American Pastoral

I just read Phillip Roth’s American Pastoral.  It is the story of mid-20th century America

The protagonist Swede (Seymour) Levov is the All American Ideal, an allegorical icon, the handsome perfect athlete in high school.  Enters the Marine Corp at the end of World War II.  A hard working assimilated Jewish man who inherits a business built by his father and marries Miss New Jersey an equally hard working lower class Irish American woman.

Together they do every thing right, everything perfectly

They struggle with a daughter who stutters.  Gradually as this daughter grows up she turns into a monster.  During the Vietnam war she sets off a bomb in their small suburban town’s market/post office.  This bomb kills a Doctor who is again a hard working paragon of virtue.

Over the course of the book Swede’s family is destroyed, everything he worked so hard for is in tatters.

Lately I have been thinking a great deal about 1967 and the hippie years.  I was a hippie, anti-war but never willing to go down the road to bombs and that level of violence.  Very few of us were, yet the right wing tries to hang the guilt for the action of a very few people on the majority of us.

But one thing that is forgotten about the 1960s, lost in the music that is still played today, lost in the long hair, legalized pot, organic foods and yoga, is that very few of us were hippies.

Most of us were more like Swede and his wife Dawn.  They did everything right.  Paid for all sorts of things to make their lives and the lives of their children better.  The finest schools, lessons, therapy.

They built their businesses, their careers in fields they were told would insure their futures.  They saved, they bought stocks, bonds, IRAs.  They did all the right things.

They went in debt and sent their children to the finest universities they could afford.

If they were lower class they went to church, they worked hard.  Some had industrial jobs that paid well enough for them to take vacations, maybe own a cabin somewhere with a fishing boat.

Life was sweet.

Then came automation, computers, off-shoring, H1B visas (that undermined the tech jobs people retrained for). Neo-liberalism/neo-conservatism, bubble economies, stock market crashes, health care crises.

People, who did everything right saw their lives and everything they worked for turned to shit.

It’s hard to pin point the end of the American Dream, the one where following the rules, working hard and conforming to expectations would lead to success.  Perhaps it was a myth all along, one born of advertising in what we call the Golden Era of television and the big glossy magazines.  Maybe we were just basking in the afterglow of defeating Hitler. But I remember the optimism of the 1950s when Eisenhower was President and we as a nation solved problems rather than turning our backs on them.  I remember the expansion of Civil Rights and the battles fought.  The optimism of JFK saying we would put a man on the moon before the end of the decade.

Maybe the American Dream died in Dallas in November of 1963, or in Mississippi a year later, perhaps it died in Vietnam.

By the 1970s cynicism seems to have replaced optimism.  Until Trump came along was there ever a greater icon of cynicism than Tricky Dick?

Yeah, by the gas crisis of the 1970s and inflation the bloom was off the rose and the tarnish was showing on the great American Dream.

Gen X, the children of the Boomers.  What did they inherit? Academics playing the game, biting and clawing for tenure.  A class war between those who received legacy admissions to college and kids who were economically drafted in to a military that progressives despised.

In the 1980s computers came along and people, who lost their jobs when manufacturing fled the rust belt for the Third World, retrained for the promising new careers that were offered by high tech.  Retrained for careers that often times barely lasted long enough for people to get their student loans paid off.

Big box stores out on the highways outside of town gutted out local businesses killing the American Dream of having your own business and killing the down towns where generations before had grown up.

Progressives and conservatives alike played the game of telling poor white people how they were privileged and much better off than people of color even while economically there wasn’t a hell of a lot of difference.  The resentments and racism grew.

Times got harder for so many.  2008 cost many thousands of people their homes.  Put so many into bankruptcy and the neo-con and neo-libs had arranged it so filing bankruptcy doesn’t really help ordinary people any more.

Now I think Obama was a good President, one of the best we have had in my lifetime.  The right wing prevented him from doing things that would have benefited most people.

I voted for Hillary.  I knew she was the better choice because I still have an optimistic streak.  I can still envision that American Dream as being real.

I was raised on the mythology of America, the American heroes from before the Revolution on down to today.  I still believe in what I jokingly call Team USA.

But I look around and major portions of this country have become a dystopia where the American Dream died long ago and pain pills, booze and credit card debt are facts of life.  Where there is no vision of tomorrow being better.  No faith in the idea that with hard work you too can be a success.

Instead a lot of people have decided The American Dream is dead.  Fuck you. Trump speaks to our rage.

I don’t have an answer to that…

I’m old I still believe in Team USA and an American Dream.  Perhaps a smaller one than what was once possible but an American Dream nonetheless…

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Dear Gap (and other retailers): Listen to this girl

From The Washington Post:

By Beth Jacob
March 6, 2017

Before she turned 2, my daughter Alice fell in love with dinosaurs. She spent her toddler years amassing all things reptile — living and extinct — before dabbling in amphibians for a while. Books, stuffed toys, you name it: If it showed something slithering or scaly, she was all in.

Like all children, Alice wanted clothing to match her passions from the time she could talk. In those early years I dutifully searched out T-rex gear from Carters. Once I even scored a rare dressy girl’s shirt covered in bugs. (Apologies to my stepsister, whose wedding photos show how much Alice loved it.)

As she’s gotten older, it’s near-impossible to get her into anything without an image of animals, sports or superheroes. And this is where, every time she outgrows another size, things get ugly.

Yes, Alice has an older brother, and she would be overjoyed to wear his hand-me-downs, assuming they weren’t demolished by the time he’s finished with them, which is rare.

But also, Alice is a petite 5-year-old. She swims in clothing cut for boys — even the toddler sizes. As Alice will tell you, she’s a “girl who likes boy stuff.” She doesn’t mind being confused for a boy, and when asked why she dresses like one, will respond, “I can wear whatever I want.” She may be unfazed, but she doesn’t exactly like having to explain herself, either.

As anyone who’s been in a major retailer recently can tell you, it’s slim pickings out there for girls who love Batman and Diplodocus. And if you’re a boy who loves ballet or slogans “love makes the world go round?” Well, that one pretty much answers itself.

In 2017, the world has changed enough that Target now carries girl-sized dino T-shirts. Among the pastel blandishments to “Smile!” is one proclaiming the wearer as “Future President.” Lands’ End has a couple with Pluto and Saturn, which happen to be Alice’s favorite stellar bodies. I know all of this because I scour various sites when the sales hit my inbox, looking for clothes that are affordable and will let my kid express herself the way she wants.

I’ve seen the indie clothing websites, where kids defy stereotypes in organic cotton. I’m glad they’re out there. But it’s invariably $30 for a T-shirt and they rarely go on sale. Either that, or the science- and ninja- patterns only come in dresses, because there’s only so many stereotypes girls should challenge at a time. (Alice hasn’t tolerated a dress since she was 18 months old, so those are out, too.)

And what about all the families who don’t have the money or patience to look beyond the local big box store? What should they do for girls who love Iron Man? What about the boys who want a shirt with Rey from Star Wars, not Kylo Ren?

Well, they’re finally getting a few options. It seems at least some retailers are catching on that not every boy loves skulls and danger, and not every girl wants ponies or pink. Every season I see a shirt here or swimsuit there that surprises me, and the job gets a little easier.

But Alice? She’s 5, and she’s not so patient. She came home yesterday and saw the shirts I was about to buy for her brother from the Gap online. The boys’ section had Star Wars, Hot Wheels, and DC Comics — along with the standard sharks and extreme sports. The girls’ section has none of those — only Disney Princesses, a few Looney Toons and Smurfs. In true 5-year old fashion, the injustice of this filled her with righteous indignation.

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Gavin Grimm: The Fight for Transgender Rights Is Bigger Than Me

From The New York Times:

Just over two years ago, I started my sophomore year of high school. The summer before, I had come out to my family and friends as a transgender boy. I also came out to the school administration, telling them who I was and asking them to respect my gender identity. They assured me that teachers and administrators would call me Gavin, and use male pronouns when referring to me, and if anyone gave me any kind of trouble, it would be resolved right away. By the time I started school, I had legally changed my name and I was poised to start testosterone.

However, I was still anxious. I come from a fairly conservative community, and I wasn’t sure that I’d be accepted for who I am. Because of this anxiety, I did not ask permission to use the boys’ restroom. I was not yet accustomed to advocating for myself, and I worried that I would be asking for too much, too soon. Instead, I used the restroom in the nurse’s office.

The office was far away from my classrooms that year. It took far too much time out of my day to use the restroom, especially when, in any class, I was just down the hall from a perfectly good boys’ room. So I approached the administration again. This time, I asked to use the bathrooms that correspond to my gender identity. My principal told me the following day that I was free to use the boys’ restrooms, and I did. For a period of roughly seven weeks, I went in and went out with no altercations of any kind. No physical or verbal confrontation. No restroom misconduct by or against me. This seven-week period showed me what it was like to be embraced by your school, and it gave me confidence that I would be able to live out a normal school year, unencumbered by restroom politics.

This was, unfortunately, a false sense of security. After that seven-week period, the school board held a meeting — a public conversation about my genitals and restroom usage — without notifying me first. My mother and I found out by chance less than 24 hours before the meeting was to happen. An old friend of my mother’s had noticed a post going around Facebook, a rallying cry by adults in my community urging people to show up to the meeting in order to “keep that girl out of the boy’s room.”

I went to the meeting, in November 2014, and spoke at it. Family and a few friends stood by me, but nothing could have prepared that insecure 15 year old for what was to come. People speaking out against me made a point of referring to me with female honorifics and pronouns. They warned me that I was going to be raped or otherwise abused. They suggested that boys would sneak into the girls’ room and harm their children. At a second meeting, a month later, the rhetoric was even more inflammatory. Word had spread throughout the community and people turned up in droves. After each frenzied remark, clapping and hollering reverberated throughout the room. I sat while people called me a freak. I sat while my community got together to banish a child from public life for the crime of harming no one. I sat while my school board voted to banish me to retrofitted broom closets or the nurse’s restroom.

And then it was over. At least it felt like it, back then. I was back to being exiled. I heard sneers and whispers about me in the hallways. My school board had invalidated me in perhaps the most humiliating way possible.

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Hundreds demonstrate at Texas capitol – but ‘bathroom bill’ still advances

From The Guardian UK:

Measure heads to full state senate after 13 hours of public comment in Austin feature passionate testimony on behalf of transgender people: ‘It is all fear’

in Houston
Wednesday 8 March 2017

It has raised the ire of business leaders, equal rights campaigners, a host of celebrities and sports leagues.

On Tuesday, ordinary Texans had their say on the state’s proposed North Carolina-style “bathroom bill” as more than 400 people demonstrated and lined up to speak at a hearing on Senate Bill 6 at the capitol in Austin.

Testimony by dozens of people opposed to the bill continued late into the night. A mother of a transgender boy said his “mental and physical health are at risk from this bill” and that because he is not allowed to use the male restroom at school, he avoids eating and drinking so he does not need to use the toilet.

Another said that the bill “would impede transgender people like my son from living a normal life and it would place them in danger. That is all it would accomplish.”

The proposed bill, modeled on a North Carolina law that prompted backlash across the state, would compel people in public buildings such as schools and universities to use a bathroom that aligns with the “biological sex” on their birth certificate. It also bans local authorities from enacting their own bathroom ordinances and imposes civil penalties on schools and state agencies that violate the law.

One woman spoke through tears as her young daughter sat by her side and tried to comfort her.

“Our daughter Rose knew at a very young age she was transgender,” she said. “She’s not safe in the boys’ bathroom … to those that dismissively say ‘just change the birth certificate’, we can’t, we tried.” In Texas, that requires a court order.

The girl then spoke: “One time while I was just minding my own business at the boys’ bathroom, a random boy hopped over the stall just looking at me and it did not feel right,” she said. “If I ever go into a boys’ bathroom again it would just bring up that same memory over and over again.”

Passionate entreaties against the bill failed to sway the Republican-dominated senate committee. After 13 hours of public comment it voted 7-1 in the early hours of Wednesday in favour of advancing the bill to the full senate. If passed by the senate, it will head to the house for consideration.

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