Monday, November 23, 2009

Raising the age for mammograms and the maginalization of self examinations.

In a recent decision, a government medical taskforce suggests that women have mammograms after the age of fifty and not before and marginalizes self examination. The idea is that the tests are unnecessary and in fact lead to more stress and complications for the general public. This is a view arguably that seeks to find what is best for the masses and not the individual. For many individuals early testing and self examinations have helped prevent disease. Some argue that it is meant to help insurance companies who can now choose not to cover such services since many local doctors and health organizations in practice promote the idea of early examinations. Others argue that this is the politics of rationing care that parallels what has been done in Europe.

If all politics is local, many health issues can be considered to be of a personal and individual nature. This seems to be a subversion of the oath doctors take to do their patients no harm. Doctors treat individual patients and not an anonymous public. People should be encouraged to take preventative measures and the means of doing so should be improved.

Pyramid schemes in South Florida

Destroying a pyramid scheme is ultimately a bittersweet victory for those looking for justice because the people who expose them know that the people who are invested in them will suffer in order to keep future victims from being hurt. One of the troubling aspects of many pyramid schemes in south Florida is the fact that not only so many people fall prey to them but that ultimately it takes a skeptical person often with some knowledge to discern the problem and expose it. While many victims of pyramid schemes should have known better, some may have turned a blind eye in order to get out of it with a reward. The problem is that the pyramids destroy everyone in it when they collapse and the good can not be separated from the bad. Furthermore, many others are affected by the collapse such as the organizations that receive donations based on the money earned in pyramids.

The problem in south Florida is that everyone in the community has to take a stand and expose the pyramid immediately no matter what size it is before it grows. The problem is not just that pyramids exists but that many people know or suspect that they exist and do nothing about it. A bad decision made by the creator of the pyramid is in fact supported like a wave by the community when it is allowed to exist and grow. If the first person who encountered the pyramid had shown the same skepticism as the last person who encountered who is often the person who exposed it, the ultimate damage would have been lessened or avoided.

The city and its problems.

The charging and prosecution of local political officials is sometimes delayed so as to not affect or be affected by an election or another political event. The timing of the latest problems in the Miami City Commission seem to suggest that thought was put into the timing of justice since two commissioners were put in the hot seat publicly right after the election. There was also a careful balancing act as both the governor and other officials decided not to fill these positions but instead put it up to another election. Ultimately, citizens of the county are now faced with another costly election that they may wonder could perhaps have possibly been incorporated into the last one. The citizens are in a sense hurt again by the troubles of their local leaders. There may not be another choice but perhaps a larger discussion of what has happened is warranted, since this situation only further erodes the trust the citizens have for their local leaders.

Thursday, January 15, 2009


The spectacle of tragedy has become a part of resolving the problems of our community. A missing child, an unsolved crime, a plea for help, and many others all may go into anonymity and become an unknown drama to the mass public, if the living victims, the seekers of justice, those who try to speak for those who can’t speak do not find a way around a media and a public that has a very distorted lens. It is an electronic public eye that only wants a certain performance that can sustain itself for much too long while others remain offstage.

It is often unwise to attract the media and it creates unnecessary long term issues and concerned people should do so after consulting with lawyers or other experts but it is often the only hope in extreme situations.

Sadly, most tragedies as bad as they are, often do not have the elements to be enticing to a media whose attention can often help resolve the matter through the various resources they can bring to bear including attention and public pressure. People are forgotten. Crimes go unsolved. Perpetrators go unpunished.

The performance the media strives for is flawed. The spectacle they often sustain often has an element of the racist. The wrong skin color can lead to less airtime. The victim on television people are searching for sometimes through no intervention of their own play into an old narrative of innocent Americana. People do not want a real life Norman Rockwell painting interrupted, sullied and bloodied. They become icons in the spectacle of tragedy while other victims become a silent majority.

People in this unenviable position must come up with various strategies to work the media. Their story has to be made understandable. It has to be supported with other events such as vigils and demonstrations. The victim’s family may have to decide who is going to be doing the speaking if they themselves can’t. It becomes a campaign that has to go beyond the immediate goal to larger aims. The best chance to promote something that may not have the legs to draw attention on a permanent routine may be to seek a larger more permanent solution. The case must be linked to the changing of a law or a larger social issue.

Everyone has slowly entered the world of life as spectacle to some degree or another but when time is of the essence the importance of having the establishment media on people’s side is still valuable. It puts a stamp of legitimacy and urgency to a situation. It creates consensus quickly from the top down. Contrary to the myth of a bottom up internet culture where things suddenly rise up to national attention is the millions of messages in the information highway that do not go all that far.

The issue is that it is hard to think in this way when the tragedy is raw. People must be prepared for the worst while hoping for the best. So it is important for everyone to develop the skills, dispositions, and habits that promote social justice in these situations long before these situations occur to them even if hopefully it never occurs to them. After all, it can happen to someone they know personally or from afar in the community. When that moment occurs they can step up and help out.

This is not to say that there are not already organizations and institutions and leaders who are not available. Thankfully over time, the networks of people who can help in these matters have grown. The media is also not a callous two-dimensional monster but are often concerned men and women who do want to help but need to be helped in turn so that the story that they seek develops in a way conducive to their work and concern. The authorities have been criticized a lot in many instances for failures and mistakes sometimes unfairly and sometimes fairly but they are still some of the best equipped to handle these kinds of situation. They too need cooperation. What the common person who one day was minding their own business and the next day were thrust into this situations needs is to quickly understand what they can do and be helped in doing so.

After the case is solved either in a beautiful way or an unfortunate way, those who fought the fight often recede into the background and go back to their lives. It is understandable especially after such turmoil and long lasting pain. They may have personal rituals they continue to commemorate the moment or a memory. This is where they must become aware of a responsibility they have to continue the fight this time not for their own interests but for the next person put in such a situation.

There can be legacies created and missions set up as structures that can go into the future and affect lives for the better long after an initial tragedy. All contributions help no matter how large or small. Before a governor’s stroke of pen makes these structures into law for example, several hands must scribble their signatures on a petition sheet.

So it is important for everyone in our community whether fortunate or not, hurt or unscathed to briefly set aside time away from the repetitious viewing of one spectacle to do what they can for in whatever way for the injustices that are not as documented. It is time to join a march. It is time to light another candle for a vigil. It is time to make a poster. It is time to say what must be said.

Eddie Hernandez


Women are complicated and biologically different than men but our society, the medical and insurance industry and the institutions that they support are effecting a penalty on women and those who care for them for simply being female. Lost in the debate for many people on the value of national, local, public, and private healthcare is just how gendered health care is.

Much of this industry has the vestiges of centuries old modernization schemes where women were inspected, probed, and legitimated by a health care profession advocating sanitation but also putting the weight on them while men enjoyed broader freedoms and the larger manifestations of the state were reinforced.

In the recent era, advancements in medicine and the importance of early screening are promoted, but there is an onus put on women to be a tempest of medical industrial activity for a litany of lesser issues. Women are used as springboard to spread the messages of this industry to all around them and often they help perpetuate their conditions and entrapment in the web of this industry as they simply try to survive and make the lives of those around them better.

What could be done much more efficiently is drawn out. Attention that could be given is narrowed. A culture of fear is promoted next to a culture of well being. Furthermore, life which is both a basic right and a basic foundation for rights is simply much more expensive for them.

Women can be an anchor for a family or a community but these circumstances make them an albatross than can sink them and those around them. Men and women stay in jobs they hate to support them. People make different plans for their lives because of what could happen. Boys and girls grow up differently with expectations about themselves and their own care that can be distorted and troubling. Relationships are based, twisted, or destroyed by these concerns.

Before the skin is punctured by a needle or a bandage is put on a wound, people should ask what is the true damage being done to women and our society and why do we allow it to happen?

Eddie Hernandez

Monday, December 15, 2008


A life in prayer may not be as appreciable as living a life as a form of prayer.

There are problems with the current practice of prayer. It is indicative of a flawed philosophy behind it. This exploration of these issues seeks to move beyond these problems and flaws and focus prayer back on more significant matters.

The modern practice of prayer is problematic. Those who pray occasionally, once a week, daily, and many times through out the day have compartmentalized prayer into moments of varying duration. Prayer has been slowly ritualized in our society into a script of words, a taking in of breathes, a coming together of hands, a bending of knees, a studied silence or reflection. Prayer has stopped being a moment that asks everything of us to a moment where we offer the choreography of a small repertoire of gestures, symbols, and acts.

It seems that the way that prayers are used in our society, if and when they occur, appear to dilute their importance. The power of prayer may be called forth to resolve a war or to save a life but more often than not it has been summon forth to handle an array of lesser, more mundane acts including exams, job interviews, wagering, getting an engine to turn, and summoning forth the strength for small physical feats. This final matter can include finding the strength for carrying groceries, batting a softball, dealing with difficult people, and exercise.

This may not be true for all religious people but it is true for many and more importantly this kind of prayer crosses all religions and even affects those who have no religion. Even secular people suddenly burst into prayer for example when they want their favorite team or player to win a game.

There is also for many the non-prayer that is the prayer equivalent including much of the meditation exercises popular with people who have long moved past traditional western mainstream religions. Even the connection from mind, body, and soul to the universe for some practitioners often ironically sidetracks everything else (the actual universe) on its way to the universe as a broad concept. Mediation becomes escapism and a stress releaser. This kind of prayer thus subsumes important matters in service of clearing the mind, bringing calm, and alleviating minor aches and pains. Important matters should be at the center of this meditation and for many who have not corrupted the practice it still is in its own way.

While there are problems with the current practice of prayer, it is indicative of flaws within the philosophy that is behind it which often has little to do with the ideals religions have to offer. It should be said that the issue here is more tinged by the limits of omission than the expansiveness of inclusion. There may be nothing wrong in arguing that one prays for everything no matter how significant or insignificant including an exam. The logic is that everything in one way or another leads to one’s spiritual center. In fact, looking at the way the philosophy of many people deals with insignificant creatures sheds light on the issue. That which brought forth the Earth brought forth the ant too.

Many an animal rights activist has this mentality and refuses to harm a fly and when they do so inadvertently or step on an ant there is the tinge of regret. The life of that creature flashes before them. An unspoken prayer for that spirit and for themselves may move through their consciousness and disappear in a manner of seconds. It is in fact very hard to coexist with many of the smaller creatures of the Earth and that coexistence has to be carefully weighed.

Man rules the kingdom of other creatures whether they want to or not. Even the house that is over run and caters to cats for example is a place where other animals are not allowed. For sanitation and health reasons roaches and mice are subject to a kind of sanctioned genocide in our society. The food bought for that cat along with that bought for the owner often means that another animal was destroyed to create it. If every living thing takes on an equal value than replacing the meat of the murdered animal with the leaves, seeds, flowers and products of dead vegetation can be just as problematic.

Then there is the matter of science and how everything has cells or even tinier organisms that could be alive. There are religious orders who are concerned with this and each day as microscopes and scientific knowledge grow more powerful, the more they have to worry about. One could starve or literally eat dirt like many did in the past but the loss or weakening of one’s self helps preclude one’s self from continuing to help others and thus the societal good is affected. The calculus is clear. One must sacrifice something for the public good. It is about doing so with honor and respect.

The problem is that this kind of reflection to this level is not often made. The sacrifice of the ant is at best discussed by environmentalists defending the ecosystem. The butterfly effect is mentioned when one is doing a formally announced act of service or giving. This reflection is done to illustrate the collective community of humankind. One does not use this reflection on everything done each day and more importantly to everything included in prayer. What is the butterfly effect of praying to win the game? What ecosystem is affected by praying to pass the tough exam? The connection with the collective community of humankind is not made when praying for strength to carry the groceries. Even further, none of these connections and reflections is inferred, assumed, or seemingly necessary to the person praying.

If one were to make a list of everything prayed for over time one would see a list that on balance favors athletics events, personal tests, and trivial matters and not larger issues such as world peace. What is the importance of the answered prayer of a hit in a baseball game or a touchdown in a football game years ago? Church leaders even support this behavior by offering public blessings and invocations before the games. Church leaders may support world peace and offers blessings and invocations and prayers for it too but not only are these prayers not answered but the followers who often did pray for the game did not follow their leaders in praying for peace. The consequences of this unanswered prayer are more important than the course of sports history and academic career history.

The omission of the significant is a statement of what is important to us and perhaps the importance we really give prayer. If we thought prayer was good enough for world peace we would have resolved it collectively long ago. Prayer is often what we do when we are helpless or no longer in control of the situation. All pencils are down. I have done what I can in the time allotted. It is up to the scan tron machine to do the right thing. I would bat it down the middle if I were you but there is no time now for me to begin a baseball career to replace you so I offer this prayer for you and the team.

A good score or hit is possible and once it is done it is done. We can pray against war and peace and that our leaders and soldiers will make a good decision but we know it is not as simple as a person bubbling the right circle or hitting a ball with a bat. We know that peace is neither sudden or everlasting if it should occur. Yet the games stop and all else is put aside in a moment (often in the shadow of an upcoming or present tragedy) when we all realize we can come together and do something and we all pray and we do much more than pray. That is the problem with not praying. Praying may not always be the solution but it can be the start of the solution.

This exploration of these issues has sought to move beyond these problems and flaws and focus prayer back on more significant matters. If the power of prayer is such than it can change the course of human events than perhaps it is wiser to use it to change something more than the course of a game or any other concern that is relatively small in nature. One should not call forth prayer because the context like that of a church calls it forth artificially. One should not call forth prayer for any enterprise they could do on their own alone. Praying in the limited form critiqued so far does not really empower anyone but only makes worse the weakness of their position.

Living a life as a form of prayer is a way to make one’s self an agent for social justice. A prayer should be a full visualization and imagining of what could be possible in an adverse situation. People should go further than seeing in their mind’s eye the result of a turn of events. For prayer to be truly effective they must endeavor to eventually explore everything no matter how minor that leads to the act they seek. A prayer this strong not only sends a good feeling in the environment. It guides the person who prays through an imaginary ideal world that is not only parallel to reality but often becomes it.

Some of the work of the early civil rights movement is an example of such an extended prayer. There was an ideal promise land to reach and a dream to make a reality while people linked larger acts such as marching and racial equality to smaller acts such as sitting in a counter at a restaurant, playing on a team, and using and expecting basic manners and respect. This was not prayer at a cotton field to gather the strength to carry another bundle or to bite one’s tongue.

The Florida community is replete with places where prayer could go farther than it goes in the current era. The next time one prays that a child does good at an exam one should question the exam itself and the system that supports it and go beyond the simple bubbling in of circles.

The next time one prays for strength to carry groceries or anything else they have bought they should consider protesting the changing nature of local economic development, the hidden price of large chain stores with cheap products, and how they affect everyone economically and culturally. These are large chain stores that have run out of business smaller stores that did offer better service. Each day employees are replaced in the store with self-check out machines that make service something the customer must do themselves. Self service is a concept that may be effective with matters such as pumping one’s own gasoline but it is slowly creeping its way into other facets of our lives where contact with another human being is necessary. The less people work at a local store the less economic activity there is in a local community. Sometimes walking through a store one can also see clear social lines dividing people in the hierarchy of these stores that mirrors the worst aspects of our society. What happens at the larger retail chain store is happening through out all the institutions of our society.

A prayer for justice can be powerful for a victim or their family but more than that has to be done. Placing stuffed animals, flowers, pictures and signs at the scene of the crime is important. A candle light vigil is important too. Do not however let the light of the candle light vigil simply shine on the streets of the local community but also illuminate the justice system where a variety of obstacles are set up to hinder the pursuit of justice. The lack of court interpreters and quality attorneys who are not overworked are just a few.

These examples are just to name a few. The reader can examine those that occur in their own daily lives. One can scaffold their way to a future they seek. If connecting oneself and your context to your prayer and connecting your prayer to the significant events of the Earth is done for more than a few moments and for a life instead, than little by little one can make the ideal real.

Eddie Hernandez

Sunday, December 7, 2008


Sidewalks circling all over a block makes commerce and activity and crowds of humanity move forth and flower. Energy bursts like a powerful fragrance in the air. The structures and their details are fleshed out with vibrant colors. Beautiful lights, sometimes flashing, reflect off the sidewalk at night. People walk the sidewalks hand in hand. By day, sidewalk cafes put their tables closer to the sidewalk’s edge so that writers can read and others can drink coffee with the company of well dressed strangers who walk by and may even greet them. This is the ideal. An ideal that is not sustainable or even good for the rest of the town.

Sidewalks should grow like vines in our communities to link everyone but they do not always do so. Some neighborhoods have an abundance of sidewalks. In some places it is even hard to tell where the side walk ends and the pavement of the thoroughfare and the pavement of someone’s front lawn begins. People live in seas of asphalt, concrete, and brick. Some of these people even prefer it this way.

The sidewalk Gods though do not distribute their blessings equally. There are neighborhoods where there are sidewalks that are really bike paths that are really jogging paths and sometimes really like electrical cart paths. There are neighborhoods where sidewalks are a potential danger with their dips and valleys, cracks and tilts, and their slippery mold and hateful spray painted speech. There is only a sidewalk on one side of the street in some neighborhoods. Sometimes that sidewalk ends midway through a street. It is cracked apart by a crater of a garbage dump or by a monolithic tree run amok. In some neighborhoods, there are no sidewalks. You walk across someone’s grass. You take a risk by moving so close to the street that traffic could hit you. You better have the right shoes because the heel may catch on the uneven Earth. Weeds may brush across your pant legs leaving bits and pieces of themselves. Litter may offer itself as an obstacle.

A vine can grow wild and unpredictably on a wall leaving spaces and omissions in some places and an abundance of leaves and branches and even flowers elsewhere. It may seem that our sidewalks have grown in that way across the grid of the city but it is the illusion of time and circumstance unknown and therefore unreflected upon. There are reasons why sidewalks have grown through the city the way they have. There is a reason why there is a sidewalk over there and why there is not a sidewalk over here.

How often do people think about sidewalks? Only children without cars and parents with strollers and people with dogs that must be walked and bodies that must be exercised truly understand the sidewalk. These are people with leisure time and this is a commodity others do not have. The value of a sidewalk is hard to get a foothold on for the rest of humanity who do not have leisure time even though its reality can meet the soles of all our shoes.

A sidewalk is a mattress for the manual laborer. The roof worker can make a call on their back with their feet folded up and their eyes admiring the sky in front of someone’s house. The construction worker can lay out their lunch in a makeshift picnic on them. They are a work table for the carpenter. They are a marketplace for the vendor who seeks to work from home to ply their wares. A sidewalk is where a young desperate worker can be cajoled to wear a ridiculous costume or a sandwich like placard to advertise a business to people who drive by.

Sidewalks have cut out curves to allow the handicap to roll off and on them. Skateboarders don’t take that for granted. Bikers don’t take it for granted. Old women who push shopping carts home don’t take it for granted. The handicapped certainly do not take it for granted either but often are the only ones who understand why these cutouts really have to be there. It is not just about convenience.

Sidewalks help children learn to play skip rope and hopscotch. When they fall on a square and miss a crack, they reinforce cautionary tales of superstitions and give victories of free natural delight. When the sidewalk cement is still fresh, they give them a chance to etch their words into immortality. Childhood never ends for these children.

This is all good but what if you don’t have a sidewalk or a quality sidewalk? Bringing a sidewalk into your neighborhood is an ideal that in practice becomes a potential nightmare. To bring a new sidewalk into your neighborhood you need the bait of gentrification. That may mean that the sidewalk does not come to you. It rewards the newcomers in your midst. People you never invited in. They do not seem like bad people at all. What they are doing is good for the neighborhood at times. Perhaps you may free ride on the newcomers for a while even though you never intended to.

Suddenly everything is better. You enjoy the sidewalk. You walk on it. You may even watch an appreciative neighbor sweep it with a broom in the morning.

There are however disadvantages. You can’t always park your car sideways on it without drawing attention. The city may even pave over the grass in the right of way with intricate fancy stonework and gravel. Now the oil spots from your car appear more readily. You are one of those people who has to work on your own car. Dogs can be walked away from staining the sidewalks but what about those chickens of the poor. Evidence of your existence becomes clearer. It contrasts more. It clashes with everything. The newcomers do not have these problems. The newcomers are multiplying. One day you wake up and that neighbor who was sweeping the sidewalk is no longer there. She has been replaced by another newcomer.

Before long your house has the oldest paint on the block. People walk over and ask questions about it. Inspectors show up more recently. You are surrounded.

You look at the huge palms the city workers are putting. You see the temple of a bus stop they are creating nearby.

At some point, you wonder if you are going to be in a neighborhood without a sidewalk like this. You don’t think for long. You can not afford to linger on these musings. You have no time for leisure.

Eddie Hernandez