family tree

Family Tree

Recently, I purchased a DVD of “Cleopatra” with Theda Bara’s picture and name on the cover with other members of the cast of her version. Even after reading that all but 6 minutes had disintegrated and members of the movie industry are praying for a copy will suddenly show up in some obscure attic, I thought I must have gotten lucky. With great anticipation, I cued it up, only to find, despite the claims on the box, the production was by The Helen Gardner Picture Players starring Helen Gardner, herself. Moreover, the photo of Ms. Bara on the cover bears little similarity to Ms. Gardner whatsoever.


I was irritated until I read that Gardner was the first actress to form her own production company without the aid of a man. Furthermore, on a visit to prison, she presented an autographed photo of herself to Eugene Debs, known for helping found the Wobblies — which told me a little about her politics.

Wanting to know more about Gardner, I found an eponymous website that said a shocking 27% of her nitrate films have survived, a peculiarly high percentage.2 Moreover, her first independent production, “Cleopatra,” was the first full-length feature film ever.

To my delight, her granddaughter Dorin Gardner Schumacher has been collecting information about the grandmother she never knew. Obtaining a grant from the Women’s Film Preservation Fund of the New York Women in Film and Television organization, she had the production company’s third independent feature “A Sister to Carmen” restored. Now, she gives talks about her grandmother and exhibits the film.

Last year, my cousin once removed Jane Neff Rollins, a professional genealogist3 discovered a newspaper article about my paternal grandmother Lydia announcing that she took first prize in a poetry contest. I realize that does not compare with forming a production company on your own, but it, too, typifies why genealogy has become the rage. Whether it’s an average life with amazing moments (as we all have) or an astounding life with very little time for mundane moments, a particular brand of inspiration lies in hidden history.

I find it so easy to imagine Schumacher’s joy learning how much there was to her enigmatic grandmother: Not only was she a famous actress on stage and screen, but she was a pioneering producer, director, writer, and practitioner of many of the film crafts. Also, you can imagine my disappointment—and embarrassment—learning that my distant cousin, Buffalo Bill Cody, beloved through the ages, fought to keep slavery out of his state because he didn’t want nonwhite neighbors4–despite the antislavery sentiments his Quaker father Isaac Cody died for.5 Buffalo Bill bore no racial animosity toward indigenous people or women. He just didn’t want to see African immigrants in his neighborhood.

The Princess of Bagdad

The Princess of Bagdad

Historically, women like Gardner were passed over for recognition while the weaknesses of “great” men were ignored. This reality of this white male privilege has led to the myth of the perfect male and a shocking era in US history—an era in which a woman can be verbally battered in public and, whether or not the lies spread about her were believed, too many were willing to accept a man they knew to be fatally flawed rather than face being governed by a qualified, intelligent woman, and an era in which male politicians still sit in judgement on women’s physiology, something they know nothing about, hoping their decisions will shove women back into the shadows.

The immeasurable joy of learning about the hidden achievements of our ancestors, both familial and spiritual, will continue to inspire us. Perhaps, next to getting out the vote this year, the best way women have of overcoming the current political bullies is to continue to share the previously suppressed accomplishments of women of the past like Helen Gardner as they are unearthed.
1. Internet Movie dataBase Internet Movie dataBase
2., All the photos of Helen Gardner appear on her website
3. Sherlock Combs Genealogy
4. Buffalo Bill Centennial program, of the Buffalo Bill Museum of the West 
The family tree graphic came from

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The other morning, the Biomimicry Institute presented a webinar called “Introduction to the Biomimicry Process and Defining Your Challenge” supporting their Biomimicry Global Design Challenge for student teams. The goal of The Biomimicry Global Design Challenge is to mobilize thousands of students and professionals to tackle climate-related challenges using biomimicry, or nature-inspired design. It’s an opportunity for people to experience designing solutions through a new lens as well as a chance to get support to take their innovation to market. Finalist teams compete for the Ray C. Anderson Foundation’s $100,000 Ray of Hope Prize (R). This is the first time challengers can submit videos which can be accessed from this link:  Past Ray of Hope Prize winners include a soil restoration solution inspired by hardy alpine plants, and a water management system for urban farmers based on how living systems collect, store and distribute water. Teams can be mentored and have a wonderful resource at the Biometrics Toolbox. It’s a worthwhile event, that I plan to keep an eye on.


Though I think it was only the day before it was presented that I heard about it, it’s been an eventful two days. I’m not even sure where I found it — or even where it might have found me! Still, it was fascinating to learn about the process of designing a biomimicry project and I was very caught up in it until the presenter Megan Schuknecht, director of design challenges, focused on the challenge. Then, I thought, “my mind doesn’t work that way, I’d better split.” As I reviewed my notes, I realized my mind does not work that way only in technology, science, or, if we must go there, mathematics.

However, the global design process spiral illustrated in the webinar, despite vocabulary differences, is too similar to the process of organizing novel writing. Schuknecht delineated the stages of designing a project as: Define, “biologise,” discover, abstract, emulate, and Evaluate Fitness, all of which spirals around iteration. In the process, the definition stage is designing the right questions to aid in research. The questions should not be so generic that research becomes inefficient or so limiting, that the teams may miss more obscure fixes. Nor should they be so broad that research becomes unmanageable. Good design questions might begin “how might we…” In biomimicry, “how can we . . .” means “how does nature. . ..”


In writing, we set our goals often through questions like those in a character sheet. Plot usually stems from character. So when authors “biologise,” they are observing human nature. In the discovery phase, biomimicry practitioners focus on what they call “stakeholders,” acknowledging that fixing a problem in New York City would require different thinking than the same problem in a small town in upstate New York. When authors “biologise,” they are observing human nature. In the discovery phase, biomimicry practitioners focus on what they call “stakeholders,” acknowledging that fixing a problem in New York City would require different thinking than the same problem in a village bordering a rainforest.


Taking it a little further, do the concepts of Main Character, setting, goal, and conflict fit into that model as easily for you as they do for me? Perhaps connections, however tenuous, can also be made between abstract and summary, emulating nature and representing the truths of human behavior, evaluating fitness and revision, as well as iterations and drafts.

Especially in this toxic political environment, biomimicry is becoming not only more difficult, but much more essential. Just like contests for new and unpublished authors, competitions like “Biomimicry Global Design Challenge” nurture critical thinking, help train students and scientists to face overwhelming issues with intelligence and creativity, and insure that we will never run out of the kind of new ideas that keep humans alive.

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“a bucket full of gold”

The Parnassus

This afternood I’ve been watching—and rewatching— “A Child’s Garden of Poetry.” If you’re looking for a way to spend a quiet Saturday, I recommend this HBO/Poetry Foundation presentation. Listening to children between seven- and eleven-years-old talk about the artistry and appeal of poetry, reading their own poetry or that of Shakespear, Yates, or multilingual Haiku (among others) is a spiritual experience.

The children speak with excitement, authentic understanding and emotion, intelligence and an enviable maturity, not only about the art of reading poetry about the craft writing it with an equal understanding of style, imagery and charging a poem with feeling. A master class in poetry.

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William McGonagall, a morality play

Yes, I know the poems of Scots poet William Topaz McGonagall pale compared to the likes of William Shakespeare, Emily Dickinson, Glenda Bailey-Mershon, Susanna Lang, Adam Wyeth, and Christine Swanberg (and thousands more). However, in being immortalized as “the worst poet in British history,” he’s gotten half a bad rap.


According to Wikipedia: “The chief criticisms [of his poems] are that he is deaf to poetic metaphor and unable to scan correctly.” Moreover, “Scholars argue that his inappropriate rhythms, weak vocabulary, and ill-advised imagery combine to make his work amongst the most unintentionally amusing dramatic poetry in the English language.”

I think they have missed the point. Okay, so he’s the Ed Wood of poetry. Ed Wood, burdened with the retrospective honorific “The World’s Worst Director,” had a decent story sense. Starting with the same synopses, a competent director could have made film history.  Wood was just a lousy filmmaker.


Like Wood, McGonagall toiled in the wrong genre. Wikipedia went on to say, “His work is in a long tradition of narrative ballads and verse written and published about great events and tragedies, and widely circulated among the local population as handbills. In an age before radio and television, their voice was one way of communicating important news to an avid public.” An indication of his acute story sense, “Ode to the Queen on her Jubilee Year,” “The Wreck of the Steamer London While on Her Way to Australia,” “Grace Darling or the Wreck of the ‘Forfarshire’,” and his most renowned poem “The Tay Bridge Disaster” show, from his choice of subject, his sense of drama. His choices of content in multiple works concerning news events illustrate his understanding of what readers like.


Moreover, poems about death and funerals, history, moral issues, and temperance show his concern and understanding of the human condition. Still, to most, his subject matter gets lost in the doggerel.


McGonagall’s epic poetry is a clear admonition against letting form overpower content; it did not want for emotion—overstated perhaps—but his editorial perspective was clear. In  “An Ode to the Queen on her Jubilee Year,” some of his imagery is clear and precise. However, rhyme and meter were everything to him, overshadowing his love for his sovereign.  Perhaps “The Tay Bridge Disaster” lacks more than it offers, but it illustrates his ability to recognize a good story. The soul of a storyteller with no ability to tell the story with clarity and the drama it deserves is nothing short of tragedy.


Even Wood had his moments. Maybe the best part of “Glen or Glenda,” overrun with such detailed narration in place of visual imagery, was his wistful, though slightly overplayed performance as the hapless main character regarding his cross-dressed reflection in a store window. Though he sports movie star good-looks, he’s generally not a great actor, this moment reveals just how much the project meant to him. This film before its time, in the hands of a competent filmmaker, could have been so much better than even Wood thought it was.


A flying saucer is seen flying above the graveyard in “Plan 9 from Outer Space.”

The plot of “Plan 9,” earth at risk from alien solar weaponry — even with the zombie connection, could have been literature under the sure hand of a James Whale. Wood, too, had a nasty tendency to let the worlds he built rule rather than serve the story and its actors.  Fine literature is crowded with examples of setting as a supporting character.

Unlike Wood, McGonagall faced the worst mockery and scorn during his lifetime, but chose to view criticism as a product of those who did not understand his great work. In some cases, especially in the letter of rejection Queen Victoria sent when he applied to be poet laureate of England, he took the criticism as great praise.  In the film “The Great McGonagall” [1975, with Spike Milligan as McGonagall and Peter Sellars as Queen Victoria, directed by Joseph McGrath], all the adult males were portrayed in broad parody. The college students who egged McGonagall on exchanged infantile expressions of amusement the moment he looked away. If the essence of acting is truly immersion into the truth of the character, one wishes to ask the actress who played Mrs. McGonagall [Julia Foster], what is it like to be the only sane adult in the room? [I suppose we could ask that of Hillary Clinton, too.] Wood passed away long before the jeers revved up to epic proportion, but he chose to view that which he faced when he was alive in much the same way McGonagall did.

Most of us are at a disadvantage. We grew up in a society that valued treating people with respect. Some say the turnabout started with the republican’s who jeered President Obama during a State of the Union address. Certainly, that started bringing out latent racism pushed underground by an ad campaign during the Civil Rights Movement. Others say it started with Newt Gingrich taking his daughters to visit their mother, who was recovering from cancer surgery and brought along divorce papers for her to sign. Both of those incidents were somewhat isolated in a world where most people were still acting respectfully even if it was a mask.

Okay, so Americans have a history of pecking parties, but the majority have always shunned scapegoating. They saw those that took after individuals based on race or religion as evil.

Now that it’s all around us, it’s much harder for those just trying to survive to rise above the bullshit. In this age of terrible republican role models, we are bombarded with disrespect in the form of mockery, execration, easily identified falsehoods, total disregard for more than two-thirds of voters, leaders so terrified of women they needed to remove all our effective medical and physical protections and literally silence the smartest women, vilification of not just those less fortunate, but those who exhibit concern for them, among other abominations. All of which has opened the old wounds and given some permission to behave badly. Even kindergarten students are mimicking disrespect. Yet worst of all is the reverence for money akin to worship that gives a glamorous aura to the so-called “role models.” Certainly, oligarchy has proven harmful to the economy, and the deeper issue kakistocracy is an unspeakable frustration. Still, the normalizing of mockery, xenophobia, lying, and disregard for frailty — all in the name of a religion the majority “leaders” know absolutely nothing about — far more tragic than a voiceless poet.

Photo credits all go back to Wikipedia as does the video of “Plan 9 from Outer Space;”


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When I first wrote this for the Jane’s Stories blog, I’d seen two fairly new movies that I’d missed when they were in first run.  I don’t get to the theater very often, mostly because of the economy. However, on occasion, I will splurge. Something with Judi Dench promises good character-based stories[2]. For another example, the last Harry Potter broke open my moth-infested purse. Yes, of course, I saw all of the others first run. However, when the first couple were released, I was still able to practice the worst of my financial habits: multiple viewings in the first week!

Judi Dench




The economy is only a small part of self-imposed banishment from soda-sticky floors and popcorn underfoot like sand on the beach. My taste in movies has become rather rigid and, at some point, I lost the confidence I once had in the production of the American cinematic story — comedies particularly. For a while, despite “knowing what I liked,” I was convinced that all the truly great films had been released before I was born.

Carry On Forever


Annette & Frankie


Though I still question some of the choices filmmakers have made based on the assumption that the primary audience for film today is males 18-25 years of age, I will admit films are growing up again. Okay, so my memory of the “old days” is a bit convenient. Though I won’t waste any time with them, thanks to Turner Classic Movies, I’ve seen some dang silly movies made during Hollywood’s “Golden Era,” though primarily that was a time when character-driven plots ruled. Even the studio logos had personality! What I most remember is that my high school years were pockmarked by the likes of “Beach” and “Carry On” movies. The “Carry On” films were part of Britain’s adolescence: driven by slapstick, sexual humor. Beach movies were driven by music and an assumption of sex — neither of which filled my bill at that time.

Wings of Desire


The two films that began to change my mind each gave me a rather rude shock. Since the ’80s, American romantic comedies had been aimed at a much younger crowd. We were facing a new crop of actors and a new social sensibility. Though some of them were enjoyable, few were my idea of a great film, “Wings of Desire”  was labelled “too talky” and made into a Romantic Comedy called “City of Angels.”  “Wings of Desire” relies primarily on two things: what two angels bear witness to and brilliant cinematography; yet it is still a very personal story of an angel who chooses mortality. 

City of Angels


“City of Angels”  moved the setting from post war Germany to present day Los Angeles, cast Meg Ryan, Nicholas Cage (two of my favorites) and gave the ending tragic overtones, unlike “Wings of Desire” which acknowledged a tragic past while looking forward to an uplifted future. A clear indication that Hollywood and I were of different mind sets.



Suddenly while in the library, I tripped over “Hysteria” and Dragonheart” (Universal Pictures 1996.)  For those of you who missed it,  “Hysteria” was a feminist romantic comedy set in the Victorian era, illustrating the invention of the British personal vibrator. Very funny and very scary, this film focuses on a doctor with the temerity to challenge the managing physician on the hospital’s blatant lack of concern for sanitary conditions. When fired, he ends up working for a physician whose primary clientele were women suffering from “Hysteria” and requiring a proper wank from a licensed physician[10]. The other unignorable character is his new employer’s daughter, an outspoken, free-spirited feminist who runs a clinic for working women. Okay, sex is still a Hollywood staple and no red state politician will ever be able to change that — especially when two strong characters of opposite sex lead the story unerringly forward — three, if you count the vibrator.



People have been telling me to see “DragonHeart” for years. And I’m extremely glad I finally listened to them. It’s a love story, not necessarily between the male and female leads — both worthy characters themselves — but between the last Dragon slayer and the last Dragon. You know, a buddy picture. While the female lead was a strong, capable person, she didn’t have as much action as, say, Snow White in “Snow White and the Huntsman[11],”  as the director, Rob Cohen pointed out in the commentary, she was “the moral compass” of the film. Indispensable, unlike so many of Hollywood’s so called “Heroines.”

Snow White & the Huntsman


Both “Hysteria” and “DragonHeart” gave me hope for a better cinematic future here. Yet, it’s still a fact that when films spring from a book, a previous movie, or some other “published” inspiration, they become something different, whether or not they stay faithful to the source. We, as writers, need to be aware of that. Books, stories, and stage plays have limited authorship. By it’s very nature, films have many “authors,” producer(s), director(s), writers(s) [I’ve seen as many as twelve screen credits for “writer” in one film], cinematographers, as well as crafts people: effects, make-up, and hair artists, not to mention couturiers. Writing for film requires a very laid back attitude toward collaboration.



[1]RKO’s legacy includes classic films like “Citizen Kane,” “King Kong,” “It’s a Wonderful Life,” and a plethora of sources for memorable characters.
[2] Yes, that includes the Bond film: Skyfall (Eon Productions 2012)
[3]Judy Dench
[4]Harry Potter’s Dobby, a free elf who knew the meaning of loyalty.
[5]The “Carry On” movies were British favorites from the late fifties through the seventies.
[6]The “Beach” moves were the standard for teenage angst in the sixties.
[7]Wim Wenders‘ “Wings of Desire,” (Road Movies Filmproduktion 1987); Bruno Ganz, Solveig Dommartin, Otto Sander, and Peter Falk as another fallen angel.
[8]]City of AngelsNicholas CageMeg RyanAndre Braugher, and Dennis Franz in the Peter Falk character, directed by Brad Silberling.
[9]”Hysteria“ (Forthcoming Films 2011) Hugh DancyMaggie Gyllenhaal, Jonathon PryceRupert Everett; Director: Tanya Wexler. The DVD extras include excerpts from a documentary about the history of the female orgasm.
[10] While the film takes dramatic and comedic license with history, sexual stimulation was the standard practice for “Hysteria.”
[11]DragonHeart (Roth Films 2012); Dennis Quaid, Dina MeyerSean Connery; Director: Rob Cohen[11]
[12]Snow White and the Huntsman: Kristen Stewart, Chris Hemsworth. Director: Rupert Sanders
[13]Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer known for it’s extravagant musicals.

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Cranky Women 2

Originally posted August 11, 2014, reviewed and revised in light of the current political climate

Stalwart Women

Stalwart Women.

In his blog entry “Understanding Angry Old White Men” of August 10, 2014, my friend Dr. Gerald Stein stated: “Males pass through a stage of feeling almost invulnerable and immortal, at least on occasion. They rush to fight wars, compete for mates, and try to climb higher than others. Women perform a selection of these tasks, but few teenaged girls believe themselves indestructible.”1   I recommend that all adults, regardless of age or gender. read his entire article.

Although the thrust of his insightful article captured the human condition, pointing to the physiology of age and the effect of retirement on his defense mechanisms as the source of rage in men of advancing years, Gerry makes rather broad assertions about women which may not hold up.

If in fact, women are the tougher sex, able to survive natural childbirth, “are better sports and, ironically, superior at ‘manning-up’ to the depredations of time,1” it must be a function of what society expects of them. A staple “joke” in modern sitcoms, is set up by the man stating a decision appears not to be thought out very well and each time the woman states a cogent opinion, the man responds with increasing dismissiveness until she finally utters, no matter how calmly she speaks, the kernel of truth that cannot be argued away, he shouts “I can’t discuss this with an irrational woman.” Both men and women laugh; most men because they believe the description of women; women recognize the behavior of men. Still, it’s not really funny that a dismissive attitude toward women is an integral part of our culture.

As for women being “superior at ‘manning up’ to the depredations of age,” we have developed a multizillion dollar cosmetics industry and long ago learned that complaining about something like effects of age, more often than not, fell on deaf male ears; if we were heard, we were subjected to degrading baby-talk or demoralizing vitriol. The point is, women are not “manning up,” but giving in: spending time, effort, and remarkably large sums on cosmetics, fashion, and elective surgery, just to fulfill society’s only expectation for women: to attract a man.

Though the women who are now sixty years and older have been coouseled, often from birth, to lay back, be good little girls, play with dolls rather than water guns, hold their tongues, and restrict their thoughts and aspirations, some women have been blessed with the type of personality that allowed them to blaze trails through jungles of testosterone, regardless of the roles their mothers modeled for them. Still, we’re not out of the woods yet. To wit, the Verizon commercial2 reminding parents that daughters really do listen to them when they give messages that essentially tell them to flush their potential down the toilet.
Verizon GirlAnd, I can’t help thinking that familial abuse –s o distressingly prevalent – figures into any tendency to feel vulnerable more than the accident of gender. “In 1940, [Carney] Landis published his findings in two related studies, the first of 153 ‘normal’ women and the second of 142 psychiatric patients, reporting that 24% of these subjects reported being sexually abused as children. Later in 1956, Landis expanded the study to 1,800 college students, discovering that 35% of the females . . . had been sexually abused at an early age.”3 The U.S. Department of Justice Bureau of Statistics estimates that nearly two of every three female victims of violence were related to or knew their attacker and in 92% of all domestic violence incidents, crimes are committed by men against women.4 According to “RAINN” these days, 60% of sexual assaults are not reported to the police. Can you imagine how much more were kept as tortuous secrets in the 40s and 50s5  — by men as well as women.

Without these influences, females might well think of themselves as indestructible. In fact, sometimes you just need to look at some of the self-destructive activities some women of all ages participated in before we were put in the position of having to unite, fighting for our very lives. Maybe now, we really do feel as immortal as our male counterparts did in their youth. Clearly, the male in the White House and his minions must be feeling particularly mortal these days. Why else would they need to eviscerate everyone else to feel successful?

Drumpf’s Hit Squad

Now, the ultra male, white supremacist administration wants to bomb women back to the stone age. To be fair, they are screwing up everyone, stripping the safeguards that protect the environment, keep the workplace safe, and help workers support themselves. Not to mention making good education for the masses harder to find.

We’re not better at accepting anything, we’ve just been annealed to the ravages of age — and males.


Photo Credits:
A montage of women who led the way: Left to right from top: Sappho, Venus, Joan of Arc, Eva Perón, Marie Curie, Indira Gandhi, Venus of Willendorf, Wangari Maathai, Mother Teresa, Grace Hopper, Mamechiho a Geisha, a Tibetan farmer, Marilyn Monroe, Oprah Winfrey, Aung San Suu Kyi, Josephine Baker, Isis, the Queen of Sheba, Elizabeth I, a Quechua mother. Sourced from Wikipedia.
The girl from the Verizon Commercial
President Trump’s Misogynistic Hit Squad discussing the Future Of Women’s Health Care, sourced from many Facebook memes.
1. Dr. Gerald Stein: – “Blogging About Psychotherapy from Chicago”;
2. Verizon Commercial 2014 “Inspire Her Mind”
3. Cynthia Crosson-Tower, Confronting Child and Adolescent Sexual Abuse, Thousand Oaks, California : SAGE Publications, Inc., 2015
4. From the U.S. Dept. of Justice Bureau of Justice Statistics, “Violence against Women: A National Crime Victimization Survey Report, January 1994.”
5. Rape Abuse & Incest National Network

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Hard Choices

Hard ChoicesI’m about halfway through Hard Choices by Hillary Rodham Clinton[1], having finished her Living History[2] not long ago, and I’m impressed not only with her experience and thought processes, but with her writing as well. She gives each event personal as well as diplomatic importance without leaving the reader with the sense that it was all about her. In terms of the diplomatic, she spoke in as much detail about her successes in Living Historyvarious parts of Arabia and elsewhere in the world as of her frustrations attempting to broker an agreement between Israel and the Palestinians, a sad saga of bad timing and external pressures. Though possibly it shouldn’t have, her descriptions of the old city of Sanaa, Yemen surprised me with its similarity to the Old City in Jerusalem even in regards to the clothes worn by both the Arab and Jewish women.

Even before reading her books, I could not understand why people would believe the picture conservative painted of her. I don’t understand why reasonable people persist in freezing at the wall of skew, exaggeration, and downright lies about Secretary Clinton. Like all of us, she’s made mistakes. Still, she takes responsibility for her own human fallibility, a stark departure from her sworn opponents who blame her and President Obama for some of their own more unconscionable actions.

Infrastructure JobsThe prime example, the attack on the US facilities in Benghazi, that resulted in four deaths, has been a cause celebre for Republicans who want to malign the President and Secretary. Though the 2012 tragedy in Benghazi was a direct result of acts of congressional austerity committed long before Obama took office and had already resulted in thirteen attacks on American embassies during which sixty people died[3]. Senate Republicans had thirteen opportunities to reconsider the cuts in the State Department’s security budget even before it could have occurred to them that Hillary Clinton would have to face those choices. And at every opportunity, they chose to ignore their mistake.

To me, admitting and learning from one’s mistakes is a strength too many politicians refuse to cultivate and the implication by one politician that it’s Clinton’s weakness rather than one of her Cost of trying to kill ACCmany strengths is almost laughable, given the number of mistakes he and his party have made and let go unchallenged. Still, partisan efforts continue to smear her with innuendo and unconstitutional leaks before the evidence has had a chance to be vetted. Not learning from this mistake by a Republican led congress has cost at least $7,000,000[4] (most of which could have been better spent rebuilding roads and not cutting human services) and the lives of sixty-four Americans (at a conservative estimate.)
Wikileaks, though already shown to have misrepresented some of the content of those now infamous emails[5], continues to release more documents in tantalizing bundles. Has no one heard of “chain of evidence”? Wikileaks has already proven themselves to be unreliable.

My cousin, a long time conservative, thinks I hate all Republicans and blame them for everything that goes wrong. Frankly, I used to be a Republican when, as it turns out, being Republican did not mean being a neoliberal, anti-union, self-serving obstructionist. When I was — what? — seven-years-old, I would have voted for President Eisenhower. I liked Ike. Today, I’m also having a load of trouble with (at least) one Democratic mayor who’s screwing with teachers as if he were a Republican. No, it’s not Republicans, but the pretenders to sane political thought and process that gall me.

Republicans in congress have spent millions of dollars of public money — not trying to nail HRC — but trying to make her look bad enough that die-hard conservatives and overly idealistic progressives will distrust her — despite reports of nonpartisan fact-checkers that state she has more integrity than most of those in national politics. According to Politico, she tells the truth 73% of the time[6] compared to her opponent Pants on Firelying 70% of the time[7], and all the fact-checkers say the FBI has exonerated her of wrongdoing in the ridiculously inflated email scandal.[8] And, worse, Republicans continue to accuse her of being responsible for the deaths in Benghazi. Even the quality of their untruths differ. According to the Detroit Free Press, “Clinton’s untruths occur with way less frequency, and many fall more naturally into the category of embellishment or distortion rather than outright lie.” [9]

Perhaps the Benghazi noise is just their way of distracting us from republican “austerity” cuts which injured not just the State Department’s security budget,  but Medicare and Medicaid as well. Republicans blame that on the Democrats too. They’ve done such a good job of brainwashing the voters who have much to fear from Republican policies concerning wages and other aspects of the economy that some of their followers are champing at the bit to start another costly investigation into why Clinton and President Obama were not in the Oval office on 9/11.[10] May I respectfully suggest to them that it was because then sitting President George W. Bush hadn’t invited them.

The military solution is usually a disaster as in Viet Nam all those years ago. No one has ever successfully explained to me why we were a) fighting an undeclared war, and, even more demoralizing, b) fighting someone else’s battle when the Viet Namese civilians made it clear, almost daily, they didn’t want us there. However, as Clinton points out, a well-trained military like ours can be the best choice, no matter how hard, in a case like getting bin Laden.      

I won’t get into whose vacuum opened up a space for ISIS and ISIL to pour out — even though their first appearance was before President Obama took office — yet the Republicans blame them on the stalwart team of Obama and Clinton. Still, what I’m most interested in are the cases in which soft diplomacy (people talking) succeed, cases in which human beings interact. Specifically instances like Burma and Pakistan when human rights and democracy prevail, soft diplomacy was vital to the resolution when hard diplomacy (military action) could have easily ended in disaster.

What surprises me most about Hard Choices, is that diplomacy is not primarily a formulaic, even formal process with the detailed and precise language of treaties and other international papers. Perhaps it once was, but now it seems that, in most cases, it’s two or more human beings getting together in myriad types of settings learning how to communicate. Sometimes, the more tense situations require the repetition of specific, clear wording, but those seem to be limited to the more frustrating difficulties.

Human interaction is still the best path avoiding the military solution. Films with battles and bloodshed may seem more interesting than biographies or quiet histories, but the focus on successful human communication teaches us about ourselves and how we can be better people. Even before reading her books, I could see that the false image of Hillary Rodham Clinton projected by frightened Republicans and other conservatives with a lot to lose from a progressive government did us all an injustice. It doesn’t fit with the true image of her service: standing up for women all over the world, helping them find economic and personal autonomy; standing up for first responders and for her imperiled state of New York after 9/11; all the way back to when she personally went from school to school rooting out systemic racism. And probably even before that. None of this fits the picture of her conservatives have drawn in their own image propagated within their politics of selfishness. 

HRCAfter all of this, can the rift between conservatives and progressives be healed? As I read Clinton’s books and discuss them, I think we need to adopt the soft diplomacy approach. In describing those highly effective, informal diplomatic conversations — human beings getting together in myriad types of settings  — Secretary Clinton may have designed a way to bring the country together after the bitter conflagration of the 2016 election.

Human Rights Commission

“Women’s rights are human rights . . . ”
hear the whole speech at:

[10] This video has been edited, no longer showing the interviewer pressing the supporter about his concern that Obama and Clinton were not in the oval office on 9/11. When asked straight out if he wanted an investigation, he said yes, he most certainly did.

Media Credits
Secretary of State portrait and at the 1995 UN Conference on Women in Beijing:
Pants on Fire truth-o-meter:
Infrastructure Jobs:

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