Remember The Peter Principle? Well, you have to remember 1969 to really know it.

The Peter Principle is a book, and its thesis is that good employees will be promoted for their performance until they reach a level of incompetency, and stay there. The common example was an excellent teacher who keeps getting promoted until he or she becomes a principal, stuck in an office and doing no teaching at all. And he or she sucks at being a principal.

It was an example everyone could understand and also helped me remember how to spell principal and principle.

Makes sense, right? It was one of those ideas that no one really considered, then suddenly, you could not remove it from the collective knowledge. The most bizarre thing about th Peter Principle is to try and imagine a world where it did not apply. And before the late 1960s, the Peter Principal had never occurred to most people.

Following up on my last post: At what point do I begin to laugh demonically, or cry, or vomit?

Here’ something far more readable than that lat sentence: Robin Abcarian’s essay in the Los Angeles Times of this morning, November 21, 2017:

Stop using Bill Clinton to hammer on liberals. 

Sexual harassment is a man problem, not a partisan one. 

 

In a James Bond movie, M (played by Judi Dench) was told, “Sometimes I don’t think you have the balls for this job.”
Her response: “Perhaps, but the advantage is I don’t have to think with them all the time.”

 

 

I read a tweet – it may have been from Stephen Douglass (who is amazingly active on Twtter, for a dead man) – that pointed out: If we’re going to accept what accusers say about predators we don’t like, we have to accept and listen when they accuse those we do like.

So hearing that some slimeball producer is accused by multiple woman of groping is something I can self-righteously celebrate. Yeah, payback’s come for you, jerk! That’s what you get! Hollywood bigwigs  or politicians who use their position to prey on women and children? I’m righteously glad their lives are being ruined, because they’ve ruined many other lives with naught but a selfish urge in their minds/dicks.

But hearing that someone I like is accused … I immediately want to make excuses. As was said on SNL,  “George Takei? No!” And poor old first President Bush? Seriously? That’s just bizarre. Al Franken? An SNL alum, being sexist?  Well, hey, different times … .

No! Bad Feminist, bad!

All accusers do deserve to be heard, listened to with respect.

These revelations have been held in for so long that we’re bound to see ugliness. It might be overwhelming because the problem IS overwhelming and has been for decades.

But we also know that witch hunts are possible in this charged atmosphere. A single accuser with no evidence could be:

  • Telling the truth. Absolutely.
  • Lying
  • Settling a score (so, lying)
  • Dealing with a memory that’s been warped for some reason. (I’m thinking of the children from a Manhattan Beach preschool in the 1980s, children who came forward with bizarre accusations against teachers that were never proved. In at least one of those cases, the child was later confirmed to have been molested by a family member, not a teacher. There’s also the possibility that drugs and alcohol could play havoc with real memories)

I don’t want to stand in judgment on either accusers or the accused. Can’t read minds. I would like to see this pattern of abuse uprooted and changed, though. I think that is possible.

The classic move was faster and lower. What woman hasn’t had to deal with this?

As someone who was just starting to wear a bra in the mid 1960s, when rebellious women began burning theirs, I want to comment on the current revelations about sexually abusive men in power.

It’s always been a problem, and it’s always been swept out of sight.

I’m glad things are changing. Do you wonder why this change did not happen 30 years ago? After all, Women’s Lib and Feminism emerged in the 60s. Do young women have any idea just how drastically things changed in the 60s and 70s?

Please realize that tens of thousands of girls like me were pretty much told we could only be nice, were expected to find a man to lean on who would support us. We could be teachers or nurses, but we absolutely should give up such work if Hubbie wanted us to stay home. Of all the skills we accumulated, the most important was cooking well and keeping a neat home. Seriously. These lessons were embedded in every bit of media we saw. Girls wore dresses. We were not the same as boys.

Then it all changed. When feminists marched; our parents and teachers laughed and mocked them at first. Within a few years, however, most men and women changed their minds. We accepted that women could work in almost any industry! Yay! And women could wear pants. They did not have to dress or act or speak simply to please men!

I think the changes we lived through were so drastic that most of us could not envision even more change. Our aspirations switched abruptly from Donna Reed, the perfect mom, to Mary Tyler Moore in a newsroom. It was dizzying.

Millennial and Gen-X women were raised in a new era. No one told them they had to stay home and cook, or that they couldn’t make their own choices. Honestly, did they see the need for further change? No, everything was fine.

But men still hold a lot of power, and certain men don’t quibble about using it however they want. Surely it was a rude shock to all those women (or girls; or even boys) that a guy could use his position to molest them. That his money and power protected him from accusations. That he could behave like a lordling from Game of Thrones without fear of consequences.

That they could be so powerless in the 21st century.

Now that paradigm’s being flipped on its ass. I guess tipping point is the term to use, though it doesn’t ring with enough gravitas. I mean, we’re talking about upsetting the power balance in male-dominated industries that control millions of dollars – and the halls of government, too. We might see hierarchies that have been in place for decades, maybe centuries, shift and crumble.

I never could have predicted this and I love that it’s bubbling over. Where will the dust settle?

But there’s a dark side, too. The possibility of innocent men being accused is there. Witch hunts. Backlash. Unforeseen consequences. Or everything could settle back the way it was before, after a few token arrests have been made (I hope it’s too late for that last possibility).

In the midst of all this, let’s remember that a year ago a man was publicly exposed, bragging about grabbing women by the pussy, because “when you’re a star they let you do it.” And we elected him president.

Life is unpredictable. Things can change without warning, in ways you don’t expect. I wonder if most younger women realize how fragile and recently won their freedoms are. I hope we’re all wise and brave enough to fight back when we’re threatened.

When I read The Handmaid’s Tale in the 1980s, I thought of it as science fiction. No longer. I’ve seen too many illogical swings in our society, and I’ve studied too much history. The Holocaust would seem incredible, horrid fantasy to sane people in the 1920s, but it happened. Anything can happen.

 

So I think I’ve solved my financial problems and I don’t mind sharing the solution:

As far as taxes goes, this is probably safer than an account in the Caymans … or Cyprus.
Maybe I should get a pair and breed them?

So a bunch of formerly secret and top secret documents about the Kennedy assassination have been released, and a bunch more are being held back till next April.

I looked at one of the documents, the third listed on the National Archive site. It shocked me. (I only looked to assure myself that there was nothing to see, after all.) Of course, this morning the documents are not in the same order so I can’t link to the specific multi-page report.

But the first line of this report, which was typed and had a Top Secret stamp crossed out on every page, stated that efforts to assassinate Fidel Castro were developed as early as 1959, along with plans for the Bay of Pigs Invasion. The line was given as historical, background context for the report. Might as well have, “The campaign of Donald Trump started in the waning years of the Obama administration.” It was that cut and dried.

The report went on to state how Castro might be killed. Poison was the number one choice.

I was at work so I didn’t make notes. News organizations have mentioned this revelation too; apparently more than one document referenced these CIA/government plans.

This happened in my lifetime, to a president I observed with childish adulation. To read in black and white that, while I was wishing to be Caroline and live in the White House, the government was plotting the assassination of foreign leaders is upsetting. My government. Dwight D. Eisenhower’s administration, and then Kennedy’s, hatched secret plots to kill presidents of other countries. To me, that’s been conspiracy theorist talk, or the stuff of spy novels – not reality.

Again, it shocked me. I tried to talk about it with an intelligent young woman all of 18 years old yesterday, but I could tell by her face that I might as well have been speaking Greek. This is ancient history to her. Do people her age even couple names like JFK and Oswald, and link them to President John F. Kennedy? Any more than I could’ve identified presidents in the 1920s?

I wonder what a person in Havana thinks. Someone my age, reading these files now. Someone who grew up with a leader they thought would never die now reads that the big ol’ USA, who always hated them anyway, acknowledges that yeah, we had plans to kill your president; just didn’t work out. Now it’s history.

Can’t be endearing.

I guess that people in many countries are shrugging and saying, “Well, what did you expect?”

Truthfully, I expected better. I expected honorable, defensible behavior because my parents and most middle class people were honorable. Not perfect, flawed and blind to their sins, perhaps, but honorable to the extent that they would not support murder plots by their government

Maybe some justify this with a Jack Nicholson “You can’t handle the truth!” rationale: This is what it takes to keep our land safe, so shut up and thank us for doing the dirty work you can’t stomach. That’s ass-backward, imho. There were truth these CIA plotters and presidents could not handle.

Over and over, when secret operations have been carried out by our government against other governments because those in control thought it wise, the results have been embarrassing at best, or filled with unintended consequences that proved worse than any situation that would have developed without our interference.

So I guess the bottom line is that the declassified papers released yesterday were disappointing, but not in the way I expected. .

I’m beginning to think I might write a book aimed at my generation: “History Changes: Why What You Learned in School Isn’t True Anymore.”

Couple of things make me think this is a good idea. First, I did go back to college in my 40s to pursue (and nab) a Masters in History. So I have the personal experience of having learned my history in both the 1960s and the 21st century.

In the 1960s, we didn’t have new textbooks – especially not in Catholic schools. So I learned about the California Indians and how they made adobe bricks in a book that may have been written and illustrated before World War 2. I am not joking.

The second reason I think my book idea is good is that I’ve met many people who absolutely believe that what they were taught 40 or 50 years ago is fact, and nothing can change that. For example, they were taught that the Founding Fathers were good Christians; how dare anyone imply otherwise?

The Founding Fathers were really smart guys. Some owned slaves. None of them ever considered that women or non-whites should be admitted to the club. Some were Deists, not Christians. They set down lofty ideals that I wish we all lived up to, but they were wrong about very serious matters.

Not long ago I had a lively argument with a woman (a dear, smart woman who was a friend) about the Civil War. She insisted it was fought over States’ Rights. Of course she did! She was taught that in school. Mid-century history books taught everyone that the Civil War erupted over States’ Rights. It wasn’t true. There was only one state right that sparked the Civil War, and that was the right to own slaves. Here’s an NPR essay on that.

Lots of things have changed since Baby Boomers were educated. Pluto is no longer a planet, and we now know about plate tectonics … but I’m not an astronomer or scientist, so I’ll stick to history. Columbus isn’t much of a hero, unless you’re comfortable lionizing a guy who took slaves as souvenirs. Civilizations that were completely unknown in 1970 are being discovered now (Google Gobeckli-Tepe). And almost all descendants of any European are also descendants of Neanderthals, and possible a couple of other extinct species.

Some concepts that we’ve clung to are simply not true. Did you know there’s really no such thing as race? It’s a chimera. The genes that control skin pigmentation are not that different from the ones that control eye color or ear lobe size. Europeans/Americans used the concept of race to justify their particular brand of slavery, but it was bogus from the get-go. “Races” as we usually define them just don’t exist.

So anyway, that’s my idea. I may get to it eventually but I’ve got two other non-fiction books in the pipeline, so I’d better get busy.

Books, so many books & so little time. How do you know what to read?

Here’s a blanket statement: There are some INCREDIBLE self-published books out there (mine, for example). There are also some awful ones. There are books that read like a first draft, others that just need editing, and some that plain old stink.

But guess what? I’ve picked up books at the library from major publishers that stink. That read like first drafts, with characters that still need to be fleshed out or nonsensical plot threads that should have been cut. There are whole sections of Random House-published books convincing me that the line editor just fell asleep while reading.

So picking a book from a major publisher over a self-published book is no guarantee of quality.

OTOH, picking a book that has sat on the NYT bestseller list for weeks, that won a major prize (or was nominated), and that has  hundreds of 5-star reviews on Amazon IS a guarantee that even if you don’t like the book, you’ll have something interesting to say about what everyone else is reading.

I loathed the Pulitzer Prize-winning short story collection Olive Kitteridge, for instance, and can tell you what buttons it pushed for me, while you describe what you loved about the changes the series made in the character, and we’ll have a decent conversation.

So, on to the book I just finished:  Underground Railroad, by Colson Whitehead

It won the Pulitzer and the National Book Award. It also won the Arthur C. Clarke Award for science fiction, which might have clued me in that this wasn’t a historical novel. At least, not a conventional historical novel.

Underground Railroad follows Cora, a slave on a cotton plantation whose owners live in various stages of internal corruption. The book’s portrayal of white people reminded me of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, in a way: each character was representative of a certain stereotype, bad and good along a spectrum, in their relation to slavery. The bad are shockingly, disgustingly bad; the good … well, be careful. You never know.

The fact that Underground Railroad is NOT historical fiction comes as a delightful surprise when you get to the part where reality takes flight. Our characters, before that magical moment, are so brutalized that they’ve dissociated from their own pain. Mothers cannot love their children; a retreat to madness helps them cope. But after Cora’s escape from the plantation, she is schooled and taught to read; she literally flowers, her mind reaching out to learn. She begins to take control of her life, wondering if she can but knowing more strongly each day that she cannot go back.

What Cora experiences does not fit into the past  as we know it. There are Progressives who want to help her as well as sterilize her, and town festivals that culminate in the hanging of any hapless black person caught during the week. Clearly, these elements ring of other eras, but not exactly.

I’m still trying to figure out how to define what the book was really about. An unchronological microcosm of the black experience over the last 200 years? Something like that. It’s always fascinating and in terms of character arc, Cora’s reaches stratospheric heights.

Highly recommended, unless you’re one of those who resent any fantasy elements in their historical-ish novels.

Another mass shooting, another horrified blog post? But this time I learned a new phrase: bump stock.

My Senator, Dianne Feinstein, is introducing a bill to outlaw gun bump stocks: those tricksy devices that make a semi-automatic fire continually, like an automatic.

The thing is, she introduced this bill once before, in 2013. My original plan was to list all the Senators that voted it down. But I learned that the first bill never even got a vote.  The strong, presumably Republican opposition kept it from the floor.

Now we have a new bill, and at least 30 Senators are backing it. And of course, a few scumbags are saying, “Now is not the time to discuss gun legislation.”

Seriously? Who paid you to say that?

Had the bill passed in 2013, it might not have stopped the massacre in Las Vegas. But without bump stocks, fewer people would have been shot.

As I understand it, the only reason for a bump stock is to make a semi-automatic firearm fire like an automatic. Bullets spray as long as you hold the trigger down. What legitimate reason is there for a citizen to have that capability? Which is exactly why automatics were outlawed in the 1980s.

This idea that we must, to satisfy the 2nd Amendment, allow any and all guns and accessories to be sold is stupid. Reagan banned automatic weapons; bazookas and rocket launchers are illegal. It’s time to move the bar a bit higher. Maybe a lot higher.

If you want to read more about the fine lines dividing assault rifles, semi-automatic and automatics, here’s a piece from Politifact written after the Pulse Nightclub shooting in Orlando.

UPDATE: Now the NRA wants to examine the bump stock issue. I can take that two ways:

  1. The NRA officers read my post and agreed with me, which I deem unlikely.
  2. The idea of banning bump stocks is so self-obvious that it’s become the bone that will be thrown to us. “There, you got bump stocks banned. Now go away and let us play with our guns.”

Clearly, we should demand more. 

A day or two ago, all the major news outlets ran stories about the life-shortening consequences of sitting. For one 24-hour period, we were bombarded with the bad news, which is now buried in slew of one-day-wonder stories. But in case you missed it:

Briefly, sitting too long will shorten you life.

A study of 8000 people over age 45, that lasted four years, concluded that the longer you sit, the shorter your life. The consequences seem to kick in at 30 minutes. Sit for longer than that at a stretch, and you will die earlier than if you stood and moved more often. Those who sit for 90 minutes at a time were twice as likely to die younger than those who moved frequently.

And all this is true, even if you exercise!

OK, I need a break because looking up those news links and some pictures and writing this has kept me at the computer for over 30 minutes. Must move.

I’m toast.

I’m so toast.

I am a writer. I’ve spent the last 30 years sitting, usually in front of a monitor, for hours at a time. That is what writers do.

If we’re not selling enough, or writing enough, or earning enough, the advice is always: Park your behind in your chair and don’t get up till you’ve written something! And it’s good advice. Except the implicit “and then you die” part.

Norman Mailer hinted at the consequences:

But writing as a daily physical activity is not agreeable. You put on weight, you strain your gut, you get gout and chilblains. You’re alone, and every day you have to face a blank piece of paper. 

Here’s another quote, from Burton Rascoe. He died in 1957; cut him some slack for the implied sexism:

What no wife of a writer can ever understand is that a writer is working when he’s staring out of the window.

Rascoe was sitting when he stared out of the window; of that I’m certain.

This is awful and cataclysmic. How can I write in 30-minute bursts? Excuse me, the alarm just went off. I must run up and down the stairs three times.

Ok, I’m back. And then there’s TV, and movies, and even football games. We sit all day! I am great at sitting; I could medal in competitive sitting.

My dog, watching and waiting for any sign that it’s time for a walk.

I do exercise daily, after all. I have a dog. She takes me for walks, sometimes long walks. I have stairs in my place.

Still, exercising doesn’t seem to matter. You sit too long, you die faster. Ick!

Oddly, starting a month or two ago, my dog started barking at me as I sit at my computer. She’ll be fed, walked within the last hour or so, untroubled by strange noises, etc. – but still she barks. She’s never done that before. Even before the story came out, I was joking with friends that she has decided to not let me sit for very long. She stops barking when I get up. She wants me to be active.

I wonder if she’s been carrying on a secret correspondence with those doctors who conducted the survey? My dog is well-connected; I wouldn’t doubt it too strenuously.