The Doughnut and an Economy for Everyone

Today on Mother’s Day I’m remembering a mother and friend I’ll call Adeline. She could brighten my day with a funny greeting card. She loved animals and usually had a little dog, a cat, and a large collection of mechanical stuffed animals. She lived alone in a run-down house with floors sagging under the weight of her kitchen and bathroom fixtures. Her generous heart was as big as her stories were long. She would go on and on about the doings of someone I didn’t know. After all, she had little to give but her stories and time. Adeline worked hard at low-paid jobs most of her life, mainly waitressing. She held a minimum-wage job at a nursing home her last years, before dying of breast cancer.

childhood bunny

Today I’m also thinking about the mothers and their children who are going hungry in increased numbers since the pandemic stripped them of their meager paychecks. The Brookings Institute reported that in April about 20% of American children age 12 and younger experienced food insecurity, a rate three times higher than during the Great Recession. Alarming! And yet, as the New York Times reminds us, although Republican legislators agreed to spend trillions of dollars on other distressed economic sectors, they “have balked at a long-term expansion of food stamps,” a proven program for reducing hunger. Meanwhile, we see images of cars lined for miles to access food at food banks.

These families live, as Adeline had, in the economy’s doughnut hole, a widening hole now with unemployment in April over 20 million. Many powerful people who could ease their hunger and health concerns care little about them, care little about the low-paid workers who help to keep this country running – domestic, retail, agriculture, health, and service workers. Forgotten, uncared for, struggling just to get by. After the pandemic, their condition will persist unless we learn how to create and maintain an economy that works for everyone.

423px-Kate_Raworth,_2013_(cropped)

Now is an excellent time to reconsider our economic values. Kate Raworth, a senior researcher at Oxford University’s Environmental Change Institute, has an intriguing plan. She calls it Doughnut Economics. She calls for us to change from growth to sustainability as our economic model, to abandon the economic goal of endless growth through consumerism and take as our goal a healthy, happy population and a healthy planet by mending and fostering the Earth’s life-support systems like climate, water, forests, biodiversity, and soil. (For an quick explanation of Raworth’s doughnut, watch this 1 ½ minute animated video.)

1024px-Doughnut_(economic_model)

To help us plan for a better future, Raworth asks us to think of the sustainable economy as a green doughnut. The doughnut itself is where our needs are taken care of, where everyone has food security, health care, housing, education, job opportunities, and overall quality of life. I now enjoy these things. Chances are you do too. But too many in our country and worldwide are missing some or all of these essentials for a good life; they are in the doughnut hole and not, like us, part of the doughnut itself. Beyond the doughnut are the needs of the planet and all life on it – climate, air, water, vegetation, wildlife, resources, and so on. The goal is to bring everyone into the green doughnut and to mitigate the damage to the life-supporting realm beyond the doughnut.

Our current measure of economic health (GDP), Raworth says, is like the trajectory of an airplane that flies higher and higher without ever landing. How is such an economy viable in the long run? What happens when our airplane hits an unanticipated storm? Well, our airplane is currently in a storm unlike one we’ve ever experienced. We’ll get through it, somehow. But we need to land the plane and ground it in favor of an economy that works for all of us, from the poorest to the richest citizen.

For social and economic policies to be just, wrote American philosopher John Rawls in Justice is Fairness, they must “be to the greatest benefit of the least-advantaged members of society” or, at the very least, to do them no harm. Likewise, Jesus said during the Sermon on the Mount, “whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me” (Matthew 25:40).

Note: I learned about Raworth’s economic model during TED Radio Hour’s episode called “What We Value” (5/1/20, beginning at minute 14:45). She goes into greater detail in her TED2018 talk. I recommend both to you.

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Photo Credits: My childhood bunny and friends; Kate Raworth cropped photo by Stephan Rohl , Creative Commons, CC BY-SA 4.0; Doughnut Economics infograph – Own work, Wikipedia Creative Commons, CC BY-SA 4.0. 

Bad Poem: “Wild Hair”

An Isolation Journal writing prompt appears in my email inbox every morning. I mostly lurk, while thousands of others internationally engage in this covid project. In other words, I don’t keep a journal but do enjoy reading Sulieka Jaouad’s introductions and her guest contributors’ stories and prompts.

To take a break from a serious post I’m working on, I thought it’d be fun to try today’s prompt. The prompt, briefly put, goes like this: “Write a bad poem,” whatever a bad poem means to you – sappy, singsongy, inscrutable, or whatever. Why not try to write your own bad poem? Meanwhile, here’s my bad isolation poem. It can be sung to the chorus of The Troggs’ 1966 hit “Wild Thing.”

Wild Hair

Wild hair,
You make the people stare,
You make me crazy,
Wild hair.

Wild hair,
It just isn’t fair,
You are an awful scare
Natural.

Wild hair,
I had no recourse,
My salon is closed,
Covid.

Wild hair,
I grabbed the scissors,
And I cut you,
Jagged.

Wild hair
Is now a worse scare,
When they see me,
On Zoom.

Coco

Photo: We call her Coco. She comes from one of the Caribbean islands where our son and his wife honeymooned. They gave it to us as a gift for helping them with trip expenses – a bit odd, but lovable. The main difference between my hair and Coco’s are my ever-growing long, stringy, graying bangs. 

 

Tree Hugger <3 Nature Conservancy

I live in the wooded part of a small city in a mostly rural county in far northeast Home summerWisconsin. Our city borders Lake Michigan’s Green Bay, which I can see from my loft windows. Today the bay is sparkling blue. Our daffodils are blooming and the tops of the tall trees – mostly white pine, red pine, maple, and oak – are waving in the cool breeze. It’s spring in the northwoods, at last. And I’m happy here in my refuge from the chaos of the novel coronavirus pandemic.

I’m a tree hugger, a nature lover. So I relish the natural beauty that surrounds our home. My husband and I take long walks and greet, from a safe distance, neighbors raking leaves or preparing flower beds and vegetable gardens or simply basking in the sun. Some are out biking, jogging, or walking, often with their dogs and children. Everyone says “Hi” now. Strangers in occasional passing cars smile and wave. We’re all hungry for more social contact but know that it’s best for everyone to stay apart for now. 

As I write, lots of other people are working to help us with food and health issues, garbage and power, news reporting and law enforcement, and other essentials. Although its offices are closed, the Nature Conservancy also continues its important work outdoors. It’s my favorite environmental nonprofit. I’ve been a member (but never a volunteer, alas) for many years.

Peninsula Park GCNature Conservancy’s priorities sync with my environmental concerns and values: protecting land and water, tackling climate change, providing food and water sustainability, and building healthy cities. Worldwide it helps to protect over 125 million acres of land, thousands of miles of rivers, and countless wildlife. In Wisconsin, it protects over 236,000 acres of forests, wetlands, rivers, lakes, prairies, bluffs, dunes, and more.

In my general area, Nature Conservancy manages 5 preserves and, overall, helps to protect almost 8,000 acres of Wisconsin’s Door Peninsula. The peninsula juts into the big waters of Lake Michigan to form the bay of Green Bay. From where I sit, I can see the silhouette of the peninsula’s bluffs 15 or so miles across the water. A fast motorboat can reach it in about 30 minutes. But being boatless, my husband and I travel by car, taking close to 2 hours. We like to make the trip twice a year, always for an overnight or two, sometimes camping in Peninsula Park atop a bluff overlooking the bay.

Of course, many other environmental nonprofits are engaged in vital work. Along with Nature Conservancy, Charity Navigator gives top ratings to the Environmental Defense Fund, Sierra Club, Rocky Mountain Institute, and Greenpeace. I encourage you to learn more about the work of these groups and to discover Nature Conservancy’s projects near you.

Stay well. Protect others. Protect our environment.

Photos: Our home; a view of Green Bay and Peninsula State Park Golf Course in
Door County where my husband and I enjoy playing. 

Suleika Jaouad Inspired Me

It’s day one of Create 31. As I mentioned in my previous post, each day during May, a few friends and I will attempt to devote at least 15 minutes to an individual creative project. In my case, it’s primarily working on posts for this blog. I’m not a fast writer; I often get bogged down in background research – that is, I often become more involved in a subject than needed for a post. As such, I’m not holding myself to an impossible (for me) standard of posting anew everyday. But I do have a concrete goal: to publish at least 12 posts this month.

Today I reveal my inspiration for Create 31. Earlier this week I listened to TED Radio Hour’s April 24 podcast called “Meditations on Loneliness.” The last segment (beginning at minute 38:14) features Suleika Jaouad, who talks about her long-term hospital isolation during her battle with leukemia, which included a bone-marrow transplant. She was in her early 20s, just out of college, when her life was interrupted for years of medical treatment. She was a “bubble girl” unable to leave her room, attended only by hospital staff in protective gear.

To help her through this harrowing experience, Jaouad recruited family and friends to join her in doing an individual creative act each day for about 15 minutes (or more) over 100 days. Her mother, for example, painted one tile a day, and her dad chronicled his childhood memories. She returned to journal writing, aspects of which appeared in a New York Times column called “Life, Interrupted.”

AMI17-2

Fast forward to April 2020: Jaouad, cancer-free at age 31, took refuge from Covid-19 in her parents’ attic, where she started a new project called “The Isolation Journals.” Tens of thousands of people from over 100 nations signed up to receive daily email prompts for journaling during the month of April. They wrote about their isolation experiences and feelings, along with other topics, like this prompt: “write a letter to your younger self.”

Create 31 combines aspects of both of Jaouad’s projects: to engage in a creative act each day and to limit the project to one month, the 31 days of May. After that, who knows? It’s worth noting that as our small local group launches Day 1, Jaouad’s enormous international group begins Day 31. Yes, she and her team have decided to keep the “Isolation Journals” going, this time for 100 more days, the timeframe of her first project.

If you’re interested in joining the “Isolation Journals” group and receiving daily prompts, you can subscribe at https://mailchi.mp/suleikajaouad/onward. To learn more about Jaouad, visit her website at https://www.suleikajaouad.com/. To learn more about Create 31, leave a comment on my blog, and I’ll get back to you. I also anticipate posting about some our Create 31’s experiences from time to time.

Stay safe. Stay healthy. Protect others.

Photo: Sunset on Anna Maria Island, FL, Feb. 2017. This photo, one I took, suggests to me the peace a person can find in creative solitude. 

Everyone is Creative!

Tomorrow begins Create 31, for which a small group of friends will join together to engage individually in a creative project of their choice during thirty-one days of May. During a Zoom meeting yesterday, we talked about possible projects. The question arose, “What counts as a creative project?” And we concluded that creative acts are much more than just creating something artistic like a poem, painting, or song.

But this morning I began to wonder: What is creativity, anyway? Scanning websites, I found that most people agree that creativity includes using the imagination to form and enact new ideas. It also involves being receptive to new ideas and experiences and thinking divergently, especially by mentally exploring a number of possible solutions, often quickly (since that’s how the brain works). But it need not be a forehead-slapping “aha!” Rather, creativity is often involved in common household decisions + actions.

Workarounds, for example. I suspect that most of us frequently employ them, like finding a substitute in our pantry for a recipe ingredient we don’t have, figuring out how to mend bad feelings with a friend after having “words,” or deciding how to find room in our small garden plot for those heirloom tomato sets we bought on impulse. Everyone is creative! Cool, huh?

Cleaning, too. A possible creative project mentioned yesterday involved increasing storage space by getting rid of stuff. In fact, since Covid-19 keeps us mostly at home, some of us have embarked on long-ignored tasks like going through those boxes of old photos, children’s art, other mementos, and things in general we’ve been loath to part with for sentimental reasons, objects in our attics, closets, and garages that hold memories, stories, and feelings. The act of deciding what to give away and who to give it to, as well as what to keep and what to trash often takes creative thinking.

BookCandles1

But, of course, being creative does require having a “product” of some sort that can (at least theoretically) be known by others. The product can be a meal, mended feelings, tomatoes grown in decorative pots, or a less cluttered house and mind (and perhaps making people happy with the cool things you gave away).

Now, none of the above is meant to pooh-pooh what most people think of as creative acts. If you’re so inclined, involve yourself in visual, musical, fabric, dance, photography, and/or writing projects. Or whatever is your passion. Or maybe you want to try something new, to explore, to take risks, to jump out of your self-imposed box. Jazz great Duke Ellington once said, “When it sounds good, it is good.” And I say, in the context of this project: When it feels creative to you, it is creative. In other words, if you think it’s creative, then it is creative.

My initial look at creativity suggests in simplified form something like this: Need/passion > divergent thinking + imagination > action > “product” = creativity. Everyone is creative! Sometimes, though, I need a little push to get to the last part of this process, to put into action a creative project I’m passionate about – like returning, after a long hiatus, to this blog. Maybe you need a little push too, which is what Create 31 is all about.

Basic Guidelines for Create 31
1. Choose a creative project (or more than one).
2. Let the group know what it is.
3. Attempt to work on it for a minimum of 15 minutes each day throughout May.
4. Give yourself grace if you miss a day or two now and then.
5. Use this group for support, encouragement, and sharing your experiences and progress.
6. I’ll check in with the group frequently and hope you will too.
7. As May 31 approaches, we’ll decide how to wrap-up Create 31 and whether any of us want to continue with our projects or start new ones – and whether we even want a timeframe.
8. Thoughout, know that you are creative!

Photo: A part of one of my bookshelves, with candle curls on top that I accumulated over time. I consider it a wax sculpture. And it continues to grow. 

Political News in Brief Will Resume in March

My husband and I are flying to Florida in the morning to meet up with family for a beach vacation. I’ll return to the news in March. Meanwhile, here are links to good overviews of the week’s two biggest stories: the firing of Trump’s national security adviser, Michael Flynn; and Trump’s first solo press conference as president.

Flynn episode ‘darkens the cloud’ of Russia that hangs over Trump administration” (Washington Post)

President Trump Seems Determined to Continue the Permanent Campaign” (NPR)

Stay informed :-).

Political News In Brief: January 2-8

I’m a political news wonk who’s worried about the prevalence of low-information Americans. I understand that working people, especially families with children, haven’t the time to delve into the news. But now, as a retired educator, I have the time not only to read the news (instead of just grabbing sound bites off the TV or radio) but also to provide a kind of national news digest for those with busy lives. That’s one of my goals for this blog: to sum up, as I see it, the major political stories of the week as often as I can. At this time my primary news sources are the New York Times (NYT) and National Public Radio (NPR). Here’s my first edition.  

TOP STORY OF THE WEEK

Heads of Intelligence Agencies Meet with Senators and then Trump shortly before releasing their report on the Russian Hacking to the Public 

“A united front of top intelligence officials and senators from both parties on Thursday [Jan 5] forcefully reaffirmed the conclusion that the Russian government used hacking and leaks to try to influence the presidential election, directly rebuffing President-elect Donald J. Trump’s repeated questioning of Russia’s role” (NYT).

On Friday (Jan 6), top intelligence officials provided Trump with a two-hour briefing, concluding that “President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia directed a vast cyberattack aimed at denying Hillary Clinton the presidency and installing Donald J. Trump in the Oval Office.”

Shortly after Trump’s briefing, these officials released their intelligence report to the public in what the NYT called “a virtually unheard-of, real-time revelation by the American intelligence agencies that undermined the legitimacy of the president who is about to direct them.”

According to the report (as summarized by CNN), Putin’s motives for hacking and leaking embarrassing Democratic emails included undermining Americans’ faith in the democratic process and “discrediting Secretary Clinton because [Putin] has publicly blamed her since 2011 for inciting mass protests against his regime.”

While the election itself is legitimate – for example, no evidence exists that voting machines were hacked – the intelligence community is confident that there was Russian interference during the campaign.

OTHER NEWS OF INTEREST

Republicans’ Rocky Ethical Start to 2017

In a secret meeting on Monday night (Jan 3), House Republicans voted to gut the Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE).  Under their proposal, the OCE would no longer serve as an independent ethics watchdog. Instead, the foxes (U.S. representatives themselves) would watch the hen house. One reason given for the change was “to prevent the office from pursuing investigations that might result in criminal charges” against House members. When the news got out, public outrage arose. And by the time the new congress was sworn in on Tuesday (Jan 4), House Republicans had abandoned the proposal. An independent OCE remains, at least for this session of Congress. (Full NYT story here)

In a related ethics story, NPR reported (Jan. 7), “The Office of Government Ethics is raising alarm over the pace of [Senate] confirmation hearings for President-elect Donald Trump’s nominees, saying Saturday that they have yet to receive required financial disclosures for some picks set to come before Congress next week.”

“Make America Sick Again”

With the Republicans set to repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA, popularly known as Obamacare), the new Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer, in a parody of Trump’s campaign slogan, declared on Wednesday (Jan 4) that the Republicans were on a path to “Make America Sick Again.” Meanwhile, Vice President-Elect Mike Pence said that Trump’s first order of business would be to begin the repeal of the ACA through “a series of Executive Orders,” the very kinds of action Obama was repeatedly criticized for using. (Full NPR story here)

“Michelle Obama’s Emotional Farewell” 

This past Friday (Jan. 6) on TV, I watched Michelle Obama give her last speech as First Lady. NPR described her talk as “a passionate pep talk to the nation’s young people.” “That’s my final message to young people as first lady,” she said. “Lead by example with hope, never fear. And know that I will be with you, rooting for you and working to support you for the rest of my life.” I was overcome with emotion and, along with school counselors standing behind her, cried.

Janis Joplin and Me

Lazarus and I rolled into San Francisco squeezed in the backseat of an Alfa Romeo convertible. It was the last leg of our week-long adventure hitchhiking across the country. The driver and his girlfriend offered us a place to crash, a townhouse in the Haight-Ashbury district that served as both a small commune and a psychedelic poster company. And – talk about luck! – they gave us tickets to Winterland’s Halloween BallTrip or Freak

The ball, called “Trip or Freak,” was that night, Halloween 1967. The performers were the Grateful Dead, Quicksilver Messenger Service, and Big Brother and the Holding Company with Janis Joplin. It’s Joplin’s performance that remains the most vivid memory of my hippy sojourn in SF.

What struck me at first was her outfit – especially the bikini-like top with two halves of a coconut shell covering her breasts, which seemed rather risqué to my college-girl eyes. And she was in constant motion. As she dove deeper into the first song, her sexually-charged energy increased. I stopped dancing and, mesmerized, just watched – and listened hard. The soulful way she belted out a song blew me away. I’d never seen or heard anything like that.Janis Joplin at Monterey Pop Festival

I completely agree with David Walsh, who wrote in his review of the 2015 Toronto Film Festival, “anyone who saw Janis Joplin in person, especially in a more intimate space, is not likely to forget it…. I have never from that time to this seen a performer as generous and as giving—and as vulnerable. One almost inevitably fell in love with her.”

Although offering a feminist analysis would not have occurred to me at the time, in retrospect I also agree with Lorraine Ali, who wrote in her Los Angeles Times film review, “The reaction of audiences, who were floored and almost blindsided by the sheer passion of Joplin, illustrates what a true anomaly she was in a rock world populated almost entirely of men. Joplin didn’t wave the flag of feminism, she embodied it.”janis film poster

Walsh and Ali were writing about Amy Berg’s Janis: Little Girl Blue (trailer). This film, the first full-length documentary about Joplin, was released Friday (12/4/15) in major metropolitan areas nationwide. None of the listed theater locations are near me; so I may have to wait until PBS’ American Masters airs it, which, according to the film’s official site, will be in early 2016.

After that amazing first night in SF, I continued to live and work at the psychedelic poster commune. My hitchhiking buddy, a chemistry graduate student named Steve who changed his name to Lazarus after his first LSD trip, soon journeyed on; I never saw him again. Eventually I grew disillusioned with the scene, flew home, and in January resumed my role as a college sophomore – forever changed: more self-assured and with a greater appreciation for the kindness of strangers. All round, it was an excellent adventure.

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Image Credits:

“Trip or Freak” poster designed by Alton Kelley, Stanley Mouse and Rick Griffin. For details about the poster’s creation, see this discussion by PosterCentral’s Pete Howard. 

Janis Joplin with Big Brother and the Holding Company at the 1997 Monterey Pop Festival (found on Pinterest without attribution).

Janis: Little Girl Blue poster (Jigsaw Productions). 

Recommended Youtube videos:

Amazing Joplin performance of “Ball and Chain’’ at the 1967 Monterey Pop Festival (Youtube) 

Another amazing Joplin performance, “Piece of My Heart” live in Germany 1968, with audience participation

Joplin’s Greatest Hits, all audio exceptwith a photo and table of contents

Documentarian Ondi Timoner interviews director Amy Berg about her new film Janis: Little Girl Blue