, Mohamedou Ould Slahi is the process server.

The unbridled power given these “American” establishments through the verbiage of the Patriot Act and the Authorization for Use of Military Force Against Terrorism has delivered to humanity pure evil.

The US government is obligated under international law to respect, protect and fulfill human rights. Each Guantanamo detainee must either be charged and fairly tried in federal court, or be released to countries that will respect their human rights.

Yet, the cowards hide behind semantics created with twisted logic dismantle US and international law and spit on international treaties.  They trample even the most basic human rights and have executed behavior that all but the most contemptible “human being” would consider repugnant.

Guantanamo is not about justice for the September 11 attacks; Guantanamo is about revenge, torture, indefinite detention – terror.

This nation wasn’t built around military might, riches, land, businesses, or even religion; it is principles that define who we were supposed to be; about standing up for something we hold dearly.

And, if we no longer wish to live by those standards; why in hell are our children still dying in foreign wars?

What is left to defend?
Mohamedou Ould Slahi 

As-salāmu ʿalayka Mr. Slahi

Tuesday, January 06, 2015

The Front Porch


I was reminded, while reading “Life on a Colorado Farm” a couple days ago, just how much the country has changed in a few decades.   Conspicuous in its absence, the front porch; once the center piece of communities, it is becoming a rare sight as the older homes disappear behind time’s unforgiving hands.

The era is post World War II.  The economy is growing; the US dollar value is strong.  Jobs, paying good wages earned in the newly acquired union manufacturing sector, the rapidly expanding railways, and burgeoning government bureaucracies are increasing middle class wealth as never before in the nation.

Life is good; mom and dad no longer have to work sun-up to sun-down just to keep the family fed; they now have time for something very rare prior to this era – leisurely activities.
New technology is appearing daily.  New family traditions are being forged; the large dining rooms and tables where family members gather (always a required gathering) to eat their evening meals (be it supper or dinner) and interact, sometimes in reverence, most often raucous.

With five siblings, reverence is not typically on the evening menu in my family.  But, if it gets out of hand, we are often promised a different hand - one to the backside; a promise never broken.  The trick is always knowing precisely what “out of hand” is on any given evening.  Gauging moods is primary to survival.

On freezing winter nights, with bowls of popcorn in hand, we gather, enjoying the warm glow of the latest in high-tech heaters.
Humphrey
The nightly news with David Brinkley and Chet Huntley is just ending and (still keenly aware of the promises made at the supper table) we jockey for viewing positions in front of the new form of entertainment; the television.
RCA
[embed]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TLnBgUH77oA&list=PL33BAA33D96D5AE6E&index=7[/embed]
Yet, as important to new family life all this is, the front porch reigns king; a place for mom and dad to sit, sleepily watching the children and pets play in the yard.

Siting on their respective front porches, drawn outdoors by fresh spring air, everyone watches with trepidation as spring storms gather on the not so distant horizon.  In the now hidden line between earth and sky, lightening flashes momentarily illuminate the clouds, amplifying the anger within the mammoth, gray-black monsters, and distant thunder slowly makes its way to the spectators; muffled explosions warning us not to take lightly, the power and whims of Mother Nature in the plains states.

More than just an architectural element of appearance, the front porch is an extension of the home which has existed since early Colonialism in the Americas.  Certainly not entirely new, but they became a standard by which all homes were modeled in post American Civil War.  In the mid-19th Century, it was likely considered sheer insanity to build a house without one and it remained so for over one-hundred years after the War.

After all; who would want a house without a front porch?

Too hot indoors, the entire neighborhood lingers on and around their front porches, quietly pleading for a soft summer breeze to cool them in the stifling hot, humid afternoons.  As blue jays scream, and woodpeckers hammer the trees in the milder warmth of late summer evenings, all the fun begins experiencing brief moments of pain; thoughts of school tries to interrupt what’s truly important and they are pushed back into the perfect location within all childhood minds – the realm of now; only this moment is forever.

In the August heat, the front porch becomes even more of a focal point for family and neighbors as they seek the relative coolness of outdoors.  Relaxing while enjoying an ice tea, Dr. Pepper, or lemonade, the neighborhood is hypnotized by the deafening buzz of cicadas.

Those front porches served many roles; an open invitation into the lives of the home’s occupants; a place to welcome the mailman, paperboy and milkman delivering their goods, and even a place for the somewhat less welcome – Hoover, Jewel T, Encyclopedia Britannica, and Fuller Brush salesmen peddling their wares.

The front porch played a vital role in forming our communities.  Lives revolved around them; families still maintained their connection to the outdoors as in the days of farming, and they did so with the neighbors.  And, the neighborhood seemed to extend to corner grocery stores like my father’s, where I would, on most days, be found before and after school.

Winters are brutally cold in Oklahoma; bitter-cold wind constantly howls, blowing a chill through the body like an icy knife rattling the bones.  And, as if that isn’t enough to remind one it’s winter, invisible flying needles sting your skin the second you leave the protection of indoors.  Ice forms on everything; icicles hang from the Moon, the basement window sills, and virtually all that lies between.

Grocery deliveries to the customers in small, sleepy, Shawnee, Oklahoma were a losing battle with those brutal winters, but the embattled was quickly warmed away by siting on the open grates of yet another high-tech heater.
Parlor Heater
The hot seat was never to feel so good again.

Things were happening in this little grocery store; things only semi-related to selling groceries, but they were indeed magical. Intangible, maybe even approaching transcendental things, they were profoundly vital to the health of the community; of the nation.

Warming themselves using the same life-giving force I frequented, the mailman; bread, meat, and milk delivery men; truck drivers delivering canned goods and most enjoyable, the customers all gathered around the heater to talk, conduct business, and even to gossip.  Our front porch had extended itself to the corner grocery and beyond, to the neighborhoods from which each participant came.

I had no way of knowing it at the time, but I was witnessing a dying social phenomenon that would have, inarguably, a profound affect on not just families, but the entire nation.

Perhaps it’s inevitable; perhaps traditions are nothing more than temporary perceptions, changing with time.  Whatever they were, they're all but gone now; the large required gatherings around the supper table; front-porch days when families gathered and the corner grocery where all communed; all but vanished.

Large corporations soon steam-rolled all small mom and pop businesses; the corner grocery stores died, leaving shells of dilapidated buildings falling around their foundations; children began leaving, venturing to the cities to find work in those large corporations, leaving the neighborhoods to crumble to a likewise dwindling collection of antiques.

Old heaters, old communities; old people, slowly rusting into memories.

As families disperse and communities disappear, new technologies appear daily, and new family traditions are forged.

Houses no longer have front porches; moms, dads and children have migrated to the back yard, or into the house to stay.  Away from view and out of touch with even those in houses less than thirty feet away, we are strangers to our neighbors.  And to ourselves!

We no longer share ideas and discuss events; we no longer share life as a community.  Rather, with our new-found technology and isolationist sarcasm we “post” comments to one another’s writings on line, acidly attacking everyone who isn’t the preferred flavor of the day, all while maintaining anonymity behind an avatar and a pseudonym.

But for a few antiques, the front porch has vanished.  Gone with it are the parents and children socializing out in the open for all to enjoy and with which to grow.  Gone too, are the corner grocery stores; no more magical heaters benefiting from the extended front porch.

In an inescapable irony, mom and dad must now work longer hours, even multiple jobs, working sun-up to sun-down just to keep the family fed; a once treasured event has turned into something now very rare – leisurely activities.

Perhaps it’s inevitable.  But, then perhaps not.