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Where There's Smoke


Where There's Smoke


  Adults keep saying: "We owe it to the young people to give them hope." But I don't want your hope. I don't want you to be hopeful. I want you to panic. I want you to feel the fear I feel every day. And then I want you to act. I want you to act as you would in a crisis. I want you to act as if the house is on fire. Because it is."


-Greta Thunberg at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland on January 25, 2019. 



The Nanopoch Fire started on August 27, probably by a lightning strike. As I write, it has consumed about 100 acres of the Minnewaska State Park, just twenty minutes from the valley where I live in New Paltz, NY. I woke at 5 a.m. to the scent of smoke and the apocalyptic sound of helicopters, had a quick breakfast, and took a ride to the New Paltz Fire Station to try to interview a volunteer firefighter or two, but they must have been resting, as were their three dinosaur-sized vehicles. I wanted to ask, "So what's it been like for you these past few days?"


It's been all hands on deck as Ulster County Executive Pat Ryan announced a unified command: The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation Forest Rangers, staff volunteers, the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, the Ulster County Emergency Services, the New York State Police Aviation—the helicopters—and the the State Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Services and local volunteer fire departments. That's what it takes to contain a wildfire.


I got back into my car and drove down Route 151 South to a building where I used to live; it has a deck overlooking the ridge. And there I saw it: smoke covering the valley like an old, smelly blanket. Inhaling the particulates from smoke is almost as dangerous as the fire itself, especially to young or damaged lungs.


This is the third wildfire in New York State this summer, albeit the worst so far. Like Hurricanes, they are given names, which I suppose makes them memorable for scientific purposes. On August 14, the Wanoksink Fire in Harriman State Park was contained within 34 acres. It took three days to graduate to "patrol status," meaning the fire had been contained, and was in a state of "mop-up," the firefighters walking every inch on foot to make sure it was out. Firefighters, by the way, are well trained, and they are brave, though we probably don't need reminding after 9/11.


Summer, 2022 fire #2 was on August 21, in Wawarsing, now known as the Losees Hill Fire. Rangers, assisted by several volunteer fire departments, worked on bulldozer lines to contain the fire to 2.5 acres and they did that in just a few hours. That was a relatively easy one.


But here's the upshot: climate change is here. These fires are yet another warning in an accumulation of warnings—torrential rains, flash flooding and other extreme weather events. The tinder under our hiking feet this summer has been bone dry. Every time a cloud passed during August we hoped for a few drops of rain. It was never enough.


Maybe a trip to the moon would satisfy now that we've made a mess of things here. No wonder there's so much excitement at NASA. Forgive me, but I'm not going to watch the launch of the new rocket. I'll be thinking about Greta's dream for Planet Earth instead and what we can we do day to day, each and every one of us, to contribute to her effort. Here's a list. Please feel free to add to it in the comments:


1.    Compost. If you do not have a garden, find a pilot compost program. I live in an apartment complex—but I take my compost every couple of days to one of two communal compost piles. One is next to a communal garden, the other next to the Village Community Center Pollinator Garden.

2.    Do not ride when you can walk, or bike. Save on fossil fuel and if you can afford it, go electric or hybrid.  When you rent a car, ask if they have a hybrid or electric car.

3.    Recycle, Do not put recycle items into a plastic bag; it will get thrown as is into the dump. Eliminate plastic bags as much as you can. Wash out your garbage pails.

4.   Conserve water. Take shorter showers. There's a drought. Reservoirs are low. Water is not only needed for human--and animal and plant--survival, but to fight fires.


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The Surveillance State


The Surveillance State




And when they spy on us let them discover us loving.


-Alice Walker, "Taking the Arrow Out of the Heart"




this post is dedicated to Salman Rushdie

may he continue to heal well

and write freely



I haven't written about Facebook in a long time. I was skeptical when it first began in 2004 and reluctant to put my face, my photos, my life on a platform for others to approve, mock, congratulate, pity, cheer or emoji, which was Zuckerberg's original intention when he and his cohorts designed the site when they were at Harvard. There was actually a competition: which face is uglier? A schoolboys' game, and a macho one at that.


Like nearly everyone else I know, however, I succumbed to the promise and temptation of instantaneous interconnectivity. Now there is Instagram (owned by Facebook) and What's App (owned by Facebook) and Twitter (not owned by Facebook or Elon Musk, as yet.)


As a professor, small business owner, journalist, and private writing mentor, I understood quickly that it would be a good idea to have an internet footprint. My NYU students always confessed that they had Googled me. Fortunately, I passed muster; my classes were always filled. And it has also been thrilling and life-affirming to communicate with people all over the world. Al Gore was prescient: there is an internet highway, but life has changed politically and geopolitically since he was Vice-President: Arab springs, wars, fires and floods, migrants, famine, domestic terrorism, autocracy on our shores, surveillance. And it is surveillance, or what I hypothesize is surveillance, that I want to talk about here today, though the discussion requires a preamble, or set-up. It will be as honest and transparent as I can write it.


I am a secular Jew, a descendant of the Holocaust, a genocide that wiped out nearly all of my family. I have rarely been to synagogue, do not believe in a God or gods, enjoy biblical stories as literature, the Quaran and the Talmud as ancient wisdom, some of which is relevant today, some of which is not. I have lived abroad, have friends and colleagues of all faiths and nationalities. I steer clear of ghettos—physical, intellectual, cultural. Though I have read deeply about the British mandate in Palestine and the historical necessity of a safe haven for persecuted Jews, including my own family who escaped to three continents, I abhor the idea of a one-party or one-religion state and all fundamentalisms, including American constitutional fundamentalism. I have both Israeli cousins and friends and displaced Palestinian cousins and friends. I love them all. If I could pray for peace, I would pray for peace. But I don't pray. I just do my best as a writer to pay attention and write from the heart.


So, when a dear Palestinian friend, who has American citizenship, and is therefore Palestinian-American, recently returned from a family wedding on the West Bank, and put up a Facebook post about Israel's shut-down of Palestinian human rights organizations, and yet more horrific bombings in Israel and Gaza, I wrote a comment on his post which began with the unedited and unskillful sentence: "The Israelis are fools." I then continued with more context, something akin to: if they only understood that Palestinian human rights organizations are their allies in the struggle for peace. That is a paraphrase from memory because I cannot retrieve my comment: Facebook erased it claiming it did not meet their "community standards." When I looked up those standards, I intuited that calling Israelis fools, instead of foolish, was tagged by their data sleuths as hate speech. When I appealed their decision, I lost the appeal. If I did not accept their final decision, I was informed that they would shut down my account. And though I let it be, I'm still thinking about it, thus this blog post.


The Palestinian-American friend who had just returned from a wedding in Hebron was stalked by the FBI after 9/11, as was his son who was in high school in New York City at the time, as was his wife who is a well-known Israeli-Arab-American university professor. The family eventually hired a lawyer to get the FBI to cease and desist. But it's not over until it's over. And though some surveillance is still undoubtedly necessary—more  importantly to stop  domestic terrorism than international terrorism these days, I'd say—the fact that I am communicating often with Palestinians and a (Jewish) UK friend  who is involved in the peace movement, puts Facebook posts and comments at risk.


So, where is Facebook in this story exactly?  By all accounts, the company is not doing well. Am I being paranoid, or are they turning over data to burnish their failing reputation? Just today, this news from Nebraska:  A teenager there is facing criminal charges for having an abortion. When local law enforcement officials suspected the teenager and her mother of acquiring abortion pills, they served Facebook with a search warrant for the teen's private Facebook messages. Then, once Facebook handed over the messages, they used the communication between the teen and her mother as proof that an abortion had taken place.


I'll end with this thought: Facebook is not our friend.

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Stand With Salman





He was learning that to win a fight like this, it was not enough to know what one was fighting against. That was easy. He was fighting against the view that people could be killed for their ideas, and against the ability of any religion to place a limiting point on thought. But he needed, now, to be clear of what he was fighting for. Freedom of speech, freedom of the imagination, freedom from fear, and the beautiful, ancient art of which he was privileged to be a practitioner. Also skepticism, irreverence, doubt, satire, comedy, and unholy glee. He would never again flinch from the defense of these things. - 


-Salman Rushdie, "Joseph Anton; A Memoir"



My first thought was, they finally got him, because "they," whoever they are in any moment in historical time, often do. My second thought: the rest of his life will be inside a security bubble and he will either be accepting of this, or miserable about it, depending on his gratitude at simply being alive. And he will keep on writing.


I was back in the United States when the fatwa against Salman Rushdie began and he went into hiding. His marriage ended; he kept on writing. He has never stopped writing. Our paths had crossed in London at various times as I was a journalist there. Then I saw him again in New York at Cooper Union during the international literary festival when he was President of PEN America. He was feeling more at ease, his security not as tight, he had a new woman in his life. By taking on the presidency, he honored that august organization's mission and its support when he was in hiding. Founded in 1922, PEN America, one of 100 centers worldwide that make up PEN  International, is both a literary and human rights organization dedicated to protecting free expression in the United States and worldwide.


Given what is going on in Iran right now, it is no surprise that the death threat, known as a fatwa, has been "renewed," so it's perplexing that a so-called enlightened institution—the  Chautauqua Institution in western New York where Rushdie was scheduled to speak—had  such lax security, and that Rushdie's own security detail was so slight, or, by some accounts, non-existent.


Over the years, I have had death threats because of something I wrote, and though I have never had to go into hiding, I have required police protection. Citizens who go about their daily lives and depend on the press for information are usually not aware of the risks that journalists sometimes take to gather news, or novelists take to create their stories.


I invite my readers to #StandWithRushdie by reading one of his eleven novels, or his memoir, if you haven't already done so. They are not beach reads, but they will open your minds and hearts to other worlds and ideas, which is what most writers attempt to do every day of their working lives.


#standwithSalman  #civildiscourse #protectpersecutedsriters #opensociety #protectfreespeech 


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Interviewing a Politician



Interviewing a Politician



It's official. Lincoln's party of "liberty and Union" is now Trump's party of violence and disunion. His cultists just called sedition 'beating up cops' and a coup 'legitimate political discourse.'


Jamie Raskin in a Tweet, 2/2/22


I hadn't ever interviewed an American politician so I don't know what possessed me to interview Pat Ryan for HV 1, a local weekly newspaper I've been contributing to lately. I should have known the paper would probably only take a conventional, reportorial profile, nothing too personal or irreverent, but I carried on anyway and ended up writing two pieces, one irreverent, one informational. The editors conducted a straw poll: one editor liked  the irreverent take, two others the more informative version. The latter one is on the front page of the paper today as I write this blog.  So, I'll start this story somewhere between writing the reportorial, conventional piece, and aching to write something entirely different, which is what you are reading here. It's a meta story about Pat Ryan,  a hard-working 40-year-old Democrat, the Ulster County Executive since 2018, and an experienced, irreverent female journalist who arrived one hot summer day to interview him.  


Pat Ryan's accomplishments and policies are all notable, and most people I know in New Paltz—a  faux progressive town—really really want him to win. Maybe that was the beginning of my offer to interview him—I really really want Pat Ryan  to complete Congressman Antonio Delgado's term and get to Congress so he'll have the opportunity to run for re-election in November in one of the "new" districts. With all the mash-up redistricting, this is a good one. It's confusing and I won't say much more here other than we all need re-education to figure out the two ballots that will be in our folders, one for the special election (the 19th District), the other for the primary for the mid-term election (the 18th District), both on August 23rd, with some early voting beginning August 13th. Got that? Good.


A bit of backstory: In the ten years I lived in London I also contributed to a weekly, The Times Educational Supplement, a supplement of the London Times, and I did interview politicians, known there as Members of Parliament, who were so accessible that I hardly needed appointments to get an interview; I'd just walk into their constituency offices, and begin a conversation. I am sure it has not been as easy for journalists since Labour MP Jo Cox was killed by a white supremacist in 2016, and Sir David Amess, a Conservative MP, was murdered by an Islamic terrorist in 2021. Politicians everywhere these days live in a security bubble, not to mention January 6th and the fear of domestic terrorism in the halls of Congress. It is no surprise, therefore, that an unknown journalist would be carefully managed and not left alone in the room with a candidate. Nonetheless, I was surprised that after easily getting a slot for a 30-minute interview with Pat Ryan, I encountered a fortress level of security, all of which makes a politician much less available to constituents. And perhaps this is part of my story also because when I arrived at the Kingston, NY campaign headquarters, and entered the lobby, and walked up the stairs, the outer door was locked with a mega lock and I had to call to gain entry. And that was exactly what it felt like: gaining entry. I had to ask to use the bathroom so it was a while before the spirited ambience of a campaign office, with youthful workers on phones and computers, signs everywhere,  felt "normal."  Then Pat Ryan bounded into the hallway as I was exiting the bathroom, shook my hand, and said he'd be right with me. So, I already had a casual first impression I could use in my physical description: tall, lanky, relaxed, bearded.


I was escorted into a conference room where I could take off my mask and sit distanced, for which I was grateful.  Chris Walsh, Ryan's campaign manager, walked in, and made himself comfortable. Shorts, sandals, curly hair, he'd grown up in Greenwich Village, so we chit chatted about that. Then I thought he would leave, but he didn't. 


Once upon a time, I would never have conducted an interview with a PR or anyone else present, so I said, "Are you here to spin, Chris?" He laughed, said nothing, and stayed throughout the interview. Only later did I wonder, if he was armed and there to protect his candidate. Or, even more perversely, as I am female, whether he was there to protect his candidate from accusations of sexual harassment.


Anything can happen to a politician these days.


I'd done my homework, read everything that's been written about Pat Ryan most of which felt like potted campaign literature, and thought up a few questions no one had asked him before hoping to get under the skin of spin. For example, had he ever been out of the country before he was deployed after graduating from West Point?  No, he hadn't. And looking back at the United States from his vantage as a US Army Commanding Officer of an intelligence unit in Iraq, what did he see? "How much we have. How we have to preserve it," he said. I had asked the same question of Sheriff Figueroa, a Marine—running  unopposed for re-election  on the Democratic ticket in November. He  also had never been out of the country before he was deployed and  said almost the same thing. 


I had more challenging questions for Pat Ryan so I carried on. No one stopped me, a hopeful sign. He had done his Masters at Georgetown on drone warfare, euphemistically referred to as "leadership targeting," so I wanted to know what he thought about the CIA drone killing of Al-Qaeda's Ayman al Zawahiri last week in Kabul. I got the question in eventually, late in the interview. Answer: "Surgical kill, short term solution." And that was the end of the interview. Chris Walsh looked at his watch to end it; maybe he was there as a timekeeper. Next event, next interview and a visit that night (with security?) to the Ulster County Fair.


I had had my thirty minutes, a very short time to get to know someone. And, for the most part, didn't learn anything new about Pat Ryan; the conversation reaffirmed my intuition that he's a good guy, has had the requisite experience, and I want him to win. Before saying goodbye, almost at the door, I did try to get him to talk about education as he has two young boys and plans to send them to public school. I was thinking of the recent high intensity school board meetings and the sometimes fraught relationship between teachers and parents, but he didn't want to touch it. Instead, he veered into the pandemic and how it's taken its toll on all of us. He did call parents a "fierce force," though, and referred to his wife, Rebecca, as a "badass health policy wonk." She's worked as a civil servant in DC for a very long time. Maybe she'll run for office one day. If so, I'd  certainly try to interview her.


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Virus Without Borders: Chapter 95

More or Less


The president was not masked at public events he attended at the end of the week, which is in conflict with CDC guidance that says people should wear a mask for 10 days after a Covid infection.


                                        -Politico, 7/23/22



Dr. Anthony Fauci, still the Chief Medical Advisor to the President, segued from Trump to Biden smoothly, yet in an interview the other day he looked exhausted  and pained. Maybe I was reading in, but I don't think so. My sense was he was struggling to tout the party line on federal guidelines during the current surges (individual responsibility, more or less) and resisting the use of the word "mandate."  There is nothing any one man or politician can do to correct the systemically flawed "public" health initiatives in the United States, a nation where decision making is bi-furcated between the central government and the dis-united states. So let's give our public health officials a break for a minute—not including getting monkeypox under control—and concentrate on November's election, a Democratic sweep, and legislators who will be able to legislate. Meanwhile, I'll accept my individual responsibility vis-a-vis Covid.


Like Cuomo during the early days of the pandemic, Dr. Fauci was our go-to guru. We watched him constantly for guidance and comfort, the news that vaccines were coming fast, that they would be protective—they still are, despite the variants—and that the simplest of measures, such as wearing a mask and distancing, would/could stop the spread. Then we got our government sponsored test kits (watch the expiration dates), testing sites and antivirals. All good news. But because of Trump's dangerous solipsistic insanity, both Cuomo (for all his faults) and Dr. Fauci, known affectionately simply as Fauci, became our governors, literally those that govern for the common good, our personal guides until we were more or less safe. I don't think either of them anticipated the more or less part of this sentence, but I don't want to minimize how they both got us through those early 2020 terrifying days and became our invited household guests during lockdown.


But more or less is where we still are during this third Covid summer. It's not nearly as scary as the first one, or the second one, thank goodness. We can relax a bit, certainly outside. Many people are risking travel, many people are socializing. I don't wear my mask at all in certain well-tested situations with people I trust, which feels nearly normal. And there are days when I forget we are still in the midst of the pandemic, which gives the vigilant worry brain a rest, wouldn't you agree, dear reader? I'll be inside working, say, and then take a run to the pool for a long, relaxed lap swim, two people to a lane this year, no reservation required. Once there I can chat mask free to the teens at the outdoor sign-in desk, some in high school, some in college, learn their names, their ambition, and ask how these past two years have been for them. Hard. Very hard. I try to encourage, support, solicit emails of their latest art projects or college application essays, offer to give them a read. They know I'm a  prof and a journalist and seem eager to talk to an adult who takes an interest. I easily oblige. Now that I can see their faces, and their smiles, we've formed a cohort, a community, of those who have survived, or are surviving—in  the continuous present tense—a  terrible ordeal, albeit only more or less over.


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Virus Without Borders: Chapter 94


Homo homini lupus est. 

© photo copoyright Yenka Honig 2022


And We Thought We Were Done



He that is to govern a whole Nation, must read in himselfe, not this, or that particular man; but Man-kind;"


 Thomas Hobbes, "Leviathan"



I was in the health store buying organically regeneratively cultivated food when a family breezed in—two parents, three kids, two of the kids in the shopping cart—all unmasked, when one of the kids started sneezing, coughing and spurting phlegm all over her siblings and into the air. Though no one said a word, the shoppers pulled away. It's a small store, so this was not easy. I retrieved another mask from my back pocket—I only had a surgical on--and moved to the end of the check-out line. What was there to say or do other than that? Not much, unfortunately, except to leave the store without my organically regeneratively cultivated food, all of which I hope will keep me and my husband fortified for the BA variants upcoming before we get our FIFTH SHOT sometime in the autumn.


Whether this sweet sputtering child had Covid or not is irrelevant as there is no way to know. And it's not her responsibility anyway to consider the safety of the public at large. And she may have tested negative and just had an ordinary cold. But what were the adults thinking? Why not keep the child in the car, at least, with one of them. Was this too logistically difficult, too ethically challenging? Are they too busy to pay attention to anyone other than themselves and their immediate family?


Rhetorical questions.


It's summer and several friends and family members are traveling. We want to enjoy ourselves, see each other, see the world as it flails and burns. But we also have to preserve and repair. In the most global sense, the pandemic is a wake-up call, a symptom of the larger environmental challenge and the breakdown in international peace and cooperation.


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Weather Map




 I don't believe the sleepers in this house

Know where they are.

-Robert Frost


Trees are sanctuaries. Whoever knows how to speak to them, whoever knows how to listen to them, can learn the truth.

-Herman Hesse



Except for summers when I was a child, and later when I was raising a child, I always lived in a city, either a large city such as Boston, London or New York, or a small city, such as Berkeley when I studied at the University of California. I never imagined that a consoling mountain landscape could be a year-round home. But in the spring of 2018, we moved out of the city permanently to a mid-Hudson valley small town, west of the Hudson River.  Our apartment has three screened-in nearly always open windows looking out onto the Minnewaska Ridge. On any one day I might see a grazing deer, coyotes, a fox crossing my path, a black bear resting in a tree on the SUNY campus, rabbits, vultures, eagles and hawks, or groundhogs feasting in the apple orchard. The sensation of sharing an ecosystem is constant and profound. It deepened during lockdown and isolation as my commute to the city lessened and then ceased. I've had one trip in recent months to see the Basquiat show, my cousin, and some friends visiting from California, but I need a very good reason to navigate the crowded streets, and feel the pressure of concrete, metal, glass, foul air, and hustle, not to mention surges in Covid.


It's not that I've become a recluse, far from. I started writing occasional pieces for the local newspaper a few weeks ago which keeps me engaged with people, community, politics and life's seemingly constant exacerbations. But the solace of the landscape envelops me even as I work a story, write my blogs, edit books, or facilitate a Zoom writing workshop, and this makes deadline pressure not only bearable, but meaningless. 


If  I am so in sync with nature now, composting and recycling diligently, it's curious, my husband, says, that I check my weather app so frequently. Why do I do this, I wonder? Storms announce themselves in the sky, in the tumbling clouds, and in the moist or dry air on my skin. Seasons change, or retreat, or explode suddenly. The calendar on my desk or in my phone tell me where I am within a given year. And even if there are climate change surprises—droughts and floods, a fire, a tornado—I manage well, without fear, most of the time.


Every Sunday as Covid ripped the fabric of our lives, I walked and talked with my friend Helene. Both the walking and talking were grounding, an antidote to social isolation. And we've continued the practice more or less every Sunday since. We pass old stone houses, a farm, a field of hay, barns, burial grounds, a nature preserve, gardens, people walking their dogs, other walkers. We may stop to chat, widening the circle of connection, or not. As the walk proceeds, earth sky, flora, fauna, and human habitation feels in balance and we feel in balance. It's more than likely the illusion of proximity or wishful thinking; the Wallkill River is very polluted, algae bloom all summer. It's a reminder that repairing our degraded environment—even in this beautiful landscape—must be intentional and unrelenting into the next season, and beyond. 


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My vet husband, Jim, and daughter, Chloe, on a  long ago arms are for hugging peace march in Central Park. photo ©copyright Carol Bergman



Imagine there's no countries
It isn't hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion too
Imagine all the people living life in peace…


-John Lennon & Yoko Ono
Released 10/11/71         

Dear Professor Freud,


Is there any way of delivering mankind from the menace of war?


It is common knowledge that, with the advance of modern science, this issue has come to mean a matter of life and death for civilization as we know it; nevertheless, for all the zeal displayed, every attempt at its solution has ended in a lamentable breakdown…

-Albert Einstein in a letter to Sigmund Freud, 30 July 1932


When the war in Ukraine began, I imagined myself on the frontlines, my family on the train to Poland. I imagined myself fighting, my family fleeing. Often, as a child, I asked my mother why she had fled the war zone, that soon became a genocide, and left her parents—my grandparents—behind, a child-centered question. The complexities of invasion from an imperialist power cannot be answered by one, afflicted refugee escaping bombardment and atrocity. I had no humility and said, bluntly, "I would have stayed and fought in the underground."

Many imaginings will surface in this blog post. I can't imagine, for example how my questioning made my mother feel, how it might have intensified her survivor's guilt and grief. I can't imagine how Peter Zalmayev, Director of the Eurasia Democracy Initiative, based in Kyiv, will feel when I talk to him on Thursday and ask the questions: Do you see an end to this war? Is there any way to make peace and stop the slaughter? Who is profiting—governments, arms dealers, both—from the arms pouring into Ukraine?

Is it fair to ask these questions of someone only recently surfaced from a bunker?

It isn't only the deflection of resources in a world still in the midst and/or recovering from a pandemic, it's the realization that the NATO alliance is on a war footing and has revved up its war economies; it's the sadness of the frailty of peace, the seeming impossibility of a peaceful world, the continuing futility of diplomacy. Consider Israel and Palestine, for starters. Consider the pushback of migrants, their flights from despotic, impoverished regimes while the rest of us worry about the price of gas and food and whether or not we'll be able to go on vacation this year.  

I am old enough now to remember peace marches, peace signs and John and Yoko's iconic song. It's a utopian lullaby, an incantation, embedded in my psyche. I hope it helps.

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Born Again


Born Again



We cannot get rid of mankind's fleetingly wicked wishes.  We can get rid of the machines that make them come true.  I give you a holy word: DISARM. 


Kurt Vonnegut, "Deadeye Dick"



We had a visitation from a friend from Kentucky yesterday. She left Kentucky a long time ago, but she has not lost the Southern oral-telling gift. Her whole body goes into the telling, especially if there's a lot of dialogue. One particular story began with a question to her audience at the table: Do you know anyone who owns a gun?


I know a sheriff, a chief of police. a New York City transit cop, a former soldier, a hunter, I said,  but that doesn't count apparently. What Linda Sue meant is—and I am using an alias to protect her privacy— do I know an ordinary person who owns a gun? Everyone else at the table said, no, not really.


Then I remembered that I have a cousin from Ohio who grew up on a farm and has a safely locked away gun collection. He's what in America we call a "responsible" gun owner. Would it matter if we had more of those? Probably not.


There are more than 400,000,000 guns in America. Did I get that stat right, add all the necessary zeros? And though that number includes police and military, there are more guns free floating in America than any country in the world, even trigger-happy countries, or countries at war. Remember the testimony of the Capitol Hill Police officer: she looked out at the rioters and saw a war zone. She hadn't been trained for a war zone.


So, here's the thing, in Kentucky everyone owns a gun, Linda Sue continued, and I mean everyone, just ordinary everyday people. Even when they are in church, they take their guns. Anything could happen, right?


In church?


Even in church if the Good Lord strikes.


Not to mention if a shooter strikes, I said.


She didn't want to go there. Who does?


Doesn't the preacher get everyone to check their guns at the door? I asked.


You must be kidding me, she said.


Did you go to church when you were a child? I asked.


Yes, but I lied about being born again. I wanted the preacher to leave me alone.


Now you live up north, gun free and church free?


Yes, she said. But my mother told me on my last visit that I am surely going to Hell. I told her, Hell will be a better place than this gun-toting frontier town where the fear of slave insurrections won't quit and the white supremacists have been reborn.


Mitch McConnell's state, I thought to myself. This is the culture that shaped him. Problem is, unlike my friend, he never left.


Should I give my friend from Kentucky the last word, she would surely say something about the Select Committee's hearings, and the clear and present evidence of the calculated hate-mongering all of us now have to endure. It's primary week. The very least we can do is get out to vote, thus honoring all the brave and devoted election workers who have resigned, and those still working under threat.




This blog post is dedicated to the the House of Worship shooting  victims, Black & White, Christian & Jew ((1980-2018) and their grieving families and communities.


◾ JUNE 22, 1980 Gene Gandy (50) • Mary Regina "Gina" Linam (7) • James Y. "Red" McDaniel (53) • Thelma Richardson (78) • Kenneth Truitt (49) ◾ MARCH 10, 1999 Vaniaro Jackson (19) • Carla Miller (25) • Shon Miller Jr. (2) • Mildred Vessel (53) ◾ SEPT. 15, 1999 Kristi Kathleen Beckel (14) • Shawn Brown (23) • Sydney Rochelle Browning (36) • Joseph Daniel "Joey" Ennis (14) • Cassandra Fawn Griffin (14) • Susan Kimberly "Kim" Jones (23) • Justin Michael Stegner Ray (17) ◾ MARCH 12, 2005 Gloria Sue Critari (55) • Harold Diekmeier (74) • James Isaac Gregory (16) • Randy Lynn Gregory (51) • Gerald Anthony Miller (44) • Bart J. Oliver (15) • Richard Reeves (58) ◾ AUG. 28, 2005 James Wayne Armstrong (42) • Ernest Wesley Brown (61) • Holly Ann Love Brown (50) • Ceri Litterio (46) ◾ MAY 21, 2006 Erica Bell (24) • Gloria Howard (72) • Leonard Howard (78) • Doloris McGrew (67) • Darlene Mills Selvage (47) ◾ DEC. 9, 2007 Philip Crouse (22) • Tiffany Johnson (25) • Rachel Elizabeth Works (16) • Stephanie Pauline Works (18) ◾ AUG. 5, 2012 Satwant Singh Kaleka (65) • Paramjit Kaur (41) • Prakash Singh (39) • Ranjit Singh (49) • Sita Singh (41) • Suveg Singh (84) ◾ JUNE 17, 2015 Sharonda Coleman-Singleton (45) • Depayne Middleton-Doctor (49) • Cynthia Hurd (54) • Susie Jackson (87) • Ethel Lance (70) • Clementa Carlos Pinckney (41) • Tywanza Sanders (26) • Daniel Lee Simmons Sr. (74) • Myra Thompson (59) ◾ NOV. 5, 2017 Keith Allen Braden (62) • Robert Corrigan (51) • Shani Corrigan (51) • Bryan Holcombe (60) • Crystal Marie Holcombe (36) • Emily Rose Hill (11) • Gregory Lynn Hill (13) • Karla Plain Holcombe (58) • Marc Daniel "Danny" Holcombe (36) • Megan Gail Hill (9) • Noah Grace Holcombe (1) • Dennis Johnson (77) • Sara Johnson (68) • Annabelle Renae Pomeroy (14) • Haley Krueger (16) • Karen Sue Marshall (56) • Robert Scott Marshall (56) • Tara E. McNulty (33) • Ricardo Cardona Rodriguez (64) • Therese Sagan Rodriguez (66) • Joann Lookingbill Ward (30) • Brooke Ward (5) • Emily Garcia (7) • Peggy Lynn Warden (56) • Lula Woicinski White (71) ◾ OCT. 27, 2018 Joyce Fienberg (75) • Richard Gottfired (65) • Rose Mallinger (97) • Jerry Rabinowitz (66) • Cecil Rosenthal (59) • David Rosenthal (54) • Bernice Simon (84) • Sylvan Simon (86) • Daniel Stein (71) • Melvin Wax (88) • Irving Younger (69)




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Virus Without Borders: Chapter 93


Political Triage



Suppose you were an idiot, and suppose you were a member of Congress; but I repeat myself.

     -Mark Twain


True terror is to wake up one morning and discover that your high school class is running the country.

-Kurt Vonnegut



It's odd what I remember overnight in my sleep and then record in my journal first thing in the morning. I'll get an email that calls me prejudiced and insane and wake up with that slam dunk in my ear and have to get it down in writing, not to savor it, but to expunge it. This week an anti-vaxxer let me have it. Whoa, that took up several paragraphs to expunge.


Apologies and thanks rarely arrive in my in box, the occasional compliment, maybe, if I should be so blessed. A nurse in my doctor's office blessed me as she scooted out of the room with the blood pressure monitor and I said, "I accept all blessings."  I'd just heard her story about the cruise she's going on with her mom to the Bahamas and she'd slipped the mask under her nose as she was talking and taking my blood pressure, all at the same time. Politely, kindly, I said, "Could you please pull your mask up for me, Honey, otherwise my blood pressure will white-coat skyrocket. This is an annual wellness visit and I want to stay well."


Had I really called her Honey?  She was young enough to be my daughter so I figured she'd accept that I am her elder, someone to be cherished and respected, someone I could ask ever so politely and kindly to please put up her mask.


 "These damn masks," she said.


Indeed. Damn helpful, I'd say. Damn useful. Damn necessary.


Have we—the most vulnerable—been triaged  aka strategically prioritized, shunted to the bottom –-I  ask myself, for the sake of mask-free faces before the election in November?  This is the third summer of magical thinking, but we can't admit that, because if we admitted that, really felt it,  the mask mandates would still be in place, as would the testing sites.


There's an organization in Oslo called The Peace Research Institute that set my mind straight this morning. They study the conditions for peaceful relations between states, groups and people. Needless to say, the trusting neighborly conditions for peaceful relations among the people in the American nation state have broken down. And the constantly shifting and confusing Covid protocols have contributed to this breakdown, or, at the very least, exacerbated it.


Last week my husband went into the city and came back with the news that he had been exposed to Covid. This is common and constant these days, the new normal, I'd say. Onto the CDC  website for information about  quarantine and when and how to test. Good thing we have a computer and a few stockpiled tests. But what if we didn't have a computer and stockpiled tests, then what?  


Is anyone out there watching over us during this still ongoing, still Global Health Emergency? Well maybe in my house, but not in your house. Hard luck if you are vulnerable, and have no access to tests, or masks, or vaccines, and have to get to work, have kids to look after. And so on, or so it goes, as Vonnegut would say.


Government officials—forget  their party affiliation for now—are responsible for  this confusing birthday party. Some people have been invited and others haven't and that is the reality; the vulnerable have been triaged, nationally and globally. Define vulnerable any way you want:  poor, weak, immunocompromised, old, too far away to care about, or in a war zone, maybe.

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