Don’t Miss this Documentary

The other night I had the distinct pleasure of seeing the screening of a documentary before it hits the airwaves. Here were some of the descriptors used:

  • Hungry for greatness.

  • Politically inexperienced.

  • Prone to using comical facial expressions, such as pursing of the lips or thrusting out the chin.

  • Encourages physical intimidation.

  • Egotistical.

  • Calls himself a genius.

  • Repeats lies until they are believed.

  • Dumbs down his rhetoric.

  • Is anti-union.

  • Threatens violence.

  • Has corporate support.

  • Loves to throw rallies where he can be adored.

  • Get’s people’s support by exploiting broadcast media.

  • Is considered a God-like hero by many.

  • Claims to have very easy answers for complicated issues.

  • Polarizes his people.

  • Encourages intimidation by the police.

  • Takes advantage of the population’s feeling of fear.

  • Supporters appear almost hypnotized and unwilling to see facts.

  • Claims an ethnic group is the source of all problems.

  • Is very hostile toward intellectuals and the free press.

Who am I describing here? If you thought it was a current political leader, I wouldn’t blame you. It fits perfectly. But no. This documentary was entitled Rick Steves’ The Story of Fascism in Europe. The descriptions above were of Mussolini, Hitler, and Franco.

If that doesn’t make the hair on the back of your neck stand straight up, nothing will. There was also a discussion afterward. Some of the points Rick was trying to make were:

  • Fascism doesn’t suddenly appear. It’s incremental. It’s a slow chipping away of your rights, until one day you look up and you have none.

  • We should never take our freedom for granted.

  • Education is the key. Without critical thinking, we are lost.

  • Whenever someone criticizes an independent media and attempts to alter the rule of law, especially with regard to the constitution of a government, that person should be considered highly suspect.

To make things even more creepy, it turns out that the showing, which was at SIFF Cinema Egyptian here in Seattle, took place in the very venue in which Nazi rallies used to be held in Seattle. So I sat and watched a documentary about Fascism in a seat that had once been occupied by a Nazi.

Nazis also marched in our very streets. You can read more about Seattle’s love affair with Nazis here. I know it’s hard to believe, but if it could happen in this liberal enclave, it can happen anywhere.

Rick Steves’ The Story of Fascism in Europe is very eye opening. It will most likely be on your local PBS station in about a week. Here in Seattle, it premiers on KCTS9 on October 23rd at 7:00 pm. If you’re unable to catch it live, you can also see it on-line at Rick Steves’ website. I hope you’ll take the time. Knowledge is power.

Who is it

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Rick Steves Makes an Impact

It was years of watching Rick Steves’ Europe on PBS that gave me the courage to go to some of my most exciting travel destinations. Turkey. Hungary. Croatia. Slovenia. I doubt I’d have ever gone to those countries were it not for his suggestions. I also rely heavily on his guidebooks whenever I travel.

Suffice it to say that I’ve been a fan of Rick Steves for a long time. But in recent years, I’ve also come to know his politics, and that has made me admire him even more. So imagine my joy in finding out that now that I’ve moved to the Seattle area, he lives just down the road from me.

I have this fantasy of running into him and being able to actually tell him what an impact he’s made on my life. I’m sure he gets that a lot, but it’s true. I live to travel. I wrote about that just the other day. It has formed my worldview. It has made me more compassionate. It has educated me in so many ways. It has made me who I am. And Rick Steves has been a big part of that.

As if he weren’t already a personal hero of mine, I read today that he donated a 4 million dollar apartment complex to the YWCA so that they can house homeless women and children. It’s in Lynnwood, Washington. I’m sure I’ve passed it quite a few times, not realizing what a wonderful place it is. As someone who is struggling to find affordable housing myself, it thrills me to think that he’s paying it forward for so many people. (Read more about this, in his own words, here.)

That is the very definition of a life well lived. He’s inspired millions and directly improved the lives of hundreds. How many of us can say that? Thanks, Rick Steves! It’s a pleasure to be your neighbor!

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A Woman’s Fate is about Location, Location, Location

Once upon a time I owned my own home, and was actually surviving financially. Not rich. Never that. But I was doing okay. So I started thinking about women who were less fortunate than myself.

I’m very aware that the bulk of my good luck in life is based simply on the arbitrary fact that I happened to be born in the United States. This isn’t the only country where fortune shines on women, relatively speaking, but the odds are not in a woman’s favor in the vast majority of the world.

Here’s the gauntlet you have to run on this planet simply due to estrogen:

  • In many countries, just by being female, your odds of even being born (or if you are born, not being abandoned), are much smaller than your male counterparts. The insidious dowry system makes women a burden, not a gift. Gendercide is a very real phenomena in several countries.
  • But if you happen to make it past that horrifying hurdle and are actually alive to tell the tale, you then have to hope you’re in a country where they value education for women. According to UNESCO, 31 million girls of primary school age and 34 million girls of lower secondary age were not in school in 2011.
  • Then there’s the risk of being forced into a marriage that you may or may not want. According to UNICEF, 55% of the marriages in the world are arranged. In some countries it’s 90%. This is fine if you get a decent, responsible, loving person who has your best interests at heart, but as is often the case in these situations, the choice will not be up to you. At least, not entirely. According to PBS, in the next decade, 100 million girls will be married before the age of 18.
  • And then you have to run the gauntlet of violence. According to the World Health Organization:
    • 36 % of girls in the world have experienced child sexual abuse.
    • Somewhere between 100 million and 140 million females in the world have undergone some form of female genital mutilation/cutting.
    • Anywhere between 133 million and 275 million women are victims of domestic violence every year.
  • Sex trafficking statistics are, predictably, unreliable, but it’s estimated that 700,000 to two million women and girls are trafficked across international borders every year. That doesn’t include those who are forced into prostitution in their own countries.
  • Rape statistics are even less reliable, but contrary to popular belief, most rapes are perpetrated by someone who is known to the assailant. And then there’s the alarming trend of gang rape throughout the world.
  • And here’s a depressing fact. According to, in just ONE DAY, women spend 200 million hours simply collecting water for the survival of their families. Imagine what they could do for the world, what progress they could make, if they could spend those hours on other things!

So, yeah, I have quite a few blessings to count. Tomorrow I’ll write about my ham-handed attempt to increase the blessings of just one other woman.

Women in Nepal.

[image credit:]

My Father and the Fire Truck

Long before I lived in Jacksonville, Florida or even knew it existed, I used to hear stories about the father I never knew. Just like his father before him, he got into quite a bit of trouble through the years. One typical story was that while he was stationed at Camp Blanding in 1943, he went to Jacksonville for a night on the town and got very drunk (which was pretty much his standard state, hence his absence from my life). While wandering around town he came upon a fire truck with the engine running. This fire truck was responding to a fire at the Cohen Brothers Department Store in Downtown Jacksonville. Thinking it was just the thing for a foot sore GI, he stole it.

A PBS program called Jacksonville’s Yesterdays refers to the incident but credited it to a Navy man. It is and was, after all, a Navy town. My father was in the Army, assigned to the 1758th Ordinance Supply and Maintenance Company. He apparently was returned to the rank of private and peeled a LOT of potatoes as a result of his little stunt. Incidentally, the building still stands, and later became Jacksonville’s City Hall, so he did not contribute to its demise that night.


I never knew my father, so it’s very hard to know what is fact and what is fiction with him. Some of the stories are pretty wild, but who knows if they’re true? Clearly he was in Jacksonville during the fire truck incident, but did he simply hear about it and adopt it as his own, or did he, in fact, do the deed? I have attempted to contact the local PBS station to find out where they learned of the story, but have had no cooperation. I’ve searched old archives to see if the story was reported, but have had no luck. I’ve even sent several e-mails to the Camp Blanding museum, and have had no response.

Whether or not this actually happened to my father, it became part of my family’s oral history. When I drive downtown, I’m seeing something that no one else around me sees: a young, complicated and crazy soldier taking a joy ride in a fire truck in 1943. It makes me smile.

(Update 4/2/13: I recently spent several hours at the library searching through newspapers and historical references to see if I could find anything about this story, as the Jacksonville Yesterdays people must have gotten it from somewhere. I did find an obscure and vague reference to it, saying that it happened “in 1957 or 1987” and that the guy was wearing a white uniform, so definitely a sailor. If any of these things are true, then it definitely couldn’t have been my father. I still have more research to do, though.)