Blog: Here's what Tom says about that!

The Tigers bring a little hope to Detroit

Posted September 24th, 2009 by Tom

SI-DetroitMy dad suggested today that I read the cover story in the most recent issue of Sports Illustrated called “Tigertown.” I did. You should too.

Detroit, Michigan has been hit harder and longer by the economic downturn than a 95-MPH fastball tagged by Manny Ramirez in his sweet spot in the strike zone. Unemployment hovers around 25%. The average home price is less than $12,000. That’s twelve thousand–no zero missing in that number.

Last year the Tigers came in last in their division. As I type these words they are in first place by 2 1/2 games with eleven games to go. And people in Detroit are stoked.

I love baseball. I grew up going to Dodger games with my dad, listening to Vin Scully call the plays on my transistor radio under my pillow when Mom and Dad thought I was asleep. I collected baseball cards. My very first, which I will always remember (since I no longer have it) was of Al Kaline, outfielder for the Tigers.

I view baseball as a metaphor for life and have wondered why no one has written the equivalent to Golf in the Kingdom about America’s favorite pastime. Baseball is filled with hope and passion, greed and cheating, politics, religion, drugs, and sex. It’s all there.

And there’s something about Detroit. John Fetzer once owned the Tigers. When he sold the team he used the proceeds to endow The Fetzer Institute, a foundation that focuses its energy on love and forgiveness. Mike Ilitch, the Tigers’ current owner, is investing in the team and the city in ways that don’t lend themselves to making a profit. The team has given away more than 80,000 tickets this year and worked with more than 2,000 non-profit organizations.

I’m still rooting for the Dodgers. But it’ll be okay with me if the Tigers win it all this year. I don’t believe baseball can cure cancer, undo racism, or fix everything that is broken in Detroit or elsewhere in America. But at its best, baseball helps. This article will remind you why.

Thanks, Dad.

Join the Chat at LibraryThing

Posted September 21st, 2009 by Tom

Our Virtual Book Tour enters a new phase today with the beginning of an ongoing, 2-week long, interactive chat at LibraryThing. I’m open to discuss whatever your little heart desires: Inheriting the Trade, Traces of the Trade, the legacy of slavery, healing from the trauma of historic oppressions, modern day slavery, present-day systemic racism, Jimmy Carter’s claims that racism is at the core of attacks on President Obama, books, films, you name it. This should be a fun one so I hope you’ll check in to the LibraryThing site from time to time between now and October 2.

There are still opportunities to win a copy of Inheriting the Trade. Enter today to win at The Author’s Assistant. Another will be given away soon to one of my Facebook friends.

Finally, check out Audio Book Stand, where you can listen to an excerpt from the audio book version of Inheriting the Trade (read by the author, of course) and listen to an interview I did with the fine folks at Brilliance Audio who published the audio version.

I look forward to chatting with you soon at LibraryThing.

Jimmy Carter, Joe Wilson, and racism in America

Posted September 17th, 2009 by Tom

Jimmy CarterMy first thought when I heard the voice shout out “You lie!” during President Obama’s speech before Congress last week was that whichever kook had been so inappropriate was surely being escorted out from the spectator’s gallery by security officials posthaste.

Like everyone else, I learned the next morning that it was a U.S. Congressman from South Carolina who had been so rude. Then several days later Jimmy Carter said on NBC that “an overwhelming portion of the intensely demonstrated animosity toward President Barack Obama is based on the fact that he is a black man.”

Is racism really at play here?

Some have pointed out that Rep. Joe Wilson was one of only seven South Carolina State senators to vote in favor of continuing to fly the Confederate flag over the state house in 2000 and that he said at the time, “The Southern heritage, the Confederate heritage is very honourable.”

But whether Joe Wilson’s shout out was race-based or simply a thoughtless disconnect between his brain and his mouth isn’t as important as the symbolic implication of his act. Due to his position of influence what he says and does carries far more import than that of a teabag protester carrying a sign among many at a political rally.

When someone like Rep. Wilson shouts out disrespectfully at the President in that particular setting it encourages the racist views of others; of those who harbor long-held attitudes of white supremacy and believe Wilson should have said “You lie, boy“–the epithet that reminded generations of African Americans of their “place.”

When Rush Limbaugh says “[I]n Obama’s America, the white kids now get beat up with the black kids cheering” or Glenn Beck says, “This guy is, I believe, a racist”, due to their positions of influence they encourage those whose opposition to Obama is based in racism.

Not everyone who opposes Obama’s policies is a racist. There are legitimate reasons to oppose various of Obama’s policies and healthy debate is part of our system. But when the tenor of the opposition is draped in racial animosity healthy debate gives way to irrationality. Reason becomes lost.

So is racism at play here as former President Carter suggests? Of course it is. It is deeply rooted. Racism has been manifested politically over the past half century in The Southern Strategy. Racism is at the core of the resurgence of the Militia movement. And yes, whether it was his intention or not, racism comes into play as a result of Rep. Wilson’s outburst during President Obama’s speech to Congress. Racism is complexly woven into our system and into each of us as individuals. To undo racism we must carefully, and thoughtfully, call it out as Jimmy Carter has done. We must remain aware and vigilant with our language and tone as we frame our arguments on one side or the other in policy debates. And we must hold accountable those who incite others through irrational, emotional, and racialized fear-mongering.

Thank you to the House of Representatives for rebuking Rep. Wilson. And thank you, President Carter, for your wisdom and your courage.

Some say Murphy was an optimist

Posted September 7th, 2009 by Tom

banging_head The best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men
Gang aft agley,
An’ lea’e us nought but grief an’ pain,
For promis’d joy!

–Robert Burns

Twas all going well Sunday evening. I was the featured author in The Writer’s Chatroom as part of the ongoing Virtual Book Tour that Literary Publicist Stephanie Barko has put together, and there were a dozen or two aspiring writers signed in to talk about Inheriting the Trade, my experience of writing and being published, and whatever else folks wanted to chat about. I wouldn’t know. Because shortly after we began my screen went blank. I was certain I’d screwed something up and tried franticly on both the desktop and laptop to log back in… to no avail. I e-mailed the moderator of the chat. “What have I done? I’m so sorry! What a geek I am!”

Okay, it wasn’t that dramatic. But the chat was over. As it turns out the server went kaput. In seven years of the Writer’s Chatroom hosting multiple weekly chats, this has never happened before. Their logo (above) sure took on new shades of meaning… (HUGE thank you’s to Don and Audrey for both putting the chat together AND for putting up with the crash–y’all get extra jewels in your crowns in heaven for this one!)

“Why ME???” I screamed, razor blade poised to open the vein in my wrist.

Again, not true. I’m practicing for when I write my novel… ;o)

It turns out that going on a virtual tour is similar in at least one way to a real tour. You just never know what’s going to happen. A flight gets cancelled. A server crashes. As my friend John used to say, “It’s all part of life’s rich pageant.” The good folks at the Writer’s Chatroom have assured me that we’ll get the chat rescheduled for some Sunday evening in the near future. We’ll announce it here and on Facebook and Twitter. I hope you’ll join us. Even if you aren’t a writer, and have no interest in becoming one, I believe you’ll be fascinated by how writer’s think and what we talk about.

In the meantime there are a couple of stops on the tour the past couple of days that you may find interesting. Powell’s Books has posted my essay “Family Threads: From John Alden and Drew Barrymore to Me and to You.” It’ll be included in their monthly newsletter on Wednesday that is distributed to 360,000 subscribers. Bookzillion posted “From Oregon to Oklahoma (via Facebook and Skype” about my recent virtual meeting with a reading club in Tulsa that just finished Inheriting the Trade. We spent almost 90 minutes together last week. I can’t wait for my next Skype visit. Hey reading clubs in London, you catching this? She is Too Fond of Books posted “Teachable Moments About Race” which recounts why we still need that deeper conversation about all that continues to divide us; that we haven’t healed from (no matter how much some folks like to claim that everyone should just get over it).

There’s much more to come on the Virtual Book Tour over the next several weeks. Many of copies of Inheriting the Trade will be given away. I’m inviting Murphy to tag along. His law don’t bother me none…

See you online!

Join the conversation Sunday evening at The Writer’s Chatroom

Posted September 5th, 2009 by Tom

banging_headI’ll participate in my first online chat with other writers, aspiring writers, and book lovers tomorrow (Sunday) evening, September 6. The Writer’s Chatroom will host the two hour conversation beginning at 7:00pm eastern time (4:00pm pacific).

To join in the conversation, or to simply watch others chat, click on Enter Chatroom and login. To login just type in a user name (any name works if you want to use a name other than your own). Leave the password space blank. Then click on “login” and you’ll be routed to the conversation. The link only works once the chat begins.

The goal of The Writer’s Chatroom is to help its members grow and advance their own writing careers. They host online chats with published authors on Sunday evenings as well as other forums where members gather “virtually” to chat and support each other between author chats.

The Writer’s Chatroom hosts a blog (read my essay “Spreading the Virus“), offers a Tools and Resources page with hundreds of links to courses, markets, contests and information writers will find useful. I’ve enjoyed getting to know the folks behind the scenes and sitting in on a few chats. It’s all very cool. They offer writing information and resources I suspect many published authors wish someone had offered them when they were starting out.

See you online Sunday!

Mom, does this make me a socialist? And if so, do you still love me? And would you like to be a socialist too?

Posted September 4th, 2009 by Tom

In his book A Gift of Wings, Richard Bach enlightened me with the knowledge that some of my best friends are people I’ve never met. I’d like to introduce you to two of my best friends.

Molly SecoursMolly Secours is a writer, public speaker, and filmmaker from Nashville, Tennessee. She’s also a committed activist for social justice and undoing racism. I’ve been following, and have been inspired by, her writing for several years. She was a regular contributor to The Black Commentator. Then in mid-2007 I noticed that her columns–her powerful voice–were no longer showing up on my computer screen. I learned that Molly had been diagnosed with cancer. Though Molly worked regularly, owned her own home, and had health insurance, what has happened to her since her diagnosis is just plain wrong. Because of her illness Molly faced financial ruin, including the foreclosure of her home. And Molly has connections. She was able to get her story told; to influence people in positions of power. Imagine what happens to people who lack Molly’s privileges.

Please read the column Molly wrote yesterday: “The Intersection Of Health Care and Foreclosure: How To Avoid Becoming a Statistic.” Then re-post it to your Facebook page, your blog, or e-mail it to your friends.

ts-kristof-190Nicholas Kristoff is my other best friend I want to highlight today. Nicholas is from Oregon but he now lives on the “other coast” where he is a columnist for the New York Times. He’s one of the most thoughtful, interesting newspaper columnists I know. I love reading his work. Yesterday, he wrote “Health Care That Works.” It’s the most logical, succinct, clear explanation I’ve come across about where we ought to be headed in reforming health care in the United States.

And, well, I may as well say it. Nicholas points out, much to my chagrin, that I am a socialist… and so are you.

Please pass these two brief columns by my friends Molly and Nicholas along to your friends. Don’t remain silent. We in the United States currently suffer under a dysfunctional health care system managed by insurance corporations that have made a fortune by increasing premiums at rates that far exceed income growth, denying coverage to people with pre-existing conditions, and jettisoning people who become ill when they can. It isn’t right. It’s un-American. Now is the time for everyone who believes in truly reforming our health care system to speak up. If the insurance companies, through their powerful and well-financed lobbyists, are allowed to win… we all lose.

Over the past few days many people have been posting the following as their Facebook status: [your name] “thinks no one should die because they cannot afford health care, and no one should go broke because they get sick. We’re only as strong as the weakest among us. If you agree, please post this as your status for the rest of the day.”

I’ve been amazed at how many of my friends have posted this as their status. More continue to do so. I have a sense that the normally-reserved-and-quiet regular people are fed up with the insanity we see being highlighted on the news (and that I wrote about at the end of August). We are being energized and we are getting involved.

C’mon, fellow socialists, we can succeed!

Health Care Debate (part 3): what’s your part in this play?

Posted September 2nd, 2009 by Tom

Note: This is the final essay in a series of three about Health Care reform in the United States. The first was about the need for honesty and civility in the debate. The second was about the impact of race in the health care conversation.

Shakespeare wrote

“All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players.”

As I’ve tried to make clear in my first two essays I don’t find the screaming at town hall meetings, the misinformation about “pulling the plug on grandma” or “its a Nazi socialist plot” particularly useful in a rational debate about health care. I believe it is important to understand that “race” does impact one’s health due to both access to–and the quality of care offered within–the system of health care currently in place in the United States. It is important to recognize that the profit interests of insurance companies, pharmaceutical and hospital corporations, health care lobbyists and many elected officials can be in direct conflict with the interests of people seeking to be healthy.

It is also clear that we each have our role to play on this stage. The better we perform the more successful the production will be.

One important role each of us can play is that of being well-informed. The media focuses too much on vitriolic people at the fringes. It takes effort to watch calm discussions of the issues; to approach health care reform more dispassionately, methodically. It means asking questions; reaching out to a variety of people and resources for answers (yes, even YouTube).

Our family is currently impacted by the health care debate very directly and personally. My wife Lindi was recently laid off from her job after 12 years. Our access to health insurance has been through her employment. We faced difficult choices. One significant benefit that we were previously unaware of is provided by the federal economic stimulus package. 65% of the cost of continuing health insurance coverage through choosing COBRA is paid for up to 9 months for eligible individuals. This benefit will help a great deal in the short term as we work through the impact of Lindi’s job loss. Learning about this–and other benefits–requires consultation, questioning, and research.

Another role we each can play is that of a lobbyist. Congress returns to work on health care reform next week. How can we be most effective in communicating with our elected representatives that which is in our best interests? I believe most people support a system that would provide cost-effective–and health-effective–health care for themselves and all citizens of the United States. Our representatives should deliver health care reform that meets these criteria. We must let them know. Otherwise the screamers and subterfugers will continue to dominate the conversation. I maintain no illusions that this will be easy. Those with a huge financial stake in the outcome of the debate (insurance, pharmaceutical, and health care corporations, and their lobbyists) will not stop trying to influence your elected representative to act in ways that increase their profits. Your health is not their primary concern. Read what economist Paul Krugman says we’re up against here (I recommend sliding past the partisan grumbling to the second half of his column where he discusses corporate influence in this debate). As daunting as the task before us is, we must continue to try.

Once again I encourage you to investigate–and hopefully support–Senator Ron Wyden’s proposed legislation, the “Take Back Your Health Act” (S. 1640). Wyden’s proposal focuses on intensive lifestyle changes as treatments, not just as prevention alternatives. Lifestyle changes would become complementary to what we now see as regular medical care.

Along these lines, the other critical role we must play is that of health care provider to ourselves. Not enough emphasis in the public debate has been placed on taking more responsibility for our own wellness. I’m certain that each of us can do more to improve our diet and exercise regimens. We can investigate natural remedies (grandma knows, which is why we’ll never pull that plug!). We can learn the benefits of meditation and other stress reduction activities. We can choose alternatives like massage and acupuncture to prevent distress and disease.

In the current issue (#23, Summer 2009) of the Institute of Noetic Sciences Shift magazine is the article “Evidence Adds Up to a Health Care Revolution” by Vesela Simic (click here for the site where you can download a pdf of the article). Highlighted are several evidence-based studies regarding “Integrative medicine” which refers to “the full range of physical, psychological, social, preventive, and therapeutic factors that support optimal health.”

In February 2009 the Institute of Medicine and the Bravewell Collaborative hosted the Summit on Integrative Medicine and the Health of the Public. From the above-noted Shift article, factors critical to health care reform were identified. They include:

  1. Focus on prevention and wellness with the patient at the center of care.
  2. Lifestyle-modification programs have been proven to improve overall health and well-being and also to mitigate and sometimes completely heal chronic diseases.
  3. Genetics does not predetermine one’s health. Research shows that gene expression can be changed (for good or ill) by nutritional choices, levels of social support, and the inclusion of stress-reduction activities in one’s life such as meditation and exercise.
  4. All health care professionals should be educated in the importance of compassionate care that addresses the biopsychosocial dimensions of health.
  5. Evidence-based medicine–which emphasizes the need for research and testing that expand the evidence for integrative models of care–is the only acceptable standard.

I hope you’ll take the time to download and read the article. It will further inform your thinking about health care.

When health care reform is finally passed, or not passed, the result–no matter what it is–will not do for the vast majority of us what we can do for ourselves by changing our lifestyles. All we men and women are not merely players on the world’s stage. We are each the lead actor in our own health and well-being.

Health Care Debate (part 2): what’s race got to do with it?

Posted September 1st, 2009 by Tom

Note: This is the second in a series of three essays about Health Care reform in the United States. Yesterday I discussed the lack of civility in the public debate. Tomorrow I will focus on what each of us can do to make a difference.

A significant factor in the need for health care reform that has, for the most part, not been part of the national discussion is the impact that race and racism has on one’s health and access to health care.

According to a study by the Institute of Medicine,

a consistent body of research demonstrates significant variation in the rates of medical procedures by race, even when insurance status, income, age, and severity of conditions are comparable. This research indicates that U.S. racial and ethnic minorities are less likely to receive even routine medical procedures and experience a lower quality of health services.

Relative to people of European descent, people of African descent fall on the negative side of a wide array of important social indicators that impact health and access to health care. The lack of health insurance coverage is 42.3% more likely for black folks than for white. The median income rate is 55.3% lower and poverty rates are 173% higher. The average white American will live five and one-half years longer than the average black American (7 years for males). Infant mortality rates for black babies are 146% higher than for white babies. (1)

An example in the state of California is indicative both of the crisis we face throughout the nation, and the unfortunately far-too-typical response to that crisis. This past June, I spoke in San Jose at the invitation of the Santa Clara County Black Infant Health Advisory Board. California created the Black Infant Health program specifically to provide health education and services to pregnant and parenting African-American women due to the high risk noted in the previous paragraph.

Governor Schwarzenegger cut many social service programs, including Black Infant Health, as part of massive budget cuts to balance the state’s budget. The impact to women and children in general is significant; to pregnant African-American women… devastating. Karen Bass, Speaker of the California Assembly, believes the governor’s actions are illegal. At the very least, such cuts are unconscionable and negatively impact California’s most vulnerable citizens.

Employment and economic status impact one’s health and access to health care. Income inequality is at an all-time high. Starting in the early 1990s the balance of economic power shifted more strongly in favor of the the top tier of American earners. The top 1 percent of incomes captured half of the overall economic growth over the years 1993-2007. The disparity was even more striking during the last five of those years. Between 2002 and 2007, the top 1% of incomes captured 2/3 of income growth. This is a higher level of disparity than at any time since 1917. Who, then, has the best access to health care? Who has the resources to influence the national debate? And what do you suppose is the racial makeup of those at the the top compared to those left behind?

Yes, race matters when it comes to health and health care. And the issue is complex. All people at the bottom of the economic ladder clearly have a great deal in common regardless of their ethnicity. Yet we see predominately white people opposing universal health care coverage and a government-run program. Why is that? What do corporate interests and white elites have to gain by inciting frustrated, fearful, poor and middle class white people into a frenzy of ill-informed, intractable opposition to meaningful health care reform when, in fact, they stand to greatly benefit? I encourage you to pause here to read what fellow Beacon Press author Kai Wright had to say about it recently.

Check the website for the film The Angry Heart and learn about the impact that racism has on heart disease among African Americans.

Death rates from cardiovascular disease in the United States are 49.4% higher for black men and 67.2% higher for black women than their white counterparts, according to National Center for Health Statistics and the American Heart Association. Studies show that even when both races are given the same medical treatment, African-Americans have a significantly higher risk of suffering a second heart attack than do white Americans.

Spend some time at the Unnatural Causes website. This acclaimed PBS documentary series is used by thousands of organizations around the country (including the Black Infant Health program in San Jose) to understand and confront the root causes of both the socio-economic and racial inequities in health. Learn more about how inequality is making us sick by clicking here. Download the first pdf file on the page– “10 Things to Know about Health”–and read the two powerful pages of information that show just how much race matters in one’s health and in health care distribution in the United States.

Some will no doubt take issue with the merits of my argument. As a person of European descent I understand the difficulty many white people have in accepting that race still matters so much. But it does. For those readers interested in a deeper understanding of the impact that race continues to have on all of us I recommend two books: Privilege, Power, and Difference, by Allan G. Johnson, and The Many Costs of Racism, by Joe R. Feagin and Karyn D. McKinney (the latter of which has an excellent chapter devoted to “Racism and the U.S. Health Care System”).

I also believe we can sometimes ponder and debate these challenging subjects in light-hearted ways. Truth does come wrapped in humor. So I’ll close here with a link to The Daily Show’s Senior Black Correspondent Larry Wilmore when he recently discussed the powerful nexus between health care and racial politics. My guess is that you will laugh… and that you’ll also feel a little uncomfortable. I hope so.

And for those who question my conclusions I hope you’ll take the time to research the links I’ve provided here with a sense of curiosity and wonder. I believe you’ll reach the same conclusion I have: race has a lot to do with health in the United States.

(1) Du Bois Review, 3:2 (2006) 261–297. Institute for African and African American Research, Mazzocco, et al (2006).

Copyright 2012 by Thomas Norman DeWolf | Website: James DeW. Perry