Going Political

Image of airport protests over the weekend from Reuters
Image of airport protests over the weekend from Reuters

Yep, going political on the blog today. So if you think that might bug you, move along…

An open letter to my pro-Trump friends (and yes, I do have several) who have said, “This isn’t a ban on all Muslims. It’s only a ban on the seven countries that pose the greatest threat.”

You are partially correct. It’s not a ban on all Muslims.

However, it also does not ban immigrants from those countries which history shows us pose the greatest threat to the United States with regard to domestic terror attacks. The nations included in the ban are as follows:

Libya, Sudan, Somalia, Yemen, Syria, Iraq, and Iran.

Where is Saudia Arabia, home of most of the 9-11 hijackers? What about Pakistan, birthplace of at least one of the San Bernardino shooters? How about Kyrgyzstan & Russia. birthplace and previous home of the Boston Marathon bombers?

Nope. None of them are on the list.

So you are indeed correct, it is NOT a ban on all Muslims.

However, this ill-thought-out, sloppily executed order has banned many already thoroughly vetted refugees from coming into this country. Many of them are coming from places like Syria, countries we have frankly helped to destabilize with our many years of half-hearted war in that region, our short-sighted diplomatic policies there, and our apparent complete lack of understanding regarding the various sects of Islam in that part of the world and how they do (or more often, don’t) fit together. 

Basically, we helped break a number of these countries. Surely the least we can do is to help clean up the mess by allowing those desperate to escape to come here and live with us.

You may say, “Well, my president isn’t the one that created their mess.” But yes, he was. The previous president was your president, whether you like it or not. Just as, although the majority of voters in this country did not actually vote for Donald Trump, Mr. Trump is in fact their president now. Either every U.S. President is the president for all of us, the spokesman for all of us, the man we employ to implement our will; or he has no authority at all and this great experiment in democracy is at its end.

If, as I believe, each president is the president for all of us, then each president carries the burden of all his predecessors. That’s essentially the definition of the job: volunteering to come in and clean up the mess you think the previous guy made in the office.

Banning refugees who have already spent years having their credentials checked will not clean up that mess. Handcuffing Iraqi interpreters who worked with our soldiers won’t help clean up the mess. Separating a five-year-old child from his parents while checking his paperwork won’t clean up that mess. Sending a Cleveland Clinic doctor back to her homeland, where she had the nerve to go and visit family for a vacation – that will not clean up our mess in the Middle East. Detaining those who have Green Cards and other thorough documentation of their right to be here – that does nothing to clean up our mess in the Middle East.

In fact, nothing about this policy will clean up the mess made by the Obama, Bush or any other previous administration in the Middle East. It will merely add to the series of mistakes we’ve made in that region, mistakes which scream how little we understand the groups active there, the issues at play, and why the hell we are there in the first place. It diminishes us in the eyes of the world and gives a new recruiting tool to groups like ISIS.

Worst of all, this ban will do nothing to make any of us here in the United States safer.


Humanities Are US

If you want to show your support for the arts and humanities, Ramona Defelice Long has created some great posters you can use on your website, blog or social media. Check it out!

Ramona DeFelice Long

What are the humanities?

The humanities are language, literature, law, history, archeology, religion, ethics, art, heritage, traditions. The humanities make us feeling, thinking, creative, caring, compassionate human beings. Without the humanities, we become soulless creatures without a past or future.

The National Endowment for the Humanities is the government agency that spearheads projects to preserve and explore our national heritage.

Have you seen Ken Burns’ documentaries on The Civil War, Prohibition, the Roosevelts. Huey Long, the Dust Bowl, the National Parks, Baseball? Of his body of work so far–27 documentaries–15 have been supported by the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Do you know the Library of America, with support from the NEH, focuses on a writer of the week? This week’s writer is Ursula LeGuin.

Did you realize the NEH, since its inception 50 years ago, has published 7,000 books and, through its Chronicling America Project, catalogued and preserved…

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Hibernation Mode

I’ve written before about my desire to spend January and February hibernating. I didn’t always feel that way. In fact, I used to just love love love winter! But that was before I moved to Green Acres and getting anywhere after a big snow became a much bigger ordeal. Also, I think I’m just getting old. Lately, I want to be somewhere warmer and sunnier, even though I was never a beach-y person. I can only assume that dwindling hormones lead to an increase in susceptibility to Seasonal Affective Disorder.

Truthfully, since the election, I’d probably even settle for moving somewhere colder and not sunnier, but it turns out fleeing to Canada isn’t as easy as I’d hoped. I have friends — intelligent, kind-hearted friends — who voted for Donald Trump, and although their choice disappoints me, I respect their right to choose. So I’m trying to say as little publicly about this election as possible. Other than, as I pointed out, Canada turns out to not be a realistic option at all.

I’m spending a lot of time this winter repeating the words of Julian of Norwich to myself: All shall be well and all shall be well and all manner of thing shall be well. Let us hope she was right, and let us all do what we can to make the future a better place for everyone of every class and every color.

And in the meantime, I’m all for avoiding reality as much as possible! Herewith, my suggestions for how to get through the Hibernation Season:

Listen to some great music!

What I’m listening to these days is still Hamilton, the original Broadway soundtrack album and Beyonce’s LemonadeMake sure to buy the actual CD of Lemonade,  so you can see the amazing videos that accompany the songs and hear the stunning, heart-rending poetry of Warshan Shire, which Beyonce recites in between each of the songs.

If Beyonce’s Lemonade isn’t lefty-liberal enough for you, or it’s just too rock-n-roll and rap, try her sister Solange’s beautiful album, A Seat at the Table. Solange explores many of the same themes Beyonce explores on Lemonade, but her music is more introspective and soulful.

Shearwater, a fave alt-rock band of mine, recorded a cover of David Bowie’s Lodger album. There are a limited number of vinyl and digital copies available. Get one if you can. It’s an excellent tribute to one of rock’s greatest innovators and my personal idol.

And of course, if you are still listening to Hamilton, you probably also want to listen to The Hamilton Mixtape, with great covers of songs from the soundtrack by artists like Sia, Queen Latifah and Regina Spector.

Watch some great television!

There’s so much good stuff out there now, thanks to streaming. Here are a few recent faves:

  • Sensitive Skin – a wonderful series on Netflix starring Kim Cattrall and Don McKellar, this dramedy charts a middle-aged couple’s move back to the big city (in this case Toronto) after years of parenting and being buried alive in the suburbs.  All kinds of things happen, a lot of them very sad and very real, but there are a lot of laughs too. Kind of like life. The two stars make every moment feel very real and very believable. I am in awe of Kim Cattrall, who just gets more beautiful and more accomplished as an actress with each passing year.
  • Under the Shadow – Oh, remember how I said I’d try not to be political? I lied. This is an awesome Iranian film set in the early days right after the revolution that put the Ayatollah in power. A young mother goes almost overnight from being a hip, with-it medical school student who watches Jane Fonda videos to living in terror of what will happen if she walks out of the house unveiled. Meanwhile, her husband is off fighting an endless war and her increasingly unstable little daughter is talking to someone who isn’t there and isn’t very friendly. Is it an angry imaginary friend, or is it, as a neighbor suggests, a djinn? Maybe it’s also a symbol of how quickly our lives can be upended when we put our trust in the wrong leaders? Or it’s just a really really good ghost story. You can decide when you watch it. Available on Amazon ($5 to rent and worth every penny).
  • The Man in the High Castle – the best thing Philip K. Dick never wrote.  Because let’s face it, while his ideas were awesome, the execution was frequently fairly addled thanks to all the drugs. I personally think Bladerunner is about ten million times better than the Dick book on which it’s based, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? And the same thing is true here. The creators of The Man in the High Castle took Dick’s idea of an America divvied up by Japan and Germany after WWII and they really ran with it. Dick’s book focused on some characters on the west coast, under Japanese rule. The TV series also spends time on the east coast, examining life under Nazi rule. Rufus Sewell blows my mind as a not-at-all nice Nazi commander, John Smith. Smith was an American Army officer before the war. Now it’s seventeen years post-war and he’s working for the Nazis pretty enthusiastically. Doing whatever he has to in order to keep his family alive and together, is how he justifies himself to his wife and his own conscience. But the truth is, he kind of enjoys the work entirely too much. This show does a masterful job of showing us how very easy it is to fall into a certain way of thinking when it’s the view pushed by the majority, or whenever it just seems easier to shut up and go along with things. Oops, did I just get political again??? Alexa Davalos and Luke Kleintank are great as a couple of weirdly star-crossed lovers, and Cary-Horyuki Tagawa is excellent as the mystical Mr. Tagomi, who somehow finds himself able to move between alternate realities.

That’s probably more than enough to keep you busy for awhile.

Next week I’ll tackle some reading suggestions. And just keep telling yourself — All shall be well. [A setting of Julian of Norwich’s prayer by Julia Tindall Bloom, with artwork by Kristen Kopp which I found on YouTube.]

Book in a Minute – Library Edition: Born a Crime

This book is getting so much buzz, it hardly needs my little review. But here it is anyway. A confession not included in my review at the library’s website: I was really pissed at Noah for becoming the next host of The Daily Show, since I (like many women) fully expected it to be Samantha Bee. But he has grown on me over time–and Samantha’s doing okay for herself too, so all’s forgiven. But more than that, this book has really transformed my opinion of him. Not because of the hardships he faced (although there were plenty) – more because of the grace and humor with which he has approached those hardships, and the gift he seems to have for relating his personal experiences to the wider world and its struggles with racism, sexism, and all the other  “-isms” that plague our age.


Born a CrimeBorn a Crime by Trevor Noah
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Trevor Noah leapt to prominence in the U.S. when he succeeded Jon Stewart as host of The Daily Show. Now, at age 32, he’s published his memoir. If that seems premature, it’s only because you haven’t read it yet. The title of Noah’s book, Born a Crime, is an indictment of the apartheid system into which the South African comedian was born.

More than an autobiography, Born a Crime is a child’s eyewitness account of life under apartheid and the upheaval that followed when that regime ended. The book’s also a tribute to Noah’s feisty, outspoken mother, Patricia. A member of the Xhosa tribe, Patricia defied the law by having a relationship with white businessman Robert Noah. Once Trevor was born, the couple couldn’t be seen in public as his parents. They enlisted a mixed race neighbor to pose with Robert and Trevor for “family” photos. The Black woman standing in the background of those photos, pretending to be the nanny, was Trevor’s real mother.

Noah finds humor and pathos in this bizarre upbringing. On a more serious note, he also speaks out strongly against domestic violence. Many years after her relationship with Noah’s father, Patricia married Ngisaveni Shingange. Noah recounts in chilling detail the gradual escalation of violence in the household and his mother’s struggle to leave Shingange. The decision almost led to her death. His stepfather’s threats against Trevor’s own life were one of the reasons the comedian turned his sights to a career in America.

Clearly, Noah has packed a lot of living into his short life — and this book only covers the first 25 years. Fans of books by The Daily Show alumni Stephen Colbert and Jon Stewart will enjoy reading Noah’s autobiography, but it will also be of interest to anyone curious about life under apartheid.

Reviewed published at “Between the Covers,” the Baltimore County Public Library’s book review blog [http://www.bcpl.info/between-the-cove…] on December 20, 2016.

View all my reviews

Book in a Minute: Another Library Edition

Dr. Knox: A novelDr. Knox: A novel by Peter Spiegelman
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A tale of human trafficking and refugees masquerades convincingly as an L.A. noir thriller in Dr. Knox, the latest novel from Shamus Award-winning author Peter Spiegelman. In three previous books featuring banker-turned-detective John March, Spiegelman pretty much created the genre of “Wall Street noir.” Now, he takes that same grim sensibility and applies it to Dr. Adam Knox, a man whose apparent death wish is constantly at war with his desire to save the world. These conflicting goals lead to lots of trouble, not only for Knox, but for his employees and the few friends he has.

In Dr. Knox, a woman fleeing Russian mobsters leaves her little boy at Knox’s shabby clinic in L.A.’s Skid Row. Rather than turn the child over to Social Services, Knox becomes convinced he can save both child and mother. He sets out to do so with the help of his buddy Ben Sutter, a former Special Forces operative. The vibe between these two was very reminiscent of the relationship between Robert Parker’s detective, Spenser, and his sidekick, Hawk.

Like that master of L.A. noir, Raymond Chandler, Spiegelman keeps much of the real story bobbing just below the surface throughout this tale. As Knox searches for the boy’s missing mother and runs afoul of mobsters and corrupt American business tycoons, readers get unsettling glimpses into Knox’s own messy backstory. It becomes clear that while the doctor’s heart is in the right place, his penchant for self-destruction could hurt the very people he seeks to help.

Fans of classic noir fiction and old-fashioned “hard-boiled” detective stories should enjoy Dr. Knox.

This review originally appeared at “Between the Covers,” the book review blog for the Baltimore County Public Library. For more great reading ideas, check out all the reviews there. We cover everything from fiction to nonfiction, children’s books to adult graphic novels. And if you’re in a spendy mood, here’s the buy link at Amazon.

View all my reviews

Book in a Minute: Library Edition

27246115-_uy400_ss400_ I’m doing book reviews for the Baltimore County Public Library‘s Between the Covers blog under my real life name now. At some point in the indefinite future, I’m planning to merge the “real me” website with this site. In the meantime, it seemed to make more sense to post a link to my first review for the library blog here, since this is where I’ve posted all my other book reviews. So here you go, a little review of Delia Ephron’s Siracusa. Enjoy!

Delia Ephron is best-known for her humorous writing and for lighthearted screenplays like You’ve Got Mail and Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants. But her latest novel, Siracusa, displays a decidedly more cynical view of relationships.

Siracusa begins with Lizzie, who thinks a vacation in Italy is just what she and her husband David need to revive their flagging writing careers and their dwindling passion for one another. They’re joined on the trip by another couple — Finn, Lizzie’s fun-loving old flame from college, and his uptight wife Taylor. Dragged along for the fun is Snow, Finn and Taylor’s sullen preteen daughter. If bringing an old boyfriend and his family along for a vacation sounds like a bad idea to you, you’d be right. In fact, few vacation disasters can rival the nightmarish results when this group makes its way to the ancient island of Siracusa.

Each main character takes a turn recounting the trip’s gradual descent into tragedy.  Without exception, all of them are breathtakingly self-involved or delusional (or both). Thus none of them can see what the reader sees — the huge disaster heading straight for them.

Like The Girl on the Train and Gone Girl, Siracusa presents readers with difficult to like protagonists who never tell the whole truth. The crumbling city of Siracusa provides an excellent symbolic backdrop for Ephron’s well-written blend of dark domestic drama and deadly suspense.

And if you aren’t anywhere near the Baltimore County Public Library, find your own library here. Or if you’re in a spendy mood, here’s the Amazon link.

Steamed about STEM

Everything that’s wrong with the over-emphasis on STEM in today’s educational system, in one simple, badly thought-out ad campaign:


No, Wells Fargo, being an actor or ballerina is not something you do because you CAN’T be a botanist or engineer. To be a really good dancer, singer, actor or musician takes as much training as (or more than) becoming a scientist. People who succeed in all of these fields, both science and arts, have one thing in common: they choose their paths out of love, not because some statistical trends and educational fads led their parents and teachers (and banks!) to badger them into a particular career.

Arts change lives in ways just as important as the sciences. if you don’t believe that, Wells Fargo, go ask a few engineers why they became engineers. A bunch of them will tell you it was because of watching shows like Star Trek or reading science fiction books by people like Isaac Asimov.

Why is everything in modern society so US versus THEM? People, can’t we all just get along?