‘This Isn’t Who We Are.’ Apparently, It Is

Make American Human

As if snatching children from trusting asylum-seekers and then losing track of them were not atrocious enough, now there’s a new horror happening in the land of the free and home of the brave.

Foreign-born military recruits who enlisted with a promise of U.S. citizenship upon completion of their service, are suddenly being discharged with little or no explanation. The only explanation is xenophobia, according to Margaret D. Stock, a retired Army Reserve lieutenant colonel and immigration lawyer who helped create the program that attracted these people. Known as the Military Accessions Vital to the National Interest (MAVNI ) program, it was created during the George W. Bush administration to recruit immigrant troops with valuable language and medical skills. More than 10,000 have joined, almost all in the Army. Our country’s thanks to them is to send them off to uncertain futures with questionable military records and unknown citizenship status.

I first became aware of this situation last night with an excellent piece by Joy Reid on MSNBC. Wanting to know more, I found two items in today’s New York Times, one on the news pages titled “They Came Here to Serve, But for Many Immigrants the Service Isn’t Interested” by Dave Phillips and the other an editorial on the OpEd page titled “Trump’s New Targets: Immigrants in the Military” by Rob Cuthbert.

I want to say, as I have repeatedly lately, “What is happening to us?” But I know. Ugly times.

At last week’s Families Belong Together demonstration, there was that sign, “Make America Kind Again.”  Another read “Make America Human Again.” I know we haven’t always been either. Only consider our history with Native Americans, African Americans, Japanese Americans and now Muslims and others trying to become Americans.

For most of my life, I’ve wondered how Germany and other fascist countries got to where they got in the 1930s and ’40s. I’ve read books and toured Holocaust museums in many cities, puzzling over what happens to good people who get caught up in bad times. (Scott Simon mentioned a few months back on NPR that 22 percent of Millennials never heard of the Holocaust.)

So I’ve wondered. And now perhaps I know.

 

My Old Passat — No Longer Passé

“Do you always look for things that legitimize your own ideas?” “Of course. Doesn’t everybody?”

I was alerting my daughter to a Los Angeles Times story describing a renewed interest in station wagons. Of course the cars mentioned were high end — in the $70,000 – $85,000 range with plenty of extra add-ons.

My own wagon is 11 years old and has recently been re-registered as “salvage,” which I think means it’s worth nothing. But it still runs well, and now that its body has had a makeover, it looks pretty good. And until I read the LA Times story, I’d been referring to it as “the last station wagon in America.” It is a VW Passat, a model that Volkswagen chose to kill a year or so ago but which a glance at the company’s website shows me has been reborn, sort of.

The Times story by Russ Mitchell highlights two luxury models from Jaguar and Volvo, but mentions Mercedes and Buick, along with Volkswagen, as other companies selling station wagons in the U.S., “prompted,” he writes, “by the steady success of the Subaru Outback.”  Having no interest in owning an SUV — my husband and I once turned one back at a car rental place (“You don’t like this car?” the agent asked incredulously), I thought the Outback would be the closest I could come to replacing my car when the time came.

And then here came Michell, the car reviewer, admitting to owning an SUV but writing, “I’ve always been partial to station wagons,” (Yes!) “and I’m glad to see more of them hitting the market.” He explains, “I enjoy driving, and station wagons, being lower to the ground, cruise more smoothly and handle curves with far more agility than a top-heavy SUV. Both cars hold the road like a sports sedan, but unlike with a sedan, I can fit a lot more junk in the back.”

Well yes, but besides junk, my wagon is useful for hauling groceries, cases of wine, packages for the post office, contributions for Goodwill, and until a couple of years ago, one 130-pound Great Dane.

So why the body makeover? In recent years, posts and similar stationary hazards have been jumping out at my car to the point where it was looking pretty shabby. And then I moved into an apartment building with a garage and an assigned parking space bordered on one side by two huge concrete posts. Being very aware of the nice-looking car in the adjoining space, I was carefully maneuvering mine into my space, making sure I was not too close to my neighbor, when my car and one of the posts kind of leaned into one another. No bang, just sort of a sigh. But when I exited the vehicle, I was horrified to see the entire back door on that side caved in.

I don’t think in all the years of car ownership, we ever put in a claim to the insurance company for something that was our fault, but this time I did. When the adjuster came to see the damage, he observed that, along with the many other dents, scrapes and loose-hanging parts, the car could easily be considered totaled.. Would I want that?  I said “Okay,” not realizing that would bring the “salvage” designation. Trying not to think how much the car cost when it was brand new, I used the insurance money to have the worst of the damages repaired. As for what will happen when it’s time to renew the insurance, in one of our current president’s favorite expressions, “We’ll see.”

VW Passat 1

 

Me & My MSNBC Friends

It’s always a comfort when something you have an affinity for — and which friends and family members imply you are addicted to — shows up as a page one feature in The New York Times Sunday Review section. Case in point: “The Age of the MSNBC Mom” by Kat Stoeffel.

Observing life these days in the home of her retired, empty-nester parents, Stoeffel notes that MSNBC reporters and commentators seem to have become an ubiquitous presence, whether speaking or muted on one TV screen or another, or by being increasingly referenced in mother-daughter conversations. Her mother, Maggie Stoeffel, has become an MSNBC mom: “a liberal woman whose retirement years coincide with the rise of Donald Trump and who seeks solace, companionship and righteous indignation in cable news.”  Her father, whom she describes as “a Republican-turned-independent, absorbed in his iPad pretends to be out of earshot.”

Like Maggie Stoeffel, MSNBC is not my only source of news. I start the day with NPR and, while the coffee brews, retrieve three daily newspapers to read (excessive, I know, but I’m a former journalist). After that, a news/politics junkie like me could spend the entire day with MSNBC and in fact, during my hospitalization a year ago, I complained loudly about the unfairness of providing TV that broadcast Fox News and not MSNBC.  But back in the land of the healthy, life intervenes and other things must be done. Nevertheless, I do tune in a lot.

As women in the past sometimes formed attachments to the characters in their daily soap operas, I consider the MSNBC anchors and their guests almost as friends. I notice when one changes a hairstyle or improves her makeup. But most important, are their words — intelligent, informed, frequently witty.  And they care fervently about our country and the direction it’s headed in. They are people I’d like to invite to dinner if I still gave dinner parties.

Since I live on the West Coast, I am able to eat lunch while watching the program of the delightful and continually astonished Nicolle Wallace, a Republican and alumna of the George W. Bush White House. She frequently invites as a guest her former colleague, GOP strategist Steve Schmidt, who managed John McCain’s presidential campaign and who has the further distinction of being the person who prevented Sarah Palin from forcing herself onto the stage when McCain delivered his concession speech. These days Schmidt’s anger about our current governmental situation is righteous, and his articulate rants about the danger to our democracy are suitable for framing.

After lunch, even though I’d love to continue watching Chuck Todd, Ari Melber, Chris Matthews et al, I try to hold off  until the 5 o’clock wine hour when I’m joined by Chris Hayes whose work I remember from The Nation magazine. Then I fix dinner with the brilliant Rachel Maddow, a onetime Rhodes Scholar, and eat dinner with Lawrence O’Donnell whose knowledge of the workings of Congress stems from his years as an aide to the late Daniel Patrick Monahan. And finally, wrapping it all up is “The 11th Hour with Brian Williams.” Except that here when it ends it’s 9 p.m., still plenty of time for reading.

When a friend questioned how I could stand all of this news and politics. I emailed back: “Not to preach, but to stay informed for the sake of our democracy. (Oh, I guess that is preaching. Sorry.)”

To Dye For

Dyeing 1My daughter invited me to attend a fabric dyeing workshop at a clothing manufacturing facility in Los Angeles’s fashion industry. We were greeted by Jodie Dolan, president and founder of the Dolan Group, a company with several brands including Dolan, 34°N118°W and Guest Editor, clothing that sells at Anthropologie, Barney’s, Nordstrom, Saks Fifth Avenue, Shopbob and boutique retailers. The program was part of a monthly series of craft events Dolan launched to raise funds and awareness for a project the designer has undertaken to help make life a little easier for some in Los Angeles’s burgeoning homeless population.

While 58,000 is the official count of homeless persons in Los Angeles County,  it is believed the unofficial count is more like 120,000 owing to the many people sleeping in their cars who do not get counted in the annual homeless census. And with LA’s Skid Row and the Fashion District operating in fairly close proximity, it was just a matter of time before the two communities would interact. Dolan herself began volunteering at the Monday Night Mission where she learned about the nonprofit’s Shower of Hope, a mobile truck and shower trailer that makes stops in two Southern California locations and offers 30 to 40 showers on Saturday mornings.

The next logical idea for people involved with clothing was to provide a way for homeless people to clean their clothes. Thus was born The Laundry Truck LA, a 301(c)(3) nonprofit founded by Dolan to provide washer/dryer sets that will operate four hours a day three to five days a week, totaling up to 5,000 loads per year.

The dyeing workshop was part of a fund-raising effort to raise $150,000 for a laundry truck and a year’s operating expenses. Dolan Handmade, the monthly craft workshops, is part of that effort. The Dolan Group will also donate a portion of  sales from its direct-to-consumer website, shopdolan.com, as well as a portion of sales from Dolan clothing sold at retailers.

Dyeing 2 At the workshop I attended, electric crock pots filled with natural dyes in several different shades stood ready, along with blank silk scarves and tote bags and an assortment of items for creating patterns on the fabric. Mimi Haddon, named the Dolan Group’s artist-in-residence, was also on hand to provide direction to those of us learning the techniques for the first time. An MFA candidate in fiber art at California State University, Long Beach, Haddon teaches textile art and natural dyeing classes at the Craft & Folk Art Museum in Los Angeles.

When our fabric reached the desired depth of color, we each removed our pieces to sinks to rinse in cold water and then hung them outside to dry where their bright colors and fanciful designs waved in the air, providing a cheerful addition to a stark industrial parking lot. Great fun. I might just do it again.

Dyeing 3

 

 

About All Those Guns, Here’s An Idea

Last Saturday, I’d planned to spend the day cleaning the apartment while listening to TV coverage of the March to Save Lives. I hadn’t so much as picked up a dust rag before the action on the screen caught my attention and held me transfixed for the rest of the day. Also in several instances, brought me to tears. It was such an impressive display by young people — teenagers and younger — brought together from all over the country, from inner cities and affluent suburbs, and places in between, representing different races and ethnicities, all united in the common conviction that gun violence must stop. They give hope for the future.

In the days after the March, praise was effusive for the young organizers and guarded optimism expressed that at long last some changes could possibly come about. I thought about all that lethal hardware, more than enough to arm every man, woman and child in the nation, with plenty left over to inflict on other countries. What could be done with it all?

And then I remembered the Flame of Peace Monument I saw in Timbuctu. It had been erected to mark the end of the Tuareg uprising in the 1990s. The Tuareg are descendants of nomadic  Berber camel drivers and traders who once roamed the Sahara and the Sahel, that great swath of Africa between the Sahara Desert and the green and forested areas to the south. They are dark-skinned with Caucasian features and frequently dress in long robes, called boubous, and with distinctive turbans that wind around the head and include a veil, called a tagelmoust that extends to cover the rest of the face. (I assumed the head-and-face-covering was designed as protection against the swirling desert sand, but research informed me that there was much more to it. Presumably, it also accommodates the social requirement of not showing one’s face to a person of higher rank.)

In the 1970s and ’80s, extended droughts caused huge losses of livestock among the Tuaregs who felt the national government was not doing enough to help their area of Mali. Civil war was averted when the Tuaregs were given more prominence in government and civil service positions. A ceremonial burning took place of 3,000 weapons, many of which are incorporated into the peace monument.

So what about that? Let the peaceful gun owners keep their firearms (properly purchased and licensed by those of an agreed-upon age) for hunting, target shooting, trap and skeet competitions, and for  those who feel the need, protection for themselves and their families. Consign the weapons of war to the military. And all others? Follow the Tauregs’ example: Destroy them or turn them into art.

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Note: You can read about my entire trip to Timbuctu in African Tales on this website.