Sunday, May 31, 2015

Quote of the Week

"I was taught that the way of progress was neither swift nor easy." -Marie Curie

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Saturday Video

And when I die,
And when I'm dead, dead and gone,
There'll be one child born
And a world to carry on...
To carry on...

I'm not scared of dyin'
And I don't really care.
If it's peace you find in dyin',
Well, then let the time be near.
if it's peace you find in dyin',

When dyin' time is here,
Just bundle up my coffin,
'Cause it's cold way down there...
I hear that it's cold way down there...
Yeah, crazy cold a-way down there.

And when I die,
And when I'm gone,
There'll be one child born
And a world to carry on,
To carry on.

My troubles are many,
They're as deep as a well.
I swear there ain't no heaven,
But I pray there ain't no hell.
Swear there ain't no heaven,

And pray there ain't no hell;
But I'll never know by livin',
Only my dyin' will tell...
So only my dyin' will tell...
Yeah, only my dyin' will tell.

And when I die,
And when I'm gone,
There'll be one child born
And a world to carry on,
To carry on.

Give me my freedom
For as long as I be.
All I ask of livin'
Is to have no chains on me.
All I ask of livin'
Is to have no chains on me,

And all I ask of dyin'
Is to go naturally.
Only wanna go naturally...
Don't wanna go by the devil,
Don't wanna go by the demon,
Don't wanna go by Satan,
Don't wanna die uneasy.
Just let me go naturally.

And when I die,
And when I'm gone,
There'll be one child born,
There'll be one child born...

When I die...
There'll be one child born...
When I die...
There'll be one child born...
When I die...
There'll be one child born...
When I die..
There'll be one child born...
When I die...
There'll be one child born...

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Dry Drunk, Part 7

Part 6 of Dry Drunk is posted here. This is Part 7.

A work of fiction.

The ward is on lockdown. Somebody snapped and attacked an orderly. I saw the whole thing happen in front of me. He'd been pacing angrily up and down the corridors, sweaty, with an ashen face. Detox. It had only been a matter of time. What we had been observing in his behavior unnerved us, because what we saw was a human grenade with the pin pulled out.

The man slugged the orderly in the stomach without any warning, and when he doubled over in pain, the patient proceeded to taunt him. How do you like that, huh, boy? The boy reference was made in reference to the race of the man he had attacked. Someone triggered the automatic security system, which closed the doors of every room in the building and started up a high pitched, highly annoying whine.

When it comes to unexpected racist language, I return to my own past. During most of her life, my grandmother was a good Christian woman. A preacher's daughter, she was very devout, never used profanity, and always sought to be pleasant to everyone. But then Alzheimer's set in and we realized she had a full understanding and a willingness to use a vocabulary we were shocked to discover she even knew. It wasn't just curse words, it was racial slurs, too.

This kid doesn't have that kind of excuse, and after the staff called for back up he was eventually taken down, subdued, and I assume, sedated. I got caught inside an interior room for half an hour until the melee concluded, one that fortunately had a television. When the all-clear was given, I spoke with the other patients about what happened. It threw off the immaculate timing of the intensive therapy approach upon which the facility placed full reliance. Their theory was to regiment nearly every hour of our life, to ward against self-pity and boredom.

It wasn't a bad strategy, but I preferred more talking, more group therapy. I did not prefer coloring a cheap piece of balsa wood with water colors, which was curiously named occupational therapy. If this was an occupation, what kind of shitty job was this? I started to feel trapped again, wanting to escape the terrible food and weak coffee.

She's not taking my calls. It's probably over. In fairness, it had been over a long time ago. If you burn enough bridges, love departs and all you are to each other is a habit.

But this curvy, geeky girl has found me, and keeps asking me to read this book she has just finished. It looks interesting and she looks interested in me. She tells me she couldn't find me during lock-down and tells me she was worried about me. I know she means it and I know what she means. I'm intrigued. This time a woman has made the first move.

In time, I will learn she has a thing for men with curly hair like mine. I know I've blown through two or three women, women who began with some promise, in two weeks of being here, but that's typical for me. I'm trying to nurse my hurt in the form of others. I want them to be my strength. This is why I always begin relationships very well, but can never make a single one last for good. That's part of the reason I signed up for rehab. That fact is what hurts the most. I want the longevity of a forty year relationship like my own parents and I doubt it will ever come to pass for me.

Few people want to enable an alcoholic. I rarely lost my temper, rarely was deliberately mean, and never raised my hand in violence to anyone. But I was a helpless child, a baby, really. And when I drank I didn't act much like an adult. Bills went unpaid. Clothes went unwashed. The only thing that mattered was booze. Partners got tired of cleaning up my messes.

I would hang a sign around my neck if I could that says "Be Careful", especially in the presence of this women. We're not supposed to have any kind of romantic or sexual contact, but that doesn't stop the flirtation from taking part. In addition to its own sake, it's another surefire way to keep boredom from overwhelming a person. I wonder if I'll have any luck with the beginning of something new, sometimes that can be allowed to fully blossom and grow into something better.

I want to change. This woman is a ticket to my salvation, a motivational force. She's why I wake up every morning on an uncomfortable bed that hurts my back. Even though I think about running away, I came here to get better. It's the constant, stuffy confinement that throws me into a panic. It's the forced small talk and the defensive people lost in denial who don't really want to get better. They don't want to admit that they have a problem. In their minds, they were Shanghaied here and are indignant for the inconvenience.

I see a thousand reflection of who I used to be and who I hope I never will be. And then it's time for lunch again and I see her again. this new girl. In the midst of the pain, she appears. She tells me, in a roundabout way, that she doesn't mind nursing me. She has the personality of a nurse, and I wonder once again if that is what it takes for me to be successful.

Lest I forget, she's here for the same reason I am. I don't have the heart to ask her about her own story. I've already heard what seems like a thousand, some more emotionally intense than others. I don't want to ruin this spell she has over me. If I know too much, then this awkward honeymoon will subside, and she will become like everyone else here. I need someone to be pure and unsullied.

I think to myself that maybe another drunk like me is the best I can do. My expectations have grown quite low. Like most of us, I once dreamed of a lengthy marriage or at least a long-term relationship. A few failures later, I would take a year or two if they were mostly happy. This is not something I will never discuss with her, or if I do, it will be much later.

It's time for another activity. Some of them are gender-segregated, but this one contains both men and women. For some reason, the women always cry frequently, and the men squirm uncomfortably in their seats. The moderator makes heavy use of a whiteboard, writing down pertinent phrases people bring up in their testimonials. My admirer sits deliberately next to me. I imagine her holding my hand, if that was allowed. It would make a difference.

I'm halfway through the program and so is she. We communicate more with body language and very cautious talk, so that we aren't discovered and deliberately separated. This isn't 1984, but it is a controlled environment that I doubt many people are meant to enjoy. I've heard that some people frequent psych wards when they need a break from reality, but this is not a psych ward and there is no break from reality here. Instead, all I see is reality staring me in the face. I can't escape reality, bits and pieces of me.

The 1-800 number on the billboard I called promised help, but it did not reveal what form that help took. When I found that our apartment had been stripped bare of her things, including the kids' things, I raised a white flag of surrender. The more persistent sorts would have tried to win her back, but I didn't deceive myself. I knew she was gone for good, and that I would need to start over from scratch. If I am privy to any true skill, it is the ability to eventually find other relationship partners with enough persistence.

I didn't go into rehab necessarily to find someone new, but I'd be lying if I said that the thought didn't cross my mind. And as for you romantics out there, take my advice. Don't try it yourself. No matter how you rationalize it, the deck is stacked against you. You have a serious problem and he or she does, too. No matter how well it starts out, you are bound to pull each other down eventually. If you are up, and he or she is down, you might manage it. And the same is true if he or she is up, and you are down. But if you are both down at the same time, watch out. The results are not pretty.  

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Family Lucre

Not given to wine, no striker, not greedy of filthy lucre; but patient, not a brawler, not covetous-1 Timothy 3:3


You only become a Republican when you get money.

My grandmother would say this to anyone within earshot, especially to her two sons, my uncles. Like many rural southerners of her day, she was a New Deal Democrat and worshiped Franklin Roosevelt. Much recent scientific brain research has gone into determining what makes for a conservative and what makes for a liberal. But sometimes the motives aren't nearly that complex and don't need a brain scan. Environment and circumstance can be equally influential and determine voting history better than science.

The Great Depression made lifelong Democrats, certainly, but what is less known is that it also made lifelong Republicans, eventually. My uncles were raised in public housing at the beginning of their lives. This was a source of shame for the family and never to be mentioned under any circumstances. I only learned it myself a year or two ago myself. Slowly, the family business my grandparents cooked up began to break even and then turn a modest profit. The worst was over. Their own familial Great Depression had subsided.

By then, my grandparents had been able to buy a house large enough to accommodate four children. They'd found a steady supply of water wells to drill and sometimes even large and profitable contracts came their way. But while the generation of my grandparents cast straight-ticket ballots for the Democratic Party, the effect of poverty made a very different impact a generation later when the United States regained its own prosperity.

My uncles were war babies. The post-WWII boom had yet to take full flower and for a time the entire family lived in poverty. Poverty has a way of leaving an indelible impact upon those who are unfortunate enough to experience it. Fears of scarcity never subside, nor do those fears that whisper that the poorhouse is only a few bad breaks away. The attitudes of my uncles reminds me of of Scarlett O'Hara in Gone with the Wind.

Scarlett: As God is my witness, as God is my witness they're not going to lick me. I'm going to live through this and when it's all over, I'll never be hungry again.

There is a dark side to this kind of thinking. The family placed a priority upon making money and being financially successful, at any cost. As we know, there are ethical ways of profit and unethical ones. Unethical conduct can be legal, but it certainly isn't moral. If you've read the book yourself, or seen the movie, Scarlett's business practices fell into this category, too.

I'm sad to say that monetary compensation was valued more than what should matter, love. That family did not feel indebted to anything like the Quaker Testimony of Simplicity or Integrity. Instead, the two of them put their mental energies into getting rich, and before long, they succeeded. But at such a cost! We can worship God or money, and they chose the latter.

Now members of the 1%, though it would be years before anyone would use that terminology, they voted for the party they felt would keep them wealthy. It was little more than craven self-interest. I try to feel sorry for them, not in a condescending sort of way, but in a very genuine sense because I know that what they experienced as children was nothing like I have ever gone through in the whole of my own life.

That said, my grandmother lived out the rest of her days from the interest of a trust fund. She continued to vote Democratic. One of my uncles dabbled in local Republican politics but got in trouble due to a conflict of interest, which effectively ended his political career before it started. My other uncle votes GOP regularly but has never shown any interest in throwing his hat into the ring. Now he is simply too old.

I'm less concerned with this essay to talk about political parties, but I am more interested in what motivates people to cast a ballot, regardless of what X they mark and then stick in a box. I began this essay talking about research that appears to indicate that people are predisposed to vote for conservative candidates or liberal ones. But I think the brain is much more malleable an organ than that, and intense personal experience makes a profound difference.

When I think about tolerance and resolving misunderstanding I contemplate my Republican uncles, and what went into forming their political consciousness. I will never think the same way they do, nor will they ever think the way I do. But I do sympathize with the severe financial hardship that led them to make the decisions they did. This quest for legal tender came at the expense of their families and their children, and I am less compassionate for those reasons. But I think in their minds they were fearful of having to start again with nothing, and it drove them onward until they made millions of dollars.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Quote of the Week

"I told him I had been that morning at a meeting of the people called Quakers, where I had heard a woman preach.

"Sir, a woman's preaching is like a dog's walking on his hind legs. It is not done well; but you are surprised to find it done at all."- Samuel Johnson

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Saturday Video

I won't let you down
I will not give you up
Gotta have some faith in the sound
It's the one good thing that I've got

I won't let you down
So please don't give me up
Because I would really, really love to stick around

Heaven knows I was just a young boy
Didn't know what I wanted to be
I was every little hungry schoolgirl's pride and joy
And I guess it was enough for me

To win the race, a prettier face
Brand new clothes and a big fat place
On your rock and roll TV

But today the way I play the game is not the same
No way
Think I'm gonna get me some happy

I think there's something you should know
I think it's time I told you so
There's something deep inside of me
There's someone else I've got to be

Take back your picture in a frame
Take back your singing in the rain
I just hope you understand
Sometimes the clothes do not make the man

All we have to do now
Is take these lies and make them true somehow
All we have to see

Is that I don't belong to you
And you don't belong to me

I won't let you down
I will not give you up

Gotta have some faith in the sound
It's the one good thing that I've got
You've gotta give for what you take

I won't let you down
So please don't give me up
Because I would really really love to stick around

You've gotta give for what you take

Heaven knows we sure had some fun, boy
What a kick, just a buddy and me
We had every big-shot good time band on the run, boy
We were living in a fantasy

We won the race
Got out of the place
I went back home got a brand new face
For the boys at MTV

But today the way I play
the game has got to change
Oh yeah
Now I'm gonna get myself happy

I think there's something you should know
I think it's time I stopped the show
There's something deep inside of me
There's someone I forgot to be

Take back your picture in a frame
Don't think that I'll be back again
I just hope you understand
Sometimes the clothes do not make the man

All we have to do now
Is take these lies and make them true somehow
All we have to see

Is that I don't belong to you
And you don't belong to me

I won't let you down
I will not give you up
Gotta have some faith in the sound
It's the one good thing that I've got

I won't let you down
I will not give you up

I won't let you down
So please don't give me up
Because I would really really love to stick around

Well it looks like the road to heaven
But it feels like the road to hell
When I knew which side my bread was buttered
I took the knife as well

Posing for another picture
Everybody's got to sell
But when you shake your ass
They notice fast
And some mistakes were build to last

That's what you get
That what you get
I say that's what you get
That's what you get for changing your mind

That's what you get

And after all this time
For changing your mind

I just hope you understand
Sometimes the clothes do not make the man

All we have to do now
Is take these lies and make them true somehow
All we have to see

Is that I don't belong to you
And you don't belong to me

My freedom
You've gotta give for what you take

Hold onto my freedom
My freedom
You've gotta give for what you take

I'll hold on to my freedom
May not be what you want from me
Just the way it's got to be
Lose the face now
I've got to live

Friday, May 22, 2015

Any Morning

Just lying on the couch and being happy.
Only humming a little, the quiet sound in the head.
Trouble is busy elsewhere at the moment, it has
so much to do in the world.

People who might judge are mostly asleep; they can’t
monitor you all the time, and sometimes they forget.
When dawn flows over the hedge you can
get up and act busy.

Little corners like this, pieces of Heaven
left lying around, can be picked up and saved.
People won’t even see that you have them,
they are so light and easy to hide.

Later in the day you can act like the others.
You can shake your head. You can frown.

William Stafford

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Tales of a Rejected Juror

Unexpectedly, my last name and juror number are called in the very first pool, within an hour of arrival in the early morning. I follow a circuitous, winding, frequently halting course from room to room, sometimes pausing to rest for a few minutes here and there, only to swiftly move on elsewhere. I feel a bit like a mouse being guided through a very large maze. We are shuttled methodically from place to place in this alternate universe. Then we are seated once again, awaiting further instructions from the judge. The deadly seriousness of court proceedings initially reduce words that would ordinarily hold shock value in any other context to merely emotionless descriptions of conduct.

It is expected that lawyers and witnesses, once the trial begins, will add local color to fill in the gaps. But until that comes, those of us waiting to be oh-so-briefly interviewed by a judge and two sets of attorneys try to make sense of those abstract concepts with almost no evidence. We have only our imagination to rely upon and perhaps a previous time of service upon which to measure today's proceeding. Speculation is rampant, but kept inside, not shared with others.

Much to my surprise, the prosecution and the defense attorneys look more or less interchangeable. All are female. All are young. One is black. Three are white. Like me, they appear to be in their mid-thirties. I wonder if the defendant felt that if the prosecuting attorneys lining up against him were both young women, then maybe he ought to get two young women of his own. This is merely imagination, fictive fiction. Much I do not know about the proceedings, or at least not yet.

What follows will be a particularly intense description of accused crime. Read the charges yourself in the same way I heard them, provided aloud by the mouth of a judge, a no-nonsense, but compassionate black woman in middle age. Now read these words on a page yourself, words given voice and spoken aloud for others to hear.

Older African-American male accused of sexual assault, kidnapping, and assault with a deadly weapon. The accused, his former girlfriend, Caucasian, a woman who was much younger than he. Prior to the violence, the two were lovers and had consensual sex. We are told these details as fact. Later we will be asked if any of those facts bother us, or might sway our decision.

I expect to be sworn in individually, but we are collectively sworn in as a group. Because I am a member of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) I do not swear that I will tell the truth, rather I affirm it. I am not to swear oaths of any kind. One of the attorneys, I think a prosecuting attorney, hears the discrepancy among the voices and flashes a shocked look in my direction.

But let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No.’ For whatever is more than these is from the evil one. -Matthew 5:37

I'm not sure if her response is because I've said something different she can't place, or whether she worries about something she can't understand. I suppose if it bothers her enough there's always a way to ask me directly. As it turns out, that question will never be asked.

Because I was not part of the final jury of my peers assembled for the purpose of hearing this case, my version of the story mostly ends here. But what little I have heard is more than gruesome enough for me. These are serious charges. They point to outcomes I do not want confirmed as complete truth, then denied as complete fiction, then mine to make a week hence.

She, the accuser, did not even bother to show up today. We saw him, at least, each of us peering intently to see if he fit the profile of a man who kidnaps, who assaults sexually, who injures his former lover with a deadly weapon. If first impressions prove anything, he looks pretty normal to me.

My father used to be in law enforcement. No matter how much I might feel that I want to be on this jury, I have to truthfully answer the questions provided me. My father was a state trooper fresh out of high school because he felt that being part of the system might make him less likely to be sent to Vietnam. Then he was integrated and promoted even further within the criminal justice system and became a prison warden. Back then he was far younger than I am today, younger even than the four young attorneys overseeing this case.

He enjoyed the job, but my mother did not. She raised a fit, stating in no uncertain terms that none of her children would be raised next to a prison. We would have also had to move every two to three years, and Mom was opposed to that, too. Dad went into business, instead, and made a ton of money in the 1980's. Lots of people in business made a ton of money in the 1980's.

Dad left law enforcement, but question 4, as expected, asked that same familiar inquiry. I doubt it is ever not posed to potential jurors. After waiting for several minutes inside of a jury deliberation room with a conveniently located men's room and ladies' room, I was called before a judge and both sets of attorneys. I stated my situation with deliberate haste and three minutes later I headed back to the appropriately named deliberation room. No matter how I answer the question, the result is still the same. I honestly state that this fact does not and will not affect my decision, but it always matters to them.

They make me sweat it out first. The defense and then the prosecution eliminate, replace, eliminate, and then replace again. I wait for thirty minutes for my juror number to be called. A pool initially interviewed yesterday goes first. They are seated on the left hand side of where I am seated, but to the right hand side of the judge, the stenographer, and everyone else of any consequence. More elimination. More replacement. One by one, people stand up, then sit in the jury box. Now they reach my side.

I was not told to sit in seat number seven, recently vacated by a young black woman. Nor was I told to sit in seat number one, directly on the end, recently vacated by an older white man who appeared to be in his sixties. When it was my turn, I was deliberately pushed aside from the rest of the pool with an energetic hand gesture, asked to sit across the aisle with the first pool of jurors. I knew instantly what the gesture meant. Rejection. Not under consideration.

I will never know any of the answers of the questions to follow. Would I have even wanted to serve on this jury? Nothing about it would have been easy. The fellow jurors in my pool were not immediately friendly, but they could have been seeking to make sense of a serious situation much as I was myself. Did I want to see pictures of bruised and bloody body parts? Kidnapping is a serious charge and so is assault with a deadly weapon.

How did consensual sexual conduct change to non-consensual? What were the circumstances of the alleged kidnapping? How did they meet? Does the age difference really matter to anyone? It must have mattered to someone because we were asked if it would sway our votes come decision time. I don't care about age differences. Some of my own partners were much older than me, though I never was accused of physically attacking them.

But as I leave the courtroom, I am not sad, not really. I do not really want that kind of responsibility, do not want a week's worth of deliberation, do not want a mere $34 per day, and secretly despise any absence from my routine. Though I would have served, if called, I did the right thing in being truthful. I flee the courtroom at 3 pm, like I flew the coop somehow, like leaving school every day of my childhood, running outside into the warm, bright sunlight. Free.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Delays May Be Inevitable

I'm slated for jury duty on Wednesday, which is May 20. Either I will sit in a room for most of eight hours and go home, or I'll be selected to serve on a jury. In any case, if I am selected for jury duty, my absence from here may be as long as a week or two.

As I've been told, being called for jury duty is proof that you vote, because they use voting records to make their determinations. I'll have to reschedule a million things if I do end up serving, but I'll try to make the most of it.

While I'm thinking about it, I'm going to a Quaker young adult conference that runs from June 5-June 10, so I will be totally off the grid for the whole of that time. I'm glad I have the opportunity to take this much time off. Many participants don't have that luxury and have to leave halfway through. I can manage one or two of these a year, but I couldn't afford the time or the money to go to more than I do already.

Podcast Quackery and False Masculinity

One of the benefits of owning an iPod is the ability to peruse iTunes and its extensive collection of free podcasts. I'm a relative newcomer to the podcast genre, though I do see their appeal. If I had witty repartee to share with the public and the ability to ramble skillfully for half an hour, I might put my own together. My performing skills are mostly musical even though I have been known at times to speak in monologues. After all, my original life goal was to be a college professor.

Several podcasts are geared specifically for men, spouting the same familiar platitudes like maximizing your potential, often titled with bad puns. Podcasts designed for an exclusively female audience are not without their own faults, and tend to reinforce the same sloppy logic and gender norms in different ways. In these, women are often schooled in fashion and makeup.

Inspirational, motivational podcasts for men make similarly over-simplistic, overreaching assumptions that a man's most basic, most deserved masculinity is lacking somehow. Naturally, the creator, designer, and ringleader has the correct answer, the antidote to anxious masculinity.

I know this because morbid curiosity had me download one. After a two-minute, testosterone-drenched introduction that would not have been out of place advertising a monster truck rally, the podcast was underway. Its author was a self-professed life coach who made a living telling other men essentially how to be better, more efficient men. It was as if men came from a factory somewhere and only needed a fresh coat of paint or new tires to be secure in who they were.

A satisfied client, as we were told, was introduced. He rambled painfully from one unfocused topic to another. Like many people undergoing a bit of an identity crisis, he felt that he needed to take on some great personal challenge to regain his focus and his happiness. This man kept talking about writing a book as though it would be a curative, restorative experience. In reality, unless you have the patience and the focus necessary, writing a book is bound to be unsatisfying work. But it is a particularly persistent straw grasp at by those grasping at straws.

This man was lost, but, have no fear, the life coach had answers. It was here that my attention began to drift. Citing specific examples would be needlessly inflammatory, but I think that the faintest suggestion will demonstrate what I mean. Suffice it to say, what followed could have been called "A Dude Bro's Guide to Life." And a confused, self-doubting man hung on every word, every suggestion.

It occurs to me that I may need to define what a Dude Bro is. In that case, I will defer to writer Jill Filipovic.
What is a dude-bro, and how is he different from a standard dude? Answers vary, but the dude-bro seems fairly synonymous with the douche (an insult I remain strongly in favor of). He's Guy Fieri. He's the Abercrombie-wearing frat boy pumping his fist and screaming "USA! USA!" at the concert you're attending.
He's walking through the Burger King drive-in drunk at 3 am and calling the cashier a fag. He's probably wearing some variety of khaki short and maybe a baseball hat. He's probably white, probably fairly affluent, probably was in a fraternity and definitely refers to his male friends as his "bros."
I get tired seeing men gender police other men for being too soft or not being self-sufficient enough. As I have written about before, this might partially be a result of never being able to fit neatly into those boxes myself. The difference between myself and the interview subject is that I no longer worry as I once did about being man enough or masculine enough. Or, if I do, what resurfaces are the parts hardwired into me from birth, these notions which I now calmly examine rationally and then dismiss.

Part of this, if not outright rejection of masculinity, is a desire to see it on my own terms for a change. Being queer, depending on the definition, will always mean that gender is by turns transgressive, asymmetrical, and not easily defined or pigeonholed. I'd like to see a podcast telling gay men how to live up to their potential, to their truest form of male identity. But you don't see those sorts of topics out there, even though these are the sorts of men most likely to be the most confused, the most scattered, the most anxious. They might never talk about their fears openly, but the pain is there and it is real.

The Cult of Masculinity reminds me of the worst of organized religion. It preys upon those seeking an easy label to embrace that will somehow make them whole. It relies upon hucksters and swindlers seeking a quick buck as they dispense garbage advice. My women friends talk about their own inadequacies at being female. If it was socially acceptable, my male friends would say the same was true for them. Men aren't quite there yet and women in many ways have only just begun.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Quote of the Week

A modern synonym for worship is adoration, an intense and loving focus on that which is most dear and important to us.-William P. Taber

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Saturday Video

Green fields and rolling hills
Room enough to do what we will
Sweet dreams of yestertime
Are running through my mind
Of a place I left behind

Been so long, I can't remember when
I've been to Canaan and I want to go back again
Been so long, I'm living till then
'Cause I've been to Canaan and I won't rest until I go back again

Though I'm content with myself
Sometimes I long to be somewhere else
I try to do what I can
But with our day-to-day demands
We all need a promised land

And it's been so long, I can't remember when
I've been to Canaan and I want to go back again
Been so long, I'm living till then
'Cause I've been to Canaan and I won't rest until I go back again

Oh, I want to be there in the wintertime
With a fireplace burning to warm me
And you to hold me when it's stormy

Been so long, I can't remember when
I've been to Canaan and I want to go back again
Been so long, I'm living till then
'Cause I've been to Canaan and I won't rest until I go back again

Friday, May 15, 2015

Time for the End Game

My life, at times, resembles a state of schizophrenia. In the work I do, the two do not meet. In a very real sense, I have to switch back and forth between two languages. In my faith journey, I am to be deferential and kind. Conflict is to be avoided, as is confrontation. Religions, regardless of what we say about them, are usually designed to make people act nice to each other. On top of this we add my activist life, in particular my feminist life. Feminists have no problem whatsoever with being confrontational and direct.

What is out of place in one area is equally out of place in another area. Fellow Quakers have cautioned me to not let my vocal ministry during Worship be too didactic and preachy. Much feminist discourse is confrontational and didactic by design. This may be why feminism is sometimes a challenge for people of faith. That said, I've heard the concerns of many and tried to adapt my oratory and writing to suit them. Fellow feminists, especially when I first started out, sometimes saw my ideas as ill-formed or even a little naive. On both fronts, I have improved considerably.

Most of this post was written at the beginning of the week and it is addressed primarily to a religious audience. I include it here with some edits for everyone to demonstrate the difficulty it is to work in close contact with people. Many feminists write their essays and share their passions online, much as I do myself. Much to their credit, they often do their own work in the field, on the ground. I'm sharing this essay because it demonstrates the challenges of doing religious work directly.

Those who do not consider themselves particularly religious sometimes criticize the system, or their understanding of the system, but they don't really know what it's like within a church or a house of worship. That's where the real problems start, and sometimes end. What some see is an almost disembodied set of beliefs and practices attached to nothing solid. But when boots hit the ground, I can assure you that the definition is quite different.

I am writing here about an unresolved grievance that should have been dealt with very differently. I've toned down the language of the original post, because the effectiveness of ranting is never very high. This is, at its core, a story of a very badly managed problem. Take it as an example of how not to respond in your own life. I try to combine the best part of passionate, confrontational feminism and marry it with compassionate, tender religion.

My last post showed me in an angry, accusatory mode. It is not a role that I intend to repeat. I hope I will never feel as though I need to adopt it again. Now, two weeks later, I'm weary and tired. This process of constant scrutiny and periodic, fresh accusations of wrongdoing has worn me down. While I don't think that particular reaction and approach was intentional on the part of those who have brought allegations, it has nevertheless produced that effect in me.

The question I ask to my audience is a deceptively simple one. What does one do when one's Meeting will not enforce discipline directly? Part of what got me into trouble was frustration on my behalf. I had been told by three separate people of the hurtful behavior of someone else. Because I knew the Meeting would not intervene, nor would these people individually, I confronted this person directly. I regret that I went about it so forcefully, because the strategy totally backfired on me. If I'd known the response it would later create, I wouldn't have bothered. 

This Friend immediately went behind my back to report to the Meeting what I had done. She claimed now that she didn't want to attend Meeting anymore if I was there. That was not my intention. I gather that Friends with whom I Worship would prefer an approach that wasn't confrontational, but discipline, real discipline, is the sign of every healthy Meeting. It bothers me that my side of the argument was not entertained, nor taken into account.

It took me sending a lengthy e-mail to the entire Meeting to tell my side of the story. I can only hope that it was taken seriously. I had no clear path, nor stated means of response available to me. I spoke to shadowy figures that rarely made themselves known to me. I had to improvise and guess as to what the committee wanted of me.

Every interpersonal problem ever reported about me, no matter how trivial and insignificant, has been isolated inside of a committee of six or seven people. But I know that the information in every e-mail exchanged between myself and them does not stop there. I know my words are shared with many others. Reaching a conclusion would be, as I said, a much better avenue, but this is not how they would prefer to handle the matter. This means that the combined concern has been hanging over my head for months. I've vented whatever spleen and anger I had built up already. Now I plead for a sensible method of resolution.

I've encountered a website that shares Fifteen Characteristics of Dysfunctional Churches. What follows pertains directly to me and others.

Triangulation: Triangulation is using "go-betweens" to communicate indirectly with other parties. Results: Unsuspecting, but sympathetic message-bearers become entangled in an unwanted destructive web of blame, anger, and miscommunication. Result: They become uncomfortable with their roles and jump ship.

The Meeting has informally designated a man to serve in this role. I hope he and the Meeting understand how easy it is to respond with fear, anger, blame, and miscommunication when this approach is taken. He means well, I believe, but this model is never going to be effective. I do not wish to pursue it henceforth.

Every Meeting has certain expectations of conduct. This Meeting doesn't want to even entertain the possibility of conflict or confrontation. I've been told that certain Friends have been too intimidated or afraid of conflict to approach me. This is very unfortunate. A couple of people who I have consulted privately have suggested a much more fair approach that also happens to be Scriptural in basis. In this current context, I do not get a voice in setting precedent. I cannot change the way things always have been.

Here's a second problem I see.

Repression: Unspoken rules that it is not "Quakerly" to express feelings of disagreement, dissent, or anger. Instead, one must hide how one really feels or suffer censure for expression of emotions. Instead of expressing feelings, feelings must be hidden. Result: Repression ultimately must be released in episodes (or series of episodes) of uncontrollable anger and hostility.

This might be a bit extreme, bordering on hyperbole, but I get the point. It gives me no pleasure and much sadness to have been considered troublesome enough to merit observation by a committee. As I said before, I don't think my side of the issue has been truly entertained. That said, I admit my fault where fault is due.

Not every person that I have confronted over the last seven years has had an issue with me. They may not have agreed with my tactics or my methods, but they did not find my behavior scary. I am thankful for their presence in my life. They sustained me when it felt like the rest of the Meeting was jumping to conclusions.

There is nothing quite as frustrating as being taken totally out of context. To cite an extreme example, due to my bipolar disorder, I've had a series of severe manic episodes, most of which ended up getting me fired from several good jobs. One of them ended a promising romantic relationship before it even really got off of the ground. Had my health not worsened as it did, I am fairly certain that we would now be married. I know regret intimately and I also know what it is like to feel totally powerless. Though I am not a minority in many ways, I am disabled, and I know a little of what it is like to feel marginalized because of it.

Many opinions about me have been formed over the years. I only wish I'd had the opportunity to add my own voice to whatever others already think. I do not believe my current behavior merits further monitoring by any committee or person. Aside from the go-between, I have been treated in a condescending fashion, as a person with health problems severe enough to warrant pity. I can only wish that this is merely spin, merely a minority's opinion of the matter.

In writing this, I'm not out to win friends or allies. I'm merely setting out a situation before the audience. Make whatever decisions or conclusions you like from the information provided here. I think there's a much better way to resolve problems like these. I've been kept constantly upset because this issue has never been allowed to end. I've gotten more bad news every so often, which only prolongs the problem. I've been under quite a bit of stress recently, and without resorting to hyperbole, it is taking its toll on my body and my brain.

I pray to put this aside once and for all. Against my better judgment, I have jumped through all the hoops requested of me. I have worked on myself as much as I can. I have even made apologies when necessary, and some when it was unnecessary, if only to conclude this process that never ends. Now it's time for the end game. Now it's time to move on to something much more productive.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Film review: Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck

Teenagers of my generation grew up idolizing Kurt Cobain. It would have been hard not to, for he and his group Nirvana were huge successes. Nirvana were massively popular in a way that only Radiohead, later in the decade of the 1990's, came close to capturing in its own heyday. The rise of Nirvana seemed like the changing of the guard. Implausibly, the local Top 40 radio station stopped playing Duran Duran, Guns n' Roses, and Mötley Crüe. Instead it put the Nevermind album on heavy rotation. I liked the song "Lithium" before I even knew the title, before I even bought the album myself.

As proof of my age, I purchased the record on cassette tape, because I didn't own a CD player yet. Though they could be located, compact disc players had yet to take over as the predominant media format. I wore the album out completely, playing it from start to finish nearly every day. MTV helped make Nevermind a phenomenal success. These days, people forget that, once upon a time, how modern punk rock and alternative rock was mostly consigned to the underground. Most of those bands were not taken seriously by major labels, had to be purchased at indie or specialty stores, or failing that, needed to be specially ordered. In my sleepy little suburb, the commercial record store didn't stock either genre.

Oh, how times were to change. By the end of the Nineties, a variety of groups which rode Nirvana's coattails to success created a brand new format, that of alternative rock radio. In the early part of the decade, we'd had to wait until Sunday night, when the Top 40 station took a break from playing Warrant and focused exclusively on alternative groups for a few hours. It's close to impossible today to emphasize precisely how much of a splash Nevermind made upon arrival. Absolutely everyone bought it and it cut across class, racial, and regional boundaries.

Last week, HBO aired the most extensive Kurt Cobain documentary yet, Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck. The audience share would have been larger if it hadn't been for wall-to-wall coverage of rioting in Baltimore. The film shows an unflinchingly personal portrayal of a talented, but incredibly troubled man, a conclusion likely lost on no one from the outset. The Nirvana guitarist and primary songwriter lived much of his early life as a loner, a hyperactive behavior problem child passed from parent to parent, relative to relative.

With little direction and no ambition, except when it came to playing music, Kurt's anger at misogyny and what he considered abusive masculine behavior towards women is shown in his own handwriting of his voluminous journals. As a feminist hero, Cobain was uncommonly concerned about the rights of women, partially because he himself could not fit into the role of rugged masculinity that was the default setting in the blue collar logging town of his upbringing.

Somewhat less flattering is his decision to lose his virginity in high school to a woman who was slightly developmentally disabled. Though the act was consensual, he found he could not follow through with much conviction or enthusiasm and left midway before much else transpired. The girl's father figured out what had happened and angrily came to school trying to find the responsible party.

Adolescent rebellion aside, the most damning allegation is that of Kurt's mother. Shortly before the release of Nevermind, Kurt let his mother listen to the final mix. Her response was of not of pride, nor joy, but fear, instead. "This album is going to change everything," she said. "You better buckle up because you're not ready for this." It was to be a very prescient prediction.

A surprisingly sedate and mostly thoughtful Courtney Love makes an appearance in Kurt's life story roughly halfway through the film. Her previous cinematic portrayals have not been sympathetic, even insinuating that she had some large role in Kurt's ultimate demise. We see her here as a fellow misfit, writing nonsensical free association poetry to him in the form of a love letter. The relationship we view between the two is tender, albeit at times dysfunctional and co-dependent.

Love has not done herself any favors with her past behavior. Many view her today as a barely functional, mentally ill attention whore. In a series of intimate, homemade movies, she smokes cigarettes during her pregnancy and awkwardly parents her child. Allegations that she used heroin during her pregnancy made for salacious headlines at the time. In these videos, an insecure but somehow strangely charming Love obligingly flashes her breasts for the camera more than once.

Though Cobain fumed to anyone who would listen that reports of drug addiction and mental instability were untrue, they persisted in the media. By then, the narrative had drifted away from the music to the behavior of the Cobain-Love couple. He denied each allegation furiously, but even if they were said to be over-exaggerated gossip at the time, they proved eventually to be mostly factual all along. Viewing the home camcorder movies is difficult to see, showing two barely functional people, both junkies, trying to competently raise an infant.

We, the audience, mostly cared about the music and found the side show a distraction. Kurt, the rejected child, resurfaced when each instance of unfavorable news about his life with Courtney was published in the media. As Shakespeare noted in Hamlet, slightly over 400 years ago, the lady doth protest too much, methinks. He lashed out with fury, but was concealing much.  

I remember the day that Kurt Cobain died in early April 1994, but I will resist the impulse to turn that depressing event it into more than it was. The weather was at least appropriate to the occasion. It did happen to be a bleak, overcast, washed out spring day. Though every fan knew that something very bad had happened, none of us knew the consequences of what would follow. Though we didn't know it then, what we were observing was the end of an era. Grunge would die out with Kurt and so would alternative music by the close of the decade.

My generation never blamed Kurt Cobain for his suicide. We were more inclined to believe that his heroin usage had been a means of getting rid of debilitating stomach pain that modern medicine could not heal. Yet even so, Kurt Cobain was a junkie, and if Courtney Love's interview is to be taken as truth, his foremost ambition was to live life as one, stomach pain or no stomach pain. Shortly before his death, Kurt Cobain mused in an interview of never wanting to lose his edge or to grow complacent. As we know now, that private fear, if it was also meant truthfully, never came to pass.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Surgery Again

I'm going to need to have surgery again. The last go-round was a two-step process. One part of the set of procedures performed at the end of March was successful. Growths inside the colon were removed and the site of surgery has now completely healed. The second stage was intended to treat a fissure, which is a tear in the lining of the colorectal system. The surgeon opted for the least invasive course of treatment first, which was to inject the inside and outside of the tear with Botox. This sort of treatment has an 80% success rate, but I guess I was part of the unlucky minority.

The procedure to follow has a 95% success rate, but runs the risk of incontinence once one reaches the age of eighty. If I'm not already incontinent by the age of eighty, I'll be very surprised. A 1 cm incision will be made, at minimum, and perhaps the entire fissure will be removed. I'm told the recovery time and pain won't be as bad as the last time. My primary concern is not surgery in itself. Mainly it is my own private fatigue with surgery in general.

Last time, I had severe problems with anesthesia interacting with the medications I already took on a daily basis. These caused a variety of side effects, most notably bizarre and intense crying spells. In addition, I had a strong headache for nearly a week. It takes two weeks for most of the anesthesia to leave the body following a surgical procedure, though traces remain for six months following it. I can say that surgery itself is not an issue for me. When I wake up in the Recovery Room, my real problems begin. I learned the hard way last time that I can't take narcotic pain killers like Vicodin or Lortab. They caused a severe reaction shortly after surgery that forced me to visit the ER.

The procedure is called a lateral sphincterotomy, which sounds like something you'd find really amusing if you were ten. A Google image search found several hundred graphic images that even I am a little too squeamish to share with the viewing public. Botox remains in the system for three months, and because of this, the soonest I could have a second round of surgery is June 20. Surgery will probably be scheduled a week or so later, and perhaps even as late as the first week of July.

Additionally, there is a chance that I have an ulcer. It could be something much less problematic like acid reflux, but the symptoms are more in line with an ulcer. I haven't been able to eat more than one meal a day in a month. As a result, I've lost ten pounds and I feel weak due to insufficient nutrition. I meet with a gastroenterologist on Monday, at which point she will make a diagnosis. I expect that additional tests will need to be run, though I do not want to undergo a procedure like a colonoscopy or endoscopy, both of which are very invasive.

Ulcers were once thought to be caused by stress. These days, it is believed they stem from a bacterial infection. Taking over-the-counter drugs for pain can make them worse, as can excess acid production. If I do, in fact, have an ulcer, it is not likely that I would need surgery for it. They are usually treated with antibiotics and drugs that reduce acid production. But regardless of how easy this might be to treat, positive gain isn't going to materialize for at least another month, and maybe longer than that. Many people would like to lose ten pounds, but I would not recommend this way of doing it.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Dry Drunk, Part 6

Part 5 of Dry Drunk is posted here. This is Part 6.

A work of fiction.

What am I doing here? What am I doing here?

I'm in a state of captivity, pacing back and forth, somewhere between cabin fever and solitary confinement. But the problem is that it's never really solitary. My thoughts may be solitary, but the ghosts I pass by while walking on the threadbare carpet are reflections of me. I beg to be let outside for more than a five minute smoke break. We are given the opportunity for thirty minutes each day to walk on the outside track. I sign up immediately, but not before swearing that I won't try to run away.

Though I admit the idea sounds appealing, getting away means a four mile walk through dense forest and brambles. Following that comes figuring out how to get to civilization, to rent a car and head back into the city. In many ways, I am a very motivated person, but where this issue is concerned, I am lazy. And I haven't given up yet on treatment, though this is very tough medication.

I've been trying to make inroads with this little redhead. She is a million times too young for me, but she's smart and pretty. She is a full ten inches shorter than me. And she likes me. When I speak, she makes notes of my words and phrases on a sheet of paper. It's as if I'm playing the part of the charismatic college professor, and she the smitten student. Before I flatter myself further, I recognize that everyone here has major problems, else they wouldn't be here, so treading lightly is my best course of action.

After I get to know her further, with every subsequent interaction, I see one red flag after another. She's what they call dual diagnosis. Psychiatric illness and substance abuse. Then I put it all together. Borderline. Borderline people routinely rip holes in relationships of every size and shape. She lashes out at me eventually because she says we have too much in common and she can't handle it. It's a mean, strange gesture, and I see a side of her that I don't like one bit. Here's for learning from one's mistakes.

I leave and consume four ounces of warm orange juice left on a tray in the day-room, not because I'm thirsty, but because it gives me something to do. I peel back the aluminum foil and chug the contents now at room temperature. I've made it through the worst part, the active detox. It's downhill from here, but I am nowhere near active recovery.

Some of the hardcore drunks have had DT's during the night. They've woken me up at night, one after another, howling at hallucinations only they can see. I'm lucky to have avoided them myself. Do I crave alcohol? I can honestly say no, not when I see the impact that booze has made on the other twenty-five zombies who have been my close companions.

This one guy wants me to give him my sweatshirt. He's pretty persistent about it. This is typical ward behavior. We say in the outside world that a very generous person would give you the shirt off of his or her back, but we don't take it strictly literally. Here, the gesture is taken at face value. I am never sure whether or not that this man has no warm clothes of his own, or he just wants the sweatshirt for his own reasons.

I've never been sure how to take it. Is this article of clothing seen like some sort of talisman to them? Do they think my good energy will rub off on them somehow? Like life, the have nots stick together and the haves keep to themselves, too. Each of us needs help, some more severely than others. I've heard a lot of rationalizations these past few days from nearly everyone. Some of them are airtight enough to hold up in court and sway the opinion of a jury. Bullshit aside, even persuasive bullshit, we're still alcoholics playing games with ourselves and others.

My last girlfriend worked as a manager in a grocery store. I struck up a conversation with her as she stood at the front of the store, trying to convince people to donate a few bucks to some charity. I wasn't interested in the donation, but I was interested in her. And at least at first, she was interested in me, too.

She worked a lot, but so did I. After a few weeks of dating, I found she'd been hiding something from me, but I wasn't sure what at first. Then one fateful day she wouldn't return my calls or texts. Seeking an answer, I went by her work. She was working Customer Service like normal, but saw me coming and headed directly for the back of the store, behind a door. Even before she left my sight, I picked up that she was extremely angry to see me.

No answer arrived the next day, or the day after it. After a second trip, her anger had turned to guilt. I confronted her directly behind the counter with the cigarettes and muttered a weak, but sincere apology. She seemed surprised.

For what, darling?

I think you know what for, I said, finally with the courage to make eye contact.

Let me take a break, she said, and we'll talk it over. She hadn't been mad at me. Instead, she'd been mad at herself. Newly divorced, she was raising three small children more or less on her own. They were her sole priority and the most important things in her life. Spending time with me, though it had been fun, took time away from her primary devotion. Or, at least that was her take on the situation.

It has always broken my heart to see mothers who become martyrs for their children, denying themselves deserved happiness for the sake of some greater purpose. It could have been possible that she felt I didn't want to be with a woman who had kids. I won't lie that the thought was not always a comforting or desired one, but being a step-father is vastly different than being a biological one. In this situation, both mother and father had joint custody.

I'd learned from relationships before that while the imminent presence of children requires time and effort, when they are safely in the hands of another parent, time remains for the development of a new relationship. This is where patience becomes a necessary virtue.

She was ashamed, and I suppose I would have been as well, but she had no need to wear a scarlet letter. At least she had enough regard for me to explain herself. The beginning had been promising, but after the first bender, our relationship dynamic changed dramatically. At first, she was upset but tolerant, willing to strike a bargain with me. She didn't want the kids to see me drunk, so I did my drinking in secret, usually after they'd gone to bed at night.

She was already hyper-attuned to the idea that any relationship would eventually self-destruct. In therapy these past few days, I've learned that she was a believer in the concept of self-sabotage. This is why I awoke one morning before work to find that the whole of my possessions that I'd left at her place had been placed in a cardboard box and left on the hood of my car. This didn't seem necessary, nor fair, but no man was going to jeopardize the health and well-being of her kids. This was entirely her right, but I do wish she'd gone about it in a different way.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Quote of the Week

"You can feel the frustration that people have, that the principles have been abandoned by Labour. My dad is a lifelong Labour voter: my family was all proper Clydeside-shipyards Labour. But my grandfather would turn in his grave if he heard how Labour were behaving now: the bitterness in them.

"The intellect of the party has fallen, the principles of the party have fallen. They started taking people for granted. My dad and I joined the SNP on the same day. Labour have never had to campaign here."- Mhairi Black, newly elected Scottish MP at age 20.

(I couldn't handle being a politician of any stripe at 20, so my hat's off to her.)

Saturday, May 09, 2015

Embassy Days 2015

For the full set, click here.

Saturday Video

The warmth of your love
Is like the warmth of the sun
And this will be our year
Took a long time to come

Don't let go of my hand
Now that darkness has gone
And this will be our year
Took a long time to come

And I won't forget
The way you held me up when I was down
And I won't forget the way you said,
"Darling, I love you"

You gave me faith to go on

Now we're there and we've only just begun
This will be our year
Took a long time to come

The warmth of your smile
Smile for me, little one
And this will be our year
Took a long time to come

You don't have to worry
All your worried days are gone
This will be our year
Took a long time to come

And I won't forget
The way you held me up when I was down
And I won't forget the way you said,
"Darling, I love you"

You gave me faith to go on

Now we're there and we've only just begun
And this will be our year
Took a long time to come

Yeah, and we've only just begun
Yeah, this will be our year
Took a long time to come

Friday, May 08, 2015

UK Election 2015: Turnout, Women Candidates, and Scottish Nationalism

Yesterday's election in the UK was a shocker. A race that almost everyone expected to be nail-bitingly close was anything but. Exit polling by the BBC released shortly after the voting ceased proved to be extremely accurate. Prime Minister David Cameron's Conservative Party won another five years in office and a clear majority of seats in the House of Commons. It was also a stellar night for the Scottish Independent Party (SNP), making one wonder what concessions Scotland will demand from the rest of the United Kingdom.

Last September, by a 55% percent to 48% margin, Scottish voters rejected full independence. Television commentators openly wondered whether Scotland would now want to formally disassociate itself after all. It's tough to read the tea leaves. But what I will say is that England doesn't seem to trust Scotland and Scotland doesn't seem to trust England. This sounds suspiciously like 1450, not 2015.

Aside from the politics of the night, I noticed the number of newly elected Members of Parliament who are women. Nor could I help but note the number of candidates for each available seat who were women, even if they didn't win. Perhaps this isn't surprising from a country who elected its first female Prime Minister in 1979, thirty-six years ago. Nearly every race I viewed had at least one, and more often than not, two or more women running for office alongside two or three men. I've never seen that kind of parity present in this country.

By contrast, let's take a look at female representation in the United States. This information comes from a Washington Post article from November of last year.
Tuesday's election will bring the count of women in Congress to more than 100 for the first time, between both the House and the Senate. The number of female U.S. senators will either remain at 20, the same record high as set in the 2012 elections, or could reach 21 if Democrat Mary Landrieu wins the runoff election in Louisiana.
Meanwhile, the number of women in the U.S. House of Representatives now stands at 81, according to numbers tallied by the Center for American Women and Politics (CAWP) at Rutgers University, which tracks the number of women in elected office. Another four races involving female candidates, according to CAWP, are still too close to call — meaning the final tally could end up as high as 85 women in the House, compared with 79 in the 113th Congress.
And yet, despite this milestone, the presence of women in Congress still doesn't appear poised to grow by more than a trickle. Before the election, women held 99 seats in Congress. The post-election total stands at 101, and could at most reach 106. 
Returning to the UK, here is their tally. The comparison is stark and difficult to ignore.
The UK has the fifteenth highest proportion of women MPs out of the 28 EU Member States. 41% of UK MEPs elected in 2014 are women, compared to 37% of MEPs across all 28 EU Member States that took part. Internationally, the UK Parliament ranks 56th out of the 190 countries included in the Inter Parliamentary Union’s 1 January 2015 monitoring report.
In addition, voter turnout differs considerably between the two countries. Energized by nationalistic fervor, voting in some Scottish polling places was as high as 80%. This is utterly unheard of in the United States, regardless of what issue or candidate is up for election. Granted, it should be noted that turnout in England this election showed a divided and disillusioned electorate, as many races polled often under 60%.
U.S. turnout in 2012 was 53.6%, based on 129.1 million votes cast for president and an estimated voting-age population of just under 241 million people. Among OECD countries, the highest turnout rates were in Belgium (87.2%), Turkey (86.4%) and Sweden (82.6%). Switzerland consistently has the lowest turnout, with just 40% of the voting-age population casting ballots in the 2011 federal legislative elections, the most recent.
U.S. turnout rates have been fairly consistent over the past several decades, despite some election-to-election variation. Since 1980, voting-age turnout has varied within a 9-percentage-point range – from 48% in 1996, when Bill Clinton was re-elected, to 57% in 2008, when Barack Obama won the White House. (Turnout, of course, varies considerably among different racial, ethnic and age groups.)
The difference, among many, between the UK and the US is that most Britons can be reliably counted on to show up at the polls. Many Americans show their displeasure by simply not bothering to turn out to their designated precinct. This is a precedent I wish we could reverse. I really wish that it doesn't take salacious ballot initiatives or extremely charismatic candidates to draw out even half of the vote, or maybe a little more than that.

Cynicism around American politics is something of a spectator sport and is an extremely popular pastime. I sometimes think the way to get people in the US to vote would be to form a Politically Cynical party and see how many people would get behind it. And though this may be tough medicine, unless people perform their civic duty, they have no right to complain about the mediocrity of their Representatives or Senators. And, similarly, if American voters who claim they support gender equality don't vote for the numerous qualified women on the ballot, they should expect nothing to change there, either.

Many lessons can be learned from yesterday's UK election. A good number of them are only applicable to Britain, but Americans can see at least a dim reflection of themselves. Relying on polling data to dictate the course of a campaign has its limits and it can be very wrong. Ignoring the concerns of a particular region of a country, or even being perceived as such can have disastrous consequences. Wedge issues can be astonishingly effective, especially when they play into mutually paranoid fears. And, to conclude, elections are often determined by people who make up their minds at the last minute.

Thursday, May 07, 2015

Good News!

I am beyond ecstatic. Two years of hard work!

Congratulations on Your Nonfiction Honorable Mention

Dear Kevin,

Congratulations on your Honorable Mention for "Takes Two to Know" in the 39th New Millennium Writings Nonfiction Contest that closed January 31, 2015. Your name will be included on the Awards page of our 2016 issue of New Millennium Writings, and will appear at, along with other award winners. The quality was high, and you should be proud of your accomplishment. Feel free to print this letter for your records, email it to friends, or share on other media.

In answer to frequently asked questions...

* Susan Nathiel of Middlefield, CT has won the New Millennium Nonfiction Prize for “Hearing Silence,” an account of her brother’s suicide, and her attempts to unravel the emotional and familial struggles that doubtlessly contributed to the tragedy. Susan’s piece will appear in the 2016 anthology.

* You'll receive your free copy of the anthology in Spring 2016.

* Our current contest has a final deadline of June 17. Visit to enter.

Mostly, we just want to say we appreciate your interest in New Millennium Writings and the part you play in our success. Please tell others about us. Again, congratulations on your achievement!

Sincerely yours,


Am I Black or White?

I've rediscovered the early 90's edgy sketch comedy show In Living Color. It's amazing I was allowed to view it at such a young age. At the time, I was a mere babe, barely twelve years old during the run of the second season. Yet I was a precocious child and I got most of the humor, even the sexual innuendos and crude jokes. My best friend growing up was an obsessive television watcher and clued me in to the airing of every new episode. Much of it is now very dated, as you would expect from a show that first aired twenty-five years ago.

We talk about pop culture as though it is disposable and somehow benign. In reality, as people much wiser than me have already noted, pop culture is absolutely essential to understanding who we are and who we are supposed to be. Like so many things, it shouldn't matter, but it does. I feel as though this show aired only yesterday, and watching each episode has showed me, the viewer, where we came from and where we are today. We've come to terms with some problematic issues but neglected many more.

Because I have an important doctor's appointment, I'm going to use this as a placeholder for today. My apologies. This has been a busy week and last week was just as busy as this one. If I have extra time, I'll try to put something more substantive up here. In the meantime, focus on the ending around 2:40, as it is still timely. Apologies in advance to Michael Jackson fans.

Tuesday, May 05, 2015

Monday, May 04, 2015

Sports and Risk-Taking Abilities

The Academy Award winning 1953 film From Here to Eternity tells the story of Private Robert E. Lee Prewitt. Earlier in life, before joining the army, he was a successful boxer, but he hung up his gloves due to a tragic accident. While sparring with a close friend, he inadvertently put his best friend into a coma, which left the man blind after he regained consciousness. Following the accident, Prewitt no longer wished to fight.

The incident reminded me of a situation I experienced myself. Much earlier in life, I was a light-hitting center fielder on a baseball team. Ideally, a player at my position would bat third or fourth in rotation. But instead I batted ninth, the last and final slot. It designated how rarely successful I was when it was my turn at bat. This was disappointing to my father, who had been a home-run hitter in his day. His own father was an intensely shy, painfully awkward man who kept to himself most of the time, but news of his son's success on the baseball diamond coaxed him out to the bleachers.

At the end of what had been a largely forgettable game, in the bottom of the eighth inning, a new pitcher was introduced. I'm sure the manager of the other club felt it was a harmless gesture. The hurler I was to face had rarely pitched in any setting before, but what damage could it do? The softballs he lobbed in my direction were like taking batting practice, designed to be easy to hit. I swung and missed at the first pitch, but the second pitch was a different story.

Proving that I'd always had the potential to be a good hitter, if I'd only had more confidence, the bat made solid contact with the ball. I was a line drive hitter and this particular blast headed directly to where it had started out. Baseball is a game of seconds, rather than minutes. The action on the field, especially the exchange between the batter and the pitcher, is often over and done with barely enough time for either party to react.

It was the most powerful drive in my otherwise underwhelming career, and it ended up headed on a beeline for the pitcher's mound. I saw the ball take aim for his face as I reflexively and instinctively dropped the bat slightly outside the dirt of the batter's box. He'd had enough time and reflexes to begin to move his glove upward, in order to protectively deflect the hit, or at least mute its impact. But he hadn't quite been given the time to adequately respond, to place his glove over the entire face.

Had the ball traveled lower, towards the nose or chin, he would have been safe. The drive, instead, headed dead center for his forehead. His glove didn't quite get there in time. Many in attendance thought at first, as I did, that he'd been able to defend himself sufficiently. Instead, the ball nailed him squarely, slightly above the eyebrows. It was directly in my field of vision and I couldn't help but see the whole thing as it unfolded.

After a minute or two of stunned silence, the game was called. I can't remember whether the paramedics were called, or if the injured party was whisked away to the Emergency Room. My father drove me home. The two of us were too shocked to speak. Had the ball traveled any other direction, it would have been a solid single, a source of pride for my father. The irony was not lost on the two of us.

News trickled out slowly. The impact of the baseball had fractured his skull. His mother stayed up all night at the hospital, applying ice packs to the site, which kept the swelling down. The following day, surgery was performed, and surgeons added a metal plate. Aside from a new piece of hardware, a surprisingly swift recovery followed. He was fine and able to live a normal life. Everyone was greatly relieved.

His family, nor he himself ever blamed me for what happened. After all, it isn't like I meant to do it. But after that incident, I lost what little enthusiasm I had for the game. Like the example cited first, what happened falls under the category of freak injury. Unlike the example cited above, the person I injured fortunately did not experience a lasting disability. Regardless, I'm not the sort of person who easily shrugs off these sorts of things.

Accidents happen in sports, and we tacitly accept them. More recently former football players, especially quarterbacks, have recently talked about how a history of concussions produces brain damage over time. Medical evidence increasingly supports this fact. Baseball is seen as somewhat less problematic because it is not as much of a contact sport, though collisions at home plate do occur. A 100 mph fastball can be very dangerous and has even ended the careers of some.

I do think there is a need for sports in our culture. When much is divisive and contentious, sports bring people together. In particular, sports brings many men together, though I do tip my hat to the many women who enjoy them as well. Still, there is often a distressing undercurrent of violence inherent in every play, every pitch, every inbound pass. In some ways, we haven't changed from the days of gladiatorial conflict.

Games need to be made safer, if they can. But we must keep this in mind. Regardless of whatever reforms are made, pitchers will still need lightning-quick reflexes. There's a very limited method of dictating the course of the ball once it makes contact with the bat. Players can only respond with their God-given athletic ability, which is why the best and first responders in the game of baseball win Golden Glove awards. Part of the game is adaptation with great accuracy to challenging circumstances, and that's why we watch. Writ large, we want the same skills for our own lives.

Sunday, May 03, 2015

Quote of the Week

"If you want to make peace, you don't talk to your friends. You talk to your enemies"- Moshe Dayan

Saturday, May 02, 2015

Saturday Video

Do you feel like a chain-store?
Practically floored
One of many zeros
Kicked around bored

Your ears are full, but you're empty
Holding out your heart
To people who never really
Care how you are

Is hard enough for me
Take me away from this big bad world
And agree to marry me

So we can start over again.

Do you go to the country?
It isn't very far
There's people there who'll hurt you
'cause of who you are

Your ears are full of their language
There's wisdom there you're sure
'till the words start slurring
And you can't find the door

So give me coffee and TV
I've seen so much, I'm going blind
And I'm brain-dead virtually

Is hard enough for me
Take me away from this big bad world
And agree to marry me
So we can start over again