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To the people who want to take “This land is your land, this land is my land” out of copyright: there’s really no need. I bet Woody’s heirs would be glad to let you use it if you just use ALL the verses he wrote:

There was a big high wall there that tried to stop me;
Sign was painted, it said private property;
But on the back side it didn’t say nothing;
That side was made for you and me.

In the shadow of the steeple I saw my people,
By the relief office I seen my people;
As they stood there hungry, I stood there asking
Is this land made for you and me?

Nobody living can ever stop me,
As I go walking that freedom highway;
Nobody living can ever make me turn back
This land was made for you and me.

Mirrored from Dichroic Reflections.


who will be left to speak for you?

First, because I want to say a thing I think is important and I don’t want to be misunderstood: Black lives matter.

Of course all lives matter, but Black lives are at an unfair and unwarranted level of risk today in the US (and some other countries); that’s why we need the #Blacklivesmatter movement and slogan.

So I am trying to strengthen, not weaken, that movement’s ability to argue when I point out that some of its activists seem to have a far rosier picture of where society is right now on other issues than reality justifies.

In recent days I’ve seen people trying to explain why Black lives matter with claims like “You wouldn’t have walked into Orlando right after the shooting saying Straight lives matter!’ ” or “You don’t go to a breast cancer fundraiser and shout ‘What about other cancers?’ or ‘Heart attack victims matter too!’ ”

Sorry to say it, but yes. Yes, some people would say those things, because I’ve heard and seen them.

I’m not saying in any way that anyone should relax the fight to value black lives. I am REALLY not saying “You don’t have it so bad, other people have problems too.” Racism in the US is a real and desperate problem – I do believe we’ve come a long way, but we’ve still got miles to go. (And backlash is a problem too, in any advancement in social justice.) What I’m saying is, bigotry is out there and it’s widespread – don’t underestimate how many facets it has. Prejudices are intertwined. That’s why the fight for justice is personal for all of us – because if you let hatred go unchallenged today, it’s coming for you tomorrow.

ETA: Thinking about this a little more, now I’m in a logical bind – because I don’t believe everybody has to fight every issue, every time. None of us have infinite energy, and we’re each liable to be most effective fighting for the cause that speaks to us. So I’m not trying to imply that every #BlackLivesMatter activist needs to put in equal time on queer rights or vice versa, just trying to say that none of us can get away with saying “that cause doesn’t matter because it doesn’t affect me”. I think it has to be more like “I choose to put my energy here where I think my efforts matter most – but I respect the people fighting this other battle; they are my comrades in arms and I will support them and speak up for them.”

Mirrored from Dichroic Reflections.


Black people.
BLACK people.

Usually when we(1) say that phrase we’re stressing the first word – the thing that the people it describes have in common, that brings them together. And they did come together last night, along with allies of other ethnicities, in cities across the US to march for peace and for an end to unjust shootings: in New York, in Minnesota, in DC, in Portland, in Louisiana, Pennsylvania, Georgia and other states … and in Texas, where 12 police officers were shot.

And that’s where that second word comes in: because black people are PEOPLE. And like any other group of humans, the vast majority of them are good and decent people who want nothing more than to be left alone, to live their lives in peace, safety and as much lovingkindness as they can muster around them. As much lovingkindness as we can muster around us … because I stubbornly believe that most people, most of us of any shade of skin, are good and decent people. But like any other large group of people, among black people there are a few that are just bad, that have chosen to do evil.

What it means to have equality – equality under the law as well as in our hearts and minds – is to just those people, not by the color of their skins but by the content of their characters, as shown in their actions. Go ahead and judge the sniper in Dallas who shot those police officers. Judge and mete out punishment to anyone who may have acted to support him and who survived last night. Judge them, because their own actions have rendered them liable to that judgement. But don’t judge the peaceful marchers they used as cover; don’t assume that people who just want to be sure their sons will survive random traffic stops will support the killings of other mothers’ sons just because they happen to have similar pigmentation to the perpetrators of evil. The shootings in Dallas were an evil done by one or more individuals who should not be judged as a representative of their race.

Also, until they release names and photos, don’t assume the sniper’s victims were white. Nearly half of Dallas police officers are minority (as of 2011, the latest numbers I could find that showed members of the force and not just applicants – their applicant pool is even more diverse. Sure, he said he “wanted to kill white people” – but just as his general actions will probably turn out to hurt other people of color most in the long run, I wouldn’t be surprised if he wasn’t so fussy about his actual immediate victims.

(1) Note: When I say “we” here I mean all Americans of any shade of skin. And I am not predominantly addressing this screed to Black Americans, because most of them already know this shit, viscerally and through experience.

(2) Some days I really do wish I had a pulpit. Stepping down now.

Mirrored from Dichroic Reflections.


If you’ve had a sprained ankle, you might have gained some knowledge of what it would be like if you couldn’t walk. If you’ve been broke during college and didn’t have parents who could just send you money, you might have some idea of how it feels to be actually poor. If you’ve had a pet die, it might give you just a tiny bit of insight into the grief of someone who’s lost a child. In all of these cases, the situations are not the same – nowhere near the same – and sometimes the difference in scale is so great as to be a different thing entirely. Nonetheless, the more minor mishaps might just spur your empathy a bit, making it a little easier to imagine yourself in the shoes of someone with a bigger problem. Maybe you can’t really ever know what it’s like (and wouldn’t want to) but you are that nanometer closer.

That’s about how I feel about the bombing attacks in Medina yesterday.

Jewish women – women like me – have been physically attacked by Orthodox men for the crime of daring to be themselves and pray at the Western wall, in the “wrong” spot or while wearing the “wrong clothing”; as far as I know, none have been seriously hurt, but there’s that roiling mix of hurt and shame, to be attacked by those who are supposed to be our people, who claim to be upholding our holiest site. And obviously this can’t come anywhere near to the grief and shock of four deaths in Medina on top of a wave of killings in Istanbul, Bangladesh and Baghdad; I’m not making a comparison. All I’m saying is that I got burnt by a candle and it taught me just an infinitesimal bit about the heat of the sun.

My heart goes out to those who have lost someone they loved and also to those who are still in shock that groups who claim to be defending their faith could so defile it. I hope the killers and those who funded, trained and supported them will be brought to justice.

Mirrored from Dichroic Reflections.

the young Darwin

Reading Voyage of the Beagle in preparation for our Galápagos trip, I am finding the young Charles Darwin unexpectedly charming, in a sweet and very geeky wayk.

The man is (was, but as long as I’m reading the book he’s still alive and speaking) an absolute monster for detail; he can go on for pages being excited about the the structure of bits of plant floating on the ocean. Also, he is a ridiculous polymath; he appears to be familiar with every published book or paper of note dealing with any aspect of zoology or geology up to that time, and a lot of the ones about plants, though he claims not to be a botanist. (Part of this is cheating; after all, he spent a lot of time revising his diaries for publication after he got back to England, working with a bunch of emininent scientists – he might not have known all those publications while he was still out in the field).

But part of what makes him so endearing is, unless he’s got good grounds for a theory, he’s got absolutely no compunction against writing “I observed (this critter) do (this-and-such a thing), but why it does that I am completely ignorant.” And when he does have a theory he supports it with data. Sometimes he’s wrong (as with the idea that earthquake-prone regions have lakes of lava underneath a skin of rock, whereas more stable zones are on hard rock all the way down) but when he is, his hypotheses are reasonable or partially correct – not his fault if plate tectonics wasn’t figured out for another hundred-plus years).

He’s got the paternal colonialist attitudes you’d expect of an 1830s Englishman, but he never misses the chance to get in a dig at slavery and he’s absolutely gutted when, while he’s making wild gestures to get a local man to understand something, the man thinks Darwin is about to hit him and just braces himself to get hit without making any protest. (At one point he uses the phrase “people of colour” – I don’t know if that was a particularly respectful term at the time as it is now, but there were certainly a lot more pejorative ones he could have used.)

And also, without Darwin, I’d never have known that according to Dampier (who visited the Galápagos Islands in 1684), cactus used to be called dildoe-trees.

Mirrored from Dichroic Reflections.

  • Holy fucking shit. The US House Minority Leader James Clyburn has just said that he’s divided Martin Luther King Jr’s “Letters from Birmingham Jail” into 46 parts, and they’re going to read it out loud in the course of the sit-in tonight.</p>

    These are people intensely aware of their history and of the history they’re making. Just wow.

  • Twitter must be a very happy company right now (apparently they bought Periscope last year). You can’t buy publicity like having Congress members publicly praising you on live video feed!
  • OK, I’ve figured out how to get my Mac to sync to my Bluetooth headphones (I usually just use them with my phone or iPad). Because I need to erg, and it wasn’t going to happen while I was glued to the C-Span feed.
  • Granted I’m always open to excuses to procrastinate on erging, but “glued to the C-Span feed” is definitely a phrase I’ve never typed before!!!
  • Before I got home and could watch this, I was proud to find this photo of my Rep (Suzanne Bonamici) at the sit-in and to hear that both my Senators were there.</>
  • How cool is it that Senators are sending snacks??
  • OK, off to go erg – with headphones on and this screen sitting on the floor by my flywheel. I may add more comments to this post later.
  • Looks like this might just be a way for Ryan to get back control 🙁 I suspect the show’s over – but wow, while it lasted it was something
  • No, wait, they’re back! I have no idea what’s going on. OK, now the pirate feed is down, C-Span is back up, half the Congress is trying to conduct business as usual while the rest chant NO BILL, NO BREAK!

  • Mirrored from Dichroic Reflections.


    Good heavens. I’ve just gotten a credit on Amazon from the Apple price-fixing settlement … for a hair under $250. The time span the settlement covers falls within my expat years; I bought a *lot* of books in those years. What I’d liek to do with it is to keep it until September in hopes that a new Apple Watch will be released then – I’ve wanted one since they came out, but have been holding off in hopes of getting one with better battery life.

    In some ways I’d rather be spending my money on paper books instead; I don’t really have any level of confidence that my e-books will still be with me and readable in 20 years. I have to admit, though, that I find reading on the Kindle a lot more comfortable than printed books, especially if I’m doing something else at the same time. (I usually am – knitting, eating, brushing my teeth.) Until someone invents a drone that will follow me around (that is, follow me one step ahead, like a cat) holding my book open and turning pages when I gesture, the Kindle seems like the way to go. Yes, I am in bondage to the Evil Empire of Amazon.

    Mirrored from Dichroic Reflections.


    What I said on Facebook, about the guy who made 49 crosses and brought them to Orlando, to represent the people killed the last week:

    “If someone put up a cross for me when I died, I’d come back and haunt them!”
    I also noted that I do think the people wearing giant angel wings to shield mourners from picketers at the funerals are a more appropriate use of religious symbols – after all, you know in each case if they’re having the service at a place whose traditions include angels, like a church, synagogue or mosque.

    What I said on Facebook to respond to all the people who chided me because *clearly* the guy who made he crosses had nothing but loving intentions:

    “I understand that his intentions were good, and I’m certain that at least some (maybe most) of the victims would have appreciated the crosses. (I suspect all of them would have appreciated tolerance and outreach to the LGBT community while they were alive even more, but for all I know this guy already does that. Or maybe this was the event that first woke him to activism and he’ll be doing more in the future. ) I’m certainly not classing him as a hater. With all that said, though … You know how when you keep getting hot in one spot it gets sore, so that even a light tap or a friendly punch will hurt? For me and a lot of people in minority religions that kind of indifferent “hit”, where people just assume you’re Christian, happens day after day after day and creates a very sore spot. The Orlando episode so strongly highlights the need for us all to be not only sensitive to but even appreciative of each other’s differences, that the friendly “tap” of those crosses hits even harder than it might otherwise. So I’m not exactly condemning his actions, but I am saying ‘ouch!’ ”

    What I won’t say on Facebook but is the nonetheless:

    No, I don’t hate Christians. But do you know why I don’t? It’s because I work damn hard at not hating them, when so many seem to be going out of their way to make themselves either hateable (like the people who decry trans men and women in public bathrooms one week and are saying “we are Orlando” the next) or at least intensely annoying (like those in this case who think it’s just fine and dandy to assume everyone is Christian, or that those who aren’t naturally would be fine with having the label of a religion that’s not theirs being put on them when they can no longer speak for themselves – right after being killed for just being themselves, in another way. One of the ways I do this is to remind myself of the number of Christians I know who are not like that, who try to live by what Jesus did and said instead of using his name as an excuse for doing whatever the hell they want to do and hating anyone who does differently. We have a word, heteronormative, for those who try to describe the world as a place where it’s acceptable and respectful to assume everyone you might meet is straight. And the people who use that word are generally using it to make the point that it is NOT OK to make that assumption. For all I know, everyone killed at Pulse might well have identified as Christian – after all, it was Latin night and a high percentage of Latin@s do come from a Christian background(1). But not everyone sticks with the religion they’re born to, not everyone there was necessarily Latin@,, and most important, “a high percentage” is not synonymous with “all”. A lot of people are talking about tolerance and appreciation of diversity this week. It sure would be nice to see some of that in action.

    (1) by “Christian background” I mean both Catholics and Protestants. I will not even get into the argument with people like the guy last week who told me the Pope is not a “real” Christian.

    Mirrored from Dichroic Reflections.


    There *is* something you can do

    It’s a bit depressing to watch the reaction to this morning’s Orlando shootings. The right blames Obama. The left blames Trump. People screaming to ban refugees, ban guns, their solution will fix everything. It’s as if the most important thing in the wake of tragedy is to see who can seize it first to drive their own ends. I do believe in careful screening of refugees – which we already do. I do believe in sensible gun control – which we could do a lot better at. I just don’t believe that either – or any simple solution – is a complete fix to a complex problem.

    Meanwhile, still others are saying truly that offering hopes and prayers is just not enough anymore, and never really was, and they’re right.

    So what can you do to make a real difference? I do have an answer. This might not fix everything broken in the US, but it will at least help: civil discourse.

    You do it all the time at work anyway, right? Instead of arguing with your coworkers over every area in which you disagree, you focus on your common goals (work goals, in that case) and manage to work together on the things you agree on. Now try doing it with strangers, too. Do it with your political opponents. You do have a surprising number of goals in common, I promise.

    If you’re having a hard time thinking of examples, you’re not trying hard enough – and you’ve probably been part of the problem, at least so far. That doesn’t mean you need to continue that way. I can provide examples, and will in the comments if needed, but I’d almost certainly miss something important, which is why it matters for lots of people to be thinking about this stuff. Remember, you almost certainly do this in some arenas of your life. Just spread the net a little.

    Would this have saved the 50 people who died today in Orlando? I don’t know. Maybe not, maybe he was too far gone in hate. But if we quit sowing gardens with hate, mulching them with divisiveness and watering them with demogoguery, maybe we can grow a lot less of the fruit of evil.

    (Also posted to Facebook.)

    Mirrored from Dichroic Reflections.


    and on the medical front

    In other news, I had an odd but ultimately useful followup visit with my gastroenterologist yesterday.

    First I waited 10-15 minutes in the waiting room, because they tell you to show up 15 minutes early even though all I had to do was confirm I’m on the same meds. Then the nursing assistant showed me into a room, took my weight, blood pressure and pulse, and left, saying it would be a few minutes because the doctor was just returning from the hospital (across the street). Half an hour later (luckily they had decent magazines) I walked out into the corridor to ask what was going on. The scheduling person nearby asked what was the issue and started to check with the assitant, but right then the doctor finally rushed in. He stopped somewhere first (presumably to wash his hands and put his stuff down) then came in. So I said, “Do I get a rebate on this visit?” pointing out that for my previous visit there he’d charged $450 or so for a very brief consult (I walked in, told him my symptoms and family history, said I thought I needed a colonoscopy, and he agreed and sent me to the scheduler.) And then he said “Well, this one will be free.”


    Of course I protested and said I wanted to pay what was fair, but he stuck to it – I have never had a doctor do anything like that before.

    Anyway, then we had a very useful visit. The upshot is that I had a couple polyps, one large, that were benign but were of a type that can potentially become cancerous so I have to go back in 3 years. They were removed and everything is fine, so this is just to check it stays fine. He also discussed my IBS and had a useful suggestion (I wasn’t going to bring up, because I didn’t expect anything much could be done and mine isn’t bad enough to take any drastic steps but he had a non-medication suggestion that might help). He explained all his reasons, and didn’t dumb anything down or brush me off, so overall I was very happy.

    I thought maybe he’d given up the “freebie” idea but he mentioned it again on the way out, and when I protested, just said, “I want to keep you coming back!”

    So, you know, wow. Guess I will be going back.

    Mirrored from Dichroic Reflections.