Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Beth and Ken's Not-So-Excellent Adventure

It's a cruel, cruel summer

~~ Bananarama

Go to Florida, they said. It'll be fun, they said.

It usually is, but not this time. 

To make a long story short, Ken was feeling a little crummy for a while; he had a swollen lymph node in his neck and got it biopsied, and the report was "benign, nothing to worry about." He was going to have a follow-up appointment after we got back from our Florida vacation. 

Ken's condition worsened during our week in Florida, enough so that we decided to leave a day early. He had an appointment with his doctor on the Monday after we got back. We didn't even make it to the car. 

When he collapsed on our way out, I called 911 and they got him to the small community hospital in New Smyrna Beach. He was in pretty bad shape but they stabilized him enough to get him to a major hospital that could address his situation better. We went to Shands Hospital at University of Florida Health System in Gainesville. 

He was eventually diagnosed with a very rare form of Non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma: leukemic double-hit follicular lymphoma. They had never seen a case of it at U of F, a major regional hospital; the oncologist in South Bend who will be seeing him has never treated a case of it; there have been only about 20 documented cases of this. It's rare enough that the medical team here at U of F is planning on writing a paper about his case. 

A month later after our drive down to Florida and after three weeks in the hospital and a round of chemotherapy, we are heading home. There are five more cycles of chemo ahead of him but I have no doubt whatsoever that he (and we) will make it through this. I've had to remember my Hematology training from three decades ago but I've never been so grateful for my training. It helps immensely to understand what the doctors are saying and to know what is dangerous and what isn't. Well, it's all dangerous, but some things are dangerouser than others. 

The family members and friends who have helped us out through this have been wonderful. We chose not to make it public immediately because we had enough going on as we dealt with all of this and weren't prepared to answer a lot of questions. But we will appreciate every bit of support as we go forward and work on getting Ken into remission and back to full health! 

We are strong, we are positive, and we will beat this!

Saturday, May 19, 2018

Broccoli People

I know too much
Yet I know nothing at all
We can stand on higher ground
Watching all them crawl
Lead me to the garden
Need another sin
I know too much
Can I please be plugged back in? 

~~ "Plugged In" by *repeat repeat

I read a really good article on Slate today called "How to survive Trump's Presidency without losing your mind."

You can imagine how that title caught my eye. I've been wondering how to do that! 

The article was written from the point of view of a journalist; by necessity, journalists must stay plugged in and pay attention to what is happening in the news. They don't have the luxury of disengaging and hiding from things. (I would argue that none of us have that luxury.) It says that the constant onslaught of news is almost mind-numbing and that it makes a lot of people just want to switch it all off and go about their normal lives. 

Where the article really hits the nail on the head is that while we have to carry on with our lives and do the things we need to do, whether it's going to work, shopping for groceries (like broccoli), or you know...bathing (that wasn't in the article—that's my addition), it doesn't mean that we can or should disengage from what is happening. There is nothing about what is happening in our country that is normal. 

This administration is harming many of our citizens (pretty much anyone who isn't a rich white Christian dude), is damaging our reputation around the world, and is chipping away at our law enforcement institutions. If you aren't able to see the long-term damage that will do, I honestly don't know what to tell you. 

We disengage at our own peril, our fellow citizens' peril, and even at our country's peril. The news can be overwhelming at times and it's important to recognize when we need to step away for a breather. Now that nice weather is here, I find that sitting outside for a couple of hours and enjoying the peace and quiet of our backyard is very renewing. Some might find relief in working out, getting lost in a good book, or listening to music. Whatever works for you! Know when you need to unplug for a bit. 

But don't do it permanently. Stay engaged, stay informed, stay involved, and stay pissed off! This isn't normal, this isn't right, this isn't okay. When people say things to you that are false, push back. You don't have to get into an argument with everyone every single day but that doesn't mean you have to put up with nonsense. I've never had a tolerance for bullshit so it's easy for me to push back. I've also been known to be more than a little outspoken. Find a level that works for you, but don't just completely disengage, because this shit is important. 

We also need to help and encourage others. Shortly after the election, we met up with Shane and Matt at a little party Mayor Pete Buttigieg gave for his supporters. I remember telling Shane and Matt that I feel like we have to stick together. We have to prop people up when they're feeling down about things and we have to encourage them. I had a chance to ask Mayor Pete what his advice was on how to deal with this and he said to stay involved. If we want to change things, we have to work, and we have to stay engaged with what is going on. Good advice!

I've lost friends because I'm so vocal about politics. I've seen sentiments like "Facebook isn't for politics." (Now THAT is funny!) I'm sure I piss people off. You know what? I don't give a fuck. I'm ready to make a fucking omelet and I'm prepared to break some fucking eggs. (Incidentally, a couple of my coping skills are drinking and cussing a lot.)

The point is that if you care about what is happening—and I know many people who do—you can't just disengage and let all this pass you by. We are living history right here, right now. In 30 years, if someone asks you what you thought about what is happening now, are you really going to say, "Oh, I didn't pay attention to all of that." I mean, come on. That's just lame. 

You don't have to stay pissed off 24 hours a day. I don't know anyone who can maintain that and live a happy life. I have my moments of complete and utter outrage, but I also have my moments of peace and tranquility, and I still love to laugh a lot. I still love music and books and movies and certain TV shows and I still love it when our cat climbs on me in the wee hours and purrs and licks my forehead. There is still much joy in this world and we have to embrace it. 

But don't lose your anger about the wrongs that you see. Call it out. Stay vocal about it and push back when you hear something that you know is wrong (even if you get an "I don't believe you" in response...at least you stood up for the truth). Most importantly, take your anger to the voting booth this fall! 

Remember the wise words of John Lydon: "Anger is an energy." 

Friday, May 11, 2018

I've got another confession to make

Has someone taken your faith?
It's real, the pain you feel
The life, the love you'd die to heal
The hope that starts the broken hearts
You trust, you must
Is someone getting the best
The best, the best, the best of you?
~~ "The Best of You" by The Foo Fighters
I'm not very happy with myself over the past couple of days. Maybe even weeks.
I've found myself irritable and ready to lash out online (not in person and not to anyone I'm close to). When I'm feeling that way, I try to figure out what is getting under my skin.
It wasn't hard to put my finger on it.
I am disgusted by what is going on in our country right now but that is just the tip of the iceberg. I'm not just disgusted by the stupid policy decisions. I'm disgusted by the shortsightedness, the crassness, the viciousness, the hatred, the bigotry, the willful ignorance, the denigration of our justice and law enforcement institutions, the hypocrisy, the rabid sycophancy, and the sheer dumbfuckery that I'm seeing every goddamn day.
And I'm not just disgusted. I'm disheartened, I'm saddened, I'm embarrassed, I'm shocked (still, amazingly), I'm heartsick...
...and I'm angry. I mean, there are times when I feel so angry that I can barely process it. I seriously want to cut a bitch sometimes. I feel stabby way too often.
I've been feeling this way for a while but it really culminated over the past couple of days. Two things:
First, the Vulgar Talking Yam and his pet ghost were in my city. MY city, the one I love so much for its progress, diversity, efforts to make things better for all its citizens, and our beloved Mayor Pete Buttigieg. The "president" and vice-president (my former Governor, thank science, but I'm sorry America) landed in my city and then traveled to another city a few miles east, where I also used to live. It is a much more Republican county than ours, so it didn't surprise me that they moved their rally so that they could get more rabid supporters to pack the high school gym.
I know there is no scientific or rational basis to this, but it bothered me greatly knowing that they were both here. Almost as if there were a disturbance in the Space-Time Continuum. It felt like bad mojo was in the air. When I heard the jets take off after the rally, it made me feel rage to hear them flying over our airspace. I walked out onto the deck and flipped the double bird at the sky. I felt a little bit better.
Second, a low-level White House aide made a joke about how Senator John McCain isn't backing the choice of Gina Haspel for CIA Director because of her compliance with our recent horrible history of torture. She said, "It doesn't matter...he's dying anyway."
HAHAHAHA that is so fucking funny. The guy with an inoperable brain tumor, the guy who spent five years as a POW in Vietnam, is dying!
But what's really funny is that that aide still has her job. And even more hilarious is that the White House refuses to apologize or censor her for her comments! Is that a laff-riot, or what?! Wheeeee!
Listen, I've had my issues with Senator McCain in the past and I still bear some animosity towards him for foisting the Grifter from Wasilla upon our nation. But the guy has served his country for 50+ years, including in the military, which is a helluva lot more than Cadet Bone Spurs can say.
As others have pointed out, the fish rots from the head. The current occupant of the people's house has built this. He has lowered our level of discourse to such a degree that his yampeople are calling for the jailing of political opponents (who haven't even been charged with a crime), the death of free speech and even the death of journalists, the demonization of refugees fleeing oppressive regimes, and perhaps worst of all, the death of facts, truth, reason, and justice.
He has lowered the level of discourse to the point that I can no longer discuss issues and politics with anyone who watches nothing but FoxNews. That sounds like a simplistic and unfair statement, but I assure you, it is not. Those who watch nothing but that for their news are subjected to a litany of propaganda that puts Goebbels to shame. (I think I just Godwinned myself but I stand by the comparison.) When truth and values don't matter any longer, as James Comey said, "Who are we as a country?"
These things make me angry. But what makes me angriest is that I feel the suck of the "president's" negativity in my own mind. When he feels threatened, he lashes out and attacks like a cornered animal. I'm getting a glimmer of that sort of lashing out in myself and this is unacceptable to me. It is one thing to have a reasonable discussion but lashing out at others online is the lazy, dumb way to make myself feel better. It also provides a very fleeting satisfaction.
I don't want to be that way. I refuse to allow him to bring me down to his level. That is not the best of me.
Don't worry. I'm not going all kumbaya on you. I have zero tolerance for bigotry, homophobia, lies, and refusing to believe the facts. I'll call that crap out all damn day. But I'll pick my battles and be strategic about it. Personal interaction counts for much more than just getting into arguments on social media.
My main goal is to maintain my chill. I'm sure I'll still have my anger-like-liquid-hot-magma moments, but I will do my best to be like Spock.
We'll see how that works out. 

Saturday, April 28, 2018

Mr. Comey goes to Chicago

Somebody's happy about his book sales!
Shame on me for taking so long to write up my big Comey Day!

Although it has been more like Comey Week...or Comey Fortnight, hasn't it? Give his publisher credit for knowing how to promote a book, because he has been everywhere. (Not that I'm complaining.) And it has certainly paid off because A Higher Loyalty sits atop the New York Times (which is not failing, despite what you might have heard) best sellers list! #1 with a bullet, baby! 

I've enjoyed watching his numerous interviews, and I find that he comes across as honest, credible, and genuinely funny. (Your mileage may vary because I am quite biased.) That held true in Chicago, which was the first stop on his nationwide book tour. 

It was a beautiful spring day in Chicago, with nice temperatures and bright sunshine. After we checked in at our hotel, we relaxed a bit before heading out for dinner. We had decided that pizza sounded good, so we went to Giordano's and had a small deep dish pizza. It had been a long time since we had deep dish pizza and it tasted so good! I could eat some of that right now. 

Then we made our way to the Harris Theater and after Ken chatted up some of the staff, we found the best place to wait before they opened the doors. Much of the floor was reserved for VIP ticket holders so we would have had to sit in the back. The staff recommended the balcony, so after picking up our books, we waited up there for the doors to open. We had a couple of drinks while we chatted with some of the other people in line and Ken and I joked that it looked like we might have been the youngest people in the theater—and we're no spring chickens! So is it older Democrats who are drawn to Comey? Based on the Chicago audience make-up, yes. 

But it's hard to tell. He seems to be mostly reviled by those on the right, but there is a fair measure of those on the left who also can't stand him. He is a bit of an enigma. 

The Handsome Stringbean of Justice. He really is tall.
We ended up in the front row of the balcony and had a great view! There were no pictures or video allowed, but Ken managed to sneak in a couple towards the end. (Shhh, don't tell anyone!)

I had my notebook all ready to go because I planned on taking copious notes. He was introduced, came out to strong applause, and stood at the front of the stage and spoke without notes for about a half an hour. I wrote exactly one thing down and then my note-taking plan went out the window because I was so fascinated by what he was saying! 

What was my note? "Melting like sand at the beach." I have no idea what that was in reference to but I guess I just liked the way he said it! 

He spoke of a lot of things that were in the book (which I had finished the day before), and seemed relaxed and very comfortable speaking that way. I am kind of in awe of people who can do that because I would be a nervous wreck. No podium to stand behind? Nothing to hold onto? Just your hands waving all over the place or hanging down at your sides? That is the stuff of nightmares for me! He just held his hands in front of him or gestured as he made a point. So he's good at what he does. Of course, when you're a federal prosecutor, I suppose you learn to be comfortable speaking in front of people. Or at least how to do it effectively. 

After his opening remarks, he sat down for an interview with a woman from the Chicago Humanities Festival, Marilynn Thoma. She did a very nice job and it was a fun and interesting talk. Again, he seemed relaxed, and her questions got him to expound a little on various topics. Then it was time for a few audience questions. Those of us with tickets had gotten an email asking for question submissions, so I made sure to submit one. 

First question. Not mine. 

Second question. Not mine. 

Third question.

Beth R.! That's me! 
MINE!!!! Mine mine mine all mine! I think the other two questions were Anonymous, but I had included my name, so there I was, Beth R., right up there on the screen. I managed not to leap out of my seat and yell, "THAT'S MY QUESTION!" But it was close. As Ken put it, I was "a hot mess." Guilty as charged! In fact, I was so excited that his response didn't even register. I had to ask Ken later. It was, he would "consider it." 

Now, obviously, I doubt that either a newly-elected Democratic president, or the current "president" if re-elected (I just mentally threw up), would choose him to lead the F.B.I. again. He would be a very controversial pick and would get a lot more opposition than he did the first time he was confirmed as Director. He was confirmed 93-1. However, I think it spoke to his abiding love for the F.B.I. It sounds like it was his ultimate job and he looked forward to staying for his ten-year term. It's obvious that he still loves all the people there and the vast majority love him back. 

As he has come across in his interviews, I found him consistent in his remarks and genuinely concerned with the disdain for facts and truth under our current administration. He is greatly disturbed by the attacks on our justice and law enforcement systems, as we all should be. Constructive criticism and proper oversight are essential; tearing down these institutions is detrimental to a properly functioning society. He cautions against becoming numb to the daily assault on our norms and said over and over that what we are seeing is not normal. He said we must not become inured to that. He is encouraged, however, by the current engagement of citizens, especially young people. He thinks everyone should pay attention, get involved, make our voices heard. I couldn't agree more! 

I thoroughly enjoyed my time with Director Comey. I found him interesting, funny, and even a little bit charming. Disagree with me if you want. But it's how I feel. He got a standing ovation when the evening was over, so I think he charmed a few others besides me!

I walked out of the theater on Cloud Nine (those two vodka tonics didn't hurt) and on the way back to the hotel, we stopped to see Cloud Gate, AKA The Bean. I had never seen it at night, and found out that the brightly lit skyline of Chicago is reflected in its shiny surface. 

It was a beautiful sight and the perfect ending to a wonderful day. 

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Beth's Books: A Higher Loyalty

Those who know me understand that I am more than a little biased towards James Comey. I find him credible and honorable. I will do my best to write this review in the spirit of fairness and openness and—


Okay, okay, I'll admit that there is a fair amount of confirmation bias in my love for this book. I despise the "president" and I like Comey very much. Nothing in this book changed my feelings or thoughts about either. 

What struck me is that Comey seems very genuine. Whether he writes about his experiences with bullies when he was a kid, or about when he behaved in a bullying manner when he got to college because of 'groupthink' (something he says he remains ashamed of even all these years later), you can tell that it was part of what shaped his worldview. I have said all along that Trump is a schoolyard bully and Comey seems to have had that feeling, too. "All bullies are largely the same. They threaten the weak to feed some insecurity that rages inside them." Very true. 

Comey admits to struggling as an adult with ego and over-confidence. It seems obvious that he also has enough self-awareness to realize that about himself and does his best to counteract that by encouraging others to confront him and push back against his preconceived notions, whether it is his wife or President Obama. 

I found him quite funny and enjoyed the stories about the "presidential apple" for his youngest daughter, learning tips for cooking turkeys from Martha Stewart's shows, and especially his recounting of the infamous curtain incident when he tried to blend into the curtains in the Blue Room. His abiding love for the FBI is also apparent (he even dedicated the book to all the men and women of the Bureau). As someone on Twitter said, "Get yourself a man who loves you the way Comey loves the FBI." 

I also found him deeply philosophical as he recounted his reasoning behind the decisions he made during the 2016 election. I've felt all along that he made the choices he did in order to protect the nonpartisanship and integrity of both the FBI and the DOJ, and he talks about that at length. I think he really was faced with a Scylla and Charybdis moment, not once, but a few times, and he made the only decision he could. 

I get frustrated at hearing the pundits on both sides say that "he should have done this" or "he shouldn't have said that." Or he shouldn't have said it when he did. He has explained over and over how he came to the decisions he did (although there is still some classified stuff out there that he can't disclose). I find his thought processes credible and well-reasoned in the context of doing what was best for the FBI/DOJ and their nonpartisanship. It is easy to second guess someone when you've never been in such a position. There is also a ridiculous amount of semantics involved, especially among those illiterate in legalese. I am certainly not literate in that language but when he explained the subtle difference in legal terms and why they matter, I understood. 

I also enjoyed his thoughts on intelligence vs judgment. It's one thing to have the intelligence to understand facts and figures, to understand something intellectually, but it has to be tempered with good judgment and the ability to look at a problem from other perspectives. He recounts a great conversation with President Obama in which they discussed the Black Lives Matter/Blue Lives Matter movements and the conflicts between young black men and law enforcement. They each got each other to see certain views from other vantage points. That is the mark of true thinkers, the ability for self-reflection, self-awareness, and the ability to approach things with a sense of humility and accept that there are other ways of looking at things that wouldn't occur to you because of your own life experience. 

Oh, how I love to have those types of discussions myself! Going deeper than the easy, superficial talking points and bouncing ideas off of each other. Getting someone to understand your viewpoint and getting them to understand yours, and finding points of consensus when you realize that you both hold many of the same thoughts. We seem to have lost that recently. I miss it. 

I admire and respect some of the same people that he does, including President Obama and James Clapper. I also despise some of the same people that he seems to, including Dick Cheney (who comes across every bit as evil and humorless as I've always thought) and the current "president." Comey doesn't use the word 'despise,' but his disdain and visceral dislike for both comes across loud and clear. 

I think Comey is right when he says that while Trump might not be medically unfit to serve, he is morally unfit. He is devoid of ethics and does not possess the ability to provide ethical leadership. Comey was reminded over and over of his dealings with Mafia bosses earlier in his career and I think the comparison is a suitable one. Trump cares not one whit about societal and political norms, nor about defending the Constitution. He cares only about how things will affect him and about uncompromising loyalty to HIM. People like Comey and professionals in the FBI and DOJ are utterly foreign and incomprehensible to him: people who took an oath to the country and the Constitution, not to any particular person. 

In interviews, Comey has said that he sees this as a situation where we need to put our moral and ethical values—who we are as Americans and human beings—above partisan politics and issues, whether it's gun control or tax cuts. I couldn't agree more. I disagree with the right on so many things but can we get back to the place where we all agree that we value the basic premises of free speech and other Constitutional rights above partisanship? I believe we must if we are to move forward and be our best selves. 

I think that a leader who expects fealty to himself rather than respect for the rule of law cannot be part of that equation. 

Vote accordingly, Citizens. 

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Not your normal Sunday

Normally, I'd be calling this Dead Day, because it's the Season 8 finale of "The Walking Dead" and the Season 4 premiere of "Fear the Walking Dead."

But there is a little more going on today because it is officially the start of...
COMEY WEEK. [trumpets]
It started unofficially at the end of last week as excerpts from his book started to leak [snicker] to the press and his publishers lifted the media embargo. We got a few video snippets and learned pretty quickly that Comey is pulling no punches.
As much as I love the Dead Universe, there is no way I won't watch the Comey interview tonight. I'll miss the first ten minutes because "The Walking Dead" finale will go past 10 PM, but I'll catch the rest of it later.
It's been a weird fucking week and one of the weirdest things is that despite the serious things happening in the Middle East, the "president" seems to be more preoccupied with James Comey and his upcoming book. He lashed out on Twitter (of course) this morning and it's obvious that Comey has really gotten under his thin orange skin. If it weren't so disturbing and pathetic, it would be funny. (Okay, it's a little bit funny.)
I understand that people are conflicted about Comey. His legacy is a complicated one. I've seen people on CNN both defend him and denigrate him for what he is doing. (The Yamstooges at Fox are calling him a "dirty cop" and shit like that. No surprise there.) He is getting criticism for being too snarky and petty about the "president." I've made it clear that I like Comey and find him admirable, so I say, "You GO with your bad self!" Snark away!
Obviously, I don't know the man personally, but I've read enough about him and listened to enough of his lectures that my gut feeling is that he is a person of integrity. I can only imagine his visceral disgust as he encountered the Yam for the first time, but I can imagine it pretty well because I felt it, too. I've learned to spot bullshitters and I'm sure that Comey is better at spotting them than I am. I don't doubt that he knew from the moment he met him that this is a guy who goes against everything that Comey holds dear, whether it is justice, honesty, devotion to family, or the general concept of how no one should be or IS above the law.
I can't help but laugh as I think about how Comey's media blitz this week is going to drive the "president" absolutely nuts. You think the tweetstorm of the past few days was bad? Wait for this week. It's gonna be a wild ride.
We have tickets to see Comey in Chicago next Friday and I can hardly wait. The event is sold out and I could probably sell each ticket for a grand. I wouldn't dream of it! I will take notes and report back soon.
Buckle up!

Saturday, March 17, 2018

The "president" is a middle school Mean Girl

You called down the thunder.
Well, now you've got it!

~~ Kurt Russell as Wyatt Earp in "Tombstone"

The current occupant of the Oval Office is gloating about the firing of Andrew McCabe, the FBI Deputy Director who was going to retire tomorrow, a guy who spent over twenty years serving his country with the FBI. This puts McCabe's pension in jeopardy.

I cannot begin to convey how much this infuriates and sickens me. The "president" has been bitching about McCabe for months, flat-out saying that he's partisan and part of some stupid deep state conspiracy to take him down. This is such a petty and vindictive action that it boggles my mind. 

Listen, I haven't seen the internal FBI report that recommended that McCabe be fired, so I don't know the whole story. But the timing of this absolutely smacks of attempting to silence a member of the intelligence community. Under normal circumstances, I don't doubt for a second that the FBI and DOJ would have said, "Hey, the guy is retiring, let's just let him retire and then issue a report saying that disciplinary action would have been taken if he had stayed on." 

But no. The "president" decided that McCabe had to go and pressured the spineless Attorney General Sessions to do the dirty deed. Sessions decided to toady up and try to save his own hide by doing the bidding of his boss. Woe to all who associate themselves with this toxic "president." You will be tainted forever and history will not be kind to you. 

There are bigger implications here. First, I don't think this will play well with anyone other than the "president's" rabid base. Most people will see someone who served his country honorably for over two decades and think that he got a raw deal. 

Second, the men and women of the FBI have seen some of the worst things and worst people in the world. They pursue them doggedly and do not rest until they see that justice is done. Does the "president" really think that they are scared of him? 

Finally, and this is related to the second item, piss off the FBI at your own peril. The "president" has repeatedly questioned their integrity and honesty and seems to think that they owe him their loyalty. That's not how it works, idiot. These attacks against well-liked and well-respected members of the Bureau like James Comey and Andrew McCabe are going to backfire. The FBI will close ranks and protect each other and they will not let their reputation as the best law enforcement agency in the world be besmirched. Just like Comey, McCabe has memos and has turned them over to Robert Mueller. 

My BF in an alternate universe was none too happy and tweeted his response. 

But Wyatt Earp said it best.