Just watched the latest from Democracy Now. Let's see. Greece rejects austerity. That's good. And Obama has set aside some wilderness areas in Alaska. That's good, I think, although what kinds of deals with the oil and gas companies are being cut we probably won't find out about until it's too late. Not so good: everything else. We are obviously a species that has outsmarted itself. And now instead of changing course we go right on doing all the things that guarantee that the future will be no better than the past and maybe even worse. Go take a look if you are in the mood for a bummer experience.
Katha Pollitt reports from France. She had a few tears to shed for the Charlie Hebdo victims and had a lot of reasonable and sensible things to say. She discusses the French concept of laïcité, the right to do without religion except in its specified sphere, which in principle seems like a good thing. The French are anti-clerical for historical reasons, having to do with their uneasy relationship with the Catholic Church, an institution that allied itself with the monarchy overthrown in the French Revolution. They are more suspicious than we Americans in general are of the intrusion of religion into everyday life and civic institutions.
I confess that I share some of the French intolerance here, as an athiest. For instance, the modes of dress of people like ultra-Orthodox Jews and Muslim fundamentalists do make me angry in a completely unreasonable way, even as I know this is not important. What is important, and here I might agree with general French opinion, is that I don't want to live in a society that is focused on and primarily ruled by religion. I am not anti-religious at all, because life is hard and people need whatever consolation they can find. I don't know how African-Americans could have survived without faith, for instance. Religion does not work for me, that's all.
Actual good news on the local front: The rains have come. And how! It's pouring right now. When it stops I'll see what survived the drought. We had five weeks without rain, enough to kill off most of my potted plants. Doesn't matter. I'll just plant some new things. It was kind of nice that the grass and weeds stopped growing for a while, and some of the insect pests have died off. We have been enjoying quiet evenings as the water loving coqui frogs have gone silent. We can even hear the crickets that those loudmouths were drowning out.
This is what the eruption, around 25 miles away, looked like from Honolii Pali on Saturday at dusk. For the time being it's stalled and building up.
The pall of smoke and vog were visible all the way up the Hamakua Coast.
This weekend was a washout, so to speak, except that we did go to Puna and had breakfast in Pahoa with Jim and Mary. Here we are, less than a mile away from the lava. What daredevils we are!
How could we get along without Jim and Mary? Friends like these are not all that easy to find in this world.
I've been experimenting with low fire ceramics. This came out OK.I thought the clay would fire black, which is a disappointment. But, as Terry says, we learn through experimentation.
Still very experimental, yes, but it's good to use as a trivet. It seems best to make flat pieces and decorate them. The low fire pots I made were not worth keeping.
Here is a large low fire decorative plate I bought in Canada years ago. It seems that the way to handle low fire is to make things that are simple, childish and cheerful. Such pieces are nice in the kitchen and dining area.
There is the usual grumbling about people on food stamps.
Yesterday I saw a woman who was so thin that she was wearing her wristwatch above her elbow.
The people most upset by the increase in visible poverty and more and more street people around are the ones who are struggling to stay in the middle class, the small business people and hard workers who just manage to get by and resent those they feel are parasites. Oahu has declared war on street people, and I fear something like that happening here. Hilo has had a pretty mellow attitude until recently, but the aloha is wearing thin.
When I read Tiffany Hunt's Facebook page (The voice of Puna!) and her friends, I really worry. She and many others like her have been striving to make Puna the kind of place where middle class people can support their families, send them to good schools, have well-maintained parks and recreational facilities, and in general enjoy the amenities of prosperous, well run Mainland communities. That has always been a far-fetched notion for Puna because of its isolation and susceptibility to natural disasters and the ever increasing numbers of poor people. As has now become all too clear.
It's voggy this a.m., and I have a dull headache, even after retreating to my office and turning on the window air conditioner. And there is still no rain.
Our neighborhood is changing, too. My nice doctor who lived across the street has moved to Oahu and turned her house into a vacation rental. So now I have to find a new doctor. She left because she was overworked and underpaid and also so that her husband could go to grad school. (Luckily, I'm with Kaiser, so my basic medical care will continue.) A house down the street just sold and is also being converted to a vacation rental. And a house is being built on the corner which is going to be a vacation rental. We already have two other vacation rentals in our small neighborhood plus a bed and breakfast. Oahu is thinking about cracking down on vacation rentals. I don't know how I feel about this. The renters are no problem, but it changes the atmosphere of a neighborhood when there are so many transients. It certainly is better than having empty houses. There are two of those in the neighborhood, and I can't understand why the owners are holding on to them.
I'm just hoping our renters stay. They are delightful people and we really get along. I would not be surprised if they left for better opportunities, although for them, as for us, the Big Island is their heaven on earth, even with all its problems. But as the Sicilians say of their homeland, "It's beautiful, but you can't eat the scenery."
We're happy, of course, and have everything we could possibly want or need. But I can't feel very complacent about that. Not in my nature, which is always alert to danger. We're going to the Makuu Market on Sunday and should be able to get a feel for the developing situation. There are always plenty of people down there to talk to.
5 a.m. Back home. It's cool and pleasant in the velvety darkness. I can see a faint glow from the direction of Puna. The lava is stalled for now, but it keeps building up. There has been virtually no rain for weeks, and the lava is setting brush fires.
Terry got this shot of Haleakala Crater as we flew over Maui. The crater is as big as Manhattan, the flight attendant informs us.
Note the snow at the observatory and the footpath into the crater.
We hiked this road and stayed a couple of days at a cabin. I decided then, and have not changed my mind, that this was the most beautiful place I had ever been. That was a long time ago. Coming into Hilo, this is the Hilo Breakwater.
And this is a nice shot of the boat harbor and the Suisan fish market.
... if I’m totally honest, I don’t want to feel like charitable activities are my obligation as a rich person. I want to be able to do with my time what I wish.... I’ve found the causes I care about, and I give to them. But I also want to trust that my tax dollars are going to the places we’ve collectively decided upon through the democratic process of one vote, one person. I want pay more taxes than most people because I’m rich. Apparently I’m not the only one who feels that way.
This is how I feel, in my less affluent way. My work life was almost all in adult basic education, ESL and high school equivalency prep. I worked with immigrants when I lived in Portland and taught at a prison here in Hawaii. Now I want to write and make pots and send money to worthwhile organizations. But what I really wish for is decent, well funded public institutions paid for with tax money collected in a fair system of taxation. I think people should be paid for the work they do. With money.
*A pseudonym, no doubt.
I highly recommend Jonathan Sa'adah's book, How Many Roads, of his photos, with essays by Teju Cole, Elizabeth Adams, Hoyt Alverson and Steven Tozer. Elizabeth is Sa'adah's wife and the subject of several of the photos. *
Nothing I have read about the 60's resonates with me the way this book does. This is how people like us looked then, those of us in cold places. We lived in Madison, Wisconsin at the time in student poverty. We were overwhelmingly concerned about the war and the social injustices that were tearing the country apart, and we, as members of the student community and young people with liberal leanings, were scapegoated for the wrongs of those times. It was impossible to have civil conversations with Terry's older relatives, his aunt and uncle, and they virtually disowned their son for becoming a conscientious objector.
I thought the title could be read as somewhat ironic, since all of our student friends from that time took the same road as we did, which led us to the upper middle class. But the old confusions remain. I still think for many of us this was a time of overwhelming events that we experienced in a very inward way. That is why this book appeals to me so much. It's intense, it's personal. And a lot of it was traumatic.
We were trying to remember which of the many marches on Washington we went to: four, I think. Terry says we went to the '69 March on Washington, but that can't be right, because my elder daughter was born that year. I think he might have gone with his friend. Our memories of that era are flawed. I don't even recall whether I heard MLK speak in person or whether I only saw him on television. This was before social media, and our records and recollections of that time are haphazard and unorganized. If Terry ever retires, he is going to scan our photos from then. Perhaps we can gain some new insights from that.
*Beth informs me that she was not in any of the photos but leading a "parallel life" at the time. That is what I find so interesting: that so many of us were on parallel tracks but unknown to each other.
I'm reading a collection of stories by the Austrian writer, Ingeborg Bachmann, published in 1972. In Drei Wege zum See (Three Paths to the Lake) a woman, Elizabeth, comes home to visit her father in Vienna. She has worked and lived in many places and is grateful for the freedom she has enjoyed as a photojournalist but also feels cut off from her Austrian origins. She is extremely upset over the death of a colleague who was "killed in a street fight in Budapest while he was photographing and bled to death with his camera in his hand."*
Others have died too:"three photographers and a reporter in Algeria and two journalists in Suez..." A friend tells her, scornfully, that she and her fellows are " 'serving up war for breakfast,' " and can't expect immunity, that they must accept the danger they face as an " 'occupational hazard...I don't know why I have no tears for your friends. Do you think that you have to photograph these destroyed villages and corpses so that I can have war presented to me, or these Indian children, so that I know what hunger is?' "
This passage resonated with me, because I have gone right off the news, and I was always an avid news follower. The more I hear about all the disasters in the world, the injustice, the murders of the innocent, the more helpless I feel. And bored, too. After a lifetime of hearing about the catastrophes suffered by others I feel something like battle fatigue. And now, confronted by a looming disaster in Puna, my backyard, so to speak, I can hardly react. It's so minor in the greater scheme of things. Obama never even came over to take a look.
One of the best media critics is Karl Kraus, whose Last Days of Mankind satirized the Viennese of his day in their love of gossip and gossip dressed up as news. Coffeeshops were abuzz with the latest rumors and disasters, culminating in the disaster of WW I. What I always remember from this play, a long read, is the scene where a reporter comes up with a notebook in hand to a man lying on the battlefield and asks him to tell the public what it feels like to die.
*all quotes my translations
Now it's 7 a.m. I can see a pink glow which looks like a fire in Puna and just got a whiff of sulfur. And the whales are jumping!
So It's off to Puna to pick up the cat from the kennel and do some grocery shopping. Also to see if my low-fire ceramics are ready. The everyday goes on, even under the volcano and with frolicking whales right offshore.
It's kind of comical, a sideshow featuring the usual suspects, whom some refer to as Punatics. I shouldn't laugh, because the pressures on people are enormous and causing residents to completely lose their cool.
But also, this nonsense serves to obscure the very real dangers of continued geothermal drilling in the district. Ormat, The company doing this ,is owned (of course) by outside interests who can't be expected to know or care much about local conditions.
Local control is a joke under these circumstances. It's possible for people in some places to kid themselves that they have some say about what happens around them, but Puna people are learning the hard lesson now: that in the economic scheme of things they are just pawns.
Spending so much time indoors, as we have been doing in Seattle, means I've been doing even more reading and writing than usual. I thought I'd look through my notes and marks and see what strikes me in particular. I found this from a review of a book, Notes from No Man's Land by Eula Biss, in the current New Yorker. There was a patronizing review in New York Magazine, too. I will certainly read the book. It sounds fascinating. From the New Yorker review:
In America, there is only one side to every border. You are a citizen or an alien, a productive member of society or an invisible one; you're in or you're other...
In Notes, Biss writes often about how she, as a white woman, is a racialized subject. It is a privileged role that is, nonetheless, always putting words in her mouth.
I get this all the time! I'm supposed to think this and do that! This is a complex matter that goes well beyond stereotyping. There is probably no other group in America that is so heavily governed by assumptions about who we are, what we do and what we believe, and in such an unexamined way. Our duty to staunchly uphold all-American male-defined values is truly onerous.
Add the stereotypes about age, and that really puts me in a box. How can I possibly know anything? Or perhaps, how can I know anything beyond a few simple crafts and the cultivation of a pleasant attitude toward others?
This calls for an essay which I'll never write. But I can say that the notion behind the stereotyping is that white women don't know about "real life" as it's experienced by men. That somehow we are protected from the seamier side of things due to our presumed innocence and the protected atmosphere of our upbringings, dreamy idealists that we are!
In the dear old antebellum days, we fair ones were (supposedly)protected from the knowledge of what men were up to, but these days we know all about it. That is what anti-feminists don't like. We're not supposed to know anything, and yet we do, which is why we can be such bitches. So shutting us up and getting us back to our presumed ignorance as it was in the good old days is a big part of the agenda.
Ursula Le Guin has some good things to say about the position of white women in America, although she does not talk directly about race. The overlay of expectations and behaviors demanded of white women renders much of the reality of our lives invisible, even to ourselves, an unexplored subterranean space. Maybe this explains the fetish among white women for cats. Cats are mysterious; their inner lives are opaque.
We strive to reach the light but are blocked by the expectations of our presumably protected status. This is especially true of "respectable" women like me. One of my closest friends is always upbraiding me for my realistic assessment of my position in life and wants me to idealize my relationships to my husband, family, etc. That is where I get the strongest approval from him and from most of the men I know. But this is a false illumination. The transgression I commit here is that I continue to insist on my intrinsic importance, independent of my social side.
Many white women retreat into a life of privacy and cats. That is understandable. More independent white women are entitled to a kind of fool's freedom that keeps them safe but which non-white women do not enjoy. Poor women of all races are getting trashed, of course. That's nothing new. White women who fall into poverty suffer a good deal and without any of the acknowledgement that they may be victims of circumstances such as those that women of color "enjoy."
Machoman is afraid of our terms, which are not all rational, positive, competitive, etc. And so he has taught us to despise and deny them. In our society, women have lived, and have been despised for living, the whole side of life that includes and takes responsibility for helplessness, weakness, and illness, for the irrational and the irreparable, for all that is obscure, passive, uncontrolled, animal, unclean - the valley of the shadow, the deep, the depths of life. All that the Warrior denies and refuses is left to us and the men who share it with us and therefore, like us, can't play doctor, only nurse, can't be warriors, only civilians, can't be chiefs, only indians. Well so that is our country. The night side of our country. If there is a day side to it, high sierras, prairies of bright grass, we only know pioneers' tales about it, we haven't got there yet. We're never going to get there by imitating Machoman. We are only going to get there by going our own way, by living there, by living through the night in our own country.
And this underworld is shameful, not to be spoken of.
This task, of finding our own "high sierras, prairies of bright grass" on our own terms is the task that women of the next generation have taken up. Almost all have failed to get to the "day side" except now and then, which has led to great disappointment. It will take another generation or two; however, the journey is very worthwhile. The backlash is pretty bad, like a cold wind blowing in women's faces, and the energy needed to battle against it takes so much effort that women get exhausted and often give up and retreat or capitulate. But women can't go back.
A footnote: When I first started thinking about these matters, there wasn't even the language to talk about women. Judith Butler and others have expanded the discourse around women a lot, but we still are mostly stuck with trying to explain our lives in "male" terms. Subject/verb/object. Doer, deed, done to. Our language favors the dynamic over the stative. In writing classes , teachers urge the use of action and description rather than things like states of mind or feelings.
I greet this holiday with my usual ambivalence, because no one has ever discriminated against me on the basis of my race. Some white people make claims of prejudice against them, especially in Hawaii, but they are just touchy. Or they offend others with their assumption of superiority and then blame the way they are rejected on their race.
On the other hand, I know people who are very obviously being discriminated against because of their race who will deny that up and down. They may not have been around white people with their masks off and are therefore oblivious to the everyday racism of some folks. And this color prejudice extends to all non-white minority groups, not just blacks. They should hear some of my family members!
Yes, white privilege is often of an unthinking variety, or the product of ignorance, but a lot of it is vicious, as recent events in places like Ferguson show. Or it's those charming Mexican border vigilantes making asses of themselves. Nonetheless, the train has already left the station, and we are rapidly becoming a "majority minority" country. Which is fine with me, for one. Truly, I don't think having a white skin is a big deal that should entitle me to a better life. And since I am part Mexican, prejudice against Latinos infuriates me, even though with an Irish maiden name and a fair skin, this part of my ancestry has always been invisible.
A lot of MLK Day is about hypocrisy. Naming a holiday and some streets after MLK is fine, and the statues of MLK are grand. However, what people who are marginalized on account of their race need more than fancy words and monuments is equality. This country is always under the threat of turning into two countries, because we are still fighting the Civil War. It's amazing to me that so many whites still carry on about Obama, who until recently was doing everything in a way that it seems to me white conservatives would approve of. Now that he is pulling out the stops and doing things they really hate, such as normalizing relations with Cuba, I am of course delighted.
So, yes, we've made progress, but it's taking too long, and more and more problems are not getting solved as too many people cling to their antiquated beliefs in white superiority.
But Happy MLK Day anyway!
More: I have been on several MLK marches, including two in San Francisco. But the march I remember is the one I participated in in Madison right after King was assassinated. It was terribly sad.
It’s become too easy of late to be rude about Alain de Botton. His banal aphoristic “insights” and homilies on Twitter, his efforts to turn the media away from “meanness” (news should provide moral uplift and teach us how to be better people), his plea for museums to emulate churches by replacing their “bland captions” with a set of moral “commands”, thereby using the art in their collections to make us “good and wise and kind”, have all begun to pall somewhat.
When did the playful essayist become so cloyingly dumb? And please, before I say another word, do let’s stop calling him a philosopher. He’s a businessman and a writer whose pop-psych, mind-body-spirit essays make Paulo Coelho look like Dostoevsky. He’s also a writer who thinks Plato was the original self-help guru, for it was the Greek philosopher’s big idea, according to a bizarre Alain tweet – which he subsequently deleted because it was too dumb even for his own timeline – that the wise should be rewarded with fame and elevated status because even the clever need to feel wanted.
I happen to like de Botton's somewhat abashed but sunny affect. I do see that he views social issues from a very comfortable economic position. But I find him helpful. Sometimes oversimplified, sure, but I think knowing about Melanie Klein, for instance, even in a simplified and rather male-centered way, is far more useful than not knowing about her at all.
He clarifies my ideas about Freud, too. We are in danger of abandoning these important thinkers, hoping that we can normalize ourselves or use a lot of weed and drugs to bear it all.
By the way, calling de Botton a "moron" does not strike me as a particularly tony way to refer to him. It shows childish pique. Calling names always means that the name caller has lost the argument.
However, note that most of de Button's work is free. You can access his aphorisms and links to longer pieces via Twitter. His web site, The School of Life, and the Ted Talks on You Tube are free, also. I can be an intellectual snob about some matters, but really I think he is providing a great service to people. He wants to help us become less unhappy, which was always Freud's goal, too. Telling people they are stupid and mean and selfish and deluded does not help anyone much, as far as I can see.
It occurs to me that women sometimes pull these "getting away with it" attacks on men who are challenging patriachal notions. I haven't heard of Güner before, but her bread and butter seems to be attacking feminists. Might research her later, although it probably is not worth my time. Less said about her awful writing style the better.
This is a good day for hanging out in the condo and reading and writing. I'm looking at the street scene out the window and am as usual amazed to see people in shirtsleeves in 50 degree weather. It was very windy last night and cool, dreary and rainy this a.m, but now the sun is coming out.
Puna continues to burn up and people continue to panic. That tease of a lava flow is now 0.4 miles from the highway. It will either stop or it will flow over Highway 130 in the next few days. There are wildfires everywhere down there, and vog and smoke continue to pollute the air all over the islands.
I'm not one of those anti-natal fanatics; I'm a mother and a grandmother. Nonetheless, the current rage for enormous mass rallies has me worried. Where do these huge quantities of human beings go to the toilet? Who feeds them? Is it really uplifting and ennobling and life enhancing to be part of a mob scene?
The largest crowd I was ever in was at the Züri Fäscht (Zürich-Fest), a once in three years blowout culminating in a huge fireworks display, where there were a million roistering people in the street. (At least there was no intent of any serious purpose on this occasion.) One of our group of four got lost and did not turn up again until the next morning. She had managed to get home on the train. Never again, I vowed. I don't like even moderate crowds that much any more. Now I just think, "So many people. What will become of us all?"
In a slight shift of perspective, I am thinking about how we old people, for all our visibility as "a problem" in contemporary life, with our inconveniencing longevity these days, the obligations we supposedly impose on the young and our resource-consuming illnesses and need for care, are in a small minority, even as the Boomers join us on the right hand side of the demographic curve. And minorities get picked on.
Still, having been around babies and little children as I have for several weeks now, I know that the very young are the people who need the most resources. They must be constantly fed and provided with shelter and clothing and other services they can't provide for themselves. Their emotional needs are sometimes shattering.
In short, we are a needy species. How will billions be served? If so many can't adhere to the standards of behavior and competence geared to the needs and desires and abilities of the unecumbered young and/or able bodied, will they be shunted to one side or discarded for not being able to keep up?