Tuesday, October 31, 2017

How Memes Empower Tyrants

Memes are lot of fun--except when they take over our elections and our perceptions about dt, Hillary Rodham Clinton, and others.

Amanda Hess nails it [insert meme here] with her video essay "The Dark Art of Political Memes" in today's New York Times.


Memes replay our candidates' most likeable moments--and most embarrassing moments--endlessly.  Amanda plays countless examples.

But she concludes, "Memes make [insert someone like dt or others] immune to criticism and less accountable to us."

Memes--a new formula for disaster.

Monday, October 30, 2017

Vagina Dialogue: Eve Ensler & Anne Lamott

Two of the biggest names in second-wave women’s culture—Eve Ensler and Anne Lamott—shared the stage at Royce Hall, UCLA, on October 29, 2017.
            2017, with the end of 2016, marked the worst year US women ages 40-80 have ever endured.
            October 28 tolled a year since FBI Director James Comey ended the election campaign of Hillary Rodham Clinton by alerting Congress to “new emails” and a re-opened FBI investigation—only to say “Never mind” within hours of election day.
            Yet Eve Ensler and Anne Lamott were asked the question “Where do you find hope?” 
            “I want to write a book called Doomed: A Book of Hope,” joked Anne.  “But I do radical self-care.  And I help the poor.”  
            “At first my friends and I were like bees bitterly bumping into glass,” she confessed.  “Then there was a tiny little change.  And now I’m kind of better.”
            “Women are rising up and breaking out of the confines of patriarchy!” declared Eve. 
            To get to hope, she explained, “I begin with something dark and painful”—such as the suffering of “comfort women” in the Philippines, used as sexual slaves by Japanese during World War II.
 “They couldn’t afford not to hope.  You have to hope,” she said.  As co-founder of the One Billion Rising protest movement to end rape and sexual violence against women, she has listened to personal stories of these now elderly women.  One billion refers to the statistic that one in three women world-wide will be raped or beaten in her lifetime.
Anne turned to listening and writing as a means of healing the world, citing “Telling Is Listening” by Ursula Le Guin in her book The Wave in the Mind: Talks and Essays on the Writer, the Reader, and the Imagination (2004).
When Anne’s life was at its lowest point, she said, “I was given salvation—the way you’re given salvation in Christ—by the women’s movement.  I say something.  Others say ‘Me too.’ Then we start laughing, sharing, recognition.”
Eve added, “I would be in a mental hospital without writing.  I wrote myself out of a catastrophic childhood.  Write or die of mental illness, explode.  It was a compulsion.”
Back to the present, Anne noted the “lack of language” in the President’s statements about building a wall, banning travel, imprisoning people.  “We need to be people listening and watching with empathy.”
“Look at everything that’s being done and do the opposite,” said Eve. When they make laws based on gender, we can support “gender-fluid, flowing sexuality.”
“I will not let them take my joy away,” Anne declared, adding a line from Wendell Berry’s essay “Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front”: “Be joyful though you’ve considered all the facts.”  Laugh, dance.
“Don’t engage the orange virus, or you’ll be poisoned by it,” warned Eve.  “I’ve never seen the Predator-in-Chief have a feeling.”
“You had to write yourself out of where you were,” interrupted Meryl Friedman, moderator of the conversation, who curates Spoken Word at UCLA’s Center for the Art of Performance.  “How did you write yourself into a future?  Many of us feel obligated to have a certain kind of future—a job, iPhone, data plan—but you have stayed on the writer path.”
“In the 60s, 70s, the American dream was melting away,” answered Eve.  “There were civil rights marches, women’s protests, antiwar demonstrations.  I didn’t want to be in the system.  You have to listen to what’s inside you—not to the ‘win, compete, have it, get it’ voices.  Bill O’Reillys don’t matter when you’re on the path.” 
“My dad wrote hell or high water,” said Anne.  “He got up every morning and did it.  He wrote eight books and had three kids.  All dreams are based on discipline: you just do it.  You write 2-3 or 4-5 hours a day.”
Then she described a woman at her church whose son was in prison.  “But she never lost faith—as a decision. ‘I know my change is going to come,’ she said.”
“Do the one thing you know you can do,” Anne stressed.  “Do the one-inch picture frame.  Otherwise you’ll become overwhelmed and paralyzed.  Just take the action.”
“Our change is going to come,” echoed Eve.  “Struggle is the highest form of song.  Writing is learning to struggle.  You get worn down in the struggle, but I will work until I am nothing when I leave here.”
“We’re all insane, every single person,” she laughed.  “I’m okay with that.  You decide on the brand of insanity you want your life to be.  There are broken places in everyone.  There isn’t anyone in the world who isn’t traumatized.  We’re all damaged—no one has a clue.  Socrates wrote, ‘The one thing I know is that I don’t know anything.’”
“As Terry Richey wrote, the point is not to try harder,” added Anne.  “It’s to release, to try less.  That’s been healing for me and for other sober women.”
“Seeing what you see, feeling what you feel” is the key to recovery, Eve observed.  “Instead of ‘I can’t ever talk about that,’ it may be exactly where you need to go.”
When Meryl asked about their writing habits, Eve said she writes every day. 
“I write five days a week, not weekends,” admitted Anne.  “But I’m always gathering.  I have a Dr. Seuss inside me, a rag-bag guy.  I write it down.  You’ve got to waste more time, wasting paper.”
“Yes, I’m always gathering ideas, hunting,” agreed Eve.  “One book leads to another book.  But when I’m working on something, everything else stops happening.  It’s deeply lonely work; the hardest thing is the loneliness.  I use a candle, music to keep the aloneness flamed and fluid.”
A last question from Meryl: “Do you ever feel overwhelmed by what people expect of you?” 
“When I was a young mother writing a book, I felt ‘I have two kids, and the one I feed wins,” said Anne, adding that “Now I just have two dogs, but there’s always ‘KFUK radio’ inside my head.”  When someone says Anne has done good work, that radio in her head says, “You are a fraud.” 
“You have to tell yourself encouraging things, nurture yourself,” she continued.  “People are always branding you, saying that’s who you are.  My father is always there in my mind, but I don’t know who I’m going to be next.  I don’t know who I am today.”
“Don’t freeze into one identity,” Eve explained.  “Seven years ago I was diagnosed with stage 3 or 4 cancer.  I morphed into a new person.  Expand, don’t brand.”
“We’re frightened, but we get up,” Anne said.  “It’s like Mr. Rogers’ mother, who used to tell her son ‘Look for the helpers’ when you feel flattened.  I’m, like, a really cranky optimist.  You think X was a bad thing, but often it turns out that it was the very best thing.”
Eve gave an illustration.  During this difficult time of the Trump presidency, “Many people are finding each other.  We found ways to stop the Muslim ban; now we’re working to help women mend.”
This conversation between Eve and Anne came after a week in which each day another actress came out with accusations against Harvey Weinstein: Zelda Perkins on Monday, Brit Marling on Tuesday, Mimi Haleyi and Dominique Huett on Wednesday,  Natassia Malthe on Thursday, Daryl Hannah on Friday, Rose McGowan on Saturday.
“Each of us needs to know that what has happened to us, has happened before,” said Eve.  “We have to be unleashed, too.  As Hitler gained power, no one took him seriously.  He was just a narcissistic clown with a domineering father; the bourgeoisie didn’t want to give up their comforts.  We need to go into the street!"
“And we need to encourage men who are with us,” noted Anne. “Men at the women’s marches.  We all need a softening of the heart, becoming tender.  Movements begin in truth, justice, freedom, and a few crazy people.”
“Also you need courage,” chimed in Meryl, the moderator.  “You two have en-couraged us.”
“And we need forgiveness, mercy—like the Amish town who urged the mother of the killer not to move away; instead they offered her forgiveness, the mercy of God,” added Anne.
“We are in an emergency, so we are emerging,” declared Eve.  “There are 850 million people living in hunger in the world.  We cannot be alone right now.  We are all profoundly traumatized right now.  We need a new paradigm—not hierarchy and a big leader.”
The finale of the evening was a reading by each of the speakers.
“Every person’s story is important,” said Anne and began to read a story she had posted on her son’s website, Hello Humans, just a month earlier.
 “Six years and one month ago, I stood on the street… holding a sharp pencil,” she confessed, “… to stab my enemy in the throat, if necessary….  the enemy was my grown child….”  Use this link to read her story of freaking out over her son’s drug addiction.
Eve then delivered a thundering rendition of her signature piece, “I’m Over It,” an update of which had appeared on the Huffington Post a week earlier, October 18.
“I am over rape,” she began.  “I am over rape culture…  I’m over thinking about rape every day of my life since I was five years old.”
The evening ended with Eve’s call to rise up, followed by a riot of applause.
“There are approximately one billion women on the planet who have been violated.  Can we rise together?  Can we rebirth the culture because we know that when women are free, safe, equal and allowed to be alive in all their intensity, the whole story will finally change?”
Helga, Suzy, and I rose to applaud and to congratulate each other and everyone else for being present for such an empowering evening.  During these hours in Royce Hall we had felt the same energy and joy we’d had a year earlier, just a week away from electing the first woman president. 
That victory had been stolen, and the credulity-stretching year of 2017 in politics was getting worse each day as more disgusting pedophilia, rape, and sexual harassment by famous men was revealed and hashed over in the news.
But Eve Ensler and Anne Lamott had given us hope.  Each of the three of us is working on a book about our own life journey, having met in a memoir class led by Shawna Kenney, author of I Was a Teenage Dominatrix.  We walked out of Royce Hall surrounded by others whose lives had been energized by these two women. 
Words are events, they do things, change things,” as Ursula Le Guin put it.  “They transform both speaker and hearer; they feed energy back and forth and amplify it.”

Monday, October 23, 2017

To Agree or Disagree--a Question

Disagreeing is a lost art, said Bret Stephens at the Lowy Media Institute Award dinner in Sydney, Australia, on Sept. 23.

But it's more important than ever.

To listen and understand; to question and disagree; to treat no proposition as sacred and no objection as impious; to be willing to entertain unpopular ideas and cultivate the habits of an open mind — this is what I was encouraged to do by my teachers at the University of Chicago.

It’s what used to be called a liberal education.

The University of Chicago showed us something else: that every great idea is really just a spectacular disagreement with some other great idea.

Some of the great disagree-rs include:

Galileo and Darwin; Mandela, Havel, and Liu Xiaobo; Rosa Parks and Natan Sharansky.

May we have the courage to disagree with each other without killing each other or collapsing our democracy.

Read the full speech and enjoy the graphic at: 

Saturday, October 21, 2017

Trump happened.

No one could say it better--as in S _ _ _ happens.

Thank you, LA Times.

Myeshia Johnson lost her husband La David Johnson in an ambush in Niger.

12 days later dt had not yet commented on the deaths of the four soldiers in that attack.

When asked by reporters, he claimed letters had been written.  And would be sent.  Signed by him.  He told a few lies--that other presidents such as Obama didn't make calls.  But dt would. 

Then he rushed to call the families of the four soldiers.

His chief of staff, former General John Kelly, advised him not to call--but then coached him.

When dt called Myeshia Johnson, she was in the car with her mother-in-law and her friend, Congresswoman Frederika Wilson of Florida, who had known her son.  She chose to put the president's call on speaker phone.

dt also had others listening to his call--Kelly and at least one other person.

He blew the call.  He didn't know how to convey compassion or sympathy.  He forgot the name of the fallen soldier, Army Sergeant La David T. Johnson, in both the call and his later defense of the call.

He said something along the lines of  "he knew what he signed up for, but I guess it still hurt." 

When Kelly later said similar words, they were clearly filled with patriotism and compassion.

But Trump's words caused the widow more pain.  Soon after she arrived at Miami International Airport and met the coffin of her husband.  She wept (photo above).

Rep. Wilson chastised dt in a tweet and speaking to reporters.

When Trump responded, he referred to Myesha Johnson as "that woman" and "the wife."  He didn't even use the word widow.

He has memory problems--probably Alzheimer's.  

We need to remove him from office before he breaks the hearts of any more Americans.


Keeping Track of Fallen Men

We need a timeline to follow all the steps that have led to women saying NO to sexual harassment.

Thank you to Meredith Blake for her comprehensive report leading back to Anita Hill's revelations about her ex-boss, Clarence Hill.  It's titled "Despite outrage, we've been here before."

The headline on the jump to p. A10 is "Fissures appear in a culture of silence."


Thank you to the LA Times for featuring this report on the front page of today's print edition.  Of course, finding it online is difficult--the headline is changed to "Everyone is outraged over sexual harassment, but will this moment bring real change?" without Meredith's byline, and it's stored in the category of Television.

Anyway, the history begins with the film "Nine to Five" in 1980, soon followed by Anita Hill speaking out about Clarence Thomas--to no avail.  

The LA Times also provides an online slide show of 27 accused abusers as of Oct. 18:

Here's the timeline I culled from Meredith Blake's report today:

1980 "Nine to Five" -- comedy about inappropriate boss

1985 -- Gilbert Gauthe admits to abusing 37 boys, gets 10 yrs; Fr. Thomas Doyle warns of sexual abuse problem--ignored by bishops.

1986 -- Supreme Court ruling that sexual harassment violates the Civil Rights Act of 1964

1991 -- Anita Hill outs Clarence Thomas "first big a-ha on sexual harassment" says Fran Sepler
1991 -- Tailhook scandal, US Navy, Las Vegas Hilton

1996 --  Aberdeen scandal, US Army, Maryland
1997-87 -- Paula Jones vs. Bill Clinton, then Monica Lewinsky

2002 --Boston Globe team uncovers sexual abuse by Fr. John Geoghan and other priests; Cardinal Bernard Law resigns because of protecting Geoghan.  (Spotlight film, Best Picture, 2016)

2003 --  US Air Force Academy sexual assault scandal

2007 March -- Women vets of Iraq War report PTSD, sexual assault

2010 -- Oksana Grigorieva vs. Mel Gibson
2011 --  Jerry Sandusky, football coach for U. Penn.
2013 -- Corey Feldman and Corey Haim vs. Charlie Sheen
2014 -- Dylan Farrow vs. Woody Allen

2016 January -- National Park Service sexual harassment in report by Dept. of Interior   

2016 Feb. 29 -- Spotlight film wins Oscar for Best Picture

2016 -- Gretchen Carlson outs Roger Ailes in July

2016 September -- Access Hollywood tape shows Donald Trump boasting of abuse

2016 December -- Roy Price cancels Good Girls Revolt, new drama about fight for equality and against inappropriate bosses 

2017 Feb. -- HBO's Girls, lead character confronts older male sexual assaulter
2017 April 19 -- Fox News Bill O'Reilly fired
2017 April -- Choate Preparatory School, CT
2017 May --  L.A. Reid, Epic Records vs. accusers
2017 June 26 -- Silicon Valley exec Justin Caldbeck resigns from Binary Capital
2017 July 3--  Silicon Valley exec Dave McClure resigns from 500 Startups
2017 August -- R. Kelly vs. several accusers
2017 September 9 --  Eric Bolling, Fox News host fired for sexual harassment
2017 Sept. 11 -- In One Mississippi show by Tig Notaro, producer masturbates in front of woman

2017 October --  Harvey Weinstein, accused and fired
2017 October -- NBC's Great News shows Tina Fey as network exec doing harassment to win a multi-million exit settlement "like Ailes or O'Reilly"
2017 Oct. 17  --  Roy Price, Amazon Studios chief fired
2017 Oct. 18 -- Gymnast McKayla Maroney vs. Dr. Lawrence G. Nasser

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Gen. Kelly: "When women were sacred..."

General John Kelly, born in 1950 

I keep the news on during the day while I'm doing the dishes or skimming email.  If any news breaks, I give it my full attention.

Today when I heard General John Kelly speaking earnestly about the loss of his son Robert in 2010 in Afghanistan, I sat down to watch.

But suddenly I couldn't believe my ears:

I thought at least that was sacred. You know, when I was a kid growing up, a lot of things were sacred in our country. Women were sacred, looked upon with great honor. That’s obviously not the case anymore as we see from recent cases. Life — the dignity of life — is sacred. That’s gone. Religion, that seems to be gone as well.
Gold Star families, I think that left in the convention over the summer. But I just thought — the selfless devotion that brings a man or woman to die on the battlefield, I just thought that that might be sacred.
(Thank you to the New York Times for printing the transcript of Kelly's words.)

 Gen. John Kelly, chief of staff for Donald Trump, was telling me that in the 1950s and 1960s, "women were sacred."

What does that mean?  They weren't raped or sexually harrassed?  They were respected in some abstract way, though they couldn't get into law school or medical school?  

When Sandra Day O'Connor  graduated from Stanford Law school:
"at least forty law firms refused to interview her for a position as an attorney because she was a woman.[20] She eventually found employment as a deputy county attorney in San Mateo, California after she offered to work for no salary and without an office, sharing space with a secretary.[20]" (Wikipedia)

I'm two years older than Kelly.  I too lived through those years when my mother couldn't buy a carpet for the house because she didn't have my father's signature.

What kind of "great honor" is it when you can't get a job?  When you can't get the same pay for your job as a man doing that job?

What Kelly meant was, "In the good ol' days, we kept women on a pedestal and out of public life."

I don't want to be "sacred."  I want to be equal.

Next: what does he mean by "recent cases"?  Last week's news of sexual harrassment and rape by Harvey Weinstein?  And by his boss, Donald Trump?  If General Kelly cares about treating women with "great honor," why did he support Donald and choose to work for him?

Why does he think the "dignity of life" is gone?  Because of the shooting in Las Vegas?  Or because abortion is legal?  99% of Americans live with dignity and consider human life sacred--not to mention animal life and forests and other forms of life.  To jump from shootings or abortions to the idea that "the dignity of life" is completely gone--that's not rational.  It's an emotional rant.

And "Religion--that seems to be gone as well"???  

Psychiatrists call that statement catastrophizing.  Logicians call it jumping from a few facts to an unbelievably broad conclusion.

All Americans who went to church last Sunday, who pray for their nation and their leaders, must have been surprised to hear that religion is gone.  I don't believe that for one second.  I know.  I was sitting in a pew of the First Church of the Nazarene, Pasadena, listening to a wonderful sermon by a woman, Pastor Tara Beth Leach.

You know, I had been starting to like General Kelly.  He and General H. R. McMaster and General James Mattis seem to be protecting us from this deranged president.

But today I am reminded that Kelly is out of touch with the real world.  He thinks women are worse off now than in the 1950s.  He thinks life is not respected.  He thinks religion is "gone."

I can only conclude that we need to get this whole crowd of cultural dinosaurs and disrespecters of women out of the White House as soon as possible.