Philomena

Today I went to see Philomena at an early Saturday showing with only three other people in the theater. The setting matched the intimacy of the film.

Spoiler alert:  While I won’t reveal the entire plot, don’t read further if you plan to see the film and don’t want to know any of the crucial details beforehand.

Judi Dench’s performance in the title role is outstanding. It must be difficult to play a role based on a real, still-living person, but I found her portrayal of Philomena to be compelling and relatable. Philomena’s long-standing pain and guilt, enforced by the Church, society, and her lived experience, were palpable and made her indecision about how far to take the search for her son and his loved ones understandable.

What was most meaningful to me was the contrast between those who had hardened their hearts and were mired in being judgmental and unforgiving and Philomena, who was open to love and so was able to forgive those who took her son away from her and kept her from finding him in this life. Her ability to show mercy enabled her to find peace. That she was able to know that her son had loved her and Ireland and had searched for her as she had for him felt like it was not only a comfort but also a reward from God for her steadfast love.

Philomena, whose name can be translated as “powerful love,” was the one who taught us about God, mercy, family bonds, love, and forgiveness.

Indian Pudding for Thanksgiving

National Indian Pudding Day was November 13. NPR did a piece about it:  http://www.npr.org/blogs/thesalt/2013/11/13/244983031/its-national-indian-pudding-day-heres-why-you-should-celebrate.

I had not previously realized that there was such a thing as a National Day for this purpose, but, as a New England native, I was certainly a fan of Indian pudding. We make a recipe that came to us from my husband’s Great-Aunt Gert. We aren’t sure from whom she received the recipe, but we know it is an old one.

I made it earlier this fall when I went out to visit my college roommate and her husband in Colorado. They had never had it before but enjoyed it. Today, we made a batch to have as part of our Thanksgiving dinner tomorrow. We like to make it the day before serving, as the molasses flavor intensifies after it has set for a day in the refrigerator and is then re-heated to serve with vanilla ice cream. Besides, given that the pudding needs to bake for two hours, it is impractical to do it along with the turkey, dressing, baked squash with apple, and onions that also are vying for oven space.

Here is (at least the first draft of) my poem in honor of Indian Pudding:

Making Aunt Gert’s Indian Pudding

The recipe calls for butter the size of an egg,
Conjuring the image of scooping butter
From the crock in the creamery,
Instead of slicing a few tablespoons
From a stick of Land ‘o Lakes.

Simple and New-England-frugal,
no spices are required,
That expense unnecessary
Due to the wonders of molasses,
Slow-baked and intensified.

The summer corn
Stored as meal and
The fresh milk from the cows
Meld to warm us in the chill of Thanksgiving,
Honoring our New England roots.

typhoon lessons

I have been following the horrible impacts of typhoon Haiyan on The Philippines. I was moved by Yeb Sano’s speech and action at the UN climate talks in Poland. http://ecowatch.com/2013/11/11/philippines-typhoon-global-warming-warsaw-climate-talks/  When will we wake up to the extreme danger that climate change has on our planet and all its inhabitants and take the swift and strong actions we need to keep the earth (at least mostly) hospitable?

Will Haiyan, in the wake of wildfires, floods, droughts, glacial melt, heat waves, and record storms of all types across the globe finally be the motivator to rapidly transition away from fossil fuels? We have already delayed much longer than the science indicated was wise and we can’t undo the damage we have already inflicted on the atmosphere, but we must stop our dependence on fossil fuels if we are to have any hope of averting runaway greenhouse impacts, with massive melting of permafrost and methane hydrate release from the oceans.

I have been trying to do my part by opposing unconventional fossil fuel extraction, promoting efficiency, and supporting renewable energy technology, but, even with many others following the same path, we have been unable to affect change quickly enough. In the aftermath of Haiyan, I find myself thinking within a Catholic social justice framework:  about social sin, about care of creation, about the dignity of human life in community, about the responsibility I – and each of us – have to care for others and the earth.

I haven’t figured out yet how much more I can do. I pray that enough people will come together to finally move public policy in the direction necessary to save the planet before it is too late. While we need to preserve the earth for future generations, it is becoming increasingly apparent that we also need to act for present generations.

 

 

Lesson (re)learned

I am a member of the New Yorkers Against Fracking online rapid response team, as well as being on several other list-servs on the topic of high-volume hydraulic fracturing. My main mode of service to the cause is through commenting on articles and blogs, often using links to scientific findings to fight misinformation.

The topic is very contentious, both in my local area, unfracked Broome County NY along the fracked PA border, and inter/nationally. Especially in our local press comments, I am frequently accused of fear-mongering, or called a liar or stupid or similar, or asked personal questions in a hostile manner. I do not name-call in return, but often defend myself with documenting links to the facts that back up my commenting. I will not answer personal questions, which sometimes leads to badgering. I try not to let it bother me, but it does, especially when the commenter is local, as I use my real name and photo so these people could recognize me when I am out at a rally and several of them have a track record of harassing fracktivists in public.

Earlier this week, I spent way too much time in a back and forth commenting battle with someone who decided to branch out from my support of a local PA woman who leads citizen tours of local wellpads, compressor stations, and affected households to making all kinds of assumptions/accusations about my support of every other thought this woman has ever expressed. I patiently tried to explain that this woman had not been accused of any wrongdoing and I was not going to condemn her – which really set him off and led to a string of his questioning my judgment and my own values. It got ugly quickly and he was throwing around Hitler and cannibalism and child molestation, among other unsavory topics. And all these comments were landing in my inbox because they were through disqus. I realized I had to disengage and I wrote to the online publication in which the article appeared, asking them to remove my original comment and the string of replies. Then, I posted to my Facebook timeline about it to help calm down and my friends came to the rescue to support me. It’s now several days later and the comments have stopped, although I haven’t checked to see if our commenting has been deleted from the site. I’m still feeling a bit insecure because, while I know this person lives in my area, I’m not sure who it is, as he wasn’t using his real name. It’s known that several of the very vocal drilling proponents comment under multiple names, so it could very well be someone that I have seen disrupting local press conferences and rallies.

So now I am trying to get my equilibrium back with my commenting and trying to find the line between clearing up misinterpretations and “feeding the trolls.” It really bugs me not to clear up unfounded accusations, half-truths, and lies; I know that I won’t convince the person lobbing the attacks, but I want other readers to have access to accurate information. But I need a rest for now. I am continuing to comment, but not responding to replies. I’m actually trying not to even look at replies, by not posting to Facebook – which is the responding mechanism for Gannett papers, supposedly to keep things civil – or subscribing to follow posts. I should probably update my disqus preferences so that I don’t get emails from replies from them, either.

I’ll go this way for a while, or maybe permanently, if I have really (re)learned my lesson.

 

Red Sox – World Series Champions!

I grew up in rural Massachusetts and the Boston Red Sox have always been my team, so, of course, I was personally happy to see them win the World Series last night.

But this year, the story goes beyond sports and stats and the worst-to-first mythos. It’s about pulling together and teamwork and healing and strength and honoring what is really important in our communal life.

I appreciate the Red Sox working together as a team and supporting each other on the field and playing as a team instead of individual stars, even when that meant growing scruffy beards as means of solidarity.

What was more important was their effort to live “Boston Strong” after the Boston Marathon bombings. The Red Sox players and organization have a long history of charitable work and community involvement. Even as a kid, I appreciated their support of the Jimmy Fund, fighting childhood cancers, work which has been on-going for decades. In the wake of bombings, the Red Sox did whatever they could to honor the first responders and medical teams who worked so hard to save lives and bring healing. They supported the injured in their recoveries and welcomed them to Fenway as they were able to be out and about again. Game days gave everyone in the Boston area a respite from the day-to-day slog of recovery, whether in person at Fenway, or on TV or radio. And they reclaimed the name “Boston” for the whole country, so that today the first thing that comes to mind is Boston Red Sox – World Series Champions, not Boston bombings.

Thanks, Red Sox, for giving Boston a reason to celebrate. You and the city are truly Boston Strong.

Superstorm Sandy anniversary

This week, there are a lot of reports on the one year anniversary of superstorm Sandy, much of it revolving around how slow and difficult re-building has been and how much is left to do. While these reports are true and I understand the frustrations, the situation should not have been a surprise. Recovery from major disasters is usually slow. Compare today’s New Orleans to pre-Katrina. I live in a town that was affected by the flooding of the Susquehanna with tropical storm Lee in September, 2011. Some of the FEMA buyouts in my county are just going through now, and probably wouldn’t have happened at all if Sandy hadn’t been so devastating that it mustered additional federal disaster recovery funding for New York State.

The sad truth is that many homes and businesses that were destroyed should not be re-built in the same location, even if they are elevated. For decades, we have been building on barrier islands, river banks, shorelines, flood plains, hillsides that are at high risk for landslides, former marshes and wetlands, and all manner of unstable topography. We built various flood walls and levees and drainage systems and sea walls and planted wind breaks and tried to convince ourselves that we could control nature, but it is becoming increasingly evident how foolish we were. Barrier islands are meant to be temporary landforms, breaking and reforming when they are battered by winds and waves. The sand on the shores is meant to migrate. Floods are meant to deposit new soil on their floodplains and to change the path of the river bed. It’s why mature rivers develop bends and meanders. Marshes and other wetlands absorb some of the excess precipitation to blunt the effects of large storms and floods.

We got away with building where we shouldn’t have and interfering with the natural topography for a while, dealing with extreme weather events when they happened rarely, and might have gotten away with it for even longer, had we not been burning fossil fuels with abandon. Given the realities of climate change and the fact that, even if we finally muster the will to stop using fossil fuels quickly, the planet will continue to heat with increased severe weather events for decades to come,  we need to stop doing the things that got us into this mess in the first place.  It means not building at all in some especially vulnerable areas and building to strict codes regarding elevation and positioning of infrastructure in others.  Restoring wetlands and salt marshes. Increasing permeable areas so there is less run-off to deal with.  The list of changes we need to make is long.

Most important of all, we must stop all incentives, subsidies, tax breaks, regulatory loopholes, etc. for fossil fuels. It’s (well past) time that we transitioned to 100% renewable fuel sources. We have the technology to do so. There are scientific studies outlining plans to do so, including one specific to New York State.  http://www.stanford.edu/group/efmh/jacobson/Articles/I/NewYorkWWSEnPolicy.pdf  Bonus:  Offshore wind turbines can help blunt some of the force of hurricane winds.

We will have to weather more horrible storms and more instances of sustained bad weather, such as the stationary front that caused nine inches of rain and then-record flooding in my area in 2006 and the recent stalled storm system that recently devastated the Boulder CO area. And we will have to re-build, but we have to do it with an eye to what will be more secure in the future. And we have to keep the vast majority of the fossil fuels in the ground. No more excuses. It’s much, much too late for that.

Robert Reich’s “Inequality for All”

Yesterday, I took the opportunity to see the documentary Inequality for All with Robert Reich. (Information and trailer at inequalityforall.com.)

During the film, he is shown a number of times teaching a course on income inequality in the United States at University of California – Berkeley. Reich appears to be a great teacher. I was especially impressed with his ability to make the complexities of the topic understandable not only to his students in the filled-beyond-capacity lecture hall but also to a general movie-going audience who may be lacking in knowledge of economic theory. The documentary also includes the stories of individuals from across the income spectrum, making it easy to relate to your own situation and the conditions in your neighborhood, region, and around the country.

My husband and I graduated from college during the Reagan recession, which features in the income inequality graph as the start of the huge rise of inequality. Our daughters graduated from college in the aftermath of the 2007 meltdown, which was also a peak of income inequality, equalling that of 1928 before the 1929 market collapse. Reich’s graphs and explanations made sense not only as data and analysis but also in our lived experience of the economy and the concerns we have for our extended family’s future.

Like Robert Reich, I am shorter than average. The implications of being short appear throughout the film and are handled with humor and grace – the practicalities of driving a Mini and of carrying his own box to stand on at the lectern so he won’t disappear behind the microphone, his own gentle joking about his height, the visuals of Robert Reich and (the very tall) Alan Simpson hosting a television show together, what it is like to be picked on as a short child by taller classmates, and finding protectors. The most poignant moment in the film for me was Reich telling the story of one of these older friends who helped protect him, who was subsequently tortured and killed while engaging in civil rights activism in the South in the 1960s. Reich’s passion for social justice and for fighting against all forms of inequality are so evident in his decades of work and in his writings; I appreciated hearing him tell the story of the roots of that passion.

Because this is a documentary, it may be more difficult to find a screening, but I would urge people of every economic level to see this film and enter into the discussion of how the current situation intersects with our civic and moral values and our history and what our path forward as a nation and a society should be. Thank you, Robert Reich, for sharing your knowledge, passion, and vision with us!