I Coulda Been a Singer

“You missed your calling,” a friend recently commented.

I had shared a video of “It’s All About That Bass” for her to see.[1] I thought it was fun. I was especially tickled by the clarinet part. I’m weird that way. But I think her point of reference was the lead singer whose gyrating performance in her leopard skin dress apparently made my friend think this was what I wanted her to see.

The truth is, I could have been a singer. My dad, forever the music teacher, started me on piano in second grade and on clarinet in fifth. By seventh grade, he set me down for grueling hours of learning how to sing harmony. I taught myself guitar in tenth grade and began teaching guitar lessons the next year, a pursuit that involved strumming chords while singing.

Other Side of Apathy 1965 Left to right Trula Roberson, LuJean Howard, Denele Pitts

That was the popular music genre of the times. 1964, 1965. Folk music. I joined with two other classmates to perform popular songs of the time – “Blowing in Wind,” “The Water is Wide,” “Where Have All The Flowers Gone,” “Turn Around,” and others including “Hang on the Bell, Nellie,” which always brought down the house. We called ourselves “The Other Side of Apathy.” We were in high school, performing largely for local civic group luncheons and banquets.

My vocal talents won me a slot in All-State Choir both junior and senior years, and of course I performed in the high school chorale. My dad signed me up for private lessons with a voice teacher at the local junior college. Those lessons nearly ruined me. As far as the instructor was concerned, the only legitimate vocal performance was in opera. I loathed that bellowing warble I was supposed to produce from my diaphragm. I quit the lessons.

Despite the off again, on again nature of my fraught relationship with Bill, my high school sweetheart, we maintained our strongest bond in music. In my dad’s high school band room, Bill played drums and I, by ninth grade, played oboe. But in marching band, I set the oboe aside and picked up cymbals. At halftime shows and marching band contests, Bill and I were only a couple of positions apart on the field. We marched to “Semper Fidelis,”[2] “National Emblem,”[3] “Washington Post”[4] and other popular marches, one hundred strong, our formations geometric. My dad the Navy man would have none of that wimpy popular music of the day with majorettes prancing out front while the band stood still.

But I digress.

Bill and I were voted the most talented of our class. So we felt especially obligated to sparkle at the senior program. That tradition of our school included skits, speeches, and performances of all kinds to cap off our public school years. There was no question that Bill and I would do something musical, although Bill had also continued to pursue his talents in dance. We didn’t rule out some combination.

By this time my daily guitar teaching lessons at the local music store had brought me in contact with the front lines of popular music. I had embraced Beatle mania, enjoyed Streisand’s songs, and knew some of the forbidden rock and roll like “House of the Rising Sun.”[5] But it was “Girl From Ipanema” that had won my heart.

Bill and I worked out a performance that put me standing at a microphone at the front left corner of the stage. Bill’s part was to dance along the footlights in an improv jazz style. Behind us against the back curtain, a tall stepladder held three guys playing claves, maracas, and guiro.

I did my best to transcribe the music so we could recruit appropriate accompaniment, but the record I had of Astrid Gilberto and Stan Getz didn’t offer an easy transcription.[6] I couldn’t find any sheet music, so I winged it a capella with just the rhythm section. We had maybe three rehearsals in between senior prom, drunken escapades on the lake where I managed to get strep throat, and performing my solo in part of Hayden’s Mass in G (choir concert) – with strep throat.

In preparation for our performance of “Girl From Ipanema,” I rewrote the lyrics to “Boy From Ipanema.” I would sing about Bill. Always without much money, I pawed through our household collection of patterns and fabrics and settled on thin pale blue cotton for a dress with a bloused sleeveless top and long straight skirt split up the side. I wore my hair straight and long. For his part, Bill wore black tights, leotard, and fedora.

When the curtain opened, a blue spotlight found me. Bill danced in blue footlights. The packed house went utterly silent as I breathed the song into the microphone. The song told the story. Bill performed perfectly. I sang it without a hitch. When the last note faded and Bill’s proud dance had melted to a close, there was dead silence. And then they shouted the house down. (Sadly, there are no photos of this event.)

This was the high point of my career as a chanteuse. Bill went on to a notable career on Broadway. I thought of a profession singing in smoky lounges out front of a jazz combo. I perfected my Greta Garbo poses, practiced exhaling cigarette smoke through my nostrils. Alas, I had no clue how to break in to that world from my mid-South innocence.

Bill in “A Chorus Line” (third from front), one of his many Broadway dance roles. Today he teaches dance and mentors upcoming devotees in New York City.

College for me depended on a scholarship and the ratio of singers to oboe players is probably at least 100 to 1. With an oboe scholarship, there was no time for choir. Besides, the only formal training for vocalists at the time – and largely still today – was o p e r a.

My father discouraged any idea of a career as a professional singer. He described the touring circuit of rundown lounges and loud drunken audiences, often with minimal pay. He didn’t fully describe the sexual harassment that comes with the scene, or the need to maintain a coherent group of musicians willing to forego intoxication and other hazards of touring. He thought I wanted a husband and children, and I did.

But I also wanted to be a chanteuse. Later, as my kids grew up, I’d pound out my own piano accompaniment to give full throat attention to song collections by the Beatles, Simon and Garfunkel, and other favorites, but the ones that thrilled me the most were the torch songs like “Scotch and Soda.”[7] I also sang with regional community choirs in the 1980s and ‘90s but by the mid ‘90s, I noticed my voice wasn’t exactly as controlled or clear as I wanted. I felt embarrassed and stopped participating in the choir.

Then a couple of surgeries involved tubes down my throat and I discovered my singing broke in critical places around Middle C. And I had long since lost my guitar. By the time I retired from what had become a 30-year career tuning pianos, I was so burned out I never wanted to see another piano and moved mine to a back bedroom.

The piano sits, untuned and untouched by me for over decade. On occasion when I am unable to resist the urge, I’ll drag out the stool for the old pump organ my dad restored and plod along with a few pieces trying to ignore the deplorable condition of my voice. Sadly, the voice is not a lifelong instrument for most of us, although at times I think I might buy another guitar and start practicing in the belief that I just need to start exercising those vocal cords. I still long to sing, and nothing brings that to mind more strongly than to hear a voice slamming through a song like the lady in “All About That Bass.”

This is one of those ‘paths not taken’ stories.

All About That Bass – Postmodern Jukebox
European Tour Version

~~~


[1] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aLnZ1NQm2uk

[2] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3PcBNWd2tTI&list=RDo3gHhCpkiWU&index=11

[3] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U40OIESDwlU (Catch the heart of this piece at 1:46.)

[4] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Mxrh1CrMmTY

[5] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4-43lLKaqBQ

[6] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Nim7Xs41UJo

[7] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UoWfDw-v4DM

Obsessed with the Fetus

This week, my 97-year-old mother received a packet of mail from Republican senator Rand Paul. The cover letter begins: “For 47 years, nine unelected men and women on the Supreme Court have played God with innocent human life. They have invented laws that condemned to painful deaths without trial more than 62 million babies for the crime of being ‘inconvenient…’”

The propaganda continues over four pages. Along with the inflammatory letter, Sen. Paul included pre-printed petitions to both Arkansas senators and all four representatives as well as Sen. Mitch McConnell, calling for the passage of the Life at Conception Act. All my mom needed to do was sign on the bottom line and send them off in the enclosed envelope addressed to Sen. Paul in care of the National Pro-Life Alliance.

I was relieved that my mom said I should take the mail. It was a “bunch of crap,” she said. I agreed.

She’d beyond the point of arguing the finer points of politics or political issues. But it’s easy to see how this mail-out and its provocative rhetoric is meant to stir up Trump’s base right here before Election Day.

Americans should never lose sight of the fact that Trump and Pence were elected because of fetuses. Other supporter ‘causes’ are secondary, among them rabid racism and fundamental ignorance. But the driving force and the majority of their 32%-43% approval rating is based in their core support of evangelicals who are obsessed with fetuses.

No matter how many sexual assaults, adulteries, or episodes of blatant bullying, no matter how many lies and incidents of gaslighting, no matter the total incompetence of Trump’s service as president, his abuse of power, his disrespect for tradition and honor, no matter how many young immigrant children have been kidnapped from their families, no matter how many tens of thousands of our neighbors and countrymen die from a virus Trump failed to properly manage, no matter how much we as a nation plummet in the eyes of the world as we abdicate any possible claim of leadership, we can rest easy because fetuses will be saved.

Since Roe v Wade, Republicans have honed their primary strategy for political ascendance – not balancing the budget, not maintaining and improving the nation’s infrastructure, not caring for the average citizen – by fomenting outrage about abortion. Never mind that in heralding the ‘murder’ of embryos, evangelical conservatives have obfuscated and ignored the many legitimate medical reasons women terminate pregnancies. Never mind that women have always aborted unwanted pregnancies for countless legitimate reasons to which no one else is – or can be – privy. Never mind that Roe v Wade simply allowed women to access proper medical care for such procedures. Only the fetus matters.

Remove the fetus issue and evangelicals no longer have a clear-cut reason to slavishly follow the Republican Party. There may be seasons of drummed-up hate for the sexually-different or same sex couples who dare to fall in love. There may be outrage against government-funded programs that seek to improve opportunities for low-income children through programs like Head Start and school lunches. There may be simmering prejudices against non-whites for whatever derogatory stereotypes can be successfully slapped on them by insecure racists. But the one sure-fire button Republicans can count on to get evangelicals to the polls on Election Day is fetuses.

Odd that in all their crusade on behalf of God’s will in His miracle of fertilized eggs, none of these well-intentioned voters find issue with defying God’s will by artificially fertilizing eggs for those who can’t conceive. Does God really want them to have a child?

Odd that other ‘acts of God’ are defied as we rush onward with medical science to cure cancer and invent vaccines to protect ourselves against God’s will. If it is God’s will that we suffer those ailments, why are we curing them?

You can see where this rabbit hole leads. Either we have an innate right to intervene in our biological processes or we don’t. Pregnancy is a biological process. The egg donor (and usually the sperm donor) possess the innate right to intervene. Not a religious group. Not the government.

It’s not like we need more people. The world’s population has shot up from one billion to 7.8 billion in just the past 200 years. That’s despite virus and influenza epidemics, two world wars, and multiple other small wars around the globe. We have invented vaccines and antibiotics and pesticides in order to attack disease and increase the food supply. We’ve succeeded in doubling life expectancy since 1900. Global population is projected at 8 billion in 2023 and from there will double again by the end of this century.

But let’s cheer on the evangelicals and their great moral sacrifice in electing Trump to save the fetuses. Let’s put government in control of reproduction with laws regulating women’s bodies in order to save more fetuses. Because the fetus is the most important consideration.

Without question, children are our future. They should have the best we can give them both in the womb and after they’re born. But most importantly, each child should be wanted by its parents, not forced to a life of possible abuse, neglect, or a miserable existence shuttled from one foster home to another.

This is the insidious threat religious extremism poses to any nation. Religion inspires single-minded fanaticism that ignores personal rights, common sense, and the freedoms enshrined within a democracy. This is exactly the problem our Founding Fathers sought to avoid when they wrote the First Amendment to our Constitution prohibiting the government from establishing any religious doctrine.

Can we please honor our Founder’s vision and keep religion OUT of government? And keep government control out of human reproduction.

What Is Real?

Existence is a slippery construct, it seems to me. I tend to embrace the rational, the concrete, which makes it difficult for me to drift off into theorizing about other dimensions or other possible spheres of existence aside from our three-dimensional sensory world. But all that is countered by my own very bizarre personal experiences.

So far, I have refrained from talking about this because, well, people tend to look at you oddly when you bring up stuff like this. But hey, I’m not getting any younger and I want to put these experiences on the record. For what it’s worth.

In the mid-1970s, I was living in a rural area in a small cabin while my new husband and I tried to get a house built. The cabin sat on a ridge of pasture land surrounded by oak-hickory forest. To the north, the land fell away sharply into steep wooded hillsides. To the south, the pasture land dropped slowly for about a quarter mile before it too veered down forested hillsides. Ozark land verging into the Boston Mountains.

From the window of the cabin, looking west, the view spread across maybe forty acres of pasture and pond with woods all around. Midway in that field, I saw them one day, a man and woman standing side by side in the grass, facing me from about fifty yards away. Far enough that I couldn’t see facial detail, close enough that I could observe their clothing and posture.

They appeared in the corner of my eye. When I turned to stare, they vanished.

The man wore a brown suit and a brown hat, a vest and white shirt, the style dating to the mid-19th century. The woman’s dress was long and slightly full, what I assume would have been a modest garb with petticoat for someone who needed to walk across rough land. She too wore a hat, a straw hat held by a tie under her chin.

I saw them a few more times after I learned not to look directly. Each time they stood together, the man in his brown suit of clothes, not fancy, and the woman in a gray cotton dress with long sleeves and long skirt, the bodice fitted in the style of the times. I wondered at their presence, whether they had died there while their spirits remained, whether they had lived in that spot and attached themselves emotionally so that wherever they went afterwards, their energy remained there.

I’m a writer so I can think up stuff like that, their story, why I saw them. So I really can’t say whether those ideas explaining their presence were from them or from me.

A few years later, after moving into the new house, I had another sighting. Not the same place, but across the road and onto a wooded hill. From my office window, I can still point out the exact spot, a small clearing at the highest elevation of this entire ridge. At some previous time, a massive old tree had fallen and left the spot open to sunlight. I’ve walked out there over the years since, careful to take such jaunts in winter when the ticks aren’t out. There are large flat rocks like paving stones alongside the fallen tree, creating a defined space about twenty feet square.

I had not discovered that spot until the day of the sighting. I was staring into the distance from what then was a child’s bedroom, taking a time out from marriage, motherhood, and the demands of my profession. Two individuals appeared, again at the edge of my peripheral vision so I could only see them indirectly. These were Natives, two men dressed in deerskins and carrying the weapons of their culture. They were looking east while I observed them to my south.

Rendering of Osage First People by George Catlin. The Osage claimed this area for hunting grounds, moved off involuntarily when the U. S. government forced the Cherokee to relocate. Soon after, the Cherokee were also forced west into Indian Territory (Oklahoma). I think what I saw were Osage.

They were waiting for someone, or so the thought struck me. I saw a Native woman there once, alone, her long deerskin dress finely made as she, too, waited for someone. I saw them a few more times over the coming years, but as my life picked up speed and my time for staring out windows diminished to nearly nothing, I saw no more people hovering at the brink of this dimension.

And that’s what I’ve come to believe has occurred. Perhaps elevation has something to do with this portal, because the elevation is about the same for both spots. I reached that conclusion after a third and more disturbing incident that occurred twenty years later.

A friend had come to stay with me while she searched for a place to live. She had lived in Europe for several years, and on her journey back to the States had stayed for a time in London with an old friend. He was ailing and subsequently died. She told me about her mysterious experience with his ghost visiting her after his death.

After returning to the States, she lived at my house maybe two or three months before finding a rental she liked. After she moved out, a month or so later, I was sitting in the living room watching television like I did every night when I suddenly became aware of another presence in the house. The hair went up on my neck.

At first I tried to convince myself it was my imagination, because that’s what we all do at moments like that, right? Then I reasoned that if someone had come in at the back end of the house through that seldom-used door, I would have heard it. It didn’t open without a creak. I heard no creak.

But after several minutes of very eerie energy wafting through the house, I forced myself to go back there. I slowly walked the thirty feet down the hallway to that back door, gooseflesh on my arms. I even stopped to pick up a large bamboo rod to use on an intruder. I flipped on lights, calling out ‘Who’s there?’

When I got to the room with the door, it was empty. So was the rest of that part of the house, including closets and under the beds. Yes, I checked. And the door was locked. But Something was there, an energy that was so strong and so haunting that I could feel it all around me.

I realized it was the ghost of my friend’s friend. I thought it must have followed her, since she was the person who had seen him through his last days. I remembered her remarks that she had visited with the ghost more than once.

Well, thanks a lot! I didn’t need that ghost and I didn’t appreciate her leaving it here with me.

It was hostile, maybe because she had left it behind. I didn’t trust it. Didn’t want it. But, I reasoned, it was likely just lost.

So I addressed it. I stood there in the rooms she had stayed in and told it this wasn’t where it needed to be. I tried to change my energy from fear and resistance to a more loving and sympathetic frame. I said it would rest better if it joined the other spirits in the places they lived. I told it to go to the light.

I thought it had listened, because the presence seemed to leave. Later, though, when I went back there after a few days, my eye caught on a work of art one of my kids had done in grade school. Taking pride of place near the end of the hallway, it was well done rendering of a clown with a tear drop on its cheek that had always made it a sad image.

Well, now the image was not sad. It was demonic.

The ghost had taken up residence.

Disturbed by what was either a supernatural presence existing within my house or, alternatively, the fact that I was losing my mind, I ended up asking my daughter to take the art to her dad. Where it remains. I have not been bothered by that ghost again.

There have been other transient ellipses of space and time at that end of the house, which isn’t space inhabited unless one of my adult children come to stay. One or the other of them has experienced unexplained sounds or an energy presence, enough that I’m fairly convinced—at least on that matter – that I’m not losing my mind.

But it occurs to me, in retrospect, that this was at the same elevation and in almost a straight line along this ridge with the other two occurrences. And in contemplating this, I have concluded that there might be a wrinkle in time here, a portal of sorts that cracks along this ridge and allows transitory visitations by one or another realm of existence.

I’m wondering if I’ll come back to visit, too.

One day they appeared, walking across my land. Then they were gone.

 

Fearing Other

What if we all had the same color of skin?

Who would you hate then?

What if we all had the same religion?

What if we all had the same warmth in winter, cool in summer?

Who would we fight then?

What if we eliminated the industries of war, destroyed all guns and other weapons?

Would we kill each other with rocks and clubs?

What if our jobs all paid the same and my stainless steel appliances were no newer than yours? What if our furniture was exactly the same, our lawns just as nicely tended, our cars the same year and model?

Would you still resent me then?

What if we were all born with the same color of hair, the same color of eyes, grew to the same height, the same musculature?

Would you still be jealous because my nose was slightly longer? Or my lips slightly fuller? Would you still pay for surgery to make your nose and lips more like mine?

What if we sat side by side through all twelve grades and received the same education and yet somehow I went to college and became a lawyer while you went to trade school and became a plumber? Would you call me a libtard and resent my career? Would I look down on you as you installed my new toilet?

Will we always find something to resent, something to be jealous of, something to fight about?

Will it always be our nature to fear the Other, even if their Otherness is only birthmark, a broken tooth, a different hairstyle?

How does the skin color, the religion, the material wealth of Others make us fearful?

How do we make all Other into Ours?

Raging Over Masks

For a segment of the American population, the idea of being required to wear a mask triggers outrage. Some of the outrage results in physical violence. Over a mask.

On the surface, such a reaction defies reason. But behind the curtain, there are insidious reasons, all of which are egged on by rightwing and foreign interests determined to sow chaos in this nation.

There’s the ‘freedom’ element, resistance to being ‘required’ to do anything. But why? Similar outrage is not apparent in instances of ‘required’ seat belts, or shoes and shirts in stores, or – for that matter – driving in the right lane.

There are news reports of people who claim they can’t breathe if they wear a mask, but that dog won’t hunt. Doctors, nurses, scientists, and hazmat teams wear masks every day for hours. None of them have dropped dead from oxygen starvation or carbon dioxide buildup. Yes, there may be a few with mental health issues or respiratory problems that a mask can complicate. But that’s a handful of people in the overall situation.

If we pull back the curtain further, we find massive evidence of Denial. It’s not just excuses for why a mask requirement allegedly violates someone’s freedom or that one can’t properly breathe in a mask. The denial is far more fundamental than that, and largely hidden.

Remember, for the contingent of Americans who believe in Trump, the virus started out as a Democratic hoax. It was nothing more than the flu and would disappear by April. News coverage of New York’s crisis with bodies stored in refrigerated tractor-trailer trucks or ICU beds lining hospital hallways wasn’t real, simply more of that Democratic hoax meant to scare people and mess up Trump’s chance at re-election.

Now five months in and as the infection rate soars and hospitals in several states are nearing 100% capacity, the hoax lunacy has expanded to include screaming mobs of anti-vaxxers whose sole mission is to protect all of us from a mandatory vaccine that carries microchips which will … well, that detail is rather elusive. Some claim the chips will be the ‘mark of the beast’ that prevents its carrier from entering the Kingdom of Heaven. Others claim the chips will control our behavior and force us to accept the ‘New World Order’. Or most egregiously, it’s a Bill Gates plan to track everyone – because… ?

In a poll conducted May 20 and 21 by Yahoo/YouGov, 44% of Republicans said they believed the microchip conspiracy theory with Democrats checking in at 19%.[1]

A Christian Right broadcaster, Brannon Howse of “Worldview Watch,” warned that Gates and the “medical globalist deep state” were using the crisis to regulate people’s fertility depending on their worldview, through “procreation tickets” and microchips.[2]

So we have the ‘don’t tell me what to do’ mindset enhanced by the Democrats’ evil hoax and the microchip from Satan Gates himself. Some folks have even made the whole thing more concise by blaming Bill Gates for creating the virus so he could implant chips in the vaccine.

Elaborate thinking, perhaps – except it’s the result of not thinking at all.

Sadly, these conspiracy theories and rejections of facts have become fodder for political interests whose goal is to disrupt and divide the people of the United States. This has been the stated purpose of Russian disinformation campaigns for decades, but that too has become a conspiracy theory even when our best intelligence agencies confirm proof of such actions. The intelligence community is then swept into yet another conspiracy theory.

The more the far right learns (and can’t understand), the more it crafts yet another conspiracy theory. And experiences more rage.

Anger is often the result of fear, part of the adrenaline-stoked fight or flight response. Fear of the unknown, i.e. a virus or scientific process that is too hard to understand. Fear of being on the losing ‘side.’ Fear of being wrong for folks who need to feel ‘right’ in order to maintain mental stability.

With an invisible virus spreading through the population, anxiety sweeps in triggering fear. Those who are willing and able seek scientific information to help understand how the virus works, how it travels, what can prevent infection, and how he/she personally can best avoid the bug. These folks wear masks in public, stay home as much as possible, and social distance when they can’t.

But not everyone is equipped to seek out or understand scientific information and these people are more likely to be triggered into rage about wearing a mask. If these folks were capable or willing to investigate the virus instead of feeding on falsehoods promoted by Trump, they probably weren’t Trump voters to start with.

Trump voters are a strange amalgam of several sorts of people. At the core are those evangelicals who refuse to think beyond the boundaries of their religious beliefs, and those beliefs dictate saving the fetus above all else. That means a Republican vote no matter who the candidate, a constituency carefully cultivated and routinely fed hot-button rhetoric like the “Democrats want to kill babies after they’re born!”

There is no room in these minds for the rights of a woman to control her body, or the reality that abortions occurred millennia before Roe v Wade and will occur after it’s overturned, if it is. There is also no room in that lockstep for consideration of the horrific abuses perpetrated upon unwanted children, or immigrant children in cages, or children and pregnant women in places where our corporate war machines spread death and destruction on an industrial scale. Apparently ‘My Body, My Choice” slogans only apply to those who refuse to wear a mask.

Then there are those who hate government and rally behind the idea that Trump will dismantle the ‘deep state’ which describes, in their minds, a mysterious evil machinery behind all our nation’s ills. There is no room in these minds to understand how government works, no respect for people who devote entire careers to studying how chemicals in water or food affect our endocrine systems, or for people who spend every working day looking at data about our schools and whether students are learning, or the processes by which agencies can make choices about interest rates or surplus crops or weather forecasting – all of it in service to the people of our nation.

The mentalities involved in this willful ignorance and diminished reasoning capacity know somewhere deep inside they might be wrong. An internal crisis of anxiety and fear grows proportionately to the growing evidence of the possible error. When it reaches the point where their local supermarket won’t allow them through the doors without a mask, the evidence of their wrong blows up in their face.

Does that mean they suddenly realize that they were wrong? No. In defense of all the ignorance they hold dear, they rage.

Denial explains and justifies the rage. Denial that Trump is an idiot. Denial that the nation is not now nor ever was meant to be a ‘Christian’ nation, that the Republican mantra about fetuses and freedom of religion is nothing more than a political con meant to garner votes from people who are incapable of thinking for themselves. See, for example, the evangelical prediction that the world will literally end if Trump isn’t re-elected. (Footnote [3])

Other mask-ragers are people who fear losing the historical supremacy of white identity. People who still can’t admit the South justly lost the Civil War. People too lazy to pay attention to the facts, too busy or disconnected to read/watch the news from enough different sources to truly understand what is going on. These are people incapable of gathering relevant information regarding an issue, reasoning through that information, and reaching logical conclusions.

If we as a nation are going to survive the current chaos and move toward a more united, egalitarian future, each of these conditions among segments of the American population requires a focused examination of the cause and a concerted national effort to remediate the cause. These causes mean we are not equal. Without a long term determination to ‘cure’ these inequalities, they will destroy us. It’s not enough to have scientists discovering vaccines and advanced computing systems that can park cars for us. People have to understand how to apply rational processes and appreciate the logic of the scientific method.

Masks are a symbol of the truth of the virus, but they are also a symbol of the truth about Donald Trump and the Republican Party. Those who have embraced Trump deny they’ve been manipulated, misled, and used to further a political agenda that has – in reality – nothing to do with what they believe it to be. The agenda, in reality, is to further consolidate power and wealth in the hands of a few.

These folks have been played. Wearing a mask would require them to admit it.

 

[1] https://www.reuters.com/article/uk-factcheck-video-microchip-coronavirus/false-claim-a-microchip-implant-will-come-with-coronavirus-vaccines-idUSKBN22R2GS

[2] https://www.typeinvestigations.org/investigation/2020/05/12/the-long-strange-history-of-bill-gates-population-control-conspiracy-theories/

[3] https://www.lgbtqnation.com/2020/07/evangelical-leaders-made-film-warn-world-will-literally-end-trump-isnt-reelected/

Running

 

I flow like water.

Passing from one faint circle of light to the next,

My breath smooth, my legs moving rhythmically.

Across one darkened neighborhood and then another,

Street cleaners whisk past, big machines with their circular brushes whooshing.

Past houses where families sleep.

Dogs barking in back yards.

Cars in driveways wrapped in dew.

Pink air colors the houses, trees, lawns.

I run until my darkness is washed from my flesh,

Gone with the rising sun.

I run until there is no desire, no memory, nothing but the movement of muscle.

The edge of the sun appears at the horizon

Like a red-hot knife.

A Paeon to Flour

I believe I could live on carbs alone. Preferably derivatives of wheat. Refined into cake. Angel food cake. Chocolate cake. Lemon cake. Pound cake. Cupcakes! We’ve made up holidays so that we can have more cake.

Or cookies. Peanut butter cookies, oatmeal cookies, sugar cookies. Cookies! Biscuits slathered with butter and strawberry jam. Biscuits with sorghum molasses. Biscuits!

I bet you didn’t know that the Roman legions’ staple ration of food was wheat.  Or that from 123 BCE, a ration of unmilled wheat (as much as 72 pounds) was distributed to as many as 200,000 people every month by the Roman state. Hence the old reference to ‘bread and circuses’. Juvenal, a first century Roman poet who originated the phrase, used it to decry the “selfishness” of common people and their neglect of wider concerns because the government pacified them with bread and entertainment. The phrase implies a population’s erosion or ignorance of civic duty as a priority. (‘Circuses’ referred to elaborate spectacles in the coliseum.)

Not surprisingly, the Romans knew how to make flour into piecrust.

In these times of political crisis and viral contagion, I’ve increasingly come to admire the qualities of flour. Bread of course. Bread for sandwiches, toasted bread with eggs, with jam, with melted cheese and tomato soup. Breadsticks!

Without flour, there would be no gravy! No puddings! No graham crackers or the heavenly crusts made from them that lie underneath and beside the beautiful maidens of cheesecake and cream pies. Pretzels, bagels, tortillas, English muffins, blueberry muffins, banana nut bread, crumpets, scones. Scones baked with bits of crisp bacon, or with sharp cheddar, or dried cranberries.

Crackers. Salty crisp crackers.

Pies. Lots of my favorite foods come in pie crust, thick crumbly crust of flour and butter brought to its most exquisitely evolved state. One could argue that American cuisine is lacking in regard to pie crust. Our cousins across the pond seem far more advanced in regard to food wrapped lovingly in crust.

Like pasties.

The genius of pasties and its ilk is its perfect use of crust by wrapping crust entirely around the contents. Maximum crust.

We do have a descendant of pasties in our half-moon pies. Steam some apricots until tender, mash with appropriate sweetener. (There used to be dried apricots that carried the perfect balance of tart and sweet. You can’t find those anymore. Now they’re all too sweet.) Still, with a judicious hand on the sweetener and a hint of ginger, the apricots can be made ready for their marriage bed in crust. She finds herself spread on one side of a flat circle of rolled-out dough where the other side is brought to rise up over her, cover her… Ahem.

The most perfect apricot pies were fried. In deep hot oil, the butter in the dough sizzled, cooking the flour into tender flakes that, once in the mouth with a portion of apricot filling, dissemble like a velvet-tongued seducer, drawing everything connected to the mouth into bliss. For those aging beyond heavily fried foods, the alternative is to bake the pie – with so-so results.

WAIT for the pie to cool. Oops, sorry.

The genius of the Brits with pasties is that the filling is a meal.

A pasty is a baked pastry, a traditional variety of which is particularly associated with Cornwall, United Kingdom. It is made by placing an uncooked filling, typically meat and vegetables, on one half of a flat shortcrust pastry circle, folding the pastry in half to wrap the filling in a semicircle and crimping the curved edge to form a seal before baking.

The traditional Cornish pasty is filled with beef, sliced or diced potato, swede (also known as yellow turnip or rutabaga – referred to in Devon and Cornwall as turnip) and onion, salt, and pepper.

Despite the modern pasty’s strong association with Cornwall, its exact origins are unclear. The English word “pasty” derives from Medieval French (O.Fr. paste from V.Lat pasta) for a pie, filled with venison, salmon or other meat, vegetables or cheese, baked without a dish. Pasties have been mentioned in cookbooks throughout the ages. For example, the earliest version of Le Viandier (Old French) has been dated to around 1300 and contains several pasty recipes. In 1393, Le Menagier de Paris contains recipes for pasté with venison, veal, beef, or mutton.  

Other early references to pasties include a 13th-century charter that was granted by Henry III (1207–1272) to the town of Great Yarmouth. The town is bound to send to the sheriffs of Norwich every year one hundred herrings, baked in twenty four pasties, which the sheriffs are to deliver to the lord of the manor of East Carlton who is then to convey them to the King. Around the same time, 13th century chronicler Matthew Paris wrote of the monks of St Albans Abbey “according to their custom, lived upon pasties of flesh-meat.” A total of 5,500 venison pasties were served at the installation feast of George Neville, archbishop of York and chancellor of England in 1465.[1]

The family of pasty-style meat pies includes those fabulous empanadas which spread with the advance of Portuguese and Spanish conquests of the New World from Argentina to Indonesia (panasan) and the Philippines (several versions).[2] Then there are the Russian and Ukranian pirozhoks, boat-shaped pies made of yeast-leavened dough, with filling completely enclosed. Also the Italian calzone made with pizza dough wrapped around salami, ham or vegetables with mozzarella, ricotta and parmesan or pecorino cheese, plus an egg. Don’t forget the samosa of India, a crusty wrapping of dough around a filling such a spiced potatoes, onions, peas, cheese, beef or other meat, or lentils. And the Jewish knish. Or the Mongolian khuushuur.

We do have Hot Pockets, which hardly merit mention.

The lines blur with the jianbing, a Chinese wheat flour pancake that is wrapped raw around fillings and cooked on a griddle and folded. Traced as far back as 2,000 years, this food was originally made from millet flour or other grains. It is a cousin to crepes, usually served with fruit or other sweet fillings rather than savory ones. But then that brings up pancakes… PANCAKES!

Never forget those thin wrappings of eggrolls and spring rolls, deep fried to crisp perfection, thanks to wheat flour. Spring rolls appeared in the historical record in the Eastern Jin Dynasty (266-420 CE) of ancient China, leading one to theorize that the Western European rise of pasties as a flour-based wrapping around meat fillings might have resulted from the Italian Marco Polo’s wanderings along the Silk Road into Asian lands (1271-1295). Interestingly, the 12th century Arthurian romance Erec and Enide, written by Chrétien de Troyes, includes pasties eaten by characters from the area around Cornwall. Which brings back the question of whether the pasty was indigenous to Cornwall or if the idea followed Polo back from China.

Then there’s pasta. How lost we would be in this world without it? Spaghetti, ravioli, pizza and, among many other shapes of this water and flour invention, macaroni, that star of American comfort food, mac ‘n’ cheese! Developed as early as the 14th century in Italy, the charm of mac ‘n’ cheese quickly gained pride of place in English cuisine of the same century.

Let us not forget the forms of bread that serve us daily in their embrace of hamburger patties or hot dogs, soft pillows of compliant wheat dough providing a handhold on meat and fillings without the trouble of frying or baking a pasty.

People have been making delicious food with flour since, well, since a time before history. We just don’t know exactly when those clever women (of course it was women) started harvesting and then replanting the largest grains of native grasses; the first known cultivation was around 10,000 years ago in the area around modern day southeastern Turkey. Around 6,000 years ago Egyptians figured out how to make wheat bread in an oven. Evidence of the first identifiable bread wheat (Triticum aestivum) with sufficient gluten for yeasted bread is found in Macedonia circa 1350 BCE.[3]

But for flour, someone had to figure that out. Some woman rubbing two rocks together smashed wheat kernels into dust, and flour was born. Sometime before 2,000 BCE, a recipe for chicken pie was written on a clay tablet in Sumer.

One of the most sublime of all human flour experiences is to wind through the process of making risen bread – the mixing, the kneading, the waiting for it to rise only to punch it down again before waiting yet again for it to rise before shaping loaves or those manna parcels called ROLLS. And then, suffering through the baking as yeasty aroma fills the air, one arrives at the moment of completion when the golden loaves are lifted onto cooling racks and the truest torture begins. One is exhorted to wait until the bread cools, but who can wait? Yes, the soft interior suffers when a knife plunges into the hot loaf.  Equally true is that a slice of bread still steaming from the oven will melt the butter before it can be spread.

But who needs to spread it? Drop thick slabs of cold butter onto the incandescent bread and let it vanish into the textured magic, cooling the bread as it goes so that your trembling hands can bring the slab of hot bread to your mouth and you can absorb the entirely decadent ambrosia directly into your bloodstream.

~~~

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pasty

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Empanada

[3] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wheat

Want to Disarm Police? Legalize Drugs.

A lot of talk is going on right now about not needing the police, but it’s just not true. We need police. There will always be robberies, rape, assault, murder, crazy people with a gun, and other crime.

It’s true we don’t need police in areas of our lives where they have been unnecessarily and destructively assigned duty by lawmakers eager to appease public sentiment or to garner support for re-election. The drug war has been one of those areas.

But it’s also true that law enforcement in the United States has always been armed. Shoot-outs in dusty frontier towns of the Old West come to mind. Those encounters were minor compared to what happened when do-gooders decided the American people shouldn’t have alcoholic drink.

Organized crime got its first foothold in American life thanks to the lucrative black market in liquor. This was also the golden age of bank robbery with figures like Bonnie and Clyde, Pretty Boy Floyd, and John Dillinger becoming folk heroes. The Thompson sub-machine gun and the Browning Automatic Rifle were increasingly used by these crime “stars.”

…the Prohibition Era saw domestic police departments using automatic weapons, armored vehicles, and ammo developed with the express purpose of being able to penetrate the early bulletproof vests worn by gangsters of the era.[1]

The first transfer of military weapons to civilian law enforcement occurred in the years immediately after World War II when surplus military supplies were made available to various civilian entities. With the rise of activism for African-American rights in the 1950s and 1960s, then the increasing public protests over the Vietnam War in the late ‘60s and early 1970s, police forces felt emboldened to use force.

…police militarization was escalated in the 1950s and 1960s, an era in which race riots and anti-war protests were common in many U.S. cities. Some believe that the seeming success of officers armed with military-style weapons and deployed to curtail the 1965 Watts riots, a six-day race riot sparked by conflicts with the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) that killed 34 people, gave way to the trend of arming and equipping law enforcement officers with battlefield weapons.  Joy Rohde, a professor at the University of Michigan’s Ford School of Public Policy, has published research indicating that “militarization is a mindset … is a tendency to see the world through the lens of national security, a tendency to exaggerate existing threats.” Rohde traces “the origins of modern militarized policing” to the Cold War-era anti-communist paranoia, and the idea that domestic civil rights activists were similar to foreign enemies, as manifested in activities such as the CIA’s Operation CHAOS.

…The 1981 Military Cooperation with Civilian Law Enforcement Agencies Act allows the U.S. military to cooperate with domestic and foreign law enforcement agencies. Operations in support of law enforcement include assistance in counter-drug operations, assistance for civil disturbances, special security operations, counter-terrorism, explosive ordnance disposal (EOD), and similar activities. Constitutional and statutory restrictions and corresponding directives and regulations limit the type of support provided in this area. This allows the U.S. military to give law enforcement agencies access to its military bases and its military equipment. [Emphasis mine.] The legislation was promoted during the Presidency of Ronald Reagan in the context of the War on Drugs, and is considered a part of a general trend towards the militarization of police.[2]

The process becomes circular. Tougher drug laws under Reagan meant police were legally empowered to invade private residences, stop and search vehicles, and frisk people on the street. In response, civilians trafficking in drugs or only using drugs became more likely to arm themselves. Which in turn led police to seek more protection and greater fire power like SWAT which are essentially militarized police squads.

Begun in 1965 in Philadelphia, SWAT teams were conceived as a way to restrain urban unrest, deal with hostage situations, or handle barricaded marksmen. The number of SWAT raids in the US grew dramatically from about 3,000 in 1980, to a whopping 50,000 SWAT raids in 2014.[3]

Unfortunately, too much of a potentially good thing has meant that 62 percent of all SWAT deployments were for drug raids, 79 percent of these were done on private residences, and only 7 percent of all raids were done for situations SWAT was invented for—namely barricades or hostage situations.

The result has been an increasingly armed and embattled police at war with the population whether white right-wing fanatics or inner city drug gangs. One begets the other. It’s hard to imagine sending disarmed police officers out on calls and equally hard to contemplate any attempt to disarm the public. Communities of color have become disproportionately impact by the war on drugs not only because they are disproportionately impoverished and therefore seeking any means of income, but also and most importantly because ALL LAWS are policed selectively. Officers would rarely if ever stop a white well-dressed man driving a late model Lexus but would not hesitate to stop a black or Hispanic man with any profiling features like certain hairstyles, jewelry, clothing, shoes, or automobile.

We have get smart about this. Yes, communities and the nation as a whole must do a better job of intervening in the preconditions of ‘crime’ by improving all forms of social support: better early childhood education, far more generous funding for public schools, and intensive efforts to improve health care and nutritional support to impoverished communities. Better job opportunities will require dedicated effort. It’s a long list of what might help and a very short list of funding to enable those programs.

It also makes sense to look at what drives much of the police violence, and the drug war is first in line. Young men in impoverished neighborhoods earn money by selling drugs. With their profits and to protect themselves from theft, they buy weapons. Shoot-outs with police are inevitable.

We need to face reality as a nation and legalize all drugs. People who want drugs are getting them now, so it’s a fantasy to think that prohibition is succeeding in its stated goal. We only need to look at what occurred as a result of alcohol prohibition to see the parallel to our current situation. More violence, more crime, and no real impact on the use or abuse of alcohol.

The money we spend on enforcing drug laws and punishing drug law violators could easily supply the funds needed for the social reforms mentioned above. “Since 1971, the war on drugs has cost the United States an estimated $1 trillion. In 2015, the federal government spent an estimated $9.2 million every day to incarcerate people charged with drug-related offenses—that’s more than $3.3 billion annually.”[4]

https://www.drugwarfacts.org/chapter/economics

The fact is that we can’t arrest our way out of the drug problem and treatment alone is not the answer. As shown on the adjacent chart, funding for ‘prevention’ is a slim portion of the overall budget. What we need to get at is WHY people abuse drugs, and in order to make meaningful headway on that question, we must first accept the reality that drug USE is not the same as drug ABUSE. Just as a beer or two isn’t alcoholism, neither does casual smoking of marijuana or exploring LSD on a weekend adventure constitute substance abuse.

If drugs were legal, labeled for purity and potency, and taxed like alcohol, our tax dollars could be concentrated on the true sources of substance abuse problems including:

– Genetic predisposition to addiction or abuse

– History of mental illness and lack of access to mental health care

– Neglect, abuse, or other childhood trauma

– Poor social skills or lack of social support structure

– Poor health and lack of access to health care

Data collected over recent decades shows a consistent 8-10% of the population are predisposed to addiction, the greatest percentage of which are alcoholics. In 2011, of persons meeting criteria for substance abuse, “2.9 million were classified with a substance use disorder of both alcohol and illicit drugs. 4.2 million were classified with a substance use disorder for illicit drugs but not alcohol. 15.0 million were classified with a substance use disorder for alcohol but not illicit drugs.”[5]

Obviously neither military weaponry nor SWAT teams have any real impact on addiction. By now we as a society should recognize that drug prohibition has almost singlehandedly pushed our police forces into armed combat on our city streets and given birth to gang warfare. This is one specific target upon which concerned citizens can and must take action – educate our elected representatives on the facts, advocate in support of change, and never rest until this arena of community conflict has been removed.

Police only enforce the laws. Voters are in control of who make laws. Let the healing begin.

~~~

[1] https://fee.org/articles/the-militarization-of-americas-police-a-brief-history/

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Militarization_of_police

[3] https://fee.org/articles/the-militarization-of-americas-police-a-brief-history/

[4] https://www.americanprogress.org/issues/criminal-justice/reports/2018/06/27/452819/ending-war-drugs-numbers/#:~:text=Since%201971%2C%20the%20war%20on,more%20than%20%243.3%20billion%20annually.

[5] https://www.mentalhelp.net/addiction/statistics/

It’s Baack!

Looking for some perspective on today’s viral crisis? Considering humanity’s infinitely long track record with similar outbreaks, we surely aren’t surprised that it’s here again. In case you’re not up to speed on the history of mankind’s virus background, check out my last blog post.

There is evidently an ingrained memory of this threat to our lives. Instinctively, we know there are invisible killers lurking out there, and entertainment takes advantage of our interest. Not only have scientists made regular warnings to prepare for such eruptions, our literature and movies regularly focus on outbreak what-ifs.

Outbreak, 1995

Consider the list of 79 – yes, 79 – movies on the topic of epidemic/pandemic outbreaks. In fact, as long as movies have been made, viral contagions have been a favored subject. Here’s a great list.

If you prefer to curl up with a book, writers and historians have been exploring the desolate landscapes of plague-riddled civilizations since Greek and Roman times. Daniel Defoe was one of the first English writers to producing a book about devastating disease with his 1722 A Journal of the Plague Year, which chronicles the 1665 bubonic plague in London. Here are more books to consider.

1950

One might wonder why anyone would want to read about horrific diseases when we’re in the middle of our current crisis, but art reflects life in many important ways. Movies and literature about pandemics not only explore the physical effects of the disease but also the human response to collateral damage like quarantine, isolation, and economic hits. We can gain a greater understanding through this informing exploration, and that in itself is somehow comforting. It’s like, ok, we’ve been through this before and survived. We can do it again.

But most of all, such deep history about our relationship with diseases like SARS-CoV-2 (COVID 19) provides critical information for those entrusted with leadership over us all whether elected officials, agencies, teachers, or scientists.  In our tragic case, our president failed to read history or listen to experts – or even his predecessor, President Obama, who had learned from Ebola and Zika that preparations must be made BEFORE an outbreak ever occurs. The sad result is the enormous death rate for a nation purportedly the most advanced.

The most malevolent viruses are fast and silent killers, moving through populations before we have time to prepare. There is no excuse for the current situation in the United States where we’re still not in possession of enough face masks or testing apparatus to get in front of this tidal wave of death.

1950

Perhaps most instructive about such movies and books, both fiction and non-fiction, is the inevitable reactions of people. There’s denial – it can’t happen here, it’s not that bad, it’s still safe to go shopping, I won’t wear a mask – that has become one of the most virulent aspects of SARS-CoV-2. It probably wouldn’t matter what the books and movies might say to the folks clogging state capitol steps with their guns and angry, unmasked faces. Their denial derives from lack of understanding of the science involved and a refusal to admit they might be lacking. It doesn’t help that their presidential hero praises their ignorance – because he too is lacking.

Mother Nature will keep throwing these things in our path. I predict another new viral crisis within the next two years. Meanwhile, we don’t yet know if a vaccine for SARS-CoV-2 will work – after all, vaccines depend on the idea that our bodies create effective antibodies once the vaccine is administered, and those antibodies will protect us from a new infection. But increasingly, reports filter in that persons are becoming sick for the second time, which means antibodies aren’t working. And we already know that to date, our best flu vaccines are only 50%-60% effective.

SARS-CoV-2 is here to stay, folks. More of us will die. Grab the popcorn and watch a movie! And next time you vote, make sure your chosen candidate is going to protect you and your loved ones by preparing well in advance for the next outbreak.