I have talked about my love of the ocean. The wild exuberant Pacific, the solemn Atlantic. The exotic Caribbean.

The gentle Gulf.

The Gulf is my ocean, the waters I grew up in and near. The ocean I love more than any other.

Oh, I have walked along the Pacific, listening to the roar of the waves crashing against the rocks. (I once swam in the Pacific, in Hawaii, which was the only place other than San Diego that I have ever been where the Pacific was warm enough to swim in.) I have waded the shores of the Atlantic at dawn, helping release baby sea turtles to hopefully help a species decimated by human activity avoid extinction. I have stood on the beaches of Key West and St. Croix, looking at the Caribbean waters which were a shade of blue more wonderful than anything in the world, except the brilliant cornflower of a San Francisco fall sky.

But the Gulf… The Gulf spoiled me. I once told a group of women, most of whom had grown up along the Atlantic Coast, that any temperature under seventy degrees was simply too cold to swim in. My pronouncement was greeted with derision; one young woman declared that that was “bath water.” They were, of course, wrong.

In my neck of the woods, the Pacific is showy: look at me, it seems to say: I am spectacular, I am dangerous. It is an ocean that could have been precisely designed for car commercials. Crashing waves and dramatic rocks – and the lighthouses, of course – show up in calendars. Nobody ever made a calendar of the Gulf: it would be too boring.

The Gulf is gentle. Until it’s not.

The Gulf usually only creates some of the storms: the rest are spawned thousands of miles away in the eastern Atlantic. (You want a dangerous ocean? Hurricanes, icebergs…The Atlantic has a lot to answer for.) But the Gulf and her sister the Caribbean caress them, feed them, grow them into monsters that can destroy cities. She gives her water for the surges that wash over islands and seawalls. The water that floods houses, that collapses buildings. That devastates lives. That warmth that I so love turns into a power source making the storms ever larger and longer-lasting.

The results of the sisters’ handiwork can be seen in the aftermath of Irma and Maria: in the houses stripped of roofs, the impassable roads. In islands that may not be habitable for months, perhaps (in the case of Barbuda, years, if ever). In people scrambling for food, water, fuel, power. In the Florida Keys, which straddle both seas, now being nothing more than a glorified sandbar, at least for months to come.

In Puerto Rico, people struggling all the while the U.S. government can not​ get its act together enough to provide adequate help. It’s Katrina all over again, made worse by the fact that, even though they proclaim otherwise, Trump and his people seem to not really believe the Puerto Ricans are American citizens. (Look at the disparate treatment of the Texans slammed by Harvey. Tell me that the Puerto Ricans are not being treated as red-headed stepchildren.)

And Harvey… The Gulf fed energy and moisture as Harvey sat for hours – days – driving more and more rain into Houston, a city already threatened by climate change.  You could see the pictures on the nightly news of people being carried from their flooded houses into waiting boats. (And in one unforgivable case, Immigration and Customs Enforcement grabbing and deporting an undocumented kid doing rescue work.)





Every year St. Croix (an island I love and whose destruction at the winds of Maria upsets me) and many other islands celebrate Hurricane Thanksgiving Day on November 14. I’m not sure that they will have much to be thankful for this year.

After the devastating winds, and the driving rain, and the killer storm surge, the Gulf will return to her deceptive gentleness. At least until the next storm, be it in two weeks or two years. And if you stand on the white sand beaches on the Pinellas barrier islands or the Florida panhandle and have the waves lick your toes, you might be unaware of her deviousness.

The Gulf is treacherous.

I still love her.

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Democracy. I love it.

Standard disclaimer: See sidebar. These are my views, not those of my employer, for whom I am in no way authorized to speak. I am writing from my experience working for an elections division, a worker bee who gets to see up close and personal how elections happen.

I’m back at work this week, upholding the finest traditions of government in America. That’s right, I am an election worker. The local county I work for is having an off-year election.

I work in the vote-by-mail department. My particular job is “signature verification,” which is pretty much what it sounds like: we check the signatures on the ballots that come in against the signatures on file from people’s voter registration cards. We’re not conducting forensic analysis, and our determinations will never show up in court. We’re simply looking for lines in the signature that indicate that one person signed both documents.

In addition to the philosophical happiness of working for the common good, I love the work itself. I tell myself that this means that all my many hours joyfully wandering through art museums has finally had a practical application, although an expertise in finding Waldo would work just as well.  (A former supervisor, agreeing with my art analysis, said looking at signatures was sometimes like “looking at Jackson Pollacks, albeit really crappy Jackson Pollacks.”)

Technically, this work could be done by about anyone. It doesn’t call on skills developed in my expensive undergraduate and professional education. All it requires is a good eye, comfort around computers, and decent problem-solving abilities. It’s not glamorous, or exciting: nobody exits college thinking, “I want to do signature verification” for a living. (For one thing, it’s seasonal. For another, it can be stressful during a big election: the 2016 general election was crazy.)

My job is just one of many required for an election to go smoothly. Elections are one of those things that people never stop to consider how complicated they are until they break down. (I can’t speak for anyone else, but when I heard the Russians had hacked into the voters’ rolls of some counties in the Midwest, I gasped in horror. Everyone else I knew expressed concern, but until you’ve worked an election I don’t think you appreciate just what a huge impact that could have.)

What I do matters. Although right now I am working on a small off-year election, last year I was one of the anonymous hundreds — thousands, across the country — that made representative democracy possible. We worked very hard to make sure that government of the people, by the people, and (hopefully, although sometimes I have my doubts) for the people survived.

This makes me happy.

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Just stuff.

The fact of the day: did you know migraine symptoms can mimic a stroke? I didn’t. Hence an overnight visit to the E.R. (In all honesty, I wasn’t going to go, but the Rocket Scientist threatened to call an ambulance.) I hope this is not a harbinger of the future.

Last Wednesday, the family went to wineries and creameries in Sonoma County. This morning at least one of the wineries — where we went to watch the sunset — has been burned to the ground. I know it’s kind of ghoulish, but I’m glad we bought a bottle of their really good blush wine last week. I hope they are able to recover okay.

Tweet of the day: in response to tweets by Donald Trump insulting him, Senator Bob Corker tweeted “It’s a shame the White House has become an adult day care center. Someone obviously missed their shift this morning.” Pretty much sums up this administration, and it provoked the expected response from Trump minion Kellyanne Conway, namely that Corker’s tweet was “incredibly irresponsible.” Pot, kettle, black. Maybe if her boss wouldn’t go on the offensive against those who he perceives as disloyal, those persons would not feel the need to respond.

If you have not yet purchased Lin-Manuel Miranda’s benefit record for Puerto Rico, “Almost Like Praying,” you should as soon as possible. The island needs all the help it can get right now.  The song lists the names of all the towns on the island and is sung by Latin music luminaries including Marc Anthony, Jennifer Lopez, and Fat Joe. Oh, and the wonderful Ruben Blades. It makes me want to dance, and after listening to it I crave black beans and rice and fried plantains.

I would also recommend “Dear Hate” by Marren Morris, with Vince Gill. It’s a little obvious, but also beautiful: “Even on our darkest night, the world keeps spinning round”  is a sentiment I need in my life.

Remember that open letter to Lawrence O’Donnell? I might need to write one for Brian Babylon. The Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me panelist was riffing about Trump’s Puerto Rico visit and the bizarre spectacle of him tossing paper towels to residents of San Juan. Babylon mentioned that people speculated that Trump was on drugs but the drug that he thought Trump was on was… lithium. Very funny. See me laughing? (For those unfamiliar with lithium, it is a first-line treatment for bipolar disorder. ) In this case, though, I did send off a complaint to NPR.

None of the teams I root for made the MLB playoffs, and the one team that I like that did — the Nats — is on the verge of elimination. That has happened before, but since I have pretty much given up football (due to the concussion issue) it leaves a sports void in my life. And no, I am not going to start watching hockey.

But hey! The Winter Olympics are in South Korea in a few months — that is, unless the country gets destroyed by North Korea in the meantime. I imagine the IOC is watching the childish spat between Kim Il Jun and Donald Trump with collectively bated breath.

On a final note, I start work on Friday, once again working on elections. I was originally supposed to start last Monday, but they moved the start date back, which allowed me to spend time with the Not-So-Little Drummer Boy on the few days he was back here from Korea. (The IOC are not the only people who are getting ulcers from the Korea situation.)

I’m looking forward to it.



Posted in My life and times, Politics | 1 Comment

Does Trumpism come from the South?

[I have been sitting on this post for literally a few months — I have not been able to get it into any sort of shape that I am happy with. However, since I have told several people about it, I am going to just grit my teeth and publish. I like the ideas, but the writing is clunky. Sorry.]

Many Trump supporters decry the worst elements of their movement. However, it cannot be denied that anti-white sentiment has been expressed by a number of the Trump faithful, most notably by the KKK and Neo-Nazis, who see Trump as a fellow traveler if not a full adherent to their beliefs. Certainly, during the campaign Trump dallied before rejecting former KKK leader David Duke’s endorsement. I used to think that was pure political opportunism: take all the votes you can get, from whatever source. I thought that he probably rejected Duke after someone explained to him that he would lose votes if he didn’t.  However, in his remarks following the terrorism in Charlottesville, Trump clearly showed himself to be either under the sway of a dangerous and immoral philosophy.

In addition, Trump’s record on misogyny is quite clear. He has a past filled with sexually aggressive and inappropriate behavior. This history being tolerated by the Trump faithful is in many ways more disturbing than racial elements: these are the acts of the man himself, not of his followers, which could be repudiated.

A friend of mine, Kevin Phillips, posted several months ago about Trump followers’ views of women and race. He identified the more repugnant attitudes they hold as arising out of the Deep South, and the region’s experience of slavery. When I pointed out that “Last time I checked, Nebraska and Iowa were not in the Deep South,” he countered that the attitudes in question originated from the South and then migrated elsewhere.

He’s wrong.

Not that the attitudes in question do not exist in the Deep South. Mine is not a “Not all white Southerners” argument; it is a “both sides do it,” but not for the sake of excusing the South.  Yes, slavery and its concomitant hatred and fear of African Americans have left deep scars there. And absent significant changes, there can be no absolution for the region. I know this, and it makes me weep.

But the rest of the country has its own history of racial hatred and misogyny as well.

Slavery was the original sin that this country was born into; no state was free of it. The colonies that abolished slavery nonetheless profited from the trade in slaves that took place elsewhere. And at the outbreak of the Civil War, the impetus for fighting the South was to preserve the Union. According to historian Bruce Catton, slavery only became the most important issue later on in the war. And abolitionist sentiment did not automatically translate into a belief in racial equality: white Union soldiers were initially reluctant to fight alongside freed blacks, according to Catton, “for race prejudice of a malignity rarely seen today was very prevalent in the North at that time, and [white soldiers] did not want to associate with [black soldiers] on anything remotely like terms of equality.”

Even Abraham Lincoln said things that could be definitely seen as racist in contemporary eyes, not the least a suggestion that freed slaves immigrate elsewhere once slavery was abolished. His words have been interpreted as being political sops thrown to the pro-slavery crowd. But at the least, his record on equality of the races is equivocal.

In the twentieth century, lynchings of blacks, while most heavily concentrated in the former Confederacy, took place all over the country. The photograph that inspired Abel Meeropol to write the poem that would become the song “Strange Fruit” showed a lynching not in the South but in Marion, Indiana.

In the sixties, Northerners decried the violence used to uphold Jim Crow while sitting in their houses located in housing developments with restrictive covenants.

And the bigotry lived on, in the same way it did in the South. When I lived in Massachusetts, it was common knowledge that God help any African-American who ended up in South Boston. It’s hard to think about now, but there were race riots in Boston as recently as forty years ago.

I am old enough to remember the Boston riots. Those rioters were not acting out of attitudes that spread like a contagion up from the South.

Why does this matter?

It matters because, within a couple of days of the Charlottesville protests, I had two different people say to me with a shrug “Well, it’s Virginia,” as though that were an explanation. It’s the South, their thinking seemed to be — given its history, it makes sense to have white supremacists marching there.

I had to explain to them that the Nazis and white supremacists had come from all over the country. I had to explain that yes, there are more KKK clans in the South than other parts of the country, but they are in fact across the land. They are in every state of the union except possibly Rhode Island. There are at least two in the San Francisco Bay Area.

And that doesn’t take into account Neo-Nazis and other white supremacists.

Understanding this helps us get a grip on exactly what we’re dealing with.

Focusing on the South creates incentives to see the other outposts of the “alt-right” as being aberrations.  Even if the historical record did not support the finding that racism and misogyny of a particularly ingrained and pernicious sort existed all through the country, not just in the Deep South, acting as though the states of the former Confederacy provided the source for the nastiness of the Trump campaign is counterproductive. The  South (except bastions of liberalism such as Atlanta and Austin) will get defensive and angry; the rest of the country (especially the “liberal elite” on the coasts) will see Trumpism as a regional problem.

There is a certain element among Trumpsters that we will never be able to reach, nor should we try. All over the country, there are white supremacists and misogynists. But others may well prove easier to engage with fruitfully.

Fixating on regional differences makes that harder.

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An open letter to Lawrence O’Donnell.

Dear Mr. O’Donnell:

I have waited a few days before writing this letter, hoping that I would become more eloquent or the words you spoke on Tuesday less upsetting. Neither has happened.

Although I do not watch your show all the time, I respect you: a quote by you is on this blog’s sidebar. Usually, I agree with your positions on things, or if I don’t agree I am nevertheless not angered by what you say. Tuesday was different.

As I said, I don’t watch your show all the time, but I do watch The Rachel Maddow Show pretty faithfully. It was while I was waiting for TRMS on Tuesday that I caught the tail end of a segment that you did with Chris Hayes on All In.

“I don’t know when he lost his mind,” you said of Stephen Paddock, the Las Vegas shooter. ‘When he was up in that hotel room he was stark, raving, mad.”

I wanted to cry.

When you talk about the shooter as being “stark, raving, mad” or when Donald Trump calls him “demented,” or when everyone from Eugene Robinson to most of the people I read on Facebook say “Of course Paddock was disturbed. Who in his right mind mows down innocent strangers at a country music festival?” , life becomes harder for people like me. People who have an actual, as in “diagnosed by medical professionals, not television pundits or newspaper columnists,” mental illness.

Stephen Paddock may have had a mental illness. Who knows?  That has not been determined yet. But he will be assumed to have had one because of the “nobody does that” line of thinking. It wasn’t that he was evil; he was crazy.  Interestingly enough, I have never heard anyone make that argument about the men who flew the airplanes into the World Trade Center.

When mental illness is seen to inevitably be at the root of horrific violence, the stigma against the mentally ill rises.  This stigma costs people jobs. It costs them friends. (A now-former friend told me she would never want to be friends with or work with someone who had a severe mental illness. I asked her “What about me?” “You’re okay,” she replied. “I know you.”)  It can cost them custody of their children.

And it costs others just as much: stigma increases the reluctance of some — especially men — to seek help. I’ve known people who refused therapy because they didn’t want it to appear on their health records, lest their employer somehow find out.

Some people who claim they have compassion for the mentally ill nevertheless perpetuate stereotypes or stigma. One so very compassionate friend of a friend on Facebook suggested that we needed a registry of the mentally ill, with information provided by doctors and pharmacists. If you believe that only mentally ill people commit these sorts of horrors, her suggestion is imminently logical. Unfortunately, in this country, the government might be more likely to create a registry of the mentally ill than a registry of gun owners. After all, a gun registry wouldn’t have given authorities any useful information whatsoever, other than that a man in Nevada had his own personal arsenal of semi-automatics.

Evil exists in the world, Mr. O’Donnell. Evil people exist in the world, and sometimes commit atrocities. But evil people who commit horrible acts are not intrinsically mentally ill.

Evil is not the same as insanity.

Please, I beg of you, for all of us out here who will have to deal with fallout from this massacre (as we did after Charleston, and Orlando, and Sandy Hook), do not elide the difference.

Posted in Culture (popular and otherwise), Social Issues | Tagged | Leave a comment

I may be posting here more. I am currently on hiatus from Facebook, so the little pieces I drop over there I will be dropping over here instead.

The aftermath of mass shootings is stressful for everybody. For me, the conversations online tend to revolve around the question of whether the shooter was mentally ill. I go about on my metaphorical Rocinante, challenging people who say “well, really, he must have been crazy. Sane people don’t commit mass murder.” It gets to be a bit much.

Everyone has a breaking point. Mine was when a friend of a friend suggested in all seriousness that the country should have, not a registry of gun owners, but a registry of the mentally ill, with information provided by doctors and pharmacists.

There is a long post about the…. ill-advisedness ….. of such a registry waiting to be written, but just right now I am worn out.

And more importantly, the Not-So-Little Drummer Boy has been in town from Korea for a short stay. The whole family took a day trip yesterday (the Red-Headed Menace came up from San Diego for a couple of days), which was lovely, but I just want the next couple of days to feel pleasanter and more hopeful than they have lately.

Posted in Family, My life and times, Politics | Tagged | Leave a comment

“Against one perfect moment, the centuries beat in vain.” Sir Terry Pratchett, Thief of Time.

A wood bench on a sidewalk overlooking La Jolla Cove.

Seventy-one-degree weather.

Warm late afternoon California sun and a cool gentle Pacific breeze.

Toddlers and teens climbing on the rocks and in and out of the cave. The slightly anxious parents following the toddlers.

Red kayaks a mile or so off bobbing up and down in the surf like so many fishing lures.

Swimmers seemingly appearing out of nowhere but really probably coming from the opposite shore a couple of miles off.

Seals sunning themselves, rousing only to drive off the cormorants that were beginning to encroach on their lounging space.

Sea lions splashing in the water, their booming barks ricocheting off the cliff, menacing the snorkelers who had wandered into territory the sea lions felt was theirs.

An older gentleman softly playing free-form jazz on his trumpet with perfect pitch and a round golden tone.

It was a perfect moment.


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