Reading Talking Anarchy

I’m reading a little book called Talking Anarchy which is an extended interview with a guy named Colin Ward, because Danny is obsessed with him right now and made me watch a documentary about New Towns with him in it. This book looked a little boring, but in the good way that’s great once you get into it, like Moby Dick, but much shorter and with more breaks to look up people’s names in Wikipedia. So far I’m enjoying:

– Ward’s comments on cooperatives and anarchasocialism (that having somewhat of a Kropotkin-y socialist bent doesn’t mean you love giant centralized state authorities)

– His strategy for dealing with overly fervent nationalists who won’t listen to any criticisms of their favorite country: mockery is the only thing that works. (For whatever definition of “works”… which I guess is, makes you feel better and they don’t shoot you for it)

– His optimism about not everything being an enormous Ford like conglomerate. Sadly this is the bit where I turned to the front of the book to check the date (2003) Things seem to continue turning more toward enormous conglomerates (agriculture… shipping… etc) This is not the homebrew industrial revolutiony future we had hoped for.

– His description of Marie Louise Berneri‘s outrage at not being jailed for her pacifist crimes because of sexist law that she and her husband were one person and so he went to jail and she didn’t

– So far, his lack of sexist douchery, so rare and precious, that he is a guy who doesn’t discount women automatically on every possible ground and instead whole heartedly appears to have engaged with women anarchists and describes them with respect as important in the movement and in public discourse

– For example I really want to know more about Lilian Wolfe who ran the Freedom Press office for 25 years and sounds like a great person. I will just quote this bit, because I really liked it.

In 1943, Lilian Wolfe, who had been running a food shop in Stroud, Gloucestershire, abandoned it at the age of sixty-seven, in order to manage the office of Freedom Press in London. She died at ninety-eight in 1974, and Nicolas Walter explained how “For more than twenty-five years Lilian Wolfe was the centre of the administration of Freedom Press at its various premises in London. She was the person on whom every organization depends — the completely reliable worker who runs the office, opening and closing the shop, answering the telephone and the post, doing accounts and keeping people in touch. She maintained personal contact with the thousands of people who read the paper…” This was certainly true in my case. When I wrote, obscurely, from a military address, she would reply and would send me copies of journals from overseas, like La Protesta from Buenos Aires and L’Adunata from New York.

Ward talks about Wolfe a lot throughout the interviews but hasn’t gotten to the part where she goes to prison in 1916 for being a pacifist anarchist along with the Freedom Press folks. (She did not just pop up whole and pure out of the food shop in Stroud, obviously). I’d like to read a whole biography of her!

Last night reading the introduction I was delightfully derailed by two casual mentions of people (thus the long Wikipedia rabbit hole journey)

– Ward’s English teacher, or maybe just AN English teacher at the high school he went to, was “(…the father of the well-known poet and critic, Kathleen Raine, who was to write venomously and extremely snobbishly of him, the school, and Ilford in her first volume of autobiography, Farewell Happy Fields) ” I am tempted to look for that book! Anyone so venomous as to deserve three adverbs in one sentence must be great.

– Another charmingly parenthetical person, his next door office neighbor’s relative… “Next door to his office, Caulfield — who was brother-in-law to Britain’s solitary Futurist painter, C.R.W. Nevinson — let a flat at 28 Emperor’s Gate to Miron Grindea, the Romanian editor of the long-running little magazine, Adam.” OMG. Britain’s only Futurist painter sounds so very lonely! When I looked him up, he wasn’t really, it was just that he was thrown out of the Vorticists by Wyndham Lewis for writing a manifesto and publishing it all their names without consulting anyone. I like his paintings, but he sounds awfully cranky.

Miron Grindea, also fabulous. He sounds like a kindred spirit.

A connection made, too, where I realized I own a copy of BLAST, the Vorticist magazine. And also I suddenly imagined Nevinson the lonely Futurist as a character in Dance to the Music of Time (which, god knows, he’s probably in there, everyone else is.)

Danny not really obsessed with Colin Ward but, good god, if I find out the revolution I wanted was in my Houston backyard I would also be mad. Actually it sort of was and I was pissed off even in 1986 about not personally being part of the Legion of Doom. You are always just THAT CLOSE to the thing you want and maybe you are even IT — right now.

I’m sure this should be more about my theories of anarchy than about gossip about dead people, but gossip is part of my daily praxis. So there. Office managers of the world, unite.

Milton Mayer book

In between much lighter reading I’ve been plowing through “They Thought They Were Free: The Germans 1933-45” by Milton Mayer, published in 1955. OK, first off I wish it didn’t have a giant swastika on the cover since I can’t even leave it lying around the house without feeling embarrassed. Thanks, book designer?

The book feels like one of those mish-mash books created from already published magazine articles. Mayer is trying to complicate various explanations of “why the ordinary (non jewish) German in the 30s and 40s were in the Nazi Party or just went along with things and what that meant for them. He works in details about ten “friends” he made in Kronnenberg, along with a bunch of German history and some psychological/sociological speculation. Also trying to tell the narrative non linearly, but not very well. I didn’t think the book was very good, but stuck with it till the end.

There was a middle section that was pages and pages of him quoting another extra 11th “friend” or colleague who was a professor (maybe in Germany, then in the U.S. or England) basically outlining some thought on frog-boiling and considering the beginnings and endings of one’s actions.

Basic premise of the book of his “friends” was a bit gross since he was lying to them, was not their friend, they weren’t or wouldn’t have been his friends, and so on. Also they all sound super racist and anti-Semitic to the core so it was deeply unpleasant to hear their mild doubts of their actions leading up to and during the war.

Mayer makes some brief comparisons of race politics in the U.S. with the situation in Germany including mentioning racism against black people and the internment of Japanese Americans.

Better off to go read Hannah Arendt rather than this stuff. The last chapter had some interesting stuff about the CIA in the 50s training assassin squads of former SS officers – in Germany – to go after people they thought were dangerous communists – despite this being totally illegal in every way.


Not looking away

Quick blog post so that I feel more centered. There is no way to catch up as everything is moving so fast.
I had trouble looking at news after the election until a week before the inauguration. I read a lot of books instead and spent time with my family. (Huge binge on novels by Margaret Oliphant and some re-reading of many books by Octavia Butler, among others.) Posting lazily on Facebook instead of here, which doesn’t make any sense…. I feel better posting here, because it fits my philosophies of open information and an open web, anyone can link to it and read it without any fuss, and I control it. Though I like the interactiveness of getting comments on FB and the relative ease of posting photos.

Last week I went with the kids to the women’s march in Oakland joining up with an informal “crip contingent” with many friends. It was beautiful and heartening. I have not made it out to many marches in the last few years, but tried to support Occupy and Black Lives Matter and other protests through sifting through information on Twitter and livestreams and news and so on, gathering, filtering, verifying, amplifying. Protests are exhausting but also energizing! I want to show up, represent, be there in solidarity.

Here I am with the big banner. I live tweeted the whole time with one hand while driving my scooter, except for when I was holding one side of the banner. It was challenging to scoot while balancing it and to keep in pace with whoever was on the other side, in the middle of a huge, often packed, crowd. Corbett brought the banners and signs with help from others (I can’t remember the name of the woman who made the banner.. Kathrine? Kathleen? starts with a K. ) As always, I felt this amazing glow of pride and love to be with a radical crip crew and other disability rights activists, advocates, writers, poets, gorgeous people! The march was huge. They said 80-100 thousand people were marching in downtown Oakland that day.

Here’s Mariana and Ian with the banner, which reads “American Dream Must Be Accessible”. This photo got circulated a lot, as people liked the sign and it being carried by wheelchair users and I think also because of the dramatic arrow painted in the road in front of them, pointing forward.

Both kids are in this too but they are holding the middle of the banner and a sign. I was so proud of the kids stepping up to help out in whatever ways were needed, taping or zip tying signs and banners, steadying the signs which was exhausting and needed constant attention, watching out for little kids, scouting ahead for our group and reporting back. As I told them before hand there is nothing like a bunch of radical crips for radicalness and not giving a fuck. TRUE.

Meanwhile I had to work pretty hard at work doing Firefox release stuff for two weeks solid along with the rest of my team and other teams. The week before a release is super intense and the week after that is also a bumpy unpredictable ride. If it goes smoothly you can relax a bit. If not then it’s more of the absorbing the firehose and figuring out what to do. The complexity is enjoyable. I also feel useful and responsible. Getting you the best possible browser that we can!

I went to Point Reyes with my sister on a day trip and had a great time driving around in the sun through the green hills. We saw baby (newborn) seals at Drake’s Beach. I also bought fancy beautiful scarves at the place next to Cowgirl Creamery, getting really into this middle aged lady scarf wearing thing, admiring other people’s clearly beloved fancy scarves and fiddling with my own (ideally warm, and beautiful, and with a texture nice to feel as I fidget a lot and like something in my hands)

I have also been doing senior tai chi classes since mid-December trying to work something local and easy to get to into my life. Danny has been walking a mile every day. In theory I will add in daily youtube video tai chi workouts even if it’s just 10 minutes. I can do the hour long one at the Bernal Heights senior center but cannot keep up with even 5 minutes of the one across the street at the Library. The one at the 30th St. center, I can do the first half but not the 2nd. (Yet).

Saturday my plans were to rest and write (exhausted from my tai-chi-ing, work, the march) but instead because of the “Muslim ban” I went out to the airport with Danny and we joined the protest there. I live-tweeted the SFO protest as is my habit, for the time that I was there, till around 5. It feels like the way I can contribute best, to report on things live, be amusing, fierce, convey the excitement and passion of the crowd and that I’m feeling. Next time I will try typing as I can do it much faster, write more liveblog style, and type without looking at a screen unlike using the phone to tweet. (I come with a built in desk, my lap, since i’m sitting in a wheelchair!) It is also very informative and mindblowing to look at others’ impressions and reporting in real time. Again suitable for my skills of fast reading and absorbing information.

The protest started small before the suggested time of 3pm with a few dozen to 150 or so people in a loose circle chanting with signs and a lot of news media hanging on the fringes interviewing people who looked like airport bureaucrats, and police of many stripes hanging back complacently. A little bit before three, crowds of people surged into the international terminal area! The crowd doubled in size fast and then grew to well over a thousand. Lots of families, small groups of people with homemade signs on cardboard boxes or paper plates or just pieces of paper. No Trump, No Pence, No Wall, No Fence was a good chant, also LET THEM GO, LET THEM GO and Move, Trump, Move out the way. We went into the street blocking it off for a while and then moved back onto the sidewalks. It became clear people were planning to stay all night. Until everyone detained was released, and until the new planes flew in and they make sure everyone gets out! The lawyers set up makeshift offices — people even brought printers! Lots of people brought food (my friend Heather baked cookies and brought them by to drop off). It was beautifully spontaneous! Keep in mind the entire thing was a surprise as Trump announced it the afternoon before and people all over the country had the idea to go do sit-ins at the airports. It is still going on.

People holding signs in the protest outside SFO’s International Terminal on Saturday:

Sunday I considered going back but exhaustion and pain made me think that was a bad idea. It’s not going to help anything if I go into a pain/inflammation flareup and am stuck in bed for days or weeks. So I stayed in bed and wrote. I was going to write this blog post, but instead had the urge to respond to what I thought was a very moving act of support from the guy who runs the SFBART social media accounts, and the SF airport officials announcing their own support of civic action of the protesters. So, I wrote a silly sweet fanfic of SFO and BART being roommates, having tea together and watching Doctor Who, discussing their political beliefs and their job as civic infrastructure. My feeling was that this would be emotionally supportive for many people, sort of comforting…. and my silly fiction impulse would be a form of activism, like when I pass out zines and stickers to make people feel happy at getting a random gift. (ZINE FAIRY!!!!) Then someone who had read my tweets asked me if I’d write up a description of the protest, for Crimethinc, “Don’t see what happens, be what happens“. Not the most shining example of writing but there it is.

Tonight the ongoing struggles and constant flow of scary news of what Trump and co. are doing is tough but we are all very determined. I have read plenty of history of how dictatorships go down and have been worrying about this coming for a while. I thought during my lifetime I had a chance of not experiencing it super directly, dictatorship oppression and war and I still hope not. As my characters mention in the ridiculous infrastructure fic, obviously, not everyone is experiencing the safety and comfort I have been lucky enough to have so far in life, which makes the safetey and comfort less good to have, we can’t be unaware of injustice and inequality and suffering around us. As I see other very privileged people like myself shaken by fear since the elections and especially in the last week, it is also very clear that people experiencing worse oppression all around us, from racism, police violence and impunity, the experience of prison and poverty, justly feel angry and impatient to see middle class white people wake up… finally….. It is very annoying to know that our particular voices are not heard, believed, felt, to be real experiences worthy of action even if it is fairly natural for people not to act until they feel threatened. We have to look out for each other and please think on who is more vulnerable than you, if you can, around you in your community and find out what they need rather than worrying about your 401K or the dreaded knock on the door that might come from your imprudent tweets, coming back to bite you in the ass in our potential future under dictatorship. If you can’t I do think that’s understandable, but what is your comfort, even your survival, worth, under what conditions? Time to think about things on that level, very soon now if you haven’t yet.

The great injustice of this country has been for many years that we exist in comfort while people are incarcerated with the most ridiculous inequality and over-zealous application of law, law that should protect us all has been used to harm people in poverty and most deadly, harming people of color, black and latino people, black men in particular, and you can see from who gets shot by cops that a high proportion are disabled people of color. We need to support Black Lives Matter and fight against not only police shootings and violence but the extreme…. EXTREME violence of the state in locking people up for years, for their entire lives, for basing entire sections of the economy on exploiting their incarceration, making the prison industrial complex a true horror of our time in the United States. We live with this reality, to me, something just unbelieveable, unspeakable! You will, maybe, look back and wonder how this happpened, how we lived with it, how we were complicit, how we had jobs that others might have had but for the school to prison pipeline, the way it underpins our entire country. It is vile and it doesn’t have to be this way!
Still, I went out tonight to the Internet Archive to “Lost Landscapes of San Francisco,” a collection of film clips from the last century, very beautiful, lovely short introduction by Rick Prelinger speaking on the theater as commons and the ways that art and history that we make and participate in are a way of resistance in dark difficult times. I will keep doing my work, part of which is writing poetry and bits of ridiculousness, broadcasting enthusiasms, caring for people around me lovingly, making my ephemeral zines, and tweeting idealistically into the air.


(originally posted Jan 30 2017 – reconstructing from old backups, pics still to come)

Inciting to protest

It’s hard to know how to describe how this looks to me, but I have read a fair amount of history and I don’t think it will go well here.

The President-Elect’s tweet today: “Just had a very open and successful presidential election. Now professional protesters, incited by the media, are protesting. Very unfair!”

Protesters incited

I’ve been a blogger for over 10 years, and as part of the media, I’d like to incite you all to protest anything you please, since that is a fundamental part of our rights in this country. Protest is an incredibly important way that we can drive political change. I believe in protest, and also in the power of civil disobedience. Not just laws but obviously, the principles behind creating laws are worth defending, and discussing, and protesting.

Maybe a more fair way to do things for the President-Elect would be for him to appoint an oversight board to tell the media what they can publish and also making not only protest but suggesting protest or covering protests as news into a federal crime. I can’t think where we have seen this idea before, maybe in various dictatorships over the years.

Failing that, maybe someone could tip off the President-Elect about the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States including our right to free speech and peaceful assembly. There is a nice explanation of it on some useful government web sites. Have a look!

The First Amendment to the United States Constitution prohibits the United States Congress from enacting legislation that would abridge the right of the people to assemble peaceably. The Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution makes this prohibition applicable to state governments”

So, anyway, sarcasm aside, looks like they gave the President-Elect his Twitter account back.

I am so proud of the protestors and especially of the San Francisco students who walked out of class and marched today in protest.

“More than 1,000 students left campuses across the city and marched toward Civic Center Plaza, according to the San Francisco Unified School District.”

I look forward to more protests, teach-ins and consciousness raising and whatever activism and political action comes from the protests.

I also look forward to reading and writing about the work of excellent journalists who will never be silenced . . .

4th of July parade ACLU

Loud music can help

Turned to 80s punk rock for comfort this morning. It’s funny I forgot how much I liked The Crucifucks. Not worrying about getting this perfect and it degenerates after the first half.

What I like, at least in this mood, is a fast pace, crisp bass, some rhythmic change or chaos, fuzzy noises, screaming obnoxiousness, either a quick sharp opening or a buildup that is worth it, and for a song to be under 2 minutes since I have a short attention span. Feeling grateful and happy this morning for punk’s existence and the great shows I used to go to in Texas. Enjoy!

The playlist so far:

No Class - Reagan Youth
Earth By Invitation Only - The Crucifucks
Hate - Red Aunts
Bourgeois Fascist Pig - Dicks
You're a Jerk - Wasted Youth
No Fucking War - 7 Year Bitch
Authority - Big Boys
Fuck Authority - Wasted Youth
We Rule and You Don't - Adolescents
We Know You Suck - JFA
World War III - T.S.O.L.
The Ugly American - Big Black
Parade of the Horribles - Circle Jerks
Patriot Asshole - MDC
Nervous Breakdown - Black Flag
World Up My Ass - Circle Jerks
I Can't Believe - Big Black
People Hate Me - Tribe 8
Anti-Klan - Dicks
Washington - The Crucifucks
Right Wing/ White Ring - Dicks
Eve of Destruction - The Dickies
The Leader Is Burning - Pocket FishRmen
John Wayne Was a Nazi - MDC
California Uber Alles - Dead Kennedys (the classics)
Democracy - Adolescents
Another Shot of Whiskey - The Gits

The list goes on from there, but in a disorganized way (the leftovers from constructing the first half).

I really love music and carefully cultivate playlists for various moods and genres. Maybe I’ll write about it more, and that way people will give me fabulous recommendations for more music that I’d like.

What we'll do

One thing that was starting to dawn on me: we would see a wave of women speaking up, more than ever, which would change things in ways we couldn’t predict. The heartfelt stories suddenly popping up on “Pantsuit Nation” felt like early blogging days over again but expanded further out to a new group. Stories of past abuse or injustice, large or small incidents as women thought about their lives, their mothers and grandmothers and daughters. Despite the ways the political status quo supports already privileged white women I started to feel that a little bit more of a cultural shift was about to happen in this country with Clinton’s election. I really love diaries and the history of women’s writing. In this context for me it is touching and sad to see how difficult it is for women even now to participate in public intellectual life. So often the pattern is that women of color blaze the trail and fall hard under attack while a lot of white women professionalize up and get a dribble of token jobs.

My hope is that we will fight harder against that process and women will keep on writing and being outspoken – not in the way it might have unfolded, but as a point of resistance and awakening under whatever is about to happen (which I dread.)

Even the most privileged women don’t manage to tell their stories or truth in public (or mobilize and organize, which is what comes next) maybe in some cases because they have a fair amount to lose and are invested in the status quo. Beyond that personal investment and co-optatation we should also be aware that culture and politics can change quickly. We can’t know what aspects of our life will condemn us in the future (for example, being a landlord in some political climates has meant heavy political oppression for generations.) Early blogging or any frank public writing leaves us even more vulnerable on a political level than we might fear in our personal lives or from being trolled online.

Also I thought that Samantha Bee thing about Clinton’s life clamping down on herself and trying to mold herself into what was required by The Patriarchy was the most depressing thing ever and I felt glad I have at least some remnant of punk rock in my soul. Man that was awful. Nope nope nope. She took a pragmatic road but what a road to hell. Glad I am not a politician right now.

This is just to say that this can be a point of resistance. Maybe that is comforting – kind of like, well, So what. Keep on being out there if that’s a way you want to risk yourself. It can be small and personal but it has a real world effect. Maybe the women who began to open up in that “private” Facebook group will find ways to keep on doing something like that. I respect the ways that people find to keep themselves and their families safe. But it’s also important that we keep speaking up as much as possible. For myself I’m thinking that I stand by my own years of public writing and always will. Everyone please blog harder and poet harder, if that’s what you do.

Thoughts on UberAssist

Yesterday I found out that UberAssist was available in San Francisco. Since both my manual wheelchair (a Quickie Ti rigid frame) and my mobility scooter (a TravelScoot Jr.) can fold and fit easily into the trunk of any car, I have used Uber and other taxi-esque programes since they were first available to me. I understand UberAssist as follows:

* Drivers can opt in to take a training class (online) and a test in how to assist disabled and elderly passengers in a polite and helpful way.

* The training was developed by some outside consultant.

* The training is free for drivers.

* UberAssist rides cost the same for passengers as UberX rides, and the drivers get the same payment rate.

While I may use this service, I am dismayed and worried. This is simply the behavior which all Uber, Lyft, and taxi drivers should follow: being polite and helpful to their customers, and not discriminating or behaving in a rude or bigoted way.

Are “regular” Uber drivers going to now refuse to pick me and my wheelchair up, and tell me to instead call UberAssist? That seems a likely outcome. When that happens, I will complain to the fullest possible extent not just against the individual driver but against the company, which should, and obviously can, require all its drivers to pass anti-discrimination training.

To top this BS off, Uber is offering the inspiration porn-like option for riders to be charged a higher fee for their ride, out of which a dollar will be donated to the Special Olympics, a button labelled “INSPIRE”. Yes… Inspire. Soooo, which disabled taxi users did they ask what they thought of that name and that option? This is Uber’s response to facing a $7.3 Million fine in California? Or the ADA lawsuits gearing up?

liz with a wheelchair wheel in a taxi

So, meanwhile, I needed to get downtown to the Independent Living Resource Center and I was feeling too exhausted and in pain to take the bus for 40 minutes plus. I tried the UberAssist option. Enough drivers must have taken the training and signed up for the program in San Francisco to give a reasonable density of drivers. Response time to get to my house was 3 minutes for UberX, and 17 minutes for UberAssist. Not great but not unworkable for me. The driver who responded explained to me that I was his 2nd Assist rider, and he signed up for the program because he loves helping people. I told him that I also love helping people. (It did not seem to be part of his thinking that a disabled person might help people.) We conversed pleasantly. I think he was a bit disappointed he did not get to Help me a bit more. He also complimented me on my “positive approach towards life”. Fellow crips will know how “happy” that made me. However, I can fake it to be polite.

On my way back, I had a super helpful and nice driver who said we were her first Assist customers. I appreciated her helping me and my son load my folding scooter into her car trunk. It felt like a normal human interaction. It was not really any different from most other times I have taken cabs. Most drivers get out and offer help. If they don’t, I can usually lift the 30 lb scooter into a trunk on my own. If I can’t do it on my own I most likely have planned to have someone with me….

Also feel I should mention, I don’t always take extra time to get into a cab. Sometimes I’m a bit clumsy or unprepared or I ask for help. It is a matter of an extra minute or maybe two. Not any more than someone with a suitcase would need.

For an example of how some drivers think about disabled and elderly people (bigotedly), have a look at this discussion forum for drivers. It was so horrible that I could not get completely through the multi-page thread. These drivers seem convinced they can and should refuse wheelchair using and elderly passengers, and, that if they don’t, Uber should pay them more for driving them. This is just heinous.

And yet, over the years I have only had one driver behave badly (very badly) to me and one driver cancel after I mentioned my folding wheelchair in a text.

Will I really wait 10 or 15 extra minutes for a cab routinely, for the sake of possibly increasing my chance of being treated with normal consideration?

We’ll see if UberAssist backfires or not. Maybe it will become routine for more drivers to take the training.

And maybe, able bodied and non-elderly people will use it. That might have an interesting effect on the outcome and politics of this social experiment.

If you’re in New York City, here’s a protest happening tomorrow: Krips Occupy Wall Street (OWS Disability Caucus). Do come out and support the protest!

“As you may know, Uber now has 18,000 vehicles in New York City — but not one wheelchair-accessible vehicle. We’re throwing up a protest line — we call it a roll-in — at the Uber offices on 26th Street next week on THURSDAY, JULY 30 at NOON. If you’re around, it’d be great if you could be there. Can you come by? Can you bring anyone? Thanks.”

None of this takes away from the important fact that we should be fighting to make buses better for everyone, and for taxi drivers of all stripes to have better employment rights and protection.

That all crucial three dollar check

So, disabled people in theory get to ride public transport at a discount rate in San Francisco and in fact in the entire Bay Area. To get my disabled rate card for the bus I had to bring my accessible parking placard to an office in Downtown SF and pay some nominal fee for a card. This proves I’m disabled I guess. Most transit cards, you can just buy at a Walgreens or in the train station.

That errand took nearly a whole day for me to take the bus, wait around in this office, get sent to the DMV for some reason I couldn’t fathom, spend hours at the DMV, get back on my 4th bus of the day to the Regional Transit Center office on Van Ness. Pay my 5 bucks or whatever it was and be done. I got a plastic card with my photo & an RFID chip. But this is already bullshit. How much proving I’m disabled do I have to do here for this petty benefit? Can’t DMV make it known upon request that yes, in their eyes, I’m still disabled?

Once I had the card – maybe a month later — I could get online to refill the card and even set it up to refill automatically once a month. That part was nice.

In July, I got a badly xeroxed form with a handwritten note saying I needed to check a box to say I was still disabled, and write in the number of my parking placard. I also had to enclose a check for $3.00. Ridiculous!

So I sent this form in a couple of weeks ago. Today my bus pass suddenly didn’t work.

I called the Clipper card people who told me to call RTC which is run out of some company called Cordoba. They said they were getting tons of phone calls, because many people hadn’t gotten their renewals yet.

The phone call with RTC was just frustrating. They acted like they were angry with me and were very condescending. “Well, did you SEND IT? Did you send it to (po box and address.) How do I know? I sent it to the address it said. “Well did you enclose a check for $3.00? If you put cash in, that doesn’t work.” Yeah I’ll bet it doesn’t. They haven’t gotten my renewal letter, and didn’t have any suggestion about what to do other than wait.

The whole process is so silly and inefficient. They need to recognize that lots of people aren’t going to become magically un-disabled, and save themselves a lot of petty paperwork. I wonder what actually happens to that piece of paper I got mailed? No one needs that damn piece of paper! And I don’t think they need any yearly check for 3 dollars either, isn’t that what we pay taxes for?! Really you are gonna hassle every single cripple in the Bay Area every July for a check for $3.00?

I bet that has bad results especially for all the people I see downtown who might not have their shit together to the degree I do. I doubt the intended service manages to serve this population well.

/end rant.

Noisebridge! Best thing ever!

On April 2nd and 3rd I am going to spend several hours teaching at least 70 high school physics students how to solder and some alluring information about contributing to open source software!

They are doing a project to design and build a solar home. If you know anything about electronics or solar energy cells please join us a do some teaching!

rowan learning to solder

I spent $250 of my own money to buy a crapload of little LED kits so they can have a conveniently teachable soldering project – that is how much I love Noisebridge, and geeky things, and teaching, and non hierarchical anarchist/mutualist community spaces!

I am thinking of the Hackability group that meets at Noisebridge to fix and mod their wheelchairs and mobility scooters! We take over a classroom, gank all the workshop tools, and get on the floor where none of us think it is weird that we scoot and crawl and roll across the floor to pick up a screwdriver just out of reach, laughing at all this solidarity! We bravely dismantle our cyborg leg-wheels and bolt them on again covered with LED lights, jazzed up with arduinos to measure battery voltage, then roll on out into the town!

potentiometer and its lever

And the fierce, fun feminist hacker hive that is a chaotic unstructured network of strength and curiosity and information sharing, that stretches from Noisebridge to sudo room and LOLSpace, and beyond!


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surface mount soldering

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Nixon in China: That is your cue!

Last night I saw the opera Nixon in China and was blown away completely by its complexity and beauty and most especially for how it spoke to me as a feminist. I adore Alice Goodman‘s libretto and like to picture her fervent research and immersion process! I took notes in my lap. Her poetry is fucking awesome. It’s subtle even when she’s basically punching you in the face. Also… in general, the staging from the San Francisco Opera was gorgeous! I could go see it again and be very happy! Read on for a synopsis. Buried somewhere in there will be my reaction to Jiang Qing’s part!

The opera opens with a group of grey-coated cadres waiting for Nixon’s plane to arrive. The plane is projected on screen through mist. As the group sings The Three Main Rules of Discipline and The Eight Points of Attention, gauzy curtains lift and the mist blows away; the people become more clear, strongly declaiming “The people are the heroes now”. It was very moving. A staircase rolls up, Nixon emerges, and there is a scene of rather dull greetings and handshakes prolonged for the crew of a giant old fashioned TV camera which is wheeled around during many scene (and which I loved as a reminder of the events’ conscious political theater). Everyone goes away. Pat Nixon is doing an awesome job of faculty-wifing in her bright red dress. (Her outfits were to die for the whole time…) Did she really wear red? I want to know! It is so significant! Nixon, in “News! News!” imagines his ideal audience, his patriotic vision of small town wholesome America doing stuff while the TV shows his actions on all channels and the blue glow pours out from the curtains to the lawns and streets beyond. He recaps his important handshakes, singing passionately about history and mystery.

News has a kind of mystery;
When I shook hands with Chou En-lai
On this bare field outside Peking
Just now, the whole world was listening.

Then he utterly freaks out, bad-tripping with the brilliant “The rats begin to chew the sheets!” bit where surly, scruffy reporters give him bad press. Oh noes! Nixon! Don’t get all paranoid now! The rats song is extremely catchy.

The scene changes to Mao’s living room where he is attended by a bunch of people, three secretaries who take notes on (& echo) his every word, and Zhou En-Lai. Kissinger and Nixon come in. Nixon totally fails to understand any of the cryptic things Mao says but tries to clumsily work in some references to Chinese culture and history. There is a brief interlude where Pat and Dick are in maybe her dressing room getting ready for the upcoming banquet. She gets in a lot of “yes, dear” but also her theme of “more snow before the spring” begins to develop. Then a fabulous operatic drinking song sequence set at a dull state banquet. There is a good interplay between Nixon and Pat as he sings “I was wrong” and she does a smug little 50’s wifely chortle. I loved the waiters coming in and out (and often stopping to listen to the speeches) and the use of the airplane jetway (modified) for the ridiculously tall podium. The scene and act end with people dancing on the tables. Gambei!! Cheers!!! I love a jolly drinking scene! I wished my son were there to see the choreography of the crowd!

In Act II Pat Nixon gets a lot of further development. She tours Beijing — gets a glass elephant, pets a pig, admires children at play. “It’s Christmas every day!”, she sings, and I thought “A lot of women got ECT trying to achieve your ideal womanhood, and failed”. Pat then happily suggests a picnic in a beautiful park. That last bit was one of my favorite moments of the opera as Pat admires the park (maybe meant to be the Summer Palace?) and the cadres with her fall silent. They react quite badly to her burbling; they describe the oppression that created that beauty. When they see this aesthetic landscape they see graves, starvation, torment. “It’s almost like you knew them” Pat falters. She doesn’t get it. She is sincere but terribly innocent & clueless. She doesn’t understand why they want to dwell on negative things, why they are harsh, upset, angry; why they are so steely. She doesn’t understand why their revolution needs defending, and that they are still in a war and for many good reasons. This scene had me wanting to stand up and cheer.

Pat Nixon sings a long solo aria about how this visit is prophetic. Or maybe it was the snow falling and then clearing. I loved this solo and thought the singer was amazing. A projection of her face was superimposed on a backdrop of waving U.S. flags; I was so grateful to be able to see the details of her perfect acting & emotion. I felt inspired with real respect for the real-world Pat Nixon and her wisdom, insight, delicacy.

Then we cut to a staged performance of Jiang Qing’s version of The Red Detachment of Women. I love that this opera shows her as fierce and uncompromising, shows her attraction rather than simplifying her as a villain. Anyway, we get this completely amazing Hating Tyranny ballet interlude in which a young beautiful peasant girl is being raped and beaten to death by tyrants and foreign oppressors. Very movingly danced. Suddenly Kissinger leaps up from the on-stage audience of diplomats and becomes one of the characters who is raping and whipping the girl (Ching-hua). Now while I am not sure what is going on there I liked that it was blurring the line of art and spectacle with participation in oppression and that the lines of real and play broke down. (Meanwhile I was having other meta-ish thoughts about how many stories I have read in which the real action took place during an opera but in the boxes of the important people… above our heads.) I thought during the first part of the ballet, of the ways in which revolutions including mine want to make art about the experience of oppression from the oppressed’s point of view. And how that is sneered at aesthetically by the dominant culture.

Then, from the stage-audience, Pat Nixon freaks out and tries to save Ching-hua, held back by Nixon. Oh, tender white woman’s tears! Then there was a point where the soldier guy ballet-marches up all sprightly and fresh to save her. I kept thinking, and then fiercely muttering, “Give her the gun. GIVE HER THE GUN. He’s NOT GOING TO GIVE HER THE GUN. Oh my god. FUCK. TAKE THE GUN” knowing that in these things I always mutter that — and she never gets the gun! Instead they dance a romantic little duet which made me want to spit in frustration! Oh! Take the gun, sister! Though I do love the happy-wheelbarrows-rah-rah elements in this bit and others.

Then this, Ching-hua’s song though i think it was sung by a chorus. I scribbled down the bit about the silent gun warms in my hand salving the wound made by man, and looked it up, so here:

It seems so strange
To take revenge
After so long
To find the wrong
Can be undone.
The silent gun
Warms in my hand
Salving the wound
Made by the men
It will gun down
All in good time
I shall kill them
Yes, every one
Revenge is mine.

Yeah!!! You can imagine that gave me shivers.

Now at this point my memory is jumbled as there was a scene of Jiang pressing the gun on Ching-hua (who is hanging out with the new crop of foreign oppressors now) and screaming THAT IS YOUR CUE, looking disappointed Ching-hua does not shoot. She is singing “THAT IS YOUR CUE!” to Ching-hua in frustration. I can’t remember if Jiang or Ching-hua finally shot the cringing rapist foreign oppressor (Kissinger in Mandarin costume). As I looked it up from previous stagings, they seemed quite different from what I remember! I think the San Francisco director did something very interesting! I’d like to see it again or in video. But for me it was amazing either way. Jiang stomping and strutting around so bravely and fiercely! Popping up in her handsome tailored suit like a projection from my own News! News! images of myself that I carry! I raise the weak above the strong! Okay, so, someone shot the rapist and then the Cultural Revolution was ballet danced while Jiang shakes her fist at the world and screams THE BOOK THE BOOK THE BOOK and I thought grim terrible self criticisms of my love of texts and the pitfalls of vengeance and power. (Muttering meanwhile, “Goddammit… fuck this… fuck The Book… Write my own fucking book…. “) Let me be a grain of sand! Every girl is a riot grrrl! Kill rock stars! Either way, it is a criticism of personal vengeance, which is so relevant to criticisms of Jiang… I would also like to say that when Jiang gave her the gun, I noticed a woman in front of me a few rows who had funny colored hair and was with someone my age with dreadlocks, cheered out loud and Danny says I did too. At the opera’s end the singer who played Jiang got a huge cheer from the women in the audience – it was very markedly us cheering her… Which was interesting.

I am the wife of Mao Tse-tung Who raised the weak above the strong When I appear the people hang
Upon my words, and for his sake
Whose wreaths are heavy round my neck
I speak according to the book.
When did the Chinese people last
Expose its daughters? At the breast
Of history I sucked and pissed,
Thoughtless and heartless, red and blind,
I cut my teeth upon the land
And when I walked my feet were bound
On revolution. Let me be
A grain of sand in heaven’s eye
and I shall taste eternal joy.

Food for thought there. I will continue thinking about what Alice Goodman meant in Jiang’s aria. I get that Jiang’s defense of herself at trial was that she was Mao’s dog executing his orders (or his book) But I think Goodman means more in a sort of simulteneity of ways Jiang may have seen herself and her works. As the opera is about a brief event, but stretches backwards and forwards in time and history and the future over an holistic geography; and also how its characters speak about particular things but with the librettist’s knowledge that the audience is listening in a particular way with their own knowledge — I think that much of this is about gender and women as well as Vietnam. That is to say that is what Goodman projects to be in the mind of the audience’s viewing. We don’t have to hear “Vietnam” (though we do, once) to know it is simmering in the audience’s mind as the characters sing about war and peace, as Nixon reminisces about his wartime near-death experiences and ecstasies. Best time of his life, war, but not the best time of the war right then or the war scarred listeners when the opera was written (and not in our minds either today.) Similiarly, Goodman is speaking through Pat Nixon and Jiang to the women in the audience in a way I rarely experience in any performed artwork. It was as if the opera passed the Bechdel test on some meta level. I found that satisfying yet tantalizing. Obviously the Bechdel-test-passing fanfic scene between Pat and Jiang with the secretaries in chorus still needs to be written.

I cannot remember where in the sequence of the opera there was the “burn the books” scene but it was when Nixon says (so awkwardly! so embarrassing!) “Confucius!” and Mao is like “NO!!!” and giant scrolls come down from the ceiling. We get a Koyanisqatsii sort of projectsion of bustling cityscape with neon and traffic projected onto those now-veiled scrolls which become skyscrapers as Mao speaks. I wished he (Mao) could see the present. I have also left out how much I enjoyed Nixon’s singing loudly and jovially about telecommunications satellites! That was beautiful.

About the music, I’m not the world’s biggest music critic, but I like it. A lot of bits remind me of Phillip Glass. Some of the songs are melodic and singable and catchy, while some wander around in the way opera dialogue often does. I had many moments of awe and wonder, thinking not only “this is what poetry is *for*” but also being in awe that what I was hearing was made of human voices. Truly amazing. I love the long contemplative arc of opera and the long thoughts I have during it.

During the third act the two couples reminisce about the trip and their lives in general. Pat gets in a lot more wifely Stepford agreements to Nixon’s rambling about the war with barbed intelligence behind it but some ambiguous bits on how when she read his letters she was doing her hair or cooking some chicken. I interpreted that as part commentary on her bougie-ness but partly her own frustration or criticism of being relegated to that realm of life, the domestic “trivialities” she rejects in Act Two, reading Dick’s letters from the Pacific Theatre. She seems touchingly aware of his PTSD, his being damaged by the war, in a way he isn’t able to know or articulate. Mao and Jiang talk over their lives interspersed with Pat and Dick, with the stage a pastiche of the events and scenes of the opera and their Chinese and U.S. landscapes, memory and present — present as in 1972 but I am pretty sure some of the projected scenes were of times afterward. Mao is tired. Jiang is still jumping around fiercely full of energy and sureness. He thinks the revolution is over and was for boys. (Boys!!) Jiang is like, “No! The revolution will not end!” Or maybe “must not end”. Both the Nixons’ and Mao and JIang’s interchanges are of failed communication. They completely fail to hear each other across gender, just as Mao and Nixon missed communication — and yet in both those situations, something happened and some relationship is possible.

Chou En-lai gets a great pensive monologue at the end. He has been stalking gravely about the stage during all the more florid action of the opera, thoughtful and alert. Now he emerges and steps forward as the future. He is the one who now will frame events. He frets and is a bit neurotic in a good way. How much of what we did was good? (A good companion question to the classic one of “What is to be done?” By having Chou ask this question for this visit as well as for all the events before and after it — we meaning all the characters in the play — Goodman is carefully asserting that SOME of what was done was good, is not buying into a total rejection of either the U.S.’s actions, China’s in general, or the Cultural Revolution. I appreciate that complexity.