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Wednesday, October 17, 2018

First Amendment: A Right and a Responsibility

Sailing through New York City on Northern Star

Freedom of Speech. Hmm. A long time ago, we declared ourselves to have the right to express ourselves without fear of reprisal, a monumental improvement over life under the British monarchy, when saying the wrong thing about the King could lead to shackles or worse. There are a few caveats, of course. We can’t shout “Fire” when there is none, or terrorize others by claiming to have planted a bomb, nor threaten to kill. Freedom of Speech does not extend to inciting violence. Well and good.
Farmer's Market, Memphis.

Personal slander and lies, however, are more difficult utterances to police. Although the U.S. is one of the most litigious nations in the world, most of the time we don’t bother to sue others who slander us. Case in point: someone calls me a “dufus.” And although I would beg to differ, there’s no point in making a big deal of it. We tend to count on the ability of reasonable people to recognize that the slanderous person’s statements are without merit. It’s pragmatic.
"A reasonable person would recognize 
that I am not a dufus."

So since we are free to say what we like, where is Honesty in all of this? The First Amendment is the basis for many of our laws. But, Honesty, that takes us into the realm of morality.  Laws and Morality. Apples and oranges—not the same but both in the same fruit bowl.  The two ought to be able to cohabit the same space without bruising one another. Wouldn’t you think?

Underground Railroad Museum, North Carolina
We claim to be a nation of morals—Honesty, being one of them, yes? Historically, we pride our American selves on possessing a higher level of morals than many nations of the world. (Especially if we set aside for the moment, our history of slavery, internment camps and forced boarding schools for Native children). We like to see ourselves as beacons of fairness on the world stage. We believe we are the “good guys.”

An unexpected oversize "sign" in the
Upper Peninsula of Michigan
So, does Honesty make up one of the rungs on our ladder of American Morality? Do we believe in it?  Right along with Justice and Equality? Is it something we value? The past couple of years have been particularly tough for me in this regard….

“Nobody has greater respect for women than me.” Pres. Trump (Excuse me, but just writing that quote makes me guffaw).
"In another moment, I'm going to split a
gut laughing. Then I'll cry."

“There were good people on both sides of the Charlottesville thing.” Pres. Trump 

“The President did not say that. What I can tell you is that the President has the highest regard for (…women.. children…victims of hurricanes… people of color…etc.)” White House spokesperson Sarah Sanders Huckabee.  

"Who you gonna trust in this town?  A guy with bad hair,
or me, a Border Collie with a nose for Truth."
“Well, that’s not at all what happened…..I know the history of this. I’ve spent a lot of time on this throughout my career.” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to John Dickerson, speaking on his decision to block Obama’s choice for SCOTUS, Merrick Garland. McConnell claimed that it was  justified to block a nominee when the White House and Congress were of different parties.

"Classic deer in headlights" reaction.
“Under my Administration, we have accomplished in two years more than almost any administration in the history of our country.” Pres. Trump’s speech to 100+ world leaders, ambassadors and dignitaries at the UN which prompted audience laughter. Trump later said that he had been “meant to get laughter.”

“We do not have a policy of separating families at the border. Period.” Dept of Homeland Security (DHS) Sec. Kjirsten Nielsen.  As of June 19, 2018 2,342 children have been separated from their parents.

“Everybody knows that I’ve got what it takes. Because of what’s up here.” (pointing to his head) Pres. Trump in interview. (Clearly this is untrue because I, for one, do NOT know that he has what it takes).
"Seriously?  You want me to believe that?"

“We did an outstanding job in Puerto Rico. There were not 3,000 deaths. They added those on later.” Pres. Trump

“Fake news People.  Everybody knows it. You’re printing fake news, as usual. Please correct your facts.” Pres. Trump on Twitter, on a routine basis.

“I have good chemistry with Kim Jong-un. We had a very nice meeting. We have an understanding.” Pres. Trump explains why it was unnecessary to have anything in writing about their “understanding” on nuclear proliferation.
"Here's the thing....blub,blub,blub....
Putin is my best bud."

“He says he did not have anything to do with influencing our 2016 elections, and he said it very strongly, and so I think it’s true.” Pres. Trump after meeting in private with Putin. (As if truth were relevant? Curiously, this statement stands beside his other assertion which was that our own Intelligence was not believable.)
"I guess an American president would know
what's best for Europe, huh? Munch, munch." 

“Immigration is changing the culture of Europe and they had better watch themselves.”  Pres. Trump has advice for German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

“Germany will become totally dependent on Russian energy if it does not immediately change course.” Pres. Trump’s speech at the U.N. General Assembly which brought about smirks among the Germans. (I would love to have overheard their dinner conversation that evening).

“The Mueller investigation is a witch hunt.” Pres. Trump, on Twitter and to news reporters, repeatedly. 
"I've studied the ocean and there are no whales.
Ignore the four whales below and behind me---
move along people. Nothing to see here."

“I did not limit the investigation of the FBI in any way.” Trump’s assertion that the FBI investigation intended to address specific allegations of sexual misconduct by Kavanaugh was not limited by him. FBI Director Christopher Wray later testified under oath that the Pres. did limit the breadth of the investigation.

"I can squirm my way out of most
anything. It's a rare skill."
“It’s a bad time for men.  You can get accused of anything and then your life is over.”  “It’s a great time for women.  A great time!” President Trump’s analysis after the Kavanaugh hearings.

“We need Saudia Arabia.” (The $115 billion arms deal) “would produce 500,000 jobs.”  “They are an ally.” Pres. Trump on the likely murder of the journalist living in America, Jamal Khashoggi, and the president’s desire to continue pursuit of an arms deal with Saudia Arabia. The claim of 500,000 new American jobs is unsubstantiated.

So, here it is then— our American Honesty displayed for the World to see. Maybe our Freedom of Speech gives us the right to speak nonsense? Is that it? We have all the rights of Free Speech and no responsibility associated with it? Sometimes it feels that way.

Everyone that I call “friend” was taught about Honesty in childhood. Do we not still teach our children to be truthful?  In my childhood home, lying was just about the worst thing I could do.  A liar could never be trusted.
Teenagers hanging out in a live oak on
Cumberland Island, Georgia.

Were you encouraged as children to win at any cost? I doubt that is what most of us were taught. Playing fairly and playing well with others were, and are still praised, are they not? Winning, by means of cheating, whether in a game or in academics, is nothing to be proud of.

And there’s this other really hard one that I believe we still promote—we still try to teach our children to understand that they are no more important or more worthy than other children in the world.  We want to lead them away from an attitude of entitlement. Most of you reading this will, I think, say that no, we do not want to raise the next generation to believe they are entitled. We want a generation that does not believe in taking advantage of those less fortunate. We can be a much greater nation than that.

Reflections on Honesty.
I would like to believe that most of us were taught to value Honesty. Although our 1st Amendment does not say, “You must be Honest in your Free Speech,” do we not want to pair up Honesty with Free Speech? Put that Apple right there next to the Orange and encourage them to get along together. We ALL own the 1st Amendment. It is ours and we need to demand our right to it in order to keep it. But Freedom of Speech is not only an American right; it is an American responsibility.  

We are responsible for speaking out; and to speak out loudly to support those with the smallest and weakest of voices in America. We bear the responsibility to point out dishonesty, scheming and trickery when we see it. If we shall have any hope of restoring Honesty in our nation we shall have to demand it.  We must vote for Honesty. Honesty rather than flashy rhetoric. Plain old ordinary Honesty, without glamor, without catchy phrases, and we’re going to need lots more Honesty in our national conversations. Vote for Honesty! Please! Let’s give Honesty a new life in America.

Saturday, October 13, 2018

A Book Review - The Essence: vignettes on my life with the sea

I’ll share what just may be revelations for many of my readers residing on dry land — Firstly, I dare say there are many more people living on sailboats, cruising around the world than you probably have imagined. Secondly, the percentage of those cruisers that write (whether it’s a blog, poetry, novel, “how-to” book, history, or travelogue) is greater than the percentage of writers living in the general population of land lubbers. I have absolutely no statistics to back up this claim—it’s just GOTTA be true because I’ve met so many of them. 

There is something about living on the water that prompts many of us to write for the first time. Or like me, a prior interest in writing became a need to write while living aboard a sailboat. I have read many, many books written by cruisers, and my husband has read yet again many more of them. Not all books written by sailors are memorable; I’m asking you to trust me on that point. A writer that is not yet confident in his or her craft may, I think, be tempted to add gratuitous drama to their story, rather than allow the tale to unfold, as it naturally wants to do. There are those stories, however, that are written so clearly and without artifice. 

A review of The Essence: vignettes on my life with the sea reveals that very sort of book -- a book that I will enjoy rereading. The Essence was written by a fellow cruiser, author and friend, Deb Akey. I first met Deb in Annapolis a few years ago, when I as a new cruiser, asked for her help with some technical aspects of writing using blog software. Deb was most gracious and patient with me.  She was already a published author, and as such, was to me a marvel of knowledge, skill and guts. We have bumped into each other a couple more times over the past three years, either while traveling the IntraCoastal Waterway, or while paused at a marina.  Sailors tend to keep track of one other.

Deb and her husband, Tim, together write a blog called They have lived aboard their Tartan 42 longer than our 3 1/2 years living aboard Northern Star. Like us, they sold everything several years ago and moved onto their boat in order to answer a voice that called them to the sea, a not uncommon theme among cruisers.

The Essence is, however, more than a book on a common theme of answering the call of the sea.  Each of the vignettes paints a gestalt that is familiar yet remarkable.  Accompanied by Deb’s beautiful photography, the author has teased out for us, emotions that are universal. 

Deb Akey has captured within The Essence, the most elemental of emotions, of human thought, of reflections that I myself have experienced while living on the water. The decision to remove oneself from land to live on a boat is a life-changing undertaking. Steps taken to live as full-time cruisers, cannot be undone. The previous life on land cannot be replicated without great effort, if at all. But beyond that major decisive experience, the author has summoned up many other experiences, big and small, that are part of boat living. And each is a pleasure to visit. 

Author, Deb Akey
The Essence vignettes evoke memories of contentment, belonging, surprising wildlife and sunsets. There are satisfying moments of small triumphs, moments of stunned awe, and “aHAH moments." It is simply poignant. If you live on the water, or want to imagine what such a life would feel like, you will love this book. Settle into a comfortable spot in the shade and let the beautiful words gently ferry you along.  Read The Essence in one sitting as I did the first time, or savor each vignette individually, as a treat at the end of your day. This is what I intend to do next time I pick it up.  It will be like unwrapping a chocolate to savor in the evening, one at a time.

Sunday, October 7, 2018

Passport to American Ideals

United States of America

I was completing an application to renew my passport today, when I noticed for the first time, that there are quotes imprinted on each page 6 through 28. Those are the pages where Customs officers stamp the passport upon entry.
There are twelve quotations or excerpts from documents, that are included in our passports to express the beliefs of the American People. Five of the twelve quotes are by presidents of our great Nation. All twelve are beautiful and inspiring. I encourage you to look at them the next time you pull out your passport. I am focusing primarily on the presidential quotes today.
Birthplace of George Washington

At the inception of our country, we hear the following from George Washington —.

       “Let us raise a standard to which the wise and honest can repair.”
George Washington

In 1776, our new nation valued intelligent thought and honesty. Thumbs up from me!
The first Capitol of the U.S., in Annapolis, MD

“We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”
                     excerpt from the Declaration of Independence

As we know, Thomas Jefferson was the author of much of the Declaration of Independence, although his name is not printed in the passport. I love Jefferson’s way of saying essentially, ‘well, of COURSE we are all equal, Duh.”  Of course from the perspective of 2018, we recognize that Jefferson owned slaves and nowhere in our nation were women treated as equal with men at that time.  But still, STILL those words remain so powerful, SO beautiful. 
Traveling threshing team, c. 1930

The next president’s quote to be included in the passport is from Theodore Roosevelt, the president that I think of as the adventurer, who traveled across our nation and other countries, as well.

“This is a new nation, based on a mighty continent, of boundless possibilities.”
Theodore Roosevelt

In 1901, our nation valued and acknowledged our might in the world. We knew that the very size of our country held a breadth of resources yet to be discovered. Diverse landscapes, diverse peoples, diverse thoughts. The opportunities before the people must have stretched out to some unimaginable future in 1901.
U.S. Allies in WWI

After our country had fought and bled in two World Wars, President Eisenhower had this to say, 

Whatever America hopes to bring to pass in the world must first come to pass in the heart of America.” 
Dwight D. Eisenhower

In 1953, we acknowledged that we could and would have influence in the broader world. We would however, need to achieve our hopes of liberty for the People here on our own soil, if we had any chance of leading other nations toward the goal of liberty for all.

“Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, in order to assure the survival and the success of liberty.” 
John F. Kennedy
Poverty in Appalachian America.

Kennedy is the first president that I can remember from my childhood. I know exactly where I was when he was assassinated, as do all other Americans alive at that time. I remember feeling so proud of this president. Later, I would learn that he was a man with frailties and foibles like everyone else. But during his short presidency, he proved a charismatic, powerful leader of ALL the American people.

In 1961 our nation recognized that we were not the champions of the world, but that we believed in our national duty to be a beacon toward liberty for all. There might be more war and we would come together to endure whatever might be required in that pursuit. Liberty must survive! It was the time of the Arms Race; it was the Bay of Pigs. My earliest memories of American national identity were that there were very big and scary people outside our borders that wished Americans harm. 
Kennedy Space Center, Florida

“For this is what America is all about.  It is the uncrossed desert and the unclimbed ridge. It is the star that is not reached and the harvest sleeping in the unplowed ground. Is our world gone? We say “Farewell.” Is a new world coming? We welcome it — and we will bend it to the hopes of man.”
Lyndon B. Johnson

In 1965, although Lyndon Johnson would never be the charismatic leader that President Kennedy had been, he carried the torch for liberty forward.  The 50’s and 60’s were such a tumultuous time. So MUCH was happening so quickly.  Johnson’s Great Society domestic programs were put forth in hopes of eliminating poverty and racial injustice. The Civil Rights Movement was a volatile time; tragedies were repeated across the country time and again. Fear and hatefulness drenched our People. We must recognize that large groups of those who were disenfranchised still reside in that unjust place within our borders.
Full moon over Cuba

We are painted with a bruised national and international palette. The Berlin Wall and Blockade, the Cold War, D├Ętente, and the divisiveness of McCarthyism—the practice of “publicizing accusations of treason and disloyalty with insufficient evidence.”  A practice that sounds eerily like current practice rampant in our nation.

The last quote which I have chosen to include is not from a president. It is by a woman who was born into slavery in 1858 in Raleigh, North Carolina. She was the daughter of an enslaved woman and either the white landowner or his brother. I admit I had no knowledge of this woman before today and a bit of research was required.  I admit embarrassment in the fact that I, as a white woman in America, do not know enough about black history in America. 
Alex Haley reading to African American children.
Statue on Ego Alley, Annapolis, MD

“The cause of freedom is not the cause of a race, or a sect, a party or a class — it is the cause of humankind, the very birthright of humanity.”
Anna Julia Cooper

This brilliant woman who became a well-educated writer, teacher and activist started life in the most rude of circumstances. She was the offspring of rape by a white (<- power) man (<- power) perpetrated against a woman of color who possessed no rights of citizenship.  It would take a war within our country’s borders to tackle citizenship for ALL Americans followed by struggles continuing to the present day. I am glad that her perspective is represented in our passports.  A woman with a clear voice, speaking for people of all races, all religions, all political parties and all socioeconomic statuses. 
Church in colonial Hawaii

I see her statement as prescient for the events of today. And though she does not specifically name “gender” in her list, her very existence is proof of that intent.  

And finally, I conclude with a more current quotation from a president. It hasn’t made its’ way into our passports, nor do I think it ever will.  I think you will recognize the author immediately.

“It's just fake. It's fake. It's made-up stuff. It's disgraceful what happens, but that happens in the—that happens in the world of politics." 
Wall Street, New York, NY
Trump on being accused of rape, White House Rose Garden press conference, 2017

I will leave it to the reader to evaluate the above quote from the perspective of the previously stated American ideals: 
Intelligent thought
Unlimited Possibility
Liberty for all
Loyalty and trustworthiness to our allies
Inclusion of all races, religions, thought and class 
Statue of Liberty, New York Harbor

Our American story isn’t a done deal, of course. Our current national scenario of “fake news,” distrust of women in positions of power, and the accumulation of obscene wealth serving as the means for the few to wield power over the People are not foregone conclusions. We, and we alone are the ones who will decide the course of our future American story. Do we cling to our American ideals?  Or, do we trade them in for something lesser — something cheaper, something that requires less effort?

Saturday, September 29, 2018

A Story of Power and Fear in America

A woman screamed at me yesterday while I was driving.  “You stupid-ass bitch,” as her car passed on my right.  We were approaching a lane closure, forcing traffic to slowly merge.  Perhaps I had failed to let her in ahead of me—I don’t know. I wasn’t aware of whatever it was I had done (or not done) that prompted the angry outburst. The other drivers around me were men, so the “bitch” must have been me.
Duluth from Enger Park

I’m sure it wasn’t only my driving that set the woman off. Maybe she had encountered this same scenario a few times before and was weary of how poorly Duluth drivers were adapting to the road closures. Maybe she needed to get somewhere really fast—-maybe there was someone bleeding in her car. 

Ku Klux Klan history, Little Rock
Historical Society
But what I really thought about was this, “What pile of injustices or abuses had this woman endured in her life? Something or someone had cut her so deeply that she could readily lash out to hurt another.” How have we gotten to this place in our country? I don’t mean JUST the name-calling, although that is certainly part of it. And I definitely do not mean just the road rage. I am talking about that flame of divisiveness that gets fanned into a roaring fire with so little provocation nowadays. 
Chicago neighborhood, 2018

The boundaries that we draw for ourselves, with such rigid determination— boundaries built of values and beliefs and dreams that help me define myself as part of this group vs. that group. I am attracted to people whose world-view aligns closely with mine and in that way I have established a social group that provides me a “safe” place to interact with the world.  

Outside of my group, I observe many whose world view differs so drastically from mine; I admit that that fact makes me nervous sometimes.  I’m sometimes disconcerted by others’ reactions to events—even incredulous and sometimes very angry.  I say things to myself like “You S***head” while watching or listening to news of the day. Sometime I say it out loud. 
Exploding Technology. Enjoy
internet via watch.

Access to social media has opened a worm-hole through which I creep or launch myself into the fray. Conversations that I would not engage in with a person sitting next to me can be undertaken with a stranger 20 states distant through use of a keyboard and the internet. 

Those who agree with my world-view are identified as being part of my “team.” Those who don’t are suspect. ”How could that person think the way they do,” I wonder. “They seem so bright otherwise—how could they believe the lies that are spewed at us these days?”  “How can they go along with the Conservative thinking about our nation, our world?” “How is it that they don’t recognize what seem to me to be crystal clear truths?” 

Memphis historical marker
I feel, in fact, as if the dark and filthy underbelly of our nation has been encouraged to crawl out of the sewer and into the light—only to display its’ depravity proudly. To promote the rights and privileges of those who already possess the most power so that they can guard and keep it. 

Herding cows, main street of Spring Grove,
MN c. 1870. photo: Giants of the Earth.
It has become acceptable in some places and circumstances for people in authority to treat people of color very badly, even to death. Our nation found it acceptable to treat immigrants as one might handle a herd of cattle—separate the young from the old with indifference, without apology. Who apologizes to cattle? 

Weapons loading competition, Minot AFB, ND c. 1978
Somehow, those with the most power have dispensed with even the appearance of caring about the People. The Second Amendment rally cry is said to be synonymous with a cry for freedom. Freedom? To me, it rather seems a symbol of our fears. Instead of “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” we have substituted “fight, intolerance and fear of want.”  

Quote: "If the bees all die, we're next."
Ardys Richards
I fear nuclear war. I fear that good education is becoming the privilege of those who have money. I fear that we will reserve health care for those who can afford to pay. People have reason to fear going to public places like schools, churches and theaters. 

I fear that our planet will not sustain our descendants far into the future. If you fear those things, too, I would identify you as a member of my “team.”
The U.S. Capitol at night, May 2018

Yesterday my “team” received a swift kick to the gut. I'm not talking about the woman who cursed me. It’s what I saw, courtesy of social media—a roomful of predominantly white men who wield a great deal of authority in our nation’s Capitol. I saw them fumble clumsily with the task of displaying simple human decency. 
Little Rock, AK Historical Society

The situation required at the very least, a respectful ear for a woman’s history of sexual assault as a young girl. For these rude men, she relived her nightmare of fear, vulnerability, of being grabbed and used, of being “taken” like a prize for the conqueror. The men seemed unable to conceive of the harm done to this woman as a girl. 
Oregon City History Museum.  Brewing after Prohibition.
Or, they saw themselves as the young man in the story? They removed themselves from the reality of her testimony as far as they possibly could by saying,  IF this was done to her, it certainly had nothing to do with my candidate for the SCOTUS.”  
Turtles can tuck their heads inside
to ignore things.

This brave woman relived the ugliness for the edification of these men. She relived it because it was the right thing to do. And for their part, they refused to look at her.  Refused to address her. They sought to make her invisible, an obstacle to their singular goal. In return for the woman’s sacrifice of privacy, her sacrifice of innocence, she has been belittled, discounted, and has had to hide with her family because of threats to their safety. Her life will never return to what it was before this day. 

The future of our country. graduates of Spring
Grove High School, May 2018
As a nation we have learned so little. The collective United States (the big WE) still believe that our nation for which we have fought multiple wars, the nation that has been there to help around the world in the most desperate of times; we still believe that everything, every “thing” is there for the taking, including the women “things.” Have we learned nothing about humanity? 

Girls' Night Out on Beale Street, Memphis. May 2018
Have we not learned that really bad things do happen to people? These are not things that happen just to those other people. And how have we not learned that when bad things happen to the most vulnerable among us, that it is the responsibility, even the honor, of the others to hear them and to protect them from further abuse. 
In honor of the local war dead.

I vigorously dislike labeling women as “vulnerable” for two big reasons: One, because women can be the sexual/powerful aggressor, just as a man can be. But the second reason is because I don’t want to be vulnerable and I don’t want men to see women as vulnerable. But it is the women, not the men, who are taught how to protect themselves. 

Little girls playing in Spring Grove City Park 
“Don’t walk alone in dark places.” “Go to public restrooms in pairs.“ “Car keys held in a fist with the point protruding between the clenched fingers is a weapon.” “Keep mace in your purse,“ “You can’t run wearing high heels,” “If you are grabbed by a man… act bizarrely, scream for all you’re worth, bite him, pee on him, fingers in the eyeballs, kick the groin, become dead weight, and whatever you do, do not get in the car.”  
Portrait of U.S. Presidents, painted during last Bush Administration, displayed
in shop on Annapolis waterfront.  Artist unknown.
If privileged white men are able to discard the testimony of this brave woman, because they think that they are removed from such raw things, or that such events are insignificant; or if they think that they do not know any women in their lives that have been assaulted, they are badly mistaken. 
Photo: Little Rock, AK Historical Society

These women of whom I speak might just be their grandmothers, mothers, sisters, good friends, wives and daughters. And without even understanding what they have done, these men threw aside the most important women in their lives—all of the women who have never told a soul what happened to them. Many if not most women will take their assault stories with them to the grave, and for good reason. 
Grave of Lucy McLean Davis. 
"She hath done what she could"

These powerful white men, if they were to understand the discomfort spared them by the silence of the women they love, would they be glad to be unencumbered by that knowledge? Oh, what a blessing for those with the greatest power in the land.