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January 31, 2020


Thanks, Beth. On this sad day, it does help a lot to know that a friend across the ocean is seeing and feeling all the things that I am, and that you can express it so precisely and eloquently (though at the same time of course I wish for you that you weren't) xx

Funny, I came across a FB post you made I think after the 2016 election that I had saved (can't find it again right now) about resistance over the long haul. I love your last paragraph here - sometimes it's hard to know what to do, but it does help to "Do something." I will write postcards to voters again soon, which I did before the 2018 midterms. Today's small bit with my small bit of free time was to go to the JFK Library's nomination page for the 2020 Profile in Courage to nominate Marie Yovanovich and Fiona Hill for speaking truth to power and fighting corruption. I need to look into something more collective locally going forward...

Ah, apparently the Profile in Courage award goes to elected or previously elected officials. Amended my nomination to Adam Schiff.

Thanks for writing, Jean. I've been thinking of you and our other British friends today, of course, and wishing we were all together. Canada is a funny in-between place for both British and American people; now that I'm a dual citizen I feel more removed from the travesty of current American politics, but I'll also always feel connected. And I have a number of British friends here too, who are uniformly heartsick about what's happening today.

Leslee, I especially like your first nominations and wish you’d been able to keep them! Yes, we just have to keep doing our bit. Thanks for writing, I was glad to hear form you today.

Hello Beth,

I take a quote from your excellent post, as follows:-

"The other part of the work is to band together to take collective action -- together we can accomplish much more than as individuals, and we can do more to help one another through this extremely challenging period of time. Do something."

The problem for us and like-minded individuals is that the majority have done precisely that. And that collective action will have its consequencies, for good or for ill.

This morning I'm remembering hearing that during World War Two my German aunt, half-Jewish and somehow still living un-apprehended with her young children in a little town somewhere in Germany, played the piano for her friend a ballet dancer, first to offer dance classes to the children of that town and then, too, to their mothers. I was leafing through online archive copies of the Berlin Tagesblatt for December 1928. And I'm thinking that W. H. Auden trumps Mary Oliver.

Hereford to Montreal is 3125 miles, I've just checked. I'm warmed that someone so distant understands the British state of affairs and is sympathetic.

Strange that. Better for you that you didn't know. How do I profit from your amplified distress? Perhaps because shared misfortune is in some way diminished misfortune.

Certainly misfortune tarnishes things. My singing lessons started before the referendum and brought with them an unexpected and gratifying sense of elevation. But it's a private sense, only I benefit. In the strange tug-of-war I am subject to these days, singing becomes a bolt-hole and thus - somehow - unfair. Others don't have access. I'm privileged in a way I don't welcome. A very minor matter in the scheme of things but nevertheless unwanted.

I could encourage people to sing but it would be an odd and seemingly trivial bulwark against their problems. Besides... and besides... and besides...

We have talked about this in person and on your blog, I appreciate others' comments.

A friend lis committed to tracing the rise of transnational organized crime and its goal of perverting or subsuming democratic governments to suit its ends. Her form of activism is to send her friends (with their permission), reports from accredited journalists and investigators, both in the mainstream (e.g.,NYT) and specialized newsletters. This material disturbs me. Yet at the same time, I appreciate that she is trying to alert persons to how fragile their political systems are and that their rights are not immutable. Once informed, one would be unlikely to say "the country is booming!"

We need courage to counter that complacency (and it's not essential to take on everyone), compassion to see the fear behind it, and discernment to select leaders (not just in electoral politics- look at what is happening in various faith communities!) who have solid, achievable, comprehensive plans.

Tom, so good to hear from you. And you're totally right: their form of collective action has worked very well indeed. History shows that it's a lot easier to get people to draw together and support authoritarian leaders whose message is based on fear. Action based on love, courage, hope, compassion and justice is a much harder sell, especially in times like these, but it's quite possible for us to do on our own and in small groups -- and we must do that, I think. Clothing the naked, visiting the prisoner, helping the widow, feeding the poor are ancient directives. Anonymous individuals and small groups sheltered Jews, created safe passageways for escaping slaves, leave water in the Mexican desert for refugees, drive oppressed minorities to the voting booth. There's a great deal we can do, with determination and courage.

Robbie, thanks for commenting. It's not hard to have compassion and understanding for people and societies far away, because the basic principles behind human division are always similar. I hear you about the singing, but I'm going to continue and I sincerely hope you do too. Imagining a world without music, and without people who can put aside their troubles and sing, is unbearable. And I don't think it's a matter of privilege. People in poor villages are probably more likely to get together and sing or listen to local music than most of us are; it's always been a way of rising above troubles, poverty, oppression.

Duchesse, yes, I share your discomfiture at the rise of a new type of organized crime and subversion of democracies, and wonder if doing all that research and sending this material to liberals who would probably vote the same way actually accomplishes much. Nor am I convinced that all our "educational" efforts can, or do, reach those who are firmly convinced they are also "right". My question is what we can do that actually makes a difference in suffering people's lives (see my response to Tom, just above). Volunteering in a soup kitchen, or helping refugees, are harder choices for many of us who have lived lives of privilege, but it does good -- both to us and to the people in need. We have to be willing to put something of ourselves on the line, to step outside our comfortable lives, to take a risk. As you say, that takes courage.

Vivian, yes, that's exactly the sort of courage I'm remembering.
Which Auden and Oliver poems are you speaking about, or do you just mean their different ways of engaging and speaking about the world?

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Who was Cassandra?

  • In the Iliad, she is described as the loveliest of the daughters of Priam (King of Troy), and gifted with prophecy. The god Apollo loved her, but she spurned him. As a punishment, he decreed that no one would ever believe her. So when she told her fellow Trojans that the Greeks were hiding inside the wooden horse...well, you know what happened.