Saturday, May 27, 2017

The Return of the Yam: A Vignette

After the senior staff draws straws as to who will meet the Resident when he gets back from his trip, the one with the shortest [ahem] is Steve Bannon. He awaits his leader’s return in the Oval Office.

The Yam enters, glares at Bannon, and stalks over to the desk. He plops down into the chair, which gives out a loud and alarming wheeze.

Bannon: Welcome back, sir.

The Yam: What are you doing here?

Bannon: I'm here to welcome you back, brief you on what has happened in your absence, and hear about your trip.

The Yam: [waving his hand as if to brush it all away] Whatever. Where’s Spicey?

Bannon: In his room, sir. He hasn’t come out for days. When we knock on the door, he just yells at us to go away.

The Yam: [smiles for the first time] So he’s upset that he didn’t get to meet the Pope?

Bannon: He seems to be, yes. Reince said he heard him crying the other night.

The Yam: [rubs his tiny hands together] Excellent. I could have taken him, you know, but I knew how much he wanted it. A sign of weakness. I hope he learned his lesson. The Pope was a loser, anyway. As a present, he gave me some kind of paper to read, said he’d written it himself. What kind of a gift is that? Everyone knows I don’t read anything longer than a page. Spicey didn’t miss anything.

Bannon: Yes, sir.  So how was your trip?

The Yam: [he loses his smile] Those damn Europians. Did you see how they treated me?

Bannon: In what regard, sir?

The Yam: When I walked in the room, they acted like they’d just stepped in dogshit! Very, very rude. Losers. They would have lost World War Two if we hadn’t helped them out.

Bannon: Well, sir, Germany DID lose World War—

The Yam: And that French guy! Did you see the way he shook my hand? Like he was trying to dominate me or something.

Bannon: [silent]

The Yam: By the way, get me some BenGay. My hand hurts.

Bannon: Yes sir, I’ll get it for you as soon as we finish here.

The Yam: And Merkel. Boy, isn’t she a piece of work? Her and her pantsuits. Her and Hillary would have gotten along just fine, I bet. But I won. Have you seen the electoral college map? Here’s a copy.

Bannon: Yes, I’ve seen it, sir. Many times.

The Yam: Whatever. Merkel kept staring at me with this weird look on her face. I saw her whispering to the French guy and then they laughed. They’re mean.

Bannon: Yes sir, they are.

The Yam: Mean, mean people. They didn’t let me sit with them at lunch. They all sat around and said there were no seats open. But there was! I saw an empty chair. Merkel said it was saved for my missing dignity. What does that even mean?

Bannon: [silent]

The Yam: And that French guy. Did I mention that handshake?

Bannon: Yes sir, you did.

The Yam: I saw him and the Canuck standing over there and talking French talk. They kept looking at me, too. Then they’d laugh.

Bannon: I’m sure it was some sort of French joke, sir, nothing about you.

The Yam: And they thought they looked so good, all trim in their suits, thinking they were hot shit. I think Merkel was flirting with them, but they wouldn’t go for that. She’s barely a 4.

Bannon: Sir, I—

The Yam: They don’t look nearly as good as Jared, anyway. He’s much better-looking. Bigger hands, too.

Bannon: Sir—

The Yam: I showed ‘em all who was boss, though. Did you see me shove that Negro guy out of the way? Ha! That was great.

 Bannon: Sir, that was the Prime Minister of Montenegro.

The Yam: Whatever. I pushed him out of the way like the loser he is. They’re all losers.

Bannon: Sir, I need to tell you about—

The Yam: By the way, Ivanka and Jared had a really nice time. I don’t know about Melania, she wouldn’t talk to me much. She must be on her period. But Ivanka and Jared had fun! I bought Jared some treat in Italy that he really liked. What was it, Jell-O? Gelatin? I forget, but you should have seen his little face light up. He’s a good boy.

Bannon: Sir, I really need to tell you—

The Yam: In fact, Jared wanted me to ask you about the news from while we were gone. Did anything happen? He wants me to email him.

Bannon: [silence]

The Yam: Well?

Bannon: Sir, I’m going to go get that BenGay for you now. You just sit and...get some rest, okay?

The Yam: Cool. I’m exhausted. Who knew foreign trips were so complicated?


Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Health Care For All!

Love is but a song to sing
Fear's the way we die
You can make the mountains ring
Or make the angels cry
Though the bird is on the wing
And you may not know why

Come on people now
Smile on your brother
Everybody get together
Try to love one another
Right now

~~ “Get Together” by The Youngbloods

I’ve been laying low lately. We spent a fun week in Vegas, I’ve been reading a lot, and with the shit show going on in the Yamistration, I just haven’t felt like writing much. Some days it’s all I can do to not Hulk-smash everything in sight. Sometimes it is best to just hunker down, and as REO Speedwagon says, I’ve been riding the storm out. As much as I can, anyway.

Today was a lesson in how engagement can energize, inspire, and strengthen our resolve.

I headed to downtown Mishawaka with Shane and Matt to join a protest outside of the office of our so-called representative, Jackie Walorski. I say ‘so-called’ because she doesn’t really spend a whole lot of time with her constituents, especially the ones who didn’t vote for her, so I guess she only wants to represent part of us. Hmph.

Anyway, this was a protest organized by Indivisible Indiana District 2 and the Northern Indiana Community Coalition for Health Care. The latter organized the recent town hall meeting concerning the Affordable Care Act and the so-called American Health Care Act, and although Jackie was invited numerous times, she didn’t show up and didn’t even bother to respond yes or no if she would be attending. I don’t think she understands the meaning of the word ‘representative.’ But we had the town hall without her.

Today’s protest was termed a “Die-In.” The goal was to get at least 80 people to show up, with 80 representing the number of people in Indiana District 2 who would die each year without the guarantees of coverage by the ACA. We all held signs shaped like tombstones with various slogans about who would suffer if the ACA is repealed and the AHCA takes its place. The last time I looked at the sign-up sheet, we had around 60 people, but the turnout surpassed the goal. We had over 100 people there! Not bad for 4:30 on an overcast weekday afternoon. (The rain even held off until we were done!)

We were all fired up and happy to be there. Everyone was friendly and peaceful. The overwhelming majority of people driving by honked and gave us the thumbs up. (Yes, those were thumbs, not another digit.) A couple of people drove by and gave us some grief, but they were definitely in the minority.

The most memorable of those was when a guy in a blue car pulled up directly in front of where I was standing with Shane and Matt, and stopped because of a red light. The guy turned to us and started saying “Trump for America! Trump for America!” I don’t know what came over me, but I started yelling back, “Health care for all! Health care for all!” Me and the guy kept at this for a few moments, and then a lady behind me took up my chant. Shane and Matt joined in, and soon our entire group of over one hundred people was chanting “Health care for all!” at this guy. He tried keeping up his chant for a bit but we kept chanting louder and louder...and then here was the best moment. He finally turned away, put his hands on his steering wheel, shut his mouth, and faced straight ahead. But he couldn’t go anywhere...because the light was still red.

[falling over laughing]

So he had to sit there with all of us chanting “Health care for all!” at him, probably thinking, “When is this fucking light going to turn green?” When it finally did, you can probably guess what he did. Yep, he flipped us the bird as he drove off. We all cracked up.

Somebody got owned! Man, what a douchebag.

Our organizer gave a rousing speech, we sang a song, and then we all filed into Jackie’s office to drop off our postcards that stated why we are against the AHCA or support the ACA. We weren’t there long, but we made our presence known, and we had plenty of traffic driving by and seeing us. On the way back to the car, we stopped off at Smith’s for a beer and a bite to eat and discussed things and had some laughs. It was a good day!

I feel reenergized. It is very easy to insulate ourselves against what is going on and to withdraw. That holds especially true for introverts like me. (I know that Shane is, too. Matt? Maybe a bit, but not to the extent that Shane and I are.) I think it is important to make an effort to get out every once in a while, connect with others, and affirm our commitment to resist and change the current administration, locally and nationally.

Being a part of this peaceful protest and talking with others who are committed to this cause really gave me a boost and made me want to continue to be involved to the extent that I can. I also enjoyed learning that I could confront others peacefully but forcefully. I didn’t flip the dude in the car off or call him names and I didn’t call his candidate names. I just affirmed my support for health care for all. And I’ll be damned if others didn’t join in and we got him to shut up. 
That is empowering as fuck.

I encourage others to get out as much as they can and check into local groups who are involved in protests and activism. Things are popping up everywhere and there are plenty of things you can do, big and small.

We are all in this together and we will help each other get through it!

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Bates Motel in the rearview mirror

We all go a little mad sometimes.

~~ Norman Bates

After five seasons, the series finale of “Bates Motel” aired tonight. It’s been a wild ride and I feel the need to write a bit about it. (If you haven’t watched it and plan to, please note that there are major spoilers ahead.)

Some of you know that my favorite movie of all time is “Psycho.” Don’t read anything into that! There is just something about the movie that appeals to me on so many levels. The lighting, the way Hitchcock framed his shots, the perfect soundtrack, the masterful performance of Anthony Perkins, and of course, the classic shower scene.

In other words, those were some big shoes to fill.

What a pleasure to watch the show live up to its source material and see it develop into a genuinely interesting backstory of the movie and the characters. There were many twists and turns along the way, with the biggest coming at the very end of tonight’s episode. What I didn’t expect was that they would move past the ending of the movie and show the ultimate fate of Norman. I think it was a stroke of genius, because I watched thinking that I knew where everything ended up, and it was a genuine surprise to see where it went.

One of the best things about the Norman Bates character is that despite his murderous nature, Anthony Perkins played him as a sympathetic, even likable character. His boyish charm, his nervousness, his want him to be okay and it’s heartbreaking when you realize just how damaged he is. Freddie Highmore as Norman in the TV show understood that and played it perfectly. In tonight’s finale, Norman (with his poor bloodied face) drives Norma’s corpse home and relives the good times of the past. He is lost in his memories and has obviously had a very serious break with reality. It made me cry to see his battered face and his bewildered smile.

Vera Farmiga as Norma Bates was also incredible. Of course, Mrs. Bates never got a genuine word in the movie, but Farmiga created this amazing, destructive, enabling force of nature that was Norma Bates. She was funny, she was loving, she was messed up, she was irresistible. She was Mother.

A character who wasn’t in the movie was Sheriff Alex Romero, played by Nestor Carbonell (he of the dreamy eyes). He was a perfect addition who became a surprise love interest for Norma when Norman was off getting some much-needed mental health attention. It was a beautiful thing to see their love blossom and grow (Christ, that sounds sappy...but that scene at the Winter Carnival when they first realized that they had real chemistry was magical!) and when Norma died, Romero’s grief and fury was palpable. His vow of revenge upon Norman wasn’t consummated, and we had to say goodbye to Alex tonight. But damn, that final scene with him and Norman was intense!

Other characters not from the movie were Norman’s brother Dylan (Max Thieriot) and Norman’s friend Emma (Olivia Cooke). Dylan and Emma end up together and their story arc was rich and interesting. I feared for Dylan tonight but the ending to the brothers’ story was fitting. Dylan did his best to help Norman and I believe he truly loved him. His face when he walked into the dining room and saw Norma...what a perfect reaction of horror and sorrow and some major nausea! I think it broke Dylan’s heart to do what he had to do but there really was no other way, was there?

I don’t mean to rehash the entire episode but those were some salient moments for me. The entire series was inventive and intelligent, fleshing out the story of Norman and his mother, providing so many interesting subplots that all came together perfectly in tonight’s finale. I really wasn’t sure they could pull it off, but they did, and in a very satisfying way. Would I have liked to see at least a couple more seasons with these characters? Of course! But you can’t always get what you want, and in this case, I think it was the right decision. The story played out in a perfect way, giving us so much backstory in the previous seasons, and then things really coming to a crisis point in the last few episodes of this season. We were rushing to the inevitable end, and it was the right time to finish the series.

Obviously, they won’t read this, but I want to put this out there: thank you to the entire cast and crew for a job well done. I was skeptical of a show premised on my favorite movie, but you allayed my fears. It was brilliant.

Farewell, Norman. Forever in my heart.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Love’s all that matters

We equal m c squared
Einstein drank his wine in pairs
We equal m c squared
Beyond mathematics there is love in the air

~~ “Relativity” by Grafton Primary

We had a really fun weekend! Ken got a new lawnmower (that’s a big deal ‘round these parts!), we had brunch with Shane and Matt at Brew Werks and then saw the stage production of “Dirty Dancing” (fabulous!), but the highlight was the wedding of our friends Tom and Roger on Saturday.

It’s hard to explain why, but there was just so much joy in the air. The wedding was at a historic building in the area and everything was beautiful. We knew quite a few people there, I got to meet Tom’s godson in person (after doing Tom’s podcast with him), and we got to meet new people, including the guy who conducted the ceremony. The dinner was wonderful, we got to take some fun and goofy pictures, and we got to dance a little bit. Everyone was feeling great and everyone was so happy for Tom and Roger! There was just an air of festivity and celebration and it makes me smile just to think back on it!

As I watched the ceremony (which included lyrics from Prince and “The Princess Bride”), as we all congratulated the happy couple, as friends and family toasted them, as we all broke bread, drank champagne, danced, and talked, one thought stayed prominent in my mind:

Who would ever take away this happiness?

Who, because of whatever religious tropes they are clinging to, or because of whatever personal issues they have, would deny this happiness to these two people who were so obviously in love?

Who would do that?

Apparently, there were one or two people who had some issues with this marriage. I won’t name any names. But we all know people like them, don’t we?  They just can’t accept anything outside their own narrow purview.

From my perspective, all I saw was a dear friend and his beau declaring their love for and commitment to each other.

I will fight for their right to do that forever.

I’ve seen the usual arguments about how marriage is about having children. Stupid argument. Millions of people get married and choose not to have children. [raising hand] That doesn’t make a marriage invalid. Besides, ADOPTION. Duh. Or there is “the Bible says” argument. It really doesn’t, but even if it did, who gives a flying fuck? Despite what some might say, we do not base our laws on the Bible. We base our laws on the Constitution of the Goddamn United States of America. In your face!

I suppose there are other arguments, but yeah, they’re all stupid. You know what isn’t stupid? Love. Love isn’t stupid.

And when people love each other, when two consenting adults want to enter into a committed, legal relationship, they have that right under the Constitution.

It was my great pleasure and honor to see the Constitution in action Saturday night and to see love win. Tom and Roger’s program included this paragraph from Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy, writing the majority opinion in the Obergefell v Hodges case, which guaranteed the right of marriage to all citizens, and it is worth quoting it here:

No union is more profound than marriage, for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice, and family. In forming a marital union, two people become something greater than once they were. As some of the petitioners in these cases demonstrate, marriage embodies a love that may endure even past death. It would misunderstand these men and women to say they disrespect the idea of marriage. Their plea is that they do respect it, respect it so deeply that they seek to find its fulfillment for themselves. Their hope is not to be condemned to live in loneliness, excluded from one of civilization’s oldest institutions. They ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law. The Constitution grants them that right.

It damn well does and if you try to take that away, you are going to have a fight on your hands. I guarantee.

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Reckoning Day

And this is a call to arms
This is a call to hands
This is a call to the voices and the minds
Of the people in every land

~~ “Reckoning Day” by The Rainmakers

Today we attended a town hall meeting focused on health care with our District 2 Representative, Jackie Walorski.

Except Jackie didn’t show.

We knew she wouldn’t. She was invited numerous times and not only didn’t she have the balls to show, she didn’t even have the balls to RSVP.

But we carried on without her. It was a moderated town hall, with a panel of folks who deal with health care issues in their jobs, and I was delighted to see my own doctor there! (She had a great moment, too...more about that later.)

The most compelling part of the meeting was the testimonials from various citizens—all constituents of Rep. Walorski—that told about their experiences with health care and how the Affordable Care Act helped them. A woman whose daughter is disabled; a woman who, at a very young age, was diagnosed with breast cancer; a molecular biologist who spoke about the importance of federally-funded medical research; a woman who had premature triplets; and our friend Cassie, who despite her fear of public speaking and an anxiety attack, stood up and told her story about her own risky pregnancy and the premature birth of her son. I am so proud of Cassie for having the courage to speak about this!

Every question is being sent to Rep. Walorski and if she has a shred of decency, she will read them. I hope the organizers send her the video, too, because she needs to see it. She needs to realize that she works for us. The fact that she refuses to listen to her constituents is unacceptable. The crowd was well-behaved but there was a palpable sense of anger that we feel we are not being heard.

As for my doctor, as if I didn’t love her enough already! She has been a wonderful doctor, responsive to my questions and encouraging in my efforts to stay healthy. Seeing her there as part of the panel let me know that she is on the side of her patients and not happy with the efforts to repeal the ACA. She had one of the coolest responses of the entire meeting, when one of the mediators read a question from the audience. The gist of it was that the Hyde Amendment is already in place to ensure that federal funds are not used for
abortions; the Republican party continues to push for the defunding of Planned Parenthood, which means that thousands of Hoosiers from rural areas would have no access to basic medical care. Can anyone on the panel explain that thinking? The panel hemmed and hawed and looked at each other, and then my doctor pulled the microphone toward her and said…


The crowd erupted in applause and I elbowed Ken and said, “See why I love her??”

If I were Jackie Walorski, I’d be pretty darn scared about 2018. Ignore your constituents at your own risk.

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Beth’s Books: Hillbilly Elegy

Beth’s Books: Hillbilly Elegy

With some notable exceptions, this is a book that I could have written.

My maternal grandparents hailed from Eastern Kentucky (in fact, the author’s grandparents came from a town only 15 or so miles away from the town where my grandparents lived) and migrated north to Ohio, then west to Indiana. The author writes that there were two distinct migration waves from Appalachia: one after WWI and the Depression, the other in the ‘50s, after WWII. My family was part of the first wave.

All of the problems that Vance writes about concerning his family—alcoholism, drug abuse, poverty, hunger, volatile tempers—were present to various degrees in mine. Not all of my aunts and uncles experienced those things, but several of them did. I was fortunate in that my parents were very stable and seemed to break the cycle. I would chalk this up to my mother finding religion, although in some ways, that created its own problems. (That’s a story for another day.) Although if it kept my folks from succumbing to the worst aspects of the “hillbilly culture,” I’ll take it.

I won’t go into all the sordid details over the years. It’s not really my story to tell. I will tell you briefly that there was alcoholism; there was family drama with one cousin accusing her mother and stepfather (my uncle) of abuse and wanting to live with another aunt and uncle; there was the murder of a different cousin, who was shot in the head by a cop over a dispute about a girl they both liked at a local house of ill-repute; I vaguely remember two of my aunts fighting in our front yard—not just a verbal fight, but an all-out hair-pulling catfight; there was an uncle who was shot at the bar he owned. I could go on, but you get the idea.

Some relatives had legendary tempers. The kind where if you make them mad, they kind of go batshit on you. In my younger days, I had a streak of that in me. I have fortunately learned to control it. (But I still recommend that you not make me mad. I know it is still lurking there.) Vance describes it as the ability to “go from zero to murderous in a fucking heartbeat.”

The author writes:

“...for those of us lucky enough to live the American Dream, the demons of the life we left behind continue to chase us.”

It’s true. I have been to Eastern Kentucky once and don’t have much desire to go back. I am grateful to my parents for wanting a better life for me and stressing the importance of an education. I don’t mean to make it sound like I had a nightmare family. Quite the opposite. There was a lot of love there and I never felt threatened or abused. But as I read this book and looked back at things I remember from childhood, I realize how much of that culture was part of that side of our family. I feel no sense of connection to that part of the culture (other than enjoying some good bluegrass music once in a while, and I can make a mean cornbread), especially the attitude of distrust of education and the “elite.” I have heard more than once the statement that “Washington would be a lot better if they’d get some of these old farmers in their bibbed overalls up there and kick the rest of them out.” No. I really don’t think so. Common sense matters a lot, but so does education, and I wouldn’t trust some of those “old farmers” to govern in a way that helps everyone.

You see, there is still a concept of “otherness” in the hillbilly culture, which relates to the distrust of education and the “elites.” (I keep putting that in quotation marks because it’s just silly the way they refer to people “from away” that way...but they do.) For some, there is a deep-seated racism. For others, there is a distrust of anyone who isn’t a Protestant. For yet others, there is an attitude that women should keep their place and if they don’t, a good smack upside the head will get ‘em to shut up. Let me state clearly that NOT ALL people from that culture behave that way...but you cannot ignore the fact that such attitudes are more prevalent in that culture than in others. I’ve seen it firsthand. I STILL hear it on occasion. It’s there.

Mr. Vance admits to all that. He saw it in his own family and he definitely had a worse upbringing than I did. The problem I have with him is that he seems to give the white working poor a pass even as he condemns them for their behavior. He admits that they have a tendency to buy into bullshit conspiracy theories, and then lets them off the hook by saying that it’s because they simply don’t believe any media outlet that refutes them. How is that an answer? As far as I’m concerned, there is no excuse for ignorance. You don’t get to decide what is fact and what is fiction. Just because you decide that you don’t buy into what all those elitist eggheads at those elitist universities are peddling doesn’t mean that you are right.

Christ, how many stupid chain emails did I get from a couple of my relatives during the 2008 election about how Obama was a Muslim, Michelle Obama racked up a $30,000 room service bill at some fancy New York hotel, and so many other bullshit stories. I finally had to say, “Look, that is just not true. Please do not send me these anymore.”

And that is the problem that I have with that part of my heritage. I got a degree in science. I want verifiable facts. I reject anecdotal evidence. I simply cannot stand to hear these lies perpetuated by people who think that they know what is real and the rest of us are dupes for not seeing it. (Of course, they’d probably say the same thing about me!)

Even Mr. Vance, while admitting all this, falls prey to the “welfare queen” myth invented and propagated by Reagan. While working at a grocery store, he says that he saw a ton of abuse of welfare benefits. Of course, there are people who abuse the system. There always will be. But the vast majority of those who use such benefits need a little help at the time and do their best to get off of it as soon as possible. The biggest users? The working white poor. So instead of just condemning these folks for the abuse, he denigrates the “welfare state” and says that it encourages abuse, despite the fact that he and his family benefited from various government assistance programs. (G.I. Bill, anyone?) I should have known when he said his political hero was Mitch Daniels! (We don’t miss him a whole lot in Indiana government, believe me.)

It also seems to me that government programs addressing addiction issues would go a long way towards breaking some people out of the cycle of abuse. I understand that there are no easy answers, but I don’t think blaming the “welfare state” is any type of a solution. At the heart of the problems of the culture, there seems to be a toxic combination of lack of aspiration and feelings of inadequacy. “Everyone is better than me so why should I even try?”

My question is how do you change that culture? How do you break people out of that mentality? For me, it is a matter of education, but they distrust even that. “I didn’t get some fancy education and I did okay at the plant. I don’t know why you think YOU need one.” I find that absolutely abhorrent. It is wallowing in ignorance rather than saying, “Hey, I need to learn. I WANT to learn.” Meanwhile, all those great manufacturing jobs with great benefits and wages (thanks to Unions) continue to be replaced with automation. Change is hard, I get that. But if you don’t at least make an effort to keep up, you’re going to get left behind.

This is why I’m not real sure that the Democrats should worry about getting these voters back. That is also a story for another day and this has gotten long enough. But when you vote against your own best interests and choose not to inform yourself, I’m not real sure why we should keep making the effort. We’ll keep working on policies that help you and others like you get with it what you will. At some point, you have to say, “I don’t want to live this life. I want to do better.” Or not. That is a choice.

I’m very glad that my parents made the right choice and instilled a love of learning in me and my sisters. I didn’t and don’t agree with all of their politics, but I am certainly grateful for that gift. It is an ongoing process, one that includes this book.

This might be the longest entry I’ve ever made here lately, and if you stuck around for the entire thing, thank you. It is obvious that the book affected me deeply and was quite thought-provoking for me. I found it a disturbing read on some levels. As I said, I have no easy answers. Any such thorny issue has no easy answers. Anyone who claims otherwise is wrong.

That’s a fact.