A Larger View

a commentary on how current events reflect— or not—our search for higher values

  • Volume XXI
  • No. 3
  • May/June
  • Bulletin of The Inner/Outer Partnership

The pieces are reposted from some of the entries in InnerLifeDirections.com

in this issue:

  • Ballet Shoes For Black Dancers
  • Almost There
  • Smuggling and Stopping The Buck
  • Art and Technology
  • 60 Gallons Per Homeless
  • Blocking a Loophole
  • To Ponder On

Ballet Shoes For Black Dancers

It’s usually difficult for whites to be aware, much less understanding, of the difference being black makes in today’s world. Ballet shoes may be a small example, but it is revealing of how easy it is for the society to ignore the needs of non-whites. Ballet is an art form based on tradition. The tradition favors white ballet dancers, and usually females. Slowly over time black dancers have made inroads both in the US and in the UK. Most of us now know of Misty Copeland and the Washington Ballet. Eric Underwood is another black  dancer, an American  who dances with the UK’s Royal Ballet. Because ballet shoes only come in fleshtones accommodating white dancers, he had to apply pancake make up to his.  Fleshtone shoes allow the dancer to look natural, the idea is  for the shoes to blend in with the skin. It takes up to half an hour for Eric, and other black dancers, to apply the pancake, some of it is lost during performing and since his ballet shoes only last 3 or 4 days, it became a time consuming process. Another dancer, Brooklyn Mack applied acrylic paints which could be oily and sometimes be tricky since an oily surface can be a dancer’s nightmare. Finally Underwood posted his frustration on Instagram wondering why there was no ballet shoes for black dancers. Many were in agreement, although a Russian ballet company didn’t see the need. But one manufacturer, only one, Bloch shoes responded, and Eric has been working with them to develop a shoe which will appropriately be called, “Eric Tan” and which is slated to go on sale in the near future. Maybe Eric tan can become a personal reminder of what else we need to do to treat non-whites equally.

Almost There

Given today’s mores, it is hard to imagine, or is it remember, that cohabitation was illegal in the United States and was considered “living in sin”.   The State of Florida  just recently passed a law signed by Governor Rick Scott making it no longer a crime ( small article in section A of the  4/7/16 L A Times). It had been so designated on the books there since 1868 and was then punishable by up to 30 days in prison and a $400 fine. Although it was not enforced, until the new law, cohabitation was a second degree misdemeanor and could be punishable by 60 days in jail or a $500 fine. Now that Florida has banned it, Michigan and Mississippi are the only 2 states left  which have not. Of course to traditional Catholics and to fundamentalist Christians, cohabitation is still a sin and many are those who will not cohabit for that reason.  It was certainly not part of the Pope’s “Amoris Laetitia”  Joy of Love proclamation about  family issues. Not cohabitating, however, is a choice, a personal decision, and ought not to be a legally mandated behavior. To most people in  the modern world, at least in  Western countries, the acceptance of two unmarried people living together should be seen as part of the march of progress. It has removed stigma against many women who would have otherwise been called loose and immoral, and it has freed even more giving them  latitude in relationships permitting many not to have to remain in an unhappy one.  In our society, at least, the status of cohabitation could be used as a snapshot of our  progress in this area: Although decriminalization is nearly complete, societal sanction is not quite totally there. Still the status quo is a sign that many things do improve and are better than they were in the past.

Smuggling and Stopping The Buck

I write this just after reading a recent Rolling Stones’ article on human smuggling in the US, more specifically the activities of a few young men—and some young women— attending Texas A&M in Corpus Christi, Texas. Since Corpus as the locals call it is a city  I know fairly well,  and the people involved could have been people I knew, or like some of the people I know there, the story rang an even louder bell. These young people were party animals, into drugs and were brought into a smuggling operation through a friend they met a one such party. Corpus, is not far from the border, and residents are used to people they know or even taxi drivers being “coyotes”. I thought their reaction telling, they disapproved but closed their eyes to a reality they felt beyond them. In the case of the college students—non-Mexicans it is useful to point out—if I read the article correctly, they saw their actions as benevolent, in one case, justifying the activity on humanitarian grounds, in another having a young man bragging, “ I sell the American dream.” The young people would pick up the migrants at some point along the border on the US side, deliver them to a safe house while they were waiting for money to arrive to pay the smugglers. If  payment did not come, they were driven back to where they  had been picked up, the drivers not knowing, or caring whether the desert would swallow them, or whether they would be beaten or  harmed in some way. In  the cases cited in the article the motive was clearly financial, and the link to trafficking in human beings totally absent from the consciousness of these young drivers. To them they were providing a service, a needed service. The whole idea that each migrant was being charged $500 to $3000 to cross the border was not on their radar screen. True they were providing a service, and engaging in a business, but even leaving out the human trafficking aspect, when a business charges way beyond what the service ought to be worth it is called, usury, gauging, extortion and it is illegal. I have often pondered what makes a smuggler a smuggler, what makes him or her close their eyes to the moral, ethical, human values behind their action. This article offers no clue, for the financial incentive is a given. Still having these smugglers be US college students compels us to ask, at least a few questions. Are we as a society placing material values above any notions of right and wrong? What is it in our society that enabled these young people to be oblivious? Would the buck stop with us were we in a similar situation?

Art and Technology

We still think that art and technology are poles apart and they are, but what we forget is that they go hand in hand to make our world more livable. Amy Wibowo wrote a blog about her experience with the two, a blog which she charmingly illustrated and posted on Medium. It was then reposted on Quartz perhaps because its editors also saw how well she was able to summarize the relationship between them. I would suggest you  click on the link and read the post because she cites examples which would be too awkward to list here.  We shouldn’t have to choose, she suggests, and as she gives instances where this would apply, she tells us how poorly an app would run if it weren’t designed properly.  Design makes technology usable she says.  Design and art can make math and science learnable; art can inspire technology and technology can bring art to life, she continues to assert. Since both art and technology should be recognized as part of our lives, moving towards that understanding with a certain savvy is important. And perhaps that understanding will also be of use in the need to link science and the humanities. We must all know, as I do, people who excel at both art and technology, people who are artists and computer mavens at the same time, people who are reminders to encourage those around us to use the two and avoid having to choose between one or the other. And as we do, the idea can inspire us to realize and appreciate how art and technology play out in our own lives.

60 Gallons Per Homeless

I appreciate how difficult it is to solve the problem of homelessness. I understand that streets needs to be clean, and that businesses have a right to have unencumbered sidewalks so that customers can freely come and go, but I also understand that the homeless are people, many with mental health issues, illnesses, often people who would rather be somewhere else than on the street when it’s cold, or raining, or just to have a spot somewhere they can call home. Los Angeles County has the largest homeless population nationally, 44,000, about half of whom are in the city of Los Angeles (Los Angeles County is made up of 88 municipalities). By way of handling the problem of homelessness, the City of Los Angeles had been conducting sweeps on Skid Row and surrounding areas confiscating the possessions of the homeless, sometimes even including their medications and identification papers. An advocate even built tiny homes for them, and the 2 that were installed (there were to be 6 more) were demolished. As a result of protests and advocacy, the city council late in March passed a law setting limits on the belongings of the homeless. In order to keep the sidewalks clear, they can only have what would fit within a 60 gallon container with the lid closed –say a trash bin. The new law says that tents or temporary shelters must be removed between 6am and 9pm unless the temperature falls below 50 degrees. Those who do not comply can be cited or arrested. The city has recently approved a plan to spend a $100 million on homeless services and $2 billion over the next 10 years, and the County’s plan to spend another $150 million. How to find that money however, has not yet been found nor agreed upon. To the council who voted for this measure, (13 to1), it is temporary until other plans can be implemented.  The fact remains that homelessness continues to be criminalized. But to compound the harm, injustice is added, for the idea of limiting the amount of one’s possessions seems to belong to a dictatorship and in the case of the homeless cruel. Would the council members, the business owners who were behind the enactment of this law, or any other group, favor a limit on their possessions? I keep wondering how would I fit my possessions in a 60 gallon trash bin?

Blocking a Loophole

Anything that chips away at the use of child and forced labor is good news. A loophole allowing goods to enter the US even if they had been made with child or forced labor has been closed. The Tariff Act of 1930 said that if there was not enough supply to meet US demand, the goods could come in regardless. Since then the act was used a mere 39 times to block forced labor, the last time being in 2000. The language has now been changed, and goods will no longer be allowed in if child or forced labor is involved, even if suspected of thus being made. The number of goods involved is wider than most might think, and not surprisingly the number of countries is wide too. India, one of the biggest offenders, is suspected making and exporting such goods as bricks, sugarcane, rice, garments, carpets, fireworks footwear and stones. Another big offender, Brazil, is suspected of exporting sugarcane, cotton, bricks, tobacco, cattle, rice, garments, footwear and timber. Bangladesh, still another big offender, exports bricks, garments, footwear, shrimp and textiles. Other products affected by this ban are gold, cotton, coal, pornography, fish, tea, diamonds, rubber, bananas, and cocoa. Some of the other countries include, Burma, Philippines, China, Uganda, Bolivia, Pakistan, Columbia Indonesia, Turkey, Paraguay.  The law wasn’t primarily passed to fight child and forced labor, but to benefit businesses. Nevertheless, federal officials will now have to enforce the ban. The question some have is, will there be enough resources for the closing of the loophole to make a difference and send a loud message to reduce the use of child and forced labor? Whether or not the resources are there to make the ban effective though, from a consumer point of view, by familiarizing ourselves with the array of products and the countries involved, we can make our own difference exercising our responsibility and buying power.

 To Ponder On

“My words fly up, my thoughts remain below. Words without thought never to heaven go”     William Shakespeare









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