Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Trustworthy Helpful Kind

A Scout is trustworthy, helpful, kind, cheerful, brave, and reverent. I know, I know. That isn't the whole Scout Law, but I have to emphasize those attributes because those are the ones that I need to remind us of in this moment.

I feel agony that some people believe that Boy Scout leaders aim to instill political vitriol, blind loyalty, and falsehoods into our Boy Scouts because Donald Trump addressed a National Jamboree on Monday. He abused his position, encouraged the boys to boo a past President, and continued a campaign that should have ended months ago. I am enraged that Trump spoke the way he did, working to make the Scouts puppets for the sake of his own ego.

I am actively involved in Boy Scouts. I just finished a series of meetings to help a group of them complete their Citizenship in the Community merit badge. We played games to work on the merit badge. It was a joy to discuss with them what distinguishes a good leader from a great one. I loved listening to these boys yell out the most necessary aspects of building a strong and safe community while playing our game. Hatred, following herd mentality, and dishonesty were not part of those attributes.

I've closely watched the leaders of the troops in my district. As I worked with the Scouts, I was able to point to them, among others, as leaders who serve the community. They are human yet time and again they provide a good example to the Scouts, striving to achieve the characteristics that both the Scout Law and the Scout Oath embody.

The big thing that outsiders often lose sight of when Boy Scouts are drawn into political debate is that Boy Scout leaders influence Scouts while having fun and enjoying the outdoors. Scouts see a man joyfully playing capture the flag. They see a man at a campfire, awed by a wilderness night. They see a man overcome his own fears to go caving, climbing, or canoeing. They get opportunities to overcome their own set of fears. On most trips, everyone in the group cooks, cleans, carries group gear, usually suffers together, and ultimately supports each other to get back to the trail-head parking lot safely. Then they take turns telling jokes and stories around a campfire or during a Scout meeting about what happened on that trip.

Those stories set experience into character. Remember that time when it rained for four days in the Boundary waters? Mosquitoes whined like drones, bit every inch of living flesh. Remember when lightning struck the lake as we watched from under our tarp on the lakeside? Remember when we gave extra food to those campers who lost theirs to a bear in the night?

The words trustworthy, helpful, kind, cheerful, brave, and reverent begin to take true meaning in their minds.

These are not the characteristics that Donald Trump embodied on Monday night. His moment at the podium in front of thousands of Boy Scouts should not be the means by which we should judge the Boy Scouts of America. It should not be used as a means by which we condemn their leaders either.

Thank you for listening, jules


A Ransom Not a Negotiation

This week, the Senate is voting on yet another round of 'healthcare reform.' I have a lot of trouble calling it healthcare. This is our third round of negotiations. I also have trouble calling them negotiations. I have a lifetime of experience with negotiations.

My son Nick went through a phase of negotiating absolutely everything. The garbage needs to go out? He would agree to take it outside if I brought it to the bottom of the stairs. His laundry basket was full? He'd bring me his hamper and put in the clothes if I would add detergent, start the washer, then put them into the dryer when they were done. It was exhausting, worse than shutting up and doing the whole job on my own. That wouldn't teach my son a thing.

But Nick was tenacious. He was born to negotiate.

Eventually, I began a tactic of reverse negotiations whenever I needed him to help around the house: if he was only willing to take the garbage half way to the can in the garage, I would only half cook his dinner. Then, as he continued to negotiate, I would decrease instead of increase my contribution to the plan. A third of dinner, meat and vegetables only, no macaroni and cheese, no bread, no fruit. Nick could cook his own macaroni and cheese and eat an apple if he was still hungry afterward. Plus, he would have to do dishes too. He wants to continue to argue? Okay, now we're down to vegetables alone. He could grill his own damned burger.

And Nick could keep going. Only thirteen and he was an absolute pro. I'm telling you, it turned something inside me.

At some point, I told him, I no longer wanted to negotiate. He needed to contribute or I would turn off the television and take the remote controls with me wherever I was going. I intended to take the power cables to his video games as well. Did he want me to go to my quilt meeting and bring the remotes and power cables with me? I packed them into my quilt bag. Nick could begin to earn them back when I got home.

That got action. The garbage went all the way to the bin in the garage. That reverse method of negotiation also gave me a surly teenager.

I began to wonder if those negotiations were unfair. "You're really mean," he told me, more than once. It's in a kid's nature to resist, to wheedle, and to negotiate. I should really have begun my negotiations from a stronger stance, more chores that could be negotiated down to what I wanted in the first place.

I can see that I haven't learned.

At my first job in the corporate world, I had the same problem, only I was on the receiving end of it. My boss asked me to schedule my time for the next design. I added up time for gathering the specifications on the design, for designing the circuit, for refining the circuit, build, then test. I gave him my best estimate in hours and planned a forty hour week to determine the completion date. I figured I came in within ten percent of what would actually happen.

When the overall schedule came back, my part of the schedule had been hacked in half.

I marched into his office and told him I wouldn't be able to complete the job, that all he'd get was a preliminary design, no build and no test if he kept my schedule at half the hours.

At that point that negotiations began. He squeezed and squeezed and squeezed my schedule until I was working nearly the same number of hours I'd originally estimated, but at seventy hours a week and I had to cancel a family trip at Christmas near the end. I only had Christmas day off instead of the usual week offered by the corporation for everyone else.

I was back at my desk and still fuming about it when a seasoned engineer came by and asked what was the matter. When I told him, he laughed. He said the routine was to add fluff to the schedule, thirty to fifty percent more time. Then, when the managers got hold of my schedule, I'd be able to negotiate to my real numbers so I wouldn't have to give up my Christmas vacation for my job.

I thought that was bullshit. I still do. It's why a government toilet seat cost $500. I expected to be able to tell my boss how many hours I needed do the job and then do it.

In the end, I was just ten hours under my estimate no matter how efficiently I tried to work. There are some corners that shouldn't be cut. After all that squeezing, my boss had paid me time and a half for a third of my work and even double-time for the holidays. I wondered if he realized his negotiations had cost him at least thirty percent more even though his end-date was close to what he'd wanted in the beginning. In the process, I'd transformed from an enthusiastic and honest engineer into a disenchanted employee who fabricated extra time for future schedules because I had really wanted my Christmas vacation.

Congress is using these same tactics on the people of the United States in its 'repeal and replace' effort. Every single iteration of Republican healthcare reform is stingier than the last. During the first round, the House of Representatives presented a bill that would cause ten million people to lose their healthcare. After listening to the people's stories, the Senate finally showed us their revision to that first bill and suddenly 22 million people would be without healthcare.

Now, they're attempting a simple repeal. Forget replace.

This would leave 32 million people without healthcare.

Every single iteration is worse than the last. Every one will cause more deaths nationwide, not fewer.

Mitch McConnell isn't asking us to contribute to society the way I was asking my son when I expected him to take out the garbage. McConnell is asking us to make Sophie's Choice. Who is going to die? You pick. If you won't pick, won't compromise, more will die.

This is not a negotiation. It's a ransom.

Thank you for listening, jules


Friday, July 21, 2017

How Do You Say 'Adapt' in Russian?

Dear Republican Congressional comrades,

It is with some trepidation and subservience that I congratulate you on your imminent positions as Auxiliary Heads of the United States of the New Soviet Territory. Due to our puppet President's collusion with the illustrious Russian leader, V.P., and your reluctance to defend our Constitution from being appropriated by that foreign power, even your refusal to set limits on the level of infiltration of said foreign power before you are willing to impeach, I expect to resign myself to adopting what cultural transformation that we who were once called Americans will need in order to survive this colonization.

I would imagine the new leadership will use his power over the Department of Education to eliminate English as the means of teaching our children. As many Native Americans in our country might remember: we must kill the Indian, not the man. Taking a lesson from those American Indian boarding schools, banning English would cripple the existing culture and remind our people to whom they must be allegiant. It would be easiest if it were conducted in the preschool and elementary schools first. Older children and adults will be more likely to resist this change. I will need to take a Russian language class myself so that I might be allowed to request permission to travel cross-country and change jobs if necessary. Are you prepared to speak only the Russian language in the near future? It may be required by our new benefactors.

I'll bet ten rubles that you hadn't thought of that.

I see that you have already begun the process of relieving the Russian motherland's shortages by supplementing its governmental corporations with the U.S. Territory's vast natural resources. If you were unaware of that shift in our executive branch, then you need to look at some of the regulations that have been lifted and some of the departments that lack leadership because no one has been appointed to them.

Remember that an army of hogs led by a lion is more formidable than an army of lions led by a hog, as they say in Russia. Will you pledge your allegiance to that lion, that foreign leader, to whom you are granting our government's control?

I have included a link to some new recipes you might want to try. I made stroganoff last night. Who knew I was on the right track? And remember that borscht is a beautiful and nutritious food. I believe we may be allowed to retain our food traditions at least at the beginning, but it might ease our transition to the motherland's culture to make some changes now.

Comrade McConnell has made the pledge to rid our Territory of its vulnerable, old, and poor people with his Republican healthcare plan. This might eventually make our people genetically stronger, but we will need a period of grieving for our lost loved ones. It is important to remember, however, that people without hope are easier to control.

Do any of you know what religion will be predominant in the new regime? I'm Methodist. Do you think I'm on the right track? I fear for the lives of those who are Muslim or Jewish in our Territory. If it gets bad, some people may convert in order to survive.

So in conclusion, I raise my shot of vodka to you, comrades, for your part in this transformation. And remember that it's bad luck not to drink every shot that's put in front of you, even if it has polonium-210 in it.

Na Zdorovie!

Thank you for listening, jules



Thursday, July 20, 2017

A Letter Intended for Millions

Today, I got an encouraging reply from President Obama in response to a letter I wrote after he left office. I printed it and showed Nick as he came out of his room holding a Nerf gun he was going to donate to the thrift store.

"I got a letter from President Obama. It's probably a form letter," I told him.

"Nope. It's real. He doesn't have people writing for him any more. He'd have to pay them himself." I smiled at my son.

"It's a nice letter, no matter who wrote it," I said.

"I'm telling you, President Obama wrote it. He has time now." I didn't even raise my eyebrows. How many letters does Obama get in a week? Probably thousands. When he was still in office, he received tens of thousands of letters every day according to the New York Times. Even then, he replied to some personally.

Part of me wanted to believe it was true, that this was a unique letter that hadn't also been sent to thousands of other concerned citizens who mourned the end of Obama's presidency. Part of me wanted this to be my very own letter from a man who deserved the utmost respect for the service he and his family gave to our country, for the serious and moral way he attended to his job, for the warmth with which he met ordinary people, especially children.

And then I reread his message.

President Obama said that our country keeps taking two steps forward despite one step back, that the course we take doesn't depend on the actions of one person alone, that democracy is only truly threatened when we take it for granted, and that he and his family will stand alongside us toward that end. That's a good message.

So what if my letter has been sent to thousands of people?

It's a message that thousands of us, millions of us, need desperately to hear. It's hard to realize that it is working, that pink-hat protests, letters to the editor, faxes to representatives, and even snappy science T-shirts are working.

Look at the ACA, still kicking because of everything a bunch of ordinary and a few extraordinary people in wheelchairs did to fight for it. Look at the investigation of collusion with Russia over disrupting our election, still happening even though Preet Bharara, Sally Yates, and James Comey were fired for seeking the truth. Look at racism and religious freedom, still being defended by heroes like Ricky John Best and Taliesin Myrddin Namkai-Meche, both of whom died, and Micah David-Cole Fletcher, who was seriously injured, when they protected a Muslim and a black girl from a racist attack in Portland, Oregon.

It is working.

"You can kill a man," Medgar Evers once said, "but you can't kill an idea."

And President Obama's ideas have survived despite the new administration and some Congressional representatives that have attempted to kill them.

That's a good message for thousands of weary citizens who continue to fight for true democracy and the balance of power; true freedom for everyone regardless of their color, their gender, their orientation, or their religion; and our right to protect vulnerable people with our own taxes.

Just a few minutes ago, Mike walked into the room carrying his work backpack and lunch bag. Nick showed him the pile of things he's decided to donate to clear his room. I reached up to kiss Mike before I picked up my letter and handed it to him.

"I got a message from President Obama today," I said.

"Nice," he said, putting his bags down and scanning the letter. "You know this is a form letter, don't you?"

"I know, right?" I said a little too enthusiastically.

Thank you for listening, jb


Monday, July 17, 2017

A Few Questions for Eugene Robinson About Outrage Fatigue

Eugene Robinson says we can't afford to get 'outrage fatigue.' He's right. I know he's so right. We can't afford to let up. There are the problems with healthcare of millions of vulnerable people, the Muslim ban, immigration, climate change, the EPA, the status of science, the National Parks, and at the core, the status of our Constitution.

But Mr. Robinson, some of us have teenage boys we struggle to raise. Where do we stand on the importance of being present during episodes within our families? Some of us have practically suspended work on the books we were writing at the time of the election. Where do we stand on making our living, on achieving our own goals? What about the weeds, the incomplete deck, the painting that needs to be done? Where do we stand on the battle to keep our homes safe and comfortable? What about Boy Scouts, church, and the children who need to be tutored? Do we stop supporting those people within the community because we're busy flailing our heads against brick walls in protest against a narcissistic liar who funnels our tax dollars into his own profits and encourages dictators to take over our country's elections?

What good are any of our protests doing? Do our petitions accomplish anything except a clearer route to advertising to us? What about sending those faxes that might not actually print? Should we march in more futile marches, call more reluctant representatives, write more unsolicited the letters to the editor?

That's really the issue, Mr. Robinson. Of course we want to remain present within our new political diorama. It requires our presence, daily attention to damage in so many areas of the government, daily attention to our crumbling freedoms.

Some of us have to worry about coming and going in our own country, the Muslim ban, the overreach of Immigration and Customs Enforcement. We may have to worry if financial corporations are telling us the truth or just making a profit on the backs of our retirement accounts. We have to worry if our property will be seized without due process. We have to worry that our water, our air, the very ground we live on is going to be polluted by indiscriminate corporate greed. We can't depend on maintaining a free press when the press isn't even allowed access to the Executive Branch. We can't depend on being told the truth even where it can be verified by photos of thin crowds and video of the man saying the opposite of what his staff is claiming now. We can not depend on our Republican majority leaders in Congress to hold the Executive Branch to any moral or patriotic standards. We can't even hold onto our Director of the Office of Government Ethics.

So yeah, we have a lot to do to stay abreast of in our new political reality show. We can't just protest collusion with the Russians, which is enough all by itself. It's a three-ring circus act. We have to protest every part of the Federal government that is being eliminated, supplanted, or abused. It is absolutely exhausting.

And that deck is not going to rebuild itself. Then again, neither is our government.

Thank you for listening, jules

Thursday, July 6, 2017

The New Patriots of Liberty

Mike and I are watching 'Sons of Liberty.' It was released in 2015, but there are so many parts of it that are relevant to today.

When in Philadelphia, John Adams asked what Boston was supposed to do while they waited for the reply to a letter sent to King George.

The answer - "Resist."

We're in a waiting phase of our troubled times.

The results are not yet in regarding Trump's obstruction of justice and collusion with the Russian government. Oh, the evidence is pretty firm since the FBI is investigating. And now, some Trump supporters are actually normalizing the Russians' interference in our election by calling it 'cooperating.'

Like hell. It's not cooperating. It's not democracy. It's treason if the Trump administration worked with Russian spies to control our election. If there were no investigation, it would be Constitutional crisis. But there is an investigation. In the meantime, damage continues to be done to what was a functioning government.

What should we do while we wait? We, the housewives, the retired, the disenfranchised youth, the millions of who protested in the Women's March, at the March for Science, at Black Lives Matter rallies, in the airports against the Muslim ban, and at the March for Truth? We need to keep up the good fight.

Resist.

1. Our country cannot afford to get accustomed to the idea that the Russian government is interfering with our democratic process. Anyone working with the Russian government to control American politics is treasonous. Treacherous. Traitorous.

We can't let propaganda confuse us. We need to hear the truth as they tell the lies.

People who are convicted of this collusion should go to jail. If Trump interfered with the investigation, he should be impeached. We need to keep up the call for action against the destruction of our checks and balances. We need to support the Constitution.

2. In the meantime, we can resist in whatever ways we can, use our democratic system, call our representatives, write letters to the editor. We can show up at our representative's doors with our concerns. We can be willing to get arrested. I've watched people in wheelchairs brave enough to get arrested. Maybe I can be that brave too. I hope so.

We continue to call for Trump's taxes and to point out how he's profiting every day he drags all of those people to one of his hotels. Emoluments.

3. Who the hell had ever heard the word 'emoluments' before the day of the election last fall? We need to keep learning. What is the law? How is the Trump administration flouting the law? 

Can we force Trump to pay it all back? Should he profit on the backs of the working people?

We need to keep up the resistance by asking these questions and searching for the answers.

4. There are other areas that need our attention. I know the healthcare situation is bad even though the vote has been delayed. The EPA is collapsing because they've fired the scientists. Climate change cooked our southern states with temperatures hovering at 122 degrees. Does anybody know how much the recent heat wave cost our country?

We can't afford to be distracted by stupid tweets. There are big issues at stake.

I'm convinced that the worst part of this is that Trump's government is not our own. It is not for the people, by the people. The recent protests by people in wheelchairs against the ludicrous healthcare that was finally exposed to the light of day was part of that resistance. The court orders against the Muslim ban demand that government be for the people. The states and individuals who continue to work against climate change despite Trump's ridiculous withdrawal from the Paris Agreements influence that solution. The renegade scientists of the EPA who speak the truth are all a part of the resistance. All of you people who continue to resist, to speak out, to protest are heroes, patriots.

I wonder if we could consolidate all that energy, but I realize that each of us is most powerful arguing our own passions, doing what we feel is most important, doing what we're good at doing. Scientists should fight for the scientific method. Immigrants and those of us who came from immigrants should fight the racism of the Muslim ban. Those of us who have not been treated equally and those of us who recoil at the injustice of inequality should support the ALCU and Black Lives Matter. Artists should make their art. Oh, there is some amazing art out there that is perfect for our resistance.

How do we focus when there are so many areas of our government that are disintegrating? We can't. So, we have to divide our energies and focus on the problem of today, tomorrow, and the next day. We have to follow our passions as well as we can and support our fellow patriots as often as we can.

5. Our resistance depends on us seeing past the silly distractions, the ignorant tweets, and the lies; It depends on us to stay focused.

The Russian government wants a total collapse of our democracy.They are not going to be happy if we use our Constitutional rights to become the most effective check and balance that the founding fathers offered. We must speak out. We must demand our right to vote. We must march and write and be willing to be arrested because we are an inconvenience to the representatives who won't represent us. We must create satire and art to resist. We must be patriots.

In 1776, there was taxation without representation. We want the same thing now. Each of our protests identify that we don't intend to be governed unless we are represented. Our representatives now know that in ways they didn't think were possible a year ago. They know we're watching the way they vote. They know we support a thorough investigation of the treasonous collusion with Russia.

We resist by staying awake to what our government is doing and by demanding that they reconnect with our Constitution. In the end, we are not so different from those 1776 sons of liberty.

Thank you for listening, jules



Saturday, June 24, 2017

Serving Beauty



So, I want to tell you that I have trouble with beauty. I was never beautiful, pretty maybe, but I used to have beautiful hair. It was brunette. It shown auburn in the sun. It was hair that put hairstylists into paroxysms of ecstasy.  It was so long my friends once used a yard stick to measure it. My hair was longer than a yardstick. It was silky. It was gorgeous. It made people reprimand me any time I cut an inch or two off of it. It had the perfect wave. It got apologies whenever it was caught in closing doors. My hair only needed a moderately presentable head to hang itself on and random people on the street would remark about its beauty. 

Then, it started to fall out. 

Over time, I spent thousands of dollars trying to get my hair back until one day, my husband had a heart attack, a mild one, but it was an eye-opener. I realized that having hair was not worth one more penny, not worth one more moment of my time. 

Well, I tried to realize that it wasn't not worth one more moment of my time.

I get up in the morning and my husband will hug me deeply and lean down so I can kiss his head. I know everything is okay when he leans down toward me that way. Throughout the day, I'll be going along fine, talking to my friends without thinking for one instant about how I look.

Then, I'll go into Costco or something and some bored employee will start talking to me without really looking at me. 

There's a chunky person standing in front of him, one with very short hair, someone who is balding even. He asks me a question.

"Sir, do you want your things in a box? Sir?"

I try to take a deep breath. I try to, but I can't. I try to make eye contact with him. I try to, but I can't. Sometimes, he will recognize his mistake and begin to spin backward and backward and backward and try to apologize. I usually nod then, and find a way to answer his question. He didn't intend to insult me so deeply. He's just a dork. Everybody is a dork sometimes. 

But there are other guys. When I finally manage to look them in the eye, I can see I have not passed muster, not even for a middle-aged housewife shopping for groceries. These kind of men aren't sorry about calling me 'sir.' They seem to expect that all of creation should manage its beauty in a way that is always about their own tastes and their own sensibilities. These men judge. They shouldn't even have to look at my ugliness in front of them.

These are the guys who hurt.

So, I've been reading about the whole bathroom thing. To listen to the news, you might think that people, the so-called Christian conservative, were going post sentries to deny entrance to each ladies room for anyone who doesn't pass muster. My church doesn't have sentries at the bathroom doors, but I wonder about their churches?

These people are so furious about the labels on bathroom doors. 

At a small-town festival I was enjoying last week, a woman interrupted a conversation I was having with a friend.

"Do you want to sign our petition to put proper labels back on bathroom doors?"

We both glared at her. We wanted to finish our conversation. She didn't get the hint.

"We need to get back to normal," she said.

"No," my friend said pointing to the petition in her hand. "That's just an excuse to harass the LGBT community."

The woman held the petition out to me. 

"No," was all I managed to say. I can not think on my feet.

And this woman kept talking about the labels on bathroom doors. She just went on and on and on, even though we both had said no and stood there glaring at her. She'd interrupted a perfectly nice conversation and she just kept talking about the labels on a fucking bathroom door.

"No, I will not sign it," I repeated.

She was not finished. In fact, she only got louder. Was this woman never going to leave us alone?

"How are you going to protect girls from sexual assault?" she yelled. 

Something snapped. I forgot where I was, in the thick of a family-friendly festival.

"Believe me," I yelled back, "no words on a bathroom door are going to keep a damned predator from being a damned predator. I'm sure of that. So now, I want to know. Because I look gender-questionable, are you going to force me to drop my pants at the door for a gender check every fucking time I need to pee?"

It was then, just at that moment, that I realized that there might have been some redeeming reason I lost my hair and any claim I might have had to serving beauty. It might have been a damned good reason. I realized that I don't want anyone at a restroom door or at Costco or anywhere else questioning my damned gender or anyone's gender before any of us can pass on through and live our lives in peace.

Thank you for listening, jules