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Category Archives: politics

A Contemplative 4th

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About 20 years ago now, my Irish friend asked me a really interesting question – “what is America?”  What she meant, she explained, was that she was trying to get at some kind of unified-field-theory to sum up America’s identity.

This being a multi-verse of a nation – especially now – that was a impossible question to answer.  But it gave me a great idea for a July 4th observation – every year, I spend part of the day reading books about America’s history and culture and thinking about her question.  I tend towards collections of first-hand source documents, too – anthologies of letters, eye-witness accounts, speeches, and the like – so I always have time for at least something every year, whether it’s just a couple essays read on the subway on the way to a cookout or a couple hours’ worth of reading on a blanket in the park.  I’ve got a big enough library assembled for this, too, that it’s high time I share.

  • History Lessons: How Textbooks from Around The World Portray U.S. History.  This is one of my favorites – it’s an anthology of excerpts from high school history textbooks, but they’re all textbooks from other countries, discussing their perspective on interactions they had with the United States over the years. So you get the what the British textbooks say about the Revolutionary War, for instance, or what the Canadian textbooks say about the War of 1812, or French textbooks’ take on D-Day, etc. It’s a fascinating take on some familiar stories, and a reminder that we are one of many nations in the world.
  • History In The Making:  This is another book by one of the same editors as History Lessons above.  It’s also a collection of excerpts from textbooks; this time, though, the textbooks are all American.  With this book, the editors have selected a handful of incidents from America’s history, and studied how history textbooks from different time periods have reported on the same incident.  So you can watch how a small border skirmish between the United States and Mexico gets an exhaustive report in the years immediately following, to a couple paragraphs 50 years later, to a single sentence today.  You can also see how different eras emphasize different elements of each story.
  • Witness To America: This is one of three different collections of first-hand documents I have – anthologies of letters, court transcripts, interviews, and speeches, running the gamut of the momentous to the mundane.  You have everything from a transcript of Neil Armstrong’s comments during the first moon landing to a kid who rode for the Pony Express talking about what life in the saddle was like.
  • The Cartoon History of the United States: Okay, first let me say that Larry Gonick, the man behind this book, is a phenomenal writer.  This is just one of the many cartoon guides to things he’s published – there are also cartoon guides to Statistics, Ecology, Physics, and Sex in his quiver, as well as an even more ambitious Cartoon History Of The Universe, which is more accurately a 6-volume history of our own planet from the days of the Big Bang up to 2004.  I learned of Gonick through that last series, and was stunned how exhaustive the series is – he covers things that are rarely included in most Western-world published “World History” books, like the history of the Mali Empire to a discussion of the impact of the Black Plague on non-European countries.  His books are so well-researched they’re often assigned as supplementary reading in college classrooms.  This book only covers up through the late 80s and the collapse of the Berlin Wall, but it still covers a lot of ground.
  • America Eats! On The Road With The WPA: The Venn diagram between “foodie” and “fascinated by the history of the Works Progress Administration” is probably very small; nevertheless this book fits that niche.  During the Great Depression, the New Deal had a program designed to give work to writers; one idea they had was to send writers out into their communities to report on the various food traditions where they lived, as well as any public food-related events – an account of a traditional New England clambake, an article about a Baptist church’s ladies’ auxiliary fundraising supper, a piece about hunting in the backwoods of Louisiana, things like that.  The intent was to publish one massive book about “American Food Traditions”, but the project was interrupted by the attack on Pearl Harbor and the manuscript was archived for 50 years.   This is one of a pair of books that was eventually assembled from the archive – author Pat Willard combines passages from the archive with her own writing, chronicling a handful of trips to revisit some of the bigger events from the archive to see how they’ve changed.
  • Travelers’ Tales – America:  Some of the best travel writing is in the Travelers’ Tales anthologies, a series I’ve been diving into for years. Technically this is a travel anthology, but the editors focus more on the writing than on the topics covered, so this isn’t yet another series of anecdotes about family vacations to national parks or the like; instead you have things like an account of life on Skid Row in Los Angeles, to a comedic take on a lackluster bus tour of Cincinnatti to an essay on camping in Yosemite.
  • The Journals of Lewis and Clark: Speaking of travelogues – do yourself a favor and read these. This is the firsthand account of the expedition where Meriwether Lewis and William Clark explored and mapped the Louisiana Purchase, an expedition that at the time was akin to the Apollo 11 mission.  So Lewis and Clark took copious notes about the things they saw and heard along the way, all of the people the expedition met, and countless little incidents and hiccups.  There’s a section chronicling a five-day stretch of bad luck that befell one of their boats that literally had me laughing out loud.

I actually have a new book to crack into this year; will not report on it just yet, I’d like to give it a thorough read first.

Kicking At The Darkness

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Not about movies today.

Politics has been very much on everyone’s mind; here at Chez Wadswords as well.  Even though I have been mostly writing about movies.  In fact, movies have become a sort of go-to respite for me – I never know what else to say about zero-tolerance policies against families seeking asylum or trade-war tariffs that may affect my family (we have a small niche farm that may be affected) or an ongoing investigation of foreign election collusion or….or, or, or any one of a host of things that haven’t already been said by other people in other places with more knowledge.  Forget knowing what to say – I don’t even know what to think, or what to do, without curling into a howling ball of despair.

Still – I’m not exactly a stranger to trying to go about your life when it feels like the world is about to topple over a precipice.  I had the luxury of being a teenager before; you don’t expect a 15-year-old to be dwelling on geopolitics anyway.  The fact that I was aware of the comparative arsenals for the US and one of its rivals at that age was arguably really weird.  But even then, that’s not all I thought about – I also thought about more typical teenage woes like acne and crushes and chemistry tests and losing the lead in the school play (I’d accidentally done something weird in the audition, but still felt like I was robbed, dangit).  But being a teenager also gave me the freedom to check out and seek solace in more frivolous things, like movies – and books and music and silly gossip and in-jokes with friends.  I wept a lot as a teenager, I woke up nights from nightmares where I thought the world would end – but I also made up alternate lyrics to Phil Collins songs and giggled over Star Trek episodes and talked about boys and sex in made-up code words and…

….And turned my face towards life.

The musician Bruce Cockburn is someone I’ve really only become aware of recently, but two of his songs would have easily made it onto my mix tapes as a teenager; he sounds like he was equally as aware of the dangers of nuclear war as I, and was equally as terrified.  One of his songs in particular was about exactly this kind of life-despite-terrorCockburn had a couple of daughters about my age in the 1980s, and was struck by how they were still going through the same kind of early crushes and pursuing the same kind of young-love romances that teenagers always have, even though they also knew that the world was in a dangerous state.  They were no dummies – they knew, like I knew, that we could have blown up a thousand times over, overnight.  And they were still nevertheless chasing after life and love in the face of it.  He thought that urge was incredibly poignant, but also incredibly hopeful; and for them, he wrote the song “Lovers In a Dangerous Time.”   (Linking you here to the Barenaked Ladies cover from the 1990s, which I slightly prefer.)

Of course, time went on, the Cold War ended and his daughters grew up.  But the song is still just as relevant – in later interviews, Cockburn has noted that people struggling with the AIDS crisis or economic uncertainty or terrorism or any one of a thousand challenges have turned to it for comfort.  And in 1990, when asked to comment on it for a collected songbook, he admitted “Lovers In a Dangerous Time” is pretty timeless – “Aren’t we all,” he wrote, “and isn’t it always?”

It’s not all simply a pretty love song, though. For most of the song the lyrics are about finding love in another, chasing it despite the threat of annihilation and terror – “Spirits open to thrusts of grace, Never a breath you can afford to waste…” but at the very end, the words are a call to action:

“Nothing worth having comes without some kind of fight,
You’ve got to kick at the darkness ‘till it bleeds daylight.”

And that is what seeking solace in life does.  Spending time with the things and the people you love to rest and regroup, and remind yourself of the reason you’re fighting.  And then – when you’re ready, get up and move forward again.

Because love always wins.

Remember that. 

Love. Always. Wins.

Fragile Threads

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I’m stepping away from the Movie Crash Course a moment, if I may, to talk about two other movies: one I watched, and one I wrote.

My senior year of high school, a friend was enrolled in my school’s TV production class (I’ll call her “Kathy”) and persuaded her teacher to let her do an “independent study” in the TV room during her study hall.  Kathy told him she needed me and one other friend to “work with her” as a ruse to rescue us from our own study halls as well.  After a week of the three of us watching videos of M*A*S*H reruns in the editing bay, we all admitted that “y’know, we’re probably going to have to produce something…”  About a week later Kathy approached me with the story idea, we spent a weekend hammering out the plot, and I wrote the script over the course of a few weeks.

We cast a handful of our classmates, the crew was made up of some of the same classmates when they weren’t on camera, and we filmed in a corner of the cafeteria after school and on weekends.  At some point we lost half our footage when someone stole a bunch of tapes out of the TV classroom, and held a marathon all-day shoot one weekend to replace it; one of our leads had started growing out his hair for the school play by then, and you can amusingly see his hairstyle grow and shrink in circumference throughout the finished film.  I was also in it, and gave my character a moment where I recited the “To Be Or Not To Be” speech from Hamlet; a move which I came to regret (there’s probably a tape somewhere with about 20 takes of me saying “To be or not to be, that is the question….whether t’is nobler in the mind to…to suffer the slings and arrows of for-no, of outrageous fortune, or…to…crap, what’s the line?”).  My only other indulgence was stealing a lyric from a Sting song for the title; his album Nothing Like The Sun had just been released when I started writing, and it provided the soundtrack to all my writing sessions.

Our film absolutely won’t win any Oscars, but given the circumstances it wasn’t half bad.  The film’s premiere was at a party Kathy threw at her house, where we also laughed through the blooper reel she’d assembled (charitably, she left out my Hamlet fluffs).  There were a couple other screenings – one at a church, and one in one social studies class – before it was permanently enshrined in the school library.  We also gave a screening for the entertainment editor of my hometown’s local newspaper, as somehow he was persuaded to give it a review.  He was encouraging, but fair – pointing out some of the obvious flaws (my script was waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaayy too talky) but praising the sophisticated message that was being raised by a bunch of high school students.  And while there are indeed moments from the script and my own performance that make me cringe, there are also moments here and there that make me think “y’know, the writing’s pretty good there.”

You will note that I haven’t yet mentioned what this film was about.

The title, nicked from Sting’s “Fragile”, was “How Fragile We Are”.  The idea Kathy brought me dealt with something we were both concerned about – nuclear war. The characters our friends played were a bunch of kids, strangers to each other, who had been safely brought to a bomb shelter right at the outbreak of a full-on war, where they were told that if they left they would face certain death – but were still offered the choice to leave if they wished.  The talkiness came from the characters each deciding what they’d do (and some chose to leave).  The reason I had my character recite from Hamlet is that that was how she explained her reason for staying alive.

So, no, this was no fun rom-com we were making.  We were sixteen and seventeen-year-olds who were frightened for our very lives, and desperate for someone, anyone, to listen and do something.  I actually see a lot of us in the Parkland Students, and their desperate message that “we are the kids, you are the adults – do something to save us.” 

We were up against a bigger force than the NRA, however. And we were well aware of it.

For all the laughing we did while filming – and we did a lot – I learned later that there was a fair amount of private crying going on.  In a few cases, kids went from hoping that nuclear war wouldn’t break out to accepting that it would, and it was just a question of when. I hit that point about midway through writing; while working on the script, I’d remind myself of the world of the play with a litany of destruction: “okay, it’s War. Stuff is gone. There is no more Hartford, no more New York, no more Los Angeles. Cape Cod is gone. England is gone. Ireland is gone…”

Once, as I was writing, listening to Sting and going through my Arya-Stark litany, the album reached my favorite part of another song.  And it hit me – in the world I was writing, my characters were never going to be able to hear that song again. It wasn’t just England and France and San Francisco that were going to be gone, but also chocolate, and puppies, and Sting albums, and violets, and my cousins’ Christmas stockings, and fresh peaches, and bikes, and my uncle’s model trains, and old library books, and, and, and…

I sat there stunned a moment, the totality of loss sinking in. Then I put down the pen, moved to a spot on the floor right in front of my turntable, and put the needle back to the beginning of the song, huddling the speakers around me as it started up again.  I spent the next several minutes curled up on the floor between the speakers, listening to the song and weeping bitterly over the death of the world.

I was seventeen.

The other movie I’m thinking of had an unusual effect on Kathy at one point. While we were still writing, sometimes those of us in the TV study hall watched anti-nuke films as “research” – we tracked down copies of The Day After, and Dr. Strangelove, and Testament.  We made note of how each one dealt with the science, the geopolitics, and how they wove that in with the characters’ stories.

….then we watched a film called Threads. Much like The Day After, Threads was more what you’d call a “TV event” than a proper movie; it was produced by the BBC in 1984, and like The Day After on American TV, it was meant to show how a full-on nuclear war and its aftermath would affect the lives of a handful of characters in a mid-size city.  But Threads didn’t have to pull any punches, the way that The Day After did for American broadcast standards.  So what they show is far more accurate – and thus, far more violent, far more graphic, and far, far bleaker.

We were fine through the opening scenes, and fine – if a bit grim – during the scenes depicting runup to the war.  When the bomb actually hit, the three of us watching sat there, slackjawed, staring at the screen.  After a moment, Kathy suddenly stood up and walked into the next room, sat down in a chair and stared at the wall, not saying a word. I watched her a couple seconds, then followed her out. “y’alright?” She shook her head. “Wanna talk about it?” Another head shake. “…Want me to leave you alone?” A nod. I think I patted her shoulder or something, then went back into the editing bay; she came back in a moment later.  We never said any more about it.

Blessedly, just two years after our film, the Cold War ended and the Berlin Wall came down. Gorbachev and Reagan started talking about cutting back on their nuke stockpiles.  Boris Yeltsin did even more.  Obama did yet more after that.  And all of us in our film did what all us Gen-X Cold-War 80s babies did – we grew up, got jobs (where we could) and went on with our lives.  Many of us had been having vivid nightmares about nuclear war in the late 80s and early 90s; over time, those nightmares started fading, and stopped altogether in a few years.  We went on.

The nightmares started again for me last year. It’s just been one so far; all I remember of it now is me and one of my old roommates desperately trying to shore up a basement room for our safety, building a wall of sandbags along one inner wall before the bomb hit, trying to stack them tall enough to block out the one tiny window.  But suddenly a huge burst of light came through that window and my old roommate threw himself on top of me, knocking me to the ground and shielding me from the obvious blast.  “It’ll be okay,” he kept telling me over and over, just before I woke up and out of the dream.  “It’ll be okay, we’ll be okay….”

My nightmares about war were always that specific, always had that element of the everyday.  I would be standing around in my yard at home with friends and we’d suddenly look up to see bombers overhead or missile trails arcing over us.  We would be rehearsing for the school play and suddenly we would all be herded into a fallout shelter in the basement of the school that we hadn’t ever known about.  In one dream, all that happened was that I was watching TV and Jane Pauley interrupted the show to announce an attack – and paused mid-sentence at one point to blink away tears.  In all cases, I’d wake up from these dreams with heart pounding, and sit alone in the dark for well over an hour after, literally too afraid to go back to sleep.

The specificity and the imagery of my dreams, I think, came from Threads.  Not that it was giving me new information – I had already been aware of how destructive a nuclear attack might be.  What Threads showed me was not “what could happen”, but “what this thing you are afraid of might look like.”  It is the small details in Threads that linger – the staff of a museum carefully packing away their Rembrandts and Picassos into crates for protective storage.  A dazed woman holding the charred corpse of an infant after the bombs, staring blankly.  A panicked boy hides crying in his brother’s aviary just before the bomb.  Threads also chronicles events for several years after the bomb – we see one of the leads fighting with others to claim handfuls of spilt grain drifting in the wind.  Someone gives birth alone in an abandoned barn, using her own teeth to cut the umbilical cord.  A group of orphans sit in workroom patiently unweaving the threads from old cloth so it can be reused.  Surgery and amputation is done in makeshift open-air hospitals, with patients biting on rags instead of receiving anesthetic.  Starving people eat the corpses of sheep killed by radiation poisoning.

I am not the only one whose nuclear nightmares have returned.  A couple of us from How Fragile We Are have admitted the same.  I’m assuming the same is true of that roommate I recently dreamed about – although, he now lives in Hawaii, and had the far-worse living nightmare of a nuclear attack false alarm.  At the same time – perhaps fortunately – Threads also seems to be making its own comeback.  The film was released on Blu-Ray just last month, and I’ve been seeing more and more pop-culture web sites and newspaper columns talking about the film and how frightening it was.

It’s a fair argument that one reason we’re talking about Threads so much again now is in response to current geopolitics.  We have a hawkish, trigger-happy president, one who reportedly once asked his cabinet why we didn’t use nuclear weapons.  He regularly taunts the North Korean president, who is busy conducting his own nuclear tests.  Our news reports lately have been showing maps displaying the range of North Korea’s various missiles, pointing out the ones that can reach as far as the continental US.  Those maps look very like the ones I regularly saw when I was sixteen.  Back in January, the Pentagon suggested that we use nukes as a counter-attack to cybercrime. And now, John Bolton has been appointed as the country’s latest National Security Advisor to the President – a former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations who publicly stated that the only purpose of the United Nations was to serve the United States’ own interests.  A few weeks ago, the Wall Street Journal also posted an opinion column by Bolton, in which he declared that the United States should engage in a preliminary strike against North Korea.

I’ve been here before.  Those of us who made our movie, we’ve been here.  So have countless other former students who either feared the nukes or accepted our own early deaths, then rejoiced when we were saved, then began to forget.  We had to try to forget to go on – but I’m thinking it’s time to remember.  It’s said that for everyone who saw Threads, their attitudes towards nuclear war were profoundly changed; their politics changed as a result.  There is even a rumor that Ronald Reagan’s own policy towards the Soviet Union changed after a screening of Threads in the White House.

If you haven’t seen Threads, watch it.  If you have seen it, watch again if you can bear it (no shame at all if you can’t).  We need to remember what we are up against, we need to be frightened into action again, and we need to do whatever we can– be it make our own movies (or write our own blog posts), stage our own demonstrations, start our own letter campaigns, run for office, anything it is we can do to bring the world back from the brink.

The Least We Can Do

We’ve all heard, by now, of the rash of racist or sexist or Islamophobic incidents that broke out across the country the day after the election. To my dismay, I learned that there were two that happened where I went to college; someone wrote “TRUMP!’ in huge letters on the door to the prayer room at the engineering college, and later that day, a student taunted three high-school-age girls in an elevator by repeatedly using the n-word and saying “I can say whatever I want now because Trump won”.

I heard about it through a friend’s Facebook post, and initially shook my head. Then had the urge to write a letter.  Then realized – I know a lot of other alums through Facebook. And they know other alums.  What if we all signed that letter?  I announced my intent on Facebook, tagged all the alums I knew, and urged them to tell me if they wanted to sign it too.  And sure enough, a bunch of them “liked” my post, and one even tagged a whole bunch of other people right away.

But…that was it, for most of them. I only got eight other people to join me, out of about twenty who learned about it.  And I’m grateful to those who joined me, but…it’s still not what I was hoping.

We have all gotten used to an automated way to participate in community now. We’re on Facebook instead of catching up over coffee or on the phone. We “share this picture of the Vietnam Memorial” to support veterans rather than actually pitching in at the VFW. We sign online petitions rather than paper ones.

There are those who would say that the Internet makes it easy to participate in the civic discussion – but that’s the thing, it’s made it too easy. Or rather, too easy to feel like we did something.  It’s too easy to change your avatar to a picture of a cartoon character or the Eiffel Tower, or to say “Je Suis Charlie”, or share the photo meme that scolds you that “I bet only 2% of the people who see this will share this photo of a German Shepard because no one cares!” And so most of us click share and maybe type something, and then go on with our day – without expending even the few extra seconds of second thought to realize that sharing a photo of a German Shepard on the internet has absolutely no currency in the real world.

And right now, that kind of slacktivism isn’t going to cut it. Real world impact is going to take real world action. Especially now.

The good news, though – it won’t necessarily require that much impact. Most of us opt for this kind of Facebook activism because the problems seem so big and outside the reach of an individual person. But according to a former Congressional staffer, who went online with advice on Twitter a few days ago, all it takes is phone calls.  And you don’t even have to pay long distance to call Washington – the district office is not only just fine, it may be even better.  And really, this is what you sent them to office to do – represent you. And the way they figure out how to represent you is if you tell them.

While I was still waiting for incoming signatures, I got into a text exchange with a friend (I’ll spare her name). We briefly talked about going to the Womens’ March on Washington the day after Election Day, but a couple of bad experiences at marches had me a little uneasy, and she confessed she was only thinking of it out of a need to do something.  It was early in the morning, and we both had work to get to, so we left it at that.

Then a couple hours later she texted me again. She announced she was about to make a phone call to her state legislature about an issue that was affecting her business.  Then five minutes later, another text – they’d told her it was a federal issue.  So she was going to make more calls.  She called her representative, both her Senators, and a couple other places.  And then most likely hyperventilated and had some wine because she hates using the phone, almost as much as she hates drawing attention to herself (I was in her wedding party, and before the processional I was trying to get her to sing “Chantilly Lace” with me to stave off a panic attack).

This was an enormous act of courage, and I told her so. It was also a constituent exercising her right with the most effective means possible and demanding her right to be represented by the people in power. But – it was also just three phone calls.  That was all.

It is time to raise the bar on “the least we can do” and get back to real activism.



People tend to have the idea that Catholics are a monolithic, and largely conservative, entity.  And they are totally not – there are all sorts of little groups mixed in there, like the religious orders you’ve heard of (Franciscans, Dominicans, Jesuits like Pope Francis) and lots of other little zany fringe groups, ranging from the super-liberal group that made Sinead O’Connor a priest to super-conservative groups with conspiracy theories that would make Dan Brown say “….dude. Y’all gotta calm down.”

One group – which is actually pretty big – is the Sedevacantists.  Sedevacantism was founded in the wake of Vatican II, the series of papal-sponsored conferences meant to modernize the Catholic church a little.  A lot of the old Catholic traditions – fast days, meatless Fridays, speaking the Mass in Latin – were relaxed, or wholly done away with.

It is human nature, though, that whenever any group of people makes a huge change, there are people who preferred things the way they were before. “Traditionalist Catholics” reserved the right to keep the old customs; and as far as the Vatican was concerned, no problem.  If there’s a parish somewhere where there’s enough call for a Latin Mass at noon on Sundays, after the English one in the morning, and the priest knows Latin, then great.  Traditionalist Catholics still aren’t crazy about the changes to the church, but they’re sort of grumbling to themselves about them.

The Sedevacantists, meanwhile, go beyond simply grumbling. The term comes from the Latin sede vacante, or “empty seat” – and refers to the Sedevacantist position that Pope John XXIII’s even calling for the Second Vatican Council made him a heretic, and therefore none of the popes that have come after him since 1963 have counted.  As far as they’re concerned, the Papacy has just been empty all this time. A couple of small parishes have gone a step further and elected their own popes; there’s one guy in Oklahoma City, Pope Michael, who was canonized by his parents in 1990.  (I am not making this up.)

…I say all of this to describe the strange sort of shrugging disregard I find that I’m giving to the election now.  Not that I am shrugging about the whole thing – I’m writing a couple of activism letters, I’m looking into volunteering at a writing program here in the city, and my friend Sue is talking me into going to the women’s March on Washington in January.  But the reason I’m doing all of that is…because I’ve just decided to disregard the existence of the President altogether. I have to step up and take action to protect people because the Oval Office will be an empy office for four years.

Now What

It feels like my country broke up with me.

I don’t mean that in any glib way, either.  Everything has that unreal, everything-is-different-now feeling you get after a major breakup, when you’re going about your day, brushing your teeth or drinking fruit punch or cream-cheesing up your bagel or lobbing paper clips in the trash can at work, and suddenly reality shifts as it hits you that “I’m never going to eat bagels or drink fruit punch with them again”.   The very air feels different right now.

My friend C from Ireland emailed me after the election, and I nearly burst into tears at work when I saw the first line of her email – “this is the first time I’ve wanted to cry at the results of an election.”  My friend Sue made me laugh, though; she texted me at about 1 in the morning, when it was likely Trump was going to win, to say – and this is a direct quote – “WTF WTF WTF WTF WTF FUCKING MCFUCKITY FUCKING FUCKING FUCK GOD DAMNIT FUCKING FUCK”.  A bit later she described the situation as “motherfucking asswhistling shitfest”. (I have to admit I really haven’t been able to come up with any better words myself.)  Sue and I spoke more today, and she says her daughter told her that her entire fifth grade class is talking about collectively moving to Canada.

I’ve been…withdrawn. I’ve developed the bad habit over the years of going turtle when I’ve had a bad shock, sort of withdrawing into my house and not talking to people and hiding. It’s a protective thing, but it’s also sort of iced over my soul some.  I joked to someone recently – ironically – that maybe I needed a breakup of some kind, because in my case I may need my heart to be broken back open.

And well, I got that, alright. I’ve been walking around for the past two days with that same constant soul-ache, a stab coming afresh whenever I saw someone sniffling at work, or when I saw the faces of Obama’s staff watching his meeting with Trump, or whenever I saw the words “President-elect Trump”.  Or especially when I read any of the huge surge of reports of anti-Muslim or anti-Mexican or anti-immigrant or anti-Jew or anti-Asian or anti-gay or anti-basically-anything-other-than-white violence today.

I work for an organization that, as part of its mission, resettles refugees in the United States.  And we all were wrecked that first morning, walking around numb, occasionally stepping out to cry.  Our CEO called us all together for a group staff meeting that afternoon to rally the troops a bit, but I took greater comfort in something he said first – that if we were feeling upset or angry or betrayed or devastated right now, it was important to honor that reaction – because that meant that we had high ideals and moral standards for this country, and we cared deeply about them. If we didn’t care, this wouldn’t hurt so much.

And the good news, he added, is that we can still live by those ideals even if others don’t share them.  The Constitution is still the rule of law in this country, and things like murder and obstruction of speech are still against the law.  They may not be fairly applied in all cases, but those tools at least exist.  You still have a law to turn to that says that “actually yeah, it’s okay for this person to speak their mind.”

And even if you aren’t brave enough to speak to a wider platform, or take national action…you also have the ability to reach out to your smaller community and improve things there. Smile at the woman with the hijab behind the checkout counter who’s making your coffee.  Crack a joke about the local baseball team with the guy in the wheelchair that’s next to you on the subway. Step in when you see a bunch of kids taunting another kid by calling him a “fag”, or when you see a guy down the bar hovering over an uneasy-looking woman.

And we shouldn’t forget about joy either. Tonight, I boxed up a bunch of autumn leaves to send to a friend who was born in New England, but now lives in San Francisco, and recently said he missed autumn. And next I’m wrapping my father’s birthday gift to send through to him, and I’ve even started planning a Christmas party.

And we need to take care of ourselves as well.  Eat when you need to, sleep when you need to, step outside into nature or watch cat videos or play Civilization for nine straight hours (just ONE! MORE! TURN!) or read poetry if you need a break. Yesterday, on one of the two occasions I had to step into one of my boss’ offices for a freakout, I told him the story about how my cat’s persistent demands for food were what helped pull me out of my post-9/11 funk; it reminded me that he was alive and depended on me to take care of him, and that also meant I had to be well enough to care for him.  “My cat reminded me to be sure I ate today,” I remarked to my boss, shaking the bag of potato chips I was snacking on as we spoke.

And that is still true. We are all each still alive. And our government will not be able to take care of us as well now, so it is time for each of us to take care of each other now, however we can. We need to start with ourselves, first, making sure we each are doing okay, and then we need to check in on each other – helping each other with finances, advice, or even just hugs and beer. Send each other joy. Defend each other. Advocate for each other. Laugh with each other.  Cry with each other. Speak truth to each other.  Listen to each other’s truth.  Remember what each other said.

We won’t always get it right, and we won’t always be able to do grand gestures. But if we are always thinking of caring for each other, that’s the important part. That is how we will gradually knit together first our families, then our communities, and then knit that into a true society that can be the country that we really were meant to be.

America, God-Damn

I am ashamed to be an American today.

I have nothing more to say right now.

Machiavelli Laughed

I have been pretty quiet about the election lately.  Part of that is because I just plain ran out of coping power and had to turn away from this election for a while to share my sanity.  But part of my silence is the reason why I had to stop looking – because  the things this election has uncovered about this country disgust me.

I should be celebrating tonight.  I should be feeling genuine joy if, as I suspect, Hillary Clinton becomes the first woman to become president.  And I’ll have things to say about that in time. I celebrated wildly when Obama was elected the first time – I was crowded in a bar with strangers watching the results, and was first in the place to learn that the press had just called the race for him. The place when silent for a moment when I shrieked “THEY CALLED IT!” and then erupted in screams and cheers and shouts. Five strangers hugged me. The bartender put disco music on the stereo, and a gang of us ran out onto the street where the party was going on outside too.  My favorite sight was seeing two women who had each brought out huge American flags and were doing a spontaneous majorette routine in the middle of Myrtle Avenue while I was inside dancing to Earth, Wind and Fire at 12:30 am.

And there will be celebrating tonight too, as well there should be.  But I will not be out on the street – at least, not without an ear cocked just in case. Because this election has uncovered, nurtured, and encouraged the ugliness in the hearts of the people who weren’t celebrating that night.

The thing that gave me the most hope about Obama’s acceptance speech that night was his commitment to working with his opponent’s supporters.  “…to those Americans whose support I have yet to earn, I may not have won your vote tonight, but I hear your voices. I need your help. And I will be your president, too.” And instead of listening, a lot of people went against him every single blessed step of the way.

And so when Trump offered himself as an option for president, they flocked to him – he validated their particular brand of crazy. And with that validation came courage and a total lack of shame. And threats. And violence at campaign events. And threatening t-shirts and booby-traps and anti-Semitism.

The Trump campaign and the Clinton campaign are both having their election night events here in New York City. If Trump loses, these are not people I expect to go quietly. If Trump wins, even, these are not people I expect to celebrate calmly.  I am well and truly worried about what is going to happen in this city once the results are called.

Which is keeping me from celebrating Hillary tonight. She could be president, but some of the citizens are hell-bent against that – and they’re going to make sure we all know it.

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.


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.

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.


  • 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?



  • 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?



  • 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?



  • 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.