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.

So…I’m reading a lot about “Antifa” which is short for Anti Fascist. I first heard about them in the news reports from Charlottesville a few weeks ago … OK, if I’m being honest, I heard about them on tweets. People were tweeting and the term was trending, so I looked it up.

But … wait. Anti-fascist describes all of us, right? I mean, since World War 2, when Mussolini in Italy and Hitler in Germany defined fascism to the world, has any American been pro-fascist? (Except for the neo-Nazis/) Seriously? Fascists are the bad guys!

We all know that. Why are we suddenly referring to Antifa as if that were bad? As if they were extremists?

I mean, yeah, I extremely hate fascists. I hate Nazi-ism too. And I’m not too crazy about sociopaths, if you want to know the truth. Those are pretty mainstream dislikes, though. When did Antifa get nicknamed and become ominous?

Accoridng to this piece in the Atlantic, it seems that Antifa’s made their presences known around the time Donald J. Trump began running for President. He used  rhetoric and slogans that sounded racist and misogynistic, and it made many love him and others hate him.

The left, whether you refer to them as Democrats, liberals, or progressives, has traditionally veered toward non-violent opposition. Look at Civil Rights protests for many examples. So we cringe and post and march in protest over much of the right-wing rhetoric.

But now, the Antifa movement (which considers itself far-left and counts many anarchists as members) seems to be taking a cue from their ideological opposites. They are comfortable making outrageous claims, calling names, demonizing conservatives, and getting violent. Their rationale seems to be that if a doctrine or philosophy is repugnant enough, they are justified in shutting it down and pummeling its proponents. Free speech be damned!

This puts liberals in a really weird position. Berkeley, a bastion of free speech and expression, cancelled a speech by Milo Yiannopoulos  rather than risk violent confrontations threatened by the Antifa movement. But if you support the Constitution, free speech is guaranteed. Even free speech from loathsome jerks. If Milo Yiannopoulos , the speaker, were threatening or inciting violence, that would be a reason to rescind any invitation to speak. But to bow to threats from from hyped-up insurgents seems spineless.

How can I be in a position of defending a jerk like Milo Yiannopoulos  from left wing nut jobs that feel entitled to punch and kick those they disagree with? The Atlantic article, which is chilling, says “antifascists have granted themselves the authority to decide which Americans may publicly assemble and which may not.”

Do we live in a society where the biggest bullies win? Geez, I hope not. A nation run by thugs is not an answer to the world’s problems.

Sucker punching a Nazi is still sucker punching. This idea of threatening violence, then following through on those threats, grabbing your opponents and beating them up, creating fear and chaos to manipulate a crowd … those ideas were raised to an art form by the brownshirts and German Nazis 80 years ago. How disgustingly ironic that the tactics are being employed to victimize neo-Nazi’s and white supremacists now.

And white supremacists get to be the defenders of free speech in this upside down thinking!

There is no sensible rationale for this. Using violence and fear to get your way is not admirable, and the end does not justify the means. Where does one draw lines? Can we beat up only card-carrying Nazi’s and Klan members? How about those we strongly suspect? Can we beat up their families, their enablers? How about everyone in the area that doesn’t support us? Can we beat up them? Because we’re right, so all who oppose us are in the wrong.

It’s a bad strategy that goes nowhere good.

I am very happy with my life. But sometimes, I wonder what would’ve happened if I’d’ stayed in my corporate job instead of quitting to go back to school, etc.

Usually, I wonder that when I see a friend retiring with a healthy income, or visit someone who has a beautiful home, the kind that two professional-level incomes can buy. Gee, I would’ve had a house like that … but I know that house isn’t really what I want. It’s just a passing thought.

In fact, doesn’t AA say, “If you want to know what someone really wants, look at what they have?”

It’s striking me now because of Hurricane/Tropical Storm Harvey. I know several women in their 60s (ok, one’s in her 50s, 4 in 60s, one in 70s) who live in Texas, in lovely homes, and who may lose those homes due to flooding. An “act of God” kind of flooding; that no one could have predicted. As the National Weather Service is saying, “Unprecedented.”

Of course, there are 100s of 1,000s more. These ladies are special because they are People I Know.

Also, this same week, I see a relative struggling, even though he has a solid job and lovely home. Struggling to find more money somehow, to keep up with bills. He didn’t do anything wrong. He bought real estate when all the financial gurus were telling everyone to buy real estate.

So my “sometimes I wonder” is better phrased as “thank God I didn’t.”

The lesson I take, from this and from everything that’s happened since … well, since the 80s, as I live in Southern California and have seen bright little bursts of housing bubbles, tech bubbles, you-name-it bubbles, is that there is no safe and secure path. None! It’s a chimera.

Remember the Three Little Pigs? I never liked that story. But the moral was that if you worked hard and spent a longer time laboring than anyone else, and invested in the best materials and never cut corners, You Will Be Safe.

And look, life keeps showing us over and over that it’s just not true. Brick houses flood or go into foreclosure just as surely as straw houses. One path might keep you safe from one disaster, but nothing will keep you safe, always, period.

At least we don’t have to worry about invading hoards riding over the hill to steal our food and families, right? Because up until a century or two ago, that was a concern for ordinary people.

I think most of us grow up thinking that the rules won’t change and everything, homes included, will stay the same. Let’s face it: the rules were never more than very loose guidelines and things are constantly changing. Up and down.

So what we’re here for clearly can’t be to build a nice little castle and hold onto it. What are we here for? No idea. Pick a reason that works for you, for now.

Only for now. Because chances are that reason’ll change too.

Here’s why I haven’t written lately:

I have a million thoughts and million and a half things to do.

Or, my mind is blank and there is nothing, absolutely nothing, I need do.

I talked to a woman tonight who told me that anxiety nearly kept her from coming to the reunion where we met, after years. Anxiety. This from the most genuinely gregarious, gracious, expressively loving person I ever met. If you asked me “Who would you like to be, when you walk into a room full of strangers?” I would have named her. And she was so anxious about meeting people that she almost didn’t come to the reunion.

I know one person who, to my shock, seemed to become a white supremacist over the last few years. Sad, awful. I was not sorry when he and his wife split up. Then she went downhill, perhaps had a stroke, and after five months apart he crossed the country to return and take care of her. The first thing he did was bring her to a monthly meeting of her friends that he’d never attended before. Just so she could be there and see her friends and talk to them.

Nothing is ever what we think, is it?

So I pull a couple of anecdotes out of the morass that surrounds me daily: the depressing news stories, the growing chaos, the uncertainty. I don’t know anything. But when the day seems dark and sickly, I can see that nothing is what I think it is, and cheer up.

Shorpy, a favorite photo site, ran this picture with this caption today:

February 1939. Brawley, Imperial County, California. “In Farm Security Administration migrant labor camp during pea harvest. Family from Oklahoma with eleven children. Father, eldest daughter and eldest son working. She: ‘I want to go back to where we can live happy, live decent, and grow what we eat.’ He: ‘I’ve made my mistake and now we can’t go back. I’ve got nothing to farm with’.” Photo by Dorothea Lange for the Farm Security Administration. **

Now the father may think he’d made a mistake, but having read about the Dust Bowl, the hundreds or thousands of children who died of dust pneumonia, and how awful life was back where they came from, I think he’s being way too hard on himself.

And the “she” statement. she wants to grow what they eat. A sentiment from a different world! Today, most of us are suspicious of anything that hasn’t been processed through a factory first.

Just as I was wondering, “What ever happened to that family? Their great-grandkids are probably having kids now. How did they all survive? DID thy all survive? Did they become auto mechanics, cooks, what? Did their grandchildren go to college? Do they all keep in touch; do they realize that Dorothea Lange took family photos of them?”

Which takes little time to think, because it all comes at once.

And just at that moment my eyes strayed down to this ad, right underneath the family.

Hey, maybe that’s a great-great granddaughter of the man who has nothing!

Would he be proud, if it is? That the beautiful woman in the photo has likely never done what he would call work in her entire life? (Hardly a fair statement, because I’m sure that woman works hard at her craft. But we’ve all met tough old guys that value people by their physical labor output, and that’s what I meant.)

Unlike the family who went without food often, this woman likely deprives herself to maintain that heedless, svelte look so that she will be worshiped and sought after. Everyone wants to be her or have her. No one would want to be in that Depression-era family.

I remember a Dick Cavett Show episode in the early 70s, in which a Greek actress brought or talked about a Greek woman who had been tortured by the ruling Junta. Terribly intense, gut-wrenching conversation. Then they cut to a commercial that began “The heartbreak of psoriasis.”

Cavett apologized for the ad when they came back, and made a small joke about its inappropriateness. Back then, ads were consistent wherever the show ran. But I kinda feel the same way looking at the Shorpy page (which does change, and the ad you see might not be this one. They rotate.)

It’s just a weird juxtaposition of images, that makes you think philosophically and ironically. Hardscrabble, starving family with nothing, not even hope. Airbrushed beauty that cannot stand up to the light of day.  What’s the meaning of life?

** I don’t think I’m violating any rights of Shorpy’s, since the photos Dorothea Lange took are in the Library of Congress and I believe are public domain, as are the captions. But if you like crazy old photos, some rescued from 2nd-hand stores, you really should follow Shorpy!


Are any of these part of most political actions, lately?

Wouldn’t you like to believe, as my Mom said in the previous post, that our leaders cared about us? That we could trust them to do the right thing? Liberal or conservative? Because, when confronted with facts and thoughtful analysis rather than fear-mongering and insane threats, what’s right is usually not all that obscure.

Here’s a quote from the latest column by Paul Krugman:

On climate change, influential conservatives have for years clung to what is basically a crazy conspiracy theory — that the overwhelming scientific consensus that the earth is warming due to greenhouse-gas emissions is a hoax, somehow coordinated by thousands of researchers around the world. And at this point this is effectively the mainstream Republican position.

Do G.O.P. leaders really think this conspiracy theory is true? The answer, surely, is that they don’t care.

The title of the piece is “Making Ignorance Great Again.”

The last sentence inspired me to blog: The answer, surely, is that they don’t care.

I believe Krugman’s right, that they don’t care.  So how on earth did we get to a point where our elected leaders do not care about the future we hand over to their children and grandchildren?

Not caring about the future and doing only what pays benefits in the present and the next election cycle has become all that matters. That is a heinous attitude for our leaders to adopt; almost as heinous as dismissing all who disagree by calling them names. (What an awful behavior to have to defend. Sometimes I really feel sorry for Trump adherents.)

And again, how did we get here?

My opinion: The economic excesses of the 1980s played a big part. We became tolerant of avarice, and sat by as big companies gobbled up small ones. Reagan deregulated; safeguards that had been enacted during the Depression were either done away with, or undermined by underfunding. (Sleepwalking Through History by Haynes Johnson described it well.) Dividends and the bottom line justified everything, and still does.

Ironically, everyone now looks to Reagan as a paragon of decency. I’m not saying he was or was not. But he was convinced that removing rules and oversight would free businesses to soar, ignoring historical lessons that he should have known well, since he experienced them in the Depression.

Businesses that invest people’s money need rules. Otherwise, money isn’t real to them. The people whose life savings are invested disappear. All that exists is a big pile of money to play with–whoppee! Make it rain!

Reagan and some (not all) other Republicans, then and now, admired Ayn Rand and pointed to her philosophy as something to be championed. Hey, I loved Atlas Shrugged too! But it’s science fiction. Please remember that. Rand engaged in world-building to play out a scary future. Using her theories as an economic model makes as much sense as searching for an addictive spice that will turn the whites of your eyes blue, and building an empire on that.

Well, I’m getting side-tracked. The point is that Paul Krugman nailed it, once again. Here’s one more paragraph:

But does any of it matter? The president, backed by his party, is talking nonsense, destroying American credibility day by day. But hey, stocks are up, so what’s the problem?