Saturday, August 19, 2017

Protesting for a Whiteness that Never Existed in Our Country

Days after the tragedy ending in Heather Heyer's death, I'm still trying to process what I saw in the news in Charlottesville, VA. I was appalled by the fury of the men, looking altogether like troglodytes with their torches, openly brandishing the Nazi and Confederate flags, marching while chanting 'blood and soil, blood and soil.'

What the hell did that even mean? I had to look it up. Blood and soil.

'Blood and soil' is a Nazi slogan popularized in 1930 and was connected with a proposal for "a systemic eugenics program, arguing for breeding as a cure-all for all the problems plaguing the state," according to Barbara Miller Lane and Leila J. Rupp in their book Nazi Ideology before 1933: A Documentation. Eugenics. So that slogan is one way to define a Nazi as a Nazi.

Since then, I've watched a lot of news. I watched as racist Steve Bannon was finally fired. I almost felt relief, almost. I hope he isn't in a position to cause trouble for a long long time to come. He seems like the type to continue to stir the pot wherever he is. I hope Mueller is investigating him. I hold a lot of hope in what Mueller is doing.

I listened to the video of the man who whined about getting arrested after marching in Charlottesville that night. Honey, if you protest, especially alongside men who bear the swastika, you should expect to get arrested. If you chant Nazi slogans, you're probably a Nazi. Do you remember in Aesop's fables, the story about birds of a feather flocking together? You don't get to say you weren't marching alongside a bunch of Nazis. What does that make you?

Shoot, when I protested in the Women's March, in the Science March, and in the March for Truth, I was always prepared to get arrested. I made sure I was marching among people who weren't agitators, looting, or breaking things. I looked for a group of women my age. I even marched with a group from my church, people who protested peacefully but with intent to make a point. I didn't want to get arrested. I was afraid of getting arrested, but I felt the cause was of such great importance that I was willing if I it was necessary to go to jail to make my point. I didn't do anything illegal, but I believed I could in fact get arrested.

I listened to a man who whined about the hatred he's received since his Nazi rally in Charlottesville, that he was afraid to go back to college because of it. He complained about the speech aimed at him, as if people on the other side of the issue didn't also have the freedom of speech. He tried to say he wasn't a Nazi but that he wanted to protest "the fundamental transformation of the composition of our country." Isn't that the definition of Nazis? The Nazis 'reorganized' the composition of their country one Jew and gypsy at a time. 

I also think this guy should look at the composition of our country over time. Take a history class, dude. You don't have a clear understanding of the composition of our country throughout history. It wasn't as a white as you think it was.

Hell, you're probably not as white as you think you are. None of us are. I think I may be part Neanderthal.

Thank you for listening, jules

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Objects of Fear

"I'd rather have my child, but by God, if I have to give her up, I want to make it count," said Susan Bro, Heather Heyer's mother, at her daughter's memorial today. I stood and watched the news, tears in my eyes. Heather Heyer gave her life for her belief in equality.

Would I be so eloquent if I had to speak to the world about losing my son?

I don't think I would. I have never felt so afraid in my own country. I have never felt so ashamed of its leadership. I have never felt such agony over what I believed existed in our past, not in our future.

Civil rights were won when I was a child, back in the 1960s. It's what I believed anyway. I was so naive.

Yesterday, when I came out of the grocery store, someone had parked a little too close to my little car while I shopped. Usually, that doesn't mean much, a man in a hurry, a woman just wanting to get home after a long day at work. The truck that parked too close to me was red. It waved two tattered American flags, and was covered in Trump/Pence and NRA stickers.

My resist sticker looked meek next to this ostentatious display. I was a afraid when I saw the shadow of feet behind the truck. A man was unloading groceries next to me. I didn't make eye contact. I tried. I couldn't think of what I'd say to a person like this. Didn't he know how all of this display on his truck looked after the tragedy in Charlottesville, VA?

He did. I'm sure now that he knew exactly how it looked. I quickly got into my car. I was tempted to lock my doors. He looked over at me as I carefully backed out of my space. I still couldn't look back at him as he stared.

I don't have enough courage to stand next to Heather Heyer.

Something had passed as a flash in my mind as I pushed my cart to my car, that I should look into the bed of that truck to see if there were tiki torches lying there. They were objects of fear. I was glad I had resisted that urge. The man had followed me outside too quickly and I would have been caught.

I don't have enough courage to hold Heather Heyer's banner, to hold her determination in my heart.

I'm so sorry, Susan Bro. I am so very sorry.

Thank you for listening, jules

Friday, August 11, 2017

This Is Our Nuclear Family

Being a resident of the West coast, I can tell you that my anxiety over the words of the man on vacation at his New Jersey golf course has increased tenfold. The North Korean leader is unstable, has been for a long time. Ignoring him seemed to work for the most part. Then, somehow he was thrown against the ratings-monger that calls himself POTUS.

Twitter is lit up with official Presidential phrases like

' and fury...'

'...the likes of which you have never seen ...'


'...locked and loaded ...'

The people of Guam are looking down the barrel, as are the people of South Korea. And everyone on the West coast is looking down the barrel of a long but loaded gun. Millions of people sit at the brink of this insane but nuclear bickering.

Why is this guy even talking? He's supposed to be on vacation, golfing, watching late-night comedy, checking propaganda letters describing his greatness. He's not supposed to be in a spitting match with another unhinged and bloated dictator.

Can't someone read POTUS the story John Hersey wrote about the different layers of hell when the atomic bomb on Hiroshima went off? It isn't a long book. Can't they explain to him that this is nonfiction?

Yet again, I'm losing my belief that any action of civic-minded people, any peaceful protest, any reasonable letters to the editor, any discussion with our representatives will have any impact whatsoever on this administration. Will no one in charge act to protect us from the madness? Is Mueller going to conclude his investigation before we reach the conclusion of this atomic skirmish?

And now Trump wants to go to war with Venezuela? What? Did I miss something? What happened with Venezuela? 

Christopher Moore, one of my favorite authors, wrote on Twitter today: I'm anxious. You anxious? Me too.

Then, I remembered a theoretical conversation I had with Mike while we watched an apocalyptic movie a couple of years ago. I don't even remember what movie it was. What would we do if we had three days before the world ended?

We both decided that we'd be right where we were, walking the dog together, making a good meal, hanging out with our boy, texting our friends and family funny pictures of ourselves, and maybe watching reruns of Star Trek on TV while cats lounged on our laps.

It's a good time to live the authentic life you always intended to live, especially if you live on the West Coast or anywhere near the Sea of Japan.

Thank you for listening, jules


Tuesday, August 8, 2017

A Quiet Krieg

I would have ranted last week, but it turns out I'm using cuneiform and I'm supposed to update to the alphabet. Last week, I absolutely could not get access to my blog while I was on a different computer. Blogspot. Who knew it was as outdated as 8-track tapes, as any kind of tapes?

For years, I had used my old methods, kept my head in the sand while I worked, and I became unfashionable, clunky, a Luddite without even knowing.

Sorry about that.

I'll make structural changes to my site, but in the meantime, I have so much stuff to tell you.

I bought a new shirt for our trip. My husband agreed to take us to Germany. Nick finished his second year of studying German and we traveled there to immerse him in the language. He would be our translator.


Most people in Germany speak English fairly fluently. It was great for Mike and I. Even I could manage passably well on what I learned in my free Duolingo app, except for the day we stopped at a rest stop on the autobahn.I ordered "a meal in my purse" because the women there didn't understand the word 'take-out' or even 'take-away,' the British word. I watched those women stare at me quizzically, finally understand what I needed, and then laugh a little too loudly. We all laughed together, though I didn't realize then exactly what I had said at the time. I just knew I was an idiot.

An almost ugly American.

The shirt. Right. I told you I bought a new shirt, a special T-shirt for the trip. I needed to wear the correct wardrobe in Europe.

My purple shirt said:

Sorry about our president.
Perdon por nuestro presidente.
Desole pour notre president.
Tut mir leid wegen unseres Prasidenten.
Mijn excuses voor onze president.

I'm sorry I couldn't add the right accents and umlauts there. Blogspot. I couldn't type in the Chinese, the Korean, the Arabic, or the American Sign Language at all.

I'm generally pretty oblivious to people around me. Really, I'm the person who's in the way at the grocery store even when I intend to park my cart where no one will want the products behind it. Inevitably, when I get back to my cart, some poor soul has been trying to pull cat litter off the shelf without disturbing my cart position. I apologize a lot.

So, it took me a few days before I noticed people reading my chest even though I bought the T-shirt to convey an important message there. First, I noticed  a gaggle of women looking just a bit too long, but they kept to themselves so I let it be. I was enthusiastic to talk to people in Germany about their opinions of our failing government, but we were on our way to walk a Medieval wall and I didn't want to miss it.

The second time it happened, a man on the sidewalk kept looking at me. I leaned against our parked rental car waiting for Mike and Nick to return from checking into our hotel in Cochem, Boutique-Hotel Lohspeicher, a lovely little hotel on the hillside where the chocolate croissants are divine and the owner is a chef. And of course, they speak English.

At first, as I leaned on the car, I felt a little uncomfortable about this man who seemed to stare just a little too long and was trying to make eye-contact. Sometimes that's a dangerous thing, to make eye-contact with a stranger in a new city. Then, it dawned on me. He was looking at my shirt.

I smiled at him.

He smiled back. Then, he began to speak in perfect English. He was waiting for his wife and daughter inside the store. It was a lovely night, wasn't it?

If I tried to write the dialog with this man, I would miss all his speech patterns and what we said. I'm sorry. I was jet-lagged.

He was a sweet man from Amsterdam. We talked about the problems with the new government in the United States. (You have to say United States because 'Americans,' to anyone outside the U.S., include Canadians, Mexicans, Guatemalans, Colombians, Brazilians, Chileans, and people from every other country in the Americas.) He said he knew that the people weren't the same as the government. If he only knew the divide in the U.S. over anti-Trump and pro-Trump. I didn't mention it.

Eventually, his wife and daughter finished shopping and at the same time, Mike and Nick joined us.

It was a lovely conversation, everyone laughing and talking like friends introduced by a mutual acquaintance. They commiserated with our Constitutional crisis. We talked about the town of Cochem, about Amsterdam, about their vacation and ours. They invited us to a neighboring town where there was a festival with fireworks and wine. And they told us about the best place in town to get schnitzel, Ellis Schnitzelhaus.

My T-shirt started two conversations at Berg Eltz. I was so happy to have finally come to a place I'd seen so many times on Instagram, a stunning castle near Cochem. I'd gotten angry (ugly American) because we were the first to arrive for a tour and had to wait another fifteen minutes because too many people crowded in front of us. It turned out that the wait was worth it.

Two women caught my attention.

"We like your shirt," one said. They were German. They mostly wanted to know what I thought, so I spoke about how many people were protesting, how we were trying to get results of the investigation into the botched election. They asked if knowing what happened to the election would change anything. I looked at Mike and shrugged my shoulders. When, in the United States, do you nullify a Federal election? I talked about the embarrassment so many of us felt when Trump met with Chancellor Angela Merkel and was so rude to her. I talked about the mortifying handshakes with world leaders and how the French President, Francois Hollande put Trump's obnoxious handshake in its place. I could feel myself get more worked up as I spoke. I threw in German words that I knew, trying to make sure these people understood the price of losing the government to Trump's abuses. What's the German word for emoluments? What was the word for what the Indivisibles were doing? Krieg. War. I told them it was a quiet war.

Then we were quiet and I turned around, worried about my gift for hyperbole. Was it too far to say it was a war, a battle against a tyrannical government? Someone else might say so, but I didn't think it was so far from the truth. It just sounded worse when 'blitskrieg' rang in my head. What is the build-up to submitting to a dictator in German? I tried to settle my mind.

Then three other people looked at my shirt, giggled, and elbowed each other. "Mijn excuses voor onze president," one said to another.

"Excuse me?" I said. I'd been obsessed about using the word 'krieg.'

"Your shirt. It says in our language that you're sorry about your president." They were Dutch. These people were excited to see their language in print. They happily taught me how to pronounce it in Dutch. After about the third try, I managed well enough. They too listened to me talk about the struggle against this government, but I kept it together and only threw in a few German words since they were Dutch. But when I had trouble conveying my meaning, when I saw their confusion, I struggled with my German to try to clarify it. I hadn't learned political German, just what I needed to order meals, say please and thank you, and ask where things were. Again, these people were happy to talk about a problem that is really a problem around the world.

I love when something as stupid as a T-shirt can draw together total strangers, people around the world who are not so different after all. And it was a relief to watch them nod their heads to my apprehension about the government in the United States.

Thank you for listening, jules

Friday, July 28, 2017

A Name Suitable for an Author

I was listening to All Things Considered today while I ran errands. I like All Things Considered. It makes running errands easier. Today, they spoke at length about Reince Priebus. "This is not normal procedure for the White House," Robert Siegel said.

Just what is normal for the Trump administration? Name one thing that is being done in the same way as any other administration that ever sat in the White House? Nothing, I tell you. Not one damned thing is normal in this White House.

Did you know Reince Priebus is out?

I just want to know: What were his parents thinking, naming him Reince?

No one would ever be able to spell it correctly or even pronounce it the first or maybe even the second time. With a last name like Priebus, you need to name your son something simple. John Priebus, Luke Priebus. Anderson Priebus. That has a ring. Anything would have been better than Reince.

Give me a minute. I need to check the Internet. Talk among yourselves.

I'm back. Well, I was wrong. Albus Priebus would have been worse. And Baranabus Priebus would have been catastrophic. Barnabus Priebus would have lost permanent teeth before fourth grade. So Mom, Dad, Reince isn't such a bad name after all.

It is a good name for an author.

Getting Kicked out of the House by Reince Priebus
Secrets of the House by Reince Priebus
The Narcissistic Executive by Reince Priebus.

Yes, the more I repeat it, the more I think Mr. Priebus should write a book so he can use his author name to the best effect. A leaky book, a book that will tell us exactly how crazy Donald really is, a book that tells of actual pussy-grabbing, Russian-deal-making, and dystopia in the White House. We know Donald is pretty messed up. Just by Twitter alone, we know that. We just want the dirt.

Mr. Priebus, you are now free. If you really were the leak in the white house, we salute you. We'd love if you told us what a hero you really were, like Severus Snape, the secret patriot in the room.

If you meant anything you said at that very strange meeting in which you all had to thank and honor Donald's prowess as the great-king-deal-maker-puppet-fluff, then I take it all back.

If you don't write a book, Mr. Priebus, then you may get lumped into the same lousy trash-heap with Sean Spicer and Mike Flynn. Who's going to offer them jobs now that they've lied so profusely?

No one, that's who.

You don't share their stink just yet, Mr. Priebus. You still have a chance. Join Jim Comey and Sally Yates. Tell the story. I know, I know. You might have to tell it to the FBI in one of those shielded rooms, but tell the truth. Please, tell the whole ugly truth.

If you were one source of leak in the White House, then thank you for your service.

And tell your mother I'm sorry I made fun of your name.

Thank you for listening, jules

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