ince retiring from Eastern in 1997, I have pursued my
dream of seeing the world. In 2004-05 I served in the
Peace Corps in the Republic of South Africa; I have
taught in English language immersion programs in China
and Tanzania, and have visited Vietnam, Cambodia and
Thailand. Last summer my granddaughter and I spent a
week in Morocco.
I still live on Jackson Street across from Kiwanis park.
I have done stints as a volunteer for CASA, Hospice,
and Head Start. I regularly sing alto in local and regional
Sacred Harp/Shape Note singings. I have a YouTube channel
where I post video clips from these events, along with
a few of local bluegrass, travel videos and the like.
And of course, I write letters to the paper.
years ago, both my parents passed away. Among the personal
effects they had preserved over the sixty-plus years
of their marriage I found a large brown envelope containing
newspaper articles, mostly dating from the 1950s and
mostly clipped from the small town weekly paper my dad
published. I knew what was in those articles without
looking at them: they were my mother’s memoirs
about our family (seven children), along with her observations
and opinions about anything and everything in that small
town community. Since none of my siblings wanted this
"treasure," I took the envelope and stashed
it away for several years without so much as a peek
at the writings inside. I could recall my acute embarrassment
at having these items published and read by almost everyone
I knew when I was in high school and, like most adolescents,
thought my parents were making fools of themselves.
A couple of years ago I overcame my inner adolescent
and opened the envelope. What a surprise to discover
that my mother’s writings could be at times so
charming, and overall, so civic-minded and progressive.
As to the personal memoir pieces with all their anecdotes
about what cute things we kids had said and done, which
Mother entitled "Life With Mel," my daughter
enjoys them, characterizing them as "Grandmother’s
Blog," and pronouncing them "before their
Maybe I write letters to the newspaper — and comment
online to internet postings — because my genes
and early environment predestined it. Like my mother,
I always had opinions, liked to shape them into words,
and rightly or wrongly, thought that they deserved to
be heard. Over the years, I regularly sent off my opinions
to newspapers, and often saw them published. Perhaps
my children thought I was making a fool of myself, and
perhaps that was true. The first few times I saw my
signed opinion in print, I suspected as much myself.
But I got over it, having decided the risk was worth
During the election cycle of 2004, I was serving in
the Peace Corps in the Republic of South Africa. The
American war in Iraq was often in the news; I especially
recall the shock I felt when the photos of Abu Ghraib
appeared. Negative opinion of the role of the United
States in the world was pervasive. Upon returning home
in 2005, I was again shocked to learn that the issues
of the 2004 election had been so-called "values"
questions. Abortion. Gay marriage. School prayer. What
a different list of issues had seemed important in that
election, viewed from my vantage point in Africa!
Another shock came when I renewed my subscription to
the local newspaper. Considering the problems of the
nation and the world, how could the editorial page be
filled with letters attacking the idea of evolution,
expounding on the Bible, damning homosexuals, bashing
Al Gore’s message on global warming, proclaiming
God’s support for the Bush administration, and
even slamming local businesses who dared to wish "Happy
Holidays" or "Season’s Greetings"
to their customers, instead of "Merry Christmas"?
Furthermore, there was a new feature - a column of snippets
from the online blogs, consisting mostly of crude attacks
and insults aimed at whoever and whatever their writers
did not approve. Why this stuff was considered worthy
of publication was beyond me! The tone seemed to grow
more uncivil by the month, writers remaining anonymous
under cover of "user names" to vent their
anger and hostility without restraint, all showcased
in our local newspaper.
In the years after retirement, I had retreated from
the fray of the public forum somewhat, reasoning that
if the younger generations cared about social problems
and the world in general, they would have to make their
case themselves. I had served my time. This changed
during the 2008 election cycle,
when I again felt the old urge to marshal words to try
to influence events. I began again to send letters to
the local paper. I even ventured onto internet sites
where candidates and issues were being
author explains to a friend why writing
letters to the editor is a patriotic duty.
and defended in rude, crude terms. I took on bloggers
whose vocabulary mainly consisted of permutations of
the f-word, which served them as noun, adjective, every
other part of speech, prefix, suffix, and syllable to
insert into longer words. I tried to engage whatever
idea I could discern from their postings, and to address
it politely and reasonably. It seemed that fairly often,
my more civil tone inspired more civil answers, and
drew in comments from others who wanted a more reasonable
dialogue. Some even thanked me for my courtesy.
This has become my reason for sending letters to the
newspapers. I told myself: "If you don’t
like the ugly, cynical, unreasonable, or hostile tone
of what you see on the opinions page, try to get something
more constructive published there. If the blogsters
attack your letter, don’t get baited into incivility
yourself. 'A soft answer turneth away wrath.' Don’t
let the angry and the cynical dominate and set the tone.
Be the change you want to see."
So how's my hopey-changey thing workin' out? I don’t
know. But it sure feels better than sitting silent on
the sidelines, abandoning the public forum to incivility,
anger, cynicism and unreason.
the beginning was the Word . . . And the Word was God
. . . All things were made by him." I admit, quoting
this is pretentious, but it is related to my theme.
Whatever the mystical and religious interpretations
may be, to me, this quotation means that the world we
experience is created by language. If we can imagine
something, and put it into words, perhaps we can make
it come into being. Words have created the current social
climate of anger, hostility, and cynicism. Why not imagine
that words can be instrumental in changing it?
that’s why I write letters to the newspaper.
April 21, 2009
Re: Why paying taxes is my cup of tea.
recent "Tea Parties" initiated through
that bastion of unbiased journalism, Fox News,
inspired some thoughts I’d like to share.
Unlike the tax protesters attending these demonstrations,
I believe that paying taxes is a patriotic duty,
and that it is also our duty to inform ourselves
as to what our taxes are paying for, and to require
a fair tax system, as well as good stewardship
of our tax money by our public officials.
reasons? Well, if I were to argue from the history
of modern capitalism, I would cite the "father"
of free market theory, Adam Smith, and his work,
Wealth of Nations. He wrote "The
subjects of every state ought to contribute to
the support of the government, as nearly as possible,
in proportion to their respective abilities; that
is, in proportion to the revenue which they respectively
enjoy under the protection of the state."
He further clarifies by saying that the goal of
taxation should be to "remedy the inequality
of riches as much as possible, by relieving the
poor and burdening the rich."
am willing to pay my share, in proportion to my
if I were to argue by reference to a recent guru
of Conservatism, the late William F. Buckley,
I would quote him: "For all our individual
endeavors, we owe a debt to the free society that
nurtures us and affords us opportunities."
Part of that debt we owe to our society is to
pay taxes in return for the many benefits we receive,
including infrastructure, education, sanitation,
a justice system, and the social safety net that
cushions our fall when ill health, old age, and
hard times threaten our well-being.
if I were to assume that, as some claim, our country
was established to uphold "Christian values,"
I would quote the teachings of Jesus, whose main
command was that we love our neighbor as ourselves,
feed the hungry, shelter the homeless, care for
the sick, the widow and the orphan, and free ourselves
from selfishness and attachment to material riches,
which , he taught, are a great hindrance to the
are all good reasons to favor of a public policy
that uses tax money to pay for such benefits as
health care, old age and survivors’ benefits,
public education, aid to families with dependent
children, disaster relief, and other human services
often spoken of scornfully as a "federal
welfare system." These arguments also support
the idea of asking the wealthy and privileged
to contribute in proportion to their means. None
of us has really acquired their wealth solely
as a result of their own merit and hard work,
and many who have worked hard all their lives
have not acquired enough to protect them from
ruin, should some stroke of hard luck, ill health,
accident, job loss, or the like, demand more resources
than they alone command.
taxation, we could not have whatever public benefits
we all enjoy. Therefore, even if the cup of tea
tastes bitter and strong, it’s OUR cup of
tea and we should do our patriotic duty. Pay our
share of the cost of all the benefits our country
the Editor, Charleston Times-Courier:
am a senior citizen who supports health reform.
I believe our current system is basically unjust,
in that the ultimate decisions on who gets health
care are based on money; the money to get good
insurance, the money to pay the deductibles and
co-pays, or if uninsured, the money to pay cash
for care. Some of that money comes through tax-funded
government agencies - Medicare, Medicaid, Veterans’
benefits, military medical service. Those not
covered by any of these means do not get health
most seniors, I have children and grandchildren,
and this is the health care system we bequeathed
them. My self-employed children cannot afford
to buy insurance. One son pays premiums on a bare
bones plan with $5000 deductible, and would lose
even that if laid off from his job. My grandchildren
have just graduated college, no longer eligible
to be covered by student insurance. Would our
children and grandchildren be better off with
the proposed health reforms? You bet they would!
Would I even be willing if necessary to pay a
little more, or take a little less of what I’ve
got, to make that possible? You bet I would!
it’s only human to think first, "What’s
in it for me?" That’s why the great
religions and ethical systems teach us to consider
others’ welfare, not just our own and that
of our own families. No religious or ethical teacher
ever made "Look out for number one"
into a commandment. All the great religious and
ethical traditions stress our moral obligation
to consider the needs of others. Human society
could not exist without some sense that "we’re
all in this together."
reform would mean the self-employed and uninsured
would have access to affordable insurance, with
financial help if the premiums were beyond their
means. It would mean no exclusions because of
pre-existing conditions. It would mean our children
and grandchildren could get health care as they
need it, and pass on the benefits of improved
well-being to their children and grandchildren.
this costs, doing nothing will cost more. And
not all ‘costs’ can be counted in
Constitution was adopted, in part, "to promote
the general welfare." And if we are "one
nation under God," as we hear so often, then
we must consider, not just our personal welfare,
but the welfare of all our people.
why we should support health reform now.
the Editor, Charleston Times-Courier:
and Louise— the Sequel
Harry and Louise? The couple that helped sink
health care reform back in the Clinton era?
I called Louise the other day to see how things
were going. Not so good, she said. Harry passed
away a couple of years ago. He had chronic health
problems. They had insurance, but either his problems
were found to be pre-existing conditions, or the
treatments their trusted doctor prescribed were
ruled "not medically necessary." He
and his doctor went through all three steps of
the appeal to the insurers, but at each step,
the experts at the insurance company determined
that they had been right all along.
Harry died, Louise was no longer covered by his
insurance. And his medical bills left her nearly
that she had been in touch with her old friend,
Thelma. Thelma had a bone to pick with the health
insurance system too, it seems. She had had a
sort of bare bones health insurance plan through
her job, and luckily, had been in pretty good
health all along. But then last year she had some
bladder problems. When she applied for insurance
benefits, the insurance company checked her health
history all the way back, discovered that she
had wet the bed when she was two, and determined
that her bladder problems were a pre-existing
condition. And then, she lost her job because
of the recession, and with it, her health insurance
(which wasn‘t much better than nothing anyway).
is with Thelma now.
has it that Thelma and Louise are heading to Capitol
Hill, and that they are armed and dangerous.
don’t put much stock in the "armed
and dangerous" part, but I do know this:
they are madder than two wet hens, and Congress
had better listen up!