Identities

You may notice a slight change in my profile. My good friend from college, Jane*, has been insisting for a while now that I remove the word “former” in front of “lawyer.”

“You think like a lawyer,” she said. “You write like a lawyer. You think and write differently than you did before you went to law school. Face it, you’re going to be a lawyer until the day you die.”

She may be right. In any case, I promised her I would I would change my profile. It’s nice to have people appreciate my writing.

Now If I could only remember to proofread like a lawyer.

*Jane is a litigator. I think she’s wonderful, but I would never want to face her in a courtroom.

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This is war… sort of.

In the first World War people bought war bonds and planted gardens. (Some of those bond drives — especially in Philadelphia — themselves proved fatal to civilians who got the H1N1 flu there.)

In World War II, people went without sugar and stockings and a great many other things and planted gardens.

There have been four wars since then (five if you count Afghanistan and Iraq as separate wars). We’ve have never been asked to sacrifice in any of them — except for the troops and their families, of course.

We’re in a war now, or at least Donald Trump thinks of himself as “war president.” We might as well be in a war; people are hurt, people are dying, people are facing the loss of jobs and businesses. Even people who are fortunate to have a safe income during this emergency are stranded at home, away from friends and family. Our hospitals — especially in New York — are being slammed.

Not all of us are acting like we’re in a war, of course. Of course, there are people hoarding. There is the medical equivalent of war-profiteering. Behind the scenes, the guy running the response thinks that because he has spent a few weeks studying the issue he is more of an expert than doctors and epidemiologists.

One big difference between WW II and now? We have no leadership. With a crisis of this magnitude…

We need Franklin Roosevelt.

We got Donald Trump.

We need Winston Churchill.

We got Donald Trump.

We need John F. Kennedy.

We got Donald Trump.

We could even use Ronald Reagan, and definitely Barack Obama.

We got Donald Trump.

We have a President who, rather than work with the states to mitigate the worst of this crisis and save countless lives, indulges his vanity. He reduces supplies to states such as New York and Michigan, whose governors are critical of him, while giving Florida, a state he favors because the governor is his lackey, all they ask for and more.

We have a President who “leads from behind,” telling states that the federal government is “back-up.”

We have a President who played down or dismissed the pandemic as a hoax even as the first cases were cropping in the US. Whose Administration sent PPEs and masks to China even as it was clear to scientists that we were facing a disaster in the making here at home.

We could use FDR, telling us during the Great Depression that all we have to fear is fear itself. We could use Winston Churchill, urging us to be strong in our fight against the enemy. We could use JFK, telling us to find an answer “not because it is easy, but because it is hard.”

Instead, we have Donald Trump.

May God have mercy on us all.

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Communication.

This is one of my favorite paintings, the portrait of George Harley Drummond by Sir Henry Raeburn.

It’s not a significant painting. I’m sure if you drew up a list of the top hundred paintings in the world, it wouldn’t be on there. Even on a list of the top thousand. Maybe in the top ten thousand.

The first time I saw it I was wandering the British section of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. I looked at the museum note next to the painting:

“The foreshortened view of the grazing bay horse is the most complex part of the composition, though not the most important. It is curious, therefore, that the animal’s hindquarters should be so prominently displayed.”

I started giggling, because really, the fact that the horse’s hindquarters are prominent is not curious at all. (I once showed the painting to a fourteen-year-old and asked him what he thought the painter was trying to convey and he answered without hesitation that “the guy was a horse’s ass.”)

I sat on a nearby bench giggling. A very serious couple came by, so I stopped giggling, so as not to disturb them. I still had a huge silly grin on my face. They looked briefly at the picture, and then (although I was not giggling anymore) glared at me. If looks could kill, I would be pushing up daisies. I was breaking the unwritten rule of art museums: always be serious. I know making noise is disruptive to other people, but just sitting there, smiling? They found my mere presence problematic.

I drew two conclusions from this incident:

Lesson One: Art is all about communication.

Art should make you feel, or think, or maybe just observe. It’s not something to be marked off of some list (saw the Mona Lisa, check! Saw the Venus de Milo, check! Saw the Sistine Chapel ceiling, check!). The artist is speaking to you.

Not all art speaks to me, of course. But artists that don’t speak to me (Mark Rothko, say) may speak to you. And some works by artists I normally don’t like draw forth unexpected emotions in me. I am not a Picasso fan, but Guernica made me cry. Salvador Dali’s work, for the most part, I look on with a shrug, but some of his religious paintings make me feel something like reverence. I emphatically dislike Jeff Koontz’s work, except Puppy, which makes me inordinately happy and which is the screen saver on my phone.

I was in the Museum of Modern Art once, during an exhibition of Gerhard Richter’s work. I rounded a corner and came across a series of paintings of black and white newspaper pictures of young women. I read the title, Student Nurses, and didn’t need to read the further description. They were paintings of the newspaper pictures of the young women murdered by Richard Speck in Chicago in 1968. In addition to making me feel sad, it caused me to think about the commodification of tragedy. And about how the victims of mass murder aren’t remembered while the killers become household names. And how these young women had gained a fleeting fame that they would never have had if they had lived.

An older couple came by, looked at the description, shrugged and moved on. I was appalled — how could they not find that moving? — but in retrospect, the paintings didn’t speak to them. That’s okay.

And it’s okay for me to laugh at the portrait of George Harley Drummond, too.

Oh, that second lesson? It was this:

Two large apple martinis at the bar in the Met is probably one large apple martini too much.

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Good things.

The sky is blue — the color of the statice in Fourth of July flower arrangements.

It’s 65F outside, the perfect temperature.

I have homemade empanadas for lunch.

I have Fevertree Ginger Beer in the garage.

I have a functioning car.

I have mini-carnations of a riot of color before me on my table.

I have a cat curled up on the sofa that likes to watch dog shows with me.

I have The Story of Film and Ken Burns’ Country Music and Casablanca and Citizen Kane and Woodstock (the director’s cut) all at my disposal.

I have Trivia on Monday nights.

And so on.

Sometimes I think the only way to survive all of this is to occasionally look around. Yes, we feel like our country is on a precipice. Yes, it hasn’t rained enough this winter in California. Yes, I’m not working, for reasons mostly beyond my control, and I am worried about the effect that has on both my finances and my psyche.

But there is art. There is music. There is friendship.

There is love.

We’re going to get through all of this; we have to believe that. And in the meantime, we have to occasionally be aware of the good.

What’s good in your life?

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John Scalzi has ideas about how people treat books, because, well of course he does.

Looking at his (actually Anne Fadiman’s) grid, I have been all of them from Lawful Good (uses leather or other proper bookmarks) to Chaotic Evil (rips out pages as they uses them). One on occasion, I destroyed a copy of Absolom, Absolom (which I hated — and I do NOT want to hear from all of you who think it’s a great novel) by ripping each page into one-inch strips still attached to the spine, all the while repeating “I don’t hate the South….I don’t hate the South…” (the last line of the book). I was riding on the bus from MIT to Wellesley, and in my defense, I had undiagnosed bronchitis and was running a 102F fever.

Mostly, though, I agree with the commenter on Scalzi’s post that books are tools. Yes, like all tools they should be cared for, but they should not be treated as objects of reverence.

Once, in a Scripture class, the leader ripped a page out of a Bible, accomponied by gasps from several of the students. “It’s the words that matter; not the paper and print. Anything else is idolatry..”

Aside from specific items with historical significance (Gutenberg Bibles, original copies of the Federalist Papers) or personal import (family bibles with births, deaths, and marriages; my signed copy of Alton Brown’s first book, which has personal history tied up in it), I pretty much agree with that statement.

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No words. NO WORDS.

Sometimes you can see it. You can see the car running the red-light, the truck hydroplaning as its semi-trailer jackknifes its way through all the lanes of the freeway, the train as it starts to derail. You can see; nevertheless you feel powerless and horrified. Knowing doesn’t make it better; does not ease the grief and pain.

Our democracy has slid along a terrible, terrible road. I look at the senators who voted to acquit Donald Trump and I want to scream “How?!? Why?!?” Especially those who admitted he was guilty but opined that “the voters should decide.”

That’s not the voters’ job; it was YOURS. You took an oath to protect the Constitution from enemies foreign and domestic. The Constitution that said that a president should be removed for “high crimes and misdemeanors.” You listened and accepted an argument that the President can do ANYTHING while in office. God only know what he will do next. He’s talking about finding a way to charge John Bolton — the man who stood up to him — with a crime. How long before he goes after Nancy Pelosi? Or Adam Schiff, who so ably prosecuted the case against him?

And God bless Mitt Romney. He took his oath seriously. There are some on the left that are downplaying Romney’s action, saying he did nothing other than what he should have done. They’re wrong; unlike Democrats who voted to convict, Romney can expect payback from his party, and I would be very surprised if he were not receiving serious death threats. For the Republicans who viewed this as a partisan exercise, Romney stabbed them in the back.

I know that I — we — will rise from this determined to take our country back. We will fight — we may not win — but by God we’re not going down quietly.

But right now, I grieve.

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Revisiting caucuses, and accessability.

In 2016, I wrote about caucuses, and how they are an undemocratic anomaly. I believe every word I wrote then, and it seems redundant to restate the case.

One issue I did not address in that post — mainly because I hadn’t thought of it — is disability access. Requiring people to participate in person means that individuals who are disabled have to find transport, and have to spend hours participating in a long drawn out process. I have friends for whom this would be difficult, to say the least. Speaking from my own experience, if I were in a fibromyalgia flare, when I am in great pain, participating in a caucus would be impossible.

We, as the Democratic Party, need to do better. All of us need to be able to participate. Primaries allow for such participation.

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