Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Donald Trump and the Democratic Plot to Destroy the GOP

In Politics, Uncategorized on December 4, 2019 at 11:40 am


(Satire . . . or is it?)
The Premise:
We have always assumed that it is the GOP who know how to take the long view, to play the long game. The Democrats are always looking to solve some specific social “problem” or other, but don’t know how to plan for what comes next. The roots of the rise of the right that put Trump in office can be seen in Dick Cheney’s choice of himself as Vice-President, and in Karl Rove’s pledge to create a permanent GOP majority, and in Gingrich’s “revolution,” and Reagan’s trickle-down economics and Nixon’s war on drugs. The failure of the left to make lasting, systemic progress on civil rights, women’s rights, abortion access, universal health care, LGBTQ+ rights, separation of church and state, and so on can be seen in how easily those things have been to dismantle, sideline and cripple since 2017.
But what if the so-called “centrist” Democrats who have systematically moved the party further and further to the right since the 1970s have actually developed a long game of their own that is so clever and so subtle, though hiding in plain sight, that it may destroy the GOP as early as 2020 and leave the Democratic establishment, with its oligarchy and pandering to the poor, the middle class, and minorities of every stripe?
Now stay with me here. I don’t have a whiteboard behind me, so you’ll have to follow along without charts or illustrations. I promise it will make sense in the end.
The Plot:
The Democrats had assumed all along that Hillary Clinton would be President from 2009 to 2016. But when Barack Obama took the nomination, they saw, instead of disappointment and defeat, opportunity. This was a black man who had presented himself as an agent of enormous social change, while actually being only barely left of the new center that had been crafted by the Dems during the Reagan years and solidified by Bill Clinton. The idea was to promote modest tax increases as radical departures from the Republicans’ corporate and oligarch friendly economic policies; and to promote small, cautious, baby steps on social issues as radical left-of-center progressive change. This would allow them to continue to attract the backing (and money) of corporations and wealthy donors while simultaneously creating the illusion of enormous political and philosophical distance between themselves and the GOP.
Perhaps Hillary had lost to Obama this time, but there was no one else who could stop her in 2016. Obama would give them liberal street cred and Hillary would keep solidify the right-of-center centrist control for decades to come.
The Gift That Was Donald Trump:
When the 2016 election got under way, the Dems assumed that Clinton would be their nominee and Jeb Bush would be the Republican candidate. So, they began to plan for that. But when Donald Trump, who had always claimed to be a Democrat, entered the race as a Republican and began to do surprisingly well, despite being a crude, proudly ignorant, arrogant, misogynistic, racist narcissist, they saw an opportunity to not only win the election, but destroy the GOP. Let Trump be Trump, make him the face of the Republican party, and put Clinton in the White House for eight years so they could build a middle-of-the-road political legacy they could paint as both populist and highly progressive – compared to the extreme right-wing brush with which they would paint the entire GOP.
When Republican resistance to Trump began to collapse, the plan got an added boost. Fusion GPS came to the DNC and said, “The GOP had us dig up all this dirt on Trump, but now they don’t want it anymore. How about you?” Corruption, playing footsie with Putin, the pee tape . . . it seemed as if the gods were on the side of the Dems. This stuff would give them decades of dirt to throw at the GOP for the mistake of choosing Donald Trump.
The Big Gamble:
Putting Clinton in the Presidency seemed almost too easy. And that wasn’t good. If she won too easily it would seem as if it was just politics as usual. People would assume she had won it because it was simply her turn. It would allow the GOP to use Trump’s loss as a reason to repudiate him and his extremism in public while recognizing privately that they could use his ideas to solidify their hold on the very policies of oligarchy, racism, xenophobia and misogyny that had helped them turn the South and Center of America red. Clinton was certainly a flawed candidate. She and her husband both had a long political history full of potential problems. If they played them carefully enough, they could keep the race close, proclaim victory, then begin the process of showing how the nation had just barely escaped the evils that would surely have descended on us all if Trump had been elected. And the closeness of the race would be evidence that the GOP was, in fact, the party of Trump. This would have the added benefit of showing the party that if a centrist like Clinton had just barely survived, then the wisdom of not going with a socialist like Bernie Sanders would be obvious.
So, when Mitch McConnell blocked the Garland SCOTUS nomination and refused to join Obama in making the Russian election interference public, all they Dems needed was something to keep their electorate from getting too complacent about Clinton’s election. They needed something that they could allow to seem troubling, but also connected to something so obviously ridiculous that it wouldn’t actually make a difference. The answer was right in front of them. The disgraced, then rehabilitated, then re-disgraced Anthony Weiner had a laptop. If someone leaked out that it might have some files of Huma Abedeen’s that might be, somehow, related to Clinton’s e-mails, or Benghazi, or something, then they would have a “scandal” far enough removed from Clinton to be safe, and easily debunked and ridiculed if it got too close. All they needed was for the head of the FBI to make the discovery public and announce the re-opening of an investigation. Nothing in particular would be alleged, no crimes would be uncovered, no Clinton misdeeds revealed. It would look like just more GOP dirty tricks. It seemed perfect.
Loss and Turning Lemons Into Lemonade:
But the risk was misjudged, Michigan and Wisconsin were missed, and there was more discontent among the progressives in the party than had been anticipated. Clinton lost. And the Republicans still controlled Congress. Things were looking grim. And then they got worse. Trump and the GOP began dismantling decades of progress on voting rights, women’s rights, health care, LGBTQ rights, minority rights and climate action; and they began to reshape the judiciary in ways that further threatened those rights.
And the centrist Dems saw an opening. The GOP was calling Nancy Pelosi a socialist and anyone even a step to her left was suddenly a communist. The establishment Dems could finally say that, with the far right, fundamentalist swing of the GOP base in full view, they were the center after all. But how to capitalize on it?
Bernie Sanders was still running for President, and a full roster of left-of-center candidates, minority non-white candidates, gay candidates, and self-proclaimed Democratic Socialists were gearing up to run for Congress, governorships, and state legislatures all over the country. Ocasio-Cortez showed that they could win even against establishment, big-money Dems in places like New York and the Midwest and even in the South. If enough of them could win, not too many, just enough, then the Dems could bring home the left wing of the party that had abandoned them in 2016.
2018 became the year to show that the Democratic party had truly become the party of diversity, of change, of progress – and Donald Trump was giving them room on the right to also be the party of populism, patriotism, and the average American.
The End Game:
2020 was now set up to be the year the centrist Dems could lower the boom on the GOP for a generation or more. All they needed was a good, business-friendly, non-controversial, establishment candidate for President. Anyone who said the right things about minorities and gays and women and saving the ACA and doing something, anything, about guns could beat Donald Trump. And it would leave the GOP as essentially little more than a fringe group in the electorate. The Dems would own the middle.
It would have an additional benefit. The left would have only two choices. They could stay with the Dems and accept whatever they got, or they could form a new party and get less. With the Dems controlling the broad center and the GOP stuck far right, the Democratic Socialists would simply mirror them on the left. America would have a three-party system with one major party, the Dems. And all the centrists would have to do is begin a careful, step-by-step restoration of what had been the progressive status quo before Trump and they’d be seen as hugely progressive by comparison. Meanwhile, they could continue to court big money and big business, offer token tax increases, and token social progress while continuing to support the oligarchy, the military, and the churches.
The Conspiracy Theory:
Now just suppose that it was all a set-up from the beginning. What if Trump has been part of it all along? Trump wasn’t going anywhere near the White House until Barack Obama made fun of him. If you’re a Trump supporter who thinks Trump is a genius, doesn’t this make a whole lot more sense than the idea that a billionaire business man would exhibit so many crude, stupid, irrational, and dangerous tendencies, still win big, openly flout constitutionality and convention, have so many corrupt and crazy associates in his administration, send Rudy Giuliani onto the major news networks to undermine him at every turn, be allowed to make a fortune off of the Presidency, and risk impeachment? You’ve been played. Trump is a Manchurian candidate, all right; but not for Putin – for the Democrats, the party he belonged to before deciding to run as a Republican – something he said would he could do because he thought Republican voters were stupid enough to support him.
Will It Work?:
Who knows, really. But the centrist Dems are having some unexpected difficulties. Joe Biden, their preferred candidate, is unlikely to be nominated. Same with booker and Steyer. Pete Buttigieg may hang on for a while, but he’s no shoo-in. Kamala Harris is gone. They’ve thrown Bloomberg and Patrick at the wall, but it’s not clear either one will stick. Meanwhile, Bernie is still very much in the fight, and it’s the social democrats who are creating the most excitement in the electorate. They might be able to work out something with Warren, but she’s a loose cannon as a centrist and the oligarchs don’t like her. The wealthy would almost rather have Bernie if they could get a fairly centrist congress.
But for the Republican electorate the bottom line is this. Do you want your party to survive? Then you have only one course of action. Abandon Trump, send Pence home to mother, and let someone like Bill Weld run for President. He practically looks like a centrist Dem already, but a Republican Congress could keep him in line.

The Argument That Ended It All

In Uncategorized on July 3, 2019 at 7:50 am

She said; he said.
She said he said.
He said; she said.
He said she said.
She did not say, she said.
He did not say, he said.
She said she said.
He said he said.
They said they did not say.
They said.
They did not say.
And what was not was said.
And what was, was not.

Off the Interstate in Oklahoma and on again into Arkansas – and Toad Suck.

In Uncategorized on April 3, 2019 at 8:25 pm

Sometimes a day seems long because it has been a day of driving by. For a New Englander on the plains, that means driving for miles and hours by lots of the same. Once we got past Fort Worth, heading north into Oklahoma, we had left the Texas megalopolis behind us, we passed by Denton and stopped at the first rest area/welcome center in the Sooner State. The visitor center part was closed when we got there, but had opened by the time we got up the next morning.
I chatted briefly with the nice lady behind the counter, and she was keen to suggest some things we might do on our way north then east. Since we were already looking to skip around Oklahoma City on a shortcut between I35 and I40, she suggested that we might want to stop in Sulphur. Sounds like a chancy thing, I know, but in fact, Sulphur is the home of the Chickasaw National Recreation Area and the Chickasaw Cultural Center. Good plan.
We got to Sulphur late morning, checked in at the visitor center there, and then crossed the street to the park, where we took a leisurely two-mile walk on a path that crossed some streams, climbed some hills, and circled a multi-acre enclosure of pasture and woods in which a small herd of bison obligingly walked past the designated bison viewpoint or stood quietly under some trees within cell phone photo distance. It really was a lovely walk, something we aren’t getting enough of on this trip.
Then we drove over to the Cultural Center for lunch at the Aaimpa’ Café. Aaimpa’ is apparently the Chicasaw word for “a place to eat.” And all the signs at the center are presented with the Native words followed by the English equivalent. We ate an Indian taco (taco style fillings on frybread), pashofa (white corn hominy cooked with pork), and grape dumplings. The taco was mild and tasty with a little salsa, the grape dumplings were small chunks of pastry in a heavy grape syrup, and the pashofa was excellent if you like bland watery food. I actually do, apparently, when the flavors of the food itself are fresh and authentic.
The Cultural Center overall, is a work in progress. The grounds and buildings are beautiful. The buildings are an orange/tan brick with copper accent walls in the interiors. The campus spills across several acres from a hilltop exhibition hall to a reproduction of a Chickasaw village in a small clearing below. There is an observation deck at the end of a long footbridge overlooking the village that is scarier than it sounds as it is narrow and the decking is wooden slats. There is also an art gallery, a research center and lots of historic markers and statues and artifacts. The museum/exhibition hall is spacious, but under-utilized. A short walk through shows several panoramas, historical discussions, and displays of pottery and weaponry and the tools of everyday life. There is also a gallery with a display of a dozen or more portraits of Chickasaw elders and luminaries. Beautiful work. The artist captures the character in his subjects faces with respect and beauty.
The art gallery has a small collection of works in fabric and paint and sculpture by native artists of all kinds. Again, wonderful stuff, but I wished for something more. This is a place worth visiting anytime, but I wonder how much will be done in the next ten years or so.
Having gotten off the interstate, we decided to take a different route up to our intended campsite in Henryetta; a public park called Nichols Park, where we had read that we could park overnight without utilities for free.
Oklahoma is a land of long straight roads that slide down one hill and up the next, then stretch out to the horizon across open plains. We took OK1 and then US75 across the southeast quarter of the state. The road would stretch out through farms and ranches and distant hills, then suddenly bend and bounce through a small town or moderate city, where proud announcements of the local high school’s athletic achievements; clean, simple libraries and civic building; and a few small businesses shared the main street with abandoned blocks sitting alongside dollar General, Conoco gas stations and Sonic drive-ins. We passed through Ada, a town I had only know existed as the answer to a crossword puzzle clue. We saw the signs announcing that this town was the birthplace of a famous steer wrestler or rodeo hero. And we drove the main streets of Wetumka and Weleetka. Weleetka, the sign at the edge of town informed us was the Creek Indian word for “flowing water,” which caused me to note that “creek” was an English word for the same thing.
(One side note: I am very careful on these travels to obey all speed limits as precisely as possible; a fact that proved its worth in Weleetka when I failed to notice a change in the limit as I drove down a seemingly insignificant little street on my way to GPS-designated turn. I was stopped by a friendly, almost jolly local policeman who turned out to be the town’s police chief. (For all I know he may have been the entire police force.) He was very understanding of the perils of traveling unknown byways for the out-of-state driver and since I was not in his database of chronic offenders or other outlaws, gave me a warning, asked if I, in fact knew where I was going, and wished us a good day. He also handed me a copy of the warning and said, “This is your copy. You can do anything you want to do with it except litter.” I don’t know if I have ever been stopped by a more pleasant officer of the law.
Eventually, we mad our way to Nichols park in Henryetta. Like much of rural America, it is in need of some tender loving care. The old park buildings are in tragic disrepair, despite the fact that the park seems in daily use by people who want to sit and fish by Nichols Lake, picnic along the water or up on the overlook, jog and walk along the roads, or take their kids to the playground on the south side of the lake. They post that they lock the gates every night at ten, which was both reassuring and concerning. We figured we’d be safe, but how would we get out if we needed to? No worries. We slept a bit later than the 8:00 opening of the gates and were apparently the only people in the park all night.
This morning, we looked out toward Arkansas and contemplated how far we might be willing to travel. This usually involves an assessment of distance we need to cover to get home within our planned timeline, thoughts about where me might stop to eat or take care of other needs, such as gasoline, and where we might choose to spend the night.
That’s how I found it. Three-and-a-half hours away down I40. Eighteen to twenty dollars a night for a gravel pad, electricity and water. Not far off the interstate, in the town of Bigelow. Right along the Arkansas River. Toad Suck Park.
Now the ease of access, the cost, and the fact that it was within a reasonable distance were, of course major factors in my decision to stay there, but, honestly, who wouldn’t want to be able to say that they spent a night in Toad Suck Park?
Getting there meant a fairly dry day of coasting along I40, but we had planned one break for lunch and gasoline; and that was serendipitously the first city in Arkansas: Forth Smith. Fort Smith, as it turns out, was once know as Hell on the Border, the place where the United States ran smack up against the Indian Territories, where the Hanging Judge, Judge Parker hanged more than seventy bandits of all descriptions, occasionally as many as six at a time. It was the place where Belle Starr was convicted of robbery and sent on up to Detroit for six months. And it was where Belle’s daughter Pearl Younger Starr ran a brothel down the street from Miss Laura’s Social Club, the most successful house of ill repute in Arkansas and the only brothel that is listed in the National Register of Historic Buildings. WE stopped there after lunch in Fort Smith, and a tour guide named Ken showed us around, telling us stories of Laura and her successors and the building’s good days and bad. We talked about outlaws and U.S. Marshalls, including Bass Reeves, the first Black U.S. Marshall, whom Judge Parker brought to town, and who was o well know for integrity and toughness, and so well respect in the Nations, that some bandits would surrender to him when they heard he was on their trail, because a confrontation would be fatal and he could be counted on for a fair shake. As for integrity, there is a photograph there of the death of a convicted murderer who asked the judge at his trial if he might be allowed to go back home and settle some family affairs before sentence was carried out. The Judge agree on the condition that the condemned man promised to return. He did.
Right across the street from Laura’s is a lovely small park along the Arkansas river. It is a short walk around the perimeter past river views a section of railroad where there is a sign telling people not to lie on top of or under the railcars. The path has markers that tell the story of the Trail of Tears, that great forced, deadly migration of the five tribes into the territories. It can be hard to read, even though the signs insist that all the tribes continue to thrive and prosper today.
We then got back up onto I40 and headed for Toad Suck. Here we will spend the night, with electricity, clean water, hot showers, and a surprise. Toad Suck is a federal area, so my Geezer Pass got us in for half price. The place is incredibly laid back. A nice older lady and gentleman sat in the office when I checked in. They instructed me where to go and choose a site, then return to pay them. Payment had to be in cash, and exact change, as they had no card reader or change on hand. We found a spot, I returned to the office to fill out the info on a small envelope, insert the cash, and deposit the whole thing in a small, brown, locked receptacle outside the office.
It’s easy to get jaded by bureaucracies and the workings of government that seem unable to do even the simplest of things. Then along come a few simply lovely parks, a historic brothel, and Toad Suck.

HonkTX! — and BBQ.

In Uncategorized on April 1, 2019 at 8:26 pm

If you hear the words “marching band” and think of Sousa marches and football half-time: if you picture layer upon layer of teenagers in epaulets and boots parading through the streets in between fire trucks and convertibles full of celebrities and beauty queens; well, one good Honk! Festival could change your life.
HonkTX! Is one of several Honk! Festivals that happen at various times around the country, including the Pronk! Festival in Providence RI.
Honk! festivals are a celebration of street music, more akin to Mardi Gras than Macy’s. These are mainly community bands, sometimes ragtag collections of trumpets and saxophones and tubas and trombones and percussion, with a smattering of clarinets, and the occasional flute or mouth piano, but rarely any strings. They tend to be eclectic and inclusive. Anyone can join in, you don’t have to be professional caliber, just committed, passionate about fun and the music, and willing to put on something outrageous and get up in front of people. The quality of the music may vary according to the musicians and the conductors, but the quality of the joy rarely flags.
People travel to see their hometown favorites play alongside and around the corner from other bands, but it’s a festival, not a competition. In Texas this weekend there are bands from Massachusetts (Somerville sent TWO), Rhode Island, Pennsylvania, Ohio: and those are just the ones we’ve seen. There are bands from Brazil, El Salvador, Missouri, Washington, Illinois, New York, Kentucky, and of course, Texas. We are here because Extraordinary Rendition Band, from Providence, are friends of ours, and it was past time for a road trip in Gallivan.
The musicians are of all ages. You’ll see and eighty-year-old wearing his rub board and dancing through the streets in the same band as his son plays the sax. (That would be our dear friends Greg and Matt.) I recently discovered that a man I have known for at least thirty years plays clarinet with ERB.
A band called Big Blitz, out of Pittsburgh, consists of three incredible young men, two of them brothers. Lucas and Nick Grabigel are brothers — Lucas plays the tenor and baritone sax, Mason plays drums (also guitar, but Honk! was all about the brass). The third member of the trio is Mason Ciesielski on tenor sax. These guys rock. Only one of them (Lucas?) is out of high school.
But the distinctions are convenient, not solid. Around Austin you could hear members of various bqnds jamming and mixing it up. Some players even belong to more than one band and simply chose which one to travel to Austin with. All in all, for three days, the streets of Austin were filled with music and dancing and fun.
And costumes. The street bands are all decked out in bright colors (except a few Goth-looking groups), feathers, fancy hats, beads, ribbons, braids, and bangles.
And there is food. Turn in any direction and there are BBQ joints. Sam’s BBQ is one of the favorites. Sam has been making barbecued ribs and brisket forever. If you get there when the ribs are ready, they will literally fall off the bone. No, really, when Sam is satisfied they’re done you can pick up the bone and the meat will stay on the plate.
Austin can be hard to drive through when the traffic builds up on East 51st St. or Guadalupe Boulevard or the other major roads through downtown, but no more so than any good sized city. The difference is that Austin has grown so rapidly in the Texas tech boom, that they don’t seem to have figured out how to manage all that traffic. You can drive all the way from MLK Boulevard to 29th ST. on Guadalupe and never find a place to make a left-hand turn. If you live there, though, you can bypass all that with the rental scooters or bicycles. The city is criss-crossed with protected bike lanes.
There is a flock, by the way, of wild parakeets in Austin, mostly centered on Hemphill park. Apparently, several parakeets escaped from their cages, eventually found each other and, having few natural predators and enough natural camouflage to make them difficult to spot even a few feet away in the trumpet vines, have created an immigrant community in the heart of the city.
It was fun. It was tiring. Today, we finally said our goodbyes to Austin and our see-ya-laters to friends from Rhode Island and Connecticut, and headed up I35 toward Oklahoma. Tonight we will sleep at the Oklahoma Welcome Center and tomorrow make our way to Oklahoma City, I40, and back toward home.
Oh, and our refrigerator door broke. It’s apparently a common occurrence, as the top hinge is not well designed. But we stuck the short end of an Allen wrench into the socket, braced the door against the ravages of rough roads and potholes, and we are on our way.

All Grown Up

In No Particular Path, Uncategorized on December 31, 2018 at 9:11 am

The old man asked the child.
What do you dream of doing in your life, what would you like to be?

The child responded.
Do you mean when I grow up?

And the old man shook his head gently, but smiled, remembering.
Grow up? Why on Earth would you want to do that?
Listen to me. I have become old learning this.
Some day; at eighteen or twenty-five or forty or eighty years of age, perhaps; you may get up out of your bed, or linger wistfully over your breakfast, or stop halfway through chewing a bite of your sandwich, or see yourself mirrored in a darkened window, or sit alone in your chair, and suddenly see that you are grown up. And you will wonder, oh my god, when did that happen? You may even feel a bit of panic, wondering if you’re ready yet, or if it is already too late.
But the truth is that there is no time or place in life where you will be grown up. For growing up is the work of your life, not the end of it.
Choose well who and what you want to be today.  Do as well as you can what you want or need to do today.  Grow a little more like yourself today than you were yesterday; and you won’t have to think or worry about what you will be when you are as old as I am now. You will simply be what you have always been and what you have wanted to be.
Whatever you choose to do; whatever goals you set; whatever your accomplishments, large or small; whatever titles or labels you accumulate, and whether you wear them with pride or humility or uncomfortably or with regret; don’t let them trap you into being all grown up. Don’t let them define you, for definitions can become limits.

And the child looked sad then, and the old man wished, for just a moment, that he had not asked the question.

Why, the child asked, have you never told me this before now?

And, alone in his room, sitting in his chair, looking out the window at the new day, the old man sighed deeply. And a tear ran down his cheek.
Finally, he stood up. He put on his jacket, opened his door, and stepped outside. He turned around and looked for a moment at the walls within which he had been living for so long.
Today, the child said, I will be brave. Today I will do something new. Today I will stop being grown up.
And tomorrow I will, if I can, be whatever tomorrow offers me to be, and I will do whatever tomorrow brings me to do.
So, the old man, with the child guiding him, faced away from the walls and stepped into the world.

I’m a Democratic Socialist – but I repeat myself; Voting as a Socialist Act

In PeaceAble, Politics, Uncategorized on August 8, 2018 at 12:16 pm

In all societies, power moves upward, from the masses of people who individually hold little power to the powerful few who collect and hoard whatever power they can extract from the many.
The core misunderstanding a great many people have about socialism is that it is simply an economic system in which money is redistributed from the wealthy to the poor. But money is just one form of power, and socialism more broadly is a philosophical system that advocates for the redistribution of all forms of power from those who hoard it to those who need to use it for their survival, as a way to guarantee a more equitable distribution of resources.
Every time a democracy holds an election, it is a deliberate act of redistributing power.
When a voter enters the polling both, he brings with him all his power. When he chooses a candidate and casts a vote he gives a small amount of his power to the candidate. That power, combined with the power contained by all those who vote for the candidate becomes the candidate’s power. If the candidate loses the election she can use that collected power as credibility to continue to argue for the policies she supports (and for which people supported her). If she wins the election she can apply the collected power to directly seek to influence policy in her elective position.
It’s important to note that the power the elected official has collected through votes does not obligate her to use that power exactly as the individual voters might have hoped. Each voter is only transferring a small amount of power, and individual voters may have different and conflicting ideas and needs. And, just as spending a few bucks at your favorite store does not give you any ability to tell the store owner how to spend his money, your individual vote doesn’t give you any special power to control the actions of the elected official. When you voted, however, you didn’t give up all your power, only a small piece of it, and that piece will be coming back to you at the next election.
Also, you still retain significant power once you realize that it isn’t about you, but about all of us. You gave your power to a candidate during an election, now you can give it to a cause, a movement, or an idea. Every time you contribute to an organization working for something you believe in, you use your power. Every time you choose to shop at a particular business or to withhold your patronage, you use your power. Every time you get into a discussion with your friends and acquaintances about something happening in the world and find your own mind or someone else’s changing, even a bit, you have used your power. Every time you step up in defense of those who cannot defend themselves, to speak for those whose voices are not being heard, you use your power. If there is a blue wave in November, it won’t just be because a lot of people used their power at the polls, but because a lot of people have been using their power all along in both large and small ways.
Power, like every valuable thing, isn’t dependent on exactly how much one has of it, but how that compares to what others have. You are only as power rich as others are power poor. The powerful few do not, of course, want to give up their power. They will hoard whatever they can of it. Voter suppression is theft of power. Voter apathy is the squandering of power. Fewer people voting means there are fewer people to convince that they should give a candidate their power. If a party sees that a minority of voters agree with them on the issues, but can control which people don’t vote they can make it more likely that those who do vote will be those who will give them power. And if significant numbers of people voluntarily don’t vote, the party or candidate that wins assumes these non-voter’s power as well. It’s like a power tax. If you don’t vote for anything, then it’s assumed that you support those who won. After all, if you didn’t support them, you would have voted against them.
Polls show over and over again that when it comes to some of the most important and most party-line divisive issues this country is facing, issues like abortion and women’s health, income and wealth inequity, gun laws and regulation, health care, Social Security and Medicare, the social safety net, there is significant agreement about what needs to be done, if not how to do it. So, if the people who have been elected aren’t doing those things, then we need to exert our power to elect those who will.
Power is interchangeable, too. Those with a significant amount of one kind of power can use it to acquire and protect other forms power. Thus, political power can provide access to wealth and vice-versa. Someone like David Koch or Sheldon Adelson or, to be fair, George Soros, can exert enormous power all by himself, but the rest of us have to organize, we have to work together, we have to find common ground and common purpose.
We have to vote. Every time. No exceptions.
And we have to stay involved. All the time. In between elections, not just every two or four years, not just about who is going to be President, but who is going to sit on our school boards or decide our zoning or whether the town needs a new pickup truck or some new textbooks.
Doing that doesn’t start after the parties have decided who their candidates are going to be. It doesn’t start by deciding that your only choice is the lesser of two evils. It starts when you understand that you have power and that you are unconsciously giving away that power every day; and you decide to stop doing that.
If this is to be a government of, by, and for the people, then the people have to be involved. Those who represent us are spending our collective power. It is up to us, then, to keep letting them know how we want that power spent, and give our power to those who will listen.

The Learned Hypocrisy of Being Human

In No Particular Path, PeaceAble, Uncategorized on July 30, 2018 at 10:44 am

To be human is to live in contradiction.
Perfect consistency is impossible for us. We think too much; we feel too much; we believe too much. We invented philosophy and science, and art, and morality. And every time we think that these have given us an answer that is final, that is absolute, that we can rely on, that is true, the world changes and we change and the answers have to change as well.
But change is hard, so we cling as long as possible to the old truths, accepting only what in our pain and our grief and our fear we can no longer deny; and contorting ourselves to make everything fit. We shake our heads in disbelief at our own contradictions, and label others’ inconsistencies as hypocrisy.
But it’s really just all of us being human.
I just read something that asked the question, “How could we go so abruptly from Barack Obama to Donald Trump?” How could the same country elect an erudite, scholarly, compassionate and thoughtful leader, then replace him with a crude, anti-intellectual, self-aggrandizing, impulsive one? Which of these very opposite men really represents who we are?
The answer is, of course, that they both do.
We have evolved into creatures who deal with the natural conflicts and dangers of the world by contriving to make them more contentious and more dangerous. There are real solutions to the real problems of the world. There are more than sufficient resources. But we allow our worst traits, our basest instincts, our superstitions and prejudices and fear to rule us; we hoard our resources instead of using them, we reject comprehensive solutions to complex problems in favor of simplistic analyses and short-sighted solutions. We proclaim our desire for peace and understanding, we pray for the relief of suffering and ask why we can’t all just get along; but we refuse to do what is necessary to achieve those things. If we can’t see a way to fix something right now, for all time, without any sacrifice or compromise on our part, we tell ourselves that no solution exists at all.
We are simultaneously all that is good in the world and all that is evil. And every choice we make is a choice to turn in the direction of one or the other. Our moral compass is broken and we have lost our ability to find our way in the wilderness.
We are polarized because we have made a choice to declare ourselves only half of who we are, and to further assert that our chosen half of this bifurcated self is the only acceptable truth, the only reality.
The contradictions remain, of course, but rather than acknowledge them and try to understand how they make us whole, we either deny them or tie ourselves in knots trying to fit them into the incomplete self we cling to.
We do not live linear lives. Our stories are told first in stream of consciousness, and we try to understand who we are by rewriting the stories until they make sense; but each story needs to make sense on its own as well as finding a place in the whole anthology of our lives, and we need to forget so much to make that happen.
I am a man and a male. How can I change the normative misogyny and chauvinism of the culture unless I can acknowledge that it lives within me? I can’t remove it from my experience, from the teachings that shaped me. It’s there. It always will be. But when I allow myself to see it I am better able to see my way forward; so that there may come a time when we will have raised a generation that never learned it in the first place. I’m not a feminist because I have never seen the feminine as less, but because I have, and I am working to change that in me as well as in the society.
I come most directly from pink-skinned European ancestors. How can I change the normative xenophobia and racism of the culture unless I acknowledge that I carry within me the same learned fear of the other, of the different, that I wish to change? I don’t seek racial justice and equality because I have never felt afraid, but because I have, and I’m working to change that in me as well as in the society.
I am cisgender and heterosexual. How can I change the normative homophobia of the culture unless I acknowledge that I have feared and felt shamed by the feminine in myself, that I have questioned my own capacity for intimacy, both emotional and physical, with both women and men? I don’t fight for the humanity of those who are homosexual, or bisexual, or transgendered, or gender non-conforming, or to allow everyone to love whomever they love because I was never told that my feminine was weakness and abomination, but because I was; and I’m trying to change that in myself as well in the society.
If we are going to tell our stories authentically and honestly and make it possible for others to do the same, then we cannot forget, cannot leave out, the parts that make us contradictory, inconsistent, and even sometimes hypocritical.
There is no high road or low road; there is only the path we have walked thus far, with its hills and valleys, its twists and turns and detours, its dark passages and glorious vistas; for there is no way forward except from where we are right now.

Cultural Normalization and “Manchester by the Sea”

In PeaceAble, Uncategorized on January 30, 2017 at 11:48 am

Aspects of the norm in any culture are expressed and reinforced in small, subtle and pervasive acts of acceptance.  There are innumerable ways in which our cultural norms are transmitted, with public media an important part of the whole.  My intent here is to use a personal critique of the Oscar-nominated film “Manchester by the Sea” to illustrate how we are led into unconscious acceptance and reinforcement of cultural norms.

First, let me say that media do not, for the most part, create norms or cause cultural change.  The media, including the artists who work in the media, reflect more than create subjective reality.  Films are created at least in part with an intent to make money.  They will only do that if they appeal to a significant part of the available audience.  The best way to ensure that is to reflect the feelings, attitudes, ideas, and perceptions the audience already holds.  Films that challenge our perceptions may achieve critical success, but rarely achieve box-office success.

Also, it is entirely possible for a film to be artistically successful but culturally problematic.  When that happens, it is useful to point out both the artistic quality and the cultural problems.  Failure to do that, in my opinion, reinforces the expressed norms and inhibits cultural change.

“Manchester by the Sea” is in many ways a very well made film.  There is some remarkable acting, though I did not find Casey Affleck’s performance equal to the over-the-top hype that so many reviewers seem intent on propagating.  It’s a solid performance, but hardly revolutionary.  And the film is not without its flaws.  I was especially disappointed in the script over all.  Despite some nice moments of dialogue and character interaction, the story is slow to get started, keeps wandering off into side stories that are never adequately resolved or clearly connected to the main thrust of the narrative.  And the resolution at the end of the film seems hurried and not well developed.  The final decisions of everyone involved seem nearly a deus ex machina rather than a clear consequence of the characters’ earlier choices.

But the larger objection I make to the film is not about the quality of the production.  In fact, the quality of the production actually exacerbates the problem I have with it; for the higher the quality of the art, the easier it is for us to overlook the cultural issues it raises and the problematic norms it reinforces.

The film’s characters, who are faithfully and authentically portrayed, represent a privileged masculine norm that goes unrecognized and unquestioned.  The men are uncommunicative, shallow and misogynistic.  The female characters are all treated badly, either directly abused, or ignored and dismissed, or left hanging in unfinished side stories.  The 15 year-old boy, Patrick, is sleeping with one girl and plotting to sleep with another; and his uncle blithely and without comment agrees to keep everything a secret so that the girls’ parents don’t find out about the sex and the girls don’t find out about each other.  Patrick’s mother is presented as unfit to raise him because she is portrayed as a frightened, somewhat dim-witted and hysterical woman under the sway of a “Christian” fanatic in a side story that is unnecessary, stereotypical, and unexplained.  Lee Chandler blows off his ex-wife’s attempt to come to terms with the past in a particularly cruel way and the whole thing is just passed over, providing no closure and no attempt at understanding.  Several smaller female characters are introduced for a moment to offer criticisms or critiques or some small incident, but their contributions are either ignored or trivialized.

And the men don’t fare much better from this version of what it means to be a guy.  Lee’s brother apparently never told Lee just how close to death he was, nor asked his permission to assign him as guardian for Patrick, nor provided any clue as to how that could be managed.  Given Lee’s emotional state and the conditions of his life, those failures are cruel to both Lee and Patrick; and have the potential for absolute disaster.  While that is part of what creates the core conflict in the film, it is never addressed honestly for what it is.  Lee and Patrick communicate mostly through grunts and shrugs, although Patrick often seems the closest to an adult in the room; and most of the really consequential communication Lee has with his brother’s friends and associates seems to take place off-screen, while the on-screen exchanges are fraught with unspoken emotions.  This, we are to accept, is how these men communicate.  And that’s true, but the possibility that that might just be the real problem here is never explored and nothing about it ever changes.

I bring all this up not because I want anyone to not see the film.  As I have said, it is over all a well-made film, with much about it that is worth seeing.  And the characters, however flawed, are portrayed honestly by talented actors.  I am really talking here about culture and how norms are established and reinforced.

Day by day, we all encounter situations where we are presented with examples of cultural norms in action.  We see advertisements all around us for cosmetics for women and power tools for men.  We see magazine articles that propose to tell men and women separately what the other really wants and how to “win” them.  We click on a FB link because we are teased by a sexy body or a provocative headline.  A co-worker tells us a joke involving a dumb blonde woman or a grotesque caricature of a “Mexican.”  And we hear people “man-splaining” and “white-splaining” and “straight-splaining” why things are as they are.  And if we do not, whenever possible and safe to do so, point out the cultural norms inherent in those things, or fail to say why they are a problem, then the normalcy of them is reinforced.  Every time we fail to question the logic in the ads, every time we buy the magazine and read the articles without response, every time we click on the link or smile politely at the joke or fail to see things as they really are, the norms are reinforced.

I know that movies are fiction.  I know that they are portraying real things.  And I know that we are all capable of convincing ourselves that we have the maturity, the insight, and the self-awareness to consume these things without being corrupted by them.  But cultural norms aren’t fixed by our opinions of our own virtues.  If there are things about the culture that you feel need to change; if you believe that women, non-whites, people of other nationalities or religions or ethnicities, the disadvantaged and disenfranchised need to be included, given equality of representation and opportunity, and given a chance for economic equity; then the culture will need to change.  And cultures are most permanently changed by the small, everyday reactions we have to the constant onslaught of normative messages.

Do you think that our culture is too violent, too warlike, too quick to attack and too slow to seek more peaceable solutions to our problems?  Then look for the violence in your own life, in your entertainments, in your myths and heroes.  Acknowledge that it is there and question its place in your life and in the culture.  And look for the opportunities you are given to choose the peaceable route.

Do you think our culture makes second-class citizens of our women?  Look in your own life for the small things you do or fail to do that are consistent with that.  Recognize how your own life has reinforced those things in you.  Know that you are not immune, and that changing the culture requires constant checking in with ourselves to see how we are falling prey to norms we claim to disdain.

Do you want to support equal and fair treatment of non-whites, non-Christians, and the LGBTQ+ community?  Take note of your own internal reactions.  Do feel you afraid, even slightly, in encountering the other?  Can you acknowledge that the racism or xenophobia or homophobia of the culture that has raised you has affected you, that you are not completely free of its influences?  Can you recognize and own those times when you have behaved badly, perhaps without intent or awareness, but badly all the same?

And did you go to see a film like “Manchester by the Sea” and not at least make note of the fact that what you just saw was filled with misogyny and male privilege and a cultural perspective that is exactly what we need to change?  And did you say anything?

Art is one of the most powerful purveyors of cultural norms.  Film has a way of drawing us into the reality it seeks to portray.  Indeed, the suspension of disbelief, the acceptance of the terms a film sets for itself is central to its success.  But after the viewing, take the time to talk about more than just whether Casey Affleck is the best thing since Brando, or who might get the Oscar nod, or how interesting and beautiful the cinematography was.  Talk about what the film has to say about all of us as human beings, and what it has to say about what is normal in our culture.  Then ask yourself what you want to do about it.

A Very Short Love Story

In Uncategorized on January 10, 2016 at 12:54 pm

“I’m afraid,” she said.

“What are you afraid of?” he asked.

“Does it matter?” she asked.

“Yes,” he answered.

“I’m afraid of loving you,” she replied.

And he looked at her across his coffee. And she looked out the window at a leaf still clinging to a branch long after it should have fallen.

After a while, he got up and took his cup to the sink.

“I am also afraid,” he said, with his back to her, “of loving you.”

And she looked at him now. She looked at the way his hair stood up in an unruly hedge in the morning; and she thought of the way his eyes seemed always to stay so shyly behind his lids. Then he turned around and he looked at how the one wrinkle had deepened on the side of her mouth where her smile mostly went, at how she slipped one finger through the handle of her cup as she encircled it and lifted it to drink.

“But,” he said, “I am not at all afraid of being loved by you.”

And she smiled. And he smiled.

“No,” she said. I am not afraid of that, either.”

And they agreed to live in what they were not afraid of. And after a time, they came to realize that they were no longer afraid at all.

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