O Democracy, Wherefore Art Thou?

Once upon a time, I truly believed that I had a voice in my government, maybe not directly, but certainly through my elected representatives. Even while my preferred candidate in a particular race didn’t always win, I had more than a smidgen of faith that my preferred candidate could win in the near future.

I had little patience for my fellow-citizens’ excuses for not voting. I considered “I’m too busy,” or “My vote doesn’t matter,” to be lousy excuses for eschewing their duty as a citizens. These non-voters were risking the very underpinnings of democracy with this irresponsible behavior! Only confinement (be it hospital or jail) and death were acceptable excuses. Imagine, if we all decided our vote didn’t matter!

And yet, recently, my passion as a true believer is flailing. I have a new sense of apathy exacerbated by an ever-filling mailbox of messages urging me to sign petitions and contact my Congressional representatives to help sway their votes in favor of an issue. I’m confronted daily by the futility of my participation in our democracy. That’s because the men who represent me in Congress were not elected by my votes, don’t need my votes to win again, and ergo, don’t care about my opinions.

My congressional district has been drawn so its current occupant (or one with similar leanings) can win even if all the progressive voters in the district vote against him. In fact, he doesn’t need any votes from my urban area since the district has been drawn to run from San Marcos to south of Fort Worth, including Killeen, Fort Hood, parts of the hill country and only a smattering of Austinites. In other words, this man from bustling Weatherford is guaranteed a conservative vote majority from the largely rural Congressional District 25. So, while cattle ranchers in Lampasas may be happy with their representation, I’ve been drawn out of an opportunity to cast a meaningful vote. This is what political gerrymandering looks like.

The U.S. Supreme Court has said that racial gerrymandering is unconstitutional, but, thus far, its next best surrogate, political gerrymandering, has escaped court review. That will change this term when the Court takes up a case that brings political gerrymandering squarely before them. Ironically, the principle of “one person, one vote,” will come down to the vote of one man, Justice Kennedy. As the swing vote on voting rights, he will decide upon the constitutionality of a process that allows candidates to pick their voters instead of the other way around.

Yet, while gerrymandering of any type is an outright assault on democratic principles, in my opinion, our method of choosing Senators – two per state – seems to strike a bigger blow to democracy. Unfortunately, the election of senators — a tragic compromise to buy off the smaller states — is baked into the Constitution and off-limits to a judicial fix.  Proportional representation based on population in both House and Senate was the original goal of George Washington, James Madison, and Alexander Hamilton, among other delegates to the Constitutional Convention who sought to create a strong national government. As powerful as their voices were, the delegates of small states threatened to walk out of the convention over that proposal.

Accordingly, the convention adopted a split-the-difference compromise that most delegates would swallow, i.e., proportional representation for the House based on population, but equal representation in the Senate wherein each State legislature selected two senators (later amended in 1913 to be elected by voters of each state). Allowing the states to maintain some control of the legislative process through the Senate was key to the Constitution’s ratification by the states.

But the compromise that birthed a nation packs a bigger wallop today than in 1787, when states like Texas and California were unimaginable. The smallest state, Tennessee, had a population of about 35,000, while the largest, Virginia, claimed 691,000, about 20 times greater. Compare that with today’s Wyoming with a population of 586,000, while California, with almost 40 million people is 68 times greater. So, when a citizen of Wyoming contacts one of their senators, there’s a higher chance that citizen’s opinion will matter to that Senator, compared to the possibilities for a voter in California or Texas, with a population of 28 million.

In fact, Wyoming has 262,719 registered voters, about the same number of people who live in Laredo, Texas. Conceivably, a Wyoming senator could know every voter in the state – or at least a member of their family! In contrast, when I’m asked to write my senators about abortion issues, health care, judicial appointments, taxation, gender equality, etc., I have to choke back a silent scream: “I am nobody to them!!” Actually, instead of sending anything to Senators Cornyn and Cruz, I might as well send a missive to Mars!!

And the situation is not going to get any fairer. Rural states are shrinking, as deaths outpace births and young people are abandoning rural life in search of better opportunities. Yet, their representation in the Senate will remain constant no matter the Census, resulting in an over representation of rural, conservative interests in a country that is largely urban and progressive.

The internet seems to be the key to understanding the disparity between rural and urban attitudes.  It allows for us to have friends on the other side of the planet, pay bills without a stamp, run a business at home in our pajamas, or read books without ever visiting a book store or library. The more we change our habitual ways of doing things, the easier it gets for us to embrace novelty and new information.

Yet, rural America has much less internet access and seems to be standing still amidst the digital revolution. They don’t see the world through the wide eyes of Google, don’t know anyone who is LGBT, needs an abortion, or is trying to escape the cycle of poverty. Successors of the Luddites who protested change some 400 years ago, they are, in effect, holding us hostage to their uninformed and short-sighted ways. Their short list of political interests include having guns to kill critters that threaten the chicken coop, ostracizing anyone who doesn’t look like them, and making sure their crop subsidies (corporate welfare) keep coming. Their suspicions about government (except for its aforementioned crop subsidy system) means they oppose most everything else government could do to improve the lives of the rest of their countrymen and women.

The unfortunate reality is that we are stuck with a government that gives folks in Wyoming and other small or rural states more than their share of representation in the Senate. As much as I wish otherwise, I realize it’s crazy to think that senatorial allocation could ever be realigned so that it more realistically reflects our evolution to a more urban America. A constitutional amendment would never pass Congress, since the small and rural states would block it just as they did in 1787. And no one wants another civil war – certainly not any of us urbanites. We’re too involved in living our busy, interesting, and diverse lives. Did anyone say “pumpkin spice latte?!”

I’ll try to content myself with the fact that I’m not living in a dictatorship, or Wyoming, for that matter. But, I liked believing that my vote and my voice mattered. I miss that.

So, where’s that email address for Mars?

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Untwinning from the Rich and Famous

Anyone who knows me wouldn’t be surprised to learn that I suffer from periodic bouts of conversation deficiency, particularly as a retiree without an office full of coworkers.  I recognize that I’m in the midst of such an episode when I allow small exchanges at the grocery store with fellow-shoppers to blossom into more than an “excuse me,” as I side swipe their carts.

For example, a few weeks ago, the purslane in another shopper’s basket prompted a conversation about its beauty, hardiness, and whether she was going to eat the leaves, which I’ve heard is a big thing. After exhausting purslane, we branched out to other topics, including her feeling that I looked very familiar.  Had we met at a certain workshop she’d attended recently?  No, I hadn’t been there, so we exchanged other potential meeting places, to no avail. We ended up concluding that I had a twin somewhere.

I was glad to finalize the conversation there since I couldn’t help but remember my brush with celebrity about three decades ago that began when a department store clerk, looking over my check and driver’s license, told me, “If we were in New York, I would just assume you were Nikki on the Young & the Restless. Of course, I can see here that you aren’t.”  I had never seen the show and didn’t know who Nikki was, but I was having a good hair day, so I assumed I should take her comment as a compliment.  I thanked her good-naturedly and left the store thinking the poor young woman needed glasses.  While I was blond,  skinnier, and made an effort to look nice most days, I didn’t see television material in my mirror.

But strangely enough, not too long after my encounter at the department store, a couple of employees in my office copy center mentioned the resemblance and began greeting me as Nikki, even yelling “Hey, Nikki,” down the hallway to tease me.  Other employees would ask me what was going on.  When I explained, an extraordinary number of them would say, “Now that you mention it, you do look like Nikki!”

What bamboozled me the most about all this was how so many 8-to-5 working people were so knowledgeable about a daytime soap opera.  These were the days before ubiquitous  VCRs and streaming was a next generation phenomenon.  I had to wait for a work holiday to get an opportunity to watch the soap opera and see my “twin.”

And as you’ve probably been thinking to yourself,  I looked nothing like Nikki!  Not that I wasn’t very flattered, but aside from my hair and the fact we are both Caucasian women, I couldn’t see any resemblance. Just one of the many differences I noticed was that Melody Thomas Scott (a.k.a. Nikki) has a cute uplifted nose – mine just sits on my face waiting for a nose job.  Don’t take my word for it:

Even so, my Nikki-ness seemed to grow like a cancer. At restaurants, waitresses would regularly note my resemblance and launch into the particulars of her character, her love life with Victor, etc.  Sometimes, other diners would stop by my table, interrupt any conversation, and ask me whether I knew of the resemblance.  Fast food counter people would ask me, “Do you watch the Young & the Restless?  You look just like Nikki!”

Some encounters would begin with “You look so much like someone . . . ” as they struggled to remember who. If I were in a good mood, I’d helpfully provide, “Nikki on Y&R?” “Yesss!! That’s it!” If I were lucky I wouldn’t have to hear about the latest Y&R plot twist and could get on with whatever business I had with that person. When I didn’t have time for a potentially long Nikki chat, I’d try to prevent any exploration of the subject with something innocuous like, “They say we all have a twin somewhere!”

Dealing with my Nikki-ness had already become an annoyance when I finally had my fill of being a celebrity.  On that particular day I was transporting a large un-crated German Shorthaired Pointer in the back seat of my new car while trying to find a kennel that was supposed to be on Brodie Lane (virtually uninhabited back then). Did I mention the dog drooled profusely?  When I spied a convenience store on the corner, I stopped to ask the clerk for help. (No google maps or cell phones back then.)

Here’s the short version of our conversation:

Me: I’m lost and looking for a dog kennel. Do you know of one nearby?
Her: Don’t I know you from somewhere?
Me: I don’t think so. Do you….
Her: Do you live around here? Where do you work?  I recognize you from somewhere.
Me: No, I don’t live near. I work downtown. I don’t know you. I need to find….
Her: (pensively) But I’m sure I’ve seen you . . . someplace.

This went on for a little longer, but I was determined not to mention Nikki, all the while imagining the saliva I’d be cleaning off my new back seat. I wanted to scream, “Lady, where’s the f….  dog kennel??!!!” But I controlled myself. And she finally said she didn’t know of any kennel, anyway. I eventually found it, fuming, frustrated, and understanding why Sean Penn would blow up at the paparazzi.

Fortunately, my life as a Nikki lookalike, seemed to die soon thereafter, mainly because I left my job, started law school, and didn’t get out as much.  None of my fellow law students and new friends ever mentioned a word about Nikki.  It was nice to put that behind me, but after two years in school, I started to worry that the Nikki thing might flare up again once I left the rarefied world of legal studies. I could imagine juries or court personnel seeing me and thinking about the soap opera instead of listening to my words.  Dying my hair could work, but it seemed a bit drastic.  After two Nikki-less years, I almost convinced myself that I shouldn’t worry about it.

But, one day while chatting about our hair with a classmate who had new highlights, I mentioned I was considering a change.  Red heads, I theorized, seem to get more respect than blondes and that might serve me better as a lawyer.  Expecting to share a good laugh over something quite ludicrous, I added, “You see, there’s this soap opera actress . . . ”

She didn’t even let me finish. “Nikki? Oh, I’ve always thought you looked like her!”  I couldn’t believe what I heard!  Had she and how many others been holding back all this time?  After all, it’s not like we only talked about Marbury v. Madison during our many days together.  Shortly thereafter, I threw out the peroxide and didn’t look back — I went red.

Since then, I’m happy to say that no one has mentioned Nikki to me. In fact, I would caution against anyone wanting to do something just to be famous. Anonymity is normal — it’s the way most of us are most comfortable (except for our current president and other narcissists). In this celebrity-obsessed culture, being famous is a major inconvenience, an artificial construct that we must work around in order to do what we want to do and be ourselves.

In the movie Notting Hill, I hear Julia Roberts channeling herself a bit as she was playing a famous actress trying to explain to Hugh Grant, a non-famous book seller, why he should overlook her celebrity and its attendant difficulties and be her beau.  She says plaintively: “The fame thing isn’t really real you know? . . . and don’t forget, that I’m also just a girl, standing in front of a boy, asking him to love her.”

So, I didn’t tell the purslane lady at the grocery store anything about my brush with fame as Melody Scott Thomas’s twin.   First, she would have looked me over and thought me insane; second, the Young & the Restless will have to pay me some of those big diva bucks to promote their show this time around. And the biggest reason of all:  I prefer to remain mostly anonymous.

Best wishes to Melody.  We were sisters for a while.

 

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The Core that May Always be With Us

Donald Trump, master of chaos, commander in crazy, continues to spiral out of control, and yet he continues to maintain a group of base of support among base of 35-40% of Americans. It’s hard to fathom how these core supporters can remain immune to facts and vulnerable to every conspiracy theory that gurgles up from questionable sources. Some people explain this phenomenon by pointing to the advent of cable tv, internet access to fake news, and the elimination of basic civics education in our high schools, but I’m wondering whether the arc of history toward a more enlightened citizenry has some intractable obstacles?

Specifically, after reading an excerpt from the The Uncensored John Henry Faulk, published in 1985, I was struck with the notion that there may be a baked-in suspicion of facts in some of the American DNA.  Faulk, well-known humorist in the vein of Mark Twain, hatched much of his humor from memories and observations of characters and family members from his 1920s South Austin childhood and traveling around the South. In this piece called, “Defending National Security,” he brings his mother’s cousin, Ed Snodgrass, to life in a conversation about Nixon and Watergate. [Feel free to substitute our current president and the Mueller probe into Russian collusion.  And maybe Ted Cruz for Tower.]

At last I understand what national security means.  That is, what it means to Cousin Ed Snodgrass and his friends.  He explained it to me the other morning about daylight when he came over to have a cup of coffee with me.

“Got a letter from Senator John Tower’s office yesterday,” he remarked as he blew on his coffee.  “Really was an eye-opener, too.  Tower understands the whole thing!”

“What whole thing does Senator Tower understand?” I asked.

“All this plotting and conspiring against our national security,” he answered.

 “Tower’s on to the whole shooting match.  Them conspirators ain’t got John Tower fooled for one minute.”

“What conspirators are you talking about, Cousin Ed?”

“Sam Ervin and his committee, the New York Times, Washington Post, and them high and mighty TV commentators that’s plotting against national security.  That’s what conspirators I’m talking about!”

“What kind of conspiracy are they in against national security?’

“They are conspiring to git Dick Nixon!”

“Did Senator Tower say that the Watergate investigations were a conspiracy against national security?”

“No.  He just pointed out that they were all so prejudiced and one-sided that it amounted to a conspiracy to git President Nixon.  I figured out the rest for myself.”

“You know, Cousin Ed, you and Senator Tower and your friends amaze me.  In fact, you dumbfound me.  Here we are a self-governing people, a society that boasts about the fact that we control our government and that it does not control us.  Teach our children that.  Then we discover that the men whom we have entrusted with power have lied to us and deceived us.  And right off, you raise the howl that it’s unfair to investigate the wrongdoing!  You even call it a conspiracy.”

“Now wait a minute! Me and Senator Tower ain’t defending no wrongdoing.  We believe everybody that’s done wrong ought to be punished.  We just say leave President Nixon’s name out of it.”

“But he’s head of the administration that’s perpetrated all the wrongdoing and deception that caused such a crisis!  How do you think they can leave his name out?”

“They ain’t proved a thing on Nixon yet!  He’s pure as the driven snow.  That’s why it’s so unfair to go ‘round accusin’ him.”

“Hogwash, Cousin Ed.  What do want them to prove?  His own aides, members of his administration have publicly confessed to perjury, obstruction of justice, burglary, and God knows what other crimes.  His own staff now admit that he instructed them to follow a ‘basic policy decision’ to keep secret the gross misuses of the taxpayers’ money to the tune of ten million dollars on Nixon’s private homes.  That’s not speculation.  That’s now admitted fact.  Add to those things the fact that last week the Pentagon itself was forced to admit that it had systematically falsified records of bombing in Cambodia in order to deceive the American people.  At whose instruction?  Nixon’s!  And you sit there and say the Senate committee and newspapers are unfair to President Nixon.  What nonsense.”

“I said, and I repeat, I ain’t’ defending no wrongdoing.  I’m defending our national security.”

“Then why are you claiming that the investigators are all conspiring in a plot against national security?  Our national security isn’t dependent on official misconduct.  To the contrary, lying and deception threaten our nation’s well-being.”

“Son, anything that threatens Dick Nixon threatens our national security.  That’s just a matter of common sense.”

“What’s common sense about that?’

“If you was smart as me and Senator Tower, you’d know.  Dick Nixon is national security.  Anybody that goes around criticizing Dick Nixon is undermining our national security.  If you don’t believe me, ask the president.”

Seems like some things never change . . . arc of history be damned!

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Holding Hands in the Times of Trump

Hours before Montana’s special Congressional election, the Republican candidate, Greg Gianforte, assaulted Ben Jacobs, a reporter from the Guardian. He actually threw him to the ground and started beating him after Jacobs asked an innocuous question about the health care legislation, a question that generally doesn’t trigger a no-one-questions-my-manhood reaction. It was reassuring when everyone above average on the sanity scale, began questioning Gianforte’s mental stability.

And yet, voters in Montana rallied to Gianforte’s defense, apparently, more enthusiastic about his candidacy than they were the day before, sweeping him into office. As Gianforte extended an apology to Jacobs at his victory speech, some of his supporters could be heard yelling “We forgive you!” in voices that reeked of “Awww, no big deal, Greg,” in homage, it seems, to Donald Trump’s oft-repeated belief that he could get away with shooting a New Yorker on 5th Avenue. Indeed, I got the distinct sense that Gianforte could take another swing at a reporter and face no electoral repercussions.

Sadly, this country has been bleeding civility since President Obama’s election unleashed right-wing partisans who felt it was acceptable to demean the President simply because he was black. But Donald Trump’s campaign took hate to a new level with his rants against reporters, in particular, but against all who ran against him, disagreed with him, or were of the “wrong” color, ethnicity, or religion. He inflamed passions against peaceful demonstrators and showed an appalling contempt for governmental institutions, the military, the intelligence community, judges, our foreign allies, the disabled, and even Gold Star families. With an alarming ignorance of history and science, he insulted anyone wedded to facts, truth, and science. And let’s never, ever forget the graphic details on how he thought women should be treated.

But, he got away with all of that. Enough people in this country said “We forgive you, Donald,” at the ballot box, so that, now, politicians, particularly those in his own party, feel emboldened to act out their baser instincts, too. The coarsening of our politics may not have been started by Donald Trump, but one can’t argue with how effectively he’s spread the contagion of his boorishness-on-steroids to a certain party’s political class.

In Texas, for example, our wheelchair-bound governor, Greg Abbott, threatened reporters with a display of his pistol target practice results. (He now says it was a joke.) Within days of that episode of gubernatorial malignancy, Texas House member from the Dallas area, Matt Rinaldi, also adopted a page from the Trumpian playbook, turning a peaceful protest of a bill banning “sanctuary cities” into a major scuffle on the House floor. Rinaldi was heard to have threatened an Hispanic colleague with a bullet to the head. Unfortunately, he’ll probably get re-elected despite this.  Trumpian logic is you can “get away with” almost any loathsome behavior as long as you still get the votes, which is pretty easy in gerrymandered Texas.

But, I sure hope events like these aren’t becoming the new normal and “getting away with it” isn’t the new standard for behavior.  After all, what kind of people beat up someone for no defensible reason, whether or not they can get away with it? Who fails to say “excuse me” when they bump into someone? Don’t most of us feel compelled to cover our coughs or help someone overburdened with packages open a door? Whether or not we can get away with assaulting or being considerate of others is really not the point.  The point is that somewhere on the path toward civilization, we figured out that life is better if we show consideration for our fellow human beings, e.g., the Golden Rule. As Sigmund Freud pointed out, “It is impossible to overlook the extent to which civilization is built upon a renunciation of instinct.”

And yet, it has become ever more apparent that there is a group of Americans — Donald Trump being a prime example — who believe that their needs, whims, and desires are the only ones that matter. Whether it is a congenital condition or lack of good parenting and education, these me-firsters failed to mature into individuals who respect others and understand the benefits of acting collectively. Robert Fulghum would probably suggest that they failed kindergarten and never caught up. In his words,

All I Need to Know, I Learned in Kindergarten

Share everything.
Play fair.
Don’t hit people.
Put things back where you found them.
Clean up your own mess.
Don’t take things that aren’t yours.
Say you’re sorry when you hurt somebody.
Wash your hands before you eat.
Flush.
Warm cookies and cold milk are good for you.
Live a balanced life –
Learn some and think some
And draw and paint and sing and dance
And play and work everyday some.
Take a nap every afternoon.
When you go out into the world,
Watch out for traffic,
Hold hands and stick together.
Be aware of wonder.
Remember the little seed in the plastic cup? The roots go down and the plant goes up and nobody really knows how or why, but we are all like that.

Everything you need to know is in there somewhere.
And it is still true, no matter how old you are, when you go out into the world, it is best to hold hands and stick together.

 

I’ve seen many of these lessons taking root in my grandson, Kyler, this past school year of kindergarten, along with what he is learning from family members.  I witness my son teaching him how to greet others, shake hands, and say please. My daughter-in-law has imparted lessons in gratitude, insisting on thank yous and the concept of writing thank-you notes. I’ve watched my other son, wearing his uncle hat, coaching Kyler to express interest in the health/well-being of others, reinforcing a relinquishment of his childish egocentrism.  Like other parents, it warms my heart to see my own children committing themselves to raising another decent human being for this world.

But, as we mold and shape the young people who will replace us, we also need them to see positive role models in the real world. I wish I could believe that 6-year-old Kyler will remember the man who for every day of eight years, unfailingly exhibited the class, grace and dignity that we want all of our children to emulate – President Barack Obama. It’s a sad reality that most parents today will want to shield their kids from our current president.

In fact, we may need to regularly adopt the “cup and cover” procedure – cupping the ears and covering the eyes of our children — as an increasing number of leaders spew statements of intolerance, hate, and violence. How will these kids ever learn to respect government if they must be protected from those who lead it?  Yes, we should talk to them about it.  But, how can parents logically explain their uncivil utterances and behavior as contrary to the values of most decent Americans, and, in the next breath, explain that they can get away with it because they are elected and re-elected by a majority of voters?

Since civility is truly the only currency that makes the world go round, is it really too much to ask our leaders to stop acting like Trump and show some respect and tolerance for others?  Can’t they see that without it, we risk blowing up the planet? As I heard CNN Commentator Van Jones say, “Civility isn’t just some optional value in a multicultural, multi-state democratic republic. Civility is the key to civilization.”

So, for everyone’s sake, let’s all hold hands, stick together, and make America civil again!! Resist, resist, resist!

 

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My Roaring Resistance to Donald J. Trump

I confess: I’m one of the sore losers. I have skin that crawls when I hear the word “president” preceding the name “Trump.” And I simply cannot abide people who say we have to “move on” or “get over it.” They suggest this as if the election were like the Dallas Cowboys losing to the Baltimore Colts in the final five seconds of the 1970 Super Bowl, thereby marking the precise moment when I stopped caring about football. But electing a president is not a game. And while I can still watch football with detachment, I can not regard the upcoming Trump presidency unemotionally.

My mind whirls trying to explain his victory. In one of the most significant elections in our history, American voters were asked to choose between a man who knows nothing about government and a woman, widely acknowledged as the best prepared candidate ever — and the know-nothing man was elected. Was it just an aversion to a woman who isn’t wearing an apron, offering food, or one who’s not clad in underwear and wings? Was it that this woman didn’t “look” presidential (code for “not a man”)? Was she too smart?  Did the anti-Hillary voters even know what a server is? Did they really believe that having a computer apparatus in a basement is worse than a crotch-grabbing letch who would assault their daughter, sister, wife, or herself, if he found them appealing?

To those who say move on, I say the loss of Hillary Clinton (in the electoral college) is simply unlike any other election loss. It signifies the death of an ideal that I wanted to be true: that respect for our democracy would motivate American voters, as a group, to choose reason over ignorance . . . to choose love, tolerance, and inclusiveness, over meanness and hate . . . to choose in accordance with their religion, remembering an American president singing “Amazing Grace,” in a voice from his soul, at the funeral of the Charleston Church victims.

 

But equally significant, this loss represents the end of a personal dream of mine and many other women across this country. It wasn’t a dream of unimaginable proportions, like space flight to another galaxy. It was the dream of seeing an American woman – one of admirable credentials, intelligence, and experience – finally breaking through the highest ceiling and taking her place in the Oval Office.

While this is now a vanquished dream of many women, it’s particularly heartbreaking for women of my age because this President Clinton would have been the crowning achievement of our struggle for gender equality, begun in the 1960s. Like other young girls at the time, I grew up while the idea was being brewed that we could do anything, that our mothers would be the last of the 1950s housewife model, and that it was totally reasonable to expect gender equality. We had birth control, after all, that saved us from being accidental and serial producers of offspring and allowed us to actually plan our lives independently of a man. We’d go to college, take jobs, become professionals, and wait to marry until it was right for us. We could belt out the words to Helen Reddy’s “I am Woman, Hear me Roar!”

reddy-roar

And, throughout the 70s, the evidence kept piling up that equality was within our grasp. The Equal Rights Amendment (ERA), passed in Congress in March 1972, would become an actual part of the U.S. Constitution (as soon as 38 states ratified it). In 1973, Roe v. Wade wrested control of our bodies from the government in abortion decisions. The 1974 passage of the Equal Credit Opportunity Act allowed married women to apply for credit without the signature of husbands. Beginning in 1977, a woman could bring an EEOC complaint of sexual harassment in the work place. And in 1978, pregnancy was proscribed as grounds for dismissal from the work place.

Who suspected that we were being set up for heart ache?  The backlash began almost immediately after Congressional passage of the ERA, spearheaded, in part, by women themselves — Phyllis Schafley, in particular (recently dispatched to that special place in hell for women who don’t help other women, as Madeline Albright would say). Her “Pink Ladies” flooded state legislatures spouting their parade of horribles, including single sex bathrooms, the drafting of women, gender integration of the Girl and Boy Scouts, to name a few! By the end of the seven-year deadline for ratification of the ERA, only 35 states had ratified it, and five of those subsequently rescinded their ratification. Congress extended the deadline for 3 more years, but no more states stepped forward to ratify.

As for Roe v. Wade, the last 40 plus years have witnessed countless politicians attempting to whittle away at abortion protections.  We’ve cringed as Republican legislatures across the nation have done everything possible to interfere with the doctor-patient relationship relating to abortion. We’ve monitored, with bated breath, the challenges to these interferences making their long, lumbering trek to the U.S. Supreme Court.

While most of these challenges have been successful, politicians intent on controlling women’s decisions keep thinking of new ways to impede us. After losing in the Court, Texas – it’s Governor, in particular – wasted no time coming up with the most preposterous ever. Pursuant to new rule, an aborted fetus must be given a burial or cremation based on the rationale that a fetus deserves more dignity than the disposal provided for an amputated limb or other excised body part. Forget the silliness that women, like most people, are more attached to our limbs than any grouping of cells in the uterus! No dignity for arms and legs? But more seriously, what about women being accorded basic human dignity when deciding for their own bodies, their own consciences, their own gods! The level of audacity and arrogance of these lawmakers using the word “dignity” in the service of harassing and denigrating women defies measurement.

Fortunately, the Supreme Court is still holding relatively firm to the Roe precedent, but how much longer will that last? After this election, all it would take is a couple of Supreme Court picks by the groper-in-chief to swing the court in an anti-Roe direction. So, I ask, after 44 years of watching sustained attacks against the principles of Roe, am I really supposed to “get over” the loss of a Hillary Clinton presidency, a woman who has known all along that women’s rights are human rights? A woman who fervently supports equal pay for equal work initiatives, believes in the work of Planned Parenthood and other women’s health clinics, and who’s made us proud on so many occasions while supporting our rights?

hillary-pp

The results of this election bring to mind Ann Richards, another woman who made us proud, and her famous observation that Ginger Rogers did everything that Fred Astaire did, only backwards and in heels. Hillary, like Ginger, did everything that a male candidate would do, only she had to contend with Russian government-backed hackers, Julian Assange’s Wikileaking, and a rogue FBI director all working against her. Imagine the victory, if with all those aligned against her, Hillary could have scraped together the small number of votes in those three states that narrowly went to Trump! I can still taste the possibility of her victory when I close my eyes at night.

But when I awake, I see the little girls who will not grow up with the shining example of a woman president encouraging their success. As I ache for them, I also mourn for the promise surrounding the start of my own womanhood some 45 years ago, and lament that I don’t have another 45 years to wait for a woman who has the fire in her belly and who has been sufficiently hardened by the trials and tribulations of Hillary Clinton. Who else could run the almost impossible presidential gauntlet and get elected? When will HER time come and permit us to rest from the constant struggle and yearning for real equality? I’m pretty sure I’ll be gone before that dream can be realized . . . and that saddens me.

So, I won’t “get over” this election or “move on.” I plan to resist Trump because his views regarding women are abhorrent to me and even if I accept the reality that we aren’t moving forward, I will resist any movement backwards. The war continues. I will not opt out. I am woman, hear me roar.

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Hillary Time is Our Time

Friday, July 29, 2016. Grocery store. Strange sensations.

I had to wonder why my face seemed stuck in smile mode as I maneuvered my shopping cart through the aisles.  Why did my step seem livelier, my back a bit straighter, and, implausible as it sounds, why did I feel like I had grown an inch or two taller?

As I tried to account for these oddities, I flashed back to a vision from the night before – that of a woman on a national convention stage being applauded by thousands as she beamed and opened her arms in an expansive welcome to the millions of us watching and wiping away tears. Like so many, I had no idea how much my eyes had hungered to witness this event until it happened – Hillary Rodham Clinton standing on that stage, accepting the ultimate validation of a woman’s worth and sharing it with us all.  It will go down in my books as an unforgettable moment, as it will for many women and, I suspect, many men who respect women and admire accomplishment.

convention.hillary

I can only imagine how it must feel for Hillary, the woman who has withstood more attempts to destroy her than any woman in history, I suspect.  The criticism has always seemed so unfair when she has consistently shown herself to be a woman with an amazing heart who from a young age made it her life’s mission to work on behalf of the disenfranchised, to be a spokesperson and advocate for those without voices, even while having other opportunities. For example, upon graduation from Yale Law School she could have taken a lucrative job in a silver-stocking law firm, but instead, she went to work for the Children’s Defense Fund (CDF). Her mentor, Marian Wright Edelman, sent her into impoverished neighborhoods to interview residents and collect data for a report that eventually prevented school in America from pushing out disadvantaged, minority, and disabled children. She joined the CDF board in 1978 and chaired it from 1986 until 1992. Hillary also stood up for voiceless with her founding of Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families even before Bill Clinton became governor.

In fact, it’s Hillary’s commitment to making life more fair for everyone that has made her public enemy number 1 among the business-as-usual crowd and the right-wing that doesn’t cotton to helping those whose boots don’t come with bootstraps.  When she started her efforts to provide universal health care in this country, the insurance and medical business interests aligned with the right-wing and went full throttle with their public relations and intimidation machines to sidetrack her efforts and besmirch her personally. They even weaved a conspiracy theory that Hillary was behind the death of Vince Foster, her former law partner, family friend, and White House counsel, which many still brand her with, despite the ruling by special prosecutor Ken Starr that Mr. Foster’s death was a suicide.

Remarkably, Hillary’s head has never bowed and she has unceasingly displayed her competence, intelligence, and pride, even while experiencing true heartbreak. She has not broken stride in her efforts to continue serving her country in various capacities. Now that she is attempting to reach for the highest rung in our government, the vitriol and criticism has become proportionately more intense and ugly.

Benghazi has been the most ludicrous of all the attempts to diminish her. As anyone who watched any portion of her 11-hour grilling before the Benghazi investigating committee knows, she came out looking more capable and less guilty of any wrongdoing than before it started. She made her inquisitors look small in comparison with her rational, unflappable demeanor.  Quite reasonably, she reminded them that after other attacks on diplomatic facilities during the Reagan, Clinton and George W. Bush administrations in which hundreds of Americans were killed (see chart), members of both parties “rose above politics” to examine what had gone wrong in partnership with the State Department – not as antagonists.

graph-attacks-on-US-diplomatic-targets

But despite, once again, being exonerated of wrongdoing, she has been equated with Lucifer, an accusation that demonstrates the right wing’s sheer terror of change and Hillary’s ability to make it happen. They scream for her imprisonment and propose her death by firing squad, thereby committing a murder far greater than any of which they accuse her: the cornerstone of our criminal justice system – innocent until proven guilty. Without the imposition of any court’s judgment or verdict, they declare that everyone “knows” she is guilty, so a failure to nail her with a crime is proof that investigators are themselves accomplices to her evil acts. (That means you, FBI Director Comey and Ken Starr!)

And as long as I’m pointing out the absolute lunacy of the attacks against Hillary, what’s the deal with damning her as being “inauthentic?”  How can people say they don’t know “who she is?” Are they confused by her hair styles?  Is that code for wanting to know how many tears she’s shed over Bill’s strolls along the “Appalachian Trail?”  If so, those folks need therapy.  To know who she is, all one needs to do is take into account the causes and projects to which she’s devoted her professional life, along with being a wife, a mother, and dancing in heels. Maybe it’s hard to recognize the unassuming workhorse who for most of her life has toiled unflaggingly in the shadow of her more dazzling and politically-gifted husband. But just consider what she has aimed to accomplish and you’ll know who she is.

I have a vivid memory of seeing Hillary up close in 1991, when she came to Austin to officially open the campaign headquarters for Bill Clinton’s presidential campaign. I was invited to attend the occasion by my friend, Tony Proffitt, who had worked with Bill and Hillary on the 1972 McGovern campaign in Texas.  After he educated me about who the Clintons were, I agreed to go and see whether I’d be interested in the candidate. It was a mid-afternoon, low-key gathering of about 25 or 30 people standing around in the former living room of an old downtown house, but I’ll never forget the dynamic woman, dressed casually and sporting a head band, who spoke that day about her husband’s agenda. She was so compelling and forceful that I told Tony afterwards, “I’m not sure about supporting Bill, but I’m sure ready to vote for her!”

Hillary 1992

And, now, 25 years later, I’m even more ready to vote for this impressive woman who continues to show us what true grit means.  She embodies the women’s movement — the quest for equal rights, equal pay, and equal representation in boardrooms and the halls of government.  After watching state legislatures and the judiciary chip away at Roe v. Wade and remembering the loss of the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) by three states, Hillary brings us hope.  She will be our living proof that when a ceiling collapses, it opens up opportunities for all.

So, on July 29, 2016, I felt taller as I savored the vision of Hillary standing tall on that stage in Philadelphia! While she told us that she is the daughter of her mother and mother of her daughter, we know her to be the sister of millions of women everywhere. Women around the world remember China, 1995, and still hear her voice proclaiming, “Women’s rights are human rights!” She’s our Rocky, our fighter, all bloodied and bruised, but still powered by her own two feet, saluting the suffragettes of yesterday in dazzling white and embracing those of us today with her radiant smile and open arms!

She claimed a victory for us all and – while the music was never played at the convention – I couldn’t help but hear its strains and reflect on the prescience of President Clinton’s campaign song, “Don’t Stop Thinking about Tomorrow!”

Yes! Tomorrow is her time!! Tomorrow is our time!! Hillary. Rodham. Clinton.

Hillary.2016

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Why Spinach Reminds Me of Hitler

Maybe it’s the barrage of disturbing news – presidential politics, terrorist violence, coups, or Americans shooting other Americans – or maybe it’s the melting Texas heat. Whatever the case, I’m going to give my whirling mind a rest and hand over my metaphorical pen to Grumpy Old Woman (GOW) so she can stew a bit about her latest pet peeve.

[Enter GOW] It’s about time! So, what I want to know is what’s the friggin’ deal with all the spinach? How did that vegetable which once minded its own business quietly in cans become the darling of the restaurant world? Used to be, I’d only see spinach, which looked like oozing seaweed or fish tank goo, on school lunch trays and I never saw anyone actually eating it! Now, it’s everywhere I turn and “it’s making me sick,” as Roseanne Roseannadanna would say.

Roseanne-Roseannadanna.2

I think this turn of events began in the 90s when restaurants began offering spinach salads. Up till then, we were an iceberg culture for the most part and these salads would have never been eaten if they weren’t served with some high fat and high sugar dressings to hide the bitterness of the spinach. I tried the hot bacon dressing at Hyde Park Grill, for example, and suddenly, I could wolf down a spinach salad, no prob.  Drinking ramekins of dressing would have been unseemly, after all.

Unfortunately, our short relationship came to an abrupt end one day when I experienced a prolonged work stoppage that alerted me that my body was not going to tolerate any more spinach in its factory. Since I wasn’t eating that much, I thought it strange that the powers-that-be-me were so adamant on the subject. But a line in the sand had been drawn and even two or three leaves were sufficient to interrupt the assembly line.

At first, I figured it would be easy come, easy go. After all, what was there to miss?  I had actually despised the vegetable for most of my life. And in the final analysis, isn’t spinach just a bitter leaf that tastes like dirt?

But, in fact, there was no easy go. About the time of our disaffection, you see, Austin began turning into a Foodie/Vegetarian/Farm-to-Table town and these groups adooore spinach. The darn vegetable began popping up everywhere, often unannounced – spinach as a side dish, spinach as a bed for meats, spinach in a smoothies, spinach swimming in soup, spinach mixing it up with lettuce leaves in dinner salads – in essence, everywhere! Some restaurants with French and Italian-inspired menus are kind enough to give notice of the vegetable in a particular dish by designating it “Florentine” (spinach was introduced to France from Florence, Italy) but you can’t depend on that heads-up. Many restaurant cooks, with the crazy mindset that no one cares, just throw it on plates willy nilly, with nary a whispered mention on the menu. Surprise, surprise!Mr. SpinachUnsurprisingly, spinach leaves show up most commonly in salads, especially those purportedly made with “field greens.” The field green salad (as per Wikipedia) generally consists of “a mixture of very young leaves and shoots of wild and cultivated plants, including endive, dandelion, arugula, lamb’s lettuce, oak leaf, mache, radicchio, chervil, sorrel, frissee, purslane.” Notice that spinach is not listed. Yet, most of the time, a “field green salad” that reaches my table will include spinach. So, when the wait staff can’t guarantee the greens are free of spinach (since no one else has ever asked them what’s in the salad), I simply ask them to make my salad with romaine lettuce only. Easy enough, you’d think.

But, I have found that once there is spinach in a kitchen, pure romaine can be hard to get. Spinach is an aggressive vegetable – refusing any peaceful co-existence. For instance, I ordered a Cobb Salad recently at the Central Market Café that demonstrates my point. Customarily, a Cobb Salad is made with romaine lettuce and CM’s menu even says “romaine lettuce” in what I consider plain English. Upon receipt of my salad, however, I saw spinach leaves gloating up at me along the surface – no telling how many of the devils were hiding inside! I returned to the counter to explain that I didn’t want spinach in my Cobb. The gal at the counter said they couldn’t make a Cobb without spinach because – get this -– the containers of romaine and spinach are very close together in the kitchen and the leaves invariably get intermingled.

“Would you like me to get you something else, maybe a hamburger?” she asked. For a few seconds, I must have stopped breathing I was so flabbergasted. She wasn’t even going to try to prepare a salad that conformed to their menu!? And since when is a hamburger a logical substitute for a salad? Who considers a beef patty and bread as even marginally equivalent to romaine, tomatoes, feta cheese, eggs, bacon, avocado, and kalamata olives? (Is our education system failing, or what?!!!)  Needless to say, before I was done, the restaurant manager persuaded his kitchen team to produce a Cobb salad sans spinach. But, what an ordeal!

You’d think it’s just the traditional “foodie” venues where spinach is pursuing its agenda of manifest destiny. But noooo.  Spinach infiltration is happening now at our neighborhood Cheddar’s, known for its simpler, less healthy fare. Last week, I ordered an item I had often ordered from the “lighter side” menu featuring fish, ginger rice, and a garden salad, always spinach-free in the past. This time, however, the garden salad had been transformed into a spinach salad so generously apportioned, I could barely find the fish under all the dark green spinach leaves!

Spinachman

As you can see, I’m losing the war against a vegetable that has overwhelmed all former resistance to it. Spinach containment is so yesterday! Kitchen workers have been brainwashed so thoroughly, they are incapable of imagining why any diner would object to the dump of some spinach leaves on their plate. It’s like Hitler marching across Europe – it will work its way into as many countries (menu items) as possible! Where is Eisenhower when I need him?

My only hope is that some ingenious researchers will determine that spinach causes baldness and, now that I think about, how about erectile dysfunction, too?! Imagine how quickly male diners would start rejecting even a molecule of the vegetable! Chefs would probably designate it a vegetable non grata and have to quit thinking of more ways to bombard us with it. No more lettuce due diligence for me!

So, if you hear of any research about the spinach-baldness-ED connection, please alert me. Better yet, why not start an internet rumor to that effect since folks will believe most anything they read on the internet? Just ask Donald Trump. And once he hears about it, he’ll probably want to build a wall around it or deport the vegetable back to Italy. He could be useful for that.

Now, having gotten this off my chest and enlisted your help with my cause, it’s time for my nap. But, it just goes to show you, it’s always something!  So, I’ll be back with another something. [Exit GOW]

RoseanneRoseannadanna

As she lays down, I hear her grumbling about the Nike uniforms at Wimbledon that were like baby doll pajamas and made the female players look like prepubescent girls or lingerie models. “It’s enough to make me sick,” she mutters. As I dim the lights, I start to tell her about a LPG golfer on the cover of “Golf” magazine, dressed in some kind of baby doll outfit. But, I keep quiet. I’ll tell her later . . . once I’m sure I’ve got my pen back.

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Austin Invaded by Zika Snakes!!

Zika Snakes?  Let me explain, I am a desperate woman using desperate measures to keep more people from moving here.  You see, last month, I read this headline that provoked me to sputter out my coffee: “Austin Metro Surpasses 2 Million Residents.”   Talk about a sucker punch of reality, a nail in the coffin – Old Austin is officially no more!  We need Zika snakes.

When my first-grade self was among Austin’s 186,545 residents in 1960, we were a virtual hamlet! Everyone potentially, if not in fact, could have known everyone else! Back then, no one spoke of the “Austin Metro,” and even if they did, it would not have meant an area including all of four counties.  Literally and figuratively, Austin was Austin, Round Rock was Round Rock, and ne’er the twain shall meet. Same for Bastrop, Buda, Kyle, Leander, etc.

i35_austin_overpass_undated

But, now, with two million people, we’ve blended and merged into one big glob of humanity. Even while Round Rock is technically still Round Rock and Cedar Park, Leander, and Pflugerville still have their city governments and long histories of independence, they’ve become those neighbors you can hear through the walls!

You folks in Houston might snicker over a mere two million residents. But you were ready to expand — you have roads for your millions!! New Yorkers might also wonder at my distress but NYC has a public transportation system we would die for. Also, both Houston and NYC are peopled with big spenders who dreamed yuuge and built yuuge, which, in turn, fueled public spending on the infrastructure necessary to support those dreams.

Austin35@Riverside1970

In contrast, the Austinites of the past were folks who fretted about losing our small town quality of life, hoping against hope that no one else would discover this little jewel of a city and start dreaming big, much less yuuuge. The powers-that-were joined hands, sang Kumbayah, and adopted the time-honored principle of “if-we-don’t-build, people-won’t-come.” So, we didn’t build and yet . . . the people came.  Given Austin’s complete lack of foresight and failure to embrace growth, where did we go right? Or more pointedly, what does a town have to do to make them stop moving here?  Create the threat of Zika snakes?

You’d think we’d done enough. Haven’t we guaranteed a nightmare of intra-city travel for years to come by restricting transportation options? We had organized groups blocking the construction of new roads and thoroughfares, refusing to settle for anything less than the 1950s integrity and tranquility of their neighborhoods.  We relied on peculiar routes to travel east-west, requiring drivers to weave through neighborhoods and stop frequently at lights and stop signs.

1950.austin

And we haven’t gone crazy building big roads for north-south transit, either. Basically, we only have two major thoroughfares, one being Interstate 35, which is the major trade route linking South Texas with Northern Minnesota. Most of the time it’s packed with truckers, tourists and business travelers waving as they pass the Capitol on their way elsewhere, competing for valuable road space with local commuters or the downtown noon crowd seeking to eat lunch on Riverside. In fact, the segment between Riverside Drive and Dean Keeton Blvd. (26th St.) has been ranked at 10th place on the list of worst highway bottlenecks in America. The other spots, just to give you a frame of reference, are in Los Angeles and New York.

Imagine our excitement when a state highway in far east Austin was announced as a project that would serve as an alternative route for pass-through traffic, truckers in particular, thereby leaving I-35 for the locals! But, those hopes were dashed when it was built as a toll road with very high tolls for trucks. The truckers did some comparison shopping and decided to stay on the free interstate.  Back to square one.

Our other north-south thoroughfare – Loop 1 or Mopac – ain’t no great shakes, either, plagued by the increasing congestion courtesy of our neighbors to the north, residents of Leander, Cedar Park, etc. Some argue that those communities wouldn’t have grown, but an extension of Mopac.  Hence, reverting back to Austin’s no-build-no-grow philosophy, we shouldn’t even think about extending the road southward! But there’s no stopping growth now.  With or without the direct highway extension,  Austin’s southern outskirts are just as fecund as their northern counterparts and any extension, if it ever happens,  is years away.  It’s the Austin way.

Now, with all this vehicular traffic, you might surmise that we have a new miraculous public transportation system in the works. Wrong! Austin has done a great job of sticking with the bus system of the 1950s, although we’ve added and extended routes and bought some bigger (bendable) buses. But, along with blocking road construction, we are champions at shooting down anything sensible like light rail.  The reasons for opposing the painstakingly developed plans of feasibility-study committees are numerous:  too expensive, unpopular routes, unwelcome development around stations, reduction in car lanes, etc.  Austin did approve a little commuter train system (Metrorail) connecting our northern outskirts to a station east of downtown, but only because it runs on existing train lines in the middle of the highway, thereby having no impact on neighborhoods or existing infrastructure. Unfortunately, its goal of reducing congestion on Mopac, hasn’t panned out — ridership is still less than stellar and traffic on Mopac is still bad.  It won’t be selling Austinites on any future rail projects.

austin-light-rail-325x294

As little as our transportation woes work to stop the flow of new folks, could it be our affordable housing that keeps drawing them in? But, wait, affordable housing went by the wayside years ago!  Unlike our transportation system, however, the housing debacle is not a self-inflicted wound. Austinites blame Californians for ruining what was once an affordable housing market. Sadly, those West Coast denizens discovered our city and began transplanting themselves in droves, exiting their crazy-high housing market and plopping down their exorbitant returns for Austin houses – they paid cash for asking prices or more! Naturally, they drove the whole Austin housing market skyward, along with our property taxes, making it hard for even long-established residents to stay in their homes. Minorities were driven from historic residence east of I-35 as all properties in Austin became hot targets for development.  And developers who followed in the Californians’ wake, found their bliss in building expensive condos for downtown living.  Judging by the unflagging changes in our skyline, there are people who love this concept and will pay through the nose for it!

skyline

As I ponder what we did “right” to bring the hordes to our rolling hills, I wonder whether our lack of a professional sports team discouraged any significant number of folks.  It would seem like a real shortcoming that we only have college teams, primarily the University of Texas Longhorns football team, to inspire any kind of zaniness and zealous devotion. Moreover, more often than not, even that football frenzy is generally short-lived as the team fails to live up to its hype.  And if anyone were to move here thinking that one day we’d host a pro team, they are probably gone by now, realizing that Austin isn’t going to pick up the check for any team’s sports arena. As our decisions on mass transit prove, we simply don’t do big projects (with the exception of a medical school as a joint venture with a Catholic hospital that won’t provide female reproductive health services, but that’s another story).

A corollary shortcoming is that without a pro team and that big arena, Austin isn’t a regular stop for the big touring musical acts. While we have lots of venues where our great local bands can perform for little more than tips, and some nice theaters that are largely dominated by touring nostalgia acts, it makes you wonder why someone doesn’t call Austin out for calling itself the “Music Capital of the World.” Two ACL festival weekends and one week of SXSW a year isn’t enough to justify that claim, if you ask me. Although it was a good decision to abandon our former moniker, “The Friendly City,” lest it be interpreted as a welcome mat, but was “Music Capital of the World” the most logical replacement? Wouldn’t it be more honest just to leave it at “The Former Home of the Armadillo,” which partly explains how this music thing got started?  How about “The City that Tokes with Willie?”

Armadillo.2

But if I had to choose another city nickname, why not put our potential new neighbors on notice that Austin’s pollen levels from trees and grasses are known to be among some of the highest in the country. How about “Allergy Capital of the World,” or “Kleenex Capital of the World?” New neighbors should be aware that we sneeze, cough, and suffer from Cedar Fever in the winter and the infamous “Austin Croup,” in the spring. We also have long, hot summers made muggy with high humidity, which often produces strains of mold that cause even more allergy suffering. To put it in perspective, Austin has way more miserable allergy sufferers than musicians, venues, or concerts put together.

So, spread the word before our population reaches the three million mark: Austin’s not an easy place in which to reside, drive, and even breathe, and it’s not going to get any better soon, if ever.

In the meantime, let’s borrow an idea from Donald Trump: Build a wall around Austin! Tourists may enter to visit, students may come to study, but moving vans or U-Hauls full of anything beyond what’s need for one dorm room cannot enter.  Waivers will be granted for folks with expertise in needed fields, such as traffic management and mass transit.  And don’t worry about the expense, my fellow citizens.  We’ll get California to pay for it! After all, they OWE us . . . big time!!

As Trump would say, “What losers! They can’t even keep their own people from leaving!!”And Trump, as usual, would be wrong.  Old Austin is the real loser.

But until that wall gets built, let’s keep spreading the Zika snake rumors.

Posted in Old/New Austin | Tagged , , , , | 4 Comments

Enough is Enough!!

I can only watch so much campaign coverage before I feel the need to think about cleaning and decluttering. Must be Trump’s constant patter about how rich he is and how much stuff he owns that reminds me of how we Americans embrace excess. We eat too much food, drive urban assault vehicles, fill our closets beyond capacity, and simply stated, buy too much stuff. We delight in sales, discounts, and our credit cards, wearing out Amazon’s “one click” button, especially now that it saves us the trouble of actually walking into a store.Amazon

Despite impoverishing us and burdening us with debt-ridden angst, Consumerism seems to be our one true religion and preaching thrift is heresy.  Malls are houses of worship and our residences, which keep getting larger, are warehouses for our bounty. Storage sheds dot the city landscapes because our attics are full!

Attics, in fact, are no longer the romantic places of repose for grandmothers’ love letters or grandfathers’ military memorabilia. More likely, we climb up to find Christmas decorations we no longer have energy to put up at Christmas, old lamps that may have value as antiques (we must look into that!), boxes of college papers, old typewriters, and the toys of our grown children’s youth.  All are testaments to our failings in Possessions Management 101.

attic

Who would have believed that our own failings could spawn thriving businesses? Container Store. Need I say more? Such success for this kind of store would have been unthinkable in the 50s when most people had two or three pairs of shoes, a few dresses, a couple of suits, and maybe a week’s worth of casual clothes and underwear.

And when did people start amassing collections? Not just a few trinkets and knickknacks, but significant items claiming massive storage space in our lives, be they frogs, owls, salt and pepper shakers, beanie babies, antique dolls, political buttons, etc. I used to consider myself immune to such mania, but with the demise of a couple of family members, I, too, succumbed,  as heir to a collection weighted with nostalgia and beauty that would be an absolute crime to dismantle or leave to strangers!

From my collection

Yet, I’ve moved others and myself enough times to realize that we are suffocating ourselves with stuff. As I dispersed the items in my mother’s, and then, my father’s houses upon their final moves, I made vows to make it easier for my kids upon my departure. (Let me apologize, in advance, to my sons for bra and panties drawers. I like my lingerie, but I urge you to just toss them en masse – I promise not to hide any money or other valuables among them.)

Generally, as I make these vows, I’m reminded of reading Henry David Thoreau’s Walden Pond in my college days. Although he made a compelling case that the only free individuals are those who can carry all of their belongings on their back (or building them as needed when you go to live at Walden Pond), I had few possessions to worry about then. Accordingly, his philosophy was relegated to the good-idea-someday department that has since been renamed as the wish-I-had-listened department.

Some advice has been a bit more motivating — Sarah Ban Breathnach’s daybook called Simple Abundance, for example. Her collection of 365 essays was written to help women find their authentic selves by uniting spirituality with lifestyle. Breathnach encourages the keeping of gratitude journals and theorizes that the more we divest ourselves of things we don’t need, the more room we create room for abundance, i.e., good things, coming our way. At the time I read the book, the concept of “abundance” seemed a bit vague as reward systems go, but it sounded good enough to try.  Simple abundance eluded me, however, as my efforts were probably too minimal.

Another approach that made a lot of sense to me was espoused by a French woman in an article (which I can’t find now).  She explained closet management from an economic perspective.  A closet, she said, is real estate that has a certain dollar value (proportion of total square footage multiplied by amount of rent or mortgage payment). With that number in mind, the author suggested ruthlessly analyzing the items in a closet. If any piece of clothing is not “working” to earn its keep on your property, get rid of that non-performer! Based on this advice, I removed a few items from the closet, admittedly, extending way too many second chances to some slackers.

closet

Although I’d find it hard to do, the most unique approach to attacking consumerism and its attendant storage problem was devised by David Bruno in The 100 Thing Challenge.  As an athletic and adventurous guy, he quite sensibly motivated himself with a decluttering scheme as something like a trek to the mountaintop and chose the number 100 as a “Goldilocks” number (neither too few or too many). But paring down to 100 things was just the first part – Bruno set a goal of remaining below 100 items for a year, strictly justifying any new purchases or gifts by trading it out for something else in his inventory. For me, this method of decluttering is too much like a 1200 calorie diet! I’d surely tire of maintaining that  inventory and depriving myself of chocolate cake, I mean, something new that really caught my fancy . . . even if only a year.

The latest option I considered in my decluttering studies is Marie Kondo’s NYT best-selling The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing, claimed by many as the bible of deacquisitioning. The method she prescribes in her little turquoise tome boils down to keeping only those possessions that produce a spark of joy. Yes, spark of joy.  I bought the Kindle “executive summary,” which didn’t spark an ah-ha moment, much less help me grasp the sparking joy part, so I’ve yet to jump on the Kondo bandwagon. Of course, maybe if I read the whole book, I’d be raving about it. Maybe I’d find more inspiration in her mandate to respect your possessions by eschewing hangers and closets and, instead, using Japanese folding techniques and origami-like drawer organization. Perhaps I’d truly appreciate that my clothes “feel” squashed in the closet and prefer being folded like flags and filed in a drawer. Maybe.folding

As one who has studied these various clearing-out methodologies, I have surprisingly made merely a modicum of progress in my own efforts. Maybe next, I need to read Jane Saruwatari’s book, Behind the Clutter, wherein she explores the psychology of retaining our possessions long past their expiration dates. Is it our way of holding on to the past, Jane?

Or maybe, as David Bruno theorizes, we keep buying (and storing) in a quixotic quest to bridge the space between who we are and who we would like to be. As he says,

We can pursue the dream life of American-style consumerism, but only by relentlessly getting more possessions and using them to try to be more than we actually are. We must keep it up, because they will always fail to make us completely satisfied. We must continually ask our things to make us happy.

Yes, there must be complicated explanations behind our fervor as consumers and low-grade hoarders. While our parents could blame the Depression, we baby boomers did not fear scarcity and lack of buying power. Unscarred by the need for austerity, did we succumb instead to an affluenza that was the logical byproduct of our parents experiences? In other words, did our parents indulge us because of the tendency of every generation to give to the succeeding ones the childhoods they wished for themselves?

The bottom line, I think, is that we need to employ deep honesty in dealing with our consumerism and de-stuffing our houses, storage sheds, and attics. I know it will take a commitment that I’ve yet to master, but I intend to keep trying. In so doing, maybe I can conjure up some sparks of joy, find the simple abundance of enough, and hear the sweet sound of waves on Walden Pond lapping the shores and drowning out the voice of Donald Trump!

Walden

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Tis the Season for Fearing

Writer’s note: In case you feel like I’m repeating myself, you subscribers may remember a post by the same title that I published here last month.  For reasons that you would not really care about, I removed it from the website.  Now, I am returning the post to its rightful place, but in a much shortened (and editors would say “tightened”)  rendition.

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As we shift into the nitty-gritty phase of election season 2016, I wonder how many more belches of fear and hate will emanate from the Republican fear-generating factory. The fact that fear sells so well saddens me. What does it say about our society where so many thrive on fear and boost the poll numbers of Donald Trump, for instance, with every hateful abomination he spews.

Here’s an idea: if you are among the fear-aholics, why not find terror in the governmental gridlock that prevents any efforts to reduce gun violence, respond to climate change, reduce income inequality, address failing infrastructure, or even sustain progress in ensuring civil, voting, privacy, and women’s rights?

Instead of demagoguery, wouldn’t it be much more productive to focus on Congress’s incapacity to address America’s real problems, which have little or nothing to do with ISIS, the Chinese, Russians, Syrian refugees, or border-crossing Mexicans? The current governmental dysfunction makes me fear that my grandchildren will inherit a country that can only remember its greatness with nostalgia. I fear America will be a country that has abandoned its governing principles because our Constitution can’t handle the job.

Unfortunately, the U.S. Constitution provides no easy fixes to an impasse caused by a Congress that sits on its hands. In his book, “The Royalist Revolution,” author Eric Nelson posits that our founding fathers, given their experience with an elected Parliament, sought to control the legislative branch with an uncrowned king called a president, i.e., a mixed monarchy. The president-king would have sweeping powers and a steadying hand to check the factionalism of the Congress. The two houses of the legislature would pass laws, but the president-king would have veto power.

And yet, the document failed to give the president any tools when Congress refuses to act or holds the Executive Branch hostage to their demands by not doing its job working or passing legislation. Is this a fatal flaw in our mixed monarchy model?

In fact, among Latin American countries that emulate our system, governmental impasse has been the cause of repeated failure, explains Yale’s Juan Linz. Unlike parliamentary/prime minister systems where either a deal can be struck between factions or new elections be called, the presidential model has no such mechanism. Hence, Latin American governments based on the U.S. model have oscillated between authoritarianism and dysfunction.

Clearly, our government is verging on dysfunction if not actually dysfunctional. Too many in Congress don’t understand the nature of governing or have long since jettisoned their knowledge of how it’s designed to work. In the name of saying “no” to Obama or taking “their” country back, they claim a mandate to undermine government instead of providing for the well-being of all Americans. Eschewing compromise and deal-making, they employ government shutdown, demagoguery, and non-action, to the detriment of us all.

So, why not vote these do-nothings out of office? Isn’t that the solution to government impasse that our Constitution provides? I realize that idea sounds naive in these modern days of gerrymandering, PACs, and billionaire’s funding of candidates that only serve to mock the principle of government for the people, by the people.

But still, I wonder, why not give voting a chance? The Census Bureau reported that only 41.9% of eligible voters cast a ballot in the 2014 Congressional races. So, what if we, the people, tried to get that number up to 80-90% as a national experiment in reclaiming democracy? After all, we know Congress isn’t going to reform campaign laws. And unless Jesus has espoused on the subject, many state legislatures won’t do it either.

The reality is that the U.S. Constitution came with no guarantees and few democracies have lasted as long as ours. Too many among us have taken America for granted by believing in the “genius” of our Constitution. There are also too many believers in the concept of American exceptionalism absent any rational reason for America being an exception among countries or democracies. To the contrary, we are experiencing an unraveling of our system, ripped apart by from the fringes, quarterbacked by the likes of Ted Cruz, Donald Trump, and Mitch McConnell, just to name a few.

Is America up to the task of saving our democracy? President Obama says Americans can do anything we put our minds to. But I fear that his message is heavy with hope and light on certainty. Are we at the end of America as we have known it? That’s something worth fearing. I fear for us.

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