Saturday, December 28, 2019

Christians in Maaloula, Syria

Maaloula, Syria

On Christmas Eve, news coverage flashed for a moment on Maaloula, Syria, a small town tucked into limestone cliffs 26 miles from Damascus. Orthodox Christians live there and speak neo-Aramaic, a modern form of the language Jesus spoke.

As one of the few places in the world where Aramaic is still spoken, Maaloula is a tourist site, especially around Christmas.

On September 8-9, 2013, Maaloula was attacked by rebel forces trying to overthrow Syrian president Bashar al-Assad. That occurred one month after Assad's forces used poisonous gas on another nearby village, killing some 1,400 men, women, and children.

 The U.S. says Assad's forces fired rockets loaded with the nerve agent sarin on rebel-held areas near the capital before dawn on Aug. 21, 2013, killing at least 1,429 people. Other estimates put the death toll from the attack at more than 500.

Why is there such a difference between the two death estimates?  Maaloula and nearby towns are also the site of a major propaganda battle.  The Assad regime in Damascus controls and protects Maaloula, and the people thus favor his government.  

Russian propaganda sites such as Ruptly (RT or Russia Today) and Mark Taliano praise Assad as a "secular government" and use Maaloula as an example of him supporting a partly non-Muslim town.  SANA, the Syrian government news agency, is controlled by Assad. The Russian and Syrian news sites praise Assad and hate both the US and the Al-Nusra rebel front, because it includes Al Qaeda forces.  

Poor Syria is caught in a major struggle for territory between the two main branches of Islam. Saudi Arabia and Syria are Sunni Muslims, while Iran and Al Qaeda are Shiite.  

The American government under President Obama supported those trying to overthrow Assad because of his murderous attacks on his own people, including poisonous gas attacks.

Under Trump, however, the US supports Assad and overlooks his massacre of rebel Syrians.

What can Christians and Jews and Muslims from the US to do help?  Pray for these people, stay informed, and work to end the murderous regime of Assad.

Another report on Syrian Christians:

Friday, December 13, 2019

Christmas--A Time for Impeachment

It's fitting that the 45th US president's downfall comes during Advent as we honor the arrival of God in humble human form.  

Christmas is about the Almighty taking notice of a small planet and showing up as one of its creatures--not as a priest or king but as a poor working class human.

Such extreme humility shouldn't happen.  But God's humble intervention in human affairs through a child growing up in an unknown village is the model we are called to follow.  Humility--not pomp and power. 

Our current president doesn't understand the call to be a servant, not a king--a slave, not a dictator.  He was a baby born into wealth who grew up to be a showoff and oppressor of the poor, especially migrants.

Most of us grow up with the usual worldly values.  We want to become rich and famous, one way or another, or at least comfortable.

But the Christmas story reminds us that the most unimportant person we see could be bringing God's presence into our life. 

The baby Jesus became a dime-a-dozen craftsman and later a well-known prophet, executed as a trouble maker, a kind of whistleblower,

Mary, his teenage mother, was amazed and shocked when her cousin proclaimed that her unborn baby would be important--that she could be the one to bring God to earth by carrying a child who would shake human powers.

The compiler of the Gospel according to Luke gave Mary a prophetic speech at this point, praising God: "the Mighty One has done great things for me."  

Her words are like the prayer of Hannah, mother of Samuel, who proclaimed that the poor, hungry, feeble, and barren would be lifted up, and that the God of Israel "YHWH will judge the ends of the earth." 

This week the House Judiciary Committee is judging the president.  If God's hand is in this judgment,Washington, D.C., is one of the ends of the earth being judged in fulfillment of this prophecy.  

Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote, "Who among us will celebrate Christmas correctly?  Whoever finally lays down all power, all honor, all reputation, all vanity, all arrogance, all individualism beside the manger; whoever remains lowly and lets God alone be high...." (God Is in the Manger: Reflections on Advent and Christmas (Louisville, NK: Westminster John Knox, 2010).  

Instead of feeling irritated that our Christmas festivities are interrupted by this impeachment, let's recognize that righteous intervention into our lives is what Christmas is all about.

God "has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts... brought down the powerful from their thrones," as the Gospel of Luke says.

Saturday, December 7, 2019

"Parasites" ate up my time

Why did I waste good money and three hours of my life to see the film Parasites?

  • A couple of friends recommended it.
  • It won the Palm D'Or at Cannes, 
  • "Best foreign film in a decade" someone said.
  • Justin Chang, critic for the LA Times, liked it.

Don't believe them.

This film is a blend of the Three Stooges and the Pardoner's Tale in Chaucer's Canterbury Tales.

The Pardoner's Tale is about three men who find gold by a tree, eat and get drunk, and all kill each other.  That's what the family of four in this film does.  Not everyone dies, but the plot is blindly predictable.  

So what if there's a subplot about a family in the basement?

So what if it contrasts wealth and poverty?  The characters are so unlikeable that it's hard to care when they start killing each other.   

I liked the foul four until they got greedy, which was about half an hour after the film began.  They connive to get others fired, take their jobs, and then get drunk and make a mess in their bosses' home.  Such pointless stupidity and selfishness makes me yawn and look for the exit. 

Somebody please explain to me why some of the culture's pacesetters liked it.

Friday, December 6, 2019

Why do we still like The Nutcracker?

Cast of The Nutcracker performed by the Westside School of Ballet, 2019
Fantasy... joy.  Pretty music, dances, and costumes.  These all provide escape from the drabness, dullness, and drudgery of real life.

But still I wonder: why does this antiquated ballet give pleasure in 2019?

I've seen it scores of times.

At one point, I swore I'd never attend The Nutcracker again.  That was the year I had so many rehearsals and performances to drive my daughters to that I was satiated with the saccharine, 19th-century classist story as well as its costumes and dance.

The story line of Clara and her toy is brief.  The dream she has afterward is interminable and plotless, just an excuse to showcase one dance after another for every type of candy there was in 1880, followed by a waltz for roses and then solo performances by the Sugar Plum Fairy and her prince.

For some reason, the dances didn't seem to go on forever this year.  The live performance of Tchaikovsky's music by the Santa Monica College Symphony Orchestra carried me along with joy and pleasure.  I watched the 10-year-old next door scamper about as a polichinelle with a cluster of bouncing ringlets on each side of her face.

Sitting next to two of my daughters, I realized that it is exactly thirty years since I first took 7-year-old Roz, 4-year-old Ellen, and 2-year-old Marie to see this extravaganza.  At the time I knew that taking a 2-year-old was asking for trouble, but Roz was taking ballet classes, enjoyed the performance, and still remembers it.  In fact, she became very involved in ballet for the next eleven years.  

The fact was that I couldn't afford a babysitter.  Marie had to come.  By bringing a supply of candy and a juice bottle, I somehow made it through.

This year the stage for me was framed by hours of impeachment testimony in the House Intelligence Committee and the House Judiciary Committee. 

Our nation is plagued by a dishonest president and his cronies, gun violence, cruelty toward immigrants, enhanced wealth, increased poverty, environmental crimes, and a thousand other ills. 

Thus it makes sense that people want to spend three hours in a fantasy Victorian world that presumes wealth and along with servants and poor street vendors.  

The whole show is lies--but they are pretty lies danced with exquisite skill to music that yearns for joy and beauty.  All I can do is succumb and promise to face the grim reality of December 2019 later.

Thursday, November 21, 2019

The Real Impeachment Hearings of Donald Trump Jr.

Impeachment hearing on MSNBC
November 15, 2019

Forget the Real Housewives of Beverly Hills, O.C., or anywhere else.

Forget Dallas and Game of Thrones.  

The show I'm glued to is called the Real Impeachment Hearings of Donald Trump Jr.  It's a sequel to Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House, the January 2018 best-seller by Michael Wolff.

There have been seven episodes so far, each more riveting than the previous one, with villains, heroes, pimps, punks, and lots of international intrigue.

What I like most is that there are lots of female leading roles:

  • Marie Yovanovitch, ousted ambassador to Ukraine;
  • Jennifer Williams, special adviser on European and Russian affairs to Vice President Pence;
  • Dr. Fiona Hill, former top Russia adviser to the White House, on the National Security Council;
  • Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi;
  • Representative Jackie Speier (D), a member of the Committee on Armed Services and the Intelligence Committee;
  • Representative Elise Stefanik (R), as obnoxious as Devin Nunes and Jim Jordan;
  • Other congresswomen I hadn't heard of before.

The plot keeps me coming back:  will he get impeached? when?  will he get thrown out of office?

I'm hooked because I'm a bit player in the overall story.  In a year I will get to vote for a president of the USA.  Will Trump be on the ballot?  Will he win or be defeated?

My future hangs in the balance, as well as the future of everyone I see on my television screen.

In fact, 14,000 Ukrainians have already lost their lives.  A few Americans have died as well--Heather Heier, those shot in synagogues in Pittsburgh and suburban San Diego, those shot in the Walmart in El Paso by a Trump admirer.

Call me obsessed, but I'm turning on my television at 6 am to watch these hearings.  They make other reality TV look like child's play.

Hooray for Fiona Hill

Dr. Fiona Hill, presidential advisor

"I am an American by choice," said Dr. Fiona Hill, member of the National Security Council in the White House from 2017 to June 2019.

She also worked in the White House by choice in order to improve US-Russia relations--a White House ruled by the 45th president, the worst in history.  She hoped to do some good.

Courage is what she's all about.  Courage, intellect, and choice.

In a profile in today's NY Times, Sheryl Gay Stolberg tells this anecdote from Dr. Hill's childhood:

Dr. Hill, 54, had an unusual path to academia. The daughter of a coal miner and a midwife, she had a hardscrabble childhood in northeast England — a childhood that bred toughness, her friends say. Once, when she was 11, a boy in her class set one of her pigtails on fire while she was taking a test. She put the fire out with her hands, and finished the test.

Dr. Hill grew up in northeast England.  Her mother was a midwife.  After earning an M.A. from the University of St. Andrews in Scotland, she then earned a Ph.D. from Harvard and became an American citizen.  

"I grew up poor with a distinctive working-class accent," she said, "that would have prevented me from having the opportunities I had in the US."

Each witness in the public impeachment hearings on Capitol Hill has the opportunity to present a brief statement before testifying.  

Dr. Hill used her statement to make one strong point:  "Some appear to believe that Russia did not attack our 2016 election, but the conclusion by our intelligence agencies is that Russia did."  She provided evidence that Russian president Vladimir Putin is the source of these "false narratives."

"In the course of this investigation, I would ask that you please not repeat these politically-driven falsehoods," she concluded.

And all Republicans present agreed to drop the "Russia hoax" argument.

Well, not exactly, but they did say, in effect, "We never claimed that Russia did not interfere in the 2016 election.  We just want Democrats to admit that there was no collusion with Russians by our presidential candidate."

Thank you to the House Intelligence Committee for introducing us to another American heroine of 2019.

NPR's full text of Dr. Hill's testimony

C-SPAN's video of today's full testimony.

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

Trump as Corruption Fighter

Trump's big focus: Ukraine

The president was just "trying to be a good steward of US dollars." 

So claimed Steve Castor, the Republican counsel allowed to interview EU Ambassador Gordon Sondland after the main portion of today's impeachment hearings.  

That's why dt delayed delivering military aid to Ukraine.

He cared so much about stopping corruption in Ukraine that he needed to check out Volodimir Zelensky, the new president, for 55 days--holding up the Javelin missiles Ukraine needed to hold back the Russian army.

Of course, dt doesn't mind corruption in Saudi Arabia, where the assassination of a journalist was planned and then executed in Istanbul.  The Jamal Khashoggi death doesn't prevent our prez from selling arms to the Saudis.

Syrian corruption doesn't bother him--Bashar al-Assad can kill as many of his own citizens as he wants.

It's just Ukraine where dt cares about corruption.  

In fact, he doesn't care about run-of-the-mill corruption there, just corruption related to his rival in the 2020 presidential race, Joe Biden.

Oh, and the possible corruption that Vladimir Putin claims happened in Ukraine in during the 2016 presidential election.  dt is still focused on proving the authenticity of his victory three years ago, so focused that he needs to hold up the aid to Ukraine appropriated by Congress.

So now you have the truth as dt's supporters see it: the prez was just trying to make sure taxpayer dollars didn't go to an undeserving nation.

Obeying Putin had nothing to do with it.  He just happened to adopt the story Putin has proposed, the story that Ukraine--not Russia--interfered in the 2016 election.

Friday, November 15, 2019

Inspiring Woman: Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch

Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch

It was love at first sight for me and millions of other American women.

Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch, Ambassador to Ukraine from 2016 to April 24, 2019, was testifying in the Real Impeachment Hearings of Donald Trump Jr.  

She had been framed by Rudolf Giuliani and the corrupt former Prosecutor General of Ukraine, Yuriy Lutsenko.  Then she was fired by the president--ordered to fly back to the US immediately.

I mean, you have to be really important to be framed and fired by the president.  

In fact, she was holding up dt's plan to use the Ukrainians to help him get re-elected in 2020.

The first day of the impeachment hearings was slow-going except for us fans who needed a careful history of Ukraine, its Revolution of Dignity in 2014, Russian invasion later in 2014 stealing Crimea, and recent political events in Ukraine.

But on Day 2 Ambassador Yovanovitch testified, and her words were riveting:

"How is it that foreign corrupt interests could manipulate the US government?" she asked.

"The 'do-not-prosecute list' was fabrication."

"Yes, it is very intimidating.," she said in reference to the president tweeting insults while she was testifying.  Chairman Adam Schiff responded: "Witness intimidation!"

Marie's parents brought her to the US at age three; they had fled the Soviet Union and the Nazis, staying in Canada a few years.  

She attended Princeton University and joined the US Foreign Service in 1986, serving consecutively in Ottawa, Moscow, London, Mogadishu, and Kiev.  

Thank you to the House Intelligence Committee for introducing us to Marie Yovanovitch, the first of the #AmericanImpeachmentHeroines of 2019.

Note to the maker of Barbie Dolls: start a line of heroine dolls introduced by this impeachment process.  The company's Inspiring Woman series of dolls already includes a Katherine Johnson doll (Hidden Figures) and the astronaut doll Sally Ride.  

Now we need a Marie Yovanovitch doll and a Dr. Fiona Hill doll.  

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

In Memoriam: Susan Vanderburgh 1944-2019

Susan Vanderburgh 1944-2019

Susan Vanderburgh, a long-time member of EEWC-CFT, died in her sleep on September 14, 2019, a week after the memorial service for her partner of 30 years, Rita Kresha.  

Five of us who had been active in EEWC in the San Francisco Bay area attended the service for Rita and hugged Susan, not realizing she too would be gone a week later.  The cause was related to low blood sugar; Susan was either diabetic or pre-diabetic, her daughter Kathleen said.  

Susan’s beautiful memorial took place Oct. 12 in the chapel of the American Baptist Seminary of the West in Berkeley.  

Susan earned an MA in clinical counseling and worked for 30 years as a pastoral counselor in secular settings, providing warm and compassionate care and mentoring dozens of therapists into the profession.  

"She was the most gentle person I've ever met," said one friend.  "She taught me to be gentle to myself."

She also earned an M.Div. in 1987 from American Baptist Seminary of the West and sought ordination but was refused.  

“[M]y views on Hell and Eternal Damnation,” she wrote, “were not sufficiently narrow for a few members of the [Ordination] Commission.”  Then she and Rita became a couple, further reducing her chances of being ordained.  Like Susan, Rita trained for and sought ordination in the Episcopal Church but ran into similar barriers.

When I first met Susan in 1996, she was a clown named Daisy at EEWC’s 1996 conference in Norfolk, Virginia.  The theme was "Walking on Water and Making Waves."

"Susan took up clowning to further her own growth,” said one of the pastors at her memorial.  “She was a recovering perfectionist, and she became a clown as part of her recovery.  Clowns are supposed to make mistakes.” 

“Sometimes Daisy showed up unexpectedly at various church events,” said Dale Edmondsen, an elderly man who had been her pastor at First Baptist Church of Berkeley during her seminary training.

I remember Daisy’s springy, multicolored clown hair and the big red smile drawn on her white-painted face, a red circle on each cheek and on the tip of her nose. 

When I visited Susan and Rita at their home in Oakland in 2016, they insisted on fixing a whole meal of leftovers for me.  We talked about the need to see God in larger terms than just "Father" and "King."  They shared with me their favorite version of the prayer Jesus taught, which comes from The New Zealand Prayer Book:

Eternal Spirit,
Earth-maker, Pain-bearer, Life-giver,
Source of all that is and that shall be,
Father and Mother of us all,
Loving God, in whom is heaven:

The hallowing of your name echo through the universe!
The way of your justice be followed by the peoples of the world!
Your heavenly will be done by all created beings!
Your commonwealth of peace and freedom
sustain our hope and come on earth.

With the bread we need for today, feed us.
In the hurts we absorb from one another, forgive us.
In times of temptation and testing, strengthen us.
From trials too great to endure, spare us.
From the grip of all that is evil, free us.

For you reign in the glory of the power that is love,
now and for ever. Amen.

Bobby McFerrin's recording of The 23rd Psalm was one of the many moving elements of the service.  He sang:

“The Lord is my Shepherd. I have all I need. 
She makes me lie down in green meadows; 
beside the still waters She will lead… 
I will live in her house forever, forever and ever."

Susan expected to live many years without Rita, but instead she went into the arms of Mama God about a month later. “She was spared the pain and indignity of a slow decline,” wrote her twin brother, Reid Vanderburgh. 

Her sudden exit plunged me into sadness, but I can also see it as the last surprise of a clown, a turn of events that caught her as well as us off-guard.

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Help! I'm Stuck with Fox News

Wally Hickel, former governor of Alaska
Secretary of the Interior for President Nixon

I'm in Anchorage AK and just spent 30 minutes on the internet and phone to cancel one night at Captain Cook Hotel while listening to FOX to get news about Netanyahu election in Israel. 

My husband's medical crisis while on vacation landed us here in Anchorage at Providence Alaska Medical Center. I'm staying at Hickel House, a nice 3-story guest house like Motel 6, provided next door to the hospital by the Sisters of Providence at a reasonable price. 

Funding for this residence was donated by Walter Hickel and his wife Ermalee, who was active in Catholic charities.

Thank you for this guest house costing only $110 per night... But I have no access to MSNBC or CNN in my room. 

MSNBC is listed but the television shows only a message "Premium channels are not available with this package." CNN isn't even on the list. 

The cable provider is "GCI -- Alaska's most advanced network."

It offers peaceful Alaska photos on one channel and many other options: Discovery, History, Hallmark along with game shows, talk shows, PBS, and sports. 

The only news channels listed (besides non-available MSNBC) are FOX, One America, local news channels (mostly talk during the day), and three other semi-news channels KTBY, KYES, and KAKM.

Thus, in order to find breaking news about the election in Israel, I am reduced to listening to FOX. 

Here's what the FOX  guys are talking about:

**Obscene dismissal of Christine Blasey Ford testimony, adulation of Kavanaugh. 

**"Mayor Pete Silent on Horrific Abortion." 

**"Many Dems Find Religion as Election Nears" 

**Some obscure reference to a whistleblower but no explanation of what this is about.

[Note: Yes, THAT whistleblower.  But on September 18-19 on FOX news, I had no way of finding out anything about this news story.]

Joe Biden is routinely referred to as "sleepy, creepy Joe."  And there's no news about the election in Israel.

The main topic of discussion is the NYT review of a book on Kavanaugh's approval for the Supreme Court.  The Times pans the online-only book by Regnery Publishing.

According to FOX, a subsequent charge by a female Yale student is baseless because the victim has no memory of Kavanaugh exposing himself in her face to ridicule her at a party.  She learned it later from others.  

After 20 minutes, FOX mentions that the Yale student was drunk. Thank you--that explains her lack of memory.  Drunk people don't remember things that occurred while they were under the influence. There was an onlooker, Max Steger, willing to testify about Kavanaugh's obscene penis-thrusting--but FOX completely discounts the report of this witness..
The FOX focus is "poor Kavanaugh" being subjected to this false testimony. After all, "he's a father of little girls."

I was plowing along stoically, coping with my husband's medical crisis, medical bills, phone calls, 
But what reduced me to tears was trying to cancel the Captain Cook Hotel reservation while listening to Fox News.

No wonder Alaska voted for Trump with this propaganda as its only news source--except for the Anchorage Daily News.  It would take insight to go online and read the forbidden New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times and other news sources.

Note: patients in this Catholic hospital had access to both MSNBC and CNN.  But no one at the guest house had access.  Somebody made a decision for FOX only, and no one questioned it.

Thursday, September 5, 2019

Christians who are feminists... Yaasss!

Women Roman Catholic priests celebrating Mass, Oct. 14, 2006, in North Hollywood

Thank you to high school student Aimee Bonar for researching and writing on Christian feminists last summer while she was an intern at the LA Times.  Her article is on the HS Insider site at

So often I encounter people who have no idea that many Christians are also ardent feminists.  I appreciate her interest and her interviews of feminist young women and experts in the field.

I'm glad she found the website for Christian Feminism Today-- not hard because we come up #2 (after Wikipedia) when you do a Google search on the words "Christian feminism." 

Aimee did a good job of interviewing Dr. Katie Deaver, who works for CFT's website.  Katie and I are both members of Christian Feminism Today, founded in 1974.  Our next conference will be in July 2020 in Cincinnati. 

There's another important resource for feminist-leaning Christians called Christians for Biblical Equality

CFT supports LGBTQ rights and fights for women's equality within the church.  CBE doesn't support gay rights but otherwise is a great resource for inquiring young feminists in the church.   

See also the Instagram posts of  Kathy Barbini @baptizingfeminism and her tweets @BaptizeFeminism.  We're both local here in Los Angeles County.  She's making a documentary film on Christian feminism and has interviewed women all over the US.

There are feminists among Latinas, too.  I have two women friends who each started their own church in Santa Ana, not far from Trinity United Presbyterian, where Aimee interviewed three young women.   Rosy Hernandez preaches in Spanish at Iglesia Poder y Uncion de Lo Alto at 2520 N. Grand Avenue in Santa Ana.  Her sister Mirna Aguilar preaches in Spanish with English translation. 

Finally a warning to Julia Wright, who is quoted in Aimee's article as believing God gave "different" gifls to men and women but both should be respected.  

"Different but equal" is a red flag.  Christian feminists oppose the idea that God gave certain roles to men (leadership) and other roles to women (home and subordinate roles).  

There are both pro-equality for women and anti-equality passages in the Bible, reflecting a debate within the first century church  over this issue. Compare Galatians 3:28 to 1 Timothy2:11. 

Groups that argue for different but "complimentary" roles for men and women include the Southern Baptist Convention (since 2000--before that they had women pastors like the American Baptists), the Roman Catholic Church, and most Orthodox churches. 

There's much more to learn on the CFT website and CBE website.

Again, thank you, Aimee, for choosing this complex but fascinating topic for research and writing during your summer internship.

Monday, September 2, 2019

Ghosts of Labor Days past

Western Federation of Miners made this poster
in the 1903 Telluride strike

Forget the barbecues--unless you do hard physical labor and need a break.  Let's honor Labor Day by supporting workers in our communities and our nation.

My grandfather was ten years old when the miners in Telluride, Colorado, went on strike, demanding that their workday be reduced from 12 hours to 8 hours.  His father was a miner, but the Black Bear Mine was owned by its workers and no one went on strike there.

Sheriffs arrested the striking miners of other mines and charged them with vagrancy.  Mine owners called on the governor of Colorado to intervene.

In November, mine owners at Telluride made several requests that the governor send in national guard troops. There were no disturbances, but the owners wanted to reopen the mines with strikebreakers, and wanted national guard protection. The governor sent a committee of five led by the attorney general. The committee reported that Telluride was peaceful, but that the union picketers were armed, and if the mines reopened, local authorities would not be able to prevent violence. Governor Peabody asked President Theodore Roosevelt to send in US Army soldiers; the president refused. The governor sent in 500 Colorado National Guard troops, who arrived in Telluride on 24 November 1903.[11]

On this Labor Day, 2019, in addition to miners around the world, I'm thinking of two groups of workers:

1) Caregivers for elderly and sick people, who work 24/7 shifts 6 or 7 days per week.  See today's NY Times report by Andy Newman for details.  Thank you to the many who cared for my mother after she got Alzheimer's and broke her hip.

2) Temporary and part-time workers, especially those who don't have benefits because they are seen as self-employed.  See this op-ed piece by Louis Hyman in today's LA Times.  He's an associate professor at Cornell University whose recent book is “Temp: The Real Story of What Happened to Your Salary, Benefits, and Job Security.”

One sub-group of these marginalized workers are the drivers for Uber and Lyft, who are striking to win benefits.

What you can do today is contact your state assembly member and state senator, asking them to support any bill that protects labor.

In California, it's Assembly Bill 5.  Hyman writes:

In California, there has been a great debate over the gig economy. The state Assembly in May passed Assembly Bill 5, which would strictly define who is and who is not an independent worker. The lawmakers hope that if Uber and Lyft drivers are defined as traditional employees, then they would have better economic security.

Get on it! Do your part.

Sunday, September 1, 2019

The Fentanyl Stories

Photo from a post on April 20, 2017 on the parent blog
of the Center on Addiction

Heart-breaking doesn't begin to describe the fentanyl stories.

Tyler Skaggs was only 27 years old.  He used to hang around the softball field where my daughter Marie practiced at Santa Monica High School because his mother was the girls softball coach and he was five years younger than Marie.

Then he became a major league baseball player, and he battled injuries, for which he was prescribed oxycodone.  It only takes a week or two to become addicted to that drug if your body is susceptible.

Then on June 30 he flew to Texas with his team.  He drank enough alcohol that evening for his blood-alcohol level to reach 0.122% (.08% = a DUI). 

It was not a good idea to drink when 38 nanograms/mm of oxycodone was already in his system.

And then he ingested fentanyl--a choice only a very drunk person could make.

He hadn't even removed the cowboy boots he was wearing when he arrived in the hotel room.  His stomach fought back and vomited up its contents, but he choked on the vomit and died, found the next afternoon. 

My heart aches for his mother and for his bride.  He and she married last December.

"Fentanyl is a powerful synthetic opiod similar to morphine but 50 to 100 times more potent on a weight-by-weight basis," write Maria Torres and Mike DiGiovanna in the Los Angeles Times, "Opiods found in Skaggs' system."  

How could anything be 100 times more powerful than morphine?  Who sold it to Tyler?

The only way this story could be any more tragic is to know that it happened to 30,000 people in the US last year.  

'No other drug in modern history has killed more people in a year," reports the Los Angeles Times with a two-page investigative report on fentanyl filling half the front page of today's Sunday edition.  Thank you to Kate Linthicum for reporting and writing "Death, made in Mexico."

Katie interviewed three drug suppliers in Culiacan, Sinaloa, Mexico: an opium grower put out of business by the synthetic drugs, a 23-year-old fentanyl cook, and a 43-year-old trafficker of fentanyl who worries about the deaths in the US.

She also interviewed the family of Bryan McKinsey, who died last year at age 16 after ingesting fentanyl in a suburb of Phoenix.  His family's attention was focused on his older brother in rehab for use of the same drug.

My daughters too struggle with alcohol, marijuana, cocaine, and nicotine.  I have come close to getting the news that Bryan's and Tyler's parents received.

Thanks to rehab and AA along with CA, my daughter Ellen has 12 years clean and sober.  She's now a marriage and family therapist helping others face addictions.

But every story of a parent who has lost a child breaks my heart.

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

Good news for widows in India

India - 7th largest country, 2nd most people

We have to take good news when and wherever we can find it.  Kai Schultz found good things happening in Vrindavan, India, not far from Delhi.

Nirmala Maheshwari told Kai that she had lost her social value in the eyes of her family, and her son and other relatives starved and beat her.

She found refuge, however, in a government-sponsored ashram for widows.

Without a husband, a small portion of India’s approximately 40 million widows are violently purged from their homes each year.
But many of India’s castaway widows — most of them illiterate, some married off as infants — have seen significant improvements in their quality of life over the last few years. Prodded by a flurry of public petitions and court rulings, the government and rights groups have invested tens of millions of dollars into lifting the conditions of abandoned women.

Thank you for this small locus of hope, Kai.  See the full story at

How to wreck a life

By Stefan Kühn - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,
You want to wreck a life?

First start with some one young, a child or a teenager.  Offer her a job, a trip, an opportunity to follow her dream.  Or his dream.

Then sexually abuse her or  him.  For details, see today's New York Times report, "The sisters who first tried to take down Jeffrey Epstein... An Early Effort to Unmask Epstein Falls on Deaf Ears."

Make sure that you bring powerful people in to your game--that way they will be compromised and will protect you if the victim reports the abuse or goes to court.

Threaten her with losing her dream if she reports anything to the police.  If necessary, threaten her life--as Jeffrey Epstein and Ghislaine Maxwell did to Maria Farmer.

Tell her or him that no one will believe her if she tells.  It's true--the police probably won't do anything, especially if it's outside their jurisdiction and if it's not quite rape and it's the 1990s.

If she goes to the media, contact the journal's owner to make sure the report does not include sexual abuse.  Epstein & co. did this with Vanity Fair in 2003.

After your victim gives up her dream and flees New York City or whatever city you are using, make sure she never knows how many others you have attacked.  Don't let them communicate and form a #metoo movement or a joint lawsuit.

At this point you will have successfully wrecked her life.

And you will have wrecked your own too.

Epilogue:  In this case,  in 2019, Maria Farmer lives and is putting herself back together--after Epstein's grotesque death.  Thank you, Mike Baker and the NYTimes, for your reporting.

Monday, August 26, 2019

Pretty please

Wildflowers persisting...
Women's suffrage
Women's right to vote
We suffer you to vote. 
We allow you to vote. 
"Suffer the little ones to come unto me" said Jesus.
"Allow the little ones to come unto me."

We may suffer you to vote.
We hold the power.
We may allow you to vote if you say pretty please.
We may suffer you to vote.
We may suffer.
We may lose some of our power.
No, we can't suffer you to vote.

If you say pretty please.
If you are pretty.
If you are good.
If you vote the way we want you to vote.
If you don't cancel out my vote.
If you are silent.
If you don't rock the boat.

If you don't try to run for office.
If you don't run for Congress.
If you don't run for president.
If you don't don't don't.

We can do whatever we want.
They let us.
They don't care.
They don't tell.
They don't speak.
We don't listen.
No one listens.
No one cares.

We suffer.
We speak.
We tell.
We vote.
We run for office.
Nevertheless, she persisted.

Humiliating--how we won the right to vote

Elizabeth Cady Stanton
 Public Domain

They call it "Women's Equality Day," but that's a euphemism.

It wasn't the day women won equality--it was just the day US women finally won the right to vote. 

A 24-year-old boy in Tennessee voted yes--because his mama asked him to "be a good boy" and give her and all American women the right to participate in elections.  That was on August 18.  Eight days later, the 19th Amendment became law.

After attempts to delay it, Secretary of State Bainbridge Colby signed it into law at his home on August 26, though he denied notable suffragists Alice Paul and Carrie Chapman Catt's requests to film the signing. It was a quiet but hard-earned win for the women's rights movement.
These circumstances surrounding my right to vote are humiliating--and the fact that women had to work for this right from 1848 to 1920--72 years--is outrageous.  Aug. 26 was not even marked as a milestone until 1971 when Rep. Bella Abzug pressured Congress to honor women's suffrage.  

Actually, women still don't have equality in the US or anywhere else. 

Case in point, the defeat of a qualified woman presidential nominee by an unqualified fool whose campaign constantly highlighted his possession of the XY chromosome and the appendage that goes with it.

He hadn't even done a good job of managing his little tail, but he was given the US and its nuclear codes to manage.  The experienced diplomat and negotiator was sent home--she was female.

Thanks to the Electoral College, a system of weighing votes in southern states more heavily than votes in other states, we have a goofus in the White House.  Never mind that Hillary Rodham Clinton won 2.9 million more votes than he did.

Time Magazine explained:
If the system’s pro-slavery tilt was not overwhelmingly obvious when the Constitution was ratified, it quickly became so. For 32 of the Constitution’s first 36 years, a white slaveholding Virginian occupied the presidency.
Southerner Thomas Jefferson, for example, won the election of 1800-01 against Northerner John Adams in a race where the slavery-skew of the electoral college was the decisive margin of victory... Thomas Jefferson metaphorically rode into the executive mansion on the backs of slaves.

Then the celebrity joker rode into the White House in 2016 on the backs of slaves, women, immigrants, and others.  It has been a long three years, but women are patient.  We will dump him in 2020.

Friday, August 23, 2019

Queen Njinga the Brave

Queen Njinga of Ndongo, 1583-1663

Queen Njinga ruled Ndongo (now called Angola) starting in 1624.

She fought off the Portuguese, who were attacking her nation and kidnapping her people to sell them for slaves.

For many years she fought and sheltered runaway slaves.

Her statue was set up in Luanda, Angola, in 2002.

Who knew?

Not I--until the 1619 Project featured her.  Thank you, New York Times.

Here's a list of all the articles in the project.

The 1619 Project: Slavery Revealed

In August, 1619, a ship landed in Jamestown
with 20 African slaves.

Read this.  Listen to it.  Absorb it into your understanding of who you are, what your nation has been, and what it is now.

The 1619 Project was created by reporters and editors at the NY Times to help Americans understand how pervasive slavery was in the birth of our nation and how much history affects our lives and institutions today. 

The 1619 Project is a program organized by The New York Times with the goal of re-examining the legacy of slavery in the United States and timed for the 400th anniversary of the arrival in America of the first enslaved people from West Africa. It is an interactive project by Nikole Hannah-Jones, a reporter for the New York Times, with contributions by the paper's writers, including essays, poems, short fiction, and a photo essay.[1] Originally conceived of as a special issue for August 20, it was soon turned into a full-fledged project, including coverage in the paper and on the website.[2]
The New York Times describes the project as a "major initiative (...) observing the 400th anniversary of the beginning of American slavery".[3] The project was almost exclusively contributed to by Black academics, journalists and writers. According to Hannah-Jones, all the contributions were deeply researched, and arguments verified by a team of fact-checkers in consultation with a panel of historians.
Pt. 1 1455-1775 Slavery, Power, and the Human Cost
Pt. 2 1776-1808 The Limits of Freedom
Pt. 3 1809-1865 A Slave Nation Fights for Its Freedom

Get hold of it online, in print via The New York Times Magazine, and through podcasts.

Produced with help and photos from the Smithsonian's National Museum of African American History and Culture, the 1619 Project is like taking a walk through the museum, looking at the exhibits, and reading all the posted signs while wearing an audio phone to explain them. 

I want to fly to Washington, D.C., to visit the museum, but meanwhile it's all here at my fingertips-- for example, the law passed in 1662 that changed slavery from one person's status, perhaps temporary like indenture, to a condition passed from mother to child.  Even if the father was a white landowner, his child was his slave and was often sold both for profit and for the convenience of not having evidence of his infidelity living with him, his white wife, and his children.  See No. 1 Slavery, Power, and the Human Cost.

Here are some quotations from the 16-page insert in the Sunday, August 18, issue of the NYT.

"If one minute's freedom had been offered to me, and I had been told I must die at the end of that minute, I would have taken it." --Mum Bett, who in Boston sued for her freedom in 1882 and won it, becoming Elizabeth Freeman. 

"In 1787, the Rev. Richard Allen and other black congregants walked out of services at St. George's Methodist Episcopal Church in Philadelphia to protest its segregated congregations."  Initially he preached to integrated congregations, but that changed.  He founded the African Methodist Episcopal Church, which has 7,000 congregations today.

"The life span of an enslaved person on a sugar plantation could be as little as seven years." Sugar cane--a deadly commodity.

"A Woman Bequeathed" --Aunt Rhody, sold in 1832 at age 1, considered part of the family, not freed until 1863.

"I shall never forget that memorable night, when in a distant city I waited and watched at a public meeting, with 3,000 others not less anxious than myself, for the word of deliverance which we have heard read today.  Nor shall I ever forget the outburst of joy and thanksgiving that rent the air when the lightning brought to us the Emancipation Proclamation." -- Frederick Douglass

"Slavery gave America a fear of black people and a taste for violent punishment.  Both still define our criminal-justice system." --Bryan Stevenson, "Why American Prisons Owe Their Cruelty to Slavery" 

Note: Fox News, Newt Gingrich, and the Federalist Society don't like The 1619 Project.  Too much truth for their taste.

Slave trading in my blood?

John Newton, who penned "Amazing Grace"

Am I carrying the genes of someone who captured Africans, transported them to the American continent, and sold them as a commodity?

If so, should I end the survival of that evil person's genes?  His goal was survival and wealth, and perhaps I am one in the chain of those who keep his race and identity alive, one of those who profit from his gain.

But my children too carry those genes... My own suicide would not end the successful transmission of those genes.

My great-grandfather, Herschel Brown, was born in 1859 into a family that owned a few slaves in northern Georgia near Hiawassee.  His parents or their parents bought African Americans and perhaps sold them. 

How far back does that trafficking in humans go?  Am I the descendant of slave traders who forced humans into chains and ships?  Does my blood perpetuate the life of those who shed human blood for their own profit?

I am complicit in slavery and human trafficking, no matter how you dice it.

John Newton, who was born in 1725 and penned the lyrics of "Amazing Grace" in 1772 at the age of 47, was a slave trader turned priest who eventually abjured slavery and influenced Great Britain's ending of slave trade in 1807.

It was not until 1788, 34 years after leaving it that he renounced his former slaving profession by publishing a blazing pamphlet called “Thoughts Upon the Slave Trade.” The tract described the horrific conditions on slave ships and Newton apologized for making a public statement so many years after participating in the trade: “It will always be a subject of humiliating reflection to me, that I was once an active instrument in a business at which my heart now shudders.” 

Like Newton, perhaps the best I can do is to confess myself to be a wretch, repent, and try to make amends.

Thursday, August 22, 2019

How to Change Anti-Semitism

Museum of Tolerance on Pico Blvd. in Los Angeles

How do you change 12 Pacifica High School boys who are jokingly saluting a swastika before their athletics banquet?

You invite them to visit the Museum of Tolerance on Pico Blvd. in Los Angeles and let them talk with a Holocaust survivor.  

"The students were transformed," said Jordanna Gessler, director of education at the museum, who did just that.  See an article on the Nazi salute made last November in today's Los Angeles Times.

"Many wrote thank-you notes afterward explaining that they thought they were participating in a joke but now understood the seriousness of the topic," she continued.

Thank you to Joe Mozingo, Sonali Kohli, and Lilly Nguyen for interviewing her as well as a retired German teacher, a Mexican-American parent, a principal, and others regarding incidents of hatred and bigotry in Garden Grove and other parts of Orange County.  

Thank you also to the editor who placed this story on the front page, not in the B section.

But the headline and most of the story are about "Diversity and Hate in O.C."--not about the beautiful resolution you find out about if you read all the way to the end.

Other acts of hate and repentance:

1) Students saluted a swastika at a house party last March.  Some wrote letters of apology a day later:

"A parent who did not want to be identified said that on Sunday he invited a Holocaust scholar to his home to speak with nine students who had attended the party. Some teens who had defended the behavior at the gathering did not accept invitations to his home, but the students who did go expressed remorse and decided to write apology letters. 

"The parent released those letters Monday evening," reported a crew of Times journalists on March 5: ANH DOMATTHEW ORMSETHALENE TCHEKMEDYIANJULIA SCLAFANILILLY NGUYENSARAH PARVINI.

2) A teen who was both gay and Jewish, Blaze Bernstein, was murdered by a neo-Nazi former classmate on Jan. 2, 2018, in Lake Forest in southern Orange County.  His attacker has not repented yet--he's in jail without bail, awaiting trial.

LAT Columnist Robin Abcarian wrote last March about the swastika salute at the house party and included commentary on the death of Bernstein and other acts of anti-Semitism.

Tracy Smith  reported on the Bernstein case for CBS's 48 Hours on July 20, 2019.

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Jail for Abortion In El Salvador

AP story in the Los Angeles Times, Aug. 20, 2019

The saddest story in today's LA Times: a young woman served 2 and 1/2 years in prison for having a miscarriage at 32 weeks in El Salvador.  And on Monday she was retried and found not guilty--of abortion.

The AP story is heart-wrenching.

The father of the baby never faced a jury.  He never spent one night in prison.  

Her crime was "failing to protect her fetus."  She did not know she was pregnant.  She went to the latrine outside her home with severe abdominal pains and did not know she had delivered a premature baby.

She had no medical care and no emotional care, either before or after giving birth.  

She didn't have the opportunity to get some form of birth control or to understand the signs of pregnancy. 

Perhaps she didn't seek help because the father was a family member.  Perhaps she didn't go to the hospital afterward because she knew she might be accused of deliberately ending the pregnancy.

This is the status of a poor young woman in Cuidad Delgado, El Salvador.  No one outside her family cared about her until she gave birth prematurely, and then they only cared enough to put her in jail. 

El Salvador--the nation named for the Savior.