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Monthly Archives: October 2016

A New Blog!

So, this blog is old enough to now have a baby sister.

I have been thinking more about wanting to get outside more often, explore more, get more into camping or hiking or checking out corners of the city.  But what stopped me was the feeling that I didn’t know what I was doing.  And it hit me finally – I can learn that.

Also, I felt like if I had someone else to watch learning, I wouldn’t feel quite so alone. So – I will BE that person for someone else, I hope.

And thus I am announcing – Outdoors, Woman!  a second blog, devoted to my efforts at turning myself into a hikin’ and campin’ naturalist that I kind of secretly always wanted to be.

I’ll keep this blog too – that’s just going to be about the outdoors stuff, and this will be more for general life.

But go check that out too!

Political Penance

While chatting with my friend Colin today, we both bemoaned the fact that we’re getting sick of the election.  But – we’re also both caught up in the mess. “I’m addicted,” Colin joked, wryly.  And I’d have to say the same – I watched all three debates, I’m trolling Facebook, and I’m exclusively reading the election content on other sites.

Enough.

From here on out, I am going to deliberately look at something else when I catch myself reading too much about the election – instead, I am going to write about Hamilton. Either something about Alexander Hamilton himself, or about Lin-Manuel Miranda, or the whole “Hamilton” phenomena.  Because frankly, it’s a vision of America I like much better – inclusive, multicultural, and helmed by someone who unabashedly loves everything and everyone and is humble and grateful, and excited about what other people are doing, and is also a little goofy.

And to start- because I just got into a couple of Facebook run-ins – I have this moment from the Hamilton stage door.  It’s one of the “Ham for Ham” shows, the quick-and-dirty things that Lin-Manuel used to do to entertain the audience members lining up for a spot in the last-minute ticket lottery.  On May 4th, he invited J.J. Abrams to join him, so they could tell the story about how Lin-Manuel composed the music for the cantina scene in The Force Awakens. And…then they both sang it.

Failure To Communicate

So there is a big DDOS affecting half the country today.  All the news coverage is talking about how it’s bringing down things like Twitter and Spotify, and a lot of people are cracking jokes about “ha ha, I guess I have to finally do some work.”

Where I am, though, it is affecting the cloud-based system we use to do work.  And even worse – it’s only affecting some of us in little clusters in turn.  So time to time, like right now, if you walked in you’d see my co-workers busily typing away, and then me, sitting in a corner staring at my computer like a doof because I can’t do anything.

*coughs*

*scuffs feet*

Uh, so what are you all up to?

Questions I Wish We’d Heard

Admit it.  We watched the debates for the trainwreck factor.  Maybe we went into them hoping we’d learn something about each candidate’s plans, hoping that someone, sometime, would ask about serious policy issues.  But only minutes into each debate, it became clear that we weren’t going to get that, and we all instead were watching to see our respective chosen candidates score hits on each other.  It’s too late now for us to hear any of the candidates challenged in their respective positions.  Granted, in the minds of many there is a clear winner; but there are still some questions we could and should have heard asked.

So here’s the questions I wish had been asked, and would have asked if the debates worked properly.  And I have questions for all the candidates, too – not just Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, because I also believe that the third-party candidates should have a seat at the table and a platform to speak as well.  And – everyone is gonna get challenged.

I will confine myself to four questions per candidate.

FOR JILL STEIN – CANDIDATE, GREEN PARTY

  • In your platform, you call for a democratization of the Federal Reserve as a check on the Banking system. How would such a plan guard against overly-frequent change to the Federal Reserve system, borne of the shifting perspectives of those doing the voting?
  • Can you also explain how your plan would guard against similar changes to public utilities, since you also all for democratically-run public banks and utilities?
  • Your platform also calls for a conversion to 100% Green Energy by 2030. How does your plan expedite that specific time frame, and does it include job retraining for the Americans who are currently in the fossil fuel industry?
  • Finally, you call for a “reject[ion] of gentrification as a model of economic development”. Can you clarify how much of gentrification you believe is intentional, as opposed to simple happenstance? Can such a policy truly be legislated?

 

FOR GARY JOHNSON – CANDIDATE, LIBERTARIAN PARTY

  • You have stated that the “free market” is capable of providing solutions to environmental issues. Can you clarify what has prevented the free market from enacting those solutions thus far, and what specific changes need to be brought to the free market in order to encourage such solutions?
  • At one point you are on record for calling for an end to the Federal Reserve altogether, but your platform does not mention such action. Can you expound upon your current position towards the Federal Reserve, and how your opinion seems to have changed so greatly?
  • You have stated that a “market-based approach” is best for regulating the health care industry. What measures would you use to ensure that those with pre-existing conditions, chronic health problems, or other serious health conditions would still be able to obtain affordable health care in a free market? What measures would you use to ensure that health care providers do not refuse service to someone on the basis of cost?
  • You have proposed introducing means testing into the Social Security system. What measures do you have in place to ensure the solvency of those who fail such a means test?

 

FOR HILLARY CLINTON – CANDIDATE, DEMOCRATIC PARTY

  • You are on record as having supported not only the War in Iraq, but also the war in Afghanistan, and the USA Patriot Act. Yet in 2007, you opposed the Iraq War Surge, and have gone on record that your initial decision on the war in Iraq was “a mistake”. Can you clarify whether you also feel your position on Afghanistan was a mistake, and why?  Can you also explain how you might avoid such mistakes in the future, preferably before the country has invested financial and personal cost?
  • Can you explain your disagreement with the Glass-Steagal Act, which levied restrictions on the banking industry? Do you find that the banking industry is in need of regulation, and if so, which regulations would you enact?
  • Your energy policy does not rule out fracking altogether, but instead leaves such a choice in the hands of each locality. Under your administration, what protections would there be for those people on the “losing side” of a local decision to permit fracking, who are then negatively impacted by fracking activity in their town?
  • You defended your categorization of Edward Snowden as a lawbreaker by saying that he could have availed himself of protections afforded to whistleblowers instead. Can you expound upon what protections are in place in Snowden’s case, since many of the existing whistleblower protections do not seem to apply in his case?

 

FOR DONALD TRUMP – CANDIDATE, REPUBLICAN PARTY

  • One of the solutions you have offered for alleviating the national debt would be to “refinance” it, by buying back existing bonds at a discount. What exactly would you offer bondholders in exchange for a lower return on their investment?
  • When challenged on your use of Chinese steel, you responded that you were simply practicing “good business” and that if your opponent felt you should not have done so, that she should have stopped you. Does this therefore mean that you support government regulations on private businesses, and if so, what regulations would you enact?
  • You have offered a number of different statements on your position on the minimum wage. Can you clarify whether you support or oppose raising the minimum wage, and if so, to what figure?
  • You have stated that all refugees to the United States be subjected to “extreme vetting” to assess their entry qualification. Can you list the specific steps that you would take above and beyond the existing vetting that takes place as it is?

 

….And four questions for all candidates, just to see who can answer them –

  • What, in detail, is the function of the office of the President?
  • What powers does the Senate actually have?
  • What is the process by which a bill becomes a law, in detail?
  • Do you trust the current democratic process in this country, in and of itself? Do you see any areas in which we may improve the overall procedure?

Thank you, candidates, for your time.

Hit It

It is the third debate night, and I’m liveblogging again.  And to paraphrase Elwood Blues:  “It’s 15 minutes to the debate. I have a full bottle of Magners’, a half-charged laptop battery, it’s dark, and I’m in a bar.”

8:45:  The bar I’m at is so full that they opened up their “party room” downstairs, with a fullscreen TV and a much better sound system. But there is no bartender, so everyone else is upstairs.  …Except for me.  I am alone in the room with their weird Halloween decorations and I feel like I’ve got the VIP lounge.

A couple ideas if you just Can’t Get Enough:

  • A sent me a link to a place where an NYU professor is going to be factchecking as things go on. I may tap in now and again.
  • There is also a hashtag on Twitter now, which was kicked off by NPR host Brian Lehrer – he suggested that people livetweet their reactions to the debate, but exclusively through the quoting of Bruce Springsteen lyrics.  Bruce himself retweeted that suggestion, and now #brucethedebate is really a thing.

8:52 – Brian Williams and Rachel Maddow discussing the structure now – only 6 questions and the rest is going to be back-and-forth.  Either they want to encourage deep dives into things or they are hoping to bait the candidates for bread and circuses.

8:54 – I’m kind of missing the speeches from the people inside the debate hall that we saw last time, they were actually quite sweet.

8:57 – From #brucethedebate –

8:58 – I’m watching MSNBC this evening. Someone’s talking about the Cleveland Indians making the World Series and someone’s standing outside the window with a big sign saying “You need Jesus.”

9:00 – away we go.

9:01 – the MSNBC hosts doing some kind of weird pissing match thing over whether Chris Wallace really is a FOX news man.  It’s quite weird.

9:04 – the whole “open discussion” notion seems really scary.

9:05 – did either candidate shake each other’s hand at all?…I don’t think so.

9:06 – first topic – SUPREME COURT!

9:07 – “what is the role of the Supreme Court?”
Hillary: big no to Citizens United.

Trump is fidgeting with his microphone already.

9:08 – two people have come down to join me; a couple. They’ve only been down here 45 seconds and the woman has already shouted, “oh, SHUT UP!” to Trump.

9:09 – wait, did Trump just say he was going to name “20 justices”?

9:10 – Chris Wallace calling Clinton on a Supreme Court comment.  Uh-oh.

9:12 – Trump was doing so well, but just slipped – “Hillary was just extremely angry about the Supreme Court ruling.”
Hillary: “Well, I was angry because toddlers were being shot.”

9:14 – Trump is wearing his NRA endorsement like a blue ribbon from the state fair.

9:15 – Trump – I’m not gonna say I want the court to overturn Roe V. Wade, but I’ll be putting pro-life judges on the court, so….

9:16 – Yay, Hillary is bringing up the fact that Planned Parenthood also does cancer screenings and health care. 

9:18 – Hillary is making some very important points about when late-term abortion is being used. And I bet any of you a lunch that very, very few people are going to listen.

9:19 – I just heard the crowd upstairs erupt in cheers at Hillary’s speech, and then openly jeer at Trump’s callback.  Hillary is now dismissing his words as “scare tactics.”

9:20 – And segueing to….immigration!  Wallace is saying “probably no issue divides you more….”

9:21 – Trump: “ICE endorsed me! first time they’ve ever done that!”
One of the people in the bar – “….what the hell is ICE?”

9:22 – THE WALL! Those of you playing a drinking game, DRINK!
(And a sniff – drink again!)

9:23 – Trump: “We have some bad hombres here and we’re gonna get ’em out.”
Woman at bar, to me – “I hope you wrote that down!”

9:24 – from NYU fact check:
Donald Trump: “Chicago probably has the biggest amount of gun violence in the country.”
Fact: Alaska has the highest rate of death by firearm which is 19.8 per 100,000 population.(http://www.cbsnews.com/pictures/death-by-gun-top-20-states-with-highest-rates/21/)
_Hashika Dissanayake

9:25 – Trump: “Hillary Clinton wanted the wall!”
Clinton just rolls eyes.

9:26 – Hillary is calling Trump on using undocumented immigrants.

9:27 – Trump is accusing Obama of deporting immigrants.

>9:28 – “BIGLY!” Drink!

9:29 – “Obama deported millions and millions of immigrants.” what?

9:30 – Chris Wallace – “Secretary Clinton, the Wikileaks email said that your dream was to have a hemispheric market and open borders, is that true?”
Clinton: “well, if you read the rest of the sentence…”

9:31 – Clinton is calling Trump on the Putin connection.

9:31 – Trump: “Putin has no respect for Clinton. He gets along with me.”
Clinton: “well, that’s because Putin would rather have a puppet in the White House.”

9:33 – Chris Wallace is actually turning out to be a decent moderator!

9:35 – Trump: “As far as Japan and other countries….”
Everyone in the room with me: “….Japan? Huh?”

9:36 – Trump: “She has been proven to be a liar so many times.”
Clinton: “….I’m just quoting you.”

9:37 – Wallace: “Well, we’re moving on to the next topic – the economy. And I hope we handle that as well as we handled immigration.”

Wallace also asking the candidates HOW their plan will benefit the middle class.

9:38 – for those of you at home, here’s the Clinton jobs plan:

  • * Boost infrastructure
  • * Develop clean energy
  • * Raise minimum wage
  • * Equal pay for women
  • *  Boost technical education in schools
  • * Closing tax loopholes

9:40 – if you were hoping to hear the details of Trump’s plan, you’re out of luck. He’s gone back to NATO and foreign defense again.

9:41 – ….So if I understand Trump directly, He wants to increase our jobs by…making Japan and Germany….pay for their defense?

9:42 – And then after we make Japan and Germany saddle the added expense, he is going to try to….trade with them?  And somehow this will….produce jobs?

9:43 – Donald. Buddy. If the Underpants Gnomes have a more detailed plan than you do, that’s a problem.

9:47 – If Hillary doesn’t call Trump on whining about “Jobs going to China” I am going to be VERY upset.

9:48 – Hillary: “In fact, the Trump hotel here in Las Vegas was made with Chinese Steel.”
Thank you, girl.

9:50 – Trump talked about Clinton’s “30-year history”.  Clinton: “….Well, let’s talk about the past 30 years.”

9:51: “….and when I was in the situation room when we brought down Bin Laden, Trump was hosting Celebrity Apprentice.”

9:52 – NYU Fact Check:

TRUMP: “I don’t know Putin”

THE FACTS: Trump said he “knew Russia well” in May because of a Miss Universe contest held there, according to USA Today.
 Trump actually met Putin on “60 Minutes”. On the GOP debate stage in last November, he said, “I got to know him very well because we were both on 60 Minutes, we were stablemates,”. Then he commented that “We did well that night.”
Source: Time

Trump told Thomas Roberts of MSNBCI do have a relationship, and I can tell you that he’s very interested in what we’re doing here today. He’s probably very interested in what you and I am saying today, and I’m sure he’s going to be seeing it in some form.” — interview, November, 2013

–Izzie Ramirez, Kyu Kim, Khaila Moke-Sakamoto and Nofar Hamrany

9:52 – Wallace introducing the Sex scandal.  Trump is claiming that there was violence at his debates – and is now claiming that Obama and Clinton paid off double agents.  Oh, and they paid off the accusers. He is dismissing the accusations as “Lies and fiction.”

9:55 – Clinton is quoting Trump to his face and Trump is taking the Shaggy defense. “It wasn’t me!”

9:56 – “Donald belittles women to feel bigger.”

9:57 – ….Okay, Trump just had an opportunity to attack Bill Clinton, and instead he goes for….the deleted emails.  He can’t even sleaze well.

10:03 – Hillary is kind of whiffing the question about the Clinton Foundation, I’m sorry to say…I work with an NGO so I understand about foundations and what she’s saying, but the average person wouldn’t get it.

10:06 – “And I was sitting in my apartment here in Las Vegas – ”
“Made with Chinese steel?”

10:07 – Chris Wallace calling Trump on the “rigged” claims.  “Sir, your running mate has said he will accept the results.  Your daughter has said it.  Right here, today – will you say whether you accept the results?”
“….I’ll look at it at the time.”

10:07 – I question the wisdom of Trump saying that the media is corrupt, while speaking to a member of that media.

10:10 – “Trump is saying that the FBI is rigged.”
“Yeah, because….they are!”

10:13 – Wallace: “would each of you speak to whether you would commit US Ground troops to Mosul?”
Clinton: [insert exhaustive plan here]
Wallace: “Thank you. Mr. Trump?”
Trump: “….She started ISIS, did you know that?”

10:17 – and Trump just pivoted to Wikileaks and is attacking Clinton directly. “John Podesta says you have bad instincts! And Bernie Sanders said you have bad judgement?”
“You should ask Bernie Sanders who he’s endorsing for president.”

10:19 – Wallace: “Let’s turn to Aleppo…Mr. Trump, you said some things in the debate last time that weren’t true….care to comment?”
Trump: “Aleppo is so sad, have you seen it?”

10:22 – Good God, Wallace’s question for Clinton about the differences of opinion she had about the no-fly zone over Aleppo felt like the first actual grown-up question we should have had all along through all these debates.  I weep for what this election could have been.

10:24 – Some guy in the bar just scoffed at Hillary talking about the Orlando shooter being born in Queens. “What does that have to do with it?”
….I had a few words for him in response.

10:27 –

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10:29 – Clinton speaking on debt.
Wallace: “Thank you, Secretary – ”
Trump: “Can I just respond to that?”
Wallace: “No.”
(Trump does anyway)

10:32 – Clinton: [is speaking about her plan to increase Social Security]
Trump (interrupting): …She’s such a nasty woman.
Clinton: [ignores him and goes on]

10:34 – Wallace is springing the option of a one minute “closing statement” on them.  They didn’t prepare one, it wasn’t part of the plan, but “it might be interesting.”

The statements are honestly nothing you haven’t heard before.

  • Clinton – Increase wages, inclusion, wealthy pay fair share.
  • Trump – Make America Great Again, Clinton is crooked, yadda yadda.

10:37 – after the debate – Clinton moves downstage to shake Chris Wallace’s hand. Trump remains behind podium, does not shake her hand.

10:39 – Guy in bar to me – “huh, must be hard for her…him calling her nasty and stuff.”
Me: “Yeah…but eh, it’s nothing that hasn’t happened to any strong woman.”
Guy in bar: (hesitates, then nods thoughtfully)

10:45 – Ugh – Guy in bar turned out to be a Bernie Bro.  We had a few minutes’ tense conversation about whether the DNC was also “rigged” and then he just said “whatever, I’m out.”  I left too.

On The Town

(Good news – this will not be about the election! Come on in!)

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This weekend was the city’s Open House weekend – a day when a number of the city’s cultural, historic, and otherwise significant sites open up to the public (or, if they’re already open that day, they open on a level more so than usual). It’s an even I’ve been vaguely aware of over the years, and finally kicked myself into heading out to explore.

One of the sites was actually right in my neighborhood. I live in Fort Greene, and the Prison Ship Martyrs’ Monument has gotten to be a familiar landmark over time; it’s a spire erected in 1908 devoted to commemorating people who died in prison ships anchored in New York harbor during the Revolutionary War. When it was first built, this spire had a staircase leading up to an observation deck up top, but that was long since closed; so when the Open House brochure promised a peek inside, I made it a stop.

The “peek” inside was pretty much exactly that. There was only enough room inside for fifteen people at a time, and a pair of rangers stood outside and dutifully counted each of us off, letting only a little cluster of us in at a time to listen to a third ranger give a lecture about the history of the monument, the prison ships, and the park surrounding it. We all huddled in, respectfully trying not to step on the huge door set in the floor with an inscription commemorating the dead.

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However, when one of the other attendees asked about it, the ranger’s eyes twinkled a bit and she gave us a bombshell – this door is actually a fake door, constructed as a recent movie prop. It just looked so realistic that the park service decided to keep it.

The rest of my afternoon was similarly…Revolutionary. Castle Clinton was next – it’s not a “castle” as such, but rather a fort constructed at the very tip of Manhattan. These days it also does double duty as the box office for the ferryboats to the Statue of Liberty, so most visitors just come in for no more than a five-minute visit. The “museum” on site is also similarly small; a single room with a series of dioramas depicting New York harbor over the years, a few displays on the site itself, and a couple of display cases with some archeological trinkets found on occasion. But for this weekend, the site had also sprung for an added treat – the Marquis de Lafayette.

When I walked in, he was deep in conversation with a couple of Hamilton superfans; they were talking about what they’d heard about Lafayette from the show, and he was responding in character – “I am afraid I have not seen that performance, Madame, but I have heard about it, and they do take some theatrical liberties, I must say…”  I lingered a while after they left to talk with him myself; he dropped character to tell me about how the popularity of Hamilton affected his gigs. “It used to be that I’d mention some names and get blank looks, but now I mention some of Lafayette’s more obscure friends and a couple of kids will perk up and nod, which is cool.” On the other hand, he said that during a recent gig he saw some kids’ faces light up when he was talking about Yorktown and used the phrase “rendezvous with Rochambeau”; he was a little afraid they were going to burst into song.

The Marquis got back into character when some other guests entered to tell us that “Monsieur Hamilton is actually at Federal Hall, along with Monsieur Washington, if you would like to pay a visit,” and indeed that was my next stop. That was more of a performance, though – with actors depicting Washington, Jefferson, and Hamilton in an early cabinet meeting.

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I unfortunately arrived a bit too late to catch the beginning, so instead I prowled through the building itself, peering at artifacts like the Bible Washington used during his Inauguration.

did make the tour at the African Burial Ground National Monument. This is something I’ve long wanted to check out – I had only been living in the city for a few years when they first discovered the site, and the controversy over what to do with the site occupied New York’s press for a couple years after until the site was finally declared a national monument.

At first glance it’s not that different from a modern-ish city park; there’s a couple green plots, a granite memorial rising from the center, and a walkway down towards a central plaza. But the ranger leading the tour pointed out some of the design details, and each and every one was like a blow to the heart.

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For instance, you can walk through the monument. That big granite slab is actually a gateway, placed just east of where some of the bodies disturbed during excavation were re-interred. They had all been buried with their heads oriented west, she explained, because the tradition was that they would face the rising sun. So the monument serves as a passage back east, back to Africa.

The ranger had us all pause inside before walking through; the design is meant to be narrow and cramped, with only a tiny skylight above offering light.  A pool alongside the monument on the outside feeds a waterfall; the whole thing is meant to represent the hold of a slave ship.

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The plaza you come to after passing through the granite monument is decorated with a globe, surrounded by a spiral walkway. On the wall flanking the walkway are symbols depicting several symbols found with some of the remains. The spiral continues at the end of the walkway, in the form of engraved descriptions of some of the hundreds of remains that the excavation had disturbed.

The engraving spiraled inward on the floor of the plaza, across the map, ending in Africa.

I’d actually forgotten that the monument design included a compromise. The site was originally meant to be a high-rise office building complete with parking garage; the research suggested that the original burial ground was vast, covering much of the city’s municipal district. Ultimately, the compromise involved an acre of land set aside for the monument, and a smaller building, which also had to house a visitor center on the first floor. Before they constructed the building, scholars from Howard University did a thorough study of the bodies on the site – nearly five hundred of them. A display inside the visitors center spoke to that research, which often revealed physical effects of hard work on the very bones on the site. One showcase had a collection of some of the items found with the bodies – buttons or cufflinks left behind after the clothes had degraded away, tin symbols which had been nailed to coffins, tokens tucked into hands, beads left around waists.  One wall was covered, floor-to-ceiling, a display of all of the Polaroids they had taken of each body they found, where it lay.

 

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There was a stand by the door where you could leave a comment card, but it was out of pencils; if I’d had a pen, I would have written that I can think of several people I wanted to drag to the site and point and say “look at this, you bastards.”

A Debate Moment That Deserves Its Own Post:

During the debate, Trump threatened to investigate and jail Hillary.

American elections have been contentious, but usually it’s something like accusations your opponent is a hermaphrodite.  This is the first time a threat of exercise of executive privilege has ever been levied.

Remember that.