Monday, January 30, 2017

Distress Signal

The  United States Flag Code, Title 4, Ch.1

8(a) The flag should never be displayed with the union down except as a symbol of dire distress in instances of extreme danger to life or property.

To my elected representatives:

What is happening to our beloved country? Our President has as his closest adviser Steve Bannon, an anti-Semitic, xenophobic icon for white supremacists, a man who suggests that the media keep quiet. Our President has a special Minister of Propaganda, excuse me, Special Counselor who deals in ‘alternative facts.’ (N.B. There are facts and there are lies. There is no such thing as an alternative fact.)

As a member of the loyal opposition, I feel the need to express that opposition. But where to begin? The President is signing those executive orders as if it’s Sweeps Week and he wants to make sure he’s got the most viewers. I can hardly keep up with listing the actions and omissions that concern me and that I wish would also concern my elected representatives.

Let me start with the President’s refusal to release his taxes and his multiple conflicts of interest which, so far, seem to be ignored as well as the similar conflicts that pertain to his various appointees. 

And the appointees themselves, in almost every case, are foxes set to guard a chicken house.

Ms. DeVos, an advocate for charter schools with no experience with public schools seems poised to dismantle our educational system. 

Mr. Tillerson’s business ties to Russia make him a dubious choice for dealing with this old adversary.

 Rick Perry and Ben Carson appear to be singularly unprepared for the positions they are expected to fill.

Mr. Mnuchin’s use of offshore tax havens, as well as his failure to disclose almost $ 100 million in assets, not to mention his previous status as a Goldman Sachs executive make him a particularly cynical choice for Secretary of the Treasury.

Another cynical choice is Mr. Puzder for Secretary of Labor. As a fast food executive, Puzder has opposed the overtime rule, opposed a minimum wage, and underpaid his own workers. American workers won’t have him on their side – but their bosses will.

Putting Mr. Pruitt, a close ally of the fossil fuel industry and longtime foe of the EPA, in charge of the EPA, our national safeguard against fouled water and air, is especially horrifying. Shall we look forward to air quality like China’s cities, rivers so polluted they burn, water that is undrinkable?

Everyday seems to bring a new horror. A push to defund Planned Parenthood --- despite the fact that government money does not pay for any of the abortions performed there (a minuscule, but necessary part of their mission) and despite the demonstrably excellent work PP does in providing birth control, STD testing, cancer screening, and other services. 

A gag rule on discussing abortion in overseas clinics that provide vital care to poor women. (The sight of that order being signed as a roomful of rich old white men nod approvingly makes me want to gag.)

Then there’s that wall. The preposterous cost and dubious efficiency of such a barrier make it a foolish enterprise. That money would be better spent on our roads and bridges, schools and hospitals.

Which brings me to the ACA. Yes, it’s flawed. But to repeal it without a replacement leaves far too many Americans without insurance. Stop calling it Obamacare and maybe you won’t hate it so much. Replace it with Medicare for all and name it after yourselves.

The list is longer than I have time to write  – longer than you’d be likely to read, if indeed you’ve read this far. But I must add the most recent affront to what America stands for – the ban on Muslim refugees from certain war torn countries. 

A ban which does not, by the way, include countries where the President does business, nor the country where the 9-11 terrorists originated. A ban which has left students and refugees stranded in airports, a ban which hit one Iraqi who had worked for American interests for years, who had his visa in hand, his business and belongings sold, and only to find he was being denied entry into the country for which he had risked everything.

Was it a coincidence that this ban was signed on Holocaust Remembrance Day? Was this Steve Bannon’s middle finger to the world?

But I digress. 

I implore my representatives to halt this juggernaut of bad judgement that is destroying our country and turning a would-be shining city on a hill into a swamp of nepotism, cronyism, and egotism.

For the love of all that truly makes America great, consider what you’re doing.

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Virtue Rewarded with a German Apple Pancake

Thursday was devoted to installing a new refrigerator to replace the old one that kept frosting up. John did the hard part -- muscling the unwieldy things in and out of our pantry (a tight fit) and hooking up the ice maker and switching the door to open on the right. I was in charge of transferring all the food from the old one to the new one -- in the meantime making executive decisions about some of the mysterious half full jars that lurked in the remote corners and wondering how we'd ended up with so many different containers of pickle relish.

Then the book shelf that sits atop the refrigerator had to be dealt with -- the cookbooks were dusty and some were in need of repair. And some were in need of getting rid of. But not The Vegetarian Epicure! I got this book in 1972 and for quite a while it was one of my go-to cookbooks, even though we weren't vegetarians. The stains on the page below show that this was a popular recipe. 

So yesterday, after getting the cook books sorted (of course it didn't stop with just the one shelf,) I paid homage to the past by making the German Apple Pancake. It's relatively quick and easy -- saute some apple slices in butter with a little sugar. (I added a little rum and some frozen cranberries leftover from Thanksgiving because the apples weren't very tart.) 

Now mix up a pancake batter -- eggs, milk, flour, salt -- and pour into a preheated iron skillet in which butter is sizzling. Bake at 450 for 15 minutes, reduce heat to 350 for  another ten minutes. The pancakes should be browned and puffy. Now pour in the apples, fold over the pancake, drizzle with a little browned butter, dust with powdered sugar, and devour. 

We almost never eat dessert unless there's company so this was a special treat. Now I'm going to have to delve into some of those other cookbooks -- I think  Cross Creek Cookery has a fine Black Bottom Pie I haven't made in years . . .

Thursday, January 26, 2017

The Loyal Opposition

The new president is wreaking havoc at a rate that is hard to keep up with. Go-ahead to the Keystone XL and Dakota Access Pipeline; away with funding for the National Endowment for the Arts and NPR; gag rules for the USDA, the EPA, and the Park Service . . .  my e mail is full of petitions asking me to stand against these reckless actions-- I can hardly sign one before two more pop up.

And there're calls to make to my Congresspeople and postcards to write . . . it's easy to begin to feel overwhelmed, especially when the Presidential Pen of Doom is moving at warp speed to deregulate everything (except women's healthcare and free speech -- those are in the cross hairs.) Clean air, clean water, public lands -- who needs these? -- as long as the big donors get their way. 

So much is in danger -- Planned Parenthood, healthcare, public education, truth itself -- how does one deal with a regime that runs on 'alternative facts'?

It's dispiriting. But those of us who disagree with and deplore this new administration have to keep making our opposition known.  

 We must fight for what we believe -- face time with your Congresspeople is the best, phone calls in which you actually speak to a person are also effective. Know what you want to say, be polite, and be persistent. Make those calls, write those postcards, support the organizations and journalists who speak truth to power, and, above all, pay attention.

Remember that DT lost the popular vote by almost three million. We need  constantly to remind him and Congress that we're still here. The loyal opposition

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

The Wee Free Men

"A witch pays attention to everything that's going on.

"A witch uses her head. A witch is sure of herself. A witch always has a piece of string.
. . . 

"A witch delights in small details. A witch sees through things and around things. A witch sees things from the other side. A witch knows where she is, who she is, and when she is."

If ever we needed witches, it seems to me it's now.

Some time ago, when I admitted that I'd never gotten into Pratchett's Discworld series, Mario and/or Barbara (Facebook friends and fellow book pushers) recommended that I read The Wee Free Men.  And now I have and I loved it.

Tiffany Aching, a pre-teen witch who has hust discovered shes a witch, a toad who may have been a lawyer, and a horde of red-headed, blue-tattooed, kilted wee men -- six inches high, take on evil in a funny/ beautiful/ archetypal tale that had a special resonance for me at this troubling time of regime change. 

"This . . . creature was trying to take her world.

. . . "Then turn selfishness into a weapon. Make all things yours! Make other lives and dreams and hopes yours! Protect them! Save them! Bring them into the sheepfold! Walk the gale for them! Keep away the wolf! My dreams! My brother! My family! My land! My world! How dare you try to take these things, because they are mine!

"I have a duty!"

Maybe it's just my inner English major, she who likes to find meaning in literature, but I think that last speech could have been spoken by many of the women who marched on Saturday. 

On to book two in the Tiffany Aching series -- I hope it will be as delightful as the first.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

To You Who Walked in Beauty

This Navajo blessing is for all my friends and sisters around the country and around the world who marched yesterday in support of equality and in opposition to the new regime in Washington. What a day it was! Cities and towns and villages  showed up --DC, NYC, Boston, Asheville, Black Mountain, Charlotte, Raleigh, Burnville, LA, Auckland,NZ, Vienna, Austria, Shipley, UK . . . to name a few. I wish I could have been there in body but my heart was with you all.

Today I will walk out, today everything unnecessary will leave me,
I will be as I was before, I will have a cool breeze over my body.
I will have a light body, I will be happy forever,  nothing will hinder me. 
I walk with beauty before me. I walk with beauty behind me.
I walk with beauty below me. I walk with beauty above me
I walk with beauty around me. My words will be beautiful.

In beauty all day long may I walk. 
Through the returning seasons, may I walk. 
On the trail marked with pollen may I walk.  
With dew about my feet, may I walk. 

With beauty before me may I walk. 
With beauty behind me may I walk. 
With beauty below me may I walk.
With beauty above me may I walk.
With beauty all around me may I walk.

In old age wandering on a trail of beauty, lively may I walk. 
In old age wandering on a trail of beauty, living again, may I walk. 
My words will be beautiful.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Marching On . . .

Today it's the turn of those who fought against DT and all that he represents. Thousands of people, not just women, marching -- in DC and in many other cities as well -- marching to proclaim their support for equality.

I think that many are marching too in peaceful protest of the new President's stated agenda, particularly as evidenced in his picks for Cabinet posts -- almost without exception, each nominee is set to wreak havoc in the position -- foxes set to guard chicken houses, destroyers aimed at education, environment, health, housing . . .

Don't tell me to give him a chance (it's not as if I had a choice, is it? ) The sexist, racist, vulgar words of his mouth (not to mention the tweets from his tiny fingers,) the billionaires who supported him and are now reaping their payback with high office, the people he chooses to surround himself with, his propensity to lie, his failure to release his taxes, his love affair with Putin, the egregious conflict of interest with all his businesses, as well as his contemptible treatment of President Obama over the years -- all these things have shown us who this man is. 

If some deity chooses to rare back and pass a miracle, turning DT into a wise and compassionate leader for our country, I'll be thrilled.  But I'm not holding my breath.

I wish I were marching. But, not wanting to be the elderly woman who collapsed, I'm marching virtually -- several of my friends are carrying my name in their pockets or on a sign.

The march is just a beginning. All of us who are fearful of what this administration plans to do must stay aware, stay informed, stay on our senators and representatives' phones, expressing our views, agitating against what we believe to be wrong. We must support the journalists out there who still believe in factual reporting and the organizations that represent our beliefs. And we need somehow to reach all those non-voters out there -- to bring them into the process.

It's going to be a long four years. 

(The mission, vision and guiding principles of the Women's March on Washington are stated HERE.)

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Out Comes the Red Pen Again

I've got a little list . . .

Cliche (and I know there should be an accent mark on the e but I can't figure out how to do that) is a noun, not an adjective.  "Oh, that is so cliche" should be "Oh. that is so cliched." The phrase 'fat as a pig' is a cliche. It is also cliched.

Then there's blog.  On a list I follow, the same person routinely posts the message "New blog up." At first I was amazed that this person had so many different blogs. Then I realized she meant a new post on her blog. Now I just grind my teeth.

Blog, used as a noun, means a regularly updated website or web page.  Those regular updates are more properly called posts.

And what about strait jacket and strait-laced? More and more I see people using straight when it should be strait. Strait's original meaning was a place of limited capacity -- narrow or cramped. Perfect for a strait-jacket or for the old fashioned laced corset.

But my current favorite is 'the throws of passion.'  As in, "Brad and Ashley were discovered in the throws of passion."

Well. Unless B and A are professional wrestlers having a romantic encounter, the correct word is throes meaning 'intense or violent pain and struggle.'

That's enough curmudgeonry for now. (Get off my lawn, you whippersnapper!)

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

A History and a Story

Schama's ambitious tracing of Judaism from its beginnings (about 1000 BCE ) to 1492 is a marvel -- full of incident and specifics that make the past lively. Take for example the wonderful description of the trousseau of a mid-12th century Jewish bride in Egypt -"six white robes, three cloud blue, three blue and gold, one pomegranate red, three pearl-colored, two ash grey, two deep green, and two saffron." And all this for a bride "of average means."

 The book is dense with archaeological finds, deciphered shards and papyri, as well as historical documents from medieval England, Germany, Portugal, North Africa, - anywhere that the Jews of the Diaspora found themselves and made communities. The thread that binds the history together is the devotion to words -- spoken or written. The Talmud and the Commentaries and any amount of poetry and the words of the people themselves -- all these give testimony to the rich heritage of Judaism.

And what a history it is! The atrocities and pogroms over the centuries are given full attention -- a disgraceful story and I'll never think of St. John Chrysostom in a kindly way again -- 'golden-tongued' indeed!

But there's so much more! The philosophical and cultural push and pull  between Judaism, Christianity, and Islam over the years, as well as Jews as hired mercenaries, Jews as traders on the Silk Road, Jews in Moorish Spain honored as physicians, Jews in Medieval England protected by the monarch -- in exchange for the protection money that funded the Crusades. So much I didn't know or only knew from novels. 

I especially enjoyed reading about the "vast  Jewish kingdom lying on the high grasslands of western Asia, watered by the lower Volga, bordered by the Caspian Sea to the east, the Black ... Sea to the west, and the Caucasus Mountains to the north. All of Crimea and apparently the city of Kiev lay in its power." This would have been around 978.

I chortled when I read this because I'd first heard of the Land of The Khazars when I read Chabon's Gentlemen of the Road
in which two Jewish mercenaries/swashbucklers come to the aid of the heir to the Khazar kingdom -- I thought it was all make-believe till I read Chabon's comment that he was inspired, on learning of Khazria, by the thought of 'Jews with swords.' 

Now I have to reread both these books. The first, because it is so very full of information that I more or less skimmed through, alighting at the tastiest bits. And the second, because what I learned from the first will, no doubt, enhance my enjoyment. 

NY Times review of Gentlemen  HERE

Monday, January 16, 2017

Martin Luther King Day -- Words for a Dark Time

"The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy."

"If you can't fly then run, if you can't run then walk, if you can't walk then crawl, but whatever you do you have to keep moving forward."

"Change does not roll in on the wheels of inevitability, but comes through continuous struggle."