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CARNIVAL OF DREAD
I didn't watch a lot of the Republicans this week, but what I did see made me sick. For one thing, compared to the Democrats, it was just a lousy, amateurish show, with no variety or humor. That wouldn't have been so terrible of the GOP convention hadn't also been a continuous spewing of lies, hatred and fear, such as:
Joe Biden is an extreme leftist who supports violent anarchists
and wants to destroy the suburbs!
The speakers made almost no mention of that little thing, the pandemic. Oh wait a minute, there WAS a a video collage of many Democrats, including Pelosi, dismissing the virus as no big deal --- which they all did in the beginning, the VERY VERY beginning -- followed by President Trump riding to the rescue and SAVING US ALL!
Who are the people who will swallow this complete rewriting/reversing of very recent history?
It was like some schlocky dystopian science-fiction movie that takes place in an imaginary country where lies are truth, war is peace, sickness is health, and reality is whatever Big Brother says it is. It was strangely bizarre and strangely antique. Wait! Am I in Germany in 1933?? Guess not, because they took the antisemite who was going to speak off the roster at the last minute. Phew.
I don't know what I expected of the Republicans, but it wasn't as creepy as what they delivered.
In a way, Trump's acceptance speech last night was the perfect culmination of the festivities:
He broke the law by giving his acceptance speech in front of the White House. The Hatch Act, passed in 1939, draws a bright line between government functions and partisan politics. It forbids incumbents from using the tools of their office to run for re-election. I mean, you're not supposed to even use a White House PHONE to make campaign calls. So using the entire White House as a back-drop for the convention is FLAGRANT.
Just to make himself feel all warm and loved, Trump demanded a packed and unmasked crowd of 1500 adoring fans to hear the pearls of wisdom fall from his lips.
So Donald Trump, in accepting the Republican nomination for President, broke the law AND condemned an unknown number of his supporters to sickness and death.
That's really kinda perfect, don't you agree?
I am praying that this horrible Carnival of Dread just shows the desperation of an animal backed into a corner, and others will be as repulsed as I was.
And who IS that masked woman in the lower photo? It took a lot of guts to take precautions in THAT crowd!
LINKS TO MORE ON THE CONVENTION & KENOSHA:
Steven Colbert, of The Late Show, gave a brilliant outraged rant on the convention and the shooting in Kenosha, WI of ANOTHER unarmed Black man. Don't expect any laughs from this one.
Please note that the New York Times, in its sub-headline on Page One, uses the adverb "falsely" to describe Trump's act of warning. The paper of record has clearly turned an editorial corner. Of course, they've been publishing op-ed columns that talk about Trump lying forever. But now they are reporting Trump's lies AND LABELING THEM AS LIES in NEWS stories and even in headlines -- as they should. This is a recent change. A few months ago, the sub-headline would have read simply "Warning of Support for 'Anarchists...." and the reader would have had to read the entire article to discover something like "A spokesman for the Democrats protested that Biden has never expressed..." etc. etc.
So someone just skimming the headlines would know of Trump's accusation but not of its falseness. This is a very important change, because just reporting the accusation without reporting that it's a lie is simply furthering the power of the lie. In the past, the NY Times has adhered to that kind of fake "objectivity." That Trump lied is really the most important story and deserves to be part of the headline.
THANK YOU, NEW YORK TIMES, FOR GIVING US TRULY COMPLETE OBJECTIVE REPORTING!
Hey, Bloggelinis, ya gotta gather ye bright spots while ye may. Thank goodness the GOP convention is over. It was difficult to watch people go so low. Being a responsible Blogmistress forces me to do these things. I can't just hide under the covers, an impulse which often strikes me. Terry
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It's 5:15 am. A half an hour ago, I woke up from a dream. In this dream, I received a letter telling me that I would not be considered for a grant that I had applied for. I was hoping to get this grant for a project exploring racism in the U.S. The letter said that I needed to get a score of 65 on the test to be considered for the grant, and I had only scored 60. I could not understand how I had done so badly on the test. I ALWAYS ace tests.
And then I woke up. Awake, I was STILL upset that I had flunked the test. I could NOT accept that, even in a dream, I had done so badly on that test. Why why why did I have this dream on flunking a test on RACISM of all things?!?
In my actual waking life, I studied so HARD! I have been drawn to read about the history and culture of African-Americans. The truth is, people of my Boomer generation received absolutely no education about slavery or Black history. So when I sat down with Frederick Douglass's autobiography about 30 years ago, I was quite blown away with the reality of slavery in the United States. Douglass is a powerful, very emotional writer. I'll never forget reading about the moment when, as a child, he realized he was a slave. Reading is my great pleasure and preferred method of escape, and since that moment of revelation with Douglass, I have felt that I needed to understand the history and culture of African-Americans if was going to understand my country.
My latest revelation: An Imperfect God: George Washington, His Slaves & the Creation of America. Washington KNEW slavery was wrong. He said so in his diary and letters. But: (1) He felt it would be too disruptive to the new country for him to act upon his feelings, and (2) He was hooked on the money.
Most recently, I became obsessed with Ida B. Wells, the great anti-lynching activist and journalist who is FINALLY getting the recognition she deserves. I created a powerpoint lecture on her life and work, that I delivered at Drexel University and the Ida B. Wells Continuation High School in San Francisco.
So I really thought I was woke before that terrible day, May 25, when George Floyd was murdered.
But I wasn't. For all that my mind was furiously involved in learning more, studying about the experiences of Black people.... Something was missing.
What has changed in me since George Floyd died? What does it mean to me to be woke?
This is it:
My heart has opened.
Yes, I knew. I studied. I read. I lectured. But yet I still kept a barrier inside me. I never allowed myself to feel the pain that is part of being Black in this country. I did not want to feel it. But in immersing myself in the enormous wave of columns and articles and writings and videos after George Floyd's death, my heart broke open. It wasn't one article. It wasn't like everything moved me. It was the cumulative effect of so many words and images. The five-minute video, "A Conversation with My Black Son" was definitely part of my awakening.
What does it mean to me that I am woke, that I have found a new empathy with Black people? It means that I see my own past actions differently.
Memories rise up, memories of incidents that hardly registered with me at the time they happened. I see now that I was choosing to use my white privilege to make my life better, easier.
TWO MEMORIES IN PARTICULAR:
FIRST MEMORY: In 1970, my boyfriend Steve and I were looking for an apartment in New York City. As you can imagine, it wasn't easy to find something decent in Manhattan that two young people, working in an after-school program, could afford.
After we'd been searching for a while, we walked into a real estate office. There were a lot of people sitting waiting. They were all people of color. The white realtor motioned for Steve and me to come to the counter. He had a battered book open on the counter in front of him. That was the listings book. He closed that book, shoved it aside, reached under the counter and brought out another book. He thumbed through it, found something for us, wrote down the landlord's phone number on a slip of paper. We called the landlord from a pay phone, went to see the place, and ended up moving into a small three-room apartment in a decent building in a decent neighborhood in Washington Heights for $125/month.
I think it was excruciatingly clear to everyone in that office that the second book was for white people only. Steve and I never talked about it. I mean, we were very progressive and political and all. Steve was even a MARXIST. But come on, finding a cheap decent apartment in Manhattan? You did what you had to do to survive, right? I never felt a DROP of remorse. Not one drop.
Until I got woke two months ago, fifty years after I walked out of that realtor's office. Suddenly that memory rose up. I think I'd feel better about myself now if I'd felt even a little guilt then. But I didn't.
While writing this blog, I googled to find out when New York state passed a law banning discrimination in housing. It was in 1968. So there was a law on the books making what happened in that office illegal. When the realtor pulled out the second book, Steve and I could have walked out and reported that man. But that thought never crossed my mind. I was TIRED of looking for a place!
After all, what's the point of privilege if it never gets you nothin'?? I was entitled to use whatever I had in my arsenal in order to find a place to live! And if it was my white skin... well, I could handle that! And I didn't lose a wink of sleep over it for 50 years.
SECOND MEMORY: In 2004, I was the Green Candidate for U.S. Congress. There was a lot of intense activism in the Bayview neighborhood of San Francisco, against the polluting power plant there and around other environmental issues. The Bayview was mainly an African-American neighborhood. I had never been there before my campaign. It's the southeast edge of San Francisco, but San Francisco is NOT a big city. Somehow the Bayview seemed very far away, with few bus lines serving it (Surprise!).
These neighborhood activists were a devoted, passionate group. They welcomed me, an outsider. I think they felt/knew that they would never get any traction as long as only Bayview residents were protesting what was happening in the Bayview. And in fact I was very shocked by what was going on in a neighborhood in my own city, only an hour bus ride away from my home in Noe Valley. It was very clear to me that some of these things would never be allowed to happen in MY neighborhood.
For example, the Bayview had the very last old-fashioned pollution-belching PG&E power plant in San Francisco. There was a dark plume coming from the smokestack day and night. The wind blew the smoke directly horizontally into a nursery school and a large housing project on a hill at about the same elevation as the top of the smokestack. You could SEE it. It was not subtle.
And guess what! Many children in the projects and all over the Bayview suffered from asthma. In fact, the leader of the activists had moved across the Bay because of her grandson's asthma. So she commuted into the neighborhood. The Bayview was an unhealthy place to live because of that damn power plant.
People rallied, people marched, people blocked roads, people signed petitions, people wrote letters, people called politicians. PG&E, that behemoth utility, absolutely insisted that they needed that power plant and refused to negotiate.
And the activists weren't just about their own health. There was a lot of vacant land that had been a Naval base. Lennar, the biggest developer of residential housing in the U.S. wanted to develop Parcel A by building a lot of condos on it. There was one teeny problem: Parcel A was an EPA Superfund site. The Superfund was set up by Congress to handle hazardous waste sites needing long-term clean-up. Parcel A was one of the most polluted pieces of ground in the U.S.
You see, the Naval base had been the location of some of the first experiments with nuclear energy, and it was rumored there were lots of irradiated things, including a horse, buried there. I'm not sure if the story about the horse was true, but it WAS true the ground of Parcel A had caught fire, and the Fire Department couldn't put it out. It just burned and burned. The GROUND burned. There were no trees or shrubs. Somehow this never came to the attention of the media until one of the activists wrote a blizzard of letters to all the newspapers. Eventually the fire burned itself out. The Navy insisted they had cleaned up the site, and they had the report of a company that had tested the site to prove it was safe. But the activists said it still wasn't clean enough for residential housing.
Now understand, the Bayview activists were not protesting in their own interest. You could even say that it would have been BENEFICIAL to them for the housing to be built. It would have raised everyone's property values. But they did not believe it was safe to live on Parcel A, seeing as it had the singular distinction of having spontaneously combusted. The activists were fighting for the right of the future residents of Parcel A to live in safety.
I was asked to be on a panel to discuss this issue. In the audience was a "consultant" from Lennar. Charlie Walker was highly paid by Lennar to "consult." This is how he "consulted" during that panel: He screamed and yelled and overturned tables and threw chairs in an effort to stop the panel from continuing. Eventually he left. But he had made his tantrum the main event. I doubt if anyone remembered anything the panelists said.
When my political campaign was over, I considered staying involved with the Bayview activists. I had met so many wonderful people. And clearly the problems in the Bayview were much more dramatic and pressing than those of Noe Valley. But... but... It was such a long bus ride! And, truly, I was tired of feeling the pain of the community. I didn't HAVE to. I lived somewhere relatively pain-free. I had the privilege of turning my back. And I did so.
It is only now that I am at least a little bit "woke" I can look back at those two decisions -- the first to take the nice apartment and run, the second to walk away from a Black community I had connected with. I see I could have made different choices.
So if I see and feel so much more now, WHY DID I STILL HAVE THAT DAMN DREAM ABOUT FAILING THE TEST???
I think my subconscious was telling me that truly waking up to my white privilege and Black pain is a journey. Maybe next time I dream about taking the test, I'll score 66!
But I'm not there yet.
PG&E: The activists FINALLY got PG&E to shut the plant down. And guess what? It turned out the power the plant generated was totally unnecessary to keep the city functioning! Who knew? I think it was always a matter of a powerful utility refusing to let a bunch of outraged citizens -- let alone outraged BLACK citizens -- tell it what to do.
LENNAR: The giant housing developer kept plowing ahead, despite all the objections. Finally, they brought their giant project to the San Francisco Planning Commission for approval. The activists arrived at the hearing to testify against Lennar --- and discovered that all the seats in the hearing room were already taken. So they had to watch it on video in another room.
The people occupying the hearing room had all been promised $10 -- by Charlie Walker, who else? -- if they would take up a seat in the hearing room. They assumed they'd get the money when they arrived. But Walker insisted they'd get it at the end.
As the hearing droned on, Walker's gang understandably got restive and started yelling and throwing things. The newspaper called it a riot. The seat-takers were forced to leave, and the Planning Commission meekly voted to approve the Lennar development. Did the rioters ever get their $10 from Walker? I don't know.
So Lennar built a lot of condos on Parcel A. People bought them, and then the new owners found out the ground underneath was radioactive. It turns out the testing of the site clean-up was completely fraudulent. So the city is investigating and people who bought condos are suing. Can you imagine paying a great deal of money to raise your family on a Superfund site? It's a big mess, but they're building MORE housing ANYWAY on Parcel A!
I have a copy of Famous Black Quotations in my bathroom. You know, one of those little books. I love little books. While I was working on this blog, I opened it at random, and this is what I found:
"Let a new earth arise.
Let another world be born.
Let a bloody peace
be written in the sky.
Let a second generation full of courage issue forth;
Let a people loving freedom
come to growth."
That's by Margaret Walker (1915-1998), a poet who was part of the Chicago Black Renaissance. It sounds like it was written yesterday just for us, doesn't it? I believe a second generation full of courage HAS issued forth. I see the Black Lives Matter movement. I see all these young people getting involved in the electoral process. It's exciting! It's going to be a lot of work to birth that new world Walker conjures in her poem. We can do it. We can't give up. This old world might not last much longer.
Thank you, Carolyn Myers and Paula Barish, for your insightful criticism of this blog in our Writers Meeting today. Bloggelinis, they've helped me before, but this time they were particularly brilliant. Terry
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A.It's a lovely golden morning in San Francisco, which means the air is full of smoke. Not that I'm in any fire danger. The fires are far away. I'm in breathing danger. If you need to know if it's alright to go for a vigorous walk anywhere in the U.S., go to AirNow.gov, type in your zip code to find out the air quality where you are.
I've been here since 1974 and this smokey air thing never happened until 2017. That year we had 4?5? days of smoke. 2018: 14 days of smoke. And now again. This time, I'm not counting the days. My sense of outrage seems to have worn away.
It seems so damn unfair that a lot of the fires were caused by lightning strikes. LIGHTNING STRIKES? Without the thunderstorm that puts out the fires?!? I mean, come ON, Cosmos! You can't do a little better for California than THAT? I know damn well Trump is gloating.
Having been deprived of so much by the pandemic, I'm having a hard time being deprived of long walks as well. It's strange. You feel like you're adjusting, you're adjusting, you're doing OK, and then suddenly -- wait! I can't go on my Saturday Ramble?? What can I do instead?!? Sit in a cafe and write in my journal? Go to a museum? A movie theater? Visit a friend? No and no and no and no!
Somehow I scrambled and clawed my way through the day. As that great philosopher, Joni Mitchell, once said, "You don't know what you've got 'til it's gone."
B. Here's a blog by a very down-to-earth progressive Democrat, about the convention last week. Mike Lux has been working for the Dems for decades. He lays out very clearly the work that needs to be done AFTER we win.
You know, in my reading about FDR, this is one of the things he said that made a big impression on me: When someone would approach the President with some great progressive idea, he had a stock response, "Make me do it."
By which he meant, "I would LOVE to do it, but I've got a recalcitrant Congress to deal with, and I need YOU to create a groundswell of public opinion in support of your idea so that I can convince all those Senators and Representatives that THIS is what the people demand!"
I visited my old friend Stench in Brussels two years ago. When I was there, I wanted to blog about it. That desire to write about my very enjoyable visit has never left me. A blog about Brussels is long overdue. Since I can't walk in SF, let's go to Brussels!
You know how cities spread out and incorporate suburbs into the larger entity? Well, that doesn't happen in Belgium. Every single village keeps its own identity. It's a Belgian thing. You wouldn't understand it. There are 19 "municipalities" in Brussels -- one of them being The City of Brussels. Then there's Flemish Belgium and French Belgium. I think there's also German Belgium, but I could be wrong. French-speaking Brussels sits in the middle of the Flemish-speaking Belgium. There are so many layers of government that it's kind of a weird anarchy. When I was there, they had not had a national government for three years because the political parties couldn't agree on a compromise. Stench said the lack of a federal government didn't seem to make any difference because there are so many other layers of government. He and his partner Polin live in the municipality of Sainte Gilles in the Region of Brussels.... Something like that. I'm not sure.
There's an enormous amount of gorgeous Art Nouveau architecture, lavished with flamboyant details.
It makes me happy just to walk around and see the tremendous detail on these buildings.
Stench and his partner Polin have a very nice apartment, with a garden.
People seem to live a good life in Brussels. The rents are far more reasonable than in Amsterdam, not to mention SF or New York. And you're in the middle of this fabulous city with great public transit, museums, culture, and architecture to die for! I would definitely live in Brussels, and
Stench promised, if I have to leave the U.S. because everything is falling apart here and there's a warrant out for my arrest for writing radical blogs, he'll take me in.
You may well wonder why I call this very nice-looking American gay man, whose legal name is Elliot Rubin, such an unappealing nickname as Stench. Well. We met in Amsterdam, where he was living, at a time when I was moving back and forth back and forth between Holland and San Francisco. I do not understand now how I could have possibly done that for nine years, but I did. This is how we met:
One day, I got an urgent call from the gay center in Leiden. They were having a cultural night, with a performance by a lesbian theater and a gay mens' chorus. The lesbian theater had just announced its disintegration, and the performance was scheduled for the next night. Could I be a replacement and perform my solo farce, ONE FOOL? Yes, I could.
I showed up in Leiden the next afternoon to rehearse and then perform that night. The gay mens' chorus had a full-blown production of 17 singing and dancing young men for their performance of NO STRINGS. They had taken the Pinocchio story and turned it into the tale of a young gay boy moving to Amsterdam and finding himself -- replete with songs from Disney movies! The concept was brilliant and the execution flawless.
I was a bit perturbed that my solo play had been given top billing -- that is, I went on last. How could one lesbian comic actress outshine all those beautiful singing dancing gay me in a hilarious show with Disney songs?
I shared a dressing room with the boys before the show, and they were more perturbed than me, and I don't blame them. But hey, it wasn't MY decision. They were very cold to me -- except for one person, Elliot, who was the director and the only other American.
Well, in the end, it was my job to top NO STRINGS with ONE FOOL, and I did. I really do enjoy a challenge. Elliot was suitably impressed -- and of course I was blown away by HIS work. We became fast friends.
Oh, but his nickname, right. So I went back to San Francisco, where I avidly read the comics page every day. You know the comic strip THE FUSCO BROTHERS? They're still hanging in here. Well, in one strip, one of the brothers is out to dinner with his long-suffering girlfriend, Gloria. He's sunk in gloom, bemoaning the state of the world. (I'm getting to the nickname, don't worry.)
Gloria: "But just think about spring flowers and butterflies!"
Fusco: "What's the point? We're all going to die anyway."
(It's important to know that this was quite a while ago, when it didn't seem that civilization might actually be coming to an end.)
Gloria: "But think of a playful little puppy, or the laughter of a small child...."
Fusco: "The world is falling apart. Only a fool or a baby could laugh."
Waiter (entering): "And what would you like to eat?"
Fusco: (Suddenly cheery) "I'll have a large steak with a baked potato, macaroni on the side, and apple pie with ice cream for dessert!"
Gloria: (Now totally depressed herself) "Just a salad -- hold the dressing."
Now, this comic strip had a title, "He put the Stench in Existentialism." And Fusco was just like Elliot, who was a pessimist with a gigantic appetite! So I cut out the comic strip and sent it to him. And he wrote me back, "Just call me Stench from now on." And I have. He gave me a nickname too -- Mo, short for Moses because, well, I can't remember why. So we are Stench and Mo. I love nicknames.
ANYHOW, back to Brussels. One day Stench and I went to the Museum Van Buren, which is a large very Art Deco house with a beautiful garden.
It's filled with Art Deco paintings and Art Deco design elements.
AND, incredibly, they had a very small BREUGEL right above the couch! They had pursued this painting for years.
This is "Landscape with the Fall of Icarus." You can just see Icarus's arm reaching out of the water, as his father flies above. It's a study for a very large painting, 28 by 44 inches in the big art museum in Brussels.
The next day, it was "Open Studios" day in Ste. Gilles, and we met a most remarkable man.
It's not every day you get a chance to meet an inventor, and I insisted we ring the bell, although an inventor is not necessarily an artist. Monsieur Close was kind enough to take us to his workshop, where he was processing lavender and other flowers.
Monsieur Close demonstrated to us how his invention, the lavender-processing machine, worked. He felt that lavender had great healing powers, and with the proper techniques, could be transformed into a universal panacea and would cure all ills.
To me, there is something so right about this concept. There are many kinds of lavender, they have a delicious smell and are easy to grow -- although I understood from M. Close that when you're processing lavender, you need a LOT and it CAN get expensive! I want to believe that lavender can cure the world's ills. It certainly brings us joy, with its color and fragrance.
Monsieur Close had a very sweet dog (in the leather chair) and a lot of hats and in the end seemed very happy to have shown us his life's work.
It's very special to meet someone like Monsieur Close, who is like a character in a novel -- an inventor with different colored shoes. He owns the whole building that contains his attic workshop and apartment, so he's doing alright.
Now, just a few more architectural details:
And to end our visit to Brussels: Stench, who has become a weaver, with some of his beautiful creations; and my self-portrait with a moth.
Bloggelinis, I felt we needed a treat before we head into the Republican convention. Not that this is a comprehensive account of my time in Brussels, but I feel very satisfied to have done it after procrastinating for two years. BLTN! Better Late Than Never! Terry