Saturday, June 17, 2017

Direct Descendant of Attila the Hun

In this time of national unrest and general horror, I have immersed myself in studying my ancestry. Losing yourself in what grandpa and grandma were doing 800 years ago does wonders for not having to think about what's going on in Washington DC right this minute.

That has been a very strange experience. I thought I was descended from farmers and laborers, salt of the earth plodders, pioneers, good German stock, some Scotch-Irish, maybe a little English, and some French on my father's side. Oh, baby, I wasn't even close. Generally, maybe, but when you get back in antiquity, my ancestors were not, for the most part, farmers and laborers. Eight hundred years ago, they were quite literally running the world.

My father used to tell me, "Remember who you are. We are descended from the dukes of Normandy."  Yeah, right. My father was not famous for sticking to reality when telling family stories. I figured he extrapolated that from the family name, Lovier, which was originally de Louviers, and Louviers is a town in Normandy. On his father's side. Grandma kind of got swept under the rug except for having pioneer stock. No glitter and glamour there. He had no clue. Imagine my surprise when I began digging and found that on her side, we really were descended from "the dukes of Normandy" -- William the Conqueror was our ancestral grandfather -- and then some. I got very far back because there are excellent records of all of them. It was a snap to find out enormous amounts of information.  All I had to do was Google them and there they were, in Wikipedia and Burke's Peerage and Britannica and the records of the British Parliament. They are there running France and England and Norway and Scotland and Wales and Ireland as kings and queens, as Archbishops of Canterbury, Earls, Dukes, Barons, even saints. I was floored.

Some of them provided fodder for playwrights. Macbeth was my first cousin. Duncan and Malcolm, my great-grandfathers. Shakespeare's story is not historically accurate because Duncan, though killed by his nephew Macbeth, died in war, not murdered as a houseguest. Macbeth ruled for twenty years as a very good king with a record of peace and prosperity. Twenty years later, he, too, was murdered out of revenge, by Duncan's son Malcolm, who thought it was he who should be king. And so he was. Remember the play/film, A Lion in Winter? My great grandparents. Not only Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitane, but also their horrible son John. (In order to contain the overreach of John, several of my ancestral grandfathers not only produced the Magna Carta, but knowing John had no intention of actually following it, formed a group called the surety and enforced it.) Henry II's illegitimate son with his ward, Ida de Toeny, Willam Longespee, was also my great-grandfather. I'm a direct descendant of the  Plantagenets from Geoffrey of Anjou down through Edward I.

Two of King John's offspring are my direct ancestors -- Henry III, and John's illegitimate daughter, Joan, who married Llewellyn ap Iowerth, prince of Wales.  Joan had an affair with another of my great-grandfathers, William de Braose, who Llewellyn hanged because of it.  De Braose was married to Eva Marshal, whose father, William Marshal, served 5 kings and was also regent of England twice -- once during my uncle Richard the Lionheart's absence on crusade and again when John died and Henry III, at 9, was too young to actually do the job of king. He was the polar opposite of John -- a man of deep morality and integrity. When he died, the Archbishop of Canterbury eulogized him as "The Greatest Knight" who ever lived. He's one of my favorites.  His wonderfully gutsy wife, Isabelle de Clare, ties me to the high kings of Ireland, my great grandfathers.

Did I tell you about my great-grandfater Fulk FitzWarin? He was so mad at King John he became an outlaw -- he was the real person on whom the story of Robin Hood was based. My great-grandmother Maud le Vavaseur, who went with him, was the model for Maid Marian. I have some powerful women grandmothers in that line.

A couple of the grandfathers I am particularly proud of were prison inmates: Dr. Thomas John Bonham, who was a member of parliament, was sent to Newgate prison for insisting that surgeons (he was one) were also physicians, but sued and won and ever after, surgeons are known to also be  physicians; and The Rev. John Lothropp, who went to prison (The Clink, no less) for insisting that church and state must be separate, and was finally deported to the colonies where he had a part in ensuring that separation of church and state was the law in the newly forming country. Maybe that's why that one has always been so important to me.

As you can see, my branch of the family left Europe for America. Several of them, the Fullers, sailed on the Mayflower. Edward Fuller, my grandfather, did not survive more than a few weeks after landing, and his wife died even faster. That was a hard voyage and there were illnesses here they had not encountered before. Their son, Samuel, went to live with his uncle Samuel, who was the first physician in the new colony -- he had managed to get medical training before sailing because he knew they would need a doctor. The younger Samuel, who is my direct ancestor, grew up to marry Jane Lothropp, daughter of the Rev. John. Many other ancestors arrived within the next few years. They fought in the revolutionary war. They founded the country, shaped the constitution. They fought on both sides of the civil war. They made their way west via Tennessee and Kentucky and Indiana and settled in California, where I was born five generations later. It went downhill from there.

And yes, way back there in antiquity, Attila the Hun really was my ancestral great-grandpa. Who knew?

Attila image: Google images

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Consent of the Governed

Wikipedia:  Article 21 of the United Nation's 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that "The will of the people shall be the basis of the authority of government".

The current resident of the White House imagines himself to be the most powerful man in the world. Traditionally, the President of the United States has been considered to be the leader of the free world. For the first time in my lifetime, I don't believe that is the case. I don't believe he has a fraction of the power he imagines he has, because he doesn't have the consent of the governed: not in the US nor in the rest of the world. No one has power unless those they hope to lead agree that they have it. No one can have power over you unless you consent to it. One has to earn the respect of those they govern, earn their trust, and earn their tacit consent. One has to demonstrate they are competent to govern. This is not happening. Each day the power he seeks is farther from his reach. 

He is not a powerful man: he's a loose cannon. Loose cannons are not powerful at all. Out of control and dangerous, they roll around on the deck threatening good order. His behavior is erratic, his decisions are often made on childish whims, his main interest seems to be hearing himself praised. He recently held a cabinet meeting in which he first bragged about his imaginary triumphs and then asked his cabinet, one by one, to praise him. He went around the circle and demanded each one tell him how wonderful he is. I can't imagine anyone but the leader of North Korea ever doing such a thing. Only one cabinet secretary failed to do so, passing it off with a joke instead.  He has alienated most world leaders. He does not seem able to learn from his mistakes or exert adult self-control. 

He lies so much, I swear I can see his nose growing like Pinocchio's. Today I heard him say "Manufacturing dominance is at an all time high." We have not dominated manufacturing since the previous century. We are no longer known for manufacturing, which, except for cars and automotive parts, has almost all been sent offshore. He has his own clothing line manufactured outside the country. He constantly takes credit for economic gains that were in place before he was elected or were set in motion years ago as part of long-term business plans. He never ceases to praise himself or take credit for accomplishments that either don't exist or were achieved by others. He brags about his overwhelming electoral victory, when he actually lost the popular vote by 2 million votes and barely squeaked by in the electoral college. He swears he had the biggest inaugural crowd of all time, yet we have solid photographic evidence that it was anything but. He lies about things he was recorded saying, denies things he has just finished swearing to on record. There is nothing he says that can be trusted to still hold true in the next few minutes. 

All that doesn't add up to someone we can trust with power, or someone who could handle it if he were granted it. This is not someone who deserves, nor has, the consent of the governed. 

photo credit: Google images

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Remembrance of Things Past, part deux

An email blast from Amazon Prime this morning announced that this week marks the 50th anniversary of the original Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band album release. Fifty Years!

Our upstairs neighbors in the Victorian 4-plex on Octavia Street in San Francisco got the album first. They ran downstairs excitedly, announcing "Come on, man, you've got to hear this!" We went up and they sat me down in a chair and put stereo earphones on me, started the phonograph and my life was changed forever. It utterly blew me away. The three-dimensional sound, the complex harmonies, the stories the songs told, I was transfixed. We bought the album. Twenty-five years later, I bought the 25th anniversary remaster. Now, this one. I didn't buy it -- times have changed. I streamed the whole thing start to finish on Amazon Prime Music on my iPhone. No earphones. Not quite the same sound quality or surprise, but a beloved old friend touching my heart and soul, none the less. It conjured up a lot of past experiences, psychedelic and otherwise, and took me immediately back to being in my 20s again and experiencing life with new eyes.

Lucy in the Sky conjured up my experiences on acid and how the world looked to me back then. It was an experience of the holy. Simple things made beautiful. I remembered the flowers "that grew so incredibly high" in Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds as the street lights that I saw as gigantic kaleidoscopic flowers on tall stalks. I knew they were just street lights, but my transformed acid vision of them was spectacular. I told Laura (who has never tried any drugs) it was like seeing life through a beautiful prism. Then I thought about it some more and it seemed more like seeing through the prism of God's eyes, everything brand new and holy and blessed and beautiful. Too bad we can't always see that way, without chemical intervention. Well, we can see that way on some level, if we choose to. I can still throw my vision slightly out of focus and see those street light flowers. Maybe that's a good thing to do from time to time -- throw our vision out of focus for a minute and get a new perspective on the world around us.

I remember Leonard Bernstein did a TV show on the Beatles, examining how they had adapted  ancient sound patterns, modal music, to get particular effects. I had not thought about the composition of those songs before that and ever since I have had a lot of respect for what they accomplished, beyond just the pleasure of hearing the music. They represent something very rare -- they are originals. They composed and performed music like no other rock band had done before, and they were unique, original people as well. They truly were originals. Most artists and musicians are vaguely derivative of other artists and musicians, but the Beatles brought us something entirely new.

They gave us fun. We did enjoy the show. And in the process, they taught us compassion, spirituality, love. They did it with guitars and sitars and tablas and drums, with lyrics and poetry and stories to catch our imagination. We saw the celebrated Mr. Kite tumbling in the air on his trampoline, leaping though a barrel of fire. We felt for the family and the girl herself who was leaving home. We saw the news today -- oh, boy! And those stories and songs are still good, and still going, fifty years later. Good Morning! Good Morning! Good Morning!

Friday, June 2, 2017

Earth Has a Sad

The orange man who is occupying the White House has decided the continued health of planet earth doesn't matter. Unfettered greed is what really counts -- being able to pollute, deplete resources, besmirch the planet in the name of profit, those are the things that matter to him.  No limits. That there may not be a habitable planet for his grandchildren doesn't matter. He lives in the eternal now of immediate gratification. What does it matter what happens to those left behind after he dies? The bounty of earth is here for his pleasure and that of his billionaire friends. Nothing must get in the way of unbridled growth and unfettered profits.

I chose the image above from Google Images because it illustrates our two possibilities. The one on the left is what we get with careful stewardship of the earth in cooperation with the other countries of the world. On the right, we get what Trump has chosen: industrial waste, pollution, unbridled growth, death of the planet, poisoned water and unbreathable air. Not at all surprising that the 22 senators who signed a letter supporting his decision to pull out are all well funded by the oil and coal industry. His rejection of the Paris environmental agreement places us with only two other countries on the face of the earth -- Syria and Nicaragua. Sad company, indeed.

The US is being labeled a "Rogue Nation" as a result. Our standing in the world community has hit rock bottom. Europe wants nothing to do with us, for good reasons. While the US president used to be thought of as "the leader of the free world," that is no longer the case. We have stepped down from world leadership and stepped in something very nasty on the way down.

That Trump is not capable of governing even the country he heads is quite obvious. His self-stated "big brain" proves to be a perfect match for his "tiny hands." The job is too complex, too difficult, too  demanding for him. He retreats into a sulk, tries to manipulate what can't be manipulated, imagines a world far different from reality and tweets nonsense in an attempt to distract.

His Russian buddies may have helped him achieve the office, but they can't help him now that he is in it and finding that the shoes of his predecessors are far too big for his little boy feet to fill. The realities of how he achieved the office are rapidly catching up with him and the consequences may be dire.

Meanwhile, we are left with his awful decision to step back from the agreed on limits to pollution and observing environmental caution. As has apparently happened with some of his other bad decisions,  people and entities outside the executive branch are stepping up to correct the errors of his ways. States and cities are subscribing to the Paris agreement on their own, bypassing his potentially deadly decision, just as the courts have overridden his Muslim travel ban  and congress rejected his "health care"initiative and budget demands. Michael Bloomberg has promised to contribute the $15 million our pulling out of the agreement would remove from their budget. The system of checks and balances, which he clearly does not understand, is working, despite his attempts to override it. The people are standing up to his petty actions and making things work in spite of him.

As former California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger said, environmental regulations do not slow or stop job growth or manufacturing growth or profit. California has the most stringent environmental laws of any state yet has the highest employment, best economy by far and best growth rate of any state in the union. Trump's excuses for despoiling the earth do not stand the hard test of reality, as is true with so many of his claims. But reality is not one of the things he deals with well at all, much to our detriment as a nation.

Photo credit: Google Images