Recommended: Whetstone 12 LED Camping Crank Lantern

February, the month of Candlemas and Imbolc, is traditionally associated with bringing light into the home, so this month’s review is for a lantern. 



A combination of an inconveniently dark hall corner and a desire to reduce both my electric bill and the toxic trash of disposable batteries, led me to try out a crank lantern. For my first attempt, I went with the Whetstone 12 LED Camping Crank Lantern, $15.00 at Home Depot, with built-in crank handle, three brightness settings, a carry-handle with movable hanging hook, a compass in the stock and this thing which tells time — no, wait, that’s another product. But it does have a compass. 

To use the lantern, you crank the handle at a good clip to charge the internal battery and then press the power button. Easy. The comes-with product literature suggests that a minute’s cranking will grant up to 20 minutes of light, but I have to assume they mean continuous light at the highest setting. I use the lamp frequently but only briefly, and I found I got a full three months worth of use on a single charge. An issue with crank lanterns and flashlights is that their internal batteries will eventually be unable to hold a charge, but so far I have had no trouble with the Whetstone 12 LED. Surprising when I consider it is one of the cheaper, weaker models among many widely available options.

Science-y crank handle

Science-y crank handle

Crank lights and appliances are a convenient way to enjoy the electrical life without an outlet. Also known as dynamo or Faraday devices — each device containing within it a miniature electrical dynamo to generate the needed electricity — they operate on the Field Theory discovered by Michael Faraday in the 1820s, which gives the added thrill of holding classic science in your hand. Learn more about it from the enthusiastic folks at

They are often not recommended for emergency preparedness kits due to the issue of aging batteries, which could make the crank device unreliable if stored unused for long periods. However, for regular household use in that dark corner, large closet, creepy end of the cellar, or unwired porch, my little Whetstone suits very well indeed. I am pleased enough with it to plan further experiments in off-grid household appliances in the interest of lowering my utility usage.

Compass in the stock

Compass in the stock

Summary: Whetstone 12 LED Camping Crank Lantern

Upside: Inexpensive. Easy to use. Requires no outlet or disposable batteries. Gets the job done.

Downside: Cheaply made — a second lamp right out of the package required a couple of dabs of Gorilla glue on the frame. LED lights are long-lived but give harsh, blue light that’s rough on the eyes; I am considering a paper shade. The compass is a useless frippery, placed on the top of the lamp where it is either obscured by the carry-handle or cast in shadow by the light below it, but I find I don’t need it in the hallway.

Verdict: Recommended.

If you use it a lot, give it a crank daily. If you use it less often, as I do, a maintenance crank once a month or every couple of weeks should be enough to keep it happy.

You can find the Whetstone 12 LED Camping Crank Lantern and many other models of crank/dynamo lights and radios at Home Depot and other major retailers of hardware and outdoor gear.

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While I struggle with a particularly thorny theme for the month, please check out the sidebar >> where I have added recommended links. It’s basically my reading list, as well as some useful resources. Please feel free to make recommendations of your own.

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Symbols and Visions

January 2017: Four of Cups

Four of Cups from the Rider-Waite Tarot deck

Four of Cups from the Rider-Waite Tarot deck

You may have noticed a sidebar item titled Symbolism that features an image of a tarot card. I’m a surrealist, so I like to toss out little things like that as a lure. Each month will get a symbol. The first two are from the Rider-Waite tarot deck. I might stick with that source, or I might use others from time to time. The point is to drop a thought here or there without trying to control what reactions may arise. I won’t explain the symbol until each month is over.

So, January’s symbol was the Four of Cups. The tarot card’s divinatory meanings are fairly obvious: discontent, disinterest, and weariness with the world, and at the same time, it implies novelty and new connections. The story illustrated by the card is of one unimpressed by what is being offered. It may be new and different. People may be rushing up to give it. He wants none of it and sees nothing worthwhile in any of his options.

There is an implied significance beyond the superficial interpretations, as well. The card’s image is reminiscent of the Buddha attaining Nirvana in meditation beneath the Bodhi tree. In that myth, armies of demons attack the Buddha, trying to break his meditation with violence, threats, frights, and temptations. They fail, and eventually, the kings of the four directions come and offer him gloriously crafted vessels in homage. He takes them, stacks them together, and thus creates the humble begging bowl by which he will live as an ascetic monk.

January brought a lot of changes to a lot of people. To some, it brought power, fame, and an entire new life full of overwhelming demands. To others it brought conflict, chaos, fear, and anger. It has forced millions of us to confront how we really feel about the world we’ve built and live in. Few of us can say we’re happy with the options presented to us today.

buddha_under_the_bodhi_treeBut I wonder if the Four of Cups suggests an alternative. Can we replace cynicism and disgust with open-minded detachment? Instead of receiving what life brings us as problems, can we receive it as opportunities? Can we look dispassionately at all the things happening around us and ask what can we make of this that will be useful and good?

Perhaps our discontent with the present will prompt us to envision a new future.

Next month, February: Nine of Wands. See what you make of that.


Correction: Ten of Wands was changed to Nine of Wands to match the image of the actual card draw.
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Happy Lunar New Year!


Year of the Fire Rooster 2017


According to some randomly pulled Chinese astrology sites, Roosters are brash, energetic, sociable, confident, demanding, conceited, and often annoying in their demands for attention. Rooster years often involve conflict, high energy social activity, struggle and work, but also the chance to accomplish one’s dreams. Pretty much sounds like a rumble in the barnyard is coming up. As a Rabbit, I’m warned to watch my back and be careful, as Rabbits and Roosters don’t get along. Ah, well, fair warning. Let’s make some dreams come true!


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Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee

Greenpeace protestors send a message to America near the White House. Don't try this at home.

Greenpeace protestors send a message to America near the White House. Don’t try this at home.

Scenario:  Battle lines are drawn. The fascists are in power. The people are in the streets. They put a couple hundred in the Congress and White House. We put between 3 and 4 million in the streets of US cities and towns, and millions more in cities all over the world. They have the government, but we out-number them, and we are ready to RESIST.

ABC News, Women's March in DC, January 21, 2017

ABC News, Women’s March in DC, January 21, 2017

But what does that mean? What does resistance look like?

One of the great weaknesses of protest is that it’s hard to sustain the passion. Few protests spawn actual movements, as messages get diluted and frustration saps energy. Maybe this is why we have not had a true protest movement that accomplished great changes since the Civil Rights Movement. Since then, Americans have become distracted, disorganized, complacent. Terrible things have spawned protests, and some of those protests have prompted positive change, but nothing has seemed able to pull us out of our bubbles enough to join in common cause for a long haul.

But now we face an existential threat to our nation, to our way of life, and even to our actual lives. Not winning this political and societal battle is not an option. To win, you must have a plan.

So I’m going to toss something out here — just an idea, maybe it’ll spark some brainstorming or something — here it is:


A boxing tactic of pretending to be trapped against the ropes, goading one’s opponent into throwing ineffective, tiring punches.

Imagine we’re in a boxing match. In one corner, weighing in at a 150 tons of pure bullshit, El Cheeto Loco, the Mango Mussolini, Donald Trump and his troop of trained neo-nazis.

In the other corner, weighing in at the entirety of the United States of America, We the People, the majority of Americans who did not vote for these assholes and don’t want a single thing to do with them or any of their toxic crap.

El Cheeto comes out swinging. (Politico, 2/25/17) He and the GOP are raining blows on our heads. Mortgage costs hiked. Shut-down of the National Endowments for the Arts and Humanities. Rollback of the Affordable Care Act. Cuts to ethics watchdog offices. Bills to allow the sell-off of public lands and national parks. Reactivation of DAPL and Keystone. Threats to our NATO allies. Threats to move our Israel embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Threats to trigger new hostilities against our own troops in Iraq. Suspension of visas to Muslim-majority nations. Freeze of EPA grants. Recall of our diplomats with no one to replace them. Attacks on women’s rights and world health. Total freeze of federal hiring and regulations. That stupid border wall thing. Witch-hunts against climate scientists and a wholesale spree of scrubbing scientific data from public view. Etc. Etc. Etc.

Plus, of course, the usual stream of petulant tweets and bizarre public performances.

I realized suddenly what Trump and the GOP are doing. They are trying to exhaust us. They want our anger to get diluted by confusion under an onslaught so fast and chaotic we can’t possibly keep track of it. They want us to spend our energy in reactive protests against a hundred different outrages, but never pull ourselves together into a cohesive, organized resistance movement.

And I further realized that two can play at that game. What was it Hillary Clinton said? Something about “a man who can be baited with a tweet…” 

Follow 'em while you can!

Follow ’em while you can!

Trump can’t take it. He’s soft. He’s weak. He has a glass jaw. He can’t handle criticism, mockery, dismissal, or any kind of opposition. The GOP screwed up with this one. They hitched their wagon to a dud star.

So, rope-a-dope, the legendary tactic of the great Muhammad Ali. Beat them at their own game. They want to overwhelm us with a blitz attack? Let them punch themselves out until they are the exhausted ones, and then we put them down on the canvas.

The trick is we have to keep our cool. We need a vision of what resistance does, and we have to stick with it. We’re trapping them, not the other way around.

I suggest:

1) Keep up the protests – march, demonstrate, speak – against everything. Keep up the mockery – the taunting, the comedy, the memes – on everything Trump does without exception. Freak him out. Keep him obsessed and twittering at all times. We know it works.

2) Go after Congress. Call your Senators and Representatives relentlessly. Use the Indivisible Guide to help organize this. They’ll try to sic their attack dog, Orange Julius Caesar, on us but he’ll be busy (1, above). Our goal is to fill the hearts of members of Congress with sickening dread of their upcoming elections. We know that works, too.

3) Meanwhile, don’t wait for elections. We take the lead and start the grassroots change with a multi-pronged movement that will knock these Bastard Villains out.

– At the consumer level and the municipal level, we get off fossil fuels. No whining, just do it.

– At the personal level, we work together to break the chains of debt culture and consumerism that put us into the hands of this budding oligarchy.

– We divest and boycott bad businesses and support good ones.

– We develop cooperative societies to support each other until we take back our government.

– We tell truth where they tell lies. We save data they wish to erase. We join forces where they try to divide us.

– We keep moving. We keep our eyes on the prize.

I think these three sets of actions, together, will allow for the best chance of preserving what matters in the US while taking real action to undermine the fascists. It’s by no means a final or complete plan, just the beginning of one.

Like classic bullies, they want to beat us into submission. But if we can take a few hits and dodge most, we can keep them swinging until they collapse under their own tired bulk. Rope-a-dope.

What do you think?

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Many Voices, Common Cause


Some of us march. Some of us speak out. Some of us vote with our wallets. Some of us strike. Some of us stand for women, others for the planet, others for race, others for peace, and so on and so on.

Some of us knit cute hats as political puns to throw the insults of sexists back in their chauvinist faces.

Knit Pussy Hat, and Ewe Ewe Yarns

Knit Pussy Hat, and Ewe Ewe Yarns

Like this super easy free downloadable pattern at (pattern courtesy of Ewe Ewe Yarns). A good knitter could knock this out in a couple of hours, plenty of time for the Women’s Marches coming up this weekend.

And for the rest the year, we can knit shrouds.

Stitch-n-Bitch, A Tale of Two Cities

Stitch-n-Bitch, A Tale of Two Cities

We come from different places, but we’re all going the same way — to victory for democracy, equality, justice, peace, and life.

January is just the first month.

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We Will Not Be Moved. MLK Day 2017


“I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” — Dr. King, full speech text here.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, led the American Civil Rights Movement for less than thirteen years, but in that short time he accomplished more to advance the cause of racial equality than any other person in US history. Working and traveling tirelessly, he set the example for Americans of non-violent resistance and civil disobedience on the model of Mahatma Gandhi and Dr. King’s own Christian beliefs. Through his work, he exposed the brutality of segregation and racism in America and changed attitudes as well as laws across the nation. His life was ended prematurely, but his work carries on.

598px-john_lewis-2006Congressman John Lewis (D-GA, 5th Dist.), respected hero of the Civil Rights Movement who marched and organized alongside Dr. King and suffered repeated violence from segregationist authorities, including nearly losing his life on Blood Sunday at the Edmund Pettus bridge in Selma, Alabama, in 1965 (USA Today, 5/5/2015). Congressman Lewis has devoted his adult life to public service. He has been a member of Congress since 1987, and he continues to lead on civil rights and in defense of the Constitution.

Congressman Lewis speaks his mind and the truth as he sees it, which is his right, shared with all Americans, and he will not back down in the face of petty racist backlash. LA Times, 1/14/17.

On this Martin Luther King Jr. Day, let’s be inspired by the sacrifice and continued courage of these great leaders. The struggle for equal rights and the rule of law never ends until the side of justice gives up.

Never give up.

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Recommended: The Historian, Elizabeth Kostova

The Historian, Elizabeth Kostova, Back Bay Books, 2005.historiancover

Elizabeth Kostova’s acclaimed debut novel is an inventive re-imagining of Dracula that reads like an intimate, tragic memoir.

Told mostly from the point of view of the teenage daughter of a historian, and set mostly during the Cold War, from the depths of international tensions through the first thaw of detente, The Historian weaves the personal lives of its characters through the fabric of world events, teasing out the threads that bind them all within past, present and future.

The drama begins simply with a historian receiving an old book. How it comes to him, he does not know. Why it comes to him becomes the obsession of the story. The hunt for the answer reveals an endless web of secrets spanning centuries and nations, and entangling many historians who, like the main narrator’s father, received their own old books containing the same enticing mystery. At first it seems impossible, then ridiculous, and at last nightmarishly real. It is the siren allure of Dracula, Prince of Wallachia, and our protagonists learn that this ancient legend is tied up with powerful forces in the modern world.

The trope of the reckless antiquarian who uncovers what should remain buried and suffers catastrophe as a result is a horror staple and one of my favorites. (Check the short stories of M.R. James for stellar example.) Arguably, the driving force of The Historian is that antiquarian spirit, the historian’s enthusiasm in pursuit of knowledge. There is love in old things, excitement in exotic libraries, and joy in the revelation of long-lost truths. But history, like the immortal vampire himself, is not dead. It is powerful, complex, and inescapable, and if we are not careful, it will devour us.

Ms. Kostova writes with beauty and sincerity, and she does not talk down to her readers. She gives us a complicated, wide-ranging drama with lots of moving parts. She immerses us in romance, embroils us in international intrigue, diverts us with humor, and pays homage to the gothic horror and epistolary form of Stoker’s original novel, all at the same time. It’s a crazy ride, but if a reader will dive in and let the story carry her where it may, it is deeply satisfying.

Like the recipients of the weird old books, each reader will interpret The Historian in their own way. For me, vampires, romance, and feuding intellectuals aside, the book is about figuring out what life is for, what we’re supposed to be doing here. It’s about fighting the good fight — the one about being human, finding love, resisting the seductions of power — and if it has a message, it is that “the struggle continues.”

Plus, Dracula.

Look for The Historian and Ms. Kostova’s next novel, The Swan Thieves, at your local, independent bookseller.

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The Indivertible Guide for reforming and reclaiming television journalism, PDF, free download, created by The Fucking News, a project of veterans of The Daily Show and Countdown w/Keith Olbermann.

Companion to the Indivisible Guide for communicating effectively with members of Congress, created by former Capitol Hill staffers, also a PDF, free download.

Save and use both these documents. 🙂

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Act 1, Scene 1: Interior, Ethical Drama

Oh, Oysters, come and walk with us!

Oh, Oysters, come and walk with us!

On January 1, 2017, the 115th Congress of the United States was born. The new Congress is dominated by the Republican Party, which won control of all three branches of the federal government with little scrutiny of its agenda as down-ballot races were drowned out by the sturm-und-drang of the presidential election race. The one thing the GOP did say loudly enough for voters to hear was, as usual, that they would fix everything they said President Obama did wrong.

On January 2, 2017, in an unannounced, late-night, closed-door, one-party meeting (no Democrats invited), GOP House members voted to change the rules governing the independent Office of Congressional Ethics (NYT 1/2/17), established in 2008 to help clean house on Capitol Hill in the wake of several high-profile House corruption scandals.

“The 119-to-74 vote … means that the House rules package to be adopted Tuesday, the first day of the 115th Congress, would rename the Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE) as the Office of Congressional Complaint Review and place it under the oversight of the House Ethics Committee.

Under the proposed new rules, the office could not employ a spokesman, investigate anonymous tips or refer criminal wrongdoing to prosecutors without the express consent of the Ethics Committee, which would gain the power to summarily end any OCE probe.” — Washington Post, 1/2/17

“Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) pushed for the weakening of the OCE on Monday. His office said it would have provided ‘protections against any disclosures to the public or other government entities.’” — Washington Post, 1/3/17

Yes, I have no doubt it would.

So, after eight years of GOP obstruction, gerrymandering, voter suppression, and complaints that the Democratic Party are simply the worst thing ever, and sixteen years of GOP-initiated wars and economic failure, and having finally won back control of all three branches of the federal government, the GOP’s first order of business is to put an end to transparency and accountability.

What are we to make of that?

Imagine a novel, with this as its opening chapter. What kind of world would we expect to unfold from this beginning? What sorts of leading characters would we expect to read?

An autocracy, perhaps, in which there are no independent authorities, no right of the people to know, no freedom of information or of communication. This same meeting, by the way, produced a rule penalizing the recording of activities on the House floor. No peaking, Public.

This suggests to me a Star Chamber government, a closed cabal ruling by secret fiat, answerable to no people and no law, in which the only punishable offense is to expose the elites who indulge their greed and fancies at the public’s expense.

Or perhaps, we’d be reading about a kleptocracy, an America ruled by thieves and gangsters with their foreign entanglements (Slate, 7/4/16) and felonious praise-singers (Guardian, 1/3/17), blessedly free of interference, as they wasted no time getting rid of all the cops so they may pillage and fleece with a free hand.

And what role do We the People play in this auto-klepto dystopia?

On January 3, 2017, following a, by many accounts, firestorm of backlash from left and right (NPR, 1/3/17) and deluge of phone calls from angry constituents (ThinkProgress, 1/4/17) once this little gambit hit social media (plus some limp waffling from the new puppet-king, Trumpogigio), House Republicans pulled a 180 and voted not to change the OCE rules after all.

For now. They’ll try again later.

Well, this is grand! I never expected I should be a Queen so soon."

Well, this is grand! I never expected I should be a Queen so soon.”

Maya Angelou told us “when someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time.”

On January 2, the GOP showed us that they are the Bastard Villains in the drama of 2017. They are ready to rock, and subtlety be damned.

On January 3, We the People showed them that we see them, we hear them, we know where they work, and we’re not subtle, either.

The whole drama played out in less than twenty-four hours. Thus begins a story of force versus resistance, of secrets versus transparency, of move and counter-move.

Important details include:

– The brazenness of the Bastard Villains’ opening move.

– The bipartisan voices of the backlash.

– The speed, force, and effectiveness of the backlash.

Remember all those points. They are instructive.

Now we know who our antagonists are. The challenge has been issued and answered. At stake is the kind of America that will exist in the 21st century and who will build it. Who gets to write chapter 2? That depends. Do you have a phone?

Then save and use this handy list of the district office contact numbers for every member of Congress. Find your Representative and Senators and use those numbers: Congressional Contacts courtesy of Daily Kos. See also Reference Materials.

All must have prizes.

All must have prizes.

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