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Book in Hand

For most of my life, if I was awake, I had a book in my hand.

Riding the bus, walking to school, in the quad between classes, lounging at home, I’d have a book open, thumb in the crease, my nose buried in its leaves. Novels, anthologies, treatises, memoirs, history, science, poetry.

Anything.

Everything.

I read it.

Then, about a dozen years ago, life went off the rails. Book deals dried up. Friends and family began to die (at least ten during this period). We fostered a young woman, giving her a place to live for a year. Work became a stress factory. The economy tanked, causing the Great Recession. Then along came Trump. And then this pandemic.

In response, my reading habits changed, radically. They became constrained, limited to news articles, political analyses, and works of non-fiction. Instead of a dog-eared book, I carried my tablet with its instant-on, 24×7 access to current events and a front-row seat to our increasingly divided society.

Even so, every now and again, I would return to my fiction books, the stacks of TBR novels that inhabit every room in this house. I tried, repeatedly, to read one of them, hungry for that immersive experience, that miraculous wash of words that would sweep away reality and bathe me in the light of a different sun.

But the miracle never came. I didn’t have the patience, lacked the power to focus., and was unable to drive away the here-and-now with worlds of what-if. Book after book I picked up, opened, began, and abandoned within a few days, the only evidence of my attempt, a bookmark left somewhere in the first thirty pages.

With all this as preamble, one might wonder why, during my recent time off, I decided yet again to pick up a novel and give it a try. I mean, there I was in the last month of the most turbulent election cycle of my sixty-plus years, with a pandemic raging beyond my door, a daily gush of political scandals and turmoil filling the airwaves, and everywhere people shouting and crying and grieving and protesting. Was it hope? Obstinacy? Desperation? Whatever compelled me, it was in this moment, amid this maelstrom of chaos, that I chose to try again, and opened up a 150-year-old book.

And I read it. Cover to cover, in record time.

And then . . . I picked up another book, and read it, too.

And now, here I am, wondering what to read next.

. . .

Do yourself a favor.

Turn off the television. Put down the phone. Leave the tablet in the other room.

Pick up a book. A real book. The one you’ve been meaning to read for so long.

Take a seat near the window, where the natural light will be over your shoulder. Settle in, book in hand.

Open it up. Stick your nose in it. Smell it. Feel the pebbled surface of the printed page, the tension of the spine.

Chapter One.

Read. 

I tell you, it’s like coming home.

k

This damnable year has taught me two things, the most recent of which is.:

  • Vote shaming does not work.

A few times, now, I’ve attempted to convince non- and third-party-voters to cast a meaningful vote in this year’s election. In those posts, I have avoided anything that might be construed as bullying or “shaming.” I haven’t cast aspersions or indulged in ad hominem attacks. I haven’t in any way implied that Americans don’t have the right to disenfranchise themselves.

In discussions, I’ve striven to be firm but not belligerent, hoping persuasion would prove more effective than incivility. I’ve expressed my sincere understanding for each person’s reasons for eschewing both Dems and GOP, but have simultaneously pointed out that there are more important aspects at stake here than just one voter’s preference (or lack thereof) for a particular candidate. I’ve stressed that unity is our strength, and that e pluribus unum is even more true today, in our diverse and multicultural society, than it was in the much more homogenous 1776. I’ve argued that how we vote in this election will affect many people beyond ourselves.

And still, I’ve been accused of bullying and shaming. I’ve been told I have no right to judge. I’ve been unfriended, disinvited, and (I suspect) blocked.

Well, since my last post here on the topic, our current POTUS has moved to replace a liberal icon of the SCOTUS with an arch-conservative, has laid the groundwork for nationwide voter intimidation and nullification, and has found it impossible to utter the simple phrase, “I denounce white supremacy in all its forms.”

Despite this, I still refuse to engage in public shaming of those who have chosen to sit this one out and/or vote for a non-viable candidate.

That does not mean I won’t try to convince them, though.

Because this isn’t about me or about being “right.”

It isn’t about me. It isn’t about you. It isn’t about any one of us.

It’s about all of us.

It’s about my friend’s kid, who’s struggling with their gender identity and fears violence perpetrated by emboldened bigots. It’s about my neighbor whose furlough just turned into a layoff, and who’s worried that the ACA won’t be there for him and his family. It’s about my LGBTQ friends who are fearful of what the new SCOTUS will do (or undo) regarding their marriage. It’s about my friends up and down the West Coast, suffering under smoke and evacuation orders, and those on the East Coast buffeted by one hurricane after another. It’s about the parents I know, worried sick about their kids going to school during a pandemic, worried about when and if life will ever return to something reminiscent of what it was like just a year ago.

We all know friends in similar situations, fellow citizens who are negatively affected by this administration’s actions (or inactions). And we all know this election is a turning point. We can all see the two paths that lie ahead, clearly and starkly delineated. The difference before us is impossible to deny: two paths, two futures.

But which future? Which path?

This election decides, and it is our civic duty, our responsibility as citizens, to take it seriously. Sitting it out or voting for a candidate with zero chance of winning is a total abdication of that responsibility. It does not move the needle. It does not have an effect. It does not make a difference. And, judging from the strident, sometimes vitriolic, often knee-jerk responses I’ve received from third-party acolytes and non-voters, they know it, too.

But here’s the other lesson I’ve learned from 2020:

  • Things can always get worse.

And if we do not join together to fight the obvious threat, things will get worse.

Our nation, our democracy, our institutions, and our norms, need you.

k

SQL for SCOTUS*

SELECT
     Intelligence,
     Knowledge_of_Law,
     Dignity,
     Determination AS GRIT,
     Strength      AS RESOLVE,
     Empathy,
     Insight
FROM
     SCOTUS_Requirements
INNER JOIN
     Virtues
LEFT JOIN
     Womens_Rights
LEFT JOIN
     Equal_Treatment
WHERE
    Moniker  = 'Notorious'
AND Initials = 'RGB';

 

 

 


*Yes, yes, I know this isn’t strict SQL.
Poetic license and all.

AH, AS, AF

Here in the Pacific Northwest, we know from smoke.

And I’m not talking the cannabis type.

Recent years have educated us about the quality and character of smoke from wildfires, but these past two weeks have been like a full-on mandatory in-your-face master-class from an extremely pissed-off Samuel L. Jackson. Continue Reading »

If you don’t mind, I’ll take a break from past ruminations on third-party voting, COVID, and the goals of liberalism, and instead will recommend to you something that has given us hours of distraction and enjoyment through 2020’s interminable summer.

As you might have guessed from this post’s headline, it’s a game. Of sorts.

It’s not a classic board game—you can only play it once and there is no board—and it’s not an “escape room” type game, either. Rather, it’s a mashup of puzzles and ciphers, clues and characters, documents and artifacts, all wrapped in a murder mystery for you to solve in a month-by-month collection of physical and virtual communication.

It is Hunt-A-Killer, and it is a ton of fun.

Continue Reading »

Socialist! Anarchist! Traitor!

The list of what I am (according to the Opposition) goes on, but those are the highlights. Frankly, I don’t see it, but what can I do?

One thing I can do is be up-front about what it is I want for America. If that paints me as an anarcho-socialist , I’ll have to own it.

So, here we go: one liberal’s manifesto, in 1,000 words.

Health Care

I want you to be able to go to the doctor when you’re ill. Simple as that. I want you to be able to see a physician whether or not you’re currently employed or can afford the cost. You shouldn’t suffer (or die) because you’re poor or because you don’t have a job. I want an alternative to employer-provided healthcare because (A) some employers are dicks and don’t provide healthcare or a wage high enough to afford it, (or both) and (B) if you get laid off or you’re too ill to work or, hell, I don’t know, there’s a pandemic and your businesses shuts down, I don’t want you to lose that healthcare.

There are many ways to achieve this, but this is the goal:

You should be able to go to the doctor when you’re sick.

Racial Justice

I want you to be treated equally, regardless of what you look like, what you worship, or who you love. And you certainly shouldn’t fear for your life whenever you interact with the law enforcement. Anything counter to that goal is counter to equality, which is counter to basic American tenets. Privately, you may harbor any prejudices and bigotries you want. You can even gather with like-minded friends and complain loud and long about the inferiority of others. You can even worship a god that encourages this bigotry. Go ahead. Knock yourself out. Just keep it in your basement, your garage, your private venue, because out here, in public, we should all be treated equally.

Again, many things must change to move us in this direction—policing reforms, help for historically disadvantaged communities, redrawing gerrymandered districts—but this is the goal:

You and I (and he and she and they) are all equal in our citizenship, and should be treated equally by government and by public businesses.

Economy

I want your job to pay you enough to live on. That means I think even an entry-level full-time job should pay you at least enough to cover food and shelter. It might be ramen and refritos in an apartment with a roommate (or two), but it should be enough. You shouldn’t have to apply for food stamps if you’re a full-time employee. You shouldn’t have choose between food, medications, or heat if you’re working full-time.

I want your job to be safe. That means businesses should treat employees, customers, and neighbors kindly, and not harm their health or financial well-being. Since business has proven that, given the chance, it’ll screw over anything, from employees to creditors to the environment, they need to be regulated. This does make it harder for businesses to turn profits, but profit should not cost human lives. If you can’t turn a profit without harming people, then I think we can live without what you’re selling.

There’s a lot packed into those paragraphs, but this is the goal:

Your job should (A) pay you a sufficient wage, and (B) not hurt you, your family, your town, or the world.

Science and Facts

I want you to know that government policies are based on facts. Climate change, pandemics, food safety, clean water and air, the policies on these topics need a strong foundation in science. Yes, scientific consensus is sometimes a moving target, especially as regards emerging threats, but it’s well-proven that ignoring science is a Bad Idea. And yes, there are other, non-science factors to be weighed, but if we’re clear on the facts, we can see the trade-offs that policy makers make. Denying scientific consensus, denying factual evidence, degrades our trust and encourages bad decisions that end up hurting us all.

This isn’t really a policy thing; it’s a people thing, in that it’s people who make policies, but this is the goal:

You should be able to trust that science-based policies are, in fact, based on science.

Taxes

I want you to know that everyone pays their fair share of taxes. We all rely on the same public works, from utilities to military to roads to schools and beyond. You may not have kids in school, but you rely on kids who went to school. You may never have had to call the fire department, but you sure as hell want them there if you need them. These are paid for with taxes, and whether you make minimum wage or you make millions, you rely on these things, so you should pay for them. How much? Well, at the low end, you may not be able to afford anything, as all your income goes to necessities. That’s okay, because there are lots of us who can afford it. But, most often, it’s those who can afford it most who pay the least, and this is neither fair nor just. The trickle-down economic theory that has justified this situation for decades has proven itself false and should be scrapped.

If anything, this is the part that will strike many as “socialism,” but this is the goal:

Your tax rate shouldn’t be higher than a billionaire’s.


That’s it. That’s my (brief) manifesto. For my life, I don’t understand why everyone doesn’t share these goals (except for billionaires who don’t like taxes . . . I get that part. Tough.). These aren’t “radical left” ideas. They’re ideas that have been around for a long time, many of which were actual Republican policy in past decades.

But, if after reading the goals above, you still think I’m some sort of anarcho-socialist monster out to destroy the suburbs and defile the American Way, I don’t think I’ll be comfortable with your goals, either.

k

COVID and DEFCON

Ordinarily, I try to avoid confrontation. Last week’s post, therefore, was out of the ordinary, and indeed, it did give rise to a few confrontations. Most were from expected quarters, but there were a few surprises. The conversations it engendered, though generally civil, were at times tense, and they definitely raised my anxiety level to DEFCON 3.

That, however, wasn’t what upset me the most. No, what had me flirting with DEFCON 2 was something entirely unexpected.

We were invited to a barbecue.

Continue Reading »

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