Sunday, December 31, 2017

Another year of resistance

At the start of 2017, I psyched myself up and got busy fighting the good fight. I marched, I called government offices, I attended city council meetings and meetings to help the Latino community resist ICE, and I read as much as I could so that I knew the issues and always had a strategy. A lot of times this year, I've felt really powerful in this fight, and a lot of people have told me, especially on Facebook, how much they've appreciated my words and actions this year.

But it's been exhausting, and a lot of time, the payoff for all that fighting has felt minimal - even useless. And when I see the Nazis marching in the streets and being defended by the President and immigrant families being torn apart and the Republicans in Congress smugly bankrupting the country while their supporters assure the press that they absolutely would vote for them again, I've felt despondent and lost.

Eventually, I'd gather myself up and go back to the city council meetings and the Democratic Party meetings and reading updates from the ACLU and the Southern Poverty Law Center and call Congressional representatives and keep. But the closer I got to the end of 2017, the more I felt overwhelmed and unsure of myself. Was any of this really making a difference?

As 2017 ends, I remind myself over and over that the dark clouds of fascism started rising in Germany in the 1920s, but most of the public dismissed them as any significant threat. Even when Hitler became Chancellor in 1933, millions refused to believe a bloodbath was coming. Victory in Europe wasn't secured until May 1945. That means it took more than 20 years to defeat the Nazis.

There wasn't one march that started the Civil Rights movement in the USA, one demonstration that launched it all nor resolved it all. The demonstrations and legal actions and pressure happened over more than a decade. And people died for that cause. Many people. And millions of white people fought against that movement, and were never convinced it was righteous.

Nixon resigned in 1974, more than two years after the Watergate break-ins. And had he not resigned, the investigations and eventual impeachment hearings could have stretched into another year or two.

This is going to take time and lots of work. A LOT of work.

I also remind myself that there are people all over the world fighting circumstances even worse than what I'm going through. If they aren't giving up against Daesh or the anti-women Saudi government or the rape culture of India or all of the other civil rights abuses and assaults happening all over the world, all the physical harm and harassment, year after year, decade after decade, how can I? At the end of my day, I get to go to bed and sleep safely - they don't. Did I really think this was going to be easy?

I remind myself that Victor Lazslo always found a way - and with a great deal of style.

I remind myself that he's actually a fictional character, but not Marlene Dietrich, a tireless fighter against fascism who also always found a way - and with a great deal of style.

She didn' give up. She kept fighting AND stayed fabulous. I'm no Marlene Dietrich, of course. I'm no Victor Lazslo either. Plus, I don't smoke. But they are good icons to keep in mind as this fight continues. 

So is, of course, Princess Leia. 

This is a marathon, not a sprint. It's going to take so much work, so much action, over and over and over, for years. 

And so, I'll renew myself for 2018 and I'll keep resisting.

But I may not always look good doing it.

Saturday, December 30, 2017

four kinds of people

Tough year. Goodbye, 2017. I hope that, as this blog entry is published, I am in a cabin with my husband and dog, per our reservation made so many, many weeks ago, and that we are having a lovely time and not thinking about the Internet at all.

The women's march in January was wonderful. The sudden, spontaneous protests against the Muslim ban were beautiful. The resistance is glorious. But while all of this and more has somewhat slowed the fascism slowly taking over the world, including the USA, it hasn't at all stopped it. I'll keep fighting. But I'm also resigned that things are going to get a lot worse - and may never get better in my lifetime.

As I say goodbye to 2017, I note that I used to call myself a skeptic and assure people that this did NOT mean I wasn't a cynic.

Then election day 2016 came in the USA. And the election, plus, in the ensuing months, watching many thousands of people cheer and rally around a sexual predator and Nazi sympathizer in the White House, and watching Nazis march in Charlottesville and be defended by the man in the Oval Office, I became a cynic. I used to say the only faith I had was in humanity. Now, as of November 2016 and all that's happened in 2017, that faith is gone. I am a cynic. And it's been tough to get used to. But I can't deny that that is what I am now.

I don't believe that truth always, or ultimately, wins. I don't believe that love always, or ultimately, wins. I don't believe that most people can be swayed by reason. I don't believe most people have a sense of honor. People are not only motivated by self-interest, they are oh-so-easily manipulated regarding what is in their best interests. No, not all people. But most people. Humanity, as a whole, is oh-so-easily manipulated and will happily ignore facts if it's inconvenient to what they want reality to be.

As politically-active and outspoken as I am, I do take mental breaks. I'm reading a lot of novels and non-fiction, mostly biographies and historical books. I'm writing a lot. And I've been exploring what I DO believe.

So I'm going to end 2017 with a post about what I believe.

I believe is that there are four kinds of people in the USA. I separate them into four groups based primarily on two things: how they value ALL of humanity - or don't - and how they process facts, especially if the facts go against what they want to believe.

I admit to putting people into these categories as I get to know them.

I was going to write this in my private journal and then thought, what the heck, I'll never run for political office, I'm sharing it.

Here goes:

There is the largest group of people, the let's-not-think-too-much group. They are the ones that read "The Lottery" and don't get it. They are the ones that think the "Please don't feed the wildlife" sign does NOT apply to them: they ignore such as they position little Billy with a Cheeto so the chipmunk will come up to him so they can get the perfect photo. They avoid jury duty and then complain about the criminal justice system. They don't think voting is a big deal and do it only for really important elections, if they do it at all, yet they may complain bitterly about the state of affairs. They are often distracted by their financial issues, but they don't tie their financial issues - losing their rental home, being in debt, rising healthcare costs, struggling to care for a special needs child or older relative, etc. - to what their state and national legislators are doing, or not doing. They think people that love reading classics and studying to learn new things are at least a bit weird, and/or wasting their time, or even elitist. They are often suspicious of science and academics. They love regionalism and nationalism, and claim to love their mother tongue and fear that it's disappearing, even as they make frequent grammar errors, don' try to speak and write correctly, and think actually studying their language as a native speaker is silly. They may find some different cultures interesting, but fear "too many" foreigners or outsiders. They believe in conspiracy theories. They rarely change their minds, even in the face of facts. If they can't understand something, they doubt the credibility or truthfulness of such. They can be kind, even generous, with no expectation of something in return, but prefer to give simple charity over undertaking or supporting complex, long-term approaches that could help in the long-term, even transform things for the better. They might cry at a news story, if they watch the news at all, and be moved so much as to write a check to a church or a nonprofit, but they won't be moved to learn why bad things happen, not to push for the societal, legal or political change needed to stop whatever bad things are happening. They might post a few political posts to Facebook, but they prefer cat videos or dumb jokes or chain posts. They fall for email chains, "Repost this to get money from Bill Gates" hoaxes, payday loans and rent-to-own schemes. Like all humans, they have the potential to be smarter, to be wiser, to be more aware, but they don't pursue that potential for too many and, sometimes, complex reasons to list here.

There's the second largest group, the "know nothing" group, not because they don't know anything, but they just don't want to take a stand on most issues. They have read "The Lottery" and get it, but don't want to talk about its relevance today. They don't like being uncomfortable, so they will avoid political debates or watching an investigative documentary, even if it's an issue they would, on a questionnaire, say they care deeply about. They are the complacent people. They rarely post anything political to their social media - they like to smugly say, "I avoid politics", and they are able to avoid politics because so much of what happens doesn't affect them directly, at least that they know of. To feel better, they simply skip watching or reading the news for weeks, even months, at a time. They not only don't believe in most conspiracy theories, they don't know about them, because they don't have conversations nor encounter media where such would come up. They may vote in national elections, but rarely in local elections. They might like to think of themselves as socially conscious or caring, but avoid people who are expressing passionate feelings about some cause - the environment, women's rights, etc. They might go to a demonstration, but only if it's because it might somehow be historical or something that would be a great deal of fun to be a part of or provide lots of opportunities for selfies, like the Women's March in 2017. But they don't go to demonstrations to make anyone angry - they never want to be provocative. They don't like feeling anything too deeply. They roll their eyes at blogs like this. They can be quite smug - as smug as the next group.

The third group is smaller than either of the previous two, the better-than-everyone-else group. They have read "The Lottery" and are offended by it. They believe they, and those like them - which may be people from the same ethnic group, or same culture or same economic level - are better than most other humans. They believe that they are special, they are exceptional. They believe that, overall, good things that happen to a person in life are earned by that person and always deserved, and they don't believe prosperity happens just because of luck of birth or a chance investment. They believe the poorest people are in that state because of their lack of character and work ethic. They believe that people who lose their houses because they were wooed by a smooth-talking mortgage broker get what they deserve, that there is no such thing as a "predatory lender" - such are, in fact, smart business people, and those not-so-bright people should have read the fine print, should have done their research, etc. They actively work to exclude certain people from certain neighborhoods, certain jobs and from voting. They often delight in manipulating that first group into thinking that government is always the enemy, that privatizing public schools and national parks will make life better. They are prone to regionalism and nationalism, especially when it can be manipulated so they can get what they want politically and economically, but are happy to make a deal that hurts their region or their nation so long as it brings they themselves wealth and influence. They have infallible heroes. They bristle at phrases and concepts like social justice or gender equity. They may or may not believe in conspiracy theories, but they are happy to promote such if it serves their political or economic interests. This group can have a variety of people in it, from corporate executives to neo-Nazis to Islamic terrorists to people passionately promoting homeopathy.

And then there is the smallest group. Like all people, they make mistakes and have biases and can be grumpy. But they also think about ways to do better in life, not just for themselves but for others. They change their minds in the face of facts, even when it hurts their heart and challenges long-held beliefs. They have a moral compass but are also open to it being challenged with facts and different points of view. They want to have integrity, and mourn when they don't, even if no one else sees their moral failing. They admire scientists, academics, writers and artists. They have heroes, but sometimes have to give up those heroes when they find out those people they admired did something egregious or aren't nearly as great as they thought. They don't believe all humans start off on a level playing field - and they want this to change. They are willing to give up a convenience if it means a healthier planet for future generations. They like the differences in humans regarding language, culture and history, they aren't bothered by hearing a foreign language in their own country, and if they are privileged enough to go abroad, they revel in the different sights and sounds. They might believe a conspiracy theory, but will immediately abandon it in the face of facts. They like to read. They like to learn. They will decide at 70 to take up an entirely new activity - motorcycle riding, learning Italian, playing the piano - even if it makes absolutely no practical sense to do so. I don't know what to call this group. But I do know that when they read "The Lottery," they are chilled to the bone.

There can be cynics in all four groups, but there can also be optimists. Anyone from all four groups can be mild-mannered or boisterous. There can be religious people in any of these groups, as well as atheists. There can be economically poor people as well as very rich people in any of these groups. There can be very well-educated people as well as people that lack any formal education in any of these groups. There are impatient people in all of those groups. Anyone from these groups can love their children, love a particular sport and talk endlessly about some big game, and those commonalities can keep people being polite to each other, even help them work together at the same employer.

But the world is taking a dangerous lurch to the right, and I have my doubts about who will help in trying to turn the tide - and who will just go along with it all because they don't really care enough to fight. In fact, I think it's just a tiny minority that care. And that scares me deeply.

Which group am I in? The last group. The really, really unhappy group.

Dreading 2018. But still here. Still resisting.

A better message tomorrow to end the year.

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

thoughtlessness and responsibility and the power of names

In the summer of 1986, I was the reporting intern at my hometown paper in Kentucky, The Gleaner. It was between my sophomore and junior year at university. I was so proud to have that job. I worked mostly the afternoon/evening shift, when the newsroom was all abuzz and all of the sports scores, front page news and obituaries were put together for the next day's paper (note: that shift no longer exists - the Indiana company that owns the paper now has pretty much closed The Gleaner, except the name, and won't take Henderson news after 5 p.m... but that's another blog...).

Small town newspapers were HUGELY important back then. This was where the community was documented for what we liked to pretend was forever, and in one, central place. Not only did everyone's day start by reading the newspaper, to be named in the newspaper was an incredible affirmation of a person's existence. That was true of everything in the newspaper back then, but it was true tenfold for obituaries.

I was in charge of the obituaries that summer. The funeral homes would call about an hour before I was off-shift and read information over the phone - there was no email nor fax machines. And usually, I would read what I had written down back to the person calling, to make sure I got it right before I handed it off to be put in the paper for the next day. But sometimes, I was lazy, and I didn't read it back. And one day, that laziness caught up with me: I got an obituary wrong. I got the last name wrong. It meant that the deceased and most of the family members were listed in the newspaper with the wrong last name.

The reprimand I got from the editor the next day was something I'll never forget. I remember all of his words: about how an obituary is a person's LAST story, that the person never, ever gets another chance to be profiled in the newspaper, it may be the ONLY time a person is ever named in the paper, and it's often the first and last time the entire family will be named, altogether, in the newspaper. He told me how the family looked to an obituary as the public affirmation of their tribe, their existence, their value - a moment when their family matters, because the family members are there, together, in print, for all to see. And he pointed out in oh-so-starkly terms that I had denied this family that, and that even with a correction a day later, they were still denied an experience that they were owed and could never get back.

I cried a lot over my mistake - in the bathroom at work and later at home. I felt horrible. I felt the anger and sadness of that family that I'd never met even though I never heard what they said to the editor. I also didn't think they were over-reacting, or that they shouldn't be THAT upset, or that they should just get over it. I never denied what they were feeling and their right to feel that way. I fully accepted responsibility and that I was the cause of it. I also felt deep regret at my thoughtlessness. I wish I had written that family a letter of apology, even if they had torn it up and thrown it back in my face.

That experience more than 30 years ago hit me like a ton of bricks this morning: my name was left out of my grandmother's obituary in The Gleaner. A first name is there, one spelled exactly like mine, but the last name is one I've never had, that I've never used, that I've never said and that I've never written. But someone in my family gave this incorrect last name, per just as much thoughtlessness I had back in 1986. Because of that thoughtlessness, I'm not there, and that can never be changed. And the pain of not being there is real. It's shattering.

And I am not wrong, or over-reacting, at feeling this upset.

I had decided a few days ago not to fly home for the funeral, to be sensible rather than emotional: I was just there, I spent two wonderful mornings with my grandmother just last month, all of the arrangements are made and my help isn't needed, I have reservations somewhere for Friday and Saturday, it's crazy to fly at this time of year, I might get stuck at an airport rather than even make it back to Kentucky... it means not having to fight through holiday air or car traffic, not having to sit on a plan or an airport for 10 hours one way, not having to rent a car, not having to miss out on very special plans I made with my husband...

It also means not having arms around me over and over from people in my hometown, saying how sorry they are, how they can see this or that from my grandmother in me, it means not being together as a family at a very visible, important moment, it means not going through a ritual that helps me so deeply. It means feeling very, very alone.

And now, it feels even more so.

Monday, December 18, 2017

National egoism is worthless

    National egoism is worthless as a regulatory principle for our world! For this worldview describes the world as an arena, a kind of battleground, in which everyone is fighting against everyone else and in which everyone has to assert their own interests, either alone or in alliances of convenience. In this worldview, the law of the strongest prevails, not the strength of the law. Ladies and gentlemen, I am convinced that we have to rise against this worldview. We need more international cooperation and less national egoism, not the other way round. The motto ‘our country first’ not only leads to more national confrontations and less prosperity. In the end, there will only be losers. In international cooperation, no one loses sovereignty. Rather we all gain new sovereignty which we could no longer have as nation-states on our own in today's world. 

Germany Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel, in remarks to the United Nation's Assembly’s 72nd annual general meeting in September 2017.

Friday, December 15, 2017

Star Wars: The Last Jedi. My thoughts

Spoiler alert: spoilers abound. So many spoilers. Spoilers spoilers spoilers.

Don't read this if you haven't seen the movie, you dope. 

My thoughts:

To quote the person I saw it with: I didn't love it. I liked it. There were good moments. But I didn't love it. 

My overall problem with it: it didn't really further the story. The longest of all the Star Wars movies is something I could sum up in five sentences: 
  • the Resistance is down to just a handful of people, 
  • Kylo / Ben kills Snoke and tries to get Rey to team up with him, but she doesn't, 
  • Rey's parents were nobodies, she has no familial connection with Skywalkers or Kenobis,
  • Luke lets himself die and become one with the Force / Universe / whatever because he is just done with it all,
  • there is no Last Jedi. There will always be Jedis because there will always be people who believe in the Force. 
That's it! No need to see the movie, because that's all you need to know to watch Episode IX in 2019. Those are the only things that forwarded the plot or the character development. 

Well, you need to know that those dice are totally canon. It's an obscure reference that only deep fans will get. 

Sure, there's some great action scenes, some beautiful scenery and screen compositions, and they don't overdo the Porgs, something I was quite worried about. And I teared up a few times regarding Carrie Fisher - her scenes are heart-breaking and weirdly, unintentionally, foreshadowing of her death. There are also a lot of jokes - too many, in fact.  

But two hours and 32 minutes - plus FOUR HOURS round trip on a train and bus with TOo many scary tweekers and I almost missed the bus back to Forest Grove and would have been stuck at the Hillsboro transit center for an hour, until after 1 a.m., if I had missed it - for this movie, a movie I could summarize in five bullet points?

We deserved so much more: 
  • Who is Snoke? Where did he come from? How is he such a master of the Force? Why does he look like that? Why do all these people follow him?
  • Where did the First Order come from? Why do people join them? The Imperial Forces were the government of the galaxy, and they seemed to evolve from the Old Republic's formal military, with a lot of support from the citizens of the galaxy. But where did these guys come from so quickly and suddenly? 
  • Why is Rey such a master of the Force without any training at all?
  • Where did the other Jedis go that mutinied with Kylo?
  • What the hell was Captain Phasma's purpose EVER in these two films? Was she really necessary at all?
  • You really can't think of more to do with C3P0 and R2D2?
  • What the hell with the "Godspeed" comments? There has never been a "God" in the Star Wars films - you wish someone well by saying, "May the Force Be With You." But this time, we get at least two "Godspeed" comments? Okay, since you've introduced the concept of God after eight movies without such, we have to ask: Who is this God? Is it a He or a She? Is there just one? Do all the planets believe in the same one? What is this God's relationship with the Force?
  • Really, the First Order ships can't move up just a little bit quicker so their cannon ammunitions can't hit tiny ships just out of reach?
  • The tracking-through-Hyperspace thing: who came up with that? It seemed to come out of nowhere - Kylo? He thought of that? He's an engineering whiz? And, some nobody mechanic can figure it out as soon as she hears about it whereas everyone else has no idea?
  • How come, when faced with an entire group of Imperial / First Order ships, there hasn't always been someone saying, "Hey, let me save everyone by doing a suicide mission and jumping to light speed right into one of the ships!"? There have always been plenty of people willing to go on fruitless suicide missions because something might work - by contrast, this strategy seems to be pretty damn foolproof! 
I couldn't wait to see The Force Awakens for a second time. Same with Rogue One. This? Yeah, I'm good with one viewing. 

Monday, December 11, 2017

There is a catastrophe coming. How do we stop it?

I used to believe that all it took to succeed, at least in the USA, was to work really, really hard and not squander your money. I believed that one could always find a job, always find an affordable home and always pay all of your bills if you just worked and tried. The American Dream - I believed it.

When I graduated from university, I was lucky in that I was not in debt - but I also had no savings whatsoever. I went immediately into an unpaid internship - in fact, I paid to be in that internship, with money from my parents - the fee was to cover the cost of the dorm room I lived in that summer. By the time of my first post-university paid job, I was already a few thousand dollars in debt on a credit card, from living expenses (food and gas and a bathing suit). I worked full-time, I walked to work, I lived in a studio apartment, I went without a TV and cable, I accepted furniture donations from friends getting rid of a futon frame, table or chair rather than buying furniture, I used dishes, cookware and silverware that was extra from my Mom's house, and by the end of two years, I was still a few more thousand dollars in debt. Then I moved to California for work. I worked full-time, I shared a house with housemates and then, at 26, got a one-bedroom apartment in the back of a shack of a house - the floor tilted. I drove a paid-for used car - my first car, also used, also paid for, had been stolen when I was 24. I never, ever shopped for leisure, never fell for a rent-to-own or paycheck cashing service and wasn't ashamed to buy used clothes. And by the time I was 30, still driving car number 2, I was more than $50,000 in debt - just from living.

In that time of debt, I was always able to find a place to live. I thought anyone who really wanted to could. An ad for an available apartment would be put in the newspaper (yes, we had those back then), and there would be half a dozen people standing outside at 8 a.m. to meet the landlord at 9. Twice, when there were at least a dozen other applicants to live in an apartment, many of whom got there before me, I was able to convince the landlord that I would be the best tenant EVER, and I got the place I wanted. But it was only years later that I started to wonder what happened to all those other people that were just as desperate to find a place as me. It wasn't like there were several other places they could choose from. I realized at long last: I'd just been lucky.

Everyone I knew at that age was carrying about that much debt as well. Most of their debt was university debt. We just all accepted that this was the way it was: you are in debt until you hit 40 or so. You slowly get out of it over the years, but you just keep working hard and, eventually, everything is okay. For me, I did get out of debt, through putting myself on a strict budget, learning to cook, renting out a room in my house, being lucky and having no substantial health issues when I had no insurance nor any unbudgeted-for car problems, always being fully employed and, eventually, landing the high-paying job that lifted me out of debt and allowed me to, at last, start saving for retirement. I was about 38 when I got out of debt - and that was five-10 years sooner than I thought I would.

And here's the thing: I know now I was lucky. Things are way, way worse now than they were then. People are desperate for rentals all over this country, particularly in places like Portland, Oregon and the San Francisco Bay Area / Silicon Valley. People with full-time jobs are living in their cars and RVs, driving around each day after work looking for a place to park for the night. I love Judge Judy, but she drives me crazy when she tells people living in substandard rentals that are unhappy with their landlord's inaction, "Move!" There's nowhere to move to, Judge! And while lots of jobs are being created, they are low-paying jobs. You cannot drive to a job, nor take the bus to a job, on $10 an hour, and get out of debt, let alone stay out of it and save. Have you seen the longer and longer lines of people going to food banks, the growing number of seniors signing up for Meals On Wheels? If you haven't, then you are not paying attention.

The American Dream is a myth for millions of people. Millions of hard-working people in the USA are one medical emergency or one car emergency or one house disaster away from losing a home, losing a car, losing a livelihood. And there too many people that have no home at all. 

I know that, if I were 30 years younger, following the same path I followed back in the 1990s, I would be living in an RV or my car now. I would. Or I would have to move back in with my mother, who lives several hundred miles from me, and the only jobs availble to me there would be $10-$15 an hour jobs. And I would be lucky to have that safety net.

It just so happened that, when I was ready, financially and personally, to buy a house for the first time in my life, the world was in a recession. Had I been ready one year before, or one year after, my story would be VERY different. My husband and I looked at more than 30 houses before we bought this one. We could take our time - we were in no rush. We got the house we wanted, without any competition from anyone else. We knew this was a very special moment in time. None of that happened because we are especially smart or savvy or hardworking; we are all those things, but our ease in buying an affordable home happened because we were lucky.

Now, just four years later, our house is valued twice as much as we paid for it. Small homes in our city sell within weeks, sometimes days, and any size home in Portland has potential buyers lined up from the moment of sale announcement. Rentals of any size are a piping hot commodity anywhere in this area, with people posting repeated online via Facebook, begging friends to help them find a place to live. We could easily rent out the extra bedroom in our house regularly on AirB & B - and we're seriously thinking about it.

People so desperate financially and regarding a place to live keeps them away from paying attention to politics. It's impossible to register to vote if you don't have a permanent residence. Debt and financial worries are keeping people away from the polls.

How to change this? This situation should be on the TV news every night, it should be talked about daily in every major newspaper and online media outlet. But it's not.

Every election, I get involved with get-out-the-vote efforts. But what else can I do? What is the Democratic Party doing to address this growing catastrophe - that the Republicans say isn't actually happening at all?

Now what? I sometimes dream of workshops all over the country that teach people how to avoid debt, how to get out of debt, how to stay away from predatory lenders, etc. But, honestly, even that isn't enough. So many people in debt are NOT there because they didn't spend their money wisely. Also, how does that help someone living in a car?

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Al Franken resigning: putting country first

By resigning, U.S. Senator Al Franken is doing what is best for his country. Guilty or not of sexual harassment, that fact cannot be denied.

Al Franken's resignation is what's best for my country. That doesn't stop me from weeping as I listen to him announce that he is leaving. As someone who owns and has read all of his books, including one where he wrote, "Jayne, Good work for the UN" (a friend got that for me), it hurts both that he's resigning and that so many women have said he touched them inappropriately.

Even if HALF of the women who have made accusations against Al Franken are lying, that means there are still women who are speaking the truth. I can be skeptical about one. Maybe even two, especially if they are outspoken opponents - I can't lie, I do judge. But THAT many accusers, many of them Democrats? Yeah, that's really hard for me to say it's all a "misunderstanding."

What Al Franken said in his resignation expresses exactly why he had to resign. It was the right thing to do.

But with all that said: if you demanded this, then let's hear your demands for the resignation of the man in the Oval Office. Let's hear your unequivocal condemnation of Roy Moore. You can't have it both ways. 

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

What will it take?

Until you try to vote and are turned away...

Until you or someone you love are denied a wedding cake, or housing, or a marriage license, or a job, by someone that believes your sexuality or religion (or lack thereof) is a sin...

Until you cannot drink the water that comes out of your tap because of the inaction of the current Republican lead government...

Until you fear law enforcement so much that you are afraid to call them when you or someone you love has been robbed or is danger...

Until your public libraries close...

Until you realize the public school where you send your children is so severely cash-strapped and unsupported that your children will never be able to get the quality education they deserve from such...

Until the public lands you love are less than half the size of what they are now - if they exist anymore at all...

Until you lose your health insurance coverage...

Until you start skipping much-needed medical treatment because you know you cannot afford it and your health insurance (if you have such) won't cover it...

Until you lose your pension or retirement savings...

Until you or someone you love cannot access abortion services and is forced to give birth...

Until you know someone killed by a gun in someone's home or someone who shouldn't have had access to a gun...

Until you lose your livelihood/career because of the actions of the Republican-lead government...

Until someone you know dies from lack of health care because he or she couldn't pay for it...

Until someone you love dies in North Korea or to defend interests of Saudi Arabia...

Then I guess you are just going to keep on voting Republican. Or not voting at all.

Friday, October 20, 2017

I don't know how to fight nationalism nor fascism

In school, I was taught that Germany turned to fascism because the country was economically devastated, because people didn't have enough to eat, because they were desperate, because conditions were extreme. I was taught that, had these things not happened, Germany wouldn't have lost its collective mind and murdered several million people.

For many years since, every time I've studied a time when people have flirted with nationalism or fanatical religion, or seen it happening in other countries, I've thought, well, things are dire there, people are scared, maybe justifiably so. Some economic stability and education will take care of this and they'll stop this nonsense as a result.

I don't believe it anymore. I'll never believe it again. Because of what I'm seeing right here in my own country. Nationalism - fascism - is rampant, not just in marches but in casual conversations on Facebook and over lunch and dinner tables. People are saying, explicitly, proudly, that criticism of the President should be utterly unacceptable, that people should be forced to stand for patriotic music, that police are justified in killing unarmed black men, and on and on. There's a constant denial of science and a continually deriding of public schools. There is an insistence that one religion is right and every other religion isn't just wrong, but is a threat. The majority of white people in the USA who have at least some college education and voted in November 2016 voted for Donald Trump. The majority of white WOMEN in the USA who have at least some college education and voted in November 2016 voted for Donald Trump. That he has been a sexual predator in the past - and bragged about it - didn't matter to those voters. That he blames sexual assault in the military because women were admitted into the military - didn't matter to those voters. That he ripped of several hundred people via his "university" and had to settle for many millions of dollars didn't matter. That he lied about Barack Obama, disrespected Gold Star families and military heroes, and said vile things about women didn't matter.

And none of this support for him is because white people are economically devastated, because they don't have enough to eat, because they are desperate, because conditions are extreme.

Quite frankly, I'm not trying to figure it out anymore. Because I don't care. I'm tired of their belief in fake news despite the mountain of reality proving it wrong. I'm tired of the double standard regarding the horrible man in office now and the very respectful, honorable one he replaced. I'm tired of their "I'm not a racist, but obviously white people are better and history shows us that" nonsense. No, I'm not going to reach across the table. No, I'm not going to listen. I'm done.

Geesh, even George W. Bush is worried.

Extreme nationalism has no signs of slowing down in Europe. It's also happening in Turkey and the Phillippines and India and Russia. People are feeling militant about their native languages and what they perceive as their national culture.

And people in the USA are embracing it as well.

So... now what? Education doesn't work to change their minds. Facts don't work to change their minds. These people do not have any patience or attention to detail, and they balk at the idea of time and deliberation it takes to learn and make important decisions, like a nuclear deal with Iran. They want simplistic, almost childlike emotional and very quick answers, answers that feel good rather than are based on any study or fact.
What to do?

Slaves were not freed in the USA because a majority of slave owners were convinced that slavery was wrong. Nazis were not defeated in Germany because a majority of Nazis and their sympathizers changed their minds. It took violence. It took devastation. It took an incredible amount of death.

I don't want violence. Or devastation. Or death. I do not romanticize nor desire any of that.

The victories of the civil rights movement did not happen by winning over racists. People didn't' vote for it - the courts and the Executive Branch listened to those supporting civil rights and did what was right, even if it wasn't popular with millions of people - maybe a majority of people. But we don't have that on our side now.

I've marched twice in Portland, once for women, once for science. I've been attending city council meetings since before the election; I want to keep my eye on the city council to make sure they aren't up to any shenanigans, like trying to cut an essential service or giving developers sweet heart deals. I've attended four public meetings with my state or national legislators, making sure right-wingers aren't showing up in greater numbers at any event and so that I can listen first hand to their messages. I've joined the official local arm of the Democratic Party, because I very much want to keep the party fighting for social justice, fighting for abortion rights, fighting for workers' rights, fighting for civil rights, fighting for the issues that affect people on a daily basis. I write the news media every time they get lazy in their reporting, every time they drop the ball in an interview with a member of the GOP.

But nothing changes. The fascist march continues.

Next week in Idaho, at Boise State University, there will be a presentation on how Idahoans organized a successful counter-movement to white supremacists in Idaho. According to the web site,  the presenters will "explain how people united around a variety of strategies that resulted in many victories--culminating in 2000 with an Idaho jury’s civil judgment against the Aryan Nations for $6.3 million that bankrupted it. The decades-long campaign for human rights--and to check the threat of the white nationalists, white supremacists and neo-Nazis--included passage of state legislation, support as allies for victims, comprehensive programs in the K-12 schools and colleges, public rallies and events, numerous press conferences and press releases condemning acts of hate, close working relationship with the police and prosecutors for aggressive prosecution of hate crimes, partnership with the faith community, statewide coordination with organizations and institutions for positive steps to advance human rights, commitment to the philosophy of non-violence and peace, and a pledge to never remain silent in the face of hate."

But what if the white nationalists are a populist movement that doesn't see itself as "white nationalists", even as they espouse similar statements? What if parents in those K-12 schools and universities block programs that encourage understanding and deliberation and, instead, promote anti-science curricula and a one-sided story of history that glorifies Western Europe alone?  What if the police and faith communities are part of the problem in creating intolerance and division?

I'm going to keep fighting, non-violently. I'm going to keep talking. People are in danger - particularly people who aren't white like me. My country is in danger. But I still believe in the ideals of my country and want to continue to live them and try to promote them.

But I also admit that the idea of buying a ranch in a remote location and living the rest of my days taking care of abandoned horses and providing tent space to people traveling the world by motorcycle, and cashing in on my privilege and giving up on humans in general, is sounding better and better.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

The Blue Gardenia

My informal film studies via Turner Classic Movies continue... all I'm missing are the post-film discussions.

A couple of years ago, I saw The Blue Gardenia for the first time. It's directed by the legendary Fritz Lang, of Metropolis fame, and his eye elevates the movie far beyond what it could have been in less attentive hands. The film was completed in just 20 days, and in many ways, that lack of time shows. But it's still excellent. In fact, it should be celebrated, but sadly, it's not. It's a forgotten melodrama, almost film noir, from 1953 - forgotten except by TCM and me. I'm sure it's been overlooked by most movie buffs and critics because most of them are men, at least the ones that get asked to write columns and do interviews, and this is a movie almost entirely from a woman's point of view.

I probably wouldn't have liked The Blue Gardenia had I seen it when I was a teen. Maybe I did start to watch it as a teen and turned it off. But at my age now - oh, it resonates in so many ways.

The film opens with an attempted rape. The first 33 minutes would be great to show to a group of young people now, to talk about predatory behavior and victim blaming. It's rivaled only by the opening of Thelma and Louise in that regard.

Ah, but the difference in those two movies, in terms of when they were filmed, what the law is, and what the law was...

I saw Thelma and Louise the night it came out in California and several weeks later in Southern Indiana. In the California theaters, the audience gasps at the shot, but in Southern Indiana, women cheered. Sympathy or not, most audiences in the USA wouldn't think of the killing as portrayed in that movie, legally, as self-defense - because it wasn't - but it would probably go down legally as voluntary manslaughter: the purposeful killing of a human being, yes, but in a case where the offender had no prior intent to kill and acted during the heat of passion, under extreme circumstances that could be understood as causing a reasonable person to become emotionally or mentally disturbed to the point that they can't reasonably control their emotions (based on the definition in "What Are Homicide and Murder" by Aaron Larson in

Contrast this with The Blue Gardenia. The killing by Norah is clearly self-defense by the law of today, 2017. What Prebble tries to do is clearly rape - Norah is in no condition to give consent. But in 1953, those ideas, legally, didn't exist in those circumstances, even if women at that time, and for all time, knew it in their hearts - just as the character Norah does. But she hides because she knows she has no legal protection at all - if she is found out there is no legal justification for that murder, not in 1953, and she's going to prison for life, probably to be executed.

I watched The Blue Gardenia yet again today, and the conversations I see all over social media about the behavior of Harvey Weinstein, Roger Eugene Ailes, Bill O'Reilly and the current President of the USA, Donald Trump, all flashed through my mind during the first 33 minutes of the movie. Because I realize that what is clearly predatory behavior in this movie, what is clearly attempted rape in this movie, would be called by many men here, today, even in 2017, as a "gray area," and Norah's behavior would be seen as "sending mixed signals" by those men.

And it makes me want to scream. It means every use of the word clearly in this blog would be disputed by many men and women today, even in 2017. It means that, when I watch Mad Men and am appalled at what is said to Joan in that 1960s world, there are also men and women that watch it and still think she is asking for it because of how she dresses.

We still have so long to go...

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

it was a good wagon, but an impractical star

I would love to downgrade my Direct TV package. But I can't. Because I must have Turner Classic Movies.

I must.

I love the truly classic movies they show, like Casablanca. But I also love the old, obscure stuff they dig out from under the couch that maybe isn't THAT good, but I watch them and find some incredible little moment in many of them.

The latest is from a while back. It was at the beginning of The Deadly Affair, a 1966 adaption of a John le Carré story. This is a speech by a character called Samuel Fennan, who has been told by the main character, played by James Mason, that a letter has been sent, anonymously, identifying him as a former Communist:

Practically everybody was a member of the party at Oxford in the 30s. Half the present cabinet were party men. You know Mr. Dobbs, when you’re young, you hitch the wagon or whatever you believe in to whatever star looks likely it can get the wagon moving. When I was an undergraduate, the wagon was social justice, and the star was Karl Marx. We perambulated with banners. We fed hunger marchers. A few of us fought in Spain. Some of us even wrote poetry. I still believe it was a good wagon, but an impractical star. We had faith and hope and charity. A wrong faith, a false hope, but I still think the right sort of charity. Our eyes were dewy with it, dewy and half shut.

I so get this. I don't know if it's directly from the novel or was created for the film - but nothing better explains why so many people were sympathetic to Communism back in the 30s and 40s.

I try so hard not to let my eyes be so dewy that they are half shut.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Motorcycle trip in Washington State: a Smokey Adventure

I just realized that I didn't link to my travelogue about our annual motorcycle trip. This year, it was 10 days in Washington State: a Smokey Motorcycle Adventure in August.

Our 2017 trip included Gifford Pinchot National Forest (our favorite), Mt. Rainier National Park, Wenatchee National Forest (new for us), Lake Chelan National Recreation Area (new for us), North Cascades National Forest (new for us), Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest (new for us), Olympic National Forest (new for us), and Olympic National Park (new for us), as well as Trout Lake and Packwood, which we've been to before, plus these new cities for us in Washington state: Naches, Ellensburg, Leavenworth, Methow, Chelan, Winthrop, Newhalem, Marblemount, Concrete, Oak Harbor, Amanda Park, Humptulips and Aberdeen.

As a result of our Washington state trip, of August 30, 2017, I have ridden 23,496 miles (37,813 km) on my KLR (Kawasaki). I've ridden 34,496 (55,516 km) overall on motorcycles (my previous bike was a Honda Nighthawk).

But what's even more fun to think about is not the number of miles or kilometers, but the things I've seen. And that's why I write travelogues.

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Monday, September 25, 2017

Whores of Yore

This is an article on how horrible syphilis was during Victorian times, and what a threat it posed to sex workers in particular. Warning: if you click on the link, you will see vintage boobies. But the reason I love it is the intro, where the author tries to explain why she is going to use traditional pronouns. I'm sure lots of folks will be offended by it. But it made me laugh. It's how I feel too.

For more fun on this subject from another era, check out Venereal Disease and the Lewis and Clark Expedition.

History is fun!

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Viewing solar eclipse totality in Perrydale, Oregon, August 21, 2017

Eclipse romance 
Eclipse dork patrol

Earlier this year, I found out that solar eclipse totality would happen in McMinnville, Oregon, just 25 miles away from where I live. That city would get 56 seconds of eclipse totality. I was excited about the solar eclipse already, but I didn't realize that a complete block of the sun would happen so close to where I live. So proposed that we - my husband and I - go down to see it on the day of the event, in parking lot somewhere in the city. We’d leave around 7 a.m., have breakfast somewhere, walk out, see the eclipse, and then leave.

But then the hype kicked in, and ramped up every week, both in terms of how the crowds would be and what totality would look like. I realized I wanted more than a parking lot: I wanted a beautiful place to see the solar eclipse, and I wanted a longer totality. And there was no way we could leave the house at 7.

I saw a partial solar eclipse in July 11, 1991 in Silicon Valley, California. It was one of the worst year of my life, but the eclipse was a highlight, even if I didn’t do any more to celebrate it than stick a pinhole in a paper plate and look at the shadow for a few minutes on the ground outside of the horrible place where I worked.

Partial eclipses are worth observing, but I was reading too many poetic posts from scientists about what totality would be to pass up the opportunity to see it.

Several weeks ago, we road our motorcycles through the backroads Northwest of Salem. We had been to Falls City last year, and had a look again to consider its candidacy for eclipse viewing, but I thought there were too many trees. We were afraid Dallas or Rickreal would be a zoo of traffic, that we would not be able to get even close to either town unless we camped the day before. As we went back to our home in Washington, County, we passed through tiny Perrydale, and I had an epiphany: Perrydale, Oregon would be the perfect place to view the eclipse. It had open skies, nothing to obstruct the view of the eclipse, and there was plenty of parking. Back home, I looked up totality for the city on the NASA eclipse web site, and found that totality in Perrydale was predicted to be 1 minute 43.3 seconds - 47 seconds longer than McMinnville. Perrydale is 50 miles away from where we live. Dallas would give us an additional 13 seconds of totality, but, again, I was afraid it would be a parking lot before we could get near the town, even leaving in the wee hours of the morning.

Of course, we could have gone to Hopkinsville, Kentucky, my home state, and get more than two minutes of totality...

Beloved friends from California asked if they could drive up and join us, and we said yes, absolutely! It was actually my friend’s 87 year old mother’s idea - she came too, of course.

The night before the eclipse, we all were in bed (not the same bed) by 10 p.m., and I pushed everyone out the door so we could be on the road by 4 a.m. Because there would be HOARDS OF PEOPLE and we had to be ready for the tremendous traffic jam that, no doubt, would already be on state highway 47 heading to Gaston!

There was no traffic jam. There was no traffic at all, not even on 47. I pulled over in Yamhill and consulted with Stefan: based on the lack of anyone, we decided we’d dare to travel through McMinnville after all on our way to Perrydale. We continued on to Carlton, our motorcycles and our guests' car barely missing a live, confused possum in the road, and we turned on to 99... and there was still no traffic. None. I turned into a gas station in McMinnville to ask my traveling party if, indeed, the eclipse was today.

We continued on to tiny Perrydale. There are no businesses in Perrydale, just a tiny elementary school, a small high school (they are right next to each other), and a church. The grandstands for the school football field could hold maybe 60 people. The town doesn’t have a post office. A blog from 2013 found by a member of my traveling party is entitled “Perrydale, Oregon – Not quite a Ghost Town” and says the town has 60 residents.

After some exploration, we decided to park and set up in the school parking lot, next to a Baptist Church. It was cold outside, though far from freezing. As daylight set in, one of our party, Russell, my former sensei, walked around the school and came back with the best news we’d had all morning: the men’s restroom next to the athletic fields was open, clean, had toilet paper and had hand soap. Bathroom access had been my biggest worry about choosing this site. I almost did my happy dance, but decided to spare everyone.

We set up our camping chairs to face out to the sunrise, giving us a view of a large farm field and anyone traveling through town on Amity-Dallas Road. Another view of our view.

I felt like I was an idiot for making everyone get out of my house before 4 a.m. I kept apologizing. And I remained scared someone would come up out of no where and announce we had to move.

We had gotten there just after 5 a.m. After sun rise, Stefan set up the telescope. Once it was truly daytime, Russell said I should do a “ditch check” to see if the ditch across the road before the field was too deep to cross - we’d been planning to cross the street and sit in the field if traffic got too thick. So I went over, had a check, and when I turned around to look back at our little set up, I also looked back down the road we’d come, and saw a neon sign: open. On a coffee hut. COFFEE!! We’d brought coffee but, hey, coffee hut coffee?!? I’m there! So much for my comment that Perrydale doesn't have any businesses...

Gail (Russell’s wife) and I walked down and saw a field of campers across from the coffee hut. So, we’re *not* alone… we’d brought coffee, but I didn’t have a big enough thermos to take more than enough for each of us to have one cup - and I mean a cup, not a big mug. I was SO happy to have good coffee!!

Later, we sat in our camping chairs, all looking at the sunrise and the field. I said, “This is unbelievable: no traffic, a great viewing spot that has a clean bathroom with toilet paper, there’s not a cloud in the sky, there’s no smoke in the sky - this is AWESOME!” To which Russell replied, “Hey, isn’t that a professional massage therapist parachuting out of the sky and landing in the field right across from us?” To which Gail replied, “And doesn’t he also have wine, both red and white?”

It was a great morning. The four hours we sat there before the eclipse went SO FAST. We talked, we laughed, we ate coffee cake, we spied on a farmer working far in the distance… well into the morning, other people finally started showing up. One person told us that there was a traffic jam in McMinnville, mostly for the air and space museum there, when he had come through at 5:45 a.m. We easily could have still left our house 90 minutes, even two hours later, and made it to Perrydale in plenty of time for the eclipse. And I would have LOVED that extra two hours of sleep…

We contemplated movies and TV shows that feature an eclipse: LadyhawkA Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's CourtMadMen and Heroes. The suggestion of Day of the Triffods was withdrawn when I remembered that was a meteor shower, not an eclipse. And we though of songs featuring astronomical references: the obivous one everyone has been referring to, Total Eclipse of the Heart, as well as Bad Moon Rising, Black Hole Sun, and Invisible Sun.

I talked Stefan into giving away his extra pair of eclipse glasses (I think he wanted to sell them) and, just after 9, the eclipse began. We looked at it with our glasses, we looked at it via the projection from the viewer on Stefan’s telescope, I made jokes about the progress:

“Now, it looks like the sun is wearing a top hat and we can only see the bottom.”

“Now, it’s Pac Man, and he’s singing, ‘Woooooooo’”

“Now, Pac Man is singing ‘Ooooooooooo!’”

Telescope eclipse projectionPeople gathered around Stefan's telescope and took photos of the projection onto a paper plate and onto a gray matte board that some other group had brought. Other than the solar eclipse, he was a very popular photographic target as well.

There was now a sizable group in the parking lot with us, though nothing overwhelming at all, and everyone was super friendly.

I ate some chicken and potato salad and started thinking about totality. As one does. What would it really be like? Several people on the March for Science Facebook group said it was absolutely not to be missed, that it would be absolutely stunning. One guy said it was safe to take your glasses off during totality - it was mandatory, in fact. It would get so dark street lights would come on, and birds might stop singing. Stars would appear.

After 10 a.m, we all began to get anxious. Totality was coming! It was getting dimmer all around us, like sunset, except, the sun was right there above us, like always. Without the glasses, if you were foolish enough to look at the sun, you would have just seen a big light blob, like always. That's what ancient man, or medieval man, would have seen - the sun, as normal. Unless they understood the images they might be seeing on shadows cast by the trees, they wouldn't have known that an eclipse was happening, only that things were getting darker, and cooler. Gail put on a sweater. I kept commenting on how it looked like night was coming. We would look up at the sun, always with glasses, every 2-3 minutes, waiting to see how close we were getting, and watching things get grayer.

At 10:15 a.m., we were just two minutes away, and all eyes, behind eclipse glasses, were looking up. At 10:17, the last yellow sun beam disappeared behind the black moon, stars appeared, Stefan yelled, "Take off your glasses!", and I did, and I looked up and saw one of the most amazing things I've ever seen. Stars really did come out around the sun and moon. Night was descending. The sky was a million shades of dark gray and blue. The moment the last yellow sun beam disappeared behind the black moon, I saw pink beads within the corona, and long white, fuzzy glares coming out of the top and bottom of the sun behind the absolute black dot of the moon - but not in any symmetrical way. There was no yellow, just black and white and gray and pink and some blue. As Gail put it later on Facebook, "Totality Whoo hooo. We got a diamond!" I kept yelling "I can't believe this! This is amazing!" I was yelling, wooting, jumping up and down. When a yellow sun beamed appeared, glasses went back on, and day broke again, for a second time in just a few hours. We all clapped. I realized I was crying. Many of us hugged each other. We were astounded.

I found out later that the pink beads interrupting the corona of the sun come from the mountains on the moon. Yes, the mountains on the moon. When Galileo pointed out that the moon is an imperfect sphere, marked by mountains and valleys, he was imprisoned because of outrage by the Roman Catholic Church. I thought about all those early astronomers over thousands of year, trying to figure out the weather based on observing the heavens, how their observations lead them to uncover facts about the universe that were sometimes celebrated, sometimes derided. I also thought about the first humans that saw totality and how must have shuddered in terror, not understanding what was happening.

Science got us here, to this point of celebrating what physicist Michio Kaku called a cosmic coincidence, the fortuity that the moon is just the perfect size and the sun is just the perfect size and the moon and the sun and the Earth are all just the right distance from each other such that we get this eclipse that shows the sun's corona. Science predicted this eclipse, down to the second, for different parts of the world - not some preacher or physic. And they've been predicting them accurately for hundreds of years using science.

NASA asked on its web site, "What was your experience? How did you feel? Let us know what the eclipse meant to you in 6 words." And they asked, if you shared it on Twitter, to tag your comment with #Eclipsein6. Here are my tweets:

I felt connected to ancient astronomers. 

Saw pink beads around the moon. 

Cried at the beauty. Celebrated science. 

Said repeatedly, "I can't believe this!" 

Yelled "Everyone, take your clothes off!" 

Yes, really. All that. The "get nekkid" comment drew a LOT of laughs...

Cars started heading past us just after our celebrations of totality. Stefan went back to telescope projections. I went back to my glasses. We also waved at the now steady stream of cars going passed us. We ate some more, talked about how we would all get back to our homes. My guests would be leaving to head South straight from where we were. We would be going in the opposite direction.

Gail started checking GoogleMaps and started seeing traffic jams everywhere. We weren't seeing a jam, but there sure were a lot of cars going by... We dawdled, hoping that we were letting the worst of the traffic get to wherever it was going. We were almost the last to leave our site, at about 12:15. Stefan decided it would be best that we go 77 miles out of our way, back through Sheridan and Willamenia, up into the mountains via oh-so-curvey Gilbert Creek Road, over onto NW Bald Mountain Road, down to Nestucca Road and back to Carlton. We preferred to take an extra 90 minutes of riding to just sitting in traffic in the hot sun in McMinnville. We had to make a left onto 18, and I gasped when we got to the intersection: it was a wall of never-ending traffic coming East on the highway, and some drivers going the opposite direction. And no light at the intersection. And people on the opposite side also wanting to make a left turn, which put us in each other's way. And we had no right of way. Somehow, we got across - I still don't know how. The road up into the mountains was fine, though I was really tired and went slower than I would have liked to. Once we finally made it to Sheridan Peak, a scenic lookout with a large parking lot and a pit toilet that overlooks the valley, I was in dire need of a break. There were two guys there that had camped at the overlook and seen the eclipse, and one of them gave me all the coffee he had left, half a cup. He's my hero. We met some German-speaking bicyclists and dawdled for almost an hour, hoping traffic was getting better.

We got to the intersection for Carlton and there was a MASSIVE, never-ending line of cars waiting to turn into the town. Luckily, it was a four-way stop so we got to go rather quickly. For the next 12 miles, on state highway 12, we went between 5 and 30 miles an hour. The 20 minute drive took well more than an hour. Oh, well, if I had to finally have my solar eclipse traffic jam, I preferred it now, after the event.

We got home at 3:30, and found out that was lucky - that evening, there were still people trying to get home on the clogged roads.

So, that's my eclipse report, in a sea of eclipse reports. What an absolutely amazing experience. So much so that we're already planning for April 2024.

Our photos from the day.

And added bonus: Gail's 87 year old mother, on video, talking about this, her third eclipse.

Thursday, July 6, 2017

trying, stumbling, experiencing - it's all a virtue & it's extraordinary

I've known Marnie Webb for many years, per our association through TechSoup. Recently, she posted something to her Facebook profile that I really wanted to share on my blog. I asked Marnie if I could, and she said yes, and that it was fine to use her name. What Marnie doesn't know - but will know now - is that I cried when I read this. Because I know exactly how she feels. Exactly. It's why I started a travel section on my web site. Enjoy:

You know, in all seriousness, I spent most of my life terrified of flying. Like. Well. I'll spare you. Terrified. I got through it (I hesitate to say I'm over it because it can hit me terribly in unexpected moments) because I had to. I had to do my job and earn money and that meant, for the job I have, getting on a plane. For the job I want to have.

And then when I learned how to manage that, I replaced it with other fears. Getting lost. Dealing with languages. Stepping over some cultural line.

I would not have guessed, five years ago even two years ago, that I would be a person who has a long layover in a city and leaves the airport to explore. Who takes the public metro. Who changes currency. Who wanders confident they can get back to the airport. But here I am.

I post pictures of places that are spectacular. Rio. And this week Copenhagen and today Lisbon. I go to US cities that stun me, including a small one in northern Mississippi and big ones on the east coast. I eat dinner at restaurants, rather than getting room service, and talk to strangers. Today, in Lisbon I was resolute in practicing my faulty Brazilian Portuguese.

This change hinges on one thing: the idea that it is okay not to be perfect. That trying is a virtue in and of itself.

More than anything, I learned this from running. The slow build up to the day that I ran 13 miles because it was on my calendar to run 13 miles that day. The good days running and the bad. The injuries. All the times The Spawn slow rode her bicycle next to me and cheered me on. And then, bigger and stronger, ran next to me.

Anyway. I'm kind of marveling at it today. Perhaps because I just did something I didn't have to do -- left the airport for a little sightseeing on a long layover -- and I feel like it gave more than it cost. I wandered a city for a few hours and got on a train back to the airport. I made a mistake on buying a ticket on the metro and a stranger helped -- not different than I would do in San Francisco but something I never expected.

I sat on the steps next to the water and watched boats and people. I got a coffee and a little breakfast. I bought things for my family.

These seem small, you know. They seem ordinary. And they are. And today, to me, that seems so extraordinary.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

2017 Tony Awards, Star Wars, & Finally Seeing a Musical I Should Have Long Ago

Finally watching the 2017 Tony Awards. Wonderful show, as usual - always the best awards show on TV. In addition to all the great numbers and Kevin Spacey as host, I was thrilled to see Mark Hamill on the show. Near the start of my Star Wars insanity, I followed every single thing the three main actors in the movies were doing, and that means knowing that Mark Hamill played the lead in The Elephant Man and Mozart in Amadeus on Broadway and won a Drama Desk nomination for his role in Harrigan 'N Hart off-Broadway back in the day. And that Carrie Fisher was in Censored Scenes from King Kong and of Agnes of God on Broadway I couldn't see those shows, living in Western Kentucky, so I would go down to the Henderson County Public Library, and look up photos and reviews of the shows in magazines and a book that came out every year and said who was in what, summarized the plots of the shows, and had photos.

So, when Mark Hamill came out, I cried, both because I knew he was about to somehow make a referral to our favorite Princess, and because via Star Wars, my dreams of Broadway were further cultivated.

One of the people who passed away that was listed in the tribute section was Gordon Davidson. I drove Gordon Davidson in my truck once. I drove him from the San Francisco airport to San Jose, so he could see a production of Holly Near's one woman show at the theater where I worked. We had a delightful conversation - I'd worked with his daughter at the Williamstown Theatre Festival. Later, the company manager said I'd put him in such a good mood, it laid the groundwork for him to love the show (and he did) and transfer it to La Jolla.

This year, it's the straight plays I'm dying to see on Broadway - except for the revivals of Hello Dolly and Sunset Boulevard, which I would kill to see, and Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812, which looks and sounds fantastic. Indecent, Oslo, A Dolls' House, Part 2, the revivals of The Little Foxes and Present Laughter and The Glass Menagerie.

But that said: I love musicals. And I was reminded of that recently not by the Tony Awards, but by seeing something I've avoided for a long time.

For reasons I’m not sure of, I have avoided seeing Rent. I never saw the play, and when people would put the soundtrack on, I would shut down, leave the room, ask for something else… it just did nothing for me.

More on that in a moment.

The very first musical I ever saw was probably You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown at Henderson County High School, in 1974 or so. I would have been 8, maybe younger. I think I saw Snow White at the movies after that. If it weren’t for Disney re-releasing that and Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty and Mary Poppins and Song of the South and all their other early musicals, I’m not sure I would have seen any outside of high school productions - there was no cable TV, my little town had no community theatre, and I had no idea at the time that Great Performances on PBS wasn’t just opera.

I admit that I avoided the movie The Sound of Music until my Dad made me watch it. No, really, he pretty much made me watch it. Oh, how I loved it. Probably why I’m such an anti-fascist now… (“You’ll never be one of them…”).

But after that, I was introduced to most musicals via their soundtrack. Living in Western Kentucky, I was far, far from Broadway, and Broadway tours did not come our way. Camelot, Little Shop of Horrors, Les Miserables, Jesus Christ Superstar, Chess, Phantom of the Opera, Into the Woods - I was introduced to all of them and more via their soundtrack. It meant that, when I finally did see those musicals, on film or on stage, I realized I’d gotten some plot points wrong - just listening to the soundtrack means you can’t always know exactly how the story is supposed to be.

As I said, for some reason, just hearing a bit of songs from Rent did nothing for me, so I never saw it when I lived in the USA in the 90s. The film version was probably shown in Cologne when it was released in 2005 and I lived in Germany, but I made no effort to find out. It's been on TV a few times since I moved back, and produced by community theaters here and there, but I never saw them.

Then, a few days ago, I was bored, and Ovation was showing Rent, and so I watched it, and I bawled and squalled and wanted to dance around the room. A pox on me for waiting so long.

I’m really glad I got to first see it as the film, because I got to judge it only based on that, not based on the Broadway show or the tour. I get really tired of the oh-it’s-not-as-good-as-the-Broadway-version crowd.

It’s the same with the movie version of Hair. I freakin’ LOVE that movie. If you saw it staged first, however, you usually don’t like the movie.

I wonder if I’ll feel differently about Hamilton once I finally see it. I think it will have to be a great production of it for me to get it. I’ve seen bits of it and it’s done nothing for me. I’m intrigued when I read about it - but not when I hear a bit of the music. Which is exactly how Rent has been for me all these years. So, someone please send me airfare and a ticket for Hamilton, please?

Other blogs where I have mentioned the Tony Awards:

Alan Rickman

July ups & downs

Post 2010 Birthday Ramble

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Clark Gable & Greer Garson in Adventure (1945)

I've been watching classic movies since before I was in double digits, and just when I think I've seen every great movie before 1950, I get a surprise. This time, it's Adventure, from 1945, with Clark Gable and Greer Garson.

I have actively avoided watching this movie for decades because it was always described as a horrible flop and painful to watch. I knew that it was Gable's first studio movie after World War II, and the ad campaign was "Gable's Back and Garson's Got Him," making me think this was some kind of screwball comedy, which seemed so inappropriate for Gable's first film after the war, and after losing Carole Lombard.

So I watched it at last, on TCM, of course, and I was stunned. It's a poetic, complex, dark drama always flirting with great tragedy. There's no way a 1945 audience would have been ready for these characters, this story or the dialogue, which is often presented more as verse than scripted lines. Watch Gable when he argues with Garson's character, almost to the point of physical blows - I've never seen him not be Clark Gable until this character, until that moment, and I cannot imagine we aren't seeing his grief at his loss of Lombard and what he witnessed during World War II. It's overdue for this film to get the recognition it deserves. Joan Blondell and Thomas Mitchell (you remember him as Uncle Billy in It's A Wonderful Life and Scarlett's father in Gone With the Wind) are outstanding in their supporting characters.

The biggest problem with this movie is its ridiculous title (the book on which it is based is called The Annointed - a much better title).

Here’s how I imagine the marketing meeting for this movie went:

Director: Hey, I made this complex drama about a seafaring man searching for purpose in life, who clashes with a sophisticated, quiet librarian, and they don’t get together until halfway through the movie because they are having heated philosophical arguments about the meaning of life, and by the time they do get together romantically, you’re stunned and also feel like this relationship is completely doomed, and the whole thing almost ends in utter tragedy, and the script is, at times, more poetry than dialogue.

Louis B Mayer: “Gable’s back and Garson’s got him!”

This would be a terrific film on a double bill with The Razor's Edge.

Monday, May 29, 2017

Thoughts on yet another white terrorist, this time in Portland, Oregon

A lot of folks are shocked that the terrorist in Portland who murdered two people and sent a third to the hospital was both a Nazi sympathizer and a supporter of Bernie Sanders and Jill Stein.

I’m not shocked, probably because I’ve so many tweets from these folks around the 2016 election.

These people that believe in outrageous myths about Jewish people and their religion, but intended to vote for Bernie Sanders, are a strange bunch: they ignore the social issue stands of such candidates - their support for marriage equality, their rhetoric regarding racial justice, etc. - and zero in only, ONLY, on the populist economic message. Working-class white voters love fighters and outsiders, and it’s why you heard from them things like, “Well, I could vote for Trump or Sanders, either way.” Which makes no sense to people who carefully listened to what these two candidates were saying and read their track records, and as a result, saw the clear, obvious differences in these candidates. Trump repeatedly praised Sanders at rallies, because he knew how many of his supporters liked him - Sanders blasted Trump, but that never seemed to be heard by Sanders-or-Trump folks. Sanders-or-Trump folks also globbed on to Bernie’s support for gun ownership and his vote against immigration reform, which he said he did because pro-reform senators are “selling out American workers. In fact, they are selling out our entire country.” Trump-leaning supporters heard in those words “Immigrants are bad!”

The any-outsider-never-a-seasoned-politican crowd draws a diverse crowd, and I'm sorry that it took this incident for people to realize that.

And note that I say all of this as someone who voted for Bernie Sanders in the primary.

The murder by this terrorist, this white supremacist, has also brought back a memory:

10 or 11 or 12 years ago, taking a train from where I lived in Sinzig, Germany, my German wasn’t much better than it is now - and that means it was really, really awful. But I knew, from the tone of the voice I heard to my left, that something was wrong. I looked across the aisle and there was a young Muslim woman, in her hijab, and a German man across from her, in his 40s or so, scruffy, maybe a street person, sitting way too far forward on his seat, getting into her personal space, berating her with questions. She was answering softly, or not at all, eyes averted. No one else was watching.

Then I saw his hand go on her knee and I exploded.

I jumped up and yelled some of the few words in German I know, “DU! RAUS!” and in a softer but firm voice, “Fräulein, bitte, hier” pointing the seat across from me. She sheepishly moved across the aisle and sat down where I pointed, while the man stood frozen, not looking at me, staring straight ahead. He was contemplating arguing with me. So I yelled again, “DU! RAUS! JETZ!”

He never looked at me, but he did turn to the aisle and walked down the car, and got out at the next exit.

I was trying not to visibly shake from anger and fear. I couldn’t think of anything to say to that poor woman, so we sat in silence as I glared down the car at the man, making sure he wasn’t coming back. The train car was silent now. None of the other passengers said a word or tried to help. I got off two stops later. I felt bad that I had never spoken to the woman, but I just didn't know what to say. Or how to say it in German.

And even knowing what I know now, you bet your ass I would do it again. I will not stop.

And may I add that I freakin’ stuck that rolling R in “raus!” better than Seargent Schultz ever did.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Three Things I Wish Judge Judy Knew

I really love watching Judge Judy. I do. I can't help myself. Her show comes on four times in the PDX metro area, five days a week, and I often watch all four episodes. It's my shameful little indulgence.

I’ve asked myself why I like the show so much. Part of it is that I would love to be that unfiltered and outspoken and in-control in my job. Wow. Part of it is that I would love to be able to stop lying or unethical people dead in their tracks. Part of it is that I just cannot believe how ethically challenged so many people are, how they will justify not paying a loan back, not taking responsibility for wrecking someone’s car, not returning a deposit to a renter, and on and on.

I like how frank she is about rights you do NOT have when you live with someone as opposed to marrying them - I don't believe she's telling people to get married but, rather, telling them to not "play house" without really understanding what it means, and I so agree with that. I’m also really impressed with how much she emphasizes that fathers have a right to see their children, and that children that don’t see their fathers are at greater risk of poor grades, skipping school, and on and on. I also love learning about the law. I'm fascinated by it. I should have been a lawyer. Or an urban planner... but that's another blog...

Anyway, there are three things I really wish Judge Judy understood, because her misunderstanding of such is actually quite hurtful:
  1. Renters can’t just move when the apartment they are renting goes bad. For instance, here in the Portland, Oregon area, the U.S. Census Bureau places the rental housing vacancy rate at 3.4%, and the rent burden has increased well beyond a third of a household’s income. I just found out that some students at our little community's university are living in campers in various places around town - they cannot find anywhere else. Many - most - people that are renting in the greater PDX metro area, as well as so many other areas of the USA, do not have the option to just “move”, as she often shouts on her show.

  2. She talks about how in her America, an employer should be able to fire anyone at any time for any reason other than something protected by workplace discrimination laws, with no two-weeks or more notice, no severance, etc. Does she really have no idea how hard it is to find a new job, what a job search does to an individual or family in terms of stress and mental health, and the economic consequences of such? At will employment for everyone would put individuals and families at profound economic risk and create work places where everyone walked on egg shells.

  3. She often tells people to look over at a parent in the courtroom and remember that “She’s always going to be your mother” or “He’s always going to be your father.” Yes, that’s true. But no one should be required to carry on a relationship with a toxic person, even if that person is a parent. I’ve watched too many friends waste so much of their lives and become emotionally drained over and over trying to please a parent who will never be pleased, a parent who tears them down over and over. Very often, the best thing a person can do is walk away from toxic parents - and there is absolutely no shame in that at all. None. 
I know it's not just her; millions of people think this way. But I'm stunned at how out-of-touch she is on these three issues.

I have no reason to share this other than I have nothing else to do today...

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Nuclear War, A Great Man & Musical Rabbinical Studies

I love the TCM channel. They show movies you would never, ever see otherwise: forgotten classics, foreign films, B movies, and on and on. They also help me save lots of money on therapy.

I recently saw three films I’d never seen before, two of which I’d never even heard of before, all via TCM. And I want to share. Because I'm in the mood:

Panic in Year Zero. It is one of the most depressing post-nuclear movies I’ve ever seen - and I've seen all of them, at least the ones made before 1990. I'm fascinated by such movies because I think they say so much about the atmosphere of the time the film was made, feelings not just about nuclear war but about other fears, about family, about values... I had never heard of this movie - I'm not sure how I missed it until now. Released in 1962, it's a B movie, super low budget. In Panic in Year Zero, people don’t comfort each other, they don't ban together and try to pool their resources for survival after the nuclear bombs drop - rather, it’s every man for himself. Humans are inherently evil and you better shoot before you get shot. It’s a prepper’s wet dream. One man warns another to be careful as he begins a journey elsewhere, because, “Our country is still full of thieving, murdering ‘patriots.’” That same man forces a visitor to roll up his sleeves before he’ll let him in his house, to prove he’s not a junky - and junkies abound in this film. Two of the three female characters are raped. This movie lacks any hope at all for humans being inherently good. I felt like the movie was a warning, not about nuclear war, but about humans. It’s worth seeing just to see how bleak some people view humanity. I admit that I don't have much faith in humanity anymore, not after Brexit and Trump's election and the Turkish referendum turning their country into a voter-sanctioned dictatorship and the global hard turn to the right. But I just can't get with the every-man-for-himself mentality. I already can't watch Walking Dead because of the gore, but I also can't watch it because of the hopelessness, the lack of any cooperation among people. If the majority of humans are that selfish then, geesh, what's the point in going on? And with all that said - oh, yeah, you gotta see this movie. Then go pet some puppies and hold some babies and watch some sunrises. And, for the record, the film that I think nails what life will be like for those not immediately killed in a nuclear war in the USA: Testament from 1983.

The Great Man (1956), the only screenplay credit for José Ferrer, Mr. Rosemary Clooney. He also starred. It should be a classic film! It’s brilliant! It’s dark, it’s cynical, and I think it’s more relevant now than when it came out. It's almost noir. Everyone is wonderful, the story is awesome, the minor female characters all crackle with sass and wit and savviness, but I think Ed Wynn’s performance deserved a best-supporting actor nomination - he took my breath away with his slowly-building one-scene oh-so-serious performance. Maybe you have to be from a small town to really get that moment. I think the film isn’t better known because of its muddy soundtrack, which makes much of the dialogue hard to hear - and it is a dialogue heavy film. Oh, nephew George Clooney, please pay for the soundtrack to be cleaned up and release this on DVD! If you see it, don't miss the part where a character asks Ferrer's character how drunk she is, and he says, "Fair to middlin'". Such a Southern way of saying it - Ferrer was influenced by that Kentucky wife more than I thought.

Those are the two films I had never heard of. The third film, which I most certainly had heard of: Yentl. I purposely avoided it for years. I had seen only one scene, back when I was 18, with Barbara Streisand and Amy Irving, and thought it looked stupid and horrible. Now, seeing the film at 51 - I actually really enjoyed it, in a way that I never could have when I was young. It’s a directing triumph, at the very least, and it’s shameful Streisand wasn’t nominated for an Academy Award. SHAMEFUL. I also now “get” the singing in her head, something I couldn’t grasp at 18. Because, I think, I was 18. No, it’s not the greatest film ever made and it's not even in my top 100 of all time. But it is as good as all the other amazing films nominated that year for awards in some way: Terms of Endearment, The Big Chill, The Dresser, The Year of Living Dangerously (which is in my top 100), The Right Stuff, Tender Mercies, Educating Rita, Testament (another that is in my top 100 - and referenced for a second time in this blog), Silkwood, To Be or Not to Be, WarGames, and on and on.  Damn, what a great time for movies that was...