Speak Truth to Power

January 25th, 2017

While watching the presidential election returns in November and disbelieving the results, this poem kept going through my head:

 

Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front by Wendell Berry

                                                Used with permission

 

Love the quick profit, the annual raise,

vacation with pay. Want more

of everything ready-made. Be afraid

to know your neighbors and to die.

 

And you will have a window in your head.

Not even your future will be a mystery

any more. Your mind will be punched in a card

and shut away in a little drawer.

 

When they want you to buy something

they will call you. When they want you

to die for profit they will let you know.

So, friends, every day do something

that won’t compute. Love the Lord.

Love the world. Work for nothing.

Take all that you have and be poor.

Love someone who does not deserve it.

 

Denounce the government and embrace

the flag. Hope to live in that free

republic for which it stands.

Give your approval to all you cannot

understand. Praise ignorance, for what man

has not encountered he has not destroyed.

 

Ask the questions that have no answers.

Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoias.

Say that your main crop is the forest

that you did not plant,

that you will not live to harvest.

 

Say that the leaves are harvested

when they have rotted into the mold.

Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.

Put your faith in the two inches of humus

that will build under the trees

every thousand years.

 

Listen to carrion — put your ear

close, and hear the faint chattering

of the songs that are to come.

Expect the end of the world. Laugh.

Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful

though you have considered all the facts.

So long as women do not go cheap

for power, please women more than men.

 

Ask yourself: Will this satisfy

a woman satisfied to bear a child?

Will this disturb the sleep

of a woman near to giving birth?

 

Go with your love to the fields.

Lie down in the shade. Rest your head

in her lap. Swear allegiance

to what is nighest your thoughts.

 

As soon as the generals and the politicos

can predict the motions of your mind,

lose it. Leave it as a sign

to mark the false trail, the way

you didn’t go.

 

Be like the fox

who makes more tracks than necessary,

some in the wrong direction.

Practice resurrection.

 

Wendell Berry is a renowned writer of prose and poetry, and an activist. Now in his 80s, Berry has given up the bright lights of New York and Palo Alto where he has taught and lives on a farm in Kentucky.

Berry is facetious when he writes “Love the fast profit….” Yet that is what the public in the USA has elected—a man who has little care for the future, nor for people, but has entered politics to further himself and the cadre of the superrich.

The next four years will be a especially difficult for reproductive health issues. The new administration has pledged to get rid of Obamacare, which has put health insurance within reach of millions of people. One of its best benefits is the availability of contraception without copay. Furthermore, the proposed Health Secretary is a foe of abortion.

There are actions bubbling up all over the country and they have already started locally. Dan Olson wrote about “Our 1st 100 Days”: “…a number of folks in the community are organizing a major campaign to combat the hate, fear, and lies so common in this last election cycle by growing and invigorating local efforts to advance social, environmental and economic justice in our community.” For more information: WWW.OUR1ST100DAYS.US.

RESPOND is offering a day of free classes on January 21st. For more information: www.respond2017.weebly.com.

The worst global crisis is climate change. Durango has already responded with a chapter of the Citizens Climate Lobby; https://www.facebook.com/DurangoChapterCCL/?fref=ts. CCL will be showing a video, “The Age of Consequences”, on Wednesday 15 February at both 5 and 8 PM. It will be at the Vallecito Room of the Student Union Building at Fort Lewis College.

In mid-February “Truth to Power: Writers Respond to the Rhetoric of Hate and Fear,” will be available at Maria’s Bookshop. The scores of voices there, including Berry’s, collected and published by local writers Pam Uschuk and Will Root, can strengthen our resolve for the next 4 years.

If you are unhappy about the direction our country is headed, join with your neighbors to regain control. Participate in local actions!

© Richard Grossman MD, 2017

Afterword: This piece is most relevant to the Durango area, but there is concern and action all over the globe–including a demonstration that was held in Antarctica! No one knows what is going to happen, but I am certain that the current administration will set back human rights–especially women’s rights–terribly.

Stay Current on International Family Planning

December 29th, 2016

family-planning-sign-in-ethiopia-by-maurice-chedel

 A sign in Ethiopia showing the positive effects of having only 2 children. (Escape from poverty, health, a better housing, a fertile surrounding with trees, a better education) Picture by Maurice Chédel

“All couples and individuals have the basic right to decide freely and responsibly the number and spacing of their children and to have the information, education and means to do so.”                         United Nations, 1994

 

Although reproductive rights may be in jeopardy in this country, there is reason for optimism both here and abroad.

India has the world’s second largest population—about a billion and a third people. Thanks to family planning programs, family size there has been decreasing slowly through the years. Unfortunately there have been some bad bumps on the road. For instance, decades ago both men and women were sterilized without really understanding their surgery. The government put pressure on family planners to meet quotas and they, in turn, pressured patients to have surgery. Recently several women died after shoddy surgery in tubal ligation “camps”. It turned out that these unfortunate women wanted family planning, but weren’t given the option of temporary contraceptive methods nor adequately told of the risks of the surgery.

Sterilization, condoms, “the pill” and IUDs have been the mainstays in India, but the government has just added contraceptive injections to the short list of methods available to women without cost. The “Depo” shot has the advantages of lasting 3 months, of being very effective and lacking the serious side effects of contraceptives with estrogen. Therefore women who cannot use “the pill” can use it. Worldwide, “Depo” has been prescribed for birth control for over 40 years.

Although the USA has some of the most stringent rules for approving medications, I find it interesting that some other countries have limited access to birth control that we take for granted. Depo in India is one example, and birth control pills in Japan are another. For years Japanese women were not able to get “the pill” and couples mainly relied on condoms for contraception. The rationale was that condoms prevented the transmission of disease and could prevent problems if there was marital infidelity. It was only in 1999 that this policy was changed.

In many parts of Africa women needed a physical examination and blood tests before they could get a prescription for “the pill”. Few could afford these luxuries, driving up the number of unplanned pregnancies. In much of Latin America, on the other hand, a woman can walk into a “farmacia” and purchase whichever brand she would like.

Emergency contraceptive pills are easily available throughout much of the world. Plan B and other brands are now available in pharmacies in this country without prescription. They have been shown to be amazingly safe, although not as effective as having an IUD inserted. Of course EC should only be used in case of an emergency, such as rape or a broken condom, and it provides no protection against infection.

Price gouging for medications exists outside the USA. In England, for instance, the cost for EC could be more than US$40—while the same medication in France would cost less than US$10. There is an eye-catching British campaign suggesting that a woman in need could save money by taking the bus to Paris to get her pills!

Although millions more women in the USA have access to free family planning thanks to “Obamacare”, unfortunately there are still limitations. Some 20 million women in the USA live in “contraceptive deserts”. These are areas without reasonable access to publically funded clinics that offer the full range of contraceptive methods. Despite this, the teen-pregnancy rate has fallen precipitously in the past 25 years—a big reason for celebration!

Globally there is mixed news from the immense attempt to provide family planning services in some of the most difficult to reach and poorest parts of the world. The Family Planning 2020 campaign is now about halfway through its tenure, which started in 2012 and goes until 2020. Its goal is to reach 120 additional women with family planning services in 8 years. They have reached 30 million new users of contraception, which is an amazing achievement—but short of their interim goal by 20 million. It is incredibly difficult to deliver health services in areas where this campaign is working; I wish them luck.

Speaking of luck, last month I was hit by a car while crossing Main Avenue in a crosswalk. Fortunately I have no serious injury except for a broken ankle. It is also fortunate that I am totally retired from the practice of medicine—but plan to continue writing these columns. Happy Holidays to readers of Population Matters!

© Richard Grossman, 2016

Give Children Every Advantage

November 28th, 2016

dislexia

            New parents hope that their children will be perfect. Unfortunately, there is often disappointment when reality sets in.

We have always cared about the welfare of our children, but now each child seems to matter more as family size is decreasing. Fortunately much can be done now to help children with disabilities. Difficulty with reading, dyslexia, is a good example.

Dyslexia is estimated to affect as many as 20% of people—that is one in five! Reading is an amazingly complex skill, so it is no wonder so many people have difficulty. As many females have dyslexia as males, but girls tend to stand out less. Dyslexic boys often act out in school, while girls with the same problem tend to become quiet and not call attention to themselves.

Teachers are recognizing dyslexia more now than when I was in school. I remember struggling with reading in first grade. I envied one of my classmates who read much better than I. Many years later at a reunion when I mentioned this to her, she replied “Didn’t you know I was repeating first grade?”

Probably both she and I suffered from dyslexia. I managed to squeak by until 7th grade when my English teacher realized that something was wrong. Mr. Johnson focused on the spelling part of the problem. I’m a pretty good speller now, but unfortunately I am still a slow reader.

My freshman year in college was rough. I was faced with large volumes of reading that I couldn’t plough through at my slow pace of 200 words-per-minute. Once again coaching helped me. Only recently have I realized that the basic problem is that I have mild dyslexia.

Unfortunately dyslexia is ignored frequently, as it was with me. Its treatment is time consuming and expensive, and it is best to start early. Although some adults are successful despite dyslexia, many are not so fortunate because they get off to a bad start in school. This can lead to poor self-esteem, dropping out of school and perhaps even to criminal activity. Two thirds of prisoners have poor reading skills, and many of these have been found to be dyslexic.

Research on dyslexia is ongoing, but two doctors developed an effective method of treating it. The Orton-Gillingham method employs multiple senses in its approach, including visual, auditory and kinesthetic pathways. A student will see a word, say the same word and write it at the same time so it gets firmly implanted in her brain. This is very intensive of teachers’ time since it involves one-on-one interaction, but amazingly successful in improving reading ability.

It is wonderful that our community has a school that offers education for dyslexics. In fact, it is so good and so well known that it has attracted families to move here. The Liberty School provides state-of-the-art instruction for kids from 1st through 8th grades. It also has programs to challenge children who are exceptionally bright. Often children will spend only a year or two at the school, to get an educational boost.

A friend sent two of her children to the Liberty School, not because they were doing poorly in the public schools but because she thought that they could do better. Indeed, they improved markedly! Her daughter went from performing at a 5th grade level in math to 12th grade—in just one year! The son hadn’t been writing well, but at Liberty wrote a great play together with classmates.

My friend couldn’t say enough good things about Liberty and the influence it had on her kids. She is a school psychologist as well as being an excellent, involved mother.

One of the keys of Liberty is integration: the older kids help the younger, and those who read well help the ones who don’t. I observed this when I visited the school recently. I interviewed several of the students; all were enthusiastic about their school and the progress they were making. I saw lots of smiling faces.

The Liberty School is building a new facility up Junction Creek Road. It will not only be state-of-the-art but also have wonderful land for recreation and nature studies. There was an excellent story about their campaign on the front page of the Herald 12 days ago.

            Being able to help a child afflicted with dyslexia succeed in life is just one advantage of a small family. Fortunately we live in a society that does not judge people by the number of children they have.

© Richard Grossman 2016

Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 United States
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 United States.