Russian Shenanigans

Well, you have to admire the Russians for thinking outside of the box. Their creative meddling with our elections has saddled us with the most divisive and destructive president in our nation’s history, in the form of bozo the clown. Who could have predicted that? They must be laughing over their borscht.

But now they’re employing marine mammals to do their dirty work. According to this article in Newsweek, there’s a beluga whale wearing a black harness that says “equipment of St. Petersburg”, that is harassing Norwegian fishing vessels. Practicing for… what?

The article goes on to say that the Russians have been training seals and dolphins, too, for decades. This really crisps my bacon. It’s one thing to manipulate us due to our own stupidity, paranoia, and wrong-headed convictions including but not limited to racism and sexism. It’s quite another to enslave intelligent creatures to do your dirty work.

Belugas should be above politics. This is messed up on so many levels. That government will stop at nothing. Next, they’ll be strapping grenades onto puppies and drop kicking them over our soon to be constructed, any day now, I swear to God, Wall on the Southern border.

Spasibo, Putin.

Beluga whale

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Book Review: The Bad-Ass Librarians of Timbuktu

I picked up this book for two reasons. First, I heard an interview with the author, Joshua Hammer, on NPR, and I’ve never disliked a book that I read based on an interview from that source. But second, and maybe most important, is that I absolutely love the title. The Bad-Ass Librarians of Timbuktu makes me want to know more.

I’ve known more than one bad-ass librarian in my time, but never one from Timbuktu. In my opinion, librarians, as the keepers of truth and knowledge, are the coolest people ever. And this is a non-fiction book, so I was eager to learn the whole bad-ass story. I’ve got to say, the book doesn’t disappoint.

First of all, it taught me a lot about the Republic of Mali, and about the city of Timbuktu. Before this, all I basically knew was that Timbuktu is in the middle of nowhere. What I didn’t know was that it was at one point a major epicenter of education, civilization, and enlightenment.

Because of that, scattered all over the country are hundreds of thousands of centuries-old manuscripts, sometimes bound in leather, sometimes illuminated in gold leaf and gorgeous geometric patterns, that treat subjects including mathematics, medicine, astronomy, poetry, diversity, philosophy, religion, and history. These manuscripts are hand-written, one of a kind, priceless works of art that are irreplaceable  pieces of our human heritage.

In this book we meet Abdel Kader Haidara, a lifelong lover of books, who makes a career of traveling throughout the country to convince people to bring their books out of their dusty trunks and give them to libraries in Timbuktu, where they can be restored, preserved, archived, and made available to the public. He would spend weeks on end on camels and donkeys or floating down rivers and trekking through the desert, building up trust, to achieve this goal. In the end, Timbuktu became the repository for 377,000 ancient volumes. That’s pretty darned impressive.

And then, unfortunately, the country was torn by war. Al-Qaida took over Northern Mali, including Timbuktu, and began employing measures ever more violent, destructive, and austere. If they were to discover that there were ancient, secular, and scientific books lying around, they’d surely destroy them. And it was a very near thing.

The book also discusses how Al-Qaida happened to be there in the first place, and the battles and bloodshed resulting therefrom. It familiarizes you with several brutal leaders and their wrong-headed thought processes. It also makes you realize what a risk Haidara was making to protect these manuscripts.

In the end, Haidara, with the help of a large group of people who were literally risking their lives, smuggled in hundreds and hundreds of trunks, loaded these trunks up at night, and then carried them, a few at a time, to safehouses throughout the region.

As the war heated up, it became clear that even these safehouses weren’t going to be safe. So they decided that they’d have to smuggle all 377,000 books to southern Mali, where Al-Qaida wasn’t in control. To do this, they had to drive past check points. Many drivers were arrested. Ultimately, they put many of the trunks on boats and nervously floated them down the river. But in the end, all the books were saved.

We owe Haidara and his team a debt of gratitude. And I’d also like to thank Joshua Hammer for sharing this amazing story with the world. Score one for the good guys!

Check out this book. It’s bad-ass.

Bad-Ass book

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Why I Struggle with Joe Biden

Yes, I know there are an unprecedented number of Democratic candidates this time out. All but one will fall by the wayside. And it’s fairly obvious, already, which ones will do the falling. That’s what’s making me sweat.

Unfortunately, Joe Biden has name recognition on his side. As we’ve learned all too well, that is often all that it takes. And there are a lot of things about Joe Biden that I really like.

But the things that I like do not offset the things that I don’t. Not by a long shot. And I’m not the only one out there who is saying this. I only wish my party would listen this time. Because we’re playing for all the marbles here, folks. It really won’t do to screw this one up.

Here are my three basic issues with Joe:

His treatment of Anita Hill. Yes, the Clarence Thomas hearings were three decades ago, and people were disgustingly backward about sexual harassment back then. But Biden bungled those hearings. There was no good reason for his not allowing the other female witnesses to come forward and corroborate her testimony. His choices then have impacted decades of women who have suffered the abuse of men.

Recently he apologized to Ms. Hill. Why now? Not because of remorse. Because he’s running for president. And from the sound of it, he didn’t seem particularly remorseful to me. She was not satisfied. Nor am I.

The second issue I have with him is the way he inappropriately touches women. So many of his photos make me squirm, because I can tell that the women in them are squirming, too. He claims he meant nothing by these actions, and that may be true, but I’m sorry, how many times do you have to be told it’s wrong before you listen? His apology for his behavior was, “I’m sorry you were offended.” That’s more of an I’m sorry for your reaction than it is an I’m sorry for what I did.

And issue three is this quote, which I mentioned in a post years ago. During a visit to Japan, he asked some women, “Do your husbands like you working full time?”

This goes to a mindset that should have been left behind in 1950. I mean, seriously? This man is not a president for the modern era, in so many, many ways. I can’t overlook these things, despite the good stuff.

And yet, if it comes down to a choice between Biden and Trump, I’ll be forced to hold my nose and vote for Biden. Because the pussy grabber is even worse, with his trophy wife and his inappropriate references to vaginal bleeding. The Republicans have made it blatantly clear that they have no moral compass with regard to this issue, so they’re not going to vote their conscience. I have to do what I can to at least partially reset the scale that is so heinously weighed down against women. Nothing quite like the lesser of two evils, no?

Okay, now that I’ve admitted that. I’m going to go take a shower and try to wash off the shame and disgust. I hope it doesn’t clog the pipes.


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“The City Without Jews” is a Very Confusing Movie

Back in 1923, before all the Nazi atrocities reached their horrifying peak, Hugo Bettauer published a novel entitled The City Without Jews. It was a best seller. We are told that it was a satire to show people what would happen if intolerance took hold. Bettauer was himself a Jew, and wanted to write something that spoke out against the increasing backlashes against miscegenation that he was witnessing in Vienna at the time.

In 1924, this book was made into a silent movie, which was recently rediscovered, restored, and has been screened all over the U.S. I looked forward to seeing its debut in Seattle. I was fascinated that at such a fraught time in Austrian history, there was a popular author with such progressive views. (He also wrote about women’s rights and homosexuality at a time when those things were rarely spoken about.) I also hoped it would be very timely in its warnings, given the increased anti-Semitism we are seeing in America and Europe.

Well… um…

I can’t really speak about the book, having not yet read it, but if I hadn’t read up on the movie beforehand, and therefore hadn’t been informed about the message it is supposed to portray, I wouldn’t have drawn that progressive conclusion. Not at all.

Yes, the politicians who vote to have all the Jews removed from this fictional city do come off as buffoons. Yes, the crowds that supported their decisions seem mindless and violent. I’ll give them that. But once the Jews are expelled, and people start to grumble because their city hasn’t been made great again, the Jews are brought back not because the people have somehow rediscovered their moral compass. No, they are brought back because their absence is hurting people in their pocketbook. Jews are treated as a commodity. They come off as a necessary evil.

Several other things made me uncomfortable about the movie, as well.

First of all, there was no indication that ejecting so many people caused any kind of upheaval. The Jews seemed to voluntarily, if reluctantly, leave. No violence. Just some prayers and a tear or two. No talk about losing homes or businesses or loved ones. They trudge down a cold road, on Christmas day, no less, and there’s this feeling of resignation. The richer ones hopped on trains. It was all rather easy and convenient.

Second, even when the people in the city decided that they wanted the Jews back, it only happened through the trickery of a Jew. He sneaks back into town, posing as a Frenchman, and when it’s discovered that the motion is just one vote shy of passing, he gets one of the most racist councilmembers drunk, then drugs him, and drives him around, thus preventing him from being present for the vote. The sneaky Jew prevails.

And if you had missed that message somehow, there’s a scene to reinforce it. The Jew in question is sitting at a table with another man who identifies as Jewish, but was able to stay in the city because he was second generation mixed, so he was essentially “passing”, and he says to the trickster something along the lines of, “Only one of us would be able to do that.” (Meaning trick them into rescinding the law.)  Laughs all around.

And then, of course, all the Jews happily come back, the first one met with innocent children bearing flowers, a cheering crowd, and everything gets back to normal and everyone lives happily ever after. Uh… what?

While watching this movie, I tried to tell myself to stop looking at it through a 21st century lens. I kept reminding myself that it was supposed to be a satire. But I struggled. I really struggled.

I think you could just cut out a scene or two, and this could be shown at a White Supremacist rally as a comedy that lampoons Judaism, right down to their bobbing and wailing in the Synagogue. (And I found it interesting that a lot of the politicians were similarly bobbing while passing their evil laws.)

I know that the author meant well. He even paid for it with his life. A year after the movie came out, he was killed by a Nazi who was then declared temporarily insane, did a year and a half in a mental institution, and then was set free to live his hateful, unrepentant life until 1977.

But still, I struggle. If you’re interested, you can see the movie for free on Youtube. Let me know what you think. I’d be genuinely interested in hearing from you.


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People Have to Live Somewhere

Every single day, I commute past tent encampments for the homeless here in Seattle. When I first came out here, I found this shocking. I came from Jacksonville, Florida, and I had never seen anything quite like this. You’d think the Florida climate would be more amenable to homelessness, but no. The West Coast experiences much more of it than the East Coast does, according to most homeless counts. It disturbs me greatly that I’m getting used to the sight of these encampments. The shock is gone. The sadness remains.

I’ve got a few theories, now, as to why there’s such a difference from one coast to the other. First, of course, is that living out here is about 3 times more expensive than it is in Jacksonville. A lot more of us, here, teeter on the brink of financial ruin. Second, there are fewer places to hide such encampments. While Seattle has a much lower population than Jacksonville, it’s much more densely packed. There are not huge swaths of woods in which one can disappear. Third, I suspect we’re a good deal more tolerant out here. I know for a fact that the Jacksonville police tend to drive people out to the county line and dump them, making them continually walk the 20 or 30 odd miles back to civilization in the oppressive heat, without food or water.

That county line solution is just cruel. People have to live somewhere. Every creature on this planet does. It’s not a homeless problem. It’s a home problem. And it isn’t new.

A friend of mine shared with me this photo of Seattle’s Hooverville from the 1930’s. After reading about it on, the amazing free online encyclopedia of Washington state history (specifically here and here), I discovered that this photo only captures about half the shantytown that existed there at the time, and there were others scattered about as well. The conditions were appalling. People built shacks out of whatever they could find. The city burned them down twice before they recognized the futility of it all. People have to live somewhere.

Incidentally, that Hooverville is not far from where Starbucks corporate headquarters now stands. Irony, anyone? And as long as REITS (Real Estate Investment Trusts) are allowed to exist, giving the richest among us the ability to make huge profits from housing, thus artificially inflating rents, this problem will only get worse.

When I get off work at 11pm, on my way home, I often see an old man with a walker standing by the stop sign at the end of my highway exit ramp. He holds a sign that says, “Homeless veteran. Please help.” The cynical side of me thinks about all the stories one hears about people making very good money through panhandling, and the stories about how some people want to be homeless. But this guy… I’ve seen him out there at midnight, in the pouring rain, in 35 degree temperatures. No financial return or lust for a freewheeling life can explain that.

The man needs help. And I feel very inadequate to the task. I couldn’t even help one person for more than a few days. And there are just so many out there. I don’t know what to do.

Sometimes I resent this man. He doesn’t let me forget. He doesn’t give me the peace to drive home to my nice house at the end of my shift and climb into my hot tub and forget.

But then I realize that he probably would like to forget, too.

Seattle Hooverville

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College Admissions Scandal? Seriously?

Here’s what I find most scandalous about the college admissions scandal: that people are scandalized by it. I mean, come on. Does the fact that rich people are using their money, fame and influence to get their (sometimes undeserving) children ahead in this world come as a surprise to anyone? Does the fact that colleges and/or their employees are motivated by greed shock you? Honestly?

Do you really think that Donald Trump, whom analysts have determined speaks on a 4th grade level, and has the attention span of a hummingbird on crack, was good college material? Please. He has an economics degree from Wharton and has absolutely no idea how his policies impact the national and global economy. If he were proud of his SAT scores, he wouldn’t be trying so hard to suppress them. Somebody needs to covfefe his diploma.

Both presidents Bush went to Yale. That makes me think rather less of that institution. But it doesn’t exactly astound me.

Nor does it surprise me that so many football hotshots take no advantage of their academic opportunities, and aren’t really expected to. They are the athletic equivalent of cannon fodder. Their existence is only suffered because they fill the overpriced stadium seats. (There are exceptions, of course.)

Do I think it’s right that these rich kids and athletes have an unfair advantage? Of course not. Do I wish the playing field were level for all of us? Yes. Being able to purchase a degree lowers the value of the degrees the rest of us worked so hard to obtain.

But if you think this “scandal” is in any way new, you’re delusional. And yes, things will tighten up in admissions offices, for a time. But I guarantee you that in about 5 years, when we’re focused on something else, the status quo will reassert itself.

Trust me. Richie Rich is always going to land on his privileged feet.

End of cynical rant for the day.


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A Blanket Apology to Everyone on Earth

This post is for all of you who read my blog outside of the U.S. I am an American. I can’t speak for all Americans. No one can. Or at least no one should. But I can certainly speak for myself.

It breaks my heart that my country as a whole is being judged by the rest of the world based on what they see in the news. Most of us are not like the insane people who grab the headlines these days. Many of us are as appalled by what we read as you are. I don’t know if that will be a source of comfort or of increased anxiety for you, but there you have it: for many of us, that feeling of disgust does not stop outside our borders.

So let me tell you a little about who I am, so you can see that not all of us fit that stereotype that has been created by Washington D.C., our nation’s capitol, where you can’t sling a dead cat without hitting someone who is morally bankrupt, unforgivably selfish, and rotting from the inside by the sheer weight of his or her greed. Such blatant abuse of power is unconscionable.

First of all, I am horrified at my government’s total disdain for the environment. We are one of the most environmentally selfish nations on earth, and the least likely to do anything to turn this global warming situation around before it destroys us all. I’m so sorry for that. I wish I felt like I could do something about it. I mean, I vote. I speak out. I do the best I can to reduce my carbon footprint. But I feel like I’m not making an impact, and I know this negatively impacts you as well.

I also happen to think that my country’s stance on guns is absurd and dangerous. We have more mass shootings than anywhere else, and we can’t even agree that the average citizen has no legitimate need for semi-automatic weapons. It makes no sense.

And this damned border wall that Trump is so in love with? I don’t want it. No one I know really wants it. All this political maneuvering is an embarrassment. Honestly, how do these people even look themselves in the mirror?

I don’t think immigrants are a threat. In fact, I’m a second generation American myself. This country would be lost without immigrants. I’m not so greedy that I’m not willing to share the wealth. I actually like you unless you give me some personal reason to feel otherwise. I don’t believe in kidnapping your children at the border. I think the day we stop granting asylum to people in danger is the day when we lose the most vital part of what makes us decent human beings. Jesus wouldn’t turn you away, so how can a country that considers itself mainly Christian do so? I don’t understand this attitude of xenophobia. It makes me sick.

I am also profoundly sorry that we don’t step in to help nearly as often as we butt in to serve our own best interests. We have no right to do this. Clearly, we struggle to get ourselves right, so it’s the height of arrogance to think we can fix anyone else.

And we imprison people to a much higher degree than any other country. I can’t blame you if you think twice about visiting us. I’d be afraid to, if I were you. But I genuinely believe that we need you to come visit. We need our horizons expanded. It’s hard to think of someone as an enemy once we’ve broken bread with that person. Please, come break bread with us.

I guess I do sit squarely in one stereotype. I tend to forget the world doesn’t revolve around us. Perhaps you could care less about what my country says or does. Perhaps you have more important things on your mind than my pompous country. That’s a legitimate response, too, and I can hardly blame you for it.

I just wanted you to know that I’m sorry about all the destruction we cause. I just wanted you to know that somewhere here, in this unbelievable circus of a country, sits a woman in a bridge tower who is every bit as outraged as many of you are. And I know for a fact that I’m not alone. So, please forgive us, individually, even if you cannot bring yourselves to forgive us collectively.

American Flag

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