Day 5: The Bat Tornado

Temple at Chicaana

Temple at Chicaana

We were actually scheduled to go to three Mayan ruins this day, but I wimped out after two, Chicaaná and Bécan. The third, Xpuhil (shpoo-heel), was the last and smallest, and by the middle of the afternoon, I was sweaty, tired, and not sure I’d be able to tell one from the other.

I mentioned the chaka tree yesterday. it's also called "la tourista" because of its red, peeling bark.

I mentioned the chaka tree yesterday. it’s also called “la tourista” because of its red, peeling bark.

Chicaaná, Xpuhil and Bécan were vassal cities of Calakmul, which was the big cheese in the region. As these cities are many miles apart and the jungle in those days must have been denser and more difficult to navigate back then, I asked Roberto how they traveled between cities. These cities were located many miles from Calakmul and from each other; if Calakmul didn’t have local representatives or surrogates at these cities, it would have been hard to maintain control. Roberto said they had paths between cities called sac-be—the white road. All paths and unpaved roads hereabouts are white due to the limestone that makes up the earth.

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This is one of the sleeping platforms for the elite that I mentioned in the past post. It is located in a small room in one of the palaces at Chicaana. There are two small carved faces on either side of the recess in the platform, which is speculated to be for personal possessions. The palace rooms were very small, as even the elite Maya lived mostly outdoors.

Bécan was unusual in that it had a moat surrounding the city, just like a medieval castle. There were seven entrances into the city across the moat (seven being a magical number). There were no drawbridges. Roberto said that the entrances were narrow enough that invading warriors could be picked off more or less one by one as they invaded the city but there is no evidence of invasion ever occurring at Bécan.

Temple at Becan.

Temple at Becan.

The temples here are larger than at Calakmul, and have two towers. There is a ball court at Bécan, unlike Calakmul. The ball game was central to Mayan spiritual life. It was played at least partly in tribute to Hunapu, one of the two sets of hero twins of the Popul Vuh, the Mayan origin story. Hunapu is decapitated by the lords of the underworld (Xebalba). His twin, Xbalanque (shball-ahn-kay), uses a squash as a substitute for his brother’s head, which is being used as a ball by the lords of the underworld. Xbalanque rescues the head and replaces it on his brother’s shoulders. (His brother is apparently none the worse for the wear.) Xbalanque substitutes a ball of chiclé sap for use in the ballgame. Ever after, the lords of the underworld do not receive human sacrifice, but instead must be satisfied with offerings of fragrant tree sap.

Not every Mayan city has a ball court, but the later ones do. They were not intended as a public entertainment but as a religious event, and were witnessed by priests. The captain of the winning team was decapitated as a sacrifice, and it was believed he went directly to the Mayan version of paradise. I would have been a lousy captain.

Both cities were impressive, showing increased sophistication in stone working techniques compared to Calakmul. They had attractive bas-relief carvings that are still quite crisp and clear. We went inside the palace (or one of the palaces). In the large space inside, a tiny bird was flying about from beam to beam of ironwood, a wood so hard it can last for many centuries. Roberto told us it was a red-capped manikin, and quite rare. I thought about the British birders back at the hotel, and considered walking by them, casually remarking, “…and I looked up, and there it was–a red-capped manikin!” But I didn’t.

On the other side of the palace was another long, low building. The front entrance was surrounded by elaborate carving which Roberto pointed out represented the face of a jaguar. It was so abstract that I might have thought it was just stylized patterns if he hadn’t pointed it out to me. So to enter the building was to walk into the mouth of the jaguar, and it was a statement of the king’s power. The first dynasty at Calakmul was the Bat Dynasty, but they were overtaken at some point by the Jaguars. Jaguars trump bats, I guess.

The entrance to the Jaguar Palace. The stones sticking up in front are its teetch, and you can see stylized eyes and ears to either side of the doorway.

The entrance to the Jaguar Palace. The stones sticking up in front are its teeth, and you can see the nose over the door, and eyes above that.

I have forgotten a lot of what I saw and heard of Bécan and Chicaaná because I didn’t journal every day. We were busy all the time and by the time I got some alone time, I fell into bed and slept the sleep of the dead. A lesson for future research trips not to move around so much and schedule so much. I need the writing time or it all flies away.

The night before, the hotel manager stopped by our table in the restaurant to chat and asked if we had seen the bat cave. We hadn’t heard about it and were interested, so we decided to visit it this evening, as it was our last night and the cave was an easy walk from the road. Roberto pointed out the exact location to us on the way back from the village of Xpuhil (not the ruined city), where we had stopped for sundries, so we were confident of not getting lost. Besides, there were signs with bats on them when you got close to the turnout for the cave.

A little while before sunset, we pulled into the tiny turnoff and hiked a short distance up a hill. There was an enormous hole in the earth, probably 100 yards across and 250 feet deep. The sides were sheer, and Tom, who is acrophobic, grabbed the back of my shirt every time I went near enough to the edge to actually see the cave, which was a vertical gash in the rock about 200 yards down. On the rocky overhang of the cave, I could see little brown shapes. Dead bats.

Several other people joined us, some with kids. A Canadian couple next to us set up some complicated-looking equipment. It turned out they were bat experts on vacation–a lucky turn of events for us, as they provided a lot of information. The equipment was intended to record the supersonic squeaks of the bats and identify the species. There were a number of raucous birds calling in the area, and the bat experts said they preyed on the bats. Mrs. Bat Expert perched jauntily on the edge of the chasm, making Tom nervous.

By the way, here as everywhere else we went, you are expected to take care of yourself. There are no railings separating you from the edge of the great pit in the earth–not so much as a sign. If you are careless enough to break your neck, it’s just too bad.

We all sat around chatting quietly. I flirted with someone’s baby, who was delighted with touching my hand and playing peekaboo. As twilight set in, a few bats emerged from the cave. Then more. And more. And more. Hundreds of thousands of little bats flew out, circling in a great clockwise spiral, forming a literal bat tornado. My video doesn’t do it justice, and still photos didn’t show it at all, really, but it was an awe-inspiring phenomenon. My hearing isn’t good enough to hear their calls, but the sound of those thousands upon thousands of tiny wings was like a spring breeze stirring the leaves, or the sound of a gentle rain shower.

The bats circled in their spiral for a long time, each individual rising imperceptibly higher until streams of them began to break away, veering off above our heads. Several of them flew through the trees and came quite close to us, but of course never collided. The bird noise stopped as the hunters got serious and began to go after them, but I couldn’t see them.

There was something hypnotic about that spiraling tornado of tiny bodies—enormous and overwhelming, yet delicate, gentle. We watched until the great spiraling cloud had dissipated, the bats flinging themselves on the night wind, seeking food and to avoid becoming food.

Our bat experts said there were too many species in the cave–maybe six different species or more–for the equipment to identify, but they had visually identified hoary bats and ghost bats. It was a memorable experience unlike any other, and I’m grateful for it.

Days 3 and 4: The Lost City in the Jungle

calakmul

 

We had a journey of about three hours from Laguna Bacalar to Calakmul, the Mayan city I had most wanted to see. But before we left the lake, I wanted to swim in Cenoté Azule. The Yucatán Peninsula has no running surface water–streams or rivers–but the subterranean water rises to the surface via cenotés, which are underground caves that form in the limestone that composes the peninsula. Back in the day, many of these cenotés were repositories of virgin sacrifices, weighted down with jade and probably high on something. Xebalba (sheh-bal-bah), the Mayan underworld or place of death, is under the water. It did not pay to be a virgin in those days–if it ever did.

Many cenotés are deep holes, filled with water, but hard to get to as the water is many yards below the ground’s surface, though open to the sky. Cenoté Azule is a “mature” cenoté, which means the water is now at the surface so it is easier to get into and out of. Cenoté Azul is inevitably described as having crystal clear, pure waters, and we were advised to bring snorkeling equipment to see the underwater sights.

Cenoté Azul has restrooms and a restaurant, and a few ricketty shade structures much enjoyed by termites. Linda and I got into the water, but crystal clear is not how we would describe it. It was quite murky from the mud being stirred up by people getting in and out. I swam out further than Linda, and the water did clear up, but beneath me, intensely black, deep water was all I could see. I swam back and got out. At least I had a chance to adjust my new snorkel mask in fresh water with no waves slapping me around. And I can say I swam in a cenoté, however briefly.

Cenote Azul in the foreground. The water beyond is Laguna Bacalar; the cenote and the lake are separated only by a thin strip of land.

Cenote Azul in the foreground. The water beyond is Laguna Bacalar; the cenote and the lake are separated only by a thin strip of land.

We drove to the next large city, Chetumal, needing to pick up sundries and cash as the next leg of the trip was cash-only. Then on to the Calakmul Biological Reserve, deep in the jungle near the Belize border. We had reservations at Hotel Puerta Calakmul, which is deep inside the reserve. It is the only hotel in the reserve, but it is still a LONG way from the actual ruins. The hotel reminds me of the Adirondacks, or something similar. Everything is rustic, with natural logs and branches forming the supports of the buildings. There’s lots of screening, and the buildings are all palm-thatched. There is a surprisingly good restaurant here, a pool, and not much else. Everyone here came for the ruins or for the nature reserve, or both. There’s one group of bird-watching Brits who can always be seen, all wearing khaki and carrying huge binoculars.

Home sweet home at Hotel Calakmul.

Home sweet home at Hotel Calakmul.

The jungle is not quite what I expected. There are some large trees, but not as many as I imagined. Mostly the trees are rather slender and of medium height. There is less dense undergrowth than I would have anticipated, and the place has more the feel of a young temperate forest—if it were not for the orchids and bromeliads clinging to the trees, plus the occasional monkey. I suppose this is because the Yucatán is a rather dry place–definitely not rainforest, with trees so tall that there is a complete ecosystem existing in the canopy. Mostly, there is no canopy in the jungle here.

The beds were comfy and although the mosquito netting didn’t seem necessary, we used it. I have been surprised at the lack of bugs. I knew this was the driest, coolest, least buggy time of year, but I still expected a LOT more bugs.

The next morning, we met our guide, Roberto. Roberto is a Mayan from Chiapas whose family moved here when they lost everything in a flood/mudslide. I immediately began to pick his brain.

I am particularly interested in a legendary people called aluxes (ah-LOOSH-es). They are similar to the Menehune of Hawaii and the leprechauns of Ireland in that they are small people, the size of children, and they are mischievous and curious. They are guardians of the forest. I saw them as being akin to Fred the Mannegishi, if you happen to have read “The Obsidian Mirror.” The aluxes go back at least to the time of the ancient Maya, and there are bas-relief sculptures of them from the ruins (but not the ones we were there to see.)

Aluxes from a bas-relief sculpture at Uxmal.

Aluxes from a bas-relief sculpture at Uxmal.

Roberto said he didn’t know much about aluxes, but it turned out he knew quite a lot.

He said he saw one when he was young, but he was with several other boys. No one else saw the alux, but he said it looked like a child running in the forest, wearing a shirt and shorts with a woven hat with a pointed crown and a brim all around. None of his companions saw it. When he and his brother got lost in the forest, they believed it was aluxes leading them astray because they hadn’t asked permission to hunt. He told me that if you are hunting for food and make an offering to them to ask permission, they will leave you alone. If you are hunting to sell the meat or fail to ask for permission, they will trick you and get you lost in the forest.

I asked Roberto whether he knew of other forest spirits, and he told me about Juan de Monte. “Monte” is a Spanish word for forest, and Juan de Monte is another protective forest spirit with the added characteristic of shielding wounded animals and nursing them back to health. He told us a story about a man from his village who was a very good hunter. He shot deer to sell the meat. He was hunting one day and shot a deer, but the wounded animal escaped. He followed it and came to a stone hut. Inside the hut, he saw many wounded animals. A spirit of the forest appeared to him, Juan de Monte, and told him these were all the animals he had wounded but not killed. Juan de Monte was nursing them. He told the hunter he was not allowed to hunt again. The hunter returned home but he couldn’t speak. His family took him to a curandero, who helped him to regain his power of speech. The hunter went hunting again because it was his livelihood. In the forest, an enormous deer appeared, the largest he had ever seem, and he shot it. But the deer was unwounded. He shot at it several more times with no effect. He threw down his rifle and ran home. Later, he and his brother went back to get the rifle, but the man never hunted again. I don’t know how far back Juan del Monte goes, but I plan on researching it. (I found a Mayan legend later about the “King of the Forest,” a spirit who plays the same role as Juan de Monte. I believe they are probably the same.)

Calakmul Temple of Venus (I think).

Calakmul Temple of Venus (I think).

Our first visit was to Calakmul, a city that was founded about 700 BC and abandoned around 1200 AD. From the hotel, it is reached by a 60-kilometer-long road with many potholes. In the Classical Maya period, Calakmul was the predominant force in southern Yucatán/northern Beliz and Guatamala. At its peak, it was home to 65,000 people. Archeologists have been excavating and restoring Calakmul for decades, but much is still unexplored. There are no cenotés in the area so they had a system of rainwater catchments and storage. Unsurprisingly, the primary god of this city (and all the Mayan cities of the Yucatán) was Chaak, the god of rain and lightening. The city was abandoned because of a severe drought and crop failures. They probably thought Chaak was trying to tell them something.

It was a very pleasant place to explore, with lots of shade. On the 1-kilometer walk to the ruins from the site entrance, we saw two spider monkeys– the first monkeys I have ever seen in the wild. We also saw oscillated turkeys, as gorgeous as peacocks, and pheasants.

Oscillated turkey.

Oscillated turkey.

Coming into the ruin feels almost as though you have discovered a lost city. There are very few other visitors there, and you can walk around alone hearing only the sounds of the leaves in the breeze or perhaps howler monkeys booming in the distance. The ruins are impressive, and you can see how the building and stone-carving techniques evolved from the older to newer buildings. There are many limestone stele, but they are so eroded that most of them resemble rotten teeth more than bas-relief sculptures. Two large stele still show the remains of a king on the right side and a queen on the left. You can just make out the faces and bodies. The queen faces right toward her husband, and the king faces left. Their feet are portrayed with left foot pointing left and right foot pointing right, knees bent, giving them the appearance of being bow-legged.

One of the least-eroded stele at Calakmul.

One of the least-eroded stele at Calakmul.

Most of the overgrowth has been removed from the excavated buildings, but strangler figs still grow on them in places, roots flowing over the stone steps like melted wax. Roberto was very informative about the animals and flora, happily pointing out the poisonous trees (chechem) and the trees (chaka) that cure the itchy rash caused by the chechem, as well as the orchids and bromiliads that have hitched a ride on many trees. The chaca tree is also called by some “la tourista” because it has a red, peeling skin–like so many Norte Americanos who come here and expose their pale skin to too much tropical sun.

Strangler fig surrounding a captive stele.

Strangler fig surrounding a captive stele.

There were many round stone altars associated with the stele. They were heavily eroded, but it was still easy to see they are nothing like the post-classic Mayan altar shaped like a human being, usually on its back (chak-mool). The Classical Maya of the Yucatán did not practice much human sacrifice. They did practice blood sacrifice, however. The royalty was expected to let their own blood, obtained by perforating lips, tongue, earlobes or genitals with a stingray spine, cactus thorns or thorny vines. I’m not talking about making a modest cut or incision, either–there is plenty of graphic evidence that they thrust the object all the way through their flesh to the other side. The blood was collected in a bowl and burned. This was the duty of royalty to assure the gods were properly worshiped. Animal sacrifice and the burning of food like maize was also practiced. Although some cities sacrificed the captain of the winning ball team, Calakmul doesn’t have a ball court­—at least none that has yet been found. More about the ball game later.

Maize was the principle crop, but they also grew beans and squash. The Maya cultivated cotton, at least in some places. The standard garb was a simple white cotton garment for men and women. Priests, warriors and elites added elaborate headdresses of feathers, jade jewelry, animal skins (the jaguar being especially significant and powerful) and other ornaments. Those heavy-looking headdresses you see in Maya murals and bas-relief sculptures? Those are highly stylized feathers.

Imagine this fresh and new, painted in bright colors.

Imagine this fresh and new, painted in bright colors.

The temples and palaces were originally covered with stucco and painted. These important buildings were oriented to the four cardinal directions. Little remains of the stucco or paint, but it is likely that each side was painted with the color associated with that direction. The only pigment remaining that I could see was red. Mayan cities, which were cleared of vegetation, must have been bright and gorgeous under the sun, richly colored and designed to impress, with their tiered temples and palaces, and spacious plazas. The red color of the paint was created with cochineal bugs.

Some temples had living quarters, maybe for priests or royals. They left little to inform us. The Maya lived outdoors for the most part, using rooms only for sleeping. The elite rooms feature a slab of stone, often quite large, as a bed—very much like the concrete slabs we slept on at Hotel Azul36. These slabs would be covered with matting or perhaps mattresses stuffed with the cottony insides of ceiba fruit. There were often niches cut in the wall or into the sides of the stone platform, perhaps for personal storage. The common people lived in wattle-and-daub round huts with palm-thatched roofs, so there is little left of them, if anything. Cooking was done outdoors, and there is no evidence here of kitchens.

There was a magnificent ceiba tree at Calakmul, one of the largest trees in the area. At this time of year it is leafless, but we could see the many small, oval fruits on its branches. With its height, symmetry and white bark, it reminded me of the White Tree of Gondor. The Maya thought the ceiba tree was the tree of life, holding up the sky.

Ceiba tree, the Mayan tree of life.

Ceiba tree, the Mayan tree of life.

The largest pyramid was dedicated to Chaak, of course. There was also a temple dedicated to Venus (the planet, not the Greek goddess). Venus was essential in the Mayan calendar, and was also associated with Kukulcan, a feathered serpent god precursor to the Aztec god Quetzalcoatl—but Roberto said there was no evidence of Kukulcan worship at Calakmul.

As a matter of fact, there’s a lot we don’t know about the Maya. Time and the jungle obliterated much, and the Spanish took over from there. It’s only due to a few Spanish friars that any of the Mayan codices were copied and translated. Hundreds of these Maya documents were burned, and artifacts stolen or destroyed. And yet, there are still many people who speak one dialect or another of that ancient language and continue to pass down the ancient stories, one generation to the next.

The artifacts at Calakmul have either been removed to the archeological museum in Mexico City, or walled off from the public by archeologists. There were three royal tombs discovered there with jade masks. Roberto showed us photographs. They were widely separated in time. The earliest is composed of tiny pieces of jade, needed to be able to show the curvature of the face. The second uses larger pieces that have been worked to create curves, but the third, composed of large pieces, is a stunning work of art. The ability to work with jade at all is impressive, given that jade is harder than steel, and the Maya had no metal tools. They barely had any gold, as it was obtained only through trade, and they considered jade more beautiful.

The oldest jade mask found at Calakmul, using tiny jade pieces to create the contours of the face.

The oldest jade mask found at Calakmul, using tiny jade pieces to create the contours of the face.

Newest mask found at Calakmul, showing huge steps forward in jade working and artistic skill.

Newest mask found at Calakmul, showing huge steps forward in jade working and artistic skill.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We could have gone on to the merchant quarters and marketplace, but we thought we’d seen the best of Calakmul–at least that part of it that has been excavated. We walked back to the entrance, seeing a family of white-lipped peccaries on the way. They are much smaller than wild boars, but they have pretty much the same attitude. We gave them a wide berth and went on, Roberto pointing out the flora and fauna as he went. Unfortunately, I had little time to write everything down. We were scheduled to do something every day, and I was always so tired from the heat, humidity and walking that I fell asleep every night without journaling.

 

 

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Day 2: Land of Sky-Blue Waters

Me and some friends at Tulum

Me and some friends at Tulum

 

 

 

 

 

Before leaving Tulum, we returned to the open-air market at the ruins because I wanted to get the little embroidered dresses for our granddaughters. I bought the dresses, paying too much for them, probably, and joined Tom, Clod and Linda at Starbucks. Los Volantes were at it again, and this time I got a good video.

Also present were some men dressed as Mayan warriors. Their costumes were as authentic as humanely possible, using genuine jaguar skins and quetzal feathers. The clothes were very detailed, carefully crafted and must have cost a fortune. They painted their faces and bodies exactly as you can see in the ancient murals. One of the men had an enormous albino python, which looks more yellow than white. I knew they were there for tourists to get their pictures taken posing with them, so I grabbed some cash and asked to pose with the snake. They kept telling me the snake wouldn’t bite, but I was perfectly certain that it wouldn’t bite because snake-bitten tourists don’t pay. I enjoyed the photo session and the heavy, muscular, dry and scaly presence of my cooperative co-model.

After a much-appreciated latte, we piled in the car and set out for Laguna Bacalar, heading south. We were traveling through jungle, but at first it was rather low, if extremely dense. As we made our way south, the vegetation gradually got taller. By the time we reached the lake, it was no rain forest, but definitely more along the lines of my mental image of jungle. We only stopped once, to buy some bananas at a roadside stand. We passed a village where there were probably 20 stands selling pineapple, but pineapple seemed too daunting and complicated for people without a knife or a kitchen. The bananas, each not much larger than a healthy banana slug, were consumed in about two bites. They were slightly tart, which gave them an apple-like flavor that was much more tasty than the huge, bland cultivar we get in grocery stores.

We noticed throughout our travels that when you hit speed bumps (topes), you will almost inevitably find someone selling something–usually snacks and drinks, but sometimes other things. Slowing down gives you a chance to realize you’re thirsty or hungry, I guess.

Laguna Bacalar is a freshwater lake more than 60 kilometers long, very narrow, with a white sand bottom. The water is known for its seven colors of blue. There’s not much to do here except swim and kayak, but we are staying only one night. There’s an island bird sanctuary, but you have to kayak out, and Tom has sworn off kayaking after overturning in Moss Landing harbor and losing his prescription glasses. In any case, you can’t land on the island because you will sink six feet into something that looks like sand–but isn’t. In other words—don’t try to get onto the island or you will die. On the plus side, there are no crocodiles in the lake, making it a safe swimming place. There just aren’t enough fish in the lake for crocodiles to bother with it.

Laguna Bacalar

Laguna Bacalar

We had an excellent lunch at a lakeside restaurant and lingered far too long, enjoying the cool breeze from the lake. The place was jumping, but no one tried to get us to move along. There was a dock in front of the restaurant, stretching out into the cool, blue  waters. Instead of running around the restaurant, kids were jumping into the lake. The best play area ever.

We walked back to the hotel, Azule36. I don’t know for sure, but it may be named for a nearby cenote called Cenote Azul, which is a popular swimming place. It’s a cute, tiny boutique hotel on a lot only slightly larger than a house. The neighborhood is a higgeldy-piggeldy mix of houses, a church, hotels and stores. There are only six rooms. Roosters crowed from the house next door, and as we sat under a palapa playing cards, dogs, cats and people wandered through the yard, entering from a back gate. I wondered if it was a family-run business, with the family living behind the hotel. The rooms are spare but clean and comfortable. Unlike the first place we stayed, there is soap! The beds were comfortable—actually mattresses laid on concrete platforms. I thought in a country where scorpions and snakes abound, not having a cavernous under-the-bed space is probably sensible.

Our hotel at Laguna Bacalar

Our hotel at Laguna Bacalar

We skipped dinner and went to bed at a reasonable hour. I had trouble falling asleep because I’m not used to a lot of noise at night. What with roosters crowing, doves cooing, people talking, multiple dogs barking, and traffic, it was a while before things calmed down and I slept. I’m writing this at some ungodly hour of the morning because the whole chorus started up again around 4:00 am.

Yucatan: Day of the Iguanas

Mr. and Mrs. Iguana

Mr. and Mrs. Iguana

In the remote eventuality that anyone was disappointed that I haven’t been blogging about my research trip to the Yucatán Peninsula, I apologize. We were often in areas where the Internet service couldn’t handle large files, and I wanted to be able to post photos and videos, so I decided to wait.

Why Yucatán, you may ask? Well, for reasons I can’t reveal, the third book in the series that began with “The Obsidian Mirror” has to take place in Yucatán. The second book, “Fire in the Ocean,” will be out later this year from Diversion Books, and all will be explained. Well, some of it, anyway.

Day 1: Tulum

We made our way to Tulum on the Mayan Riviera without much problem. Our rental condo is located in a large tract of land not too far from the beach, called Aldea Zama. Aledea means village in Spanish and Zama is the Quiché (Mayan) word for dawn. It is also the original name for the Mayan city in the area, which is why we are here.

We ate dinner in a very good Argentinian restaurant, came back to the condo and fell into bed.

The next morning, we woke late, as it is East Coast time here, we’re from the West Coast, and we were tired. Breakfast, continuing the international theme, was crepes. We asked the waiter how far it was to walk to the ruins. He told us to walk straight down the road we were on for about four kilometers. So off we went. And continued for a long way, walking in the late morning heat and sunshine. We didn’t have a lot of water with us, and I didn’t realize it, but I was becoming dehydrated.

About three miles or so down the road there was an entrance to the beach and my husband Tom headed off across the sand, intending to walk the rest of the way on the beach. By this time, my enthusiasm had flagged, although I did appreciate the white sand, fine as sugar, and the brilliant turquoise and indigo of the ocean. Linda asked a woman how far it was, and we learned to our surprise that not only had we been directed down the wrong road, we were many miles from our destination because there was no access to the ruins from the road we were on or the beach.

We flagged down one of the passing taxis which took us to the ruins, all of us thankful we hadn’t tried to walk it. The entrance to the ruins is reached on foot or by a little tram pulled by an old tractor, and to my relief we took the tram. Before we embarked for the ruins, we saw a performance by a team of voladores. Four men climbed to the top of a 40-foot pole, playing instruments and dressed in colorful costumes. Once they reached the platform at the top of the pole, they wound ropes around the pole. Then a fifth man climbed the pole and seated himself, playing the flute as the other four men looped ropes around their legs, turned upside down, and spiraled down the pole as the ropes unwound from the pole. Wikipedia says this is a very old tradition, starting with the ancient Maya. It has deep cultural significance, and to prevent the tradition from dying out, Mexico started a school to teach children how to become voladores (females need not apply).

There is a large outdoor market around the ruins, but we went straight on without looking at the amazing array of goods, ranging from Los Luchos masks to delicately woven hammocks that looked like lace.

When we got to the ticket line, I wasn’t feeling too well, so I sat down on a bench near the front of the line. Along came a coatimundi–a relative of the raccoon that looks sort of lemur-like. She plopped herself down right among the tourists’ feet, rolled over and proceeded to give herself a bath, licking delicately at armpits and tummy. A man standing right next to her leaned down and tried to pet her. Tourists feed coatis all the time at Tulum, so assuming the man had food, the coati lunged at his fingers. Startled, the man jerked back and dropped his bottle of beer, which smashed on the stone flooring. The coati promptly began licking up the beer as the man cleaned up the glass. When last seen, the coati was cuddling in a woman’s skirt and continuing her bath, drunk and happy.

By this time, I was beginning to wonder what was wrong with me. I felt utterly drained and frankly not very interested in touring the ruins. This is completely out of character for me, as I am interested in ancient Mayan culture and had come all the way from California just to see them. But I had no energy and was beginning to feel odd; I was getting chills despite the heat and felt slightly nauseous. I rested for a while in the shade, but the water was gone. There was no place to buy water inside the ruins. I dragged myself around the ruins anyway. I probably took more photos of the iguanas at the park than the ruins. Often, they lay sunning themselves in pairs like tiny prehistoric monsters; Mr.and Mrs. Iguana taking a sunbath. There were black iguanas, green iguanas, gray iguanas, and youngsters with stripes streaking around while the adults sunned. I finally found a place to sit and look at the ocean–narrowly missing stepping on an iguana–and stayed there until the rest of the party found me. Then all I wanted to do was leave. On the walk back to the tram I developed an aura, like the kind you get when a migraine is starting. My hips hurt in a way I have never experienced before, and I felt generally horrible.

There has to be an iguana in this photo somewhere.

There has to be an iguana in this photo somewhere.

Tom got me a huge bottle of water, and after drinking a good bit of it, the aura went away. When we got to the open-air market, Linda saw a Starbucks and wanted iced tea. I noticed a vendor with adorably embroidered children’s dresses. He wanted $25 each. I wanted to get out of there and was not interested in bargaining, so I said no thanks and walked away. By the time I got out of earshot, he was down to $5 each, but I just didn’t care. This is also totally weird for me, because I adore haggling.

We took a taxi back to the condo. By the time we got back, I felt a great deal better, had a cold shower and took a nap. Lesson learned: take lots of water!

Despite getting dehydrated, I enjoyed the day. I’m looking forward to the rest of the trip, and will be much more cautious about staying hydrated.

 

 

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Mexico, Day 1: Tulum

We made our way to Tulum on the Mayan Riviera without much problem. Our rental condo is located in a large tract of land not too far from the beach, called Aldea Zama. Aledea means village in Spanish and Zama is the Quiche (Mayan) word for dawn. It is also the original name for the Mayan city in the area, which is why we are here.

We ate dinner in a very good Argentinian restaurant, came back to the condo and fell into bed.

The next morning, we woke late, as it is East Coast time here, we’re  from the West Coast, and we were tired. Breakfast, continuing the international theme, was crepes. We asked the waiter how far it was to walk to the ruins. He told us to walk straight down the road we were on for about four kilometers. So off we went. And continued for more than four kilometers, walking in the late morning heat and sunshine. We didn’t have a lot of water with us, and I didn’t realize it,  but I was becoming dehydrated.

About three miles or so down the road there was an entrance to the beach and my husband Tom headed off across the sand, intending to walk the rest of the way on the beach. By this time, my enthusiasm had flagged, although I did appreciate the white sand, fine as sugar, and the brilliant turquoise and indigo of the ocean. Linda asked a woman how far it was, and we learned to our surprise that not only had we been directed down the wrong road, we were many miles from our destination because there was no access to the ruins from the road or the beach.

We flagged down one of the passing taxis which took us to the ruins, all of us thankful we hadn’t tried to walk it. The entrance to the ruins is reached on foot or by a little tram pulled by an old tractor, and to my relief we took the tram. Before we embarked for the ruins, we saw a  performance  by a team of voladores.  Four men climbed to the top of a 40-foot pole, playing instruments and dressed in indigenous costume. Once they reached the platform at the top of the pole, They wound ropes around the pole. Then a fifth man climbed the pole and seated himself, playing the flute as the other four men looped ropes around their legs, turned upside down, and spiraled down the pole as the ropes unwound from the pole. Wikipedia says this is a very old tradition, starting with the ancient Maya. It has deep cultural significance, and to prevent the tradition from dying out, Mexico started A school to teach children how to become voladores (females need not apply).
There is a large outdoor market around the ruins, but we went straight on without looking at the amazing array of goods, ranging from Los Luchos masks to delicately woven hammocks that looked like lace.

When we got to the ticket line, I wasn’t feeling too well, so I sat down on a bench near the front of the line. Along came a coatimundi–a relative of the raccoon that looks sort of lemur-like. She plopped herself down right among the tourists’ feet, rolled over and proceeded to give herself a bath, licking delicately at armpits and tummy. A man standing right next to her leaned down and tried to pet her. Tourists feed coatis all the time, so assuming the man had food, the coati lunged at his fingers. Startled, the man jerked back and dropped his bottle of beer, which smashed on the stone surface. The coati promptly began licking up the beer as the man cleaned up the glass. When last seen, the coati was cuddling in a woman’s skirt and continuing her bath, drunk and happy.

By this time, I was beginning to wonder what was wrong with me. I felt utterly drained and frankly not very interested in touring the ruins. This is completely out of character for me, as I am incredibly interested in ancient Mayan culture and had come all the way from California just to see them. But I had no energy and was beginning to feel odd; I was getting chills despite the heat and felt slightly nauseous. I rested for a while in the shade, but the water was gone. There was no place to buy water inside. I dragged myself into the ruins anyway. I probably took more photos of the iguanas at the park than the ruins. Often, they lay sunning themselves in pairs like tiny prehistoric monsters; Mr.and Mrs. Iguana taking a sunbath. There were black inguanas, green iguanas, gray iguanas, and youngsters with stripes streaking around while the adults sunned. I finally found a place to sit and look at the ocean–narrowly missing stepping on an iguana–and stayed there until the rest of the party found me. Then all I wanted to do was leave. On the walk back to the tram I developed an aura, like the kind you get when a migraine is starting. My hips hurt in a way I have never experienced before, and I felt generally horrible.

Tom got me a huge bottle of water, and after drinking a good bit of it, the aura went away. When we got to the open air market, Linda saw a Starbucks and wanted iced tea. I noticed a vendor with adorably embroidered children’s dresses. He wanted $25 each. I wanted to get out of there and was not interested in bargaining, so I said no thanks and walked away. By the time I got out of earshot, he was down to $5 each,  but I just didn’t care. This is also totally weird for me, because I adore haggling.

We took a taxi back to the condo. By the time we got back, I felt a great deal better, but had a old shower and took a nap. Lesson learned: take lots of water!

Despite getting dehydrated, I enjoyed the day. I’m looking forward to the rest of the trip, and will be much more cautious about staying hydrated.

How To Deal with the Elephant in the Room

I haven’t been blogging much lately. I pride myself on variety, but the only thing I’ve really been paying attention to recently is politics. I don’t want this blog to become a political blog.

However, I’m going to post one more politically oriented piece, because I want all liberals and progressives in this country to understand the implications. It’s not about my ideas. I want to summarize the book, “Don’t Think of an Elephant,” by Dr. George Lakoff, a neural scientist. Despite his heavyweight scientific credentials, the book is very accessible and easy to read.

Dr. Lakoff wrote the first version of the book in 2008 to explain to liberals and progressives (I’m just going to say liberals from now on) how and why the Republicans have been able to direct the national dialogue and get Tea Party candidates into legislative seats locally, statewide, and nationally. He shows how our brain’s wiring leads to conservatism or liberalism. Reading his book opened my eyes wide, and I’m hoping all liberal politicians will read it, too.

Lakoff talks in terms of “frames.” Frames are concepts we have in our brains that are evoked by words. So when I say “taxes,” it evokes “pay for our infrastructure and services” in my liberal brain. A conservative’s brain has a frame that taxes are bad, a burden. So when Republicans in the George W. era came up with the term, “tax relief,” conservatives saw it as saving them from the bad thing, making the Republicans heroic. The problem is, the rest of the culture­—especially the media—picked up that verbiage. Every time “tax relief” is repeated, it becomes a more firmly entrenched frame.

Republicans did the same thing with the Affordable Care Act by calling it Obamacare, which everyone (me included) immediately started using. It evokes a negative frame with conservatives, so much so that there are many Republicans who have only just now discovered they are losing their health insurance. They thought they were safe because they weren’t on Obamacare—they were on the ACA.

The Republicans have been doing this effectively and successfully for the past 40 years. We liberals are wa-a-a-a-ay behind. Let’s see how they do it.

Morality and Politics

Lakoff states that all politics is moral. By this he means that people vote according to their morality, not necessarily according to self-interest. (I know, how could they possibly vote for an amoral beast like Trump? Bear with me.)

Morality for conservatives looks something like this:

  • Society needs a strong leader. Like a strict father, he knows best and will tell us what the right thing to do is. This is why many conservatives are deeply religious. Religion provides a strict, clear guide to behavior and thought. Trump is seen as a strong leader in this mold.
  • Children are born bad and they have to be “made” good with the direction of a strict father who teaches them right from wrong. By extension, this applies to citizens and their leadership.
  • People need to do what they are told. If they fail to do so, they must be punished. Without punishment, there can be no morality.
  • Wealthy people are admired because obviously, they are doing the right thing. Religious people see riches as God’s blessing on the deserving (helped along by the evangelicals who have for some time now encouraged their followers to “seed” the blessings of wealth by giving to their churches, in the expectation that God will return it to them many-fold). The wealthy create jobs, and their money trickles down to the lower orders (despite the fact this has been debunked over and over it is firmly entrenched in the conservative brain).
  • Poor people are obviously undeserving because they are poor. They choose to be poor. We should not give them “free stuff” like food stamps, healthcare, education, early childhood enrichment, etc., because that will just make them more lazy and undeserving. This is why Republicans want to cut taxes—not to provide “tax relief” to the working class, but to cut social services entirely if possible.
  • Moral people take responsibility for themselves and do not need “free stuff.” Morality is linked to prosperity. Prosperity is linked to self-interest, therefore morality is linked to self-interest. (Hence voting your morality is seen as voting for your self-interest, whether or not that is the case in fact.)
  • Government is bad because it takes our hard-earned money and spends it foolishly by providing services (“free stuff”) to the undeserving. We need taxes so that we have a strong military, however.
  • Liberals are bad people. They just want free stuff. They have bad morals, as evidenced by their support for abortion and LGBTQ rights. Liberals want to raise taxes so they can give away your money to the undeserving. They are stupid because they don’t see things the way conservatives do. And if you are a Breitbart News follower, liberals are behind everything evil.
  • Women are not equal to men. They do not have or deserve authority because they are weak and emotional. They need a strong man to show them the right way.

There’s more, but this ought to be sufficient to set the stage and explain why deeply religious people voted for Trump. Rationally, you might think that a billionaire with two divorces and five children by three different wives, multiple affairs, a suspected child rapist, a confessed sexual assaulter, someone who cheats his contractors and doesn’t pay taxes and possibly is a Russian collaborator would not be the first choice for religious Christians. But they saw him as a strong leader who will build a wall, keep out the Muslims, and protect us. Despite his four bankruptcies, they also view him as an incredibly successful businessman. And he promised to cut taxes and bring back jobs to America. All of this is seen as virtuous.

Rather than rationally comparing Trump’s record with their espoused beliefs, they made Trump’s record conform to their beliefs and ignored the rest—assisted by the fake news that conservatives have been marinating in for the past three or four decades.

The world is a zero-sum game to conservatives; if you want to win, someone else has to lose. So in order for them to win, the Others—people of color, people of non-Christian beliefs, differently gendered people, foreigners—have to lose.

Obviously, not all conservatives have the entire mindset described above, but they all believe consciously or unconsciously in some part of it. If you are a liberal, this might be a bit hard to swallow. It seems too simplistic, but it’s true for many people at least some of the time. Many conservatives really do see you as a “libtard”—a stupid person with no morals who is probably unemployed and taking “free stuff” that conservatives imagine they are paying for with their taxes—and it pisses them off. I have seen this personally as I have wandered around the social media scene.

I’m not going to spend time on liberal morality, as presumably you, a liberal, already understand it. If there’s a conservative out there who by some weird chance has read this far and really wants to understand liberal morality, I would be happy to explain if you ask nicely.

Framing

A bad example of President Nixon’s framing gives us an idea of how framing does and does not work. During the Watergate scandal, Nixon famously said, “I am not a crook.” So everyone thought of him as a crook, as this was repeated over and over and over.

Repetition strengthens frames. So when using conservatives’ language and frames, we are handing them the argument. It’s critical to come up with frames that fit your argument and that cannot be used against you. It is critical not to repeat conservative framing, such as “alternative facts.” There is no such thing; what we’re talking about here is lies.

To come up with effective framing requires understanding the conservative point of view. Let’s take that hottest of hot potatoes, abortion. Conservatives have been conditioned by decades of propaganda to view abortion as murder. Liberals have rejected this without replacing it with anything more compelling than a “Republican War on Women.” This plays well with liberals, but conservatives believe that women need to be controlled, so it doesn’t resonate with them.

Let’s try framing it in terms of one of the conservatives’ most powerful words: liberty. When you tell women they cannot have abortions, you are removing their liberty and personal responsibility, but worse—it’s a short step from there to telling women how many children they may or may not have, as they did in China. Or telling them they can’t have children. You cannot be free when government has placed a restriction on your right to have or not have children.

A personal note here. The conservatives have used “pro-life” with great effect in contrast to the liberal “pro-choice.” Pro-choice says you’re just selfish; you are placing your own needs over the precious life of a child, as opposed to the obvious virtue of pro-life. I am using “pro-child”; every child born has the right to be cared for, fed, clothed, given an education and provided with the tools required for a happy and productive life within his or her abilities. No mention of abortion is made, but hidden within the frame of pro-child is an unstated support for abortion if the fetus is unwanted (as a way to begin life, being unwanted has a very poor outlook), too sick to survive, or a threat to the mother’s life.

Conservative politicians are also attacking pensions, Medicare and Social Security. The word “entitlement” is the actual language of the law for Medicare and Social Security. The conservatives easily began framing these services as “free stuff,” the sort of thing “entitled people” demand, when in fact they are either deferred earned salaries in the case of Social Security and pensions, or paid for in the form of premiums, as in Medicare. We must start pushing back on the term “entitlements” and even “benefits,” and begin pushing the concept of “deferred salaries” and “single-payer healthcare.”

How to Engage with Conservatives

There are essentially two types of conservatives from a communications standpoint. One group is composed of idealogues who are firmly entrenched in their beliefs and resist other ideas completely. You can’t engage with this group.

A second, and perhaps larger group of conservatives are those who hold both conservative and liberal ideas:

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This “bi-conceptual” group can be appealed to by avoiding conservative framing and language and by following the following tactics laid out by Dr. Lakoff:

  • Remember that your liberal values are the true values of America. Be proud of them.
  • Remember that conservatives approve of a strong father-type of government. They don’t view it as dangerous, but as protective.
  • Show respect. If you do not treat conservatives with respect and indicate that you have at least heard them out, they will slam the door. Don’t get into a shouting match.
  • Distinguish between normal conservatives and nasty idealogues (like Steve Bannon). The everyday conservative usually has some progressive ideas that can be tapped into. Idealogues don’t, so don’t try. Most conservatives are more like you than not.
  • Be calm. Getting angry or defensive signals weakness and lack of conviction. (Remember that when you encounter those very sore winners on Facebook!)
  • Be passionate without losing control by becoming defensive.
  • Don’t give them any opportunity to slam you into their stereotype of a liberal: weak, bleeding heart, unpatriotic, uninformed, elitist, wants free stuff.
  • Rather than arguing or negating , ask questions. When a person is unclear on the stand s/he is taking, trying to justify an unjustifiable stand can become clear without you saying anything. Frames trump facts, so if the conservative in question accepts your frame, the rest of the conversation is just common sense within that frame.
  • Never repeat their frames. If someone says “Liberals are just lazy and want free stuff,” do not repeat their verbiage. Say something like, “I have a job. I’ve worked all my life and paid taxes.”
  • Be informed. If you get into a conversation on a topic in which you are poorly informed, there’s no winning it. Choose your battles and engage only in the ones you can win.
  • Think and talk at the level of values. Point out how your values support their values. We all want freedom, clean air and water, forests, lakes and rivers. Many conservatives, for instance, are hunters and fishermen. They don’t want our national parks turned into oil wells and mines any more than you do.

This blog piece only skims the surface of “Don’t Think of an Elephant.” I hope I have presented a few of Lakoff’s ideas accurately, but please read the book to gain a deeper understanding of how to win this cultural war that we didn’t ask for, but we’re fighting  anyway.

If you thought this piece had information of value to others, please feel free to share it in any way you please. Good luck in the days and maybe weeks or years to come; I believe that traditional liberal American values will win in the end. I have to.

P.S. Obscene, angry comments will be deleted without reply. Respectful comments or questions will be answered.

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For the next three weeks, I will be traveling in Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula, researching my next book, the third in the trilogy starting with “The Obsidian Mirror.” The second book, “Fire in the Ocean,” which takes place primarily on Moloka ‘i, HI, is due out later this year from Diversion Books. I won’t be sipping margaritas on the beach at Cancun, but I will be blogging about the trip daily (or almost daily), starting on Saturday. I hope you enjoy!

 

 

 

 

Our Democracy Has Failed. Now Is the Time To Focus.

donald-trump

So the Electoral College has failed the Founding Fathers and ushered in the presidency of a manifestly unqualified and dangerous individual.

It’s time to focus.

Forget about Ivanka and Melania. Forget about his foolish, thin-skinned Tweets. Forget about his refusal to adhere to the norms of the Presidency.

Focus.

I know it’s fun to post memes about how awful and clownish and embarrassing he is. It’s also fun to bitch and moan online about it.

Stop. Focus.

There’s only one thing that matters now, and that is making sure Trump doesn’t spend all four years in office wrecking the country.

THE RUSSIANS HACKED OUR ELECTION.[i] Trump and his buddy, Rex Tillerson, CEO of Exxon, have collaborated with the Russian government to CHANGE THE RESULTS OF AN AMERICAN ELECTION.

Why? Money. Exxon and Trump had enormous, multi-billion-dollar oil deals with Russia that were derailed when President Obama placed sanctions on Russia for taking over the Crimea. Now that Trump and Exxon will be running the country, those sanctions will be lifted, and Trump and Tillerman and Putin will swim happily away together on a tide of billions of dollars.[ii] (Assuming Tillerman is confirmed by the Senate. If not, that shouldn’t change the basic strategy of lifting the sanctions and letting les bons temps roulées.)

I am aware that treason has not been proven. Yet. However, given the extremely shady “character” of the (not my) president-to-be, I feel fairly confident in saying it was collusion. If I am proven wrong, I’ll be the first to apologize. I’m not holding my breath. In the meantime, I say:

THIS IS TREASON.

It is also, more mildly, a completely illegal conflict of interest under the emoluments clause of the United States Constitution. Trump has a shitload of those, but this is the one that counts.

I REPEAT, THIS IS TREASON.

Please. Focus on treason and conflicts of interest and scream, yell and shout about it. Demonstrate in the streets about it. Write your representatives and senators about it.

Nothing else is as important, including soothing your unhappiness by posting memes about Trump’s unnatural relationship with his daughter. If we all focus our rage and energy and efforts on protesting TREASON on the part of an elected president­—someone who deliberately invited and collaborated with an unfriendly foreign power to make more money and gain power over us—maybe our legislators will get off their cowardly asses and do something to help us combat this beast.

Otherwise, resign yourself to not just another four years, but perhaps a lifetime of increasing repression, oppression, bigotry, voter suppression, rigged elections and the increased misery of the poor and disenfranchised.

In other words, you can look forward to violent revolution. You can only bully, threaten and marginalize people so long before they start fighting back.

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[i] http://www.cnn.com/2016/12/19/politics/russian-election-hacking-podesta-brazile-mccain/

[ii] http://www.forbes.com/sites/kenrapoza/2016/12/15/trump-russia-exxon-tillerson/#400782fe3a63

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Fear and Loathing in the United States

trump-snakeI am not usually troubled by writer’s block. My philosophy has always been: just write. Throw out the dreck and keep and edit the good stuff. It’s always worked well for me.

But since November 8, I have largely been unable to write a blog post. I did manage to crank out a piece on safety pins, but that was it. I’ve been so stunned, angry and terrified at the prospect of a Trump presidency that I literally could not think what to write. I could always write about something else, except for the fact that I have been unable to think about anything else.

Also, I didn’t just want to list the things that are terrifying about Donald Trump. Every article I read lays his vileness out like a sacred litany, the list only getting longer day by day. I skip these articles now because I know the catechism by heart, and every new day brings a fresh load of excrement to digest.

Trump is like a juggernaut. Nothing seems to stop him. If any other candidate had said or done even one of the horrific things he’s come up with, they’d be political roadkill by now—but no, he’s going to be our president. Even the knowledge that the Russians hacked our electoral system to sway the election in Trump’s favor doesn’t seem to matter. I saw President Obama being interviewed by Trevor Noah last night, and he seemed completely blasé about the whole thing—he said we shouldn’t be surprised. That’s just what Russians do, dontchaknow.

One day I was living in a great country, where immigrants can find refuge, where people have compassion, where we care about discrimination and work against injustice. Not a perfect country, but a country always striving to be better. Overnight, I find myself in a horrific dystopian land where people in white hoods endorse presidential candidates, where Fascist policies are embraced with enthusiasm, where hatred, meanness, bigotry and scorn for science and education are the norm.

We are now waiting with a great deal of angst and dread for the Electoral College to vote in just five days. Other nations that do not enjoy the peculiar institution of an electoral college have a hard time following this. Americans are always bellowing about our proud democracy, but most of them appear not to know that the U.S. is NOT a democracy, it’s a republic. Sure, we let the little folks vote because it makes them feel like they have a say. But the REAL voters are the 538 citizens of the Electoral College. Normally, the EC votes track the actual vote, but not this time. The problem is the notion of winner-take-all. The electors are chosen by their party in each state. The New York Times says, “In every state except two, the party that wins the popular vote gets to send all of its electors to the state capital in December. In the nonconforming Maine and Nebraska, two electoral votes are apportioned to the winner of the popular vote, and the rest of the votes are given to the winner of the popular votes in each of the states’ congressional districts. (Maine has two congressional districts and Nebraska has three.)”

The number of electors depends on the state’s population. If a given state has a majority of votes for Candidate X, Candidate X takes ALL of that state’s EC votes. Electors can legally vote for whomever they please, but traditionally vote along party lines. The EC was designed by the Founding Fathers to prevent a manifestly unfit individual from becoming president, but has never actually overturned an election in the past, which would require an unprecedented large number of EC voters to vote against party lines.

It actually gets more complicated than that, but enough civics for one blog post.

For the first time in my life, some of the electors appear to be questioning the fitness of the president-elect to serve as president. Whether or not enough electors can be swayed by Trump’s scary clown act is the question of the day. I personally emailed all the electors to urge them not to vote for Trump. (I didn’t ask them to vote FOR any specific individual.) I got three responses, all canned, all from Texas. They all said they wouldn’t vote for Hillary Clinton—not that I asked them to. Basically, my stance at this point is “Anybody but Trump.” Even Mike Pence. Pence is an evil bastard, but he’s not actually insane. (I don’t think.) It’s easier to deal with straightforward evil than it is to work with random, ego-fueled, idea-of-the-minute craziness.

And if the Electoral College fails to do its duty, I will dedicate the rest of my life to getting the Electoral College abolished, as it clearly is not functioning as intended and in fact has become an impediment to democracy. That is, in my spare time when I am not protesting the rape of the environment, the crushing of women’s rights, and discrimination against all non-white, non-Christian, non-male citizens of this formerly great country.

A Few Words about Safety Pins

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I have something to say to those who are sneering at the safety pins. First of all, the pins are not connected to the protests, so stop trying to say they are the same thing or even the same people.

Do you know what the pins mean? I’ll bet you think they mean, “I’m a left-wing pussy who’s crying because I didn’t get my way.” (Paraphrased from one post about the pins I saw.) In reality, the pin says, “No matter who you are, if you are being bullied or are fearful for any reason, I am a safe person and I will help you.”

Note that’s “No matter who you are.” The commitment is to help anyone. Even Trump voters, should they find themselves feeling threatened.

That’s it. Although it arises out of political opposition, it is free of political content. If you think there’s something wrong with that simple commitment, then we are in deeper trouble than I even now suspect.

As for the need for people to make this commitment, I think that events tell us it is desperately needed: http://www.cnn.com/2016/11/10/us/post-election-hate-crimes-and-fears-trnd/ Even President-elect Donald Trump has mentioned hate crimes and hate speech and asked for it to stop.

It’s easy and fun to sneer, I get it. Safety pins seem small, trivial. I get it. But it isn’t about safety pins. It’s about people committing to love their neighbors, regardless of race, religion, size, religion,sexual orientation, political affiliation or anything else–and who are willing to intercede when hate is uppermost.

Cultural Appropriation Is Not a Thing

sugar-skulls2

I have long been fascinated with other cultures, open to other traditions, and drawn to the beauty of other cultures’ art and expression. It seems to me that learning about other cultures is our best hope for creating a society that is open, tolerant, and inclusive.

Then I began hearing about “cultural appropriation.” Apparently adopting or adapting from cultures other than the culture one is born into is a huge bad thing because it demeans and commercializes the other cultures in question.

Whoa. All this time, I have been tolerating green beer, drunkenness, cries of “Kiss Me, I’m Irish,” green plastic leprechaun hats, and corned beef and cabbage on St. Patrick’s Day, and I wasn’t even mildly offended. (You can travel the length and breadth of Ireland and never see corned beef and cabbage on any menu. Or on anyone’s home table, either. It’s actually something the Irish immigrants culturally appropriated from the Jewish immigrants in America. For the record, the Jews have not complained about this.)

But there’s more. How many movies, books, comics, etc. have you seen with fairies, pookah, banshees, elves, will ‘o the wisps and other culturally Irish (or Celtic) themes? A whole bunch, I bet. Do you hear Irish-American people complaining about it?

No, you do not. That’s because it doesn’t damage Irish culture for people to paint their faces green and get drunk on St. Patrick’s Day. We may laugh at the gaucherie, but that’s all.

The argument that one culture can “steal” culture from another and thereby damage it is absurd. It’s equivalent to straight conservative people claiming that gay marriage threatens the sanctity of marriage. Yeah—every one of Newt Gingrich’s three marriages was sanctified.

I recently made sugar skulls with my seven-year-old granddaughter, Lilah. Lilah is Hispanic through her father, and I thought making sugar skulls would be a wonderful way to help her celebrate her heritage. In addition to making the skulls, I told her about the Mexican tradition of Dia de los Muertos, why they make the skulls, and the lovely tradition of picnicking in the graveyard to visit with the beloved dead and share with them the events of the past year. We posted pictures of our beautiful sugar skulls on Facebook to share our handiwork.

sugar-skulls1

I was immediately accused of cultural appropriation, with a link to an article on how us gringos/gabachos are ruining the sugar skull tradition.

Well, first of all, I don’t like being called a gringa or gabacha. It was just rude, and not a very persuasive way to get white people to read the article. While I thought the article was well written and made some good points about bad behavior on the part of some white people, I still think cultural appropriation isn’t possible, like dry water.

Second, I believe that the more people know and appreciate about each other’s cultures, the better off we will all be. Discouraging friendly interest and participation on the part of “others” is just driving the wedge deeper between us all.

And above all there is art. Artists have been influenced by other cultures for thousands of years, and the synergy between cultural traditions has resulted in work of genius and beauty. What if Picasso had not been allowed to use the rhythmically angular and abstract themes of African art in his painting? Jazz and rock and roll synergize African and European ideas of music into fantastically creative new forms. And what if no one but the English were allowed to use the cadences and flowing language of Shakespeare, who has influenced every body of literature in the world? The Art Deco movement would not have existed without the early 20th century fascination with the stylized art of ancient Egypt. This is cultural synergy, not cultural appropriation, and we would all be the poorer if it didn’t go on every day of every year. Fortunately, you can’t stifle artists for very long.

I am not, of course, condoning disrespectful and boorish behavior like dressing up in a Native American headdress, making whooping noises, calling everyone “Chief,” and saying “How.” That’s ignorance and bad manners. But it is not cultural appropriation, because Native American culture has never been harmed by this. The person who is harmed is the jackass doing it.

The bushman in Africa is your brother. The Ainu woman in northern Japan is your sister. Each of us is genetically almost identical to every other human being on earth. We have everything to gain by sharing our traditions and cultures. We have everything to lose by erecting still more barriers between people.

By the way, on St Patrick’s Day, please help yourself to the green beer and shamrock cookies. I’m good with it.

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