Saturday, August 31, 2013

Revisiting 1934 And Reversing 'Paper Genocide'

This past week I came across an article published by Michael Melia of the Associated Press that was both encouraging and disappointing. The story talks about the U.S. Interior Department’s attempt to overhaul the current rules in place for recognizing American Indian tribes (the draft is currently open for discussion until September 25th). However, by the second sentence, and I guess you could say it’s inevitable, the casino card is played as if it is the only reason why tribes desire federal recognition. Here is how the reporter opens the story:

His tribe once controlled huge swaths of what is now New York and Connecticut, but the shrunken reservation presided over by Alan Russell today hosts little more than four mostly dilapidated homes and a pair of rattlesnake dens.

The Schaghticoke Indian Tribe leader believes its fortunes may soon be improving. As the U.S. Interior Department overhauls its rules for recognizing American Indian tribes, a nod from the federal government appears within reach, potentially bolstering its claims to surrounding land and opening the door to a tribal-owned casino.

"It's the future generations we're fighting for," Russell said.

The rules floated by the Bureau of Indian Affairs, intended to streamline the approval process, are seen by some as lowering the bar through changes such as one requiring that tribes demonstrate political continuity since 1934 and not "first contact" with European settlers. Across the country, the push is setting up battles with host communities and already recognized tribes who fear upheaval.

As a writer, I understand that you are trying to give the story a visual reference but the true basis of this argument can’t be in the material gains that potential changes could provide. The real reason is a recognized identity which has been withheld from countless people across the nation. The proposed changes recognize the governmental and regional neglect that has remained prevalent since this nation’s founding.

People who were marginalized and forced from their home and their land, encouraged to disband and sever ties with their native roots and join ‘the civilized world’ face a daunting task in establishing the existence of their own families across generations let alone the continuous continuity of their tribe. This is why the change in definition is needed. This is why the simple line in the “Procedures For Establishing That An American Indian Group Exists As An Indian Tribe” carries such great weight and the balance of that weight needs to be shifted to accommodate the historical burdens of segregation and persecution. Seeing this seemingly simple edit brings a touch of hopeful sweetness to the bitterness that has soured numerous attempts to be recognized. “Continuously or continuous means extending from first sustained contact with non-Indians throughout the group's history 1934 to the present substantially without interruption.”
It is a change that can help heal the history in a place such as Virginia where anti-Semitism and “The Racial Integrity Act” tried to erase not just the present American Indian population but the identities of Indian ancestors as well. It is a means to finally put an end to the work of Virginia’s longtime registrar at the commonwealth’s Bureau of Vital Statistics, Dr. Walter Ashby Plecker who wrote “...Like rats when you are not watching, [they] have been `sneaking’ in their birth certificates through their own midwives, giving either Indian or white racial classification.”

Supported by previous actions by Virginia’s government to force American Indians to register as free blacks in the 1850’s and 1860’s, Plecker’s eugenics based campaign continued to taint the identities of Indian children throughout the 20th century. While Virginia repealed its racial definition and segregation laws in 1975 it was still a time consuming and emotionally draining process for families to appeal decisions made at birth which misidentified their children robbing them of their ancestry. Further hindering federal recognition efforts is the fact that state recognition of Virginia based tribes did not come into existence until the 1980’s when only eight remained (including the Monacan Nation). 

Contrary to what many people in opposition of this amendment have decried, this is not a matter of land or casinos; this is about identity and ensuring the historical integrity of American Indian tribes survives. It is about recognition and resurrecting what was once excised from the historical record. It is an act that would allow us to say “We Exist!”

Friday, August 30, 2013

How Can We Explain Autism To Children?

Ever since my wife and I had the privilege to spend some time with a family with two autistic children a few months back (you may remember that it was one of the first posts on this blog) I have been kicking around the idea of writing another children’s book. The main reason is that I couldn’t find a book about autism geared toward the picture book age. Doesn’t mean there isn’t one out there I just haven’t been able to find it.

As if this project wasn’t hard enough, I am coming from a place where I have zero experience with autism. It made the process both easier and much harder. Easier because I had to focus on the few clear examples but much harder because I am long winded anyway and even more so when I am just learning about a subject. So, after a couple of months of thinking and rethinking and wondering what the heck I was doing I finally got to the point that I was able to put a few words on the page.

Below is the first, and very rough, attempt to tackle the subject. There seems to be something there worth saving but it also needs a lot of work mainly because I can’t see the words yet. It is repetitive but that is completely intentional. I don’t know exactly how I am going to tweak it but I am almost certain that changes will be made often until I can fine tune it.

Abby Knows Best

Abby is like any other little girl.
Abby likes little dogs, she likes watching cartoons, and she has her favorite dark green bear.
Abby was always different.
Abby doesn’t go to the same school as the other kids in the neighborhood.
Abby goes to a school where all the kids are just like her.
Abby is autistic.
Abby likes to visit her own little world where she twists over and over again.
Abby doesn’t talk but she speaks with her hands and through pictures.
Abby is sometimes hard to understand but she understands everything she hears.
Abby can’t read books but she can read people.
Abby doesn’t make eye contact but knows what is going on around her.
Abby shies away from contact but she always knows when you need a hug.
Abby doesn’t like loud noises but she loves the sound of her mother’s voice.
Abby likes playing with her dad and her older sisters.
Abby is happiest with her family.
Abby is a special little girl who knows love.

So, now that you have read the first draft (actually the second draft), what are your thoughts? Is this understandable for both parent and child? Most importantly, for those of you who know much more than I do on the subject, is it accurate?

Please let me know what your thoughts are on this project as I am, like I said before, definitely not in possession of any significant knowledge in this area. I know what I see and what I feel. Sometimes that is enough and sometimes it isn’t. I just want to do my part, as small as it may be, to raise awareness and cast a different light on these children who are not handicapped they just have a different way of life that we can't fully grasp. We are all made differently and we all interact in our own way with one another and the world around us. Different doesn’t mean better or worse it just highlights the uniqueness and individuality of life. That is what I want and what I hope shines through in the story above. 

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Can A Hedge Fund Have A Heart?

(L-R) President Elect Sean M. Teaford, Guest Speaker Deepta Hiremath, President Dr. Sherman Leis. Photo by Past President Richard M. Trivane.

Anyone who has ever watched Shark Tank can recognize when someone has it and when someone doesn’t. Even with a great idea the entrepreneurial spirit is not always present. As soon as Deepta Hiremath began presenting yesterday at our Rotary meeting I could tell she had it.

Our guest speaker two weeks ago who spoke about the mortgage market and the potentially drastic changes on the horizon and how the process for people to get mortgages in the future will differ from today’s market. However, that doesn’t address the distressed mortgages and struggling families that are already in the marketplace and are trying to find a way to get their heads above water. This is where the focus of our discussion was yesterday.

Deepta owns and operates a real estate hedge fund by the name of King Peak LLC. While that term has fallen from favor in recent years there are still people out there running hedge funds that exemplify the four way test. Those people are not focused solely on the bottom dollar but are also looking for a mutually beneficial arrangement that is fair for all parties concerned. While the objective of any business is to be profitable it doesn’t mean you can’t help people along the way.

It is no secret that as a result of the crash in 2008, over-leveraged banks have been selling off second mortgages at drastic discounts in order to recoup guaranteed money which can be funneled back into the capital reserve. Who buys these mortgages? Debt collectors and entrepreneurs like Deepta.

While credit collectors will commonly flip the paper using high volume deals without any thought given to the lives and livelihoods that those mortgages represent, Deepta invests more than her money into these transactions. She invests her time, her energy, and her heart. Deepta focuses on the mortgages that commonly have the most devastating impact… second mortgages.

Due to the steep discount at which she purchased the paper, it opens up the opportunity to help and try to work with homeowners so that they can remain homeowners. She evaluates many of these mortgages on an individual and very personal basis and tries to find the best solution for everyone. Given the margins and the huge number of buyers, Deepta is almost guaranteed a profit. She doesn’t need to take the extra step but she does because she knows that what she holds in her hand is more than just paper.

It is part of the American dream to have the spouse, the house, and two and a half kids but sometimes we all need a little help to maintain that reality especially in these still trying times. As Rotarians we try to do right by others and ourselves every second of every day and while sometimes we may falter and show our human shortcomings it helps to have a business plan which helps us to live those principals. We can learn a lot from Deepta as well as other intelligent and driven entrepreneurs like her which will not just help to reinforce the Rotary principals but also as a reminder to ourselves of what can be done when we embody those principals.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Seeing Yourself On TV

Those of you that are reading this that are also television addicts understand the disappointment when a season ends. Those of you that are sports fans will find this familiar as it is similar to the experience of a season ending as well. To me, competition shows seem to fall in between the two which is why I think a lot of the sports fanatics I know seem to be the most loyal reality competition show viewers that I have come across.

I know a lot of people that watch all different kinds of these programs. My wife happens to be a Big Brother addict. A few of my former co-workers are Survivor fans. While most of the people I have known over the last few years never miss an episode of the Amazing Race. I have watched all of them and have enjoyed the episodes and seasons of those shows to varying degrees. I was even heavily into watching Amazing Race for a couple of years but that was more to see where they were going rather than what they were doing.

However, there is one competition show I never miss and unfortunately the season just ended leaving a hole in my Wednesday night viewing. The Top Shot competition came to a head last night as Phil Morden defeated Chris Cerino to conclude season five of the History Channel series. Regardless of your feeling regarding firearms if you watch the series you have to appreciate the skill that these men and women possess.

The final was the finest example of that skill and athleticism especially in the second and third challenges of the program. Both competitors were quick, safe, and precise throughout the show and while I had my favorites going into the program I was rooting for both men for different reasons.

Cerino demonstrated a level of calm and control that was only matched by his talent. He was a favorite of mine in season one and in the current all star season that just ended. I admired the intangibles that he has and his ability to use any firearm he put his hands on. All of the competitors could do the same to a certain degree but he seemed to do it with greater easy and confidence when it counted. I believe it was due in large part to his focus on fundamentals which came across more evident in his performance over many of the others.

I don’t think that Morden had the same level of skill and adaptability entering the season but I quickly got on the bandwagon as I watch him progress and eventually surpass the field. I guess the clincher for me was the fact that he is a self taught shooter like me. I think he summed it up best in his bio posted on the Top Shot page on “Shooting has nothing to do with your credentials,” he says. “If you pick up a gun and you’re good at it, it can take you anywhere. And I’ll be proof of that.” It is inevitable that no matter what show you watch, fiction or reality, you are going to relate to and root for someone you have something in common with.

While I would have been content regardless of who won, I was happy to see someone representing the self taught community take the title. In the end though, the show serves a much greater purpose. In a time when an irrational fear of firearms is prevalent, the show puts on display true talent, athletic, and skill based aspects of the responsible and sporting use of firearms. This is a sport. It just turns out that this is a sport with a real world application that can save your life. Now get to the range and practice.