Saturday, November 18, 2006
The media has not come out at all well. The Fourth Estate has failed us and is still failing for the most part. Election night I watched Keith Olberman and Chris Matthews. Don't think much of the latter, but I'm in love with Keith Olberman -- completely KO'd!! For those who don't know him he has picked up the mantle of Edward R. Murrow and you can find him on MSNBC. (CNBC -- at least for election night coverage as broadcast in the UK.)
Been reading a lot about Nancy Pelosi. The things the media will say about a woman they would never say about a man! Segolene Royale in France is another instance of female-phobia. Anyway, good luck to you Nancy Pelosi. Gosh, if we could rid ourselves of our current executive branch she could become President!! What would that do to Hillary and all her careful planning. Rest assured, I'm sure there will be no due process to put that spanner in the works!
Most of all I am so relieved that the election happened, that there wasn't a diabolical coup d'etat. Another reason for having a healthy political landscape throughout 50 states -- much harder to rig an election without swing states.
Christmas next month. (Scream, Scream, Scream)
Friday, November 03, 2006
Bob Woodward has called his latest book about the Bush presidency, State of Denial. It could also be said of the American people that we have lived in a State of Complacency -- politically, that is. Life has been good for us; I grew up believing that I lived in the greatest country in the world, with a government that was based on principles that were the envy of the world. As our country has grown and prospered, can it also be said that we have grown with it? Has our prosperity, our richness made us a better people? Or have we failed to live up to the promise of our Declaration of Independence and our Constitution and have we become mere flag wavers instead?
Living in England has taught be to appreciate many of the strengths and weaknesses of our political system. Republicans and Democrats in equal measure could learn a thing or two about the English tradition of the Loyal Opposition. The job of the Loyal Opposition is every bit as important as that of the Government because the Government must answer to it law by law and minister by minister and they must do this in a confrontational, yet polite way that allows each side a hearing. This Loyal Opposition is called the Shadow Government. Each Government minister has a Shadow Minister he must answer to. E.G. the Minister for Education must face the Shadow Minister for Education. And even though the Government of the day almost always wins the eventual vote, there must still be a debate and the 'powers that be' have to stand before their peers and defend their policies.
Our Congress has never really operated in this way. After all the President's cabinet is not made up of elected officials, so if the Department of Defense wants to do one thing or another there is no one with the specific role to question him or her. However, until a few long years ago, we still managed political debate on the issues, there seemed to be an underlying respect for 'the other side' of the floor. Now instead of political debate within the halls of Congress there is political debate of the manipulated sound bite.
Finally, after years of giving up the fight in seemingly hopeless districts and States, the Democrats have a leader in Howard Dean who has figured out what most of us have known all along, that we have a valid message that is worth hearing and that many people have always believed. The Democrats leadership betrayed us, they were the disloyal opposition. They deserted us when and where we were defeated. They took us out of the debate. They left our country without its conscience.
But we picked ourselves up when we were called and we musn't allow ourselves to be left out again. Our country needs our voices whether or not we win the House or the Senate or both. We must stand up and be the loyal opposition and we will be heard, whether it be in caucuses in Iowa, or town or city halls, whether in cafes or on street corners or city parks, state assemblies or the Congress itself, we will be heard. Whether in red states or blue, we will be waving the Constitution and the Bill of Rights everywhere, every day and we will be heard.
God bless America and lead us down the path of righteousness and justice for all -- for the sake of people everywhere.
Thursday, October 26, 2006
So perhaps a positive light to put it all in is that I have been very introspective! Out of this introspection has come the awareness that I really am after all these years incorrigably American -- outch. One of the ways my Americanism asserts itself is that I am more naive than pragmatic, more a child or grandchild of the 'enlightenment' that created the ideals that lead to the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. But rather than a 'flag-waver' I am more of a 'constitution/Bill of Rights waver'. Which means at the moment, I am a Democrat!
Since June, when I discovered it, I've become more and more addicted to www.thedailykos.com. I make comments sometimes, but so far haven't had the nerve to write a diary. Still, I consider to myself to be a 'kossack', am proud to call myself a 'kossack'. But the downside of the addiction for me has been an inability to consider and develop my own thoughts and express them because there are so many others that do that far better than I do.
Nevertheless, it is important that I go forward with my dialogue because occasionally there is a germ of a new idea that is worth planting. At the moment my life is about politics -- it is concerned with the usurpsion of power and the destruction of the government of the United States law by law, judge by judge, state by state. I worry about the vote count -- yes, I am paranoid. I can not believe that the American people would have been so foolish as to elect the current 'president' twice. In fact I don't believe he was ever elected. I think there was a coup d'etat and -- well, there it is -- crying over spilt milk again!
For a long time thought that I wasn't really very American, that my slant on life was naturally European. But The Daily Kos has shown me that there really an awful lot of fellow countrymen and women who see the world and our relationship to it in a similar way.
Wednesday, June 28, 2006
He asked me if I didn't think that the world and Iraq was better off without Saddam Hussein in power. I should just have said, "no".
Don't misunderstand me. Saddam Hussein is a villain. His government was cruel and unjust and many of his people suffered and died when he was in power. But the reality now is that Iraq is now a hotbed of terrorist nasties and is much more dangerous to the well-being of the rest of the world and its own people than ever Saddam Hussein was. The truth is that Democracy in Iraq is more elusive now than it was before the US occupied it. I am especially thinking about women. Women are now afraid to leave their homes with head uncovered; are unable to resume jobs; are threatened if they are unescorted in public. They were better off under Saddam Hussein. Saddam Hussein, who was put into power by the likes of the men who instigated the war against him, who was encouraged to think that if he went into Kuwait the US would turn a blind eye, would, I believe, have done anything to re-establish 'normal' relations with his greatest 'benefactor'. This thug knew which side would butter his bread -- and it would not be with terrorist cells that wanted his head and his country under Sharia Law.
The point is that it is nonsense to think that Iraq is better off and that the United States of America is safer. The whole raison d'etre for our invasion and occupation is based on lies and the result is a disaster for the US and our allies and most of all for Iraq and Iraqies.
In the back of my mind there has always been the niggling thought that at the end of the day Saddam Hussein will be back. And just over this past weekend there were reports that Saddam Hussein believes that is going to happen. This is not a prediction on my part -- one would think this impossible, but I rule nothing out because nothing in this whole debacle has been about truth or honesty or integrity. It's been about the America at its worst, America at its greediest, America at its most foolish.
And when I think about it all I am speechless with rage. I sputter like a dunce and that is going to change. Make no mistake, there is a battle going on -- it's bigger than any one country or ideology. It's about life's basics and it's a battle that has been on-going since the beginning of time only the difference is that now it spans the globe and encompasses all of us. Our lives are now beyond boundaries, the battlefield has been extended to the melting icecaps to the heart of New York City to the parched plains of Africa and the rain forests of South America; the battlefield includes the Bill of Rights where freedom of speech and the press is being undermined by dictatorial aruguments about 'national security' and 'executive powers' in the name of saving our 'democracy'! Ha! -- no one anywhere is free from the inanities of a super power run amok.
And the press is for the most part unquestioning. The press is encouraging blind adherence to what it calls patriotism, but which is in fact capitulation to the powers that have overcome them -- the media has been bought and is controlled. The last bastion is the Internet, where for the time being at least we can publish free thought, demand change and question, question, question. It is here that we can still find leaders who are also statesmen and where they can find a voice and look to hear ours; here that we have our voice and can demand change; it is here that we gather in our millions creating controversy, inviting comment, debate, discussion -- for we know what is at stake is the future of the freedoms our histories have worked so hard to attain and which are now encircled by the powerful and the rich -- insidiously turning ourselves against ourselves with emotional 'cut and run' sound bites and iconic arguments about a flag.
This is our Democracy lost, but maybe it is still waiting to be found.
Thursday, June 08, 2006
Saturday, June 03, 2006
Last Tuesday and Wednesday evenings I watched the American television production of Angels in America. Wow -- what a feast for thought-provoking discussion! It ranks among the best of American television productions for it's substance, it's acting, its direction and everything else.
With the current political movement to table an amendment outlawing gay marriage and the national divide this is bound to create, this production should be compulsary viewing. Because, for one thing, it shows how in one way or another we are all joined at the hip. We must stop using what we cannot understand to re-enforce our ignorance. I do not pretend to be comfortable in the presence of gay couples who are obviously in love. But I do believe that gay people have the right to be in love and to be recognized and that the more recognition there is, the less uncomfortable it will be for those, like me, who are not now. It starts with tolerance and with tolerance comes understanding and with understanding comes 'peace that passeth all understanding.'
The fact is that America promises everything to the healthy and to the ambitious, to those who promote monetary wealth. But it is not a place anymore for the down-trodden, the poor and the ill. It is a land of harsh reality. As a people we cannot together look at our own pain or our own uncertainty. Bonhomie is not love, is not well-being. It is shallow and escapist. As a country that is our reflection and it is what we have become. We want simple answers, black and white talk from our politicians, not depth and understanding. We think that the name of the game is 'hard ball'.
I say 'we' because like it or not that is what our government has become -- and our government is a reflection of ourselves -- If New Orleans was a disaster of incompetence, where did the 'power that be' come from -- the system elected them -- whether mayors or governors or congressmen/women or senators or the President. Blame the Republicans or the Democrats -- we are getting what we are responsible for -- namely politicians that put re-election before leadership.
I do hope that the people of our country will not be fooled into thinking that the most important issue before the nation is this unconscionable, probably unworkable, and sinful legislation. This is not democracy, this is moral and social tyranny.
Tuesday, March 14, 2006
The difficulty with this kind of law is that it is not enforceable. It's the word of one against the word of another. And what criteria can a jury possibly have for ascertaining the 'truth' of the matter. I believe that for the most part juries will not be keen to send a man to prison for 'rape' in this situation. Or will the government have rape divided into categories: first degree, second degree, third degree and what will the penalty be.
What will happen is that rape trials will again put the woman in the dock and this time it won't be pretty. The fact is that men as well as women go on the prowl -- unfortunately there are a lot of women that don't seem to understand that that is in fact what they are doing. A woman/girl doesn't wear sexy clothes -- short skirts and plunging necklines -- because it's virginal. They want to be provocative, alluring, tempting. Come on -- take responsbility for yourselves. This is playing with fire. I've seen young women in bitterly cold weather walking down the street in skimpy clothing, boobs hanging out flaunting their 'assets', full of drink like a parade of what's on offer. The men/lads aren't wearing coats either, but they are at least covered up. Who can blame them for thinking 'no' means 'yes'.
In the past juries have had difficulty sending men to prison for rape because the sentences were too severe. For this reason penalties were lessened in order to obtain convictions. This attempt to legislate what is not legislatable will in very likely make all rape convictions more difficult. Could women then be prosecuted for provocation without cause?
Monday, March 13, 2006
Events of the past several years seem to indicate that religion causes most of the grief in this world of ours. Why is it that keeps us at loggerheads -- often violent, if not murderous -- when the tenants of most of the worlds religions teach love, peace and tolerance? Why is it that we must believe there is only 'One True Way' and it is 'My Way'.
I am a Christian and was brought up in a family that went to church every Sunday and my parents have always worked hard to live by their beliefs. There was a time when my father was very rigid in his theology, but he never believed that non-believers were condemned in some way or in some other way were not 'worthy' as Christians or non-Christians. It was interesting to see him change much of his theology as he grew older. I never would have believed that he would have come to accept the idea of women priests in the Anglican Church -- but he did. His theology came of age with age.
But it is much easier to be open-minded about different cultures and beliefs when separated by space and time. When I grew up it was rare to be exposed to different ethnic cultures. The first Muslim I ever met was an Afghan exchange student when I was a teenager, and it neve entered my head to think about what religion he might have been. He was just someone interesting from a long way away. Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, even Judaeism where I grew up, were not issues that were of any importance to us. The religious issues we concentrated most on had to do with Protestants and Catholics and since I grew up in a very Anglo-Catholic household, Catholicism was not an issue for me -- other than to insist that Episcopalians were indeed as catholic as the Romans and that the Pope was the Bishop of Rome!
In high school I became very interest in Islam and I wrote a paper about it. It was my ambition to become an expert on the Middle East and to work for the United Nations. In those days Islam was still called Mohammedism -- at least it was where I came from. In those days I didn't think about the issues that I think about today, particularly the issue of women, not did I not consider the issue of women in Islam, I didn't consider the issue of women in the context of any religion.
It constantly seems to me that the battles that have been fought over religion both verbally and physically are the same: Muslim fights Muslim; Christians denigrate other Christians; Jews cannot agree with each other any more than any other group. I have a real problem with narrow minded Christians that believe in a narrow-minded God. I have a problem with Muslims that talk about 'Jihad' but object to the word 'Crusade' -- it's all violence. I have a problem with Israelis that took hold of Israel using terrorist methods.
And as with many other things it is the loud mouths that we hear, not the soft-spoken. It is the fury that makes the news and shatters our worlds with unspeakable deeds. But it would also behoove us to remember that the fury, the roar of aprobium was born of the silent, quiet, greed of the insidious and powerful. It is born of global corruption that has no religion and which is Godless. It gave birth to unsacred riches, which blind us and tear us apart.
Friday, February 10, 2006
It was three weeks ago today my dad died, and I must tell you that in that time I think that my family and I feel somewhat liberated because we’ve now been more able to reflect on the man as he once was, and he is now all of a sudden much closer to all of us.
When we were children, I think my sisters and brother would agree with me that we thought our dad knew everything and could do anything. I think Dad didn’t do much to dispel that notion. To us, he seemed larger than life: he was a gifted teacher, and he knew about literature and art, about music, and history, and algebra. At one point I think he knew by memory all five acts of Hamlet. He could sing so beautifully, he was a wonderful actor and director, and yet he could fix the car, he could build bookcases and hang wallpaper and put up paneling, and he could show us the planets through a telescope, and point out all the constellations. He was a wonderful photographer, and he would develop the pictures he took. He collected stamps from around the world. He was a birdwatcher, he grew roses and peonies, he hiked his beloved Long Trail in Vermont, and he played tennis and golf.
He had so many enthusiasms, so many passions. Yet his capacity for generosity almost overshadowed this. It seemed that enjoying all these pleasures was never enough—it was so important to him to share what he loved. If Dad watched a good movie or concert on TV, he would gleefully tell you about how wonderful it was and then invite you in so you and he could watch it together. If you liked it as much as he did, or even if you didn’t, you would soon be the owner of a copy. If he enjoyed a book, he would not just tell you about, he would read some of it to you. A new Cecilia Bartoli CD would mean a copy on a cassette for all his friends and neighbors. Of course his enthusiasm also carried to ideas. On more than one occasion, Dad invited Jehovah’s Witnesses, proselytizing at the door, into his living room, in order to share his own Anglo-Catholic views on Christianity and do a little proselytizing of his own.
His greatest passion was for my mother. They adored each other--they truly had one of the great marriages. Perhaps this was the greatest gift to their children, as it no doubt helped us to live and grow in our own marriages. I’d like to share a little vignette, played out dozens if not hundreds of times: my mom and dad sitting in their living room, and, getting on in the evening, my mother would put her book down and get up from her chair, and say she was going to bed. As she walked by my father’s chair, he would take her hand, and she would bend down for a little smooch. “Good night darling,” he would say, “I’ll be up in a little while.”
An easy, quiet moment between them, not a big deal, but a memory for me which seems to capture the spirit of their enduring affection for each other.
To quote from my father’s favorite writer I would like to say:
Good night, sweet prince, may flights of angels sing thee to thy rest.
St. Andrew's Church, Kent, Connecticut
19 November 2005
I'm Bill and Ruth's daughter Mary Sigmond.
My father has always been a huge presence in my life. When I was a child, he seemed larger-than-life, and it was clear that everyone in the family adored him. I was particularly impressed with how much he knew about everything and how good he was at doing so many things. Although as I grew older, he seemed less of a superman, I remained impressed with the range and intensity of his interests - especially those connected with music - and his endearing if sometimes obsessive pursuit of them. Surely there was never anyone who took on NY Times crossword puzzles or searched record stores for CDs with Penguin Guide rosettes more assiduously than he! Such things we will remember often and fondly about my dad, but of course they were only little parts of the whole.
For all my father's intellectual gifts and his accomplishments as a husband, father, teacher and so on, one thing has always stood out to me as the most remarkable thing about him - and that was his incredible generosity of spirit. Bill John, as the saying goes, was the kind of man who would give you the shirt off his back - never mind that that shirt might come with a few stains on the front. As well-read, culturally-minded and intellectually curious as he was, he was also completely unpretentious, down-to-earth and approachable. My father could carry on a friendly conversation with just about anybody on just about any topic - and he frequently did just that. As my mother says, if he didn't know about something, he'd pick your brain until he did.
My father wasn't perfect - no one is - but I do believe he was about as fine a human being as you could ever meet. I never knew him to say or do anything deliberately unkind. Never. As unlikely as it sounds, I don't even recall ever hearing him and my mother have harsh words, and certainly nothing anyone could call a fight. But then, theirs was the love story of two very remarkable people, so maybe I shouldn't be surprised. Over the years I have both marvelled and shaken my head at the way Dad was willing to give people the benefit of the doubt, even if it meant he might be taken advantage of. Sometimes that happened too - but even then, I never knew him to bear a grudge. The bigger picture was more important. My father had the remarkable gift of being able to let go of the big and little things in life that eat away at so many of us. I suspect it was partly by nature he was an optimist and always looked for the best in people, but I believe it was also by conscious choice because it brought out the best in himself. It was also one of the many ways he tried to live his Christian faith, a faith which remained central to his life, even as he was slipping away from us these last few months.
There are many wonderful things to say and remember about Samuel William John, but his generosity of spirit was, I believe, the most remarkable and enduring of them all. How grateful I will always be that I could visit him just two weeks before he died, and tell him one more time that I loved him and how proud I was to be his daughter.
A devoted husband to Ruth, his soul mate of 63 years, and caring father to Katherine, Mary, Bill and Patricia and their spouses, and a most proud grandfather and great-grandfather.
We remember Bill as a good and a wise man, enthusiastic and cheerfully optimistic; a man of integrity, who gave generously of himself in service to others, to his church and his community; a good neighbour and kind, considerate friend; a benevolent teacher, school librarian, chorister, occasional thespian and so much more – “a man for all seasons.”
We also remember a man passionate in his love for music which his daughter Mary likened to “Dad’s Magnificent Obsession” referring of course to his vast and expansive musical library. YES, music was a life-long passion for Bill. A long-standing member of the Litchfield County Choral Union he would joyfully and enthusiastically sing from his heart and soul. Tanglewood Summers with Ruth and Bill were special events and a tradition, combined with occasional ventures to the Met, or the Bushnell and other places that create music.
One of my personal recollections about Bill was, that after hearing an unfamiliar piece of music on WMNR Fine Arts Radio, I had phoned Bill to inquire and learn more about that particular musical selection. You could ask Bill anything – he had an almost encyclopaedic knowledge, especially about music.
Woe to the unsuspecting soul, hoping for a quick answer. You had to be prepared for a most thorough lesson on the subject in question, which would include a “biopic” of the composer, a complete run-down of recorded works rated by the Penguin Classical Music Guide and most likely the actual copy of work, on LP, Tape or CD delivered to your doorstep that same day. Oftentimes, he would call back later with additional information.
The other evening, listening to a delightful musical offering unfamiliar to me, my first thought was to call Bill …
Allow me to share with you, this short quotation by a 19th Century American theologian, William Henry Channing. It is entitled “My Symphony” and so eloquently speaks to the essence of Bill John, as we remember him.
To live content with modest means;
to see elegance rather than luxury,
and refinement rather than fashion;
to be worthy, not respectable, and
wealthy, not rich;
to listen to stars and birds,
babes and sages, with open heart;
to study hard; think quietly, act frankly,
talk gently wait occasions, hurry never.
In a word, let the Spiritual, unbidden and
Unconscious, grow up through the Common—
This is to be my symphony
Saturday, November 19, 2005
The way it seems to be today is that everything can, must, should be put into words 'somehow'. The concept that there are some events or situations which are really and truly beyond words is not easily understood, let alone accepted.
Samuel William John (Bill) was no ordinary man. He loved his wife, his family, his friends -- and tried to love his enemies. He was/is a devout Christian and tried harder than most to live up to his beliefs. He loved music: the opera, the concerto, the symphony, the ballet, Tanglewood. He wasn't really crazy about food -- he didn't like cheese, fish or mushrooms! He loved pepperoni pizza, in spite of the mozzarella!
He loved to talk, to laugh; he also love the Baltimore Oriols, the New York Giants Football team and was a staunch Democrat. He loved books -- possibly he loved books more than he loved reading them! It seemed to me there was not anything he could not do. He was the plumber, the decorator, electrician, roofer, painter, golfer, baseball and football enthusiast, actor, opera singer, theologian, layreader, teacher, campground manager, outdoorsman, chauffeur and photographer, for a start! He was an English teacher and a librarian.
But for me, he was my inspiration. The one it was most important to please. He was also my comforter when things went wrong -- sometimes life-changing events, sometimes just the everyday. I always felt he understood -- even when he didn't 'understand' exactly. Even when his advice was taken -- exactly.
For a long time we thought he was suffering from Altzheimer's Disease, which in fact he was not. He was a victim of a series of 'mini-strokes' which slowly ebbed the life out of him. He also lost the sight of one eye through a botched cataract operation several years ago. About two years ago it was discovered that he had Macula Degeneration in the other eye and so he was virtually blind. Most of all he was tired -- a fatigue that finally and irrevocably incapacitated him. He was 87 years old when he died, and for him death was a release. We were all ready.
My mother was a 'star' through all of this. He was 'the love of my life' she always would say -- she still says. They were each other's best friend and soul mate. I had planned to visit them two weeks after he died, but was prepared to buy another ticket and fly in for the funeral service. My mother was quite surprised and said she had already planned to have a 'memorial' service a few days after my arrival in two-weeks time and it really wasn't necessary to change my plans, but I could if I felt it was really necessary. She had decided to have a short (five minutes) service at the graveside where his ashes were to be interred -- but absolutely everyone -- except immediate family -- was forbidden to come!
Her Rector explained that 'your mother has been through a very long Lent, and she is ready for Easter!
So it has been sad, but a 'release'. Now we remember him as he was before the ravages of time and age took their toll from him. In those last years he was so tired and rarely smiled. It was especially difficult for him when he had to stop driving. That seemed to take the wind out of his sails and I wasn't very understanding when he explained that was why he was depressed. But he didn't go on about it -- he only said it once.
I grew up with parents who not only loved their children but loved each other. They were not perfect, but they were/are the finest parents that I know about. I was well into my adulthood when I discovered how envious my friends had been of me because of the parents that I have. Always there for us, accepting even when they couldn't understand.
You can't get luckier than that.