Tuesday, July 26, 2016

In Soviet Union, election steals you

Given that Trump's friends in Russia, and therefore, Wikileaks, are committed to releasing more private conversations from the DNC, I think it's worth examining the role of the organization in US elections.

I've seen a lot of people proclaim that the DNC has violated some kind of oath of impartiality.  Right off the bat, let me assure you that such an oath does not exist.  It's not the job of the DNC to be impartial.  It is the job of the DNC to win in November.  

Full stop.

If you need more convincing, maybe take a look at the name.  It's the Democratic National Committee.  They exist to promote Democrats, and to enable them to win office against Republicans.  When they serve as a go-between for opposing candidates during a primary, they are never going to obstruct, or harm, the stronger candidate.  Never.  They're not your mom, they're not there to "be fair" or to tell Clinton that nice girls share their delegates.  That is not what they do, that is never what they did, and that is not going to change just because you're rooting for the underdog.

Something else they don't do, is actually run the election.  Counties do that, and states, and although the structures vary somewhat from place to place, when it boils down to how a governor wants to run an election, and how the state Democratic Committee wants to see it happen, the governor wins every time.  Because the governor has a lot of political power, and hey, quick question for you guys: what's the name of the chairperson of your county's Democratic Party?  How about your state's Democratic Committee?  Oh, you don't know?


So I'm just going to dismiss entirely any talk of the DNC suppressing selected voters in their own primary.

On to the stolen emails!  I see a lot talk in the media about how what's been released shows that the DNC was biased against Sanders.  First of all, imagine that!  Democrats, wary of the motivations of a Socialist who said to a reporter that he only joined the Democratic party in order to get better publicity for his presidential run?  Go figure.  It's like they are human with reasoning ability or something.

Secondly, what did they do to disadvantage him, exactly?  And if you're having trouble answering that, it's probably because they didn't actually do anything.  And if you don't believe me, maybe you'll believe Sanders's own press secretary, who couldn't take the conspiracy nonsense any more and blasted out a few choice tweets, such as "the system didn't cheat us," and "NO ONE STOLE THE ELECTION."

Yes, there was a private email strategy session that was stolen and made public, and the most damning thing that can be said about that is 1) Veep is an astoundingly accurate television show, and 2) if Bernie Sanders was sitting on an "I'm an atheist!" bombshell, then the DNC wanted to make damn sure that it went off during the primary, and not as the party's nominee in the fall, which sounds completely reasonable to me.  We also learned that the super evil supervillain Debbie Wasserman Schultz is really bad at living up to her evilness, because she apparently shot down every dumbass "should we expose Sanders's beliefs?" idea that came her way.

At least, so far.  I'm not a fan of DWS, although it's because she doesn't appear to always represent her constituents all that well, and not because she personifies any of the names that men on the internet call her.

But what about the debate schedule?  Sanders didn't get the time slots he wanted!

Seriously?  The debate schedule?  You do realize that this is the number one, perennial, never-changing bitch of every campaign since debates were invented?   It's also a bitch that is laughably irrelevant when you can watch anything anytime you want on that thing in your hand that you're using to catch Pokemon.

Ah, but what about Schultz's unfair treatment of the Sanders campaign, when she locked them out of their own voter database?  Is that how you remember that incident?  Here's how I remember it: Sanders campaign workers knowingly accessed confidential Clinton campaign data.  They did it more than once.  Then they claimed that they did it to "expose a fault in the system," complained about being denied access while the investigation proceeded, didn't publicly thank the Clinton campaign when they stepped up to vouch for their overall integrity (not counting the guy they fired for stealing and directing others to steal), and then sued the DNC and claimed that they were the victims.  Of their own crime.

Which leads me to my last point.  The Sanders campaign was really good at spin.  Because they excelled at politics, you know, politics, the game that everyone is playing here?

At any rate, while I understand that political coverage is not a zero sum deal, maybe we could spare a few column inches of the "DNC is a ravenous monster!" narrative and devote those to investigating a Republican nominee who appears to be in cahoots with a foreign government in order to influence American policy.  You know, kind of like treason?

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Bro, do you even frack?

As the reasons not to support Clinton and the Democratic party dwindle in the Naderite pockets of the Left, one issue continues to be raised, and will continue to be raised, because it's a motherfucker.

Fracking.  No one except energy companies like it, and yet Obama, and now Clinton, won't support a ban.  What gives?  I mean, it's safe to assume that at least Clinton's reticence is purely the product of her being purchased, via campaign donations, by the oil and gas industry, right?


I encounter this argument all the time, and kittens, it's like those people have never even stopped to consider that energy is sort of a zero sum game.   I mean, yes, our need for it increases constantly, but given the totality of our need, what we take from one place necessarily reduces what we take from another.  And what we take in the fracking fields reduces what we buy from other countries, and specifically reduces coal consumption overall.

By reducing what we import from other countries, we increase domestic employment, and we reduce our own prices.  The natural gas boom in the US has meant a 47% decrease in the price of natural gas, which saved the average US household $200 a year.  That's not nothing.  To poor families in the winter, that's a lot.  Over the entirety of energy consumers, including electricity consumers, fracking has meant a total savings of 74 billion.   To say nothing of the considerable savings we've experienced at the pump.  Again, to the middle class and below, these savings are extremely important to a family's ability to make ends meet.

And the switch from coal to natural gas has reduced nitrogen oxide and sulfur dioxide emissions drastically.  Our air quality has actually improved because of fracking, with generators emitting 25-45% less nasty stuff.

Something else, too.  You know those giant supertankers that bring imported oil to our shores?  Did you know that, because of the kind of fuel that they burn, just 16 of those ships create as much filthy, sulfurous, people-killing pollution as all the automobiles in the world?  To say nothing of oil spills at sea.

So, wanting to reduce their use for oil imports is, again, not nothing.  It's important.  And fracking has done that.

And of course there are also the somewhat more difficult-to-quantify benefits of not having to spend quite so much time defending our oil interests in foreign countries.  That's a whole can of worms, huh?

Okay, so I imagine I'm well past the point where you're all either gone, or have written me off entirely because AM I DEFENDING FRACKING FOR FUCK'S SAKE??

Not exactly.  But not exactly not.  What I'm in favor of, is understanding the consequences of our actions, and so if you insist on a complete and total ban on fracking, you should also understand not just the bad effects that you want to eliminate, which, yes, are considerable - but also the benefits that you would also eliminate.

I know.  Shit's complicated.

But of course ultimately the goal is to eliminate fossil fuels altogether, and thrive on a diet of sunshine and warm breezes, and maybe recycled unicorn manure.  Some would say that by lowering our oil and gas costs, fracking offers us complacency, thereby delaying our essential ventures into alternative forms of energy.

And they may be right.  But if they're right, then that means that what WILL motivate us into giving up fossil fuels, is the rest of the world suffering from the effects of oil and gas extraction, while we protect ourselves from those same effects.

I think anyone who knows anything about the US, knows that we are seldom motivated by the suffering of those outside our own borders.  Not that we don't feel bad about the suffering of foreigners, because, hey, je suis Charlie, n'est pas?  But does that empathy actually motivate us to do anything about their suffering?  I mean, of course, you can always feel free to assume the best about us.  Who could that hurt, that really matters?

Thursday, June 09, 2016

Tick tock

I think that among Democrats, the most oft-repeated phrase I've heard this primary season has been, "I still think that Bernie should stay in the race..."

Because ideas.  Because moving Left.  Because, oh, I don't know....Yosemite?

Once it was clear that Clinton was going to win, which was always clear, but let's just say it was indisputable after South Carolina.  Or Super Tuesday, if that makes you feel better.  Once, it was clear that she was going to win, Sanders should have bugged the fuck out.

Not just because he could not win, but because he kept saying that he could.  As late as the weekend before the California* primary, when Clinton was within spitting distance of the goal, Sanders said that it was "extremely unlikely" that Clinton would have the "requisite number of pledged delegates" after that Tuesday's voting.  He then inexplicably claimed that "At the end of the nominating process, no candidate will have enough pledged delegates to call the campaign a victory."

Um, what?

 That goes way beyond "We can still do this!" -type cheerleading.  That's what we call a lie.  Why would Sanders tell his supporters that Clinton could not achieve the delegate total as she was on the very cusp of reliably and predictably doing exactly that?  

I cannot say.  But I do know, that many of his supporters believed it.  They believed it.  And so when Clinton did do what was inevitable, many of them were angry.  Angry that they had been lied to.  Except they apparently could not bear to be angry at their beloved leader, you know, the one who was so unlike a politician that he could never lie?  So they instead become angry at Clinton, her supporters, her surrogates, and even the press, instead of facing the truth that their candidate, a politician, had told them a political lie in a politically expedient way, to gain political advantage.

It has been thus throughout the primary, with Sanders supporters blaming the DNC and the Clinton campaign for every loss.  Every lost registration, every line at the polling place, every expired deadline, every poor dumbfounded poll worker who was clueless about crossover ballots vs. provisional ballots, it was all the machinations of the great DNC machine and its scheming harpie leader, even in places, like Maricopa County, Arizona, where Democrats are as rare in the halls of government as a good idea.

Politics and social policy are fucked up enough, and we surely do not need to be encouraging another generation of conspiracy-minded youth.  They've got climate change to deal with, and global trade to figure out, and how the fuck are they going to solve problems with facts and science when the guy they believe in tells them that he's "pretty good at arithmetic" while also implying that 2178 is not greater than 2026?   How are they going to navigate the legislative branch when their role model tells them that tantrums are an acceptable alternative to preparation?  Or that if someone disagrees with you, you can always scream the word "cunt" at her until she goes away?

It's Sanders's fault they're so angry, and no one else's.**  And the longer he sticks around, telling them lies about how this is all going to shake out in his favor, the worse it is for them, and for us.  All of us.
So, no, his presence is not making the Democratic Party "better." It's not improving the conversation.  It's not doing one good thing.  And so I know it's hard to go from thousands of faces at a rally, adoring you and screaming your name, to your desk in a DC office looking at this guy, but dude, come on.  Time to go.

*Yes, I know other states voted too.  Shut up, we're enjoying being relevant.

**Maybe his campaign manager a little bit.  That guy is a dick.

Wednesday, June 01, 2016

Submitted to a candid world

OMG you guys, THANK GOD that Bernie Sanders will have representatives on the committee that drafts the 2016 Democratic Party Platform, because otherwise how will Democrats express our newly found disdain for Wall Street excesses and the havoc they wreak upon our society?

Oh wait.
From the 2012 Democratic Party Platform:
"Wall Street Reform - A strong middle class can only exist in an economy where everyone plays by the same rules, from Wall Street to Main Street. That's why President Obama and Democrats in Congress overcame fierce opposition from the financial industry to pass the most far-reaching Wall Street reform in generations…"
Well, sure in 2012 because Dodd Frank, but before that…

Oh wait.

From the 2008 Democratic Party Platform: 
“Reforming Financial Regulation and Corporate Governance - We have failed to guard against practices that all too often rewarded financial manipulation instead of productivity and sound business practices. We have let the special interests put their thumbs on the economic scales…”
Okay well maybe President Obama has emphasized it somewhat, but before that, I’m sure it was crickets from the Democrats on corporate malfeasance.

Oh wait.
From the 2004 Democratic Party Platform: 
“Free Markets and Honest Competition - …Competition and free markets depend on trust, transparency, and integrity. We are committed to requiring honesty in corporate accounting effective corporate governance, a fair shake for small investors and worker pension funds, a level playing field and competitive bidding practices for those who wish to transact business with the government, and vigorous prosecution of criminal conduct in executive suites.

Well shit.  But come on, for sure Democrats never said anything in the past about election finance reform:

Aw, goddamn it!
2012: “Lobbying Reform and Campaign Finance Reform - Our political system is under assault by those who believe that special interests should be able to buy whatever they want in our society, including our government. Our opponents have applauded the Supreme Court's decision in Citizens United and welcomed the new flow of special interest money with open arms. In stark contrast, we believe we must take immediate action to curb the influence of lobbyists and special interests on our political institutions…We support legislation to close loopholes and require greater disclosure of campaign spending.” 
2008: “We support campaign finance reform to reduce the influence of moneyed special interests, including public financing of campaigns combined with free television and radio time. We will have the wisdom to put the public interest above special interests.” 
2000: “Renewing Our Democracy and Campaign Finance Reform - In the year 2000, along with all the other big choices they have to make, Americans will be making a choice about who's running their country: the people or the special interests, the voters or the lobbyists, the many or the few. We must restore American's faith in their own democracy by providing real and comprehensive campaign finance reform, creating fairer and more open elections, and breaking the link between special interests and political influence.”

Hey, so what’s going on here?  Why is everyone talking about the Democrats embracing issues, via their platform, that they have in fact always embraced?  Could it be that the Democratic Party has, collectively, identified and prioritized these issues for many, many years now?  Could it be that the problem is NOT the intentions of the Democratic Party?

Maybe the problem is that the Democratic Party is opposed by fully one half of this country, and that Democratic representatives are hampered from implementing reform by…the other party.  You know, the party that screams about immigrants and gays every time there’s an election? 

Maybe the issue is not the fucking platform.

Kittens, it baffles me to the core that anyone could believe that the Democratic Party Platform will be significantly different this year due to the inclusion of Sanders appointees to the Platform Committee.  I suspect that anyone who believes that it WILL be significantly different this year, does so because THEY’VE NEVER READ THE PARTY PLATFORM and have not fucking clue one what has EVER been in it.

The Democratic Party is made up of a bunch of imperfect people, and we will never be an immaculate monolith, but we are the party who is trying to fix what is wrong, and we have to drag the other half of the country, kicking and screaming and firing automatic weapons, along with us every time we try to do one good goddamn thing.  And yeah, we are the party that sometimes has to give up A, in order to get B and C.  And we are also the party that loses more of the Congress in every midterm, loses more seats to those fucking morons and contemptible assholes in every election, because all you people who are bitching about the Democratic Party right now have never even tried to support us.  Never even fucking tried.  Because if you did vote for Democrats?  In every election?  Not once every four years or when it’s someone cool but every time?  You know what would happen?  The party would move further Left. 

That’s right.  It would move further Left.  Maybe, eventually, even into GLORIOUS REVOLUTION territory.  And how do I know this?  How do I know that the Democrats would give up trying to win the political Center?  Because the Republicans already did it.  They gave up trying to win the Center, and they did it because they could.  They didn’t need the Center anymore because their supporters on the Right FUCKING SHOW UP TO VOTE FOR THEM.

I don’t know, maybe one day voters on the Left will figure out that the only way to win, the only way to achieve a party that truly represents the progressive Left is to show up to support our great ideas, imperfect as our messengers may be, just like those crazy fucking GOP idiots show up to support their terrible fucking ideas.

So, fuck yes, fight over those great ideas, fight over the fucking platform, Democrats, including all you party crashers who’ve been here for five minutes and are pretty sure you know everything about us.  Fight over that platform, and then you know, when we’re done doing that, there’s something that we could all do that would be really helpful, and that is, to read the damn thing.  Read it.  Just to make sure you understand what exactly it is that we’ve been on about for all these fucking years.

And then go vote.  

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Put on your stockings 'cause the night's getting cold

In the later ‘90s, Ralph Nader took to the lecture circuit and wowed the NPR crowd by arguing for public financing of all political campaigns.  He further proposed that any broadcast license issued by the government come with the condition that a certain amount of airtime would be given by the holder of the license to the American people for free political ads for qualified candidates.

It was, and remains, a simple, revolutionary, and much needed reform. 

Ralph Nader ran for president as an independent to the Left of Al Gore in 2000.  He rejected the label “spoiler” because he said there was no difference between Gore and Bush.  In the end, Gore lost* the deciding state, Florida, by 500 votes.  Nader’s tally for that state was over 97 thousand. 

We saw the beginning of election finance reform in the McCain/Feingold bill in 2002, which sought to limit corporate money given to political parties.  McCain/Feingold was later castrated by the infamous Supreme Court ruling called Citizens United. 

The best part is that without Nader enabling the election of Bush, two additional Supreme Court Justices would have been liberal instead of conservative at the time of the ruling, and the nation’s first attempt at election reform in over 40 years would still stand.  Instead, our Congress refuses to take it up, in part because the slim GOP reform margin is now gone, and also because reform-minded lawmakers have no desire to beat their collective heads against the broad wall of Citizens United. 

So, Nader, while running on election reform, effectively killed election reform in the United States.

Funny how shit works, huh?

I am mindful, ever more mindful, of how the nation’s future hinges upon the actions of a solitary man.  I have endeavored to be patient with those who rail against the rule-laden, favorite-favoring, labyrinthian party nomination process.  I know that we need everyone we can get to join us in the Democratic Party, which is, as I now frequently feel compelled to remind people, the progressive party.  The Left.  You know, the good guys. 

I constantly fail.  I am impatient myself, as I witness how the realities of internet life have made the conspiracy theory the dominant story-telling medium.  News organizations that used to pride themselves on their journalistic principles and the rigor of their investigations, have now established fast tracks to online publication in which rumor and innuendo are, in the end, good enough for their short-term click game.  “Sources say” has become the lead-in that for all practical purposes now means “A great load of horse shit is about to come your way,” as the “source” almost always turns out to be a long set of links that lead to some dude on Twitter.

Television news, that great progenitor of hysteria-based content, famously abides by the maxim “If it bleeds, it leads.”  Unfortunately, we’re all bleeding now.  We’re bleeding all over the place.  I watch the Great Unprecedented Moronic Narcissist spin through his tiny vocabulary Rolodex, and yes, I too am now bleeding out of my wherever.  This is the man that will take on our great wounded lion of the Left, and oh my kittens, the blood is about to fly. 

Yesterday, I heard Howard Dean reflect on the anger he felt about his loss twelve years ago in what he believed to be an unfair Democratic Primary process.  He wondered, in his fury, why he should continue to be a Democrat, after the way the party had treated him?  It was Al Gore who answered him.  It was my beloved Al Gore who said to him, “Because it’s not about you.  It’s about the country.”

Let that then be our battle cry.

*Not really but you know.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Could've sworn it was judgement day

Me: I need to schedule a repair for my washer under my service plan. It won't drain water or spin.
Rep: Have you turned off the breaker to reset the control panel?
Me: Reset the control panel? No...
Rep: I can't schedule service until you've tried resetting the control panel. You have to turn off the breaker for 30 seconds. Then call again after you've done that.
Me: You know my machine is from 1999, right?
Rep: (silence)
Me: There's no electronic control panel.
Rep: There's no display?
Me: No.
Rep: There's just knobs that you turn and stuff?
Me: Yup.
Rep: Okay, let me get someone out there....

Friday, May 06, 2016

In a blue, blue sky

Earlier this spring, I watched a pair of crows assemble a nest near the top of a tall pine on my median.
Over and over and over they would bring one twig to the site, place it, and fly away for another.
Later, I watched one of them swipe some cat food from the bowl on our porch and bring to the other at the nest. There's a bakery near my house, and sometimes I would see one of them with a stale roll or a slice of bread, soaking it in a puddle, and then taking that back to the nest as well.
Then I watched them chase away the hawks and mockingbirds that flew too close.
Rick told me last night that he found a crow hatchling dead on the median. He put the body in the trash bin. I don't know if it died before or after it fell, or why. It's sad to see any dead animal, but especially a baby that had parents that cared so much for it.
They're still tending the nest, so I think probably there's another hatchling up there. There's a lot of crows around here but I hope we get at least one more.

Monday, May 02, 2016

But because they are right

Famously woke bae Matt McGorry said something that I really admire about the whole PC or "politically correct" issue.  I'm posting it below, and while it expresses an important point about language and gender, there is a deeper and more important point being expressed here as well.  Too many smart and informed and progressive people have decided that since they're smart and informed and progressive, they should never have to consider a more expansive view of the language they use or the ideas they express.   

To those on the receiving end of "PC" criticism, it feels like a correction, or censorship, or even an attack, whether that is the intent or not, and so the immediate response is defensiveness.  But is defensiveness a helpful or appropriate response?   McGorry offers his own insight into that moment of personal divergence.

"I said every woman with a clit deserves an orgasm as much as every man with a penis. And some people called me out and were like, 'This is not inclusive, it's transphobic — not every man has a penis, not every woman has a clit. And some have vice versa.' And at the time I was like, 'Fuck, I can't win. What can I say that will ever be right?' But I talked to a really smart friend of mine, and she was like, 'Well, they aren't wrong. So the question is really, How inclusive do you want to be?; You have a platform to show that you can be more inclusive in that way; it ultimately doesn't hurt you once you've learned that lesson and you know how to adjust. The response shouldn't be super-defensive. It should be like, 'Where is the value in what they are saying? And is that true?' And it was true. And I just changed it and said every person with a clit deserves an orgasm just as every person with a penis. It's a simple adjustment but it's more inclusive. "

Notice that his response didn't stop with "Fuck, I can't win."  Then think about how many liberal comedians, actors, journalists, politicians, and friends have expressed some version of that sentiment, but then never moved forward from that sentiment to absorb the larger lesson that McGorry is clearly trying to absorb.  If you can't move on from "Fuck, I can't win," to "Where is the value in what they are saying?" and then to a wiser and more inclusive philosophy, then perhaps you should consider whether you really are a progressive thinker.  If you're a comedian or a journalist or any kind of media talking head, perhaps you should consider whether what you're really protesting is the ability of others to tell you that they don't like your bullshit.

Because someone telling you that they don't like your bullshit is not censorship, and it never has been.  If you watched Bill Clinton wag his finger at BLM protesters as he explained their own oppression to them, then you no doubt understand that what was called for in that moment was for Clinton to stop talking and to listen - no matter how much it hurt his ego and his idea of himself as an unassailable lion of the Left.  So maybe the next time you're tempted to get your guard up over some "PC" stuff, ask yourself whether you're being the Bill Clinton in that scenario.  Because you do not want to be the Bill Clinton.  You really don't.  And because listening is the only way to keep your own progress alive.  

Friday, February 27, 2015

On the death of Leonard Nimoy

I guess every kid has that character that they identify with, and that helps her navigate a confusing world, whether it's Wonder Woman or Harry Potter.
Spock was my character. As a alien in a ship full of humans, he endured taunts about the ways in which his looks and his thoughts differed from theirs. He endured the prejudices of people who thought that because of who he was, he could never understand, or excel, or speak with a voice that others would recognize.
He made mistakes. He learned that his philosophy of reason must serve the greater good, or it was meaningless. He remained himself, even as he came to value loyalty and compassion above all else.
Leonard Nimoy played that character, and breathed life into the outline created for him. It was his life's work, in the end, and in the end that was okay with him. And the thing is, if you go back and watch those terrible, hokey, hopelessly dated shows, the one thing that strikes you is that Nimoy is completely believable, every single second. Spock is still alive. Spock will always live, because of him.
Such is the power of our childhoods, that they still from so far away can charge so close. And this morning mine leaves me a 54 year old woman, crying at her desk for a man she never met and never knew at all.
It is not logical, but it is, nevertheless, quite true.

Friday, November 22, 2013

What you can do

I was born a week after Kennedy was inaugurated, and I remember a melamine serving tray, of all things, the surface of which contained those famous lines about doing for your country, and the date of that event.  It sat propped against the kitchen wall for years when I was a child.  Even from the banal absurdity of the serving tray, those words could not be dimmed or made trivial.  They were perfect words, and they represented a promise about the future.

But we never saw that promise fulfilled. Instead we became, as conspiracy theorist Jim Garrison so famously observed, a nation of Hamlets, certain that we had been cheated of our birthright, but unable to prove or do anything about it. 

And for sure we wailed like Hamlet, and struggled like him against the yoke of undeserved authority, and pointed at every ghost on every parapet, certain that this time, we would finally be believed…and then, eventually, with the passage of each subsequent decade, ever more certain that we would never be believed.

Those who took our future away were never caught, never punished.  The trial never really began and never really ended.  And so it was with us as Americans.  We were lied to as a matter of necessity, then of policy, then of habit.  We expected it.  We learned to look for the lies before any words were even spoken.  Because of course there would be lies.  We would be cheated.  It was who we were.  Nothing had changed, or ever would change.  We became hardened and completely cynical, because everything that happened – Watergate, Iran-Contra, the Gulf Wars – everything in the decades that followed proved that we were right.

I dispute none of that.

Except it’s all wrong.  

When you realize that it was just one guy who changed it all, and not a conspiracy of the powerful and wealthy, then you realize that we cheated ourselves.  We blamed everyone: Johnson, Castro, the Mafia, the Secret Service.  It was because the corporations wanted the war in Vietnam to continue so they could expand their military industrial complex. It was because JFK was going to replace Hoover; it was because he was going to shut down the CIA.

When really, it was a guy who idolized Fidel Castro, and who didn’t want the Kennedy administration to kill Castro, as we now know it attempted to do, many times.

It was one guy.  It was one guy with a beef.  And all the wailing and pointing at ghosts - it’s just us wanting the truth to not be the truth, because the truth means that our enemies are not necessarily mighty.  The truth means that it doesn’t take a cabal of wealth and power to derail the America that we want to have.  It just takes one person, and that person is us.  We cheated ourselves, by not seeing the truth.  We wanted it to mean more than it did.  Because then, it would not be our fault that we gave up on that promise.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

And you can tell everybody, this is your song.

I have come to the conclusion that it’s not Christmas unless I am newly in possession of every available variety of Avon Naturals shower wash.  This occurs because my mother, an Avon Lady in remote Nebraska, cleans out her sample cabinet every year and sends me a box full of soaps and lotions that smell like bubble gum approximations of fruits, and cosmetics that seem more appropriate for a daughter half my age.  Still, I tear into the box every year with relish, and look forward to briefly sporting taxi-hued eyelids and glittery pink lips that are then washed away in raspberry-scented showers.  This year, I’m sure because I am currently unemployed, she also sent me a check for an amount large enough that it inspired in me, her 50-year-old daughter, not a feeling of happiness or relief, but of shame.  So I sent her an email thanking her, but also broaching the subject that the amount was, I felt, more than she should be sending.  I got this in return:

I am sure you remember the Christmas you and your friend won one of Marsh's money cards, and you bought us presents.  Mine was Windsong, so the other day I was ordering from my drug store and needed a few bucks to make free shipping, so I bought a bottle of it!!!!  I still love it.  Don't tell anyone your Avon Mom bought Windsong!!    

Sitting there at my desk in my bathrobe, I read her email, closed my computer, walked into the living room where my boyfriend was watching television, and burst into tears.

It was 1974, seventh grade, and I was thirteen years old.  A boy liked me.  His name was Mike, and he wrote a poem about me, the first verse of which I can still recite from memory:

You’re a special lady
 A little kinky maybe
You sure know what’s going down
Just to see you makes me glad
That I found
Someone like you

What do you want?  It was the ‘70s, and we all thought Rod McKuen and Bernie Taupin were poets.

Mike was a little chubby.  Just a little, though, and his height and broad shoulders allowed him to carry it well.  He wore the dark turtlenecks and corduroys that were favored by the serious, non-athletic boys of that era.  He had pale skin and plenty of freckles and thick, coarse red hair that was cut to look like he was wearing an orange football helmet.   But he loved science fiction, and his favorite subject was English, and he was smart like me, and funny, and in our moments together between classes we were beginning to formulate our first tentative theories, fueled by the more sensitive musicians that populated our local Top 40 station and the pages of Creem magazine, that adults, and particularly teachers, didn’t really care about us at all.  Plus, the ruination of the Earth by pollution and greed was imminent, we both concurred.

Mike had a job as a bag boy at the local Marsh’s grocery store, and that Christmas, he asked me to go with him to the Marsh’s annual employee Christmas party, which was being held at the fanciest restaurant in our small town.  The restaurant was called Emily’s, and it was dark inside with candles on the tables, and one wall near the entry was all rocks with water trickling into a pond at the bottom where patrons of the restaurant threw wish-laden pennies.  Next to the waterfall was a stuffed brown bear standing on its hind legs and with front paws raised back in a menacing manner.  As you might imagine, it was not the kind of restaurant that a kid forgets about easily.  I had been to Emily’s only once or twice before on very special occasions in the years before my parents divorced, so I was pleased to be doing something that was reminiscent of my previous life, and not the one I was living now where I fretted with my mother over the paying of rent and how much my school shoes cost.

That night I wore my best maxi dress, the one with the black quilted skirt and the ruffled yellow collar.  It was over a year old and my skinny wrists hung too far below the ruffled cuffs, and the hem was a little too high on me now as well, but I was glad that I had something that I considered fancy enough for Emily’s.  When I opened the front door, Mike was standing there in a tie and sports jacket, and with a red carnation corsage inside a clear plastic shell.  It was all quite impressive, and I might have begun to feel nervous about how I was going to act the right way and say the right things if Mike’s mother, who was to chauffer us that evening, hadn’t been so calm and friendly.  After she dropped us off outside the restaurant entrance, Mike took my hand in his for a few brief seconds before he opened the door for me.  I don’t know why it hadn’t really occurred to me earlier, but I was on an actual date.

All the guests were seated at large round tables with white tablecloths and pinecone centerpieces, and we were the only teenagers at our table.  All the rest seemed to be older female cashiers and their bored husbands, whose conversation I remember consisted mostly of remarks about the quality of the establishment’s prime rib.  When the waiter came to ask us what we wanted to drink, Mike thought for a moment, and then ordered a Pepsi, and I ordered a Shirley Temple.  At the time I was proud that I had been in so many grown-up bars with my mom that I knew how to order a real mixed drink with a name, even if it was kind of a kiddie drink, and it seemed to have made an impression on the staff as well, because when I ordered another from a different waitress, she laughed and exclaimed “Oh, you’re the Shirley Temple!” 

At the end of the evening, there was a drawing for cash prizes from $25 to $200, and the store manager called my name for the $100 prize!  When I walked past the bar on my way to the front of the room to claim it, the bartender said “Hey, Shirley Temple won!” and he clapped for me.  The waitresses heard him, and soon all of the staff in the dining room appeared to be applauding and calling out “Shirley Temple!  Hey, good for you, Shirley Temple!”

As I was walking back to the table, it occurred to me that Mike would probably be disappointed that he didn’t win, and I knew that I should share my money order with him.  Mike’s mother was there at the table waiting to take us home.  I told Mike that I would split the $100 with him, and he looked surprised, but I told him that I had planned all along to share if I won, because I wouldn’t have won if not for him inviting me.  I don’t know why I’d told him that my act of generosity had not been spontaneous.  Maybe I had surmised that by appearing to have thought it out beforehand, I would seem resolute, and so avoid any discussions of the deal.  I don’t know, but in any event, he quietly accepted his half of the prize, and as I glanced around, I remember his mom looking at me with an approving smile.  People I did not know were walking up to me and congratulating me!  The evening was an unmitigated success! 

That’s all I remember.  I take my mother’s word for it that I used my $50, which was a considerable sum for a teenager in 1974, to buy Christmas gifts for my brother, my sister, and her.  I do remember that Windsong bottle sitting on my mother’s dresser, because of course her mother’s dresser is an altar of worship for every girl; I’m pretty sure I could still draw my mother’s jewelry box and hand mirror from memory.  And I hope she forgives me for squealing on her regarding her recent purchase of non-Avon perfume.

But so there was that email from my mother, and there was me, trying to tell my boyfriend the story, while still sobbing, of the Marsh’s cash prize and how I had forgotten what I’d done with the money and when he asked me why that would make me cry so hard, all I could only say in response was, “I was a good kid.”

By the end of 7th grade, I had broken up with Mike, such as we were, because I just didn’t feel romantic about him.  Not like he wanted me to.  I did still truly want to be his friend because I felt like no one else understood me the way he did, but he was bitter about being relegated to “just a friend” status, and then soon thereafter his family moved away.  He wrote me another poem right before the last time I saw him, which I still have, in his handwriting, on lined yellow paper, the last verse of which is this:

I think I’ll be a lot better off
Lost in a trillion
Knowing that somewhere
You’re out there.

I’m still out here, Mike.  It’s not easy, sometimes, but I’m still out here.  I miss you.  I miss all the Mikes.  I was a good kid, and I’m still out here.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

It's only a model

I had expected it to be more difficult.

All of the other anniversaries I had ignored, switched past the programming to a movie channel, turned off the radio at work, gone outside and spent the day puttering in the yard, or at the beach pedaling my bike or wandering amidst the tourists on the boardwalk.  To tell you the truth, I don’t even know where I spent those days, so studiously had I ignored that they were those days.

But this year, I found myself at the airport, returning home from Denver.  I found myself standing in the enormous, snaking line of travelers at DIA, watching officials from the Department of Homeland Security on television screens placed at the end of each switchback of the queue drone on about the importance of the process to which we were about to submit ourselves.  It was difficult to place much importance in their arguments, given that the situation required all of us to not stop and listen to the officials on the screens, but to shuffle past them and out of earshot and then eventually into the sphere of another screen, where another, different official was going on about another different aspect of their argument, the gist of which was, of course, that everything was fine, and we were all an important cog in the machine of everything being fine, in spite of the mildly 1984-ish feeling of never being able to walk outside of the  glow of those screens, or to not see the not-too-broadly-smiling faces of officials in navy blue blazers and unremarkable haircuts.  Everything is fine, citizens.  Everything is just fine.

As I approached the Transportation Security Administration agent who checks boarding passes and identification, I began to hear snippets of his conversations with those ahead of me.  He asked one woman what is the state flower of Arizona?  I could not hear what she answered him, but he smiled and said “That’s right,” and checked her pass with a red pen and sent her on.  To the next gentlemen in line he asked what ice cream franchise operated in the airport to which he was returning home, and the gentleman thought for a second, and then said “Baskin Robbins.”  And the TSA agent again said “That’s right,” and then the gentleman added, as if to further cement his familiarity with the franchise, “They’re good,” and the agent concurred that they were, in fact, good.

I was a tad dumbstruck by what I was hearing and I searched the face of the agent to see if I could determine if he was being serious, or merely trying to lighten the mood, or perhaps even attempting to pass the long hours of his day amusing himself by toying with us, his captive prey, in the same way the a cat allows a mouse to think that he is winning at escape before he brings his paw down again upon the mouse’s neck.

It occurred to me that the situation unfolding in front of me resembled the scene from “Monty Python and the Holy Grail” in which the knights must correctly answer the bridgekeeper’s questions before passing over the Bridge of Death to continue their quest: “What is your name?  What is your quest?  What is the air speed velocity of an unladen swallow?”

Would I get a difficult question?  I didn’t think I could tell him what the name was of the bar in the Burbank airport in which I almost always killed time before my departing flights.  Or maybe, like Sir Lancelot being asked his favorite color, I would get an easy question, like what brought me to Denver.  Would I tell him that it was simply to visit my sister, or would I say, trying not to look too self-satisfied, that I had successfully assisted her in her search for a wedding gown?  Was that too much?  Would that much detail be suspicious, or even merely annoying?  Don’t try so hard, I thought to myself.  You’re always trying too hard.

Nevertheless, I mentally assembled a checklist of home state trivia.  State flower?  California Poppy.  State bird?  California Quail.  State tree?  California Redwood.  Probably that government employee Alex Trebek up there was no match for a flora and fauna nerd such as myself, I thought.  I got this in the bag. 

When it was my turn, I thought to smile in a relaxed way, and to look him in the eyes, and then he glanced over my boarding pass and said “Burbank, huh?  That’s a small airport.” 

He looked at me. 

“Yes, it is,” I replied. 

And he checked me off with his red pen and waved me on my way.  I picked up my bag and then moved along to the line for the scanners.  And I instantly knew that the point of the question was not to know the answer, but to allow the questioner to hear you speak, to evaluate the ease of your tone and the origin of your accent.

I felt that combination of triumph and disappointment that all nerds feel when they’ve over-prepped for a test.

And then I wondered, if all of your life, you cannot help but compare and contrast the events you’re experiencing to those that formed you, that occurred in your childhood, then why don’t we give our children a better baseline than a series of brick and mortar Skinner Boxes, in which they are tasked with distinguishing themselves to those that operate the boxes from a horde that must be, if only by the relentlessness of its onslaught, indistinguishable?  No wonder so many children feel as though they can’t win.  They literally can not win, and those that think they have are merely more successful at deluding themselves.

It’s not the best mindset with which to begin a journey home.

Especially since I wasn’t even sure I wanted to go home anymore.  I haven’t been sure for a long, long time now.  For ten years, I haven’t been sure if I even wanted to go home.

It’s not that I don’t love my boyfriend, my pets, my house, my yard and the intermittently successful life I have fashioned for myself on this piece of land outlying the second largest collection of Americans in the world.  I do.  I do love all those things.

And it’s not a question of loving them enough.  Loving them enough to overcome the other stuff.  It’s more that loving them is irrelevant to the other stuff.  How could that be true?  And yet, ten years in, it seems pretty damn true.

I used to be able to push this feeling I had aside.  All those years of yelling about what a fucked up mess we were making of this country, I still thought of it as my home, my place, my country, I guess because I thought that someday the trauma would end.  I would no longer feel like I had to jump out of this speeding car that was headed in a place I did not want to go, a place that was a crazy, bad place to be.  Bad for everyone.  Why couldn’t they see that?  Why wouldn’t they listen to the people that were screaming about the bad direction we were going in?  Where did they think this car was going, to a good place?  To a place where we were all safe again?  Couldn’t they see that was wrong?

I guess I thought that someday we would collectively, as a people, stop and decide to go somewhere else.  I thought that when we changed leaders, and we started to officially do less bad stuff as a people, that I would feel different.  That it was our actions as a nation that mattered.  But inside, it didn't seem true at all.

And I didn’t figure it out until just the other day, when I saw them, those people on the other side, screaming “We want our country back!”

Hey, I remember thinking, that’s my line.

Because remember when we said that?  But it was about the other guy?  Remember when he did stuff that we thought was wrong?  Criminal, even?  And we were not being listened to at all, or taken into account in any way?  Remember?  I’m not saying we were wrong to think that.  We weren’t wrong.  I’m just saying that now they feel that way.  They feel that same way, and how can they?  How can they feel the same way that we did?  What the Left is doing, and trying to do, it’s not wrong for the country, it’s not evil, it’s not illegal or against the Constitution, but they’re saying that it is all those things, just like we did.  How can they say that?

I don’t know how they can feel now like we did then.  But it makes me feel like giving up.  It makes me feel like nothing I have is of any use. 

It makes me feel like I have no home.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011


So lately I've been thinking about Pete Rose being excluded from the Baseball Hall of Fame.

No, seriously, I have been thinking about it.  Because I think it's bullshit.  It's the Baseball Hall of Fame, not the Not Betting On Baseball Hall of Fame, which he should definitely be excluded from, and, by the way, I should definitely be in, because I have never bet on baseball, in spite of having a wicked hot dream in October 2004 in which Johnny Damon personally guaranteed me, between make-out sessions in the Fenway dugout, that the Curse was "so ovah."*  

But if baseball is the quintessential American sport,** then our attitude about Rose's ostracization from the Baseball Hall of Fame is also quintessentially American, because we are as a nation so sort of comically terrible at viewing our famous people in any kind of nuanced way.  Rose was a bad boy and so he must be punished, the end.  

A couple of days ago, some friend of a friend wrote a short essay, which made the social media rounds, on the death of Amy Winehouse, and in which he chastised the public at large for being angry at her for being a junkie.  I understand his point that Amy Winehouse owed us exactly nothing, but if you ask me, anyone who feels angry at Winehouse because they feel like they had a stake in her life through her music is showing a much more invested approach to her art than someone who's main argument appears to be that we should not speak ill of the dead.  Because, you know, she can't hear us anymore.  And speaking as someone who grew up with an addict, I understand being angry at junkies.  Personally, I can shake my head at the colossal self-involvement that it takes to make those life vs. junk scales come down on the side of junk every single goddamn time, and ALSO marvel that she managed to create such beautiful and evocative music. 

But I'm not here to eulogize Winehouse.  Listen to the song "Back in Black," one more time if you want a eulogy, because she's only about 10,000 times more brilliant than anyone else could ever hope to be on the subject of Amy Winehouse.  So, in short, please please stop hectoring people about their feelings about a dead junkie singer, oh social media scold.  If it upsets you so much, stop reading Yahoo comments for fuck's sake. 

And of course I could bring up the media makeover of Rupert Murdoch, who, after his testimony before a Parliament committee, morphed magically from ruthless greedy bastard scumbag yellow journalist and bobby briber to sad old man who nods off during questioning, and so therefore in spite of being a notorious control freak and micro-manager, is now not even aware of anything going on anywhere in his empire, ever.  The chorus of people, and I'm not even counting the yammer heads on Fox News, who suddenly felt sorry for Murdoch - poor, old, out-of-the-loop Murdoch, was really pretty shocking.  

And yet entirely predictable.  Because he can't be evil AND an old fool at the same time, can he?

Look, I know Murdoch's not the Devil, because the Devil doesn't exist, but whoever that fucked-up long-ago biblical scribe was who first invented the Devil - he was definitely thinking of someone exactly like Murdoch.  Because what's more terrifying than someone who can carry the most powerful nations in the world in his pocket, and who can buy their opinions and subvert their legal processes and write their narratives to benefit himself?  Murdoch owns our history, my fellow citizens, so if you feel good about that, then you're in luck, because the Teabaggers, and their contradictory priorities about NOT wanting Obama to cut Medicare or Social Security, but YES wanting the Republicans to cut entitlements, are born directly out of that uptight Aussie sphincter.  They've set up their lawn chairs and unfurled their hilariously dumbass opinions in front of every media outlet in America, and the media can't get enough of them.  They love the Teabaggers, and why not?  They're custom made for the 24 hour news cycle, because their opinions can be constantly and continuously analyzed forever without ever making any sense.  So they are not going anywhere anytime soon.  

A couple of weeks ago, a sort of semi-humorous essay was written on Jezebel about how the author felt bad about rooting for the USA over Japan in the Women's Soccer final, because, well, Japan has had a rough four months.  And I suggested in the comments section, also semi-humorously, that a sure-fire cure for feeling guilty about rooting against Japan as a nation was to remember that they are as a nation capable of some pretty nasty business, i.e., the completely senseless slaughter of dolphins and illegal selling of their meat to schoolchildren, the slaughter of protected whales and the decades-long stalling of meaningful whaling agreements at the IWC and bribery of its members, i.e. you know, your standard nasty nation business.  Please note that I did not accuse the women's soccer team, or the victims of the earthquake and tsunami, of anything.  I was of course vilified.  Because it's Japan's turn to be a blameless victim nation, and whatever the fuck we do, let's not allow any nuanced thinking into any discussion of world affairs, ever.  I've been told it's in bad taste.  

And if your mind is naturally wandering now to 9/11, so did mine.  I recall saying at the time, on some now-defunct blog, that of all the crimes of the Bush administration, the very worst was telling us that al-Qaeda hated us for our freedom.  Because it was more than just a lie.  More than just a self-serving lie, even.  It was a red cape waved in front of a bull that had been speared by the picadors within an inch of his life.  And so the bull charged ahead, blindly, hating, branding as traitors anyone who dared ask why, listening to every lie that reinforced our infantile notions of ourselves as blameless, perfect patriot heroes, which we are not, none of us.

I love my country.  I endeavor to one day deserve her.  But for now, it appears I'm just a nuance monkey.

*Yeah, I know Damon's not from Boston.  IT WAS A DREAM.

**It's not.  

Wednesday, July 06, 2011

This is where we swam

I get why Nancy Grace wants to whip up outrage over the Casey Anthony case.  It inflates her ratings, which increases her TVQ and her net worth.  And I get why the prosecutor would want to cast the verdict as the greatest WTF ever in the history of jurisprudence, because he brought the case under the wrong charge and with insufficient evidence, and then tried to convict the defendant in the Court of Outraged Moms.

But why on earth this country was witness to such an emotional display by, as I so even-handedly put it on Twitter yesterday, the "self-righteous indignation monkeys," is a trickier question.

I have no idea whether Anthony killed her child or not.  But given the murkiness of the evidence in the case, I doubt that yesterday's verdict is significant for any reason other than so many people seem to be so upset about it.  Personally, I resent the prosecutor's strategy of trying to convict Anthony by casting her as a drunken whore, because I think that it damages women everywhere, and perpetuates the idea that women, especially moms, can only be chaste, self-sacrificing martyrs, or else we are guilty of failing society's expectations, and as such deserve whatever charge an ambitious camera-hungry prosecutor can make stick.  And also, speaking as a drunken whore myself, I resent the implication that we're necessarily toddler-killers.  I have hardly ever advocated toddler-killing.  I mean, sure, on airplanes, but I think we can all agree on that.

Look, I know dead babies is sad.  But you know what, besides Tot Mom, actually does kill a hell of a lot of children?   (And no, Leah Remini, it's not psychiatry.)   

Ask the EPA.  The EPA knows what kills, cripples, and permanently disfigures and disables children.  It knows what gives babies brain damage.  It knows what shuts down their internal organs and puts them into comas.  And the EPA does more to prevent the taking of childrens' lives in one minute than all the tsking, yammering heads on television will ever do.  And if you doubt this, or even if, holy shit, you're just interested in the health of the next generation, check out what the EPA's Office of Children's Health Protection is up to, because it's pretty damn impressive. 

And, needless to say, like every other governmental agency that looks after the people, (that's people-people, not corporation-people) they're under attack by Republicans, including those who wish to become president in 2012.  But this is not the ordinary "less regulation!" attack that voters hear every election cycle.  This time, they mean it.  They don't just want to appoint a bunch of industry hacks to head the agency and play fiddle while the Cuyahoga burns, because, unfortunately, even under Republican hood ornaments, the agency remains full of a bunch of career do-gooders who take their jobs seriously.  So, what they want to do is de-fund it completely and take away not only its teeth, put its tongue, lips, mouth, voice, everything.  

But why especially now, you ask?  I mean, beside the fact that the Republicans have never been more in the pockets of the industries that pollute our air, water, and land?

Well, whatever the reason, I'm sure it has nothing whatsoever to do with fracking.  

I'm sure it has nothing to do with our struggle to find inexpensive domestic fuel, and especially now with natural gas being touted as a clean energy source that can replace fossil fuels in certain applications, and the need to extract oil and gas from the ground cheaply becomes more urgent to U.S. companies, and therefore the need to control the EPA becomes more urgent, because we wouldn't want some ole' big government job-killing agency to tell us that it's a kind of a huge deal if your tap water bursts into flame, now would we?

And since we're asking rhetorical questions, why aren't the TV ladies crying over self-proclaimed mother of 28 Michelle Bachmann's threats to shut down an agency that saves the lives of children every goddamn day?  Why is that?  Why would the media be afraid to attack a woman who wants to hurt children?  I'm pretty sure Nancy Grace and Julie Chen have heard of the GOP, and so I can't imagine what they could be waiting for.