Friday, August 14, 2020

Gloom, despair, and disappearing mailboxes

Spoiler alert: I am going to reveal some of my vulnerabilities and shortcomings below, thereby potentially burnishing my golden reputation for strength and stability. So if you don’t want to be disabused of your glowing perception of my perfectionism, cease and desist!

“Gloom, despair, and agony on me. Deep, dark depression, excessive misery.” It’s an old song, recognizable to my generation. It cycles through my mind.

It’s easy to get depressed during a pandemic. I try to keep up with friends who live alone, to make sure they know they are cherished by at least one person despite the distance. I understand how lonely and discouraging it can get.

I am not invulnerable, despite having a dinner companion and someone to watch my back. For example, today I got bad news: a possible plumbing leak at my rental condo (in the converted church). I know that Pope will try to support me through the ordeal, and stay nearby if tears flow. But the responsibility is mine.

Tears have been flowing easily. Not from loneliness per se, though it feels like I am alone in my troubles. Sound familiar?

Mostly, it’s despair at the shanghaied election process, the vile behavior of anti-maskers, the endless stream of problems that cannot be solved easily because of pandemic closures, reduced services, and reluctance to allow service personnel into my safe space. Equally depressing: we do not receive mail for long blocks of time, then a stack arrives all at once. The longest period was 7 days. We are getting other people's mail. The dismantling of postal service is real -- even 8 blocks from the US Capitol.

I know that not all readers of my blog share my political views. I forgive you, and hope that we can remain civil and respectful. I have handwritten, addressed, and stamped 800 election reminders to voters, hoping they will choose my favored candidates. Now, I have no confidence they will reach their intended recipients, because of corruption and malicious intent by the opposition. You may disagree with my politics, but my feelings are real. Tears of anger.


I have a friend who moved to Virginia last week and wants to vote. But DMV appointments to change an address and get a Real ID are not available until late October, and the deadline for voter registration changes is mid-October. I tried to help solve this problem. Tears of frustration.

Returning to the previous address to vote is not feasible. Voting by mail is ridiculous: the slim chance of a ballot application using the old address arriving at a short-staffed office, a ballot being forwarded from the old address to the new address by an unreliable USPS, and a completed ballot getting returned to election officials in time, by the same handcuffed USPS -- all around the same time frame that the DMV official address change is taking effect -- well, let’s just leave it at “ridiculous.”

There probably are workarounds. But why should someone have to work so hard to vote? Because some people want to prevent other people from voting. The first set of people are more powerful than the second set of people. It’s a recipe for anxiety, anger, despair. Tears on behalf of the friend, myself, and all citizens affected by comparable dilemmas due to the sorry mess our country is in.

Finally, a source of tears and fears that I bet is not at all unusual: I wake up coughing every few days. I get hot flashes, chills, nausea, and lightheadedness. My head aches.

These might be attributable to allergies, hormone imbalances, hot weather, fluctuations in blood pressure, dehydration, stress. Who knows. In a time of pandemic, however, my mind flashes like lightning to the perfect storm: coronavirus.

 Gloom, despair, and at least a little depression. Can anyone relate?







Friday, August 7, 2020

It’s A(nother) Lost Cause

Are you familiar with the Lost Cause? If not, you may be ignorant of, or possibly denying, a large part of US history. This shameful period is rarely described in history books, because it isn’t over.

Lost Cause began with glorification of the southern cause in the Civil War and a call for restoring white supremacy, including denying Blacks their gains after the war in getting paid jobs, public office, and the right to vote. It continued with Jim Crow laws and continued denial of the civil rights enshrined in Constitutional amendments. It has taken a century and the deaths of many public leaders to repeal these laws and reduce these sinful practices. Agonizingly slowly. Like pulling teeth. 

In fact, lynchings and hangings were never outlawed because Senator Rand Paul prevented passage of an anti-lynching bill in Congress this spring and summer. 155 years after the Civil War.

That’s right, folks. In August 2020, lynching is still not a federal crime because of entrenched anti-Black sentiment in the United States. 

So why is anyone confused about the frustration that led to Black Lives Matter? How can anyone deny this nation’s deplorable, dishonorable, and decidedly un-Christian present, let alone its heinous past?

Are you part of the solution, or entrenched in a sordid and shameful history? 

Could the current era of corruption, racism, and denial of civil and civic rights become another Lost Cause, despite the protests and calls for change — by only half of our nation? If so, which side will you be on?

Thursday, August 6, 2020

The Importance of Education. Are You Sure?

What’s the big deal with getting everybody back to textbooks and exams?  What’s the harm in allowing a little delay in learning?

It hasn’t been many generations since going to school was not a sure thing in the US. For instance, my mother only went to school until 4th grade and my father started in a one-room schoolhouse with six students — both in white, rural Michigan.

Impoverished minority communities lacked proper schools and supplies, and some had none, until very recently. The gaps continue and are well documented.

Outside the US, there are many countries and regions where school is not a given, especially for girls, minorities, lower classes, and lower castes. Children are put to work at a young age instead of going to school. 

What are these dire consequences that would occur if education worldwide gets postponed for a while? It seems that the bigger problem, at least in the US, is parents needing relief from child care. If that’s the real reason, why not address the problem differently? Such as staggered work schedules for parents, partnering with neighbors for child care (i.e., expanding quarantine units for this purpose). Some private schools are already reconfiguring — very small numbers, staggered schedules (by weeks, not hours), plexiglass barriers, distance, ventilation.

U.N. Secretary General António Guterres said in early August that the world is facing a “generational catastrophe” due to school closures. See the UN statement, linked here.

In interviews, he also called the coronavirus pandemic “the largest disruption of education ever.” I challenge that statement. What about wars, the plague, the 1918 pandemic? What about the centuries before pre-industrialization, before mass migration to cities, when most of the population lived on farms, and work vs. learning was subject to need, demand, ability, seasons, and weather? 

Maybe what he really meant was “in industrialized countries in recent decades.”

Guterres urged all countries to suppress the virus enough to allow schools to open. Well, duh. Of course that’s the ideal. But in reality, isn’t it likely (leaving aside political will for the moment) that some countries will be far more capable than others of accomplishing this, by throwing economic and digital resources at the problem, and thereby widening, rather than narrowing, educational disparities worldwide?

The US is technically capable but lacks the political will. So, is Guterres’ education “catastrophe” worse than the one that’s emerging in the US this week: massive superspreading events triggered by students crowding school classrooms and hallways?

How about this idea: throw economic and digital resources at the child care problem, and urge capable nations to let the school vacation continue until all nations are in a more solid position to resume education on a global scale. Let some nations catch up by slowing others down. Why not?

Wednesday, August 5, 2020

Voter Suppression Makes Me Very, Very Mad

My latest rant is not about old boats or the pandemic. If you only want to read about tragic sailing escapades and tropical lanes decked with bougainvillea, or even life in quarantine, please stop reading and come back another time. Today, my bugaboo is politics.

I rarely cared about politics until the last five or six years. That's one of the reasons my first husband gave up on me: I yawned through his tirades and was bored with All Things Considered, the NPR radio show he listened to every afternoon. He campaigned for Eugene McCarthy. My M.O. was to turn on some rock 'n' roll, go dancing, have fun. Politics? Nah. 

A few years ago, however, my current life partner, Pope, educated me about the Koch brothers and their systematic efforts--backed by millions of dollars--to suppress votes, legislate in favor of billionaires, pack the courts, and otherwise dismantle democracy. Then I read a New York Times Magazine profile of Kris Kobach, an extreme anti-voting-rights, anti-immigration politician. I felt chills. I was incensed!

Since then, one of the Koch brothers died. Otherwise, the roster of right-wing radicals working hard to take away our rights to equality and "liberty and justice for all" has only grown.

For several years I had been observing other things I don't like: 
-Vicious Facebook comments, especially from acquaintances in Michigan, about "liberal" policies I liked (now expanded to mask policies).
-Confirmation that the violence during "protests" is often fueled by white supremacists. This started long before BLM, with the first inauguration protests-- remember?
-Public officials advocating violence instead of negotiation, reaching across the aisle, and the Golden Rule. 

At the 2016 and 2018 elections, I overcame my shyness enough to do phone banking and door-to-door canvassing for Democratic candidates, hoping for a firm stomp on the growing lawlessness. I wrote postcards to voters.

Since #45 got elected, my fears increased to the point of overload. I worry about the entire future of democracy. I started going to weekly protests in downtown DC--then stopped because I was afraid of a mass shooting. (My fears have been realized with the "crackdowns" in Washington, DC, Portland and Seattle--not crazies with machine guns, but equivalent.)

One of the things that upset me the most was learning about the widespread efforts to deny people the vote. This feels to me like a vicious attack on American principles -- not to mention Christian values -- and a return to 19th-century-levels of discrimination. (Susan B. Anthony, we need you now.)

Long after the controversial 2018 election was over, with thousands of absentee ballots uncounted, the battle to restore ethics and democracy in elections continued, thanks partly to the efforts of defeated Secretary of State candidate Stacey Abrams of Georgia. In fact, this battle had already been raging for many years. It's just that many of us first became aware of it after 2018. Techniques to influence outcomes have become a fine art. First came gerrymandering, then voter IDs, requiring fixed addresses, and closing polling places.

Now, the situation is more dire than ever: we regularly see headlines about voter suppression. We know that safely voting in person is not feasible, and right-wing radicals may succeed in essentially shutting down mail service. Donald Trump, Mitch McConnell, the Texas and Missouri governors, and, yes, Kris Kobach have publicly opposed mail-in voting for months, despite the pandemic. Their opposition is shrouded in the false guise of avoiding "voter fraud." The president is uncharacteristically forthright, acknowledging that the real reason is that it could hurt Republicans' chances to get elected. McConnell is playing his usual "Follow the Leader" game, mimicking the president.

If, like me, you are concerned about voter suppression, regardless of the specific measures that might be employed, I invite you to join me in supporting the various movements to make America democratic again. That's democratic with a small "d," not the name of the political party. Every citizen should care about democracy. At a minimum, they should stay informed, research the candidates, and be allowed to vote without undue obstacles or harassment.

Here are a few suggestions for getting up to speed quickly on the subject of voter suppression.

Start with these articles that came out of Georgia just after the 2018 midterm election: What We Must Do Now and Stacey Abrams Says She Was Almost Blocked From Voting.

If you can spare 5 more minutes, search Google for other articles by Greg Palast, an investigative journalist who has been documenting voter suppression for several years. No need to read all the articles--just browse the terrible headlines! 

Third, if you haven't lost your job and can spare a few bucks, donate to one of the groups fighting back against the continuing, aggressive anti-voter measures by prominent politicians. Those groups didn't give up when the midterm recounts ended despite thousands of uncounted mail-in votes. Their lawsuits against public officials and institutions will drag on for years. In the time of a pandemic, their battles are exponentially more difficult.

The ACLU and Southern Poverty Law Center seem to be the most prominent advocates for voting rights. Common Cause continues to litigate the election process in Georgia, North Carolina, and Florida, as does the League of Women Voters.

I have donated to Four Directions in North Dakota, which battled to provide new voter IDs to Native Americans when the law was changed to require street addresses instead of post office boxes--just before the 2018 midterms. It's also possible to donate to Greg Palast's operating fund as he continues to investigate underhanded tactics by the likes of Brian Kemp, Kris Kobach, and the surviving Koch Brother

Keep an eye on Stacey Abrams, who may provide clues about the steps needed in the coming months to counteract voter oppression, despite where she ends up politically.

I would rather spend my time on music, yoga, fitness, genealogy, maybe watching travel documentaries--anything at all except politics. Ugh. Unfortunately, though, my blinders have been removed, and my motivations have changed: now I think engaging in the election process is the most important activity in which every US citizen can engage. I see clearly that voter suppression is just one prong of a pitchfork being leveled at democracy. Any of us could get stabbed.

So I reluctantly admit that my worldview has changed and my focus must change with it. Having fun and enjoying life, even surviving a deadly virus, needs to move out of the way and make room for educating myself and engaging in politics.