March… sanity.

Odd bits and pieces of the San Jose Women’s March:

Proud parental moment of the day: when you text your eldest son about being at the San Jose March,  and he texts back pictures of where he is in the New York March. (His youngest brother lamented that he woke up too late, and the San Diego March was too far away, for him to go. I reassured him that undoubtedly he would have other opportunities, and besides he had marched in support of immigrants’ rights the day after the election. The other brother worked, so couldn’t march, and later said he wished he had. Have I told everyone lately how much I love my sons?)

I only did a short stretch of the march. I am recovering from an odd household accident (I was sleepwalking and fell into my tub, torquing my ribs), and walking is not comfortable. So I walked a short stretch of the route (resisting the urge to just duck into the Starbucks) and went into the park. I listened to the speeches until what I thought was dehydration caught up to me and I had to sit down at the medical tent. They gave me water, took my vitals, asked if I wanted to go to the ER ( I refused), and decided to head home. (As it tuned out, I was starting to get sick, and ended up in a different ER later getting IV fluids. This post is less than stellar because I am zonked out on meds.)

On my way I saw friends I haven’t seen in forever (and you guys, I’m sorry I didn’t talk longer, I was starting to feel bad) and went and sat on the light rail platform. On the way home, women (and men) talked about the march, and how marches in other places were going. It is a remarkable movement, and I am excited to see where it goes. Just being with all those people was oddly comforting. (And really, Donald, that first tweet asking why we didn’t vote? We did vote, and it did no good. That’s the problem.)

The choice between buying a ten dollar lunch so you can use the restaurant’s bathroom and fighting your way through twenty thousand people to get to the Port-A-Potties at the other end of the park is a no-brainer. Even if the tacos were mediocre.

The route took us by the Fairmont Hotel, under the bridge between the two buildings. As I walked towards the bridge, I looked up and saw about fifteen men standing and watching the all the people walking underneath. They were in all levels of dress, from blazers to shorts and t-shirts. I found myself wondering what they thought of the March. Did they approve (and if so, why didn’t they join us)? Did they detest it (and us)? Were they simply annoyed that they would have to fight nasty, nasty traffic if they tried to leave the hotel?

I had decided to go at the last moment and didn’t get a sign made. I saw where someone made a sign saying what I was going to: an excerpt from Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Tony sonnet. “And love is love is love is love is love is love is love is love/ Cannot be killed or swept aside.” I am thinking of making the sign up anyway. I have a suspicion that this will not be the last time I march against this administration; besides which, there is always Pride.

Some of my favorite signs:

  • “My 5-year old has more self-discipline, compassion, and manners than the President of the United States”
  • I saw a lot of “A Woman’s Place is In the Resistance” with a picture of Princess Leia. I think Carrie Fisher would approve.
  • A picture of a cat with the slogan “Bare your fangs, show your claws, fight back!” (There were a lot of signs about pussies.)
  • “Strong women scare weak men,” which pretty much sums up the current political situation.
  • And not humorous, but important: a husky, bearded man with a sign that said “This is what a feminist looks like.”
  • Held by what looked to be an eleven or twelve year old girl: “Future Nasty Woman.”
  • And my favorite from the San Jose March: “We’re the great-granddaughters of the witches your ancestors didn’t burn.” (The Resident Shrink, who went to the Oakland march, texted me my very favorite sign: “So bad, even introverts are here.” As an introvert who normally has a serious allergy to large crowds, I completely agree.)

While I was impressed and happy about the turnout in the big cities, my favorite statistic came from my hometown: twenty-thousand people marched in St. Pete, making it by far the largest protest in the city’s  history. (The previous city record had fifteen hundred people.) Wow. And city officials supported the march (the mayor proclaimed yesterday Women’s Rights Day in the city), and the state senator was there and encouraged people to write their Congressional Representatives. This makes me happy and hopeful, if a somewhat sleepy town like St. Pete in a state like Florida can turn out all those people.

Closer to home, from what I understand, the organizers of the San Jose March expected 10,000 people and ended up with 25,000. It really did look like that many people, even though it was cold and windy and threatened to rain, and the park where the rally was held was seriously muddy. (Days and days of rain will do that.)

The San Jose protest appeared to me to be three quarters women, and one-quarter men.  A lot of kids, too. People are teaching the importance of standing up for what you believe in to their children at an early age. As someone who tried to do the same thing, I heartily approve.

On the light rail home, a woman said “They say write to your Congressional representative. Ours was at the protest! We’re preaching to the choir.” (While true, it’s still important so they can say the people have their back.) She also had an interesting observation: “People shouldn’t move to Canada. They should move to a red state and organize.”

This is by far the largest protest I have ever taken part in. Given this administration, I expect it is only the first of many over the next four (and hopefully not eight) years..

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Request of Facebook and Twitter followers…

So…

I am on a social media diet for a little while, as well as reducing my news intake, all for my mental health. Yes, we need to pull together and fight, but I can’t just now. I hope to return to the lists soon.

The reason I am writing this post is that a) I have a few drafts of political posts that I might finish off, political break notwithstanding, and b) what I do post will end up in my Facebook and Twitter feeds, where I will not see any comments to it (since I am off Facebook and Twitter).

So, if you choose to continue reading my posts, and you wish to comment, could you do it here?

Thanks.

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Salem, 2017.

Chester Arthur is one of America’s less memorable commanders-in-chief. Most people, myself included, would before this week have simply remembered him as the guy with the great muttonchop sideburns. But  Arthur oversaw reform of the machinery of government, turning what had been a system of patronage into one where employees were civil servants, whose employment was not dependent upon political office-holders. (That James Garfield had been assassinated by a man disappointed that he had not been granted a government job probably didn’t hurt the reform effort.) During Arthur’s presidency, Congress passed the Pendleton Act, which among other things protected federal employees from removal for political reasons.

Congress still can’t remove civil servants for political reasons. Nonetheless, they can subject employees to a myriad of annoyances both large and small. (When The Rocket Scientist first started at NASA, civil servants had some small amount of their salary deducted because someone had come up with a number of hours it was determined they wasted.) And now, at least  on paper, they can destroy their livelihood.

Last week, the House revived a dead budgetary rule — the Holman Rule –which allows individual members of Congress to slash budgets for individual programs — or individual  federal employees — to one dollar. Heretofore, Congress controlled the budgets for agencies, rarely specific projects and never individual non-political federal employees.

I have read articles seeking to reassure federal employees that this was never used against individual employees, only programs. Firstly, having your program destroyed carries a terrible price, both personally and professionally, especially for scientists. People spend years of their lives on projects, sometimes. But true, that sometimes happens.

But, secondly, we are in a whole new era. The Trump transition team requested DOE turn over all the names of individual scientists who worked on climate change or alternative energy projects, down to a list of people who had attended conferences on those subjects. DOE, sensibly, turned down that request. Once Trump is president, they won’t be able to. Not just DOE, either: several agencies (including NASA) do work about climate change. And in Justice, there are attorneys working on civil rights, including LGBT rights, that  might suddenly worry about their jobs. And any politicization of the CDC would be terrible.

And that could be the beginning. Donald Trump demands loyalty; what if the Administration demanded loyalty oaths (other than the usual, to uphold and defend the Constitution) from its people? Congress passes the budget, but Trump has enough lackeys in both houses to get something like that through. And what representative or senator would hold up a massive budget bill to protect a few civil servants?

People with “alternative lifestyles” (as some religious conservatives would phrase it) would be vulnerable in case of an all-out assault on the civil liberties of federal employees. Yes, that’s a dystopian view of the future; but on the other hand, would you have ever thought a President would nominate a man for Secretary of State whose only job experience was running a major oil company?

Congress needs to act. The sunset provision they included is not enough. They need to drop the Holman Rule entirely, or alternatively pass a rule preventing it from being used against individual non-political employees.

The time to stop the witch hunt is when the village elders are sharpening the pitchforks, not when there’s a dead body in the dunking pool.

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Seen any good movies, lately?

I have been seeing a lot of movies over the last couple of months. I haven’t written reviews for any of them. (Admittedly, after the election I didn’t feel up to writing anything….) So herewith are my reviews, even though a couple of them (Dr. Strange and Moana, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them)  have left theaters.

First up… Dr. Strange.

Dr. Strange is the first  movie  I have ever seen (and yes, am including the other Marvel Universe movies) where seeing it in 3D is almost imperative. The acting ranges from good to great, and the movie is thought-provoking and the fight scenes are jaw-dropping. (The streets of London and New York are folded like origami creatures.)  You can watch it when it hits Netflix, but I wouldn’t unless you had a very large screen television. Tilda Swinton’t Ancient One poses problems — a clear case of whitewashing, yet the director said he was trying to avoid the ethnic stereotypes of the original material. I wasn’t terribly troubled, but then again I am not of Asian descent.

Next….Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.

Meh. Not a waste of ten bucks, but certainly not something I would see a second time. Eddie Redmayne is both a good actor and reasonably pleasant to look at, but the whole thing dragged. That the studio and J.K. Rowling think they can make this into a five movie series boggles my mind, and not in a good way. Watching it on Netflix might be a waste of time, simply because Netflix carries so many other better films, albeit few in this exact genre.

Next… Moana.

Sigh. Moana captured my heart, so much so that I’ve seen it three  four times. I often see movies more than once (as I did Dr. Strange), but rarely over and over and over again. I have a separate entry I am working on in which I talk about the film. One tidbit: many of the songs (especially the ones I most love) were written by my current pop culture crush, Lin Manuel Miranda.

Next… La La Land.

I very badly wanted to love this movie, and I didn’t. Live action Hollywood movie musicals don’t pop up very often these days, especially ones as well-reviewed as La La Land.

On the good side, it was clearly a movie musical, not a stage musical transferred to the screen. The director made wonderful use of the the exterior and interiors available to him. (The number on the street when Emma Stone’s character is looking for her car, is really memorable.) The songs evoke the best movie musicals, such as Gigi, while still sounding fresh. The ending avoided cliches.

And yet… as good actors Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone are, and as wonderful the chemistry between them is, in my opinion their voices just are not up to the task. I found Stone’s husky, breathy tone particularly irritating. I kept thinking what Emily Blunt — who really can sing — would do with the role. The disappointment! So frustrating.

Finally, the two best movies I’ve seen this winter. Both have strong women at their center. They are so different, one science fiction and the other historical fact, but both are great.

First up: Hidden Figures.

Some stories have gone too long without being told. This is one of those stories: how three black women (and others) were instrumental to the U.S. in the early days of the space race. If Taraji P. Henson, Janelle Monae, and Olivia Spencer are not nominated for Oscars, there is no justice. (I’m still annoyed about Selma being snubbed.)

Women played pivotal roles in the development of technology, being the early “computers” and programmers, yet they have been erased from the narrative. This wonderful movie, which also focuses the difficulties the women experienced on account of their race, will hopefully be the first of several to tell that history. (The next one I want to see made would be about the Mercury 13.)

Finally: Rogue One.

I loved this movie. Although it bothered me at first, the film’s emotional darkness (and it is dark), is both compelling and oddly inspirational. It’s important to fight on, even when the fight may seem impossible to win. (I can’t say more without giving away the ending.) You never know when you may succeed against the odds, even if you have to sacrifice a great deal in the process. A good lesson for the next four years.

So, anyone else see any good movies?

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Customization.

I am playing around with customizing this blog, so the look may change randomly for a little while. I am currently playing with randomized header images, which is why every time you click on the blog it has a different picture on top.

I always enjoy doing this.

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QOTD.

Tim Fouts of the country a cappella group Home Free, about the Westboro Baptist Church:

“I personally prefer ladies, but I’d kiss a dude to piss them off.”

(He also said, “I’m not celebrating those misguided idiots, I’m just happy that we’re relevant enough for them to hate us.”)

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Movies: facing the past.

On Tuesday, I saw Hidden Figures, about three African-American women who fought bigotry and misogyny to become important figures at NASA. It’s a great movie, and a story that needs to be told.

And, like Selma, I found it difficult to watch.

I am acutely aware of the ways in which my forebears benefited from the oppression of blacks. I know that, although they might not have been part of the screaming mob, they probably would have been supportive of efforts to make sure that African-Americans “knew their place.” People such as my great-aunt on my father’s side, or my grandmother on my mother’s, who would complain about “the coloreds” would not have been fazed at all by the separate water fountains — they would have seen them as simply the order of things.

Understanding this makes me uncomfortable in the extreme. I have learned to sit with that discomfort, to not look away, to recognize my responsibility as someone who even now has benefitted from Jim Crow, without taking on the guilt my family once should have felt.

Knowing that both of my parents rejected this pernicious part of their heritage helps, but does not completely erase how I feel. (The broadening of their horizons began not with African-Americans, but with Jews — my father served, and was friends with, several Jewish Marines while in the Pacific during World War II. When he returned, and the pastor in the Southern Baptist Church he attended began a sermon fulminating against the horrible Jews, he walked out, never to return. He became a Roman Catholic (at the risk of some professional opportunities; Mississippi in the 50s and 60s was not a particularly good place for Catholics), as did my mother. They taught me that all people were equal, both under law and in the sight of God.)

I am thankful the story of these women has been told. Every time we learn of the brave women and men who fought against a horridly unjust system, we can face the past, and maybe work to make amends.

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