“The antidote to a government controlled by a powerful few, a government that divides, is a government by the organized, energized and inclusive many. That’s what this moment’s about. That has to be the answer.” ~ President Barack Obama, speech at U. of Illinois (September 7, 2018)
Sunday afternoon, sunny and lovely, 69 degrees.
I know that I’m on a political bent as of late, but how can I not be? So much is happening so fast that it’s hard to keep all of it straight. It’s no secret that I’m an ardent liberal, but more than that, I’m a patriot. I believe in this country, and I believe in the Constitution. And the current state of affairs is breaking my heart and making my blood pressure go crazy, so I try to ameliorate the effects a bit by writing about them or by sharing some of the more significant items such as what I’m featuring today.
Former President Barack Obama addressed an audience at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in September 2018, and although this speech was delivered over a year ago, I believe that his message is particularly important and relevant in these dark days of our republic. I’m not going to put the entire transcript here because it’s always better to hear Obama’s words as opposed to reading them—he remains a powerful orator, capable of grabbing and holding an audience with his words and cadence. It’s a striking contrast to the bluster and fumble of 45.
I have pulled out just a few of the more relevant snippets:
The point Washington made, the point that is essential to American democracy is that in a government of and by and for the people there should be no permanent ruling class. There are only citizens, who through their elected and temporary representatives determine our course and determine our character.
More often it’s manufactured by the powerful and the privileged, who want to keep us divided, and keep us angry and keep us cynical, because it helps them maintain the status quo and keep their power and keep their privilege. And you happen to be coming of age during one of those moments.
It did not start with Donald Trump. He is a symptom, not the cause. He’s just capitalizing on resentments that politicians have been fanning for years.
It shouldn’t be Democratic or Republican to say we don’t threaten the freedom of the press because they say things or publish stories that we don’t like. I complained plenty about Fox News, but you never heard me threaten to shut them down or call them enemies of the people.
It shouldn’t be Democratic or Republican to say we don’t target certain groups of people based on what they look like or how they pray. We are Americans. We’re supposed to stand up to bullies — not follow them. We’re supposed to stand up to discrimination, and we’re sure as heck supposed to stand up clearly and unequivocally to Nazi sympathizers.
You cannot sit back and wait for a savior. You can’t opt out because you don’t feel sufficiently inspired by this or that particular candidate. This is not a rock concert, this is not Coachella. We don’t need a messiah. All we need are decent, honest, hardworking people who are accountable and who have America’s best interest at heart.
If you are tired of politicians who are all for nothing but “thoughts and prayers” after a mass shooting. You’ve got to do what the Parkland kids are doing. Some of them have not eligible to vote yet. They’re out there working to change minds and registering people. They’re not giving up until we have a Congress that sees your lives more important as a campaign check from the NRA. You’ve got to vote!
“It was compelling, it was impactful, it was powerful and I just feel grateful for the opportunity to have received that information.” ~ Democratic Rep. Denny Heck commenting after Marie Yovanovitch’s 9 Hours of Testimony to Congress
Saturday afternoon, overcast with drizzle, 54 degrees.
I decided that before I try to clean this house, I would share the entire opening statement that Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch made to Congress. It’s an incredible, informative read, and I hope that eventually her entire testimony will be released. I am so impressed by this woman’s courage and fortitude. She is precisely the kind of person this country needs right now to help navigate these very troubled waters. Her statement is both restrained and powerful, a piece of discourse akin to The Federalist Papers, in particular, No. 51.
Opening Statement of Marie L. Yovanovitch to the House of Representatives Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, Committee on Foreign Affairs, and Committee on Oversight and Reform
October 11, 2019
Thank you for the opportunity to start with this statement today.
For the last 33 years, it has been my great honor to serve the American people as a Foreign Service Officer, over six Administrations—four Republican, and two Democratic. I have served in seven different countries, five of them hardship posts, and was appointed to serve as an ambassador three times—twice by a Republican President, and once by a Democrat. Throughout my career, I have stayed true to the oath that Foreign Service Officers take and observe every day: “that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic;” and “that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same.” Like all foreign service officers with whom I have been privileged to serve, I have understood that oath as a commitment to serve on a strictly nonpartisan basis, to advance the foreign policy determined by the incumbent President, and to work at all times to strengthen our national security and promote our national interests.
I come by these beliefs honestly and through personal experience. My parents fled Communist and Nazi regimes. Having seen, first hand, the war, poverty and displacement common to totalitarian regimes, they valued the freedom and democracy the U.S. represents. And they raised me to cherish these values as well. Their sacrifices allowed me to attend Princeton University, where I focused my studies on the Soviet Union. Given my upbringing, it has been the honor of a lifetime to help to foster those principles as a career Foreign Service Officer.
From August 2016 until May 2019, I served as the U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine. Our policy, fully embraced by Democrats and Republicans alike, was to help Ukraine become a stable and independent democratic state, with a market economy integrated into Europe.
Recent Ukrainian History Ukraine is a sovereign country, whose borders are inviolate and whose people have the right to determine their own destiny. These are the bedrock principles of our policy. Because of Ukraine’s geostrategic position bordering Russia on its east, the warm waters of the oil-rich Black Sea to its south, and four NATO allies to its west, it is critical to the security of the United States that Ukraine remain free and democratic and that it continue to resist Russian expansionism.
Russia’s purported annexation of Crimea, its invasion of Eastern Ukraine, and its de facto control over the Sea of Azov, make clear Russia’s malign intentions towards Ukraine. If we allow Russia’s actions to stand, we will set a precedent that the United States will regret for decades to come.
Supporting Ukraine’s integration into Europe and combating Russia’s efforts to destabilize Ukraine have anchored US policy since the Ukrainian people protested on the Maidan in 2014 and demanded to be a part of Europe and live according to the rule of law. That was US policy when I was appointed Ambassador in August 2016, and it was reaffirmed as the policy of the current administration in early 2017.
“. . . it is in our national security interest to help Ukraine transform into a country where the rule of law governs and corruption is held in check . . . a country where rule of law is the system, corruption is tamed, and people are treated equally and according to the law”
The Fight Against Corruption
The Revolution of Dignity, and the Ukrainian people’s demand to end corruption, forced the new Ukrainian government to take measures to fight the rampant corruption that long permeated that country’s political and economic systems. We have long understood that strong anti-corruption efforts must form an essential part of our policy in Ukraine; now there was a window of opportunity to do just that.
Why is this important? Put simply: anti-corruption efforts serve Ukraine’s interests. They serve ours as well. Corrupt leaders are inherently less trustworthy, while an honest and accountable Ukrainian leadership makes a U.S.-Ukraine partnership more reliable and more valuable to the U.S. A level playing field in this strategically located country—one with a European landmass exceeded only by Russia and with one of the largest populations in Europe—creates an environment in which U.S. business can more easily trade, invest and profit. Corruption is a security issue as well, because corrupt officials are vulnerable to Moscow. In short, it is in our national security interest to help Ukraine transform into a country where the rule of law governs and corruption is held in check.
But change takes time, and the aspiration to instill rule-of-law values has still not been fulfilled. Since 2014, Ukraine has been at war, not just with Russia, but within itself, as political and economic forces compete to determine what kind of country Ukraine will become: the same old, oligarch-dominated Ukraine where corruption is not just prevalent, but is the system? Or the country that Ukrainians demanded in the Revolution of Dignity—a country where rule of law is the system, corruption is tamed, and people are treated equally and according to the law?
During the 2019 presidential elections, the Ukrainian people answered that question once again. Angered by insufficient progress in the fight against corruption, Ukrainian voters overwhelmingly elected a man who said that ending corruption would be his number one priority. The transition, however, created fear among the political elite, setting the stage for some of the issues I expect we will be discussing today.
Understanding Ukraine’s recent history, including the significant tension between those who seek to transform the country and those who wish to continue profiting from the old ways, is of critical importance to understanding the events you asked me here today to describe. Many of those events—and the false narratives that emerged from them—resulted from an unfortunate alliance between Ukrainians who continue to operate within a corrupt system, and Americans who either did not understand that corrupt system, or who may have chosen, for their own purposes, to ignore it.
It seems obvious, but bears stating, that when dealing with officials from any country—or those claiming connections to officialdom—one must understand their background, their personal interests, and what they hope to get out of a particular interaction before deciding how to evaluate their description of events or acting on their information.
So I sat at this computer for hours yesterday and produced absolutely nothing, not a single word. It’s not that I have writer’s block as I can think of at least four different things that I want to write about; it’s more that I can’t get my mind to focus enough to get started. I decided today that I’d just start and let it takes me wherever it takes me.
On Wednesday I had an appointment with my pain management group to find out the results of Monday’s MRI. So it turns out that I have a couple of bulging discs at the top of my spine, and they’re bulging towards my spine. Now I get to see a neurosurgeon for follow up. I told the NP that I’m not going to have another back surgery, not ever again. At least it kind of explains how doing these least little physical activity causes me to hurt like crazy by nightfall.
Too bad, though, as I had to dismiss the entire house staff for failing to keep my shoes polished and buffed satisfactorily. No wait. Sorry. That’s my Downton Abbey life rearing its head again. Damn. I guess that means that the laundry and housecleaning situation isn’t going to miraculously resolve itself. Corey and I had hoped to work on the whole bedroom situation once the weather cools more.
Hmm . . . things that make you go hmm . . .
Have some leftovers. More later. Peace.
I miss having an intelligent, patriotic president who isn’t driven by pettiness and believes in the Constitution . . .
The more things change, the more they stay exactly the same . . .
“Every time I name them my dead are resurrected.” ~ Claribel Alegría, “Every time I name them” (Trans. Carolyn Forché)
Tuesday afternoon, foggy and cloudy, 61 degrees.
Today’s Two for Tuesday features Nicaraguan/Salvadoran poet, essayist, and journalist Claribel Alegría (May 12, 1924-January 25, 2018). Born Clara Isabel Alegría Vides in Nicaragua to physician father Daniel Alegría, her father opposed the U.S. occupation of Nicaragua in 1924; the family was subsequently forced into exile in her mother’s home country of El Salvador while Claribel was still an infant. Her obituary in The Washington Post refers to her as “a leading poet of suffering and anguish.” She was best known in the U.S. for the bilingual edition of her volume of poetry, Flores del volcán/Flowers from the Volcano (1982), which was translated by the poet Carolyn Forché.
Algería’s work combined the personal with the political by sometimes focusing on the violence that plagued both Nicaragua and El Salvador for decades. Poet Daisy Zamora said of Algería that she had “unfailingly spoken up for justice and liberty . . . becoming a voice for the voiceless and the dispossessed.” In 2006 Algería received the Neustadt International Prize for Literature for which he had been nominated by Zamora. In her acceptance remarks upon receiving the prize Algería stated the following:
The poet celebrates humankind, the universe, and the creator of the universe. It is impossible for one to remain indifferent to the turbulence that our planet and its inhabitants suffer through: war, hunger, earthquakes, misery, racism, violence, xenophobia, deforestation, AIDS, and childhood affliction, among others. In the region from which I come, Central America, we love poetry, and at times we use it to denounce what is happening around us. There are many fine testimonial poems. The poet, especially where I’m from, cannot and should not remain in an ivory tower.
You can read more about her life and substantial oeuvre here or in her New York Timesobituary here. Poet Carolyn Forché interviewed Alegria in 1984, and a PDF can be found here.
Today is the birthday of one of my favorite science fiction writers, Frank Herbert (October 8, 1920-February 11, 1986), creator of the Dune series.
As the falling rain
trickles among the stones
memories come bubbling out.
It’s as if the rain
had pierced my temples.
the reedy voice
of the servant
telling me tales
They sat beside me
and the bed creaked
that purple-dark afternoon
when I learned you were leaving forever,
a gleaming pebble
from constant rubbing
becomes a comet.
Rain is falling
and memories keep flooding by
they show me a senseless
but I keep loving it
because I do
because of my five senses
because of my amazement
because every morning,
because forever, I have loved it
without knowing why.
[This is a night of shadows]
This is a night of shadows
solitude overwhelms me.
No one awaits my arrival
with a kiss
or a rum
and a thousand questions.
Solitude echoes within me.
My heart wishes
to burst with rage
but it sprouts wings.
We were gone all afternoon, so of course, the dogs had a field day. Their latest trick is unfurling rolls of toilet paper and TP’ing the house. It’s adorable . . . not at all.
Had an MRI on my neck today. Wasn’t as bad as some that I’ve had in the past in that it didn’t take as long, and the machine had a wider opening so I didn’t feel as if I couldn’t breathe. The biggest surprise was that they wanted a $40 payment before they would do the test. Supposedly someone told me this, but neither Corey nor I remembered that, which is a sure sign that it didn’t happen as I always try to tell him in advance so that at least he’ll remember. This has happened before here, but never used to happen in Norfolk.
Weird. Even weirder? They gave me a 10 percent discount for paying on the day of the test, but I couldn’t get the test done unless I paid on the day on which it was scheduled. Now figure that one out
Still having major sleep issues. Maybe now that cooler weather seems to be here finally I’ll be able to sleep better at night. Who knows. Dreams have been wicked intense and detailed. Continuing issues with my prescription coverage, being told different things by different people working for the same place. That’s always fun, fun, fun.
Anyway, just wanted to do a quick note to try to get back into more regular posting once again.
Today is the birthday of an incredible poet, Amiri Baraka (October 7, 1934-January 9, 2014). You can read about him at the Poetry Foundation site. I’m including a beautiful poem that I used to feature in my American Literature classes. I liked to begin the discussion by asking the class about the implications of the poem’s title . . .
More later. Peace.
Preface to a Twenty Volume Suicide Note
for Kellie Jones, born 16 May 1959
Lately, I’ve become accustomed to the way
The ground opens up and envelopes me
Each time I go out to walk the dog.
Or the broad edged silly music the wind
Makes when I run for a bus…
Things have come to that.
And now, each night I count the stars,
And each night I get the same number.
And when they will not come to be counted,
I count the holes they leave.
Nobody sings anymore.
And then last night, I tiptoed up
To my daughter’s room and heard her
Talking to someone, and when I opened
The door, there was no one there…
Only she on her knees, peeking into
“And even if there’s no magic fix for mental illness, it seems indigenous Australians have much to teach us about developing greater awareness and reciprocity with our planet for our physical and emotional survival – if we only take the time to listen.” ~ Bonita Grima, from “A 60,000=year=old cure for depression”
Thursday afternoon, sunny and too warm, 90 degrees.
The other day I read an article about Australia’s traditional Aboriginal healers and their approach to treating illnesses of the mind and body. The article, entitled “A 60,000-year-old cure for depression” was published on the BBC Travel Site.
Because of my long journey with mental and physical ailments, I’ve long had an interest in alternative medicines—and would love to know more about the various uses of herbs and plants. As I’ve mentioned, I take various vitamins and supplements like eggshell membrane and cinnamon for things like my IBS, blood sugar, and arthritis, and while Western medicine tends to scoff at the effectiveness of supplements, I have seen improvements in some things. For example, my blood sugar levels are back to normal, and my thyroid levels are closer to normal as well.
Is it a placebo effect? Who knows, but I’ll take what I can get if it means that I can take fewer prescription medicines. I think that part of what I like is that I feel as if I have more control over my health. Anyway, much of what I know, and that is limited at best—comes from reading about Native American healers, but the title of this article caught my attention.
As the article points out, the indigenous Aboriginal people of Australia have the oldest living culture on earth. However, their numbers have substantially dwindled, in large part because of the influx of Europeans, who brought all of the negative effects of colonizatioin, such diseases, violence, and forced separation of Aboriginal families and removal from traditional lands. But as the article states, one of the traditions that has remained in spite of outside factors is the role of traditional healing:
For around 60,000 years, their intricate understanding of ecology ensured survival, and their physical, spiritual, mental and emotional well-being was achieved by maintaining healthy, balanced relationships with all living and non-living things.
At the heart of their communities were traditional healers. They have been respected and entrusted with the well-being of Aboriginal communities for as long as the culture has been alive.
For the mubarrn, or elders, the most important step in healing is a connection to the land, which is directly tied to listening. The term dadirri, which means an “inner deep listening and quiet still awareness:
For indigenous Australians, this spiritual listening practice provides a way to observe and act according to the natural seasons and cycles in a way the modern world seems to have forgotten.
The article quotes Dr Francesca Panzironi, a human rights academic from Rome. Panzironi is the CEO of Australia’s first organization of Aboriginal traditional healers, Anangu Ngangkari Tjutaku Aboriginal Corporation (ANTAC). “For indigenous people, it’s about reconnecting to culture and accessing healing techniques that are different from Western medicine,” Panzironi said. Ngangkari are the healers of Australia’s central desert areas.
Now that I live here on the ridge, I find myself observing and learning each time I venture onto the land. Corey and I joke with one another about preparing for the zombie apocalypse, but truthfully, I want a greenhouse so that I can raise herbs so that eventually, I can learn how to make things like soap and my own tinctures, especially for treating the animals when they have small wounds or inflammations. For now, I settle for ordering things like an ointment made from Manuka honey, which is native to New Zealand and has been shown to have several healing benefits.
I’m featuring this article for those of you who may share my interest in learning what the land can provide for us. I’m including a link to a similar article about the Ngangkari healers, which can be found here, as well as an article here about some of the medicinal plants used.
Just a quick aside: I’ve been trying for almost a week to write this post, but my brain is overloaded with a bunch of stuff, so I cannot focus on one thing well enough to write about it. I hope that the above is linear enough to follow.
More later. Peace.
Aboriginal Healing Music (uncertain as to performers) composed by Giordano Trivellato and Giuliano Sacchetto
“The heart of Autumn must have broken here, And poured its treasure out upon the leaves.” ~ Charlotte Fiske Bates, from “Woodbines in October”
Saturday afternoon, partly cloudy, hotter and humid, 85 degrees.
Any day now we’re going to get a break in the weather and have nice fall temperatures. Any day now.
Corey is working on the fence again. Somehow, the goats and horses have all found ways to escape from the pasture, which I know is frustrating the hell out of Corey. At the moment, Beric and Daisy are in the back pasture, and the rest of the goats and the two horses are in the large pasture, or at least they’re supposed to be. At the moment, they’re on the front porch.
Early this morning, after letting all of the dogs out, Freddy returned smelling of skunk. Fortunately he seems to be the only one who was sprayed directly, but boy did he get the full treatment. It was hellacious. I sprayed him with one of those dog calming sprays that I keep on hand, but that was only a temporary measure until we were out of bed. Corey gave him a bath, and that seems to have taken care of the eau de skunk.
“Delicious autumn! My very soul is wedded to it, and if I were a bird I would fly about the earth seeking the successive autumns.” ~ George Eliot, from a Letter to Miss Lewis, October 1, 1841
Anyway, I had something in particular in mind for today’s post, and it’s an offshoot of my griping about the hot temps, but in a good way, if that makes any sense at all . . .
Climate experts (weather.com) say that 2019’s warmer than usual September means that leaves will change color across the U.S. about a week later than usual. I was unable to download the interactive map showing nationwide fall foliage peak dates, but I did manage to capture two dates showing peak time in our area, which is supposed to be somewhere between October 26 and November 2. Corey’s mom likes to try to catch peak foliage, so I’m hoping that this tool will be of value to her.
Apparently, each year since 2013, smokymountains.com publishes this interactive map for those looking for peak leaf viewing around the country. Wes Melton, a data scientist and CTO with smokymountains.com, told Travel + Leisure:
“The predictive fall leaf map helps potential travelers, photographers and leaf peepers determine the precise future date that the leaves will peak in each area of the continental United States . . . We believe this interactive tool will enable travelers to take more meaningful fall vacations, capture beautiful fall photos and enjoy the natural beauty of autumn.
Although the scientific concept of how leaves change colors is fairly simple, predicting the precise moment the event will occur is extremely challenging . . . The major factors impacting peak fall are sunlight, precipitation, soil moisture and temperature. Although we cannot control Mother Nature and ensure 100 [percent] accuracy, our data sources are top-tier and each year we refine our algorithmic model achieving higher accuracy over time.”
Moving the slider at the bottom of the actual interactive map (found here), will display the best opportunities for when and where leaves will be near peak, at peak, and past peak in the coming weeks.
“How beautifully leaves grow old. How full of light and color are their last days.” ~ John Burroughs, naturalist
There’s nothing quite like a hike in the Blue Ridge Mountains in autumn. It’s something that I first began doing right after Caitlin died, and I’ve tried to do so as often as possible over the years since, in particular along Skyline Drive, the historic 105-mile National Scenic Byway, which traverses Shenandoah National Park in Virginia. There are nearly 70 scenic overlooks along this north-south route. I have stayed several times at Skyland Lodge, which is located at the top of the drive. Go here to see available lodging in and around Shenandoah; I would recommend the cabins for a more rustic experience.
Another beautiful route for viewing fall foliage in the mountains is the Blue Ridge Parkway, which traverses 469 miles through 29 Virginia and North Carolina counties and spans the southern and central Appalachians. The Parkway links Shenandoah National Park to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Lodging here is varied and includes B&Bs, lodges, cabins, and hotels, among others; we stayed at Peaks of Otter Lodge the year I was pregnant with Brett.
Bittersweet memories . . .
By the way, since I always get this confused, I thought that I’d offer a clarification: The Blue Ridge Mountains (Eastern US) are part of the Appalachians (eastern counterpart to the Rocky Mountains), which are a system of mountains forming a barrier to east/west travel and extending 2,000 miles from Newfoundland to central Alabama. The Great Smoky Mountains (SE US) are a subrange of the Appalachians and a part of the Blue Ridge Mountain Range. Shenandoah National Park is in the Shenandoah Valley, which stretches 200 miles across the Blue Ridge and Allegheny Mountains. The Allegheny Mountains are part of the Appalachians.
Mountain range: series of mountains
Mountain system: group of mountain ranges
Subrange: seen as parent-child relationship (Appalachians parent to Blue Ridge child)
Got it? Me neither. More later. Peace.
Music by September’s Birds,”Honey, You Don’t Know”
All day I have watched the purple vine leaves
Fall into the water.
And now in the moonlight they still fall,
But each leaf is fringed with silver.