Monday, December 26, 2016

Now what?

I have nothing to say about The Election.  In fact, I have huge amounts to say, but most of it has been said already, by many other people.  I have nothing new to say.  But I'm afraid, and there is so little I can do.  I'm doing what I can - writing to Senators to object to his cabinet picks.  But I feel very small and helpless.

I'm most offended by Mr. Trump because he doesn't understand, and he doesn't care that he doesn't understand.  He just wants to shoot off his mouth and be cheered.  He's about to become the head of the most powerful country in the world - the commander in chief of the world's largest military, yet - and he can't be bothered to listen to the daily briefings because they're boring.  He said so; I'm not making a judgment.

More than Mr. Trump, I'm afraid of the Republican Congress.  With a rubber stamp in the White House, the hard right Republicans want to repeal Obamacare, privatize Social Security, gut Medicare and Medicaid, and God knows what they'll do to public housing.  I receive Social Security; I receive Medicare.  I'm really unhappy with all these projects, and I can't affect anything because I don't vote for those Congresscritters.  And if you think this Congress will approve a huge infrastructure project to bring back the good jobs Trump promised his supporters, you are delusional.  You're fooling yourself.  I'm beginning to think we really do need Congressional term limits, but it's impossible, because Congress would have to vote for them.

It's going to be a bleak 4 years.  The only option open to those of us who don't like the situation is to complain, complain, complain - organize, call, write, march. Silence is consent.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Have You Stopped Beating Your Wife?

Now that Thanksgiving is over:  I wrote this at the end of September and then put it aside.  I just read it again today, and I still think it's worth saying.  I did decide it was unsuitable to post it on Thanksgiving Day.

KALW's Your Call, once again, had a segment that got me thinking.  Today's program was a review of a new dance program, Grace and Delia are Gone, performed over this weekend at Fort Mason in S.F.  (Ed. note:  Sorry, this broadcast was aired on September 29, 2016, so you can't catch the dance program tomorrow.  Click the link to listen to the broadcast.)

I'm sure it's a great program, but what startled me was the earnest conviction - from the choreographer, from at least one caller, and in some sense from Rose Aguilar herself - that violence against women is a new, modern problem, aggravated by men who've spent 5 tours in Iraq/Afghanistan, and all the guns we now have around.

You folks all need to read more history - a problem I've noticed before.  For those horrified by multiple tours in Afghanistan, read the history of World Wars I and II, when soldiers spent months or years on the battlefield, or on a ship at sea, alternating between brief periods of extreme danger and weeks or months of total boredom.  You probably never heard this personally from your grandfather because the WWII vets didn't discuss what they went through.  Some of them beat up their wives; some of them killed themselves (I went to school with a young man whose WWII vet father killed himself); most of them just went on with life.  And never talked about the war.

Violence against women has gone on for centuries.  Medieval women weren't educated, and they couldn't choose whom they married.  Aristocratic women were married off to further the family's political connections.  Married women were chattel property to their husbands, and the husbands were allowed to do whatever they pleased to their property.  Moralists might object, but beating the crap out of your wife was NOT illegal through most of European and American history.  The Victorians take a lot of flack for their views on morality, but they did start the idea that maybe wife-beating was a bad idea.

The primary difference between history and now is that over the last 40 years or so, American society has concluded that it's a bad idea for one spouse to beat up on the other (and don't think it only happens to women, or for that matter only to straight people).  We actually have laws against it, and support groups for victims - this is a tremendous improvement. It hasn't stopped the practice, but don't assume this is the worst of times.  And if the situation in the U.S. disturbs you, Google "wife beating" and take a look at the headlines on current practices in Islamic countries.

There's something in the human race that makes certain members of it make themselves feel better by beating up on people, or creatures, they consider their "inferiors" - wives, pets, children.  (Also, people of other races or religions; but we're talking about family violence here).  People who do this are usually but not exclusively male.  Until and unless this changes, we're unlikely to get rid of spousal abuse entirely.

Footnote:  in the 2 months since I wrote this, Donald Trump was elected President of the United States, to take office in January.  In a country as in an organization, the tone comes from the top.  Given Trump's rhetoric on the campaign trail, and the fact that he's on his third wife, I can't judge right now whether his presence in the White House (assuming he stays in the White House) will enable spousal abuse or not.  He's enabled a lot of gratuitous violence, but I haven't heard much about Trump-caused domestic violence, so maybe not.

Monday, July 04, 2016


If you live in the San Francisco Bay Area, as I do, it's hard to ignore the homeless population, whether they are rolled up in an old sleeping bag in the doorway of the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium or pitching a collection of tents under a freeway overpass in West Oakland. There they are, and what are we going to do?  I started this post after reading and hearing a full week of coverage of press and radio coverage of the situation, assembled by 70 local Bay Area news organizations and organized by the San Francisco Chronicle.

I've written before about the housing issues caused by gentrification in this area (Gentrification) - rich people are bidding up the price of housing (both bought and rented) to the point that families who have lived here for generations have to move out of town.  This does, of course, affect the size of the homeless population, especially for renters:  a rise in your rent can mean you either have to move to Antioch (a 90 minute commute each way) or move into your car.  Or the nearest tent city.  Loss of a job can do the same thing.

The homeless population appears to range from people who are merely unfortunate (laid off because a business closes, say), to people who are ill in some way (anything from addiction to hepatitis to raging schizophrenia to Alzheimer's), to people who are actual criminals and prefer the anonymity of the street.  But the collective popular response to the homeless seems to be, "Ewww, them," mainly because homelessness makes it very hard for you to wash, or relieve yourself indoors.  

Many people feel that the homeless population is "not us."  We couldn't be like that.  This is self-deception; we could be them.  There was a time in my life when I could have been them.  When I was not quite 30, I decided that my 5 year old marriage wasn't working; I went alone to visit my parents and suddenly realized I couldn't go back.  At this point, luck kicked in and saved me - my parents took me in, fed me and put me up until I could find another job, which took several months.  

Here's the situation I was in:  my now ex was a spendthrift, so my bank account, which had held $500 when we married, was now down to $300 (a lot more money than you think, this was 1975).  I'd been working in a family business, so I didn't qualify for unemployment (and what a kick in the pants that was).  And because it was 1975, the credit cards were all in his name - married women at that time were just becoming able to get cards in their own names!  (The Equal Credit Opportunity Act was passed in 1974.)  

My parents were 68 and 63, and healthy, with solid pensions, living in a house they had owned outright since 1952; but if any of that had been different, I could have found myself on the street, and I knew it.  In fact, I've always known it, and I wrote my feelings up in 2008, shortly after I retired (The Bag Lady).

We are the homeless, and they are us; they're just unluckier than we are. There but for the grace of God go I.  And what do we do about that?  Some people talk about the U.S. as a "Christian nation," but as long as we leave the less fortunate sleeping on street corners, we aren't following any Christian precepts that I ever learned.  There is really only one good solution - as I said in Gentrification, we need to build more and more and more housing, mostly in tall buildings to make use of limited land. We need to build enough housing to drive down the price.  I explained this in some detail in Gentrification, so go read it there, and then think about what your beautiful views and tidy low-rise neighborhoods are doing to the people who are sleeping under the bridges.

Sunday, June 05, 2016

Within Our Gates

I had an amazing experience last night.  I attended a showing, at the San Francisco Silent Film Festival, of Within Our Gates, a 1920 silent film directed by Oscar Micheaux.  I don't normally go to any movies these days, although I've always had a soft spot for the great silents.  I went to this one because the film was accompanied by members of the Oakland Symphony and the Oakland Symphony Chorus, directed by Maestro Michael Morgan.  I've sung with the Symphony Chorus since 2000, although I don't sing in the Chamber Chorus that performed last night; I knew all the singers and some of the musicians.

If you've never seen a silent film accompanied by an orchestra, with or without chorus, you may not realize that the performers are seated with their backs to the screen.  In fact, a chorus member told me they weren't allowed to see the film.  Only the conductor can see the screen, and Maestro Morgan had to coordinate the action in the movie with the composer's score.  I might add that it was black as the inside of your hat in that theater, except for light from the screen; and silent movies don't generate the light that modern movies do.  As far as I know, the singers had memorized the score; I didn't see many music lights except for the orchestra.  The score they performed was a world premiere, composed by Adolphus Hailstork of Rochester, New York, who attended the performance.

Within Our Gates is the oldest surviving film made by an African-American director.  You can see a plot summary on the Wikipedia article I linked.  The film was released only 5 years after Birth of a Nation. Wikipedia suggests that "critics have considered Micheaux's project as a response to Griffith."

 I never thought I would see a movie, with an all-Negro cast (to use the period term), describing the lives of African Americans in 1920.  The main character, Sylvia Landry, seems "middle class."  She can read and write, she has nice clothes, she can afford to travel.  She lives in a nice house, she visits people and they visit her.  But in a flashback, we learn that she grew up on a plantation, where her illiterate father worked for the owner, and was lynched after someone else shot the owner and he was blamed for it.  Yes, there is a lynching scene, and an attempted rape. 

It's one thing to know, from reading, that people lived and thought a certain way, and that certain things happened.  Seeing it in a movie is a whole different experience.  It was jarring to see these things: 
  • A Southern woman tells a northern philanthropist, who was considering supporting a school to educate black children, that there was no point in educating Negroes, they were just good for "porters and field hands," and "they just want to go up to Heaven."  
  • A Negro preacher tells his congregation they will go to Heaven because they are poor and uneducated, while all the white people will go to Hell because they are rich and educated.  
  • The plantation owner complains to his servant that Sylvia (the daughter of his fieldworker) is educated and can work out what her father's debts really are, instead of what the owner wants them to be.  
  • And then, of course, there is the lynching.  No, they didn't show the actual hanging.
And on top of all this, it was a good movie.  The acting was as good as silents ever got, and better than some I've seen.  For instance, I've seen Metropolis, a great classic, but frankly the acting is awful; this was much better, more like you were watching real people.  The characters were presented fairly, there were good and bad Negroes, and good and bad white people.  It was another world, that I never expected to see.  I will remember it.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

The GOP's Trump Problem

I've been watching the 2016 Presidential campaign with fascination.  I admit that I, like many people, didn't think Donald Trump could make it this far - hey, we're all wrong every so often.  After the April 26 primaries, it looks like Trump is a done deal for the Republican nomination.  Full disclosure:  as a Democrat and a Hillary supporter, I'm delighted.

But the inner circle of the Republican Party is horrified.  Ted Cruz and John Kasich, neither of which has the chance of a snowball in hell to get the nomination, are scheming together to divide up the remaining primaries.  They hope, between them, to get enough delegates assigned, not so one of them could become the nominee, but to force Trump into a brokered convention, where they hope he will fail on a first vote and throw the convention open to nominate someone else.  And as far as I can tell, the Republican National Committee is backing them.

Who else could it be?  They ran seventeen people for this nomination, and after the bulk of the primaries they are down to three, two of which are dangling by their fingernails while Trump strides confidently toward the full delegate count.  After some backroom shuffling, Paul Ryan (one of his better moves) stood up and said he would not run under any circumstances.  Ted Cruz obviously thinks he should be the candidate, but he has almost no support in the Republican Party.  And yet the RNC still hopes to Stop Trump.

I am staggered by the blindness of this approach.  The RNC has repeatedly implied that a Trump presidency would destroy the Republican Party.  Do they really not realize what it would look like to the rest of the country, if Trump were to win the popular vote but not the delegate count, and then be replaced as the candidate by someone else at the convention??  Seriously - that would be the end of the Republican Party, convicted by its own actions of setting their own personal priorities above the wishes of their constituents.  Many of us already think they do this.  If somebody other than Trump runs for President on the Republican ticket this year, there will be no further question about it.