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Thursday, June 30, 2016

A Torn Fabric

I am ready to pack it all up and leave the United States.

I am a proud American citizen. I was born here. My father and uncles fought for this country during World War II. I love America.

But I am so fed up with the current state of affairs that for the first time in my life I am ready to emigrate to another country. I have many reasons for feeling this way.

Let's start with the current political situation. The two major political parties are poised to nominate presidential candidates disliked by the majority of Americans. One is a bully and a blowhard. The other is of very questionable integrity. Really, America, is that the best we can come up with?

Congress is so far up the ass of the National Rifle Association that it refuses to pass even modest attempts to keep assault rifles out of the hands of would-be terrorists and those who present a threat to others. Apparently the ongoing mass slaughter of innocent people in the US is just fine with these so-called elected 'leaders.'

And why won't elected officials deal with the major problems facing this country -- poverty, a crumbling infrastructure, a looming Social Security shortfall, a huge national debt, etc. -- rather than worrying about made-up issues such as which bathroom a transgender person should be allowed to use

I also am very disheartened by the vitriol and rancor among much of the populace. A well-reasoned political discourse is nearly impossible without one or both participants resorting to name-calling. One party claims to want a smaller government, yet its adherents insist on trying to cram their religious beliefs down the throats of everybody else. Can we say h-y-p-o-c-r-a-c-y? 

Our judicial system is a farce, with a convicted rapist being sentenced to a mere six months in county jail because the judge felt that a harsher sentence would have too much of an impact on the criminal. What about the victim, who will feel the impact of her attacker's actions for the rest of her life? 

And what's going on with the police? How many unarmed people (many of them black) have to be murdered by police before something is done? I know the police have dangerous, thankless jobs. There are those who target them and take whatever opportunity they can find to kill police sitting in a patrol car. But there have been far too many officer-involved shootings to not warrant a close look at police procedures.

Let's not forget the 'patriot' movement in the western states that wants the federal government to hand over control of public lands so these states can sell or lease them to the highest bidder for oil and mineral extraction. What is it about public lands these people don't get? Public doesn't mean the lands are available for sale. And what is even more frightening is that some Republican members of Congress, in addition to some state legislators, support this move. 

Taxpayer-funded Wildlife Services (now there's a misnomer) with its $121 million budget kills millions of 'nuisance' wildlife, many of them predators that the cattle ranchers want exterminated. So of course, Wildlife Services does their bidding. The 2014 kill reports shows that this out-of-control organization killed 2.7 MILLION animals, including 322 gray wolves, 61,702 coyotes, 580 black bears, 305 mountain lions, 796 bobcats, 454 river otters, 2,930 foxes, three bald eagles, five golden eagles and 22,496 beavers. The program also killed 15,698 black-tailed prairie dogs and destroyed more than 33,309 prairie dog dens.

I believe the moral fabric of our nation is torn and may well be irreparable. Yes, there are good people who help others, volunteer, donate money, etc. Perhaps the news media simply don't cover acts of kindness as often as they cover stories of hatred and killing and greed. But it seems that mass killings and road rage are becoming the norm. Stories of abuse of children and animals far outnumber stories about good people doing good things. Corporate greed is endemic. It's all about money, regardless of the toll on people or the environment. Politicians no longer 'represent' the people who elected them, but instead do whatever their corporate owners want them to do. No one listens to us 'little people.' Our voices, our wishes, our welfare, are ignored. So right now, a move to either Costa Rica, Nicaragua or Botswana is looking very good.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Life in the Desert

The desert Southwest where I live is experiencing a major heat wave, with temperatures in the high 90s to low 100s F (38-40 C). Arizona temperatures are even higher. Humidity has been as low as 4 percent. Wildfires are burning thousands of acres and destroying or threatening hundreds of homes and other structures.

I usually stay inside my air-conditioned house during the heat of the day, but yesterday I found myself sitting on the covered patio for half an hour or so with my dogs. The satellite television installer was working in the living room, so I wanted to keep my three dogs out of his way. I knew they wouldn't be happy being outside in the heat while I was inside, so I took a book and sat on the patio. There was a slight breeze, but there was no denying that it was HOT outside.

This reminded me of my childhood, living in a house with no air conditioning. Back then, very few places had air conditioning. On hot summer days in the Midwest, when humidity made the heat seem even more unbearable, we used oscillating, table-top fans to provide whatever cooling we could get. And it wasn't much, as the fans simply blew hot air across the room. I knew only one house that was air conditioned, a brick home that belonged to an elderly couple who were friends of the family. What a treat it was to go visit them on a hot summer day!

My grandparents' house wasn't air conditioned either, and I don't remember even having a fan. I do remember sweltering as I lay in bed at night. And I remember spending lazy summer days sitting in the shade of a big tree in their back yard. But my siblings and I were young, so we spent much of those hot, sticky days playing outside, tramping through the woods, riding horses with our cousins, and getting so hot we thought we would melt. My paternal grandmother lived in a big brick house that trapped the heat like a brick oven.
I also remember the taste of icy cold watermelon, a cold bottle of my favorite soft drink and the wonder of homemade ice cream. Somehow those treats made the hot days a bit more bearable.

And just think about the Native people who inhabited the southwestern desert long before the first Spaniards arrived, and about the white settlers who moved to this hot, dry, desolate land. They had no electric fans, swamp coolers or air conditioners to help them endure the blasting sun. They had no electric refrigerators or freezers to provide cool drinks or frozen ice cream treats. And the whites typically wore long sleeves and long pants or dresses. Imagine!

I think we in the early 21st century have it pretty good, with only brief forays out of the house or air-conditioned car. I think our ancestors were made of sturdier stuff than most of us are.





Thursday, June 16, 2016

Facebook-Free

I lasted six days since deactivating (but not deleting) my Facebook account.

I did this once before for a single day, and of course, when I am in Africa and other parts of the world where wi-fi isn't as prevalent as it is here. But this is the first time I have intentionally been Facebook-free for this long. 

What prompted this hiatus was the recent slaughter of 49 people at a gay nightclub in Orlando, FL, and the resulting onslaught of posts by the 'anybody should be able to buy an assault rifle' crowd. Overcome by grief and anger that our so-called 'leaders' had again refused to do something -- anything -- to prevent more mass killings, I simply had to step away for a while.

Since then, I have vowed to remain Facebook-free for as long as I can. Facebook is a useful way for me to keep in touch with friends both in the US and abroad, but it also causes a lot of stress when I read about all the abused animals needing medical assistance or rescue, and when reading the posts of people who refuse to see the necessity for tightening laws regarding who should be allowed to purchase automatic weapons.

Out of curiosity, I did a Google search about 'how to kick the Facebook habit.' I was surprised to see how many authors have addressed this issue, as if Facebook is yet another addiction like alcohol or drugs. 

I try to stay clear of political debates online, as nothing good ever comes of them. But I am unable to stay silent in light of the ongoing mass murders taking place on a regular basis in America. I am saddened when I think about what our country has become -- a country filled with violence, hatred, deep political divisiveness and a refusal to do anything to find a common ground for the safety of our people.

Monday, June 13, 2016

A Sad, Soulless Country

Another day, another mass shooting. Another kick in America's gut.

A gunman with ties to ISIS has murdered 49 people and injured 53 others in a gay nightclub in Orlando, FL. Two days earlier, a gunman murdered an up-and-coming 22-year-old singer, also in Orlando.  

When will the American people rise up and demand action by our so-called 'leaders,' most of whom are in bed with the National Rifle Association, to stop this ongoing carnage? Every mass shooting in America is followed by members of Congress offering their 'thoughts and prayers' to the victims and their families. And the NRA announces that the slaughter would have been prevented had everybody in the club, movie theater, mall or whatever been armed with an assault rifle. And neither of these things does anything to stop future carnage.

I am sad and I am angry. But most of all, I am tired of the do-nothing Congress offering nothing more than 'thoughts and prayers.' I am tired of the NRA and its congressional puppets blocking even the most logical, well-considered steps to keep guns out of the hands of the mentally ill and terrorists. No one has proposed 'taking away the guns' from law-abiding citizens. Did you know that people can be prevented from taking a commercial flight on an airplane if they are on the 'no-fly list', but they cannot be prevented from legally buying weapons?

I have been around for more than six decades. This country has been through many ups and downs during that time. But I have never, ever, been so dismayed, disgusted and fearful for this country. In all honesty, I no longer want to live here. The senseless violence and the ongoing mass slaughter of innocent people is just about more than I can bear. And it isn't all perpetrated by religious extremists. It seems that any nutcase who wants one can get a gun and go out and slaughter people. Our so-called elected leaders are so far up the ass of the NRA they can't see what they are doing, or maybe they just don't care. 

I am quite literally in tears, not just for the people murdered in Orlando, but also for what this once-great country has become. And no, Donald Trump is not the answer.

I don't want 'thoughts and prayers.' I don't want false accusations. I WANT ACTION! Every time I hear about one of these attacks, I feel as if I've been kicked in the stomach. I literally feel ill. And the worst part, aside from the loss of life, is knowing that nothing -- NOTHING -- will be done to prevent the next attack. 

If the murder of 26 first graders and their teachers at Sandy Hook, CT, didn't create changes, why should we expect the murder of 49 gays to make a difference? America has sold its soul to the NRA and the gun industry. What a sad, sad place America has become.

Friday, June 10, 2016

Unplugged

I recently spent time in India and South Africa, and as is often the case in Africa, my Internet access was either limited or non-existent.

And that, I believe, was a good thing. I had Internet/wi-fi access in my Indian hotels in Delhi, Ranthambhore and Agra, but in the lobby only, not in my room. And in South Africa, I had no access at all in the first camp, spotty -- and extremely slow -- access in the office area at the second camp, and very good access in the third camp in the reception area. There was no television or radio in my room, and the only places I saw a newspaper were in Delhi and Agra.

After a couple of days of 'withdrawal,' I found that I didn't mind being unplugged from the world at all. I was able to send and receive a couple of text messages from my daughter, but for the most part, I was cut off from the world. It was liberating not to be bombarded by negative news stories and the latest blatherings and lies of political candidates. If I wondered about local weather, I simply opened the door to my room or unzipped my tent. I did take time to upload a couple of videos or photographs to my Facebook account, but I didn't read anything on my timeline.

Since returning home, I have felt a need to somewhat step away from the many media that daily bombard me with information, requests, etc. I have cable television, the daily newspaper, Facebook, e-mail, texting, phone calls and on-line news. It's all a bit overwhelming and stress-inducing, which is something I usually don't realize until I am forced to go 'cold turkey' and not have access to any of these things. And every so often I disconnect from social media and cable news just to avoid many of the heartbreaking and infuriating stories I come across.

We get so accustomed to being 'connected' all the time that it's hard to remember that life wasn't always like this. When I was a kid, our house had one telephone, a rotary land line. My grandparents had a party line, shared by several nearby houses. We had one television that used an antenna to receive local broadcasts. It was such a thrill when I got my first transistor radio. Telephones were used to make phone calls and nothing else. There was no such device as an answering machine, and no voice mail. If someone wasn't home, we called back later. Research for a school paper or project meant going to the library and checking out books, and using reference books in the library. There was no Google or Wikipedia for us! 

I admit, I do enjoy the ease of getting information -- directions, sample menus, hours of operation, reviews, booking airline tickets -- online. But it's so easy to let our electronic connections keep us away from our face-to-face human connections. It's easy to get overwhelmed trying to keep up with everything going on in the world. And for me and others I know, it's so easy to become weighed down by the endless stories of cruelty and suffering. 

So I think some periods of being unplugged from the cacophony of the world, whether by design or by circumstances, is a good thing. If we allow it, it can let us reconnect with the world around us and with our families and friends. One thing I have learned from my four trips to Africa is the importance of slowing down. Maybe we should all follow 'Africa time,' a more relaxed attitude toward time. I think we would live more stress-free lives if we did.

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

New Art Available

Announcing the availability of a couple of new photographs from my recent trip to South Africa:


















These and other images are available at http://fineartamerica.com/profiles/1-ann-sullivan.html and at https://desertmountainphotography.smugmug.com/

All proceeds from the sale of images and other photographic products on these two sights will be donated to the Save the Elephants' scholarship fund to make it possible for a deserving but impoverished Kenyan student to attend high school. Details are available at www.savetheelephants.org