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Soldiers and Sailors Monument in front of Providence City Hall, with the Biltmore in red brick next to it.

With the fabulous Providence Biltmore as a home base, it made sense that one day’s exploration should be just out the front door. As it had been all week, it was very cold and windy. Despite wind chills in the teens, we bundled up and left the hotel lobby to start walking and see where our feet would take us. They took us to some wonderful sights.

Right next door is the Providence City Hall, a beautiful building on the outside, and simply gorgeous on the inside. It was built in the 1870s, and continues in use today as the City Hall. The five-story building is built of iron and brick, and at the time of construction employed some fascinating technology. There was a water-powered elevator that could carry 50 people, but is no longer in operation. Prior to electricity, a central control clock was used, wound up each morning by the janitor like a grandfather clock. The clock sent a signal to all the other clocks in the building. The City Messenger’s office was equipped with bells and speaking tubes that connected to all the other offices in the building. Remnants of these features are still visible today.

Stairs from the main floor up into the heart of the building.

Beautiful at every level.

Clock on the fifth floor.

Old elevators still gorgeous, but no longer in use.

The Hiker

We crossed the street to gaze at a few monuments. The first was the Soldiers and Sailors Monument, shown in the image at the top of this post. Dedicated in 1871, the 40-foot monument recognizes 1,727 Rhode Islanders that died during the Civil War. The figure at the top represents America, and the four smaller figures represent four branches of the military. The bronze reliefs are allegorical representations of War, Victory, Peace, and Freedom.

A short walk away is The Hiker,  installed in 1911 to commemorate those who fought in Spain, the Philippines, and China from 1898-1902. It is a replica of the original The Hiker, installed at the University of Minnesota in 1906. The name comes from a term soldiers in both the Spanish–American War and the Philippine–American War gave themselves.

Providence has a lot of hills, and since we began in a valley, it was inevitable that we would eventually hit an incline. We began walking uphill and a lovely white church caught our attention. It is the oldest Baptist church in America, aptly named the First Baptist Church, and holds a central role in the founding of the state of Rhode Island.

Plaque on the church wall

The church was founded by Roger Williams in 1638. The present building was erected in 1774-5. Roger Williams was a Puritan who left England to escape religious and political persecution. He did not come to America in the first wave however, but a few years later in 1631, and brought non-conformist ideas of what the colonies should be all about. Williams was adamant about separation of church and state, and insisted that the local church totally repudiate its ties with the Church of England. He also declared it a “solemn public lie” that the King of England had the right to grant land to colonizers without first buying it from the Indians. The ideas challenged the legality of land uses at that time and stirred up political and religious unrest, and threatened to upset the fragile economy. All this had been set up before Williams even got there, and his loudly proclaimed contrary ideas were a major disruption.

By 1635 the local authorities had had enough and tried and convicted Williams. As punishment he was to be banished to England. Instead, Williams hiked through the snow from Salem to Narragansett Bay and lived on the hospitality of the Wampanoag Indians. The following spring he purchased a piece of land from the Indians, and with some friends from Salem, started a community. He named it Providence, after the providence God had shown him. His community was based entirely on religious freedom, welcoming all to come and worship in their own way. Williams became a Baptist and began the Baptist Church in Providence, and was its first pastor.

First Baptist Church in Providence. The oldest Baptist Church in the country.

Eye-catching buildings line the street beside the First Baptist Church. That colourful one in the center is the Providence Art Club.

Interior of the church. There is stained glass behind that wall, only viewable from the outside. Not sure what that’s all about. Will guessed it could have been to maintain the humility and simplicity espoused by Roger Williams, who never would have approved an extravagance like coloured glass in his lifetime.

In the early days, patrons would rent their box, and would have a say regarding who was allowed to sit in it.

At the back of the church on the balcony, is an enormous organ. I don’t know if it still works, but the sound must be outstanding! {photo by Will}

We left the church and started uphill once more, coming across Brown University, another institution woven into the fabric of Providence’s early days. Dr. James Manning had been dispatched from Philadelphia to oversee some reforms in the Baptist church in the area, to include starting a Baptist college. (Dr. Manning was pastor when the church in the photos above was built) Originally called Rhode Island College, Manning was its first President. When the school charter was approved in 1764 it was the 7th college in America. Now called Brown University, it remains a premier American University.

Clock tower on a cold Winter’s day at Brown University.

On the grounds of Brown University.

On the grounds of Brown University.

We stopped for lunch and I had Indian curry & Jasmine tea because isn’t that just the thing on a fiercely cold day? (This time I mean Asian Indian, not North American Indian. So confusing. Chris Columbus you goofball.) Then we walked uphill some more and I was excited when it began to snow! We came to a park very high up that Will calls “The other Roger Williams Park,” but it’s actually called Prospect Terrace Park. I didn’t get photos of it but there is a curious larger than life statue of Roger Williams looking out over the city. So we looked out over the city too:

The State House dominates the horizon here.

Downtown Providence

The State House looked so impressive from a distance that I really wanted to go there. Will double-checked with me about that, since it was so cold I could barely feel my face or hands. Like those early settlers here, I didn’t let a nasty winter day get me down. Onward ho! At the bottom of the hill we stopped in the beautiful train station to chat and get warm before continuing the long walk to the State House. As my reward for tenacity, the clouds parted and the sun began to shine. It wasn’t any warmer, but it was prettier.

A lovely New England neighborhood on a hill.

The Independent Man atop the State House

Gettysburg Gun with charge in the muzzle.

Sun came out in time to illuminate the Rhode Island State House

Atop the State House stands the Independent Man, deemed to represent the character of a Rhode Islander. The statue of a muscular man clad in a loincloth and carrying a spear is made of gold and bronze, and was melted down from a donated statue. Previously a statue of Simon Bolivar in Central Park that the city of New York considered an eyesore, the gift from Venezuela was sacrificed. The Independent Man was placed atop the cupola in 1899, and has survived lightning strikes and many many Rhode Island winter storms.

To get into the State House we had to have ID checked and pass through a metal detector. Once inside, I was doubly impressed by the grandeur here than I had been by City Hall. The foyer holds a Civil War gun that was last fired on the final day of the Battle of Gettysburg in 1863. The gun was struck by a Confederate shell, damaging the muzzle of the gun and killing two soldiers. An attempt was made to reload the gun. Try as they might, members of the Rhode Island Light Artillery could not force the charge into the gun. When another shell hit and blew a wheel off, they gave up. The gun was allowed to cool, sealing the charge in place.

The House of Representatives were going into session soon, and the foyer was packed with people: participants, students, tourists, and the media with their cameras and lights. Will and I ducked the crowd into a quiet hallway and found the original Charter for the state of Rhode Island!

The original charter from the King of England granting religious and political rights to the people of Rhode Island.

In the Royal Charter Museum, three pages that make up the original document are held. In the 1663 document, King Charles II allowed settlers in Rhode Island to govern their own colony and guaranteed their individual freedom of religion. It was the kind of action Roger Williams dreamed of, and was in fact the first time in history that a monarch had agreed to this level of religious freedom. The event is remarkable, and the documents themselves were extraordinary works of art with such elaborate calligraphy that I could not read them.

The first page with calligraphy and illustration.

Close up of the magnificent ink work.

We then wandered the halls of the majestic building. We had been warned by the docent in the gift shop that we would hear bells notifying Representatives to take their seat. She told us the bells would continue till the gavel was sounded. When the bell rang as predicted, it was very loud and sounded like the ring in a high school to notify students to head to their next class. Unlike high school bells, this one continued to ring.

I thought the children we call politicians only pulled their stunts in Washington, D.C. Oh no, their lack of discipline, lack of respect for their office, lack of concern for the pressures that the rest of the world is forced to work under, became quickly evident here at the state level too. The bells rang and rang. Will and I sat in the gallery and watched. Hardly anyone acted as though they had noticed the incessant clanging. People chatted happily and unconcernedly. Pages were summoned and dispatched, returning with requested cans of soda. About 5% of Representatives took their seats, and I seriously wish I could name the ones who were seated, logged in to their desk computers, notes in a neat pile, and patiently waiting. Those people deserve your votes.

And rang. And rang. Every few minutes, another elected official wandered in, chatted awhile, set down some papers and wandered off. The bells kept ringing. I timed them: for TWELVE MINUTES before finally the Speaker banged the gavel. It was ridiculous. These people are treating the job with the gravity of preschoolers who have been told it’s time to move from story mats to the play bins. It felt even more insulting since the federal government is shut down. If this is how they do it in D.C., well no wonder nothing gets done.

Entrance into the State House (I took this photo as we were leaving, when everyone was seated quietly in the House).

Sunlight adds depth and warmth to the arches and domes.

Looking directly up into the dome.

The much smaller Senate room was quiet.

We sat in the gallery and listened to the bell calling Representatives to work for a full 12 minutes.

…and FINALLY they went to work.

Please please do not infer that I mean to disparage only Rhode Island politicians. What I believe we witnessed is a culture that must certainly have its roots in D.C. My best guess is that every single state in the Union takes the job of politician equally (un)seriously. I was disgusted.

But it had been a beautiful day and I anticipated more! Outside the sun was dropping and we saw a pretty sunset.

Sunset over Providence.

I charged Will with finding cake. The day before had been my birthday and I had not eaten any cake for my birthday, which was a grave oversight. I demanded cupcakes. Will said he knew the perfect place.

We walked back to the Biltmore to get the car and went off to have many many cupcakes at Duck & Bunny. This restaurant calls itself “a snuggery,” which their website insists is a word. It is delightful inside, and the tables are scattered throughout the rooms of the former house. We sat next to the fireplace, that was filled with burning candles instead of of logs.

It was an incredibly fun day, the birthday cupcakes were extraordinary, and it still wasn’t over! Next we walked to The Trinity Repertory Company to see a play, which was so good I already did a blog post on it because I was excited to tell you!

Three of the six cupcakes I ate from their filled pastry case.

Entrance of Duck & Bunny is very New England

Inside this classy restaurant is artwork that seems familiar at first, but is distinctly rabbit- and duck- themed.

Stage set for the opening scene of black odyssey, as the audience waits for the show to begin.

{All photo credits except the image above are by Mark Turek, courtesy Trinity Repertory Company.}

While I was in Providence, Will and I attended a show at Trinity Repertory Company, just a few blocks from where I stayed at the Biltmore hotel. Black odyssey plays from January 3 through February 3, and if you get a chance to go, you must do it! This is not Homer’s classical story of The Odyssey, but a political and historical piece that resonates when viewed against the backdrop of Homer’s work.

The audience finds out pretty soon that the gods are toying with the humans. Paw Sidin (Poseidon) sucking on a knight chess piece reminded me of the scene in that 1981 movie Clash of the Titans, when the gods loomed over tiny clay models of humans. In the movie, when the gods damaged the clay models, the actual people suffered. As Paw Sidin sucked on the knight, the human was drowning in the ocean.

Ulysses (Odysseus) was returning from duty in Afghanistan to his home in Oakland, with the weight of a murder on his soul. Paw Sidin was angry beause the man Ulysses killed in Afghanistan was his son. He knocked Ulysses into the water, vowing vengeance. Ulysses is barely kept alive by Aunt Tina (Athena) who begs her father Deus (Zeus) to spare him because he is her nephew. The play is the story of the gods battling in a game of chess over how to resolve this dispute.

The stage is painted as a chess board, so that you never forget that theme.

Costumes, shoes, and songs wowed us.

When Circe enraptured us with the pure pleasures of eating, the entire audience was salivating. And maybe not just for food. 😉

On the far right and left of the stage sit piles of old television sets that at first didn’t make much sense to me as a prop, and then became integral. The sets are different sizes, one tipped onto its side, and each displays a different scene, so the message isn’t always obvious. When Ulysses is drowning, for example, the scenes were all of rough ocean waters – that was pretty obvious. But at other times during the show, there are scenes from Oakland city, news broadcasts of historical events, or other evocative imagery including contemporary events like flooding during Hurricane Katrina and recognizable police camera footage, that help the audience put pieces together.

I’m one of those people that needs help in a story. I’m not very good at inferences from imagery in art, in acting, or in words. I’m oblivious to song lyrics. The screens brought it home for me.

I read The Odyssey a few years ago. A lot of you have read it, and you might remember that Odysseus was just trying to get home to his wife. The trials he had to endure crossed the line into ridiculousness and are only believable in the context of gods. He is captured by a Cyclops, the crew is turned into pigs, they are subjected to Sirens, Odysseus is trapped on an island and when he gets away his raft is destroyed. Come on!

Marcus Gardley wrote the play black odyssey based on The Odyssey to tell the story of a black man in America. In the play, Ulysses can’t find his way back to his wife and son for 16 years (turns out she was pregnant when he was shipped to the desert to fight). So many terrible things challenge them. The trials they all endure while he battles his demons and his wife raises their boy alone, cross the line into ridiculousness. Their story would only be believable if set in the context of, well, being a black family in America. Ouch.

Left to right: Omar Robinson as Paw Sidin, Julia Lema as Aunt Tina, and Jude Sandy as Deus.

Ulysses was lost at sea, so there are a lot of scenes with water, and rain.

Poverty, oppression, despair, manipulation, aggression and greed seep through the lives of these characters and try to destroy them. Ulysses is dragged and dropped by the gods Paw Sidin and Deus from one pivotal historic moment to another, teaching him that who he is has been shaped by his ancestors. There is a trail of pain and betrayal.

But there was so much love, too. It’s the emotion that seemed to catch my attention most often: love.

Ulysses would be lost many times, but for the power inside him. He and his family have reservoirs of love, and hope, and pride, and stubbornness that never let them give up. Against the careless whims of the gods, Ulysses somehow continues to survive. He learns to reach back in time to his ancestors and to use their love for him to fuel his efforts. The central message in the play is that we are a product of our ancestors, even when we don’t know anything about them, and that we should use our ancestors as a source of strength.

Another message is that our battles seem to be with outside forces, like gods playing chess, or the police, or the projects, but our theatre of war is actually within. Those battles need to be fought inside ourselves before the catastrophes on the outside can be resolved. Ulysses says, “We are who we have been waiting for.” That sentence was a jolt to me because I had already heard it in my own life, applied to me. At a Cherokee meeting two years ago, rapper Litefoot told us those exact words.

The show’s opening chorus was not a standalone musical event, but rather ushered us into a performance filled with song. I wasn’t expecting all the singing, or what a great vehicle it is in this case to help tell the story. There were some fun scenes as Tina Turner, Diana Ross, and James Brown performed. We heard African-American and Afro-Cuban spirituals and chants, lullabies, work songs and civil rights anthems. Many were known to the audience and the actors persistently asked us to join in singing and clapping.

Engaging with the actors helped to blur the wall between us, and I could not avoid yet another powerful impact of this performance, when I realized this story was about my path too. I couldn’t relate to Ulysses, but his journey – through all those ancestors – was beside me, and I saw my part in his story. I am not separate from him, and I need to know his story as well as mine.

Joe Wilson, Jr as Ulysses, and Julia Lema as Calypso.

Supa Fly Tiresias and his entourage.

The play is intense. I cried. In fact, the end of the first act was such a shock to me that in the first minutes of intermission I numbly put on my coat and stood to leave, thinking it was over. Will had to snap me out of it.

And the play is funny! It’s a delight of colour and texture and noise. It’s absolutely relatable. The costumes are out of this world. Will and I went crazy for the shoes. The SHOES! Ha ha ha. There’s a constant play on words for those of you who want a dozen little secret jokes. A couple of times the actors acknowledged someone in the audience who had become very engaged, and those moments made it more of an event than a show.

Every single actor is outstanding. They play multiple roles that overlap, such as the actor playing Paw Sidin also plays John Suitor, who tries to lure Nella Pell (Penelope) away from her dedication to her missing husband. The actress who plays Benevolence (Nausicaa) was such a convincing 10-year-old that I tried and tried, but could not figure out who was playing her until the end!

There is a happy ending. After the first, awful death, no other character dies. The gods leave Ulysses alone and are restored to good temper. For now.

Autumn sun heats the surface of my pond.

Autumn sun heats the surface of my pond.

I have an idea to plant a weeping willow on this tiny island one day.

I have an idea to plant a weeping willow on this tiny island one day.

On my podcasts it’s all election all the time today. Even on the BBC! Thank goodness I have something else to think about. Fall brings some delicious warmth after an unusually cool and wet summer. If I still worked for NOAA, I would have been reviewing charts and models all year, and would know if it was the result of El Nino patterns, as I suspect. It’s typical Autumn weather now, and it suits me just fine. Mostly rain, but broken up with scrumptiously warm and sunny moments. Warm as much for the colour as for the heat.

See how patriotic I am! The flag has complicated meanings in the States, which pains me. Despite the meanings I *don't* want others to take, I take the chance and display my country's flag anyway.

See how patriotic I am! The flag has complicated meanings in the States, which pains me. Despite the meanings I *don’t* want others to take, I chance it and display my country’s flag anyway.

Each evening, there is a brief moment where the sun has an opportunity to hit the front of the house through the trees. That is, if it's shining.

Each evening, there is a brief moment where the sun has an opportunity to hit the front of the house through the trees. That is, if it’s shining.

I voted days ago, taking advantage of Oregon’s statewide mail-in ballot. It was an instant relief to get that double sealed and signed envelope into the mail. Ah, to be able to ignore the clamouring voices. And now I’ve sought them out for entertainment value. I watched all of the Saturday Night Live debates between Kate McKinnon and Alec Baldwin. They’re a riot. Kate does such a great job of portraying Hillary Clinton that I was actually able to see how people can dislike her. Personally I find the prospect of having a smart, introverted, strong, and empathetic woman for President to be nothing short of exhilarating. My anticipation dulled only slightly at the knowledge that there is a good chance that Congress would fetter her as effectively as they have our current President.

This handsome 3-point stood just on the verge of eating the rest of my honeysuckle.

This handsome 3-point stood just on the verge of eating the rest of my honeysuckle.

The next day he ate my apples, to which he is welcome.

The next day he ate my apples, to which he is welcome.

Then he napped in the grass. It warms my soul that these deer feel comfortable sleeping here.

Then he napped in the grass. It warms my soul that these deer feel comfortable sleeping here.

I was proud to be a part of my own friends group when a rousing text-conversation burst up over the topic of Meaure 97, and whether to tax multi-million-dollar corporations at a level corresponding to the rest of the nation. It’s good to know the people in my life care as much as I do about voting intelligently. I imagine Nike, Intel, Columbia Sportswear and the rest of the corporations (most not headquartered in Oregon) could stand to pay their fair share in taxes. I was taken aback that my fave bookstore in the whole wide world, Powell’s, spoke out against Measure 97, saying that if they had to pay higher taxes they might go under. I do hope they’re being dramatic. The biggest shock of all this election season came when I reviewed the voter booklet that explained the issues, and found that a corporation in Oregon has to have sales in mega millions before they are taxed as much as my own personal income tax. I am astonished to learn this.

I have yet to get a close up photo of this remarkable fellow, who is attracted to my pond for fish reasons.

I have yet to get a close up photo of this remarkable fellow, who is attracted both to my pond and my creek for fish reasons.

Here he is again, even farther in the distance.

Here he is again, even farther in the distance.

These geese make a wonderful call, that sounds somewhat human-like. I have yet to identify them.

These geese make a wonderful call, that sounds somewhat human-like. I have yet to identify them.

Lets talk about emails, because, why not – everyone else is. Emails. Emails. I recently commented on a friend’s blog that the idea of having my own personal computer server to manage my government work sounds divine. At my home office, just like the Secretary of State, I am allowed to use only government equipment. I use an aging CPU with outdated software. I call her Old Bessie, and she takes around 22 minutes to be up and running each morning (I’ve timed the process), after logging in to the protected network and verifying my identity with passwords and chip ID cards and the like, through multiple firewalls. I can sing the Jeopardy theme song after each click, while I wait for my 0’s and 1’s to travel to the hub in Illinois and back again. Our government IT department is understaffed and underfunded. I get these little warning messages all the time “You are using an unsupported version of…” but since I do not have administrative authority, I am not allowed to touch any of it. And don’t talk to me about getting new hardware, because that’s up to you, the taxpayer. There are hundreds of things in more critical need of taxpayer dollars.

Anyhoo, when I heard that Mrs. Clinton had a personal server, the emotion I felt was envy, not rage or suspicion. “If only!” If the rest of us peons had the means to acquire our own systems, you can bet the lady candidate would be only one of legions who engaged in the practice.

In the back of the property

In the back of the property

One last look at the lovely pond.

One last look at the lovely pond.

Tomorrow will be a frenzy. Thank heavens I work till 6pm and I’ll miss most of it. I have a demanding job and I won’t even be tempted to follow things a little bit, because I need to stay focused.

But ok, honestly? I’m still thinking about it. As soon as the work is done I will find some kind of live stream to plug into. Because it really does matter how this goes. I know the President is only one person, and that one person does not have the power we think she has, and that one person does not have the power the majority of people insinuate upon her. She will be a face to the world, and a champion of causes, but a woman who has to find a way to work with the team, whether that team is hostile or friendly. She will have to continue to do her job while crazies try to find a way to impeach her, and straightjacket her, and defame her. She will have to stand tall while people talk about her wrinkles and her waistline and her butt and her voice and her taste in clothes. And like many women in the workforce, she will have to do the job spectacularly to maintain even the mildest respect from the masses.

We’ve been oh, so scared to talk about it, but we are right on the edge of electing a woman as a President.

It is so important that she is elected. Who else (among women who want that job) is baddass enough to pull off a woman in the White House? I think she doesn’t care if you hate her, and I don’t care if you hate her, but she can do the job. And oh, my fingers will be crossed all night long that Americans will give her that chance.

I came across this old post and found that it still resonates with me. Written in 2007, this was a few weeks into my current employment with the Department of Veterans Affairs…so some of my perspectives here lack the education I have today. It is a good snapshot of how I was feeling eight years ago, just coming out of Brandeis University, and not connected to the military community at all, like I am now. Guilt for not having served in a combat zone continues to be a topic that comes up between myself and veteran friends.

Conscious Engagement

Dressed in my blues, sometime in the Spring of 1991. Just after the swift conclusion of the first Gulf War. Dressed in my blues, sometime in the Spring of 1991. Just after the swift conclusion of the first Gulf War.

It’s sad to admit, but I was almost going to leave out the “Gulf War” part of the title, because I didn’t want to trigger any negative responses. The word veteran is pretty easily used among my friends, and we say how proud we are of veterans. But “that damn war” is a different topic altogether.

Of course, no one blames the soldiers. They are the ones dying. And their families are the ones suffering for the loss of the youth and strength of their loved ones. As one friend reminded me, the ones who don’t die have a more difficult battle: coming home scarred. Missing limbs, unexplained ailments from the desert, gone wrong in the head. There is radiation poisoning from depleted uranium that gets passed down to their kids. There…

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This was the view this morning beyond our table at the Holiday Inn Express. Can you believe this view?

This was the view this morning beyond our table at the Holiday Inn Express. Can you believe this view?

Today the weather did its best to dampen spirits, but we prevailed! Good day despite the rain and hail and chill. Plus, good soggy rain photos get a few laughs, so there’s a couple more points for me.

Look what we found! It had 911 service, but you could not use it for calls. Too cool.

Look what we found! You could not use it for calls, but it had 911 service. Too cool.

Astoria, Oregon is the location where the movie The Goonies was filmed. If you didn’t see the Goonies, or don’t remember it, then trust me: you’d love it. A story of a gang of boys who go looking for buried treasure and end up on a heck of an adventure. We found the building that was the jailhouse in the movie. Scenes from yesterday’s post – Haystack Rock and the boardwalk at sunset – were also in the movie. I had been hopping with excitement all day Sunday, waiting for the chance to see “Mikey’s house” the unforgettable house in the movie.

The owner of the property graciously invites visitors, and has signs directing tourists right to the spot, including the best places to park.

As we walked up the gravel drive to the house, M and I were stunned to see a prominent, sparkling new flag flying smack in the middle of the porch, clearly making a political statement, and one that was deeply offensive to us. The “NOBAMA” sticker on the car next to the house will give a sense of the political bent. We stood silent, making faces of disbelief and dismay, for a full five minutes before we could move. All my joy and excited anticipation was demolished, and I forced myself to take a couple photos once M suggested editing the flag out. You can use your imagination and cover the flag in something that gives you bouncing childlike happiness…to make up for what I lost first thing this morning.

We ate fresher-than-fresh oysters for lunch, and learned about multiple Indian tribes as we drove through a lot of Indian country and past reservations. It rained and rained and got colder and rained some more. We saw sunbeams a couple of times. Finally we stopped in Forks, Washington for the night.

Astoria-Megler Bridge from Oregon to Washington. We took this bridge and soon began the Washington leg of the trip.

Astoria-Megler Bridge from Oregon to Washington. We took this bridge and soon began the Washington leg of the trip.

The grey sky matched the grey water and made it look like this building was floating in air.

The grey sky matched the grey water and made it look like this building was floating in air.

Jailhouse from The Goonies

Jailhouse from The Goonies

Mikey's House. Goonies Never Say Die!

Mikey’s House. Goonies Never Say Die!

We saw two lighthouses. The second one was at Cape Disappointment, but this one, called North Head Lighthouse, was more of a disappointment. It was all wrapped up for repairs, except for the part the winds have torn off.

We saw two lighthouses. The second one was at Cape Disappointment, but this one, called North Head Lighthouse, was more of a disappointment. It was all wrapped up for repairs, except for the part the winds have torn off.

Coast Guard ships

Coast Guard ships

The lookout at Cape Disappointment. At the northernmost point of the mighty Columbia, it was strangely named in 1788 by John Meares, expressing his chagrin at not being able to find the Columbia River.

The lighthouse at Cape Disappointment. On the north side of the mouth of the mighty Columbia, it was named in 1788 by John Meares, expressing his chagrin at not being able to find the Columbia River. Puzzling. Or hilarious.

Horsetails along a trail

Horsetails along a trail

Rainforest trees look like the long hairy arms of a green ape.

Rainforest trees look like the long hairy arms of a green ape.

The World's largest Sitka Spruce. 58 feet 11 inches in circumference, 191 feet tall, approximately 1,000 years old.

The World’s largest Sitka Spruce. 58 feet 11 inches in circumference, 191 feet tall, approximately 1,000 years old.

Me at the base of the spruce tree.

Me at the base of the spruce tree.

Me on the spruce tree

Me on the spruce tree

M waiting in the rain while I played at the base of the tree.

M waiting in the rain while I played at the base of the tree.

Fabulous sea stacks at Ruby Beach

Fabulous sea stacks at Ruby Beach

Windows through a sea stack.

Windows through a sea stack.

Long, wet day is done. My goodness it's getting late. I make such sacrifices for you people! ;-)

Long, wet day is done. My goodness it’s getting late. I make such sacrifices for you people! 😉

Me with Eric Shinseki, Secretary of Veterans Affairs

Me with Eric Shinseki, Secretary of Veterans Affairs

Shinseki's coin

Shinseki’s coin

VBA (Veterans Benefits Administration) ran out of money at close of business Monday. I work for VBA, which is not VHA.

VHA (Veterans Health Administration) is funded under a different system, which means they already have FY 2014 dollars. So hospitals, clinics, and other VA-funded health centers will continue operations without fear of running out of appropriated funds.

At my workplace, then, operations continued under normal conditions through Monday. Tuesday morning, however, people were called one at a time into their supervisors’ offices, and presented with either a furlough letter, or an excepted letter. Most of us at VBA are excepted from furlough. The two categories are drastically different. Furloughed employees were sent directly home. They were not allowed to dally, not allowed to finish up what they were working on, not allowed to use VA equipment at work or at home, not allowed to work at all…not even if they agree to do it on a volunteer basis. Excepted employees must work. They are not allowed to take time off, even previously approved time off.

No one gets paid.

We are told that excepted employees will get back pay, and that furloughed employees may or may not get back pay, depending on what Congress decides to do. IMHO Congress will not vote ‘yes’ to deny a paycheck to hundreds of thousands of federal employees. As unbalanced and unfair a painting as it may be, I can’t help but paint a picture in my mind of two categories of federal employees: those working for free, and those on paid vacation.

It was 1995 when I went through this the last time. I was a forecaster with the National Weather Service back then. As an employee whose mission statement was the “protection of life and property,” I felt -a little miffed- but mostly proud to be facing the political storm with a brave face and serving my country. As a nation we MUST keep abreast of the weather situation. Knowing the weather is critical to public safety, to agriculture, to commerce, to wildland management, fisheries…. ok…sorry. My point is, when I helped my team to forecast the weather, it was obvious that I needed to be there.

This time around, I don’t feel the same kind of calling. Yes, taking care of veterans is a job to be proud of, but this is not the same as protection of life and property. It’s deciding who is entitled to benefits checks. The veterans already receiving checks will continue to receive them, but my job is to decide if more people should get checks, or if those checks should be in greater or lesser amounts. Remember VA healthcare is not in jeopardy right now. If a vet is sick, she can go to the hospital.

Working during a government shut down doesn’t feel very noble this time.

Not when I compare it to other jobs in terms of who is Mission Critical. FEMA was sent home. I can hardly believe it was successfully argued that the Federal Emergency Management Agency is less important to our nation than paying somebody $129 a month because their ears were damaged while working on the flight deck. Honestly, I’d be glad to forfeit my $129 till next month if we could send FEMA back to work.

I’ve been trying to discover why I feel so sour about this, and I suspect it’s because I don’t want to go to work. I am dying for a break. It’s a hard place to work, with constant production pressure (each veteran’s claim is a point, and we must earn so many points per day, without making mistakes, in order to keep our job), no end in sight (something like 13,000 pending claims in the state of Oregon), media harassment (the backlog!), and mandatory overtime on top of all of that. The government shut down means all of that is still true AND we aren’t getting paid.

Motivation in this girl is about as low as it gets.

The bright side is that during a government shut down there is no mandatory overtime! Woo hoo!

The bright side is that I love my co-workers and my supervisor, and even the veterans (many of us ARE veterans), and we are all in this together.

The bright side is that I cashed out a certificate of deposit, so I have enough money to get by for at least a month.

The bright side is that I live in the United States of America, and even though my Congresswomen and men are behaving like second-graders and I am embarrassed for this to be witnessed by the rest of the world…I can say to them, “You people are a bunch of effing idiots!” outloud, and in public, and I won’t go to jail for it.

Occupy! Portland in early November 2011

The way I see it, Tunisian Mohamed Bouazizi shaped the U.S. 2012 election in a positive way. Bear with me here, I’ll make the links.

In the 2012 U.S. elections, one of the key topics that candidates are being forced to address is wealth distribution (and income accountability, taxes, etc. etc.). This happened because of the Occupy! movement, which was encouraged by the protests in Wisconsin, which may not have been so powerful and remarkable had the good people of Wisconsin not already been fired up by protests in the burgeoning Arab Spring. And of course, the Arab Spring can owe much of its inception to the death of one young, frustrated man: Mohamed Bouazizi.

On the day the Times named our 2011 Person of the Year, I was disappointed to hear the winner was the vague “protestor.” I had a particular protestor in mind, and had been hoping they would choose Mohamed Bouazizi, the unfortunate fruit stand keeper who had endured one hardship too many and burned himself to death in protest. Not that he was the first person to self-immolate in protest in Tunisia, but December 17, 2010 his was the first story to grab news headlines. The Times talked about the runners up, who included Kate Middleton, Admiral William McCraven, and Gabriel Giffords, among others. Considering all  candidates’ contributions to the planet in 2011, I felt (and still feel) as though there is simply no comparison to the contribution of Bouazizi.

Occupy! Portland at the base of the Wells Fargo tower

Bouazizi’s flames pulled the trigger for much of Tunisia in December of 2010 and launched what probably no one was able to predict: an upheaval of north Africa and the Middle East, and shockwaves that spread across the globe. With the death of Bouazizi made public, Tunisians could no longer keep quiet. They were an entire nation of people who could identify with the last straw breaking the camel’s back. They could no longer endure the system they had been forced to negotiate within. They exploded.

As the news of the resistance of Bouazizi and his countrymen spread next door, the Egyptian trigger was pulled too. On January 25, 2011 Egyptians resisted their own oppression in Cairo’s Tahrir Square. I was riveted by the news of revolt in Egypt, since my daughter and I had been there – right there on that square – only a year previous. January 27, a huge demonstration rocked Yemen’s capital city Sana’a. News of similar revolts continued to roll in. Jordan. Bahrain. Palestine.

And with the thoughts of Arab Spring in my mind, the protests in Wisconsin hit the news February 14. I could not help but immediately make the connection and I suspect they were making it too. Revolution was on the news every day back then. Citizens in the Middle East and Africa were getting shot in the streets but willing to continue to make a stand for the will of the people. So when a wretched attack on collective bargaining rights for public servants was perceived in Wisconsin, it was only natural that they would respond with an aggressive spirit. If others are willing to die to change their government, why wouldn’t Wisconsonians be willing to misbehave and elicit some public scorn in order to block the passing of Governor Walker’s “budget repair bill?”

February 15, Libyans protested, and by the end of February their country was roused into a fury. The world was fired up! In England, unexplained riots of vandalism and theft swept through the streets. It made immediate sense to me, when everyone else was wailing “why? why?” This chaos stems from the despair borne of helplessness. An article in the Guardian suggests that we view those riots in the context of the “division between the entitled and the dispossessed.” Mexicans rose up against the devastating drug cartels. Greeks demanded accountability in the wake of their leaders’ ineptitude.

Americans again got fired up and Occupied! the country. And all the idiots in Washington said “It’ll never last,” and “Those stupid college brats are wasting their time,” and attempted to ignore it. But we remained Occupied! And the unrest that had begun in Tunisia and spread over here, rippled and went back. Hong Kong, Berlin, and Sydneygot Occupied! Politicians in the U.S. never did (and still mostly do not) have any clue how revealing the Occupy! movement is, and they continue to fuss about illegal immigration and same sex marriage, when we are UNEMPLOYED out here, and our homes have been FORECLOSED, and most of us could really give a flying fluck whether men marry other men because right now we have REAL issues to worry about.

KBOO live on the air in the midst of Occupy! Portland. Note the “people’s republic of portland” bumper sticker and the image of Che Guevara

U.S. officials tried to wait out the protestors, and wait for winter to discourage them, but they wouldn’t go. So in a nationwide coordinated effort, police were sent in to break up the camps, arrest any resisters, pepper spray the rest, and bulldoze the tents. Our own Portland Mayor Sam Adams joined the melee. But it was too late.

unoccupied Portland, with metal fences and locked gates

Too late, because guess what? The whole country has begun using a vernacular that includes phrases like “class warfare” and “income inequality.” We stand around our respective water coolers and mutter to each other that politicians care only about reelection. There is a “deep distrust of government” and “capitalism in crisis.” We’ve had Warren Buffet publicly announce that he thinks it is unfair that his millions are taxed at a lower rate than his secretary’s salary. Mitt Romney succumbed to pressure and produced his tax returns. Polls since Occupy! have included a new segment of the population that demands a focus on reducing the income gap. Just enter keywords “poll wealth inequality” and see the lists of what pops up. A recent poll reveals that Americans across party lines believe that the federal government should prioritize increasing the equality of opportunities. I do not recall Americans demanding this level of transparency in our last election and I certainly do not recall a transparent response.

I learned later that the Times United Kingdom nominated Bouazizi as person of the year. I am puzzled that the discussion of person of the year in the U.S. didn’t even mention the man (though curiously he is immediately identified on their person of the year home page), and then he was the person actually selected in the UK.

Monday was “Gramma Day,” so my girlie and I were on our way out to Sandy to visit my Grandma Trulove in Sandy. We missed our exit, and our car was being buffeted all over the highway due to the wind, so we pulled over to check a map and make a call and tell Grandma we’d be late. She was not feeling well and asked us to visit another time.

Vista House

Because the sun was brilliant, or maybe because we were out in the gorgeous gorge, we made a day of it.

The wind turned out to be frightful, however, albeit exciting.

At the Vista House, I didn’t even want to get out of the car. Neither one of us would attempt to open the doors, because we were sure the wind would rip them right off, so I drove to a different spot and turned the car around. Miss T was certain that she wanted to get out and play in the wind like some others who were there, so I finally acquiesced, and insisted that I accompany her if she got out of the car. I was so afraid of my heavy camera BLOWING AWAY that I left it in the car.

We crawled along a grassy area, clinging to rock wall for about 15 feet, when a particularly fierce gust dropped us both on our seats.

“That was a bad idea, Mom. I’m sorry,” says Miss T, “We have to go back.” So we kept our profiles low and used the rock wall to drag ourselves back to the car.

At the steps to the Vista House, one man leaned over a metal railing and held his legs out, and then let the wind hold him up. The wind blew his legs directly out to the side while he held on to the railing with his hands. This was insane wind!

Latourelle Falls

Inside the car, we recovered, while it rocked wildly. I suddenly felt as though the wind could push our car right off the 733 foot ledge, and wanted to get out of there! So we headed down the cliff and didn’t stop again till Latourelle Falls.

We read until we passed 200 pages in Inkheart, which Miss T is reading for a school assignment. Very entertaining book. I don’t know the setting, but it reminds me a lot of Provence, France. The days in the book were hot, and that “felt” good because the gorge in Oregon was cold.

There were trees down all over the place, because of the wind, and we had to proceed cautiously on the old Columbia River Highway. After we saw a couple of guys with a beautiful load of wood, we realized we should do the same, and gathered till the trunk of my little Saturn dragon wagon was full. Sedans are not as good for wood gathering as pickups, in case you were wondering.

Tuesday a new President was sworn in!! I’m so thrilled! No, in answer to my man’s persistant questions (and possibly yours too), no, I DO NOT think Obama is going to turn the world around and make us all rich and rebuild our country with his own two hands and make peace with the Arabs and feed all the Somalis. Look, a President is one man. An American President is a man tasked with leading a capitalist country, and thus is a man beholden to big business. On top of that, an American President in the 21st century is a man plagued with an old-school Congress that is first and FOREMOST concerned with it’s own interests, and only mildly concerned with leading our country, strengthening our economy, our addressing the interests of the American public.

In other words, I have very little expectation of any U.S. President. To think the President can do anything at all is asking a great deal of a person in that positon. Obama is doomed before he even begins, simply because of the system he must operate within.

I am still thrilled that Obama is President. He is a minority, which is going to change our world even if he fails miserably. He will probably not continue the paths begun by the Bush Administration, and I am glad because I didn’t like those paths. I don’t have any answers, I just think those ideas weren’t working, and I want somebody to try something else. Obama may fail too, but let’s give something else a try. I am thrilled because in his acceptance speech, he talked about mutuality. Bush would never say that, he might not even think it. However, I think it is a leap toward peace on earth for the leader of America to say out loud and on television, that we need a healthy coexistance with other nations. Not that we need their third-world fingers to sew us more clothes, but that we need their independent success.

In my opinion, it will be little stuff like this different goal of worldwide participation, that will shift the terrible violent destructive tide of our nation. I am not saying Obama’s gonna fix our problems. I am saying that it takes a different attitude to pave the way for peace and for growth and for prosperity. I am saying that it sounds like Obama has that attitude. I hope if that’s really how he feels, he can keep strong in the face of inevitable dissent from all the old-schoolers there in his midst.

braces!

Also on Tuesday, and more of an impact in our family: Miss T got braces! She’s been wanting them for a couple years. I’ve been waiting for when I can afford it. Well, for the fourth year in a row of considering braces, I am in worse financial shape than the year before. Her mouth is maturing and the time is now. So, here ya go, Chase Manhattan, my New Year’s gift to you.

She’s doing ok with them. Very excited, but sobered by the pain. From what I recall, it goes away in a couple of days. We’ll just put more thought into softer foods for awhile.

Ok, that should cover the news for the moment.

Maybe it makes me as racist as anyone, but I didn’t think America was ready to elect a member of a minority group to that office. I should have known, Americans have chosen a minority candidate in the past. Kennedy was elected even though he was Catholic, for example. That used to be a big deal to voters.

I’ve just been feeling so completely disempowered. As an earlier post shows, I had come to the opinion that it doesn’t matter at all what the people think, because rich and powerful old school cronies will buy the election. I might as well stay home and eat popcorn.

Maybe it’s because I completely misunderstood the appeal of President G W Bush. I just couldn’t imagine that any person who thought it through wisely could really believe he’d be the best man for the job. After the first four years, I had full confidence that he would lose based purely on past performance, and I was ASTONISHED to see his second election. I don’t know who my fellow Americans are, I guess. I certainly don’t understand what their priorities are.

So… it was with bewilderment that I heard McCain’s concession speech.

(by the by, the man garnered more of my respect during that beautiful speech than during any other election action he had taken. His status as a veteran and POW has me feeling deep respect and gratitude, but that concession speech made me actually connect to him as a man who could lead others.)

I felt hope last night. It was a crazy feeling – to have an election give me hope.

Don’t misunderstand me… I’m as frighteningly bitter and disillusioned about my country’s government as ever. I don’t believe that this election heralds the kind of change that everyone’s talking about.

But something earth-shatteringly important did change. A black family in the White House. Oh my god. Maybe there is hope for peace in the world after all.

I can just hear my father’s panicked cries already: the new President is a Marxist, his wife hates white people, there will be laws about the superiority of people of color, our national language will change to Spanish, we’ll open our borders and invite everyone else in the world to live here free of charge… while he foots the bill and lives in perpetual fear of losing the right to own his hunting rifle. If we could only drill in Alaska, he says, if only we could get a crack at that liquid gold before the cheatin Russians and Japanese suck it all up from the other side of the oil field. Yup, my father is terrified of Obama – or, more accurately, of what Obama represents to him – and I am suspicious that many other Republicans are. But maybe after a few years, he’ll find out that his fears of the man do not come to pass, and maybe he’ll relax. Or then again, maybe he’ll spin it however he needs to spin it to keep the world the same in his own perceptions.

In any case, despite my bitterness about my lack of power against the government machine, I do have great faith that change is in the air. How many kids will grow up now without noticing a correlation between membership in a minority group and politics? I’m already poisoned in my mind, because I can’t help but see differences. But putting a wide variety of Americans into political roles at the very highest levels will subtly destroy our country’s white hegemony. When a new generation no longer goes through the motions that keep people in their places; then people can move about with fewer restrictions. In other words, as we are all fully aware of, when we don’t notice minority status, we will be able to see the person.

I feel as though I am unwell inside, that I can’t help but look at Obama and feel particular joy because my President is a black man. I’m excited for the other victories, such as being a little more reassured that Roe v. Wade will remain in effect for a couple more years, or that we won’t drill in Alaska for a couple more years. I wish I didn’t think of him as my first black President.

But like I said, I am already poisoned by society. My great hope is that the legacy of the United States of America can build off this momentous occasion toward a future woman who sits in her living room blogging about a President and doesn’t consider the color of her skin to be a relevant point.

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