Losing balance & starting to topple

To borrow a line for Sara Bareilles, “Blank stares at blank pages, no easy way to say this”.

I’m still on vacation for a couple of days yet, and, although I try hard to stay out of the fray when I’m away, sometimes it simply isn’t possible. It is not possible. Emphatically not possible. I will, at the start, caution the Trump supporters in my life – and I know there are a few of you still hanging in there – that I am not planning to walk on eggshells for your benefit (in fact, I would really love for you to tell me how on earth you can possibly still feel supportive & what you feel positive about after the spectacle of the past few months – particularly the past few weeks).

First I need to talk about what happened in Charlottesville this weekend. And, not completely germain, but purely in the interests of full disclosure, I need to warn some of my progressive friends that we may have a difference of opinion on the subject of statuary.  I am firmly opposed to confederate flags being displayed on public land, other than museums or monuments, and have discussed that previously – what those flags represent is sedition (and a failure at that), and are not something an allegedly patriotic state, in a united country, should be flaunting, I feel differently about statutes. Perhaps particularly about Lee. Particularly  in Virginia. Robert E. Lee was indisputably a brilliant military tactician, a West Point graduate, who served the United States with honor prior to the Civil War. He was caught between family & country, and made an uneasy, non-patriotic, choice to abandon the US military and the Union to join the Confederacy in support of his family.  Even then, he was still well-respected by his former peers in the Union army. His family roots are firmly in the Charlottesville area. I realize we all view these things differently, and I very much understand the reasons why those statutes of confederate soldiers are being removed, but I think that perhaps the subject of these statues really is more nuanced than that of the flags. Sometimes the answers are not in stark contrast of right and wrong – shades of gray abound in life.

But that said… What happened was, of course, only superficially about the statue of Lee. What it really was about was a massive gathering of, often armed, white supremacists and neo-Nazi’s – mostly, it seems, NOT from the Charlottesville area, who took this opportunity to throw a prolonged tantrum. And to try to terrorize Charlottesville into bending to their will. And make no mistake – there is a reason the FBI has always tracked these groups as domestic terrorists – that is what they are.  And their purpose was not peaceful, it was intimidation. The large number of swastikas and confederate flags that the demonstrators brought with them, should give us all pause. World War II was fought in Europe and Africa to end Nazi aggression – many countries were allied on this point – including the United States. The Nazis lost the war – badly, in fact. The Nazi party and the neo-Nazi’s really don’t get to have a place at this table. And, although this seems unclear to some folks, the Confederacy lost the Civil War. Neither of those things changed with Donald Trump’s election – no matter what they may think, and no matter how poorly our president “speaks out” against this (yes, Ivanka did, but seriously folks, this group would like to see her family, and all other Jews, wiped off the earth – they were chanting anti-Jewish sentiments at the rally). Donald Trump’s apparent inability to firmly call domestic terrorists what they are has moved beyond appalling to blatantly absurd. Call white supremacists what they are, and stop worrying about offending that horrible segment of your base. And stop pretending that they aren’t a part of your base. David Duke, former leader of the KKK, and ardent white supremacist actually said at the rally in Charlottesville:  “This represents a turning point for the people of this country. We are determined to take our country back, we’re going to fulfil the promises of Donald Trump, and that’s what we believed in, that’s why we voted for Donald Trump, because he said he’s going to take our country back and that’s what we gotta do”.  And then when the president tweeted against the violence on Saturday afternoon, Duke responded by tweeting “I would recommend you take a good look in the mirror & remember it was White Americans who put you in the presidency, not radical leftists.” Indeed. They recognized the code, and Trump reinforced that code by playing cute about Duke’s endorsement of his candidacy (“I don’t know anything about David Duke”) – and even his subsequent refutation of the white supremacists was negated by his choice of an actual former Nazi, Sebastian Gorka, among his advisors. And then there’s Steve Bannon. There is always Steve Bannon – cheerfully explaining that he is a “economic nationalist” not a nationalist nationalist.

Let’s be clear – this was not a ‘peaceful’ demonstration disrupted by radical leftists that were paid to be there. For pity’s sake – pay attention, get over your freaking conspiracy theories, and take your head out of Brietbart, Infowars and the Daily Wire for a bit of outside information – you might even find it enlightening. I’ve even heard some truly incomprehensible claims that this was a ‘private’ demonstration and the counter demonstrators had no right to be there. This is public land – you can’t have a ‘private’ anything on public land, and the First Amendment applies to everyone.  The videos, and the eyewitness accounts of the clergy members that were leading the counter demonstration, make it very clear where the aggression was. And the sole purpose of this gathering was to try to intimidate a community into embracing its confederate history.

And most importantly, let’s never forget Heather Heyer, a 32 year-old paralegal who lived in Charlottesville. She was killed, while walking with friends as the rally was breaking up, when 20 year old James Fields of Maumee, Ohio (yes, indeed, he came from Ohio to join the rally) deliberately drove his car into the group of counter demonstrators – and then backed up into more of them. In other places, when an Islamic terrorist has driven a vehicle into a crowd of people, President Trump has been quick to decry Islamic terrorists, and call for immigration bans. When a domestic terrorist, for that’s what this is, drives a car into a crowd, he laments the violence on “all sides”. And everyone on the right can lament the actions of a lone mentally unstable individual. (And can completely ignore the bombing of a mosque in a suburb of Minneapolis because well, it was a mosque that was bombed). But, as with Dylan Root and the Charleston church massacre, among other acts of domestic terrorism, we don’t stop to consider, much less talk about, the radicalization of the white guys (and sometimes women). We just talk about how this country has a mental health issue. But when the perpetrator has been ‘radicalized’  by Islam – then we have a terrorist, not a mentally ill individual. The double standard needs to stop if we are ever seriously going to denounce white supremacists, neo-Nazis, and other domestic terrorists. They are not what the vast majority of US citizens are about, they are not representative of the nation as a whole, and they are certainly not “patriots” by any definition of the word.

And that brings me to Russia – Putin expels 750 diplomats, and President Trump tweets a thank you for helping to reduce personnel costs? Someone on team Trump please, please, explain why this makes sense. Why he seems completely incapable of criticizing Putin or Russia for much of anything? (And side comment, the Russia investigations in the house, the senate & DOJ are not made up stuff – our intelligence agencies know definitively that Russia attempted to interfere with the election – it’s why the sanctions were not only renewed, they were toughened, by congress nearly unanimously; and Eric Trump really did meet with Russians looking for promised dirt on Clinton, & Paul Manafort & Mike Flynn really were double-dealing and probably will be the ones indicted by Mueller’s grand jury).

And then there’s the North Korean quagmire. I grew up in the Cold War.  Fallout shelters, Duck and Cover, good times, really. No not really. Watch Atomic Cafe some time. I never would have imagined that my children, as young adults, would now be facing the specter  of nuclear war, largely due to the bluster and threats of the president, and the sheer incompetence of a president that tells the Governor of Guam that the threat of nuclear was would boost tourism to Guam (because of course it would – mushroom cloud selfies are everyone’s dream). I assume that since science is not his strong suit, he doesn’t quite understand the full ramifications of a nuclear war.

And after you explain to me why nuclear war, or any war, with North Korea (& China) would be a good idea, then you can also explain why we even entered the fray with Venezuela? Are we seriously considering military action to deal with their INTERNAL problems? No, of course not. But if we beat the war drums loud enough, we stop the news about Mueller. Or about Charlottesville. Distraction is clearly a specialty of this administration.

And on that note, I’ll go back to trying to enjoy the time remaining of my vacation.

Pax vobiscus.

 

 

Looking for Peace

Edited from the August 9, 2016 Tuesday’s Quotes regarding the anniversary of the bombing of Nagasaki.

“No cause justifies the deaths of innocent people.”

— Albert Camus

On this date in 1945, the United States dropped an atomic bomb on the city of Hiroshima, Japan, three days before dropping a different type of atomic bomb on the city of Nagasaki – with the threat of additional bombings unless the Japanese unconditionally surrender to allied forces. The devastation in Hiroshima alone killed at least 40,000 people initially, with upwards of 70,000 more in the following weeks, and left a decades long legacy of horror and illness, as the long-term dangers of radiation exposure became apparent. And my heart breaks a bit more every time I think about it. And, although I know – and understand – the thinking behind the decsion to use the weapons (a decision that was not made by the US alone), I also know that they should never be used again – by anyone. There is no cause great enough to justify the use of nuclear weapons – especially now that we better understand all of the ramifications that go along with their use.

Like all baby boomers, I grew up in a Cold War world, dominated by the nuclear arms race, and the uncomfortable notion of peace brought about by mutually assured destruction. I have no desire to revisit those days, or for my children or grandchildren to have to live with those thoughts.  I may not have the solution for world peace, but I know it cannot be found in nuclear threats. Nor can it be brought about, or sustained, by war.

Franklin Roosevelt called December 7, 1941, the day the Japanese bombed the US naval base at Pearl Harbor, a day that would “live in infamy”, but for me, for most of my life, it has been August 6th and August 9th, 1945 that are perhaps the most infamous days that I hope the world ever comes to know.

Pax.

“If there is to be peace in the world,
There must be peace in the nations.
If there is to be peace in the nations,
There must be peace in the cities.
If there is to be peace in the cities,
There must be peace between neighbors.
If there is to be peace between neighbors,
There must be peace in the home.
If there is to be peace in the home,
There must be peace in the heart.”

— Lao Tzu

An Early Happy Birthday to Nicholas Tesla

Originally posted on July 10, 2016, I’m getting a jump on Tesla’s birthday this year because I  have my Camp NaNo project to work on (yes, I’m back to NaNoWriMo now that school is done), and I have a bit of work to do for my volunteer job, as well. Yes, I’ve probably bitten off more than I can chew. But so what else is new? 

Born 160 years ago today, in what is now Croatia, Tesla was one of the great minds of the late-19th – early-20th centuries, but was lost somewhat in the shadow of Thomas Edison – largely, I think, because he lacked the business acumen that came so easily to Edison. The two worked together for a time when Tesla first arrived in the United States, but differences in personality drove them apart as much as their differences in methodology. It’s possible, perhaps even likely, that Tesla was less interested in the commercializations of his inventions and discoveries than he was in just making them. Edison was very definitely interested in both the discovery and the commercial application. This, unfortunately led to many of Tesla’s works remaining unpatented – or patented by other inventors.

He was broke, and alone, when he died in 1943, but his development of alternating current electricity as a more efficient answer to Edison’s direct current, an idea that he further developed for – and sold to – George Westinghouse, would alone have been enough to cement his place in history. But he didn’t stop there. He designed the first hydroelectric plant at Niagara Falls, New York in 1895. He also developed electrical transformation devices to create an energy field of high voltage charges  – popularly known now as Tesla Coils, which were instrumental in the design of wireless radio transmissions. His passion for the development of wireless electrical transmission led him on to the development of wireless radio. He was a front-runner, with multiple related patents before Guglielmo Marconi, with more stable funding sources, advanced further with his own technology.

Tesla has gained a bit more attention in recent years, previously he was ignored by most non-geeks – and Elon Musk thoughtfully named his electric car line in his honor. 🙂

“The scientific man does not aim at an immediate result. He does not expect that his advanced ideas will be readily taken up. His work is like that of the planter — for the future. His duty is to lay the foundation for those who are to come, and point the way. He lives and labors and hopes.”  — Nicholas Tesla, 1934

 

 

 

Image of Tesla in front of his electrical transformer, borrowed from http://www.livescience.com/45950-nikola-tesla-biography.html

Love a label? Finding compassion among the silos…

A couple of recent conversations with my younger daughter brought this post – originally published on October 19, 2015 – into my mind, so I’ve chosen to run it again as this month’s #1000Speak post & also as a potential conversation starter because I think, in some respects, it may be more relevant now than it was 20 months ago.

“As we grow in our consciousness, there will be more compassion and more love, and then the barriers between people, between religions, between nations will begin to fall. Yes, we have to beat down the separateness.”
— Ram Dass

Recently a headline that I barely glanced at somehow infiltrated my subconscious and stuck there. And got me thinking about how our human need to identify with a group, and still somehow distinguish ourselves, may be making it harder for others to relate to us a people. Compassion is still possible. Compassion is always possible. But empathy? Empathy is harder to attain when dealing with such narrowly defined labels. Especially when those labels are often guarded so militantly.

“‘Pansexual’ Rises on National Coming Out Day” read the headline. Um, well, okay. I personally think that National Coming Out Day is a good idea – I think it’s important for people to be honest about who they are, and if having a dedicated date to do that makes it easier to do, then that’s all that matters.  It was the ‘pansexual’ label that drew me in. Perhaps because the adult  daughter of a friend varies her sexual-orientation label with quite a bit of flexibility. She is, primarily, lesbian. Sometimes she identifies herself as asexual. Or bisexual. And that’s okay, too, I think, but I do worry that sometimes she seems to assume that others just instinctively know where she is, and is annoyed that they don’t get it. Yeah, there’s surely more than a bit of drama here, which I think her friends mostly ignore, but it does make me wonder whether she ever feels isolated because of her strong need to label herself. But this problem of labels is one that exists far beyond sexual-orientation labels.

The notion that humans need to identify as a part of a group more specific than ‘human’ is well established. We identify by nationality, ethnicity, gender, color, religious affiliations, occupations, hobbies, sexual orientation, class, political views – and winnow it down further by subcategories within those groups. But we modern, westernized, humans have also developed a strong need to be seen as unique. The result seems to be that we seek increasingly fine-tuned labels because we want to make sure that no part of our individuality is missed, while at the same time needing those labels to help us find others that are more like us.

But group identification, and highly individualized labels, while helping us find our place in society and providing us some measure of support can leave us more isolated as well. Just when it’s possible that we need more love and compassion, we may find it more difficult to obtain.

One of the more unfortunate aspects of human behavior, rooted deep in our survival instincts, is a fear of that which is not us. We instinctively distrust ‘different’, just as we instinctively move toward ‘like’. This protects us from obvious predators, and from warring tribes, but does little for us in our day to day interactions. For the most part, we have those instinctive reactions so well in hand that we barely notice them, and they don’t prevent us from navigating through our lives, but they do lie at the base of our prejudices, and, occasionally, irrational dislike of people that we just met.

Each additional layer of group identification adds to those things that are different, or that fall outside of our range of tolerance. Or the tolerance limits of one or more of the groups that we identify with. Sometimes when we wholly embrace the views of a group, we end up cutting ourselves off not only from the larger society around us, but possibly from our families and friends.

I think our ability to be compassionate with those outside our silos is often limited because we confuse empathy and compassion, and we do not always understand that love can exist without a personal relationship.

“The whole idea of compassion is based on a keen awareness of the interdependence of all these living beings, which are all part of one another, and all involved in one another”

— Thomas Merton

Compassion and love go hand in hand. Compassion can, and should, be taught. We recognize the suffering of others, and feel the compulsion to act. Love in this sense can also be taught, I think, for it is the love of our fellow beings, and animals, as well, that enables compassion and the desire and willingness to act in some way to alleviate the suffering of others. Empathy, which requires a way of relating to the others that cannot be taught – it requires a shared experience, or a natural ability that is possessed by few. Empathy can be particularly difficult when our own micro-universes keep us removed from those outside, but since we can feel love and compassion regardless of how narrowly we define ourselves, there should be no impediment.

And yet, in a somewhat ironic turn, the continual shrinking of the world at large seems to lead to a magnification of our differences. That magnification fuels fear, which fuels hate. So rather than an increasing globalization leading us to see each other as the same, we are focusing more on our differences. In order to move to a more compassionate, and peaceful, world, we need to open up our minds to the simple reality that we are all humans. To understand that we all are trying to make our way through this life as best we can, and that all of us need help and support from time to time. And that love and respect are something that we all need. And deserve.

“Without fear, we are able to see more clearly our connections to others. Without fear, we have more room for understanding and compassion. Without fear, we are truly free.”

— Thich Nhat Hanh

Do I have an answer? No, and there is no simple solution. But we all need to challenge ourselves to push past our preconceptions and prejudices – to suppress that urge to react to the different instead of interacting with it.

As I was writing this, possibly apropos of nothing, possibly in a sudden burst of insight, this quote from HG Wells came into my head and refused to leave:

“Sometimes, you have to step outside of the person you’ve been and remember the person you were meant to be. The person you want to be. The person you are.”

Perhaps if we all remembered, and became, the person we are, instead of being consumed by the person we’ve become, the world really would be a more compassionate place.

Something to think about

“Power-worship blurs political judgment because it leads, almost unavoidably, to the belief that present trends will continue. Whoever is winning at the moment will always seem to be invincible.”

–George Orwell

Eric Arthur Blair, best known as the English author, essayist, and critic, George Orwell, was born in India in 1903 and died in 1950 of complications from tuberculosis. Orwell was best known for the novels “Animal Farm” (one of my all time favorite dystopian books), and the deeply disturbing “Nineteen Eighty-four”.

The quote above came from a critique that Orwell had written in 1946 of James Burnham’s books “The Managerial Revolution” and “The Machiavellians: Defenders of Freedom”. His observation was that Burnham made the mistake that many of us make when predicting outcomes – we assume that is now will always be. When we make our decisions based on that logical misstep, we fail to plan sufficiently for alternatives.

I think that, when caught in this view, we also frequently fail to act because we do not see the potential for change.

I fear that this type of defeatism a problem today in the US – not least because we didn’t really comprehend that the status quo could be disrupted.

Anne Frank – reflections on a sad anniversary

“What is done cannot be undone, but one can prevent it happening again.”

— Anne Frank

April 14th has the unhappy distinction of being the anniversary of Anne Frank’s death in the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in 1945.

I’d always been moved by Frank’s insight, and by her overwhelming normal-ness in such an abnormal time.

I’ve always liked this quote, in particular, because the idealist in me wants to believe it.

Growing up in the post-war baby boom, WWII was still too raw a nerve in my youth – it wasn’t yet left to the history books. I read Diary of a Young Girl when I was young, and just wished that there could have been a different ending. Anne Frank and my mother were born only two months, and an entire world, apart, so there always seemed something a bit surreal to me when I was younger. In later years, it became easier to see the diary for what it was – not so different from ramblings that I sporadically made in my own attempts at diaries in my adolescence. Attempts to process the day, a way to vent about things that frustrated me, a place to record my hopes. It is also clear that she was precocious for her age and time – and now I find that I also wonder, as I look at my own daughters, what could have been for her. What might have been had she been born in a different time, a different place, a different religion.

And so, on this day, take nothing for granted – it all might have been very different for any one of us.