El Camino Real

My prompt for Week 27 at More Odds Than Ends came from Leigh Kimmel: The song “Sausalito Summer Nights” by Diesel is the story of a trip from Los Angeles to San Francisco. The Wikipedia article mentions that Sausilito is north of San Francisco, in a context that implies that the songwriter mislocated it as being south of San Francisco. In fact, the lyrics clearly mention crossing the Golden Gate Bridge to get into San Francisco. Why does the narrator of the song go east around the Bay to get to San Francisco instead of heading north on El Camino Real? Visiting a friend in Marin County on the way? Wanting to avoid the possibility of getting stuck in Silicon Valley traffic with a car prone to overheating? Some other reason? Tell me the story.

Just reading the prompt sent me back in time to the hundreds of times I’d made the drive from LA to SF in all sorts of weather and at all times of the year (including the Wednesday of Thanksgiving week…never again!). Single file over the Grapevine in a blinding snowstorm guided by the flashing lights of the CHP car leading our convoy. Bright sunny days that led to stops at Fort Tejon at the top of the pass. Flying down the north side of the pass and gaping at a truck in the emergency stop gravel hill. Getting stuck in Los Banos because my engine froze due to lack of oil (there was a leak) and spending four hours in the Burger King waiting for my friends’ mom to drive down from Sacramento and pick us up so we could get back to LA. Telling my dad that I left an hour or so earlier than I did because I didn’t want to get lectured on driving too fast. I think that drive up I-5 is a rite of passage for every California driver.

I had to look up the lyrics to the song and sure enough, it mentions trouble on the Grapevine and implies taking the long way around to get to San Francisco. Combining my memories of the route and the lyrics, I give you this:

******

El Camino Real

“But, it’s the El Camino Real! The Royal Road! Don’t you want to travel the royal road?”

“No, it’s 101 and it’s not nearly as interesting as you think. We’ll go up 5 and then over to 580 and across the Richmond bridge. That will give us a straight shot to Stinson Beach without having to go through the City.” Like a lot of locals, Brian capitalized the word “city” when he was speaking about San Francisco.

He knew he was getting overly snippy with Madison, but he was the one doing all the driving and he sure as hell didn’t want to get stuck in that Silicon Valley rush hour traffic. It would add at least two to three hours to the trip. And, then going through San Francisco…the stuff of nightmares traffic-wise.

“Well, I think you’re cheating me out of the wonders of California. This is my first trip and all I’ve seen is Disneyland and the interstate,” Madison pouted.

Brian sighed and made sure his tone was softer. “Not exactly accurate, but I know, babe. But if we do it this way now, when we leave Stinson Beach, we can go back through Sausalito and then over the Golden Gate Bridge into San Francisco.” She was right. He was returning home, but this was her first trip to California, and he had promised to show her as much of the state as they could afford in terms of both time and money.

They had flown into Los Angeles and spent a few days there going to Disneyland, Venice Beach, Santa Monica and Hollywood Boulevard. This morning they had pointed the rental car north and headed up to the Bay Area. There was a brief issue with the radiator on the Grapevine but since that was a common problem on that stretch of highway there were water stops about every quarter mile, thus easily fixed.

Brian wanted to show Madison something other than the primary tourist spots of LA and San Francisco, so he’d decided they would spend a couple of days in Stinson Beach and then go into San Francisco, hence his roundabout route and leaving the “Royal Road.”

“Besides,” he went on, “we can spend a night in Sausalito this way and you can sing that song you like so much while we stand on the ferry dock and look at the lights of San Francisco.” She did smile at that.

Madison would get her Camino Real on the way back to LA. Brian planned on taking Route 1 down the coast over the course of two days. He was going to pop the question on the beach in Cambria. He had made reservations at a B&B and planned for a wine-tasting as well.

He reached over and squeezed her hand.

She squeezed back. “I love you, too,” she smiled. “And I trust you on your choice of routes,” she gave him a haughty look and a wave that was meant to convey royal privilege.

He laughed. “I love you! And, thank you so much for your trust milady!”

****

Fiona Grey got the prompt I sent in: Nessie, the Loch Ness monster, decides she’s done playing coy and lets a boat full of tourists see her. How does that end? and she did a very cool piece with it. Head on over and check it out!

Thanks for reading and please join us over at More Odds than Ends. We’re a bit crazy and silly, but a lot of fun as well!

Happy Independence Day

The Fourth of July, Independence Day. It is the celebration of our beginning as an independent nation and as a wild experiment in creating a functioning republican democracy. Yes, despite what those who consider themselves to be of superior intelligence like to claim…we ARE a democracy. That is not eliminated by the form of our democracy. We elect representatives to act on our behalf. Every adult citizen enjoys the right to vote (minus certain very specific circumstances such as having committed a felony). Thus we are a democracy.

A number of people today are posting the Declaration of Independence on Facebook. I like that as it provides a reminder of what exactly serves as the basis for our governmental structure. Reading through the declaration reminds one that not only are the ideals of life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness the overarching goals, but that the basis for the Bill of Rights can be found in the list of values that were subverted by George III. Ideas such as restricting speech, the press, and religious observances, quartering soldiers in private homes, confiscating guns from colonists, taxing goods in the colonies when there was no representation in Parliament. Remember, everybody living in the American colonies prior to the Revolution was a British citizen. As such, they had rights that the king was obligated to recognize. He did not. Had he behaved in the same manner toward those British citizens living in the United Kingdom, the result would have likely been the same. Maybe not a shooting war, but he would have probably been obliged to abdicate.

We will be celebrating quietly at home (all firework displays in Philadelphia are cancelled). But our flag is out, and we will be remembering why today is a holiday.

Happy Independence Day!

Image by Circ OD from Pixabay

Don’t Be A Jerk

Earlier today I posted a meme thing on FB that basically said there are many reasons why somebody wears a mask and many why they don’t wear one – no matter which side you fall on, don’t be a jerk. I immediately got blow back from people wanting to know why certain things were and were not on the two lists. Seriously? If that’s your biggest problem with that meme, then you have been a jerk at some point and now you’re having to think about it in those terms.

We never like to be called out on bad behavior. It’s embarrassing to admit you’ve been a jerk. And when it comes to something that you know is personal…wearing a mask, you get even more uncomfortable. Regardless of their effectiveness masks have become a signal. Wearing it, a signal of your virtue. Not wearing one, a signal of your resistance to seemingly arbitrary rules handed down by governors without support from legislators. What does it mean if you wear one sometimes and not others? I’m not sure. Practical?

Full disclosure, I don’t wear a mask when I’m walking around outside. I do wear one when I go into the store. The stores are just trying to stay in business (yes, even the Target and Wegmans) and to stay in business they have to follow the current rules. I don’t want them to get in trouble and I need to go grocery shopping. I do not live in a state where I have options if I decide not to give a store my business because they require a mask. I can’t go anywhere else. But, believe me, I wear it as little as possible. After about an hour, I start to get eczema outbreaks on my face. I’m also slightly claustrophobic so wearing it for any length of time becomes very stressful. This means that the microsecond I get out of a store, the mask comes off.

At the same time, hell yeah, I laugh and comment – in my head – when I see people with their mask on their chin pull it up as they get near me. And I laugh at the sideways looks. But I’m wearing reflective sunglasses so they can’t see my eyes (which may explain why they don’t say anything…hard to when you’re not actually looking at somebody’s eyes). But…all of that is in my head, and I smile at everyone I pass on our walks. I do my damnedest to not be a jerk. At least not out loud to strangers. I try…emphasis on try.

When my husband and I go for our daily walk we do not wear masks. We have gotten some sideways looks, but nobody has said anything directly to us (not counting the Parks & Recs people today who offered us masks). In college a friend told me that I have a look that says “Fuck with me and I’ll bite your legs off”. I guess I still do. If anybody were to ever say anything to me, depending on what they said and their attitude, oh, they’d get a response.

It bothers me that many of my friends seem to feel that it’s required of them to make nasty, arrogant, and condescending remarks about wearing a mask. To go into “mansplaining” mode (both men and women do this), to let us hoi polloi know that we are so very, very wrong in our opinions and any data we bring to the table is clearly flawed. Many claim to want a clear and thoughtful discussion, but the minute you try to provide any counter-argument they balk. I know that nobody has ever won an argument on Facebook. But, c’mon. We can still have a civil discussion. Right? We can, if people remember that being a jerk is, as my dad would say, bad form.

Don’t be a jerk. Call out people when they’re being jerks. Don’t let them slide.

Image by rickey123 from Pixabay

Cursebreaker

This is Week 26 for Odd Prompts from More Odds than Ends. This week I was given: A visceral memory (yours or fictional as you prefer), brought to mind by a scent, taste, song, etc. from Fiona Grey. My prompt was, The noise woke me up. I looked out the bedroom window to see two fully armored knights rolling a stone into my back yard. The stone had a sword protruding from one side. What is going on? and it went to Leigh Kimmel. Head over to both of their places to see what they’ve done with current and past prompts.

This rattled around in my head for a few days and finally came out as part of the next installment of what I’m provisionally calling Cursebreaker. This is the first time I’ve managed to make one piece follow directly from a previous piece. Previously I wrote them in a sort of chronological order, but not one directly after the other. I’m working on putting the pieces together into a coherent whole. So, to that end, I present the next part in the life of Jack McKnight, Cursebreaker.

Previous installments can be found here. Our protagonist has just freed his brother-in-law and family from the confines of a figurine.

*******

Monica hugged Rob hard before reaching for her sister-in-law and niece. After Monica moved on, Jack and Rob exchanged a long stare.

Jack finally spoke. “I’ll get you…us…a drink. Let’s sit down and figure out what happened.”

Rob nodded. He looked over at the cluster of his young daughter, two dogs, his wife, and his sister. “Yeah. They seem to be handling things. You got any whiskey?” he turned to Jack.

“You know it.” Jack pointed at the couch. “Sit. I’ll get it.” He walked over to the small liquor cabinet in the corner of the living room, grabbed two low ball glasses and the bottle of good Scottish whiskey he kept for special occasions. Or, as in this case, emergencies. He was pretty sure Rob would want it neat. He certainly did.

Walking back to the sofa, Jack glanced over at Monica and the others. Bruno was hovering over Sophie, seemingly reluctant to let her get too far away, while Ralphie lay in Julia’s arms occasionally reaching up to lick her chin. Sophie sat on the floor and leaned against Bruno. Monica and Julia were deep in conversation.

Jack handed Rob his glass and sat down in the chair next to the sofa. Rob raised his glass to his face and inhaled the peaty aroma of the whiskey. He smiled.

“This takes me right back to when we all went to Scotland, what, ten? twelve? years ago. Monica and Julia were shopping, and you and I bought a bottle of this, and headed out of town to one of those old seventeenth century bridges over the river and drank half the bottle. I can feel the stones under my hands, the sun on my head. That was a great day.” He took a sip and smiled.

“Yeah, we got lucky with the sunshine. Remember it rained almost the whole time we were there. But it was still a great trip,” Jack raised his glass in a salute to his brother-in-law and took a sip himself.

Jack let the smokey liquid slide down his throat before looking up at Rob. “Dude. What the hell happened? Who cursed you and why did they curse Julia and Sophie too?”

Rob took a deep breath and let it out. He followed that with another sip of whiskey. “It was two witches, Camilia Sharpe and Armina Grove. I had asked them to help me strengthen my working circle. Witches have a stronger connection to the elements than sorcerers do, and I figured if they helped me repair the circle, the combination of magic would make it stronger. We had a contract, and yes, I read it over very carefully. I know I didn’t breach any part of it. But about a week later the two of them showed back up claiming I had broken the contract. Before I could say anything, they cursed the whole family. The last thing I remember is seeing one of them holding up that stupid figurine. Next thing I know, we’re standing here.” He paused. Another sip. He looked up at Jack. “That’s all I got. How did we get here?”

Jack mirrored Rob’s pull on the glass of whiskey. “Bruno and Ralphie brought you. I should tell you, you are the fifth or sixth magic worker cursed into a doll and brought over by their dog that I’ve seen in about three weeks. What the hell are you guys doing? Is this a new trend or something? Or is somebody out to get rid of magic workers?”

Rob sighed and stared into his glass. “I wish I knew. There were a couple of rumors, but I didn’t pay much attention to them. You know how clique-ish the magic community is…”

“Tell me about it,” Jack responded. He tried to keep the bitterness out of his voice. Freelance curse-breakers like him were treated like a necessary evil. Not seen as true magic workers, even though they were the ones who got to undo all the b.s. curses that magic workers tended to throw around. He took a deep breath and willed himself to calm down. Rob wasn’t like that. This wasn’t his fault. A wet nose pushed into his hand and Captain nudged him until Jack was forced to pat the big German shepherd on the head. He smiled and delivered the requested ear scratches, feeling better immediately.

He smiled at Rob. “Yeah, you guys are worse than high school. Let me go get my notes from the others and let’s see what we can put together.”

Rob nodded and tossed back the last of the whiskey. Before he went into his office to gather his notes, Jack grabbed the bottle and put it on the coffee table in front of Rob.

******

Thanks for reading! If you’d like to join in our Odd fun, just head on over to More Odds Than Ends. The instructions are posted right there and the one rule is to have fun!

Image by cromaconceptovisual from Pixabay

Books and Reading

Posts on books, reading, bookshelves, collecting books, buying books, culling books, not culling books, have been coming to my attention in the last few days (check out Cedar Sanderson’s post, Bibliophilia). I have a LOT of books. My husband has a LOT of books. Between us we have TONS of books. We live in a small two-bedroom apartment. There is not a lot of extra room. We turned the front room, which was meant to be the main bedroom, into a home office for both of us. It has five bookcases. The hallway has two, the living room has three, and the bedroom has one. This isn’t even dealing with the ten or so banker’s boxes of books that came from my campus office.

Before we moved away from California twenty years ago, I purged at least a hundred books. These were books that I had bought, read once (well before electronic books) and hadn’t picked up again. When we moved in together I had boxed them up and put them in storage. A year later, realizing I had not once looked for any of the books in storage, I donated them all to the local Goodwill.

My husband and I have different tastes in books. He prefers, and almost exclusively reads, non-fiction. It can be historical, historical analysis, political, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen him reading fiction. I, on the other hand, love urban fantasy (duh), swords and sorcery, mysteries, and science fiction. I also like a range of authors like Tom Clancy, P.G. Wodehouse, John LeCarre, Terry Prachett. We both like biographies, especially about bands and singers we like (we do share pretty identical tastes in music).

I have books that I’ve collected (for example all of the Oz books, a collection started by my grandmother for my father), books that I re-read often, and books that I’ve read once and keep because, well…because. There are reference books, and of course, books from grad school and beyond. I love being surrounded by books. And, I do love the electronic readers such as Kindle, etc. The ability to take a few dozen books on vacation or any trip is intoxicating.

The first time I went to Europe, I did the post-college-backpack-through-Europe-for-three-weeks thing with a couple of friends. One of the things I loved was picking up books in hostels or pensions reading them over the course of the next few days, dropping them at the next hostel/pension/b&b and picking up another one. That way you didn’t get weighed down carrying books, yet you were able to read several. That was how I ended up binge reading Robert Ludlum’s Bourne series. We must have followed that individual around Europe. I also learned that Ludlum has a definite formula (hero is wrongfully blamed, government baddies after him, ex-wife/gf/lover helps out despite rocky end to relationship, saves the world) that he uses in Every.Single.Book. By the time I got to the last two or three books I was challenging myself to figure out the plot arc by the end of the first chapter. I was correct each time.

It doesn’t matter what genre or type or subject, books provide escape, knowledge, information, ideas, a different world view, laughter, life lessons, puzzles, and entertainment. Sometimes all in the same book. In other words, books offer the world. Reading is not just fundamental, it’s necessary for me.

Writing has become another way for me to escape. Now I am indulging all my day dreams of worlds and discoveries in my own stories. And, I can’t tell you how much fun it is!

What kind of books/stories do you like? How eclectic are your tastes?

Enjoy a lazy Sunday! If it’s nice outside where you are, take a book outside and read!

Image by Birgit Böllinger from Pixabay

Masking

To mask or not to mask, that is the question. Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outraged Karens, or to use research against a sea of shaming and by opposing end it? With profuse apologies to Shakespeare, this is where I find my brain wandering off to these days. I’ve had conversations and read numerous comments regarding the wearing of masks. I fall on the side of masks have become a symbol of compliance rather than a useful tool in the (endless and perhaps foolish) fight to stop the spread of COVID-19 or the Wuhan flu or CCP flu (pick your favorite name). I do not wear a mask when I’m out for a walk or otherwise simply mucking about. I will put it on in stores that require one as I don’t want to get them in trouble, but otherwise no.

Here’s the thing. The stated reason behind the wearing of masks is for the greater good. That greater good is based on the assumption that everybody is a potential carrier of Wuhan flu and everybody is a spreader as well. I have said for a long time now that the more realistic response to this virus was to isolate the sick and protect the vulnerable (elderly, immuno-compromised) people. People who show no symptoms should not have to curtail or end their daily lives. Yes, but, I’m told, you are contagious before you show symptoms. Yes, this is true. It is also true for a number of other viruses, including the corona viruses we know as the common cold and other strains of the flu. So why do we treat this thing so differently?

For one, the world received bad information from the Chinese government. They had their own reasons for not being upfront about things, primary among those was the desire to maintain the facade that the CCP is totally in control and does not make mistakes. This attitude has cost millions upon millions of lives throughout history. I also think that there were those in Europe and the US who saw this as a political opportunity. It is not an exaggeration to say that there are those who despise Trump so deeply that there are few if any limits to the depths to which they will go to ensure he is not re-elected in the fall.

But, beyond the geopolitical implications, fear is playing the largest role in keeping people from going outside and when they do venture out, fear makes them wear a mask. Also, and this is a strong reason as well, they don’t want people to think they don’t care, and wearing a mask, in their minds, shows they care. Right now, as states reopen, cases are rising…because testing is rising. But deaths appear to be flat and even lowering. If you look at the CDC numbers you can see this. But the fear engendered by the rising cases is bringing renewed panic. This is not a disease that kills on contact like Ebola. It is not waiting in the air for you to step out of your house so it can attack you. This fear is being drummed up.

None of this is to say that the Wuhan flu is not a matter of concern. It is, especially if you or someone in your family falls into one of the vulnerable groups. But, and here’s the big part, for a large majority of us, that is not the case. As with the regular flu strains (which cause something like 20,000 deaths in the US annually), the usual precautions can be taken and have a good effect: wash your hands, sneeze/cough into your elbow, don’t touch your face, and if you’re sick, stay away from people.

Back to masking…sorry, that was a bit of a detour. No, I don’t like to wear a mask and I do not wear one whenever possible. I have eczema which is aggravated by a mask, especially in hot, humid weather. I also get claustrophobic if I have one on for too long. I have not yet been yelled at by a Karen, although I’ve received some sideways glances (all of which I’ve ignored). I don’t think states, cities, or other municipalities should be making rules regarding wearing a mask. Especially when doctors writing in NEJM suggest that mask wearing is not effective outside of a hospital setting and is indeed a reflection of fear and anxiety over the pandemic:

We know that wearing a mask outside health care facilities offers little, if any, protection from infection. Public health authorities define a significant exposure to Covid-19 as face-to-face contact within 6 feet with a patient with symptomatic Covid-19 that is sustained for at least a few minutes (and some say more than 10 minutes or even 30 minutes). The chance of catching Covid-19 from a passing interaction in a public spaces therefore minimal. In many cases, the desire for widespread masking is a reflexive reaction to anxiety over the pandemic.

Klompas et al, “Universal Masking in Hospitals in the COVID-19 Era”, NEJM, 5/21/20

This should be your guide to mask vs. no mask along with other general information, easily found, covering other strains of flu. Not fear of social ostracization.

Image by Elliot Alderson from Pixabay

It’s Alive!

My first ever fiction book, Academic Magic, is live on Amazon! Available via Kindle Unlimited, so it’s free! I’m so excited, I’m jittery…or that could be too much caffeine and no food…I’ll go with excitement. I am extremely grateful to Sarah A. Hoyt, Cedar Sanderson and all of the members of Sarah’s Diner for their very useful advice, information, and support. And, of course, my husband is irreplaceable in his support and encouragement of what many people would consider an absolutely lunatic move from tenured professor to full-time fiction writer. If he thinks I’m insane, he at least isn’t saying so out loud.

Academic Magic is Book 1 in the series, also titled Academic Magic. To be followed by Book 2: Night Mage, and Book 3: Magic Abroad.

I’m off to continue writing and plotting the next two books! It’s almost the weekend (Friday Eve!) so go enjoy yourselves.

Cover picture by Becky R. Jones

Odd Prompts – Week 24

It’s been a busy and somewhat chaotic week to ten days. I missed last week’s prompt for a variety of reasons, and almost missed this week’s (here I am Tuesday morning writing it. Last week I started cleaning out my office at work. We’ll finish that up on Friday. Seventeen years at this university. Twenty years as a faculty member. Definitely the end of an era for me. But, Having mostly shed the office, my last physical tie to the university, I finally feel like I can give my full attention to writing. It’s a relief and nervous-making. No more excuses. All the time in the world to write. So, write!

Since I missed last week altogether, I didn’t get a prompt assigned to me. So, for this week’s prompt, Week 24 at More Odds Than Ends, I used a spare: In the back seat of the bus, there was a huddled pile of clothing. Then it moved… This led me back to Jack McKnight and the string of dolls and dogs that keeps showing up at his house. Who is cursing these people, magic workers, into all these dolls and why? What is the connection between these individuals? Why does every doll come with a dog? I have no more clue than Jack does. I’ll be sitting down today and tomorrow to try to figure it out. In the meantime, it taking the bus can bring interesting adventures and maybe one was meant to take the bus that day:

******

Jack grimaced as he moved toward the back of the bus. There was a reason he didn’t like public transportation. Too many people treated the buses they were meant to be destroyed. Seriously. A pile of clothing on the back seat? Who the hell leaves clothing on a bus?

He shuffled back trying to make room for the people crowding on behind him. Not only public transportation, but public transportation at rush hour. The fun just never ended. He was mildly grateful that there was an empty seat, even if it was next to the pile of abandoned clothing. Truthfully, it was probably available because it was next to the pile of clothing. He had a long ride ahead of him and a seat, even a less than desirable one, made it a bit more bearable. He sat back and pulled his book out of his backpack.

A small movement at the edge of his peripheral vision caught his attention. Did the pile just move? Jack glanced around at the other passengers. Nobody seemed to have noticed. Or, more likely, they were purposefully ignoring the pile.

The last few weeks had involved a series of cursed dolls showing up at his office, so Jack didn’t put anything past the universe these days. He turned to look at the pile. Yep. Did it again. Shit. He pulled a handkerchief out of his pocket and gingerly picked up the piece of clothing closest to him and pulled it back. A small black nose poked out of the pile followed by a pair of dark brown eyes and the rest of the small Jack Russel terrier. The dog gazed soulfully at Jack and whined softly. Oh, for…Jack picked up the rest of the clothing and sure enough there was a doll lying next to the dog.

As he shifted through the rest of the clothing pile it occurred to him that the clothes were clean and lying in a pattern that suggested their owner had simply vanished like somebody in a story about the Rapture. Had this person been cursed while on the bus?? The dog whined again. Jack dug into his backpack and emptied out the plastic grocery bag. He put the clothes into the bag and stuffed them into his backpack. Then he picked up the doll and put it in on top of the bag of clothes. He carefully closed the backpack leaving an opening through which he could see the doll’s face. He still wasn’t completely sure that the person stuck in the doll needed air, but he didn’t want to take any chances.

The dog was wearing a harness with a leash attached. The harness had a small metal name tag that read “Sampson.”

“Okay, Sampson. We’ll figure this out and take care of things. I promise. I guess I was supposed to take this bus home,” he picked Sampson up and put the little dog on his lap. Curse-breaker and dog settled in for the rest of the trip home.

******

Looking for a fun challenge? Head on over to More Odds Than Ends (MOTE) and pick up a spare prompt! Have a prompt to contribute? Submit it to oddprompts at gmail dot com. If you contribute a prompt you will receive one assigned to you. It’s a creative and fun way to challenge yourself.

Living in the city

I do like living in a city. I like being able to walk to a bar or restaurant. I like having the dry cleaner on the corner. I like having a big park right at the end of the block and the Schuylkill River and boat houses at the bottom of the hill. When we moved out here I was really looking forward to not having to drive 20 minutes just to get dinner.

BUT…

Now, I’m thinking that driving 20 minutes is a good thing. I’m tired of living on top of my neighbors and having them live on top of us. I’m tired of hearing five different conversations in five different back yards when I go out into our back yard. I’m tired of picking up trash that’s blowing around the street. I can hear the assholes doing donuts at 3:00am in the intersection at the bottom of the hill by the boat houses. I’m tired of the dirt bikes and quad runners that go up and down the street all day every day in the summer. They go through intersections without regard for traffic lights. I’m tired of constant traffic noise.

Some of these things are uniquely Philly, but some of them are endemic to cities everywhere. I lived in San Francisco for a few years and my parents lived there for 25 years. There are obviously different feels to each city, a different vibe, but some things are the same. Right now, the convenience and liveliness of city living are outweighed by the noise, crowding, and lessening quality of life. And, here in Philly, I don’t see that improving any time soon.

Some of my exhaustion and frustration is driven by recent events, especially these riots. A week’s worth of riots. An ATM a block north of us was blown up. There’s a protest and march tomorrow on the Parkway. Hopefully it stays quiet and there’s no accompanying looting. But, they’ve closed the entire downtown area (what we call Center City) and the Parkway from the Art Museum to 22nd. That means, on this, the first weekend of freedom from lock down, we can’t actually go anywhere.

(Yes, yes. I get why people are protesting. But, they’re losing any impact they may have had and the focus is now on preventing looting rather than actual justice and police reform. Please spare me the lectures on “privilege” etc.)

In the end, my general frustrations with city life have combined with the frustrations of the lock down (and hearing all of my upstairs neighbor’s work phone calls) and now riots, to make me think that no neighbors for at least a mile around is a very good thing. If you’d told me that 15 years ago I would have laughed at you. I really do like the energy of cities. But now, I think a visit of a few days will satisfy that itch. I know that some people are going to say we’re giving up. Well, yes, we are. But we’re walking away after 15 years living here. I think we’ve given it a fair shot. And, in the end, on top of everything is the feeling that we need to be closer to family than a six-hour flight (if we can get a direct flight).

So, in the end, we’ll be looking for something that’s got some space around it. And, likely driving 20 minutes to go to dinner. And, honestly, if I can hear crickets at night when I open the window, I’ll be happy. I’d be happier if I could hear waves, but that’s for later…

Have a good weekend, all!

No, We’re Not Becoming Russia

On June 1, 2020, President Trump declared he would invoke the Insurrection Act of 1807 and activate various military units to move into states to assist local police and national guard troops with quelling rioting and stopping looting and other violence. Since he did that media, Democrats, and other progressives have been up in arms shrieking about authoritarian moves and how dare he and…and…and… I even saw a post on FB suggesting that Trump would cancel the November election in order to remain in office. I have to wonder how dark, twisted, and pessimistic is one’s view of this country and it’s people, and how much hatred you hold for Trump that that’s where you go first. Seriously? I read that post, rolled my eyes, picked them up and put them back in my head, and then logged out of Facebook. I may check back in tomorrow, but I think I’m going to go back to my previous routine of checking in on Tuesday and Thursday mornings and then skipping that swamp for the rest of the week.

Back to my original topic…the mention of the Insurrection Act pushed me back into my political science researcher mode. What exactly does the act do, and when has it been utilized? My comparative side wanted to go find out if other democratic countries had something similar.

Starting with the U.S. law, Jefferson signed the Insurrection Act of 1807 into law. It has been used several times since. What most people probably recognize are Eisenhower and Kennedy’s use of it to break up anti-desegregation protests and open schools in the south. It was also invoked during the 1992 Los Angeles riots. Wikipedia has a good discussion and a list of the times that its been used here.

What I hadn’t known (US law is not my area of specialization), is that in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, Congress changed the law and expanded it to include natural disasters, epidemics, public health crises, and terror attacks. By designating AntiFa as a terror organization, it seems to me that Trump has now provided two underlying justifications for invoking the Insurrection Act: a functioning terror group, and riots that have moved beyond the capacity of local law enforcement to handle. As of now (Tuesday morning), the act has not been officially invoked. However, we did have a relatively quiet night here in Philadelphia, so perhaps it will not be necessary. I hope.

Looking at other countries with federal systems, you obviously find laws that specifically outlaw riots (even in democracies the term “riot” can be defined more or less strictly, but usually includes violence and looting in the definition. Here’s the Encyclopedia Britannica’s definition). Sanctions for participating or fomenting vary between countries as well. Canada, for example, gives police and governments, provincial and federal, much more leeway to define a gathering as a riot, and take actions as police deem appropriate. As a member of the Commonwealth, Canadian law mirrors that of Great Britain. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) is a federal police force and the one used most often to disperse violent gatherings and deal with things like wide-spread looting. My quick and dirty search for Canadian law regarding activating military units within the country didn’t turn up anything specific, but going off of their status as a former British colony and current Commonwealth member, I’m going to guess that there are provisions for the Prime Minister to call up military units if he deems it necessary.

India is another democratic federal system. It has a strong central government that has more control and power over state governments than does the U.S. government over states here. India also has so-called paramilitary units which function similarly to the U.S. National Guard. India runs high with tensions between Muslims and Hindus and those tensions frequently break out into violent clashes. Also, almost as frequently, police will either do nothing, or occasionally step in on one side or the other as opposed to simply stopping and/or arresting all participants. For the army to be called in to help control violent riots, the civilian authorities must make that request. The army is viewed as more secular than local police forces so when the violence is between religious groups (usually Hindu and Muslim) the army gets the call.

In the end, it does not mean that a government has shifted from a democracy to an authoritarian system simply because the leader, whether president or prime minister, has called in the regular army to help local and state police forces deal with violence. Yes, a democracy can morph into an authoritarian system so slowly that one might not notice. But, if this is a part of that process, I argue that people are noticing the change (I think some moves have been going on for a while) and are now taking steps to reverse away from authoritarian means of governing. As an example, during Obama’s presidency, conservatives were extremely upset about his use of executive orders (EOs) noting (correctly) that EOs violated the legislative process. During the Trump presidency so far, that concern has reverted to liberals who are now extremely upset about EOs and claiming (correctly) that they violate the legislative process. In the end, more people are learning about the problematic nature of EOs and that’s a good thing.

We must remember that the U.S. is a very unique political system in the world. We were the first to institute a representative or republican form of government. We also have the widest/highest levels of individual freedoms among the world’s democracies. Those wide freedoms mean our political culture is also unique and that can be seen in how we respond to issues like police brutality and looting, or even the fact that we do respond. I know that it is not fashionable to proclaim American uniqueness, but we are indeed a one-of-a-kind political culture and political system.

I believe we will come through this current craziness and we will not be an authoritarian system. That will happen only if we allow it. And, no, Trump will not be the cause of it. I’m more inclined to think that those who so violently and vehemently oppose him and his policies (without ever thinking through results or consequences), those who scream at any and all dissent from their policies (on both sides), and those who try to force speech conventions (i.e. political correctness) on the rest of us, shift history around to suit their needs (1619 Project), and those who demand conformity with their ideas are the ones who would institute an authoritarian system.

We are a country and political culture built on individuality and compromise. The very definition of compromise is that nobody and no group gets everything they want, but we all come away a bit more satisfied with the situation than we were previously. Compromise by its very nature is messy and less than wholly satisfactory. Long-term survival, both as a political system that gives people the most leeway to define themselves, and as a species, demands that we all compromise with each other.

That’s the end of this rambling rant. Thank you for reading. Here’s to a looting-free week and all of us calming down, correcting what needs to be corrected (so, maybe the MPLS PD can look at their training and discipline procedures…), and return to rebuilding our lives and economy.