Word Power : Resilience

William Safire was a conservative speechwriter who served both Spiro Agnew and Richard Nixon; it was Safire who coined the ‘nattering nabobs of negativism‘ phrase that worked so well for Agnew. For many years, Safire wrote a column titled On Language* for the The New York Times and it was always entertaining and informative, on language at least. Oh, that column was about much more that language; Safire was a clever one and a brilliant writer who would use the topic to serve up a sickening dollop of his conservatism but I never swallowed a mouthful of that stuff. I went for the writing and the wit, the container, if you will.

In these difficult times, when I find myself confronting a national epidemic of illiteracy, I often think of Safire, especially on a day like today, when I encountered a word of particular power. The word is Resilience. It’s is defined as the ability to recover from misfortune or change; a substance, like rubber, is resilient in its ability to absorb the energy of a blow and then to release that energy as it recovers its original shape. Say what you want about our President, Donald Trump, (and at times I’ve had a lot to say about that individual) you must give him credit for his resilience. Less credit though, for his divisiveness.

Trump ran on his appeal to an enthusiastic minority with some very strongly held beliefs but his star-power endowed him with cross-over appeal. I don’t want to get mired in an analysis of the last election now but let it be understood that he was able to split the Republican Party and divide the electorate into warring factions. Today, many of his supporters do not endorse his opposition to the idea of Climate Change, the term under which scientists collect several natural processes that involve the warming of the Earth and the concomitant changes to the Environment. Trump has dismissed Global Warming as “a hoax.”

It’s no secret that the upper echelons of the Trump Administration comprises a congeries of short-sighted, money-grubbing privateers and when they sing the praises of Reconstruction of the Infrastructure, a popular song these days, it’s to the accompaniment of a cha-ching! chorus of cash registers. Hell and Highwater are coming, and we’re going to have to rebuild America, our roads; our bridges; our railway lines; water distribution systems and our electric grid. The Climate Deniers want to eschew environmental considerations both in the design and construction of these essential elements of the national infrastructure. The scientists and their more level-headed fellow- citizens are advocating caution and foresight and speaking of Climate Resilience. They want to build an infrastructure that considers the expected changes in things like the sea-level and the frequency and severity of storms.

But some of these advocates, considering the broken and divided condition of the political body, have suggested that all mention of Climate Change be dropped from the discussion and that the way forward is to consider Resilience as a common sense element of design. Using the word, ‘Resilience’ isolated from the divisive phrase ‘Climate Change’, has been effective in helping local governments to move past political confrontations and to take effective action to solve local problems. In Miami, where sea-level rise is wreaking havoc with the water-supply (sea-salt leaking into ground-water) and the tourist industry (as beaches get washed away and basements flood),

“Creative local leaders have navigated this dilemma by translating the thorny political question of climate change into the palatable language of resilience. In 2015, Miami established its first Sea Level Rise Committee … .The committee emphasizes the effects, not the causes, of sea-level rise when “mak[ing] recommendations to the City Commission for increasing the City’s resilience to rising sea levels.” Even the resolution establishing the committee omits any reference to climate change (City of Miami 2015City of Miami. 2015. “Miami City Commission.” Resolution Establishing the City of Miami Sea Level Rise Committee, R-15-0072.http://miamigov.com/sealevelrise/docs/R-15-0072SeaLevelRiseCommittee.pdf. [Google Scholar]).”

Link to entire article.

Seems like a good way to get a useful conversation going. Find the common ground and work together from there.

I’m all for Resilience. The way things have been going for me lately, I need it.

* I’ve tried to create a link to the Times archive of Safire’s work but it might be behind a paywall.

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A Modest Correction

Our President proudly commands the biggest, workingest nuclear button in the world. Perhaps.

I know that he’s a fella that has a little difficulty with complex ideas. It’s okay to call a country a shithole because it’s economically poor and to pretend that you never  intended to demean the people who name it as their birthplace. In his world, the other people, the foreigners, are the enemy; they want to take our jobs and displace our children. he reduces the history of the United States of America to a simple formula – my people (white people) were doing well and now they’re not. Others are to blame. Let us then get rid of the others and make America Great Again.

Once, our mighty army ruled the world but we, misled by the liberals (and their political correctness), negotiated away our power (hate them). No more. It’s time to flex our nuclear muscle, again. Remember when we weren’t afraid to use The Weapon? We sure showed those Japanese (think of the word he’d use here instead of the politically correct ‘Japanese’). Well, let’s make it plain that we’re, again, restored to our Greatness by Him (he’s a genius, he would say), ready and eager to drop a few more, this time on the people of North Korea. To teach the political leaders of that country a lesson in Greatness and Leadership.

It is now Two Minutes to Midnight, hence the title of this entry.

I’d like to share with you a little poem I wrote a long time ago, back when the Great Leader was still desperately struggling to find a bailout for his failed businesses.  and the Doomsday Clock was at Three Minutes to Midnight.

Three Minutes

Waiting for this thick night’s yielding
to a thinning dawn. Listening
to the passing beat
of dreamtime’s slow hours.
It’s coming. Creaking
bones stirring
ending, beginning.
In the pale sweep of History
memories linger.
Past midnight, nothing
escapes the hot flash.

There, unknown dead,
grim shadows on once walls
carbonized remains
black images in the light.
The light, the light that burns the soul
to ashes, to dust, to vapors
till mortal conscience
screams in pain. Horror!
resonating through folds of time
screaming its demands
the washing of hands.
Do not speak of Hiroshima.
Do not mention Nagasaki.
But it is still three
minutes to midnight.

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Is it Art?

When I first decided to write and publish fiction, I thought that I’d spend some time writing poetry. The idea was that writing poetry would be good practice for producing concise and powerful prose. I’ve since stopped writing poetry, though I still indulge the habit from time to time, in trying my hand at songwriting. It’s what I do to relax. But during the year or so of my poetic career, I contemplated the question in the title of this post. Today I read an article that raised the question to new prominence in my mind. You can read the piece here.

For me the question is about intent and artistic responsibility. For me, what I do is Art and it carries the responsibility to engage humanity, my fellows, my brothers, sisters, fathers, mothers, children, all — in a shared conversation that affirms the love we bear for each other and directs our attention to the struggles we must engage.

Here then, is a poem I wrote a couple of years ago when the Doomsday Clock was set at three minutes to midnight. It’s moved a bit closer since Trump claimed the White House.

Three Minutes

Waiting for this thick night’s yielding
to a thinning dawn. Listening
to the passing beat
of dreamtime’s slow hours.
It’s coming. Creaking
bones stirring
ending, beginning.
In the pale sweep of History
memories linger.
Past midnight, nothing
escapes the hot flash.
There, unknown dead,
grim shadows on once walls
carbonized remains
black images in the light.
The light, the light that burns the soul
to ashes, to dust, to vapors
till mortal conscience
screams in pain. Horror!
resonating through folds of time
screaming its demands
the washing of hands.
Do not speak of Hiroshima.
Do not mention Nagasaki.
But it is still three
minutes to midnight.

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Self-Serving Public Servants – Trump, DeVos and the Rise of the Plutocrats

gadflyonthewallblog

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This election cycle we have witnessed a subtle change to our political landscape – and it’s probably not the one you’re thinking about.

It’s not that Republicans have gained control of a large chunk of our government. It’s not that racists, anti-feminists and xenophobes have been emboldened by their Presidential pick winning the highest office in the land. It’s not even that the Democrats have been exposed as weak, blind and cheaply bought.

Well, it’s not just those things.

There’s something deeper and even more unprecedented going on here.

It used to be that the wealthy bribed politicians to do their bidding. Now the wealthy are becoming the politicians.

I don’t mean just millionaires. They’ve always been willing to fill an elected office. I mean the mega-rich. I mean billionaires. The Crassuses, The Midases, the Astors, The Rockefellers.

Sure, many lawmakers on both sides of the aisle…

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Timing is Everything

And depending on how you look at it, mine is amazing or awful. In a recent post here I shared that I had decided that my next book was going to be an elephant story, provisionally titled Magua the Elephant. Since I knew very little about elephants I embarked on my usual round of research on the subject. What I learned shocked me.

First, a tremendous amount of work has been done and much has been learned about elephants, about their habits, their environmental significance, and their culture.

Yep, their culture.

Turns out these are amazing creatures, intelligent and sensitive, long-lived and very social. I know that to some extent, these facts are not unknown to many but I never realized just how intelligent, sensitive and amazing.

Now, elephants are close to extinction. I could make a case here about their ecological importance but I’m not going to do that. You see, elephants are a problem for the farmers who have been trying to grow food on land that the elephants once roamed freely. We humans are outgrowing the planet and the elephants are getting in the way. We need to find a rational solution to the problem.

But the anger of a few farmers is not what’s driving the elephant to extinction. In Africa large game preserves have been set up to provide protected spaces for elephants, and where conflict occurs with farmers, electrified fences have been somewhat successful. More needs to be done, and there are some very smart people working on the problem.

The thing is, Ivory, at $1500.00 USD per pound.

Previous to this, there was a ban on the importation of ivory, and elephants were on the USA’s most endangered species list. Here’s a link to the Scopes fact check on the story, given that it’s so incredible.

Why, and why now?

The fools in the White House offer some nonsense about Zimbabwe. I think that the timing, coming immediately on Trump’s return from China, is significant. Until Trump’s out of the blue reversal, China had been the major holdout on a worldwide ban on ivory importation. Trump goes to China, is wined, dined and offered some private deals. Now China has a major ally in its vicious trade in ivory harvested from slaughtered elephants.

Wonder what the quid pro quo is in this huge deal?

And it’s very huge. This trade finances the various wars that are tearing the African continent apart. Not a very smart move by an American President, to facilitate the flow of cash to our enemies. Poached ivory is a major source of cash for terrorists.

Unless ….????

I am calling on all of you out there, in your own interests and in the interest of intelligent humanity, to demand the restoration of the ban on the importation of ivory to the United States.

The entrepreneurs who buy from these terrorist poachers know that it’s impossible to tell the difference between legal and illegal ivory so as long as there’s a legal trade, the poached ivory will find its way onto the market, and elephants will be massacred.

Please spread the word.

If you’d like to learn more about this nasty business, Netflix has a documentary up that you could watch.

Neil.

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Domestic Bliss

“Empirical research shows that no domestic arrangement, not even one in which the mother works full time and the father is unemployed, results in child-care parity between heterosexual spouses. The story we tell ourselves, the one about great leaps toward the achievement of gender equality between parents, is a glass-half-full kind of interpretation. But the reality is a half-empty glass: While modern men and women espouse egalitarian ideals and report that their decisions are mutual, outcomes tend to favor fathers’ needs and goals much more than mothers’.

The result of this covert power imbalance is not a net zero. A growing body of research in family and clinical studies demonstrates that spousal equality promotes marital success and that inequality undermines it. And the disparity creates not only undue emotional, physical and financial strain on mothers, but also perpetuates attitudes about what is and should be acceptable — or even desirable — between a woman and a man, with children as their eager audience.”

That’s a direct quote from an article that was published recently in the Washington Post. (Here’s a link to the entire thing if you’d like to read it yourself. ) It was the dramatic headline that got my attention – ‘Where do Kids Learn to Undervalue Women? From their Parents’. Some of the people reading this blog know my partner, Sharon, and can testify that she’s an independent thinker and a fearless woman. I admire her, a lot.

She and I agree, have always agreed, that abusers of all stripes are bred in the family and in the society and we have striven to raise our children in a non-toxic atmosphere. For me, it’s been an uphill struggle against the attitudes and prejudices with which I was endowed, not by my Creator, but by my parents and by the society in which I live.

While it may be fair to argue that the society is just the family writ large, it’s much more than that. It’s a bit like the difference between the private ignorance and fear that engenders racism in its supporters, and the institutional framework of law and regulation that preserves it. The fundamental similarity in the way misogynism and racism operate in the human mind is not a coincidence.

I think that the rupture over the Fifteenth Amendment, evidenced by Frederick Douglass’ political rejection of the Women’s Movement, was a great mistake. (And this in spite of his deep understanding of the innate connections between the struggles of disfranchised white women and similarly afflicted ex-slaves.) It’s unfinished business.

So here we are again, as our generation’s version of the Civil War rages around us.

Yes, I went there. It’s true, isn’t it? The old fault lines have ruptured again, under the pressure of a failing economy.

Recently I watched a BBC documentary film on the growth of a white supremacy movement in the USA .  I came away with an image that planted itself in my brain as a figure of  what we face in this country.

BlackPowerWhitePower

That’s a screen grab from the film, KKK  The Fight for White Supremacy; it’s available now on Netflix.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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November Approaches

And with it comes NaNoWriMo. I’ve been hearing about this for some time as several people from my old writers’ group, Buffalo Writers Meetup, have attempted it and talked about it at meetings.  This year I’m jumping in.

I must be getting old. I can’t remember which came first — my interest in elephants, or the idea for a story about an elephant. Whichever the case, I’ve decided that my NaNoWriMo is Magua the Elephant. I wrote a blog on the subject here.

I should also mention the book about elephants by Ellis Nelson; it too, was one of the prompts that got me interested in the subject.

So I’m looking at a commitment to 2K words a day. I’ll try to keep up with the blog. It’s been …. so far. Yeah, fun. Really.

Okay, exciting – I’ve got the feeling in the gut about this; the one where you’re frightened and excited in equal parts.

Let’s do this.

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What I learned from the Don in the White House

Well the would-be Don anyway. He’s not smart enough to be the Don, he’ll always be the one taking orders, being ‘advised’ on what to do. All he does is keep an eye on the money, or as he likes to say, ‘make deals, huge deals’.

When I started this blog, I was clear about my motives. It was mostly about the money. People who know me will recognize that that was a reaction to the way I’ve lived; I have always been an outsider, caring most about things that most people consider unimportant and not caring at all about what those same people most esteem. I had come to a point when I was beginning to think that it was time to put some cash together so that I could better help my children and do some things that I’d always wanted to do. Then the people chose an ignorant misogynist to be the President of the United States of America.

This is not a joke.

Comedians make fun of him and people laugh but this Presidency is reversing the progressive course we have been fighting so long and so hard to steer. He is dismantling every institution that reflected our humanity and our decency. If you are religious, he is destroying all traces of charity and brotherly love, installing a crew of monsters and encouraging the uninhibited pillaging of the country’s wealth and the unregulated exploitation of it people. And as long as he can use the mass media to propagate lies and stoke the fears of the most vulnerable, he will continue to prevail.

I’m not laughing.

I’m back at my writing desk, and this time, it’s not about the money. To hell with entertaining people. Who cares if they don’t buy my book? I’m going to write something that I can be proud of, and that my children can be proud to read and talk about. I’ll do the best work I can, and let it go where it will.

La lucha continua.

 

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Mango Crumble Tarts, a Caribbean twist on the American Apple Crumble pie. Serve it with sorrel tea.

I’ve had this and it’s really good.

Caribbean Foods in American Kitchens

Apples or mangoes.  Why not both? 

Apple Crumble Pie
Apple Crumble Pie served with homemade caramel sauce

I love apple making this apple crumble pie with a hearty whole wheat pastry crust.  Recently  though, with a  mango in my refrigerator, and dessert on my mind,  I experimented.

What I got was this mango crumble heart, so named because your heart crumbles to see it disappear off the plate so quickly. It got rave reviews.

Mango Crumble Heart Serve this mango crumble heart/tart with sorrel or hibiscus tea. You will think you’re back home

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Current Research: The Elephant’s Secret Sense by Caitlin O’Connell

The story of humans in the world is a sad tale of greed, ignorance and horrific abuse of the stewardship of the planet we have claimed as our birthright. Sometimes deliberately, sometimes inadvertently, but always with devastating agency, we have driven a number of species to extinction. The elephant, cursed with the ‘white gold’ of ivory, has been wantonly hunted and killed, as much for sport as for the valuable ivory in their tusks. Additionally, the modern drive of globalization of industrial development and the increases in human populations have encroached on the elephant’s natural habitats, driving the animals into deserts and reservations.

Caitilin O’Connell’s book leaves nothing out as she describes the personal odyssey that led to her discovery of the way these intelligent and sensitive creatures communicate with each other and maintain their societies. O’Connell is a human, who happens to be a scientist, and whose research allows her to meet and interact with the natural world of the African savannah. In the process she gleans, and shares with us, a profound insight into that world.

I enjoyed this book, not as a science report of an important discovery about elephant communication, which it so clearly is, but as an entertaining story of one woman’s African adventures.

Oh to be young again.

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