The Case of the Missing Lighthouse

June 11, 2021

This is a picture of the Crown Point Lighthouse I took a few weeks ago. Located on the western shore of Lake Champlain, the tower was erected in 1858. It was one of about a dozen on the shores and islands on the lake helping ships navigate what was once an important commercial route. In 1912 the lighthouse was redesigned as a monument to Samuel de Champlain, an early European explorer of the lake that now bears his name. The lake has traditional names, of course, an Abenaki one being Bitabagw, “the lake between.”

The mystery I’m working on takes place on an island in this lake (entirely fictional, though some of the lake’s real islands are inhabited). Of course I’m going to work a lighthouse into the story. It’s been done many times before, but lighthouses are so romantic and spooky that I can’t resist.

One Fish, Two Fish, both of them fishy

March 19, 2021

One of the worst things about cancel culture is that it provides shelter for people like Woody Allen. When I talk about cancel culture, I’m talking about the job loss, censorship, and no-platforming of individuals for expressing heterodox opinions or calling attention to inconvenient facts. Cancel culture is policed on social media and enforced by self-serving clueless boobs, especially in the corporate media. Just as the McCarthy witch hunt was unable to bring down people like Lucille Ball, while ruining the careers of lessor figures such as John Garfield, today’s cancel culture has only managed to annoy JK Rowling, while forcing people like Julia Robertson out on their own. Cancellation is about disallowing legitimate speech, not about behavior. Ironically, purveyors of witch hunts and cancellation, while often denying these crusades are taking place, reserve for themselves illegitimate libelous speech, such as wantonly calling someone a “communist” or a “transphobe” without evidence.

Which brings me to Woody Allen. He has long been under fire for behavior, not for opinions or for speaking about unpopular facts. Even granting that the credible allegations by Dylan Farrow have never been proven, for reasons having nothing to do with their merit, the dude hooked up with the young daughter of his former romantic partner. It may be true that he waited to become sexually involved with her until she became barely legal, in which case what he did wasn’t against the law, but most people consider his actions exploitative and despicable, and some people hold him accountable accordingly. If people object to this pervert being feted in awards ceremonies, it doesn’t bother me a bit.

What bothered me about his quashed autobiography was not that it was being published. I wouldn’t have read it, being way too familiar, throughout my social work career, with the whining victim tone predatory men use to describe their life. But I personally wasn’t upset about the book deal. What did upset me was Ronan Farrow’s allegations that Allen’s account of the crimes he remains accused of was not fact-checked. This, after Ronan Farrow’s journalism on sexual predators in the film industry was minutely scrutinized for evidence.

For Allen to claim that Dylan Farrow’s allegations are unfounded is to say that she is lying or delusional. Women who bring false claims of sexual abuse are treated harshly, by public opinion and the law. It’s one thing for Allen to claim he’s innocent in an interview. In a nonfiction book, it calls the publisher’s vetting process under scrutiny. I am not privy to serious discussions about the course of action after Ronan Farrow raised a stink, but I don’t see how the book could have been published while giving Allen permission to address allegations against him without proof. He’s had adequate opportunity to respond, without making the credibility of those associated with his projects problematic.

On to the second fish to be fried, flayed, and charbroiled. The Dr. Seuss biz has about played out, but I’m bringing it up here as another example of something being reflexively assigned to “cancel culture.” The situation here is more of a gray area.

The trust for Dr. Seuss voluntarily withdrew a half dozen of his many books from publication. The drawings in the books, most people would agree, are unequivocally racist. There is no evidence that the trust was forced to do take the action they did, although there have been calls from some quarters to withdraw all Dr. Seuss books from school libraries and publication, whether overtly racist or simply penned by the author. So there were calls to “cancel Dr. Seuss,” yet there is a difference between responding to legitimate criticism and having your arm twisted to (not) say “uncle.” There were other ways to address the racism in those particular books, but the trust chose their own course of action.

I supported the decision to withdraw the books in question from publication, and would not call this “cancel culture.” In retrospect, however, I think the way the decision played out is a cautionary tale. If the Dr. Seuss trust was not under any exigent threat, why was the decision accompanied by a formal announcement? That in itself triggered an outraged response. Perhaps the hope was that the public statement would mean racism in other children’s books would be addressed, through being withdrawn, redrawn, or edited. (This process has actually been happening since the sixties, though not fast enough or complete enough for some.) Perhaps the trust thought the calls to cancel Dr. Seuss altogether would cease if they responded to legitimate criticism. If that was the hope, it was misplaced.

Soon there were calls for all libraries everywhere to destroy the books in question. Then the calls to cancel Dr. Seuss altogether were amplified, along with similar outcries against other twentieth century children’s authors. EBay and other resellers banned the sale of the now out-of-print Seuss books. Considering the amount of racist memorabilia sold on eBay, not to mention the appropriated archeological treasures, this action could only be called a cynical ploy to pander to what was becoming a mob frenzy. The move to halt publication of the books may not have been provoked by cancel culture, but cancel culture took over.

Calls to cancel “racism” in books, longstanding or newly published, are often, in the current climate, not made in good faith. This is a power and control game, one that shuts down discussion of racism instead of furthering it. When the trust made an announcement about withdrawing those six books, rather than doing it quietly, some people smelled blood in the water while others had fears stoked that were not about racism. Suddenly we were talking about censorship and cancel culture, and while that needs to be talked about, racism itself, as opposed to ass-covering virtue-signaling designed to avoid being called a racist, was no longer part of the conversation. Was quiet action a better choice? Either way, a discussion that could have been had, was not had.

Which is what cancel culture is all about.

Call for Contributions

March 5, 2021

I thought I’d pass this along to women who are interested. It looks like it will be an interesting anthology.

I decided to rework my online series about women’s intentional communities into an essay for the forthcoming She Summons, also by Mago Books, the first volume of which will be out late this year or early next. That’s what I’ve been working on this week.

What It’s Like to Live on Wimmin’s Land

This essay discusses the pros and cons, joys and pitfalls, of women’s intentional communities, also known as “wimmin’s land.” There has been more talk in recent years about re-establishing all-woman living collectives in rural areas, a phenomenon that began in the 1970s and faded somewhat by the turn of the century (though some women’s communities are still around). For women dreaming about this alternative, I wanted to share some of my experience and perspective.

Another Look at Biden’s Inauguration

January 29, 2021

I promised to compare my analysis of Joe Biden’s inauguration with other astrologers. No particular endorsement of these astrologers. I picked them at random on the internet, the sole criteria being a set of predictions based on the time and place of the inauguration, not on the USA’s chart or Joe Biden’s birth chart (both perfectly acceptable ways of examining Biden’s presidency).

All of these charts were drawn for noon on January 20th, the official time of the inauguration. One astrologer expressed reservations that the inauguration might be postponed for violence, the prediction based partly on void-of-course Moon (more on this below). I waited to see when the oath of office would actually occur before drawing the chart, giving the time as 11:50 a.m. This gave a Tenth House placement for Pluto, as opposed to the Ninth in charts which used the official time.

The void-of-course Moon was the item that stood out the most for astrologers. Lisa Stardust with Oprah Magazine noted that in the past hundred years there have been four inaugurations which took place with Moon void-of-course: Franklin D. Roosevelt (1945), John F. Kennedy (1960), Richard M. Nixon (1973), and Barack Obama (2009). Three of these presidents did not serve out their terms. The fourth, Obama, faced unusually harsh challenges from Congress passing legislation (although, to be contraire, The Affordable Healthcare Act was pretty significant).

Wendell C. Perry at Good Golly Astrology points out that Chief Justice John Roberts flubbed his lines at Obama’s swearing in, forcing him to take the oath again the next day, when the Moon was not void-of-course. So perhaps that’s how Obama escaped. Good job, Roberts!

The Uranus-Mars conjunction in the Twelfth House was another thing that was picked out of this chart. Molly Gauthier at Molly’s Astrology thought there might be violence at the inauguration. There wasn’t, but there was extremely high military presence at the Capitol. Astrology with Andy also saw violence during Biden’s term, though he cautioned that Uranus transits are unpredictable. Andy saw the square between this conjunction and Saturn manifesting in struggles between status quo and new ideas.

Pluto on the Midheaven was remarked upon by several astrologers (and completely ignored by others). Despite the high-profile placement, Pluto’s affinity was secrets was seen as significant to Andy. Carol Duhart wondered about hidden foreign influence in this administration. She saw an autocratic tendency in the busy Tenth House, which has four or five planets, depending on the time the chart is drawn.

Venus has significance in typical US presidential inauguration charts, since the specified date, time and place bring a predictable Taurus rising (and Venus rules Taurus). Elizabeth Grace saw the Ninth House Venus as auspicious for the arts and humanities.

You can compare these insights with my own post here.

Wasn’t Expecting That!

January 7, 2021

2021 is already shaping up to be a strange year.

Yesterday a mob, incited by the outgoing President, assaulted the US Capitol to disrupt the transfer of power to a duly elected Democratic president. The events leading up to the assault were a faint background noise in my mind, but early news sources are saying that the seditious plan wasn’t exactly a secret, leading everyone to scratch their head over the apparent poor preparedness of law enforcement.

At no point in the insurrection did I think I was watching our democracy fall. We have an imperfect democracy, being one that does not work hard enough to overcome (or in some cases even creates) obstacles to voting for Native and African Americans as well as poor people of all races and the disabled. But I was reminded that we do, at least today, have a strong enough democracy to easily deflate a violent coup. For that I am grateful.

What I mostly felt yesterday was embarrassment. The American people should never have elected as their president the kind of man who refused to leave office after a clear defeat, to the point of directing his minions and supporters to subvert the democratic process. I found myself partially agreeing with the statements of the Iranian foreign minister on the subject, and wholeheartedly agreeing with the comments of Congresswoman Liz Cheney, daughter of the evil Dick. I even thought Mitt Romney gave an exemplary speech on the insurrection. Wasn’t expecting that.

Adding to my embarrassment yesterday was the fact that I live in Congresswoman Elise Stefanik’s district. Yes, that one. The Republican who actually objected to counting election results after the attempted coup. While most Republican members of Congress abandoned their shameful plan to challenge the will of the American people to Donald Trump’s advantage, Stefanik formally challenged the results when Congress reconvened late yesterday. She did denounce the violence of the attacks, but her continued objection to accepting the results of a lawful election, in the face of all that had happened, was a clear affirmation of Trump’s violent conspiracy campaign.

Stefanik is not a steadfast soldier to the nutwing cause. She occasionally breaks ranks and votes with Democrats, reflecting the mixed political leanings of her district, which is increasingly leaning Democratic. This is the district that sent Kirsten Gillibrand to Congress. Stefanik needs a lot of support from outside this district to maintain her seat, and Trump threatened to wreak his revenge on Republicans who did not raise a formal objection in Congress to Joe Biden’s victory. Following the violent insurrection, most Republicans decided to abandon their symbolic objections designed to curry favor with an outgoing president, who will still have political influence when he leaves office. They said the President went too far. Stefanik, feeling weak, followed through with her objections. She certainly demonstrated the failings of her moral character, but I think she made a political miscalculation as well. Time will tell.

What Wednesday’s insurrection demonstrates most clearly is that people in a democracy don’t resort to violence when they are strong. Violence is the path of weakness. Trump is weak. He may even be removed from office with less than two weeks left in his presidency. It’s seriously being discussed. Stefanik is weak. The rebels who stormed the Capitol, even the bare-chested Heathen with the ripped bod, are weak. Our democracy, though certainly troubled, is strong.

The Quiet Time of Year

November 20, 2020

A late winter has finally arrived. About 25 degrees Fahrenheit and that feels cold, quite unsettling in a place where winters typically move far below zero at night for days, even weeks, at a time. First electricity outage of the winter occurred a few days ago, though for less than an hour. When I first moved to the Adirondacks, electricity outages were a constant problem, but they’ve become less frequent. Still, there’s trepidation at the thought of potentially losing heat on a cold cold night.

I went on my first hike in winter boots this week, with only a dusting of snow on the ground. Didn’t bother with the camera, since the battery becomes exhausted quickly. My first ten minutes in the cold, I decided I would only go for short winter walks this season, maybe half an hour or so. Then I stayed out a full hour and didn’t want to come back even then. I’d forgotten how special a winter hike can be, and what a good mood it leaves you with.

Rough-legged Hawks are back in Vermont! I saw more than I could count on my drive to Middlebury. They spend time in Northeast farming country during the winter, hunting small rodents in open fields. I don’t see them in the Adirondacks, probably because there isn’t as much open country, there’s more snow, and it’s a bit colder. In the spring Rough-legged Hawks will head north, as they breed in the Arctic region. They are circumpolar birds, found in North America and Eurasia.

Photo: US Fish & Wildlife Service
Photo: US Fish & Wildlife Service
Photo: Walter Siegmund

Gone Fishin’

September 4, 2020

Not really, but doing other things.

Enjoy music from Lisa Thiel and video by Viktoria

People Have a Right to Their Opinions

August 14, 2020

A recent fluff piece in our local paper reported on how difficult it is for “LGBT” people in rural areas to find dating partners. The response to the article was mixed. A lot of straight people responded with rapturous support. One man questioned whether dating was a topic that deserved space in a newspaper. He got some criticism for his “phobia,” but the comment that took outrage beyond Facebook onto other social media was from a woman quoting the Bible about “homosexuality” being a sin.

Some people responded that Christianity was wrong or she was wrong about how she interpreted the Bible, or even called her a “bigot.” Others were upset about how “unsafe” and “unwelcoming” and “non-inclusive” this comment made our rural community, and this is where the argument expanded. Mostly it was liberal straights seizing the opportunity to virtue signal. Whatever. Many took it further. People said they were “not going to sit idly by” for this kind of comment and that “something needs to be done” and that “there needs to be accountability” etc. etc. and in one case suggested the woman should be fired from her job. The woman stuck to her guns, quoted more scripture, and typed about what God does and doesn’t want for us. It inflamed another argument about who was and wasn’t going to Hell.

I personally began to feel a bit frightened by where this conversation went. As a bisexual woman who campaigned for gay rights at a time when you could lose your job for being out, and as a person with many controversial views, the escalation to what sounded like threats made me feel very unsafe. Not about the Bible quote–you think I haven’t heard that crap before? But the vague threats of action and the specific mention of jobs, so very familiar. People have a right to their opinions, even dumb ones, and having experienced fear for openly expressing my views, and even being persecuted for them, I don’t cotton to this idea that unpopular speech needs to be countered by people who “won’t sit idly by.”

Argue with a dumbass if you must, but don’t think you’re supporting me with chilling threats of “taking action.” You’re violating everything I have stood for. I don’t want the tables turned. I don’t want to see people who think same-sex relationships or Goddess worship or socialism or radical feminism is evil punished for their views. I don’t want to see heated rhetoric and name calling progress into arm-twisting and silencing techniques. I’ve lived in that kind of a world.

I don’t think most people understand what acceptance and “live and let live” means. It doesn’t mean enforcing the views that you think mean “tolerance.” It’s not about coercion and correct belief. That doesn’t bring a sense of safety–not in the 21st century when most oppression is structural, consisting of things like violence, economic struggle, workplace abuse, political disenfranchisement, and censorship. Having the “right” belief doesn’t mean you changed any of that, and forcing other people to have the right beliefs (or pretend that they do) isn’t going to change that either.

I’m not saying we should tolerate threats of violence or loss of livelihood. Libel, deliberately lying for malicious purposes, is rightly actionable by law. But people have a right to express their views. Even stupid ones. Even if they’re mean and rude about it. What would make ME feel safer, as a person who has experienced many kinds of abuse, is for people to develop a thicker skin.