Monthly Archives: December 2012

Traitors/Racists

What we have here, America, is the civil rights’ battle all over again but on a higher plane. Apparently Republicans don’t believe that Obama, because he is “a black man” can be trusted to run the country. They intend to run the country from behind the scenes. Sometimes I think I can almost hear that old racist adjective “uppity” being used by certain congress people when privacy is available (I hope not). They keep arguing that because they were re-elected to the House of Representatives they have almost as much political cachet as Obama, who after all, received only 51% of the vote. The percent doesn’t matter because the election is over and we picked Obama. You held on to the House of Representative through gerrymandering and voter restrictions. You cheated. So even if 49% of Americans agree with you (which we know is not the case, because there were also independent voters) it doesn’t matter. Obama won both the Presidency and the Senate. He won. You lost. If the House of Representatives really has enough power to have their way with America we need to amend the Constitution.

These guys are really American traitors who will not do what the people want because they have decided that it is not the right path to take. It is not up to them to decide, on their own, the path that America will take. We did not vote for small government, although you have harped on it for almost Obama’s entire first term. We voted for smart government; a government just the right size that will honor our rights and help the middle class thrive. You have fought for small government for a long time. Why make this moment your last ditch stand? You don’t have the American voters on your side. The party of small government is not in control of the American government. One House of Congress is not “control”, although you are using it that way. That is wrong. You are wrong. And Grover Norquist is also wrong; he is not in charge of America either.

Because Republicans don’t need us to man their factories, because they have huge new sources of inexpensive labor the rich say they will not continue to contribute the lion’s share of their tax dollars to the programs that benefit the middle and lower classes (the now unnecessary worker class), Did you watch the opening ceremony when the Olympics was in Beijing? I thought it would be all technology – it wasn’t – it was all people, wall-to-wall people; people with skills. But these social programs the Republicans want so much to abandon are the very programs that help keep America great. Apparently, if we want our social programs we need to find a way to pay for them that does not include tax monies from the top 2%. But if we do, and someone from the top finds their way to the bottom of the pile once again they will have to assume that they will be excluded from the social programs they refused to help pay for.

None of this excuses their traitorous behavior. They took jobs in Congress under false pretentions.  None of this excuses their racist behavior. They have no intention of letting “a black man” set policy for the United States. He is not one of them and they will never let him forget it. And if you want to see what they want, look to Michigan.

Send our representatives home! Disband Congress or at least the House! Redraw the gerrymander lines back to the Clinton era lines and hold a new Congressional election with severe spending limits in place. Reconvene Congress. Design a structure that will allow us to contribute, over and above our usual  Social Security and Medicare contributions, whatever we can afford, to keep social programs open and functioning. Find a path that keeps our social programs or strengthens them through the combination of increased revenue, surgical cuts and targeted spending. You need to get over yourselves and enact the people’s business or you need to go home. I don’t like to believe that the Republicans have become traitors and racists, but I just cannot justify their current behavior any other way.

This is the view from the cheap seats.

Flight Behavior by Barbara Kingsolver – Book

Barbara Kingsolver has written a number of novels and I have read most of them. She wrote The Lacuna, Prodigal Summer, The Poisonwood Bible, Pigs in Heaven, Animal Dreams, The Bean Trees, and her current novel, Flight Behavior. Kingsolver is a queen of dialogue and this current novel includes humorous dialogue. She even adds humor and character to narrative passages.

“The sheep in the field below the Turnbow family land, the white frame house she had not slept outside for a single night in the ten-plus years of marriage: that was pretty much it. The wide-screen version of her life since age seventeen, Not including the brief hospital excursions, childbirth related. Apparently today was the day she walked out of the picture.” p. 2

This is what Dellarobia Turnbow sees when she turns back for a second from her headlong walk up the mountain to satisfy a lust she has developed for a handsome, young telephone man. (Lot’s wife turning to salt is mentioned, but Dellarobia doesn’t turn to salt.) Instead, as she continues to climb, she finds the landscape altered. Large brown bulbous structures are attached to all the fir trees. They appear to be some kind of fungus. When she can finally look out over the edge of the mountain she sees orange everywhere. It shimmers and waves as if the woods are on fire. She is afraid that there is a fire and she will be killed on the mountain top with her guilty conscience and everyone will know she tried to commit adultery which now seems not to be in the cards for today.

Her husband is Cub, a gentle soul who will probably never actually grow up. Her children are Cordelia and Preston. Her in-laws are on the land next door, Bear and Hester. We are at the southern end of the Applachians, in Kentucky, a place that figures in several of Kingsolver’s stories and, in fact, where she lives today.

“She stared at Cub, trying to find holy matrimony in there, pushing her way back through the weeds as she always did. To what she’d seen in him when she was still looking: the narrow face and long chin that gave an impression of leanness, despite his burgeoning middle. The thick lashes and dark, ruler-straight eyebrows like an interrupted pencil line across his forehead, behind the pale forelock that hung in his eyes. The cause of their marriage had been conspicuous at the wedding, but she’d gone a little foggy on earlier motives. She recalled a nice truck, other plans canceled, an ounce of pity maybe. A boy named Damon who’d kissed her half to death and then left her for dead, on the rebound. And there stood Cub, with his rock-steady faith that she knew more than he did, in any situation outside of automotive repair. His bewildered sexual gratitude, as near a thing to religious awe as a girl of her station could likely inspire. These boyish things made him lovable. But you could run out of gas on boyish, that was the thing. A message that should be engraved in every woman’s wedding band.” P. 19

We see Dellarobia’s discontent with her marriage which she has almost just sabotaged for a fling. But that orange “fire” on the mountain top turns out to be just about the entire population of monarch butterflies for the continents of North and South America. And they are in the wrong place at the wrong time. At first it seems like a blessing and Dellarobia loves them for their beauty. Until she meets Ovid Byron, an environmental scientist born on the island of St. Thomas with his devastatingly exotic appearance and accent. Of course, we know Dellarobia will fall in love with him but that is not at all the point of this story. As Ovid studies the butterflies to discover why they are in the Southern Appalachians instead of in Mexico where they should be, Dellarobia learns about her own intelligence and her desire to contribute to life in her own right instead of just as someone’s wife. Ovid employs her to work in his lab and tells her she has a knack for science. This is better than the telephone man.

All right, it is a book about climate change, global warming, extinction of species and the possible extinction of mankind. Kingsolver is an environmentalist and the topic makes an appearance in most of her books. I enjoy fiction and I enjoy Kingsolver’s characters and her ability to capture modern cultural subsets, often quite out of the mainstream. She tells a good story. I also believe in climate change and all of the above so the combination of a good story and attempts to make humans feel guilty about what we are doing to our planet don’t really bother me. I liked Dellarobia and her family. I like Ovid and all the people, scientists and tourists, who wander around the Turnbow mountaintop to observe, in their separate ways, the phenomenon of the monarchs. I will complain that the book was too long. I was ready for Kingsolver to wrap it up awhile before page 416. But the characters and the book are memorable and I was, for a time, set down in Dellarobia’s Appalachian world, which is like mine in some ways, but also, oh so different. And who doesn’t love monarch butterflies and a great canary in the mine story. If you are a climate change denier this book should be for you, but you probably won’t want to read it.


Snow: Two Snow Jobs

I am caught between two “snow jobs”. The first is this fiscal cliff crap. I cannot believe the Republican Party or the NRA. Both have become so stubborn and inflexible about their points of view that they are actually winning their way or at least not giving ground by just crossing their arms and looking stern. These are mostly old white guys trying to stop the deluge of change in America. It’s not that any of us look forward to change. Most people don’t like change very much. But it sure looks like change is inevitable. I doubt that it can be stopped. If American becomes a Caucasian bastion of wealth and privilege what happens to the rest of Americans? Do we all just leave them to this vast land or do we fight back. The fact that there are more minority people in America than Caucasians seems to have turned Republicans into authoritarian patriarchs who are taking over our government, the people’s government, by just saying no. It is astonishing to observe that we are relatively helpless to move them because we gave them back control over the House of Representatives. 

Can we disband our Congress and start over, allowing none of the old players to return except those recently elected? If people in Congress are staging a virtual coup does disbanding the Congress have to signal a revolution? I don’t want a revolution. I like America. What I am extremely unhappy about and what bothers me every day is the “snow job” being perpetuated against the American people by the Republican Party. We could really use our old white guys. They have run the country for years. They know how to do it when they want to. But we don’t need them to be hide-bound and reactionary. We need them to teach those coming up through the ranks. Please get a grip on yourselves, and be the Grand Old Party in truth instead of this ridiculous immovable bunch of useless old men (and young men who act like old men).

For my second “snow job” pictures will speak louder than words:


For this snow job all I need is a shovel. That’s the implement we should also choose to deal with the Washington snow job.


Cookies

I should write more about the fiscal cliff because if I don’t call attention to it every day I am superstitious enough to believe it will negatively affect the outcome. I should write something about killing and mayhem because it has struck again in Rochester, NY, but I missed Christmas. I was sick with bronchitis and not presentable so I spent the day dozing on my sofa, which did get me out of doing the dishes, but it also left a little hole in my year.

I come from a very large family and Christmas is always a wonderful time for us. Unlike some families, if you can believe the movies, our family is not too dysfunctional. We mostly love each other dearly and get along pretty well too. So of course I missed all of the family interactions of Christmas – all the litany of a traditional Christmas dinner (turkey and ham, dressing, sweet potatoes, lots of gravy). I missed the chaos in the small family kitchen where certain appointed family members put the finishing touches on the meal. It is someone’s responsibility to mash the potatoes. My brother-in-law always cuts all the meat into perfect slices. Another sister is the oven jockey, changing out the turkey for other dishes that require warming and, finally, browning the rolls. I can cook but I don’t have a cooking role on Christmas. My role is setting out the cookie trays, clearing them before dinner and setting up the buffet, because we can’t all fit at the table. It is my job to make sure there is a giant spoon for each dish that requires one. Christmas is crowded and may appear messy, but it is really like a well-oiled machine.

After dinner when all hunger is banished we gather around the tree. We ignore the children who are whiney and tired because they don’t want us anywhere near them. We choose one lucky child to play Santa and to pass out all of the presents, slowly, so we can savor this second ritual.

Then there is often a game played at the cleared family dining table where pie is served and cookies once again come into focus. Not everyone plays the game. Some snooze, some visit, some deal with the children who, now that the gifts are opened, just usually want to go home.

I can’t write about the serious topics of the day because what actually is occupying my mind today (I must be feeling better) is the cookies. There are certain cookies we only have at Christmas. I helped bake them. I helped frost them. Some of our favorites are pressed cookies (also called tea dainties) and those sugary vanilla cut outs that look like Christmas trees and Santas. We usually have some banana bread and date nut bread with cream cheese to spread, not really cookies but part of the pre- dinner dining table spread. Sometimes we have those mini pecan pie cookies, yum, so delicious or the tiny cupcake-shaped cheesecakes with cherries on top. I do like pie, but on Christmas it is the cookies that tempt me most. I try to spread my intake out over the day, but sometimes they just call out to me with their siren call. My sister and my mom say they are saving some for me. We shall see, because we are definitely a family of cookie monsters. So I will feast on some pictures of cookies I have known and loved since I had to miss the real thing.

Our Fiscal Fate – then and now

 
 

We are waiting to learn our fiscal fate. What will happen to our taxes? What will happen to “entitlements”? We have been going round and round about this for years now. I could not believe when the GOP first started talking about our safety net programs as “entitlements”. I was really astounded when they seemed ready to scrap these programs completely, It kind of came out of the blue and I will admit, it shocked me. I did not foresee this attack. Now, of course, we have been through the mill on this one. We have had the privatize discussions (vouchers). We have had the deadbeat discussions (so insulting), But I still thought it was apparent that cutting social programs is not what most Americans see as desirable. And yet these cuts are still on the table after all this time. True, cutting the CPI used to calculate Social Security cost of living raises is not the end the world, but I just did not believe that we would dun our seniors for their meager financial protections. Of course, other cuts are just as unpalatable and no one wants to see cuts that affect the poor (well, except that radical wing in the Republican Party.) Cuts have to be made somewhere. So we will wait it out to see what kind of deal can be hammered out between Congress and the President and we will hope that President Obama doesn’t get in one of his compromising moods where he gives away the store. Social Security is not broke yet. It is a solvent fund and a separate budget item. When I first heard talk of these cuts I thought that they would never happen. Here is what I said two and a half years ago:

The idea of small federal government or “federalism” which may have been appropriate in the 1770’s or even in the 1860’s is not a useful concept in the 21st century. Our population is huge compared to the population in 18th and 19th century America. Our society has become skewed in that the rules have favored the rich for so long that a few people have cornered most of the wealth. Our forefathers were elitist. They did not put too fine a point on the rights of people who did not own land.

We are experiencing a return to elitism. Those who have been financially successful want to cut the rest of us loose now that we have become a drag on the economy instead of a useful work force (cash cow). They want to end all entitlements – no Social Security-no Medicaid-no Medicare. Then they could just pocket our tax dollars in the name of jump-starting the economy.

This approach will not really satisfy anyone. Pretty soon they’ll be tripping over us on the streets, we will have massive new slums, crime rates will rise, disease rates will rise. America will not look or feel anything like America.

This is what the Tea Party wants to do. This is what the Republicans want to do. It is all about greed and the status quo (those with the dollars get to keep the dollars.)

 

So keep watching our politicians this week. I bet we are going there, it is just a matter of how bad it will be.

My Digital Christmas in Paris

Last, but not least I will play out my fantasy of Christmas in Paris, digitally of course, because it is the only way I can afford to go to Paris this Christmas. In Paris I think I would wander the streets and soak up the ambience, the sights and the scents. Of course Paris would be decked out in its finest for the holidays and so the City of Lights would be even brighter than usual. I would wander by the Eiffel Tower because it is sure to be beautifully decorated. The Arc de Triomphe will also look lovely bien sur. Paris is an old city with a patina of romance and style and deliciousness. Some of the restaurants would have to be sampled. I don’t imagine that I would be able to afford most of the shopping in Paris, but if there are any flea markets in winter I would like to visit them and find a few treasures to take home with me. I must also stop by as many patisseries as I can fit into my visit. How do you say twinkle lights in French? I don’t know, but I do know that Paris does have a love affair with the twinkle lights so it will sparkle. Joyeux Noel! Next year Rome.

The NRA-How Disappointing, How Predictable

Before we heard the NRA leadership speak up on Friday it sounded as if they were humbled by the events in Newtown, CT but when they spoke on television in that very odd media event, on the last day in the Mayan calendar, they were not in the least apologetic. Now I understand why guys like to use the phrase “double down” so much because that is exactly what the NRA did. “The only thing that will stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun,” they said. I am not sure this would past the tests of logic, or that if a Venn drawing were made of this statement, it would be at all accurate. Let me just mention two possibilities that are not considered in this tautology: 1) if the gun was not available in the first place the bad guy would not have the gun, and, 2) If the bad guy happened to be a mentally ill young person mental health intervention might prevent the act of desperation. The media is reminding us that there was an armed guard at Columbine and he was unable to stop the killers.

The NRA recommended a National Shield Program for schools which would place a security guard with a gun in every school. They showed no interest in limiting the kinds of guns available to citizens or limiting the availability of clips containing large numbers of bullets. They insist that we need these guns to keep our government honest and to dissolve our government should it become necessary. That certainly is the intent of the Constitution, although after seeing some of the radical ideas held by some of my fellow Americans I fear that it would be possible for a small minority to cause an inordinate amount of grief if they so chose, and it seems possible that they could so choose at any moment. Our country is a lot bigger than it was when the Constitution was written, with a much larger population and more lethal weapons.

The NRA made a scathing argument against violent video games, music, and movies without so much as one consideration for another Constitutional guarantee which is often cited by those who create these kinds of items, a guarantee known as the Freedom of Speech amendment which is every bit as difficult to like when it is used to protect things we don’t like or which we don’t think are healthy influences in our society.

I do not believe that we are free to harm each other. We hold to the ideals of the pursuit of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness for all, not just for some. Even in a free society freedom is not absolute. When we own a house we are admonished that we hold it for purposes of quiet enjoyment. We are always asked to be mindful of our neighbors. No one is suggesting banning all guns. Hunters and gun enthusiasts will be able to possess their guns as long as they are responsible and keep their guns safe. Limiting guns that fire large multiples of bullets without reloading seems perfectly reasonable but not when you propose it to a group of people who are anything but reasonable.

The NRA must believe that they alone know how to read the Constitution, that they have a direct line to the forefathers because they defend all gun ownership with belligerent inflexibility. If they need guns to defend themselves in the event that our government turns totalitarian then why not just bury a cache in the backyard and be done with it. Twenty, six and seven year old children died, hundreds of children have been traumatized by witnessing these incomprehensible assassinations.

Who does the NRA remind me of? They remind me of the Republicans who refuse to raise any taxes. By refusing to bend they have a control over the American dialogue about guns which is totalitarian in nature and contrary to the very freedom they say they are trying to protect. The NRA is as extreme and out-of-control as those extremists in the Republican Party and they raise my hackles in exactly the same way. I just can’t listen to them without getting angry because I know that they do not want a dialogue about anything. They just want to have their way. The oxymoron inherent in this authoritarian approach to freedom should be obvious to everyone. And yet, in spite of everything I think I know about the NRA and despite how important I feel it is to end their control of America’s gun discussion, I bet we will find that we cannot budge this group of extremists and that is a sad state of affairs. I hope this impasse will someday be breached.

 

My Digital Christmas in New York

Maybe Christmas in New York City would be lovely. Christmas in New York City would not be a lazy Christmas though. My fantasy of a New York City Christmas would require lots of money so I could shop to my heart’s content and see shows and concerts and museum exhibits. Everywhere I walked I would expect to see my beloved twinkle lights in great profusion and many other creative light displays. Elegance would be welcome also because I would expect to see the work of decorators in New York City who are employed for their tasteful talents. Eating out would also be a part of the wonderful experience of a NYC Christmas. I’m not sure if Hurricane Sandy has placed limitations on both the spirit and the extravagance of the Christmas displays in NYC this year, but I am certain there is still plenty of that traditional sparkle which we expect from the Big Apple.

My Digital Tropical Christmas

One of several of my Christmas fantasies is that I find myself in a villa on a tropical island. I can look right out the open doors past my patio and there is a perfect sandy beach, a blue sky and a bluer ocean. The air is soft and moist and warm without being hot and a delightful breeze cools me wherever I go. I don’t have to go anywhere if I don’t want to. They will bring anything to my room. When I want to go out there are lazy places to go where I can go in my bare feet. I can sit all day in a sand chair with my feet in tropical water. Maybe some little fish will bite my toes. I might spend some time in a hammock. I might spend some time in a Tiki bar. What does the tropics look like at Christmas? What is the best tropical locale to visit at Christmas time? Someday I will find out. In the meantime the internet will take me there. Ah, twinkle lights in paradise!

 

 

 

 

Paris: A Love Story by Kati Marton – Book

Paris: A Love Storyby Kati Marton is a very lovely little memoir by a lady who lived a very significant life and fell in love with Paris almost immediately. Paris weaves like a ribbon through the story of her life. Katika Marton, known as Kati was born in Hungary before World War II. Her parents were each arrested at different times by the Nazi’s and finally were forced to flee their beloved Budapest with Kati. They fled to Paris and then to America. Years later Kati learns about her family’s Jewish connection and she shares this with us in this autobiography. Kati became a journalist, one of the pioneers of female journalism. She was a contemporary of Barbara Walters. She worked for a network news show and she was eventually placed in charge of the Berlin Bureau in the years after the war was over and the Berlin Wall cut Germany in two.

She fell in love with Peter Jennings and they had a private relationship for several years since they worked for the same news agency and Kati wanted to keep her career as a journalist. She was able to travel back to Hungary after the war and visit the city of her birth where she surprisingly felt quite at home even though she had been young when she left and had grown up elsewhere. She and Peter Jennings married and had two children Chris and Lizzie but Jennings was prone to fits of jealousy and possessiveness which made their relationship tough. Kati did not enjoy all this drama. She still wanted a life of the mind. She wanted to write and travel and interview people about events. Eventually they ended their marriage although they remained friends through their children. Kati and Peter’s romance played out against the romantic setting of Paris also. It was their retreat when they got a chance to be together.

Almost as soon as Kati and Peter were divorced Richard Holbrooke, the US Ambassador to Germany began to woo Kati. He told her that he had admired her for some time. Once again Paris became a backdrop to intimacy as these two learned to appreciate each other and to find their common ground. And so Holbrooke became Kati’s second husband and he took her to just about every tragic spot on the face of the earth. In those years when AIDs and groups of gangsters were terrorizing Africa they visited one sad African capital city after another and some wonderful cities also. But Kati’s sorrow was fully engaged by most of what she saw in Africa. She met Nelson Mandela in South Africa when he was just being released from prison and he became a lifelong friend of Kati and Richard. Her husband worked for the UN when he was no longer an ambassador and he held many other positions. The circles Kati and Richard moved in contained world leaders and Presidents.

When Holbrooke dies unexpectedly, after she has taught him to love Paris, and after they have purchased an apartment in Paris, Katie moves back to Paris and writes this memoir in the cafes she has come to love. Did she love Paris because she fell in love twice there, or did she fall in love with Paris because it was and is Paris? It doesn’t really matter. Paris is now her home. You can move in the same rarified spheres Kati Marton did for a while in the pages of this very brief and readable memoir, Paris: A Love Story.