Archive | August 2016

What I did today

Muslim and Christian sisters joined together this morning on a community service project called Feed My Starving Children (FMSC). FMSC was started in 1987 by a Minnesota business man who witnessed hungry children on his missions to Central America. Deciding to act, he formed FMSC. Since then, the organization has grown through generous donations and dedicated volunteers. Millions of hungry children in Third World nations receive free, non-perishable, pre-packaged and dried food that literally saves lives. This morning, it was my joy and pleasure to volunteer with my Muslim and Christian sisters for a two hour stint at FMSC in Mesa, AZ. This wasn’t our first time either. As Muslims, just as with other faiths, it is our duty to serve our community. Women from our Quran group volunteer regularly for community events that help children, homeless, elderly and the sick. I feel spiritually invigorated and connected to my sisters after each and every event. At the same time, I am not only helping someone in need but I’m uplifting myself. I am also showing others what our Islamic faith is all about. Islam spreads kindness and compassion. It is not the gross and distorted version that is shown by nearly all media outlets, print, media and radio. A few misguided and cruel people shame the majority who perform acts of mercy every single day. Thank you to our interfaith partners for standing by us during these difficult times. After I left FMSC, I gave a blind man a ride to Fry’s and gave a sister driving lessons. I thank Allah for good health and spirits that allows me be part of a vibrant, connected and merciful community. In return for my blessings, it is my duty to give back to others. And the women, men and children with whom I serve are truly special. You all make it so worthwhile. May Allah bless you all.

 

Advertisements

The old woman

The old woman wore tattered clothes. Her skin was leathery and dry, maybe from age, too much sun or excessive alcohol use or a combination of all three. I don’t know. At the highway exit where I waited for the light to turn green, she asked for a handout. Some beggars have children, some have pets. The old woman stood alone with a sign saying that she’d fallen on hard times. I can relate. I fell on hard times too. Mine still linger. I live in subsidized housing, wear thrift shop specials, and am blessed with generous friends. Perhaps the old lady I saw today wasn’t so lucky. I don’t know. In my car, I carry around dried dog and cat food to feed strays. One day I started to carry around non perishable food for people. I need to care about them too. A lot of beggars have drug and/or alcohol problems so I don’t hand out cash (I don’t have much to spare anyway). But if someone is truly hungry they’ll accept my offering of peanut butter crackers or fresh fruit if I’m on the way home from the market. Islam teaches us to practice regular charity in Sura 2 verse 43. So it’s not only my obligation as a good Muslim to be charitable but it’s also my responsibility to be a decent human being.

There’s a strong libertarian streak in the USA that if you fall down, pull yourself up by the bootstraps. Not everyone can afford the boots. And if someone has the boots, not everyone has hands strong enough to pull up the boots. People slip through the cracks, such as new refugees who just can’t learn the language or the customs. English isn’t the easiest language to learn as an adult. American customs can be strange to newcomers. Heck, they’re often hard for me to accept. I am still uncomfortable around tattoos, facial jewelry, pink hair, and young women in ultra revealing shorts, especially if their cheeks hang out. Young people who bounced around foster homes often lack the skills to segue into adulthood. Older people without family worry about dying alone in a poorly kept nursing home. It’s easy to become angry and curse at the beggars. Maybe we feel like yelling at them to get a job, especially if they’re young and seemingly able-bodied. We may show more compassion to someone in a wheelchair out begging. Job loss, divorce, illness, even the breakdown of a car can send just about anyone onto the streets. Drinking or drugs only exacerbates personal or financial problems. It is never a solution. But who among us is perfect? Who among us has never made a mistake? If we lose our compassion for our fellow human beings, no matter how wretched they may see them, then we have truly lost our way. A life without compassion is not worth living, or at least that’s how I see it.

I never expected to be thrown into the poor house but here I am, scraping by at poverty’s door step. Right now, I am fortunate to have a space in a subsidized building. I can’t stand it really. The neighbors are noisy, yes, noisy. They chastise me for feeding homeless cats. I don’t like it here at all but I’ve learned to be grateful. There are millions of people across the world who would relish a place like mine. Maybe one day it’ll all come crashing down. I have an old dog who I won’t give up. If it means living in a cardboard box by the Salt River, then so be it. I may not have much money but at least I have morals and a conscience. That’s much more than I can say about Donald Trump’s supporters. They have no morals whatsoever.

Technology and me

Macy’s, the mighty retailer, is faltering. They recently announced the closure of yet another 100 stores nationwide. The news hit me hard. I don’t shop in Macy’s anymore since falling on hard times, the result of a pedestrian car accident in 1994. Nearly all my clothes are thrift shop specials, gifts, or hand me downs from friends. I have a special attachment to Macy’s, however. I worked in their flagship store in Manhattan from about 1970-1972 when I was in high school. At the time, there was a diner type restaurant in the basement known as the Dutch Treat. The food wasn’t much of a treat but I enjoyed the camaraderie among my co-workers. I was a waitress there after school and on Saturday’s, hustling for tips, earning about $35 a week. Hardly anything then was open on Sunday. Maybe once or twice a week stores kept their doors opened until 9 p.m. Big box retail outlets like Wal-Mart and Best Buy were unheard of. So were the internet, fax machines, ATMs, cell phones, lap tops, iPads, and Starbucks. Blackberry and apple were known only as fruits. A text was a school book. Uber sounds like Goober, a chocolate candy, not competition for a taxi. An app was the beginning of the word application, nothing else. How did I possibly survive? Not only did I turn out to be a reasonably intelligent person but I earned two college degrees, one from a prestigious private university, without the benefit of technology. If you wanted to know the result of 3,456 x 4,738 you did it by hand. Up until college, calculators weren’t available. Even if they were, we couldn’t use them in class. You took notes by hand. Some teachers closed the door at the sound of the bell. If you were late, you missed the entire class. That was life back then. Life was different. So were Macy’s customers.

In a way, I’m glad grew up without technology. Undoubtedly, technology certainly improves the quality of life. There are significant advances in medicine, communication, science, education, trade, and aviation as a result of technology. Typing is infinitely easier on a laptop than the old machines, both manual and electric. Who can complain about all that? But technology has its downfalls.

As a child, I listened to news on a short wave radio from Africa, wondering what life was like in such far flung places of Nairobi, Tanzania, Casablanca, and Cairo. To expand my knowledge, I devoured geography books at the public library and looked up information about African nations so I knew where these places were, wondering if I’d ever get there. So far, I haven’t but there’s always hope. In class, we looked at maps in our geography textbooks and had to answer questions about other people and places on exams. Teachers (in my case Catholic nuns) answered our questions. Some students today sit behind computers for on-line education. A research paper is compiled from internet sources, not all of which are reliable. Years ago, assignments were completed in the library by using reference books with data about geography, current events, world news, and just about everything. There were stacks of newspapers, magazines, and thick encyclopedias too. A copy machine was available. On a Saturday afternoon (they were usually closed on Sunday) the public library was packed with young people checking out books, studying for tests, or compiling research. A staff member helped dig up obscure facts or figures.

The internet brought a seismic shift in the way we live. Books can now be downloaded and read on a device called the Kindle. So can newspapers, magazines and others periodicals. Ecologically, it saves paper. For money strapped readers, it’s cheaper. On the other hand, e-books crashed the giant bookstore chain, Borders Books and Music. Independent bookstores also collapsed and went out of business not just from internet competition but from the giant retailers, Amazon.com (strictly on line) and Wal-Mart, both big box and on line. Newspapers too feel the heat. How can they compete with the internet? Newsprint costs money. Prior to its rapid spread, nearly all medium and large cities had at least two daily papers. Now most are down to one. Even Pulitzer Prize winning papers folded. Thousands of reporters, editors, book store managers, and ordinary workers were booted out of jobs because of the internet. Admittedly, some unemployed workers entered retraining programs and found other jobs but the internet changed the way we get our news. Sadly, the days of Walter Cronkite, Mr. Reliable, are in the past. Fact checking is rare. The internet is loaded with biased, false and misleading sources that are taken as factual by poorly informed readers.

On line shopping though has become a breeze. Whip out the lap top or the i-phone, credit card and order blouses, books or even a purebred puppy. Yes, the internet even lets your fingers do the shopping when it comes to canines. Want a fancy schmancy puppy with a hefty price tag? Just browse the internet and that perfect puppy is yours, just like the Michael Kors bag. Meanwhile, our animal shelters hemorrhage with unwanted dogs and cats that need good homes that are every bit as worthwhile as what’s available on the internet. I don’t get it.

Moving back to Macy’s. Internet shopping may be quick and convenient but it lacks human touches. First of all, you can’t try on a dress and ask your friends, “How does this look?” There are no try on rooms either with on line shopping. If it doesn’t fit, there’s time and postage to return it, cancelling out savings. With on line shopping, where’s the chance to plop down from exhaustion in the mall food court after spending the day shopping? Can you pack away a tossed salad or cheese sandwich with your friends while shopping on-line? Or run into old friends at the mall, have a laugh or two, with internet shopping? On line shopping may be popular, it may sound cost effective, and it may be the new way to shop, but it’ll never take the place of human interaction at the mall, strolling down Fifth Avenue or wherever people gather.

Amazon.com is a giant, a behemoth. They sell everything at the cheapest possible price while employing thousands of people. Their warehouses are the model of efficiency, squeezing out every last dollar from tired, harried workers. The founder is one of the world’s wealthiest human beings. But as big and bold as they are, they cannot sweep away human interaction that takes place at the mall, at bookstores, at restaurants, on street corners, in dog parks, or cafes. Back in the 1950s the red scare, or fear of communism, infiltrated just about every aspect of our society. The mere association with a known communist was enough to land you on the blacklist or get you booted from a job. The red menace is gone. Communism is almost dead. Now it’s technology that takes over our lives from everything to selling coffee to matchmaking. Maybe I’m old fashioned or just a hold-out, but I like it when a human being answers the phone and asks how may I help you? I despise a machine commanding me to push button a, selection from numbers 1, 2, or 3. What if I really need to speak to a human being to resolve my issue? That’s often impossible these days. During election times, I’m bombarded with robo-calls, pre-recorded messages from candidates running for office. I’m a registered Democrat so if they come in from the “other” party I just hang up. Even doctor’s offices caved into technology. I get a call from a computer with laboratory or x-ray results. The office can’t be bothered to call me any longer.

As for Macy’s, I’m sorry to see them lose out to Amazon or other internet dealers. I may be one of the few people who has never ordered from Amazon.com. In fact, I rarely order anything from the internet. I hesitate to type in my one and only credit card number into a website, fearing some hacker in a far away land will steal it. I try to pay in cash. I know, who pays in cash these days. Yes, I do. I’m on a budget so I save for what I need.  Reliance on a disability check forces me to be thrifty.

After reading this, you may think I abhor technology. Not at all. I have a Facebook account. I use Twitter now and then. I love my laptop. But I prefer shopping at the mall or at festivals. I love reading real books. Due to financial constraints, I get most of my books from the public library or from second hand shops. Yes, I have a cell phone. No, I cannot afford Apple products. They’re out of my price range. I recognize the good and bad of technology. It’s helped bring people around the world together for worthy causes. Unwanted dogs and cats find new homes much faster. On the other hand, the internet serves as a mouth piece to spread the hatred and venom of presidential candidate Donald Trump and his crass, bigoted following. Totally unreliable and false news reports spread like wild fire and are taken as credible. Children are so addicted to technology they rarely go outside to play games or interact with neighborhood children. There’s been a spike in obesity. And I consider it rude when I’m having a conversation with someone who sends a text message or sudden takes a selfie? What happened to common courtesy?

I’m glad to be old. I surely don’t want to live in a world without books. Department stores may end up closing. Cities and towns will be stuck with dozens of empty big box stores, wondering what to do with them. They can be huge eyesores. I refuse to live in a world without public libraries or book stores. I hope my time comes before then. As for Macy’s I hope they survive. At least I can browse around the aisles at Macy’s. I can’t do that at Amazon.com. You didn’t ask but I’m not fond of on-line education either. A computer cannot take the place of walking to school with your friends. A computer cannot replace eating lunch with your classmates or playing tag in the school yard. A computer cannot take the place of laughing or crying with your high school friends. Am I biased about on line education? Sure, but I am blessed with many fond memories of attending school before guns and bullies ruined the educational experience. I’m sorry that in today’s world home school may be the only option because parents don’t teach their children to act right or the proliferation of guns makes it unsafe for children to acquire an education

Don’t let technology take away the ability to be human. A smart phone can perform many functions but it can’t love you.

 

 

Another Hiroshima?

Seventy one years ago this month, the US dropped two powerful atomic bombs on Japan to allegedly end the Second World War. Some historians argue the war would’ve dragged on with more lives lost had the bombs not been dropped. Others see it differently. It’s a moot point to argue now; the immense carnage was done. Tens of thousands of innocent Japanese men, women and children died on August 6 and 9th in the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Countless others suffered gross, horrifying skin injuries and radiation sickness from the nuclear blasts. The two cities were leveled. Many buildings were just incinerated. Animals and the environment were impacted too. Farm animals, domestic pets and wildlife were destroyed. Trees, water and soil were contaminated with sickening radiation. Since 1945, more nations have joined the nuclear club, such as Russia, the UK, France, China, North Korea, India, and Pakistan. It is widely suspected Israel is a member too. Other nations want to join. Thousands of thermonuclear bombs have been set off, above ground as well as underground, since 1945 to test their destructiveness. There have been smart efforts to curb the flow of nuclear arms with non-proliferation treaties and the dismantling of weapons. The people have spoken too. On June 12, 1982 I attended the largest peaceful march ever recorded in New York City’s history. Over 1 million people of all backgrounds marched for the end of nuclear arms. Back when I was in high school (1960s), a song called “We’re on the eve of destruction” was widely popular. Not much has changed since then. In fact, if Donald Trump is elected president of the USA we’ll be closer than ever to the end. In campaign speeches Trump has said he’ll use nuclear weapons. Mrs. Clinton has not. Today’s nuclear weapons are far more powerful, far more destructive than the bombs dropped on Japan in 1945. Their capacities to cause ruin are jaw dropping. Let’s say Trump gets into a snit with a nuclear armed foreign power and says drop the bomb rather than use diplomacy as any wise leader should. Don’t you think there will be retaliation? The bomb’s wrath will cause a fireball so massive that it will destroy every building, person, and animal in its path. The ensuing nuclear cloud will be enormous and spit out enough dust and ash to block the sun for months, if not years. Crops will fail to grow. Soil becomes unusable. Water supplies are contaminated. Livestock cannot survive the blast. For the humans who manage to live, there is an unimaginable crisis situation. Police, fire and ambulance services, if they still exist, are stretched to capacity, unable to respond to thousands of people needing help. The communication system is gone. Cell phones and computer systems cannot work. Forget about work. There is no more public transportation system and highways are wrecked. Life was we know it fails to exist. A nuclear war is unthinkable. It is unwinnable. It is horrific, just ask the Japanese survivors. Electing Donald Trump as president is foolish, it is stupid and it is risking the fate not of just the USA but of entire mankind. Think about this as you cast your ballot in the November election.