California mourning

Grandma’s last weeks were painful, for her and for those who loved her. She wasn’t my grandmother, so I can say that I was relieved when she died. A good person shouldn’t have to suffer as she did. Loving, kind and generous, Patty was universally loved.

She welcomed us into her life only a few, short years ago, including us in her warm embrace. Although she and the family were in California, we crossed the country to honor her and offer comfort and solace to the family of which we’d become a part.

All funerals are sad. The ones I remember most were also deeply satisfying, because of the shared love that bonded the mourners, even those who were meeting for the first time.

Grandma was 95, and she led a good life. She was Roman Catholic, so I steeled myself for the ritual that has always alienated me, despite my having been born into the faith. Only a year ago I wrote about the Catholic funeral mass of my brother-in-law. The church was overflowing with stricken friends and relatives who were unprepared for his sudden death. Yet the priest seemed to be playing his part by rote, spouting the same platitudes with the same indifference that were no more than a part of his job description.

The two masses were separated by a continent and an ocean and a spiritual distance equally vast. The priest in California moved among the mourners and spoke to them face-to-face, looking directly into their eyes. He was one of them. He welcomed the people he didn’t recognize, including those of other faiths. He respected them, entreating all to worship as they were accustomed. He was thoughtful and serious, but his sense of humor and his ease among strangers were evident too. He’d known Patty for years and worked with her for the Church. In his eulogy, delivered in an informal, almost chatty manner, he said that one of the three things he most appreciated about Patty was that she laughed at his jokes. “Nobody laughs at my jokes,” he said. “I have to tell my jokes in the bathroom to the priest I see in the mirror.” And he made all of us laugh, just as Patty had.

The priest opened my eyes to a fluid, adaptive Catholicism that can be truly catholic and responsive to the needs of different cultures. Women, including altar girls, took part in the service. A guitar accompanied the piano and the lyrics of the music scrolled on two large screens so that everyone could join in the singing.

Father Michael and Pope Francis are cut from the same cloth. I hope they and others like them will drag the Church into the 21st century.

Photo credit: The Village FuneralFrank Holl1872Leeds City Art Gallery

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Snoops

Privacy is such a quaint notion. Since 9-11, we have become inured to having our personal belongings searched at theaters, airports and the lobbies of big buildings. Records and recordings of our calls reside in humongous government data warehouses, ready for scrutiny and analysis. We know that if we use the super-convenient transit credit cards like New York City’s Metrocard or drive past tollbooths with EZ Pass, we are leaving an easily followed trail of our comings and goings. Wayward husbands can no longer “hike the Appalachian Trail” in Buenos Aires with impunity. Credit cards, customer loyalty programs, just about anything that makes everything we do easier and faster comes at an unspoken price. We willingly and often unwittingly divulge intimate details that would have been unthought of only a few decades ago. Our faces are recorded by cameras in the street, at building entrances, public spaces and elevators.

One of the many devices we can rely on is a thermostat that can be remotely controlled. The Nest knows when you are home and figures out when to raise or lower the heat. It tracks your energy use and like Santa, sees you when you’re sleeping and knows when you’re awake, and it continuously relays all this information and more via the Internet to the company that made it. Amazon, Netflix and Roku know of your predilection for porn and what kinky action turns you on. Or not.

Your smart phone, as you know, is constantly sending out your MAC address, a unique identifier that can be tracked very precisely to determine exactly where you are, how you got there, how often you go there and where you go afterwards. Retailers can track you in their stores. The signals from your phone disclose which displays interest you, based on how long you ponder them and whether you subsequently buy the product. Storekeepers may also use this info to fine-tune the arrangement, positioning and content of their displays. We’re all familiar with the way Google and Facebook analyze what we write and the links we click to profit from that data.

Drilling down, merchants now know who is driving by their billboards and how many of those drivers are buying the advertised merchandise. According to The Boston Globe (May 19, 2016), “the nation’s largest billboard company, Clear Channel Outdoor Inc., is bringing customized, pop-up ads to the interstate.” Using data gathered from 130 million AT&T subscribers, augmented by phone apps that corral millions more, “Clear Channel knows what kinds of people are driving past one of their billboards at 6:30 p.m. on a Friday— how many are Dunkin’ Donuts regulars, for example, or have been to three Red Sox games so far this year.”

All this information is for sale, and it is probably impossible to control.

Even Trump must have been surveilled. Clearly, not directly by his predecessor. At the very least, the same devices that hover over all Americans will have collected data that can easily be exploited by any of the agencies that spy for the government. Did Trump gut the State Department and cripple Justice to hobble investigations of his Russian connections? He may have anticipated the exposure of some of the tentacles of his Russian deals, corruption and collusion.

Surveillance cameras photo by Quevaal at the English language Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.o0

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Trump’s fiddling ’cause he can’t put out the fire

What a MESS! One minute the demagogue’s rabble-rousing has me tearing out my hair in despair, but the next … I wonder long he can last. With a rising chorus questioning his indefensible charges against Obama, the courts against him on the travel ban, and everybody against him on Trumpcare— excuse me, Ryancare— he’s not WINNING.
How many more blows to his fragile ego can he take before he admits the presidency isn’t at all what he thought it would be? Not nearly so much fun, not a simple negotiation, not unquestioning adulation, but unanticipated opposition lined up against him. And not just from the Dems, but even from faithless Republicans as the scales slowly drop from their eyes.
Will he toss in his chips and go home? He and his family have, in this short time, already profited handsomely, even though they will never be satisfied. Still, he’s not used to being stymied so consistently, especially on the fanciful ideas that got him elected.
I’m probably guilty of magical thinking, but I don’t see how he can see it through for four years.

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Lilacs in the snow

Look closely and you’ll see the lilac buds. Lilacs are early bloomers, and their buds are already beginning to swell. The indomitable buds point straight up in defiance of the snow. It may have triumphed today, but the snow’s victory is ephemeral. Already it is weakening, its icy grip melting in the sun.

But what about America? Winter is coming. Trump’s grip is tightening. He is beefing up the army, fortifying the police and expanding the reach of the ICE. The power of all three is growing. Trump is adding soldiers, police, agents, jails and judges to enforce his decrees. Does this sound like the beginning of a police state? Does Trump want a Wall to keep his enemies out or will he have to keep Americans in?

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Women on the march

International Women’s Day in New York City— beautiful, brisk, and perfect for marching, cheering, chatting, comiserating and consoling. Women of all ages and all colors were united in their will to resist the Trump agenda. If women were striking, I did not see them. But the women I did see were marching for their less fortunate sisters who did not have the luxury of taking time off from work. They demonstrated their solidarity with the many women in the US and around the world who work very hard for long hours and minimal pay. Some are not paid at all. They marched for equal pay, reproductive freedom and the health care they now have with the Affordable Care Act. They marched to restore clean air and clean water, and public education for their children.

Young

Eight-year old Ravan Peterson (below, left) was delighting everyone who heard her with her enthusiastic support of women everywhere. “Women are stronger than men.” She said she was “marching to support all women, but especially women who are suffering all over the world.”

Older

 

Black

 

White

The sign reads, “Tinkle, tinkle little czar. Putin put you where you are.” Golden showers fall on the umbrella.

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Stand up on International Women’s Day

Women’s rights are human rights. Wear red in solidarity with women across the US and in more than 30 countries. March 8 will be A Day Without a Woman, in which women who can will take the day off from paid and unpaid labor and avoid shopping.

Show up at town halls and petition your members of congress to repair Obamacare. Speak up for the gutted EPA, clean water and clean air. Insist on the importance of public education, of the arts and of a social safety net to provide the necessities, like nutritious food and health care to those who can’t provide for themselves. Defend regulations that were put in place to protect people from predatory lenders, to safeguard public health, to keep the stock market honest. The fabric of American democracy is being rent by a blitz of lethal blows. You know of others that also affect you personally. Stand up! Make yourself heard! There is power in numbers.

Read Emily Crockett’s “The ‘Day Without a Woman’ strike, explained.” She’s done a masterly job of examining the “gendered revolt” kicked off by the Women’s March on Washington the day after Trump’s inauguration.

Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images

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How far out will Trump be allowed to go?

When will Republicans acknowledge that Trump has gone over the deep end? What more does the president have to do to convince his cronies that he’s truly unhinged and dangerous? How high a price are they willing to pay for low taxes and unregulated business?

Trump’s latest twitter tantrum, insisting (as POTUS!) on his fantasy that Obama bugged his phones, is lunacy. Admittedly, it is conceivable that some actionable intelligence led a federal agency to investigate possible illegal or treasonable activity in Trumpworld. But that hypothesis became untenable when FBI Director James Comey took the unprecedented step of going over Trump’s head by instructing the Justice Dept. to deny the accusation publicly. Former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, in a better position to know than anyone else, also denied it.

Yet Trump continues to repeat his claim. How a man with such a weak hold on reality be trusted with the nuclear codes? North Korea launched a missile last week; today he launched four of them. What happens when these two puerile bullies confront each other? A game of chicken with unthinkable consequences.

It’s time the Republican leadership put their country ahead of partisanship. Every day Trump wades out a little farther. He is way out of his depth now. He is going in over his head and will drown the whole country with him.

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