Archive for March, 2017

50 Ways to Live a Longer, Healthier Life

March 27, 2017

(From the March 2017 Issue of AARP Bulletin)

The editors at AARP have filtered through numerous medical journals and studies to identify the best actions you can take to achieve a longer, fuller life. We know there are no guarantees. But genetics account for just 25 percent of a person’s longevity. The rest is up to you. With this collection of some of the most important longevity findings, you’ll have the road map you need to get to 80, 90, 100 or beyond.

1. Frozen is fine

You can eat a balanced diet even when fresh fruits and vegetables are out of season because frozen can be as good as or even better for life-extending nutrients. British scientists found that fresh fruit can lose nutrients after three days of refrigeration, while frozen fruits don’t suffer the same fate. Another study similarly found that frozen blueberries contained more vitamin C than fresh ones.

2. Cut back on pain pills

Regular use of painkillers such as ibuprofen and naproxen — including over-the-counter brands such as Advil, Motrin and Aleve — may raise your risk of heart attack and stroke by 10 percent, according to a 2014 U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) advisory panel review. (Prescription-strength versions may increase your risk by 20 to 50 percent, even after just a few weeks of use.) Reserve these drugs for severe pain, and use the lowest possible dose for the shortest amount of time.

3. Please go to bed

Consistently sleeping less than six hours a night nearly doubles your risk of heart attack and stroke, according to a review of 15 studies published in the European Heart Journal. Another study found that consistently sleep-deprived people were 12 percent more likely to die over the 25-year study period than those who got six to eight hours of sleep a night. These tips from the National Sleep Foundation can help ensure that you get good quality shut-eye, even if you’re among the half of people over 60 who have insomnia:

  • Make the room pitch-black dark, and set the thermostat between 60 and 67 degrees.
  • Exercise every day. It doesn’t matter what time of day you work out, just so it doesn’t interfere with your rest.
  • Stick to a regular sleep schedule, going to bed and getting up at the same time each day.
  • Shut down your electronics an hour before retiring, as the light from some devices can stimulate the brain.
  • Replace your mattress if it’s more than 10 years old.

4. But don’t always go right to sleep

A Duke University study that followed 252 people for 25 years concluded that frequent sex “was a significant predictor of longevity” for men.

5. Get (or stay) hitched

Marriage truly is good for your health — and your longevity. The prestigious Framingham Offspring Study found that married men had a 46 percent lower risk of death than never-married men, in part due to marriage’s well-known impact on heart health. Indeed, a 2014 study by New York University’s Langone Medical Center found that married men and women had a 5 percent lower risk of cardiovascular disease.

6. Ripeness matters

No, you won’t die from eating under-ripe produce, but new research shows that fully ripened fruit has more life-lengthening health benefits. For example, green bananas are low in fiber and high in astringent tannins that can cause constipation. Fully ripened pears and blackberries have more disease-fighting antioxidants. And in watermelon, a deep red color signifies more lycopene, an antioxidant that may reduce the risk of cancer and heart disease.

7. Don’t sweeten with sugar

A high-sugar diet boosts blood sugar, which in turn plays havoc with your heart by increasing levels of LDL cholesterol while lowering heart-friendly HDL cholesterol, and tripling your risk for fatal cardiovascular disease. The American Heart Association recommends that women consume no more than 6 teaspoons (25 grams) of added sugar a day, and men no more than 9 teaspoons (36 grams).

8. Consider extra vitamin D

Vitamin D, a bright byproduct of sunlight, has many health benefits, including a link to longevity. But too much vitamin D increases your risk of dying as much as too little, according to a 2015 Danish study. So you want to get the right amount. Don’t just rely on outdoor time to get extra vitamin D; the rate of skin cancer rises as we age, so it’s important to limit exposure. The smart plan: Ask your doctor if you would benefit from extra D in pill form. University of Copenhagen researchers found that the ideal vitamin D level is more than 50 nanomoles per liter of blood, but less than 100 nmol/L.

9. Go green

If coffee’s not your thing, green tea also has proven longevity cred, likely because it contains powerful antioxidants known as catechins that may help combat diabetes and heart disease. In a large study of more than 40,000 Japanese men and women, drinking five or more cups of green tea a day was associated with a 12 percent decrease in mortality among men and a 23 percent decrease among women.

10. Vacation … or Else

Not taking time off work might, indeed, be deadly. One study of men at high risk for coronary artery disease found that those who failed to take annual vacations were 32 percent more likely to die of a heart attack. And in the long-running Framingham Heart Study, women who vacationed just once every six years were eight times more likely to develop coronary artery disease or have a heart attack than women who vacationed twice a year.

11. Eat whole grains

The average American eats one serving of whole grains daily — and that may be just a single morning slice of toast. But eating three or more servings each day can cut overall death rate by about 20 percent, according to a 2016 study from Harvard University’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health. Have some oatmeal or brown rice, or get adventurous and go for quinoa, barley, even farro.

12. Spice it up

Eating hot chili peppers may add years to your life. In a 2016 analysis of the dietary habits of more than 16,000 men and women over 23 years, those who reported eating hot peppers reduced their risk of dying by 13 percent. Not a fan of those peppers? Even a little spice can have health benefits. That’s because the body produces endorphins to reduce the heat from the capsaicin in the peppers; those endorphins also reduce pain and inflammation.

13. Drink whole milk

You’ve been told forever to drink low-fat or skim milk, or go for fat-free yogurt. But research published in the journal Circulation in 2016 concluded that those who consumed the most dairy fat had a 50 percent lower risk of developing diabetes, a disease that can shorten your life by eight to 10 years on average.

14. Just add water

Staying adequately hydrated — measured by urine that’s light yellow or straw colored — can also help prolong a healthy life by reducing the risk of bladder and colon cancer and keeping kidneys in tip-top shape. Bonus: It might even help you lose weight. Researchers at the University of Illinois found that those who sipped more H2O ended up eating 68 to 205 fewer calories per day.

15. Say yes to that extra cup

Coffee does more than help you wake up; it also reduces your risk of stroke, diabetes and some cancers. And in a 2015 study published in the journal Circulation, Harvard researchers discovered that “people who drank three to five cups of coffee per day had about a 15 percent lower [risk of premature] mortality compared to people who didn’t drink coffee,” says coauthor Walter Willett, M.D. Mind you, a cup is 8 ounces, so your 16-ounce Starbucks grande is really two cups by that measure.

16. Live like the Amish

A University of Maryland study found that Amish men live longer than typical Caucasian men in the United States, and both Amish men and women have lower rates of hospitalization. What are the Amish ways? Lots of physical activity, less smoking and drinking, and a supportive social structure involving family and community.

17. End the day’s eating by 9 p.m. 

Not only is eating late bad for your waistline — sleeping doesn’t exactly burn lots of calories — it also increases the risk of heart disease by 55 percent for men ages 45 to 82, according to a Harvard study.

18. Eat your veggies

In a study of 73,000 adults, most in their mid to upper 50s, vegetarians were 12 percent less likely than carnivores to have died from any cause during the six-year study period. The 2016 study, published in JAMA Internal Medicine, found that mortality rates were lowest overall for pesco-vegetarians (those who eat fish occasionally), followed by vegans (those who eat no animal products), and lacto-ovo vegetarians (those who eat dairy and eggs).

19. Eat like the Greeks

The Mediterranean diet, with its reliance on fruits, vegetables, olive oil, fish and nuts, is one of the healthiest diets for both overall health and longevity. Harvard researchers, reporting in the BMJ in 2014, found that those who followed the diet most closely had longer telomeres, which cap the end of each strand of DNA and protect chromosomes from damage. Even those who only sporadically followed the diet reaped longevity benefits, researchers found.

20. Eat less

If you want to reach 100, put down the fork, says Dan Buettner, who studies longevity hot spots around the world, such as Okinawa, Japan. Buettner found that the oldest Okinawans stop eating when they feel 80 percent full. A National Institutes of Health-funded study similarly found that cutting back calories reduced blood pressure, cholesterol and insulin resistance.

21. Drink less (here’s a trick) 

More-than-moderate alcohol consumption (generally, more than one drink a day for women or more than two a day for men) leads to a shorter life span. Here’s one way to cut your intake: Pour red wine into a white-wine glass, which is narrower. Studies by Cornell University’s Food and Brand Lab found that people poured 12 percent more into red-wine glasses. You’ll also pour less wine into your glass if it’s sitting on the table, instead of in your hand, says Brian Wansink, the lab’s director.

22. Save your pennies

Money might not make you happier, but it will help you live longer. A 2016 study by Stanford researchers published in JAMA found that people whose income bracket was in the top 1 percent lived nearly 15 years longer than those in the bottom 1 percent. The disparity could be attributed to healthier behaviors in higher-income groups, including less smoking and lower obesity rates, researchers say.

23. Or move to one of these states

If you’re not wealthy, consider moving to California, New York or Vermont, where studies show that low-income people tend to live the longest. Loma Linda, Calif., has the highest longevity thanks to vegetarian Seventh-day Adventists, who live eight to 10 years longer than the rest of us. Nevada, Indiana and Oklahoma have the lowest life expectancy (less than 78 years).

24. Ponder a Ponderosa

Experiencing a sense of awe — such as when viewing the Grand Canyon or listening to Beethoven’s Ninth — may boost the body’s defense system, says research from the University of California, Berkeley. “That awe, wonder and beauty promote healthier levels of cytokines suggests that the things we do to experience these emotions — a walk in nature, losing oneself in music, beholding art — has a direct influence upon health and life expectancy,” says Dacher Keltner, a psychologist and coauthor of the study.

25. Get a friend with four legs

A few studies on the link between pet ownership and health have found that owning a pet can reduce anxiety, lower blood pressure, even improve the odds of surviving a heart attack. Now the American Heart Association has weighed in with a report published in the journal Circulation that recommends owning a dog, in particular, for those seeking to reduce their risk of deadly heart disease. Dog owners are more likely to be physically active and are also less vulnerable to the effects of stress, the report says.

26. Find your purpose

Do you wake up looking forward to something? In a 2014 study published in the Lancet, researchers found that those with the highest sense of purpose were 30 percent less likely to die during the 8.5-year study period. In fact, doing something that matters — whether it’s helping your children or interacting in a community of like-minded folks — is correlated with seven extra years of life, according to researchers who study people in “blue zones,” areas of the world where folks live the longest.

27. Embrace your faith

Attending religious services once a week has been shown to add between four and 14 years to life expectancy, according to researchers who study blue zones. Don’t belong to a church? Ask to join a friend at her services, or just drop in at a nearby house of worship; most have an open-door policy.

28. Be food safe

About 3,000 Americans die from food poisoning annually, say the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Even seemingly healthy foods — like sprouts, cantaloupe, berries and raw tuna — can make you sick or even kill you, says the FDA. Your action plan: Keep your kitchen pristine, wash your hands and utensils before and after handling food, separate raw and cooked foods, refrigerate perishable food promptly, and cook food to a safe temperature to kill deadly bacteria.

29. Consider mountain life

People residing at higher altitudes tend to live longer, a study by the University of Colorado and the Harvard School of Global Health revealed. Of the 20 healthiest counties in America, many are in Colorado and Utah. Researchers think lower oxygen levels might cause your body to adapt in ways that strengthen your heart and circulation.

30. Go nuts

In a European study of adults ages 55 to 69, those who ate 10 grams of nuts daily — 8 almonds or 6 cashews — reduced their risk of death from any health-related cause by 23 percent. As for specific ailments, consuming a handful of nuts at least five times per week lowers the mortality risk for heart disease (by 29 percent), respiratory disease (24 percent) and cancer (11 percent), according to a previous U.S. study. Sorry, peanut butter fans: Spreads didn’t show the same benefits.

31. Keep watching LOL cat videos

Laughter really is the best medicine, helping to reduce stress, boost the immune system, reduce pain and improve blood flow to the brain. In fact, laughter has the same effect on blood vessels as exercise, report researchers from the University of Maryland School of Medicine in Baltimore.

32. Get social

Studies show that loneliness increases the risk of early death by 45 percent. It weakens the immune system and raises blood pressure while increasing the risk for heart attacks and stroke. By contrast, people with strong ties to friends and family have as much as a 50 percent lower risk of dying, according to a study in PLOS Medicine. So visit a friend. And don’t discount your online friends. A 2016 study by researchers at the University of California, San Diego found that those who use Facebook also live longer, but only when online interactions don’t completely supplant face-to-face social interaction.

33. Watch your grandkids

While babysitting every day is stressful, regularly watching the grands can lower your risk of dying by a third, according to a 2016 study published in Evolution and Human Behavior. That adds up to an extra five years of life, researchers say. They speculate that caregiving gives grandparents a sense of purpose, and keeps them mentally and physically active.

34. Try to stay out of the hospital

A 2016 Johns Hopkins University study found that some 250,000 patients die each year in hospitals from medical mistakes, such as misdiagnoses, poor practices and conditions, and drug errors. Sometimes the best way to avoid a grave condition is not to enter the system at all.

35. Read more

Sounds like we made it up, but scientific research supports the longevity benefits of reading — newspapers and magazines will do, but books are the best. “As little as a half-hour a day of book reading had a significant survival advantage over those who did not read,” said the study’s senior author, Becca R. Levy, a professor of epidemiology at Yale.

36. Read the ‘AARP Bulletin’

Really. This and other smart publications can keep you up to date on health info. Studies have shown that when people are empowered with information to make important medical decisions, it not only enhances their well-being but also improves a treatment’s effectiveness. So keep reading aarp.org/bulletin and aarp.org/health.

37. Monitor yourself

Don’t wait for annual checkups to consider your health. By then, a small problem could have morphed into a life-threatening illness. In one English study, researchers found that less than 60 percent of people who developed unusual symptoms in the previous three months had seen a doctor. Symptoms that might point to cancer include: unexplained weight loss of 10 pounds or more (this can be an indication of cancers of the esophagus, stomach or lungs); fever; extreme fatigue; changes in bowel or bladder habits; or unusual bleeding. Other unusual symptoms that could signal disease? A patch of rough, dark skin could indicate diabetes, and a strange color on your tongue could signal serious acid-reflux issues.

38. Visit the hardware store

Among the most common causes of “unintentional deaths” are carbon monoxide, radon and lead poisoning, the CDC reports. Make sure there’s a carbon monoxide detector near every bedroom, and be sure to test and replace the batteries every two years. Was your home built before 1978, when lead paint was outlawed? One trip to the store can get you all you need to test for these toxic substances.

39. Practice home fire drills

Just 1 in 3 families have a fire-safety plan, says Robert Cole, president of Community Health Strategies, an injury-prevention education organization based in Pittsford, N.Y. “People underestimate the speed of a fire. Many waste time figuring out what to do, or trying to take belongings with them. Everyone should know what to do and how to get out safely.”

40. Find a woman doctor

When Harvard researchers in 2016 analyzed Medicare records documenting more than 1.5 million hospitalizations over four years, they found that patients who received care from a female physician were more likely to survive and less likely to be readmitted to the hospital within 30 days of discharge. In fact, about 32,000 fewer people would die each year “if male physicians achieved the same outcomes as female physicians,” the researchers said. Previous studies have suggested that female doctors are more likely to follow clinical guidelines and are more effective communicators.

41. Make peace with family

While we often stress about small stuff — the guests are here, and we’re not ready! — it’s the nagging, long-running forms of stress, such as a family dispute, that put your longevity at risk. Chronic stress hastens the cellular deterioration that leads to premature aging and a vast array of serious diseases, according to long-running research from the University of California, San Francisco. This sort of cell death “turns out to be one of the strongest predictors of early diseases of aging and in many studies of early mortality,” says lead researcher Elissa Epel. The remedy: Come to peace with the people in your life. Forgive your family, forgive yourself, put the past behind you — so you can have more life in front of you.

42. Take the stairs — every day

A study by University of Geneva researchers found that taking the stairs instead of the elevators reduced the risk of dying prematurely by 15 percent. What’s more, a daily stair climb shaves six months off your “brain age,” according to researchers at Concordia University who performed MRI scans on 331 people ages 19 to 79. Gray matter shrinks naturally with age, but less so when people stay active.

43. Toss that rug

One of the top risks for falls at home is throw rugs. Those slip-slidey accoutrements send 38,000 older adults to the emergency room each year, according to a 2013 study by the CDC. Banish these rugs from your home, and make sure bath mats have a nonslip bottom.

44. Beware the high-tech dash

Nearly one in five traffic accidents and more than 400,000 crash-related injuries involve a distracted driver, the U.S. Department of Transportation reports. Top distractions, according to a recent Virginia Tech Transportation Institute study, are cellphones. But a less-obvious risk is using the touch screen on your car’s dashboard.

45. And drive less

In 2014, more than 5,700 older adults were killed and more than 236,000 were injured in motor vehicle crashes. Per mile traveled, fatal crashes increase noticeably starting at age 70 and are highest among drivers age 85 and older, a highway safety organization says. If you’re feeling unsafe behind the wheel, it might be time to look for alternative transportation.

46. Better yet, walk

What’s the best prescription for a longer life? Exercise. And doctors are literally prescribing it instead of medication. “There is no pill that comes close to what exercise can do,” says Claude Bouchard, director of the human genomics laboratory at Pennington Biomedical Research Center in Louisiana. It benefits your brain, heart, skin, mood and metabolism. Even as little as 10 minutes of brisk walking can help (that’s all it takes to burn off the calories of one chocolate chip cookie). Once you can do 10 minutes, push it to 15. Then 20. Start slow, but just start.

47. Just not in the street

Nearly 5,000 pedestrians are killed annually in the U.S., according to the latest federal figures, and nearly 20 percent of those deaths were among adults age 65 and older. If you walk for your health — and we hope you do — stay safe and consider doing so at the mall, a community health center or a park.

48. And go a little faster

The benefits of a brisk walk are real: A University of Pittsburgh study of adults 65 and older found that those whose usual walking pace exceeded one meter per second lived longer. While researchers say they can’t recommend brisk walking as a panacea for living longer, they did see increased survival in those who picked up the pace over the course of a year.

49. Get fidgety

Never mind what your grade school teachers said; fidgeting is good. A 2016 British study finds that sitting for seven or more hours a day increases your risk of dying by 30 percent — except among active fidgeters, who see no increased risk.

50. Trade in Ol’ Bessie

High-tech safety features have now become standard in new cars. The government mandates that all have airbags, antilock brakes, electronic stability control — “up there with seat belts and airbags in its life- aving benefits,” says one industry leader — and tire pressure-monitoring systems. Carmakers also offer back-up cameras, self-parking features, blind-spot and lane-departure warnings, and forward-collision warning with auto-braking.

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Border Cantos

March 9, 2017

Philip Martin Critical Mass piece on an art exhibition at Crystal Bridges

BENTONVILLE — Once in Arizona I heard an old cowboy say, “A border is a scar on the landscape,” and from the way he said it, I assumed it was an old American Indian saying, a bit of folk wisdom handed down through generations, taken for granted and hardly thought about.

But when thinking about it and trying to discover the source, I realized that it wasn’t some cliched proverb but maybe an original notion, something that, if I had the wherewithal, I should attribute to the speaker.

That was 25 years ago, in American Nogales, a few blocks from Mexican tumult, and I don’t remember why it came up.

It stuck all this time because it sounded poetic and might be true. But while wandering through the new “Border Cantos: Sight & Sound Explorations From the Mexican-American Border” exhibition at Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, I realized it wasn’t true at all. A scar is the result of trauma, a seam that marks where the body was split, but it signals re-integration and healing, where the flesh has knitted together. The assertions of punk philosopher Henry Rollins aside, a scar isn’t really stronger than regular tissue (it’s only about 80 percent as strong) but it’s better than the alternative. Though we might think them ugly because they are a residual of pain, reminders of bad happenings we have survived, we ought to find them beautiful.

A scar is a repair, a new beginning.

And a border is meant to be an end. A border separates rather than joins. A border is a man-made thing, imposed and maintained by governments, breached by wind and weather and creatures ignorant of its purpose and undeterred by statute. A border is something only our kind can see and only with some help. We need a fence, a wall, a checkpoint, a smoothed channel of sand — something like an outfield’s warning track — to see a border.

Richard Misrach, the photographer whose monumental (60-by-80-inch) pictures hang on these walls, means to help us see the border. Not so much as a political symbol, not as a physical barrier separating us from them, not as a dam holding back a wash of the unwanted — but as a lonely ribbon cutting through an empty, silent sea of dust. As thin black stitching breaking for a horizon, lighting out for the territory beyond the scrub hills and ocher plains. As a fugitive, futile idea as vain and doomed as the statue in Shelley’s sonnet “Ozymandias,” Misrach’s aim is not journalistic. He’s after something more forensic and universal.

He says he wanted to make beautiful pictures and Misrach has, though many of his images — with bleached skies and stark reminders of human absence (the things we leave behind) — bespeak a certain terribleness. The borderlands are cruel and men are crueler: Witness the martial detritus (ammo boxes, shotgun shells and speckled human silhouette targets) of the U.S. Border Patrol.

To this end, few people appear in these photos. Those who do inevitably have their faces obscured by the barriers we’ve put up to keep them away. On their side of the border, which appears in a few shots as festive and color-shot as it is indistinct, a dreamy, out-of-focus Mexico hums with messy signs of life as opposed to the alkaline blankness of “our side,” where the desert seems like a killing jar for those desperate enough to try to cross it.

Misrach started shooting in the desert in 2004 long before the border became a pop political flashpoint, before Donald Trump became president in part by promising to “build a wall” and get Mexico to pay for it. In fact, nearly 700 miles of wall already exists, mostly in and near the towns along the nearly 2,000-mile border. It was built in fits and starts, as betrayed by the lack of a uniform style. In places it’s a corrugated iron fence made from repurposed military helicopter landing mats, sometimes it’s chain link topped with razor wire, sometimes it’s X-shaped barricades like those found on the Normandy beaches during D-Day. But most often in Misrach’s photos it’s a disarmingly benign-looking metal picket fence. Mainly it works to keep vehicles from surreptitiously crossing the border. People can go over and around it.

But once they do, they might have to cross 50 miles of desert to reach the first road. Some die in 120-degree heat. And some who make it leave behind evidence of their journey, like the backpack Misrach found with a pair of yellow boxer shorts bearing the cartoon character Taz (Tasmanian devil) riding a skateboard, an empty bag of Ruffles, a blue plastic razor, soap, toothbrush, socks and a few condoms.

Misrach photographs these poignant articles, as well as signs of efforts to mitigate the cruelty, such as the frayed blue flags snapping above plastic barrels filled with jugs of water for migrants.

After meeting sculptor and experimental composer Guillermo Galindo in 2011, Misrach started hauling back some of the things he found for Galindo to convert into musical instruments.

Outside the exhibit entrance, Galindo’s musical sculpture Fuente de Lagrimas (Fountain of Tears), constructed of a water barrel peppered by shotgun pellets and bullets, stands. Water drips from its puncture wounds, falling onto a metal plate, making a soothing, sloshing sound. Inside the gallery there’s a theremin he built from discarded bicycle rims and an instrument he calls the “ropofono,” a loom with contact microphones that brush against clothing discarded by migrants. It makes a ghostly sound, like the rustling of furtive night walkers.

Galindo, a Mexico Cityborn U.S. citizen, has also mounted a damaged section of the wall — one of the old helicopter pads, twisted probably by a ramming vehicle — into a gonglike sculpture he calls The Angel Exterminador (Exterminating Angel). He’s re-created the mysterious effigies that Misrach has photographed — X-framed agave stalks wearing tattered clothing — into a stringed instrument. Elsewhere he has converted a discarded can into the resonating chamber of an instrument modeled on a two-stringed Chinese erhu. He strings empty shotgun shells together to create his version of a West African shaker.

Throughout the gallery you can hear Galindo’s ambient, organic music, a 260-minute score called “Sonic Borders” played on the instruments he designed. It haws and sighs, trickles and coos, and gradually pulls the listener into the wide and teeming emptiness of the desert.

While the artists might deny the political nature of their work, it’s impossible to ignore the geopolitical implications of the physical border barriers — the sterility of the rich north is again and again contrasted with the teeming desperation of the south. Misrach has several images of Border Patrol drag tires — low-tech methods of smoothing the sand near the border so that migrants’ footprints would be apparent.

Galindo says that he first got a sense of how he could collaborate with Misrach on this project when he noticed how the dragged tires made a kind of staff in the sand on which notes might be plotted by migrants’ feet. Seen another way, the drag tires make a warning track like those found in baseball stadiums. They signal a danger zone: Look up, you’re about to hit the wall.

Which, on the U.S. side, can be problematic. While Mexican artists are free to decorate their side of the wall, the U.S. Border Patrol allows no such displays. In many places, they don’t even allow access to it.

“Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,” Robert Frost wrote in his often misinterpreted poem “Mending Wall,” the one that many think has as its moral “good fences make good neighbors.” What “Border Cantos” makes clear is that, above all else, a border is a made thing, just like a work of art. They go up, but invariably they come down.

And the only real difference between us and the people on the other side is the fact of our separation.

Art

“Border Cantos:

Sight & Sound

Explorations From

the Mexican-American Border”

Through April 24, Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, 600 Museum Way, Bentonville

Admission: free

Hours: 11 a.m.-6 p.m. Monday, Saturday-Sunday; 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Wednesday-Friday

Info: crystalbridges.org or

(479) 418-5700

pmartin@arkansasonline.com

blooddirtangels.com

Courtesy of Richard Misrach

A detail from photographer Richard Misrach’s Playas de Tijuana No. 1, San Diego, California, this 2013 pigment print hangs at “Border Cantos: Sight & Sound Explorations From the Mexican-American Border.” The exhibition continues through April 24 at Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art.

 

Courtesy of Guillermo Galindo

Guillermo Galindo’s Lone Jar is a pigment print that is part of the “Border Cantos” exhibition at Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art.

Courtesy of Guillermo Galindo

This sculpture by Guillermo Galindo is created from immigrants’ clothing, wood and string. Effigy is part of a collaborative exhibition with photographer Richard Misrach at the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art.

Photographer Richard Misrach (left) and sculptor/composer Guillermo Galindo are the artists of “Border Cantos: Sight & Sound Explorations From the Mexican-American Border” at Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art.

 

Courtesy of Richard Misrach

Border Target No. 51, near Gulf of Mexico, Texas is a Richard Misrach photograph that is part of the exhibition “Border Cantos” at Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art.

Courtesy of Richard Misrach

Agua No. 1, near Calexico, California is the title of this pigment print by photographer Richard Misrach.

 

Courtesy of Guillermo Galindo

Shell Pinata is made from sheet metal and Border Patrol shotgun shells casings. It is part of the “Border Cantos” exhibition at Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art.

Courtesy of Richard Misrach

Richard Misrach’s Protest Sign, Brownsville, Texas is one of his prints hanging at Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art. It is part of the collaborative exhibition “Border Cantos,” with sculptor and composer Guillermo Galindo.

The Many Uses of Kindness

March 9, 2017

Philip Martin article from the Arkansas Democrat Gazette 2/28/17

In his more autobiographical than it might first appear novel Slaughterhouse-Five, Kurt Vonnegut writes:

“I went to the University of Chicago for awhile after the Second World War. I was a student in the Department of Anthropology. At that time they were teaching that there was absolutely no difference between anybody. They may be teaching that still.

“Another thing they taught was that no one was ridiculous or bad or disgusting. Shortly before my father died, he said to me, ‘You know —you never wrote a story with a villain in it.’ I told him that was one of the things I learned in college after the war.”

A lot of us think stories with villains in them are vulgar and crude because they tend to let readers off the hook. Because no one is in their own heart a villain. Everyone has motives and can justify their actions. People are profoundly influenced by the circumstances they grow up in, by their parents, caretakers and friends, and by the ways early requisites are frustrated or met. Brain chemistry plays a role. We are all individuals with unique personalities, each of us invested with certain potentialities and limitations.

But none of us are born bad; I don’t believe a God would seed any soul with evil.

Though we might resist them in our fiction, we understand that in real life villains abound. Or at least they seem to until you allow yourself to recognize the wounded child within the fury and the heedless bluster, the neediness that compels acquisition and ostentatiousness. A monster is only a monster until you discover the source of its sorrow. Then it becomes an explicable human being, worthy of pity if not forgiveness.

So I wish that Hitler might have passed his audition for the Vienna Academy of Fine Arts, or that his severe architectural watercolors had found favor beyond the Jewish dealers who championed his work—Josef Neumann, Jakob Altenberg and Samuel Morgenstern. Things would surely have been different for the world had his interest in human beings matched his technical prowess.

Had Timothy McVeigh found a good girlfriend he might not have felt the need to bomb America; had Charles Foster Kane not been ripped from his childhood he might have had a chance at happiness. Had Richard Nixon received a hug at the right time, who knows how much history might have been ameliorated by kindness?

But these days we don’t talk much of kindness—for some of us it presents as weakness. At best, it’s seen as sort of a compensatory virtue. (If you can’t be the biggest, the best, the most impressive, maybe you can at least be kind.) It has little currency in our present moment when our elected representatives stand ready to do real damage to real people, especially the most vulnerable and marginalized among us.

Yet I want to understand these people who beg us for our dollars and votes, who yearn for high office and honorifics. Most of them probably started out with ideals, with at least the notion that they might help make the world a better place. Of course they were corrupted by the easy money that was offered them. Most of us would be too. Most of us would take the checks then reverse-engineer a theory to sell our constituents, the little people too dense to understand the president’s tax returns, who need a state-sponsored monument to the Ten Commandments to expand their moral education. But then most of us don’t hold ourselves out as would-be leaders willing to sacrifice our private ambitions for the public good.

How does one reconcile one’s conscience to the things one must do to stay in office—to avoid the wrath of the corporate players who, far more than the American people, are the ones who call the shots in the marbled halls of this country’s legislatures? How does one inure oneself to the heartbreak and suffering of people to the point that one makes common cause with bigots, misogynists, and sexual predators?

It used to be that Americans insisted on a base line of public decorumthat to achieve anything of substance in life one had to at least pretend to be a decent person.

It’s not that bad people didn’t succeed, or that ruthlessness was rewarded, only that a certain level of hypocrisy was generally maintained. In general, people who behaved badly sought to deny their bad behavior, and if that wasn’t possible, to explain how it wasn’t so bad as it appeared. Bad people who depended on the support of the public were especially concerned with making it possible for those inclined to defend them to be able to credibly do so.

Now some people can grab other people by their body parts. Or shoot people in the middle of Fifth Avenue.

That’s probably always been the case, so maybe our new age is more honest. It’s certainly more raw—more people have screamed at me on the phone in the past year than in the rest of my career combined. And I’ve never been more inclined to scream back. I’ve never felt less amused by the petty dissimulations and transparent spinlies—emanating from our lawgivers. I’ve never been closer to adopting the Howard Beale position in Network (“I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take this any more!”)

But I’m going to try to be kind.

I would urge you to do the same. Ask your questions, for despite what they will try to tell you, you have a right to ask questions and they have a duty to answer. They are the ones who held themselves out for this work, they were not drafted or forced, and if they find the heat too much they can find their way out of the kitchen, probably into a sinecure provided by their corporate clients.

If you keep asking, they will have to answer. Insist nicely, but insist. For they are not bad people; maybe they just weren’t raised right.

pmartin@arkansasonline.com

I Underestimated Us (from March 2016)

March 3, 2017

By Philip Martin

Philip re-posted this on Facebook in March of 2017

I thought it would never come to this, that there was a bottom to be struck from which we might rebound. Now I’m not so sure. There’s a lot of evidence that suggests we are an infantilized nation, uninterested in hearing any message that doesn’t pay tribute to our not-so-secret image of ourselves as the best, brightest and most persecuted people on the planet. I thought that when it came down to it, the American people–the everyday folks who watch Jeopardy! and work the Sunday crosswords–would not be having any of this cult of personality strongman jive.

I thought we were too smart for that, that we’d seen the movies about Lonesome Rhodes and Howard Beale, that at least enough of us knew about Father Coughlin and Gerald L.K. Smith and that there were limits to how far we’d let some amusing con man go before we’d yank hard on his chain and tell the boy to settle down. A fake reality TV star with special-effects hair? The American people might string him along a while for laughs, but eventually he’d push it, he’d refuse to disavow the Ku Klux Klan or passively plagiarize Il Duce, spend a week apologizing and then drop out.

Yeah, Ronald Reagan was an actor, but it’s not fair to compare him to Donald Trump, for whatever you think of Reagan, when it came down to statecraft there was a deep seriousness to the man. You mightn’t have agreed with his philosophy, but as The Big Lebowski’s Walter Sobchak once said of National Socialism, at least a guiding ethos was present. Trump offers nothing more or less than his super-powered self–he’ll bat his eyes to melt Putin’s heart, he’ll make those rapey Mexicans pay to build their own wall. He’ll make us all winners again.

And sure, it’s not surprising he did all right at first. After all, name recognition is what matters more than anything else. And Trump’s name is everywhere; if he’s good at anything aside from inheriting money it’s self-promoting. I stayed in one his hotels eight years ago, and every week I still get emails inviting me to enjoy a special rate to return or to play golf on one of his courses.

He’s got a sense of humor and he’s utterly shameless–he made his own bad taste a trademark, and his brand is so ubiquitous that some people even believe he’s whatever he says he is: smart, handsome, a good businessman, a scratch golfer. It’s disapppointing, but a lot of Americans support Trump simply because he’s rich. (Because you know, the rich are always doing stuff for the little folks, like leaving $100 tips and moving their manufacturing plants to China.)

(Not that Trump supporters will listen, but there are any number of ways to become a billionaire, and one of the easiest ways is to inherit $200 million. As a lot of people have pointed out, though Trump is worth about $4 billion now, if he’d just stuck his inheritance in an index fund and spent his time walking the earth he’d be worth about $13 billion.)

But the real reason people support Trump is because he doesn’t require anything of them but their free-floating anger. I’m not ready to give Trump credit for doing this on purpose, but at times it seems he’s conducting a kind of Stanley Milgram-type experience on the body politic. He rants all this racist, extremist ugly stuff because it’s what frustrated people who don’t like to be challenged want to hear. He doesn’t believe it any more than he believes in the common sense of common folk, but it’s working so he’d be a fool to change. And a lot of his supporters understand how unworthy Trump’s message is, but they don’t care because he’s not coming for them. He’s after the other guy.

Trump is like a professional wrestler in that while he engages with reality, he does so in a odd, almost metafictional way. He understands he’s fake, and that at least some (most) of his potential audience knows he’s fake. He’s playing a character called Donald Trump. But he’s also real; he’s been validated–animated like Frankenstein’s monster–by poll numbers and primary results. He knows he can really be the nominee, despite the GOP’s best efforts to stop him. (And it’s saying something that a lot of serious people don’t think Trump’s the worst the Republicans have on offer this time around.)

While a lot of Democratic partisans might see that as the best thing that could happen for presumptive nominee Hillary Clinton, that doesn’t give me a lot of comfort. Nobody has tomorrow promised to them, and I’m not at all comfortable with the Donald getting that close to the big chair. I don’t imagine a Trump presidency will be any worse than disappointing to all involved (especially to Trump himself). I think that the legislative and judicial branches would frustrate Trump at least as much as they have Barack Obama, but I’d rather not play chicken with the Constitution, and I’m not all that curious to see if he nominates Howard Stern or Judge Joe Brown to the Supreme Court.

(It would be funny to see Trump govern more or less like the moderate Democrat his history would suggest he might be. There’s absolutely nothing to suggest he’d take any steps to make the federal government smaller.)

Frankly, you all are scaring me. This should have been put to bed a while ago, the grownups should have swooped down and taken us in hand. But the problem is, there really aren’t any grownups anymore, are there? We’re a nation that lives on fast food and idiot television. The only kind of thinking we like to do is magical. We can’t even be grammatical in our anonymous comments.

Someone told me we get the government we deserve. Let us pray that isn’t true.