Colombia

Colombia endured a civil war for decades. Over 200,000 killed, 25,000 disappeared and over 5,000,000 displaced. A peace agreement formally ended the violence in 2016. But that has not meant that peace has come at last to this war-torn country.

According to La Via Campesina, the International Peasant’s Movement, many aspects of the peace agreement are either not enforced or have been eliminated. Some of these issues: a provision to create a land fund for rural peasants has seen no compliance; political reform has not been addressed; the obligation of third parties to testify in investigations was eliminated, so that the role of multinationals can remain covert; political reform has not been addressed.

Additionally, since the peace agreement was signed, there has been violence against ex-rebels and their families, students, peasants and indigenous people. Why must the small, powerless people of the world be made to suffer?

On such person, a member of the Peace Community of San Jose de Apartado, spoke at my school this past fall. He was in the U.S. to raise awareness of the issues confronting peasant farmers, notably the violence being perpetrated against them by paramilitary groups in the employment of multinational corporations. This simple man, a peasant farmer, had survived several assassination attempts. He and his fellow villagers had been targeted for their peace efforts, for their need to work the and to survive.

The people want peace. That is the case everywhere: the common people, the farmers and workers are typically just trying to make a living and take care of each other. The trouble is that they often get caught in the crossfire of competing powers.

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Fourth Grade Fairness

My original story of fairness is one that I’ve always viewed as more of a dork story. What I mean is, although nowadays I see my story as one of learning about fairness and being inspired by justice, I was mostly a dork, a nerd, trying to do the best I could.

One early memory is from the fourth grade, at 9 or 10 years old. (My family had moved in the fall of that school year, so I had been in this class and among these kids for a few months at the time of this memory.) Roman and Steven were good friends, probably the cool kids of the class. Steven, although caucasian, was tanned more brown than most people. Because of this, Roman’s nickname for him was ‘ni**er poo.’ (I won’t spell the racial epithet here.) Apparently Roman thought that a black person’s poop was even darker than other people’s, and thus fit the darkness of Steven’s tan.

One day at recess we were all out running around and Roman yelled out the nickname (which no-one else used, by the way). I can’t say how many times I’d heard him say it before, but this time I decided to do the right thing. In a gentle manner (all I had back then) I suggested, “Roman, maybe he doesn’t like being called that.”

Roman’s answer was simple and to the point: “Fu** you Adam.” Done and done. Did that shut me up over the years? Did I hesitate to express myself at times due to that rebuke? Probably not, it was more likely that it was a rare exception, as often I would find myself afraid to speak up, or full of self-doubt about how I would sound (also fear). I have not done a lot of that in my life, standing up as I should.

And that’s why I’m here now, because I want to reverse that. I want to use my voice to speak up for those who cannot.

The Mexican Drug War

According to the National Institutes of Health, as of March of last year there were an average of 115 opioid overdose deaths per day in the U.S. (1) That’s about 42,000 in a year, and includes overdoses of prescription drugs, fentanyl, and heroin. More than 90% of heroin consumed in the U.S. comes from Mexico.(2)

Is it fair to deduce that there is significant demand for Mexican drugs in the U.S.? And if so, is it such a stretch to see the U.S. as complicit in the tens of thousands of deaths related to the Mexican drug war each year? Perhaps the two countries can trade body counts and call it even. They all are interrelated. Maybe neither side needs to be blamed, maybe it can be enough that we see some cause and effect, from one side to the other.

It does not seem up for debate at this point that Big Pharma bears significant responsibility for the opioid epidemic that hangs over much of the U.S.(3) The NIH takes this a step further by stating that heroin users typically start on prescription opioids. And of course we know that the U.S. government is responsible for regulations and oversight, including over the pharmaceutical industry.

Of course, I’m trying to make the case here that the Mexican drug war, and the violence it begets, are not problems exclusive to that country. The U.S. has done its part in creating conditions that support the drug trade, from the challenges imposed on Mexican farmers by NAFTA to an opioid crisis that has created a significant market for drugs. It would only make sense for the U.S. to share the responsibility of ending the violence.

  1. Opioid Overdose Crisis. drugabuse.gov, https://www.drugabuse.gov/drugs-abuse/opioids/opioid-overdose-crisis. March 2018.
  2. Isacson, Adam. “Four Common Misconceptions about U.S.-bound Drug Flows through Mexico and Central America.” wola.org, https://www.wola.org/analysis/four-common-misconceptions-u-s-bound-drug-flows-mexico-central-america/. June 20, 2017.
  3. Morriscey, Carol. “Big Pharma Held Accountable for the Opioid Epidemic?” searidgedrugrehab.com, https://www.searidgedrugrehab.com/article-big-pharma-opioid.php. 2016.

Who Am I?

Who am I to talk about war, anti-war, peace, cooperation? These days we see, I think especially on social media, the idea that one’s voice doesn’t count for one reason or another. “Stay in your lane” is the phrase that comes to mind. As if one needs to be an expert, personally invested in the subject at hand, in order to be heard.

But of course that is just arrogance, censorship, an unwillingness to listen to others. I think that any articulate voice should be able to join the conversation. We live in an interconnected world and politics and current affairs affect all of us. That alone should be reason to care and have a voice. But still I feel the heat of the question, as if I need to justify myself before speaking up. So I will take this post to explain a bit about me, just in case.

I am a citizen of the United States, born and raised here; I’ve lived here for over 50 years. I pay taxes and have done so since I was 16 years old and got my first job. There were a few months here or there when I was in school and college when I did not work, but other than those periods I have worked and paid my share of taxes. I have never worked under the table or taken public assistance.

I never served in our military, but in 1984, when I turned 18, I registered with the Selective Service, meaning I was eligible for the draft if needed. It was my choice to not enlist in any branch of the service, I never felt called to that path. But I did what was required and registered.

I have been a responsible citizen, I vote regularly; but more than that I stay educated and informed. I have discussions about issues and current events, and I listen to the opinions of others–I believe respect and understanding, compassion even, is essential to public discourse.

So there is my justification for having an opinion, if it’s needed. I am responsible and productive and this blog is part of that. I will express myself without being insulting or degrading to others, as best I can.

War


For too many of us, war is an abstraction. Perhaps if it was more concrete to more of the wealthy, there would be less of it. In the US, for example, the Mexican drug war exists simply as a reason for the president to demand a border wall. It does not exist as one of the deadliest conflicts in the world. In Mexico, a country with which the US shares almost 2,000 miles of border, around 100,000 people have been killed over more than a decade of violence.

How is this not more real for the people of the US? Are we oblivious to the demand for opioids that exists here? Are we unconcerned about how NAFTA affected Mexican farmers, driving them out of agriculture and into drug production? Are we blind to the role we play in the situation there, the ongoing violence?

The purpose of these essays on war is to point out what is happening and to look at the underlying causes. I am not privy to unique information, this is material that anyone can find and interpret. But that is what I have, my own interpretation of current events. I don’t expect to solve any issues, but I need to use my voice. So please feel free to check back in each week as I post new articles on what is going on in the world.

The (re)Introduction

There is so much that I never understood or accepted about myself. One of those things was my Libra birthsign, and the set of scales which represents it. My brother Scott was a Cancer, sister Net was a Scorpio, and cousin Phil was a Leo, all animals, all cooler than my sign. You see, I spent a good bit of my childhood trying to keep up with those three and be like them, and they all had cool animals for their zodiacs. I had scales….come on. Like, what were they supposed to even mean?

It would be many years, decades even, before I’d be able to appreciate what those scales symbolized for me. Even though I always rooted for the underdog; always tried to make the outcasts, the weirdos, feel welcome; even though I had compassion for others which exceeded my understanding of it, I never really had a sense of myself as seeking justice, standing up for fairness, anything like that. I was not a brave kid, but I tried to stand up for those who were picked on, even if it was just in my heart. So I didn’t identify with the Scales of Justice until much later in my life.

Now that I have, I am ready to accept my destiny. I am here to speak up for the oppressed. I am here to do my little part to fight injustice, to speak the truth about warfare and conflict. This is my story, unremarkable in many respects. But I have come to realize that one remarkable thing about me is that I have always cared. I have always wanted to do what’s right and resist those who would deny others their rights. So with that newly-realized passion in mind, my blog will change direction somewhat.

My Unremarkable Story has been inconsistent over the years. The original idea was to write the story of my life, in all its unremarkable glory. But part of my unremarkable-ness is my inconsistency, a lack of really making an effort at much of anything. Thus what I’ve found myself left with is ideas which I rarely followed through on, plans that never materialized, and dreams left unfulfilled.

I have committed to a different story from here on out. I will tell my story, and I will stay with it week after week. And what my story is about is not just a kid growing up in middle-of-the-road America; it is about a kid learning what to stand up for, a kid trying to be the best he could be even when he didn’t know what that meant. This story is ultimately about me learning who I am, even now at this late date.

Place

 

Growing up, home was simply about where my family lived at the time. By the time I was done with public school we had lived in 11 homes, in 9 cities, in 7 states, and I’d attended 8 different schools. No “place” was home.

My mother was raised Southern Baptist in rural Alabama, my father was Jewish from Brooklyn. There was no faith, no specific heritage that I found refuge in either. I was baptized in the Lutheran church, when I was about five years old, but I never felt fully part of it. My dad would come to church on Sundays, but he just came along to keep mom company. He did not participate. This felt odd, and there was always a part of me that felt divided.

I was the baby of the family; 17 years separate me from my eldest sibling. I never had a cousin my age. So even at  family gatherings I was on the edge of things, always trying to be part of what my elder siblings and cousins were up to, trying to tag along. 

Perhaps that is the most clear way to describe how the lack of home impacted me: I’ve rarely felt like I fit in. I lived in a small town in Illinois in high school, small enough for most of us to know each other. Yet, I was always the new kid because I did not have the history with the others. I lived in an urban sprawl area on the Jersey shore, and there I felt like I disappeared in the crowd. 

But as an adult I’ve found the feeling has shifted. I’ve now lived in Albuquerque longer than anywhere else, and my last house was my longest residence by a factor of two. But it’s not just the amount of time that has caused a shift. I finally feel close to a landscape. The mountains and the desert move me in ways the eastern flatlands never could. The climate, the dry air, was a balm for my heavy soul when I moved here; 33 years in the humidity weighs one down. 

However, as much as I love the place that is New Mexico, I think I was simply ready for it. After the moving I had done, after the searching for my own life, I arrived here ready to embrace it. I knew that immediately. The drive from Florida to Albuquerque was only spread out over three days, but it may as well have been the journey of a lifetime. I was home, and I knew that I would be staying here for some time.

I may not stay in New Mexico for the rest of my life, but I have found home. Besides this town, this geographic place, I know that home is really in one’s heart. I felt like an outsider for much of my youth, but I feel grounded now. Even when I move away, even when I’m new to another town, I’ll be able to feel at home.

I have known people who grew up in one town, but hated it and couldn’t wait to move away. I’ve known people who have disowned their family of origin. Duration, being “from somewhere,” does not necessarily make home. What we choose in our heart, where we are drawn to, that defines home.

Pennsylvania Stories: Sweet and Timid

Lancaster, Pennsylvania, that bucolic little place, known for it’s Amish community and not much else. That’s where I spent the years from kindergarten to mid-fourth grade. Those were not very interesting years for me, just a time of coming into myself in the world, getting used to going to school and being around people. That was not, nor has it ever been, one of my favorite things. But it’s part of growing up, and for a timid kid like me, it had its challenges. Like….

There was a time, perhaps it happened a couple of days in a row, when I got punched by a younger kid while we waited for the bus after school. I claimed to know his age by the grade he was in, and I wouldn’t allow that he actually knew how old he was (maybe I was a bit stubborn as well as timid).  So he punched me in the stomach. I was not aggressive enough to fight back, so I just took it.

Then there was my friend Keith, and the time we wrestled in his back yard. I beat him, nothing big about that. But he got upset, and when I went to let him up he jumped around and got on my back and proceeded to dig his knuckles into my spine. It hurt, I got upset in turn, but I did not beat him up. I threw his G.I. Joe doll, though, and stormed off.

Once, probably in first grade, my shoe was untied. I just stood there, because I did not know how to tie it, and I was afraid to ask for help. Finally my teacher noticed and had one of my classmates tie it for me.

In second grade we worked on our multiplication tables. I had a hard time with them, but I found a kid to cheat from one day. I copied his work easily enough. When we took our papers up to the teacher for grading, I walked up behind this other kid. The teacher let him know which he got wrong, and there was plenty. Since I had copied all my work from him, I turned to go back to my desk as he left the teacher’s desk. But the teacher called me back over; she didn’t know why I was walking away, but she knew soon enough. I was terrible at cheating, always have been.

It’s rough stuff, looking back at myself in those days. I was a sensitive, timid little guy, and I didn’t know how to navigate the world. Once at the library, where our parents would take us weekly, I read some stuff about volcanoes. The idea that lava could explode out of the ground anywhere, since it was inside the earth, terrified me. I expected to see an eruption in the streets as we drove home. So naive!!

There’s more, much more timidity and sweetness. But I can only take so much at once. I know it’s back there, I know I have thought about it all, but to write about it and confront it, I have to take it in small doses. So please come back soon for more kid stuff.

 

The Pioneering Trendsetter

In many ways I have been a late bloomer, or sometimes I would say I have simply been behind the times: I didn’t learn how to ride a bike until I was in the fourth grade, nine years old. I didn’t try tying my own shoes until the second grade. I didn’t kiss a girl until I was 17. And it was 2005 before I first listened to Snoop Dogg’s debut album (and loved it), only 12 or 13 years after the fact…

That being said, there are actually a number of ways in which I see myself as a pioneer, a trendsetter. Really. You see, I got my first tattoo in 1988, well before tattoos were a part of our everyday culture. When I got my first ink, it was at a biker tattoo shop, about the only place in Clearwater Fl to go. The only folks I knew with tattoos back then were construction workers and veterans (and rock stars, but I didn’t personally know Axl Rose). A few years later I would find some guy doing more artistic tattoos out of his apartment. Back then, you did what you had to in order to get your ink. Nowadays, there are custom tattoo shops all over the place.

What else? Well, I found CrossFit years before anyone I knew had heard of it. In 2006 I read an article online about this new exercise program, and I was very impressed with it. I loved the idea of strength training outside of the traditional confines of a gym, but alas, at the time there were no CrossFit programs up and running in Albuquerque. Now there are easily a dozen here in town.

You know how big Starbucks is these days? Well, in 1995 I opened a coffee shop in Clearwater Fl with my sister. At the time, we were only the second coffee shop in the entire Tampa metropolitan area. We even proceeded the flood of Starbucks that was to come. We were inspired, and the lack of examples did not deter us.

However, my initial foray into the cutting edge was way before any of those things. This involved a unique culinary treat, and my sister Net was again part of the deal. I was in the second or third grade, perhaps later (but probably not; memories are so hard to pinpoint back at that age). This was before chocolate croissants were all the rage, before IHOP served chocolate chip pancakes, before Nutella hit it big in the US. Yes, prior to anyone else combining chocolate and bread, Net and I did: we made Oreo sandwiches.

Just let that deliciousness sink in for a moment. The sweet, two-toned texture of the Oreo, nestled in the pillowy softness of sliced white bread. We’d put two cookies on one side of a slice, fold that bread on over, and heaven. Simplicity at its finest. The doughy blanket not only predated the widespread use of chocolate and bread, it also foretold of deep-fried everything at the state fair. That bready coating, that extra texture is what it’s all about.

So, yeah, we were way ahead of the curve on that one. I’m not always aware that I’m bucking convention or setting a trend, I just follow my heart. Or sometimes, my stomach.

Pennsylvania Stories: Superheroes

One of my favorite Pennsylvania memories is the time we got dressed up as superheroes! I was in second grade, so I was six or seven years old, depending on the time of year….probably seven. We lived in our second house in Lancaster, a huge farmhouse with a giant field on one side and a dead-end road on the other….and an old decaying barn behind it too.

Our cousin Phil was visiting (he was four years older than me, Scott was three years older, and Net was two). Phil’s mom, our Aunt Marion, had helped us with the costumes; maybe she had made only the boots, but that was enough! I mean, red felt boots were essential to a kid’s superhero identity. We also had capes. Our family had holiday stuff stashed around, so in that cluster of costumes and decorations were a couple of black capes. (I did not have a lot of stuff that was actually mine. Plenty of hand-me-down clothes and stuff, a shared bedroom and toys, family books and such. The capes were like that, family stuff.)

Each of us four kids had on a costume and we were going exploring. To be really adventurous, we should have gone into the barn, that deserted rickety thing. But we went down the dead-end road, checking out what was happening in the closed businesses down that way. There wasn’t much going on really anywhere on a weekend in Lancaster, PA, and down that road was no exception. I recall the business at the end of the road was a honey factory.

We all snuck around the outside like we were investigating, as heroes are wont to do. No cars, no activity. Then we heard a noise from inside! We ran! The noise was nothing specific, but in the quiet of that end of the road it was loud enough for us to tear off out of there. You know, we were kids. Who knew what could be lurking around in there? A giant monster bee? Gangsters robbing the honey riches? A janitor making the rounds?

Kids. That was about it, that was the adventure for our superheroes. We had a whole house to play in anyway. Innocent, to be sure, but it was fun as anything to get all costumed up and bop around. That’s something I’ve come to appreciate as an adult, that we all try to find ways to get dressed up and play, whether it’s a costume party, a sports league, what have you: adults enjoy a good round of playing as superheroes in their own ways.