Victoria Jelinek


XXI: Book Club

“My idea of good company is the company of clever, well-informed people who have a great deal of conversation.” Jane Austen

Geen-Tea-2I went to ‘Book Club’ this evening. Was loath to go after last night out at two bars with all the drinking, smoking and haphazard talk. Have been ‘twitchy’ and irritable all day as a result. My poor family. Self-recrimination ‘cause I’d had one drink more than my ration. Which was already really hard, given that we were out for hours. Self-recrimination ‘cause I’d been visibly irritated and uncomfortable with the drinking and smoking around me, and that’s not nice for those out to have a good time. Self-recrimination because I should know better than to put myself in the line of temptation. And yet. I didn’t want to get out of bed this morning. I’ve been near-to-tears all day. And, well, ‘Book Club’ is normally a large group of women in what is essentially a ‘book swap,’* drinking a lot of wine and chattering.

So I went late. And, I went only ‘cause it was a bonafide friend hosting it at her house and I wanted to support her. I brought a thermos of green tea and ginger to drink and in order to keep my hands busy and to keep me drinking SOMETHING while, ostensibly, everyone else drank copious amounts of wine. But it wasn’t like it usually is. For one thing, it was just our host, a dear friend of hers, another American who, while I may not agree with her politics, is an avid reader and I trust her judgment on books, as well as our host’s twelve-year-old daughter who is also a reader, and who makes short stop-action films. They were finishing dinner when I arrived, and the daughter had made a peach cobbler. They also weren’t drinking alcohol, just Perrier, and later, tea, so I didn’t feel tempted or preoccupied with others drinking. Best of all? The conversations were dynamic and interesting. We talked about films, and books we’d recently read, and television programs – both in French and English – and we talked about curricula – both French and American – and we talked about travel, and we talked about exercise ‘fads’ sweeping the globe. It was a good evening. Nothing was discussed in too much depth, as I would generally like to do, but, I am, arguably, too serious.  Ultimately, it was an entertaining evening.

What a happy surprise! There’s a moral here I’m sure. Perhaps it’s that I need to only hang out with people who enjoy talking about subjects I also enjoy talking about? Even if that means I am not as social as I generally like to be. There are several people in the valley whose company I find engaging. Perhaps it’s that I can’t be in bars? I suppose it’s like a junkie going to a shooting gallery. Certainly, I can’t be in them for too long. In my previous homes – Portland, New York, Los Angeles, London – I would have discussed the subjects we discussed this eve, such as literature, film, culture, education (and, ideally, some politics!) every time I met up with friends. However, perhaps in those cities it’s more obvious to find more people and situations in which to do so. I mean, my coterie of friends in each of the aforementioned places were filmmakers, writers, painters, musicians, artists, and conversational skill is highly valued as a source of creativity and collaboration. Moreover, these types of people are generally more expressive. Whereas where I live now, people are outdoorsmen. Mountain people. They like to climb, hike, ski, and maintain their fitness in the outdoors, preferably at altitude. That’s their passion and their focus. Not ‘wrong,’ just not me. While I appreciate the mountains, I am claustrophobic in them, preferring the sea always (“Homme libre, toujours tu chériras la mer”). As a result of both the environment and the community’s subsequent interests in general, I’m often self-conscious, frustrated, and isolated here.

More so now that I’m trying to substantially reduce my drinking, smoking, and drug-taking after 33 years of ‘caning’ it. Additionally, the social life I’ve primarily known here is centered on boozy lunches, afternoons, and dinners…at restaurants and bars…with those that flock to and spend a lot of time in them. However, for whatever reason, tonight I made the happy discovery that while the people and opportunities like this evening might be few-and-far between, there ARE, indeed, situations like tonight. I’ve experienced them here before. Evenings in which I will not spend the entire time ‘clock watching,’ leaning on, or ‘clucking’ for my ‘crutches,’ and can, instead, enjoy what I perceive to be good company. Is this a new direction? It could be. It should be. Is it evidence of a whole new me? Perhaps not. But, perhaps, it is a peek at what the future could be like here, for the remaining years I am here, and that’s a relief from the bleak perspective I’ve been viscerally feeling for the last couple of weeks.

*We don’t read the same book and then talk about it like a traditional “Book Club” does. It’s for Anglophone women to have a supply of reading material without having to buy books, which is a great idea in theory.

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XIX: Why the British Don’t Like Trump

Ignorance is loudSomeone asked “Why do some British people not like Donald Trump?”

Nate White, an articulate and witty writer from England, wrote this magnificent response:

“A few things spring to mind.

Trump lacks certain qualities which the British traditionally esteem.

For instance, he has no class, no charm, no coolness, no credibility, no compassion, no wit, no warmth, no wisdom, no subtlety, no sensitivity, no self-awareness, no humility, no honour and no grace – all qualities, funnily enough, with which his predecessor Mr. Obama was generously blessed.

So for us, the stark contrast does rather throw Trump’s limitations into embarrassingly sharp relief.

Plus, we like a laugh. And while Trump may be laughable, he has never once said anything wry, witty or even faintly amusing – not once, ever.

I don’t say that rhetorically, I mean it quite literally: not once, not ever. And that fact is particularly disturbing to the British sensibility – for us, to lack humour is almost inhuman.

But with Trump, it’s a fact. He doesn’t even seem to understand what a joke is – his idea of a joke is a crass comment, an illiterate insult, a casual act of cruelty.

Trump is a troll. And like all trolls, he is never funny and he never laughs; he only crows or jeers.

And scarily, he doesn’t just talk in crude, witless insults – he actually thinks in them. His mind is a simple bot-like algorithm of petty prejudices and knee-jerk nastiness.

There is never any under-layer of irony, complexity, nuance or depth. It’s all surface.

Some Americans might see this as refreshingly upfront.

Well, we don’t. We see it as having no inner world, no soul.

And in Britain we traditionally side with David, not Goliath. All our heroes are plucky underdogs: Robin Hood, Dick Whittington, Oliver Twist.

Trump is neither plucky, nor an underdog. He is the exact opposite of that.

He’s not even a spoiled rich-boy, or a greedy fat-cat.

He’s more a fat white slug. A Jabba the Hutt of privilege.

And worse, he is that most unforgivable of all things to the British: a bully.

That is, except when he is among bullies; then he suddenly transforms into a snivelling sidekick instead.

There are unspoken rules to this stuff – the Queensberry rules of basic decency – and he breaks them all. He punches downwards – which a gentleman should, would, could never do – and every blow he aims is below the belt. He particularly likes to kick the vulnerable or voiceless – and he kicks them when they are down.

So the fact that a significant minority – perhaps a third – of Americans look at what he does, listen to what he says, and then think ‘Yeah, he seems like my kind of guy’ is a matter of some confusion and no little distress to British people, given that:
* Americans are supposed to be nicer than us, and mostly are.
* You don’t need a particularly keen eye for detail to spot a few flaws in the man.

This last point is what especially confuses and dismays British people, and many other people too; his faults seem pretty bloody hard to miss.

After all, it’s impossible to read a single tweet, or hear him speak a sentence or two, without staring deep into the abyss. He turns being artless into an art form; he is a Picasso of pettiness; a Shakespeare of shit. His faults are fractal: even his flaws have flaws, and so on ad infinitum.

God knows there have always been stupid people in the world, and plenty of nasty people too. But rarely has stupidity been so nasty, or nastiness so stupid.

He makes Nixon look trustworthy and George W look smart.

In fact, if Frankenstein decided to make a monster assembled entirely from human flaws – he would make a Trump.

And a remorseful Doctor Frankenstein would clutch out big clumpfuls of hair and scream in anguish:

‘My God… what… have… I… created?

If being a twat was a TV show, Trump would be the boxed set.”



XVIII Logos, Pathos, Ethos

Snoopy thinking

I am a firm believer in the people. If given the truth, they can be depended upon to meet any national crisis. The great point is to bring them the real facts. Abraham Lincoln

An (English) friend from Geneva dropped by my house yesterday with her new (English) beau and he’s a raging Brexiter and Trumpster. I’ve actually never had one in my home.

I remained calm (throughout) when he brought up politics and declared “Trump is getting things done” and repeated slogans as point-of-fact. I asked what Trump has specifically done? He replied that Trump has “drained the swamp,” and is “doing something about illegals,” and,  justifying his support, declared “Trump hasn’t done anything worse than Obama or Hilary Clinton did…that Hilary Clinton was on her way to jail when she was running for office” (“Lock her up!”). I tried to ask questions based on fact to prompt specific responses about each of these subjects from him. For example, when he said, “Drain the swamp!” I asked him how he defines the “swamp,” ‘cause the Treasury Secretary, Steven Mnuchin, was involved with 28k home foreclosures in 2008, in which his company Goldman Sachs and he made a handsome profit; ‘cause the Education Secretary (Betsy Devos) is a billionaire with no experience educating but who is a large GOP donor; ‘cause Andrew Wheeler, the Head of the Environmental Protection Agency, is an ex-coal lobbyist. To which he replied, “You get your information from your sources, and I get mine from my sources.” I said, “This doesn’t have to do with media or social media sources…these are matters of public record.” To which he repeated, “You have your sources, and I have mine.”

I then asked him what else Trump is doing? He said he’s “doing something about illegals!” I asked, “You mean those camps in which a private company, the Corley facility, owned by the GEO Group, which is the nation’s largest private prison company, who are profiting from running detention centers under government contracts that cost the US taxpayer $44 million dollars a year, and who donate large amounts to the GOP party and Trump’s re election campaign? He said, “It’s nothing Obama and Hilary didn’t do.” (I’m not sure what HILARY Clinton has to do with any of this, really, and the argument that “they do it too!” is so infantile, but I digress). I said, “But there are international laws in places that protect those seeking refuge while due process of law is followed.” He said, again, “You have your information sources, I have mine.” I asked, “Is your source Fox News?” He said defensively, “What if it is?” I said, “Well, it’s a right-wing propaganda machine that was set up by Rupert Murdoch to meet his own agenda, which is to make colossal profits and maintain the status quo of white, male empowerment.” To which he sneered that I “probably” watch CNN and read “The Guardian” newspaper. I replied, “I don’t watch CNN, but I do read “The Guardian,” among other global newspapers, and “The Guardian” is sponsored by its audience rather than corporate advertisers and private investors.

At one point he said that the CIA and the FBI are run by “the Left” who are out to “get Trump,” and that climate change is a “theory.” To this I replied quietly, “It was a theory, but now it’s scientific fact.”

But I left it at that, and when they said, a short while, later, “Oh, we really should get going…” which is normally the cue for the host to say, “Oh! Have one more drink or something more to eat!” I stood up immediately and said, “Yes.” And quickly spirited them both to the door, shook their hands, and closed it behind them. I’m aghast that I had a person so uncritical and uninformed in my home. And I’m perplexed as to why my friend is dating this person. (She’s an educator!). But this morning I couldn’t sleep in the wee morning hours thinking about this man’s ‘arguments’ and how this blurring of what is fact and belief has become so commonplace. That people are increasingly becoming so unreflective and undiscerning in their general thinking. That we’re seeing a lack of debating tools in arguments. I would claim that in political ‘debate,’ we’re seeing a complete breakdown of sane discussion. My heart is heavy today. In my early morning mind, before the sun rose, I thought of all the things I would have liked to have said to this man in the form of questions and facts based on public record, but which I didn’t do out of respect for my friend. Also, perhaps, because I’m not sure that a person like this is motivated to listen to anything that confronts his constructs of reality. I sensed that this one wouldn’t listen to counter information because his manner and his words denoted a belligerence that borders on aggressive hostility to certain groups (women, the wealthy, intellectuals, the French, despite living in France). However, so that I can expunge it from my head, I must write up all the things I would have LIKED to have mentioned to this man yesterday evening.

I would start with some basics: What is the definition of ‘fact’? (A thing that is known or proved to be true). What is “true”? (Something that can be proved and seen repeatedly over time in the same way each time). What is the definition of ‘belief’? (An acceptance that something exists or is true, especially one without proof). Do you believe in the Law of Gravity? (When you throw a ball in the air, it will come down. Gravity keeps things on earth from spinning off into space). Is the earth round or flat? (It’s round and spins on an axis that rotates around the sun). How do you know these things? (Through exhaustive quantitative study). What is a ‘public record’? (Public records in the USA come from agencies such as The Department for Motor Vehicles, the Department of Labor and Statistics, the Census Bureau, the Internal Revenue Service, etc.). I am not referring to any media or social media sources when I address the boyfriend’s points, below.

“Drain the Swamp!” It’s a slogan. What is a “slogan?” A slogan is a short, striking, memorable phrase used in advertising. What is the purpose of advertising? To sell you something. If its purpose is to sell you something, should you be wary of its “truth”? Accordingly, using public record only, let us examine Trump’s declaration that he has “drained the swamp!” starting with Trump. What is the experience he has that prepares him for the office of USA president? Unlike Obama, he has no formal or professional training in law, activism, history, geography, and politics. He has changed his political affiliation three times (Democrat, Independent, Republican). Personally, he inherited $413 million dollars from his father. He built Trump Taj Mahal hotel and casino for $1.2 billion dollars, declared bankruptcy on it (and consequently did not pay the workers who built the 2010-room hotel and casino), and then sold it for $50 million dollars. Trump’s daughter, Ivanka, who is a nebulous advisor in the White House, is a clothing manufacturer (with no manufacturing done in the USA) and her husband, a de-facto advisor, is formerly a real estate developer who is millions of dollars in debt to Deutsche Bank. When he was inaugurated into the White House, Trump settled a court case brought against Trump University for fraud to the tune of $25 million dollars. Trump’s election campaign manager, Paul Manafort, the man responsible for Trump’s “win,” has recently been jailed for fraud. Trump’s personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, often described by Trump, himself, as his “fixer,” has also been jailed for fraud. Trump’s Treasury Secretary, Steve Mnuchin, has a net worth of $300 million dollars from investment banking. He left a job at Goldman Sachs to run the treasury department of the USA. Betsy Devos, the current Education Secretary, who has no experience educating and whose family has a net worth of $5.8 billion dollars (from Amway), has the experience of being a large donor to the Republican Party. Andrew Wheeler, the Head of the Environmental Protection Agency, is a former coal industry lobbyist (which is a person who takes part in an organized attempt to influence legislators. And “Legislators” are people who make the laws of the land).

I could go on-and-on about a conflict of interest and lack of ethics in this current administration, all based on public record rather than any news source, but I don’t have the inclination to do so here. I DID, however, mention a little of this to the boyfriend, and he said, “Everyone does it. Hilary Clinton was doing ‘pay-to-play’ for years and on her way to jail when she was running for office.” I asked him, “Then why isn’t she in jail now?” to which he replied that she has paid off the FBI and CIA to keep her out of prison and has “powerful backers.” (If she’s so powerful, why isn’t she in the White House? She did win the popular vote). Again, not sure why what she does matters, and this argument is akin to an child’s, but I did say to the boyfriend, “It doesn’t matter who else does it. The office of President or Prime Minister is the highest in the land and that person should be held to higher standards than the rest.”

The boyfriend then stated that once that “traitor” Mueller’s report is in “ashes,” then Trump will be “cleared” of the allegations mounted by “the Left.” I didn’t mention that Mueller is a Republican and a decorated war hero, unlike Trump who was a draft dodger (as was his father – all matter of public record). I asked the boyfriend why Trump hasn’t made his tax returns public in order to show that there is not a conflict of interests entering office, such as banking or Russian oligarch’s campaign donations as “the Left” asserts? The boyfriend said “Lots of presidents haven’t declared their taxes!” and “There’s no law!” I said, “Name one president who didn’t declare their taxes and/or personal income and expenditures.” Again, his response was that he has his “sources” and I have mine. Actually, there’s an obscure 1924 law about revealing one’s finances in the bid for US presidency, and the only president in US history NOT to declare their personal income and expenditures was Nixon. Once again, I refer one to public record.

Let us move on to another statement, “He’s doing something about illegals!” What, exactly, IS he doing? “Nothing Obama and Clinton didn’t do!” Yes, Obama deported a large amount of illegal immigrants. However, Obama respected the UN treaty on Human Rights Law, which is an agreement that member States are bound to respect. By becoming parties to international treaties, States assume obligations and duties under international law to respect, to protect, and to fulfill human rights (their safety, security, right to dignity). Under the Trump administration’s “zero-tolerance” policy, the Department of Justice began to criminally prosecute all suspected illegal border-crossers for illegal entry, even those who crossed for the first time. Families now undergo separations when parents or adult relatives are charged with unlawful entry. Obama did not do this and he did not oversee detention centers in which basic medical and sanitary services were not being met. Seven children have died in US custody in 2019, compared with NONE in the ten years prior. Again, a matter of public record. More than 11,000 children are now being held by the US govt. on any given day, up from an average of 1,000 in the previous ten years. This administration has also cancelled recreational activities for the ‘inmates,’ which violates US law for any prisoner or detainee. (I did mention a little of this to the boyfriend who said, again, that I have my sources, and he his, but added that Hilary Clinton was involved with “human trafficking.” I assume he was referring to the claim that she had been running a child trafficking business from the basement of a pizza parlor? I chose not to entertain this allegation by him).

Additionally, Trump’s own father and mother were immigrants who sought refuge – like these people currently at the border with Mexico – upon arrival to the USA, but were not housed in detention facilities. Melania, Trump’s current wife, worked illegally when she first arrived in the USA, and later, lied about her formal education on her application for a Green Card. I would also refer this boyfriend and any other ill-informed person, to research history books and historical public records about the origin of the slogan “America First” in the 1930’s, as well as the birth of the “Southern Strategy” in the 1950’s in order to more fully understand the context for this current administration’s directives.

Finally, this boyfriend stated that Fox News is “no worse a propaganda machine” than “The Guardian.” While I will concede that “The Guardian” does have a leftist bias, it is funded entirely by its audience, the people. Meanwhile, Fox News is founded by Rupert Murdoch and fed by advertising dollars of corporations and the likes of major GOP donors, such as Bob and Rebecca Mercer and the Koch Brothers. The boyfriend had no idea who these people are. (I did not inform the boyfriend that it was, in fact, President Clinton who made it possible for the birth of the right-wing media in the USA by eliminating the law that stated all public media outlets must state BOTH sides of an argument – a tragic lack of foresight). Meanwhile, it’s illogical that there is a “liberal media” pumping out propaganda to the “the Left.” Lamentably, corporations and excessively rich men who rely on advertisers and tax cuts own most media outlets in the USA. Which is why one must look at a variety of information sources in a discerning fashion – local newspapers where a story originates, a variety of global news outlets, radio, podcasts, public record, and one must also have some knowledge of history in order to form one’s political opinion. Simply ‘puppeting’ slogans such as “Drain the Swamp!” and “Lock her up!” and “Mexicans are rapists and drug dealers!” without anything specifics and facts to base one’s case on, is why we’re seeing the (cyclical) catastrophic rise of right-wing nationalism and distrust in public institutions (which begs the question – who might want the general public to distrust the public institutions designed to protect its citizens?).

I didn’t explain the Electoral College to the boyfriend when he said that Hilary supporters are just “bitter” about her loss. And, I won’t even broach the subject of this boyfriend’s claim that “climate change is a theory,” “a hoax,” because it’s so inane and I want another cup of coffee this morning. Coffee – something I’ll miss immeasurably when, and if, idiots like this man, and the fossil fuel and agricultural industries don’t finally realize that it’s their sorry selves on the line, too, with global warming. By the way, these aforementioned industrials do know climate change is real, but they pay millions of dollars each year to lobbyists in order to keep governments ‘in line’ with business-as-usual, which supports their personal profit-seeking, and people like the boyfriend believing climate change is a ‘hoax,’ in order to keep operating. And no, unlike what the boyfriend stated cynically at one point that “all” corporations and “rich people” evade taxes and avoid laws, and, furthermore, that “taxes aren’t important,” none of these statements are true. All rich people don’t avoid taxes. These actions are not normal, usual, and it is not consequently acceptable to evade taxes. Taxes ARE important for the functioning of a society, or we wouldn’t have public health, housing, education, roads, welfare, police and fire services, for example. But, once again, I refer one to the public record of a standard dictionary of language, and the definition of “collective” versus “individualistic,” and ask the question, who might benefit from limiting taxes paid to governments? From there, I refer one to a local library to read a bit about economic philosophy and the theory of “trickle down economics.” From there, incidents in history when this economic model has been used and how well that has worked out for a given land and its people.

However, as this piece focuses on American politics, I must say that I do NOT think that the Democratic Party is much better than the Republican Party, at least historically. In this, I can agree with the motivation behind many of those who chose to vote for Trump in order to disrupt the status quo of governance. The Democrats set the stage for the current USA order by becoming too Centrist. By not paying attention to their constituent’s values and desires that they fight for policies that are farther left than center. Arguably, however, this is due to the campaign ‘machine’ that requires large ‘war chests’ of money, and money generally comes from large corporations and more of the same type who are supporting and protecting the Trump administration. Therefore, Democratic politicians make deals and compromise values in order to do SOMETHING democratic…certainly, the Democrats have been an opposing force to all that Trump might have done, but, once again, they’re in-fighting for power in the run up to the nomination, and the DNC will likely support the most Centrist as the Democratic nominee, thereby showing that no lessons have been learned. But, this is not the subject of this essay. I say it in closing to acknowledge a rotten system to be sure, the specifics to support my argument will have to come in another diatribe I write in my head one pre-dawn morning.

(Gods I hope that getting this out of me this morning works as a catharsis and that my first thought tomorrow morning is NOT the end of the world as I see it – which is the decline of critical thinking).

 

 



XII: Fighting Despair

“An individual has not started living until he can rise above the narrow confines of his individualistic concerns to the broader concerns of all humanity.” Martin Luther King

Birch treesEven as I write this I know that I must continue to maintain hope for the sake of my young son and all that I know is excellent, beautiful, and good in this world. Intellectually I know there is so much. But emotionally it’s getting harder to believe this. I increasingly feel more impotent, discouraged, and disdainful with humanity and its actions. Not just what I read in various news outlets, but what I observe around me every time I leave the house. My sense of humor is failing me. I’ve noticed in recent months that I don’t laugh my big, open-mouthed laugh any more. This is stupid, too, ‘cause losing one’s sense of humor only makes matters worse. I’m not sure how to maintain strength, hope, and humor when all of the things that give me hope and joy (tolerance, kindness, intelligence, collectivism, excellence and the magnificent natural world) seem to be diminishing. I write this today in the hope that it will serve as a catharsis. In the hope that I’m not alone in my thinking.

So, here is the litany of global events that have happened in the last two years that, in my opinion, reflect societal values and are consequently undermining my belief that this world is fundamentally a righteous place:

Syria, with the aid of Russia, prompts a mass migration of immigrants to the EU, which in turn emboldens racist, xenophobic, & nationalistic ideology throughout Europe, threatening the basis and formation of the European Union.

England & Wales, as a result of a misinformation campaign (Facebook, Cambridge Analytica, Nigel Farage) withdraws from the European Union and takes Scotland and Ireland with it.

With the aid of the Electoral College, gerrymandering, voter suppression, and Russian interference, Donald Trump takes the USA White House.

Emmanuel Macron narrowly beats the right-wing Front National (since ‘rebranded’ and going stronger than ever in time for the European Elections in a couple of weeks, aided by the Yellow Vest movement).

Jair Bolsonaro is elected in Brazil and vows to ‘open up’ more of the Amazon to industrial interests.

A fascist right-wing party is elected to lead Italy. With Viktor Orban of Hungary, they call for leaders to be elected in the upcoming EU elections who will reduce immigration (wolf whistle for ideology that defies EU principles).

Germany has representatives in their parliament from the far right for the first time since the Third Reich.

Spain has representatives in their parliament from the far right for the first time since Franco.

Sweden narrowly maintains a Socialist government, as does the Netherlands, in relatively recent elections.

There are mass shootings in the USA almost weekly. There is encouragement to shoot immigrants by Trump. Immigrants looking for shelter stateside are separated from their families, caged, and “lost.” The meat and water that the populace eats and drinks are contaminated due to decreased FDA and EPA protections, as well as the loosening of controls on industrial practices. The American administration is attempting a coup in Venezuela, and alienating democratic countries that the USA has had global alliances with for a hundred years.

Public education around the world is under siege. Teachers work for noble reasons or they don’t know what else to do. Students and their parents increasingly value education as a means to get into a ‘good’ university in order to get a ‘good job,’ in order to earn a lot of money, rather than for learning in-and-of-itself. Arts and humanities are being cut throughout the world, even as they define civilizations.

The wealthy elude taxes that keep infrastructure present for everyone. Multi national corporations elude taxes. The poor resent taxes. Income inequality grows more disparate, and this in turn affects our collective gene pool (subsequent lifestyle habits, healthcare resources, educational opportunities, etc.).

And climate calamity is on the horizon.

What is the global response? It’s open season on wolves and bears – necessary creatures for healthy ecosystems. Trophy hunting laws and endangered animal protections are eased. The hyper rich want their wildlife pets to signify status. The Chinese still think rhino horns are medicinal. Poaching is rampant. Nature reserves are under attack. Japan has re-introduced commercial whaling. The Faroe Islands continue to have an annual ‘ceremonial’ whale slaughter. The Arctic melts but short-sighted people just want jobs on oilrigs and fishing tankers. Habitat destruction and deforestation are destroying animals and insects essential to life itself, as well as plants that make medicines that keep humans living longer than ever before.

Industrial and corporate interests dominate governments and cultures. Governments throughout the world continue to subsidize the fossil fuel industries, which in turn continue to spend millions of dollars each year to lobby against clean energy and to keep consumers addicted to their goods. Pollution is literally choking humanity, making our children sick, and killing our natural protections against this.

Today, despite the rest of Europe – France, Spain, Sweden, Denmark, Belgium, the Netherlands – fighting for 95% reduction of emissions by 2050, Italy, Hungary, Poland, and Germany rejected the motion. Reducing pollution and promoting sustainability is not in the interests of the powers that control many countries and their societies. And without governmental laws to MAKE people change their habits, there will be no real change.

And it’s not histrionic to say that if this doesn’t change, it means that we humans will then die after much suffering. We will face water scarcity, food shortage, illness, and war over resources…droughts, storms, fires, earthquakes will render populations homeless…animals, insects, and natural landscapes will be eliminated. But the planet will live on. Yes, we humans will take many of the current animal and natural species with us to our extinction, but eventually there will be new ones, and new forests, and new life. But it won’t include our children or us. Certainly not our children’s children.

What do we do? We continue to consume more than we need and to waste too much. We continue to have a lot of children. To eat a lot of meat that requires a great deal of land to harvest (not to mention what happens to the poor animals). To order things online that are shipped across the world because they’re ‘cheaper’. To buy disposable clothes, toys, plastic, goods of all kinds because we simply want them, they’re cheap, we don’t care what’s happening to the earth or to others, and because the measure of ‘success’ is material. We continue to drive huge, petrol/diesel guzzling cars. And fast, despite signs asking us to slow down ’cause speed effects emissions. We fly more than ever before in human history ‘cause we can. Finally, led by anger and fear stoked in mainstream media, we vote with our manufactured feelings rather than our reason. We vote for our own individual interests. Or we don’t vote at all.

This diatribe has, indeed, worked as a catharsis.

Even as I withdraw more these days and my humor is limited, I know that hope is not lost. The fight is not foregone. Feelings have not completely overridden reason. There are righteous folks fighting for all of us every day. Yes, Putin and his ilk are ruthlessly greedy for domination. Political leaders and would-be political leaders will exploit the anger and ignorance of the masses to their own end, creating backwards, unproductive societies for a generation or two. Most people will avoid their taxes unless they’re punished. Humans won’t want to reduce their creature comforts or to look directly into the face of their destructive habits. And humans without material goods will continue to want them. I don’t have any real power to affect the world on a macro level (if only – boy would I be good at being Queen of the world! Obviously modest).

What I CAN do is to focus my energies personally and politically:

  • Personal life appreciated and a moderate lifestyle maintained – mostly ‘tick,’ though this can always be improved upon.
  • A rewarding profession that helps the world in some way – mostly ‘tick.’
  • Living according to my values – exalting beauty, excellence, intelligence; modeling curiosity, kindness, and tolerance; cherishing socialism, liberalism, and conservation – not quite a tick because I’ve been wallowing in anger and resentment towards humanity in general for awhile – but I am working on it.
  • Voting for candidates who I believe will address at least a portion of the aforementioned injustices – tick.
  • Supporting causes and action that will fight for conservation of the natural world (as well as humanity in general) – tick.

 

 



X: Call Me Old Fashioned

An excerpt from a letter to a friend today:

Prawn & avocado cocktailThank you my dear. Always.

I remember a friend who is a public defender in my home state (another thankless, hard job) telling me that he felt that it often feels like you’re rolling a boulder up a hill over-and-over again in an effort to help humanity, or at least to stave off its inevitable decline. However, if you CAN roll the boulder up the hill, you have a moral obligation to do so.

Which reminds me, I watched Macron give a (long) speech in response to the Yellow Vest protests and at the conclusion of a two-month series of ‘national debates’ in which he had been traveling around France meeting people in small towns in order to hear their views and complaints. I felt like weeping: his grasp of the complicated conceptual elements that make societies function, to thrive, are astounding. And his knowledge of the tedious, practical details of governance are impressive (can you imagine Trump doing this?!). He had notes, but he would ‘go off’ on tangents, addressing each-and-every point (the growing sense that governments seem inaccessible to the general public, for example), and explaining WHY he would not fight for one thing or another (blank votes, for example). I felt like weeping because I thought that I’m so impressed and relieved that there ARE politicians out there like him that DO know something about governing (history, sociology, law, economics, geography, rhetoric, etc.), and are showing accountability by the mere fact that they’re acknowledging the grievances and worries of their citizens; that these leaders seem to be SO few-and-far between, making someone like Macron a surprise; but it should be the standard we hold ALL politicians to! And I also felt like weeping because I know that in general the French don’t like him (they think he’s arrogant and a friend of big money  because of his background) and will consequently vote him out in the next election…

I fear, too, for the upcoming European elections, where cynical far-right politicians are exploiting people’s ignorance, impotence and anger – in France, Hungary, Austria, and Italy, for example, where they are promoting anti-immigrant and euro skeptic views – and these political parties will likely gain power in the EU parliament.

Why can’t people learn from history? Or even the recent history of the USA and England and the deteriorating state they’re in culturally and practically?!

That said, Spain did NOT vote for the far-right party that was promoting guns in every household, thank goodness. Hope lives another day. (Even as the far-right party there now has access to parliamentary power – a terrifying global phenomena akin to global politics in the 1930’s).

Am going to watch some good TV programming now and pour myself a large glass of wine. Finished watching “Fleabag” season 2 last night – breathtakingly excellent!

And excellence, to me, in any realm, is like ‘god’ (for want of a better word) – a raison d’être.

Love to you, my excellent friend, v.



December 10, 2018 – Intention
December 10, 2018, 12:33 pm
Filed under: In Vino Veritas, In Aqua Sanitas | Tags: , , , , , , , ,

“Since the days of Greece and Rome, when the word ‘citizen’ was a title of honor, we have often seen more emphasis put on the rights of citizenship than on its responsibilities.” Robert Kennedy

Cascadia flagIt’s very hard to see the willful ignorance globally. I’m so impatient and sad that most people aren’t ‘connecting the dots’ between what is happening in one part of the world (politically, socially, philosophically, and practically) with another. It seems many aren’t noting the similarities between politicians, actions, ideas, and media coverage across the planet. Despite differences in nationality, culture, creed, religion, it’s all shared global phenomena. For example, it amazes me that the British news media continues to give airtime and credibility to hardline Brexiters like Boris Johnson who has been utterly discredited, allowing the ignorant millions who voted Leave to persist in their delusions, thereby preventing British society as a whole to face the facts and move forward. Likewise, the American media continues to lead the news cycles with coverage of Trump’s erratic behavior and lines straight from his mouth, consequently reiterating and perpetuating the nonsense that comes out of it and is so destructive for the USA and the world as a whole. Similarly, the French media, historically skeptical of the president’s office, are covering the Yellow Vests in France ad infinitum in a sensationalistic manner. Subsequently, those backing them, including Trump, don’t understand the context of the situation even as they’re jumping on the bandwagon of the movement. It’s all so confusing, divisive and horrible that it does my head in.

If I were queen of the world, I’d eliminate tax free havens, I’d tax the hell out of fossil fuel enterprises to fund clean energy incentives, I’d enforce tax laws and funnel the money to bolstering public education and social services, and I’d eliminate ‘dark money’ from all campaigns globally so that corporations and the super rich could not effect public policy.

However, as this won’t happen, and in an effort not to become more depressed by the madness that I’m seeing everywhere, on social media, in the newspapers, in television reports, and then perpetuated by those around me, I’m going to chronicle what I see. Short observations on a variety of subjects that, I hope, reflect aspects of this ‘brave new world’. I’ve decided to title all the entries “In vino veritas, in aqua sanitas,” or “In wine there is truth, in water there is health,” not out of pretention, but because it suits. I drink wine most days, and the Latin expression seems to be a good ‘umbrella’ philosophy for how I envision the series. The idea, from the Romans, the Greeks, the Persians, is that if something was decided during a council while drunk, then it must be reconsidered when sober. These cultures believed that no one could lie effectively when drunk. I like the complete phrase that incorporates the later portion, “in water there is health,” because, ultimately, I think that politics today, and, arguably, since the beginning of time, is full of hubris and the ‘only’ thing that ultimately matters is the natural world, hence the allusion to clean water.

Who am I? A native Oregonian. An American citizen and also a French citizen, who has lived in Europe for the last twenty years by choice and through great effort. A woman who has traveled the globe, living, working, studying in countries such as Scotland, Zimbabwe, Germany, Mexico, England, and France, as well as the American states California, Washington and New York (and obviously Oregon). I’ve been married three times, to an Iranian man, a German man, and now a Danish man, respectively. This doesn’t make me a ‘bad’ person, just a bad Catholic. I’m certainly not great at conventional relationships, though I’m making an effort now. I’m not a dilettante, though I’m well read. I worked my way through all of my university degrees and travels, as a waitress during my undergraduate degree, and then in the film industry and as a content writer during my graduate degrees. Now, I’m a schoolteacher and mother to a seven-year-old son. I live in France with him, my Danish husband, my border collie, and a ginger cat that adopted us several years back. I’m a flawed individual, of course, with constructs that sometimes defy logic, and, my observations, here, will likely be focused on the Northern hemisphere, which isn’t complete. But I’m also bright, sensitive, passionate, and, obviously, modest.

Here goes…



Homage to the USA

Patriotism is supporting your country all of the time, and your government when it deserves it. Mark Twain

USA flag_Jasper Johns.jpgI was born in Oregon and spent most of my childhood there. We fished for crawdads in mountain creeks during the summer, took inner-tubes down small rapids, climbed the trestles for the Great Western Pacific trains, biked everywhere through the fields and pastoral lands, with the gentle mountains in the distance. We ‘drag raced’ down Main Street on the weekends, saved money for the state fair and Turkey Rama, picked magic mushrooms in the forests, and went to Friday night football at the high school – not necessarily because of interest in the game, but because it was a community social event. My family regularly camped and hiked at Neskowin, Canon Beach, and Newport City, and ate clam chowder at “Mo’s.” I remember that my bright red feet from the cold of the Pacific Ocean would not deter me from playing in it. We grew up skiing on Mount Hood, and dining at a pizza barn near Government Camp, as well as hiking at Multnomah Falls and through the Cascades. Family holidays involved traveling in our VW van with a styrofoam mattress laid out in the back for we children, staying in Motel 6’s or KOA campsites. I remember that hanging our washing out to dry made it smell even lovelier after a rain, and lying on my back in order to look up at the leaves of the many ancient oak and maple trees on my family’s property (though raking them in the autumn was an onerous task). Badminton and croquet over a bumpy, rooty lawn. Trading candy with my siblings after the Halloween haul on the floor of our den. Thanksgiving as the only time my father would cook things simply.

Typical to a small town girl, I moved away as soon as I graduated from high school: first to Portland, then Seattle, then London, then New York, then Los Angeles, then Berlin, then back to London, then to France. I’ve now lived in Europe for a third of my life, and half of my adult life. I’m formally naturalizing as a French citizen on Thanksgiving this year (not through my own design, but because that’s what the Minister of Interior set as the date). I’ve always maintained that one place is not “better” than another place – they simply represent our different needs and desires at a given time in our life. The inherent values in Europe, of a safety net for the public, even as there are capitalistic markets, align with my personal values: healthcare for all, housing subsidies for those in need, mandatory WEEKS off of holiday, paid, per year, plus personal days, and free (or almost free) university education. Additionally, the pace of life is slower in Europe, and I appreciate this because I believe the frenetic pace of American life is debilitating and anxiety provoking for the populace.

Visiting the USA each year, keeping in close touch with my family, and assiduously reading the global news each day, means I have watched all the negative elements of my native society become exaggerated: workers not taking the minimal days off they have ‘cause they can’t afford to, or they’re afraid they’ll lose their jobs; the employment figures being misrepresented, as many people have to work two or three jobs to make ends meet; there is no time for most Americans to simply rest, ‘cause they are always working, and stores and restaurants are always open, implicitly encouraging the people to consume more than they need; the cost of an emergency or a long term illness fells a person or a family who does not have adequate healthcare coverage; even as the USA has the most highly trained teachers in the world, they are paid the least and the public school system receives substantially less each year in federal funds than the penal system does; diets for most Americans are evidence of a cultural polarity – there are those that are hyper ‘healthy’ with diet and exercise, and those that are obese. Suffice to say, that the milieu that I want to live in is one in which there is a social safety net for those that pay their taxes (however nominal), and people are encouraged to have time to eat, think, and spend time with their families and friends.

That is NOT to say that I am not also in love with my native land, the USA. I love it and it hurts me personally when people criticize it, even as I may agree with them intellectually. For me, I think of my interesting, liberal childhood, the gorgeous and diverse nature of the land itself, its film, its music, its ingenuity in all things, and my heart fills with nostalgia, pride, and gratefulness. Even as I have lived abroad in tough times – the Reagan/Thatcher reign, the GATT Talks 1994, Bush Jr’s reign, to name a few – I have always been proud to be American ‘cause I believe there’s a certain ‘energy’ to us, both good and bad. But now, to see my beloved country so divided within itself, and so alienated from the rest of the world, truly breaks my heart and makes me feel ashamed of what it happening there.

The intolerance and loathing from both sides of the aisle – the fact that there ARE just two choices in American politics – is shockingly fierce and illiberal. To observe cynical, self-serving politicians capitalize on the American people’s personal fears and anxieties, encouraging tribalism, so that the people will be too busy infighting and creating scapegoats, that they will not notice what is happening to their land and their laws, is starkly shocking and sad. It’s as though all the goodness of the USA – its receptivity to new ideas, its consequent ingenuity, its warmth, its diverse and gorgeous cities, natural landscapes and wildlife – are succumbing entirely to its underside – blind ambition, greed, racism, anger, violence, and ignorance. My defense of my native land in conversation here usually goes along the lines of explaining the context for the current situation (the electoral college, the Southern Strategy, Super PACs, Fox News, and an effective smear campaign against Socialism as “commie” interests, the vast swaths of land effecting perspectives), but this falls deaf on European ears. Ironically, they seem to believe MORE in the idea of personal responsibility for one’s destiny socially and politically than Americans generally do, even as we are professed individualists. Even so, they will politely listen to my contextual explanations if the wine keeps flowing, then they predict that it’s simply a repetition of historical dominance of given countries, the fall of the Roman Empire, so to speak, and if there is any fear here, it’s that it will effect the world order ‘cause there will be no one to lead in global policies that monitor corruption, extortion, human rights infringements, and the need for clean energy. Lamentably, the USA and its leaders cannot be quarantined.

For the first time in history, Europeans know what a midterm election in the USA is and are paying attention. I’m pensive and worried today ‘cause I really don’t know what tomorrow’s vote will bring. I’m skeptical that despite all the noise, voters will NOT turn out in the droves that they need to in order to offset the gerrymandering and voter repression. I worry Trump, enabled by sociopathic ideologues like Pence, McConnell, and Ryan, will declare the results – IF they indicate congress will have a Democratic majority – as false and refuse to adhere to the vote of the citizens. My Danish husband says, “That’s impossible! That would be breaking the law, no?” I don’t know what to say to that. A president who has been accused of sexual harassment repeatedly, found fraudulent in his financial declarations and business endeavors, who has never revealed his tax returns publicly, who has been ‘caught’ telling as many as 200 lies in a single week publicly, whose administration has altered law and protocol to put two justices on the Supreme Court and push through over 50 more judges on the lower courts, and who has turned back clean air and clean water protections, food protections, and undermined national parks borders, caged children in privately profiting detention centers that refuse elected officials entry into them, and now has used the US military as an election gimmick to capitalize on his bases’ fears and racism (ostensibly declaring martial law)…well, it’s not inconceivable that he and the sitting GOP’s will just refuse to budge, no? What will the world do then? Perhaps it will be just the excuse to invade and topple this regime. But who could do it? China, Russia and Saudi Arabia have, together, the military might to take on the USA, but why would they do that when they have so much invested in the country? Alas…

Despite my worry and misgivings, I will try to believe that America will re assert itself as a land of hope for all. As the Marquis de Lafayette wrote about the USA after the French helped the Americans to overthrow the tyranny of the English: “Humanity has won its battle. Liberty now has a country.”