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More Politics, and My Father Again

I’ve written before about my father’s experiences growing up in Nazi Germany, before his family fled to Holland.  He didn’t talk about that time much, but I do remember one thing he said.  His parents had gotten together with some friends before the election, and one of them, someone who was Jewish, said, “Why don’t we vote for Hitler?  He’ll keep the Communists down.  And he doesn’t really mean all that about the Jews.”

I’ve been thinking about that story a lot lately.  “He doesn’t really mean it,” people are saying about Trump.  “He’s not going to deport people who have lived in the U.S. since they were kids.  He’s not going to break up families.  He doesn’t really think the U.S. should register Muslims.”

(Incidentally, I’ve never seen anyone talk about how exactly a Muslim registry would work.  What if your parents were Muslim but you no longer believed in their faith?  What if only one of your parents was Muslim?  Or only one grandparent?  Or you had one drop of Muslim blood?  How far back would it go?)

But as Maya Angelou said, "When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time."  Yes, he means it.  Yes, he’d register Muslims if he could, despite the fact that doing so would be unconstitutional.  Yes, he’d break up families, and deport parents who are here without documents.  Yes, he’d build a wall, or at least start to build one before he figured out that it would cost a fortune and, no, Mexico won’t pay for it.

All of which is to say that I don’t plan to give Trump a chance, and I hope other people don’t either.  (I especially hope this of the Democrats in congress, though they haven’t shown much of a spine before this.)  I’ve seen this movie before, through the stories my parents told me.  His agenda is so vile he shouldn’t be able to get away with even the smallest part of it.

Weird Thanksgiving Present

Yesterday I got a box of chocolates in the mail, with a somewhat puzzling card that said, "Happy Thanksgiving/ Will, Sharen, Nick & Alex."  Puzzling because I have no idea who these people are.

So, Will, Sharen, Nick & Alex -- I'm not sure if these chocolates were intended for you or if they were sent by you.  Since I have no idea how to get in touch with you, though, I have to say I've already eaten a few.  And they were delicious.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

Warning: Political Content Ahead

One of the most infuriating moments for me on Election Night was when Steve Schmidt, on MSNBC, complained about the role the media played in electing Trump.  At which point I shouted at the television, “The media?  You are the media!”

So, really, thanks, media.  Thank you for giving Trump $2 billion in free air time.  Thank you, CBS Executive Chairman Leslie Moonves for ignoring the news and chasing after ratings — or, as you put it, “It may not be good for America, but it’s damn good for CBS… The money’s rolling in and this is fun.”

Thank you to nearly every talking head who let Trump surrogates spew their bile about Clinton as regularly as Old Faithful, without interrupting to say that you had asked about Trump, not Clinton, or bothering to correct all their lies.

Thanks to Chris Matthews and Rachel Maddows for talking about the election as something abstract and exciting and even fun — without once thinking of the people not in your positions of privilege for whom this isn’t a game, it’s their life.  And don’t worry — with your anodyne take on the news, you at least are certain to keep your jobs in the new Trump Administration.  Thanks to Andrea Mitchell and Maureen Dowd for your barely concealed dislike of Hillary Clinton, your columns and commentary little more than a couple of mean girls chortling in the girls’ bathroom.  Thanks to all the commentators who kept talking about the lack of excitement among Clinton voters, and ignoring the very real enthusiasm among her women supporters.

And special thanks for all the time you expended on Clinton’s faults and ignored Trump’s.  Trump raised more red flags than exist in all of China — his constant lying; his tax avoidance; his bankruptcies; his racism, xenophobia, and anti-Semitism; his connections to white supremacists; his ties with Russia; his fraudulent schemes and all the ways he cheated people; his narcissism; his poor impulse control; his ignorance about government and the US Constitution, and his lack of any interest in learning about them; his vicious insults, mostly against women and minorities; his sexual harassment of women — but, as I mentioned above, women didn’t really seem to be your focus in this election, despite the fact that history was being made by a woman before your eyes.

But even compared to all of this, the most important thing for you was Clinton’s emails.  When James Comey reported that he’d found yet more emails, your response was Pavlovian, a pack of salivating dogs chasing after the story.  And when it turned out there was nothing there — as usual — did we get a mea culpa?  Did we get any coverage of Trump’s vast unfitness to be president?  Did we hell.

Thanks — and I’m being sincere here — to the few heroes who tried to do real journalism.  Thanks to Joy Reid, David A. Fahrenthold, Kurt Eichenwald.  Thanks to the comedians who kept us sane, Samantha Bee, John Oliver, Trevor Noah, Larry Wilmore, Bill Maher (though he’s still an idiot about some things).  And thanks to Khizr and Ghazala Khan, who, like so many immigrants, understand the United States better than most of us who were born here.

I just read Ursula Le Guin’s new book of essays, Words Are My Matter.  And the best thing I can do now is to quote from her famous speech accepting the National Book Foundation Medal:  “Hard times are coming, when we’ll be wanting the voices of writers who can see alternatives to how we live now, can see through our fear-stricken society and its obsessive technologies to other ways of being, and even imagine real grounds for hope…We live in capitalism, its power seems inescapable — but then, so did the divine right of kings.”
You probably have more important things to think about (GO VOTE, if you haven’t done so already), but I wanted to let you know that the ebook edition of Strange Devices of the Sun and Moon will be available for $1.99 on November 7.  It will be listed here, on the day.

The blurb says, “It is time of the greatness of Elizabeth I, and London is ablaze with glory; the time of drama and poetry, plague and intrigue, and Oriana, the Faerie Queen, has entered London with her court, searching for her lost son.”  And if that isn’t enough for you, here’s a quote from Neil Gaiman: “Strange Devices of the Sun and Moon is that rare and marvelous beast, a fantasy grounded in humanity.  Lisa Goldstein mixes history, faerie, literature, and love to engrave a tale both intelligent and fine.  It is, from first to last, a delight.”

This is the book I wrote when I became fascinated with the Elizabethans, especially its faerie mythology (not the same as Shakespeare’s in A Midsummer Night’s Dream but with some overlap) and its sharp bright poets and playwrights.  I did absurd amounts of research, to the point where I was practically living in various University of California, Berkeley libraries, though only about 10% of it made it into the book.  Everyone I met had to hear about my latest discoveries, and poor Doug, who had started by listening with interest, finally had to say, “I don’t care what color socks they wore!” *  My editor David Hartwell told me about a man who could have been an ancestor of his, Abraham Hartwell, so I researched him and discovered that he’d been secretary to John Whitgift, the Archbishop of Canterbury.  Amazingly, I had already written a scene that included the secretary to the Archbishop of Canterbury, so I only had to add his name.

Christopher Marlowe, one of the main characters in the book, has been in the news lately, according to this article sent to me by movingfinger Apparently the New Oxford Shakespeare is going to credit him with cowriting Henry VI.  I don’t agree with the conclusions in the article, but if I explained why we’d have to start getting into color-of-socks territory.

*“Socks are made of linen or wool, but they tend to be worn only by the well-off.  Most people cannot afford them.” — Ian Mortimer, The Time Traveler’s Guide to Elizabethan England.  (Sorry, Doug.)

The Day of the Dead

Last year I posted a Halloween display from a store in my neighborhood, with the caption "The Estate Sale of Doctor Dee."  This year the same store outdid itself, with an ofrenda for the Day of the Dead:

It's for Lola Beltrán, a ranchera singer.  (Sorry about the reflection -- we tried twice and this was the best we could do.)
Hi, Peeps!  I've decided to start up my own blog and see what happens.  If you're following me over from Inferior4, welcome!  This first post is pretty long, but hey, I'm reviewing a long book.

Should you read Alan Moore’s new novel Jerusalem?  Well, on the one hand he’s justly celebrated for brilliant and ground-breaking graphic novels.  On the other hand, 1,262 pages.

Turns out it’s an easy decision to make, though.  It hinges on just one question: Do you like plot?  If yes, then this is not a book for you.  Moore has two themes here, and both of them are far more conducive to travelogs than to any sort of drama.  One is the importance of Northampton, especially the part of it called the Boroughs, where he grew up.  In fact, the Boroughs is his true main character, and he writes about it with real affection, ranging through time and place to show us the personalities who lived there or passed through — Oliver Cromwell before an important Civil War battle, a writer and preacher named Philip Doddridge, Charlie Chaplin, John Bunyan — most of them rebels or nonconformists in some way.  “We are come upon a fateful place, which hath oft-times served as a pivot for the swivellings of history,” Cromwell says.  “The fortress stood at the hill’s foot was where the sainted Thomas Becket was most treacherously brought to trial for doing God’s will rather than a king’s.  Holy crusades were raised up thereabouts, as likewise were our earliest Parliaments.  Not a half a mile off to the south is the cow-meadow where Henry the Sixth was beaten by the Earl of March in an affray that ended the War of the Roses…”

Moore’s other theme is life after death.  One character, Mick Warren, chokes on a cough drop when he’s three and dies for either a few minutes (from the other characters’ point of view) or eleven chapters (the way he experiences it).  Mick’s visit to the afterlife (Mansoul or Upstairs) gives Moore a vehicle to explain his theology: everything happens all at once, in eternity, and so there is no death because nothing ever really ends.  This means, as he says, that everyone lives their lives over and over again, which he thinks is a good thing.  To which I thought, mean-spiritedly and probably unfairly, Yeah, if you’re an able-bodied white male in a prosperous country that values these things, this is a terrific deal.  To Moore’s credit, though, he has thought about this, and argues that the very fact of being alive cancels out the horror of some people’s lives.

So the book is mainly a travelog through these two settings, Northampton and the afterlife.  Why, then, would you want to read it?  Well, here’s another question: Do you like good writing?  Moore, of course, has considerable writing ability, and what he has done here is give each chapter a different style, like James Joyce in Ulysses: a poem, a film script, a film noir parody, stream of consciousness, a history lesson.  There’s also a bit of Finnegan’s Wankery in a chapter about Joyce’s daughter Lucia, who was a patient in a mental asylum in Northampton.  (More about Lucia later.)

Some chapters work better than others, though.  I liked the poem, which turned out to be about the failures of poetry.  The film noir parody was hilarious: “He likes to think he’s got a lived-in look, albeit lived in by three generations of chaotic Lithuanian alcoholics who are finally evicted in an armed siege after which the premises remain unused for decades, save as a urinal by the homeless.”  Others are tougher going — I had great deal of difficulty with the afterlife part, since I wasn’t convinced by the theology to begin with.  Moore has an especial fondness for long complicated sentences, and for adjectives, both of which sometimes slow the prose down nearly to a stop: “The finer details of broad avenue and narrow terrace are unfolded from these intricacies to surround him, with flat factories now springing into being at the corners of his glazed sleepwalker gaze…”  And he’ll repeat things, mostly about the history of the Boroughs, until you want to shake him and say, “Yeah, I know, I know.”

In Lucia’s chapter Moore does a very impressive Finnegans Wake imitation — but, of course, with every other word being some kind of pun, this took even longer to read.  And there’s a more serious problem with it — is a clever tour de force really an appropriate way to tell Lucia’s story?  According to Moore, she had been sexually abused by her brother George and all but ignored by her mother Nora.  The style here seems to very much undercut the terrible things that happened to her.

It all ends up at a showing of Alma Warren’s paintings, which she produced after hearing about her brother Mick’s experiences in Mansoul.  If you’re expecting some grand revelation here you’ll probably be disappointed — what you get is more Northampton history, more repetition, and adjective-heavy descriptions of the paintings.

I never felt, as Moore clearly wanted me to feel, a sense of how great or how consequential the Boroughs was.  Pretty much any place, if you go back far enough, would be home to events like the ones he writes about.  And since Moore gives us separate chapters about each of them there’s no sense of how they all connect up, no feeling of continuity.  This is also the case with the large cast of characters, the ghosts and demons and poets and artists and monks and prostitutes and all the other eccentric inhabitants of the Boroughs.  Many of them are shown wandering around the area and thinking about the places they pass, but we rarely see them interacting with anyone else.  The end result is a lot of set-pieces, some of them truly wonderful, but no overall whole.

[I also discovered that Moore was born three days before I was.  You will be pleased to know that I don’t attach any significance to this.  (November 1953!  Wow, we rule!  Yay, us!)  Ahem…]


Last night Bonnie woke me up at around 4:00 because she needed to be taken outside.  I got up, grumbling, went outside, looked up -- and saw the partial eclipse!  It was terrific.  I got back to bed and told Doug, and then he went and looked at it.  Clearly, Bonnie understood that we wouldn't want to miss it.

I read somewhere that the eclipse on the night of Passover and Good Friday is being seen by some as a sign of the end times.  To these people I just want to say -- Passover is a lunar festival.  It's always celebrated on the full moon.  There must have been hundreds of eclipses somewhere in the world that night throughout history.  Or, shorter -- get over it.


Yesterday there was a Posada celebration at a local church, and I went with my Spanish class.  Posadas are traditionally about Joseph and Mary going from house to house looking for lodging, but at this church they turned it into a drama about undocumented immigrants.

It was incredibly terrific, and very moving.  At the end of the play the family came to the border and asked to enter, and an Anglo, playing the part of an immigration official, refused them entrance and said, "What would you do if I wanted to come into your house?"  "Invite you in!" someone in the audience yelled, and someone else shouted, "Cold as ICE!", drawing out the "s" sound.  (ICE is US Immigration and Customs Enforcement.)  Kids carried signs saying things like, "Jesus Was a Migrant Child."

Then the pastor at the church invited everyone inside.  We listened to a Ugandan immigrant talk about being attacked in Uganda for being gay and escaping to the United States.  And then, much to my surprise (I'd thought there wouldn't be anything in the service I'd recognize), a man lit candles for the third night of Hanukah.  Yeah, it's one of those churches that tries to be all-inclusive, and I have to say I really did feel welcome.

Then we went to dinner, the kids screaming, and then -- finally -- the kids lined up and got presents.  (I didn't have time to shop, but I brought some deviled eggs (huevos diablos?) for the dinner.)  We ended up talking in Spanish to some of the parishioners who'd immigrated from Mexico and Guatemala and Honduras and listening to their fascinating stories.  There was one woman there whose daughter writes fantasy, which I thought was incredibly cool.

Well, I said I'd thought there wouldn't be anything in the service I'd recognize, but in fact my mother was an undocumented immigrant, something I wasn't allowed to talk about while she was alive.  (I did, of course, usually to someone complaining about "illegal aliens.")  Our immigration policy in this country is so stupid, so counter-productive -- no one works harder than immigrants, no one is more appreciative of the United States than people who literally risked their lives to come here, and no one knows more about this country, because to become a citizen you have to take a test about history and government that most people born here wouldn't be able to pass.  But at that church, at least, there were people doing what they could to help.  We all left heartened, and high on human fellow-feeling.