14 February: Valentine's Day Story
The Trenton railroad station is a place extremely hard to find amid a maze of narrow highway exits and small, nearly hidden signs once you do truly exit, belying its function as an accessible public facility. Once you get there, parking facilities are insufficiently marked--you don't know there's very short-term availability so that you can walk the passenger in and help carry luggage and hug/kiss good-bye.
But once you know the place, it serves its purpose. There is a high crime rate in Trenton and so the following anecdote brings the station to life as a hospitable place, if not a nurturing one.
First, I went there alone at night, when I could still drive at night, to pick up my daughter, who had two large suitcases in tow. We carried them out to my car, which was parked in the short-term area, and loaded them up, so I thought. Now Route 1 North is extremely easy to find so we were soon on it.
Then I discovered we'd forgotten to load the second suitcase. A U-term followed. We assumed rapid theft. My daughter kindly reassured me that only routine jeans and tops were involved, nothing earthshakingly indispensable.
When we got back, the suitcase was indeed gone. What do do but report the theft, admittedly abusurdly? I phoned the station and was told there were no police there.
No police? In Trenton at night in a place I stereotypically considered dangerous? I hurled some objections but gave up and called the Trenton police, who corroborated the absence of their officers.
And so we just sat down on the pavement of the empty lot, waiting for an officer to show up. Again my daughter reassured me it was no big deal. But we waited.
"You're the best daughter a mother could ever have," I told her, amazed that she wasn't upbraiding me for my negligence.
After about ten minutes that seemed a lot longer, a police car pulled up. I approached it. So did an older woman. We let her go first.
"Officer, I'm just an old lady," she said. "Waiting to meet another old lady who is extremely upset because the train is late. I parked in that illegal spot." She pointed to a space slightly out of the way, in the pitch dark. "She's really upset."
"I won't ticket you,"said the officer good-naturedly.
We were touched. Then I repeated our plight to him, the missing suitcase, and assumed he'd file a theft report. We followed him back to his car and he opened the trunk.
There was my daughter's suitcase!. We were both ecstatic. I gave him a bear hug that embarrassed both of us. Somebody had to, my daughter later affirmed, to my relief. No criticism of my abrupt spontaneity.
Then back to the car we went, dragging the suitcase.
I think back often on these unremarkable events, cherishing them both in the context of mother-daughter high points and the good feelings traded in a surprising environment.
The vision of the suitcase left behind in the empty parking lot says so much to me, as does its rescue.
Trenton at night had become just any folksy small town, as all such places can be.
Congressman Brian Fitzpatrick
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Last night, as I brooded over a surprise biopsy taken from the surface of my forehead that day, wondering whether I'd become a cancer statistic, my phone rang. I didn't recognize the number in the message line but did recognize the area code, so answered. The voice on the other end was hurried and self-effacing, inviting me to a phone town hall forum with Congressman Brian Fitzpatrick on his recent trip to the border between Ukraine and Poland. Having seen him discussing this on the news last nighta serendipity since I usually don't watch MSM news, I said I'd participate and asked who was speaking. "Congressman Brian Fitzpatrick" was the somewhat garbled reply. So I hung on to attend the event, surprised, admittedly flattered, and wondering why I had been chosen for a one-on-one call from a member of Congress and a recent TV star.
Guest presenters included a retired brigadier general, a Ukrainian representative of the PA Ukrainian consul, and an official from the American Red Cross. Each gave a brief description of their relevant activities. The Congressman moderated in his fast-paced PA dialect. The audience included, first, women constituents wanting to receive Ukrainian immigrants and care for them and also help out from a distance, then men wanting to discuss weaponry in detail, where Mr. Fitzpatrick exhibited expertise--he had worked for the FBI in Ukraine before stepping up to Congress. Prospective weapons donations from three neighboring countries including Poland were specified. Mr. Fitzpatrick's discussion of his recent visit there was pretty much limited to how harrowing it was to witness the devastation and hordes of refugees--he said that 100,000 had passed through that border location that day alone (that seems excessive; maybe I'm inaccurate, not being at my wits' best in the evening).
One takeaway was the largely gender-determined responses from the audience. I don't know how many attended, but they were from the more affluent areas of Bucks County (Fitzpatrick also represents a portion of neighboring Montgomery County, also among the audience and far from indigent), so I deduced that they were probably mostly Republicans (moderates--clearly no MAGAs spoke up anyway) and that I'd been included in the forum at the last minute as a token leftie, a role I've played before in my home state, specifically in the context of diversifying a jury years ago.
The Congressman specified that any questions there was no time for would be answered by his office in Langhorne one on one, by him or a staff member. Then, hurried because the event had exceeded its one-hour limit, he tried to reassure us by reminding us that Putin would be up for reelection in 2024--huh? That was quickly contradicted by listeners. Then the "thoughts and prayers" meme followed and the forum ended.
Some background: Mr. Fitzpatrick's late brother, Mike Fitzpatrick (RIP), was the Republican Congressman from Bucks County, before part of Montgomery County was added; he was unseated--Bucks is a purple county considered a national bellwether--by Patrick Murphy, a Democrat and Iraq war veteran, for one term. He subsequently won back the seat for Republicans.
The addition of part of Montgomery County was a result of redistricting and added Democrats to the voter rolls, which probably brought Mr. Murphy into the fold for two years anyway. Directly preceding Murphy's victory, the election integrity community in Bucks County had been agitating for voting machinery that would allow for accurate recounts instead of the tapes spat out by direct recording machinery that merely duplicated the initial count when producing an "audit." Some of us had attended commissioners' meetings, vocally advocating this alternative, to the GOP-dominated three in charge as well as the COO. Their attitude toward us "broads" was condescending, somewhat amused and somewhat annoyed.
Well, the vote totals were close that November, with no way to conduct a recount. Murphy's victory was attributed to the addition of the portion of Montgomery County to the district. At the next commissioners' meeting, the late Congressman slithered in late, recently diagnosed with the condition that eventually led to his demise, and sat a few rows behind us looking pale and chagrinned. Rows in front of him and behind him were empty, a striking tableau of despair.
Meanwhile, the COO didn't take his eyes off of me during the proceedings. I had previously provided him with tapes proving that the incumbent voting machinery was totally incapable of effective recounts. I had prodded him until he requested this proof, which he at the time ignored.
It took years and persistent, heroic agitation and activism among my Bucks County EI colleagues (I had moved away to DC), but they finally succeeded and Bucks County now votes on Clear Ballot optical scanners that are accurately auditable, all other circumstances allowing for this. (That is, like all digital devices, they are hackable.)
This was what democracy looked like--in the US anyway. The event was stimulating if not terribly informative, and my mood improved. I gained hope for a benign outcome of the biopsy.
Special reproduction of Emancipation Proclamation by Wikipedia
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In anticipation of the Senate debate and vote on two major pieces of legislation furthering voting rights, author, historian, and activist Harvey Wasserman, skeptical that they will be passed, offered another way to combat the huge number of discriminatory laws introduced in the past year. "More than 440 bills with provisions that restrict voting access have been introduced in 49 states in the 2021 legislative sessions," according to the Brennan Center for Justice, and 34 discriminatory laws have been passed by 19 states within this time period.*
In order to see the aims of the Freedom to Vote Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act reach fruition, Wasserman, along with attorney Joel Segal, former legislative assistant to the late voting rights advocate Rep. John Conyers for more than 10 years, proposed that President Joe Biden issue an executive order that they become law.
There is a strong precedent, said Wasserman, the Emancipation Proclamation, also an executive order, which by definition is issued at times of national crisis. It goes without saying that the repression of Black votes throughout the country constitutes a national crisis comparable to enslavement.
Segal, who researched the possibility in depth, said that executive orders must have a Constitutional basis and association with a cabinet department. The Constitutional basis is of course the Fourteenth Amendment: that is, violation of equal protection. The relevant cabinet department is, of course, the DoJ.
Segal also revealed that executive orders require formal precedents, and Biden supplied one with his March 7, 2021 executive order "On Promoting Access to Voting.".
The executive order Wasserman proposes also enforces the 1965 Voting Rights Act (VRA). Planned intimidation of Black voters certainly violates it.
In conversation with senior staffers, Segal was told that such an executive order is not an option. First of all, SCOTUS can and will overturn it and, moreover, it is up to states individually to take such actions against discriminatory legislation. Really?
Segal said that as an activist he would persist nonetheless. "Biden must be presidential," he said. All election suppression laws must be declared null and void. We'll bring out the National Guard, just as LBJ did during the police massacre on the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma in 1964. "This is a civil war!" the President should say.
Congress can vote against the action but Biden can veto them.
And if this is quixotic, what then? We resort to MLK tactics out of the sixties and seventies: blocking streets, taking over buildings, and other forms of nonviolent protest.
The executive order was proposed at the 79th session of the weekly Zoom group Grassroots Election Protection (grassrootsep.org, GREEP for short), convened and moderated by Wasserman with Segal. Progressive Democrats of America (PDA) officer Mike Hersh is the engineer. The Zoom group "is built around a national network of [outstanding] organizers, activists, journalists, researchers and others working to guarantee free and fair elections."
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A simple question: if Senators Sinema and Manchin can obstruct a bill that will save democracy from the clutches of fascism, is this a democracy? When one person or two people can destroy it, dictatorship seems likely. Is democracy already dead, as many assert? We all know that in the Senate one vote can represent 350,000 people and another as many as twenty million. We know that in Congress, though Democrats gleaned more than two million votes in excess of Republicans in 2020, that Republicans occupy only 12 seats fewer than the majority party and this is bound to change in the national election this year. Unless--and I am cynical about this optimistic term--unless we enlighten a public fixated on the belief that the 2020 presidential election was stolen. We are up against it because the red party, the extremist branch of it, is so aggressively active at local levels, with a degree of ingenuity and intensity the liberals and progressives would be wise and foresightful to emulate. Is it too late?
The right wing are also unscrupulous. But if we others tried it, how the their media would slam us.
Not that the devil/angel dichotomy is that blatant. But we mostly lack guns and the willingness to use violence to further our goals. Not that I'm advocating violence but, again, imagination as a crucial weapon, butter over guns. HOW? Take to the streets nonviolently, as some advocate?
I'm not a political strategist. Shall we recruit from creatively focused elements, the way that Wall Street recently recruited physicists? Do artists and poets hold the answers? Can they save democracy?
It's not solely unscrupulousness that's empowering the white supremacists. But close. There's insight into where power resides. Locally. And I associate grassroots activism far more on the blue than the red side. 2010 was a watershed moment where rightwing grassroots activism triumphed massively, with the takeover of 63 seats in the House of Representatives, six in the US Senate, as well as 20 state legislatures. David Daley documents the abundant ingenuity that accomplished these results in his masterful book Ratf**ked.
Re activism, I'm thinking of all the antiwar protests that weren't counterbalanced by those in support of the various wars that have tarnished our recent history. But activism occurs at many levels besides the streets. Remember the smoke-filled rooms? They still exist without tobacco polluting the air. Politics can pollute lethally, of course, beyond backroom conferences.
How to define activism? My view has been all too narrow. The Webster's definition is "a doctrine or practice that emphasizes direct vigorous action especially in support of or opposition to one side of a controversial issue."
Democracy entails activism. Which side is more active? What a tragedy that the more effective, successful side is working to destroy it. Democrats will have to work lots harder to reverse what seems inevitable. But white supremacy can't last. It may be overthrown violently. And then what of democracy?
Meanwhile, are those of us alive today doomed to witness its downfall? Will belated ingenuity 10 months before the next general election save the day?
Note: I regret having to dichotomize society in such a partisan fashion. It's simply true that 70 million voters, mostly Republican, opted for Trump in 2020 and a majority of those people believe that the election was stolen from him. Consider that "[a]pproximately 240 million people were eligible to vote in the 2020 presidential election and roughly 66.1% of them submitted ballots, totaling about 158 million." How many of those who stayed away were independent or nonpartisan? How many were stricken from voter rolls? How many convinced that their votes didn't count? How many simply indifferent? How many had partisan affiliations? How many didn't? As a recent (but pre-2020) rule, more than 50 percent of Independents stay away from the polls. Many went for Biden by a significant margin in 2020 but many since then have soured on him. For more answers, see https://www.npr.org/2020/12/15/945031391/poll-despite-record-turnout-80-million-americans-didnt-vote-heres-why. Some answers only.
16 January 2022:
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Evening, sometime in the 1980s.* I am a busy divorced mother raising my daughter without child support from her father, so her well being and my work are top priorities. No time for any community involvement.
I live in a quaint, colonial-themed suburb of Philadelphia.
The phone rings. The voice on the other end is of community involvement. What do you think of establishing a national holiday to honor Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.? he asks. I favor it completely! I answer, without hesitation. Please add my support!
I hang up and feel energized by the idea of honoring Dr. King at a deserved level and by the outward push toward the rest of the world. It felt right. I would later become involved once my daughter left home.
The holiday was established in 1986, commemorating the blessing of his life and the tragedy it invokes. The dream and the nightmare.
Years later I read that Dr. King's "dream" theme was inspired by that same term applied by members of a Black church that was torched--their dream to rebuild it. I assume that they succeeded.
But the dream is dissipating into thin air as Jim Crow rears his ugly head, targeting the voting rights of disadvantaged minorities throughout red and purple states.
Dr. King died in despair over his country's Vietnam war involvement. The arc of justice is certainly long. The power is descending to the level of state legislatures, racist ones, white supremacists.
For my senior year of high school, I attended a racist parochial high school in Atlanta where MLK's son had applied and been rejected. This became a scandal that resulted in the associated church formally, officially breaking all ties with the school that has since turned 360 degrees toward inclusiveness.
The racist headmaster, a short man with a crewcut and literally red neck, a graduate of Harvard's school of education, called together the senior class to inform us that the school would be integrating its student body next year and we must maintain a mature attitude to set a good example for the lower grades. "Nigrihs will be joining us," he drawled softly. Nigrihs. I felt as though I were in a Hollywood film documenting racism in the 1950s.
Other horrific events that senior year? The day the Black janitor was forced to play the piano and sing spirituals to a student assembly. He was wearing a work uniform. He sang a few songs slouching over the piano and then literally slithered out as the assembly applauded him politely.
This same janitor another day came in to clean a classroom that should have been empty. A few students had lingered and were chatting. I was among them. Small talk. There were a few stray Coke cans atop desks. Coke cans in a classroom? A Yankee transplant spoke up mockingly: "Have some of my Coke," he said to the janitor, who was working rapidly and totally ignored him. I cringed at the surprising behavior of a fellow northern transplant fully assimilated to the environment.
But another day, after school, I stopped at a department store where I lived, still in my uniform, a powder-blue shirtwaist. I was standing close to the entrance, my back to it, when I saw a Black couple out of the corner of my eye, both dressed in business attire. I glanced at them and did a rapid double take. It was the Kings, Coretta Scott and MLK. I smiled stupidly. She said hi dismissively. They had been speaking softly to each other and resumed their conversation. I stood in totally amazement watching them fade into the background of a place that was not terribly integrated as far as I can remember. But they were there, an antidote to the horrors I had experienced that year, an antidote to horror.
* I recall receiving the phone call in the late 1980s, but I have since read that the time span for the establishment of the holiday was 1983-1986. Baffling, to say the least. I didn't move to Newtown borough until the mid-1980s.
Sparkler. Happy New Year!
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We're in the midst of holiday week, a usually bustling time when mall lots overflow with people returning and exchanging Christmas gifts, stocking up for holiday parties with champagne and the trimmings. Here the traffic on the worst roads is still heavy--I'm in a suburb verging on northeast Philadelphia--and the three wheelers are lumbering along in surprising quantities, considering problems with loading and unloading shipping docks at our major ports. The Coca Cola, Pampers, Nature's Promise products, and etc. are still faithfully on their way, to my knowledge. I don't mean to be glib. I have a 10-month-old granddaughter.
I'm trying to find reasons for joy as I read predictions of catastrophe from melting glaciers in five years and terrifying numbers of COVID cases every day: yesterday 267,000, according to the New York Times. There are immigration crises and the aftermaths of any number of climate change-induced disasters. There are so many totally worthy charities around and I can donate to only so many out of my academic freelancer's earnings.
How is the economy? My weak point, as always. The Biden administration has released figures indicating that unemployment has gone down by two percent, but that's only measuring certain parametersso many people are working multiple part-time jobs lacking benefits, looking for that beloved fossil, the full-time job with perks that cares about your family life and need to breath between shifts. Read: 9-5 five days a week. The middle class is melting away while three billionaires possess as much wealth as half of the population here in the USA.
It will take a catastrophe for them to notice how we the rabble are faring. Have they built bunkers to escape the flooding that many experts say is inevitable? Is the flooding God's will, to hasten the predictions in Revelation? The Rapture? The elimination of those who won't espouse the principles of one religion? Nature's revenge?
Shall I do a dance macabre and spend all of my savings in the next five years? I have received some comforting news, believe it or not: Amsterdam is well below sea level and kept from catastrophic ruin by dikes, which our Corps of Engineers can erect in no time flat if necessary. They haven't started work yet but don't need to until crunch time.
Is that accurate reason to breathe easier? To choose another poison than the Second Flood? Other forms of climate change are flourishing. Can we learn to control the weather? The tectonic plates? Pandemics? At 267,000 a day, we'll all get sick in, let's see, 300 million or so divided by that number: 1,123.5 days. Again, that's in the USA. 1,123.5 days equals 3.8 years. I don't know how many out of the 267,000 victims are breakthrough events. I don't know if the rate of infection will decrease when the weather warms up. But if we survive there's still the Second Flood to look forward to, barring a miracle.
We need to fight back against greed quickly. We need to eliminate racism and lack of compassion for those without bunkers to retreat to in the event of catastrophe. There are so many super-wealthy estates built on the ocean. Farewell to them. Will that budge the plutocrats?
This isn't a prophecy. It's just a reiteration of what I've read in the mainstream media lately, which can't even deny us some doomsday prognostications, now that Britney Spears's estate issues have been settled. Ghislaine Maxwell has been found guilty. The Elizabeth Holmes issues are still pending. And all those obscene pederasts and perverts are still crawling out of the woodwork to be slapped on their gilded wrists. Oh, how long those trials take.
Our world is starting to take sexist abuse in work settings more seriously. That's some good news but the issue is far from resolved. Oh the other issues spill over: the fate of Julian Asssange and whistle blowing altogether. Investigative journalism altogether.
Happy New Year! Election corruption is spreading like lava all over the country in red states and purple ones if not even a few blues. What positive thought can I end with? Russia reducing troops along the Ukrainian border by 10,000 on Christmas Day? That's something toward Peace on Earth! Dikes to stave off the Second Flood? Don't tell me my friend was wrong. The joy I take in the younger generations of my family even as I marvel that we boomers are now that font of wisdom, a would-be great generation marred so completely by Trump and his MAGA troops.
Happy New Year. Look for joy at the family level, where it exists in lieu of tragedy. Marvel at each day that dawns. Immortality in the face of catastrophe is a joke. Don't look for that. Not even Einstein or Shakespeare or Homer will survive, let alone icons of other cultures. Pardon my jingoism: add Buddha, the Dalai Lama, and so many more. The farthest East I've been is Turkey and Israel.
Shall I recommend antidepressants?
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I feel the urge to write and even though I don't yet know the full extent of what will follow, the germ is there. Madeline Miller's stunning opus, mostly the two popular novels Circe and Song of Achilles are on my mind. They play off of each other beautifully: in one a goddess opts for mortality after reciting the woes of her status throughout Miller's pages; in the other, a hero descended from Zeus, Achilles, achieves immortality and ultimately in the arms of his lover.
Circe's yearning for mortality might be deduced from her passion for Odysseus, who goes after it willfully after being offered "deathless and free-of-old age" immortality. Even though she tempts Odysseus with immortality, Circe runs off with Odysseus's son, Telemachus, a mortal descended from gods, in the end, happily taking on this lower status herself, sick of the abuse she received relentlessly from her highborn kinspeople.
Note: Circe during Odysseus's sojourn with her [in the Odyssey] turns his crew into swine, expanding the spectrum to three levels of existence, though these days we are challenging the notion that "animals" are lower-status than humans on the consciousness-arc.
Note 2: Circe is ridiculed by her fellow gods for her human voice, because her lineage is hybrid, daughter of Helios and the nymph Perse [nymphs are lower level on the pantheon]. As Odysseus approaches her cave he hears her "within, singing with a lovely voice." I believe that the raucous tones assigned to her are Miller's innovation, effective in that they give the other gods a specific feature to ridicule in this ravishing creature.
Song of Achilles is one of the most beautiful, if not the most beautiful love story I have ever read. Need I say more? If you love this genre, don't hesitate to read about Homer's favorite hero (in my opinion), star of the Iliad, whose wrath propels the motion of this timeless epic. What is his wrath about? Deprivation of a love object, Briseis. What is the Iliad about, if not a passionate love affair that gave rise to its inverse, love breeding violence and destruction? And in mythology Achilles is killed by the arrow of the abductor of Helen, Paris, juxtaposing the mightiest of warriors with the agent of the Trojan war, who represents quintessential passion [and beauty]. Recall how Aphrodite rescues him from a confrontation with Menelaos into bed with Helen. Paris's unmatched archery skills represent the basest of athletics according to tradition, in that killing occurs from a safe distance, sort of like drone warfare these days, praised because it keeps human boots off the ground. Contrast the archery with the hands-on combat that dominates the fighting between Greece and Troy, face to face, spear ravishing anatomies Homer describes with the surgical precision of an expert. If the descriptions are formulaic, there are certainly reams of different ones!
Achilles achieves immortality and his lmortal lover, Patroclus, is allowed to ascend with hima tableau of eternal love like Ovid's two trees entwined forever, the metamorphosis of Baucis and Philemononly better. Do the trees retain consciousness? The Achilles couple do. Again, these days we're learning about the intricate communication among symbiotic plantlife, so who knows where flora are on the consciousness-arc?
And so, what resonates with me from reading these two wonderful novels is the protagonism of love and Miller's exquisitve handling of the rich body of material. We experience the agonies that godhood envelops, a domain of less interest to Homer, though he does discuss the conflicts that arise among them. She answers the question, "What's it like to be a god?" admitting us into Circe's stream of consciousness generously and credibly.
So which fate is more desirable in Miller's cosmos? Achilles' or Circe's? I'd go with eternal infatuation and adoration anytime, though Miller does not deal with the afterlie of Circe and Telemachus. Where do they go after death? Oblivion? Elysium? Who knows? I choose Achilles.