Monday, February 26, 2007

The Party Should End

Party politics should be much more of an issue than it presently is recognized to be. Politicians and voters contain themselves in groups of those sharing the same ideology. As this is good for inner-camp consensus building in one respect it is equally harmful and divisive to those of other opinions. Political parties choose opposing views and dig their heels in.

Voter registration records will tell those in a political race how hard they have to work to win an election. To candidates, they already have those who are declared to be on the Red team or the Blue. If the margin is close they try selling their message to registered independents.

During major elections one will often find articles regarding how unfair the two-party system. These articles focus on how another party doesn’t have a chance because the Reds and the Blues squeeze them out and prevent them from joining the debate. The inclusiveness issue may be the wrong direction to go in to gain political voice equality.

Let us consider ridding the nation of political parties. The outcome would be that anyone running for office would be standing upon their own platform. They would not have to yield their beliefs for the good of the party. They would not have to tow the party line just to get funding for their campaign. Another benefit would be that one person could not cast a shadow on an entire group.

Think of the problems that befell the Republican Party last year when several of their members were ousted from politics for their poor judgment or bad behavior. Democrats have had many black eyes in the past as well. These parties count on their good members raising their image.

However, what if there were no parties, just candidates with their own ideas? There are many Independents in politics. They have their own ideas and don’t have to run on the party line. People often find Independent candidates refreshing because they think outside the box, Jesse Ventura being the most visible in recent years. There have been candidates such as John Anderson in 1980 and Ross Perot in 1992 that were not only on the national stage but had garnered a good amount of support because they were out of the main stream of the two party candidates.

A government of the people, by the people needs people with good ideas and it is these people who have consistently moved this nation ahead. The problem is that everyone loves a party, and neither the leaders nor the members nor the voters will part with this long established political exclusionary line towing machine.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

From the Ocean to Your Table

From the ocean to your table the fisherman is the first link in bringing fresh seafood to you, whether it be in your home or the restaurant. The catch of the day could mean it was caught in the last twenty-four or forty-eight hours. It could mean that is was caught three days ago. Fresh from the river to your plate doesn’t necessarily mean what the consumer thinks it does.

Walking out on the dock of the mooring basin, gillnet boats line the docks like cars in a used car lot. The diversity is just as broad. You can see anything from a twenty-two foot gillnet boats to sixty foot trawler lined up in their slips. Many of these slips have been handed down father to son for generations.

I talked with J, a fourth generation Columbia River fishermen. J fishes off a bowpicker, meaning you pull, and set the net over the bow (stern pickers pull from the front). He has a cabin on it that he can use for a place to cook, eat, and sleep. The boat is made of fiberglass that he repairs, paints, and caulks yearly. He cleans the holds out after every trip to get the bacteria from the fish out. "Fiberglass is a lot more inexpensive to upkeep then the old wooden gillnet boats," J declared. "They would get slimey and were hard to repair if they hit something in the river." According to J, over ninety percent of all fishing vessels are fiberglass, now.

A gillnet is descriptive of the way a net is used. The type of net combined with the method used snares the targeted fish. The fish try to swim through the deliberately sized mesh openings (each net made to catch a specific species). They are unable to squeeze completely through these openings swimming forward because they catch their fins in the mesh. Once in this position, they are prevented from backing out due to the tendency for their gills to become caught. This effectively traps them. The size of the mesh, in theory, allows for smaller types of waterlife to get through the net or doesn't allow the larger species to get their heads caught in. Most often, however, the fisherman spends time throwing back things which are not his intended catch. If the unintended catch are sturgeon caught during salmon season a fisherman will often bring in a couple hundred of these during his drift. He will leave them on his deck until he leaves that area so that the fish aren’t caught over and over again in his net, endangering their ability to survive. Because the deck is very wet, and the sturgeon are very hardy, this method is better than tearing their gills, leaving them with little chance of survival as they are pulled from the net over and over again throughout the day. Another problem with drifts are the amount of logs and other debris caught up in them. Whenever possible, as the fishermen layout they try to avoid this debris, lifting their nets over and placing it around the river's refuse. Repair of nets costs time and labor and lost time on the river means lost money, often the only opportunity they have during a short season.

As there was no season when I visited with J, he explained the fishing to me. "You begin by laying out the net, and waiting several hours until you haul your net in. If the tide’s moving fast, haul your net in sooner. If it’s moving slower you wait longer. As you bring the net in you pull the fish out of the net, and throw them in the hold. If it is February or March and the fisherman catches a salmon with a whole adipose fin then that fish goes into the live box, a box of cold water used to keep salmon alive" [until it can be thrown back into the river at the end of the day after the danger of being recaught in the nets is passed].

J has been fishing the Columbia for over forty years. His father, grandfather, and great-grandfather fished the Columbia as did his mother’s family. He learned many techniques, which he said could bring in good hauls even in short seasons when the competition was fierce. These are techniques each fisherman has, and are closely guarded secrets ranging from when to lay out, to how often, and where. Some fishermen come in earlier on short openings, and others stay out longer. Each way has benefits, and drawbacks both to the freshness of the fish as well as the profit to the fisherman. "I like being on the river, sometimes I even love it," J said. "Especially the sky, either the blue of a real nice day or the stars shining out of a pitch black night." The relationship between the river and the fisherman changes as often as the tides.

When J brings his catch in many options are open to him. If he has the proper license he can sell directly to the public. "Most people think that’s the freshest way to go," J chuckled, "but often if the fisherman is selling for himself he’s stayed out long, and is after as many fish as he can get. He then comes in, and is sitting at the dock, selling the fish from his hold. These fish can be out of the water for 24 hours at this point." J argues that a fisherman is smarter using a wholesale broker who has a good client base. The fisherman will get less per pound but he will sell all of his fish to the broker. If he sells his fish himself he may get more per pound but he also may not get all of his fish sold.

With a broker waiting to purchase the fish as soon as the fisherman brings it in, the fisherman can afford to make a few trips bringing them in throughout the day. He wants to do this so his fish is the better, fresher looking, and will go for the higher price. These fish can be sold to the fish markets to sit in the deli case or in the restaurant to sit nicely on your plate. The other fish go to the canneries to be canned, they don’t need to look as nice and go for a lower price.

Conceivably, a fish can go from the river to the consumer’s plate in as few as twelve hours. From the fisherman to a wholesale broker to a retail broker to the fishmarket to the plate, all that’s needed now is a wedge of lemon, and a good side dish.

Monday, February 5, 2007

From the Mouths of Our Children

We live in a world which grows ever more dangerous at a time when we have the most capacity in the history of the planet to keep our most precious resources, our children, safe. Yet, we still manage to cultivate children with the capacity to understand what an adult needs to hear.

'Be careful out there!" were the parting words of Michael, my permanent side kick for the past 10 weeks. One last thing I could learn from my stay at the Relief Nursery.
I began my practicum thinking I would be the provider of knowledge as the assistant teacher, instead I was the knowledge receiver from the nine other little assistants. These 'little assistants' were split up between the teachers, Sarah and Diane. Diane and Sarah would set goals for each child, then mark their progress through out the days, weeks and year. Some of these goals would include three word sentences or invite some one to play with them, with prompting from a teacher. The ultimate goal is to encourage the proper skills of communication so the child can function appropriately within society and prevent abuse and neglect. Often, times would arise of one child would take the toy from another and a scream or push would come of it. At this time the phrase "use your words" was offered. Then the child would say 'no!' or 'mine!' and who ended up with the desired object in the end was another story. The point was they should learn to express their feelings in a constructive way for their ages, in this case 18 months to 3 years old.

Because the Relief Nursery is directed towards at risk families, the intervention was not just with the children, but the whole families. This included at home visits once a week by Diane and Sarah. Here, other plans of reconstruction were made, supporting the ultimate goal of encouraging the proper skills of communication, and adapting to each family's needs at the time. I believe this multi-faceted approach is the most holistic way to insure healing of whatever wounds might be effecting each family. That way the children do not lose sight of 'using their words' and other positive skills learned. I think this support system is obvious in some children. I believe Gabby and her mother are an example of this.

The first day, children arrived one by one off the bus or dropped off by their parents. As each child entered they were greeted by Diane or Sarah and asked to put their coat in the cubby, which was directly in front of the door. After which they promptly went to their favorite toy or play area. The last arrival was not this smooth. As I was being guided through each play area by my first friend of the day, Amber, a great wailing was heard down the hall and to the door. I looked up startled and Amber said "Oh, that's just Gabby". Gabby's mother tried to comfort her, but to no avail. Thus her mother left and the wailing intensified. A small crowd of teachers and counselors tried to sooth the aching heart, meanwhile the class went on to the jumping room. Midway through the class the tear stained face would join in, and all attempts were made not to mention "mommy." However, with a classroom of toddlers that subject is hard to avoid!

One day in the jumping room, after reading the book 'No More Monkeys Jumping on the Bed' a call was made to the doctor (pretend doctor). It seems the snake Treven looks after (also pretend) took a liking to my neck. "Oh no," I would yell while holding the wound with my hand, "Call the doctor Gabby!" So she would pick up the phone, and I would prompt her to say 'Snake bite Teacher'. The sentence came out understandable with the exception of 'eacher' to replace my name. Then I would ask her what the doctor said. She would answer with a puzzled look. Then I would prompt, "Did he ask you to tell Treven's snake 'No bite Teacher'?" Her eyes widen and I nodded, then she yelled to the unsuspecting snake "NO BITE EACHER!" This was quite shocking to the snakes' owner as well, obviously being aware that Gabby was not a gabber. Both children being entertained with this, the scene was repeated many times. There she was talking and playing with another child, and I was able to be apart of it. I would try to 'use my words' to explain this feeling of honor and so much more, but it is too overwhelming.

Unfortunately, not every child in our class had this support. My first friend, Amber, slowly disappeared from classes. It started with her diminishing cooperation with others. From her sweet demeanor of sharing, to a slight taste for picking fights. But then her presence was all-together lost. It turns out that her parents were not calling her in sick and the bus would waste the trip there. Soon her bus privileges were lost and her parents were suppose to drive her to the Nursery, and they haven't made that trip yet. With the following week of not showing up her place in class was given to another child.

My sidekick, Michael, was a constant reminder that children are a work in progress. One minute he was using dolls and toys to act out violent scenes, then the next he was a crying puppy who needs shelter, I was often chosen to provide that for him. My time at the Nursery was usually spent with Michael. If I was found playing with another child I was quickly snatched away. I accepted that for most of the term, not wanting to inhibit any reaching out he might be doing, but it became apparent that I needed to encourage him playing with other children. So, as he approached me playing with Brandon one day and said "play with me!" I simply said "I am playing with Brandon right now, but you can join us if you like." Soon we were galloping around on our horses, wearing cowboy hats and calling each other 'partner'. I think Brandon was not completely aware of what we were doing, but Michael was happy with leading and Brandon was a good follower.

As I walked my 'partner' to his bus the last day at the Nursery and sat him is his seat, I explained that I was going home for the summer and would not see him anymore. He looked at me in disbelief. I thought he did not fully understand so I just said a cherry good-bye and took a step towards the door. Then I heard "Stop!" He looked around, as if waiting for the next sentence to pass by so he could quickly snatch it up, too. "Just stop," he said. I took a step back towards him, thinking how hard this good-bye is for both of us, however, making sure to give him time to answer without me putting words in his mouth. Then he warned "It is dangerous out there!" Is he reading my mind? "I don't think you should go." "Why?" I asked. "There is a great big monster over there!" "Ok, then I will go the other way." He thought about that for a moment, then suggested that I fight it for him. As I held back my tears I wondered how many 'big monsters' this little boy had to encounter in his short life. I told him I would take care of this one for him but I know he could get the next one. I wanted to confirm that there are grown ups out there who will protect him but at the same time I wanted to give him the power to protect himself, too. My eyes were filling past the point of being able to hold the tears back. All I could do, then, was give a pleasant wave. He nodded and read my mind again saying, "Be careful out there!"