Red State, Blue State, Who Shot Who State?

Red State, Blue State, Who Shot Who State?

The United States of America is more violent than three-quarters of established nation states.  If we still had a functioning Department of State, we would be cautioned against visiting … us.

This is insane.

I started to write about gun violence, mass shootings, the hideous parade of innocents slaughtered by madmen, but what is there left to say?

Are we crazier than other nations?  It’s hard to tell because so many guns, and by guns I mean weapons of mass extinction, are so widely literally at hand that the same number of chaotically disordered people, and by people I mean men, might be ravaging yoga studios and school yards in Canada.

But I don’t think so.

The culture itself is deranged, spinning out clinically psychotic fringe-dwellers so frequently that we have nothing left to say about rage filled murder on the grand scale.

And when we do have something to say about the insanity around us, the pushback is immediate and unrelenting. The NRA has rebuked the American College of Physicians for calling for gun control measures in response to what they see as a public health crisis.

The NRA tweeted,“Someone should tell self-important anti gun doctors to stay in their lane.”  The someone in this case is the NRA, passively but entirely aggressively, telling doctors to shut up about guns.

The physicians went way over the line, apparently, in suggesting that those carrying out domestic violence might not be permitted to own guns, that background checks be extended to all sales of guns, and that we might consider legislation banning 3-D printed guns.  Dr. Esther Choo puts it simply, “We are not anti-gun; we are anti-bullet holes in our patients.”  Doctors who described themselves as “gut punched” by the NRA have responded with #ThisIsMyLane, and are increasingly frustrated by the NRA’s relentless opposition to research on gun violence.

I am particularly struck by the tone of the NRA tweet; it’s snarky, mean-spirited, and dismissive, and it’s not from a single disgruntled passive aggressive knowledge phobic yahoo; the message comes from a non-profit organization which presents itself as, “Freedom’s Safest Place” and which holds gun safety as a cardinal virtue.

Just as we have waffled our way to the brink of irreversible climate disaster, we’re teetering on the edge of even greater violence as hate crimes increase exponentially and the wide-spread availability of terrifyingly powerful weaponry is more common.

We have a crisis right now.  The reaction to the call for open discussion from the Trump wing of the Republican Party , however, is extreme and divisive.  There is a reactionary scoreboard somewhere that counts every barbed insult, every dismissive act of graceless bullying, as a kind of triumph.  Fake news wins by calling honest reporting fake news.  We are living in a schoolyard dominated by bullies whose mode of expression is often, “…is not!” or “that’s stupid”.

In the course of the last eighteen months, topics calling for measured, moderate, inclusive discussion on virtually all difficult issues facing a polarized nation have been “weaponized”.  Fires in California have been weaponized, health care has been weaponized, climate change weaponized, vetting of Supreme Court Justices has been weaponized, reporting of the news has been weaponized, the MeToo movement weaponized, Black Lives Matter weaponized, school shootings weaponized, opposition to Nazis has been weaponized, immigration weaponized, global cooperation weaponized, Participation in NATO has been weaponized, the Women’s March, NAFTA, the media, Facebook, Google, CNN, MSNBC, the Washington Post, the New York Times, the Justice Department, the State Department, Amazon, the cast of Hamilton, the NFL, Huffington Post, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, James Comey, and, of course, anything having to do with Barack Obama has been weaponized.

Points on the scoreboard.

Meanwhile, there are millions of guns out there, some of which will be used in domestic violence, some by children, some by madmen.  We can’t get them back, and the slightest intimation that more stringent gun laws might be in the offing is guaranteed to boost the sales of guns and ammo.

We have a problem.

Other nations know violence, of course; the cartels kill, maniacal dictators kill, contending armies in war zones kill.  The United States is not the most dangerous nation in the world.  Syria, Afghanistan, and South Sudan are the three most dangerous, followed by the usual constellation of beleaguered states – Iraq, Yemen, Libya, Lebanon, Israel, Palestine, Colombia, Venezuela..  There are forty-one nations that experience violent death more frequently than the United States.  The U.S. is nestled between Myanmar and Armenia, these three followed by El Salvador, Guatemala, China, Brazil, Rwanda, Uganda, and Jordan and the other one hundred and twenty nations less likely to present its citizens a violent death.

Let’s just consider that fact.

The United States of America is more violent than three-quarters of established nation states.  If we still had a functioning Department of State, we would be cautioned against visiting … us.















Blue Ribbon for Coldest Nose and other lessons in teaching

Blue Ribbon for Coldest Nose and other lessons in teaching

I’d been teaching for about five years, knew it all, and had generally buffaloed my way through my first three jobs, blissfully unaware of my self-satisfied hubris.  I’d left the doctoral program in Education at the University of Massachusetts – what did they have to teach me about teaching? – and had finished grading exams and brilliantly describing the deficiencies of my students in the end-of-year comments.  The summer was mine to do with as I pleased, so I had nowhere to hide when my son’s preschool asked me to be a judge at the annual pet fair.

The pet fair was a very big deal.  The school was in the northwest corner of Connecticut, leafy farmland and forest in the foothills of the Berkshire mountains, an enclave rife with artists, musicians, and actors; activities such as this felt improvised, but the energy and talent that fueled the enterprise reminded me that we were only an hour-and-a-half from New York City.

I was ready to start studying breed standards when the school’s director called us together and reminded us that every entry would be given a blue ribbon; it was up to us to find the attribute that distinguished each entrant.  On the day of the fair, the other judges phoned in their excuses.  One had a call back for a Broadway show, the other was filming in Athens.  I had a pressing engagement at the Bradley’s in Winsted, so …

I stood next to a table piled high with blue ribbons, each with a white square left blank within which I was to write the appropriate categorical victory.  I had a black marking pen and no plan of action.  Kids arrived with rabbits, ducks, two ponies, hamsters, cats, a goat, parrots, dolls, goldfish, stuffed animals, and a very wide assortment of dogs.

The idea had been that they’d circle before the panel of judges, giving us time to confer and establish the critical parameters of our judgment.  No other judges on duty,  virtually none of the pets were interested in circling, and fully two-thirds were not capable of organized movement of any kind.  Now,  left to my own devices, I had to come up with Plans B through Z and start dishing out ribbons before kids and pets mutinied in the heat of an uncommonly sweaty afternoon in June.

Desperation breeds invention.  I picked up the marker and went from “pet” to “pet”, tossing superlatives like confetti.  Drool soaked Raggedy Ann doll – Most Loved Cloth Doll,  timid bunny – Wriggliest Nose, massive and massively clunky Great Dane – Most Impressive Ears, panting cat with matted fur – Most Expressive Breather, Hamster hiding inside a paper cup – Most Successfully Reclusive.

By the end of the afternoon, I’d handed out a boxload of ribbons and exhausted my powers of invention, but I’d also discovered something about myself that I had been too glibly sure of myself to recognize.  I was the teacher I had been because I had been taught by the teachers I had known, all of whom were really good at identifying what I couldn’t do well.

Maybe their language was different in responding to better, more motivated students; my academic reports pretty much sounded the same from fifth grade on, regardless of subject.  I was never surprised by their assessments;  I knew I wasn’t good at the skills I was expected to master.  I wasn’t good at them in fifth grade, and I wasn’t any more proficient by the end of the twelfth grade.  On one hand, points for consistency.  On the other, years without improvement spoke volumes about all of us, assuming that this enterprise had been a shared adventure.

But it had not been, and in recognizing that there had not been mutuality at any point along the way, I resolved to become at least as inventive and responsive a teacher as I had been a pet fair judge.  If I’d been able to see something distinctive in every pet.  If I’d been able to identify what they offered rather than what they lacked, it seemed I should be able to begin my work with each student by actually seeing them, without rushing to judgment.  I was lucky in that I also coached a sport every afternoon, and in coaching figured out how to design practices that aimed at the development of particular skills, development that began with an understanding of each player/student’s strengths.  It doesn’t do a player much good to hear a coach say, “Hey, you didn’t hit that ball.”  Pretty much understood without the comment and not much new information available should a player hope to improve.

I started actually teaching that fall, when the challenge for me in the work we did together was not about my acuity in describing deficiency but in my willingness to try everything from Plan B and beyond in order to connect each individual’s gifts to the appropriate next set of skills to be mastered.  A few years later I got involved with teaching the 4MAT method to teachers, explaining when I could that it might be helpful to imagine that there are at least four significant and significantly different ways in which students approach learning.  I won’t go into the 4MAT idea in detail, but I’ll pass on two of the examples I used to attempt to convince teachers that not all students learn the way we were taught by teachers who pretty much learned the way their teachers taught them, recognizing that, with some exceptions (me), most teachers are people who liked school and did well there.

I’d ask what sort of person they’d like to have running their school.  The choices?

An attentive, friendly Principal who clearly cares about you as a teacher and as a person and who connects with you on  a personal level.  Or … a highly competent professional whose education and previously held positions clearly indicate a superior level of preparation and whose first objective is the presentation of well-organized information about the teaching of your subject.  Or … a problem solving, practical and well organized hands-on expert on the financial and technical support of schools and teachers who makes sure that you have an effective place in which to teach.  Or … a creative, energetic, charismatic innovator, eager to embrace change and  supportive of new ideas, willing to shake things up just to get rid of the cobwebs.

Each of the options is good; some are better than others for some people.

Similarly, let’s imagine that history had coughed up four presidential options that roughly parallel our hypothetical Principals.

Taking a short detour to Mt. Rushmore, for example, we find Abe Lincoln, eminently human and humane, gifted in crafting personal connection, empathic, compassionate, an extraordinarily good listener, accessible despite his stature and elevated position in society.  Thomas Jefferson has his place as well, a scientist, architect, man of letters, founder of the University of Virginia, author of the Declaration of Independence, pretty much the ultimate brainiac.  There’s practical George Washington, an engineer, surveyor, military tactician, man of action and successful businessman, competent, steady, responsible, not given to flights of fancy.  Finally, we find the surprising fourth, Teddy Roosevelt, sometime biologist, occasional cowboy, pugnacious pugilist, conservationist, crusading politician, unpredictable, charismatic, energetic, and unapologetic.

Once again, very different, each very right for the job in a very different way.

It’s pretty much the same for each of us as learners.  Some of us need connection, need to know how the skill we’re attempting to learn connects with what we see as important – why we are learning.  Some of us need as much information as we can grab from the most authoritative source and need to know what we’re likely to be tested on – what we need to know.  Some of us need to get our hands dirty and work things out for ourselves, taking the darned computer apart – how things actually work in the real world. Some of us need stimulation, variety, change, and the opportunity to get creative – what if we looked at the entire subject differently.

Coldest nose.  Fuzziest tail.  Most artistically arranged spots.

I never wrote student comments the same way again.  Sometimes all a confused teacher needs is an incredibly muggy June afternoon and a five-year old holding a shoe box containing a whistling guinea pig completely hidden in wood shavings.  No problem – Best Original Song Composed in Wood Chips.















students are my age; we’re all in the same happy boat.

Tired of the Mean Girl White House

Tired of the Mean Girl White House

The midterm elections are a few days away, and the President of the United States’ rhetoric is once again irresponsible, self-serving, incendiary, and dangerous.  The stakes are high this time around, presenting those who oppose the President and the party apparatus that he has dragooned into his sycophantic cult of personality with the now familiar dilemma – liberals don’t, can’t, use the methods of manipulation, disparagement, falsity, and fear that have been weaponized in order to satisfy what we now call Trump’s base.  The President lies, fact checkers expose the lies, but the only ones following the fact checkers are those who already knew he lied.  The President encourages a nation to believe that the true enemy of freedom is a wicked Press, determined to bring the nation into chaos and ruin.  Those of us who read the journals attempting to report the actual news have a perspective that those who hear only the President’s voice do not.

It struck me this morning that what we have here is the familiar mean girl/queen bee drama writ large.  The mean girl bullies, backbites, spreads rumors, ostracizes, calls names, and spreads shame.  The mean girl rules by intimidation; she understands that others can feel insignificant, insecure, in danger of humiliation and abandonment, and she knows that their distress is the source of her power. The queen bee may not be the most attractive, or athletic, or intelligent, but she is canny, reading people quickly, spotting their weakness, and exploiting their fears to her purposes.  Don’t get me wrong, it doesn’t hurt to have obvious advantages that others might covet.  The rich girl has an easier time controlling the hive; she has resources others cannot mobilize, and who doesn’t want to have a little star power rub off by association?

The mean girl’s greatest advantage, however, is the capacity to exercise unspeakable cruelty when needed, even when not needed.  It is the capacity for meanness that is the ultimate source of power.  The mean girl will do what others will not, and that capacity is the source of mixed fear and admiration among the quasi-mean who harbor nasty thoughts about those who seem more advantaged than they but who have been held back in expressing their contempt and anger.  With each perfectly placed unforgivable act of cruelty, however, hangers-on become empowered to imitate bad behavior.

After all, they have the most powerful agent in their setting to protect them.

Furthermore, it quickly becomes clear that for the mean girl, those who are not with the queen are against the queen; there are no bystanders in the mean girl universe.  Small shows of kindness threaten the mean girl’s reign; mere demonstration of nastiness appeases the queen until large bouts of unpleasantness is required.

The mean girl withers when out of the limelight; she has to be the center of attention, and in creating endless drama creates a virtual entertainment vortex swallowing helpless hangers-on.  Their predominant and welcome emotion is outrage, rage that has to find an outlet, a victim.  Mean girls demand loyalty and give none; they poison every setting in which they operate.  Finally the mean girl will do whatever it takes to get what she wants.

Nothing is out-of-bounds.

In the movies, the good kid, the outsider, the brave kid is willing to stand up to the mean girl, calling her bluff.  It’s not enough in the fictional sphere to simply oppose meanness; the heroine has to possess some quality, attribute, or talent that is so socially powerful that it dispels the mean girl’s allure.

In other words, that rarely happens in the real world.

It did happen in  1954 as Senator Joseph McCarthy, that decade’s demagogue and slanderer, used smear tactics to destroy the lives and careers of those who stood in his way, implying that members of Congress, the Army, and the entertainment industry were in the pay of  the Communist Party.  The Dean of Harvard Law School described McCarthy as “judge, jury, prosecutor, castigator, and press agent, all in one”.  As the heated Army McCarthy hearings devolved into yet another barrage of unsubstantiated charges of treason, McCarthy attached the Army’s lead attorney Joseph Welsh’s staff, accusing them of ties to the Communist Party.

McCarthy sat in silence for a moment, then replied, “Until this moment, Senator, I think I never really gauged your cruelty or your recklessness… Have you no sense of decency?”

And the spell was broken.

That was then.

It takes nothing to see that the mean girl in the White House is both cruel and reckless.  Decency?  Seems like a long shot.  I’d like to believe that boorish misogyny, bigotry, and lack of integrity would serve to arouse the same outrage now.  It seems a long shot.

There is another movie version of this story, however.  High School reunion twenty years out.  Blowsy cheerleader mean girl, her best years very much behind her, stands in shock as former weird girl has blossomed into a mature beauty, now adored by all.

Mean girls can generate drama, but are unlikely to generate much of anything else.  It comes down now to jobs, health care, and national security.  The only hope may be that self-interest is compelling enough to put this mean girl in his place.





Five, Count ’em, FIVE Hamlets

Five, Count ’em, FIVE Hamlets

In a fit of misplaced ambition I offered to teach a course on Hamlet in the Continuing Ed program at Southern Oregon University.  The idea was that we’d look at five filmed Hamlets, not simply to compare the productions, but to consider the decisions actor and director had made in conceptualizing  the transition of the play to the screen.  We began by identifying what we actually know from the text and what “unscenes” had to be imagined in order to carry the plot (?) along.  We don’t get a lot of help from Hamlet in a play in which the central character pauses to speak to us in regular fits of soliloquy;  yes, he wants his flesh to melt, yes, he’s got something against fardels, of course he feels like a peasant slave at times, but here’s the rub:  What’s an actor playing Hamlet supposed to want when he walks through the door?

There are two easy outs available to actors, neither of which actually answers that question but which at least give the actor something to do with his hands.

The first is the Hamlet and Oedipus template popularized by Ernest Jones in the appropriately entitled Hamlet and Oedipus.  The notion is that Hamel has lost all his mirth and forgone exercise because his mother has married his uncle.  There may be treason and murder in the mix around the edges, but the existential dilemma has to do with feeling out of sorts and angry at and repulsed by women.  Some productions goose that along a bit by amplifying the Jocasta part of the program, portraying Gertrude as all-too-physically fond of her kid.  The queen intuits Hamlet’s distress at her “oer hasty marriage” and may feel a slight tingle even though the heyday in the blood should have calmed down.

Awkward and unpleasant, this choice appears to have been in Laurence Olivier’s mind as he created his Hamlet.  His is a melancholy Dane, at times so depressed that he seems drugged, pumping up to action in the conversations with Ophelia and Gertrude.  Things get loud, physical, messy, and way beyond suggestive  when the brooding gives way to grabbing. As Erica Moulton noted, “When Olivier stages a climactic argument between Hamlet and his mother Gertrude, with the two writhing and struggling on her bed, he isn’t insinuating anything.”

The second out is the unpredictable adolescent Hamlet, careening from hyper-sensitivity to manic pique.  Derek Jacobi’s Hamlet wobbles between self-conscious snarkiness and self-aware reflection.  In putting on an antic disposition, Jacobi’s a witty Hamlet, a shrewd Hamlet.  All in all, Jacobi’s Hamlet is a self-protective Hamlet, not entirely timid, but, detached, wary.  Jacobi has said that every Hamlet is inescapably the actor’s persona writ large; it comes as little surprise that it was in playing this Hamlet that Jacobi unleashed his own demons and became virtually paralyzed by stage fright for more than two years. This Hamlet is precocious; he’s intellectually far more sophisticated than any of the characters in this political thriller, but emotionally unprepared for the situations in which he finds himself.

It’s worth noting that every Hamlet appears to be unprepared, which raises all the obvious questions as to what Hamlet thought was waiting for him when he finally left school at the age of thirty.  He may have been born to set things right, but it takes quite a while for him to begin to pull things into focus.  It is only at Ophelia’s grave that he declares himself Hamlet the Dane, then obscures his kingly mien by leaping into the open grave to wrestle Laertes.  “Eat a crocodile, I’ll do it.”

That’s what comes to mind?  Crocodiles?

The only Hamlet that comes to mind to me in the leaping and bizarre non sequitur universe is Zeffirelli’s choice, Mel Gibson.  The key to appreciating Gibson’s Hamlet may be in recognizing that the director rewrote the screenplay, dropping scenes, shoving them around, in effect creating the stripped down, muscular, lightly indecisive action script, and a central character who has been described as robust.  Simmering beneath the surface, Gibson’s steam has been boiling , expressed  in biting contempt until he virtually rapes his mother.  It’s easy to believe that this Hamlet would have no problem bumping off Rosencrantz and Guildenstern.  The ending remains the same, but the final scene gives us a swashbuckling Hamlet, finally allowed to unleash the physical energy that has been compressed throughout the rest of the film.

If we think Hamlet has a tough time summoning meaning as he walks through the door, consider Ophelia’s dilemma.  Hamlet may put his antic disposition on from time to time, but Ophelia has to travel from meek submission and sisterly affection to raunchily inappropriate suicidal madness in under an hour.  The question for any actor taking on the role has to be whether Ophelia has always been a bit too finely tuned.  Zeffirelli’s Ophelia, Helena Bonham Carter, is a disconcertingly effective Ophelia.  Gibson is fun to watch as an actor; Bonham Carter can break hearts.

David Tennant’s Hamlet is pretty finely tuned as well, a taut Hamlet, frayed and about to snap at any moment.  It has been observed that Tennant seems to fall into character as he becomes increasingly antic, an observation that presents the next-to-last template, the tortured, existentially damaged Hamlet, a Hamlet whose pain emerges as the biting wit of the smartest guy in the room.  Tennant is a hipster Hamlet who operates on a tight leash until the moment he pops, too loud, drawing too much attention to his torment.

Kenneth Branagh’s Hamlet, on the other hand, is in charge, seemingly deciding when and how to put revenge into action.  He’s a competent Hamlet whose antics are delivered with a comic’s timing.  There’s nothing adolescent about this Hamlet; from the first moment, as Jacobi’s Claudius insults him by dealing with Laertes before turning to the his nephew, the Queen’s son, the Prince, this Hamlet is composed and sharp.  It’s clear that he’d rather spend his time with actors than with affairs of state, but this Hamlet could handle things as well as a Claudius who seems not to notice that Fortinbras and the Norwegian army have invaded his nation.  Branagh is a special case as an actor and director in that he has almost single-handedly made Shakespearean English accessible to a wide range of audiences.  He speaks the speech trippingly with masterful inflection, so beautifully delivered as to inhibit great chasms of emotion, although it is clear that his Hamlet has no patience for those who don’t catch his meaning quickly.  This is a Hamlet who pulls the foppish courtier Osric into a duel of words to amuse himself even as he prepares to go to what Horatio fears is his death.

Here’s the last template then, the one an actor such as Branagh seem to inhabit:  this Hamlet has landed in an alternate universe in which the entire population is operating as though nothing untoward has happened.  In this model, it is the court which is schizophrenic, not the Dane.  There are points of confusion and contention,  not the least of which is the obvious and immediate usurpation of the throne.  The court seems to have gone along willingly, and the Queen seems not to mind having her son knocked over in favor of his uncle.  Ophelia and Hamlet have been busy, but her equally busy father in using her as proto-spy causes Hamlet to see her as the fair Ophelia to whom he wrote a charmingly awkward love letter and as yet another conspiratorial agent of the crown.

The contending realities template supports the seemingly endless stream of events and characters who are not what they seem, taking us back as expected to the opening lines in the play, which ask, “Who’s there?”.










End of the world? Meh.

End of the world? Meh.

The article entitled “A Nightmarish Climate Report” describing the findings  of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has been sitting in my inbox for more than a week.  It is, without doubt, the most significant article I’ve received in the last five years.  Vitally important.  Time sensitive, as it were.  Last chance.

Unopened for a week.

Because I’m overwhelmed.

Here’s an early paragraph just to establish the gravity of a temperature rise of more than 1.5 degrees.

Last night, in Incheon, South Korea, after a week of deliberation, the I.P.C.C. released the new findings. The summary tells a nightmarish tale—one much worse than any of those in the I.P.C.C.’s previous reports—surveying the climate-change impacts we’re already experiencing with one degree of warming, and the severity of the impacts to come once we surpass 1.5 degrees of warming. Ten million more people would be exposed to permanent inundation, and several hundred million more to “climate-related risks and susceptible to poverty.” Malaria and dengue fever will be more widespread, and crops like maize, rice, and wheat will have smaller and smaller yields—particularly in sub-Saharan Africa, Southeast Asia, and Central and South America. Security and economic growth will be that much more imperilled. “Robust scientific literature now shows that there are significant differences between 1.5 and 2 degrees,” Adelle Thomas, a geographer from the Bahamas and also one of the report’s lead authors, told me. “The scientific consensus is really strong. It’s not just a political slogan: ‘1.5 to stay alive.’ It’s true.”

It’s true.

No surprise really, absolutely anticipated, terrible, catastrophic.  And yet …

What am I supposed to do about it?

I have to guess that the passengers on the Titanic would have done something  had they known their watery demise was imminent.  Maybe?  Or, would they have continued to assume that someone in charge would eventually do all that was required to keep the ship afloat?  Is that my problem?  Am I still waiting  for the grown ups to do what grown ups do?

Of course, some grown ups did start to organize a world-wide effort to contain carbon emission and global rise in temperature.  But then, in a moment, the work of decades was undone, and the temperatures continues to climb.  So, my faith in government to respond, even with catastrophic information in hand has been beaten out of me.  So many individuals working around the globe to bring attention to imminent and irreversible mayhem, and yet, those with perhaps a decade or so left on the planet they govern maintain a bizarre imperviousness to science, reason, and the responsibility of stewardship.

Lesley Stahl interviewed the president on 60 Minutes, pressing hard with each question.  Here’s the portion of the CBS transcript of that interview that has to do with greater global warming:

Lesley Stahl: Do you still think that climate change is a hoax?

President Donald Trump: I think something’s happening. Something’s changing and it’ll change back again. I don’t think it’s a hoax, I think there’s probably a difference. But I don’t know that it’s manmade. I will say this. I don’t wanna give trillions and trillions of dollars. I don’t wanna lose millions and millions of jobs. I don’t wanna be put at a disadvantage.

Lesley Stahl: I wish you could go to Greenland, watch these huge chunks of ice just falling into the ocean, raising the sea levels.

President Donald Trump: And you don’t know whether or not that would have happened with or without man. You don’t know.

Uh, but we do know.

“It’ll change back.”

Maybe, after human life has been eliminated.  Good chance of some equilibrium then.   But that is then, and this is now, and now is all that matters to the folks in charge this week.  Well, now and the trillions and trillions of dollars.

If we all chipped in, could we do something?  Like have a bake sale or a car wash?  I’m a confirmed inactivist, but I’m scared enough that I’d chain myself to …. what?  Where’s the point of intersection?  What’s left to do by ourselves?

So I’m overwhelmed by the complexity of turning the ship and increasingly dispirited by clumsy, ugly, self-serving partisan chicanery.  Seems as if a hefty portion of the country is putting up points on a different scoreboard.  It’s not easy for me to acknowledge that the dismissal of the UN’s report is touted as one more victory over the forces of pointy headed progressive secularism, necessary to the systematic undoing of the fetus killing liberal establishment.

Partisan political skullduggery stinks of macho one-upmanship, connected t the preservation of privilege.  It’s a rotten game and the stakes are too high to see it as anything but criminal.

One characteristic of sublime ignorance is the failure to see connections, to recognize causes and anticipate effects.   Here’s an effect, reported by Ben Guarino in the Speaking of Science section of the Washington Post:

“Insects around the world are in a crisis, according to a small but growing number of long-term studies showing dramatic declines in invertebrate populations. A new report suggests that the problem is more widespread than scientists realized. Huge numbers of bugs have been lost in a pristine national forest in Puerto Rico, the study found, and the forest’s insect-eating animals have gone missing, too.

In 2014, an international team of biologists estimated that, in the past 35 years, the abundance of invertebrates such as beetles and bees had decreased by 45 percent. In places where long-term insect data are available, mainly in Europe, insect numbers are plummeting. A study last year showed a 76 percent decrease in flying insects in the past few decades in German nature preserves.”

Pesky bugs.

The term used by the post to describe this report is “Hyperalarming”.

I am alarmed, and what difference does that make?











Maybe This Is Why …

Guest Essay by Mary Fish Arango –

I am grateful for whatever led this video to my FB feed this morning. It helped clarify some of my disorganized thoughts about assault, truth telling, sharing one’s story, resentment versus gratitude, addiction and alcoholism, entitlement and privilege, courage and cowardice, wisdom and stupidity, aggression and kindness. The video makes the important point that one of our president’s core qualities is that he flips the tables, making the accused seem like victims.

I have super-developed sensitivity to people who cultivate resentment. It goes along with a childhood spent living with an alcoholic and a rage filled dry drunk, both of whom abused prescription drugs. I am wary of people who go out of their way to feel resentful or create situations that promote resentment. In my experience, people who cultivate resentment do it in order to justify acting out, whether that be overspending, overeating, binge drinking, gambling, drugs, rage, or some other addiction or problem behavior. I can’t trust people who cultivate resentment, because they put blame on someone else in order to dodge their own responsibility and give themselves permission to act out. I am like the dog under the table waiting to get kicked: the sound of fostered resentment makes me want to leave the room to avoid what inevitably comes next. The overeater is gearing up to consume the chocolate cake. The alcoholic is gearing up for bourbon or beer. The gambler is gearing up to put the house mortgage at risk.

Our current president is exceptionally talented at stirring up resentment cultivators. You speak loudly, you exaggerate, you repeat an untruth for effect, and resentment cultivators like having someone nurture and support their resentment and stir up anger. It entitles them to acting out and not being accountable. Giving it air time on television repeats the message like a hypnotic suggestion and collects more and more followers who wish to be unaccountable and entitled to acting out.

Not all people who have been sexually assaulted are women. If you think it’s rare for women to report sexual assault, consider the likelihood of a man or boy reporting sexual assault or sharing his story. Ask yourself how many people have shared their personal stories of assault with you. Is it because it hasn’t happened to people you know, or is it because you are not a safe enough receiver of that story? Would you believe the story if it were told to you? Would you shame the person for their experience? Would you end a friendship over the telling of the story? Would you marvel at the courage and endurance and emotional strength of the person extending trust enough to tell an excruciating story? Do you wish they wouldn’t change your world by sharing something you can then not un-know?

For an assault survivor, the events of the last several weeks have been triggering in a way that cannot be overstated. If “triggering” is a word that doesn’t have intense immediate impact for you, it may be because you are not a safe enough receiver of someone’s devastating story. Rage and bullying are triggering in themselves. Hearing someone claim, “She must have been mistaken,” when she says she is 100% certain….. Having someone discount the emotional impact or challenge the veracity of a compelling and detailed account…. Blue eyes and gray hair…. Responding to a question with redirection and the insinuation that the questioner is in the wrong…..


Someone who has been sexually assaulted will never question someone else’s waiting 36 years to relate the story. If you’ve never been molested or tortured or brutalized or assaulted, you may have the luxury of wondering why someone would wait to tell their story. If it has happened to you, you know exactly why someone would wait and you feel it in your core. You know exactly what it is to feel threatened and overpowered and unable to protect yourself. If you have been bullied or harassed or intensely and aggressively intimidated, you probably don’t wonder why someone wouldn’t relate their story, either.


I had been afraid of the dark for my entire life — not just kind of afraid of the dark — panic-stricken, stomach-clenching afraid of the dark. Afraid of things that might be under my bed, afraid of closet doors that were a tiny bit ajar, afraid of dark spaces behind hallway doors, afraid of turning on lights in a darkened house that I returned to at night, afraid of getting into a dark car on a dark street…. I got a puppy right after I graduated from college, and the dog was my constant companion for 14 years, my protection from gripping fear of the dark, a living thing making noises in the silence. Several years after his death, I walked down the wooden stairs at night into our basement family room, during a storm that had knocked out power in our neighborhood. My hand on the railing, I paused at the foot of the stairs and realized I was no longer afraid of the dark — for the first time in my life. In the same moment, I realized it was because my aggressor could no longer be a threat to me; his brain was strangling with dementia.

It takes courage to hear people’s anguished stories, whether they are stories of grief or loss or anger or despair. Their stories might change you, might affect you, might refuse to be forgotten or put aside. If you have the courage, ask the people you love to tell you theirs. If you hear enough of them, you may join those who understand why someone would wait so long to tell their story.

The cure is not in the disease

The cure is not in the disease

This piece is about the cure and the disease, and I’ll get to that in a bit, but I need to present something like reasonable context for using that particular language, the identification of contemporary events as diseased, not that the events of the past week have failed to slam the reality of a nation in peril down our throats.  I follow the news, shudder, and retreat to books seeking reassurance that there is some abiding commonality in humanity somewhere.  These are ugly days, but I’ve seen some remarkably encouraging days in the course of a lifetime; I’d like to think we might find our way to decency if not to kindness.  So, I read.

I recently read The Inconvenient Indian: A Curious Account of Native People in North America to friends;  it’s an important book, devastating and challenging.  King’s first thought was to entitle the book, Those Pesky Redskins, an impulse he barely contains in wryly presenting the continuing disenfranchisement in America’s incomplete genocide.  Like Killers of the Osage Moon, King’s account is a painful read;  justice is not served and will not be served.  King’s outrage is understated, unadorned description of callous mendacity delivered in plain language.  Inescapable past, inescapable legacy of injustice, inescapable evidence of systemic inhumanity.

That’s pretty much a fact.

I found the cure is in the disease concept in The Music Shop by Rachel Joyce. The difference in tone between the two books is obvious, and it is odd that one should speak to the other, but there is a moment in The Music Shop in  which things have gone terribly wrong.  Desperately wrong.  No way back wrong.  Desperate times call for desperate measures; a character attempting to rebuild the world in which she lives suggests that the cure for a friend’s hopeless discouragement is in honoring the loss that has broken his spirit.  The cure, she believes, is in the disease.

There’s enough disease  to go round.  I’d like to think there’s something in the nature of our collective illness that could be restorative, and yet…

It’s been a tough week as the presumptive appointment to the Supreme Court has shown himself to be yet another blustering, entitled bully, certainly a liar, possibly guilty of assault.  Bad enough, but the partisan fury with which his behavior is defended reveals the bald self-interest of politics and party.  My spirit is not quite broken, but with each day’s revelations, hope is harder to summon.  The disease I see in this country is malignant, virulent,  venomous, and deadly. Contention is one thing; warfare is an entirely different experience.

Contending forces have been in play here from the start, which is testimony to the difference between this experiment and the history of other nations, almost all of which came into being as accidents of geography or topography; our founding was intentional and intentionally celebrated institutionalized contention, checks, balances, made possible under the rule of law.  Contention is not easily managed in the best of situations; toss in irreconcilable convictions and dangerous atavistic forces, racism, sexism, homophobia, misogyny, and contention gets truly ugly.

The idea back at the start, remember, was that the will of the majority would serve the greatest number, preventing the acquisition of absolute power by the wealthy and powerful.  It hasn’t quite worked out that way.  Wealth and power aside, the rule of a majority has proven to bring some unexpected complication.  Travelling the new nation in 1826, for example, Alexis de Tocqueville suggested that the greatest threat to democracy might finally come at the hand of a tyrannical majority.

“The moral dominion of the majority is based as well on the principle that the interests of the greatest number must be preferred to those of the few. Now, it is easily understood that the respect professed for this right of the greatest number naturally increases or decreases depending on the state of the parties. When a nation is divided among several great irreconcilable interests, the privilege of the majority is often unrecognized, because it becomes too painful to submit to it.”

De Tocqueville wasn’t wrong and was proven prescient within fifteen years of the publication of his analysis.  The abolitionist movement, preeminently a cause championed in the free states, accepted nothing less than the abolition of slavery in the United States.  Abolitionists saw slavery as an abomination, a crime against humanity.  The slave states believed themselves to have been accorded the right to conduct themselves as the majority in their state decreed.  A last-ditch bitterly negotiated effort to keep the Union intact, the Compromise of 1850, protected slavery by enacting fugitive slave laws, brought California into the Union as a free state and postponed civil war for a decade.  But only for a decade.  The free states could not allow slavery to continue; the slave states could not allow free states to dictate morality.

The election of Donald Trump startled those of us who had become used to the notion that progressive humanism, inclusion, and social justice  were priorities held by the majority of people in the nation.  It turns out that we were wrong.  There were folks at every point along a continuum, from eager partisans of nasty Trumpist tribalism to moderate conservatives, for whom the social order had changed too quickly or too radically.  The election was a referendum on progressivism, the same sort of referendum brought to Great Britain with Brexit.  Our situation is the more dangerous because, at the heart of the divide, is not globalism or even immigration, but the question of abortion.  A voting majority, supported by a court largely seated by that majority, ruled that women could legally seek an end to pregnancy; the minority found that an abomination and a crime against humanity, its implementation tyrannous.  Both convictions claim the moral high ground, and as was the case in 1850, there is really no room for compromise.

Majority rules, and today that means a majority in the US Senate, voting on principle or with regard for the political reality that brought them to Washington, will confirm the appointment of a judge who will accede to the dismantling of Roe v, Wade.  Although there are any number of conservative judges more than ready to carry out that function, some in the Senate, perhaps a majority, will vote to confirm the appointment of a man who has revealed himself to be lacking in the qualities of temperament or character expected of a jurist in the highest court.  They will vote to confirm because they can.

There have been other voices in the past who have spoken when holding power in victory: “With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds…”.

The wounding disease, I think, is malice.  The cure, charity.  Today, the odds seem to favor malice, but we are charged to finish the work we have been in all along, the only chance we may have to bind up our wounds, and that will take a truckload of charity, charity I’m not dredging up very successfully this week.