According to Woody Guthrie, who memorialized the Grand Coulee Dam and the Columbia River in folk songs that lit up the map of United States and generated more ultra-rich color and intentionally hyperbolic commentary than de Tocqueville, the Pacific Northwest is an integral part of America.
It was out here where the imagination of America still lived; where the spirit of the frontier came to a natural conclusion, but provided a lot of big territory between mountains, Palouse and the Pacific that were vital to the country's identity as being vast, varied, and -- if not limitless -- then at least damn big enough and studded with enough bounty to provide for us all.
Yeah, Woody was a "red," and it was his hyperbolic vision that brought us not only an anthem about how this land was your land, but an abiding sensibility, at least among some of us, that there really should be a "one for all" spirit underpinning our national identity. It's probably no coincidence that Seattle has just elected a bona fide socialist activist, Kshama Sawant, to the city council. That's how we roll, even when Jeff Bezos and Bill Gates and Paul Allen and all the other Capitalists 2.0 wonder what a socialist city council member has in store for them. It's one thing to decide to give your money away after you make it, but what happens when $15 minimum wage is the law of the this land is your land?
So it was with great interest that I read a piece in The New York Times on Sunday by Freda Moon called "In Search of Woody Guthrie's America," because she starts out right here in Washington state, with a tour of the big engineering project that harnessed the power of water and turned it into electricity. The story's appearance coincidentally coincided with a visit by Barack Obama to Seattle, and, more specifically, Medina, an exceedingly wealthy enclave just over the floating bridges across Lake Washington.
(For the record, Joe Klein's book, "Woody Guthrie: A Life," is one of my all-time favorite biographies: So well researched and written, the way it brings to life everything that infused Guthrie's vagabondest, singingest, protestingest, songwritingest life into living color.)
Obama allegedly loves the Pacific Northwest, and showed it by saying "Wow" at the gigantic, glacier-capped appearance of Mt. Rainier, which was out in full glory during what has been an unusually welcome run of sunny days here this November.
Unfortunately, though, Obama has failed to sustain the magic here in Seattle with at least one of the most veteran journalists in the Pacific Northwest. Joel Connelly of the Seattle P-I, has been skewering the President over the past few years for what Connelly calls Obama's "ATM" stopovers in Seattle. These are $32,000-per-couple dinners with very wealthy donors in lakefront homes predominantly on the Eastside. Connelly's biggest complaint is that Obama, and Michelle Obama, and his handlers have very consistently refused to allow the Northwest press corp access to the President for even one or two questions. That was again the headline on Connelly's report on Nov. 24, 2013, when Air Force One touched down at a far corner of Sea-Tac Airport before the President was whisked off to the gold-plated specials aimed at raising cash for fellow Democrats in 2014.
Washington is not a battleground state for Democratic presidential candidates, so outside of cursory visits for cash, there's not a lot of incentive to come out here and linger, let alone to stroke the egos and good feelings of Pacific Northwest residents. Everyone out here is generally infused with a sense of geographic entitlement, a semi-self-aggrandizing feeling that the quality of life, jobs, scenery, air quality and serenity are so superior that we're better off NOT advertising too much, otherwise even more New Yorkers or Californians will move here.
Still, given the anthem-making stake that the Northwest secured in Guthrie's work, it's viewed as a pretty big slight when, every time Barack Obama comes here, it's only drum up donations. Connelly's steadfast decision to ride the President over this cash & carry mentality about the Pacific Northwest coincides with an East Coast bias in politics and in the mainstream media, which makes it appear as if ALL of America's most "important" business takes place in the OTHER Washington and in the Amtrak corridor between Boston, New York and D.C.
The President comes and goes, but Rainier stays, the Grand Coulee dam stays, the ferry boats stay, the Olympics stay, Boeing ... maybe it will stay. Progressives and socialists and all the rest of us out here on the Upper Left Coast wouldn't mind a little more one-on-one with the President, but we'll get by, climbing our little mountains, driving our ribbons of highway, singing our little songs.
What's worse? Being a carpetbagging Republican who moves from D.C. to Wyoming to challenge a popular GOP incumbent U.S. Senator in an unwelcome primary (Liz Cheney) or being gayly married (Mary Cheney)?
It's a really, really close call, especially since my own sister, who has always been so accepting and supportive, sent me a text photo in the middle of this Cheney Brouhaha about a fun drinking glass she was sending me as a pre-Christmas present, since I like to swim, and, yes, drink. Sisterly relationships can be complicated, but when one is willing to stake a political career on denigrating the other's very being ... whoa. Not cool at all.
Mary Cheney spent years sabotaging the national movement for marriage equality and selling herself out to the likes of Karl Rove and Mitt Romney -- GOP big wigs who either use gay marriage as a wedge issue or who truly condemn homosexuality.
Still, in this instance, I pick the worst of the pair to be Liz , the carpetbagger. She has always embodied the kind of mean-spirited, small-minded, backward-thinking politics and policies that conspire to keep the United States suffocating under the remaining Puritanic strains of fundamentalist Christianity.
One nation, under my ass, divisible over stupid things that waste our energy and take us off course from the real work of upholding the great experiment that is this democratic Republic.
Or, as Mary Cheney so succinctly put it: “This isn’t like a disagreement over grazing fees or what to do about Iran. There isn’t a lot of gray here. Either you think all families should be treated equally or you don’t. Liz’s position is to treat my family as second class citizens. That’s not a position I can be ’lovingly tolerant’ towards.”
Carpetbagging is a far more time-honored tradition in U.S. Senate races than are Liz Cheney's Jurassic beliefs that traditional marriage must contain one man and one woman, otherwise, tornadoes will strike Illinois, typhoons will pummel the Philippines and our U.S. military will suffer due to the repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell."
It is really just so tired, the entire "debate."
Still, in the annals of "Gay Children of Republicans," and particularly the subcategory of "Gay Children of Staunch Republicans Elected To Higher Office," I've never felt sorry for Mary Cheney. She was born that way (Republican, Cheney, gay) and has had a long time to get used to the inherent challenges of trying to be true to herself.
Plus, her father -- who fabricated an entire Iraq war based on much bigger lies about Saddam Hussein than Barack Obama could ever muster about the 5 percent of health insurance policy owners who were going to lose their substandard policies under the Affordable Care Act -- has been given a small pass for his deceptively vague position on gay unions. He took cover under the "the states should be left to decide" on marriage laws all while GOP operatives (Rove) were picking off one-issue voters in places where marriage equality ballot measures were being voted on.
But given the party's platform on gay marriage, it's not as if Mary Cheney hasn't already had plenty of opportunities to lash out at the incongruous position of personal freedom/less government and the GOP's continuing stand that only men and women can marry, and divorce, a lot. Now, though, the divide between Mary Cheney's "lifestyle" and the GOP "platform" is about as personal as it can get.
Along the lines of Rick Santorum's infamous "reasoning" about gay marriage, that it will lead to "man-on-dog sex," the sister-on-sister blood feud has provided an scenario in which anyone who has a sister (me) or who is gay (me) can appreciate the absolutely visceral, personal, painful form of oppression that Liz The Carpetbagger is publicly willing to dictate for Mary The Married Lesbian.
My question is why did it take Liz Cheney's doomed political ambition to win in Wyoming, where she can't beat Mike Enzi, to finally prompt Mary to take off the gloves and rip her sister a new one?
The answer might be ... THE WIFE! It was, after all, Heather Poe, who first took to Facebook this week and aired the family divide in plain English by calling out Liz Cheney for supporting Heather and Mary in private while publicly denouncing gay marriage, thus making her sister and sister-in-law (in 15 states) second-class citizens.
To me, it was a good example of the kind of loving, dynamic and protective ways in which two people can form a union. Wives, and husbands, are some of the best at taking up their partner's interests in order to face the world with a sense of purpose and conviction.
Of course, that same kind of spousal empowerment seems to have led Dick and Lynne Cheney to try and tamp down the family feud over a charged issue, although one where more Americans have been polled saying they support the rights of same-sex partners to marry. Showing their own insidious way of keeping the peace, Dick & Liz offered an explanation that seems to say despite Liz Cheney's love and support and "many kindesses," she still thinks her sister's married union is wrong.
Liz has always believed in the traditional definition of marriage. She has also always treated her sister and her sister’s family with love and respect, exactly as she should have done. Compassion is called for, even when there is disagreement about such a fundamental matter and Liz’s many kindnesses shouldn’t be used to distort her position.
Liz's "many kindnesses" have all taken place in the closet. When she's loud and proud, she's a tiny little American, jousting against her sister, against the definition and function of family, against history. There's no glee in any of this.
It's 5:30 p.m. in Seattle, where we have lived now for exactly 20 years, give or take a few forays to jobs on the East Coast only to always return to Seattle where in 1993 I moved to and established phone service in the 206 area code.
Twenty years ago, we got assigned a phone number that, more than anything else having to do with a landline, I just can't give up because, after canceling service three separate times over 20 years to move to another state, I was always somehow able to get the phone company (whichever iteration of phone company was in charge) to re-assign me our old number when we moved back.
It was a sign that we still belonged here.
It was always OUR number.
So, how now do I always know when it's 5:30 p.m. in Seattle? Because the phone rings. And rings. And rings.
And no one answers it.
Worse than that, we CURSE the ringing landline! Or, rather, everyone else in the house curses ME, since I am the one who insists on keeping the landline and its attendant telephone company bills and all the useless solicitors who intrude on our night-time tranquility.
"I thought you were going to get rid of that?!" Diane The Daughter of Bill Penny Pinching Tuman From A Dead Milltown In Upstate NY exclaims.
It's the cost of the landline that most galls her, since we have three iPhones in the house plus three laptops and one mini Mac and big-screen monitor where all sorts of COMMUNICATION can and does take place.
We pay AT&T each month about as much as it takes to feed, clothe and shelter a small Peruvian village for a year in order to have those mobile phones. We pay Comcast the equivalent of the annual GNP of Nigeria for our broadband Internet service to have email and Skype and Gmail at our instantaneous disposal. And yet, I can't quit QWest or Century Link or whatever the name of it is completely, having whittled down the landline's monthly cost to about $13.12 in order to preserve something very important to me.
See, I don't want to USE the landline. I just want to keep our phone number. It's like a badge. It is like a sentimental keepsake. It's a defining and assigned identifier that for the past 20 years has been attached to rewards cards at all the local grocery stores, the gym, the accounts on our other utility bills. It's like actually part of me, like a name, or social security number. It's like part of the geographic encryption code for me being in a city I moved to at age 31, never expecting to stay, yet here we have stayed, or kept returning to and now is our permanent home -- probably.
I can say that number in my sleep, even though we really have no PRACTICAL use for it. Only once has someone that we actually cared about tried to call it to wish our daughter a happy birthday. But we didn't answer the landline because, well, we don't use it.
"We don't NEED that phone!" Diane The Bar Owner's Frugal Daughter Tuman reminds me every night when the INTRUDERS make use of my sentimental attachment. Her voice disdainful, as if I was keeping a plough horse in our yard; a thing so needy and expensive and a utterly out of date and place in our modern, urban lifestyle.
I can't help it, even though the actual RINGING of the phone annoys me, too.
Damn phone. Ringing on cue right after not ringing all day. Ringing with solicitors who so perfectly time their offers of free power washing or driveway re-paving estimates.
Ringing with firefighter associations and benevolent police officer organizations seeking donations.
Ringing with the non-profits and not-for-profits like the zoo, the symphony, the rep theater and dance company.
Ringing with pleas from Democrats, Socialists, reproductive rights activists, Greenpeace-types.
Ringing with calls from the blind, the deaf, the sick, the needy, the hungry, the poor.
Ringing with candy sellers, old couch picker-uppers, school district officials.
But the phone stays, a small, plastic relic that still chirps out cries for attention at the appointed dinner hour, when no one who I want to talk to or hear from calls into our otherwise sedate home. It's the cheapest landline I could find, so it's not even portable. It cost like $19.99 at the local hardware store. I bought it 18 months ago when we bought this latest house in Seattle.
During the day, when I'm working at home, it rests silently and uselessly on the bookshelf behind the TV. The black plastic handset collects dust at an alarming rate. The flaccidly coiled cord is strewn in a dejected heap. No one calls during the day. I never call anyone on it ever. We don't even have long distance service. We have like unlimited local calling, but we don't call anyone because we can just text them, or use our iPhones, which are attached to our palms and fingers and ears like sleek, compelling mutant growths.
I can't walk into the next room without my iPhone. It is an extension of my entire being; all my human functionality processed through its obsessively perfected/Steve Jobs-invented utilities.
But by the same token, I can't NOT have the landline, not because I want the phone, or the calls, or the annoyance or cost or the clutter of its actual EXISTENCE. I just want the phone number.
In an odd confluence of history and conspiracy theories, I happen to be in western Kentucky during this week's buildup to the 50th anniversary of John F. Kennedy's murder. The purpose of the trip was to look into the case of the Breckinridge Land Committee, a group of heirs of former farmers whose land was taken by the U.S. government for the purpose of building Camp Breckinridge, where U.S. soldiers were trained for World War II.
It is a long, sad story, but the crux is that after taking 740 family farms that sprawled over a massive 36,000 acres of fertile and mineral-rich land in 1942, the land was eventually sold off in 1965 in large chunks to investors, not back to the farmers as promised. Additionally, and more curiously, the mineral rights were sold off, too. We are talking coal and oil reserves worth tens of millions of dollars. Today, the farmland -- studded with Monsanto corn -- boasts dozens of oil wells and coal mine shafts and a miles-long conveyor belt to bring all those minerals to the Ohio River. It's quite a scene, and sordid legacy.
Anyway, some of the heirs kindly took me around Union, Henderson and Webster counties to show me the land that used to be their families', and, of course, needing to stop for lunch one day, I was taken to a place called Peak Bros. Bar-B-Q where a letter from Lady Bird Johnson hangs on the wall. The letter commends Peak's for some delicious barbecue, and mentions how much the Texan President -- Lyndon B. Johnson -- enjoyed it.
The funny thing is that there's more to Lady Bird Johnson's legacy in western Kentucky than political fundraisers that seem to have led to her and her husband enjoying Peak's Bar-B-Que.
The story goes -- and witnessed testimony states -- that one day in the mid-1960s, a helicopter was seen spotted hovering over one of the Breckinridge fields by a worker repairing one of the oil rigs. The 'copter touches down and out walks Lady Bird Johnson who, according to lore, walks up to the rig worker and asks: "Can you show me which ones are my oil wells?" Turns out this guy had been at the political event earlier in the day and had seen Lady Bird there, so he knew it was her.
Texas oil lady and President's wife has oil wells in land sold off by U.S. government at cut rates? Hmmmm.
It's nearly impossible to overstate the significance of this anecdote, since the connection between Lady Bird Johnson, Austin TX oil companies, President Johnson, the U.S. government, land and mineral takeovers from poor farmers all seems to have added up to the conclusion that the mineral-rich land taken from the farmers had always been intended to be doled out via back-room deals to very powerful interests. And who was more powerful than Lyndon Johnson, the power-obsessed Dallas politician who may or may not have been part of the JKF murder and his self-made millionaire wife, Lady Bird?
Later that day, I stopped in to the Union County Public Library to look over some material relating to Camp Breckinridge, but I got immediately sidetracked by a display of books about JFK and the 50th anniversary of his death. On the shelf was a book by Barr McClellan, a former member of LBJ's legal team, called "Blood, Money & Power: How LBJ Killed JFK."
Naturally, having just seen the Lady Bird letter hanging in the barbecue restaurant, and having just listened to many Breckinridge land heirs woefully recount their suspicion that the fix for their oil and coal rights had doomed their chances of getting their land back, I had to leaf through it.
Without discussing the merits of McClellan's evidence, it's nonetheless eerie to consider that, despite the Warren Commission report in which lead investigator Arlen Specter concluded a single bullet killed John F. Kennedy, there's still too much that's shady about the entire explanation of how "two lone nuts" in Lee Harvey Oswald and Jack Ruby were at the center of this seminal event in American history. The more I read through the book as I sat in the heart of western Kentucky where the government got away with theft, the more difficult I found it to discount that, well, conspiracies are probably not only for the nutty.
Last week, Specter's son, Shanin Specter, wrote an essay that appeared in The Daily Beast defending the Warren Commission report and his father. The essay's arguments for The Single Bullet Theory are laid out in such a way as to suggest that anyone who believes there was a conspiracy to kill JFK is as much a nut as Oswald and Ruby.
Shanin Specter wrote:
I accompanied my father to speaking events back then, when he was District Attorney of Philadelphia, and was surprised by how vigorously he was questioned and how fundamentally he was disbelieved on this subject. He had a wonderful set of replies: he’d begin by letting the speaker talk himself out. Then he’d ask whether the questioner had read the Warren Report. Usually, but not always, the reply was “no.”
I met Arlen Specter many times over the 30 months that I was a political columnist for the Patriot-News in Harrisburg, a time between 2009 and 2011 when the senior Senator from Pennsylvania once again took center stage on the national scene at a seminal time in U.S. history. He was a fascinating figure, mostly because he was so politically adept at appearing to appease his political party backers and constituents, all while his true aim was to preserve his seat at the table. I do believe Specter was likely to have been pathological to the point where he would do or say anything necessary; that he was at first an opportunistic maverick who cold-bloodedly calculated political strategies that were ultimately about his own ability to be at the table, or in the back room, though I only knew him in the last three years of his life.
As a Republican whose prospects for re-election in 2010 were slim, Specter cast his lot with Barack Obama, Joe Biden, Ed Rendell and the Democrats by supporting the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act and switching parties. It was a Machiavellian move even by Specter's supernatural ability to try and stay ahead of or change the political winds. But his last political maneuver was a failure. He was rebuked in the primary by Pennsylvania Democrats, who picked former Congressman Joe Sestak, who lost to Pat Toomey. Specter died in 2012, but his role in the JFK saga continues.
Just because Arlen Specter the prosecutor and political chameleon attempted to place the conspiracy theories about JFK's death in the same lot as conspiracies about the murders of Jesus and Lincoln does not diminish in any way the merits of the skepticism, or more, from those who refuse to believe that a powerful Dallas politician in a "City of Hate" where JFK was reviled and then murdered might have had something to do with that murder.
That's what Barr McClellan's book argues. Shanin Specter's defense of his father' work on the Warren Commission is understandable. Still, sitting in a library in a Kentucky county where the coal and oil assets have been worth tens of millions of dollars; oil fields where Lady Bird Johnson came calling after the mineral rights were stolen from 1,500 U.S. farmers, your mind starts to wander.
Barbecue. Oil. Texas. Power. Lady Bird. LBJ ... sometimes, it's a little to tough to swallow the company line.
"Orange Is The New Black" is so damn good that, apparently, we aren't allowed to finish it.
What I mean is that in our house, having powered through the first 11 episodes of the Netflix series, the person who controls the remote (let's call her Diane Tuman) has been suspiciously coming up with excuses about why we can't watch episodes No. 12 and 13 to conclude the inaugural season, which has left me to wonder why we are watching another damn episode of "International House Hunters," or, the real tip-off that something's rotten: "Keeping Up With The Kardashians." Is there any more clear sign of avoidance than for someone to willingly choose the Kardashians over Piper, Alex and Pennsatucky?
"It's too late at night" has been the most frequently stated reason for avoiding the tantalizing last two episodes that wait ever so patiently to be streamed from the great digital beyond into our little living room. I bought into this rationale because, it is true: The allure of power watching cable TV series is that you can queue up a slew of episodes then knock them down like row of perfectly placed dominoes. But with only two episodes left, and days gone by in which we have watched way too many Bravo reruns, I realized that the Remote Controller doesn't want Season 1 to end. It's a stall tactic, at least until Season 2 is closer to air time.
There's good and bad in this enforced state of cliff-hanging, since OITNB series was renewed for another season, which means instead of pathetically waiting for "Downton Abbey," where all the good British character actors so eagerly opt out of their contracts that "Downton" has left a pile of dead bodies higher than "Breaking Bad," we can instead obsess about the return of "Orange Is The New Black." But until the series is closer to offering us new episodes, we are going to sit here in this house hatching those two last episodes like penguins protecting those penguin eggs through the Arctic blast of winter, except without the Morgan Freeman voiceover.
In short, what makes OITNB such addictively compelling TV is:
1) Piper's perfect navigation of the mind-bending horror of having your every freedom and sense of self worth vacated during incarceration vs. the bald-faced discovery of your true survivor instincts and true inner self.
2) The way in which the apparently stereotyped characters so definitively morph into complex individuals
3) The shifting dynamics of the ensemble as relationships and incidents occur, echo and expand.
4) Pennsatucky. Why is the meth-head, abortion-clinic killer who gets adopted by the pro-life radicals as their "Christian" patron saint of life-saving named "Pennsatucky" when the "real" word is "Pennsyltucky"?
The actress who plays Tiffany "Pennsatucky" Doggett (Taryn Manning) recounts how disheartening it was to not only be cast as Pennsatucky but to have had her teeth "enhanced" like she spent years sucking on Walter White's ice blue product. It's just not pretty, which is why "Pennsatucky" is the appropriately colorful nickname bestowed upon her. (For solace, Taryn Manning is enjoying the fruits of her labor. The actress and musician who fronted a band called Boomkat was last seen in Rosie O'Donnell's Instagram pic looking pretty happy, despite having to play a wingnut on TV.)
The proper term is "Pennsyltucky," a phrase that dates back at least to the early 1900's and that despite its deprecating bent does suitably interpret the Appalachian tendencies of certain rural burgs throughout Pennsylvania's midstate region. The word "Pennsyltucky" is a rock-solid bit of American linguistic invention, which is why I'm a little confused about why "Pennsatucky" is not "Pennsyltucky."
Still, the main point is: I'd like to FINISH Season 1.
Remote control takeover in process.
Like, I hear that some of our fellow countrymen/women have gone a little bat shit nutty over GUVAMINT. Something called "The Tea Party" has apparently kicked up a little dust about food stamps, free cell phones, "Obamacare" and Kenyans.
Well, excuse us liberal stoners out here in the "Evergreen State," especially those of us borderline socialist/coffee roasters here in "The Emerald City." As we amble about in our electric smart cars, gaze up at the snowy cone of Mt. Rainier and take turns charging our various tablets, laptops and mobile devices, we sometimes have a hard time computing that, like, GUVAMINT is a bad thing.
"Out here," government is not some kind of tax-collecting overlord, or big mama nanny state offering us powdered baby formula in exchange for our fallopian tubes. Ours is a much more copacetic concept of government, a place where state workers and elected officials have so eagerly responded to The People's choice to legalize the growth, production and sale of cannabis in all of its ever-evolving forms.
Forget all the various boutique botanical varieties of weed, which is now called "flower." The healthy medical marijuana trade that is already underway here in Washington state has opened a window on the brave and beautiful new world of extracted THC and other cannabinoids, from hash oils to mega-powerful dabs. But now all those products that "patients" have been using to deal with back pain, chemo side effects, seizures and "anxiety" will soon be available to everyone in the name of recreational marijuana.
Step right up.
While Rand Paul and Ted Cruz freak the fuck out about GUVAMINT, what's ours doing? Why, it is sending out neat, easy-to-read instructions via email blasts to any stakeholder or person interested in applying for a license to grow, produce or sell cannabis. You would be amazed and shocked at the pleasant, pointed, easy-to-understand informational updates that our GUVAMINT has been delivering to us, the citizens.
Just look at the latest notification about the implementation of I-502 notifying us that there is going to be a rule change on how to define the 1,000-foot setback that's required to keep weed shops from the likes of schools or transit stations. This notice comes on last week's notice that the application process for licensing for the growing, production and sale of marijuana will start in Washington state on Nov. 18 and run through Dec. 19.
If only the Affordable Care Act could have been "rolled out" with this kind of aplomb, maybe all the Tea Party-ers would take a chill.
Come to think of it, the Tea Party might need to change its strategy, become the Weed Party. Hemp, grown on Washington's farm in Virginia; supported by libertarians as the next great American freedom crop -- it ought to be turned into a unifying change agent for good in this country. I mean, just look at us way out here in the Pacific NorthLeft. Our state's best legislative effort on behalf of its people has been guiding them like Timothy O'Leary on a nice little trip to cannabis legalization.
Now das guvamint.
Too bad the legalization effort came too late for Michael Saffioti in Snohomish, WA who died in his cell after turning himself in on misdemeanor pot possession charge.
Also, just don't clench your buttocks in New Mexico. Because they did not get the memo there about how the war on drugs is a frightening, useless over-reach that emboldens U.S. law enforcement to act like KGB thugs undercover in Saudi Arabia.
Yarn is a continuous length of interlocked fibers, which in deference to Rand Paul's "leave me the hell alone" response to his plagiarism, I will state is the definition of yarn given by Wikipedia.
But in our house, yarn is something else. Yarn has become a kind of opaque and unlikely prism for the kind of unpredictable ways in which a young mind works -- and works against stereotypes and odds when it comes to a kid with dyslexia and language processing differences.
It starts with The 15 Year Old who has significant difficulties sequencing information and connecting abstract ideas along development lines we call "normal," or so we THINK. And it extends into a scenario in which The 15 Year Old is afflicted with a sore throat/body tingling virus that was contracted when the weather turned and her high school classmates were a brew house of germs. The symptoms, said The 15 Year Old, were so annoying, that she sent herself to bed at the unusually early hour of 9:45 p.m., then proceeded to lay there, in the glow of her fish tank light, complaining with dramatic gusto about how she was tired, felt weird, but could not fall asleep.
"Just relax," we offered from where we were reading, trying to encourage The 15 Year Old to just take a chill and understand that sometimes you have to give over to not feeling good, to which she offered a rebuke and an alternative solution.
"I'm going to tell myself the world's most boring story, then maybe THAT will put me to sleep,'' she shouted in quasi-faux frustration mixed with a jokester's desire to, well, make noise and vocalize her displeasure at feeling blech.
If this "bedtime story" was meant to be for our amusement, she succeeded, but it was in some pretty unexpected ways, because the most boring story she decides to tell in order to induce slumber was ... The History of Yarn. In other words: A yarn about yarn.
In her recounting, The History of Yarn started out with an introduction of the main character, Bobby Wool, a sheep farmer somewhere in England who was left to his own devices about how to tend to these sheep when his father, Butch Wool, suddenly died. So Bobby Wool decides he's going to take the matted and tangled hair from his animals and make something called yarn, since what else does he have to do all day by himself in dreary England on his farm?
As all parents of 15 Year Olds might confess, there often tends to be an overwhelming urge to, well, basically IGNORE the loud and seemingly random rantings of teenagers, especially at night, when you've been listening all day to a vast array of complaints, excuses, tangents, requests for more food and tales of friends or schoolmates who have done something 1) dumb 2) stupid 3) reckless or 4) insane. It does get difficult to discern what is important information you must hear vs. blather.
Well, the instinct here was to dismiss The History of Yarn as exactly this kind of night-time blather -- noise aimed at "engaging" us in her terrible misery, except that the imagery The 15 Year Old was using immediately conjured a "Wallace & Gromit" claymation film, complete with toothy sheep succumbing to the enterprising grooming of Bobby Wool.
Suddenly, I found myself not trying to ignore the bleatings from down the hall, but instead, slowly starting to marvel at what seemed to me an uncanny conflagration of what first appeared to be random blather but instead was a creatively logical re-interpretation of counting sheep, only in this case, the counting of sheep was the spinning of an allegedly boring "yarn" about ... YARN.
It's been a week or so since The Story of Yarn was first told in our house, but I can't stop thinking about it, or about the way in which a mind works. In the case of this 15 Year Old, let's just say it will be a stretch to get through algebra, just as it will be a daunting task for her to ever conceive of and execute a term paper with the kinds of reading, interpretation, footnoting, argument building and "logical" conclusion drawing required in "normal" academic pursuits. But ever since The History of Yarn, the sleep-inducing yarn about sheep and yarn, I can't help but now see genius where I used to see difference, or, frankly, disability.
Art Linkletter was right. Kids say the darnedest things, even when they have trouble "linking letters."
Somewhere, maybe in Hershey, maybe in Philly, the 4.5 people who run the Pennsylvania Republican Party should gather for a sit-down and seriously get their shit together. I say this with the greatest gust of conviction about trying to fix a problem that not only shows how pathetic they were in championing Mr. Hair for governor, but also in plummeting the sixth largest state in the country -- a state vital to transportation of most goods to the Eastern seaboard -- into a leadership and governmental torpor.
Not sure what "torpor" is? It means a state of uselessness yawning all the way into a canyon-esque abyss of ineptitude.
Evidence of this torpor? Don't say Tom Corbett's poll numbers from Terry Madonna's Franklin & Marshall survey. Those are all too predictable, given that this political mega-hack who abused the Attorney General's office and power for political gain was never a statesman, never a policy man, never even an idealogical zealot a la Scott Walker or that other doofus in Florida. He was just the guy installed in the party pipeline years ago so that one day, in the even/odd courtesy way in which Pennsylvania Democrats and Republicans alternate the governor's mansion in Harrisburg, Corbett would be the Hair In Waiting. If there was ever a case to be made for not allowing states Attorneys General to run for governor, Corbett is the poster child. There is absolutely no way that a person with political ambition should be given the keys to grand juries and prosecutorial investigations. It is downright frightening.
Now, to the shock of no one, including the 4.5 people who run the PAGOP, Corbett has fallen on his face, only for some reason, none of the 4.5 people who run the state GOP has the 1) clout 2) balls 3) ability 4) vision 5) morals or 6) brains to get Corbett the hell out of the way, although our friends at the Patriot-News in Harrisburg are starting to find "rumblings" from "sources" that GOP leaders at least understand they are screwed, and that Corbett's re-election is a fool's errand.
I don't know what kind of real input average, everyday, voting Pennsylvanians have about their elected officials. The state was gerrymandered into a red-state Congressional map despite overwhelming Democratic voter registration advantage, leaving much of its capital cronyism to the GOP, if only to offset the Democratic bases in Philly, Pittsburgh and the Northeast. So, even if the GOP loses to Allyson Schwartz or Rob McCord after their Democratic primary battle of the titans, the GOP will still have enough pie to shove in their faces for years to come.
However, in the broader scheme of things, with Pennsylvania trending far more moderate than its carved-up GOP Congressional overload can demonstrate, I am hoping that the coming gubernatorial election season does not merely get reported as whether or not the Keystone State will get a Democratic governor again. What the citizens of PA need is an examination of state politics that outlines how only a handful of people are actually in a position to determine what gets done in that state -- a state that does not allow ballot initiatives for citizens to address entrenched systems.
Where Ed Rendell wanted to sell the PA Turnpike to the highest Middle East bidder, Corbett wants to gift PA land to all those good fellas from Oklahoma and Texas. I am still trying to figure out why Ed Rendell so blithely agreed back in 2009 and 2010 that Corbett was likely going to be the next governor. It's like, even the Dems and GOP have deals to not upset each other's numbers' running.
Whatever Bob Asher, Robert Gleason, Christine Toretti, Roy Zimmerman et al thought they were going to get in installing Corbett as their G.W. Bush, they failed. Their efforts to give away state lands to the frackers; to bully school districts into vouchers and charter school ruses; to siphon funding from higher education; to sell off assets like the liquor stores and lottery ... they had an agenda. But the GOP in PA better own their greatest failure, which was to run Corbett assuming it didn't matter how horrible he promised to be. If they don't, they are going to be committing an even bigger failure: Not getting Corbett off the ticket in 2014.
Performance art theorists will have a field day with Lady Gaga's lasted getup, in which she appears as a hybrid of Michael Jackson/Bob Dylan and something out of Tim Burton's masterclass on "otherness," complete with the George Washington wooden teeth.
Either that or she's is trying to get in on "BeetleJuice" part 2.
I, however, sense that Gaga is actually getting closer to what she really wants to say about her struggling, bulimic self, though I hope I'm wrong, or shown that my interpretation of her latest "ugly" presentation is more about my own prejudices about what beauty should look like.
The crux? That Gaga feels she is unattractive and therefor all her costumery throughout her so-far powerful career has been an outsized attempt to masquerade and camouflage. In this latest get-up, she has just gone right at the heart of the matter, which is to unabashedly demonstrate her ESSENTIAL sense of self to her audience.
There's a paradox here, because that is both brave and devastating. Which may also be the point, since contradiction and all its anxiety are central to the task of how to present one's self. The question here, though, is whether Gaga is asking us to confront ugly, or whether she is trying to confront it herself. That's what I want to know from this Andy Warhol impersonator who has plenty of talent and understanding of the self-consciousness of performance, not just for entertainers like herself, but for all the voiceless, talentless little monsters in the world.
Quick, someone call in the performance art theorists. Or the makeup artist who helped her achieve this latest, somehow most startling look. And I thought the meat dress was her piece de resistance on messaging.
Harry Belafonte has always been good with a siren's song. And now he has upped the ante on political commentary. Belafonte called the Koch brothers the KKK.
In the theater of politics, the only thing more devastating, more intentionally aimed at amplifying the debate like napalm on a jungle or a Howitzer across a frozen trench of Allies, is to call your enemy "Hitler Nazi." Hyperbole is the mother of all repertorial devices, but in this case, how far off is Belafonte?
In his native New York, in anticipation of New York's mayoral election that will put left-of-Bernie-Sanders Bill De Blasio in office, Belafonte told congregants at the First Corinthian Baptist Church: “Already we have lost 14 states in this union to the most corrupt group of citizens I’ve ever known. They make up the heart and the thinking in the minds of those who would belong to the Ku Klux Klan. They are white supremacists. They are men of evil. They have names. They are flooding our country with money.''
Also: “They’ve come into to New York City. They are beginning to buy their way in to city politics. They are pouring money into Presbyterian Hospital to take over the medical care system. The Koch brothers, that’s their name. Their money is already sewn into the fabric of our daily system, and they must be stopped.”
As if De Blasio, cruising for landslide victory, needed to rally any more support. But who can blame Belafonte for seizing the New York mayoral race in context of the larger battle currently pushing our country to a funky little precipice of anxious self-annihilation?
The Koch brothers, fresh off their capitalist retreat from the Ted-Cruz-Government-Shutdown Offensive that they hilariously claim they did not inspire or fund, clearly understand that the ground war against them has escalated. They quickly condemned Belafonte, because, we suppose, an old Civil Rights activist alarmed at the perversion of the electoral process and overly-influential role of billionaires is worse than billionaires seeding "grassroots" campaigns aimed at taking over state and local governments for the sheer purpose of allowing said capitalists unfettered access to our savings, homes, tuition rates and reproductive organs.
When it comes to"constructive" criticism and lawful dissent of our nation's myriad policy contradictions (exporting democracy via shock, awe & drones etc.) no one has amassed quite the record of Harold George Belafonte. Who doesn't admire an activist who speaks truth to power?
Well, there have been those dangerous liaisons Belafonte passionately sought with the likes of Hugo Chavez, making Belafonte the Dennis Rodman of U.S.-Venezuela relations long before the tall, tattooed diplomat from Las Vegas ever set foot in Pyongang. Still, this Belafonte was mentored by Paul Robeson; he was a confidante of Martin Luther King; he was among the first to call out Gen. Colin Powell for the Secretary of State's role in selling the weapons of mass destruction lie that sent Americans barreling across the Iraqi desert, blowing up oil fields and limbs of the murdered/maimed innocent. Belafonte has staked his claim as the truth-speaking outlier, the Eric Snowden-esque keeper of Democracy without the stolen microchips and damaging data dumps.
In a country teetering on its roiling, contradictory freedoms, maybe it takes the winnowing up of messages to their most succinct, visual, visceral, essential elements, no matter how hyperbolic, how festooned in cartoonish, confusing and scary drama. Daylight's come and we want to go home, y'all.
Is a former political and sports columnist who worked great cities like Albany NY, Seattle, Baltimore and Harrisburg PA. She lives New York.