NO ESCAPE AND NOWHERE TO RUN – Marilyn Armstrong

FOWC with Fandango — Escape

A lot of my post this morning are quotes from “The Washington Post.”

Why, you might ask, since I’m a born and bred New Yorker living in New England and Boston for more than 30 years, would I read “The Post” rather than “The NY Times” or “Boston Globe”? Because both of these two papers — run by the same company, by the way — charge nearly $30/month for an online edition. In other words, $60/month if in my madness, I subscribed to both.

I like the Times and the Globe. I would prefer to read local news and not just national news. But their prices make that impossible. If the Times/Globe organization wants to get a bump upward in their readership, they should reconsider their pricing. Even if they were delivering the paper to my door (physically, the actual newspaper), I still could not afford those prices.

The “Squad” in U.S. Congress on television yesterday evening

I understand that it’s hard times for the press these days, but raising prices so that the very people who might actually read them can’t do it is stupid in every possible way. If you drive away your only readership, you are driving yourselves out of business as so many others already have done.

I pay $10/month for “The Washington Post” and anyone can get a trial of their paper for a month for $1. They also have “cheat sheet” online papers that come out many times a day to update you on issues that are actively progressing, as well as summaries of current issues on any number of subjects from sports to politics to humor.

I would quote other newspapers too, but anything worth reading is a “pay to read”paper. I’m out of money.

It is ironic that “The Boston Herald,” which was Boston’s “other” newspaper — the right-leaning one — was bought up by the Trumpist Sinclair Group and now, you can get whatever crap they print for free. They aren’t worrying about circulation. They own more than half the papers and TV stations in the country and can (and do) say whatever they feel like saying. It doesn’t need to have even a scrap of truth in it. They say march and anyone who wants to keep his or her job, marches.

Back to the subject of escape.

As the holder of two legal passports, one from Israel and the other (obviously) U.S.A., I always had the thought in my mind that if things turned pear-shaped in this country, I had someplace to go. It never crossed my mind that both countries would go fruity together. I cannot tell you how sad this makes me. Israel has always been a country with a lively internal war going on inside it, but it was a war of words, thoughts, and ideas.

Since I left and came home in late 1987, Israel changed. The children who grew following the 1967 and 1973 wars are more hawkish than were their parents. More hard-nosed “hold the liners” and less inclined to reason and discussion.

Photo: Washington Post

I saw this beginning to happen when I was there. I saw the country taking a sharp right turn. Arabs blame Israelis for this, but they can also blame themselves. Whenever Israel tried to find any road to peace, Arab “neighbors” shattered it with bombs.

Why? I don’t think most Arab-Israelis want a war any more than most Americans want a war … but the driving force for war is never a nation’s citizens, but its politicians and generals. War makes those people powerful and rich. If it kills off the population? So? They are not in the rank and file these days and probably their children are not, either.

If the Arabs ever wanted peace — something I often question — they had many opportunities make a deal to forget everyone’s past and start from NOW. Build peace on today. Build peace on what we need to move ahead into a better future and LET THE PAST GO. I know it’s not easy, but that’s what has to happen and if no one can do it, there will never be peace in this or any future generation.

Which brings me back to the good old U.S.A.

Did I always know this was a deeply flawed country that liked pretending our past didn’t count and we are/were/will be a nation of equals? Sure I knew that. Did I believe we could turn around and become the people we fought against or think we could stir up the type of hatred which brought on the Civil War — in 2019?

No, really, I didn’t believe it. I knew it wasn’t impossible because I read history. I know nothing is impossible. I just thought it very unlikely. And yet, here we are, at the front door, fingers on the doorbell of hatred and despair.


From this morning’s “Washington Post,” a few thoughts to ponder. If we can’t escape — almost none of us can because we have nowhere to go or where we could go doesn’t want us and maybe, we don’t want them, either.

1) Trump’s rhetoric is creating a more dangerous climate and corroding the public discourse.

House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) asked the Capitol Police last night to provide extra protection for the four lawmakers, citing a growing threat profile, per Fox News.

There are also longer-term impacts to consider. For better or worse, the president is a role model. Modeling bad behavior sends signals to young people just as much as good behavior.

Conservative columnist George Will argues that this is why Trump is worse than Richard Nixon. “I believe that what this president has done to our culture, to our civic discourse, you cannot unring those bells and you cannot unsay what he has said, and you cannot change that he has now in a very short time made it seem normal for schoolboy taunts and obvious lies to be spun out in a constant stream,” the consistent Trump critic said on a New York Times Book Review podcast last week. “This will do more lasting damage than Richard Nixon’s surreptitious burglaries did.”

2) Trump’s “go back” rhetoric is consistent not only with his own long history of attacks on people he perceives as the other but also the nation’s oscillating attitudes toward immigration throughout its history.

Marc Fisher traces the etymology: “The Know-Nothings wanted German and Irish immigrants to get out because they were allegedly subversive and diseased people who were stealing American jobs. White preachers and politicians of the 1820s urged freed blacks to move to West Africa, supposedly for their own good. From that drive to encourage blacks to go back where they came from to waves of nativist attacks on Catholics, Jews, Asians and Hispanics in nearly every generation that followed, ‘go home’ rhetoric is as American as immigration itself. ( … )

“There is hardly any ethnic or racial group in the country that hasn’t been told to go back where they came from. In collections of voices from the Japanese American internment camps of the World War II era, in diaries of the earliest Italian and Irish immigrants, in Jewish novels and memoirs from the turn of the 20th century, the slur is a mainstay. … From Calvin Coolidge’s warnings in the 1920s that the country was becoming ‘a dumping ground’ and that ‘America must remain American’ to the ‘America: Love it or leave it’ rhetoric that surrounded Richard Nixon’s presidency, the nation’s leaders have struggled for two centuries with a central ambivalence about its core identity as a magnet for immigrants.”

Conservative lawyer George Conway, the husband of counselor to the president Kellyanne Conway, explains in an op-ed for The Post why this episode caused him to conclude that Trump is a racist – after years of giving him the benefit of the doubt. ( … )

3) White identity politics is driving Trump as 2020 approaches, and the Republican Party that he’s remaking in his image. Trump is making clear that his reelection campaign will feature the same explosive mix of white grievance and anti-immigrant nativism that helped elect him.

Michael Scherer explains: “Trump’s combustible formula of white identity politics has already reshaped the Republican Party, sidelining, silencing or converting nearly anyone who dares to challenge the racial insensitivity of his utterances. It also has pushed Democratic presidential candidates sharply to the left on issues such as immigration and civil rights, as they respond to the liberal backlash against him. Unknown is whether the president is now on the verge of more permanently reshaping the nation’s political balance — at least until long-term demographic changes take hold to make nonwhite residents a majority of the country around 2050. ( … )

4) “Trump is proposing a giant swap: Republicans can no longer count on suburban women and we will continue to lose college-educated men and women.

“While increasingly picking up working white Americans without college degrees,” said Ari Fleischer, who was a White House press secretary for President George W. Bush and who has spoken with Trump campaign advisers about their strategy for increasing turnout. “Nobody knows who will come out ahead in the swap,” he told Scherer. “That’s what the campaign will tell us.”


There is no escape for me or at least none I’m likely to take … and probably none for you. The younger people who will still be alive in 30 years? This is your fight. This is your world war. Your final battle to live in a decent nation.

If you have a conscience and you vote for it this coming election in 2020, we may survive this crisis. Maybe. If you don’t vote. If you shrug your collective shoulders and mutter “This has nothing to do with me,” you will ultimately discover that it has everything to do with you and worse, it has, even more, to do with the children who are yet unborn.

This is not a battle for today. It’s a battle to have a future worth living — for any of us still alive and for our children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren.

Will the nations of the world utimately “come around”? Assuming, of course, Planet Earth doesn’t decide it no longer wants human beings living on it? Sure it will.

But historically, that could easily take a few hundred or a thousand years. If you’d like to see this country remain a place we and our descendants can live in safety and hope, do something positive. Vote. Talk to your official representatives. Clean up the garbage along the rivers and roads. Fight for clean air and water.

Decide what you want and stop brooding about how the world isn’t what you expected. The world was never what anyone expected.

BUYING NOTHING ON AMAZON PRIME DAY – Marilyn Armstrong

Not only am I broke, but I don’t need much. We are already overstuffed. However, our GPS is slowly dying. I’m pretty sure the battery isn’t recharging properly. When I went to see when I bought this GPS, I realized it was more than 4 years ago. It has left my “bought” list on Amazon.

It is old.

Then I realized today is “Prime Day Deals,” so I figured okay. At least I should take a look and see if there’s something selling cheap that is usually expensive.

There were a few items on sale — mostly Garmin and a few TomToms, as well as a few items of unknown origins. First, I bought a Garmin. Then I canceled it and bought a TomTom. And canceled that one, too. There was not a single GPS from a known-manufacturer that had my minimum rating of four stars. There weren’t any in the “unknown” category either.

I know some complaints are phony (as are favorable reviews). But when I read them, they sounded all too familiar. The same complaints I have made and everyone else has made.

Voices that couldn’t pronounce basic words in English. Weird directions that send you to a graveyard instead of the mall (we did that one in Gettysburg and it was hilarious). Batteries that die in less than a year and only work for an hour at a time even when brand new.  And, of course, terrible customer service. Not enough gigabytes so that when you try to update your firmware or “lifetime maps,” the unit drops dead.

None of this is new. These are the same old problems which have shown up in every GPS I’ve ever owned for as long as they have been around.

The thing is, spending more on a bigger, fancier unit doesn’t mean you’ll get a better GPS. Basically, the complaints about the big expensive sets were the same as the complaints about the small, compact ones — except people who spend hundreds of dollars for a GPS that can’t find it’s way on a straight road from point A to B were even MORE pissed off than people who spend less money.

Amazon’s best which oddly are the same as Best Buy’s best …

Some folks complained that to get more than half the “benefits” of the new units, you have to hook them up to your smartphone. Several people pointed out if they were going to use a phone, they wouldn’t bother to buy a GPS. They could get the same crappy service without spending the extra money.

In the end, I didn’t buy anything. The “Prime Day Deal” discounts were no better than the discounts you can find on Amazon on any normal day. They have also made it increasingly difficult to tell the used items from the new. They hide the word “renewed” so that you can easily think you’re getting a bargain whereas you are actually getting something which was broken and is still broken.

No matter what they say, they do NOT check the broken items to make sure they are genuinely fixed. They repack them and send them out so you can argue with customer service.

It’s an online version of “Black Friday.”

Maybe there are some big bargains tucked in between the (mostly) junk they are selling for short money, but I didn’t see any. Overall? “Big Sale Days” are a waste of everyone’s time and energy.

Meanwhile, you can add to my list of “things which need fixing, the faithful, but wildly inaccurate “vehicle GPS.”

Software designers, it’s time to toss out your existing designs and come up with a new design that works. Which won’t, in the middle of your travels from Boston to Bangor, send you on a side-trip through an ancient forest to a collapsed bridge.

REMEMBERING HIGH SCHOOL – Marilyn Armstrong

I had no choice about what high school I’d attend. In New York, unless you were going to one of the four or five special schools for performers (that’s where “Fame” came from, the New York School for Performing Arts) or the few for math and sciences and there were a couple of others, but I don’t remember them anymore, you went to your local high school.

In my case, Jamaica High School. Built to hold 1200 students, it housed nearly 3,000 when I was there. It’s closed now. I think they have turned it into some kind of museum.

Jamaica High School

It was five stories high with the choir loft at the top — five stories of stairs to climb and no elevators. I was in a cast my final (senior) year, so I had to be homeschooled for nine months. They sent an actual teacher to the house. I learned absolutely nothing at home but to be fair, there wasn’t much to learn that I didn’t already know, at least from a studies viewpoint. Most of the learning took place in earlier years. But homeschooling did let me meet some interesting and odd people.

Music was always with me. I was a serious piano student. It had nothing to do with high school since I studied privately. I was in the chorus, not the choir. I didn’t think my voice was good enough or strong enough for the choir. My alto voice was okay, but I would have had to study to make it better and stronger. I was so wrapped in piano, I didn’t have time.

That, and of course, writing.

I was always part of the “junior genius” crowd, but my grades didn’t reflect it. I coasted. I did well in things that I liked, not very well in others. I still won two national merit scholarship as well as the Westminster Scholarship (based exclusively on test results — NOT my grades).

They wouldn’t give me the money because my father earned too much. I never understood how they could do that. I thought I had earned it, but even after I got married, they STILL based it on my father’s (not my husband’s) income. Times have changed, but I was furious then and remarkably, I’m still annoyed.

High School, really

It didn’t make as much difference in 1963, though. Colleges were surprisingly inexpensive. Hofstra, where both Garry and I went, was for him just $17/credit and for me, just $42/credit. Now, it’s very expensive. Unimaginably expensive.

I wanted to study music. It wasn’t what I was best at. I was always a better writer, but I loved music. The piano also wasn’t the right instrument for me, but I didn’t know that until years later. I was tiny when I started studying and still tiny when I reached my “full” growth. The piano was big and my hands are little.

It never occurred to me until I was years into college that I could change instruments. By then, I was drifting back to what I was good at — writing. I never worked as a professional musician because I wasn’t good enough. I was good, but the difference between “good” and “good enough” in classical music is gigantic. Good gets you gigs at a piano bar. Good enough gets you concerts. Better than good enough and maybe — if you are lucky — the world is yours.

I didn’t want to teach piano and certainly didn’t want to play in local bars, but I thought maybe I’d write a great book. I sort of did, but I sort of didn’t. Define “great.”

They didn’t teach instruments in my high school. They didn’t even teach them in college. You still needed a private teacher and my teacher was miles away and I didn’t drive. I did what I could on my own, but I needed a teacher.

We didn’t have a senior prom in High School. It was canceled because no one signed up to go. Nor were there parties to celebrate unless they were small and private. The school was divided by race, class, where you lived, what your extracurricular activities were, and whether you were Jewish, well-to-do-white, poor white, Black, Hispanic or Something Else.

My grades weren’t great, but my IQ was ridiculously high. I’m still not sure what that means in terms of the life one lives. Most of the super smart people I knew, in the end, lived fairly normal lives. The people who made billions were not necessarily the ones with the highest IQs, either. They were the ones with the most determination and focus, something tests don’t measure.

Hofstra in 2014

Nonetheless, I won the two big merit scholarships. There was a ceremony in our auditorium where the Principal pointed out that MOST OF US deserved the award, with an evil eye sent to me and my best friend Heidi — another under-achieving winner.

I think the people who miss high school are people who had a special relationship with it or someone in it. For me, it was something I needed to survive until I got to college. I really enjoyed college, though. It wasn’t just studying. It was social and spiritual and the people I met there are still my friends today.

I admit I didn’t try terribly hard. Most things came to me easily. I had a great memory (unlike now). The hard work came after school. At work. When I had to learn Systems Analysis in two weeks. I needed to know them to do the work I did — so, I learned them. I thought my brain was going to explode.

Little Theater – WVHC 1963

Long after college days were done, one of my bosses was a Ph.D. in Higher Mathematics from M.I.T. I commented that I hadn’t really had to study in school. He laughed. He said that was the thing about M.I.T. Everyone there had been able to go through school without studying. At M.I.T., you studied or you dropped out. It turns out, there ARE schools where you really have to study. I suspect when you get into hard sciences and math, that was also a different story. History is a lot easier to remember than physics.

I was lucky insofar as not only did I grow up in an area full of every kind of person, but my mother urged me to get to know them. She wasn’t just a liberal in-name. She meant it. I don’t think she thought I’d marry someone of a different race, but doubt she’d be surprised.

She knew I dated men of various hues and aside from occasionally pointing out that babies from mixed marriages might have a hard time, she didn’t say anything else. It took me a long time to be comfortable as the only white person in a group of darker people — until I realized no one cared except me, after which it was much easier.

It’s funny looking back into the early sixties. All the things we were striving to do seem to be in the process of being undone. I’m not sure where we are going or with whom we are going. I’m hoping I live long enough to live the difference.