Sometimes, I just need to cry. For those times when reading the front page of the Washington Post won’t cut it (news inspires more fear than grief), I have The Playlist. As of Monday, I have a new addition to the playlist, to go along with such songs as Billy Joel’s “And So It Goes” and Kelly Clarkson’s cover of “It’s Quiet Uptown.”*

Lauren Duski, a Voice contestant, covered Billy Dean’s “Somewhere In My Broken Heart.” This ties with Jordan Smith’s “Somebody to Love” and Michelle Chamuel’s “I Knew You Were Trouble”**  as being my favorite Voice performance. What sets Duski’s  apart is the restraint she shows. Both Smith and Chamuel were singing songs that required them to go for broke — that screamed out to be sung over-the-top, and the performers (especially Smith) gleefully complied. On the other hand, Duski’s performance (especially her studio version), is for the most part quiet, almost delicate.

The one attribute of many Voice contestants that annoys the hell to of me is their tendency to be showy (look how long I can hold this note! look at all the runs I can do!) when the song doesn’t require it. The coaches sometimes encourage this behavior, or at least don’t reign it in. Duski seems to be bucking this trend.

I’m looking forward to see what she sings next week.

*Or the second half of Hamilton. That’s a given.
**Which is on my “Fuck You” playlist.

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May 4th has come to be referenced in popular culture as Star Wars Day. (“May the Fourth be with you.”) The day holds a deeper, darker, and more important significance, though.

On May 4th, 1970, twenty-nine members of the Ohio National Guard shot sixty-seven rounds in thirteen seconds into a crowd of unarmed protesters and bystanders, killing four and wounding nine.

Yes, there had been unrest. There was vandalism. There were reasons the Ohio National Guard was called out. There had been arson the night before, although it was determined that the arsonists were not part of the protest. (Much like some protests, bad actors will use legitimate expression of the right to assemble as a cover for property destruction and violence. See: Berkeley, Milo Yiannopolous.) Yet, still, when it came to protesters, why was it okay to shoot to kill?

The students who were wounded and killed were unarmed. The closest of those wounded was 71 feet from the Guardsmen; and the closest of those killed was 225 feet away. They didn’t pose a threat to the Guardsmen. In a sick irony, one of the students who was killed was a member of the campus ROTC. He and another student were not involved in the protests — they were simply walking to their next class.

The students who died were nineteen and twenty years old.

The tragedy struck a chord in a divided America. It helped solidify the opposition to the war in Vietnam. (The protests had been about the expansion of the war into Cambodia.) Still, fifty eight per cent of Americans thought the students were to blame.

Kent State still matters because there are those who think shooting unarmed protesters is acceptable. A county GOP secretary in Michigan stated on his Facebook, in response to the Berkeley protests that prevented Yiannopolous  from speaking, “Violent protesters who shut down free speech? Time for another Kent State perhaps. One bullet stops a lot of thuggery.” and “I’m thinking that another Kent State might be the only solution…They do it because they know there are no consequences yet.”

When he stepped down after his comments became public, he uttered no real apology: “Whenever you’re involved in an organization, you want to be an asset,” he said. “At the moment I’ve become a distraction, and that’s not helping anybody. I stepped aside so hopefully the people that are so angry will feel that they’ve accomplished what they set out to do, and maybe we can all get on with our lives.” He also said that he had simply “horribly worded” his posts, that he was really speaking out against the violence but not really advocating the police shoot protesters.

His original words belie his later statements. There is no way that they can be read on their face as anything other than a call for law enforcement to violently clamp down on protest. He’s not alone, I’m sure.

There are those who see any protest as intrinsically violent, no matter how peaceful it seems. These are the people who state that peaceful protest over the deaths of unarmed black men pose a threat to police. Who pass laws to restrict the Constitutional right of the people to assemble, or to petition their government for redress of grievances.

There will be another Kent State (or Jackson State, or University of Mexico) tragedy at some point. It’s just a matter of time.

In the meantime, let us honor the memories of those cut down too young:

Jeffrey Glenn Miller
Allison B. Krause
William Knox Schroeder
Sandra Lee Scheuer

May their souls rest in peace.

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On Facebook, someone pasted a video of a bison stampede in Yellowstone, with the caption asking people to describe the video in one word. My word?


Last summer, the entire family (including the Not-So-Little Drummer Boy, visiting from New York) went to Yellowstone. The geothermal pools and geysers were magnificent, but so was the wildlife. The bison in particular seemed to be everywhere: meadows, roads, strolling through picnic areas…

At one point in the road to the Grand Prismatic Pool (oh, my God it was gorgeous — except for me, the blue pool* in front of it was so beautiful it almost made me cry) we saw a herd of buffalo and pulled over to photograph it.


Normally, I am the one urging caution. “No, guys, don’t go geocaching in that rural deserted agricultural field at midnight. I’ve seen those slasher flicks.” “Yes, I know it’s the Grapevine and you don’t have to use the gas at all — could you please slow down?”

But this time, I was out there shooting frame after frame (most of which were terrible — tremors make photography tricky). “Pat, you might want to get in the car.” “Pat, really…”

At this point, a huge male turned and headed across the road, looking straight at me. “Yeah, you might have a point,”I answered when he was about fifteen feet away, and hurriedly climbed back into the rental SUV. I guess the bison was satisfied with my retreat, because he turned and headed up the road until he hit the line of traffic coming the other direction, most of which had pulled over.

The Subaru at the head of the line hadn’t. The bison looked at the Subaru. The Subaru didn’t budge.  The bison apparently saw this as a challenge; he lowered his head and started pawing the ground.

At this point, the Subaru made a hasty retreat, pulling over as far as he could without falling over the shoulder. The bison, his authority recognized, headed on down the road, followed by several others, while the line of tourists in either direction got longer and longer.

All of this is why, now when I see pictures of bison, I think of Subarus.

*If you have U-Verse cable, you might see it: it occasionally pops up as one of their screensavers.

Posted in My life and times, Travel (real or imaginary) | Tagged | Leave a comment

The smell of hope.

I have been buying spices from Penzey’s for years. Originally, the Rocket Scientist would have layovers in Minneapolis when he had trips to D.C., and he always brought back spices Penzey’s and clothes from Lands’ End. Then a Penzey’s store opened in Menlo Park — I go there at least several times a year. I use Penzey’s cocoa whenever I can; other cocoas — even Ghiradelli, are second best. (Vahlrona’s better, but then Vahlrona is a special case.) When the Not-So-Little Drummer Boy left for New York, and when the Red-Headed Menace left for San Diego, we gave them spice sets from Penzey’s.  I had never particularly thought of them in political terms, at least until last year.

It started with an opinion piece in their quarterly newsletter. The newsletter, which came out in March, 2016 was a celebration of Pi Day*: recipes for pie, showcasing their apple pie spice blend, etc. The letter from the head of the company celebrated science, and spoke out about the needs for reliance on facts and critical thinking. The letter sent a shot across the bow of the ship of fools carrying climate-change deniers. You may have seen it: it was covered by various media, a lot of which ended up being linked to on Facebook. Whether or not you thought it was a good thing would be entirely dependent upon your political beliefs. Right-wingers called for boycotts; liberals called for people to buy Penzey’s in solidarity. Liberals with some familiarity with the company said “No! Buy them because they have such terrific products!”

Their political presence has continued. My favorite was earlier this year, when it was clear that the Russians had meddled in the election but the White House was doing whatever it could to derail the investigation, Penzey’s had an offer for a few days that if you purchased five dollars of their stuff, you would get a small jar of their Russian spice blend called, ahem, “Tsardust Memories.” (Only five dollars? I have been known to go in and buy fifteen dollars worth of crystallized ginger alone. Oh, my God, their crystallized ginger…. forget cooking with it (it is essential for the top of my key lime pie and for my star anise-pineapple cranberry sauce), eating it out of hand is delightful.) I needed cocoa so that worked for me. (There was such demand that they were out of the spice blend and had to give me a raincheck.)

After the January 21st Women’s March, Penzey’s offered to send anyone who participated a heart shaped pin with “kind” written across it. I got mine a few days ago, and it has taken up permanent residence on the front of my backpack. I am proud of having been part of that uprising of political will, and do not hesitate to show it.

When I opened the small box containing the pin, I was greeted with a rush of intoxicating odors. Most pronounced was the warm smell of sage, but I could detect other notes as well. Rosemary, maybe? Oregano?

I have been fighting despair lately. That smell was a reminder that others are in this battle as well. Encouragement comes from unlikely places in unforseen forms. That a little box could carry hope with it — more so even that the pin it contained.

People  say that smell carries memories. I certainly hope that is the case here.

*World’s geekiest holiday: celebrated on 3.14. I first learned about it when at some point my kids starting requesting — demanding — I make or get pies for them for middle school math class.

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Keeping despair at bay.

This is going to be one of those most cliched of blog posts: a post about how hard it is to blog right now.

My impassioned rant about Bernie Sanders notwithstanding, I struggle to write these days — not that that’s anything particularly new, ever since mid-2015 — and writing about politics (all I ever did, it seemed sometimes) I find extremely hard. I want to, it’s just…

I can’t summon the requisite emotional distance. The dispassionate consideration. The words.

I’m going to try to post more, and about politics, but looking at where we are at as a country breaks my heart. I have never felt such pain about anything political in my life — not even when Citizen’s United and Hobby Lobby came down.

These days, when I want to write about politics, I want to cry, not the least because my keyboard is one of my ways of taking a stand, and I feel that I need to keep speaking out here. I know that not may people read this, but if even a few do, and I make them think, or help them understand, or give them ammunition for their next Facebook fight, I will have done something.

It was easier earlier on, when Trump was first elected, and denial gave way to anger. Outrage was deeper then, more raw; now a sometimes overwhelming despair has set in. I know that we need to keep the resistance going, that continuing to fight is the only way we’ll win.

Because the other side wants us to fold. They want to weary us until our hearts are so broken — and our minds, and souls — that continuing to resist seems futile. Trump and his cronies in the Congress  are not sliding into their regressive agenda gradually; they are dumping all of it on us in one giant snowball of callous oppression and cruel indifference.

They know, either consciously or instinctively, that the loyal, patriotic*, opposition will find it difficult to impossible to cover everything. The budget suggestions they have floated over the past few weeks alone reflect dozens of horrible options — speaking out against each one seems daunting. Just objecting to the them as a whole seem inadequate, but how to decide what to fight for? Meals on Wheels? PBS? The National Park Service? The State Department? (THE STATE DEPARTMENT?? Really?)**

And they are aided and abetted by a section of the electorate that really does not have problem deporting Dreamers, even though those kids trusted America enough to register  with the government. It’s not as bad as the Philippines government using the names of drug users who registered in order to get help to compile lists of people to murder, but it’s horrible in its own right.

People who get offended at being called racists but who think that preventing Muslims from coming into the country is a good idea. Who resent being called misogynists but who really do not have a problem with a commander-in-chief  who does not even have the sense of shame to hide his view of women. Whatever you think of Bill Clinton, he was never caught on tape saying anything like the crap the Donald has said.

People who don’t see what the  fuss is all about that, until recently, a man with white supremacist ties sat on the National Security Council. Who are not concerned that the president’s son-in-law,  not nominated or confirmed by the Senate — in fact who could not be, given laws against nepotism that were passed following John F. Kennedy’s presidency — representing our country in informal talks with other countries, and doing work that he is not qualified for by either education or experience.

People who shrug at the thick billowing smoke surrounding Trump’s Russia connections, who screamed at the wisp of fog that was Clinton’s emails. Who, in fact, are so determined and obsessed about a defeated presidential candidate that they are willing to excuse anything short of murder on the part of the man who did win. (See misogyny, above.) Who resist the investigation into possible collusion of the Trump campaign with a foreign power (and not any foreign power, but one of our two greatest adversaries in the world), but who didn’t mind that there were eight Benghazi investigations, none of which showed deliberate wrongdoing on Clinton’s part.

I don’t know what to do about these people. If you confront them with facts, you are accused of spreading hate. They ignore the hate that the facts reflect. From all I’ve seen, in many cases, they spit on people who try to “reach out” and find common ground.† While I have not had arguments break out on my Facebook (probably because people know I won’t tolerate it), I have seen it elsewhere. (My son got into a … discussion … in his  Facebook which involved members of his family. It was polite, but just demonstrated the gulf that exists between people.)

I’ll suck it up and keep trying to write. If my friends can attend marches and write letters (I do, too) then I can write.

*I am reclaiming this word. I love my country enough to not want to see it destroyed. That makes me superbly patriotic.
**The State Departments cuts don’t concern me, they horrify me: I have a son who teaches English to kindergarteners in a village outside Seoul. I have nightmares about him being trapped there following an invasion from the North, or worse, killed. My deepest fear is not just that there will be a war, but that the decimated State department will be unable to help warn Americans to leave before it happens.
†I recognize this may entirely be due to the people on Facebook I hang with.

Posted in Blogging, Politics | Tagged | 1 Comment

Bernie Sanders: Self-Appointed Progressive Gatekeeper.

I really wish I could not write about Bernie Sanders. I would love for the self-aggrandizing not-a-Democrat to just crawl back up to Vermont. He’d do a lot less damage to the Democratic Party and, more broadly, the progressive movement, that way.

His vision of “progressivism” is solely centered around “economic justice” — “economic justice” mainly for men, it would seem. As he did during the campaign, Sanders seems to dismiss reproductive rights as social issues, even though access to birth control and safe, legal abortion helps lift women out of poverty and keep them out. How else to explain his original shrugging dismissal of a Georgia candidate as “not progressive enough” while he embraced a legislator who has supported legislation that would require women to view ultrasounds before they get abortions? [Sanders has since released a statement saying how vital Jon Ossoff is in Georgia. Forgive my cynicism, but he only did this after he was hit with a fireball of criticism.]

Maybe if we convince Bernie that reproductive rights benefit men as well as women (men in families where they are barely making ends meet need their wives to have access to healthcare and abortion, as well) he might be sure to only support pro-choice candidates?  Nah. It still affects primarily women.

It’s only a social issue. Progressives really care about economic issues.

Sanders seems to think he is the sole arbiter of what properly “progressive” means, while tossing half of the population of the country — the world — under the bus. I don’t give a damn how pro-choice you proclaim yourself on your website, if you support candidates who place unreasonable and burdensome conditions on a woman’s right to choose, you have no right to call yourself a progressive, let alone lecture others how they aren’t progressive enough.

Of course, Bernie is only a career politician from a tiny state with no large cities. He is never going to have the same intrinsic understanding of many people’s lives that, say, Maxine Waters or Cory Booker has.

Add to this that the people he is lecturing have been members of the Democratic Party for decades, while he only deigned to join when he could use the party to run for president. The fact that he was using (in the worst sense of the word) the Democratic Party notwithstanding, he spent a lot of time on the campaign trail sneering at us. Quite the opportunist, our Bernie.

Hell, even now he says he’s not a Democrat. Well, then, he should just leave the party the hell alone, not be feted by certain segments as the second coming of RFK. He says the Republicans did not win the election, the Democrats lost it. He ignores the effect of the director of the FBI trashing Hillary Clinton only days before the election, and the interference by the Russians in our electoral process (possibly colluding with the Trump campaign), or even — or most especially — the role some of his more rabid followers played by voting for Trump or that other Russian stooge, Jill Stein.*

He especially ignores the damage he did to the Democratic Party, first by turning the emphasis from issues into character (even though he said he wasn’t going to do that), and secondly — and worse — by keeping hope alive for his supporters even when there was no chance — other than an outlandish mathematical one — of his winning the nomination. The fact that he (and they) counted on locking up most of the superdelegates after railing about how unfair they were early on simply adds a level of bitter hypocrisy.** “Let the people decide!” he said at the beginning. “We can win this if most of the superdelegates support me!” he said at the end. The people did decide — and they decided “Hillary” (or at least “Not Bernie”).

There have been senators and representatives, not to mention other politicians and elected officials, who have been members of the Democratic Party for ages, progressives toiling in the shadows, who don’t attract the often uncritical (sometimes fawning) press that he does. They’re the heroes, not him.

*I don’t know whether to laugh or cry at the ridiculous Bernie supporters who claim either that 1) their vote for Trump or Stein didn’t make much difference or 2) Bernie would have won. Yes, it did, even in a blue state — how many of your friends did you talk to across the country about the election and on how many blogs did you rant in the comment section? No, he couldn’t have — if America had trouble electing a woman or a Democrat, they sure were not going to go for a Socialist with issues of personal morality in his past. The only reason the Republicans seemed to almost embrace him during the primary while attacking Clinton is that they wanted him to be the nominee, so they could stomp him like a grape come November. Of course, we wanted Trump for the same reason, but then again Bernie wasn’t colluding with the Russians. As far as Stein being a Russian stooge…. There is a picture of former National Intelligence Director Michael Flynn at a dinner with Vladimir Putin. Stein is seated at the same table.
**And, lest we forget, it was the sainted Bernie’s campaign that accessed Clinton campaign information without authorization. The DNC might have overreacted, but the Sanders campaign committed the original breach.

Posted in Feminism, Politics | Tagged | Leave a comment


Today I went to the March for Science Silicon Valley in San Jose. I had a great time.

I had also gone to the Women’s March in January. The vibe there was fierce, and angry. Today it was determined and a bit goofy. I felt part of the crowd in January, but today… I was with my tribe. I am not a scientist, but many of my friends are scientists or engineers, and I firmly believe that science is one way we can find our way out of the morass we find ourself in.*

The signs were cleverer at this march. There were more puns, more obscure references.  And, as one woman I talked to observed, all the words were spelled correctly. I saw at least three people carrying whiteboards, and in one case, changing messages mid-march. I have never seen a whiteboard at a march before.

So, herewith, some of the best signs….

The legal: “U.S. Constitution, Article I, Section 8: Promote science!” (Actually the paragraph in question is really about establishing copyright and trademark laws, but I still like the sign.)

The epidemiological:
“Got Plague? Me neither. Thank a scientist.”
“Do you remember polio*? I don’t. Thanks, Science.” (*The best part of this sign, held by high-schoolers, was the footnote — a protest sign with a footnote, I love it — which gave the extremely lengthy scientific name for the polio virus.)
“You haven’t died of dysentery. You’re welcome, sincerely, Science.”

The Feminist:
“A woman’s place is in the lab!”
“I am Florence Nightingale — Jane Goodall — Sally Ride”
“Nevertheless, She Persisted (said by every woman scientist ever)”

The appeal to non-scientists:  “You need science to Tweet and play golf!”

The political:
“Frack Scott Pruitt!”
“Hey,  Ocean, destroy Mara-A-Lago first!”

The exasperated: “I have to defend SCIENCE?????”

The literary: “Without science, it’s just fiction”

And, of course, the Scientific:
“Truth ÷ 0 = Toxic Idiocy”
“Keep your [Ti][N][Y] hands off our data.” (That would be Titanium, Nitrogen, and Yttrium.)

Herewith my favorites:
“Protest Sine” (with a drawing of a sine wave.)
“It’s impossible to find a good quantum mechanic.”
“Don’t turn my students’ favorite dystopian novels into coming of age stories.”

And, best of all

“Archimedes had principles; Trump, not so much.”

*It didn’t hurt that the end point was an event put on by Silicon Valley Comic Con. There were enough port-a-potties, and food truck. The weather (cool, not cold, and dry) and the lack of mud helped too.

Posted in Politics, Science | Tagged , | Leave a comment