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As long as lawmakers and courts insist that what James Madison had in mind with the Second Amendment was unlimited weaponry for the likes of Nikolas Cruz and Adam Lanza, we’re going to have to hit the gun lobby and its pals in the pocketbook. Some of the scummiest of those pals are the people who use the airwaves and internet to claim that these killings are hoaxes.

I’m happy to note that some of the worst sites generating and promoting fake stories–Gateway Pundit and InfoWars, for example–have no actual advertisers. Gateway Pundit advertises one religious pamphlet by the site owner’s twin brother, and InfoWars sells a brain supplement (hold the jokes, please) and a toothpaste, fluoride free, of course, that seem to be manufactured by InfoWars. Breitbart appears to have no remaining advertisers. But some other sites do get advertising money from actual companies. So I took a few minutes today to breathe deeply, overcome my nausea, and tell these companies what I think about that.

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(NOTE: Earlier, I had the wrong e-mail address here; it was the support address for a company that distributes Berkey Water systems, and is not in charge of advertising decisions. The below address is the manufacturer’s.)

To: Customerservice@berkeywater.com

To the chief executive of Berkey Water Filter Systems:

I was appalled to read articles on NaturalNews.com promoting the idea that the survivors of the mass shooting in Parkland, FL, are actors and that the entire event is a fake staged by gun reform advocates. Accusing traumatized, injured and murdered children of fakery is about as low as public so-called debate gets.

I notice that you advertise there, and I hope you will immediately withdraw your ads and stop supporting this revolting site with your money. I am posting this letter on my blog and will post your reply there when I receive it.

Sincerely,
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To the directors of Food Rising:

I was appalled to read articles on NaturalNews.com promoting the idea that the survivors of the mass shooting in Parkland, FL, last week, are actors and that the entire event is a fake staged by gun reform advocates. Accusing traumatized, injured and murdered children of fakery is about as low as public so-called debate gets.

I notice that you advertise there, and I guess your partnership with the author, Mike Adams (the “Health Ranger”), is very close since he engineered your grow boxes. Maybe you are a one-person operation and he is it, for all I know. If that is not the case, and you are in fact dedicated to food innovation, I hope you will immediately withdraw your ads from NaturalNews.com and stop supporting this revolting site with your money.

I am posting this letter on my blog, sermonsinstones.com, and will post your reply there when I receive it.

Sincerely,
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To the owners of Zeta Clear,
The website therightwingextremist.wordpress.com specializes in “articles” such as the claim that the slaughter of schoolchildren in Newtown, CT, was a fake. Apparently it is not horrible enough to make such a claim, and add to the unimaginable suffering of the parents and other loved ones of these children, so the author prints one child’s name over and over with the ridiculous assertion that his death was a hoax, simply because a Pakistani mourner of the children killed in Peshawar, Pakistan, expressed solidarity by posting his photo alongside those of some of the Peshawar victims. Simple explanations have no effect on the cruelty and willful obtuseness of “The Right Wing Extremist.”

I notice that you are his sole advertiser. I hope you will immediately withdraw your ads and stop supporting this revolting site with your money. Accusing traumatized, injured and murdered children of fakery is about as low as public so-called debate gets.

You claim you will respond to phone calls and e-mails, but you don’t actually post an e-mail address. So I am calling you and also posting this letter on my blog, sermonsinstones.com, and will post your reply there when I receive it.

Sincerely,

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Each year for the season of Lent, since 2011, I have undertaken three spiritual practices: one subtractive, one additive, and one giving.

This year, as I have done a few times before, I will subtract social media: no Facebook or Twitter. (I’m not cool enough for Instagram, so nothing to give up there.) It’s good for my soul.

For the additive practice, I’m participating in #UULent’s photo-a-day practice. This is in direct contradiction of my subtractive practice, since I’ve proposed to my congregation that we post our photos on the congregation’s Facebook site–sharing a spiritual practice really helps it stick. However, I think it’s in the spirit of my social-media fast if I do nothing on Facebook other than post my photos and look at others’. I’m also encouraging folks to post selected photos (only their own) on the bulletin board between rooms 9 & 10 at UUCPA. When I did this (spottily) a couple of years ago, Barb Greve was someone I knew mostly by reputation and occasionally running into him at installations or ordinations, but currently, we are working together at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Palo Alto, so using a resource he created is extra special.

Last year I did art every day, and I would love to do it again, but along with the daily photo it seems too much. I’ll see.

And I always choose a cause to which to give money, and this year it was easy to choose: Black Lives of UU. The UUA has committed to raising $5.3 million for BLUU, and individual contributions are part of that work, so this is my mite. You can contribute yours at the BLUU website. I am excited, occasionally even hopeful, about the UUA’s renewed commitment to shift us away from the dominance of white culture and help us shake off the effects of white supremacy, and it will take thousands of us to realize this commitment.

We are each entitled to our own opinions, but not our own facts. The fact is that arming more citizens than are currently armed will not reduce the number of deaths by gun. You cannot point to any statistics, any other country, any studies that indicate otherwise–I know because I read the ones people link to, and they never say what the poster claims they say. In fact, the facts are that we have way too many guns for safety.

Two kids died and another 15 were wounded in the shooting at a Benton, Kentucky, school yesterday. It was the 11th shooting on a school campus in the first 23 days of this year, a tripling of the past several years’ rate of one such shooting per week. After the Benton murders, as always, there are people pleading with the president or the NRA to say something. This is counterproductive, because if the NRA or Trump offer any policy solution, it is always in the vein of “More guns in the hands of more people.” And along with them, hundreds of internet commenters emerge like worms after rain to claim that the problem is not enough guns.

I am sick of our treating these claims as if they have a shred of evidence to back them up. “More guns” is no more a strategy for reducing gun deaths than “Pray to the Tooth Fairy.” If it were, I would support it.

You who make this argument, and you who are silent as it rages, I am sure that we have something in common: you, too, would like to see fewer people die by guns in this country. Will you embrace the solutions that are proven to be effective?

ghost ship 1

Ghost Ship, marker on paper, approx. 4″x6″ (c) AZM December 2016

A year ago tomorrow, 36 people died in the Ghost Ship fire in Oakland. At the time I did these three drawings in my sketchbook. I was haunted by the stories of people being trapped, trying to flee the fire by going down a staircase that ended only in more fire.

The larger story, that haunted me at least as much, was (and is) the extreme scarcity of safe, affordable housing in our area. These people lived there because actual apartments, which have stricter codes, were out of reach to their budgets (as they are to an increasing number of Bay Area residents). Their landlord got away with housing them in a warehouse because everyone concerned wanted it to work, even though it wasn’t safe. The housing crisis is another rapidly narrowing space that leads to suffering and possible disaster.  I knew when I drew these that I wanted to do more, a piece with specific allusions to the cost and scarcity of decent places to live, the way people are trapped by a poverty we have created. I haven’t yet. But I am still haunted.

 

ghost ship 2

Ghost Ship 2, marker on paper, approx. 4″x6″ (c) AZM December 2016

ghost ship 3

Ghost Ship 3, marker on paper, approx. 4″x6″ (c) AZM December 2016

Yes, yes, condolence calls don’t bear much scrutiny and it’s time to stop analyzing what each of these poor people had to endure, or what they appreciated, about a call from our 45th (in chronology and rank) president. In a way this is a minor blip. Though of course it is not minor for the families, no one will die from a bad phone call, which is more than we can say for some of his other decisions. But it’s deeply significant for our country, the other countries of the world, and all of the billions of us who are affected by this man’s holding so much power.

1. Trump is the worst person in the world to deliver condolences. He has no capacity for empathy, he is completely clumsy with words (see: inability to distinguish between “He was willing to die for his country” and “He knew what he signed up for”) and has zero sense of what is appropriate to say when (see: same).

2. Trump, when criticized, immediately attacks others. Even if they are grieving Gold Star families.

3. Trump is a pathological liar: he lies constantly and in situations where his lies are easily exposed.

4. One of the many things he habitually lies about is his own generosity. He promises money, or claims to have given it, and then little of the money ever materializes. His charitable “foundation” is a scam.

5. He is desperate to be the unique, the best, the first. Other presidents didn’t make calls, he claims (of course they did). No other president writes a check for $25,000–or maybe what he means is, no previous president would have promised such a check and not send it until compelled by public exposure, which may be true. This narcissistic neediness causes harm to other people, such as the grieving father he strung along. What might be even worse is that Trump seems not to perceive that a promise is not actually meaningful unless fulfilled; words are not enough. No wonder he stiffs creditors, reneges on contractors and now, as president, blithely breaks treaties.

6. When caught in a lie, it’s also part of his m.o. to pass the buck like it’s a hot coal. In this case, he immediately blamed the fabrication on “his” generals. “I was told,” he said. He lacks the most elementary courage needed for leadership.
7. A president does not need to call each family that has lost a servicemember; a letter, crafted by a staffer, is fine. Likewise, some people will appreciate the call, some will be angry and bitter, and many will not remember a word. They’re in shock and grief, damn it. There is no perfect, right thing to say–but there are many wrong things to say. There’s a “first, do no harm” principle to such things that he does not grasp.

8.  In no circumstances is it acceptable to complain about this duty. Again: if you don’t know that “this is one of the hardest things a president has to do” is not a complaint, whereas “Now, it gets to a point where, you know, you make four or five of them in one day. It’s a very, very tough day” is a complaint, then it’s best to just keep your mouth shut.

9. People who have lost a child are not “politicizing” the incident by talking about it in a political context. You can’t politicize what is already political, and what could be more political than asking someone to die for his country’s aims? They are not tarnishing the sacredness of their sacrifice by pointing out its connections to policies, parties, or politicians. I lost my last scrap of respect for John Kelly yesterday when he implied the Khans had done so.

When I was a kid growing up, a lot of things were sacred in our country. Women were sacred, looked upon with great honor. That’s obviously not the case anymore as we see from recent cases. Life, the dignity of life, is sacred. That’s gone. Religion, that seems to be gone as well. Gold Star families, I think that left in the convention over the summer.

If there’s something or someone else he could have meant by this reference to Gold Star families, please enlighten me.

10. Don’t even get me started on a so-called leader who keeps trotting out “the dog ate my homework”-level excuses. Again: leadership skills 101.

11. And the whole thing blew up because Trump didn’t want us to hear about Niger. So: what are we doing in Niger? And why was it such a secret? I was hoping the silence was only because he couldn’t bear to report a failure, but it’s become apparent that this is a secret mission. So what’s going on there? Did Congress know about it?

I know there is a long list of things to worry about that Trump is doing vis-a-vis Puerto Rico alone, yet this little exchange may be what frightens me the most. (Transcript from the Washington Post.)

THE PRESIDENT, in Puerto Rico: I want to thank the Coast Guard. They are special, special, very brave people . . . . Would you like to say something on behalf of your men and women?

AIR FORCE REPRESENTATIVE: Sir, I’m representing the Air Force.

THE PRESIDENT: No, I know that.

Our daughter used to do this. 

“Mama, my lunch isn’t in my backpack.” 

“Yes it is, honey, see, right here.” 

“I know.”

It drove us nuts. It peaked at about seven or eight, I would say. Now, at ten, she knows not to say “I know” to a fact that she has just demonstrated she doesn’t know. Yet the President of the United States (age 71) is too emotionally stunted to utter the words, “Ah, so sorry, my mistake. The Air Force. Please, tell us about what your people are doing.” 

How can such a person lead? He is constantly boxed in by the need to protect his fragile ego. How is he ever going to change course about big things if he can’t even cope with being wrong about something as small as this? And how can he have a reality-based policy about  anything if his response to a mildly embarrassing fact (mixing up Air Force and Coast Guard uniforms) is to tell a roomful, a worldful of people, “You didn’t see what you saw. My version of reality is the true one”? 

Joy spotted a sign for an etching workshop here in Oaxaca (grabado en metal, in Spanish): three days, five hours a day, various techniques. Investigation confirmed that the artist, Marco Velasco, would gladly teach a ten-year-old how to work with acid, something not all printmaking workshops here have been willing to do, so all three of us signed up.

The germ of this piece came to me seven years ago; it even inspired me to begin learning GNU Gimp (open-source Photoshop) because I envisioned it as a digital collage. But I didn’t learn how to make digital collages (yet), and the piece sat in my sketchbook and a corner of my mind. When I learned about the variety of marks one can make with etching, it emerged and said “make me a print!”

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Colony Collapse Disorder, etching, about 4″ x 8″, (c) Amy Zucker Morgenstern July 2017

 

It involved fun research. I did not know that the headache-medicine people, Bayer, own a company called Bayer CropScience, soon to acquire Monsanto. Nor that it is one of the biggest manufacturers of neonicotinoids, the pesticides that work by attacking insects’ neurological systems, and of course an ardent advocate of the claim that they have no significant effect on bees. Nor that Monsanto has decided to protect Bayer’s flank by producing a new kind of bee. (It’s the Roundup Ready corn of the insect world. Make poison, spread it on everything, and when you discover that it kills some species you like, instead of changing the poison or ceasing to spread it, alter the species.) Bayer’s logo even resembles the cross-hairs of a rifle, a pleasing bit of serendipity. I also did not anticipate that looking up images of the Gadsden flag, the one that says “Don’t Tread on Me,” would cause websites full of US flags and pugnacious political mottos to pop up in my ads, but of course it did.

I think the founding principles that united the American colonies left us particularly vulnerable to attacks like the one on the bees (and our food sources, and the entire web of plant and animal life), but these ideas are still too abstract for art; I don’t have the image yet to express what I think is threatening to cause the collapse of the human colonies. Maybe there will be future works in a series.

I know for certain that I want to do more etching. I loved the techniques. You can scratch into the varnish that will resist the acid, or use a different kind of varnish and draw right onto it (the smudges in the lower left come from my leaning on the plate as I did that, a mistake), or scratch into the plate itself. And make areas of darker and lighter tone by how long you leave the plate in the acid, and by gently sanding the plate’s surface. Unlike relief techniques like linocut, where you think in negative (what you want to be dark, you leave behind as you carve), the marks you make on an etching plate will be dark. This makes it possible to transfer images to the plate in my own drawing style. The three days involved painting, drawing, scratching, sanding–I enjoyed every minute.

I’ve been looking forward to this. “You’ll Be Back” is the first song from Hamilton that I heard, and it was so incisive and funny that I was immediately won over. I had to hear the rest. It is the “love” song of an abusive partner to the one who’s finally had the nerve to walk out. Isn’t that the perfect metaphor for the relationship between an empire and its colonials? “I love you too much to let you go,” the partner threatens. “I’ll see you dead first.” Or, if he’s the king of England,

I will send a fully armed battalion to remind you of my love. . . .

I will kill your friends and family to remind you of my love.

I laughed out loud–the connection was so obvious and so new to me. What is a war against rebellious colonists if not an attempt to kill a former partner’s friends and family?

But I’m getting ahead of myself; the troops arrive in the next song. Let’s spend some time with King George. In my opinion, Lin-Manuel Miranda is needlessly apologetic about working him into the play. No, he and Hamilton never met; no, he did not show up in New York (or even New Jersey) to give his personal opinion of the revolution; but to me, his presence in the play is a “meanwhile, back in England,” and that perspective is fascinating. How did the revolution look from the outside? The king’s songs give us that chance to step back and review, which becomes particularly important when the rebels, against all odds, actually win. But that’s even further along. On to the music.

Tory politics hearken back to the past, and the music of “Farmer Refuted” underscores Seabury’s views, as a harpsichord playing Baroque fillips proclaims a nostalgia for an earlier time. It concludes with a royal fanfare, the command to the crowd–“Silence!”–and the announcement that the king has sent a message. The king’s introduction is accompanied by solo piano, but the harpsichord re-enters shortly, and hilariously, it’s got the beat of a British invasion band. Of course, this is the original British invasion. My wife, who knows music far better than I do, laughed at that point in the song and said, “Herman’s Hermits.” I don’t know a thing by Herman’s Hermits–are they the ones who did “I’m Henry the Eighth, I Am”?–but I recognize the sound, especially when the violins come swooping in straight out of a late Beatles album.

On the original cast recording, King George III is sung by Jonathan Groff. You may know him from Glee; my only acquaintance with him was as the voice of Kristoff in Frozen, where he is very funny but doesn’t get to strut his singing. In Hamilton he does, and boy does he strut. I love the shift from the falsetto (hello, John Lennon) in “You say my love is draining and you can’t go on” to the lusty, angry growl on “You’ll be the one complaining when I am gone.” At judicious moments like that “when I am gone,” he drops the assumed royal accent. The rest of the time, his voice is over-the-top aristocratic: “you’ll be beck” for “back,” “when push comes to shAHve” for “shove,” and a long, lovely roll of the “r” on “arrangement.”

The song’s title may be a prediction of the future, but the song’s backwards gaze intensifies even that of the Baroque “Farmer Refuted.” Abusers want their victims to remember the good old days of romance and roses, before the true nature of the relationship was revealed. King George uses the word “remember” four times in the first dozen lines.

You say
The price of my love’s not a price that you’re willing to pay
You cry
In your tea which you hurl in the sea when you see me go by
Why so sad?
Remember we made an arrangement when you went away
Now you’re making me mad
Remember, despite our estrangement, I’m your man
You’ll be back, soon you’ll see
You’ll remember you belong to me
You’ll be back, time will tell
You’ll remember that I served you well

Oh, I love that tea joke, and another historical reference he tosses off, “When you’re gone, I’ll go mad.” But I have to say that the madness jokes get a little wearisome; they appear in all three of the king’s songs, which is wildly clever but also mean, because King George III really did descend into mental illness later in his very long reign, and once you get past the glee at a dictator’s comeuppance, that’s not actually funny. My father reassures me that he recovered. (Now I am hearing Monty Python: “I got better.”)

Viva la British Invasion.

I keep trying to write long pieces about this and feeling like others have said the same thing better. So I will just put it in two sentences.

I am thrilled that the UUA Board has committed significant money to Black Lives of UU (BLUU); identified white supremacy as one of the biggest challenges facing us, and the dearth of leadership by people of color in high positions in the UUA itself as one of the expressions of that challenge; and chosen a three-person, all-people-of-color team for the acting presidency. This direction not only seems wise, prudent, and moral, but it gives me a surge of hope for the future of our faith.

When my daughter was very little, three or four years old, there was a conversation we would have all too often. I tried not to nag about minor dangers, preferring for her to learn safety through experience. But from time to time she would do something risky that could easily have been made less so, such as running down polished wooden stairs in her socks. “Be careful,” I would say. “Those socks are slippery on the stairs.”

Her almost invariable reply was: “I am being careful.”

“For example,” I would persist, “You could walk. Or take your socks off. Or hold on to the banister.”

“But I’m being careful!” she would say, hurtling down the slippery stairs in her slippery socks without a hand on the banister.

To her, “being careful” was something you did in your mind. Having declared the intention of carefulness, she could continue iffy actions without concern, as if the words were a magic spell. To me, the warning “be careful” implied action: if you want to be careful, you mitigate the risks by holding on or switching to bare feet. Otherwise, what you have in your mind doesn’t mean a thing.

Sometimes she fell and sometimes she didn’t, but the magical thinking wore off eventually, as it does. Magical thinking is common in young children–in fact, a key developmental stage–and they outgrow it. Except that I keep noticing it in adults when it comes to racism and white supremacy.

“I’m not being racist!” we white people tend to insist, holding up our good intentions as the magic amulet that will keep us from perpetuating white supremacy. But the intentions will not do that. Only our actions will.

If I feel like I’m opposed to white supremacy, if I want white supremacy to end, but I accept the lower car insurance premiums offered to me only because of my perceived race, or dismiss the abundant evidence of racist policing, or don’t take any action about redlining or hiring discrimination, then my actions are maintaining white supremacy.

The Unitarian Universalist Church of Palo Alto will shortly participate in the White Supremacy Teach In brought to us by the excellent work of Black Lives of UU, and I think that in my role of educating adults, I will emphasize this attention to action. (Dan Harper, our Minister of Religious Education, will be leading the children’s piece.) For too long, white conversations about racism have focused on what is within us, whether it’s guilt- or shame-inducing (“I had a racist thought! I’m bad!”) or a source of righteous pride (“I’m an anti-racist racist!”), and as far as I can tell, it has been largely counterproductive. So as I strive “to be the change I want to see” (Gandhi), I am trying to worry less about what is in my mind and heart, and focus more on what actions I am taking–or declining to take. William James observed, “Action seems to follow feeling, but really actions and feeling go together; and by regulating the action, which is under the more direct control of the will, we can indirectly regulate the feeling, which is not. Thus the sovereign voluntary path to cheerfulness, if our cheerfulness be lost, is to sit up cheerfully and to act and speak as if cheerfulness were already there.”

The sovereign voluntary path (what a great phrase!) to eradicating white supremacy from our hearts is to act and speak for justice and equality. Or, as I said ad nauseam to my child when she was small and prone to magical thinking: saying “I’m careful” doesn’t make you careful–grabbing the banister makes you careful! So: let’s do this thing. Right now, instead of thinking “How awful” about discrimination in car insurance–which is true, but does nothing for anyone–click on that link, and if your insurance company falls into the pattern, write to them pressing for a reversal. Here’s my letter. I expect I may need to send a follow-up, so I’ve put it on my calendar for 60 days from now.

[my address]

April 6, 2017

The Progressive Corporation
6300 Wilson Mills Rd.
Mayfield Village, Ohio 44143

Dear Sir/Madam,

I was impressed by the careful methodology of ProPublica’s investigation into whether car insurance companies charge some people more for liability insurance depending on their likely race:

https://www.propublica.org/article/minority-neighborhoods-higher-car-insurance-premiums-white-areas-same-risk

Being committed to the eradication of white supremacy, I naturally looked in the data for my own company, Progressive, and was dismayed to see that the disaparities in your liability premiums are striking, especially in Missouri. (The study only looked at four states.)

I know that unconscious bias can cause us to perpetuate white supremacy without intending to. Charging some people more for the same risk, depending only on where they live, is a textbook case of institutional racism, and it hurts people of color. I hope you will undertake a review of your premiums as quickly as possible (piggybacking on the research ProPublica did should expedite this process), correct the problem, and reimburse those customers who have been paying unfairly high premiums for years.

Please keep your customers informed of your actions on this matter. For my part, I will be asking ProPublica to look into home insurance to see if it is likewise biased.

Sincerely yours,

Amy Zucker Morgenstern

Or, you know, act on whatever aspect of white supremacy is most infuriating to you. Just act. And if you’re near Palo Alto, join us for the Teach In April 30.

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