More Tears in Heaven…

This is an update of an article I wrote during the first year of the Trump presidency,. It’s even worse than I imagined.

In Franz Kafka’s short story Metamorphosis, Gregor Samsa, the traveling salesman, wakes up one morning to find himself transformed into a giant insect. The rest of the story deals with his attempt to manage the transformation and explain it to his family.

In The Trial, another Kafka character, Joseph K, finds himself on trial for no discernable reason. “Someone must have traduced Joseph K., for without having done anything wrong he was arrested one fine morning.” Traduce is an arcane, seldom used verb, that means “to tell lies about someone so as to damage their reputation.” It should be in current usage. It’s so Trumpian.

The narrator goes on,

“Who could these men be? What were they talking about? What authority could they represent? K lived in a country with a legal constitution, there was universal peace, all the laws were in force; who dared seize him in his own dwelling? He had always been inclined to take things easily, to believe in the worst only when the worst happened, to take no care for the morrow, even when the outlook was threatening.”

Since the 2016 presidential election, the American landscape has become even more Kafkaesque. We are living in an America that treats us either as insects (Gregor Samsa) or as pawns (Joseph K). We play by the rules, but the rules change. We ask for clarification but are ignored. We challenge the rules but are met with derision. If we are not white the government wants to crush and exclude us. What’s up? What’s down? How do we orient ourselves when the world seems upside down?

M.C. Escher’s Convex and Concave

I never intended to write a political blog, but I’m tired of screaming at the TV. I still believe we have a responsibility to speak out when we find ourselves in a threatening, absurdist, Gregor Samsa/Joseph K. world. It’s hard to keep your head screwed on straight.

As a freelance writer, I try to be disciplined and keep things orderly, but it’s hard. I can ignore the lure of email and Facebook; they will always be there. The news cycle is harder to dismiss. When the spigot is on full blast – tweets, chopper talk, Executive Orders, hirings, firings, and ignorant angry outbursts – the pull is magnetic. I want to stay in my lane and avoid distractions but find myself lifting the flap and peeking inside the tent more than good sense tells me is advisable. I don’t want to miss the train wreck when it happens.

My wife and I had dinner with friends recently. Good friends. Smart, engaged, people from a variety of vocations and backgrounds. Two doctors. A journalist. A Gates Foundation operative. A non-profit CEO. A headhunter. A management consultant. All we could talk about was the chaos, chutzpah, and fuck-you quality of the tweets and edicts pouring out of the White House. In spite of poll numbers and public outrage nothing seems to deter this administration’s relentless assault on fairness, the media, and We the People.

Is it any wonder that George Orwell’s 1984 rose to #1 on the Amazon best seller list last year? In a “post-truth” world of “alternative facts,” it makes perfect sense that a dystopian novel in which the government states “whatever the Party says is truth is truth” has become required reading.

I want a “safe word,” a no-fly zone, an injunction, a cease-fire, to regain my balance, but two years into the Trump Regency it’s clear that he is bent on remaking America in his white supremacist image. 

I yearn to return to my little bubble, where I rise in the morning, grind the beans for my latte, scan the NY Times, watch Morning Joe, go to my office to write about films or food, take a break to play the guitar, write some more, take another break to play tennis or ride my bike, write some more, and finish by making fresh pasta and a salad for dinner with M.

That’s inside the bubble, but “disruption” is the Trump rule and it’s on speed dial now. I have a hard time staying in my lane. There are too many things happening inside and outside. It’s hard to follow along.

It’s clear that the competing power centers in the White House have caved. It’s the one and only Trump Show now. Bannon is gone. The Generals are gone. It’s Lord of the Flies. The grown-ups have left the island. Kushner is busy trying to get Mohammed Bin Salman to shore up Kushner Inc. Ivanka is prancing around Europe in fancy dresses trying to break into conversations. Pompeo is keeping his head down so he’s next in line when Trump crashes. Bolton is trying to start WWIII in Iran, and Don Jr. is trying to fleece the world for the Trump Organization by doing deals with China in Indonesia. There is no power center outside the Oval Office.

And, how is the occupant feeling these days? Fearful? Unhinged? Emboldened? Manic? Under siege? God-like? He’s definitely, crazed – and very, very White.

I hadn’t made the connection until now, but in learning to play Eric Clapton’s song Tears in Heaven I’m hearing the excruciatingly sad words “Time can bring you down, time can bend your knees. Time can break your heart, have you begging please, begging please”  in an entirely different way. I hope it’s not an omen. My knees are bent, and I am begging please… 

Deliver us from evil.” America deserves better.

Best Rainy Day Matinee Ever…

Rainy Day Blues

I’ve never liked the weather in Seattle. I named my blog Surviving Seattle because I struggle with it most of the year. On the other hand, summers here are hard to beat, so I was especially bummed last Saturday to wake up with rain spattered windows and dripping eaves. No morning swim, no bike ride in the afternoon, no outside table for drinks at dinner. I have my routines. So, what do we do when cabin fever closes in?

Last week we went to the movies (Biggest Little Farm) to avoid the endless feedback loop of the current news cycle. Saturday, we needed to find a way to get out of the house but avoid the rain.

We’d been looking forward to seeing the documentary Echo in the Canyon, since we first heard about it. There was something mysterious about its release. Maybe the producers didn’t get a distribution deal at the film festivals and had to do it on their own, but last month it was shown on Vashon Island and Tacoma for a couple of days, but not in Seattle. Saturday, when I checked, I was surprised to find out it was here for two days – two showings on Saturday, two more on Sunday – then gone.

Because of the abbreviated run, I decided to buy tickets online. When I clicked on “Buy Tickets” the page view showed it was a “Special Engagement.” I figured two days and gone made it special, so I pulled the trigger to make sure we could get in. $42.50 for two. Pricey. Throw in $15 for parking and it’s $57.50 for a rainy-day matinee. It grinds, but we needed to stay out of the rain. What else to do?

_____

There are two narrow twisty canyons north of Sunset Boulevard and in between “the 5” and “the 405” (as SNL’s Fred Armisen would say) in Los Angeles.  North Beverly Glen and Laurel Canyon were the hippie/bohemian canyons in the 1960’s and ’70’s. They were the places young people wanted to live. Funky and cheap. Coldwater and Benedict, their expensive Beverly Hills cousins, were squeezed in between them.

Echo in the Canyon is a documentary about the folk-rock music revolution that got its fermenting juice in Laurel Canyon, between 1964 – 1967.

I lived in two different houses in Beverly Glen Canyon during that period. One I shared had a biochemistry grad student, a gay film sound tech, an ex-con heavy equipment operator and his stripper/insurance agency girlfriend. It was eclectic. Laurel Canyon was similar, but it attracted a more musical crowd. That may have been because it was closer to Capitol Records and the Hollywood recording studios, or maybe it was pure serendipity. Regardless, it was a scene.

Laurel Canyon

What was revolutionary about Laurel Canyon and the movement it spawned was the marriage of literate lyric poetry, electrified instrumentation, folk influences, and upbeat time signatures. Add the British invasion and the fuse was lit.

There were the Byrds, Buffalo Springfield, the Mamas and the Papas, the Beach Boys and, across the pond, the Beatles, Cream, and Rolling Stones. Cross-pollination. The Beatles’ Hard Days Night influenced the Byrds’, Mr. Tambourine Man, influenced Cream’s Fresh Cream, begat the Beach Boys’, Pet Sounds, begat Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, and so on. There were a lot ideas going back and forth between Laurel Canyon and SoHo.

The Echo film grew out of a Jakob Dylan album project. Jakob and Andrew Slater thought it would be interesting to revisit the beginnings of folk rock and make an album, mostly duets, featuring Jakob and a female voice doing acoustic versions of the early folk-rock songs, but when they started their research it morphed into a documentary film about the period. They stayed true to their album vision but the film allowed them to include interviews and video tape of the original groups too. The result is a smash hit for fans of the period.

Jakob Dylan

Jakob is the main character in the film – telling the story, conducting the casual interviews, and singing new versions of the songs with Fiona Apple, Jade Castrinos and a tight little band. His laconic manner, good looks, and unforced voice are just what was called for to carry off the updated story. Jakob, a singer-songwriter himself, fronts his own successful band, The Wallflowers, and is not the least bit intimidated by the legends he’s working with. There is one mention of his father, and how The Byrds’ electrified version of Tambourine Man may have been responsible for Bob’s transition to electric at the 1965 Newport Folk Festival, but Jakob is the man here.

Among those interviewed in the film are Tom Petty (his last interview), Roger McGwinn, Graham Nash, John Sebastian, David Crosby, Stephen Stills, Michelle Phillips, Brian Wilson, Jackson Browne, Neil Young, Ringo Starr, and Eric Clapton with bit parts played by Cat Power, Beck, Fiona Apple, Norah Jones, and Regina Spector. Not a bad apple in the bunch. 

As it turned out, the best part of our rainy-day matinee was the “special engagement” aspect. We didn’t know that following the film’s showing there would be a Q and A with the film makers and a performance by Jakob and the Echo in the Canyon band.

The Laurel Canyon synergy was familiar to me, but I’ve always associated the canyon with Joni Mitchell, and during the Q and A I asked Andrew Slater, the director, why she wasn’t in the film. He cleared it up straight away; the film covers the period 1964-1967 and Joni didn’t move in until 1968.  

When the Q and A ended, the band grabbed their instruments and we were treated to a half-hour of hits from the film. Here’s a small slice of Jakob and Jade singing The Mamas and Papas Go Where You Want to Go I was able to catch on my phone. (Be patient. It takes a while to load.) Enjoy.

Here’s a little taste of the best rainy-day matinee I’ve ever been to.

Echo in the Canyon Band

The Five Stages of Grievance…

Most of us are familiar with Elizabeth Kubler-Ross’ Five Stages of Grief– denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. Kubler-Ross’ list is a handy reminder that grief and the time it takes to run its course don’t always follow a straight line.

Stages of Grief

Grief comes from the Anglo-French word gref meaning injustice or calamity and the Latin word gravis meaning heavy. The dictionary defines it as a “deep and poignant distress caused by or as if by bereavement.” Grieve, is related but comes from the Latin gravare, to burden but also gravis or heavy, and its dictionary definition is “to feel or show grief.”

I’m currently grieving the shameful debasing of the American government. I leap-frogged over denial but I doubt I’ll get past anger until Donald Trump is out of office or behind bars – or both. Every day I struggle to find words that describe my feelings, but I am hard pressed to find anything more accurate or reliable than unbelievable.

I’ll survive. I know that, but I do worry for my children and grandchildren. Yesterday, we learned that global warming is degrading the ice cap and glaciers at many times the rate earlier thought. As a pilot, I used to calculate the “point of no return” when crossing the ocean. Today, the world is fast approaching the point of no return with respect to climate change, but our government is in the hands of science and climate deniers who pulled the US out of the Paris Climate Accords.

So, while the Trumpers are in denial or simply disregarding global warming the rest of us are stuck in the anger or depression stages of grief. No one I know will ever accept the ignorance, cruelty, and inhumanity of Donald Trump. None of us is bargaining. We’re still in the anger stage and fighting back.

Ice Cap Glacier Calving

While Rome burns and Trump tweets, I’ve been fiddling. I’ve come up with some new lists of Kubler-Ross stages. I call them the Donald J. Trump Stages of Grievance, Greed, Governance, and Gall. There are overlaps, but here’s the lists.

  • Trump’s Stages of Grievance
  • Whining
  • Lying
  • Blaming
  • Raging
  • Ranting
  • Tweeting
  • Trump’s Stages of Greed
  • Lying
  • Cheating
  • Stealing
  • Defrauding
  • Bankrupting
  • Trumps Stages of Governance
  • Disregard history
  • Disregard the Constitution
  • Disregard the Rule of Law
  • Disregard US Intelligence experts
  • Believe Vladimir Putin
  • Trump’s Stages of Gall
  • “I am a young, vibrant man. (April 2019)
  • “I’m like really smart, I’m a very stable genius.” (January 2018) 
  • “There’s nobody that respects women more than I do.” (April 2016)
  • “Nobody knows the Bible better than me.” (May 2017)
  •  “I know more about ISIS than the General do.” (November 2015)
  • “I am the least racist person in the world.” (July 2019)
“I’m like really smart. I’m a very stable genius.”

A True Story of Fake News

Donald Trump has always been impressed with Time Magazine and is often heard bragging about how many times his picture has adorned its cover. Most of the claims are bogus. Until the election of 2016 he made it only once (January 1989), but truth has never been a guiding principle for The Donald.

Given that the magazine didn’t see fit to honor him with another cover, it was only a matter of time until he ordered his minions to create one. This is the first fake Trump Time Magazine cover, fraudulently created in order to impress those who crossing into Trumpland. Take note of its date, March 1, 2009. There was no March 1, 2009 issue of Time Magazine. Pure fake news.

Fake Time Magazine Cover

I’m impressed, not by the cover but by the chutzpah, and knowing how The Donald adores seeing himself on the cover of Time, I’ve put together a selection of my favorite fake covers in what I call The Cover Story of Donald J. Trump . The story begins with some early imprinting. There, on the cover of Henry R. Luce’s signature publication, he saw true power staring out at him. These were the gentlemen he imprinted on in those early years.

His Role Models

With powerful authority figures like these to model themselves on, Donald and his father took to racism like ducks to water. They rejected and oppressed Jews and “coloreds” and “others” who tried to rent their racially pure apartments in Queens until October of 1973 when the Department of Justice brought the hammer down and sued them for discrimination under the Fair Housing Act. From then on they struggled to subordinate their racism – until they couldn’t.

Compliance with the Fair Housing Act put a bigoted burr under The Donald’s saddle, and he simmered in wait until the appropriate time to release his racist revenge. There were many opportunities, but the first headline grabber was his full-page ad in the New York Times asking that the death penalty be imposed on The Central Park Five, five black teenagers, for raping and beating a white woman jogger in Central Park. 

It was a sensational case and, with Trump actively egging the prosecutors on, the five boys were convicted on the basis of coerced confessions. As a consequence they spent varying terms of between 6 and 13 years in prison before being cleared of the crime. The real perpetrator eventually confessed – supported by DNA evidence – and the boys (now men) were released. To this day, The Donald believes they committed the crime and no amount of DNA evidence is going to change his opinion.

Undeterred by the truth or facts, the next iteration of his animus toward African-Americans surfaced in his embrace of the “birther” conspiracy – claiming that Barack Obama was, like his father, born in Kenya and therefore not a US citizen. Even now, following eight years of the Obama presidency, and in spite of the physical production of Obama’s original Hawaiian birth certificate, Trump denies its truth or authenticity.

Yet… somehow, maybe with help from the Russian Federation, today he is the President of the United States and the Time Magazine covers, real and unreal, are coming at an astonishing rate. Here are some of my favorites:

The Bromance

And, with his ascension to the throne (he likes to think of it that way) he is free to fantasize. At first, his affection for the military moved him to appoint three Generals to his Cabinet (Mattis, Kelly, and McMaster), but it wasn’t long until he told the press “I know more than any of the Generals.” Two years into his regency, the military triad is gone and the king, too disabled to serve in the military because of bone spurs, is the Commander in Chief of America’s armed forces with access to the nuclear codes. 

In His Own Mind

And these recent fake covers show the consequences…

Consequences

Nevertheless, justice may soon prevail and bring an end to Fake News.

The True End of Fake News

Do you think he even knows that Time Magazine is a relic of the past just as much as he is? I doubt it, but that makes the story even better. Fake News waits for no man. Get your copy today.

The Biggest Little Farm Goes Head to Head with our Biggest Little Racist…

“We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win.”
― John F. Kennedy 1961

That president (35) and the current occupant of the office (45) are apples and something orange, and it took just 58 years to go from “our better angels” and ‘the best of our energies and skills’ to “there were fine people on both sides” and Congresswomen of color should “go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came.”

This weekend 31 innocent people were murdered and more than 50 wounded and/or hospitalized in two mass shootings – El Paso, Texas and Dayton, Ohio. I couldn’t cope with it – so I went to the movies. My brain couldn’t wrap itself around the carnage and the moral outrage it engendered when I learned that this president, protected by the Secret Service and safely hidden behind walls away from the prying eyes of the Fourth Estate, was shaking hands and signing autographs for “wedding guests” he didn’t know after playing golf at his New Jersey golf club. Meanwhile, the rest of America was viewing the carnage in El Paso and Dayton and grieving with the families of the victims.

Not until 48 hours after the murderous event in El Paso, did he address the country to offer tepid condolences to the victims, blame mental illness and video games for the slaughter, and offer platitudes about Americans coming together to fight the scourge (never once mentioning guns). Fuck him and the NRA, and the gun manufacturers, and Machine Gun Mitch McConnell who is blocking two gun responsibilty bills passed by the House from getting a vote on the Senate floor. I’m pissed…

Trump and his Ken doll consoling the nation

So, I went to the movies – where I learned a little about how better angels and Americans with their hands in the soil are still striving to make a difference. The Biggest Little Farm is a documentary about John and Molly Chester, a California couple, who pursued their dream of building a sustainable farm with diversified crops, orchards, poultry, and livestock from scratch…and I mean scratch. 

John and Molly Chester

It’s a good, old-fashioned, inspiring story at a time when they’re in short supply. For those of us who grew up slurping the Kool Aid about an honest, hardworking, by the bootstraps, build-your-dream America, this story will help you regain your footing and restore your faith. 

There are still real people doing real things in the right way, and what President Kennedy said about the moonshot is equally applicable to John and Molly Chester’s California farm enterprise. They did it “not because it was easy, but because it was hard, because the goal served to organize and measure the best of their energies and skills.”

Their story and grit will keep you on the edge of your seat. Will they succeed or will the starlings that descend on their orchard, the coyotes who raid their chicken house, the aphids and snails that eat their crops, the drought that empties their aquifer, the Santa Ana winds that blow their trees down, or the rain that washes away the topsoil destroy their dream?

The Biggest Little Farm

You’ll have to see the movie to find out, but in the process you’ll have spent two hours engrossed in an activity far more positive than the latest body count of gun deaths or presidential racial tweets dished out in the daily news cycle. It’s only two hours, but you’ll come out of the theater refreshed and ready to fight the battle to reclaim our amazingly rich and incredible country.