Liberal Minded Editorial Commentary

Clever Girl

Pale_Blue_Dot

That tiny dot about halfway down in the center of the brown line is Earth as seen from deep space by Voyager 1. Feel small yet? 

“That’s here. That’s home. That’s us. On it, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever lived, lived out their lives. The aggregate of all our joys and sufferings, thousands of confident religions, ideologies and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilizations, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every hopeful child, every mother and father, every inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every superstar, every supreme leader, every saint and sinner in the history of our species, lived there – on a mote of dust, suspended in a sunbeam…

…To my mind, there is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly and compassionately with one another and to preserve and cherish that pale blue dot, the only home we’ve ever known.”

– Carl Sagan

I have a deep and abiding respect for those, like Carl Sagan, who are able to see beyond themselves and understand the precarious nature of life on this blue orb that affords us our existence. Some of my favorite images were captured by the Hubble telescope, an instrument with value that can’t be calculated in the billions of dollars it has taken to create and maintain it. Through its lens, we measly creatures are barely able to scratch the surface of the vastness of the universe. Sit for a while with a Hubble image of a galaxy cluster and allow its magnitude to envelop you. When life hands me an epic smackdown, I view photos from the telescope to put things in my life back into perspective. All the stress we feel in our tiny lives and all the weight we give ourselves is lost in those images. We are nothing. We are less than nothing with regard to what we have been able to discern of the universe, yet what we do on this minuscule speck of cosmic dust means everything to our survival.

President Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Paris climate accord, while disappointing and disastrous on many levels, is not surprising. Small minds yield small thinking. As full-disclosure of the president’s decision penetrated the news world yesterday, I discussed it with our teenage sons. There is nothing more important to me than teaching my sons their place in this world and their responsibility to it as educated, white males of privilege. I encourage my kids to be forward thinkers and solution seekers. There is no room for a future in a world where we live in the past. As I was lamenting the damage done by climate-change deniers and our unwillingness to make personal changes to save this planet, my oldest said this:

“The planet doesn’t care what we do. We will all die off and the earth will go on without us. The earth has suffered far worse than what we are doing to it now and it is still here.”

Dozens of hours spent voluntarily absorbing science-based programming on his iPad has given my son a realistic understanding of life’s precariousness here. We place so much importance on our impact on this planet, and for good reason, but our impact on this planet only matters insomuch as pertains to the existence of life on it. We don’t matter at all to this space particle that transports us around our star. If all humans suddenly ceased to exist, in as little as 25 years, three-fourths of paved roads would be covered by vegetation. In just three hundred years, man-made metal structures like the towers “great men” build and emblazon with their glowing, gold names would crumble and disappear. And after 10,000 years, only stone structures like Mt Rushmore and the Great Pyramids would be left to offer proof that we ever existed. We don’t matter to the earth. It does not give a shit if we cease to be.

We are erasable. For all the movies we’ve made and books we’ve written about alien populations wiping out our existence, we are our greatest threat. We know this, which is why we write stories about escaping the damage we leave behind. If we continue to barrel along, turning a blind eye to our impact on the air, water, and land we rely on for survival, then we will die off. We will have earned that fate with our ignorance and intransigence. Someday, perhaps a future population will refer to us the way we now refer to the dinosaurs, as sad, ancient relics incapable of stopping their own extinction, doomed to disappear. The difference is that the dinosaurs will have lived 159 million year longer than our species and have done so without sentient brains in their reptilian heads. Clever girl, indeed.

Roar — The Dragon Mother Has Awoken

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Look at that mane. You just know I can roar.

I am not okay today. I’m not. Yesterday morning I was excited. I was powerful and bold and, dare I say, optimistic for once against my more skeptical nature. Today I am sad, and it’s not that garden variety of sad where you can’t put your finger on it. It’s not general melancholy. It’s in-your-face, raw, jagged, emotional pain. It’s pathetic, disconsolate, achy-breaky heart sickness. This country, which I was starting to imagine was leaning towards becoming more inclusive and welcoming and more like our forefathers envisioned and Lady Liberty professes, pulled my heart out of my closed chest last night with some crazy nunchuck moves and then used it as a target for AK-47 practice rounds. So I am not okay today. I am struggling, and I know I am not alone.

I am not okay today because of who I am and not because of what happened yesterday. I am a woman. A well-educated, well-read, white, straight, upper middle class, clearly privileged woman, to be sure, but a woman nonetheless. I am a mother. I am what my detractors would term a “bleeding heart” liberal. I am an agnostic. I am a feminist. I am a friend to gays and lesbians, people of all faiths, and all colors. I labor to keep an open mind and I search daily for our common values so I can remain open hearted and accepting. It is hard work, but I do it ceaselessly, remaining friends with people I don’t agree with in the hope that I learn more about them and their views and grow in understanding. For a while, I had tricked myself into believing that I was part of a majority and that, as a collective, we would triumph, love over hate, stronger together, all the while going high. It didn’t happen.

An election is an election. It is politics as usual. So, at 48, the election of someone I did not vote for is not something with which I am unfamiliar. I was deeply troubled in 2000 when Al Gore lost the presidency. I worked in the renewable energy industry. Jobs were lost. I’m familiar with disappointment, but this is different. For me, this is a personal loss. I can put aside politics. I can trust that the next administration will do their best. I can be a good US citizen and play nicely with others when my candidate loses. This loss was not about politics for me. It was about sexism, racism, xenophobia, and hate. And when those are your stakes, when you are not simply voting democrat versus republican, a loss is devastating. Today I am poignantly aware that I am in the minority. I am on the outside. To many, I am an unwelcome aberration, at best an anomaly and at worst a nuisance. But if you think for one second that I am going to go quietly, to shut up, stay out of things, and let hatred and ignorance rule, you don’t know me very well. And you don’t understand Pantsuit Nation at all. I’m a middle aged woman with time, money, and pussy-grabs-back attitude. I’m not going quietly.

This is my challenge and my charge. I have only one choice and that is to rise from the heap of those left disenfranchised and make my voice heard. My privileged white sons are about to witness something powerful. Their dragon mother has awoken. First thing this morning, I set up a monthly donation to Planned Parenthood, the first place that opened its doors for me when I was a young college student without insurance looking for well-woman care. Planned Parenthood saved me from a sexually transmitted disease that was on its way to becoming cervical cancer. Because of that, I have long stood with them for the health of all women, women like me who needed some help when nothing else was accessible. As women before me suffered for causes like the right to vote, I will gladly step up, with my money, my voice, and my body to keep the doors of Planned Parenthood open. It’s imperative. Whatever it takes. Don’t even think you can stop me.

When I was younger and an important relationship would end, I would pull out every song that reminded me of the person I’d lost and play them over and over until I was reduced to a tearless, dehydrated, emotionless lump of flesh. Today I thought about playing Lee Greenwood’s “God Bless the USA” and just having a good cry. Instead, I found Katy Perry. Today I am giving myself permission and space to mourn. Tomorrow I roar.

What’s So Funny About Peace, Love, And Understanding

The current political climate in this country is making me nauseous. The amount of venom flowing from both sides of the political spectrum is unnerving at best and unpatriotic at worst. I believe in the two party system. I like the way the differences balance each other out. I think our forefathers created something great here. But, somewhere in the recent past, we came to a point where there is no longer a capacity to agree to disagree and to find common ground despite our disputes. Somewhere along the line, we became unable to view compromise as a viable option. Truth is, though, that is how our government was designed to work. If we can’t reach across party lines, then the balance our forefathers sought is impossible and everything is out of whack.

I’ve been thinking about this a great deal lately as the presidential election nears because of things I’m hearing my children say. Our boys attend a fairly homogenous school where they are at a distinct disadvantage. It would be a safe assessment to admit that roughly 98% of the parents at my boys’ school will be voting the same way during this next election. And, yes, our household is in the 2% who will likely vote the other way. Our boys, smart kids that they are, realize that they are in the minority. They hear what their classmates are saying about the election and they are honestly afraid to join the conversation because they don’t want to admit that our household is different. They are afraid to be ostracized. Joe, specifically, has mentioned hateful things his classmates have said regarding political candidates. I know they’re just kids repeating their parents’ views, but that is what frightens me. We’re passing on this culture of narrow-mindedness to the next generation. I’m afraid it will never end.

Growing up, I knew what my parents political beliefs were. I knew that Ronald Reagan made my mom nervous and that my dad was not too impressed with Jimmy Carter. Through my parents’ political differences, I came to accept the discourse between the two parties as part and parcel of a democratic society. I was never afraid to express my views. I grew up willing to stand up for what I believed or at least being willing to talk about it. My boys are too fearful to do the same. I wish they felt it was worth it to state their opinions, but it’s not. They’re growing up in a country where differences are problematic and where compromise is considered weakness.

If I had one great Miss America wish for this country, it’s that I wish we could throw off intolerance and hatred. Someone who disagrees with us is not an enemy. At the end of the day, we all want the same things. We want a better life for our children, a stable and safe country to live in, the right to live within our own belief system, all wrapped up in peace and prosperity. Just because we don’t see eye to eye doesn’t mean we should perpetuate an environment of hatred. I’m trying to teach my children that tolerance is important, and you can’t do that with words alone. You have to live it. When Christ said, “love thy neighbor,” He meant it…and not simply when it’s convenient or when they share your world view. How do we teach our children to play nicely if we can’t?

I Never Wanted To Teach, But I Won’t Pass Up A Teaching Moment

On this isolated beach in the Galapagos, we found hundreds of fragments of plastic. Sad, but a perfect teaching moment.

I spend a lot of time in the car with my kids. It’s one of my favorite ways to connect with them because they’re a captive audience. Tonight’s topic of conversation was the state of the planet. What can I say? Sometimes we talk about what’s better — Thor’s hammer or Captain America’s shield? Sometimes we talk about potential flooding from eventual global warming. It all evens out. Tonight’s topic started with a plastic bottle of water in the car.

“Remember when we were in Ecuador and we couldn’t drink water from the tap in that nice hotel?” Joe asked.

“Yes,” I replied.

“Why was that?”

“Well, it was because the water that comes from the tap there isn’t as clean as the water that comes from the tap in our house,” I replied.

“Do the Ecuadorians drink their own tap water?” he continued.

“I would guess some do. I would guess many others buy bottled water because it’s safer for drinking,” I said, recalling an article I recently read in the New York Times, which stated that residents of Mexico City spend as much as 10% of their income on five-gallon bottles of drinking water because they don’t trust the city’s water supply.

“Do you realize,” I continued, “how lucky we are to have such a clean, safe, continuous supply of water delivered to our home day in and day out? Do you remember when we were watching The Amazing Race and the racers were in Tanzania and they saw all those people on line in town to fill up their water bottles for the day? That’s how it is for many people in this world. Not everyone has the luxury of turning on the tap and getting fresh water. Many of them have to go fetch it and bring it home, if they can get it at all,” I told them.

“I would hate it if we had to carry water home just to take a shower,” Joe said.

“I would too. You realize that when we shower, we’re using the same clean, safe water we have to drink, right?”

“We’re showering in our drinking water?” Joe said incredulously.

“Sure. It’s the same water for drinking, bathing, washing dishes, and watering our lawn,” I told him.

“That’s stupid,” Joe said. “We should use other water for showering and watering the grass and save the good water for drinking,” he said.

Yes! End scene. That’s exactly the thought I was hoping he would get to. At least he showed some glimmer of recognition that safe drinking water is a precious commodity. Will that stop him from taking his 15 minute shower tomorrow morning? Well, that remains to be seen. But, at least it’s in his head now.

These teaching moments with my boys are sacred to me. I appreciate when I’m handed the opportunity to remind them how lucky we are and how precious our planet is. When possible, I try to steer our car conversations so they become thought provoking ones. I regularly tell Joe and Luke that they need to be thinking about creating alternative energy sources, cleaning up the gyres in the ocean, and finding new means of getting people clean water because, unfortunately, we still need solutions to the problems that generations before theirs have created and perpetuated yet have not been able to fix. I remind them that they’re the future of the planet.

I won’t lie. I’ve also told them that there will be oodles of money for the inventors, scientists, and business people who come up with and market the solutions to these problems. I like to keep them motivated. Even if my smart kids aren’t the ones who will solve the world’s problems someday, I hope that talking to them now about these things might just make them more planet-responsible adults. And, heaven knows, this planet could use more of those. Maybe I’ve been watching too many socially pointed animated features, but I really don’t want to end up like the critters in the waterless town of Dirt in Rango…dancing in the town center and singing an old Hank Williams tune about “cool, clear water.”

 

A Better Life

Our incredibly fortunate American family on a fjord in Norway in 2009.

Today, while ironing of course, I watched a film I’ve wanted to see ever since the lead actor was nominated for an Academy Award this past winter. I’d never heard of it until the nominations came out, but when a quiet film finds its way into the hearts of the Academy voters I usually pay attention. The movie is called A Better Life. The story revolves around a father, who happens to be a Mexican illegal living and working in the U.S., and his 14 year old son who is a U.S. citizen. The son edges closer and closer to the East LA gang scene and his father worries about him. It is an honest story about a hard-working man whose only desire in life is to give his son a better life than he has had, hence the title.

I loved the movie because it made me think. It forced me to face some of my own prejudices and misconceptions. I can’t tell you where exactly I stand on the issue of illegal immigration because, being a grey person not prone to black and white absolutism, I’m not sure. I can clearly see and understand both sides of the issue. We have laws in this country about citizenship, and I do see the importance of upholding them. On the other hand, though, both sets of my great grandparents came here from Poland on a boat circa 1917, landed at Ellis Island speaking no English, and were able to give their own children a better life than the one they had. I wouldn’t be here if the United States hadn’t let them in nearly 100 years ago.

As Americans, it’s too easy to forget how blessed we are. We may talk about how proud we are of our nation, but most of us have done nothing to earn our citizenship other than to have been born here. Let’s face it. We didn’t have a say in that matter anyway. When you think about how most people on this planet live, we are unbelievably fortunate by virtue of dumb luck. So, it’s fairly easy to sit on our lofty hill and tell others that we’re all full up at the inn. After all, we’re here and our kids will have the benefit of education and health care, so what do we care?

What today’s Ironing Matinee reminded me is that when we talk about “illegals” we’re conveniently labeling others in a way that helps us to forget they’re human beings. As “illegals,” they’re not people, families, fathers, mothers, children. They’re criminals, burdens, statistics, scourges. It’s our apathy about these immigrants’ humanity that troubles me. If you get a chance, watch A Better Life. No matter where you stand on the issue of illegal immigration, it might give you some insight into how hard life is for our neighbors south of the border and how hard it is for them still while they’re living here illegally trying to do the best they can for their families. It might remind you that at our core we’re all the same. We want what is best for our children, and that notion can’t be contained by laws or even by borders.

Soapbox Alert: Mind Your Own Business

This afternoon we had to stop by the local Safeway to pick up a few last minute ingredients for tonight’s dinner. After we’d made our purchases, we went out to our car. It was 91 degrees here at 3 p.m. in Steamboat, so we rolled down the windows on the FJ, loaded ourselves and our purchases in our car, and cranked the air conditioning. Hubby put the car into reverse and just as we were about to back out of our parking spot, a gentleman in his mid-50s walked by the front of our car and yelled at us to turn it off. Presumably, he thought we were hanging out in our car with the engine idling, wasting gas and destroying the ozone layer. Clearly he had not seen us enter the vehicle not one minute before. Because he was at the front of our car, he was obviously not aware that our reverse lights were on. He did not know that we share his concern for the environment and that hubby parks his car at the light rail station so he can take public transportation into work in Denver five days a week. He simply judged us in our idling SUV without knowing what was going on.

I thought about this interaction for a couple hours after it happened. I was annoyed. I didn’t in the least like this man’s insinuation that we are planet wreckers. We recycle. We use cloth bags at the grocery store more often than not. We try to conserve water and energy. For heaven’s sake…we’ve been sleeping in the basement for weeks now because it allows us to keep our air conditioning set to 80 degrees all day. We may not be the most environmentally friendly family in America, but we do try. The more I reflected on it, though, the more I realized that what bothered me about this man’s comment was the fact that he thought he should comment in the first place. Who had died and made him the boss of how much time I’m allowed in my car before I drive off with my groceries?

I’m beginning to believe the basic problem with most Americans today is that we’ve lost the idea that individual freedoms apply to all individuals. Now, I am not currently a gun owner nor have I ever owned a gun. But, I do believe that all Americans are entitled to their rights, whether or not I agree with them. I would never go up to a gun owner (and, trust me, I know a lot of them) and tell them that their Second Amendment right to bear arms is wrong. It’s not my thing, but it doesn’t have to be. Just as they’re free to own a gun, I’m free not to. Even after the murders in the movie theater in my home state today, I still won’t speak out against gun ownership. It’s not my thing, but I don’t believe for one minute that removing gun ownership rights would have stopped this tragedy. Deranged individuals will find a way to harm others, legal gun rights or not.

I wish people would be a bit more tolerant and accepting of other people’s rights to live life their own way. If you don’t agree with how they’re living, fine. Keep it to yourself. If you’re not in favor of gay marriage, don’t marry a same sex partner. If you’re opposed to abortion, don’t have one. If you’re anti-gun, don’t carry one. If you’re not fond of fur, don’t throw paint on someone else’s coat. It doesn’t matter if you think someone is wrong or misguided for the things they think. You don’t have to agree with them. You just have to accept that they deserve the same common decency that you do, the freedom to live their life according to their own ideas.

We spend too much time playing judge and jury over the lives of others when what other people do is honestly none of our business. If we Americans would focus on our own lives, our own families, our own choices, and our own bodies, we’d probably get along a lot better. If we understood that our way might not be the only or best way, we might be able to solve some of the bigger problems in this country. Instead of yelling at someone because you believe they’re wrong, choose to be quiet. Accept that you don’t necessarily know what is best for someone else and mind your own business.

Sell Crazy Some Place Else

My write-in candidate

It’s 10:30 now, and I am finally sitting down with a few free minutes to do my blog post of the day. The reason for my late start tonight is that a crazy loon hijacked my free time this evening. I’d go into greater detail about this loon, but the loon is a family member and obviously there’s enough trouble in my family already without my blogging about it.

So, instead, I will offer just this little tidbit. I have been thinking lately about the upcoming presidential election. This is a big deal for me because, as a rule, I try not to pay too much attention to politics. Honestly, it just gives me a headache. It seems we take one step forward and then two steps back and we go nowhere. Nothing really changes. And, during an election year, people get all riled up about something that four years from now will reoccur in some sort of Groundhog Day scenario. I’d rather eat ice cream in the park and not think about it.

But, today, I was reading happily along on the Internet when I found an article about a candidate I could perhaps get behind in the next election. This candidate has been the mayor of Talkeetna, Alaska, for fifteen years. His name is Mayor Stubbs. I’m not surprised if you haven’t heard of him. You see, Mayor Stubbs is a cat. Fifteen years ago, when he was just a kitten, he was put on the mayoral ballot as a write-in candidate; and because this is Alaska, where apparently anyone can become mayor, he won. So far, Mayor Stubbs has done a wonderful job increasing tourism. He’s well-liked and folks in the small town feel he’s one of the best mayors they’ve ever had. No one seems to care that he’s missing his tail. It hasn’t affected his ability to perform his job. And, no one’s bothered him about his birth certificate either.

I think the fine residents of Talkeetna might just be onto something. Since Mayor Stubbs took office, there have been no scandals or mismanagement of funds. About the worst thing Mayor Stubbs can be accused of is taking a bit of the old catnip every afternoon at 4 p.m. Still, the town seems no worse for the wear under his leadership. I think he may have a better current record than either of the front runners in the next presidential election can claim. And, let’s face it, Mayor Tubbs comes cheap. I think we could afford a catnip stipend and perhaps balance the budget. If one of our allies needs to be won over, a purring cat might be the man for the job. If one of our enemies is acting like a wascally wabbit, Mayor Stubbs could claw their eyes out. It’s just crazy enough to work.

Okay. Okay. This is all a bit silly. You’re indulging me, and I deeply appreciate it. It is late. But, you know what? Mayor Stubbs made me smile today, and it’s been a while since any political figure has made me do that. Besides, with the evening I’ve had, I needed a good smile. In a country where our motto could easily be “Sell crazy some place else…we’re all stocked up here” (Jack Nicholson, As Good As It Gets), electing a cat might just offer the kind of radical change people seem to be looking for.