Monday, January 16, 2017

Writers, welcome to The Resistance

Denver's East Colfax Avenue has no "Cowboy Crossing" signs.

But I stopped anyway to let two cowboys cross in the middle of the street. It was growing dark, snow spat from the Colorado sky. As the two cowboys in black hats sprinted across the street, one limped along and one waved his thanks.

I returned the wave and motored to my destination. It's Stock Show time in Denver. Cowboys from Hugo in Colorado and Greybull in Wyoming swarmed the town. By day, they rodeoed and exhibited prize bulls and spectated. At night, they hunted down good eats on Colfax.

Cowboy: Where can I find a good restaurant?
Denver person: Try Colfax. But beware of the hipsters.
Cowboy: What's a hipster?
Denver person: You'll see.

I saw a few hipsters at the Writers Resist reading at the Lighthouse Writers Workshop just off of Colfax on Race Street. No cowboys, though, at least none wearing cowboy hats. As one of the readers pointed out, it was good to see all of us introverts out and about on a winter Sunday night.

Some in the 100-plus crowd in the basement grotto were writers. Some were not. We attended because we objected to what was happening in our country during the third week on January 2017. A demagogue was getting sworn in an president. We never dreamed we would see this day. Maybe that was part of the problem. We never dreamed, as Martin Luther King, Jr., did. We complained. We wrote. We blogged. Many of us, but not all, voted. Somehow we didn't work hard enough to keep a guy like Trump from being president.

Writers Resist was formed after the election by writer Erin Belieu who teaches in the M.F.A. program at Florida State University. I am a product of an M.F.A. writing program (Colorado State University) and have a weakness for MFAers, especially when they are social activists. Writers tend to be liberals. So do Liberal Arts academics. Maybe that's why the wingnuts hate us so much and want to send us all to re-education camps. We are products of a liberal education system, in my case, a series of community colleges and land-grant universities most of which feature football teams subsidized by citrus barons (my Florida Gators) or by robber barons such as the Koch Brothers. If you look at a list of alumni of any land-grant university, and you see names of military leaders and corporate CEOs and Republican politicians, you might be tempted to wonder why universities aren't hotbeds of rabid wingnuts instead of breeding grounds for social activists. As it turns out, most campuses include righties and lefties and people who don't give a shit. College students voted for Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump and anyone else who managed to get on the ballot. You can just as easily blame Trump on the Sigma Nu at CU as you can the laid-off factory worker in Wisconsin.

I digress. Writers Resist in Denver was one of more than 100 similar events happening all over the world. I was in Denver because I was taking my daughter Annie to some medical appointments. I'm retired so I have the time and inclination to do these things. I drag my kids to these events, just as the young Hispanic couple who sat in front of us did last night. Two young parents, two well-behaved children. An all-American family.

The writers were a diverse bunch. Teow Lim Goh read from her first book of poems, Islanders, from Conundrum Press. I listened to her poems and they spoke to me. Not because I am Chinese but because I also come from immigrants. They also had to go through an island -- Ellis Island -- to be admitted to this country. In the case of the Chinese, it was Angel Island in San Francisco Bay. Chinese immigrants faced additional barriers that my Irish forebears did not -- color and language (some Irish spoke Gaelic). The writer addresses this issue in the poem "Daydreams." In it, a white bureaucrat walks to work every day "past a sea of yellow faces,/their worries creased into their brows." At work, he looks at immigrant files, "the tales inside just words to him." Yet, as he looks at the photograph of a potential Chinese immigrant, this happens:
In her eyes he sees his mother
fleeing a homeland plagued by famine,
huddled on Ellis Island.
That hurts. Irish-Americans worked hard to assimilate. The first generation born in the U.S., such as my own mother, spoke English like a native and, with her all-American good looks, rarely ever was called a dirty Mick or a redneck Catholic, all terms Denver Nativists flung at Irish-Catholics. Even though my family name was changed from O'Shea to Shay either at Ellis Island or in my great-great-grandfather's attempt to fit in, we Shays eventually blended in and could become suburban Republicans who look on people of color as "the other," people to be feared and possibly banished.

Why I love poetry, good writing of all kinds. It makes me think and feel. I can become the other. If that is true, can I imagine myself as the other, that guy driving the big black pick-up with the Trump bumper sticker I followed today down the snowy interstate? I hope I can. Our future as a nation may depend on that.

Meanwhile, the writers stood up and read at Writers Resist. David J. Daniels wrote about growing up gay. His book, Clean, is published by Four Way Books. Emily Perez read a long poem, "My Father Quotes Jaime Escalante," from her book Backyard Migration Route. Khadijah Queen read June Jordan's "Poem About My Rights." and a poem about sexual harassment from her new book, I'm So Fine: A List of Famous Men &and What I Had On. Army combat veteran Seth Brady Tucker read a selection from Claudia Rankine's Citizen and a short piece about his struggle, as a soldier, to take a college course that meant he could become the "educated other" in his unit. Alejandra Garza wrapped up the night with a presentation about her organization, the Colorado ACLU, and why it is important for these times.

Annie and I each bought a book and had it signed by the authors. We drove home on the lookout for cowboys, but saw none crossing the road in the dark city night.

To contribute or volunteer for the Colorado ACLU, go to http://aclu-co.org
To contribute or volunteer for the Wyoming ACLU, go to https://www.aclu-wy.org

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Past and present meet in my old Aurora neighborhood

Last week, I stood on the disappeared foundation of my old house in Aurora's Hoffman Heights. I thought about the past but gazed out upon the future.

First, the past. I was a pre-schooler when my father bought his first house in 1954 for $8,000 with no money down and a low interest rate. Like thousands of other World War II vets, he received benefits from his grateful government. He was a college grad, thanks to the G.I. Bill. My dad had a job as Denver's businesses boomed, thanks to an influx of GIs who trained in Colorado and had discovered its possibilities.

Hoffman Heights was one of Denver's first suburbs. First called Hoffman Town, after developer Sam Hoffman, it consisted of 1,700 houses on 44 acres between Colfax and Sixth avenues. Many Baby Boomers were born in the neighborhood, flooding into new schools such as Vaughn Elementary, which is still there and looking much as it did when I started kindergarten in 1956. In September 1955, residents were excited because the President of the United States, Dwight D. Eisenhower, recuperated from a major heart attack at Fitzsimons Army Hospital across Colfax from the neighborhood. You could walk out on your front lawn, if grass seed had sprouted during your first summer, and see the lights of Room 8002. The president was in the house! The supreme allied commander who had led us to victory over the Nazis and now was whipping up on the commies. You had a job, a house, a car, and a growing family. Your neighbors were white like you with similar backgrounds. There were exceptions. The guy next door was kind of a redneck. He kept rabbits in a backyard hutch and slaughtered them while children watched in horror. We shared a fence with the mother of Jane Russell, the Hollywood star. My mother's hospital co-worker, Jeep from Alabama (I swear that was her name) didn't come over any more because my mother insisted on being civil to the black nurse who recently joined the staff. There was a "funny" kid in the neighborhood, an older kid who our parents didn't want us to play with. He insisted on hanging with us little kids, which made him more creepy than funny.

Memory is an odd thing. Only some parts of this may be true/. My memory center is aging and isn't what it used to be. My parents are both gone. My brother Dan is gone. My sister Molly doesn't remember much, as she was a baby during most of the years we lived on Worchester. The Internet helps me look up old stories about the neighborhood. But there is no section in Cyberspace called "Mike's Memories." I'm on my own.

What can I say about growing up the 1950s suburbs in Middle America? I felt safe and loved. I walked to school with a zillion other kids. I walked the neighborhood with the same kids on Halloween. We collected candy and the parents collected cocktails and were pretty looped by the time we all got home. Nobody thought of taking X-rays of the collected candy. Christmas brought coonskin caps and hula hoops. Summer brought games of tag and kick the can.

Memories are similar for millions of American Baby Boomers. I am retired, alas, and many conversations I have with fellow Boomers at the YMCA or the coffee shop, harken back to those halcyon days. They are mostly white, too, as Wyoming is overwhelmingly Caucasian and conservative. Many of them voted for Donald Trump in an attempt to "Make America Great Again."  What they wish for is a return to the reality that exists only in their flawed memories.

Cut to the present in Aurora. Some of the houses, including mine, and old strip malls have been leveled for hotels, such as the Hyatt Regency Conference Center and Springhill Suites at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus.. The latter is the one we stay in when visiting our daughter, who lives in an adjacent neighborhood. Across six-lane Colfax is the medical campus, which employs 21,000 people. It is home to one of the country's premier children's hospitals, the CU Medical Center, and a number of research facilities. Located in their midst is the old Fitzsimons Army Hospital, now the complex's administration building. At night, you can look to the east and see the lights of a new RTD light rail stop that spans Colfax and is adjacent to I-225. Also to the east, on the fringe of the old neighborhood, rises the skeleton of a brand new condo complex that features an interior parking garage. Nearby brick apartment complexes, other relics from the 50s and 60s, now bill themselves as "apartment homes" and advertise "move-in specials." Houses in the old neighborhood are again selling, a relief to the old-timers who thought that they never would sell their houses in this now-seedy enclave. The city of Aurora even offers grants for fix-up and clean-up projects in the neighborhood, getting it ready for future resident who may even be hospital residents or physicians or nurses or researchers. They come from all over the world, so the new neighborhood will also be a mix of Kenyans, and Syrians and Chinese and Brazilians. The multi-ethnic mix that makes up any American city.

Aurora is not Denver, where only 18 percent of residents voted for Trump. Aurora is more suburban and conservative, but still part of the Denver metroplex, which is blue, and Colorado, also blue. As a state, it will be an outpost for resistance to Trump's extremist agenda. It will be a battle in a state known for its legal marijuana and craft beers but also for its Sagebrush Rebellion and long-time distrust of big government.

Wyoming is what Colorado was. Some Denverites have had enough and are moving to Laramie and Cheyenne. Or even north along the I-25 corridor to Loveland, Greeley and Fort Collins. Cheyenne is growing. Many Wyomingites refer to it as "north Denver," consider it way too liberal for The Cowboy State. Our county will soon be home to 1000,000 people, about one in every six Wyoming residents. The legislature meets annually in Cheyenne. Legislators are here now, crafting regressive bills that embarrasses us progressives and makes our fellow Dems in Denver shake their heads.

A rural Republican from Baggs, Sen. Larry Hicks, offers SJR 4 which would roll back equal protections for people based on "their race, sex, color, ethnicity or national origin." You could call this resolution "Make Wyoming White Again" which, of course, it already is. But just across the border in Colorado, swarthy liberals wait to snatch your state job or your entrance slot to the University of Wyoming Law School. This effectively closes the border to all of those well-educated ethnic minorities who energize Colorado's economy. Hicks and his Know Nothings' co-sponsors also want (in SF 71) to "penalize electricity providers if they continue to sell power to consumers that is generated by wind or solar energy in Wyoming," according to a staff editorial in this morning's Wyoming Tribune Eagle. It goes on: "To suggest charging utilities...a penalty for using renewable energy where the sun shines more than 300 days a year and the wind blows constantly is just insane." Yes it is. My subtitle for this bill: "Make Coal Great Again."

Monday, of course, is Martin Luther King, Jr., Day. It is a national holiday. Wyoming must not be part of the nation as the legislature insists on working this day while it recesses for Presidents Day on Feb. 20. This not surprising in an august body that turned down Sen. Liz Byrd's bill to recognize the MLK holiday eight time before finally caving in, but only if "Wyoming Equality Day" was added to the title. Even then, our rural legislators were concerned about hordes of ethnic minorities streaming across the border and claiming seats in the Capitol that properly belonged to white folks.

Other rural Repubs are offering bills to allow people to carry guns everywhere, even into college classrooms and sporting events. It would allow guns into all government meetings including those of the legislature. Rep. Biteman of Ranchester is point man on these efforts. I suppose he will be the first one to carry a sidearm into a legislative committee meeting next year, as these people never seem to be voted out of office.

I am used to reporting on the nutty things that Republicans do in our one-party state. You can read some of my earlier columns by going here and here. Now I have to keep up with happenings on the national scene with the dawn of Trumplandia. This story is from the New York Daily News:
A conservative Arizona lawmaker, Rep. Bob Thorpe, is proposing a far-reaching law in Arizona, House Bill 2120, banning virtually every college event, activity or course which discusses social justice, skin privilege, or racial equality. Violating the law would allow the state of Arizona to levy multimillion-dollar fines and penalties against universities. 
A few years ago, Arizona enacted a law that eliminated ethnic studies courses. I blogged about that here. And now this

Just the beginning, folks.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

When Ike had his heart attack in 1955, coronary care was still in the dark ages

Building 500 on a January afternoon.

Coronary Q & A

After a short visit to the eighth floor of Building 500 on the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus in Aurora

Q: If you had a heart attack in 1955, what was the likely outcome?

A: Death.

Q: You're kidding, right? I said 1955, not 1855, or 1755.

A: I kid you not. The most common nickname for a garden-variety heart attack in 1955 was "the widow maker."

Q: "Widowmaker" is what my Syrian refugee cardiologist called the heart attack caused by a total blockage of the Lateral Anterior Descending Artery or L.A.D. The kind of heart attack I had to welcome in the new year of 2013.

A: Times change. So does the language.

Q: In 1955, what was the most common prescription for the usual heart attack symptoms such as chest pain, numbness in the left arm, shortness of breath, chronic gastrointestinal problems?

A: R & R. Some time on the beach. A few rounds of golf. A relaxing day fishing by a bucolic Colorado trout stream. That was for men. Women? They didn't have heart heart attacks in 1955. It was probably hysteria. Or penis envy. Freud was in vogue.

Q: Forget Freud. Didn't doctors use electrocardiograms in 1955?

A: Not often. In 1955, President Dwight D. Eisenhower complained of chronic gastrointestinal pain. His doctor, U.S. Army Major General Howard McCrum Snyder, conducted a month-long physical of Ike without once doing an EKG. He told Ike to relax by going on a vacation and play some golf.

Q: What did Ike do?

A: He flew off to Colorado and played some golf.

Q: Why Colorado?

A: Ike's wife, Mamie Doud, was from Denver. She and Ike usually stayed at the Doud family home in what is now the Seventh Avenue Historic District. He had a heart attack on Sept. 23 after playing 27 holes of golf at Cherry Hills Country Club. According to the Encore newsletter I picked up at Building 500, once known as Fitzsimons Army Medical Center, Ike "complained of chest pains, but but continued to play, assuming it was heartburn."

Q: But it was a heart attack?

A: Right. One of the symptoms the American Heart Association warns you about.

Q: So he went to the hospital?

A: He went back to the Doud's home. "He awoke the next morning at 2 a.m. from chest pains that were not subdued by Milk of Magnesia."

Q: Even I, a layperson and not a doctor, can see the difficulty of subduing a full-blown widowmaker with Milk of Magnesia.

A: Exactly. It wasn't until that afternoon that the Fitzsimons docs administered an EKG to POTUS and "announced that Eisenhower had a coronary thrombosis condition that would be best treated at Fitzsimons."

Q: Don't docs now say that "minutes means muscle," that time is of the essence in the treatment of any heart attack?

A: They didn't know that in 1955.

Q: What did they know?

A: From Encore: "While the American Heart Association was founded in 1924, little was known about heart disease. Doctors knew that death could occur, but provided no causes, symptoms of treatment for coronary thrombosis.... Since the 1920s, heart disease has continued to be America's number-one killer."

Q: That's progress. So the President of the United States, the man who whipped the Nazis, received no treatment for his heart attack? No oblation? No stent? No blood thinners? No pacemaker? No bypass? No weeks of painstaking rehab on the treadmill and weight machines?

A: Those were all treatments of the future. The good news is that the president's seven weeks of rehab in Denver alerted the world to a dangerous killer. When you had your heart attack, the medical establishment had almost 60 years of research behind it.

Q: I could have died.

A: But you didn't. You walk around with a machine in your chest that regulates atrial fibrillation (A-fib) and will shock you back to the present should you ever experience catastrophic heart failure.

Q: One of my earliest memories is from Aurora, Colorado. I was four. We lived in the neighborhood across Colfax Avenue from Fitzsimons. My father pointed out the lights of Room 8002 and announced that the President of the United States was recuperating from a heart attack in that room. Memories are funny things. I'm not sure why I remember it. It's possible that my father told me about it later. He was a good storyteller.

A: When you were in Denver last week, did you get to tour Room 8002 at Fitzsimons, now known as The Eisenhower Suite? It's been lovingly restored by the University of Colorado Hospital, an entity that obviously cares about history and science. It now looks like it did in September of 1955, when the leader of the free world and his wife and a secret service detail lived there.

Q: It was a quick visit. I was in town to take my daughter Annie to some medical appointments. But I will be back. It may have led to my own recovery from coronary artery disease. In Eisenhower's Heart Attack, Clarence Lasby, M.D., states: "The eight floor became, in a way, the nation's first coronary care unit... where shifts of cardiologists, nurses, technicians, medical corpsmen, dietitians, cooks, and security staff were present on a 24-hour basis to serve the patient and his family."

A: I love historic sites and museums. I'm curious. Alive and curious. Thanks, Ike.

Friday, January 06, 2017

Readers can still find an epiphany in this post-truth world

Remember the impact of The Matrix when it debuted in 1999? The "Matrix" was the false reality created by machines. Humans lived in this manufactured reality. The scary truth is that humans lived in pods where their bodily fluids and brain waves were farmed as power sources by the machines. Neo (Keanu Reeves) suspects there is something wrong in this world. He gets the lowdown when he joins with Morpheus (Laurence Fishburne) and other rebels to upset the status quo.

The film boasted a cool cast and neat-o special effects. But its core was an old theme: Things are not what they seem. People are not whom they seem to be. In Hitchcock's Strangers on a Train  Shadow of a Doubt , Charlie is not the kindly uncle that his niece Charley thinks he is. In Chinatown, detective Jake Gittes finds out once again that things are not what they seem in Chinatown or San Pedro or anywhere else.

A well-worn theme. As in our recent presidential election, things are not what they seem. This liberal voter thought that his country of birth was a rational place that would elect the experienced person. As I told my sister Molly, who works in Italy, there was no way that Trump would be elected. Molly was telling me that Italians thought that Trump was a buffoon, an idiot, a flim-flam man. He was -- and is. But somehow, enough voters bought the act to make him president. They bought the fact that Trump was Professor Harold Hill and not, well, Donald Trump. Does that make them stupid, gullible or hopeful?

I have read many columns explaining the 2016 elections. The best are thoughtful examinations of the national psyche. They come from reputable sources such as the New York Times, The Atlantic, Los Angeles Times, Salon. The gap between Republicans and Democrats is unbridgeable. It was a battle between urban liberals and rural conservatives and the latter won. The working classes hate privileged liberals such as Obama and Clinton, even when they come from (as Obama did) modest roots. Sen. Bernie Sanders contends that the Democrats sold out to the moneyed elites and forgot the middle class, even though many middle class voters in Rust Belt states voted for a member of New York City's moneyed elite. Go figure.

Although our new president doesn't read, I do. I guess I will keep reading until this all makes sense. Or not. I am a bit tired of reading critiques of the election. Most of my reading from this point on will be in fiction and poetry. Today is the feast of Epiphany, or as we called it in Catholic school, that day we get off after Christmas vacation. I learned in religion class that epiphany means "revelation." This according to the Fish Eaters blog:
As described on the page on Twelfthnight, this Feast -- also known as the . "Theophany" or "Three Kings Day" -- recalls Christ revealing Himself as Divine in three different ways: to the Magi, at His Baptism, and with His miracle at the wedding feast at Cana.
I learned today on Writer's Almanac that Epiphany also figures heavily in a James Joyce story:
James Joyce’s famous short story “The Dead” is set at a party for the Feast of the Epiphany. The story ends: “His soul swooned slowly as he heard the snow falling faintly through the universe and faintly falling, like the descent of their last end, upon all the living and the dead.” Joyce also gave us a secular meaning of “epiphany,” using the word to mean the “revelation of the whatness of a thing,” the moment when “the soul of the commonest object [...] seems to us radiant."
I just finished Colson Whitehead's radiant novel The Underground Railroad. An incredible book. Does it help me understand the state of the U.S. in 2017? Our country's history is complicated, much more complicated than Lynne Cheney or Bill O'Reilly would have us believe. U.S. history is messy. Brutish and transcendent. The Underground Railroad pulls no punches when it comes to slavery's realities. But Whitehead adds some magical-realism elements that makes it much more than an anti-slavery screed. I can't give away the ending. That wouldn't be fair to millions of people who have yet to discover the book. Here is one tiny clue. The author is also interested in Manifest Destiny. Important to all Americans but especially to those who live in the Rocky Mountain West. Manifest Destiny leads us right to Wounded Knee and Little Bighorn and broken treaties and North Dakota's Standing Rock protests. Current events. And the timeliness of great fiction.

And poetry? More about that in my next post.

Wednesday, January 04, 2017

Which side are you on, boys?

I admired Len Edgerly's column Tuesday on Medium: "Dalton Trumbo: 'It will do you no good to search for heroes and villains.' " It's notable in its restraint, a parable for our times. It's about screenwriter Dalton Trumbo and the 2015 film that portrays his run-in with the Hollywood Blacklist of the 1950s. Len is a fine writer and someone I worked with in the arts for many years in Wyoming. His post includes excerpts from a speech Trumbo delivered in 1970 that looked back upon the blacklist era. It's notable that he delivered this speech during another time when young men were once again trying to sort heroes from villains.
The blacklist was a time of evil. And no one who survived it came through untouched by evil. Caught in a situation that had passed beyond control of mere individuals, each person reacted as his nature, his needs, his convictions, and his particular circumstances compelled him to. 
It was a time of fear. And no one was exempt. Scores of people lost their homes. Their families disintegrated. They lost — and in some, some even lost their lives. 
But when you look back upon that dark time, as I think you should every now and then, it will do you no good to search for heroes or villains. There weren’t any. There were only victims. Victims, because each of us felt compelled to say or do things that we otherwise would not, to deliver or receive wounds which we truly did not wish to exchange. 
I look out to my family sitting there, and I realize what I’ve put them through. And it’s unfair. My wife, who somehow kept it all together, amazes me. And so what I say here tonight is not intended to be hurtful to anyone. It is intended to heal the hurt, to repair the wounds which for years have been inflicted upon each other and most egregiously upon ourselves.
I know a few things about Trumbo. He was born in Montrose, Colorado, grew up in Grand Junction, and went to school for two years at CU-Boulder where the "free speech fountain" is named after him. That namesake fountain sometimes inflames the passions of CU conservatives and, yes, conservatives are allowed into Boulder just as liberals are allowed to dwell in Cheyenne. For now, anyway.

Trumbo was a commie or at least a fellow traveler. Those terms were used to brand liberals or progressives during the Cold War. Baby Boomers know the sting of those labels. Most people didn't lose careers after being publicly branded a communist, as did Trumbo. He resurrected his career by using aliases, even earned two Academy Awards, one using a fake name and one using a "front." When he openly won scriptwriting Oscars for Spartacus and Exodus in 1960, the blacklist was officially over.

But he paid a price. Was he a hero? Maybe not. Hero, of course, is used indiscriminately these days and has lost its meaning. Ditto for villains. I volunteer for Cheyenne's Old-Fashioned Summer Melodrama. The plot is a fiction wherein the hero rides to the rescue and rescues the damsel in distress who has been tied to the railroad tracks by the mustachioed villain in the black cape. We cheer for the hero and boo the villain.

Were it only that simple.

Len and I and many others were college freshman in 1969 trying to sort friend from foe. My U.S. Navy ROTC commandant at the University of South Carolina was a Marine colonel whose son had been killed in Vietnam. He told me that the Viet Cong were the bad guys which was why us -- the good guys -- had to fight and possibly die in the jungles of Southeast Asia. President Nixon, my future commander-in-chief, said the same thing. So did the members of the "best and brightest" brain trust who designed the foolproof Vietnam War strategy. Many of them were Harvard grads.

The SDS, at Harvard and on my campus, said that the U.S. was waging an immoral and unjust war and soldiers were baby killers. Some young women on campus thought that we midshipmen looked dashing in our uniforms. Others would not give us the time of day. Some campus longhairs spurned us buzzcut guys. Others were happy to share a joint with us, even friendship.

Most of us felt we had to choose sides. That was difficult if you planned a military career. Your military leader said do this and you did it. Our civilian leaders said do this and you should do it but was it the right thing? Our fathers were all World War II veterans, guys that had saved us from the Nazis. These guys were our heroes. Wasn't it our turn next?

"Which side are you on?" That's a famous union organizing song by Florence Reece, wife of union organizer Sam Reece. The chorus asks a key question, one that many of us have been asked over the years. We may be asked again, here in 2017:
"Which side are you on boys?
Which side are you on?
Which side are you on, boys?
Which side are you on?"
If you were organizing for the union in 1931 in Harlan County, Kentucky, whose side would you be in? When mine owners sent the sheriff to arrest Sam Reece, he fled to the hills. Union organizers sometimes ended up dead in mysterious circumstances. Who were the good guys then? Many musicians have sung "Which Side Are You On?", including Pete Seeger and Billy Bragg. This rousing song urged audience to take a side, whether it was during a union battle, the civil rights struggle or the Vietnam War. Or now.

In his column, Len writes that his father sat him down and told him that he would cease to pay for college if his son became one of those campus protesters. My father, formerly a Democrat, had become a "Southern Strategy" Nixon man in 1968. That year, my father sat me down and informed me that he had lots of kids to feed (nine including me) and that I would have to figure out my own way to get to college. He urged me to go to Annapolis or get an ROTC scholarship to the university of my choice. Become an officer, said this former Army dogface, sail the ocean blue and stay far away from Vietnam.

I was only an alternate for the U.S. Naval Academy but my book smarts helped me land an ROTC scholarship. In January of 1971, the government took away my scholarship for some bad choices I had made. I could say I was the victim but that's not true. Several cultural waves broke over me and I got swept up in the currents. As a surfer, I should have known the dangers. Losing my scholarship would have forced me to drop out and instantly be eligible for the draft. My father, who'd just lost his job, borrowed a semester's worth of tuition from his parents. "No son of mine is going to Vietnam," he said.

I chose a side. My father chose a side. We all do. Even not choosing a side is making a choice.

Many years from now, someone might ask this grizzled old guy: Who were the good guys and bad guys during the chaos created by a Donald Trump presidency? My answer may be this: "It will do you no good to search for heroes and villains."

The questioner might persist: Which side were you on? Did you choose?

I chose.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Will Radio Free Internet survive?

Great to see the return of fellow prog-blogger Jeran Artery of Cheyenne. For years, Jeran served as the public face of Wyoming Equality, the interviewee you often saw on TV news when LGBTQ rights were being debated in Wyoming. A passionate spokesperson for the gay community, he also is my friend. Is he upset about the impending Trump presidency? Go to Out in Wyoming and find out. You also can find a link to his blog on my sidebar.

What will blogging bring in 2017? Those progressives pissed off about the political turn of events will have plenty of blog fodder. Late-night comedians, bloggers, political junkies all have plenty to joke about. None of the really cool music groups want to perform for the Trump inauguration. Ha, ha. None of Trump's appointments to top cabinet posts have the required experience. LOL. Trump daily shows his ignorance on Twitter. Ho ho ho.

As we discovered during the campaign, none of that matters. We live in a post-factual world now in the U.S. Trump lies, Liberals chortle merrily and point this out, and nothing happens. Trump believes all of the stuff he said to those sign-waving supporters at rallies from Dallas to Detroit. He plans to do it all. That's not funny.

But humor is a weapon. So are words. Will Radio Free Internet survive? Hard to say. Part of Trump's success was the viral spread of fake news and lies and half-truths. Can he shut down the prog-bloggers without shutting down the wingnuts? Will we be forced off the web and into an era of samizdat? Keep those printing presses handy!

Vladimir Bukovsky, one-time Soviet dissident and no liberal (he's a senior fellow at the reactionary Cato Institute in D.C.), summarized it as follows (from Wikipedia): "Samizdat: I write it myself, edit it myself, censor it myself, publish it myself, distribute it myself, and spend jail time for it myself."

Self-publishing and self-distribution are all the rage in our DIY society. Perhaps samizdat will catch on in Moscow, Idaho, as it once did in that other Moscow.

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Four years after the Day of the Widowmaker

It began with a hallucination.

Flashback, I thought, after-effects of my misspent youth.

My vision lit up with sparkles and crinkles, as if I was being wrapped in silver Christmas wrapping paper. Me, a present for someone, or maybe for myself. It should have been the ER, but I didn't realize that yet.

I had been having these visions for weeks. They didn't appear as I climbed the steps to my office and the downtown parking garage. I did have some shortness of breath but I ascribed that to lack of exercise and the ritual packing on of holiday pounds. I'm going to get back to the Y at the first of the year, I told everyone. Really -- I mean it.

Four years ago today I sat at my desk. The crinkly vision subsided, replaced by a horrible stomach pain. Uh oh, I thought. The dreaded cruise ship virus that was a plague in Cheyenne that winter, even though very few cruise ships dock at Port Cheyenne. My boss had said she'd returned home a few days earlier to find her husband curled up on a ball on the floor. He had a stomach ache. Rita got him to the car and then the ER. The docs pronounced norovirus. Sure enough, at home two hours later, the symptoms exploded in living color. I didn't have to ask for details.

My stomach ache led me to the restroom several times but no explosions. I decided to go home. I had plenty of sick hours. I was off the next day for my birthday. I didn't want to be sick for my 62nd birthday.

I was. Went to the doc. He said I had the norovirus and gave me a shot for nausea. The EKG machine was right outside his office. He could have put that to use and found the problem. But I had no history of heart problems. And a stomach ache was not one of the symptoms usually described in American Heart Association literature. I stayed home, nursing my stomach ache. The day after Christmas, I revisited my doc and complained of congestion. He sent me to X-ray. The pictures showed congested lungs. Pneumonia, he pronounced, and sent me to the pharmacy to pick up a supply of antibiotics.

A week later, I was in an ambulance screeching its way to the ER. After an EKG and series of X-rays, the results were in. I had -- and was having -- a heart attack. The cardiologist said I had a blockage of my left anterior descending (LAD) artery. I am an educated person, curious to a fault, but I didn't know that I had such an artery. The artery, of course, knew about me. Later, after surgery, I discovered that an LAD heart attack is happily referred to as "widowmaker." The surgery came two days later, after the docs and drugs took care of my congestive heart failure that had looked like pneumonia, at least to one practitioner.

Widowmaker. I was lucky. Blessed, too, as Widomaker is very efficient at its task of killing you. Once my lungs were decongested, I received an angioplasty and a big stent at the junction of my LAD. Six months later, I was the proud recipient of an ICD -- an implantable cardioverter defibrillator -- due to damage sustained by my heart muscle during my two-week-long heart attack. A bedside monitor keeps track of my rhythms and arrhythmia. I lost weight. I exercise. I eat sensibly. Take my meds. All the things I should have been doing before my very expensive heart attack.

I retired in January. I have had many fine days to write and travel and garden and read. On warm summer days, I sit on my back porch, look out over the garden, inhale deeply and thank God and medical science that I am still here.