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Ruminations of a Feisty Old Quaker

I once danced with Ginger Rogers. Probably.

I dreamed about Rita Hayworth last night.


In the dream, I ran into her at a party in New York City. "Hi, Rita," I said.


"You recognized me," she said. "Did you do anything for Canada Day yesterday?"


"No."


"I didn't, either. I live in a small town in Illinois. It doesn't matter."


"I suppose I could have ordered a pizza with Canadian bacon on it," I said. She laughed, and the dream abruptly shifted, as dreams do, to something entirely different and not nearly as pleasant.


I told my wife about it after we were both awake. She wasn't impressed. "Rita Hayworth was before our time," she pointed out.


"That doesn't matter in dreams. In the dream, we were both about 60."


"If you'd dreamed about Ginger Rogers, it might have at least made sense."


"I once danced with Ginger Rogers," I said. "At least, I think it was Ginger Rogers."


"I know."


"She lived around here." I stopped. Melody was getting that look spouses get when you're about to launch into a story they've heard a thousand times or so, and it felt prudent not to burden her with it any further.


You haven't heard it a thousand times or so, however.


Here's the whole tale.

 ____________________________

 

In 1978, Melody and I and our small family became active in the Ashland International Folk Dancers, a group whose name explains exactly what it did. We continued dancing with the AIFD for the next 44 years, until COVID shut it down (temporarily, we still hope) in 2020.


For most of that time, the group met on Friday nights at the Ashland Community Center, a lovely Craftsman-style building from the 1920s with a marvelous dance floor. The Community Center stood across the street from the lower end of Ashland's enormous and gorgeous Lithia Park, which starts there and stretches south for about a mile along the tumbling waters of Ashland Creek. By the time the COVID shutdown came, the AIFD had dwindled to ten or twelve mostly older dancers; but in the 80s and 90s it was big and enthusiastic. On warm summer nights we would open the doors, and the music and some of the dancing would spill over onto the sidewalk outside.


The lower end of Lithia Park also houses the well-known Oregon Shakespeare Festival, one of the nation's premiere small theaters. There is head-in parking directly across the steet from the Community Center, and play-goers often park there, where they can cross the creek on a convenient footbridge and have a pleasant stroll through the park on their way to an evening of theater. It was not uncommon for some of those play-goers to be attracted by our dancing, and to drop in briefly to watch. Sometimes the bolder ones would join in.


During the 1980s, while this was going on, Ginger Rogers was living full-time at the ranch she had bought as a vacation retreat in 1940, on the Rogue River near the small community of Shady Cove, 40 miles or so from Ashland. She mostly stayed out of the limelight, but she was neither a recluse nor a miser; she donated generously to the arts community in southern Oregon, including especially the Shakespeare Festival, whose plays she occasionally attended.


So, this happened: on one of those warm summer Friday nights, sometime around 1983, three women walked in through the open door of the Community Center while we were dancing. They were all in their 60s or 70s, and they had broad, joyful smiles on their faces. "I didn't know this was going on," one of them said. They sat together in three of the empty chairs lining the room's walls, put there both for our own use between dances and for our occasional visitors.


The next dance on the program happened to be a mixer - a couples' dance with many verses, with a partner change on each verse. One of the regular dancers walked over to the visitors and asked if any of them would like to join us. One of them said yes. She looked very familiar.


We didn't use a caller, but the pattern of this dance was relatively simple and we did a quick walkthrough, and by the time the partner change delivered our visitor to me she had it pretty well down. I talked her through it, but that didn't really seem necessary. She was sure on her feet, and incredibly light in my arms, as if we had been dancing together forever. The pattern ended with a brief waltz and a spin, and I released her to the next man in the circle. Shortly after that, the music ended.


"That was fun," she said. "It's been too long. But we have to go." She corralled her two friends and they left, heading across the street toward the theater.


"Was that who I think it was?" someone asked.


"Could have been," someone else said. "She has a ranch on the Rogue River." It was clear that others had leaped to the same conclusion I had.


We had been touched, briefly, by fame.

  ____________________________

 

So that's how I once danced with Ginger Rogers. Probably.


It was before the Internet, so it was less convenient to find a picture of her then than it would be now; but a few days later I walked down to the Ashland Public Library, where I would later be employed as a reference librarian for eighteen years, and went looking. I found plenty of pictures in books in the stacks, as well as in a few in the reference section, and they all matched my memory of the woman who had joined our dance that night. And she definitely lived nearby and had a reason to be in town. In the few square feet of town where we were dancing.


That's my story, and I'm sticking to it.


So why did I start this account with Rita Hayworth? Well, she and Ginger Rogers were cousins by marriage. And that, and my dream, are the only excuses you are going to get.

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An Open Letter to America's Conservatives

Conservative: of or constituting a political party professing the principles of conservatism, such as (a) tending or disposed to maintain existing views, conditions, or institutions (b) marked by moderation or caution; [or] (c) marked by or relating to traditional norms of taste, elegance, style, or manners.

- the Merriam-Webster online dictionary

-----------------


When did conservatives stop being conservative?

 

When did a political philosophy that used to stand for preserving the old order and demanding respect for existing institutions begin trying to overthrow the old order and destroy existing institutions? When did acting with prudence morph into acting with reckless disregard? How did "freedom" manage to become synonymous with "to hell with you, buddy, I've got mine"?

 

Read the Merriam-Webster definition above. Can anyone still pretend that these words come anywhere close to describing today's principal claimant to the conservative banner - the modern Republican Party?

 

So what happened?  Read More 

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A Central Part of the American Experience

In mid-November, 1969, several movements against the war in Vietnam coalesced to stage a series of massive demonstrations called, then and now, the November Moratorium. More than half a million people descended on Washington DC, filling the Mall and overflowing into the surrounding streets; smaller but still massive demonstrations in New York, Chicago, Boston, and San Francisco drew well over 100,000 each. Numerous other cities and towns held their own versions, large and small, on various days close to the middle of the month: Seattle's took place the day before DC's, on November 14. Somewhere between 3,000 and 10,000 people (histories of the movement today are usually content to simply say "over 3000") gathered at the city's Central Library at Fourth and Madison and marched the mile and a half from there to Seattle Center, where they were treated to a concert at the base of the Space Needle by blues singer Taj Mahal, who was playing a Seattle club that evening and was willing to put his art to work for the cause.

 

Melody and I happened to be staying with her parents in Bellevue, across Lake Washington from Seattle, at the time, Read More 

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I want my summers back

I want my summers back. Green summers, summers when creeks ran fresh and full, summers when the snow stayed on Mt Ashland into August (and sometimes into September). Summers when I could water the garden and wash the car without fear that we might be forced into water rationing before September. Summers when the air wasn't filled with smoke for half the season: summers when we could send the kids out to play without worrying about heat stroke or particulate counts, summers when we wouldn't wake up regularly to the news that yet another beautiful, loved place in the forest was smoldering into ruin. Read More 

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Abraham's Choice

Most people who will read this will undoubtedly know the tale of Abraham and Isaac. It is one of the foundational stories of all three of the major Abrahamaic faiths (Christianity, Judaism, and Islam - although Muslims will often argue that the child involved was Ishmael rather than Isaac). The Christian version is found in Genesis 22. God challenges Abraham to prove his devotion by sacrificing his firstborn son, Isaac, on a specific mountain top. Abraham journeys to the mountain with his son and carries out all the preparations, up to and including binding the child to the pyre and picking up the sacrificial blade. At that point, God interrupts in the form of an angel, who stays Abraham's hand and points to a ram caught in a nearby thicket. Abraham, the angel says, has adequately demonstrated his obedience, and should now save his son by sacrificing the ram instead. Which Abraham proceeds to do.

 

In all three faiths, The Binding - as it is known in Judaism - is held up as a premiere example of the rewards to be obtained by radical obedience to the love of God. But now comes along Wilfred Owen, writing from a battlefield in France in the summer of 1918, shortly before his own death in battle. Owen's version sticks close to the language of Genesis. But it has a different, much darker ending.

 

The Parable of the Old Man and the Young

 

So Abram rose, and clave the wood, and went,
And took the fire with him, and a knife.
And as they sojourned both of them together,
Isaac the first-born spake and said, My Father,
Behold the preparations, fire and iron,
But where the lamb for this burnt-offering?
Then Abram bound the youth with belts and straps,
and builded parapets and trenches there,
And stretchèd forth the knife to slay his son.
When lo! an angel called him out of heaven,
Saying, Lay not thy hand upon the lad,
Neither do anything to him. Behold,
A ram, caught in a thicket by its horns;
Offer the Ram of Pride instead of him.

 

But the old man would not so, but slew his son,
And half the seed of Europe, one by one.

 

I have been thinking a lot about this lately. Where does our current culture stand in relation to The Binding? We clearly still abhor child sacrifice: our battles over abortion relate to that, as does our focus on child sex trafficking, and the emphasis opponents of Trump's border wall have placed on the separation of children from their parents by immigration authorities. We are Bibically correct - as long as the children are concrete. But when they are abstract - children in the future, children as a whole in the present - we seem far more likely to embrace Wilfred Owen's dystopian version of the old tale than we do the original.

 

It's not just war that I am talking about.

 

We are faced - all of us, right here, right now - with Abraham's choice. We have bound our children, and our children's children, to the pyre of climate change. The angel has arrived, in the form of irrefutable scientific evidence that change is happening and that it is human-caused. The sacrificial ram - our addiction to fossil fuels - has been pointed to. We have been implored to switch. But the knife continues to descend.

 

There is another story of child sacrifice in the Bible: the tale of Jepthah, found in Judges 11-12. There, the sacrifice is actually carried out. Jepthah is not nearly so highly regarded today as is Abraham. But it is his example, rather than Abraham's, that we apparently choose to follow.

 

We still abhor child sacrifice. We particularly abhor mass child sacrifice. A story in the February 2019 issue of National Geographic recounts archaeologists' discovery of a site in Peru where hundreds of children and young llamas were slain in what was clearly a single large-scale ritualistic offering by the ancient Chimù culture to try to stave off the calamity that would soon end their civilization. Most Americans will properly recoil in horror at the idea of murdering that many children in a vain attempt to keep a dying culture alive, but we are worse than the Chimù. We are extending the life of our dying petroleum-based culture by sacrificing the future of every child on the planet. And our resemblance to the Chimù extends beyond the sacrifice itself. Available evidence points to an extended period of heavy rain as the primary cause of the Chimù's demise. They cut off their children's future in a failed attempt to continue business as usual in the face of climate change.

 

As do we.

 

Abraham made the proper choice. When the angel appeared, he listened. The child was liberated; the ram was sacrificed instead. Our time is short - it grows shorter every day - but we can still do the same. We can still turn from dismantling our children's future to dismantling our dependence on fossil fuels. Renewable energy is a viable alternative; taking Abraham's choice does not require the sacrifice of our comfort instead of our children. We should rejoice in the opportunity we have been given to shift victims. Will we be wise enough to take it? If not, the fire awaits.

 

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No, Not Republicans

Warning: Rant.

I have been up since 5:30 this morning. I'm a night person, but I couldn't sleep for the anger. Anger at the travesty that currently passes for politics in Washington, D.C. Anger at the Kavanaugh "hearing" and "investigation" (quotes around both of those, please). Anger at party-line politicians who just "go along". Anger at Donald Trump and Mitch McConnell.

Anger, mostly, at "Republicans".

No, NOT "anger at Republicans." I want to make this clear. Anger at "Republicans". Quotes around the name only. Those using that name in Washington right now are not really Read More 

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Some Thoughts on Third-Party Movements

(NOTE: this was first published as a Facebook post two years ago, on September 2, 2016. Because it remains relevant - especially so with the 2018 mid-term elections just over two months away - I am republishing it here on my blog, where it will be easier to find and refer to.)

Those advocating for third-party presidential candidates are taking on a harder task than they know. The structure of the American government virtually guarantees the dominance of two major parties. I'm not talking about the political superstructure that's been built up over the last 240 years; I'm talking about the basic structure of the government, as spelled out in Read More 
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What I learned in Washington, D.C.

This is a story from my long-past lobbying days. I'm telling it now because it has important implications for the current political season.

The story starts on a late April Monday in 1973, with a 6:00 AM phone call from Diane Meyer,  Read More 
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Here, hold my beer

Five days ago - on June 2, 2018 - two rock climbers fell to their deaths from a pitch a thousand feet up the face of El Capitan, the 3000-foot-high granite wall that guards the entrance to Yosemite Valley. Most people may have skimmed right past that item, but as a former climber myself I tend to follow news like that, and this one grabbed my attention. Despite its impressive verticality - which draws climbers from all over the world - El Cap is really pretty safe. The standard routes all have fixed Read More 

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Fructans and Me

I knew from the moment I took the first bite that I shouldn't eat that sandwich.

We were out with friends in a brewpub in a nearby town. The beer was good and the conversation was better. Because I have a food sensitivity, I looked the menu over carefully. Good - they had a BLT. BLTs are always safe. This one listed a couple of extra ingredients, but not the one that I have a problem with, so I ordered it. It came, scrumptiously prepared. I bit into it.

Onions?! Who puts onions in a BLT?

Maybe it's just a tiny amount in the sauce? I took another bite. Read More 

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