Still Here

Still Here

The bay is still here.
The trees are still here.
The grass and weeds are still here.
Flowering succulents are still here.
Dog poop left on the ground is still here.
Birds, chirping, tweeting, singing, flying low over the water, diving for fish, are still here.
Cars parked nearby are still here.
Radios playing loud are still here.
Tobacco is still here.
Pot is still here.
The bridges are still here.
Traffic moving fast and slow is still here.
BART sounds from the distance are still here.
The Pyramid tower is still here.
Sail boats are still here.
The breeze is still here.
Train horns are still here.
Cargo ships are still here.
The cranes that may or may not have inspired the Imperial Walkers, still here.

Alcatraz Island, still here, with its fleet of ferries to take you there.
Runners and joggers, still here, wearing earbuds.
Voices, still here, talking politics, food, work, play, nonsense.
Benches, still here, butts upon them, face staring at the water, bridges, birds.
Hip hop, still here.
Blues, still here.
R&B, still here.
Rock, still here.
My favorite jazz station playing the illest sides, old and new, still here.
Blue skies and clouds, still here.
Stars, even when veiled by the sun’s brilliance, still here.
Kayakers on the water, paddling, their silhouettes like swans in formation, still here.

Still here! The maintenance workers cleaning the public john.
Still here! The public john, better than the bush.
Still here! The remnants of illegal campfires created by the homeless.
Still here! The homeless, their numbers ever rising, their “otherness” never so great as imagined.
Still here! The prairie dogs, peeking up from their holes, sniffing the air, sensing danger in the making.

And I’m still here, broken,
And I’m still here, repaired,
And I’m still here, tempered harder than a forger’s best steel,
And I’m still here, ready.

{Ed. note: I wrote this a few days after the election, November 2016, a means to work out the funk I was in (and am still in).}

Rogue One and the Importance of Hope

Rogue One did not interest me when I first saw a preview for it. It’s off the main sequence, a side story. Sounded like a classic cash cow production. The Force Awakens put the franchise back into good health. Don’t spoil it by overdoing it with trivial side stories.

Wrong, wrong, and wrong. Rogue One is not a trivial side story. It tells an important backstory and thus earns the right to be called the definitive prequel to the Star Wars saga.

Like any good prequel, it derives its main theme from the original and builds upon it. Thus, its theme, hope, comes from the secondary title of the original film (A New Hope). Rogue One is all about hope, its importance, its ability to motivate, and the sacrifices made in its name.

Films provide an escape from the real world, but they also mirror it. Therefore, I could not watch Rogue One without thinking of the real world around me and the crushing reality of the coming presidential administration. This comparison really jelled in the scenes involving the Rebel Alliance Council, the group of concerned galactic citizens gathered together to fight the evil of Palpatine’s new Empire.

They know of the Death Star and want to stop its development. But they could not agree on how to do it. Do they capture one of the lead architects, Galen Erso (Mads Mikkelsen)? Do they kill him? Do they try to steal the plans for it? Given the gravity of their situation, one wouldn’t expect such a high level of indecision or infighting. But that’s exactly what happens. And it perfectly mirrors the Left in this country after the last presidential election. How should Democrats regroup? Should the party go more progressive, more grassroots, in the mold of Bernie Sanders? Or should it strengthen its ties to big money? How should Senate Democrats interact with the new administration, work with it or oppose everything it does?

In the case of Rogue One, a group of rebels decide to defy the Council and steal the plans for the Death Star. This action, of course, ties in directly with A New Hope. They embark on this path because one rebel, Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones), the daughter of the lead architect, discovers that her father created a defect in the Death Star that could lead to its destruction. Only she sees his message revealing this vital information, before the message is lost. Thus the other rebels had to believe her. And they do, because her plan offers hope.

I love the collection of rebels that make up the team of Rogue One. The movie starts with Jyn as a child who witnesses the murder of her mother and kidnapping of her father by the Empire. She herself escapes and is raised by a stand-alone rebel, Saw Gerrera (Forest Whitaker). As an adult, she becomes a prisoner of the Empire and is rescued by Cassian Andor (Diego Luna), a cocky young man with pain in his heart and a divided soul. He works with a reprogrammed Imperial droid, K-2SO (Alan Tudyk), who is as snarky as C3PO is polite. And then there are the two polar opposites who are dedicated companions: Chirrut Îmwe (Donnie Yen), a blind devotee of the Force with some Force sensitivity, though not a Jedi; and Baze Malbus (Wen Jiang), an atheist who wants to shoot all of his adversaries in the face. In time we learn that Baze has more faith than he lets on, probably because his friend gives him hope.

Darth Vader makes a couple of notable appearances, but evil is largely represented by Director Orson Krennic (Ben Mendelson) and Governor Tarkin (Guy Henry). Krennic helps to create the Death Star. Tarkin, as known from the original Star Wars movie, commands it. The conflict between these two Imperial employees typifies the type of back-biting that often happens within repressive regimes. (Think Nazi Germany.) What sort of back-biting will result in the new Administration? And who will pay the ultimate price in the end?

Guy Henry provides Tarkin’s voice and movements, but not his face. The filmmakers use CGI to superimpose the late Peter Cushing’s face and body on the screen. It comes off remarkably well. At the same time, the artificial edge to the recreation also makes Tarkin appear darker and more menacing.

I got emotional at the final scene of the film. We all know from the original Star Wars who ultimately possesses the plans for the Death Star and keeps them from Darth Vader’s gloved hands. Princess Leia. So the final scene of the movie shows a CGI Leia, hamburger bun hairdo and all, accepting the plans from an associate, who then asks about the data drive he give her. What is its importance? “Hope,” she says.

I saw the film on Christmas Day, just hours after the world learned that Carrie Fischer suffered a serious heart attack. “Please get well,” I said to myself when her CGI doppelgänger appeared. Sadly, she did not. It was one thing to have the long gone Peter Cushing recreated; it felt eerie seeing such a reproduction made of a young Carrie Fisher, knowing that her life hung in the balance.

Hope does not come without a price. The rebels of the Rogue One mission know this, but carry out their assignment anyway, bravely and heroically. Those who plant the seeds of hope do not always see their work fully blossom within their lifetimes, be it long or short. I think of this as we enter this new administration and new era of extreme conservatism. It does not mean don’t fight, don’t resist, don’t struggle. We have to do all of the above. It does mean that we must always keep an eye to the future, to plan for a tomorrow that we may not be here to see. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. recognized this, literally on the penultimate day of his life. As long as someone carries that message forward, to each generation yet to come, there will always be hope.

 

Ghost Ship’s Legacy: Protect Artists and the Arts

I once knew a space like the Ghost Ship. It may still be around, I don’t know. I visited it once when a friend had an art exhibition there. It wound around, corridor after corridor of sectioned off studios. The ceiling seemed impossibly high. It had a primitive feel to it, the quintessence of two-by-four technology, held together with nails, spit, glue, and dogged determination.

Safety broached my mind. Even before I became a facilities dude for a living, such things occupied my mental space. I remember hoping that the denizens of the space took proper precautions to protect themselves and the unique space they created. It had a lot of wood. That’s what concerned me most. Wood burns without pity.

My sister frequented spaces like Ghost Ship in her youth, alternative, self-made spaces where folks of like spirits could mingle and get their dance on. I thought of her when I heard about Ghost Ship. I was thankful that she never encountered such danger in what should always be a safe space.

Seeing their faces, those who fell to the fire, fills me with great depression. So young, so vital, so full of the energy this world needs, now gone. It simply shouldn’t have happened.

As a facilities dude, I think about what could have been done to make that space safe, to make similar spaces safe. Artists suffer for their art, an old cliche. But suffering should not include putting one’s life at risk. Suffering should not mean living in substandard conditions, prey to the negligence of unscrupulous landlords and property owners. Unfortunately, Oakland and other cities have decided that cracking down on artists warehouse spaces is the best way to deal with the issue. It isn’t.

We can work together to make these spaces safe for habitation. Install smoke detectors and fire sprinklers or at least a comprehensive series of fire extinguishers. Ensure that spaces have adequate escape routes and stairwells for quick exit. Develop low cost programs to check and improve electrical systems. Train citizens in basic fire safety. Perhaps a brigade of contractors who themselves are artists could volunteer their services to this work. Instead of investing to punish and point fingers, invest in these spaces so that they serve their artistic populations safely.

We do not and should not crackdown on artists trying to live and create. In a few week’s time, we’ll have a federal government all too willing to do the same. Nothing has come up in the news about future plans for the National Endowment for the Arts, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, National Public Radio, and our other trusts committed to encouraging and promoting the nation’s cultural life. But make no mistake, the arts will come under attack by the new Congress and Administration.

I remember very well Republican-led attacks on the NEA in light of the Robert Mapplethorpe exhibition in the early 1990s. And Republicans continue to fight to defund CPB. In the past, folks fought those efforts with the rallying cry “Don’t Fire Big Bird.” Well, Sesame Street, astoundingly, jumped from PBS to HBO. This frees them from worry about fickle funding from the government, but it leaves its old home more vulnerable to attack. We don’t fund the arts nearly enough in this country as it is. In our warped view of the arts, we declare that they should make lots of money and if they don’t, then they’re worthless.

The arts form the basis of human existence, because humans communicate. We tell stories. Artists are storytellers. To defund them, marginalize them out of existence is to shut off that voice, those stories, and leave a void.

We lost 36 storytellers in the Ghost Ship fire last week. Let their legacy be that spaces like Ghost Ship get saved by activism and caring.

Here are some places to donate in support of the victims of the Ghost Ship fire.

Presidential Escape Clause: The Electoral College

I signed the Change.org petition calling for members of the Electoral College to not elect Donald Trump president. It may seem a folly, as much a folly as the recount called for by Green Party candidate Jill Stein in the states of Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania. Indeed, voices I respect have argued against an Electoral College upset and the recount.

What would happen if somehow Hillary Clinton ended up getting elected president by the Electoral College? Easy: chaos. Folks will riot. Hoards of Trump supporters will likely up their terror campaigns against Muslims, blacks, Latinos, LGBTQ folks, immigrants, Sikhs, and other populations they target as enemies of their hegemony.

Then there would be political chaos. Trump would lose his shit and file lawsuits left, right, and center. That I could care less about, except that it may gum up the works and prevent Clinton from actually taking the oath of office and assuming the presidency. But assuming that Clinton got into the Oval Office, she would face investigations and obstructionism up the wazoo. The Republican Congress wouldn’t let her do jack shit nothing. Indeed, they would likely begin impeachment hearings on January 21. Yes, I know it’s a Saturday, but that wouldn’t stop them. The Republican Congress has been the laziest in history, but they’ll find plenty of energy to do something they really want to do.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has proven well versed in the art of stopping a president. He (illegally in my mind) prevented President Obama’s final Supreme Court pick to receive a single vote, claiming that President Obama was a lame duck, in February, nearly a year before he actually left office. Bullshit, of course, but it worked. McConnell would have no problem whatsoever just a-sittin’ and a-rockin’ and doing nothing for four years to keep Clinton from governing.

So, alright, chaos. Pure chaos. That’s what would happen if the Electoral College elected Mrs. Clinton over Mr. Trump. For me, then, the question becomes, which chaos is the lesser of two evils: the Electoral College chaos or the Trump presidency chaos. Before answering that, let’s dispel a few myths.

As we know, Mrs. Clinton won the popular vote by over 2.5 million. This margin makes her the presidential candidate with the most number of popular votes to lose in history. The next closest is Al Gore, who lost the election but won the popular vote by 543,816 votes. Trump wants the world to believe that millions of people voted illegally, hence the high vote count for his opponent. Bluster bullshit. Nothing supports this claim. But watch this bluster turn into dangerous policy under the Trump Administration. With the help of Messrs. McConnell and Ryan, President Trump will forge the most restrictive voting rights rules in history. None will prevent non-existent voter fraud; they will instead make it harder for people they don’t like (minorities, liberals/progressives) to vote.

Many have called Trump’s election a referendum for white blue-collar workers. They cite his sweep of so-called Rust Belt states as evidence for this. True, he carried Ohio, Pennsylvania, even Michigan, all states that President Obama carried in 2008 and 2012. But lets look at those popular vote numbers again. (Data compiled from Wikipedia.)

 

presidential-election-chart

If Trump lured away many who voted Democratic in 2008 or 2012, then his vote total does not show this. He received about 1.8 million more votes than Romney did in 2012 and 2.7 million more votes than McCain did in 2008. But he still lost the popular vote to Clinton. One would have expected his numbers to look more like Obama’s, but they don’t.

Trump won not because folks that voted for Obama voted for him. He won because folks that voted for Obama didn’t vote in 2016. Clinton lost the Electoral College because not enough people voted for her in states that matter, like Ohio and Pennsylvania.

Bottom line, Trump does not have a mandate by any stretch of the imagination. He and his Republican lackeys will continue to push that myth, but it remains a myth. The country is not only divided between conservative and liberal ideologies, it’s also divided between the interested and the disinterested, those who bother to vote, and those who do not. We should ask those who did not vote why they chose not to. We should also find out if they tried to vote but could not successfully navigate new voter ID laws in states like Wisconsin.

Back to the main question, then, which evil should we endure. I vote for the Electoral College upset. Trump has already demonstrated how dangerous a leader he will be. He has appointed Steve Bannon, a dangerous, racist demagogue, to his administration. He refuses to divest himself fully from his businesses, setting up the mother of all conflicts of interest. His lack of experience led him to cause a diplomatic kerfuffle with China. All this, and he hasn’t taken the oath yet. And he continues to treat the presidency like a popularity contest and tweets about things that piss him off. Presidents don’t need to do that. He’s not Kanye West. Presidents should not tweet random thoughts that send the world into a tailspin, 140 characters at a time.

No, there is no question in my mind that the chaos of an upset in the Electoral College would be nothing compared the chaos caused by the presidency of someone so emotionally unhinged. That he’s unhinged should come as a surprise to no one. After all, he began his campaign with blatant bigotry (They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists.)

The UK has an escape clause as well, though so far they refuse to take it. The Brexit referendum vote was not binding. Parliament can legally override it. They won’t, however, for fear that such a move will outrage the population, despite the buyer’s remorse. We’re both in the same boat.

Having said all this, even if the Electoral College went rogue and elected Clinton, she likely would not accept the appointment, knowing all that she would face. Such an election may well offend her sensibilities, too, even though I’m sure she has concerns about a Trump presidency.

We need to retrain our sensibilities. Trump has unleashed America’s very ugly underbelly and made it mainstream. The KKK and other racists openly celebrate Trump’s victory, and he only tepidly distances himself from them. The media continues to normalize these fringe groups and their hate. And so-called mainstream Republican politicians like Ryan and McConnell, hungry for power, continue to support Trump despite the dangers he poses to our democracy and world affairs. Democrats have no choice but to adopt new strategies to avert the disasters this “new normal” pose to the nation, even if those strategies make them uncomfortable or go against their sensibilities.

Republicans have demonstrated that they have the will to do anything to get their way, including support an unqualified president. Democrats thus need to respond in kind.

Don’t normalize hate

President Obama says that we need to give the new president a chance. We need to wish for his success so that we can ensure the success of the country. Secretary Clinton said similar words along those lines.

I can’t. At least not without a major caveat.

I’m obviously not going to wish the country ill. Hell, I fear that the country will face enormous ill in light of the election of Donald Trump. But I cannot and will not accept him as the new normal. He is not normal.

He still talks about building the wall, only now it’s a fence. And then we have the litany of worries: trashing freedom of expression; silencing dissent; deporting immigrants; registering Muslims; rolling back LGBT rights; ending women’s reproductive rights (among other rights). These and many others lurk over a worrisome horizon.

He taunted and bullied throughout his campaign. And lets not forget these words with which he launched his campaign:

They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists.

We expect a certain amount of bluster or bravado or showmanship during a presidential campaign. We similarly expect a lot of stuff said that will likely never happen — politicians rarely keep all of their campaign promises. But that’s not what Trump engaged in during his campaign. He engaged in hate speech, full stop. Further, his speech and subsequent election has emboldened many who take his words literally. Now we have a rash of hate crimes taking place across the country.

If Trump meant the hateful things that he said, then in no way is he qualified to be president. If he did not mean the hateful things that he said, then he’s still not qualified to be president. Because presidents do not incite violence against the citizens they swear to protect and serve.

Under no circumstances should we normalize, sanitize, or accept Donald Trump by ignoring all that he has said and done. Because then we not only give him a pass, but we give a pass to those committing hate crimes in his name.

And by the way, I will tag every post I make about Donald Trump with his quote about Mexicans. As I have said repeatedly, that alone should have disqualified him from serious consideration. Now that we’re stuck with him, I want no one to forget where he came from.

I’m weeping for my country

They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists.
-President-elect Donald J. Trump at his campaign launch, June, 2015

I’m weeping for my country. It has stepped decidedly backwards. Change. Hope. Progress. All dirty words. Obstructionism won the day. Now that Republicans are in charge of everything, the White House and both houses of Congress, what will they do? What will they propose? It’s a given that they’ll erase everything they possible can from the Obama years. But what will they replace Obama’s policies with?

Nothing good. Under Governor Sam Brownback, Kansas has adopted an aggressive trickle-down tax structure that has left its public education system in shambles. Indiana, home to Vice-President-Elect Mike Pence, adopted bigoted anti-queer policies, despite the economic backlash it triggered, all in the name of theological purity. Despite the divisions and failures these and other conservative policies have wrought, they’ll be enacted, nationwide. Facts and logic belong to yesterday. Feelings rule, no matter how misguided, no matter how damaging. The environment played a backseat role during the election. Nonetheless, climate change will happen, whether we wish to believe it or not.

I feared living the last decades of my life under shitty Supreme Court rulings. This fear has now come to pass. With Mike Pence’s help, President-elect Donald Trump will appoint some of the most right-leaning justices in a generation. And they’ll all be quite young, so that they’ll serve a long, long time.

All this happened because we could not face electing a woman to the highest office to the land, despite her qualifications. Because we could not accept diversity. Because we want to live in fear. But living in fear is not living. By the time we realize this, much damage will have been done. How very sad.

Yes on Prop. 62 – NO on Prop. 66

Dueling propositions occur frequently on the California ballot. We have a few of them this year.

Propositions 62 and 66 both address the death penalty. Prop. 66 wants to change the appeals process for capital cases. Prop. 62 wants to get rid of the death penalty entirely.

Prop. 66 starts from the premise that the death penalty appeals process is too cumbersome, leading to costly delays. Furthermore, California’s death row has a population in the hundreds. The state has not executed anyone for 10 years. Inmates on death row will likely die of old age rather than execution. Therefore, the proposition seeks to speed up the appeals process so that executions will happen in a more timely fashion.

Ugh. If we have learned anything from the Black Lives Matters movement, it’s that the criminal justice system makes mistakes. More to the point, killing wrongly convicted persons is a travesty. Enough wrongly convicted persons have had their convictions overturned, often with the aid of DNA evidence, that we should take pause in the whole idea of condemning someone to death in the first place. Contrary to what President George W. Bush once said, the death penalty is vengeance, not justice.

I’m bringing back an oldie from the early day of the gar spot. Ptolemaic. It’s a word that describes a needlessly complicated process concocted to avoid a simpler, more obvious (and correct) answer.

Prop. 66 is Ptolemaic in the extreme. It seeks to make the ordeal of putting someone to death more palatable by speeding up the process, thus eliminating one of the concerns about capital punishment: it takes too long and costs too much money. It does take too long and it does cost too much money, but that argument ignores the moral issues of convicting the wrong person for a crime and putting someone to death in the first place.

I’ve hated the death penalty from day one. It’s applied arbitrarily: what makes one killing more heinous than another killing?  It’s racist: death row inmates are largely poor people of color, people who do not have access to “dream team” attorneys. The appeals process can take years. Sometimes the verdict is wrong. And the very process of killing someone “humanely” has become a perverse subject for the courts; there is no such thing as a humane execution. No amount of tweaking will save the death penalty or make it better. The obvious answer is to just get rid of it and institute life without the possibility of parole, which is exactly what Proposition 62 seeks to do.

Yes on 62.

No on 66.

By the way, the folks at Ballotpedia note that if both 62 and 66 pass, the one with the most votes takes effect, since they are mutually incompatible. So again, yes on 62, no on 66.

Oakland’s Measure HH – Vote Yes

In addition to the noisy campaign for president, in California we have propositions. Lots and lots of propositions. I have a love/hate relationship with the proposition process. I suspect most Californians feel the same way. On the one hand, propositions encourage direct democracy. The electorate has a say on issues ranging from taxes to insurance policy to health care to the criminal justice system. On the other hand, many propositions are thick treatises written in arcane language that even an attorney would have a hard time deciphering. People and corporations with lots of money use word salad propositions to push forward laws to enrich themselves at the expense of the public good. Meanwhile, good propositions that pass can be held up for years, because monied interests don’t want them to ever take effect.

Occasionally, Californians have had to wade through oodles of propositions on the ballot. This would be one of those years. We have 17 state propositions on the ballot. Additionally here in Oakland, home of the gar spot, we have 9 local measures to vote on: one from Alameda County, one from the Oakland Unified School District, five from the City of Oakland, and one each from the AC Transit District and BART.

With the election around the corner, as I wade through all of these various measures, I’ll write about some that catch my eye. Let’s start with Oakland’s Measure HH: A Proposed Ordinance Imposing A One Cent Per Ounce Tax on the Distribution of Sugar-Sweetened Beverage Products in Oakland.

From the official write up by Barbara J. Parker, Oakland City Attorney:

This measure would impose a tax on the distribution of Sugar-Sweetened Beverage Products in Oakland. Sugar-Sweetened Beverage Products are defined as Sugar-Sweetened Beverages or Caloric Sweeteners. The tax would be one cent per fluid ounce.

A new sin-tax, in other words, and frankly one that has been long in coming. Like traditional sin-tax products, tobacco and alcohol, sugary drinks can lead to poor health, in the form of diabetes, obesity, tooth decay, and other ailments. Treatment of these diseases can run into the billions of dollars. Sin-taxes try to discourage consumption of unhealthy products by increasing their costs. At the same time, they typically allocate the money raised to help promote better health. However, unlike traditional sin-taxes, Measure HH, should it pass, would not impact consumers directly. Rather, distributors would take the hit. Though in the end, the cost may get passed on to consumers.

Nonetheless, the American beverage industry — Coke, Pepsi, et al. — have declared an all-out war against taxes on sugary drinks. So far, they successfully have fought off such measures in every city it has been proposed, with one exception: Berkeley passed a soda tax in 2014. Not wanting to let this happen again, they have spent millions against Measure HH and similar measures in nearby San Francisco and Albany.

The beverage industry has labeled Measure HH, and its siblings, as a “grocery tax.” They contend that grocers will raise their prices on lots of items, not just sodas and sugary drinks. It’s a bogus argument that reeks of sensationalism. It does not pass my sniff test. Big Soda also claims that HH will hurt small businesses. Why do big corporations always align themselves with small businesses (that they usually ignore), as if they were all one big, happy business family? Again, this claim doesn’t pass the sniff test.

Big Soda’s claims also did not pass the court’s sniff test.

To date, nothing has shown that businesses in Berkeley have suffered from the soda tax. However, a study conducted by public health researchers at UC Berkeley have shown that the tax has curbed the purchase of sugary drinks in Berkeley by 21%. During the same period, consumption increased in Oakland and San Francisco by 4%. Also, water purchases have increased in Berkeley by 63%. And only 5% of people surveyed said that they get their sugary drinks in Oakland, where no such tax exists.

So from a public health standpoint, the tax works. It does what it sets out to do: curb the consumption of sugary beverages.

Big Soda doesn’t care about that, however. They just want to make money. So they will trump up any statistic, or just make stuff up, in order to defeat future soda taxes, including Oakland’s. They even have on their side Senator Bernie Sanders, who called soda taxes regressive. If they appear on the consumer’s bill, then yes, they could be called regressive. But Big Soda ignores the ill-effects of their products just like Big Tobacco does with their products. Again, they just want to make money.

I love sweets. I have a major sweet tooth. I’ve also had ups and downs with my weight most of my adult life. Sugar addiction is a thing, and it’s slowly killing us. Children should not develop Type 2 diabetes, formerly known as adult onset diabetes, but they do now and at an alarming rate. That was not a thing during my childhood. So clearly, as a society, we need to address this growing health menace.

The soda tax clearly demonstrates that it does. Therefore, Measure HH has my vote.

“Holding the Edge,” A play about AIDS and Life in the 80s (Review)

It’s the early morning hours of January 28, 1986. Hospice Nurse Elaine Magree just pulled an all-nighter, answering calls and visiting dying patients. She’s already tended to two deaths, but then her pager goes off again. She pulls up to her favorite phone booth in East Oakland and makes the call. It’s a friend of a friend, and it doesn’t sound like he has long to live. Damn. She takes the case.

Such is the life described and enacted by Ms. Magree in her one-woman show Holding the Edge, playing at The Marsh in Berkeley (Thursdays and Saturdays through Oct. 15). Magree worked as a hospice nurse at that time, during the height of the AIDS crisis. Indeed, when I saw the poster for her show, the first thing to catch my eye was the “SILENCE = DEATH” poster leaning against her favorite phone booth, the receiver at her ear.

In the printed program for the show, Magree explains that she wrote the play as a reaction to Ronald Reagan receiving a posthumous award at a hospice and palliative care workers conference in 2014. “I was so angry at this travesty I wanted to scream at 2,000 people in the plenary session” and “to smash things.” Anyone who lived through the AIDS nightmare would have had a similar reaction.

She chose the date for her day-in-the-life piece very carefully. On January 28, 1986, President Reagan was to give a State of the Union address. Being the first to occur after the death of his friend Rock Hudson from AIDS, which finally brought the disease out of the closet and into mainstream households, many hoped that the president would finally mention the disease. However, the Space Shuttle Challenger also exploded on this date, which had consequences for the SOTU.

Magree takes these mega-events and weaves them into a very personal story about the toll of AIDS on those who had it and their family and friends. She deftly adopts many personae besides her own as the hospice nurse, including the dying friend of a friend, his bitchy-queer-punk caregiver, the mother of the patient, and many others. It’s the little details that make the story effective and poignant. The mother had been estranged from her ill son, but comes back in the end. The bitchy-punk at first acts defensive towards Elaine the Nurse, but calms down when he realizes that she’s family.

These characters are not abstractions. Everyone who lived through the AIDS crisis in 1980s and 90s knew each of these people. We remember how we had to learn how to use needles to administer morphine. We remember cleaning bedpans, massaging feet, and providing any comfort to the sick or dying loved one. Popsicles. I had forgotten about popsicles until one of the characters mentioned giving it to the person with AIDS. Sometimes popsicles were the only thing a really sick person could have. I gasped when it came up. It hit home with me.

One of the most poignant scenes came when Elaine the Nurse answered “the questions.” How does death happen? When will I know? She answered with scientific accuracy yet great humanity, respecting the dignity of the patient. Dignity was in short supply for many PWAs in the 80s and 90s, the reason for the bitchy-punk’s protective defensiveness. This scene, like so many others, felt very real.

Similarly, Magree worked the Space Shuttle disaster into the piece very effectively. It represented a beacon of hope for the dying friend, who wanted to see it launch, only to see it explode 73 seconds after launch.

Though ACT UP was still about a year away, there is a protest scene. Let’s just say that folks felt more than a little peeved at Reagan’s response to the shuttle disaster versus his response to the AIDS crisis.

Elaine Magree tells a very intimate story beautifully and forcefully. She “smashes things” figuratively, if not literally, on stage. She even had us chanting at the end, our fists raised in the air. All that anger from nearly 30 years ago rushed into my raised arm and shouting larynx. Sadly, it’s an anger that can never really die, and is sometimes provoked.

Upon her death earlier this year, Nancy Reagan received bogus praise, including from Hillary Clinton, about the role she played in raising awareness about AIDS. Total and utter bullshit. As many recalled, when Rock Hudson called her to ask for help, she turned him down. After screaming that message over and over, the world press corrected itself and gave the true story, that she hid from the disease just like her husband.

We need more beautifully told stories like Elaine Magree’s to make sure that AIDS history isn’t set a little to straight, that all the crooks and kinks that made life so unbearable for so many people are put on full display, so that we may never forget a time when thousands died and hardly anyone paid attention.

The Candidate and the Buffoon

Before becoming the nation’s 44th president, Barack Obama served in the Illinois State Senate from 1997 to 2004. From 2005 to 2008, he was the Junior Senator from the state of Illinois in the US Senate. These facts are not in dispute. One can easily verify them online or by scouring old newspapers or other paper sources. Yet the narrative that came out of the 2008 presidential campaign by the McCain/Palin camp stated that Mr. Obama was “only a community organizer.” They focussed on this work and ignored his legislative experience. The facts vanished.

Similarly, I remember wondering, in days long before Google and Wikipedia, if Toni Morrison had really won the Nobel Prize for literature. Why? Because news stories that referenced her never cited this award; they often called her a Pulitzer prize winner. She did win a Pulitzer, for Beloved in 1988, however she won the Nobel five years later. Didn’t matter. For years, I saw her name in the papers not as “Nobel Laureate Toni Morrison” but “Pulitzer Prize winner Toni Morrison.” Her most prestigious award vanished.

I cite these two examples as typical of the type of erasure that occurs for African-Americans or anyone who is not straight, white, and male. Society, more often than not, allows “others” a certain level of accomplishment, but no more. For those who pioneer into hitherto forbidden territory — first female African-American Nobel Laureate, first male African-American President — friction occurs. Friction, what am I saying, all hell breaks loose. They get labeled uppity, contentious, troublemakers, know-it-alls, etc. This happens to African-Americans and women in nearly all social strata. Everyone has their place, our society dictates, and you stay in your place until we (society, made up of straight, white male norms and values) deign that you can assume a different place.

For this past eight years, we have seen this philosophy in practice. President Obama has endured some of the most demeaning and humiliating treatment of any person ever to hold the nation’s highest office. Some white folks, particularly white Republicans, have been in a state of apoplexy during his entire tenure in office. I’m not talking about disagreements on policy. That’s cool. I’m talking about the birtherism bullshit and the “You lie (boy)!” moments of which there are too many to recount.

Some folks blame President Obama for the rise of racial tensions in the US. Kathy Miller, former Trump campaign chair in Mahoning County, Ohio, believed that racism did not exist before Mr. Obama became president. She further opined that blacks who can’t succeed have only themselves to blame. I’m sure that’s comforting news to Trayvon Martin. Except, of course, he’s dead.

President Obama’s presidency has only magnified that which has always existed. The racists have basically lost their shit over the past eight years. Hence, for the 2016 presidential race, they have turned towards a candidate whom they believe will reestablish their values. Donald Trump.

Trump has no political or organizing experience at all. Even Ronald Reagan had served as chair of the Screen Actors Guild prior to becoming Governor of California. Trump can’t even claim something like that. What he does claim, repeatedly and loudly, is that he is a successful businessman.

Now we get to experience the erasure in reverse. Rather than erase Trump’s credentials, folks have, dare I say, trumped them up. By any measure, Donald Trump is not a successful businessman. Successful businessmen pay their workers and contractors and don’t file for bankruptcy multiple times. They do not cover their losses by misappropriating charitable contributions. True successful businessmen, in particular Mark Cuban, have made a cottage industry out of calling out Trump for his lack of business acumen.

Robert Reich recently posted on his blog a conversation with a Trump supporter. During the talk, he explained to the supporter that if Trump had better invested the $200 million his father had given him, today he’d be worth around $12 billion, or nearly three times his current, purported worth.

Trump is a master of legerdemain. He knows how to work the system to his advantage in a way that brings him modest profits and mounds of publicity. But that’s all.  This is far too modest a skill set for becoming the 45th president of the United States.

Monday’s debate provided further proof that Trump lacks any of the skills necessary to succeed as US president. He answered questions with babbling word salads, rich in verbiage, low in substance. Sort of like a salad of Ding Dongs, filling, but made up of empty calories. His opponent, on the other hand, demonstrated a depth of knowledge and understanding on a wide range of subjects, and kept her cool while on stage with a word salad spinning knucklehead prone to childish, ad hominem attacks.

The true problem facing his opponent, Hillary Clinton, is her gender. And I mean problem in the same way that President Obama “caused” the race problem. Her candidacy magnifies the country’s problem with women in general and with women in positions of power in particular. Look at the language used to describe her. She emasculates. She frowns. She wears pants suits too much. She speaks with a strident voice. Complaints against her policies, as in the case with President Obama, are fair game. The rest is sexist bullshit. Sadly, I fear that a lot of the Clinton bashing is informed by the latter more than the former.

Should Hillary Clinton become president, she will no doubt face the same type of obstructionism that President Obama has endured during his entire presidency. This close race is just a taste of things to come, because there is no way a qualified candidate like Mrs. Clinton should be in so tight a race with a buffoon like Donald Trump.