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Friday, August 14, 2020

On the Road to Find Out

"So on, and on I go, the seconds tick the time out, so much left to know, and I'm on the road to find out..." ~Lyrics from Tea for the Tillerman by Cat Stevens

One of the side effects of this pandemic is that we are spending a lot of time at home and consequently looking for things to keep us occupied. These are items I've bumbled, stumbled, and come across on my Internet wanderings. They amuse, fascinate, and/or educate me so I thought I might share them with all of you. 


DelanceyPlace.com: I don't remember how I stumbled upon this free daily email. I enjoy a good, long fiction or non-fiction read or educational magazine articles for those moments when I am too tired to get lost in a full story, but I don't like short stories. They leave me feeling hungry for more; empty and unfulfilled. That said, however I do look forward to checking my email and seeing what DelanceyPlace.com has offered up for me to consider. These are short excerpts from books on everything from Edward Hopper's paintings, Nixon, Patton and Viet Nam; The Song of Birds; America Puts Aside Civil Liberties; Charlemagne Could Not Read or Write; Britain's East India Company and the Jagat Seth; Religion and the Afterlife; Venerating the Cat; to How Fast Can People Travel on Foot?


Here is what founder Richard Vague and managing editor Clarissa F. Griebel have to say about their service: Delanceyplace is a brief daily email with an excerpt or quote we view as interesting or noteworthy, offered with commentary to provide context. There is no theme, except that most excerpts will come from a non-fiction work, mainly works of history, and we hope will have a more universal relevance than simply the subject of the book from which they came. And there is not necessarily an endorsement, and in some cases an excerpt may be particularly controversial and we may disagree with some or all of it, but nevertheless deem it worth noting. This is a 'slice of intellectual life" for those of us whose attention span is having difficulties fixing upon one sustained thing for a great length of time, with the option to purchase the book somewhere if the topic moves you. 


Brain Pickings: A weekly email letter from Maria Popova, a Brooklyn, NY intellectual and author with a vast taste for bringing many ideas together for our consideration; hers is a mind where art and science for example, meet and feed one another giving birth to fullsome beauty and great astonishment. I love her choices for my contemplation. The newsletter is free and essay topics have ranged from A Stoic's Key to Peace of Mind: Seneca on the Antidote to Anxiety; The Courage to Be Yourself: EE Cummings on Art, Life and Being Unafraid to Feel; Rap on Race: Margaret Mead and James Baldwin's Rare Conversation on Forgiveness and the Difference Between Guilt and Responsibility; The Silent Music of the Mind: Remembering Oliver Sacks; The Poet of the People Sings Freedom: Carl Sandburg on Transcending the Pride and Vanity That Paralyze Social Justice; 

Popova is an avid supporter of The Universe in Verse, begun in 2017 which celebrates science and poetry. Some of the poets are scientists, and some of the poems are deeply loved verse by well known non-scientists such as Emily Dickinson, Adrienne Rich, and Neil Gaiman. Poems are narrated by the great and the good in science and literature. For the inaugural show in 2017, dedicated to trailblazing 19th century astronomer Maria Mitchell and celebrating women’s underheralded contribution to science, Neil Gaiman delivered something of singular enchantment — a work of lyrical storytelling tracing the history of our species as the sense-making, truth-seeking animal who hungers for knowledge and advances by love. At its heart is an imaginative antidote to women’s erasure from the selective collective memory we call history. Titled “The Mushroom Hunters,” lovingly addressed to Neil’s newborn son Ash, the poem went on to win the Rhysling Award for best long poem and has now been brought to new life in a soulful short film/ Please do yourself a favor and watch this lovely piece of collaborative art. 


If you are looking for excellent gifts for thoughtful youngsters, I suggest The Velolocity of Being: Letters to a Young Reader. This fine book is a collection of original letters to the children of today and tomorrow about why we read and what books do for the human spirit, composed by 121 of the most interesting and inspiring humans in our world: Jane Goodall, Yo-Yo Ma, Jacqueline Woodson, Ursula K. Le Guin, Mary Oliver, Neil Gaiman, Amanda Palmer, Rebecca Solnit, Elizabeth Gilbert, Shonda Rhimes, Alain de Botton, James Gleick, Anne Lamott, Diane Ackerman, Judy Blume, Eve Ensler, David Byrne, Sylvia Earle, Richard Branson, Daniel Handler, Marina Abramović, Regina Spektor, Elizabeth Alexander, Adam Gopnik, Debbie Millman, Dani Shapiro, Tim Ferriss, Ann Patchett, a 98-year-old Holocaust survivor, Italy’s first woman in space, and many more immensely accomplished and largehearted artists, writers, scientists, philosophers, entrepreneurs, musicians, and adventurers whose character has been shaped by a life of reading. Accompanying each letter is an original illustration by a prominent artist in response to the text — including beloved children’s book illustrators like Sophie Blackall, Oliver Jeffers, Isabelle Arsenault, Jon Klassen, Shaun Tan, Olivier Tallec, Christian Robinson, Marianne Dubuc, Lisa Brown, Carson Ellis, Mo Willems, Peter Brown, and Maira Kalman. A number of the art pieces are available as prints, with all proceeds also benefiting the public library system.


In the same vein I also suggest Lost Words: A Spell Book which I first came across in 2018. I suggested it as a lovely gift for children of all ages from 9-99 years of age who like to read, and was gifted a copy by a dear friend. The word poems and illustrations by author Robert MacFarlane and illustrator Jackie Morris are engrossing and enchanting. This book is available at Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk and may be available through your local booksellers. Please check with them first.

The book began as a response to the removal of everyday nature words - among them "acorn", "bluebell", "kingfisher" and "wren" - from a widely used children’s dictionary, because those words were not being used enough by children to merit inclusion. Each acrostic spelling has three accompanying artworks by Jackie Morris–a glorious triptych of watercolor painting–firstly a clever but solemn display of the creature or plant’s absence from our world, then the spell itself accompanied by an ‘icon-esque’ self portrait of the central character surrounded with sumptuous gold leaf, and finally the creature or plant is depicted embedded in its natural habitat. 


So imagine my utter delight to discover there is now accompanying music (Spell Songs) available featuring British folk musicians Julie Fowlis, Karine Polwart, Seckou Keita, Kris Drever, Kerry Andrew, Rachel Newton, Beth Porter, and Jim Molyneux. The music may be purchased as a CD, a digital download or a special vinyl double LP with liner notes in a beautiful mixed media format featuring exclusive new Spells by Robert Macfarlane and Jackie Morris with accompanying new artwork. Also includes new paintings inspired by the Spell Songs musicians and their instruments.


Since I have segued from reading to listening, I must share my stunningly favorite online find: Radio Garden
Radio Garden invites you to tune into thousands of live radio stations across the globe and stream stations online for no additional charge other than your Internet access. By bringing distant voices close, radio connects people and places. From its very beginning, radio signals have crossed borders. Radio makers and listeners have imagined both connecting with distant cultures, as well as re-connecting with people from ‘home’ from thousands of miles away. Listeners can submit stations for inclusion and save favorites to find again easily.

My favorites are The Jazz Groove in San Francisco, California for delectable, eclectic soft instrumental jazz, SOMA Thistle Radio also out of San Francisco featuring Fiona Ritchie from The Thistle & Shamrock hosting her own format 24/7, KQED FM and KALW FM Public Radio out of San Francisco for excellent music, news, and public radio programming, The British Home Front Radio Service out of Doncaster, UK which plays a continual stream of music from 90 years ago during WWI and II, Radio Folk out of Copenhagen, Denmark featuring Danish folk music, SOMA FM Folk Forward out of San Francisco which offers modern folk artists, Giant 91.7 FM Classic Hard Rock out of Welland, Canada for a fix of Cream, Led Zep, The Stones and others, Radio Siamsa out of Dublin, Ireland brings us Irish mostly folk music, NWPR Classical Radio Public Radio station out of Pullman, Washington has the best  streaming of classical music , Arctic Outpost AM1270 out of Longyearbyen, Norway which is jazz oriented, Xorroxin Irratia 88.0FM broadcasting from Lesaka, Spain with fascinating Spanish folk music, and Ambi Nature Radio out of Zurich, Switzerland which provides nature sounds. Still and all there are literally thousands of stations available on Radio Garden I have yet to tap into!


Radio Garden started out in 2016 as an exhibition project commissioned by the Netherlands Institute for Sound and Vision in the context of the research project Transnational Radio Encounters. It was created, designed and developed by Studio Puckey & Moniker. After taking care of the project in the following years, Jonathan Puckey turned Radio Garden into a small independent company in 2019.
Finally I note that the British canals are open for cruising once again. I stumbled upon a website called Lockdown Loos! This is a crowd sourced site so the info is only as good as the information supplied. If you are on a phone the website offers instructions on how to access it via Google Maps on your phone. 
Love Jaq xxx




Tuesday, July 14, 2020

Boats and Canals again at last!!

"Long after I have given up, my heart still searches for you without my permission." ~Rudy Francisco

     I dream in the night of being back on NB Valerie, cruising with Les. I hear our voices and the sound of the engine, and the feel of the boat beneath my feet. I dream we are moored up somewhere lovely and green. Les is puttering outside while I am fixing dinner, then suddenly he is standing behind me, his arms around my waist once more, kissing my neck and whispering in my ear, "I Love you Jaqueline Marie Almdale Biggs." Missing Les and missing our life aboard our boat is like a double amputation. The eyes register what is gone but the heart seeks its return and sometimes tricks the brain into believing it is so.
     This Youtube video came across my path this morning and I watched, enchanted by the cut all over again. It is a home movie shot in 1965 of a trip boat leaving Berkhamsted, traveling up across Tring Summit and down the Marsworth flight to the Aylesbury Arm, and then down the Arm to the basin. I recognized it all and I was amazed at how little shown in the movie, had changed in fifty-five years. Les would have loved this. Enjoy!! ❤️❤️


Thursday, July 02, 2020

American Civics and Political Science Lesson for Our Time

There are years that ask questions and years that answer. ~Zora Neale Hurston, American folklorist and author, (1891-1960).

     Awhile back I wrote a blog about the the things I liked best and least about Britain after living there for nearly a decade. I promised British readers I would write a similar post about America, being level handed in my writing about what I liked best and least. Well here is the latter part, as I promised our friend and fellow boater Mike Griffin. I will write another post later about what I like about this country when I can find something to write about. 

     On so many levels this world is clearly in an answer phase, demanding answers to atrocious human behavior on nearly every level that has carried on in this country for five hundred years. We here in the USA, are dealing with so much overwhelming crap on our plate, and many of us find ourselves wishing we could quarantine all the bigots, racists, Christian religious zealots, conservative Republicans, corporate and financial raiders, greedy billionaires, white terrorist groups, along with Donald and Melania Trump and his supporters (yeah I know some of the above groups intersect and overlap) together on Mars forever, although that wouldn't be far enough away for me.
     I remember telling a British friend shortly after Trump was elected to the White House that we were witnessing a coup in action and that America was as close to another Civil war as we had been in those years leading up to April 1861. My friend looked at me rather shocked, refuting my assertion and suggesting I was being an alarmist and my attitude was a bit extreme. I still believe my assertion is true; only a thin black line of ink in the U.S. Constitution is holding this nation together. America was founded on genocide and slavery, the poisons of which foul our country and its politics from then until now, and Americans have been complacent about turning a blind eye to its institutional entrenchment in all parts of everyday American life--but most especially in our religion and politics, cloaked by white fragility and willful ignorance, taught in our schools and churches, enacted upon the lives of people of color in this country as a matter of course because it is written into our laws, and embedded in the American culture and psyche, hand-in-hand with white Christianity. Church and State are complicit in keeping people of color down while lifting white folks up.
     If people think BLM protests are shocking then wait and see what happens if Trump is defeated in November. Things will get really ugly out there because it is already disgustingly nasty. 45's behavior has not only given all the above named groups permission to come out of the shadows and corners of our country, but encourages them to march proud, guns in hand, taking over State capitols, city streets, and expounding their racism in churches, with white impunity while innocent black people--too many of them black boys--are shot in the back for being black in the wrong place at the wrong time and trans people are shot in the street like dogs. Trump supporters feel powerful now and if history has taught me anything, it is that those with power over others will not relinquish it voluntarily. Voting Trump and his administration out of office, voting Republicans who support Trump out of the Senate, these will be seen as the first salvos of the war; it is going to be a struggle of decades to take back this country and re-establish civility and work towards human and environmental rights for all; to regain the precious ground we have lost.
     We are dealing with the most corrupt administration ever to reside in our nation's capitol. While most folks in other countries are disgusted by Trump, they are dealing with stuff in their own countries--Brexit and a pandemic to name two--and the news outlets only cover the most outrageous of Trump's exploits and lies. They are not aware of all the dismantling of public works and Federal law that has taken place by the arbiter of evil sitting in the White House. Since taking office Trump has completed 66 rollbacks and has 34 in progress; Federal laws and programs that protect what I drink, eat, breathe, my rights as a worker,  etc. etc. etc. I will not list them for you ad infinitum because your eyes would glaze over. If you really want to know exactly what we Americans are living with these days you may review the list HERE, printed by the New York Times newspaper.  

      How you may ask, did America lose itself on the way here?
     It was a deliberately planned coup with its initiation by white southern Democrats in the 1960's who switched parties over Kennedy's push for making over society as an enlightened, civil society with regard for the environment, equality, and civil rights. The GOP (Grand Old Party) welcomed the southern bigots and racists with open arms and in that moment it began to signify what the Party really stood for--and what it stood against. "The landmark 1964 Civil Rights Act signaled that the Republican Party would be a home for white voters — especially southern Democrats — unnerved by the burgeoning civil rights movement" (Caldwell, Ch. 2; A Party Divided; July 7, 2016; www.nbc.com). 
     On March 6, 1961, he (President Kennedy) signed Executive Order 10925 which required government contractors to take affirmative action to ensure all employees are treated equally irrespective of their race, creed, color, or national origin. His Executive Order 11063 of November 1962 banned segregation in federally funded housing. On June 11, 1963, JFK gave his famous civil rights address calling Americans to recognize civil rights as a moral cause. His proposal to provide equal access to public schools and other facilities, and greater protection of voting rights became part of the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964. 
     The Kennedy administration expanded unemployment benefits; aid was provided to cities to improve housing and transportation; a water pollution control act was passed to protect rivers and streams; significant anti-poverty legislation was passed including increase in social security benefits and minimum wage; and the most comprehensive legislation to assist farmers was carried out since 1938 which included expansion in rural electrification, soil conservation, crop insurance and farm credit.
        
Over the next five decades, as the GOP built a three-legged stool of support from security hawks, social conservatives and fiscal conservatives, white working-class voters, especially men, gravitated toward the party...In order for the GOP to become the Party of Trump it first had to become the Party of Reagan. Many factors led to the rise of Reaganism, including the candidate’s optimistic outlook, celebrity status, and tough stance on national security. Economic and cultural factors played a major role as well: In 1976, with Ford in the White House, unemployment hit nine percent. The post-World War II economic boom had finally slowed, with blue-collar workers facing a disproportionate effect. Simultaneously, the feminist movement had gained momentum, and along with the civil rights movement of a decade earlier, political attention was increasingly focused on minorities and women. That left traditional white, working-class Democrats, whose economic struggles had begun a decades-long decline, feeling out of place in the party. Charles Murray, the controversial social scientist whose 2012 book, Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010, chronicled the growing disenfranchisement of white working-class people, told NBC News that since the civil rights movement, white men in the 1970s had started to become “not only the forgotten voter but also the forgotten segment of the population. (Caldwell, Ch. 2; A Party Divided; July 7, 2016; www.nbc.com) Bear in mind though that for a segment of the population who felt unappreciated and disenfranchised, white men of any economic status had the most power in America then and now. 
      I read the Nancy Reagan biography Lady in Red by Sheila Tate over two decades ago wherein I learned that Nancy Reagan and her step-father, wealthy, conservative Dr. Loyal Davis were responsible for turning her husband "Dutch" from a questioning Democrat into a staunch Republican in 1962. She was far more of a political animal than he ever was and Ronnie always allowed Nancy to call the political shots. This is vaguely reminiscent of Trump and Melania. It was she who convinced Donald to run for president and who began the orchestrations behind the scenes that led him to the White House, allowing the nation to view her as eye candy and a brain dead cardboard cutout on her husband's arm. She is anything but and we underestimate her at our peril. Nancy adored Ronnie; Melania is only in it for the money and power. 
    Nancy came from wealth and was surrounded by exceedingly wealthy ultra-conservatives throughout her life. Close friends Betsy Bloomingdale and Mr. and Mrs. Walter Annenberg to name only two of the billionaire's who hobnobbed with Ronnie and Nancy (he called her Mommy, reminiscent of Mike Pence who calls his wife "Mother"), their wealthy friends and allies underwrote Reagan's political bid and their lavish lifestyle, buying Nancy and Ronnie a new mansion in which to live in when they helped him get elected as Governor of California. 
     I can grant Ronald some distance from culpability given that he had Alzheimer's, and was no doubt suffering from it for decades before it flourished in full form. If I am going to give Ronnie the benefit of the doubt, I have to then consider that Nancy and her wealthy, conservative circle of friends were complicit in manipulating Reagan to their own ends, just as those in power in the GOP have masterfully manipulated working class white voters to vote against their own interests, to the benefit of the wealthy.
     Reagan was diagnosed with Alzheimer's in 1994. The mild to early phase of Alzheimer's generally takes two to four years, the moderate to middle stage anywhere from two to ten years, and severe or late stage about one to three years. Ronald Reagan was Governor of California from 1967 to 1975. Using the stage definitions above Reagan could have begun experiencing mild Alzheimer's in 1980. He was elected U.S. President in 1981 and re-elected to stay in office until 1989. I thought at the time it was apparent to anyone paying close attention that Reagan wasn't running the show; Dick Cheney had his hand up the back of Ronnie's coat, manipulating his strings while Nancy whispered in Cheney's ear. 
     The GOP's long range plan to take over the government and the country rolled out with gloves off after the election of Newt Gingrich as Speaker of the House of Representatives in 1994. If the Republicans are good at anything, it is patience, long range tactics, and gross manipulation of voters by appealing to their emotions and beliefs.
     Gingrich began the wholesale cozying up to the Religious Right--specifically Evangelical Christians and conservative Catholics. This is not a case of the left hand knows not what the right hand is doing; this is a case of the left and right hands rubbing each other gleefully while skipping out together to unfurl the new ultra-conservative 
Republican Religious Right agenda propping up the Republican Party, which has proven they will get in bed with anyone who will ensure their rise to the top of politics and power in this country while f***ing everyone else to reach their goals.
     I have been shocked at the manner in which Christians have consistently voted for anyone who will advance their ideological agendas while turning a blind eye to the sick and ugly behaviors, mentality, and lack of character their chosen candidates exhibit. Consider Newt Gingrich standing at the bedside of his then estranged wife Jackie, who had just come out of surgery for what turned out to be a benign lump (she has been diagnosed with uterine cancer in 1978, a fact Newt was happy to capitalize on when running for office), with a yellow legal pad covered with ultimatums and demands that he wanted her to sign off on immediately--while she was only hours out of surgery and still in recovery. He was the advance act for Trump with his p***y grabbing, sociopathic, lying, ego aggrandizing behavior; but hey! Bubba Trump--or should I say Brother Trump--was willing to appoint 200 ultra conservative circuit court judges across this country, and install the same demagogues in the highest court in the land in order to defeat Roe Vs. Wade and overturn legalized abortion. The Republican party mantra is "Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice; moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue" (Barry Goldwater Campaign, 1962).
     For these Christians the end always justifies the means as long as it is their ideological ends being supported. And the sad thing about it is that overturning Roe V. Wade will not stop abortions. It will limit who has access to safe abortions because the wives, mistresses, sisters, and daughters of conservative politicians have always had this access and they always will. It is working class and poor women who will suffer and find themselves trapped in the tyranny of motherhood their lack of wealth and health cannot afford or support. These Christians would have been right at home with the Spanish Inquisition. I know these people because I am related to a whole passle of them. At one time in my early teen years I too attended their church and drank the Kool-Aid until I escaped and managed to find my brain which must be checked at the church door. I know how they think, how they pray, and how they justify their support of Trump. Interestingly though, these same folks are now so embarrassed by Trump they are finally silenced, their tongues sticking to the roof of their mouths, except to mumble, "Jesus said it, I believe it, and that is all I need to know" while crossing their fingers behind their backs in prayers of thanks for all the damage their presidential candidate has done to this country as long as their agenda is legitimized. These same majority white folks are so racially fragile that they fear their entire childhood is undermined with the knowledge that Aunt Jemima is a racist trope and not some nice negro woman well paid and happy to be the face of their breakfast syrup and pancakes, and surely was duly remunerated as a full and equal partner by the Quaker Oats corporation! My, my...
     According to a thought provoking article in the NY Times newspaper last week, "'Gingrich wrote the playbook for it all. The nastiness, the contempt for norms, the transformation of political opponents into enemies. This began forty years ago (1980, Reagan's last term in office as President), with the normalization of personal destruction. The contempt for custom. The media-baiting, the annihilation of bipartisan comity, the delegitimizing of institutions. Gingrich had planted; Trump had reaped,'” writes the Princeton historian Julian Zelizer in the prologue to his forthcoming book, Burning Down the House: Newt Gingrich, the Fall of a Speaker, and the Rise of a New Republican Party (Senior, Trump's Napalm Politics? They Began With Newt; NY Times Op-Ed, June 28, 2020). 
     Follow the money...and it will lead you to the inescapable facts above and paint the ugliest of pictures about the underbelly of American culture and society: It isn't just the economy, stupid! That is the veil under which hides the real issue: it's institutionalized racism for economic benefit of some over others. Until we root it out, expose and acknowledge this publicly in all its many disguises, and America expiates for the sin of genocide and slavery in pursuit of the all mighty dollar, we cannot in my opinion, move forward again as a united nation. 

NB Valerie & Steam Train by Les Biggs

NB Valerie & Steam Train by Les Biggs