How To Get Rid Of Bamboo (A Cautionary Tale)

My first bit of advice is this : DO NOT PLANT BAMBOO!!!

Pardon my yelling, the point needs emphasis.  Bamboo is incredibly hardy, impressively strong, and wildly invasive. It is not just a weed.  It is “The Weed”.  In Connecticut, it has been illegal since 2013 to plant bamboo near road or property lines.  The fines for violation are impressive, and accumulate daily.

I planted my bamboo in the front of my yard, about 20-odd years ago, my ambition being to grow my own bamboo curtain to wall off the yard from the road.  I have no one to blame but myself. The bamboo loved its’ location. It grew up. It also grew left, right, back, and front.  Two out of four of these was not actually a big problem. There was plenty of room on my property for expansion. But when it began trespassing in my neighbor’s yard, showing one slender stalk, I immediately went to remove the intruder, because I wished to be a good neighbor.  I spent the next two hours removing a dozen or so runners headed into my neighbor’s immaculately manicured lawn.  The battle was joined.

The next spring, I was driving home when I saw something unusual in the roadway in front of my house.  It was a bamboo stalk, coming up through the brand new asphalt.  I was horrified.  I knew the highway department would not approve.  Herbicide was applied immediately (one of the few times I would ever think that necessary), but a way to prevent this needed to found.  I decided to dig a trench in front of the bamboo, so that fresh shoots could be seen before they got to the street.  Additionally, I took some leftover ceramic tiles and buried them along the border with my neighbor, to at least delay invasion into his yard.

The bamboo also grew tall.  As the tops waved in the wind among the power lines, I realized pruning was now needed.  So, the nice Roger was called in because ladders and I are not friends, and the tops of dozens of stalks were cut off.  I had my wall, but it was a lot of work to contain it.

But as the bamboo grew into a thicket, eventually reaching approximately 30′ in length and 10′ in width, I realized something really weird, and rather cool.  I could step into the bamboo and disappear from view.  This delighted my California nephews during a visit, when they declared that I live in a jungle, in the middle of a forest.  And the bamboo seemed to sing in the breeze, leaves rustling softly.  I admired its’ strength and tenacity, even as I was swearing at it as I pulled up another 10′ runner trying to expand the bamboo’s territory.

Last spring, I decided that the bamboo needed to go.  The work needed to maintain it was just too much.  I thought that removal would not be a complicated process.  We would cut it down, hire someone to dig up the roots, put the roots in a dumpster, the dumpster gets hauled away.  Simple, no muss, very little fuss.  And the goddess of landscaping projects looked down upon me and said, “I don’t think so.”

Roger and I cut it down, hauling the 10-12′ stalks on tarps to our yard waste berm at the back of our property.  There were hundreds of stalks.  Hard work, but not crippling.  A neighbor with a backhoe was hired to dig up the root mat.  And here’s where the roadblock to very little fuss was thrown up.  We couldn’t remove the bamboo roots from our property.  No landfill would take them, because of bamboo’s invasiveness.  So we were left with no alternative but to have the chunks of root mat and dirt piled up in the backyard while I consulted with my gardener girlfriend who gave me the bamboo twenty-some odd years ago.  Terri’s advice was, “You have to remove the roots from the dirt.”

Ok.  We are looking at a pile of dirt and roots.  The backhoe dug down about one foot.  My rough estimate of area is 300 square feet.  According to a quick look on the Google, a cubic foot of moist dirt weighs about 78 lbs.  That gives us an approximate total weight of 23,400 lbs.  Estimating that half of the cubic footage is root, not dirt, I’ll halve that weight to 11,700 lbs.  It is, by any estimate, a lot of goddamn dirt.  And roots.  Roots which began sending out fresh shoots within days, from all sides.  That plant wanted to live in the worst way.

The dismantling began.  Roger used a pick to break up the larger chunks of root into smaller chunks, I used a smaller hand pick to do the final removal of roots from dirt.  The roots were piled on top of the previously cut stalks, so that there was no possibility of contact with the ground.  Roger built a screen, with 1/2″ chicken wire, and the remaining dirt was screened for rocks and roots into a large wheelbarrow, to be returned from whence it came, sans bamboo.  My neighbor buddy Shane was provided gainful employment assisting with this operation, which went all through spring, summer, and into the fall.  As winter fell, the pile of dirt we had been playing in for months was smaller, but not gone.

Yesterday, the ninth of May, we finished sorting around 6 tons of dirt and roots.  I had left the subsoil under the bamboo thicket exposed, just to be sure that there was no new growth, that we had indeed gotten it all.  So far, so good.  As we finished screening the last of the dirt pile this spring, I found fresh growth.  Not a lot of it, but enough to confirm that we had been right to be thorough.

This is my tale of yardwork, taken to a ridiculous extreme.  I’m going to plant wildflowers this year.  Hopefully, nothing invasive.

 

 

Too. Much. News.

I almost titled this “There is No Good News”, but decided that that was both depressing and inaccurate. But there is too much news. It’s hard to wrap one’s head around some of the stories because of either the sheer volume of information within them, or the complexity of the various threads composing the whole. We are residing in the old curse, ‘May you live in interesting times’.

I’ve written before about the changes in my personal intake of news. To sum up, I take in more information.  I am following the Russian election interference scandal avidly. Yes, the Russia scandal is real.  To claim otherwise is to be terribly foolish, and terribly wrong.  What I am reading indicates that Robert Mueller is doing his best to condense an incredibly complex investigation, one that would normally take 10 years to complete, into a 3-year time frame.  The good news is that the investigation began in 2016, so it may be completed by next year.  News articles are coming out on the possibility of several reports being issued by the special counsel’s office, detailing the various aspects of the investigation and making recommendations.  At that juncture, it would become up to Congress to take further steps.

Whether Congress takes those further steps likely depends on whether or not Congress is controlled by Republicans or Democrats.  While it is certainly not unheard of for the ruling party to suffer mid-term losses, there are many indications that the 2018 mid-terms are going to be a political bloodbath. The much-vaunted tax plan is the ONLY major legislation passed so far by the Republican-controlled Congress, in conjunction with the White House.  Early signs are that in most places, no one cares. Most people’s lives have not been substantially improved.  This includes Trump voters, although they have proved themselves willing to vote against their own economic self-interest before, and most probably will again.  The important thing to remember is, their numbers are not increasing.  There has been no expansion of Trump’s base, although their enthusiasm remains high. I do not now, nor will I ever, understand this, but maybe that’s just me.

Setting aside the reality of the Russia investigation, also quite real is the amount of corruption and ineptitude being displayed by the administration in many departments. I rather suspect that the self-dealing corruption on display at the White House (Trump’s refusal to divest, his refusal to release his tax returns, the sheer cheesiness of illegally putting the Presidential seal on GOLF TEES,  etc, etc, ad nauseum) has led to department heads believing that they could get a piece, too.

The EPA is in the spotlight this week, due to Scott Pruitt’s smug arrogance as much as anything. Pruitt was apparently under the impression that he could do no wrong. This was wrong. So far, we have under scrutiny Pruitt’s first-class air travel, 24-hour security detail, $43K sound-proof room in his office, living arrangements (renting a room, below market rate, from a lobbyist/acquaintance), using a provision of the Clean Air Act to give two staffers large raises (note: he is now blaming this on an unnamed (and so far, unfired staffer)), and a very suspicious trip to Morocco, where Pruitt did a bit of lobbying to encourage Morocco to buy natural gas. The kicker is the company that would be exporting the natural gas to Morocco is represented by the lobbyist who was Pruitt’s landlady.  And this is only Pruitt’s PERSONAL corruption. He is also eviscerating the agency itself, believing that the EPA’s mission is to work hand-in-hand with various corporate interests to both preserve and increase their bottom lines at the expense of the environment.  Climate change denial is only part of the program.  He is also seeking to minimize or outright eliminate the role of science in EPA decision-making by dismantling various advisory boards and promulgating restrictive or unnecessary rules designed to discourage the use of science. This goes along with the re-writing of the EPA’s core mission.  Dumb and dumber, indeed.

Over at the Interior department, Ryan Zinke is reducing public lands, while lying about meeting with all of the stakeholders.  He has also exhibited a fondness for both first-class travel and expensive interior design (thousands on new office doors), with Interior’s Inspector General investigating. A company called Whitefish Energy, with an employee roster of two people, based in Zinke’s hometown, was initially hired (on a no-bid contract) to restore Puerto Rico’s power grid after Hurricane Maria. They were removed after being found to be unable to to the job. My question is, how did they get the gig in the first place?

At HUD, Ben Carson, whose sole qualification for running the agency was that he lives in a house, is making his mark. The Inspector General there is investigating both unreasonable expenses (a $31K dining room set. Note: I could re-furnish my house, top-to-bottom, for that amount. And it would look fabulous.), and possible conflicts involving his son’s business interests. I think it says a great deal about Carson, that when he was questioned by Congress about the $31K dining set, he blamed his wife.  I’ll bet that went over well at home that night.

At the VA, David Shulkin, an Obama holdover re-appointed by Trump, first ran into trouble over the European vacation he went on with his wife. The devil’s in the details, and in this case, the detail was the government, at least initially, paid Mrs. Shulkin’s expenses. However, Shulkin’s larger crime, so far as Trump was concerned, was his refusal to implement any plans to privatize the agency.  I feel very sorry for Admiral Jackson, who has been nominated to take over the VA. He seems like a genuinely good guy, who is likely to be chewed up and spit out by the administration.

At the State department, Rex Tillerson had a very bad time. There have been no reports of personal corruption, but most other reports conclude that he was not very good at his job. He began a department-wide reorganization, relying largely on outside (and very expensive) consultants. Many top positions were left unfilled, or eliminated outright. A large number of senior staff have left, leaving the State department in the same position as an army or navy would be without generals and admirals. There was also the issue of Jared Kushner running a shadow State Dept out of the White House.  Additionally, Tillerson never got along personally with Trump. Now, as far as I’m concerned, that’s a point in his favor, but being a realist, I also know one has to get along with the boss.

At the Education department, Betsy Devos has risen to the highest level of her incompetency.  Devos pays for her own private jets, which, quite frankly, is the least she can do. As was shown at her confirmation hearings, and again during her “60 Minutes” interview, she doesn’t know squat about education.  What she does know is that she wants to spend more money on ‘school choice’ and no more money on helping public schools. She has NEVER visited a struggling public school. Additionally, she rescinded an advisory designed to help protect transgender students; rolled back regulations designed to protect students from predatory for-profit schools (think Trump University); and modified an Obama administration policy to forgive the loans to students defrauded by the Corinthian Colleges chain. Loan forgiveness is now tied to income. This completely disregards the fact that the students were DEFRAUDED.  Essentially, those making a decent living now are being punished for it.

In the White House itself, the churn of personnel is continual. On MSNBC, Rachel Maddow is tracking the personnel exits on a big board which just keeps getting bigger.  The office in charge of vetting new personnel has been found itself to be a den of laziness and incompetence. John Kelly tried to constrain a president who is uninterested in being constrained, and in the process has forever stained his own reputation. Trump, in his arrogance and ignorance, appears to genuinely believe his own rhetoric, that he ‘alone can fix it’, whatever ‘it’ may be.  He appears to believe that he can run the country as he ran his business. As his business evolved, from building actual buildings to simply marketing his ‘brand’, slapping his name on everything from airplanes to wine to steaks, what came to matter most was keeping his name in the public eye.  It was with notable relief on Sunday that I read the NY Times, whose front page contained NO articles about Trump. I don’t think that’s happened in over two years.  However, there was plenty of verbiage generated by Trump in his Twitter feed, most of it fact-free, and transparently aimed at feeding red meat to his base in the form of pseudo-toughness  on immigration (the caravan of Hondurans walking across Mexico. That’s right, WALKING), Amazon (he’s mad at owner Jeff Bezos because Bezos also owns the Washington Post, which Trump thinks should be ‘nicer’ to him), and the FBI and Justice Department (riddled with ‘deep-state’ employees refusing to investigate Hillary Clinton).

There does not appear to be any coherent doctrine, policy, or method to the madness engulfing the White House. Donald Trump is NOT a ‘man with a plan’.  There is no plan, because Trump has no clue.  His daily schedule includes hours upon hours of what is euphemistically called ‘executive time’.  This time is used regularly by Trump to live-tweet ‘Fox & Friends’.  This is not a good use of ANYONE’S  time.  He is the embodiment of everyone’s experience with the bigoted uncle/aunt at Thanksgiving, the drunk at the end of the bar, the cab driver in whose cab one is temporarily trapped.  These people have opinions on everything, and knowledge of nothing.  They spew their thoughts out into the ether, and it used to be that they could be evaded. No more. It is genuinely wearying.

On the other hand, there is good news.  I am coming to the belief that as damaging as the Trump administration has been, is, and will be for the forseeable future, they are not running amok completely unchecked. I think that Trump’s election has given us an “Oh, Shit!” moment. The Women’s March was the start.  In the wake of the Weinstein scandal, #MeToo. In the wake of the Parkland shooting, #NeverAgain. These movements are operating alongside #BlackLivesMatter, which predates Trump.  Thousands of people, most of them women, are exploring or actually running for office, at all levels of government. The non-profit activist groups are working overtime.  The ACLU, Planned Parenthood, the Southern Poverty Law Center, and countless others are experiencing huge increases in donations, and are using these donations to fund both public awareness and actual lawsuits. State governments, with Democratic attorney generals leading the way, are suing promptly whenever a new offense is committed by the administration. Most recently, California is leading the lawsuit against the rollback of automotive emissions requirements.  The New York attorney general is investigating other aspects of Trump world, and has been in communication with Robert Mueller’s team. And finally, the Democratic party, while continuing to be a roiling mass of disparate agendas, is still fighting everywhere they can.

It is my steadfast belief that our democracy is stronger than Trump’s desire to destroy it for fun and profit. But as has been said elsewhere, this is a marathon, not a sprint. Trump’s presidency did not occur in a vacuum. It arose as a response to genuine problems – economic neglect and unending wars to name just two.  But it also arose because of racism and misogyny.  The unreasoning hatred of both Barack Obama and the woman who would have been his successor, Hillary Clinton, must be acknowledged, and hopefully, overcome.  It’s going to take a bit more time, though.  Maybe within the lifetimes of the Parkland activists.  Wouldn’t that be something?

 

About Sharing Everything on Facebook & Some Additional Thoughts on Shitholes

About a week ago, I decided to make all of my Facebook posts public.  This includes sharing my online activism and reading on current events, as well as my usual musings and occasional pictures.  I did this because I felt that as much as I don’t enjoy arguing with people, not sharing seemed dishonest, like I was hiding something.  Additionally, I thought it might be a good idea to share views with people who don’t agree with me, to get out of my own media bubble.  So, I’ll put it all out there, and see what happens.

So far, the only thing anyone paid attention to was when I questioned how people can continue to support Donald Trump, knowing that they are allying themselves politically with the far right – you know, ethno-nationalists, the KKK, Neo-Nazis, etc, ad nauseum.  For asking this question, I was called divisive by one writer, another shared her belief in a well-known conspiracy theory, and a third writer shared some revisionist history.  It could have been worse, I suppose.  I can’t wait until next week.

In addition to reading with great interest the reactions to my postings, I saw another post regarding the recent furor over Trump calling a whole raft of countries “shitholes” that caught my eye.  The writer stated his belief, based on his own travels while serving in the Armed Forces, that quite a few places he saw were, in point of fact, shitholes.  Now, I’m not going to quibble with his opinion, but it is not just the use of a vulgarity by the president that is the problem here.

The first problem, as I see it, is context. The term was being used in the context of a government meeting about reforming immigration policy.  The president used the term to describe countries from Africa, the Caribbean, and Central America, where the majority of the populations are black and brown-skinned people. According to people in the room, he used it multiple times. This insult was juxtaposed by the president’s stating of his preference for people from, say, Norway, one of the whitest countries on earth.

The second problem is simply basic civility, or the lack thereof.  While I am not widely travelled, I was a cop for many years, and therefore claim some experience with both shitholes and the people who live in them. It strikes me as singularly unhelpful to declare wide swaths of the world to be shitholes.  I am quite certain that if the first thing I did, when walking into someone’s home to take a complaint, was to declare it a shithole, I would have nothing but problems on my hand.  And I would have deserved all of those problems, because I would have been an asshole.

I don’t know where this particular personal experiment will lead, and I don’t know how long it will last.  It springs from a genuine desire to communicate, and I hope, well I don’t know what I hope, only that I have hope.

 

 

 

A Shithole Presidency

It’s been almost a year since Donald Trump was sworn in as the 45th President of the United States, and it’s as bad as I (and virtually every other Democrat) thought it would be.  I have never been as angry, frightened, dismayed, embarassed or appalled by events and people outside of my personal life as I have been in the past year. What is being done in Washington by this administration can only be characterized as a malpractice of government on an unimaginable scale.

I have watched as the administration has fundamentally gone to war on our own government.  They are actively seeking to dismantle the State Department and the Environmental Protection Agency via budget and personnel cuts.  The mission of the Interior Department to protect our public lands is being undercut by a secretary eager to cater to corporate interests seeking even greater profit. The Education Department is rescinding policies to protect LGBT students from discrimination and college students from being ripped off by for-profit ‘colleges’.  Hundreds of essential government positions are going unfilled due to the administration’s inability to either a) find competent people or b) find people willing to be blindly loyal to Donald Trump.

I have watched, horrified, as the President has insulted our friends internationally, while simultaneously cozying up with the likes of Erdogan in Turkey, El-Sisi in Egypt, and Duterte in the Phillippines.  And as the investigations into the Russian interference in our elections continues, he has resolutely refused to utter either a word of criticism of Vladimir Putin or take any actions to protect our elections the next time around.

I have watched as the President has refused to be transparent about his finances, refused to divest himself of his holdings, appointed his unqualified daughter and son-in-law to advisory positions in his White House, denigrated the actual White House ( “a real dump”), and vacationed almost one-third of his first year, costing the US government more in one year than President Obama’s vacations in eight years. Couple this with his cabinet secretaries’ penchants for private jet travel (Mnuchin, Zinke, Pruitt, Shulkin), round-the-clock security (Pruitt), and the continued administration efforts to appoint unqualified candidates for government jobs, and the slogan ‘drain the swamp’  is shown to be nothing but empty words.

I have watched as incidents of hate crimes have exploded.  I listened as the President of the United States stated that ‘fine people’ were marching with Neo-Nazis in Charlottesville; I watched as the President campaigned for Roy Moore, an accused sexual predator and child molester, as he ran for the Senate in Alabama; and last evening, as I checked in with the Washington Post before going to sleep, I saw this headline:  “Trump attacks protections for immigrants from ‘shithole’ countries”.  This morning, I heard a news report about how thrilled Trump is by the controversy his racist remarks are creating.

I made a conscious decision last year to not share much of my ‘disturbed about the government’ feelings with most of my friends on Facebook, because I don’t actually enjoy arguing with people. My awareness of broad support for Trump within the law enforcement community was also a large factor in that decision.  Nobody wants to be a pariah.  However, while I will always be a part of that community, and have the utmost respect for those who continue to do that difficult job, I feel that I am being dishonest to both myself and my conservative friends if I continue to keep my views to myself.

I fully realize that I am just one voice, but from now on, I will be speaking at full volume.

Not My Burden

Almost every day now, there is a new story in the media about sexual assault and harassment.  People, and so far, exclusively male people, in a whole raft of industries and professions, are being outed as sexual predators who have abused their power for their own sexual gratification.  Potentially criminal incidents involving under-age teens in both professional and educational environments are being exposed.  These people are being accused of sexually harassing, molesting, and assaulting colleagues and subordinates.  I applaud the courage of the women and men who are speaking out, telling their stories and speaking their truths.  It is a hard thing to do, and it is long overdue, because predators like these have always been among us.

I weep as I type those words.

Through the wonder of Facebook, I am back in contact, both online and in real life, with a number of people with whom I went to high school.  I am enjoying renewing these friendships, and getting to know these people as adults.  I  attended a class reunion recently, and had lovely times at both a pre-reunion party, and the reunion itself.  But when one of these high school friends shared her opinion that our youth in Bethel was ‘sheltered’.  I could only nod, because there was just too much for me to say.  I am truly happy for my friend, that she felt sheltered.  I am glad for her, that this is her truth.  My truth is rather different, and I would not wish it upon anyone.

I tell my story now because what is happening in the public sphere has helped me realize that the burden of shame is not mine.  That burden is on the predator’s shoulders. Predators seek out the vulnerable.  I think it’s important to shine as many lights, in as many dark corners of the past and present as we possibly can. I do not name this person, however, because he can no longer hurt anyone, and I have no wish to harm by association any of his family.

I tell my story  now, because, quite obviously, that high school reunion stirred up a great many old memories.  My story is also about how I came to be vulnerable.  However, I seek only to paint a general picture, not to throw specific stones at any individual.  Time, distance, and middle-aged memory prevent that, and that is fine.

And finally, I tell my story because I am sure that I am not the only one from this era with a story.  I am probably not the only student molested by this teacher.  I also know of at least one other faculty predator and a student predator.  I have heard rumors of yet a third faculty predator.  I cannot tell their stories, only my own. But I believe their stories, because of my own.

 

My childhood was difficult for a number of reasons – a difficult, unsettled home life involving multiple divorces, alchohol abuse, several school changes, and an undiagnosed parental mental illness.  That is the Reader’s Digest condensed version.  So for all of the reasons listed above, school, when I was younger, was something of a refuge.  It also helped that I was smart.  I liked to learn.  I thought algebra was fun.  I loved to read – novels, history, mysteries.  I loved language.

When my mom moved our family back to Bethel in 1969,  we (my mom & my two younger sisters) moved in with my mom’s parents, and I entered the Bethel school system in the sixth grade.  I don’t have any bad memories from middle school.  I remember making friends, going on school outings, enjoying my classes.  Home life remained periodically difficult, but that was my normal.

Many things changed in 1971.  In the fall, I entered high school.  And over the course of the previous year, I had changed physically, growing a pair of breasts that had no business being on the body of a 12-year old girl.  My initial training bras were swiftly overwhelmed and I began to attract attention I was ill-equipped to deal with.  I recall learning to avoid the front of the school during lunch, where the older boys taught their younger brethren how to harass, choosing to yell at me, “It is Balloons!” in a loud chorus.  Please allow me to repeat – I was 12 years old.  Even now, at 58, I am still taken aback by the thoughtless cruelty.

I added to my own difficulties when a popular boy in my class asked me to meet him behind the school one day.  We engaged in what what was known then as ‘necking’ and ‘petting’.  It was all consensual.  I, quite frankly, had been surprised and thrilled that this boy had any interest in me.  After a while, we got up from the field we had been lying in, and went our seperate ways.  I recall no words of affection.  So, what I had naively hoped was someone being interested in me was just someone interested in my body. Regrettably, I was willing to accept this and a pattern was begun.  What I did not anticipate was that details of what I thought was a private encounter would be made public.  The word apparently went round that I was ‘easy’.  Other boys expressed interest, and I had other encounters in out of the way places,  fumbling and unsatisfying, and my ‘reputation’ was cemented.  I had no adult either paying close attention, or available for advice as to how to navigate this world.

What turned out to be an equally damaging repercussion of my affection-seeking was finding myself unexpectedly ostracized by most of my girlfriends.   Inevitably, word of my behavior had gotten round to them.  I recall going to a slumber party, and being asked, during the late-night conversations, if I had done various things with boys.   I remember being asked what this or that felt like.  I thought I was with my friends, and I answered their questions as best as I could.  I guess I didn’t really think, even at that time, that I had done anything wrong.  In any event, I can only surmise that the information I shared was too much.  I try to remember now that they were very young, too.  I don’t recall how I became aware that my friends were now my former friends, but it seemed very sudden.  I do remember a painful conversation with a couple of them at lunch,  when I asked what I had done wrong.  I don’t remember the answer, only that I was left feeling hurt, confused, and terribly alone.

Eventually, I made new friends, who I remember fondly, but not many, and I think I was probably more reserved with them.  I never quite fit in with any of the groups that teens break off into.  Eventually, in my senior year, I acquired a steady boyfriend, a sophomore who made me laugh and had no knowledge of my first years in high school.  Mostly, though, I was isolated, hiding in a faculty office/prep room when I wasn’t in class, trying to avoid unwanted attention from male students. But I was noticed, by a faculty predator.

Both lack of memory and nausea preclude sharing of a lot of detail.   I don’t recall how it began. I don’t recall how many encounters there were.  I don’t remember where the places he drove us to, so he could grope me, were.  I don’t remember how I finally stopped it.  I remember him telling me to tell my mother I was babysitting for him, which now indicates to me that he was practiced at this.  I was probably not his first prey, and I do not know if I was his last.  He was aware of my age, 16, and took care to not go beyond what kissing and fondling I would allow.  I’m aware now of my own passivity in the whole experience.  I am so sad now for the girl I was, and her acceptance of a predator’s attentions.

I’m not sure how to end this tale.  As I proofread, trying to be as accurate and truthful as possible,  I find that while I am sad, I am also peaceful.  I have shared this story with so very few people, but there is relief in making public what was hidden.  I was not sheltered in my youth.  But I chose to use my damage and my hurt to help me become stronger.   I chose to pursue a professional life of service, so that I might help and protect others who could not help or protect themselves.  And I choose to speak now, so that my voice might be part of the greater chorus against those who would abuse their positions of power and trust.  I know I am not alone.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I Can’t Believe I Have To Say This

I generally try to avoid stating obvious things, things that everyone knows. But after over a week of listening to and reading what others are saying, stating obvious things appears necessary.  So, here goes : Nazis, the KKK, and white supremacists in general, are bad people. Furthermore, the people who march with Nazis, the KKK, and white supremacists are ALSO bad people. EVERY LAST GODDAMN ONE OF THEM. Good people do NOT support the subjugation, if not outright elimination, of other people based on skin color. There is NOT ‘blame on many sides’.  The President is wrong. Terribly, irrevocably wrong.  The only reasonable response to Nazis, etc. marching in our streets is to protest against them. Everywhere. In the streets, on social media, and in ordinary conversations.  When 500 Nazis, etc., marched in Charlottesville, 1,000 people came out to march against them.  When a few dozen ‘free speech’ advocates (aka Nazis) decided to rally in Boston, 40,000 people turned out to counter-protest. May each and every one of the counter-protesters be blessed.

I am saddened beyond measure at what I see and hear from people seeking to justify their positions. I saw links to articles claiming that actors were hired in droves to make up the crowds of counter-protestors. I saw a claim that the counter-protesters incited that Nazi sympathizer to murder Heather Heyer and injure 19 others. I heard the president claim that the torch-carrying mob of angry white people chanting ‘Jews will not replace us’ also included quiet, peaceful history buffs, anxious about the removal of public art.  In short, I heard and saw people who should know better spew unadulterated bullshit in mass quantities.

While I am not a historian, I have a broad enough working knowledge of world history to state that the last time we, as a nation, had occasion to fight the Nazis, we were, for the most part, united in that fight. There was one group that was reluctant, as I recall. That group was made up of people who believed in the credo, “America First”. Sound familiar?

My New Job – Citizen Brooks

I’ve always enjoyed thinking of myself as well-informed. I have for many years enjoyed settling in on a Sunday morning with my coffee (always with my coffee) and not 1, not 2, but 3 newspapers.  The nice Roger goes out and gets them while I make the coffee, offload the dishwasher, and make sure that there is bacon thawed to accompany our omelets later. When he brings the papers home, I go through them first, removing all the advertising inserts (these are saved for a coupon-clipping family member), recycling the sections we don’t read (neither of us cares for the sports pages), and distributing our preferred starters to our respective perches in the living room. He gets the News-Times and Parade magazine, I get the comics from the News-Times, the NY Daily News, the NY Times, and we settle in for a quite a while.

I read the comics first. This is a tradition that goes back to my childhood. My parents were divorced, and Sunday was the day my sister, Sheryl, and I spent with our father, and eventually, our stepmother and younger sisters and brothers. Dad would pick us up, along with two Sunday papers (the local and the NY Daily News), and take us home.  The comics were shared amongst us all eventually as we traded pages back and forth. To this day, although we don’t get a daily paper, I still read (online) over 50 comic strips on an almost daily basis. They provide me with warmth, humor, art, and some of the best socio-political commentary available, in 3 or 4 pithy panels.  Roger doesn’t much care for the comics, but he’s always gracious when I share what I am laughing (out loud) about.

Next, I read the Daily News. This was my dad’s preferred New York paper. I believe it was also his father’s preferred New York paper.  I loved the big headlines and pictures on the front. I loved the gossip columns inside about celebrities and society figures, out and about in New York City. I loved the frequently macabre ‘Justice Stories’ features about terrible crimes committed in days gone by. And of course, I loved the comics. In their heyday, the paper published 4 full pages of them daily, in color on Sundays.  The NY Daily News was a window into an exciting, but quite possibly very dangerous world. To me, it still is. And they still run the best comics.

Finally, I begin to tackle the NY Times.  My mother’s father, my grandfather Will, went out and got the Sunday Times every week, and would spend most of the week perusing each section.  I didn’t read it as a child; it was an overwhelming prospect – just the enormity of the paper itself, the sheer physical weight of it was too much for me. I was well and truly intimidated. But, sometime in my twenties, I began to buy it on Sundays. When I worked on the 12-8 shift, I would frequently share a Sunday Times with my friend, Bill Barlow.  We would divy it up according to our preferences for particular sections – for example, he would have dibs on the Arts & Leisure section because he loved classical music and opera, I always got the Magazine because I worked the crossword puzzle.  Neither of us read the Sports section.  If I were to theorize, I might have attributed my newfound desire for large quantities of information, at least partially, to my need for refuge from a difficult relationship.  But immersing myself in that enormous newspaper also connected me to a grandfather I adored, and admired for his intelligence and knowledge of the world. I felt, and still feel, that his was a worthy example to follow.  I believe that it is important to know what is going on, and why, in the world outside my door.

I’ve never had much affinity for cable news.  During a crisis or calamity, I do, like everyone else, turn on CNN for basic information.  I find, though, that listening to modern news programs, with their arguing and opinionating, is enormously stressful. I don’t enjoy listening to the endlessly adversarial panels. I still want information, but I have never liked being shouted at, so I ingest cable news in very small doses. I watch Rachel Maddow and Chris Hayes on MSNBC regularly.  I find their formats, which involve people speaking one at a time, more coherent, and Maddow’s efforts to weave some sort of coherent fabric out of the various threads of the Russian hacking investigations help me make sense of what is going on there.

So, nowadays, and particularly in the bizarre new world of the Trump presidency, I find it easier to read the news. I make us a pot of coffee, and Roger takes his cup to the living room, allowing the voices of various cable news talking heads to wash over him, and I adjourn to my study. I put on some music, usually KPIG.com (try it, you’ll like it- classic rock, evolved) or WWOZ.org (New Orleans-based public radio- jazz, blues, & modern NO-influenced), and start with the Washington Post.  I read the front page, some of the commentary and analysis, and of course, the comics.  I actually started reading the Post because they ran several comics that weren’t available through other papers, particularly my long-time favorite, Doonesbury.

After the Post, I turn to my email inbox, where I read various articles from Medium.com and the New Yorker.  I sign petitions for various causes dear to my heart (more and more every day), and once I’ve gone through all of that, I read the rest of my comics. Next is Facebook, where I see what my compatriots are posting from the likes of the NY Times and The Guardian. Finally, I turn to Twitter, for additional information from new (to me) sources such as Vox, Slate, Reuters, McClatchy, Pro Publica, The Hill, the LA Times, and small outlets like the Lawfare blog and the Palmer Report.  Yes, that’s a ridiculous amount of input.  But I am enormously reassured by the depth and breadth of the coverage. The mainstream media, much maligned by the administration, is investigating what promises to be a scandal of epic, world-shaking proportion. They are certainly not behaving as if they were, collectively, the enemy of the American people.  They are, thankfully, doing their jobs.

In past years, I seldom spent more than an hour in the morning, skimming through the headlines, reading the comics, and then, going about my day.  I trusted that the people in charge were basically competent, capable individuals.  Even if I did not agree with individual opinions or policies, I seldom did more than sign an online petition.  I thought I was doing enough.  I had spent most of my adult life as a public servant, and felt that after having done that for 27 years, I was entitled to just take care of my life, and the people in it.  I watched the campaign last year with horror, but I continued to believe that my fellow citizens would make the right choice.  I thought that I understood others’ misgivings about Hillary Clinton, but that they would ultimately vote for competency and a steady hand at the helm, over bluster and buffoonery and little in the way of discernable policy.

I read the articles about Russian interference – the hacking, the bots, the fake news sites on Facebook, coupled with Trump’s disparagement of the intelligence community’s reports, with increasing fear.  This, in and of itself, would be cause for concern. Now, couple this with the possibility that the Trump campaign may have colluded with our attackers.  I have followed international society and business dealings for many years, including some involving Donald Trump, with no small amount of fascination, but I now realized that something more sinister was underlying the glitter and glamour.  Underneath was a web of connections which is seeming more ominous and threatening as each day passes and more is revealed.   And finally, add in the policies of cruelty that the administration is attempting to implement (Muslim ban, science denial, Trumpcare, civil rights rollbacks, etc, etc, oh god I need some Pepto), and the truly stunning incompetency on display ( the budget cuts to essential departments and services, the fact that these people can’t stop LYING),  and I have come to the inevitable conclusion that I was wrong and I was not doing enough.

Since the election, I have come to believe that being a citizen of the USA is a job, and I had been slacking.  So, I read, I march (March for Science), I donate (not a lot, I’m retired), I sign petitions, I phone my Congressional representatives, and I signed on to Democrat Al Almeida’s campaign for mayor of Danbury. I do all this in the hopes that it will help make my corner of the world a little bit better.  I take great comfort in the fact that I am not alone.  Over 13,000 women across the country have either expressed interest in or are actually running for office.  Thousands more people donated to the organizations we must now depend on to fight back (ACLU, Planned Parenthood, & EarthJustice are some of my favorites).  Hundreds of thousands of people have marched, so far.

I remain hopeful. I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one working here.