The Fempire Strikes Back!

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The National Mall, Washington, D.C., January 21, 2017 — It was as if an ocean of pink hats was flooding foggy bottom, an alternative name for part of our nation’s capitol.  This rising tide symbolized an amazing change in climate compared to the inauguration of the President of the United States only a sunrise earlier.

Millions of women across the globe marched to protect their rights and all human rights under threat from the seismic changes quaking governmental leadership in the U.S. and elsewhere around the world.  Their spirit was bright, their energy strong, and their objectives earnest.

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The younger crowd crashed on the carpet.

When the march was announced we made it known to friends outside Washington that our basement would be a 60’s style crash pad from which they could launch themselves into the Million Woman March.  All told, nine folks accepted our hospitality while many more had alternatives elsewhere in the area.

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Our posse numbered 11 – six women and five men.  Each traveled from Trump country – representing Georgia, Oklahoma, rural Virginia and Pennsylvania.  Among them, two mother daughter combinations.  My wife and I were the only married couple.  Our daughter did her own thing with her friends.

Our group members trickled in starting late Friday afternoon.  After we found space for each of them, we fed and watered our herd ahead of an early crash.  After all, reveille would be at zero-dark-thirty, early enough to snag METRO parking and seats on the subway.

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Pancakes were on the griddle by five a.m. and our herd of cats tumbled onto the subway platform around seven fifteen for a rendezvous with our final partner in crime.

The early start paid off.  The trains had empty seats and the crowd near the meet-up point was thin, allowing us to snag a great location just behind the stage where we could watch the speakers prepare.  For example, former Speaker of the House, Rep. Nancy Pelosi walked right past us.

All across the nation, women knitted pink “pussy hats” that were handed free to the crowd.  The cat ears were the hat’s defining feature.  Their color definitely defined the crowd.

The crowd grew rapidly and topped out in the 600,000 range.  Of note, not a single person was arrested.  We met people from multiple states and from many foreign countries.  The marchers were polite and the conversation serious.  Most, but not all, were marching for rights and not against the president.

At a point we decided the press of the crowd was a bit much and determined it would be best if we were to swim closer to the edge.  To our amazement, the footprint was far larger than we could have ever imagined.  https://www.facebook.com/plugins/video.php?href=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.facebook.com%2Fstpetedessertbar%2Fvideos%2F1829944483955749%2F&show_text=0&width=400“>Crowd Video  It took nearly a half hour to struggle from our perch near the stage on Independence Avenue northward to the Mall itself.

Ultimately we returned to base for a CNN watch party late into the evening.  The animated conversation continued well past breakfast Sunday morning.  We met people who didn’t vote, people who were Trump supporters and mostly people who are motivated to protect individual and group rights.  You might call that freedom.

Here are a few examples of creativity including the good, bad and the ugly.  Warning, some are vulgar.

 

 

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This woman said Planned Parenthood detected her breast cancer.

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End of story.

*I haven’t posted here for awhile.  The mundane part of retirement continues, but I was hiking most of the summer.  All of that can be found on my sister hiking blog, A fork in the road.

What Could Go Wrong?

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Mustache checking out our new window.

Kensington, MD, January 31, 2015 — Whether or not you accept the overwhelming scientific consensus on climate change and know the effects are here and more are yet to come, putting money in your pocket by reducing energy consumption is  good policy.  Best of all, when you use less energy, you can immediately detect the weight of more duckets (ducats) in your pocket. The instant gratification feels good.

As retirement neared and we made the totally irrational decision to move from a low cost area back to our old neighborhood just outside the Washington beltway, we knew the cost of living here would smack our retirement budget like a sacked quarterback in the Superbowl.  Costs are a huge factor for most anyone who chooses to retire in any high cost area. Being near our only daughter was the deciding factor.

We chose our new house because it was in the right location among the miles of bike paths and trails which attracted us here in the first place. There is no cut-through traffic and you can safely run/walk for miles.  And, unlike many in the D.C. metro area, we don’t have to leave our neighborhood, or even travel on busy streets to shop for necessities such as groceries or to patronize some charming neighborhood restaurants.

Our house is a bungalow that was custom built in 1953 in a 1940s-era style.  We love the arched doorways and duplicated them when we remodeled. Our ultimate plan was to make the house as energy efficient as possible to help stretch our budget.

As we considered what to change, the period rectangular-paned wooden windows were in perfect condition having been protected from the sun and weather by overhanging eves.  Consequently, we initially hoped to save the ambiance the offered.

Otherwise, we determined that, besides the 12 inches of pink fiber glass insulation under the attic floor, there was limited insulation in the walls other than R 1.5 “Insulite” sheathing popular at the time.  The Insulite™ is hardly worth mentioning.

Always emulate others’ bright ideas.  When we lived in Boston, our neighbors added a family room, the walls of which they insulated with closed cell soy foam.  Soy foam has an R value of 5.5 per inch.  In an old house like ours which has full dimension 2 x 4 wall studs and Insulite, that’s four inches of foam plus the Insulite, equaling R 25.5 in our walls!  Not bad, so we did it.  At the current energy prices in our area, we calculated that the cost was recoverable in about five – seven years.  Those are good numbers.

The benefits of soy foam are that: 1) the R value is huge.  2) it doesn’t give off toxic gases.  3) it’s a vapor barrier.  4) it helps the farm economy. It can be added without much mess or damage through small holes drilled inside or outside of the house.

Soy foam has the additional benefit of being fireproof.  I tried to burn some.  No dice.

One welcome feature of our energy bill is a graph telling us how much energy we use compared to similar size/style houses that have been upgraded and those that haven’t.  We were delighted to learn that, with the new insulation, our house was more efficient than comparable upgraded houses.  Maybe the windows could stay, we hoped.

After the first winter, we realized that the architecturally correct, but exceptionally drafty windows we loved would have to go. We thumbed Consumer Reports to shreds before  ultimately choosing Anderson™ replacement windows that were a best buy comparing their cost to efficiency ratio.

Smug with confidence, we ordered windows for the entire house at the end of August with a promised installation by the end of October.  It’s still warm in the mid-Atlantic in October, so the windows would be in before cold energy sapping cold weather arrived.  What could go wrong?

Let’s spare the details other than to say Murphy’s Law was in full effect.  The past record of the orange-colored big box retailer through which we made our purchase had always been good, so we placed our bet.

Let’s not count all the screw-ups and lack of communication other than to say that the original order came in with the wrong color and the bow window we chose to help psychologically widen our narrow living room was the wrong size.  Take two wasn’t much better.

As Murphy would have it, installation day was months behind schedule in late January.  The weather conditions featured well below freezing temps with a thin blanket of snow on the ground! Perfect conditions to have all the windows ripped out of your house! Tracked in slush isn’t listed in any interior decorating style manual I’ve every seen, so it wasn’t an added attraction.  We could have changed the date, but by then, we just wanted the job done and over. I think bone-headed companies count on that.

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Old window with the rectangular panes going out.

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New window going in.

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Finished product.

The installation crew were good guys and we enjoyed having them around.  It wasn’t their fault that the weather was unfavorable or that Big Orange had it’s head in rectal defilade, at least when it came to this job.

The work is now done and we can feel the difference.  Now to reap the savings.

Traditions

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December 26, 2014 — Tradition and ritual are cornerstones of human culture.  They enrich our lives beyond measure.

My wife is 100 percent Finnish.  Within her family’s rich Christmas tradition was a braided yellow egg bread called nisu.  For years as we traveled around the world for various military assignments, her mother would send us nisu in time for the holidays. In time it became part of our family tradition.

Unfortunately, nisu dries out quickly and it often arrived in too poor a condition to fully enjoy.  The solution, since I like to bake, was to learn how to make it myself.

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I asked for and received hand written baking instructions from my wife’s mother.

Try as I might, I could never get my nisu to turn out the same way twice.  Of course, I soul searched. What was I doing wrong?  Before long I realized that I was making a different mistake every year.  Whether is was inconsistent dough or runny frosting, it was always something.

Now you have to understand that the preparation process for nisu, from the first cracked egg to the perfect comfort food, takes more than six hours.  Baking nisu is not for the impatient.  Since being impatient is one of my great virtues, the recipe for disaster wasn’t scribbled on paper.  I was me.

One year my wife and I discussed how I might be more consistent.  (We’re  talking Six Sigma project here; and yes I am Six Sigma certified.)  So, as a reward for my annual failures I got the best Christmas present I’ve ever received and still have.  What guy gets a KitchenAid mixer for Christmas and is over the moon?  Yours truly, that’s who.

IMG_1767_2The mixer’s a beast.  With its industrial strength motor and metal armor, the thing must weigh 25 lbs.  I’d even bet you could bolt it on the front of your Jeep and use it for a winch!  I love it!  The best part about it is this:  Unlike my arms, it doesn’t get tired. As an added bonus, it also has the patience of Job.

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With the dough hook firmly attached, my KitchenAid kneads bread dough all day – and night if needed.  The dough now comes out the same each and every time.  Yea!!!  Now to fix operator head space and all my baking problems would disappear.

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Nisu has to rise no less than thrice for 90 minutes each time.  Add 45 minutes for mixing the ingredients, plus the time to roll it out and braid the two loaves, and it adds up to a honking long time.

I used to get up at 2 a.m. to have nisu ready in time to open the presents Christmas morning.  Now that there are no children at home, I make nisu Christmas Eve starting just after lunch in order to have it ready by seven in the evening when we score the loot … I mean open our presents.

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Baking time is 35 minutes in a 350*F oven.  Cinnamon and sugar are sprinkled on the raw dough. The frosting, walnuts, almonds and cherries are applied right after baking so that the bread can be eaten warm.  It’s excellent on the second day too.  After day two, not so much.

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I hope your rituals and traditions are as rewarding as preparing and munching down on fresh nisu.  Hauskaa Joulua!

Can we talk?

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December 11, 2014 – My mother didn’t save much from my youth. She either told me to take it or she tossed it. Why then was the one thing she saved, and never mentioned, an old sweatshirt from my freshman year in college?

At first I didn’t know what to do with it. In spite of the fact that it still fits, I would never wear it. Yesterday I rediscovered it while cleaning out a closet. Its message hit me like a hammer.

As I unfolded the shirt, a flood of youthful images welled up in my memory. The sweatshirt was meant to send a strong protest message long ago. It’s a message relevant then and sadly still today Perhaps it says a lot – about times then and now. It certainly does not speak of progress.

Where I was a student semesters ended with intense study for final exams punctuated by activities to reduce tension and celebrate. Filling the campus fountains with laundry soap thereby flooding the environs with copious mounds of foamy suds was a typically benign prank.

We lived in separate girls and boys dorms (we weren’t described as men and women then and the girls had curfews). In the spirit of those more innocent times, toward the end of exam week annual spontaneous panty raids miraculously erupted as if they hadn’t been anticipated for days or even weeks.

Mostly nothing we did amounted to much. The guys would mill around outside the girls’ dorms and the gals tossed forbidden fruit out the window. At some point, everyone got tired and returned to their dorms or frat houses and it was over. Other times things got more lively.

That spring the crowd (of probably not less than 1,000) surged down a campus side street that passed through Greek town heading for a nearby neighborhood. The local police decided that was far enough and put up barriers. The thwarted students milled around trying to figure out where to go next.

I hugged the fringe of that throng (mob) knowing that behavior was trending toward rowdiness and might get out of hand. It did, in one terrible way.

For what may have seemed like a good idea at the time, a student grabbed an officer’s soft police hat that had been left in a police car lieu of his riot helmet.

The young man ignored orders to stop as he scampered away with this looted trophy. Then a pistol shot forever fractured that night’s innocence. The student had been shot in the back. In the flash of a gunshot, the darkness of night had been redefined. Middleclass white kids that we were, we collected our shattered virtue and rapidly dispersed without further prompting.

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I wore this shirt for the two days remaining in the semester. My mother must have found it in the laundry I dragged home, washed it and archived it for future discovery either to remind me of the foolishness of youth, or that I’d done something right. It was probably the former.

 The contemporary relevance of this decades old shooting is simple. Petty theft, the stealing of a cheap uniform hat, is not a capital crime; and neither is tax evasion by selling loose cigarettes on a street corner, walking down the middle of the street, playing with a toy gun as a child, or arguing with a cop for that matter.

No crime should be excused or ignored in the debate, but actions taken in response by police officers resulting in the death of suspects, should neither be as prevalent as they are, nor should police officers be able to act with what seems to be impunity.  There are consequential issues in play.

The police on the urban campus where I recently worked had plenty to worry about with armed robberies occurring regularly on and off campus as students walked home at night. Yet, they were experts at deescalating situations involving drunk and/or out of control students. Their first order of business was to take care of the students and avoid arresting them whenever possible.

Yet the cop reality shows and street video too often tell a different story with police behaving in ways that escalate situations. Yelling and macho antics can only serve to stimulate suspects’ adrenaline flow and consequently their fight or flight instincts. Neither behavior is what the cops should want; nor is either of these courses of action in the suspect’s best interest. Resisting arrest can get you killed – then and now.

Add to this that racial minorities, especially African-Americans are overwhelmingly victims and reasonable people have to ask, “Why?”

Could it be post 9-11 paranoia? Could it be the largely unnecessary militarization of police forces? Could it be macho cop culture? Could it be the use of dehumanizing words like “Thug” to describe suspected African-American criminals? Could it be ignorance? Could it be lack of or insufficient training? Could it be personnel practices that allow some of the wrong people to become cops? Could it be the huge numbers and military types of weapons possessed by criminals on our streets? Could it be other forces in society?

It’s probably all of the above and then some.

I’ve been around police more than most. I’ve gone on countless “ride-alongs” and gotten to know cops when their hair was down.

I can’t say I love cops in the role that they play (after all, they have guns, Tasers and clubs with wide discretion to use them on unarmed citizens), but I do hold them in deep and sincere respect. They do a very difficult and often thankless job.

Think of police officers as society’s proctologists. The view of life they see is not necessarily the most attractive. In spite of it all, I’ve found most of them to be upright citizens, excellent parents and a few have become good friends.

Yet enough is enough. Recent events and the continuum of time establish that the criminal justice systems needs overhaul.

From ambitious district attorneys who plan to run for higher office based on their high conviction rates, to courts that execute innocent people, the issues are self-evident.

Judging by those marching in our streets, a pot full of angry protesters believe it is time for a change that every member of our society ought to think about.

I consider myself lucky that certain Black friends, subordinates, superiors and mentors have taken me into their trust to share aspects of their lives that are invisible to those of us who are not Black.

In 1970, while on an Army training exercise, my platoon sergeant and I had, what for me was a defining moment.

Somehow we were discussing the differences in white and African-American culture.  I brought up values related to Calvinism – hard work, modesty etc.  In such cultures members are judged on substance over superficial.  That led to his explanation of why people who lived in shacks drove fancy cars.  In a Calvinistic sense, their priorities were wrong I opined.  He patiently explained how hard is was for African-Americans to get well-paying jobs.  He offered that several families would join up to buy a nicer car, say a Buick or a used Cadillac, so that they could have at least some modicum of respectability as they went about their business.

At another point I served as what was then called a race relations and equal opportunity officer while waiting for a command.  I already new that cops in towns next to military bases like to rough up drunk soldiers.  It didn’t take long to notice that the Black ones got disproportionally beaten up in comparison to their white peers.

Later, a Black Army general who was my mentor allowed as how he constantly worried about “driving while Black” when he was out of uniform.

I have dozens more examples, so please allow me to assert that these issues are real and unique to comm

There are no easy answers, but the credibility of our courts, law enforcement, and legislative bodies are increasingly being called into question. As Joan Rivers used to say, “Can we talk?”

Here are links to recent articles that offer expanded insights into the subject of this blog post and may help inform the discussion.

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/12/09/opinion/the-cop-mind.html?smid=fb-nytimes&smtyp=cur&bicmp=AD&bicmlukp=WT.mc_id&bicmst=1409232722000&bicmet=1419773522000&_r=0

http://www.salon.com/2014/12/10/why_millions_of_christian_evangelicals_oppose_obamacare_and_civil_rights_partner/

http://www.dailykos.com/story/2014/12/09/1350586/-Thug-Kills-White-Prosecutor-and-Wife-in-Texas?detail=facebook