Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Where the Rez Is Dry and Border Towns Are Wet by Peter Reum

Throughout the world, Indigenous Tribes  have had the challenge of maintaining their critically important oral history, language, and spiritual beliefs that comprise the cultural essence of their traditions that, if lost, may completely erode the quality of life of the tribe. 

As time has gone on, these concerns have been coupled with a feeling of rootlessness that is generated by the obvious loss of  many of the various components of tribal culture. Young tribal members need tribal traditional anchors that bring forth their pride and that encourage them to feel proud of who they are. Without them, they are rootless.

Alcohol, for too many decades, has been the mood altering chemical that has led to tribal members drinking to erase the abuse,  racism, poverty, unemployment, illness, and disrespect of traditional tribal spirituality by non Indigenous groups and governmental agencies. The US policy of assimilation from 1890 through most of the Twentieth Century robbed tribes of their very identities. The Indian Schools on and off the reservations traumatized at least five generations of Indigenous people--enough to give many tribal members the equivalent of wartime post traumatic stress disorder. 

As reservations for various tribes were established, many tribal members were penalized for keeping their languages, oral histories, and lifestyles with corresponding ridicule and punishment becoming a daily experience. The disappearance of several tribes was accomplished by the dominant Anglo-Saxon culture. Despair,  impoverishment, and suicides on Indigenous reservations became tragically regular. The traditional tribal members often had to battle "progressive" factions of tribes,  as well as the Bureau of Indian Affairs, missionaries, and conniving entities like corporations just to simply live as their ancestors had.

The various USA and Canadian tribes were introduced to alcohol very early in the history of interaction between Europeans and Indigenous tribes. Unethical traders and reservation overseers, such as federal tribal agents, had instilled the goal of assimilation of various tribes' traditional cultures, robbing members of the very qualities that they believed were sacred and traditional. In turn, this led to loss of the meaning of life, with the result that many reservations were sold as parcels of land to dubious buyers.

Assimilation...ethnic cleansing...It was as if someone you didn't know came along and told you you could no longer speak your native language, express your traditions of spirituality, and lead the daily life activities you had always known.Then they told you to forget everything you ever knew to be true and told you that you had to try to be like them. You would have to worship their god/s, learn their language, and try to learn how to farm on a tiny, unsuitable plot of land when your tribe had always either farmed using your own traditional methods or you roamed and hunted by the seasons, following the prey you had hunted for thousands of generations. Finally, these people put you in these invisibly "fenced" lands that were far from the traditionally sacred places that your tribe had lived on for centuries. Every promise or treaty made to your tribe through or with governmental agencies was eventually broken....the result being that those negotiating with you and your tribe weren't reliable...as an Indigenous person, you knew that when a European/American's lips moved, he or she was lying.

Acculturation, the unspoken goal of these tactics, had always worked with the various immigrants from Europe. Why were they not working with Indigenous peoples?  The answer, at least partially, is that Indigenous tribes considered this land, called "America" by the Europeans/Americans, was a land that had already been named by various tribes. They were humans who had their own creation stories, ate foods they caught or raised themselves, and honored the agreements they kept. The United States used the model forged by the Iriqouois Confederated Tribes to help structure the union of the 13 original states. To consider that the various tribes were simply humans who lived their lives differently than the Europeans did was unthinkable to these so called "civilized, Christian kingdoms."

The idea that women sometimes controlled land, decision-making, and spiritual rites was unthinkable to Europeans/Americans. The idea that group decisions, made only after everyone's ideas had been spoken, scared them. The concept of property, that is, land set aside and paid for by a person or a family was not a part of Indigenous culture. Wealth in  Indigenous tribes was measured by how each member treated other members and their families, or how many horses they had. In certain Northwestern tribes, the giving of a bounty of anything to the whole tribe was not only good manners, but a measure of esteem held by the tribe for a member or family within the tribe.

During the European Colonial Period in North America:

"Cultural clashes between European settlers and Natives lasted for over four hundred years – small battles, large scale wars and forced labor systems on large estates, also known as encomiendas – took a large toll on the Native population.
Throughout the Northeast, proclamations to create ‘redskins’, or scalps of Native Americans, were common during war and peace times. According to the 1775 Phipps Proclamation in Massachusetts, King George II of Britain called for “subjects to embrace all opportunities of pursuing, captivating, killing and destroying all and every of the aforesaid Indians.”
Colonists were paid for each Penobscot Native they killed – fifty pounds for adult male scalps, twenty-five for adult female scalps, and twenty for scalps of boys and girls under age twelve. These proclamations explicitly display the settlers’ “intent to kill”, a major indicator of genocidal acts."
(From United to End Genocide: Atrocities Committed Against Native Americans-endgenocide.org)

Reservation boundaries were set by the various European/American nations, only to be ignored when a tribe had gold, silver, or some other valuable commodity that was unknown to Europeans when reservation boundaries were established. In the latter half of the Nineteenth Century, corrupt American state governments, men, and corporations often stole from food and supplies intended for the tribal members. Various denominations of Christianity simultaneously and consciously eradicated Indigenous culture, including oral traditions, language, and spirituality. Some tribes hid their traditional rites from missionaries, others were systematically "reprogrammed" with the intention of making whole tribes "Imitation Caucasians."  Indigenous people were not allowed to vote nationally in U.S. elections until 1924. Meanwhile, these people, once identified by the U.S. Constitution as 50% human in U.S. Censuses, were drafted for service as 100% human in the never ending cycles or war the United States undertook, beginning with the Spanish-American War.

To quote again from endgenocide.org regarding the USA's interactions with Indigenous tribes after American Independence:

"After the American Revolution, many Native American lives were already lost to disease and displacement. In 1830, the federal Indian Removal Act called for the removal of the ‘Five Civilized Tribes’ – the Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Creek and Seminole. Between 1830 and 1838, federal officials working on behalf of white cotton growers forced nearly 100,000 Indians out of their homeland. The dangerous journey from the southern states to “Indian Territory” in current Oklahoma is referred to as the Trail of Tears in which 4,000 Cherokee people died of cold, hunger, and disease.
As the United States expanded westward, violent conflicts over territory multiplied. In 1784, one British traveler noted:
“White Americans have the most rancorous antipathy to the whole race of Indians; and nothing is more common than to hear them talk of extirpating them totally from the face of the earth, men, women, and children.”
In particular, the 1848 California gold rush caused 300,000 people to migrate to San Francisco from the East Coast and South America. Historians believe that California was once the most densely and diversely populated area for Native Americans in U.S. territory; however, the gold rush had massive implications for Native American livelihoods. Toxic chemicals and gravel ruined traditional Native hunting and agricultural practices, resulting in starvation for many Natives.

Further, in 1850, the California state government passed the Act for the Government and Protection of Indians that addressed the punishment and protection of Native Americans, and helped to facilitate the removal of their culture and land. It also legalized slavery and was referenced for the buying and selling of Native children.
“A war of extermination will continue to be waged between the two races until the Indian race becomes extinct.”
– California Governor Peter H. Burnett, 1851 

In 1890, Wounded Knee, located on the Pine Ridge Reservation in North Dakota, government officials believed chief Sitting Bull was a Ghost Dancer, someone who rejects “the ways of the white man” and believes that the gods will create a new world without non-believers. In the process of arresting Sitting Bull, federal officials actually ended up killing him, causing a massive rebellion that led to the deaths of over 150 Natives in Pine Ridge." (From United to End Genocide: Atrocities Committed Against Native Americans-endgenocide.org)

The Original Codetalkers-Choctaw Nation World War 1-Despite Their Distinguished Service, They Could Not Vote After They Came Home

Liquor made it's debut in Indigenous Culture shortly after Europeans set foot on what became the United States and Canada. Combined with the numerous outbreaks of smallpox and other European diseases that tribes had no natural resistance to fight off, human genocide occurred on an unprecedented scale. Historian Howard Zinn estimated the number of Indigenous persons who died in war fighting European/Americans after 1492, and due to deliberate and accidental exposure to smallpox and other European diseases as 100 million people from 1492 to 1900 in North and South America and the Carribean. It is no wonder that Adolf Hitler patterned the Holocaust after the manner in which European-Americans handled "their Indian Problem." The population of Indigenous people fell below 250,000 people in the 1900 United States Census. This is down from an estimated 12 million in 1491.

Liquor, in many forms such as whiskey, rum, and other types of mood altering drink became a tool to manipulate Indigenous peoples to achieve the subjugation of tribes by the various governments as needed. The reasons for the tremendous explosion of intoxication in various tribes were varied, but there were some common threads. The patterns of crushing a tribe's unity were classically Machiavellian. When a goal arose in respect to some level of USA hegemony, the Whites would approach some "chief" of the tribe, as perceived by White trappers, hunters, soldiers, and other politicians or businessmen. The approach would be to at first offer friendship, to provide certain desired goods, then gradually encroach on tribal lands looking for whatever of value that was found. This could be precious metals (e.g gold, silver, etc.), land for traveling, fertile farmland, water, grazing land, and so forth. The US government negotiators would get together with "chiefs" and offer promises of provision of food, blankets, weapons, and metal tools. 

What made the exchange so one sided was that token efforts would be made to keep out US citizens, until Americans chasing gold and silver found whatever would or could be exploited. Before the Americans, there came British, Dutch, French, Russian, Spanish, and Portuguese determined to establish empires. Indigenous people were given many forms of alcohol. While some tribes had developed mild "beer" types of intoxicants before Europeans, the potency of European liquor brought a new way for tribal members to mood alter. Along with blankets exposed to smallpox, being overcome by guns, alcohol, and seizing tribal lands became prime methods in "watering" the cultural disintegration of entire tribes trying to hold on to their spiritual beliefs. As the Europeans ceded what they thought were their lands to the USA and Canada, Indigenous tribes were driven out by former colonists with the United States government's tacit approval.

The gradual confinement of Indigenous tribes to lands the Americans thought were "useless"-led to an a patronizing approach to communication, which the tribes found ill-mannered and disrespectful. The Indigenous tribes were labelled as primitive (noble) savages, and several stereotypes emerged. One was "The Drunken Indian." The idea was that as a race, Indigenous People were genetically susceptible to alcohol. The simple truth is that while Indigenous People as a population do have the highest rate of alcohol consumption, there are as many people from other races who carry the genetic trait to alcohol dependence proportionately as Indigenous people. 

Dr. Susan Bomalaski, in an essay called "The Drunk Indian Stereotype” notes:

It is true that Native Americans have the highest rate of alcohol abuse among any “race-ethnicity”; alcohol dependence is higher than national averages and alcoholism deaths are the highest in the nation among both make and female Native Americans. (Welty) However, it is important to realize that when we see differences in a medical outcomes that appears to be based on race and ethnicity, we should not assume that the differences are genetic. As stated by Morrissey, "In any given study, the answers you get may depend on which people you are studying. Are these new immigrants or people who are deeply acculturated to mainstream U.S. lifestyles? Are these white people in the United States or in France, or Chinese people in China or the United States? The answer may also depend on whether you are studying people who are a majority or a minority. And whether you are studying people who are wealthy or poor. All of these features can make a difference in medical outcome, including drug metabolism. The problem is that these environmental features often co-vary with race, making it difficult to determine the exact explanation for observed differences between racial groups.Studies from the 1990's have led to the common idea among both non-Native American and Native American people still prevalent today that Native Americans have both a genetic metabolism and cultural heritage, which pre-disposes them to substance-use-disorders (Levy). Subsequent research has proven that Native Americans react to alcohol much like other people. The ethnic differences between people are not as significant as the differences of individual metabolism, diet, body weight, drinking history, state of health, speed of consumption, intention, context, and history of head trauma. In the case of alcohol use and Native Americans; the concept of alcoholism serves to dehumanize individuals; if they are biologically different and suffering from a disease, Native Americans are not seen as rational struggling individuals but as victim of their own inferiority (Oswald). Healthy use of alcohol is something that many individuals struggle with; developing the racist concept that alcoholism in an inherent feature of being Native American dismisses this group of people from that struggle. This stereotype founded on historically culturally constructed concepts of race led to the misuse of research through scientific racism of heritable alcoholism. Research relying on these “not human" stereotypes, act to dehumanize Native American peoples in today’s society even by people who motivation is to empathize with the “Drunk Indian.” (Italics are mine, not Dr. Bomalaski's)

The simplest hypothesis about  Indigenous Tribes and alcohol is fairly complicated. The  co-variance of other factors influencing alcohol consumption could include unemployment, isolation, economic devastation, rates of illness accompanying alcohol consumption (e,g, diabetes) and many more. The reservations which are "dry" by tribal or Bureau of Indian Affairs decree seem to have developed what could be called a  "look the other way" approach to tribal members' drinking. In some tribes, although a "dry" reservation is tribal law, tribal members end up going off the reservation into communities near the borders of the reservation to get alcohol. 

One way Indigenous people who are alcohol dependent develop such dependence is to leave their dry reservations to either live in or travel back and forth between their reservations to what Alysa Landry calls "Drunk Towns." Her article, entitled "Drunk Towns U.S.A. - Fighting Native Intoxication with the Ditch Patrol" discusses the migration of tribal members back and forth between their reservations and towns which abut such reservations just outside of reservation boundaries. The town discussed as an example in Ms. Landry's article, which appeared in the excellent weekly digital newspaper This Week From Indian Country.

Ms. Landry uses Gallup, New Mexico as the example of a city near a reservation which has a large problem with public intoxication. As with numerous towns near Indigenous reservations, Gallup has a large Indigenous population,  44 percent, according to Ms. Landry. Due to a high rate of unemployment, alcoholism is rampant.

As alcohol use has been an issue in Gallup for decades, the proximity of many tribes' reservations to Gallup has led to aggressive panhandling by homeless Indigenous and other people who have turned Gallup into "the most dangerous town in New Mexico" according to the FBI as quoted by Ms. Landry. The problem of vagrants who are intoxicated has led to Gallup having a detoxification facility with 180 beds, a huge facility for a town of 15,000 people. Detoxification is simply the equivalent of a timeout room for intoxicated adults. As with numerous towns and cities in the West, winter temperatures go below freezing, causing potentially lethal conditions for anyone who is intoxicated and out overnight. What makes this situation more desperate is that the detoxification center is nearly broke, and will not survive this calendar year if a significant infusion of cash is not found. Figures from 2015 indicate 18 people nearly all Indigenous Tribal members, froze to death in or near Gallup (Landry, 2016).

Here in Montana, rural towns and cities which are near reservations encounter the same problems as Gallup.  In Billings, Montana, the community which abuts one reservation and has several tribes' members who mirror Gallup's problem with potentially freezing to death in Montana's bitterly cold winters, Indigenous people struggle with mood altering chemicals as well as alcohol.

Ms. Landry closes her essay by making the point that cities near reservations need funding which is substantial enough to not just place a bandaid on a gaping wound, but to have the needed funding in services which treat the border towns as partners in addressing this problem as the multi-headed hydra that it is. Until such an approach is taken, communities that are now suffering from rampant alcohol dependence will face more decades of being labeled "drunk towns."

I would like to acknowledge the sources that I found helpful in putting together this article: endgenocide.org, This Week in Indian Country and Alysa Landry, and Dr. Susan Bomalaski.

Copyright 2016 by Peter Reum - All Rights Reserved

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Uncut Magazine's Ultimate Music Guide-The Beach Boys by Peter Reum

This special edition covering The Beach Boys is the latest in a series of guides issued by Uncut, with an emphasis upon a critical assessment of each song on every album. Personally, I have enjoyed previous publications in this series on The Who and The Byrds.

That The Beach Boys deserve such an analysis of their music is no surprise to fans of the group.  To those not as familiar with Beach Boys music, this booklet may help with sifting through the numerous albums and compilations.

The booklet runs roughly 110 pages, and can be read in a long evening. The illustrations are carefully selected to fit the time each album was new. Most of the photos are in color.

What makes this booklet special for most Beach Boys fans is that there are interviews and coverage of the group that date from the time of various LPs or tours. Many of these interviews are written by veterans in the British music press whose contacts with the group were built over many years.

As an example, the encounter that Richard Williams has with Brian Wilson is a classically insightful description of Brian's world circa early Seventies. Another interview by John Mulvey from 1995 brings some insight into Brian's frustration with his fellow Beach Boys after the group's lp with Country Music artists and Brian and Andy Paley's attempt to do an album of new material written by the two of them in the early Nineties.

There are numerous past interviews with all members of the group except Blondie Chaplin and Ricci Fataar. The roles that various members played in group history are made clearer. One interesting aspect of these interviews is the rapport that Bruce Johnston built with several rock music journalists in the Sixties.

Rough spots in the Beach Boys career are made understandable, especially during the late Sixties, the period between the Holland and 15 Big Ones albums, and the post Beach Boys Love You period through Dennis Wilson's death. The friction between the group and Landy during Brian's Eighties and early Nineties period of being cloistered and then set free from Landy's clutches is clearly covered.

Music criticism is highly personalized and subjective to whatever music writer is evaluating the song or album. If you are a listener who believes that a certain song/album has been given a bad time by music writers, you may find the articles covering certain Beach Boys' recordings maddening.

There are clearly some evaluations that stand out as exceptional reviews, at least in my mind. Andy Gill's coverage of Summer Days accords this album the respect it deserves as a production which highlights Brian's growth as a producer at a time when family issues were disruptive to group recording.  Gill makes clear the horrible impact Murry Wilson was having on his sons, especially Brian, whose confidence was shaken by his father's petty and jealous outbursts.

The Smiley Smile overview by John Dale shows the innovative minimalism that Brian used to convey some of his ideas from Smile in a manner less dramatic than Smile.  The way Dale amplifies the intimate feelings that Smiley Smile often engenders in listeners who allow the album to stand on its own without a comparison to Smile.

Mark Bentley's piece on Carl and the Passions - So Tough captures the strengths of this album, offset by the haphazard sequencing of the songs on the album. The group's reactions to the album itself  clearly explains why the relocation to Holland was needed.

There are songs that are rated higher or lower than I would rate them. That music criticism is such a subjective form of writing is apparent throughout this booklet. The strength of the package is the use of interviews from the music press to place the albums in their temporal context.

If you are thinking about buying this booklet, do it soon. Copies flew off the shelves of local retailers here in my community, and similar reports are coming to me from fellow Beach Boys fans elsewhere.

Friday, April 22, 2016

The Garden by Peter Reum

From shattering times gone
The present is shaded
We, Reborn, hope flowing
Our fragile souls mending
While we sleep under the Dream Catcher

Trying to forgive, striving to forget
We grow tall hedgerows 'round secrets
Neglecting to mark the path
We took into the garden-
The garden of secrets

Trapped in our maze,
We wandered deeper and deeper
Searching for that Someone...
Who can release us from
The memories driving us
Further into the garden of secrets

Reaching for roses, winter coming
Stung by thorns, afraid to believe
Autumn can be sweet
When Spring's promise and Summer's storms
Flew on while we rested
Under the Dream Catcher

Copyright 2016 by Peter Reum-All Rights Reeserved

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Spirituality: Changing Is Essential to Quality of Life by Peter Reum

There is nothing more basic than how we view our relationship to our innermost beliefs about who we are, why we believe what we do about our inner life, our connection to this confining and often contradictory world, and how we should relate to our inner and outer worlds.

There are many approaches to constructing the beliefs that guide our daily life and the world outside our immediate surroundings. There are so many ways of building a set of beliefs about our inner self-dialogue. What happens in the way we talk with our inner selves builds the fundamental manner in how we interact with the world. As we decide what our inner life should be, how we treat our peers, other species, the planet we live on, and the cosmos, our behavior reflects our beliefs.

Research in medicine, science, robotics, and virtual reality complicates the picture  we have of what life is, how we should regard other life forms and the small planet we live on. Some people believe in a Supreme Creator, and some people adamantly reject any idea of a deity.

In my life, my beliefs continue to shape what I do and say. Because I grew up in the community that spawned the atomic bomb, my ideas about war and peace are well defined. As time marched on, and more nations acquired the capability to possess and use thermonuclear weapons, my beliefs about violence evolved. When people speak about their Second Amendment rights, I laugh to myself and say "do you honestly believe that your AK-47 will protect you when a nuke goes off near you????"

It has been well documented that nearly all of the men who went to the moon were profoundly changed by the view of a beautiful Earth from 250,000 miles away. They came back and tried to convey how fragile life is here on this planet. Many of them saw the interrelated and necessary importance of the various systems that our planet needs to survive.

There are reasons I suppose that can be used to justify the deaths and extinction of species. Whether one believes in a Supreme Being or not, as a dominant species, our footprint on Earth has been unprecedented.  The effect overall has gone forward, while we debate whether profit in this generation justifies the degradation of our air, water, land, and other forms of life.

In Indigenous cultures, their approach to life, water, air, and land has been more cognizant of the ramifications of "defecating in their own nest." As modern life confronted these cultures, each of them has had to struggle to keep their spirituality, routines, rhythms of the seasons, ...their very culture itself.

While there is much to admire about Indigenous peoples, the answer is not for each of us to go back to life as America was before Europeans  came and invented the American Holocaust. We must reexamine our attitudes about the Earth, the various ecosystems extant, and what we believe about this small blue planet which is perilously close to becoming another dead rock in space.  If this sounds spiritual, it is. If there is nothing else sacred, this planet Earth we call home must be deemed sacred.

Perhaps this sounds overly imaginative.  Earth without life would be a travesty. Wealth and contentment cannot co-exist. Money is our world's most destructive addiction. People who have large fortunes are scared of losing them. People who are not wealthy somehow think life would be more likeable if only they were rich.

For millennia, our species lived on a survival basis. Our ancestors became self-aware, and attributed disasters to angry gods. The holy books of the world usually blame god/s, rather than looking at how their own actions contributed to catastrophes. While as a self-aware species we experienced all of the setbacks that any life form would go through, we blamed the world around us instead of looking at ourselves first. Our very self- awareness was the largest factor in the calamities we endured as a family, culture, and species.

The very strong sense of power humanity experienced brought about the experiences some call transcendent. Our spirituality became a deterrent to an understanding of the rapid changes we made to the places we loved. The dynamics of spirituality come from a different way of understanding the Earth. Instead of being focused upon what forces we believe caused our contentment or misery, spiritual exploration lives in each of us as a way of giving and taking in our life experiences. We see the internal as well as the worldly forces that shape our existence. Instead of saying "we are the world," we place ourselves as a part of dynamics that we only have a part in without blaming god/s for our happiness or misery.

Personally, I have always believed that my life course has been a combination of random events and choices I have made. I believe in a Creator, but accept that my choices are my own, not the actions of my Creator.

I have embraced somewhat the mystical nature of this life, and realize that I will not understand the mysteries that confront my curiosity. I have seen the futility of trying to comprehend unanswerable questions that boggle my mind. My lifelong appreciation of Buddhism helped me realize this valuable lesson. The efforts I have made to speak with practicing Buddhists and to understand their unique world view have been essential in my growth.

The studies I have done in my own Christianity have helped me have a better appreciation of the human potential for reaching out to the suffering people I have spent time with in this life. As a boy, I read the New Testament and was deeply moved by the compassion of Jesus, the twelve apostles, and the women who followed him. The suffering Jesus went through helped make humanity understand the message he was preaching. The fact that only one of the apostles lived to a natural death and the rest were killed for being Christian convinced me that they saw that suffering for their beliefs made them more determined in their efforts to follow Jesus.

Indigenous people on their reservations became fine examples of how to structure a society. They suffered horribly for their beliefs. They helped me, grasping my inadequate ability to endure the times that life was not fair.

Whatever helps bring an understanding of why life can be either full of benevolence or suffering, influences how we view the world. Insights and revelations strongly influence the spiritual growth we are or are not experiencing in our lives.

For myself, exploring is the essence of spirituality. Whether you believe in a Supreme Being or do not, to grow in your spirituality is a way of letting yourself loose enough to venture, as Van Morrison once said,"into the Mystic."

Copyright 2016 by Peter Reum-all rights reserved

Monday, April 4, 2016

Heroes Are Hard to Find by Peter Reum

When the idea of what makes a hero comes up in conversation, the individuals that we honor with that label are few. What makes a hero? It's different for everyone. As a nation, we tend to honor individuals who have either distinguished themselves in wartime, or who have given their life that others may live. As individuals, the idea becomes all the more complicated. Parents are often heroes, as are other family members. Sometimes we lift up a person who has had a transformational effect on our lives, those around us, or society as a whole. Presidents who served during our lives come up, parents or older siblings, and perhaps someone whose life was distinguished by being a pioneer in their vocation tend to rise to hero status.

When our heroes show their flaws, we can either accept their humanity and the mistakes they have made, reject them out of hand, or choose to realize that all humans have flaws that come out during hard times in their lives. For example, a flaw that John and Robert Kennedy had, and perhaps also Martin Luther King, was a roving extramarital eye. Does this demonstrate a character flaw that would tarnish their status as persons whose lives brought important change to our nation? Perhaps, but their accomplishments stand as courageous and transformational nonetheless. Did their flaws hinder their important duties in public service and advocacy? In my opinion, they did not.

If we have ever stopped to consider the people you consider to be heroes, what traits and actions they showed in their lives are important and somewhat a reflection of our own life experiences. Let me share a few of the people I consider to be heroes of mine, and perhaps this exercise will help you identify the values of yours that you consider to be an important part of your outlook on humanity.

One spiritual hero of mine whose humanity shined brightly during his life would be Mohandas "Mahatma" Gandhi. Many people today don't know who he was or what he stood against, colonial exploitation and unfair caste rules. Trained as a lawyer, his spiritual orientation of passive resistance to colonialism made him a hero in the liberation of India and Pakistan, and their becoming independent nations. It was his adoption of nonviolence that inspired Martin Luther King to change Jim Crow segregation laws in the USA in the Fifties and Sixties. Like Martin Luther King, he became a martyr to an assassin.


From the world of sports, I have always loved professional basketball. Specifically, the Los Angeles Lakers have always been my favorite NBA team. Before they had outstanding centers like Wilt Chamberlin, Kareem Abdul Jabbar, and Shaquille O'Neal, two guys played for the Lakers that distinguished themselves as one of the greatest of all-time at their respective positions. Elgin Baylor was a 6'5" forward for the Lakers whose rebounding and scoring abilities went far above his peers. He played with injuries in the last part of his career, but was still outstanding. Jerry West was a guard who possessed the offensive and defensive finesse that a Basketball Hall of Famer should have. He complemented Elgin Baylor and later, Wilt Chamberlain in making the Lakers a force to be reckoned with for many years.

Elgin Baylor

Jerry West

Having worked in the field of mental and physical disability services for many years, I have to mention the father of the disability rights movement and the defining force behind the Americans With Disabilities Act, Ed Roberts. I had the good fortune to meet Ed at a late Eighties conference on integration of people with Disabilities into society, and later had the chance to use some of his strategies on integration with a member of my own family. His position of honor among people with disabilities and disability rights is comparable to that of Martin Luther King among African Americans. He founded the World Institute on Disability, which is a leader in the developed and developing nations  in the field of disability rights.

Ed Roberts at left with peers

Finally for music... To those of you who know me personally, it will come as no surprise that my two favorites musicians are Brian Wilson and Lowell George. Both of these guys showed exceptional ability in songwriting, arranging, studio production, and performance. Lowell passed in 1979, and it can only be guessed as to what the years  that have passed would have shown in his creative efforts. Lowell in some ways was almost an anti-hero, in that musical integrity was his strength, and he did not bend to commercial demands in his work. Brian Wilson's story is a little different. In the early and middle Sixties, his work was pioneering and flawless...so much so that his recordings with The Beach Boys sound amazingly clear even on today's stereo systems. After a period of mental health issues which deterred him from writing  or performing, he has returned to finish his magnum opus, Smile, and to perform exceptionally well with what must be one of the best bands today. Brian has become an advocate for Mental Health, and has given interviews in which he explains how his form of mental illness manifests itself and what he does to minimize it's disruption of his life.

Lowell George

 Brian Wilson

That's it for me....I have other heroes, but these guys have had an influence on my life that is ongoing and productive. I hope that you can find a hero or two, Life is sweeter with heroes.