Wednesday, July 26, 2023

Barbie and Other Friends


The first doll I remember loving was Raggedy BoomBoom.  Raggedy BoomBoom was not the traditional Raggedy Ann.  She was a stuffed rabbit, with a cloth body bearing arms and legs like a human and long, cloth rabbit ears that stood up and a plastic, smiling rabbit face.  Raggedy Ann was the first doll I ever asked for.  I don’t know how I knew about her…probably from cartoon-time commercials.  But I asked for one. 


My dad bought this stuffed rabbit and, handing it to me, said, “Here’s Raggedy Ann."  Mom later told me that he saw the Raggedy Ann doll in the store, but that it was so ugly, he couldn’t bring himself to buy one.  Hence, Raggedy BoomBoom became my closest companion.  She went with me everywhere, slept with me, told me stories.  She could fly, loved to dance, hated Brussel’s Sprouts, kept me company in the back seat on road trips, and knew the best way to climb trees.  Raggedy BoomBoom was so loved that my mother re-covered her in new material three times over the years to give her a fresh, sassy demeanor.


Then came Chatty Cathy, not as beloved as Raggedy BoomBoom, but interesting because she had a cord that, when pulled, caused her to say one of maybe six different phrases.  Her voice box quickly broke, consigning her to a life of muteness in the bottom of the toy box. 


Sometime in the mid ‘60s, I was given a Barbie doll.  She came wearing a zebra-striped bathing suit and had a blond bubble hair-do.  She also had breasts, an hour-glass figure and feet permanently shaped to wear high heels.  Barbie was a huge departure from the baby dolls of the past.  Now, instead of dolls urging me to pretend I was a mother, I had a doll urging me to play out grown-up roles.  The switch here was huge.  Of course, I still had Raggedy BoomBoom. I never saw myself as Raggedy BoomBoom’s mother.  She was more of a peer…someone I looked up to and admired, someone who knew all the secrets I could never utter to anyone else. 


Barbie became a conduit for acting out the way I viewed adults.  Looking back, I can see now that Barbie was cruel.  She had a malignant rage that she could point at anyone who crossed her.  She spent all of her energy trying to catch people doing something wrong.  She loved to direct this rage at children, who were always doing something wrong, something that needed shaming and correcting.  I hadn’t thought about this until now, and it says some startling things about my world view as a child.  I saw adults this way.  My mother, one of my uncles, the biddies at church inclined me into a mind-set that was always trying and failing to be good.


My mother found some Simplicity patterns for Barbie clothes and made all kinds of dresses from scraps of cloth.  I had the best dressed Barbie.  I still have these dresses, all in 1950s style, fitted at the top, skirt flaring out.  I had satin ball gowns with carefully stitched beading, a wedding dress, even a crochet night gown.  This was before Mattel started marketing clothing lines for Barbie.  I always thought that the things my mother made were way better. 


Barbie had her own house and car.  To me, Ken was always her boyfriend, never her husband.  One of the TV shows at the time was That Girl, played by Marlo Thomas.  That Girl was the first show of a woman, living in her own apartment in New York, building a career, dating a boyfriend.  More than anyone else on TV, I wanted to be That Girl.  She was an aspiring fashion model…an appropriate career for a woman at that time.  But I, along with all of my girlfriends knew what we wanted to be.  We all wanted to be airline stewardesses.  The idea of flying all over the world for work was so romantic.  At that time, you had to be extremely groomed and polished, beautiful as a fashion model.  To be an airline stewardess was to be part of a very exclusive group of women.  Your every effort needed to be geared toward being attractive to men.  Someone like Barbie.


Eventually, I had a stack of Mattel dolls…Barbie, Ken, Skipper, Midge.  Skipper was pre-adolescent.  She had waist-long blond hair with bangs, a flat chest and legs that could bend at the knee.  She wasn’t supposed to be Barbie’s child…just a sort of add on.  When I was ten, Skipper was my favorite.  I remember getting into trouble for taking her to school with me in the fifth grade.  Then Midge came along, a less attractive side-kick of Skipper’s with freckles, brown hair and eyes and pig tails.  Maybe Mattel decided to do something for the less attractive girls.  Or maybe she was supposed to be a tomboy.  We can’t all be blond princesses.  I don’t remember how she was marketed, but she joined my Barbie family.


They all lived in the Barbie dream house, made of cardboard.  It had a kitchen, living room and bedroom.  Barbie never needed the toilet.  The house came with cardboard furniture, which I could arrange in different ways and also came with a car.  I thought the dream house was so cool, and I kept it like a museum piece, not wanting it to get worn or broken.  I would bring out the dream house only when friends and company came over with their dolls.  My dad eventually gave the dream house to my cousin Gail because he never saw me playing with it.


Dad gave a lot of my toys, which I realize now were never really mine, to my cousin, Gail.  My bicycle, my desk…things would disappear and show up at my cousin’s house.  He cited lack of gratitude as the reason for doing this.  I never did figure out how to show sufficient gratitude to prevent things from vanishing.  Now, I recognize what a power trip it all was.  The dad giveth and the dad taketh away.  But I managed to hang on to my Barbie dolls (I refer to the whole bunch as Barbie dolls).  At my Aunt Janet’s urging, after my mother died, the Barbie dolls and clothes were one of the few things I stole from my mother’s house, along with a few family photos, my mother’s Bible and her cook book.


Through all the decades and all the loss, I wish I knew what happened to Raggedy BoomBoom.

Tuesday, July 18, 2023

Privacy and Mythology


I recently listened to an interview with Ed Snowden, who hadn’t fallen under my radar before.  I think the interview was an old one because it appeared to take place when Trump was running in the 2016 election.  Makes sense, because Snowden entered the limelight in 2013.  The picture Snowden paints is grim, indeed.  According to him, everything we do, all of the meta data generated by any and all of our electronic devices is captured and saved forever.  So, we have no privacy.  We have no security.  We have no control over how information regarding our activities is used or who can see it.  It’s all out there, according to Snowden, and agencies like the NSA don’t need a reason to pull any one of us onto their screen and review where we’ve been going, to whom we’ve been speaking, what we’ve been buying, what web sites we visit, where our social media sweet spots reside.


Naturally, I find this very disturbing, as anyone would.  But, in my case, these contentions raise lots of questions.  You see, I just retired from a career as a Systems Administrator.  My title was Systems Engineer, but I wasn’t an Engineer.  I didn’t create the software and had a very small role in designing the systems I maintained.  I administered a virtual environment that supported about a dozen applications at a major wireless carrier. 


One such application was LIMD.  The LI stands for Lawful Intercept.  The software is used by the carrier to work with law enforcement agencies, when they need to surveil a subject.  Such activity requires a refined subject matter expert, and the carrier had one.  A single guy was in charge of the systems set up to grant access to an individual’s cell phone activities.  This was not used to obtain phone records, but to perform live, real-time surveillance of an individual’s activities.  The law enforcement agency had to jump through numerous hoops before it could obtain this access.  Mostly, it needed a warrant, granted by  a duly authorized federal judge. 


The subject matter expert of this system as a quintessential computer geek.  He knew his systems, inside and out.  His system consisted of a single two-server cluster.  My end of it was outside of his realm.  I administered LIMD, which interfaced with the SME’s environment.  I was in charge of installing the LIMD software into my virtual environment, performing upgrades, tweaking things at the vendor’s advice.  The software was a logistical nightmare because it was provided by a 3rd party vendor of the carrier’s 3rd party vendor.  So, for me to get support, I had to go to the carrier’s vendor, and they didn’t know nuttin.  I wasn’t allowed to go to their vendor, the company that manufactures the software.  So, supporting it was like traveling through a mousetrap.  When something didn’t work in the carrier’s environment the same way it did in the vendor’s lab, I was met with incredulity and skepticism.  This is nothing new.  This is how things work all over.  But between the vendor spaghetti tangle and the carrier’s own network and system problems, we had to find ways around this mess. 


One example…the software didn’t work in the carrier’s side because one of the servers in that two-node cluster I mentioned earlier was an ancient Sun Solaris box that was so old, it couldn’t support IPv6.  So, the application couldn’t be configured to work within his cluster.  The SME had to disable his cluster and route all of the traffic to a single node in order to get the thing to talk to the LIMD software.  It took the guy 9 months to get the carrier to provide him with a second server that could support IPv6 so that he could restore the cluster and ensure redundancy.  Dozens of things like this went on, each, in its own way, taking this highly sensitive system further and further away from being secure. 


The time that I spent, personally, trying to get this thing to work was astounding, starting with the documentation.  The carrier’s 3rd party vendor’s 3rd party vendor provided a document with every step and requirement for installation.  The carrier’s 3rd party vendor would, then, translate the document into Korean.  Then, in order to deliver the documentation to me, would translate it from Korean back into English.  It was more questionable than the accuracy of the King James Bible.  Nothing about this thing was easy. 


I am writing all of this to refresh my own memory, even as I struggle to banish it from my mind.  I retired a few months ago, and everything is fading fast, now that Linux, VMWare, Docker, Ansible and hundreds of other things are not part of my daily focus.  I was the queen of finding a way through with things that had layers of blockage.  But LIMD was my nemesis.  Technical issues, network configuration nuances, arrogant men, language barriers, clueless project managers and an administration profile that incorporated a dozen diverse teams, each with its own interest or lack thereof, all contributed to the administration of the LIMD application.  We were able to get it working in the lab for short periods of time.  Each time we got it to chug along, the vender’s vendor would submit an upgrade.  The upgrade in the works when I retired didn’t even resemble it’s prior incarnation, and the carrier finally surrendered to the reality that LIMD was never going to be delivered to Production.  By the time I left, no one in the carrier’s organization expected me to get it working.  I went on to other things.  And, whenever the vendor announced some activity related to LIMD, the response from the carrier was: Yeah.  Right.  Sure.  Whatever. 


So, all of this brings me back to Snowden.  Is LIMD a farce?  Why would it be needed if anyone in the government or even within a given company can access all of our activities?  We all know that there is no deleting anything from the internet.  Once it’s out there, it stays out there.  There’s always another hundred copies.  Things get cached and routed and recycled.  But Snowden implies that there is some mother of a database out there with all of our activities preserved…forever.  He mentioned Google Chrome as an example of something that saves every search, every click forever.  He talked about outsiders having the ability to access our cameras and microphones on our computers and phones without us being aware.  I just don’t see how these things are possible.  The carrier I worked for saved all SMS messages for 7 years, specifically to fulfill some government mandate.  That’s all of the texts.  It’s impossible to begin to image how much data that is.


Undoubtedly, some could read this and think me extremely na├»ve.  But mine is a slightly informed naivety.  I have questions, and I am capable of understanding the answers.  Snowden presents as an intensely brilliant mind.  His responses in the interview always answered the questions directly, without clouding or sugar-coating.  The interview was fascinating and engaging.  His technical explanations were clear and digestible.  But I couldn’t listen to them without LIMD smirking in the back of my mind over everything he said. What Snowden was saying means that I turned myself into a contortionist during the last years of my employment over a carefully crafted arrangement of smoke and mirrors, designed to make us all think that there is a system in place to protect privacy.


According to Wikipedia’s article about Lawful Intercept:

To ensure the quality of evidence, the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies (CALEA) has outlined standards for electronic surveillance once a Title III surveillance application is approved:

  1. Ensure clear access to all data without any loss of information or impact on the network being monitored
  2. Create a filter to adhere to warrant parameters – time span, types of communications that can be monitored, evidence to be collected, etc.
  3. Set the lawful intercept device to capture and/or store data according to the warrant parameters.
  4. Deliver data directly from the source to the mediation device without any human intervention or packet loss

Generic global standards have also been developed by Cisco via the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) that provide a front-end means of supporting most LI real-time handover standards. All of these standards have been challenged as "deficient" by the U.S. Department of Justice pursuant to CALEA.

Is all of this just a huge steaming pile of bullshit?  I don’t know how much more energy I want to give this topic.  I see it as a potential rabbit hole.  And I’m not convinced, but now I am wary.

Tuesday, July 11, 2023

Biden for President


On a summer day before the 2020 election, we were on our way to get coffee and were assaulted by a parade of cars, uniformly blasting a Trump rap song, American flags, Trump flags, gathering the clouds.  The parade wrapped around the block, as far as I could see and just kept coming.  My stomach lurched.  The rap song pounded alpha male like an assault rifle, revering their warlord.  People walked out onto their porches, shouting, some cheering, some shouting rage.


“Four more years!”


 A woman with a Black Lives Matter sign on her front lawn and purple hair, spat into the wind, “Over 220,000 dead!”  As of this writing, the number of people who have died from Covid is way over a million.  Ari Melber did an interview with Bob Woodward, regarding Woodward's  taped interviews with Trump, where Trump's responses to questions about his actions, or lack of actions, regarding Covid were startling.  He revealed that, to this day, he does not see Covid as a challenge of his leadership.  A failed challenge.  "It's China's fault.  I didn't have anything to do with it."

In 2016 when he was elected, my first thought was this: he’s going to get us all killed.  It’s now 2023, and Trump lost the election in 2020 but he is still taking actions that could end us all.


We elected Joe Biden as our President.  He has worked hard to heal this country, to put things right.  With more experience than any president in history, the biggest criticism democrats have about him is his age.  I think it’s his biggest asset.  He spent decades in Congress, knows more about foreign affairs than any president, with the possible exception of George HW Bush.  He understands that we are still suffering from Reaganomics and is trying desperately to restore us to values of equality, building the middle class, making the wealthy pay their fair share of taxes.  He has forgiven student loans, reduced the price of prescription drugs, addressed price gouging, reduced unemployment to under 5%, restored the United States status with NATO and other international organizations, supported the Ukraine against the attack by Putin to support democracy against the onslaught of authoritarianism.    


Biden's first action was to organize our battle against the Covid virus.  He did everything he could to make the vaccine accessible to all of us, to promote safe practices, even as Trump did everything in his power to scare people into rebelling against those measures.  Biden mobilized the country to get everyone vaccinated.  He took office in January, and by March, anyone who wanted could go to a nearby place and obtain a vaccination.  That's when I knew.  For the first time in over four years, the country had a leader who understood who we are and how to support us.

Biden’s accomplishments are even more remarkable when considering that Trump’s efforts continue to plague us.  Trump stacked the Supreme Court, which is attempting to throw us back into the 1950s.  Roe v Wade is gone.  Affirmative Action has been reversed.  So much more.  And Trump, himself, continues to bellow lies and hatred at every turn.  He’s running for president again…for the 2024 election.  And he still has followers, even after inciting the January 6 riot, even after being indicted for over 70 felonies, even after sharing our most secret documents with anyone he wanted to impress.  


Interesting times, and painful ones for our country.  We are poised on the edge of a knife that threatens to split us apart.  


Thursday, July 06, 2023

Nature of Water


Water is one of my safe places.  Any water, anywhere.  The ocean, lakes, streams, rivers, rain, puddles, swimming pools…  Water is safe.  Oh, I know it has the power to kill me, if I don’t keep my wits about me.  Water is a trickster, not having a right or a wrong, it has rules, aligning it with the universe.  Water must submit to gravity.  It must listen to the inconstant song of the moon.  It must spin one way when going down the drain in the northern hemisphere and the other direction when it’s exiting the tub in the southern one.


Water is my safe place.  When I was younger, the ocean along the coast of southern California was my territory.  The pacific ocean witnessed my first kiss.   It is in this water where I met the grunion blipping their tiny silver bodies all around me, startling me into peals of laughter.  Not alone.  Water supported me, played with me, rocked me.  I’ve swam in lakes, always too cold, the river, where Lucy and I go to our secret swimming hole, the waterfalls hidden along the pacific crest trail at deep creek, Puget sound, where Lucy learned to swim, where she learned that I am not a floatation device.  Watching her paddle away from me filled me with such joy.  So many places I’ve experienced the laughing mother of water. 


When we went on road trips when I was a kid, the one concession my dad made to make the trip nicer for me was always to stop in a motel with a pool.  That was my reward for sitting in the back seat for twelve hours, windows rolled up while my parents chain smoked in the front seat.  We’d finally stop, and I knew that I could throw on my bathing suit and become buoyant.  That was my vacation…my vacation from them, from the back seat of the car, scattered with Oreo cookie crumbs. 


I have been humbled by water’s power, how easily it could crush me.  The time I went body surfing after a storm had swelled the waves to over 6’, threatening to pound me into the sand, and I had to fight to get to shore.  Water spared me that day but taught me the power of living by unwavering law.


Is there one water or is water many?  It’s all the same water.  On the surface, within.  Water is the original trickster.  It has millions upon millions of places to reside.  It can appear in any form, solid, liquid or gas.  It can float, melt, freeze, break rocks, perform any kind of dance.  Water is part of everything,  all life, me.


Off the coast of Panama, the tiny cruise ship stopped and opened its back gate.  I dove into the sea, with no land in sight.  Beneath the surface, weightless, motionless, cradled in sapphire , nothing but blue and salt and buoyancy.  Water, within me, all around me, silence, support, love.


When I moved to Washington, I knew there would be a lot of rain.  It has become such a part of me, the rain, soft or hard, warm or freezing.  Sometimes, it rains for a hundred days in a row.  Flying into the SeaTac airport, I can see just how saturated this place is, soaked, soggy, so much water that the land spits it out and encourages water to find pathways, forge trails, construct containers.


Water is on a journey, too.  It hitches a ride on us, not caring where we take it, knowing it doesn’t matter because it’s not about the destination.  Water has no destination, it moves in and out up and down and around and around and around in endless cycles.

Wednesday, July 05, 2023

Independence Day

 So, I told my cats...this is terrible, I know.  And it's going to continue for at least the next three hours.  You'll start to see flashes in the sky.  I don't know if you see you?  And it will get really loud.  You're all 99.9% safe inside this house.  But fools being fools, I can't promise anything except that I'll make sure we all get out of here if the house burns down.  

Try to relax, I told them.  I don't like this either.  But it's my country, and I love my country, which allows everyone this freedom.  We're all in this together.

Tuesday, July 04, 2023

Joseph Campbell Quote

 Apocalypse does not point to a fiery Armageddon but to the fact that our ignorance and our complacency are coming to an end. Our divided, schizophrenic worldview, with no mythology adequate to coordinate our conscious and unconscious -- that is what is coming to an end. The exclusivism of there being only one way in which we can be saved, the idea that there is a single religious group that is in sole possession of the truth -- that is the world as we know it that must pass away. What is the kingdom? It lies in our realization of the ubiquity of the divine presence in our neighbors, in our enemies, in all of us. 

— Joseph Campbell, Thou Art That, p. 107

Plaguenotes: Notes from April 2021


Like a lot of us, I've been spending more time on social media than usual. I'm feeling isolated and have wanted to make sure all of you are safe and hanging in there. But I need to step away from some of you. There is so much ugliness in the world right now, and Facebook is a magnet for it. First, we have a former president who is using a deadly illness to promote his political agenda, at the cost of lives. He is capitalizing on people's fear and frustration, fanning the flames when he could be offering support. We have people storming state capitols, brandishing weapons and swastikas, who are being considered peaceful protesters. People are hindering entrances to hospitals and being disrespectful to the front-line workers. 
But here’s the flip side. The left, of which I consider myself a part, is gleefully dancing on the graves of protestors who die due to their ignorance and political convictions. Leftists are screaming that protestors should be denied medical treatment. Since when is stupidity a reason to deny someone medical treatment? Medical professionals may wish they could comply with that, but they have integrity. They have taken an oath to provide treatment to those in need regardless of their affiliations. So, stop it! Just shut the fuck up and stop wishing people would die. Stop squealing with joy when they do die. We’re all frustrated and frightened. What we’re seeing on both sides is how Americans manifest fear. No one looks really pretty right now. So, step back, acknowledge that you are afraid and figure out a better way to deal with it.
In his inaugural address in 1933 (way before my time, I want to point out), FDR said, “We have nothing to fear but fear itself.” The true meaning of that knocked me over recently. Look at what fear is doing to people in this country. I believe that, if we don’t redirect our energies away from hating each other, we will all die. 
Stop shaming people who are upset or are not wearing a mask or are in the supermarket with their children. Stop assuming you know the whole story of everyone you see. Every single person is dealing with this as best he, she, they is able. There is so much of this that is beyond my experience. I haven’t lost anyone. I get to work from home. Thousands upon thousands of people who have lovingly built businesses which we all enjoy have seen their livelihoods, their businesses fall into the toilet because of this. The employees of so many places I have gone to for years are without work. It’s easy to blame the governor. It’s human nature to want to blame someone. Remember that no one saw this coming. So, if our governor is not doing everything exactly as you would want it done, remember that he didn’t see it coming either. In a very short time, he made some far-reaching decisions while under fire from the White House. Maybe he didn’t get everything right, but I think he is acting with our best interests in mind. And I am convinced that he has saved countless lives.
I’ve gotten caught up in the hate-spam too. I’ve posted several things that go against my own personal rules of conduct on social media. I apologize for contributing to the escalation of fear. But I’m backing away now. I’m getting sick because of all of this. My head is constantly pounding, I’m not sleeping, I have feelings of dread and hopelessness and I’ve been acting like a real bitch to everyone. I want you all to know that I love you all very much, but I am dropping off of all groups and am blocking several people who frequently post hateful things. Facebook lets you do a 30 day block. I’m going to see if it does the trick. So, I’ll see some of you later and some others much later.

The Now


You named me Lucy for a reason. I am full of light, luce. I am also the embodiment of now. Now now now. Your head is all over the place. And I can hear every thought. I know when you’re going deep, I know when you’re tuning out. And all I have to say to you is now. Bring yourself front and center in the now.
I’m gaining weight again, you tell yourself. I’m a failure at work, no one has any confidence in my ability, you say. None of this is happening. None of this can be altered by sitting in it. Now. Now, I say. Look outside of your fucking head and tell me what you see.
You tell yourself, I don’t want to get off the couch. That’s because you’re not looking outside of your head. You’re not now. Take me outside, put me on a leash, but let me lead the way. I’ll always take you to a clear head, I’ll make sure we oxygenate your stagnant blood. Now. What’s in front of you now? I know you’ve never had a dog before. This is new to you, but also to me. How can I motivate you to live in the time/space where I reside? Now. It’s better here.
Don’t wonder how John is. Don’t cling to memories of abuse and neglect. Now. Experience the joy of stepping out into the river with me when the water is low. Refresh your body and breathe fresh air into your mind. Fresh air, fresh ideas. What do you want anyway? You forget to materialize your dreams when you’re not now. That’s where I come in.
You always feel when I’m staring at you. You turn your head, your eyes clear and you emerge from wherever your thoughts have hidden you, and you see me. You tell me how beautiful I am. And I tell you Now.
There you are. See me. Follow me out into the rain. Like John Muir, going out is really going in. It’s going into now. The now of the moon. The now of ocean tapping on shore. The now of the gentle conversation of Canadian geese Ving to the next place.
Take yourself on a vacation from your head, experience what is in front of you instead of puzzling over minutiae of the immutable past or moving the pieces to arrange tomorrow. You’re okay now. Everything is okay now. Right now, nothing is wrong. That’s why I am here, to pull you into now. As long as I hold your gaze, I know you’re with me, you’re now.
I’ve only been with you for 8 years. What will you do when I’m gone? My life is way more than halfway over, as is yours. And it’s only been in this last year that you really saw me, really did now with me. But you’re finally getting it. You’re finding joy in me, in your kitchen, in watching me swim in the sound, in your garden, in knowing other people. You’re finding it. You’re finding that it was never hidden. It’s always been in front of you, waiting, waiting. Now I have to instill in you how to keep it, the now.