Angry These Days

The latest IPCC report makes it clear that climate change is happening now and that we need major, concerted, international efforts to slow it down and deal with the ongoing crises it will cause.

After 18 months of a worldwide pandemic, it’s pretty obvious that major, concerted, international efforts will only happen in a fantasy world. And not in a fantasy novel, since I’m sure no editor would accept a novel that posited major, concerted, international efforts to do anything.

“Too implausible,” they would say. And they would be right.

I haven’t thought about the report very much. I knew what it would say when I heard it was coming out. Good news about important things is in short supply.

In truth, I’ve been depressed lately. Anxious, too, though not as anxious as I was last year. And angry. Very, very, very angry.

This might seem to call for therapy. But I’m depressed, anxious, and angry because of the pandemic, the atrocious US public health response, right-wing extremism, and climate change.

A therapist can’t fix any of that. All a therapist can do is help me put up with this nonsense.

And I don’t want to put up with it. Continue reading “Angry These Days”

Changing the Rules

When I was young and trying to break into places that were marked “no girls allowed” (like practicing law and training in martial arts), I used to say, “Women don’t want to change things in [insert male-dominated space here]; we just want to be allowed to play.”

That was a lie. I didn’t know it at the time, but it was. First of all, bringing women into those spaces inevitably changes things. Secondly, as demonstrated by the recent decisions by people like Simone Biles and Naomi Osaka to refuse to participate on other people’s terms, it leads to changes in the underlying rules.

Playing hurt isn’t a good idea, even at the Olympics. Putting up with abuse should never be necessary.

Add in the women refusing to compete in uncomfortable clothing — a proxy for all the stupid dress codes that dictate to women just how they’re supposed to cover or uncover their bodies — and you’ve got women changing the rules of the game.

What a wonderful thing. Continue reading “Changing the Rules”

Stop the Joy Rides

I don’t like billionaires taking joy rides in space.

This is not an objection to space exploration. I’m all in favor of space exploration. I grew up with the U.S. space program. I went to church with the people who put Neil Armstrong on the Moon.

Also, I write science fiction. I believe in the human desire to figure out what’s going on in the universe.

Further, I’ve never believed that our choices are between exploring the universe and taking care of people here on Earth. We can and should do both.

What I object to is billionaire-driven space exploration. Continue reading “Stop the Joy Rides”

Things That Keep Me Up at Night

Our current civilization is built on many dangerous fallacies. Most of them have been debunked, but their impact is still felt. Here’s a few off the top of my head:

  • Some people are better than others.
  • The “better” people are entitled to take things from their “inferiors”.
  • The world is here for human use and it doesn’t matter how we use (or abuse) it.
  • Wealth is more important than ensuring that all have enough.
  • The natural world, both plant and animal, has no importance on its own.

I just read a short piece on how the indigenous people of what is now the Texas Gulf Coast lived for the 2,500 years before the Europeans invaded. They fished to their heart’s content in the bays protected from the Gulf by the barrier islands. They hunted inland for bison, deer, and other creatures, careful not to trespass into the territory of other peoples who lived farther inland. Lots of plant life grew in the area. They used bits of oil that came up in the Gulf to seal things.

Except for mosquitoes — I’m sure they had mosquitoes — it sounds like a pretty good life. The climate there is mostly warm and there must have been good sources of food year round.

I note that they did not build luxury homes and condos on the barrier islands, just temporary shelters where people could gather. I suspect they knew the signs of approaching hurricanes and moved inland ahead of them.

Here in California, the indigenous people used fire effectively in managing the forests and grasslands. They figured out that it was a necessary part of this environment. They, too, had a balanced relationship with a bountiful environment.

And now here we are, with the Gulf on fire from burst pipelines and wildfires already raging through the west ahead of fire season, plus condos on barrier islands collapsing. The people who settled here long before my Anglo ancestors knew how to deal with the environment, but their knowledge was dismissed and ignored.

Look at us now. Continue reading “Things That Keep Me Up at Night”

Eating and Adulting

Someone I follow tweeted that they forgot to eat today. I responded, “You know, I am quite sure that I have never forgotten to eat.”

I have at times skipped a meal because something came up and there wasn’t time to eat, but I guarantee I was cranky about it. I can remember coming home exhausted and falling into bed without dinner.

And of course I have been too sick to eat a few times in my life. It’s a guidepost: if I don’t want to eat, I am really sick.

But I have never forgotten about a meal.

My father used to say I was always hungry. He said the day they brought me home from the hospital, I cried and carried on while he tried desperately to figure out how to get a bottle ready.

And the family made fun of me for years after the vacation when I asked, while we were eating dinner, what we were going to do for breakfast the next day.

It wasn’t that I wasn’t getting enough dinner. I just wanted to make sure there were plans for breakfast the next day. I mean, my mother was in charge and I’d already figured out that she didn’t really care that much about food.

I’ve been teased enough about the importance I place on regular meals to feel a little defensive. But damn it, eating is important.  Continue reading “Eating and Adulting”

Time to Learn Our Real History

I’ve frequently observed that my high school history teacher taught us that the Civil War was fought between us and them. Since this was in Texas, you can probably guess which side was “us”.

In the past, I said this more or less as a joke. Not that it wasn’t true – it was very true – but my intention was to mock those history lessons, to point out that the small town where I went to high school was so far behind the times.

Now, though, as Texas and other states pass laws to prevent history teachers from telling the truth about U.S. history, this memory of my education makes me want to cry. While I was fortunate to grow up in a family that rejected the Lost Cause narrative and Jim Crow racism, the rest of the world in which I lived was defined by those lies at every turn.

I saw those lies for what they were, but I somehow managed to both assume that things were changing – it was the time of the activist Civil Rights Movement – and that some things, like monuments to the traitors who led the Confederate Army, would always be with us.

I turned out to be wrong on both counts. We did make some progress on racism, enough that these days there are many powerful African American voices that call it out regularly, but not enough to keep it from remaining a powerful force in this country and not enough to fix all the systemic racism that we are only now beginning to discuss.

And we are finally reckoning with the fact that the Civil War was an act of treason by those who wanted to continue enslaving other human beings. Despite the backlash going on from white supremacists and in some state legislatures, we’re talking about this horrific part of our history in terms I never expected to hear. Continue reading “Time to Learn Our Real History”

Mother’s Day

A few years back, a man I passed on the street wished me a happy Mother’s Day. I thanked him. He was a man in his 40s, trying to be friendly to an older woman. He meant well.

But I’m not a mother and I will never be one. At this point in my life, I’m not only far past the point where I could get pregnant in the ordinary manner, but also too old to be considered as an adoptive parent.

I still have my uterus, so I suppose I could be implanted with a fertilized ovum and carry it to term. You hear of people past menopause doing that these days, usually to help a relative. While it’s fascinating that such technology exists, I’m not going to do that, either.

I don’t have any regrets about not having children. It’s not that I don’t like young people. Many of them are delightful and I have a lot of friends who fall into the age range where they could be my kids – some even my grandkids.

But I don’t feel like I’m missing anything by not having kids of my own. Continue reading “Mother’s Day”

The Purpose of Life

As most readers of this blog know, I write a daily senryu (a haiku-like verse) and post it on social media. My purpose is to capture what’s on my mind each morning.

Back in March I wrote this one:

Productivity
is not the purpose of life.
Not civilized yet.

I am not a professional philosopher nor a religious leader, so my pronouncements on the purpose of life are strictly those of a lay person. But I do have opinions.

I have read excellent fiction of late from people who, in addition to writing complex and thought-provoking novels, do fascinating and important work in their day jobs. I’m extremely impressed by the ability of people like Malka Older, Arkady Martine, and Andrea Hairston, just to name three, to do great work in more than one direction.

The New York Times did a piece on Stacey Abrams this week that left me exhausted just reading it. She’s leading the important fight for fair voting, might run for governor of Georgia again, and is turning out novels while finding time to read work by others.

Clearly some people are able to be usefully productive in a lot of different ways at the same time. In the case of the people I mentioned, I hope they continue to do all the things.  Continue reading “The Purpose of Life”

Get Your Vaccine!

My reaction to the pandemic was intensely personal. I saw no reason to believe that I couldn’t get the virus and no reason to believe that if I did get it I would survive.

Not only was I frightened, I was furious at the incompetent and maliciously dangerous handling of this crisis. People like the criminal who occupied our White House for four years were actively trying to kill me and a lot of others.

Some of them even said so, like Dan Patrick, the “lite gov” (lite in all senses of the word) of Texas, who said people over 70 should die for the good of the economy, by which he meant Wall Street.

Getting the vaccine made my personal fear go away. I no longer worry that I’m going to end up dying alone in an ICU every time someone gets too close. I could feel the difference in my gut from the first shot.

But it did nothing about my fury. So many people dead for no reason. People still dying even as the vaccine is becoming widely available because those in authority insist on opening things that should stay closed or performing hygiene theater instead of dealing with issues like indoor ventilation.

I was never just angry on my own behalf. I was frightened on my own behalf, but I was angry on everybody’s. We could have done so much better.

Bad leadership was an obvious problem, but there’s a deeper one. We seem to have lost any concept of taking care of ourselves as a public. Continue reading “Get Your Vaccine!”

Police Brutality and How My Jury Found For a Black Plaintiff

As I write this, the Derek  Chauvin trial is still under way, another Black man has been shot by law enforcement, and a Black Army officer has been brutalized and his life threatened. As outraged and saddened as I am by these heinous events, I also remember a time when I served as a juror on a civil trial that pitted law enforcement against a Black victim. This was many years ago, a time before Black Lives Matter, a time when it was assumed that police actions, no matter how brutal, were acceptable and justified. The case received no notice. It made no difference, except to me and, I hope, the plaintiff. But I think it’s worth telling now.

The events, as I remember as related in the course of the trial, were that two law enforcement officers stopped a car for a broken tail light. It was at night in a fairly well-to-do area. The driver was a young Black man. In the course of the traffic stop, the officers beat him so badly as to leave him with permanent injuries and needing years of recovery. The officers would have had us, the jury, believe that their actions were necessary. The plaintiff asserted that he posed no threat and offered no resistance.

The two officers were white, and they were at least six feet tall, muscular, and clearly fit. The Black man was small, about my size (I was 5’3”), lightly built, well-spoken, a professional. As the testimony proceeded, I found myself more and more appalled by what happened, and more incredulous that two trained officers could not have found a non-violent way of managing a routine traffic stop.

After we heard the testimony, we were instructed as to the law that we must follow, which required that the officers have malicious intent, or something to that effect. We wrestled with the language of the law and with how to interpret it in light of the events. For myself, my conscience and my sense of what is right and just were far more compelling. It was luminously clear to me that the plaintiff had been horribly beaten for no other reason than being a Black man. That the officers, who were supposed to act in a responsible, fair manner, were guilty of a gross abuse of power. Through the deliberations, I argued passionately for justice as I saw it. Some of my fellow jurors were already of my opinion, others were persuaded by my arguments, and a few insisted the case did not fulfill the letter of the law and the officers were justified.

In the end, however, we found for the plaintiff. (A civil trial does not require a unanimous vote.) The jury did not award him everything he asked. There were no punitive fines, but reimbursement of medical expenses and, if memory serves, a portion of lost income. After the trial, the plaintiff’s attorney said she was not able to tell us before, but the award of just a single penny in a trial of this sort meant the plaintiff could now take the case to Federal court for civil rights violations (or a similar next move—I may be fuzzy on the exact details). I will never forget the look on the Black plaintiff’s face after we delivered our verdict. I don’t know if was hope or amazement or relief. In that moment, I felt myself part of something greater: a very small step toward justice.

 

There is more to this story, a post-script as it were. The judge thanked us for our service and then advised us to leave the area as soon as possible. The year was 1992. The jury in the Rodney King case was about to deliver their verdict, and protests were expected. Outside the court house, the streets were almost deserted except for police vehicles. My usual bus was not running because the route had been blocked. Eventually I made my way home on another bus, watching the fires from the freeway.

I’d like to think that what I did, that infinitesimal step towards a more just society, made a difference. The temptation, though, is to become discouraged and stop trying. I’ve learned since that giving up is a luxury born of white privilege. My Black friends don’t get to take a vacation from racism because it’s difficult or terrifying. Today, almost 30 years later, white law enforcement officers are still brutalizing Black people.

I am reminded of a teaching in my own tradition, (Pirkei Avot, Ethics of Our Fathers, part of the Talmud), attributed to first century rabbi Tarfon:

“You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to desist from it.” (2:21)

Let us persist, then, and accomplish what we are able, knowing that the next generation will take up the task after us.