Sunday, June 24, 2007

5 Blogs That Make Me Think

Strannix, over at Welcome to the Revolution, and Sniderman, at Two Dollar Bill gave me some serious positive reinforcement recently by tagging my blog as one of their lists of "5 Blogs That Make Me Think."

In addition to a groovy "Thinking Blogger Award" button (which I will put on the blog as soon as I can figure out how), I get to tag 5 blogs that make me think.

The Thinking Blogger meme works like this:

1. Wait to be tagged by another blogger, then you tag 5 blogs.
2. Link back to the original post for this meme: 5 Blogs That Make Me Think
3. Adorn your blog with "Thinking Blogger Award" button. Buttons come in Gold or Silver -- color coordinate with your blog!

I tend to visit blogs which make me think, and teach me something. There are boatloads of local blogs, many of which make me think, but when I had to narrow it down to five I discovered that the ones I immediately thought of weren't local at all. In fact, three of them are international.

Here's my list in no particular order. Click through and take a look:

Lovely Leah Leah is a young woman living in Israel. She writes about the Jewish tradition and her life in Israel. Her posts about Judaism definitely make me think. The fact that she is 18 makes her wisdom that much more intriguing.

Mish Understood A young female soldier with the IDF, Mish doesn't always get to post regularly, but her posts are always worth the wait. Her photos give an honest look at life there, and many of them cause me to reevaluate my world view.

A Girl Worth Saving This woman thinks about her finances, how to save money and still enjoy life. She also links to some cool sites, and has had some good suggestions that I've used in my own quest for saving a buck or two.

Walter Reed This is perhaps the most intense blog on my list. The author is privy to much of the goings on within the psych system at Walter Reed. His blog, and his links to other soldier's blogs, enable me to see ways the war affects our soldiers that the mainstream media either doesn't know about or isn't willing/able to explain. Anyone who thinks they have an opinion on the war should read Walter Reed and his linked blogs before they stumble over their ignorance.

Musings from Cambodia This blog is like a tapestry -- it is full of wonderful stories, history, current events, photos, opinion and philosophy pieces, and links to even more. The complexity of the blog reflects what I imagine is the complexity of Cambodia itself.

One of my college professors refused to give an "A" for term papers unless we were able to teach him something he didn't know. In my opinion, the blogs I've listed all earn an A+. These bloggers also earn my respect.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

No tourist left behind

Missouri's Lieutenant Governor Peter Kinder announced today that schools will not be allowed to start any earlier than 10 days before Labor Day.

The reason?

So kids can work longer and keep tourism booming in Missouri.

According to Kinder, Missouri's tourist industry needs kids to keep it afloat. We've got to make sure there are plenty of 16 year olds serving fries and selling t-shirts to keep the tourists flocking to Bass Pro, spending money at Silver Dollar City, and stopping at the local dairy dip when they're finished visiting Mark Twain's home.

Education? Pah.

As long as teachers ensure kids can pass the MAP test the "deciders" in Jefferson City don't seem to worry if students are being "left behind" by a government which values tourist dollars over education.

Learning the importance of work when you are young is great. Bringing money to Missouri businesses is also great. But if we really mean it when we tell kids to stay in school and put their education first, our legislative priorities should reflect that message.

As the kids would say: Duh.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Catch-22 and a 5 year old

Lan's Dora the Explorer backpack swung back and forth as she twirled and bounced from foot to foot. The school buses were long gone, her friends and the big kids had all been picked up by moms in giant, gleaming SUVs, and Lan was getting tired of waiting. She was also starting to get a little worried. So was the principal, who watched as Lan spun in circles around the bike stand. They'd tried to call mom's house and cell phone, but no one answered. Finally, unable to get in touch with her family, the principal had to call the police.

Turns out Mom was so high she'd just forgotten to pick up her oldest daughter from kindergarten. Dad was too high to drive.

Lan and her brothers went to an emergency children's shelter that night. It was five months before they'd go home again.

After she got home, Lan's mom and teachers noticed that she was much angrier, much more easily upset that when she left. Of course Lan had been moved to six different foster placements in that short time. Eventually they learned that in the fifth home, Lan was repeatedly molested. Other people knew that before, just not the ones caring for Lan.

Lan has no scars, nothing to physically explain the sadness that lurks just on the edge in her smiling 5 year old face. Hugs and reassurance do little to relieve the pain.

Too often children are abused or molested at the hands of the adults trusted by the government with caring for them. Sometimes the children are abused or molested by other foster children while the families naively neglect to notice the suffering right before their eyes.

Most times, even in the worst situations, the child just wants to go home. They want their Mommy, they want their own toys, they want familiarity.

A few months after she got home, Lan began to talk to teachers and counselors about her Daddy "being mean" to Mommy. In her case "mean" was kid-speak for "kicking mommy in her belly." Dad gets cranky, mom is pregnant, and they're both in outpatient rehab, trying to stay clean.

The mandated reporters call the hotline to report the domestic violence. Case workers and juvenile officers start talking about what needs to be done. Should they remove the children again? Should they let them stay at home and increase services?

No matter what is decided, there's a huge risk involved. Lan could be taken from her family, moved to a strange home quite possibly several counties away, to live with a strange family who don't know how to cope with her behavior. She may not have a consistent place to live, and like what happened to Lan last time, she may be molested by another foster child or abused by her foster parents.

But there's a risk for Lan if she stays with her family. What if Daddy kicks Lan when he's grumpy? What happens to a child's soul or psyche if they watch a parent beat another? What happens if the father kicks mother's belly one time too many and the baby is killed?

In grad school they suggest you ask worried clients "what's the worst thing that could happen if you ... (ask her out, take that job, get on the plane, etc.)?" So, what's the worst thing that could happen to Lan and her family? In this sad Catch 22, whether the state intervenes or not, irreversible damage may be done to these children despite everyone's best intentions.

All those good intentions need to be focused on fixing the system. It's broken, and we're breaking children and families every day we allow the government to overlook the situation. The legislature is out for the summer, but your representatives still have phones and email.

Don't let them forget the work that must be done.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Sometimes birthdays aren't so happy.

When Jessie was about 14, she took an embroidery needle, a chunk of ice and a deep breath, and shoved the needle through the skin above her eyebrow. She put a medium-sized hoop earring through it and trudged off to school. The teachers ignored the latest alteration of her appearance – between the blonde cornrows, numerous earrings and baggy black t-shirts, the eyebrow ring was just another distraction. They weren’t going to be distracted, though, Jessie was finally making all A’s. This was a kid who, after being held back in 3rd grade, slipped under everyone’s radar. When she entered middle school, and the evidence of mother’s ongoing methamphetamine addiction became more obvious, the adults started to intervene. One of the interventions was to send her to counseling, and after a few months, Jessie developed enough ego strength to appreciate her ability to do her best and not just float through life.

A couple of years later, even though she’d maintained her “A” average, Jessie dropped out of school. Her mom was almost always high on meth or hospitalized for a serious overdose or suicide attempt, and Jessie realized it was up to her to support herself and her mother. Jessie got herself a job at a fast food restaurant. She also got depressed.

Through the depression, the trips to visit her mother on ICU wards or in the psych wing, Jessie kept working. She’s been at the same fast food place for three years now, and they’re training her for a management position.

These days I can tell if she’s going to work by whether she’s wearing a bar-bell in her eyebrow and if she’s wearing her shiny now-auburn hair pulled into a tight knot behind her head. She’s never late for work, doesn’t call in sick, and it’s clear she takes her job very seriously. Of course she has to – who else will pay for mom’s cell phone bill, or make the car payment on the car that was totaled years ago. She’s got to keep another old car running, because when mom decides to go back to her “husband’s” house she inevitably calls Jessie to come get her. The man has no doubt hit her mother, or threatened her with a knife, or has brought meth back in the house and mom has relapsed. Again.

Jessie is a strong young woman. She has goals and dreams. She loves her family, and is loyal to a fault. She secretly wants a future that goes beyond rescuing a meth addict over and over.

Recently, though, Jessie began handling a lot of new stress. She’s turning 19 next week. Apparently at age 19 in Missouri, unless you are pregnant or disabled you lose your Medicaid health coverage. This is a big deal for a teenager as responsible as she is. She’s been taking care of her own health care since she was old enough to walk from her house to the local medical clinic. All by herself, incidentally.

These days she’s been frantically trying to fit in dental work, medical exams, renewing birth control and medication prescriptions, attending counseling sessions. Jessie’s been shopping for insurance, but she can’t afford what her employer offers, and besides, they’re going to drop that soon anyway. The local insurance agencies give her quotes that are way out of proportion for a young woman who makes less than $7 an hour. Jessie has taken care of her medical needs since she was little. No one else is going to do it now. She’s hopeful that if she gets insurance maybe she’ll still be able to stay healthy.

What is so magic about turning 19? Does being 19 make you an adult? You can vote, but you can’t purchase alcohol. You can join the military, but you can’t usually get a loan or even open a bank account without a co-signer. Most Americans consider age 21 as the defining moment of adulthood. However, the State of Missouri seems to think that at 19, if you are poor or on your own, your health doesn't really matter anymore.

Why do we seem to think that making noise about “insuring all children” is the ultimate good deed? Sure, providing health care for children is essential. But when did the health care of everyone else become superfluous? If an adult is ill, that person is either going to miss work or go in sick, possibly spreading their sickness. If an adult ignores serious medical problems because they can’t afford the doctor, or the co-pay or the medicine, the medical problem may get so much worse that they end up in an emergency room or desperately ill. The bill for lost work, lost wages, lost taxes, lost productivity, the trips to the emergency room and hospital stays will be eventually paid. The taxpayers will pay. People who scrimp and save to buy health insurance will pay higher premiums. Businesses may raise prices to offset lost production, and the consumer will pay.

In the end, somebody pays.

The contrast to the story is this: Jake, a recent high school graduate, turned 19 last week. His folks bought him a Nissan Versa, and had a group of friends out to Fellow’s Lake for a party. He’s looking forward to college and to driving his girlfriend around town in the new car. He’s not worried about his health, paying for insurance, or even how he’s going to afford gas for the car.

The last time I saw Jessie, though, preparations for her birthday were very different. She was calling insurance agents and spending time talking to her mom about how to pay the phone bill. She was hoping to have at least one more counseling session before her Medicaid ran out. When I asked how she was feeling about her birthday, she replied:

“I feel like it’s my death day, not my birthday.”

She deserves so much better.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Hot or Not

I must be out of the loop. When did the News-Leader become so intent on making Springfield's Commercial Street suddenly the groovy place to go, simply by calling it C-Street? Is anyone besides the News Leader doing this?

I'm all for being cool, and I know lots of people who live on or near Commercial Street, folks who work there, and others who go there to shop or party. I do not, however, know one single human being who actually refers to the area as C-Street.

Like Shakespeare's rose that by any other name would smell as sweet, Commercial Street will certainly smell the same -- of stale beer, old urine, musty books and faded upholstery -- regardless of what it's called.

The Commercial Street district embodies hard reality. Those few blocks of shelters and bookstores and flea markets and bars will either succumb to gentrification or they won't. Pushing contrived hipness with a newspeak name doesn't seem to be the most effective way to get folks to go there. And what of the folks "from away" who venture down to C-Street to get a taste of the ambiance? I'm thinking they may leave the area pretty sure they'd been gypped.

It is truly yin and yang on Commercial Street in Springfield. Desperation and hope entertwine among the entrepreneurs and the poor, bringing it together with unique beauty.

I love that place. So am I really supposed to be calling it C-Street?

If you call Commercial Street C-Street, or have an opinion about it, let me know. Drop an email (thinkingthingsblog@gmail.com) or leave a comment. I just hate being out of style and I want to know what you think.