Tuesday, January 28, 2014

One Woman's Experience--State of the Union

With the Capitol looking like a shaken snow globe, high drama unfolded across the nation on huge flat screens, computer laptops, iPads, and twenty-year-old consoles enshrined in cabinets.

I relished each moment, from the red carpet entrances to the polarized commentary on various networks afterward.

It was a long eight years under George W. Bush, so I take time to enjoy each inauguration ceremony and state of the union address by President Obama.  Who knows what the future will bring?

It's like a scene at court in Elizabethan England--trumpets, thumps of the gavel, colorful dress, and a boisterous crowd of courtiers.

This time, however, heeding a tweet from Jimmy Carter, I watched on the Fox Network and clicked my moment-by-moment responses on Bing (#BingSOTU).  Doing so cut into my pleasure, but I wanted to do my duty to counteract negative responses to the speech that might be expected of Fox viewers.


Every five seconds I clicked "Strongly Agree" to most things (exceptions: the parts about drones and about fracking).  

There was a red line representing Republican viewers, a blue line for Democrats, and a green line for independents, which mostly tracked the Republican line despite my best efforts.  (I'm a member of the Green Party--apparently not many of us were clicking away on Bing's poll.)

It was dismaying to watch the graph of the red line hover at 20% approval to most of the speech, rising to 90% approval when the President said, "Nobody gives more than our soldiers..." but falling to 5% when he said, "America's longest war will finally be over."

"We must give diplomacy a chance" was another unpopular point with the red line.  Discussing US-Iran tension, the President said "We must resolve it without the rule of war," and the red line plummeted while the blue line rose.    

Give peace a chance?  That has been unpopular ever since we chanted it in demonstrations in the 1960s.

The President did a good job.  He began with compelling individual stories and ended on a crescendo with the personal story of Cory Remsburg, wounded by a roadside bomb in Afghanistan.

In between Obama moved through the areas he had planned to cover:  jobs and the economy, energy, education, financial security via MyRA and an increased minimum wage, health care, immigration reform, voting rights, gun violence, equal pay for women.

Here's a link to the full text of his speech:

Obama's diction was simple and emphatic.  The best moments came when he had earned applause and repeated the line--usually a 4-5 word sentence--several times in a loud voice above the noise of the ovation.

"Our freedom, our democracy, has never been easy!" he repeated.  We have worked "to free other nations from tyranny and fear."  I wasn't so enthusiastic about that point.  Perhaps it's time to leave nations like Afghanistan alone and let them deal with their own tyranny.  

In contrast, I was puzzled by the Republican "response" speech from Cathy McMorris Rodgers.  I had to like her 4-H efforts as a child, her decision to lovingly accept her Downs Syndrome baby, and also her prayers for the nation as she ended her speech.

But in between she said some bizarre things: "So we hope the President will join us in a year of real action--by empowering people--not making their lives harder with unprecedented spending, higher taxes, and fewer jobs."  

Huh?  What planet is she living on?  Doesn't she know we've moved from something like 10% unemployment in 2008 to 8.1% now?



Afterward I switched to Rachel Maddow and listened to her and Rep. Tim Huelskamp trade jabs.  He called her a "cheerleader" for Obama.  She kept asking how he could accuse the president of lying in the following tweet:

Was there a diplomat in Benghazi that gave his life for his country Mr. President?

You do not agree that Chris Stephens gave his life for his country? she asked.  Huelskamp avoided an answer by launching into a tirade against Hilary Clinton and the administration.


"I can't listen to this!" I finally complained, and my daughter Roz immediately took the opportunity to switch the channel to Dance Moms.

"Politicians can't fight worth shit compared to dance moms," she commented, and yes, the vitriol and personal attacks did rival what I had heard earlier.

The prize for Most Moving Moment of the evening was the paid announcement by Gabby Giffords promoting gun control:

What is Congress afraid of?  9 out of 10 Americans support background checks.  They make it harder for criminals and the mentally ill to get guns.  Congress is afraid of the gun lobby.  Tell Washington it's too dangerous to wait.

Listen to it at http://americansforresponsiblesolutions.org/


May voices like hers be heard above the din.

Oranges, Lemons, Tangerines...

I'm sorry to learn today that the freezing weather in mid-December has taken 15% of the Valencia orange crop, 35% of the other large oranges, and up to 40-50% of the tangerines and mandarins.

When Artic weather swings into California's central valley, the acres of beautiful and fragrant fruit trees take a hit.


Losses are estimated at $100 million so far.

I love driving past these groves in long orderly row with their tops shaved off like a buzz haircut.

I love eating fruit, especially all forms of citrus, even more.

But it's the loss of income to growers and pickers that is even more important.   I'm sorry that this loss will result in unemployment for many.

Celebrating 5 Years

Thank God we've had Barack Obama as our president for five years!

No, he hasn't done everything right, but he's done a hell of a lot better than John McCain or Mitch Romney would have done.

I'm so relieved that he hasn't yet been assassinated.  I pray that he may complete his second term and then serve in many other creative ways, as Jimmy Carter has done.

I'm eager to listen to his State of the Union address tonight.  He's a great orator, and I hope he'll have ideas on how to pass immigration legislation, in spite of the recalcitrance of Republicans in the House.

It's one of the seven talking points President Obama has been focusing on in the days leading up to his address:


It appears that John Boehner is trying to get his party to stop stalling on the issue:


Pete Seeger

Pete Seeger--anti-war, pro-people, troubador of the twentieth century.

He died today after 94 years on this earth, singing folk songs that recalled America to her better self.  He performed with the Almanac Singers, the Weavers, and others.

His family held hands and sang at his bedside in New York Presbyterian Hospital, according to this report in the New York Times:


Pete wrote "Where Have All the Flowers Gone?" and "Turn, Turn, Turn" (taken from Ecclesiastes and performed by the Byrds) and co-wrote "If I Had a Hammer."

He was also committed to feminism, singing this song composed by his sister Peggy Seeger in 1970:   (Thanks to the blog feministing for reminding me.)


Steve Martin tweeted, "I bought his book How To Play the 9-String Banjo when I was 16.  American hero in so many ways."

Thanks to my husband, John Arthur, for reporting Steve's tweet and also reminding me that Steve "is a tremendous banjo player and won a Grammy last night."

John also sent me this YouTube video of Pete last November singing "Turn, Turn, Turn" with five verses composed by his wife for their young children in the early 1950s:


It's great--especially the verse about "a time for candles on the cake."

Pete sang for "Okies" fleeing the Dust Bowl and trying to get farm work in the San Joaquin Valley.  Later he sang for the United Farmworkers movement.  He cared about the homeless and hungry; he tried to lessen the gap between the wealthy and the poor.

See this obituary in the LA Times:


In 1968 I had never heard of Pete Seeger.  The only music played at my house in the 1950s and 60s had been the jazz that my father loved and groups like the Beatles that were just emerging and scorned by father.

If my father ever thought of Pete Seeger, it would have been to condemn him for being a Communist.  He joined the Young Communist League at age 17 in 1936 but turned to other political expression by the mid-1950s.

When I was a junior in college, John invited me to attend a concert given by Pete Seeger, and I turned him down, hoping that another guy I liked might ask me out.  

What a mistake!  I never heard Pete Seeger in concert.

Syria: Rukiya's Story

Prayers today for the people of Syria and for peace negotiations in Switzerland.


Thank you to Women's eNews for posting this report and video interview with Rukiya, a woman from Homs now a refugee in Jordan.  Here's a summary:

In this video, a Syrian woman who fled war-torn Homs describes her work washing the corpses of women. Negotiators in Geneva have just agreed to provide a relief corridor for women and children to leave districts that have been besieged since June 2012.

May the two sides and the intermediaries continue to meet.

May they agree that a process must begin in which Bashar al-Assad steps aside.

May the new government end bloodshed and torture of its people--something like 110,000 deaths in the last three years.

May there be safety and justice for Sunnis, Shi'as, Alawakis, Christians and others--for men as well as for women and children.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Gospel According to Jefferson, Dickens & Tolstoy

I love to imagine putting people like Virginia Woolf, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Judi Dench in the same room and listening to their conversation.  

In fact, that's the kind of exam I often give at the end of a course in Religion & Literature or Women & Religion.  Write a conversation among five women you've met in this course.

Playwright Scott Carter wrote a play using the same kind of format: putting Thomas Jefferson, Charles Dickens, and Leo Tolstoy all around a table and letting them talk about their views of the Bible.  It was reviewed in the LA Times this weekend:


These three are interesting because Jefferson selected his favorite Scriptures to produce his own take on the Bible.  Dickens also gathered his favorite passages together, and Tolstoy learned Hebrew and Greek to translate and put together his own version of the Gospel.

I'm planning to see this play before it closes on February 23.  Anyone want to join me?


Good News from Trader Joe's

$165 billion in food that is past its expiration date or overripe gets thrown out every year in the US, acccording to this report from NBC.


But Trader Joe's is starting a new store where food recently past its date will be sold at a substantial discount.

Yesterday's The Moth Radio Hour featured an account by Elisa Hunter of dumpster-diving and recovering much valuable food from a Trader Joe's dumpster.


Looks as if Trader Joe's is responding in a good way to the publicity about its food waste.  Hooray!

My friend Walter Hearn in Berkeley has been collecting good food from grocery story dumpsters for forty years as part of his commitment to simple living within a framework of radical Christianity.

I'm happy that a major food outlet is taking responsible action to make sure that healthy food goes to those who need it at steeplyl discounted prices.