THE RUSSIANS IN LIBERTY – Marilyn Armstrong

Garry and I have been watching “Reilly – Ace of Spies” starring Sam Neill. It’s a really good, long mini-series. Very detailed, complex, and absorbing. Since it’s more or less historical, I know how it’s going to end … which is one of the few things I don’t like about watching history. You know it’s going to end badly. You have to decide if you want to watch that final episode or maybe take a shower.

On this evening’s episode, Sidney Reilly quit the British Secret Service and committed himself to ending the Bolshevik reign in Russia at any cost. Which was when I realized I’d met a whole bunch of these people a long time ago in a world I’d nearly forgotten.

This is a strange story, so bear with me.

Russian Communism was not one or two easily understood “things.” It was an idea that became a revolution that fractured into multiple parts. Americans have typically seen it all as one thing: Communism. Khrushchev. Stalin. Soviet Union. For most Americans, that’s how we’ve been taught to think about it.

It was a lot more complicated than that.

A lot of people fought the Czar to end their reign and bring Communism to Russians. Many of those fighters were very unhappy (and many of them also wound up dead) because the Communist government they got was nothing like what they fought for. They fought for justice and equality, but what they got was tyranny and fascism. The ironic part of the story is that the fight to get rid the world of the German fascists basically cost them the country.

Getting rid of the Germans was pretty much the one thing on which everyone in Russia agreed. Get rid of the Germans. We’ll sort out the rest later.

It turned out Lenin wasn’t such a nice guy and by the end of the war, he was in power … and then, he was dead and chaos reigned. The British didn’t provide the anti-Bolsheviks the weapons or troops they had promised. The planned coup to take over the Russian government failed as did the attempted assassination of Lenin. By the time the Germans surrendered, Lenin and his wing-man, Stalin, owned Russia.

Sidney Reilly, the star of the series we’re watching, left the British Secret Service and dedicated the remaining years of his life to trying to destroy the Russian Bolshevik government. Many of his people — including Sidney — moved to New York where the FBI  stuck to them like super glue. The FBI was not then or now a group who understood the complexities of Russian history.

Eventually, many of these Russians moved to small towns in upstate New York. Monroe. Liberty. Woodstock. Monticello. Roxbury. Places that once were home to huge Jewish resorts like Grossinger’s and where so many stand-up comics got their start. Today these towns are doing pretty well, but there were dark days during which they were nearly ghost towns.

Except for the Russians.

Liberty, New York – the old days

I was 17 in the summer of 1964. My goal in life was to leave home and never come back. My mother still thought she might somehow lure me into staying a while longer … like until I was 18. Or got married. Or had a job. Thus when summer rolled around, she decided we needed a family vacation in the Catskills. Liberty, in Sullivan County, was our destination.

To say that this was not what I wanted doesn’t come close to it. I hated my father and disliked my sister. My brother had married and left home, so my only ally was gone. Family vacation? Seriously? I could look forward to a couple of weeks of being harangued by my father and probably threatened with near death beatings.

I never entirely understood my mother’s reasoning. Why would I want to go to the mountains with the family?

Regardless, that’s what we did. I don’t remember the name of the “resort.” It was old and rundown. The reason mom picked it was because they had a concert pianist. I was a music major with piano as my instrument. Mom apparently thought the music might grab my interest. In response, I brought enough dope with me to stay high the full two weeks.

But the mural was in full, blazing color

That first evening, we went to dinner. Big dining room  intended for a much larger crowd. Two walls were painted. Murals. On the wall facing me (I’m not making this up) was the head of Trotsky. From chin to forehead he was maybe 12 feet high? No body, just a head. I was really stoned and that huge head just hung there on the wall.

But wait. There was more.

On the right wall was something that looked like a chariot but was probably a troika which is usually pulled by three horses. In this case, it was being pulled by three workers. You knew they were workers because the hammer and sickle was prominently displayed across their laboring bodies. In the chariot — or whatever it was — there was a Corporate Rich Guy (dollar signs painted all over him) beating the workers. With a giant whip.

Holy shit.

That was some dinner. I don’t know what they served, but I ate it all.

That night, I could hear my parents whispering. “Albert, you better get cash. We can’t sign anything. The FBI is probably here. Watching.” Come to think of it, the FBI probably was there. Did they also eat the gefilte fish?

It turned out everyone in the resort except me, my sister, and parents, were in their 70s or older. All of them had been in the White army trying to take down the Bolsheviks — or something like that. Here’s a good jumping off point for the history. It’s Wikipedia, so it shouldn’t be your primary source.

The road to Liberty

These were Sidney’s people. They carried around books of pictures of pictures of them young, in the army. Guns. Boots. Snow. Tanks. If I had been more astute, a bit more into Russian history — and less stoned — I could have asked so many questions. I’m sure they would have told me everything.

As it was, they tried to tell me everything, but I was 17. We all know that 17-year-old girls don’t listen to old people, even when they have books full of pictures of themselves when they were kids, fighting Bolsheviks and tanks. In Russia. In the snow.

Until we started watching this series, I had no idea who these folks were. I knew they were Russian because they said so. They had pictures and they giggled when they talked about it. I remember Greenwich Village. They remembered fighting with the army in Russia.

Ah, memories.

At 17, I didn’t know the difference between one Bolshevik and another and probably, at that stage in life, didn’t care.

Tonight, watching that show, it came together. Those people were the last of the crowd of anti-Bolsheviks who’d come up from New York city to live in those quaint towns in the Catskills — to get away from the FBI and HUAC.

Pity I didn’t get the story. What a story it would have been!

Dad paid cash. He never signed anything. I think he used a fake name, too. I stayed stoned and ate gefilte fish, which I usually hate. How could I say no to fish with Trotsky staring at me while the guy with the whip beat the workers?

LIVING EXPONENTIALLY – Tom Curley

Did you see DJT on Fox and Friends this morning? Or maybe you saw it on Colbert this evening. It was also on the evening news, so if you watched TV at all, you saw it. It was also all over social media.

Whoa! Talk about out of control. It would have been funny if life on earth were a comedy. But this was our actual, elected President Of The United States. POTUS. The Man. Sounding like an out-of-control elderly family member who has lost it.

2018 is 2017 on steroids. It’s almost May and it is crazier and much weirder than last year. We expected crazy — but weird?

In 2017, we experienced “Trump Time.” A crazy story which would have normally lasted a week or two — maybe even a month — lasted for two days, tops. We were reeling from the insane shit the Shithead-in-Chief did on a Monday, only to completely forget about it because he did something even crazier on Tuesday.

That’s how it went all year.

But something happened, or seemed to happen on January 1, 2018. The crazy went into overdrive. I say ‘seemed’ to happen because his turning the crazy up to eleven was inevitable. Now those same stores last a couple of hours before the next bizarre event.

Why? Well, it’s because of the word exponential. Most of us know what it means, but I think most of us don’t really understand it.


ex·po·nen·tialˌekspəˈnen(t)SH(ə)l/

adjective

1. (Of an increase) becoming more and more rapid. “The social security budget was rising at an exponential rate.”

2. MATHEMATICS – Of, or expressed by, a mathematical exponent, for example, “an exponential curve.”


More specifically, we need to understand exponential growth, something that gets bigger and bigger, or grows faster and faster over time.

It’s hard for humans to think like that because we are hard-wired to think linearly. It’s easy for us to understand it takes a guy two hours to paint a room, so he can paint two rooms in four hours. Commonsense, right? That kind of commonsense  is part of our DNA. It helped us survive in the old caveman days. Back then, we had to be able to figure out in a hurry how fast we had to run to get to that tree before the really large saber tooth tiger caught up to us and ate us for lunch.

The best example of exponential growth today is in technology. Like, say, computers. There’s a thing called “Moore’s Law.” It says the processing power of computers doubles and the cost is cut in half every 12 to 18 months.

That was true, but, it is a perfect example of linear thinking.  In reality, the time that computers double in power and drop in cost is taking less and less time. Science and allknowledge, is growing at an accelerated rate.

It has always been that way. The increase in human knowledge has always been on an exponential curve, but the way the curve works didn’t make it seem that way until recently. On an exponential curve, things grow at a steady rate for a long time. Then suddenly, it hits a tipping point and everything begins to race along much faster.

Think about it. Humans have been on this planet as Homo sapiens for a few million years. Most of that time, we spent surviving. And throwing rocks at each other. Then, about 12,000 years ago, we stopped roaming and settled down. Although we still threw rocks at each other.

We created agriculture and civilization. Why did we do that? Because we discovered beer. I know this sounds like a joke, but it’s true. There’s a great documentary called “How Beer Saved The World.’  It’s fascinating, but that’s another blog for another day.

Basically, we had a choice. We could continue to wander around and throw rocks at each other. Or,  we could stay home and make more beer. And throw rocks at each other. It wasn’t a hard decision.Think of all the science — all the knowledge — mankind figured out starting 12,000 years ago up until 1900. By the 1900’s the industrial revolution was well underway. Cities were lit by gas and some places, by electricity. People and industry moved on steam-powered trains. The internal combustion engine was in production.

All this knowledge doubled between 1900 and the 1960’s. From  horse-drawn carriages to putting a man on the moon.

Well, that was fast.

The knowledge of mankind doubled again between 1960 and 1980, then doubled againby 1990.

Can we remember when smartphones didn’t exist? When iPads didn’t exist? They’ve been around for a while, right? Actually, the iPhone came out June 29, 2007. That was just ten years ago. The iPad was released on April 3, 2010. Just seven and a half years ago!

When my step son was diagnosed with kidney disease, he was told he would need a transplant. I asked his doctor if an artificial kidney would soon be available. He said, yes, but not for at least 50 years.

A few years later, he received the transplant and Ellin was the donor. After the surgery was over I asked the same doctor the same question. His answer? “Oh yeah, they will probably make a kidney from his own stem cells. Maybe five, ten years from now. ”

That was five years ago. Today, they’re talking about making kidneys with a 3D printer.

What happened?

Mankind reached the tipping point of that exponential curve. We’re at the point where the curve ends and the line goes straight up. This is when our knowledge quite literally explodes.

We’re way over to the right.

This is not something I thought of myself. There is a fascinating book by futurist Robert Kurzweil, called “The Singularity Is Near.” I highly recommend it.


What does any of this have to do with our Toddler-In-Chief? A lot. In particular, with his mental illness. Literally hundreds of psychiatrists and psychologists are screaming at the top of their lungs that this nut job is, well, nuts.

And getting worse.

They have collectively pointed out that the stress of the job is accelerating his illness. He’s not merely getting crazier at warp speed. He has gone all the way to plaid!

You can see it yourself and you don’t need a Ph.D either.

Every interview he gives is a trip further down the rabbit hole. His last few interviews have gone from, “Bizarre” to “Unhinged” to “Insane” to “Insanely insane.” Read the transcript of his last interview with The Wall Street Journal. It was a literal word salad. Not a single sentence was complete or made any sense.

Remember the news conference where the doctor that supposedly just examined Trump said he passed a cognitive mental test and he got all 30 questions right!

Really? The questions were things like “name four animals” and “point out what 3:15 looks like on a clock.” Wow, so the President is sane because he recognizes a cow, a pig, a dog,a rhinoceros and a pussy. He also knows when it’s quarter after three.

Short red hand was. at 3 and is now. moving toward 4. Long blue hand. has moved. to 15.

Meanwhile, the doctor in charge, apparently known locally as “Candyman,” excused himself from his upcoming promotion to run the V.A. Maybe the doctor should be taking the test.

I think Grandpa is not just losing it. He’s losing it faster and faster each day. It’s time to take away the keys to his car. Remove the big nuclear button from his desk. Get him into the memory care unit at a good nursing home. Hell, you can designate Mar-A-Lago as his official nursing home and lock him in his room. It’s the end of April as I write this and I’m hoping we make it to May. Last year, at this time we were hoping to make it to 2020.

I apologize for not finding more humor in all of this. I try, but sometimes it just ain’t there. So, to make up for it. Here are two dogs playing “I Got Your Nose!”

ASTONISHED? MORE LIKE DISAPPOINTED – Marilyn Armstrong

ASTONISH

We had one beautiful day on Saturday. It rained on Sunday and through last night and this morning, it’s cold, dark, and grey again. Not only that, but neither of us feels well.

It was actually snowing a bit north of here yesterday. It wasn’t sticking, but there was quite a lot of it and while not sticking to the road, it managed to do some accumulating on grass and gardens.

I’ve noticed that the meteorologists are getting careful and sometimes, downright apologetic about the weather. The usual glee they show when bad weather is coming has been muffled by explaining that “Really, it’s going to be lovely — soon — we promise,” and some of them act as if it must be a personal thing, the continued lousy weather.

Obviously, it’s no single individual’s fault, though collectively we may have a lot to answer for. I have posts from last year dealing with April snow. But tomorrow, it’s May and I don’t have anything about snow in May. Not that it has never happened … but it is rare and I think we’ve all pretty much had it with the cold and hale and sleet and general bad weather.

C’est la vie, eh?

By the end of the week, they are talking about temperatures in the 80s. That’s a hard thing to imagine at the moment. I shall try and keep the faith, which is an even harder thing.

MIRROR, MIRROR ON THE WALL – BY ELLIN CURLEY

A lot has been written about dieting and body image. What interests me is how we develop our body image in childhood and how this image haunts us through life.

Here’s an innocuous example. I’m short. Very short. I’m less than 5’1” tall. So it would be reasonable to assume that “short” would be part of my innate body image. But it’s not. I’m constantly surprised when I stand next to normal sized people and realize how much bigger they are than I am. I believe this is because I grew early and stopped growing early.

I’m third from the left, in first grade

Therefore, in my formative years, I was one of the taller kids in the class. When we lined up by size in first grade, I was near the back of the line next to a girl named Liz. Liz grew to be about 5’8” tall. I barely noticed as the years went by and everyone else continued to grow and I didn’t. It didn’t hit me until one day, in sixth grade, I realized that I was at the front of the line next to my peanut sized friend, Cathy. How did that happen? As a result, I’ve never thought of myself as small. I’m still bemused when people comment on how tiny I am.

Me with Tom, Marilyn and Garry in 2016 (Marilyn is short too)

My mother illustrates the more pernicious affects of childhood perceptions. She was adorable as a child but had a thick, black uni-brow. Insensitive parents and family members referred to her as “the ugly one”, in Yiddish. At the age of 13, she blossomed into a true beauty. This is not just an adoring daughter talking.

My mother was scheduled to go to Hollywood in the 1940’s for a screen test. She didn’t go because she got a severe case of Rheumatic fever that permanently damaged her heart. But throughout her adult life, no matter how many people told her how beautiful she was, her image of herself was always as the ugly duckling. She always felt totally inadequate physically.

My mom at about two years old

When I was growing up, my insecure mom overemphasized the importance of looks to me. This made me very self-conscious about my appearance. She often told me that she didn’t understand how women who were not thin and beautiful ever got husbands.

Ellin – NOT looking short!

It’s no wonder that it was only in my 50’s that I felt confident to go out of the house without makeup on – ever! Even to the supermarket. I always wore makeup at home as well, even when I was alone with my husband, until recently with husband number two.

It’s liberating to be able to finally feel acceptable without cosmetic enhancement.

One of Mom’s theater head shots. She was in her early twenties.

I believe that the self-image that is imprinted on us early in life stays with us forever. Extended therapy can improve the situation and strengthen the ego.

I think that it’s crucial for parents to make sure that their kids leave home with a positive body image. Too much emphasis is placed on physical appearance early on. So too many children, including me, grow up thinking that being beautiful is synonymous with being accepted, valued and loved.

Mom in her early fifties – still beautiful

We all need to feel comfortable in our own skin, whether we’re good looking in a conventional way or not; whether we’re skinny or “big-boned”, or whether we’re male or female. Neither of my children have serious body issues. I’m not sure if that is because of me or in spite of me.

Personally, I wish I could “do-over” my childhood and de-emphasize the physical. Maybe I wouldn’t have spent so much of my life as obsessed with looking “good” all the time.

Mom and me in 2002 – I’m 52 and Mom is 85

CEE’S ODDBALL PHOTOGRAPHY IN THE MALL – Marilyn Armstrong

Cee’s Odd Ball Photo Challenge: April 29, 2018

Olympia Sports 

Walking in a mall
Hollister in the Mall
Shoes

Thank You, Donald Trump – Jan Wilberg

I couldn’t have said it nearly as well — but this is a very good description for many of us these days. Brilliant, actually.

Red's Wrap

When Donald Trump was elected, I decided it was time to be the political commentator I’d wanted to be when I was sixteen. I’ll get a spot on Medium, I thought, and just tear the bastard up with my laser analysis and searing prose.

But within weeks, the guy became too disgusting for words. Every day, there was some horrible, gross, ignorant assault on our customs, values, law, civility, what we used to agree constituted basic decency, a man basically relieving himself on the country’s fine china.

So I turned my attention to people and things that knew how to act in polite company like me, for instance, and my dogs. But walking today, it came to me that Donald Trump, the sloppy, rude jerk that he is, had actually made me a better person and a better American. Here’s how.

First, I pay attention like I never have before.

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LAST CACTUS FLOWER OF THE SEASON – Marilyn Armstrong

Flower of the Day

I got two blooms on my Christmas cactus. The first flower closed up this morning and the second opened this afternoon.

By the time I remembered to grab my camera to take some pictures of what is probably the last flower for this year, it was late. Close to dark, really. A very dim light in an east facing doorway and I wondered if anything would come out. I could have turned on the lights, but that would have distorted the colors and I don’t like flash.

Not only do I need new glasses, but I was shooting in very low light and a bit too close for that light level. 

I’ll try to take some sharper pictures in the morning when the sun is still in the sky.