Saturday, July 30, 2016

One Hundred Years Ago: A Vote Can Change History

The Democratic National Convention is over, and it has happened. 96 years after women won the right to vote in America, a woman has been nominated for the office of President of the United Statres by a major party. She has a good chance of becoming the first woman elected to that office. The thing she said, upon the occasion of making it official, that I liked best was, “When there is no ceiling, the sky's the limit.” Hilary Clinton is referring, of course, to the Glass Ceiling, the metaphor for societally imposed limits on female empowerment. Eight years ago, Clinton lost the primary campaign to current President Barach Obama, saying at the time that the Glass Ceiling now had about fifteen million cracks in it. Today, the Ceiling lies shattered, but its framework is still there. It makes me want to shout out in both joy and caution, but mostly joy. And it makes me think about what happened not 96 years ago, but exactly one hundred, when the Glass Ceiling received its first truly monumental crack. In 1916, a woman was elected to serve in the House of Representatives. Her name was Jeannette Rankin, and she came from my state, Montana. She was a Republican, but that was when Republicans still owned the Progressive Movement. Rankin was a Suffragette of the first order and key in pushing the right to vote for Montana women, granted just two years before. She was a staunch supporter of rights for women and children. She was a pacifist, doggedly so. She was what someone at the time might call a Roosevelt Republican, very concerned with the ever increasing power and economic gaps in the country, wary of big business, and champion of the common man and woman. In 1916, while Democratic incumbent President Woodrow Wilson was narrowly beating Republican candidate Charles Evans Hughes in the General (in Montana Wilson won in a landslide), Jeannette Rankin won the seat in the House by 6,000 votes. She thus became the first woman elected to public office in the United States. More, she became the first woman elected to public office in any Western democracy, ever. Women could vote for her in the state election; women could not yet vote for President in the General. I think Hilary Clinton might consider ramping up her praise of this remarkable woman and her remarkable achievement. The general opinion in 1916 was making a quantum shift. Before that, Americans in general did not believe, nor want to believe, that women had the sense to be responsible with their vote. Rankin and the other incredible women who supported Universal Suffrage shattered that notion, although many opponents clung to it or found ways to modify their approach to limiting women's rights and empowerment. As with any human rights issue, we have come a long way but we have far to go, and we must remain vigilant against those who would send us backward. But Rankin, as a poster child for Hilary Clinton, presents two problems, First, she was a Republican. But she was a Republican when Republicans were progressive and she stands as an honorable ancestor to today's progressive movement. Second, as an avowed pacifist, she was the only person to vote against entering both World War One and World War Two. Hilary Clinton is no pacifist, and would never trumpet Jeannette Rankin in that arena. Too much of the world still believes war is a viable form of policy; our President must be seen as strong and prepared to do what is necessary. Still, Rankin was strong-willed and consistent, and a true pioneer, so if the Democrats will not claim her as their spiritual forerunner, I certainly will. Look how far we've come, and how close we are. Thank you, Jeannette. Thank you, voters of Montana. You made history. Perhaps we will again.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

TMI: My Colonoscopy and Me

There are some phrases that were meant to be shared. Unfortunately for you, this is probably not one of them, bordering on too much information and just plain OMG, can't believe he really said that. I am glad my colonoscopy is behind me. Wink wink, nudge nudge, knowwhatImean, knowwhatImean? It went well: I'm as clean as a whistle. That could lead to an whole other set of bad jokes, but I will spare you. Colonoscopies are routine after you reach “a certain age.” They seem intimidating in theory, but they really aren't bad. The worst thing is the prep. Drinking four liters of fluid, barely disguised by the handy dandy flavor packet that comes with, was a Herculean task. Luckily, it was broken up into two sessions. Unluckily, the second session started at four am. Each session takes about two hours, so in the middle of the night I got to watch reruns of CSI while drinking eight glasses of prep juice and periodically pausing the show to run down the hall; came back, un-paused CSI, drink another glass, re-pause, and on and on. It's something to do once a decade. The second hardest part was enduring the setting of an IV catheter in my arm. I am not good with needles. I don't pass out at the sight of them, but I just don't want to get stuck. It's anticipation, and it always leads to much joking with the person about to do the sticking. This one told me she just watched the video last night one more time to make sure she got it right. I gritted my teeth, clenched every sphincter, and braved on. Then there's the dread, the anticipation: do you want to know if something is wrong? Intellectually, I know (and often say) it is better to know nothing is wrong than not know something is. But, emotionally, it makes me feel anxious. The procedure itself is nothing. I slept through it happily. In fact, I re-discovered that I am a lightweight when it comes to drugs of any kind. Whatever they gave me, probably Fentanyl, knocked me out, and I remained groggy until three in the afternoon. I woke up long enough to hear the doctor's clean bill of health, then again to get to the car, then again to get to the house and my easy chair, and watch the beginning of the lastest Inspector Lewis, then again about mid way through Inspector Lewis, and finally at the closing credits. I had very sweet dreams. Colonoscopies can be fun, or at least innocuous. It is better to know, etcetera. I do wonder how someone gets interested in colons. I'm more of a semi-colon person myself. But I'm glad this one has my backside.

Sanders Supporters: VOTE THE REVOLUTION!

Open Letter to Bernie Sanders' Supporters: Vote the Revolution I love Bernie., I love what he has accomplished. I love how far he got. I love the revolution of which he has become the spokesperson. I love his position as outsider in a system that I find a frustration. I felt the Bern and feel it still. That being said, political reality now must take hold. He is not the candidate of the Democratic Party. He has influenced the platform for that party, he has changed the power structure within the voting public, and he may have influenced future elections and how they are run. But now we have to focus on November. That's not a sell out; that is working within the system in order to change it. Working within the system to change it is precisely how Senator Sanders waged his revolution. Now it's up to us. Please keep in mind that Donald Trump will not further our agenda. But therre is every chance that Hilary Clinton and a Democratic majority in both chamber of Congress will. Also remember that a vote foir Trump is a vote to put the Koch Brothers one heartbeat away from the White House. Don't waste your vote by not voting at all; don't insult Bernie by voting opposite his own stated wish. You can help make history happen. Remember,m please, as well, the down ballot candidates. They are as important as your choice for President. You say you want a revolution? Vote out the status quo.

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Our Brand Is Crisis Indeed

There are many ways to win over the electorate to your side of the election. One of the most effective ways is to paint that electorate as being stuck in the middle of a crisis that only you can resolve. In the movie, Our Brand Is Crisis, two American campaign managers face off against each other to elect the new President in Bolivia. Using the strategy of painting Bolivia as a nation in crisis, then adding promises to fix things, one side ekes out a win over the more positive, hopeful, reform oriented campaign. Then the President elect embarks on a course opposite his own campaign promises, and crisis ensues. Donald Trump paints America as a nation in crisis. Yes, we have issues and problems. Racial tension is rampant. Socio-economic inequality is pervasive. Threats from overseas and home grown terrorists are a constant underpinning of our everyday life. Violence is rampant on our streets. But the economy is healthy, unemployment is lower than it has been in decades, wage equality has become a major concern of at least one of the major political parties, and America is still looked upon as the leader of the free world. Crisis is too strong a word for what is going on here, yet our job is crisis, says Trump, and he is very good at his job. At the same time, the very issues that plague Americans across the nation are issues whose resolution has been blocked time and again by an obstinate Congress dominated by the very people Donald Trump represents. I fear his election will not fix a crisis he is making up, but create one that he might just dictate.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Special Agent Oso and Politics

I have resigned from politics. No more observations, no more comments, no more great pearls of wisdom drawn from what I think of as the bleeding obvious. I figure that will last for about fifteen minutes, or about the length of an episode of Special Agent Oso. Grandson Chase turned me onto Oso, the bear in training to be a spy, who helps children solve real problems like how to plant a magnolia or how to brush your teeth without help. Has it been fifteen minutes already? Okay, I am an addict, freely admitted. In the twelve step program, I think that's step one: recognizing you have a problem. No, sorry, that's not quite right. Step one is admitting your are powerless over politics. The problem with politics is obvious, and there are two. Once again the voter is left choosing between the lesser of two evils who themselves were selected to run by the powerful people with money. They are “The Man no one should trust” and “The woman no one seems able to trust.” Yet they are the choices we have. This leads to problem number two: Americans by and large are rejecting politics as usual. They want a leader who is good, charismatic, determined, independent, trustworthy, and who genuinely cares for each of us. They want those people in Congress as well. They will settle for an outsider. Anything seems better than what we have now, but what we have now doesn't realize their own peril. The people have not spoken. They cannot. That is why they hesitate to vote at all, why they say, “What's the point?” When they do vote, they scream at the establishment the way my 20 month old grandson says NO! He lifts his hand into a royal wave and says, “No way!” We adults need Special Agent Oso. Who else can fix this mess? Meanwhile, I resign. For now. Oso is showing a young girl how to jump rope.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

July 20: Profile in Courage

Courage is a powerful thing, a noteworthy thing, and I don't have it. Courage is standing up despite the consequences. I can stand up freely, speak my mind, and take no risks. I can blog to my heart's content, but am I putting myself out there? Am I challenging myself? Am I dropping everything to rush to a desperate corner of the world to offer help, or to march in solidarity for a cause I believe some day must triumph? The spirit is weak. I am not even sure that the flesh is willing. That is not courage; it may be righteousness but it doesn't hurt me or put me in harm's way. And so I deeply admire those who possess that kind of courage, and act on it. Courage is risk; moral courage is risking yourself for others. It was on this day, 72 years ago, that members of the German military plotted to kill Adolph Hitler and overthrow the Nazi government. They had had enough. Germany was losing the war and Hitler was sending their country into total ruin. These officers thought if they could gain control of the country they could sue for peace and end the brutality. Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg led the plot, convinced after Stalingrad that Hitler's death would be less evil than his policies. On July 20, 1944, after over a year of planning and consolidating support, he placed a bomb at Hitler's feet at a meeting. Hitler hit the briefcase holding the bomb with his foot and shifted it to the other side of the table support where he stood. When the bomb went off, three were killed but Hitler survived. Von Stauffenberg and his co-conspirators were doomed. Nearly 5,000 suspects were executed. Von Stauffenberg died in front of a firing squad on July 21. It was a desperate plot against desperate odds. The cost of failure was known by all, and all paid it.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Gracious Tears

Last night, we had the grandkids over for the night. Xander is a veteran of sleepovers at Oma and Opa's. But CharleeRose, at two, is just now getting comfortable in our house without Mommy and Daddy there. She has made the discovery that our house, and especially our dog Meg, can be loads of fun. CharleeRose is such a little girl, all of a sudden, it takes my breath away. Her favorite word, it seems, is “shoe.” Maybe it's genetic – a chick thing, and she already has it. After dinner, with relaxing and bringing the energy levels down a bit, we put on a movie we all could enjoy. We chose Pixar's Up. I have seen this film at least thirty times, yet I always well up with tears during the beginning sequence – you know where – as if I'd never seen it before. I also begin to cry, perhaps shriek, at the very opening notes of the original “Pete's Dragon,” but that is from sheer pain. I liked that film the first five or six times our young kids made us watch it, but number seven was agony and after that my days were only razzle dazzle without Helen Reddy in them. I never tire, however, of Up. I admit it: I cry at movies. I'm a sucker for a well-crafted emotional manipulation. Heck, I've even been known to cry at books. With Up, maybe it's because I can relate to Mr. Frederickson, being now of an age myself. Maybe it's simply that the storytellers understand the sad beauty of mutual devotion. Maybe I'm just a softy. Maybe my empathy gene is strong. I did not inherit that gene from my father. It must have come on my mother's side and their tragically unwieldy thirteen letter last name. All I know is that people always told me it isn't manly to cry. I don't care. It's who I am. When I was a student at the University of California at Santa Cruz, one of the required classes was a lecture series on American History. I think it was the very first day of class. The lecturer, and also Provost of my college, Cowell, Page Smith, stood up on the stage with a pin clutched between his thumb and forefinger. After we had settled and he knew we were paying attention, he held the pin up high and said, “I could cry at the drop of this.” Page Smith was a noted historian specializing in American women in history. He was a veteran of World War Two and had won a Purple Heart. When I met him in 1967 he was fifty years old, and no one in their right mind would call Page Smith unmanly. Romantic, yes, incurably, but never unmanly. So the words from his lips stuck inside me vividly and for another nearly fifty years. I am proud of the fact that I cry at movies, and books, and my granddaughter's passion for shoes. Page Smith was married to his wife, Eloise, for fifty-three years. Eloise died of kidney cancer in 1995. Page, who suffered from leukemia, died two days later. Reading that, I cried.

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Something Nice to Say

I wish I could write something nice today. Most of my life is nice. Tomorrow is a special day for my bride and myself, a landmark, her 65th birthday. I am a year older than she, and I feel grateful each day that I have air in my lungs and blood still pumping through my veins. I have aches, I have tired muscles and bones, I don't sleep nearly as long as I would like, and I have to enter the TMI zone at least once and usually twice in the middle of every night, but I am alive and I am happy and I have the chance, if I take it, to sit down and write stuff every single day. Life is good. But. There is always a “but” somewhere. It's like that proverbial shadow always following you around, even in the middle of the night. The umbra, part ghost, part monster, part reality-check, part companion and friend. “But.” The larger world, the world outside my own yard and neighborhood, is going through hell. It seems the world is always in turmoil, somewhere; that people bring turmoil with them wherever they go. My problem is that so many innocent people, unsuspecting people, good people with full and open and happy hearts, get in the way. That scares me. But what scares me more is that they are often specifically targeted. What scares me most is that their deaths are so casually accepted as part of the cost of doing the business of war. It doesn't matter what side is waging what battle. Civilians are killed. We cry for a while, then the next batch of civilians is attacked and we cry again. And the circle remains unbroken, and that is why I find it hard, today, after a particularly difficult and brutal week, month, year, decade, century, to find something nice to say.

Friday, July 15, 2016


I will be brief tonight. The words are hard to find. I am stunned. I am stunned by the rapid fire of events over the last few days and weeks, the uncertainty being brought on, and the fear that seems to be seeping into our everyday lives. I am stunned that so few can cause so much chaos. Still, I remind myself that whatever chaos there seems to be around us, at its center there is order. I am stunned to think that the chaos itself cannot change the order at its core. I feel like we're living in the middle of a 1960's protest song: “They're rioting in Africa/There's strife in Iran/What nature doesn't do to us/Will be done by our fellow man.” But the pain, the disappointment, the horror, the sadness comes in wave after wave, body count after body count, from almost every corner of the world, and political inaction after inaction. I have no solutions to offer. Nobody is listening, anyway. They're all too stunned.

Saturday, July 9, 2016

Mini-Reviews: Star Wars, Mockingjay, Trumbo and Suffragette

For Your DVD Viewing Pleasure, consider the following 2015 films: Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Did anyone else see what I saw: two people pitted against each other, one for good and one for evil; one for the Force and the Jedi, the other for the Dark Side and the Emperor; both manipulated into seeking the ultimate Power at the expense of billions of lives – in other words, politics as usual. That being said, this was a great E-ticket ride, lots of fun and fireworks and a really, really deep (well, maybe not deep) exploration of a conflicted kid with serious daddy issues. Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 4. Was anyone else as bored to tears as I was, watching this film? I kept wondering why I kept watching, but I had seen the others and wanted closure. I guess I could have skipped ahead to the last ten minutes, but I endured. What a weak and predictable finale to an interesting series! I mean: the line up of evil President Snow and self-proclaimed President Coin for the “execution”...And if Katniss was trying to get to Snopw to kill him and end the violence, why was she behind the combatting forces and not in front of them trying to reach the palace? And the final pastoral sequence was so idyllic and sweet and sad and, God I'm glad it's over. Trumbo and Suffragette. Also released in 2015, neither of these films got the hype or attention of the above two, yet each deserves notice. Both are amazing stories of really frightening times in which the issue of human rights is deeply challenged. In Trumbo, Bryan Cranston plays the lead character, a screenwriter blacklisted during the McCarthy Era who fought against the House on un-American Activities and spent time in prison for it – a genuine political prisoner. In Suffragette, a fictionalized woman combats male and societal prejudice in 1913 Britain in the struggle for universal suffrage, women's right to vote. Both are compelling and cautionary and address profound truths about ourselves. But in the Trump Era, who cares about truth anyway?

Monday, July 4, 2016

July 4, 1974: My Day in History

Happy anniversary, America. The day is special for me, too. 42 years ago a chain of events took place that culminated with a barbecue that was supposed to celebrate Independence Day before we added our own special honor to the mix. Diane and I had known each other for four years, as friends. But that summer we discovered that we really liked each other, and like became love as the month of June progressed. We began talking about plans, in a loose way: how many kids do you want, what kind of career are you seeking, would you adopt a child, where would you want to live, will we ever go on an ocean voyage, that sort of thing. It seemed natural to each of us that our lives would meld together, so on July 1 Diane proposed to me. I said I had to think about it. On July 2, clinging to traditionalism, I proposed to her. She said yes. I said we ought to keep it secret for now, until we could figure out a way to let everyone know. My motive was more complicated than I let on: I didn't have a ring. How do you propose without a ring? So on July 3 I met with Diane's best friend, Terri, so she could help me find the right ring for Di. Terri knew that Di had entered a ring design contest some time before, and that the ring she had designed was for her the perfect engagement ring. So that's what we went to find. We went to Goldsmith's Jewelers in Del Monte Center and looked at every engagement ring they had, but I didn't like any of them and Terri saw nothing close to Diane's design. We described Diane's design as best we could to the salesman, and he said that he had nothing like that in an engagement ring but it sounded like a coctail ring they had. We looked. It was exactly right, perfect in every way. Clinging to non-traditionalism, I bought the ring. That night I was not supposed to meet up with Diane. She spent the evening with Terri and her husband John. I showed up around nine pm and proposed again, formally, with the ring. Diane was delighted. We told her folks. We told my mother. Everyone decided to turn the 4th of July barbecue into an engagement party. It was official. We went back to Goldsmith's to try to find a wedding set that would compliment the cocktail-engagement ring. To the salesman's, but not to our, surprise, he discovered that the ring was actually meant as an engagement ring, with a wedding band that matched it and fit into its contours, and that there was a man's band that also matched the pattern. Though Diane never earned any kudos for her design, the design lived and lives on her finger. I took it as a sign. The fact that I found the right ring in the first store, under pressure, and that it was part of a matched set proved to me that Diane and I were like swans. The marriage was meant to be and it would last a lifetime, or two.

Friday, July 1, 2016

One Hundred Years Ago, July 1, 1916: First Day of the Somme

The bombardment began a week before. But instead of hunkering down, the Germans used the cover of being shelled constantly to move their machine gun crews closer to the No Man's Land between their trenches and the British., When the first whistles and shouts of “Over the Top!” spurred British soldiers to attack, the Germans were ready. Along a front that stretched across one hundred miles, one hundred thousand soldiers threw themselves straight into a meat grinder. Two poets, Alexander Robertson and John Sheets, were killed nearly outright. Their bodies were missing for almost a year before being unearthed. Five other soldier-poets died on that terrible day: Henry Field, W.N.Hodgson, Victor Ratcliffe, Gilbert Waterhouse and Bernard White. An eighth poet-soldier, Brian Brooke, died on July 25 of wounds suffered on the 1st. I write their names because I know them. Twenty thousand Brits were killed on that first day alone, one of every five who attacked. No ground was gained. The Somme was not done yet. The battle raged on and on. It would last five long months. Among all combatants, there would be one million casualties, killed or wounded, during its course. It ended not in a decisive victory fir either side, but rather it just wore out and the fighting moved. The Allies pushed the Germans back a total of seven miles. The war itself dragged on for two more years. On July 4, an American poet named Alan Seeger, serving with the French Foreign Legion so he could get into the fight, was struck by multiple machine gun bullets while leading a charge, dying of his wounds. Seeger was a classmate of T. S. Eliot at Harvard. Seeger's poem, Rendezvous with Death, was the personal favorite of John Fitzgerald Kennedy. Seeger's brother Charles was a pacifist and remained so all his life; Charles' son, a nephew that Alan never knew he had, would grow up to be folk singing legend Pete Seeger. Tom Kettle, an Irish poet, witnessed much of the devastation of the early days of this horrendous battle. He wrote, “If I live, I mean to spend the rest of my life working for perpetual peace. I have seen war and faced modern artillery and know what an outrage it is against simple men.” Like so many of the soldier-poets of this war, Kettle saw the futility of slaughter all around him and vowed to make sure it could not happen again. Day one at the Somme could easily stand for the poster child that war does one thing only and one thing well, kill young people. But Kettle did not survive. He died in combat on September 9, 1918, another victim of the Somme. When I was eight years old, my parents began to work as full time managers of a motel in Santa Barbara that was owned by a British ex-patriot named Charles Cunningham. Mr. Cunningham told me that he had been wounded on that first day at the Somme, 42 years earlier, now one hundred years ago. He is no longer here to remember, but I still am. For him, for Kettle, for all the dead, we have a responsibility to mark and remember, and vow never to repeat.