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I first wrote about 9/11 and the lessons we were learning right after the World Trade Center fell. At the time, I found myself worrying that in our fear, our grief, and our rage we Americans would do what no external force could ever have done: we would destroy ourselves from within.

Nearly two decades have passed since that terrible day, and I’ve seen that post proven true over and over again. On a national scale I’ve seen the the divisions in our society grow wider and wider as everyone struggles to get his or her “fair share”–something that always seems to involve seizing the right to physical, moral, or financial superiority over someone else. Conservative fundamentalists assert their religious superiority, while their men assert their right to total control over our reproductive rights as a species.

Light-skinned people assert their rights over darker-skinned people. English-speakers assert their rights over non-English-speakers. The educated assert their rights over the uneducated–and the uneducated assert their moral superiority over the educated. And the list goes on and on. We have become like too many rats in too small a cage, tearing each other apart in what we have come to believe is a fight for survival.

Even at a time when we are assured that the U.S. economy is doing very, very well, millions of us experience daily need, and millions more of us experience daily want. Somewhere, a giant drain has opened in our financial system, siphoning off the prosperity for far too few, at the expense of far too many. We are not a nation of lazy, greedy sluggards–we have been robbed. And we know who has done it–a quick look at income shares since 1980 shows us exactly where all that money has gone. While the percentage of American children living in poverty fell to record lows in the last year of the Obama administration, experts warn that Trump policies threaten to reverse that trend. And this in a time when the U.S. ranked near the top of the list of OECD countries in 2015.

And now we have the racism and xenophobia being publicly enacted against babies, children, and families seeking asylum and jobs in our name. Meanwhile, crops are rotting in the fields, while the people who have harvested them for generations sit in improvised jails.

Yesterday a newsman spoke of the children in the camps creating art, presumably as an example of how the children are being given a creative outlet, and therefore being treated well. I found myself thinking of  the art created by children in Theresienstadt. Just because children are drawing doesn’t mean that they aren’t being treated monstrously.

When I first wrote the post below about 9/11 I wrote and posted it because I was seeing a nation that, in its efforts to restore a fantastical version of America, where everyone was white and Protestant and living in neat little houses with white picket fences, had managed instead to create a monstrous system that was becoming increasingly dangerous not just to itself, but to the world.

That’s us on a national scale. We have become what we have always claimed to abhor.

On a personal level, though, I find reason for hope. As a college instructor I meet a lot of students, many of them from conservative Christian homes. And I find them overwhelmingly thoughtful, considerate, and far less quick to condemn. I live in a small town in a “flyover” part of a largely rural state, and while my fellow townsfolk and I tend to vote very differently, we manage to treat each other reasonably well. Yes, we have divisions among us, and they trouble me, but while we don’t all agree, we to manage to resolve our differences short of bloodletting most of the time.

I have to believe that while we, in our microcosm, contribute to that terrible overall picture of the U.S. as a nation, it has not yet become an accurate picture of many of us as individuals.

So the question is, how can those of us who are increasingly finding what our government is doing in Washington D.C. and often in our State Houses appalling find a lever to move us as a nation? How can we end the increasingly regressive and abusive practices that we, as a collective, are committing?

Opinions on this vary, but here are mine:

  1. Reform our voting system. Ensure that voting places are equally accessible to all, and that all campaigns receive a part of a single fund. Disallow disproportionate donations from individuals, and disallow corporate donations altogether.
  2. Enact stricter banking regulations that protect our national economy and smaller-income entities.
  3. Enact a single-payer healthcare system. Healthcare should not be a profit center; it should be a right.
  4. Prioritize the future. Enact laws that foster child health and early childhood education, college education, move us away from fossil fuels, and restore and preserve the environment.
  5. Reform the tax code and minimum wage scale to ensure that the poorest can be assured of a basic income, and that the richest no longer receive a disproportionate level of the income and tax rewards.
  6. Foster cultural diversity. We learn from each other. The more diverse we are, the more we learn. Rather than enacting “one-language” rules, why not promote multi-lingualism? Back in the day of William the Bastard, England found itself in a similar situation. A new, small, Norman French-speaking ruling minority found itself unable to communicate with the vast majority of the people they ruled: People who they were relying upon for financial support, and who spoke Old English. What happened?The Anglo-Saxon mothers immediately began encouraging their children to learn to speak Norman French. And the noblemen, who in many cases had been married to Anglo-Saxon heiresses as a way of promoting a comparatively peaceful transference of power, first relied on their wives to translate–and then learned Old English. That’s not quite right, because what really happened was that the two populations, who both understood that safety and success lay in understanding each other, ended up creating a new language: Middle English, which became the English we speak today. By the time English again became the lingua franca in England it had added many thousands of Norman French words. Englisn has continued that tradition ever since, and that’s why it is such a rich, complex, amazing language. As we accepted immigrants, we added the pieces of their languages, and in so doing, we added pieces of their culture. We are not a nation with a monolithic history. Instead of declaring that everyone who comes to America must accept all aspects of our culture, including our language, why not continue what has made us so very successful in the past–adopting cultural and linguistic elements that we find useful, while retaining what’s best in us?

We learned lessons from 9/11, but the years are increasingly proving that we learned the wrong lessons, and we have forgotten the single most important lesson history has taught us: Our safety and success lie not in dividing ourselves into ever-increasing splinter groups, but in opening our minds and hearts to each other, and seeing our diversity as an opportunity learn new skills, languages, and customs. It’s time to set those lessons we learned in fear and anger aside, and learn some new ones–or relearn the old ones, the ones that made us great. The world is a dangerous place, but we do not make it less dangerous by locking ourselves away and destroying ourselves from within. Paradoxically, I believe our best chance for a future lies not in closing ourselves off from the world, but in opening our minds and our hearts to each other.

Old post: September 11, 2001

The television footage says it all—and nothing. Over and over, I see the World Trade Center in New York, the top of the foreground tower swathed in pillows of dark gray smoke. And then another jet shoots behind it, and a fireball erupts from the background tower’s heart. The scene switches; soot and ash blanket the street, the blasted cars, the twisted girders, the piles of rubble. That’s all that’s left—rubble—of what used to be one of the tallest buildings in the world.

I am amazed at how bloodless the scene is. There are no bodies. From time to time EMS crews push a gurney to an ambulance. On the gurney are sealed bags. Is this all?  Just bits and pieces?  Perhaps. There are few people even visibly wounded. Perhaps that is most horrifying of all. The mayor of New York, the news commentators, keep talking about the thousands slain, the horrific loss, the body parts in the streets, emergency vehicles driving over bodies because they are buried in the ash and soot.

There is the crash in Pennsylvania—the news crews say that there’s nothing left bigger than a telephone book. When there is a crash, one expects there to be wreckage. And yet, there is nothing to look at, to say, “This is the cost, this is horror, these are the dead.” There is simply nothing.

There are stories of people jumping from the towers, rushing to meet their deaths, rather than waiting to be devoured by flames, or crushed in the collapse of steel, of concrete, of glass. This morning, there is a single shot of a man lying on the wind, his business suit correct, his tie whipping upward. As I watch him fall, he is already dead.

I feel nothing. Where is the pain, the grief, the anger, the anguish? I called my son’s grandmother and aunts in New York. They are working far away in Queens, near the airport, at the other end of Manhattan. A few streets can be a world. They are fine.

I feel nothing, but I am exhausted. I hold my son, and sleep. Then I wake, and try to work. I cannot concentrate. There is a pall over the day, a cloud of soot and ashes. Everything is gray, dim. I call my mother. She believes this is the beginning of Apocalypse, the birth of Armageddon. I hang up, wondering if she’s right.

Voices speak of thousands dead, but there are no visible bodies. They speak of terrorists, but there is no visible enemy. How can I comprehend a disaster so overwhelming that there is simply nothing left?

Normally news helicopters would circle the scenes like vultures, shooting endless vistas of disaster. I could see them, and understand. But the air is off limits. Ground crews shoot footage. It is bleak, gray, dead. This morning, I hear the roar of a jet. It fills the air, rumbling the house. I am across the country, in Oregon, and I know that, apart from our harbor, there is very little reason for terrorists to find us an attractive target—we are small-time, small-town. I have always believed that very smallness protects us.

But when I hear the jet, I realize that there is no safety in anonymity. The thousands of New Yorkers, the plane passengers, the Pentagon workers, were anonymous. They were simply going about their lives. There was nothing dramatic or attack-worthy about them. I begin to shake. I want to run outside, and scan the horizon for a column of black smoke. To the east, far away, near my mother’s house, lies Ordinance, an old army base. My son and I pass it when we go to visit her. Pronghorn antelope range the fields around the bunkers.

I try not to look at those bunkers. I know that they are used to store biological weapons. Today, when the plane roars overhead, part of me wants to look east, toward Ordinance, but I don’t. If Ordinance has been hit, it’s already too late. So I hide, and trust in the failed normalcy of the world, and in the failed smallness of my life. Probably Ordinance is fine. Probably. Later I turn on the television. The news is still all about the devastation in New York, Washington DC, and Pennsylvania. I am safe.

At least for now. I listen to the President’s remarks, and I find myself wondering how one can respond to such an attack without making it worse. To do nothing is to send a clear message to terrorists that there are no consequences for such an act. To respond militarily is to risk the world. How should such an act be answered?  I don’t know.

While no one seems to be sure exactly how this will change the world, everyone agrees that it has. Americans have traditionally been willing to risk their lives for freedom. We have been a nation of risk takers. Perhaps now we are willing to sacrifice freedom to preserve our lives. We are growing older. Perhaps we are going wiser; perhaps not. Perhaps we are only growing tired, cynical, fearful, and lazy.

I watch the news coverage, and I find myself thinking of shear bolts. My parents ran a custom harvesting service. Each summer, we faced shear bolts. Forage choppers work by pulling things into a box and chopping them up. A pair of toothed rollers spin behind a row of knives, pulling the forage into the box as it is mown. In the box is a revolving set of knives. While the system is powerful enough to kill a sheep, a deer, a man, it is also fragile. If the machine picks up a rock, or a sheep, or a person—anything over a certain size—the rollers push apart. They still spin, but if sufficient pressure is placed on them a shear bolt on the end of the roller snaps, and the rollers stop.

Fields being what they are, shear bolts snap often. As the truck driver, it was my job to replace the broken shear bolt each time it snapped. One horrible day it seemed that I was replacing them every five minutes. My head throbbed. My nose ran. My neck ached. The wind blew and it was August, and the chopped forage and dust flew everywhere. I choked, and the dust stuck to my skin, and I itched. And the damned shear bolts kept snapping. By the end of the day I was ready to rip that machine apart with my bare hands, take a hammer to the windows, and a knife to the tires.

That night I asked my father if we couldn’t just weld the parts together or something—anything to keep the chopper running. He said, “No, we can’t. The shear bolts protect the system. They’re designed to be the weak point. By snapping they stop the rollers before something can be pulled into the knives that might break them, or destroy the gears.” It was the first time I had heard of a weakness being engineered into a system for the protection of the whole.

The next morning we stopped at the Hesston dealer and got some new shear bolts—apparently the box we had hadn’t been tempered enough or something. And then we went back to work, and the bolts still snapped, but not quite as often.

We are faced with a monumental broken shear bolt. And we have to fix it. Changes are necessary. The situation must be addressed. But perhaps we should think carefully before we start welding things together. I find myself hoping that in fixing this tragedy, we don’t fix it so well we destroy ourselves completely.

I watch the news. It’s still bewildering. I still don’t understand. We have been struck a terrible blow. But the death blow is in our own hands, to strike, or to avert. We can only be destroyed from within.

I don’t have answers. I don’t even know all the questions. I haven’t even begun to comprehend what is happening. But one thing I know: there is much that is good and precious in my life, and much of that is because of our system, flawed as it is. I don’t have the answers, but I hope that we can keep from picking up hammers and knives—that we can search for the properly tempered solution, and that we can hold onto our patience and courage, and in the end, save ourselves.

Then: September 8, 2010

I wrote those words in the days following September 11, 2001. We don’t often talk politics over here, but I look around at the irrationality that has come to pervade our national discourse. I listen to hate-filled talk go unrebuked–and indeed, being treated as comments worth addressing. I hear about good Christians who publicly plan to burn copies of the Koran.

I watch as my fellow Americans busily undermine what remain of our civil liberties in the wake of the Bush era, and I am afraid, not that we will be destroyed by Muslim Americans wishing to build a youth center in downtown New York or by ravening hordes of Mexicans yearning to pick apricots, or by some evil plot hatched by the President and Democratic leadership, but by the pettiness, prejudice, racism, bigotry, and self-serving small-mindedness that have grown so prevalent our national government is literally choking on them. Our government has become an obscenity.

The thing I feared even more than fiery destruction is coming to pass around me–there are those among us who have taken that dark day as an excuse to give in to their own darkest impulses, to retreat into the simple, false world of “Us” against “Them,” of “Saved” or “Lost,” of “Christian” or Muslim, Democrat or Republican, Conservative or Progressive, Good or Evil.

Rational discourse is dying. If we can’t find a way to talk to each other, work with each other, and respect each other we will, in the words of my long-ago blog post, have “fixed ourselves too well,” and brought about our own destruction.

Our true enemy is not a group radicals half a world away–or even just across our southern border–but our own bigotry, isolationism, and selfishness. We are being manipulated coldly and cynically. Our fear and anger is making us co-conspirators in our own destruction. And it’s all being done with words.

I am just one person. I live in a small town in a Red part of a Blue state. I worry about how I will buy milk a lot more than I worry about the migrant laborers who come to our town to pick the fruit. I don’t have power or influence. I don’t have the money to buy them–hell, I don’t have the money to get a physical right now.

But I have my words. And today I choose to use them not to rail against imagined outrages perpetrated in the name of making things a little better for all of us, but to protest against the criminal abuse of our wonderful, rich, nuanced language. I choose to use my words to ask–no, to demand–that we give our Mother Tongue a little respect. That we not manufacture horrors to scare the populace into a position that will benefit us, and harm them. That we learn to edit our national discourse, to remove the extraneous and distracting so that we can focus on the words that matter. And that we demand of ourselves the same integrity we demand in our national discourse.

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So The Boy comes home from school a couple weeks ago and tells me there are parent-teacher conferences coming up. Because I am a Good and Caring Mom (and because I live in a small town, and the school administration and teaching know where I live and while Hunt Me Down if I don’t show up) I dutifully trot myself down to the school on the night of conferences, The Boy in tow. It’s a beautiful place, our school. I think it was designed by the same guy who designed Central Park in New York (he did a number of schools in our area, apparently while he was out slumming), and the building has been kept up, but not aggressively modernized. Our school has not an auditorium, but a theater, with theater seats, plaster molding and a crest around the proscenium, and a stage. I sit in the dark in that theater and I slip out of time, and sit with all the other parents who have listened to their children play and sing from those seats. It’s a good part of history, and I love history.

I particularly love local history, and so when The Boy’s history teacher tells me that she’s going to have the students read Deep Creek, a novel based on local history, I am intrigued. She explains that the incident on which the novel is based occurred at Deep Creek, on the Oregon side of the Snake River.

So I go home, and download the novel onto my kindle and start to read, and then every afternoon The Boy and I sit in the sun outside our coffee shop and talk about the book we’re both reading. At least we do that for a few days, and then I get far, far ahead of him, so we can’t talk about it anymore lest I spoil the story for him.

I finish the book. It’s a terrible story. Well written, but a terrible story. The facts are these: A group of Chinese miners were camped at Deep Creek on the Snake River while they mined various sites in the area. And then one day a group of seven cattle rustlers swept down upon them, tortured and massacred them. According to some sources it’s the worst such even in Oregon history.

That was bad, but then it got worse. Turns out that the men doing the massacring (and there’s virtually no doubt who they were and what they did) weren’t just cattle rustlers. When they weren’t rustling cows and and massacring Chinese miners these men were good, upstanding, church-going members of the Wallowa community. They were ranchers, farmers, laborers, family men in some cases. In fact, that was their primary defense–that they were “good men” (in one case a “good schoolboy” with a bright future in front of him–the youngest member of the group was in his mid-teens) and so of course wouldn’t have done such a thing, and if they did, well, the Chinese probably deserved it–they weren’t real Americans. They looked different, spoke a different language–there was some question whether they had souls. Certainly they didn’t see America like the good folks in Wallowa saw America…is any of this starting to sound familiar?

In the end, the three men who were caught were acquitted (they blamed the others who had evaded capture–even though all of the men had been there, and from the ammunition recovered it appeared that all but possibly one had participated in the killing). After all, they were Good Men, and the Chinese were, well, Chinese, not good Christians, likely not even fully human. Nobody was even completely sure how many men were there–eventually the best estimate was that around 34 men had died at Deep Creek. There wasn’t even an accurate record of their names. Besides, they were dead, and Deep Creek was so very, very far from anywhere. Even if one of the miners had survived, he quite likely wouldn’t have been allowed to bring legal action, or possibly even testify, since they weren’t citizens. In the end It was easier, and better for Lewiston (the closest town) to simply push the dreadful incident into one of those dark and shadowy corners where we put the shameful things that remind us that all too often we are more than we appear. In this case, the records were literally shoved out of sight–lost or hidden for nearly 100 years in a basement.

Eventually the records were unearthed, and there was a sort of acknowledgement of the Deep Creek Massacre–the cove where the creek enters the Snake River is now called Chinese Massacre Cove. But we still don’t have a firm record of them men’s names who died that day. After all, they were Chinese, not real Americans.

I finished Deep Creek, and found myself wondering about the men who perpetrated this outrage–and about the people who chose to close their eyes to the monsters in their midst, to deny that “good men” had done a horrifying thing–and torturing and killing 34 virtually unarmed men is horrifying, particularly since there seems to have been no real reason for the act apart from race hatred.

What does it mean to us when the “good men” we respect and admire commit evil deeds? What does it mean that we prefer to look the other way, to refuse to call their actions by their true names, and hold them accountable? What does it mean when we refuse to demand an accounting from those who have done evil in our name, when we say we choose to “focus on the future?” How can we have a healthy, happy future when it’s built on such a shoddy foundation?

There has been a lot of talk about returning to the principles that we like to ascribe to our forbears. Nobody likes to mention Deep Creek. Nobody likes to mention the havoc wreaked on the people who were here before us. Nobody likes to mention the deep prejudice that has marred our history.

There are many good and honorable things in our national history, but there are also dark and shameful things, things with which we have yet to really grapple as a nation. Like the men judging the “good men” who went out one weekend and slaughtered 34 other men for no good reason, those who shout the loudest about returning to our forbears’ values don’t like to acknowledge the deep wounds those who went before us caused.

Why does this matter? Because the values that have come down to us have been shaped by those “good men” who loved their children, tended their farms, and in the off season rustled cattle and slaughtered defenseless men. It’s not a spoken thing, but the fear and hatred of the alien, strange, and foreign persist. Listen to the debate about guest workers. Listen to the rabid rhetoric directed at “Islamist Extremists”–and many seem to have forgotten that there are any other kind. Listen to the hate speech about healthcare making us “like Europe.” The attitudes that shaped the tragedy of Deep Creek are very much with us because the values that created those attitudes are still very much with us.

And that is why I get nervous when I hear conservative public speakers and politicians begin to wax eloquent about the virtues of our forbears, and how we should return to their values that “made America great.” Yes, crossing the continent took great courage. Surviving took great ingenuity. Exploiting and enslaving the vulnerable and robbing, imprisoning, and slaughtering those who were here before us because we coveted what they had took a very different set of skills.

All too often these days it seems that conservatism is paired with increasingly open racism, sexism, and exclusionary language and policies. Conservatism in its most virulent form has become little more than an attempt to roll back history on the social contract–and with that rollback we are seeing a new public acceptance of sexism and racism that would have been considered gauche and backward in the last years of the last century.

I don’t believe those restrictive, divisive values made us strong. I think they made us bullies. I don’t believe we should return to those values. I believe we should recognize that those who came before us were human, and sometimes monsters and heroes rode around in one skin, just as they do today.

History is important–we learn from it. But after we learn from it we should grow beyond it. We should recognize that Thomas Jefferson might have written movingly about freedom, but he still kept slaves, just as the men of Wallowa were good family men–and criminals and murderers. Perhaps this is the lesson of our time–understanding ourselves means understanding the darkness and the light that live in each of us.

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I voted yesterday. The Magic Dog and I sat down and considered the ballot carefully, but it really wasn’t necessary; we already pretty much knew how we were going to vote on the various races happening in our neck of the woods.

Voting’s supposed to be private, like sex and pooping. For years I didn’t do it at all. I reasoned that there was little real difference between candidates; I believed–and I still believe–that it is impossible to win national office without making some pretty unsavory compromises. So I opted out.

The last election changed that for me. Maybe I was swayed by rhetoric. Maybe I had just matured. Maybe, like many, I was seduced by the idea that broken things might be fixable. At any rate, I registered as an independent, because I believe good ideas and people are possible in either party, I did my homework, and I voted.

I voted for the Democratic ticket, but I voted less for the party than for the ideas it represented. I voted for the idea that middle classes are important, that giving money to rich people and expecting them to give it away is too much to expect. I voted for the idea that we needed to get out of the business of war. I voted for the idea of affordable healthcare–even for people like me–for the idea that what I pay for my house should to some degree reflect its value, and for the idea that our financial  and healthcare institutions need to factor in the good of their customers as well as bonuses.

I still believe in all of those things. And two years later, I still don’t have healthcare. I just got word–via a foreclosure letter–that my application for mortgage modification has been denied (I’ve been in the system for nearly two years now), and my credit card interest rates are through the roof. To say I am disappointed in the pace of change is putting it mildly, and being told by the President that I need to suck it up and stop whining, that we all knew this was going to be hard, isn’t a lot of comfort. Nor is it really helpful; I can’t offer that to my bank in lieu of a mortgage payment. I know. I tried. I’m starting to wonder if President Obama as disconnected from what’s happening in the lives of people like me as all the presidents I didn’t bother voting for. I hope not, because I still believe in the ideas he expresses.

Doubts and alll, I voted again–and this time I went farther than I did last time; I voted for the straight Democratic ticket. Here’s why.

1. The Party of “No.” If I had to name the one thing that has caused me more fear and anger than anything else in the last two years, it would be the Republican party’s single-minded determination to bring down the current administration. The policy has resulted in ineffective legislation in many cases, crippled policies and discarded ideas in others, and a climate in which it is virtually impossible to accomplish anything. And now, at the end of two long years in which we have been floundering while the banks, aided and abetted by their pals in office get obscenely rich, we have the Mitch McConnell’s of the world stating that the thing they’re really worried about is making sure President Obama is a one-term President.

I don’t know how you want to spend your time for the next two years, but personally, I’d like to see the folks in Washington doing something besides indulging in something that, at best, is a personality clash, and at worst, is the kind of xenophobia that brought us hoods, nooses, and crosses burning on lawns. If the GOP is so out of touch with the nation that they consider such dangerous, puerile behavior tolerable, they shouldn’t be running an iron-wheeled wheel barrow, let alone the nation.

It’s more than just racism, though–increasingly the GOP candidates are espousing positions that deny basic rights to women, ethnic minorities, and the LGBT community. The standard for qualifying for equality has become very very high in the GOP tent. I don’t want that standard applied in my life.

2. Jonathan Swift once said, “A nice man is a man of nasty ideas.” This election, I voted for the only people who seemed to have any ideas at all. Over and over, when asked for their agendas, the Republicans have offered up The Plan: Undo This Administration. This is not an idea. This is not constructive. This is not even possible. This is delusional thinking. For me, the vote came down to a simple question: Do I want to move forward, or backward? Voting for the Democratic candidates is no guarantee that things will get better; voting for the Republican Tea Party candidates–is a guarantee that they will get worse.

3. Crazy is as crazy talks. This is probably the biggest reason I found for voting, if not for the Democratic candidates, certainly voting against the Republican candidates. Any sort of examination of the Republican party at this point in time reveals one overwhelming fact: The lunatics have escaped, and they are now running the asylum. Opinions expressed are bizarre, outlandish, and held only by a tiny, but incredibly noisy minority so far to the right they’ve almost fallen off the cliff. And yet, for reasons of political expediency, much of the Republican party has, if not embraced the ideas, done their very best to appear as if they do. That means that we still have the ridiculous “birther” nonsense floating around, as well as the equally idiotic idea that gumption, a perky smile, and the ability to say fifty impossible things before breakfast make up for education, reason, and experience. If you just believe in the Lord, he’ll take care of the deficits. It means that we have bizarre tales spun about legislation, and guns being carried to presidential appearances–and the gun-toter claiming he is simply exercising his constitutional rights.

I voted against the Republican party because I believe in reasoned debate, not in shouting down opposition. I believe in the rule of law, rather than “second-amendment remedies” if the other guy wins. I believe that it is important to have accurate, clear information available about the laws under consideration, and that it is not helpful to invent boogeymen like “death panels.” I believe that once a person has proven a point beyond reasonable doubt, and has gone to the trouble of posting a validated birth certificate on the internet, that it’s time to stop saying that there are “lingering questions” about his citizenship. I may not agree with his policies, but I can no longer claim that he is unfit because of his birth. And like him or not, he is still the President, and given the world in which we live people who show up with guns at his public appearances are seeking to intimidate or worse, and should ejected from the event and certainly questioned about their choice of accessory.

I voted for the Democratic candidates because the Republican candidates seem to have a universal inability to grasp the realities of our situation. We are in the midst of a financial crisis. It is becoming all too apparent that all too many of our elected leaders have been bought and sold by the mortgage, financial, and energy conglomerates. We do not have the luxury of behaving like children throwing tantrums at having to take turns. I voted the Democratic ticket not because I liked all of candidates, but because this time around, the the few adults in the room who aren’t scary, scary people seem to be in the Democratic party. I voted because like it or not, we are in a tug-of-war, and our economy, homes, civil government, and maybe our souls are on the line, and I wanted more people pulling us forward than holding us back.

If you agree, vote with me. If you disagree, vote against me. Just don’t say it doesn’t matter, because it does. It matters terribly.

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Choosing a cover and a type language for Mary Matsuda Gruenewald’s memoir, Looking Like the Enemy: My Story of Imprisonment in Japanese-American Internment Camps, was both rewarding and challenging. The challenge grew out of one of the central points Mary addresses–we tend to stereotype other cultural and ethnic groups. You hear it all the time in racial epithets. But it is also present in art. Mary speaks of the cartoons depicting Japanese people as buck-toothed, slant-eyed, yellow-skinned figures at once threatening and comedic.

That stereotyping is particularly common in kitsch–the “Black Mammy” cookie jars, the “Pickaninny” embroidery on dish towels, the Asian faces so distorted as to be almost alien on tea pots. In the past–and in some cases in the present–we ourselves with images that reduce other cultural and ethnic groups to simplistic, often comic, figures. Maybe it’s a way of reducing something complex and unfamiliar to something we can understand; I don’t know. I’m not a psychologist. The result, though, is that much of the art and type available reflects stereotypes, rather than reality.

In choosing the cover art for Looking Like the Enemy, Maureen Michelson at NewSage Press and I faced the challenge of finding and choosing art that would reflect the insights the book offers, rather than the limited vision that made the events in the book possible. Because of the politically and racially charged atmosphere in which the story takes place, we knew that finding appropriatee art produced during the time period under discussion could prove problematic. Anything produced in Japan would not reflect Mary’s American heritage; anything produced in America would not reflect her Japanese heritage. And art that attempted to bridge the gap was very likely to be highly charged racially, politically, and socially.

So the challenge: Find an image and type language that pays homage to the time period and subject matter without descending to the level of kitsch.

The solution was to choose cover and interior accent fonts that evoked both the era and the subject matter: We used Engravers for the book and chapter titles and Skia, a simple, clean font with something of the structural feel of Japanese characters, for the secondary copy on the book cover and the interior running heads.

Choosing the body copy and caption fonts was simpler. Numerous studies indicate that comparatively simple serif fonts are easiest to read, so we chose Palatino, a clean, traditional font that would “disappear” as the reader became engrossed in the story, Palatino Italic for captions, and Frutiger, a simple, clean font that retains readability at comparatively small sizes, for the letter and document insets, an important part of the book.

The solution for the cover art proved to be a photo. In it, a Japanese family being evacuated to an internment camp leans out of a train window. An adult in the background waves the “V for Victory” hand salute. In the foreground, a small Japanese boy holds and American flag.

The image was black and white, though, and black and white covers typically don’t catch the eye. On the other hand, garish colors would have been inappropriate to the subject matter. We compromised by colorizing the image with soft, desaturated tones, and then setting it into a cover that picked up some of the photo colors–the rusty red from the flag, and the forest green from the train car. To create a bit of warmth we used a deep gold for the cover lettering.

While Mary had a number of family, farm, and personal pictures, she did not have many from her years in the camps. In order to find images to illustrate that part of her story we turned to national, state, and university archives. While using the images was free, or virtually so, we did need to provide source information for each image, and acknowledge the usage donation. It was worth it. I was surprised and pleased to discover that some of the photographers documenting the camps–like Ansel Adams–did world-class work. This book is probably the only opportunity I will have to work with photography of that caliber. And that’s one of the “Easter eggs,” the inexpected, hidden benefits–of design. I not only learned about a part of our national heritage, I learned about an incredible source of imagery for future projects.

In the end, designing a book like this offers a designer the opportunity to learn, to grow, to experiment, and to create an experience for readers in which the story, given a face, stands on its own, unimpeded.

For more information, or to order a copy of Looking Like the Enemy, visit NewSage Press online.

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