The Great Reflection

It’s been a week now, and people are still in shock over the prospect of a President Donald Trump.  There’s marching in the streets.  There’s hashtags with the slogan “Not My President.”  There’s a desperate attempt to change the minds of electors before the deed becomes official.

My liberal, supposedly open minded, supposedly educated friends are freaking out.  They are lashing out in all sorts of ways, calling anyone who ended up pulling the lever for Trump a misogynist, a racist, a homophobe, an idiot.  They truly believe it is all James Comey’s fault.   Or the media, for giving Trump a free ride. Or possibly all the people who didn’t vote.  Or those of us who voted for a third party candidate.  They are afraid for their future.  They wear safety pins to show their solidarity with their Muslim, Black, Latino, gay neighbors.

I don’t blame them for this outburst.  I can’t say their fears are unfounded or their anger unjustified.   Certainly the bizarre twist of events that lead to victory being snatched away from the first woman to be nominated to a major party made for a surreal Tuesday night and a gloomy Wednesday.  Certainly we’re in for a long, ugly four years.  Most likely America will lose its vaunted, if mostly self-styled, place as the “Leader of the Free World.”    There will be scandals, real and imagined, possibly congressional hearings and investigations on which pundits on both sides will dine. There will be storms of unprecedented proportions and there will be unrest and riots and mass shootings and other things we cannot predict.  But let us also step back and reflect a little.  Because I think we all knew in our hearts that a Clinton presidency was not going to be any easier.  It wasn’t going to be less ugly.  There would still be storms and unrest and riots and mass shootings.  Most assuredly there would be scandals and investigations and hearings and massive amounts of aimless punditry.  A Clinton band aid was never the answer.  The rise of Trump was the inevitable eruption of a slow but inexorable disease, the symptoms of which have been mostly ignored by everyone.  You, me, the media, our elected officials.  We’ve all been so busy trying to swim up the river in an ever more rapid current that we haven’t been able to put together enough of a dam.   Some of us don’t even notice the river.

A few years ago I began to sour on the two party dichotomy, finally seeing through it the way many people had seen through it back in 2000, the last time we failed to elect a President who won the most votes.  At that time, I not only believed that George Bush was incompetent and dangerous, but that he would dismantle all the progress liberals had heretofore achieved.  Roe v. Wade would be overturned (it wasn’t).  Social Security would be privatized (it wasn’t).   The Kyoto Protocol would go unsigned (it was).  What else were we worried about?  It seems trivial, now.  Then Barack Obama was elected President, and things seemed to be looking up.

Except nothing changed.  Well.  Some things changed on the surface.  Symptoms were treated reactively:  The Affordable Care Act was signed into law.  There was a lot of pretty talk on climate change.    Smart phones and social media became the dominant means of doing everything.  Gay people could finally get married.  But some big issues remained untouched.  The quality of education kept going down.  Higher education remained out of reach.  Quality jobs were disappearing.  Salaries were stagnant.   There were a great many weeks where the flag was at half mast.  We all still believed in the American Dream, but we were swimming harder and harder, and inexorably beginning to get swept downstream.   Arab Spring happened.  Occupy Wall Street happened.    The conservative media and the corporate-liberal media began to actually paint reality with different brushes with very different statements they both claimed were “facts.”  People were sitting in their own little echo chambers, getting dragged deeper down the drains, increasingly eyeing their fellow Americans with suspicion.  Calling them names.  Assigning positions and beliefs on them based on superficial differences.  Dividing us up enough so that some feel that it is okay or helpful to march the street and pretend that Donald Trump is Not My President even though he very clearly is, if I read my electoral map correctly and take accurate note of the country’s borders.   Where does a 50 state union go from there?

Me, I began to connect dots.  Lots of sometimes seemingly different dots.

This election cycle, I supported Bernie Sanders.  I was blessed to be one of the early adopters of his vision for America, packing into a small but enthusiastic crowd of fellow progressives at one of his very first rallies after announcing his candidacy.   I was buoyed by his leadership style, one of plain-spoken but powerful English, and his insistence that we were all in this together, that we all had to engage, get involved, be the standard bearers of his message and his work.  I believed, and still do, that the last best hope for this country’s future is for a strong, healthy, educated and engaged populace, a stable, sustainable environment, and a more equitable sharing of resources.  But I also saw the undercurrent of desperation that lead the masses to support such a populist message.  The rise of Bernie Sanders, a Democratic Socialist, in a communist-fearing capitalist country such as the United States is a symptom, not a solution.  Had he prevailed, we would not be sitting here in fear of fascism, racism, sexism and hate.  But the undercurrents would still be there.  Maybe suppressed.  Maybe marginalized.  But not cured.  And worse, the people who created the wave of Democratic Socialism would be lulled into complacency.  They would go back to sleep, believing that in a few weeks or months, they’d have their universal healthcare and their college education.  The tide would break over the rock of reality and the movement would fail.  It hadn’t had quite enough time to fully engage itself in all levels of politics, all levels of consciousness.   And yet, there was increasing awareness that we were running out of time.  An establishment candidate was not the answer, either.

It became clear that both major parties had failed to effectively navigate the ever faster river.  They were caught in the rapids.  On the one hand, the Republican Party couldn’t rally its own to put forth any viable candidate at all, instead fielding an incredible number of weak primary challengers, of which naturally the least qualified but most known candidate emerged the victor.  On the other hand, the Democratic Party put its thumb on the scales, remembering long outdated lessons about fielding populist candidates and failing to stick its head up outside of its own echo chamber to notice what was going on out in reality, and thus ended up placing all its hopes and fears onto the shoulders of a woman who, rightly or wrongly, was perceived as damaged goods by almost anyone not in her immediate circle.   Then everyone put blinders on and began to stumble towards the finish line, as if that was all that ever really mattered.  Both major parties essentially made it clear that, either way, this wasn’t going to end well.

And it didn’t.

But at least now we finally realize we have a disease.

As the dust settles and we stop casting blame and start to accept the new reality, we have some hard choices ahead of us.   There are some things, like the unstable climate, the lack of quality health care, the poor quality of our schools, and the increasingly reduced resource base, which we can’t entirely control.  Not on a national level, anyway.  Not with this level of division.  But there are some things that we can change.  We can change the way we treat each other, online and in person.  We can begin to transcend party affiliations and start to identify the problems that affect all of us, so that we can come up with solutions that work for all of us on a purely local and grassroots level.  We can demand that the people we just elected into office pay attention to us.   We can re-acquaint ourselves with the actual mechanisms of what makes America tick.   We can stop posting memes offensive to the “other side”, and stop signing useless petitions on Facebook and start hosting potlucks and volunteer at the library and reinvest in our own communities.   We can stop taking so much stock in our chosen news-sources and try to broaden our horizons.  We can look at actual vote totals and read actual studies instead of relying on some poorly written editorial by an exhausted and poorly paid journalist.   We can look away from the computer screen and pick up a history tome or two.  We can look up from the virtual universe created by our smartphones and ask actual people for actual directions to actual places.  We can re-engage in our society the way the Founding Fathers intended us to when they envisioned a government of the people, by the people, for the people.

What just happened in 2016 was a symptom of decay, not only of our political system, but of our entire civilization, because of our repeated individual inability to rise above the fray, our dangerous acceptance of an increasingly unsustainable status quo, our blind willingness to follow white rabbits down holes.  Increasingly, the system has tightened its grip to such a point that it can no longer change except by its own collapse.  Shoring it up by increasingly unstable and untenable measures only invites more obvious cracks.   It’s going to come down.  And when it does, the one thing that will finally unite the conservative and the liberal average citizen is the realization that it doesn’t matter who the President of the United States is.

It only matters who we are.

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Something There Is That Doesn’t

Yesterday, in the dark wee hours of the morning, I woke to what I swore was the sound of glass breaking.  The wind had picked up followed by torrential rain, as promised by that day’s weather forecast, and our old house shuddered and whined as the newest wild weather system crashed into it.  I went back into an uneasy sleep.

I wake up early these days, 4am.  Bundle I has a half-day in the public school kindergarten, and Bundle II’s pre-school days end at 2pm.   My progressive, “we’re all about life-work-family balance” employer doesn’t have a work-from-home policy, and is apparently large enough that it needs a policy in order to accommodate a lone individual with a 70-mile round trip commute, two young children in school and a job that is, let’s face it, 99% about remotely managing servers.  Lionel now works three days a week; someone has to get the kids to school, and someone has to get them back out again.  So; he goes to work at 10am and finishes up his day at 6pm, and I go to work at 5am and finish my day at 2pm, where upon I scramble around to pick up the kids from their respective places (Bundle II at her pre-school, which has a robust aftercare program, and Bundle I at the at-home child care provider, since her publicly funded school does not).  If I’m lucky, I might be in bed–and asleep– by 10:30pm.  Suffice to say I’m not getting the long end of the stick at the moment.

Yesterday upon waking up, the wind and rain lashing the house,  I uneasily ventured outside to retrieve items from the car which inevitably get left behind from the previous day, and was greeted by a moist, warm, evil blast of air.  I checked the thermometer.  57 degrees F.  The tiny bit of snow pack we’ve managed to accumulate this winter was rapidly disappearing.  I shivered despite the warmth, grabbed my items and ran back inside.  Finally I was ready to venture back out, and slowly made my tedious way through the rain and gale force winds to my job.

As I finished up my day in the afternoon, the wind was still blowing, but the temperature had dropped down to 38 degrees and was forecast to go back down into the 20s by sunset.  I complained about the crazy commute in and the weather in general to a colleague and their comment was “Yeah, well, if you don’t like the weather in New England, just wait a few minutes.”

Yeah.  Okay.  Trite Twain platitudes aside, the weather pattern was actually breaking temperature extreme records all over the place, and was a direct result of a misplaced jet stream and stratospheric warming, causing tornadoes further south and forcing flood and gale warnings up and down the eastern seaboard.  And furthermore, just the week before we had seen temperature records falling on the other extreme, dipping well below zero.  Eventually, gentle reader, if it looks like a duck, it’s probably a duck.  And the carbon that I was spewing into that warm, unseasonable, extremely high force wind at 4:30am on my mostly unneccessary-but-for-policy commute wasn’t helping the situation at all.

When I was in my 20’s and reasonably endowed with a strong education, I believed the solution to problems was pretty much black-and-white.  Don’t enjoy your commute in the morning?  Move closer to your job.  Or get a job closer to home.  Or, don’t work.  Case closed.  But with the passage of time, a few small children and a whole lot of brain cells dying every minute of my day, the situation has gotten a lot more complex from a whole bunch of different angles.  The need to be employed in order to obtain adequate healthcare.  The reality of needing to pay out for electricity and phone services and taxes and food.  The fact that the town I live in has no industry and furthermore has no interest in having any industry.  My children’s future educational needs.   The ties that bind us to the land we live on.  Each angle has its own, sometimes even relatively simple, solution, certainly.  But the solutions we  arrive at might not add up to a coherent whole.

When I got back home yesterday after navigating around downed branches and trees and rapidly freezing puddles, I pulled back into my own driveway with some relief  to see that the only visible damage was one chicken coop which had blown over.  Even though I had woken to the sound of shattering glass, we could find no evidence of it.   The wind continued to howl outside, the audible, tangible roar of a climate officially gone awry, a human populace officially failing to navigate its way out of the hole it dug.  It blew long into the night and finally departed in the wee hours.  The shattered glass sound?  Maybe it was just the sound of clashing possibilities.

Preparation in a Globally Changed Climate

Lionel and I have gotten very, very good at preparing for disasters, at least the weather-related kind.

As Sandy began bearing down on the East Coast, we took stock of our situation and agreed on systematic tasks aimed at minimizing high-wind damage and water damage, preparing for possible long-winded power outages and road closures, and protecting our livelihood, as much as we are able.

We did not go out amongst the masses and buy bottled water, gasoline, batteries, milk, or bread.  We did do some last minute grocery shopping, more because we needed to go grocery shopping than because there was a storm coming.  We used the opportunity to fill up a cooler full of ice and essentials–in case of power outage– to minimize the number of times we might access our fridge in the event of the anticipated power outage.

We’d meant to buy and install a generator before the next big disaster, which we both knew was imminent, based on our fairly accurate observations regarding the number and frequency of the “freak” weather events coming our way, but the project was still in the works when news broke of Sandy’s path, and we were not about to be gouged on the generator front or stand in line for an item we intended to buy in due time anyway.  The generator would ease the burden on us by keeping our two freezers and two refrigerators powered, our sump pump going, and our furnace circulating.  We’d gotten around all these issues in past storms and knew it was not impossible, but it was certainly wearing thin.

Potable water went into numerous containers and stood waiting for us to drink them–a pot full of water stood in the bathroom for toilet flushing or other water needs.  On our trip out to buy groceries, we splurged on compostable plates and bowls to minimize the number of backed-up dishes we might have to do after power was restored.  We cleared the yard of debris, removed the flag from the flag pole, boarded up the playhouse, cleaned up the basement in case of flood, and, eyeing a lone white pine out in the yard, brought the turkeys into their coop to stay for the duration.  Then we waited for the fury to come.  While we waited, we made a dinner which could easily be transferred to the coleman stove outside, should the power go out at an inconvenient time.

In the end, we lost power for a few hours after everyone had been safely tucked in and sustained some minor flooding in the basement, but this large, “unprecedented” storm mostly bypassed us this time.  While New Yorkers bemoaned the loss of their subway service and New Jersey mourned the loss of its beaches, we poured out the potable water and unpacked the cooler with a sigh of relief.  We’ll wait for a few weeks for the masses to forget about this storm to buy that generator, in preparation for the next, big, unprecedented, historic, freak storm which has become all too frequent in this globally changed climate we now live in.  The difference between Sandy and these other events–perhaps– is that now we’ve finally accepted it.  This is what we live in now.  We’ll deal with it and move on.  There is nothing else that we can do.  Nature doesn’t stop for stragglers.

Eating what money can’t buy

We were processing our chicken flock outside under our pop up tent in the humid, awful heat that has pervaded us of late, when the skies clouded up and it began to gently rain.

“What’s this wet stuff?” I said to my colleagues, who chuckled. 

For the past month and a half, we’ve been schlepping hose around our property, trying to water an acre of vegetable garden and two acres of orchard (across the road) off of our house well.  Because the past few years have been exceptionally wet, we’ve delayed setting up formal irrigation for the orchard or the gardens.  This year, though, we’re in danger of running our house well entirely dry. 

We finished our clean up in what became a steady downpour, cleaned ourselves off as best we could, and went out to find a well deserved meal.  Coming back from the restaurant we drove through a torrential downpour.  Coming back home, we discovered the sudden onslaught of water had been too much for the tent but good for all else; one inch of rain had fallen in the space of 15 minutes, more than enough to last all of our gardens for the whole week.

Because of that rainfall, we’re not officially in a drought; it is merely “abnormally dry“.   We’re lucky to be small enough to be able to irrigate our gardens.  We’re lucky that we’re not the kind of farmers caught up in the Monsanto soy bean and corn production scam.  Luckily, our gardens and orchard are relatively productive this year.  But our luck could run out in the blink of an eye; a hailstorm, a microburst, a major insect invasion, a cold snap– all these could wipe us out in minutes. 

This has not been a stellar year for agriculture.  The maple crop was cut short by the mild winter and subsequent March heat wave.  Then a cold snap in early April devastated the tricked out fruit trees.  A hailstorm and flood did in the rest a few towns west of us.  The midwestern drought is killing off the corn and soybean crop, which means the livestock which most of the nation has been duped into eating will have nothing to feed on.   Still, since we as a nation view food as a commodity, and a cheap one at that, the only thing that we can think of is that our grocery bill will go up.  No one can imagine a world where the shelves are actually empty because there is no food to buy.

We won’t notice, for awhile, because distributors and food processors will search far and wide across the globe for the necessary corn to fill up your Snickers bar and your sirloin steak and your Diet Coke.  There will still be apples, peaches, blueberries, watermelon–albeit from across the seas where conditions this year aren’t as harsh as they are here.  The good times will last a little while longer while the ground gets dryer and dryer and the farmers who are producing the very stuff you live on go deeper into debt and finally throw in the towel.  It’s a free country, right?  It’s okay if a basic commodity becomes a liability, because we all live and die by our own swords and we all have a choice in what we do… right?  If farmers don’t want to farm anymore, that’s okay… as long as they pay off their debts.  That’s taxpayer money, you know.  Eventually, though, as humans consume more and more and care less and less, the demand for simple food –let alone your highly processed, HFCS and pink slime laden grocery store specials– will outstrip the global supply.  And when that happens, it won’t matter how much cash you press at the cashier.  They still won’t have a loaf of bread for you.

Climate a-Changing

Thanks a lot, big oil, Rupert Murdoch, Charles Koch Foundation, and Corporate America.  But those of us who have been paying any attention to the actual world around us knew this already.  And to prove it, a “record-breaking”, “freak”, “once in a lifetime” snowstorm just blew in and left almost 2 feet of snow in its wake on the eve of Halloween.  Oh yeah.  And now its 20 degrees outside.  So much for planting the garlic this year.

Of course the media isn’t addressing the actual cause of such a storm; greenhouse gasses playing havoc with the jet stream and bringing in wetter, chaotic systems throughout the NorthEast.  They’re concerned with snarled traffic, power outages, and the disappointment of millions of kids who can’t seem to figure out how to go trick-or-treating in the snow.  As if the power hasn’t gone out for major parts of the state and traffic hasn’t been snarled and someone wasn’t inconvenienced due to a major “historic”  weather event in ages.  Except last month.  And last year.  And the year before that.  Oh, and the year before that.

If the climate was at all predictable, we could roll with it, here at LLARCS.  Last year we had snow in October but then we had a long string of warm weather, and so things like planting our garlic got pushed back a few weeks into November, since planting it too early would cause it sprout.  But this year we went from 60 to 0 in two weekends’ time, and it may not be possible to salvage the situation.  In fact it would be a fitting cap to a wet, chaotic messy summer, and maybe it’s just as well that winter has come to our house.

Except next week we’ll probably have a freak, once in a lifetime, massively destructive heat wave.  So: thanks Corporate America!  And please, continue to pay no attention to the man behind the curtain!  It’s all just random and statistically anomolous!  Every single f-king time!! 

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