Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Reeling and grasping for direction

A friend of mine lives in Mexico, because his wife is unable to get healthcare in the United States.  Don’t ask.  You’ll just get me started on the American decision to allow corporations to profit off of visits to a doctor, and that’s a misery for another day.  For now, let me address the distress he’s going through.  He’s been spending much of his retirement time yacking it up with a bunch of other retirees who gather each week to discuss politics.  I love the idea of lifetime geezer education, so I’ve been inclined to cheer them on from afar.  Problem is, though, they seem to be so dispirited by the endless stream of bad news from Washington that they’re actually thinking of disbanding.

My heart goes out to them.  I wonder if I’d keep coming back week after week to rehash the latest illustration of how America is making an ass of itself before all the world.  The problem of greed behind it all.  Our talent for generating great wealth, and then making sure it stays in the hands of bankers and CEOs and not too much spills over to the hoi polloi who will just squander it on bread and circuses.

Besides our greed problem, there’s also the fact that we seem to be unable to think in terms of both/and.  Instead, it’s either/or.  Take the White Christian people, for example.  They started the place; shouldn’t they own it?  Many of them seem to think so.  Instead now there are non-whites everywhere you look, and some of them are even transgendered.

Here’s the problem.  We couldn’t figure out how to manage the rise of the have-nots without the white people haves having to let go of all the goodies they had acquired by getting here first.  So we picked a man to be president who we thought would make sure that wouldn’t happen.  At least he could slow the process down.

I wish I hated America, so I could have a good belly laugh at all this.  But I don’t laugh at people falling down the stairs and I don’t laugh at people shooting themselves in the foot. And when you ask young people on the street who we fought the Revolutionary War with and they answer Russia, I don’t laugh, either.  Ignorance makes me sad.  That’s why I became a teacher, because I saw ordinary common ignorance as something that was fixable. 

Some kinds of ignorance, of course, I just can’t help myself.  Like watching Pat Robertson (may he live forever) with his predictions that hurricanes will hit the coast of North Carolina because there are lesbians running loose in California.  Or Jim Bakker urging his Christian flock to recycle his potato soup buckets into elimination buckets.  No kidding.  Have a look here

Putting Trump and his men in charge of the henhouse is that kind of ignorance.  We once taught kids to think logically.  "A is bigger than B.  B is bigger than C.  Therefore A is bigger than C."  Today it's "Politicians are all bad.  Trump's not a politician. Therefore, Trump is good."

Inner city schools are a mess.  The solution?  Logically, replace them with charter schools. Appoint a billionaire friend who has dedicated her life to destroying the public school system to head up the Department of Education.  Killing two birds with one stone.  She can dismantle the Department of Education at the same time.  What happens to the kids we can't fit into the charter schools?  Look, I can't fix everything.

Solve the “too big to fail” banking problem by appointing Steve Mnuchin, former executive at Goldman Sachs to Secretary of the Treasury.  It appears that Trump's promised "draining of the swamp" (getting rid of corrupt politicians) means putting the people that corrupted the politicians in the first place in his Cabinet, cutting out the middle man.  Logical.

I can't handle the news anymore.  Every morning it's another outrage.  The accumulation of corporatist millionaires (what am I saying - billionaires!) in the new ruling oligarchy known as Trump's cabinet.  This morning there was a petition being passed around from a friend of mine in New York protesting the need for New Yorkers to foot a million dollars a day so that Mrs. Trump and her son can stay in the tacky gold tower they're used to.  Wouldn't do to have to move to that dump on Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, D.C.  Not when you can stick the sucker-taxpayers for the rent to stay where you are!

It's called the new reality.  And I'm still getting word from my sister that God has answered her prayers by putting Trump in the White House.  She gets her information from Billy Graham's little boy, Franklin, so she knows it's good information.  Like so many other evangelicals, the folks now fixing to dismantle Medicare and raid the Social Security coffers to the benefit of the superrich have figured out these are single-issue voters who can be had simply by promising to repeal Roe v. Wade. And making sure their leaders keep them informed as to God's will.

Just don't know what to do.   I can't live with this much depression.  But I can't shake it, either.  Got to get back to normal.  Got to find a way not to take this in and make it feel like such a personal attack.  Not doing well at all.

Wish I could watch Trump piss off China by talking with Taiwan and laugh.  Laugh at watching that Carson bozo take on the country’s big city mayors as head of Housing and Urban Development. Laugh as Trump backs another truckload of alligators up to the swamp he promised American suckers he would drain.

I’m going to suggest to my friend in Mexico that they rename themselves the Resisters of Rosarito Discussion Group.  Sticking your head (my head - obviously I'm talking to myself here first and foremost) in the ground will not satisfy.  It will only allow the pain to dig in and fester.  There has to be resistance.  Catharsis never comes with denial.

If you’re not going to fight, what are you going to do? 

Seriously.  What to do?  I am a fan of Robert Reich, whom I see in Indian restaurants here in Berkeley from time to time when he's not on YouTube urging people to organize and fight back. And of Elizabeth Warren.  And Van Jones is out there beating the pavements once again.  And of course, there's Bernie Sanders, who just keeps on running like an old Model T.  Love that guy.

But organizing and fighting back, for me, are easier said than done. I live in California. Do I knock on doors or join a telephone bank to get my democratic neighbors to vote for electors who are guaranteed to vote democratic already?  Do I join the secession movement? Do I move to Wyoming or North Dakota where my vote will have a greater influence on the Electoral College?

Do I pay more attention to what’s happening across the pond in Europe and Britain?  Keep abreast of Geert Wilders in Holland, Marine le Pen in France?  Austria narrowly escaped electing a fascist head of state in this week's election, but nobody thinks the winner can hold out against them forever.  Hungary is already in the hands of a thug who is systematically dismantling the courts and oversight bodies..  Germany is struggling with a cross between the Tea Party and a Trump Rebellion in the “Alternative for Germany” Party, which only won 4.7% of the national vote in the 2013 election (and therefore was not entitled to any seats because the country has a 5% minimum requirement).  Three months ago, however, they were able to gain recognition in ten of Germany's sixteen state parliaments.   

All part of the same Trump show.  The legitimate gripes by the have-nots against the wealth generators who have not figured out how to distribute the wealth equitably.

My friends, many of them, insist I need to get away from the computer and cultivate my own garden.  Problem with that is that in this age of connection, the national garden is our own garden. Another alternative, also common among my friends, and one which I lean toward quite strongly, is to kvetch. Sit hour after hour at the computer and keep track of all the injustices and shout OUCH day after day after day. At least it relieves some of the pressure.

Big news here in the East Bay this week is the fire in East Oakland.  Death count is now up to 34.  The artsy-fartsy crowd without a pot to piss in can’t afford the $2500 a month rent in Oakland (It’s $3500 across the Bay in San Francisco), so they gather together in death traps.  All part of the same problem.  The wealth generated locally by Silicon Valley is great for those who can afford the two, three, five, ten-million dollar homes you see advertised everyday in the San Francisco Chronicle.  Not so great on an artist’s income.  Haves, superhaves, and have-nots.  At least we're not at each other's throats yet.

Democracy?  Pretty much gone.  Vulture capitalism is still alive, but the natives are getting restless.

The stock market is at an all-time high.

I think I’ll do Christmas this year.


Monday, November 28, 2016

The Vikings, the Goths, and the whole damn family

The Viking Ship Oseberg, Viking Ship Museum
I have about half a dozen blog entries started that I can’t get off the ground.  They’re all the same, basically.  They range from rage to sorrow, but they all touch on the American decision to turn our backs on the fight against racism, sexism and homophobia, government by oligarchy and destruction of the environment. Complete with illustrations ad nauseam of foxes being assigned to run the new Hen House.  Depressing as shit on wheels.

So I went out to our storage shed this morning and began a reorganization of the clutter.  Just the thing, I thought, to get me away from the computer and the relentless beating of my head against a brick wall of bad news.  Time to move the arms and legs, that little voice said.  Time to fix what you have the power to fix and leave the rest to others for a while.

Perspective.  That’s what’s always missing when you find yourself getting depressed, the voice said.  You need to stretch your attention across something wider, something deeper.  Get some historical perspective, for example.  

So I let my mind wander.  Free associate.  I found a box of Christmas stuff and suddenly the melody to “O wie wohl ist mir am Abend” came to me.   Don’t know why.  It’s not a Christmas song.  It’s a round I sang with my grandmother as a kid.  You may know it as “Oh, how lovely is the evening.”  I found it on YouTube with three young people I take to be Americans singing it for no apparent reason, not particularly well and mispronouncing the German. They are in Thailand, evidently, just to round out the bits of information of no consequence.  Just three people singing.  Just what the doctor ordered.

In this case the doctor would seem to be my grandmother.  She had a thing for singing.  She had gone through the hell of the First World War, losing a husband and having to farm a daughter out to her sister to raise so she (the daughter, my mother) would have enough to eat.  Then she gave up her homeland and lived forever caught between Germany, the land of her birth and America, her chosen home.  When in one of those places, she was usually homesick for the other.  Spent a ton of money visiting the Heimat, back in the day when you had to go by ship.  She was a stewardess on the Hamburg-Amerika Line back before the Second World War and jumped ship in New York to be with my mother again.  When the war came, there she was, an illegal German alien in America.  She was arrested for being a spy and taken to Washington for trial, where they soon realized what they had on their hands was a German Hausfrau who loved to cook and sing and knew precious little about politics.  

“Wherever you are in the world,” she told me more than once, “if you’re ever lost and confused, find your way to where people are singing and you will be all right.”

My grandmother anchors me to Germany and the European continent.  In 1960 I went to Germany to study, and found myself digging into the history of the Third Reich as taught by German professors at the University of Munich, and attending lectures by concentration camp survivors.  My cognitive dissonance (how do good people do such bad things?) started early on.

It’s helping, I think, to consider what people have been through and survived.  I know lots of people are saying this is the end of the world, or at least a setback so severe that we will not see the end of it in our lifetimes.  But it’s useful to take note of the marvelous place that Germany is today, and appreciate how it is possible to recover from disaster. 

1945 was hardly the first time they had to pick up the pieces after a disaster.  Religious Wars.  The Bubonic Plague.  The Inquisition.  Times when people probably didn't feel much like singing.

If you are a speaker of English or another Germanic language, it's useful, I think, in searching for perspective, to take a look at what is essentially family history.  Today we sit around the table at Thanksgiving with Trump supporters, some of us.  At some point in the past, though, family included Vikings, Goths (Ostro- and Visi-), Huns, Nazis, Crusaders and a whole bunch of other seriously brutal folk.  (And maybe not all that bad, actually, but that is a subject for another day.) We survived them.  We will survive these guys who are, let’s admit it, pretty mild by comparison.  Throwing the weak among us under the bus isn’t quite as bad as raping and pillaging entire villages, after all. (Unless it's you going under the bus, of course.)

And we know that all the while this pillaging was going on, somewhere people were singing.  We know this because the words the Vikings and the Huns and the rest of the Germanic people used are still here, with their shared grammar (using ablauts to make the past tense and the past participle) and with only minor differences among them:

English: sing/sang/sung
German: singen/sang/gesungen
Icelandic: sing/söng/sungið
Dutch: zing/zong/gezongen
Norwegian: synge/sang/sunget
Danish: sing/sang/sunget
Swedish: sjunga/sjöng/sjungit
Frisian: sing/sang/songen

Things could be a lot worse.  I know, because I have not felt the need to pull out Elisabeth Schwarzkopf singing the four last songs of Richard Strauss just yet.  That's my go-to when all else fails.  That and macadamia nuts and white chocolate.  And Bratwurst and German-fried potatoes.

Here's the last of the four songs, which is a poem by Josef von Eichendorff.

Wir sind durch Not und Freude
gegangen Hand in Hand;
vom Wandern ruhen wir beide
nun überm stillen Land.
Rings sich die Täler neigen,
es dunkelt schon die Luft.
Zwei Lerchen nur noch steigen
nachträumend in den Duft.
Tritt her und lass sie schwirren,
bald ist es Schlafenszeit.
Dass wir uns nicht verirren
in dieser Einsamkeit.
O weiter, stiller Friede!
So tief im Abendrot.
Wie sind wir wandermüde--
Ist dies etwa der Tod?
Through sorrow and joy
we have gone hand in hand;
from our wanderings, we will rest
in this quiet land.
Around us, the valleys bow,
the air is now darkening.
Only two larks soar upwards
dreamily into the haze.
Come close, and let them twitter,
soon it will be time for sleep -
so that we don't get lost
in this solitude.
O vast, tranquil peace,
so deep in the sunset!
How weary we are of wandering--
Is this perhaps death?

It's in virtually every soprano's repertoire, I imagine.  I'm partial to Schwarzkopf's version, but can't find one to link to that is live, and I hate staring at a record label while listening to music. So here's Kiri Te Kanawa's version, which is available online with her performing it live.  A pretty good second, in my estimation.  And I'm so glad she's wearing the kitchen curtains, like Carol Burnett did ("I saw them in the window and couldn't resist") in my favorite skit of hers, the takeoff on Gone with the Wind.

I can't take this music straight.  Too powerful for me.  So glad she provided this distraction to keep me from spilling over.

It's the music I'd like to go to, eventually.

Fear not.  I'm nowhere near ready to cash in my chips just yet.  Just want to get things lined up for when the time comes.

 picture credits:


Monday, November 14, 2016

Not just a licking

Dear Ms. Garchik:

Your column this morning, entitled "When your side takes a licking," begins:

The task before us is to shed the us-versus-them mind-set.  The election is over, and unification is needed.  When we get down to specifics, political differences are mere skirmishes.  Americans, let us go forth to bridge the divide between ice cream lovers who prefer mint chip and those who prefer Chunky Monkey.

I agree with you on the importance of bridging divides.  But in this case, we're talking not about two divides, but three.   And it's not mint chip, Chunky Monkey and strawberry.

I believe the majority of Americans who need to channel their anger and come together fall into three camps.  In one camp are the serious Trump supporters who carried the day. And by "serious" I mean those with a gripe against "the system," "the elites," "the 1%", or however you characterize them.  I'm not talking about the white supremacists Hillary was referring to when she used the word "deplorables."  Frankly, I don't know how you reach these people.  In the second camp are the Bernie Sanders supporters who were underestimated and shut out by their Democratic Party leaders.  And the third camp consists of the mainstream Democrats who fell in behind Hillary, who tried to sell her as the lesser of two evils, but couldn't pull it off.  Three groups means we need three bridges.  Fine.  Let's get to it.

But your suggestion that the differences are "mere skirmishes" makes me wonder if you've been paying attention to what all sides agree was the dirtiest political campaign in modern American history.  When one side says the the American way is to grant all citizens full rights regardless of race, creed or ethnicity and the other side says a man cannot be a judge because his parents are Mexican, that is not a skirmish.  It's a confrontation between the rule of law and bigotry.

The incoming Vice-President posted on his web page the view that "Congress should oppose any effort to put gay and lesbian relationships on an equal legal status with heterosexual marriages," while the majority of Americans rejoiced at the Supreme Court decision to grant same-sex marriages, noting the discrimination against gays in the past.  That too is not a skirmish.  It's a confrontation between a historically oppressed minority of American citizens and a man who would call that oppression justified.  To compare these differences of opinion to ice cream preferences is cruelly insulting, to say the least.  Mint Chip vs. Chunky Monkey?  Respect for the rights of Mexicans and gays?  Really, Ms. Garchik?

Hillary won the support of American voters by something like a million and a half votes, by latest count.  She did not become president because we have to abide by our system of having electors, not voters, have the final say.  

It's not about one side "taking a licking."  Ours is a nation characterized by profound injustice in its political system.  It's about one side losing to a leader who has promised to roll back efforts to stop the destruction of the environment, to shut down solar power research and burn more coal, who pretends that black people have not been treated far worse by police than white people have, and who encourages the proliferation of nuclear weapons.

We haven't just "taken a licking."  We have regressed terribly.  We now have to contend with a setback in the fight against racism, sexism, homophobia, and abuse of the vulnerable.  We may argue over why this happened. But we should not trivialize or minimize what has just happened.

The article in question is from the San Francisco Chronicle, Datebook Section, Monday, November 14, 2016, p. E6.  It was written by Leah Garchik.  Her e-mail is: lgarchik@sfchonicle.com.  Twitter:@leahgarchik