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Forward March
It took 5 million women to make me do it, but I finally took part in a protest march. Okay, “make me” isn’t quite the right phrase. Inspired me is more like it.

I like to think of myself as a political person, but the idea of jostling along in a mob of unpredictable strangers does not appeal to me. The occasional letter is fine, or a phone call, and I have my cartoons of course, but marching and chanting and yelling has never been my cup of activism.

I know that makes me sound like an elitist, and maybe I am. On this one occasion, though, I’m glad I came out of my bubble. The vibe was nothing but friendly. There was no violence during the Women’s March on Washington…anywhere. And no arrests. The San Francisco march was brimming with positivity and determination. There was some anger, but mostly the event was a kind of joyous rejection of the Drump agenda and the brand of ugliness he’s sold to our country. As one sign pointed out, “So bad, even introverts are here.” I hear that, sister.

It was by most accounts the largest single protest march in the history of the planet. Red states, blue states, and plenty of other countries added to the 683 total marches (though nothing from Russia, it should be noted). Better yet, it was a completely grass roots event. Any politicians who participated were strictly late add-ons.

This was a people’s march — female people in particular. I was a little hesitant to join at first, thinking that men might dilute the impact of the event. But no. This mass expression of conviction was in no way exclusive. All genders, all ages, all issues were represented, and that fact in no way detracted from the power of this show of unity. We experienced as one the solidarity, the strength in numbers, the satisfaction of standing up and counting for something.

So we all felt better — even in the dark and the pouring rain at the end. We’d expressed our discontent in one big, newsworthy show of strength. That is certainly something good in itself. But is that it? I’m new to this marching thing, so I don’t know what happens next. In the past I’ve seen big marches covered in the media, and the next day it’s like they never happened. Will the Women’s March on Washington be one of those? It set records for turnout, tripling the numbers of the inauguration itself, and stomped all over Drump’s headlines from the day before. Those are all good things, too, but will anything come of it?

I can only say that I sent an email yesterday to Anna Eshoo (my congresswoman, in case you’ve never heard of her). My issue was women’s health. I wrote to Senator Lamar Alexander today on the subject of education and the godawful nominee Betsy DeVos. I’ll probably contact DiFi tomorrow about the suppression of climate change data. There are plenty of things to be pissed off about, that’s for sure.

But will I keep it up? It is kind of a hassle. Maybe I’ll eventually just punk out and shrug my shoulders. Maybe I don’t care about this stuff as much as I thought I did. Maybe my righteousness was just a contact high from that huge, chanting crowd of women. Maybe it will fade, and nothing will change.

I don’t know. I can only hope that all my fellow marchers continue to have the same doubts.
Take It or Leave It
Like most people, I was taught that I should take responsibility for my actions. If I messed up, my parents and teachers said, I should own up to it and try to make things right — especially if others came to harm because of my mistake. It’s always nice to apologize to people too, but as I understand the responsibility rule that part is optional. The main thing is to stand up and be accountable. Being nice is covered under a different section of the rulebook.

I have never questioned the wisdom of this take-your-medicine maxim. It is based on honesty, after all, and we all know that’s a good thing. It seems fair and honorable, too — I certainly want other people to treat me that way.

It might even be good for you. Admitting mistakes can be a hard thing to do sometimes, but don’t you always feel better once you’ve stepped up and faced the music? Not only is it evidence of character for anyone watching, but the act of taking responsibility itself seems to build character by reinforcing your own self-respect.

Furthermore, it could be argued that accountability is at the very foundation of a properly functioning free society. For the system to work, enough of us have to carry our own weight so that the whole enterprise doesn’t sink under a too-heavy load of mendacity and bad faith.

That said, I can understand why this concept may not work for everyone. Even though the practice of owning up brings some very desirable benefits with it, for some people there might be a point of diminishing returns. If you are the kind of person who makes mistakes all the time, for instance, you might be better off hiding a few of them. Honesty is the best policy and all that, but you don’t want to get a reputation for being a total screw-up. Fairness, for all the hype, is probably a luxury that only the competent can afford.

Better to lie. To yourself and others. If that fails, sometimes denial and rage will work. And whatever you do, don’t apologize.

Or better yet, play dumb. Under the circumstances, no one would doubt your sincerity.
Tilikum died last week at the age of thirty-six. That’s a long time for an orca in captivity.*

At his death, he was the most famous member of his species, or at least the most infamous. During his sad life, he was involved directly in the deaths of three humans. In the last of these incidents he acted alone, and the killing was particularly brutal.

There were calls at the time to “put down” Tilikum. “Execute him” better reflects the public mood right after the incident. People naturally reacted with horror at the thought of a 12,000-pound killer whale murdering a defenseless trainer who meant it no harm. The rage passed, though, when the creature’s life story became known.

Tilikum had been captured off Iceland when he was about two — just on the cusp of living separately from his mother. Like all orcas, he was utterly dependant on the close-knit social structure of his family. His first stop, however, was a small concrete tank where he waited alone for over a year for his destiny to unfold. When that day came he was kept in tight confinement with two larger orcas who disliked and physically abused him. At times during his long captivity he exhibited behavior consistent with deep depression, stress, and psychosis. When people learned how he had been mistreated — especially after the movie Blackfish came out describing his plight — opinion quickly turned in his favor and against the inhumane practices at places like SeaWorld.

Tilikum was spared. His actions were, after all, a product of his own nature and the awful environment he was made to live in. Also spared were the humans who enslaved and mistreated him. Whatever responsibility they bore for the deaths was forgiven, SeaWorld paid a fine, and everyone moved on with their lives. For Tilikum, that meant a long illness in captivity and his eventual, very difficult, death.

It’s hard to find fault with the people who care for orcas or any of the creatures held for public display at zoos and aquariums. They seem to genuinely care about the animals in their charge. Members of the public (including me) like seeing the animals and watching them perform. It is hard to deny, though, the inherent cruelty of the whole enterprise. A zoo is a prison. The “performances” are unnatural abuses of living beings. The misuse of captive animals, no matter how humanely managed, is an ugly reflection on the humans who oversee it.

Including us.

*Most marine biologists place the life expectancy of male orcas in the wild at 60 years.
Fantasy Island
Think of yourself for a moment as a character in a cartoon. Specifically, imagine that you are in that most classic of all cartoon venues…the desert island. Things are actually relatively good on your island. You’re not starving to death, at least. There is one minor problem, however. You’re only entitled to one of anything.

Let me explain. The premise of this exercise is that you are marooned on the island and cut off from the world and all the choices the world offers. Instead of alternatives, you are stuck with a single option in every category. One particular brand of beer, for instance, not an entire liquor store full.

So let’s start there. If you were stranded on a desert island with only one kind of beer to drink, what would it be? In other words, what is your desert island beer?

Choose carefully, though. The selection process might be trickier than it appears. My gut choice might have been Old Rasputin’s Russian Imperial Stout, a rich and thoroughly enjoyable winter brew that I like to rank as my favorite beer. That is not the question here though. Would I really want to drink it every day on a desert island? Wouldn’t a lighter, hoppier IPA serve me better as the only beer I would ever be able to drink?

You see the issues, then. Your desert island pick in any category would have to address the possibility that you might get bored with it. If you could only listen to a single piece of music for the rest of your life, then “Night on Bald Mountain” (though entertaining, especially if you chose Fantasia as the only animated cartoon you could watch) might not be ideal no matter how much you liked it. Personally, I’d be tempted to pick some lovers’ reggae tune like Gregory Isaacs’ “Cool Down the Pace.” It’s simple and sweet and fully grooved. That would wear well. Or Marley’s “Small Axe” to sustain my resolve and help cure the loneliness. Still, it would be great to have a horn section. No matter what, even the sunniest island music would get old after a while…but also easier to come back to.

How about your favorite artwork, then? What would you want hang on the coconut tree so that you could gaze at it every day? Money is no object, nor is size or medium. And don’t worry about the weather ruining it or any such practical problems. As with all our categories, just assume that the thing will always be in its most pristine and desirable state, ready to consume or view or read.

Which raises the question: what is your desert island book? Something you could stand to read over and over and over? I’d be tempted by the Oxford English Dictionary myself. You’d probably die before you even got to zyxomma (a dragonfly native to India), so the repetitiveness wouldn’t be a problem. The plot line is a bit slow, but if you were ever rescued, just imagine your mastery of Scrabble.

And on it goes. Your desert island fruit? Apple, banana, pluot? Goji berries?Think carefully; you’ll be eating it every day. TV program? May I suggest something with a lot of episodes in the can? Max Headroom and Stranger Things both had some fresh appeal, but if you’re talking about watching them forever, the glaze would be off the donut before too long. And no, I’m not going to recommend General Hospital in spite of its record of 13,700-plus installments.

Which movie? The Wizard of Oz, Apocalypse Now, The Big Lebowski? Plan 9 from Outer Space? Jar-Jar Binks outtakes? Happy endings are optional, of course, but you don’t want to get your dauber down out there.

And what about a game? Even the pluckiest cartoon character, despite all this fine food and these modern diversions, would have have some bouts with crushing boredom. Just remember, though, you won’t have anyone to play with. It’s just you. Please allow me to suggest that you could do worse than the Desert Island Game (which we are currently playing) as your desert island game.
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No "new normal" for me, this shit ain't normal.
~ MS, Truckee