Category Archives: Politics

musings

I see that it’s been a week since I went out of my norm and posted on a political theme. The hope I felt only a week ago has been dashed by the passage of the Republicans’ ‘tax reform’ bill. As a side not, I put ‘hope’ in my tag window for this post and saw that it’s the first time I’ve tagged that word. That’s pretty sad that I haven’t written about hope in 18 months of this blog.

I’ve written about goals, which are kind of like hope, I think. One implies the other, although I’m not sure which would come first.

I’m going down to stay with Mom and Dad today. Just one night then home again tomorrow night. Work on Saturday then back down to Santa Clara on Monday, Christmas Day. I believe we’ll have 13 for dinner. That’ll be nice. Tim shared with his siblings the birthday card Mom and Dad sent him last week. Dad wrote on it, which is not common any more, but it was somewhat disjointed. He referred to his having ‘half a brain’. I told Tim that that was the worst of what is happening to him: he knows. It won’t get better so, to me, that means treasuring what we can when we can. Thus, I visit as often as possible.

At work, I’ve been trying to develop relationships with people outside my norm. I try to take time to have real honest talk with some of the Davies Hall ushers, with some of the Symphony staff. Everyone is at work, so we all recognize that is our priority but there are private moments. Working primarily in the front of the house, I hardly have any contact with the musicians any more. The last three or four shows I’ve done, Sarah was playing but I didn’t have time to get back stage at the right moment to talk to her. It’s been extremely hard for me to get out and do things not work or family related.

sea change?

I was up in the Loge talking to Hal last night, about 5 minutes into intermission for the Symphony’s Holiday Soul show, when a huge cheer went up on the main floor. The people I could see on the main floor were looking to the rear of the hall so I thought perhaps one of the stars of the show had come into the auditorium for some reason.

Holiday Soul is this years’ version of a show the Symphony has put on for many years to reach out to the black community. It used to be called Colors of Christmas, featuring Peabo Bryson. This year we have CeCe Winans and Edwin Hawkins. It’s more overtly religious than Colors used to be.

The point is that the audience was predominantly black. What they were cheering, it turned out, was the news that the Democrat, Doug Jones, had been declared the winner in the special election for the Alabama Senate seat.

Jones’ Republican opponent, Roy Moore, was a problematic candidate already. Among other things, he essentially advocated that Christianity should be the state religion. Then, a few weeks ago, he was accused by multiple women of inappropriate sexual behavior when they were teenagers and he was in his 30s. Many Republican leaders said that Moore should quit the race, but some, including President Trump, continued to support him.

Polls up to last weekend showed Moore with a slim lead but the voters of Alabama evidently decided enough is enough.

Jones is the first Alabama Democrat to be elected to national office in a long time. I am hopeful that his election signals the awakening by the American people to the hijacking of their government by ultra-conservatives. The resignation after similar revelations of Minnesota Democrat Al Franken last week was disappointing to me but I thought last night that perhaps his taking the high road can spur Trump to come clean on his inappropriate sexual past.

A couple of weeks ago, when the Republicans in the Senate passed their tax ‘reform’ bill, I was struck by the difference between these Senators and the ones in John Kennedy’s book Profiles in Courage. Profiles in cowardice is more apt today.

OK, enough. Make sure you vote, people. It’s not much, but it’s all we’ve got. And it does make a difference.

low

Thursday morning, I had an idea for a nice post. I took my laundry down to the laundry room and the sun was coming in low through the foliage in our little central patio/garden. It was very pretty. When I got back upstairs, I sat at the computer to write, but I saw I had a bunch of emails. I looked through those and answered a couple and the moment was gone. I slid into FaceBook and the news of the thievery in the Senate and the sunshine meant nothing any more.

I had been thinking I would go down to Mom and Dad’s later and stay overnight but I found myself sinking further and further into torpor. I tried to come back to write, but I couldn’t. I couldn’t pick up the phone to call anyone. Eventually, I got out to the mall where I wandered around – hardly anyone was there – looking at stuff I wasn’t interested in. I had some vague idea I could do some Christmas shopping. I did get a couple of things at the drugstore and got to the grocery store.

At home about 6 pm, I ate several bowls of sugar cereal for dinner and went to bed.

Friday was much the same, only I never went out. I checked FaceBook, played solitaire, worked on the jigsaw puzzle, actually read some real books (oh, I got to the library Thursday). In the evening, I saw Rose was home so I went over to talk to her. She was working on some Christmas decorations and had a kind of technical problem so I gave her some ideas and then some tools (skinny pliers). Somehow that made me feel better. I ate a decent dinner and again went to bed early, about 8.

Today brought the news that the Senate actually passed that abomination of ‘tax reform’ but I feel a little better. Better enough to write.

It’s interesting. I want to write deep, important thoughts, but often when I’m thinking those thoughts, I don’t want to sit at the computer. Certainly the last two days were like that.

I’ve got the day off so I will try to get back to my sunny thoughts of Thursday morning and share them with you.

Dummies history

I slagged European History for Dummies a little bit in my last post. In their defense, I offer this quote from the end of a section on the Holocaust.

Don’t forget that thousands of ordinary people were involved. The cattle wagons the prisoners were loaded into had to be booked with the railway companies, firms were contracted to supply the barbed wire or the gas chambers or the ovens. People filled in order forms for gas crystals, or simply delivered the guards’ beer, food, and cigarettes. All these people played their part in helping one of the greatest crimes in history to happen.

European history

Wilfried’s able leadership of our tour of Germany last month whetted my appetite for more of the story of how things got to be the way they are. In short, the history of Germany.

I found a book at the library called The Concise History of Germany which was ok but filled with a lot of big words. I’ve got nothing against big words except when they are used to obfuscate. When I started swimming in sentences 20 or more words long, I gave up on it.

Again at the library: European History for Dummies. OK, better. Not so many big words plus short sentences. I’ve made it through almost to the end. Honestly, it’s pretty depressing. I get that the history of human affairs is largely about control of one group by another and that that is usually accomplished by violence. The Dummies brand of books is designed to go over a subject in a breezy, often humorous, tone. It’s exactly what I was looking for, actually.

But having such a litany of violent things set in front of you in such a lighthearted way is weird. I’ve had the book at my breakfast table and thus read it in 15 or 20 minute chunks. Sometimes, I stay at the table for a few extra minutes but more often I have to just walk away from it. Will we never learn?

I’m sure there are many books out there about this subject – repeating the cycle of violence, not history per se – so I’m not sitting here thinking I’m going to find some solution. Humans are pissers, whether it’s driving on the highway or running a company. When I start to think about larger organizations of humans, I find myself in dangerous shoals of definitions: what is a country? What is influence? What is power? When a ‘country’ ‘takes over’ a city, what does that really mean? The Dummies book throws those words around a lot but I believe it’s worth asking what their core meaning is.

To me, it comes down to power. How does one person have ‘power’ over another? There is always an exchange, although it is not always balanced. I agree to go to work of a person or organization in exchange for money. I can use that money to get other people to do things for me: supply me with food, clothing and shelter. If my ‘boss’ at work asks me to do something for him/her, I will accede to that request because it is within the realm of what i have agreed to do in exchange for that money.

But what if it isn’t? What if my ‘boss’ asks (or tells) me to do something that will injure another person? Or myself? Presumably, this is something that is not part of what was originally agreed to in the definition of this job. Suddenly, money is not the exchange medium. It becomes more elemental. How does my value of self preservation compare to my ethical value of not wanting to hurt another person? Perhaps I can make myself safer at the expense of another person coming into danger.

I believe it is this transaction writ large which has driven human history. Some humans are able to rationalize this transaction and others can’t. And some humans have a need to dominate while others don’t.

The whole family went to England in 2000 for two weeks. We really had a very nice time. We walked across Abbey Road and among the stones at Stonehenge. We walked along the Thames and on the cliffs of Dover. We went to museums and castles. Perhaps too many castles. Because by the end, I felt about history as I do now: why is it all about killing? Someone wants ‘power’ and is willing to step on other humans to get it.

The Pianist

When I got divorced, I let go of many things from my married life. One of those things was having a lot of books near at hand. Moving from a house to an apartment involved a lot f downsizing and I realized that books could be had at the local library. It wasn’t the same as having them in my living room, but it was good enough.

I kept my science fiction books, my Apollo books, some baseball books and a few music books. Among my music books was a water-damaged copy of The Pianist by Wladislaw Szpilman. Some may remember this book from seeing the movie of the same name. In fact, we only got it after seeing the excellent movie.

I actually got it out before I left, but I didn’t open it until Saturday. I’m not sure why I had it in with the music books. It really has very little to do with making music. It is the story of a musician, though. A Jewish pianist, caught in Warsaw when the Germans came in 1939.

I’m including this as a Zach story because I associate this book with Zach. I don’t remember where I was when I saw the movie, or who was with me, or where we got the book, but I remember Zach telling me he had read it and at the time it surprised me. The printing is 2003 so Zach would have been a freshman or sophomore in high school. I believe he even had it in his room although I don’t remember that for sure either.

So somehow I associate it with Zach and I was thinking of him when I picked it up. He was moved enough by the story to keep it near him. Perhaps he even read it more than once. If he kept journals in those days, I haven’t seen them.

Reading it myself now, I am struck by the thought that evil is everywhere. Here in America we tend to have the belief that we are morally superior to everyone else in the world. When someone does something odious in the political world, we often brand him or her with the epithet of Hitler. I try to remember that Hitler didn’t kill all those people by himself; many people did his bidding. Szpilman’s story is told in simple, unemotional prose. The most horrific things happen. They are done by Germans, Poles, Lithuanians, even Jews.

They could be done by Americans. It could happen here.

Norman Mailer

Many people reading this are aware that I have an interest in the 1960s era Apollo space program. I probably have 25 or 30 books on the subject and have read an equal number more. One of them that I own is Norman Mailer’s Of A Fire On the Moon. It’s in paperback, of course.

A month or so ago I was in a bookstore and saw a book called Moonfire credited to Norman Mailer. It turned out that some people took a selection of Mailer’s words from the earlier book and added a bunch of pictures. What hooked me wasn’t the writing – I already had that – but the pictures. Many of them have not been seen before, even by aficionados such as me. So now I’m reading Mailer again.

Mailer’s writing is like nothing else I’ve read on the moon program. He is intensely interested in the astronauts as men but not in the sense of what so many were writing in the newspapers and magazines of the day. The pictures give a reminder of that, as many of them are staged shots done for Life Magazine whose mission it was to make heroes of the astronauts. See Tom Wolfe’s The Right Stuff for more on that. Mailer is interested in drilling down to the core of their being.

One of his paragraphs struck me as funny given that my career has been dealing with amplified sound in theaters. Check this out:

 . . . They are in a modern movie theater with orange seats and a dark furrowed ceiling overhead, much like marcelled waves in a head of hair, a plastic ceiling built doubtless to the plans of one of the best sound engineers in the country. Sound is considerably ahead of smell as a fit province for scientific work, but since the excellence of acoustics in large and small concert chambers seem to bear more relation to old wood and the blessings of monarchs and bishops than to the latest development of the technical art, the sound system in this movie theater (seats 600) is dependably intolerable most of the time. The public address system squeals and squeaks (it is apparently easier to have communication with men one quarter of a million miles away) and one never gets a fair test of the aural accommodations, and so far as one can tell, the tone is a hint sepulchral, then brightened electronically, finally harsh and punishing to that unnamed fine nerve that runs from the anus to the eardrum. As the sound engineers became more developed, the plastic materials provided for their practice by corporations grew acoustically more precise and spiritually more flattening – it was the law of the century. One was forever adjusting to public voices through the subtlest vale of pain.

Perhaps ironic is a better word than funny, because sound systems have improved a great deal in the intervening time, while space travel has stagnated in Low Earth Orbit.

 

Tim Wilson

I just read this article and tears are in my eyes. Tim and Deanne Wilson were good friends of ours during our time in San Francisco at the Opera. They were passionate, caring people then. The article clearly shows that that hasn’t changed.

When we went away, we didn’t stay in touch with Tim and Deanne. We really didn’t stay in touch with anybody at the Opera but that’s another story. I worked Opera in the Park a couple of times after I came back to SF and said hello to several members of the orchestra who knew me. In the brief conversations we had, no one mentioned Tim and I don’t remember asking.

Now he has glaucoma and other health issues that are serious enough to make him quit his job – again! What makes me sad is not just that Tim is ill or that I’ve ignored a friend for so many years. It’s that our society – our country – values music education so little that heroic efforts like this are needed.

OK. I’m resolving right here to get back in touch with Tim and Deanne. Meanwhile, I’ll put up one picture. It’s Tim, but you can’t tell. He’s showing Jeremy and Sarah how to make pizza from scratch. I’m pretty sure it was vegetarian, too.

ghost bikes

A couple of weeks ago I re-posted a picture Micah had put on Facebook. It’s in this blog post.

Then last week I saw an article in the SF Examiner about ‘ghost bike’ memorials. You can read it here. What caught my eye more than the headline was the picture.

unnamed-9

Now I understand the lineage of what Micah (or Jake) was doing. There are a lot of important issues facing Americans these days and maybe this isn’t the most important but it’s important to me. Almost every day I see drivers doing dangerous things. They run the gamut from changing lanes without using turn signals to running red lights. I mean really red. I often see drivers rushing to be first on merges, too.

It all stems from people thinking they need to get somewhere now. Really, folks, what’s the rush? Three quarters of the time I see a guy (or woman) slide through the red right turn from Linda Mar to Highway 1 without stopping – or sometimes without even slowing down – I pull up along side then at the next light. Are you late to work? Late to getting the kids to school? Going to the grocery store? Hurrying home with your Chinese take out?

Whatever it is, it it worth killing someone? Yeah, I know, you’re a careful driver. I’m sure Shawn R. Allen would have said he was a careful driver before November 14th last year. Maybe he still thinks he is.

the morning after

This blog is never going to be a political blog, but politics affects us in all parts of our lives, whether we like it or not. Time will tell if last night’s results are historic or a blip. I feel that it is neither. Conservatives have been trying desperately for decades to reverse trends that may be irreversible but they have been spectacularly successful. Liberals, or progressives as I like to characterize myself, have tended to feel that their goals are so good that they are self evident and have so far not gone to the mat to defend or promote them.

I spent a few minutes this morning going through Facebook and reading the wails of despair. For the most part I agree with them but I believe we all have to recognize that there are lots of people who don’t see the world as we do. With social media such as Facebook, it is easy to select sources of information that reflect our biases. After a while, we come to believe that reality.

I will post a link to this post on Facebook because it is the best way to publicize my blog and I want more people to think on the human issues I speak to. I call on everyone to make the effort to broaden their horizons and reach out to people – enemies even! – and make common cause with their humanity.