Friday, March 22, 2019

Fact-Checking Only One of Trump's Lies This Week

From yesterday's interview on Fox News:
“I had one of the greatest election victories in history, wouldn’t you say that’s right?” [Trump] then asked host Maria Bartiromo, who nodded her head and responded “Yes, absolutely.”
I suppose that depends on how you define "great." Even Trump knows that he lost the popular vote. Let's compare his percentage of the Electoral College vote with those of all the other presidents in his lifetime, shall we?

Six of those presidents had a lower Electoral College percentage than Trump's (though five of them, unlike him, won the popular vote). Eleven of those presidents had a higher Electoral College percentage than Trump's (and they all won the popular vote).

The average Electoral College percentage of all seventeen of those presidents - those with lower as well as those with higher percentages than Trump's - is 71.87%. Trump's percentage, an unimpressive 57.25%, lowers the average.

Apparently Trump has only one possible definition of "one of the greatest election victories in history": He thinks it was great because he won. And his Fox News interviewer "absolutely" agrees with him. 

In related news this week, George Conway, referring to the diagnostic criteria for narcissistic personality disorder, nailed it.

Thursday, January 3, 2019

5 favorites from my 2018 reading list

The dreaded question: "So, what are you reading?"

The panicked response: [totally blank mind, even if I put down a book just minutes before]

The workaround: Mentioning one of my favorite authors of detective fiction (Louise Penny, Michael Connelly, Donna Leon).

The somewhat more effective solution: Keeping a list of books read; reviewing it before social engagements where the dreaded question might be asked.

So for each of the last 22 years, I've kept such a list. At the end of each year, I look at the list, cringe at my lowbrow tastes, and marvel at how few of the books were memorable. In fact, some of the titles always look so unfamiliar that I have to google them to make sure there's no mistake.

But some books are outstanding, and here are my favorites of 2018 ... apart from those already mentioned detective series by Penny, Connelly, and Leon. And also Alexander McCall Smith, Martin Walker, Ian Rankin, Laura Lippman, Ann Cleeves, Peter Lovesey... 

As I look at my favorites, I realize that each one--in spite of their stories of pain, suffering, and downright evil--is ultimately hopeful.

Two favorite novels:

Stephen McCauley, My Ex-Life, 2018

A comedy of manners that is not Jane Austen, though I also adore Jane. Funny, wistful, compassionate.

Octavia E. Butler, Kindred, 2004

Two parallel stories, maybe 150 years apart, with some of the same characters. Suspend disbelief: it's worth it.

Three favorite books of nonfiction:

Kate Bowler, Everything Happens for a Reason: And Other Lies I've Loved, 2018

An excellent memoir by a youngish professor of religion who is living with stage 4 cancer. The book was published in February; she wrote this op-ed piece in the New York Times last week.

Isabel Wilkerson, The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America's Great Migration, 2010

A classic. Big. Full of stories. So interesting you might not notice how much you're learning.

Michelle Obama, Becoming, 2018

Fascinating on so many levels, and not only because she's America's most admired woman this year. And hey, this is President Obama's favorite book of 2018!

Enjoy! There are still 362 reading days in 2019. 

Friday, November 23, 2018

THE WARMTH OF OTHER SUNS by Isabel Wilkerson - a book well-intentioned white people should read

I just finished reading a powerful book: Isabel Wilkerson's The Warmth of Other Suns. Wilkerson, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, profiles three African Americans born in the South in the second decade of the 20th century. All three moved away: one to New York, one to Chicago, one to Los Angeles. The men died in the 1990s. The woman died in 2004. Unless you are very young, they all lived during your own lifetime. Unless you are a person of color, their experiences may startle you.

I am 70 years old. I was in third grade when Rosa Parks kept her seat in the bus, had just finished high school when LBJ signed the Civil Rights Act, was a college student when race riots broke out all across America, and had just gotten married when Martin Luther King was assassinated. I was appalled by racism without realizing I had spent my life in an extremely white bubble whose privileges were built on a racist past.

As a well-educated white woman, I wanted black people to be able to ride in the front of the bus and eat at lunch counters, of course; but I was completely unaware of the daily hardships, insults, and real dangers that provoked the civil rights movement, in both North and South. And I certainly didn't know the extent to which racism continues to exist.

Nearly five years ago I moved from a county that is 5% African American to a county that is 29% African American. I live walking distance from a city that is 63% African American. From new friends, I have learned something that should have been obvious all along: that as a white woman, I can't begin to imagine what it's like to be a woman of color. Things that happen to my black friends do not happen to me. It's been easy for me to assume they don't happen at all, or at least happen extremely rarely. I had no idea.

I've tried to educate myself by listening, watching, and reading. The more I learn, the more I realize I need to learn. Humility is painful: I will never know what it's like to be black in America. I do know, however, that I learned a lot from The Warmth of Other Suns. It's not a history book, though from it I learned parts of history that were somehow not covered in my undergrad history major. It's not a sociology book, though I couldn't miss seeing how the protagonists' social context affected their lives. It's not a political argument, though politicians show up in its pages from time to time. The book is a carefully researched story of three lives, told mostly in their own words. And it's not fiction.

Thursday, September 27, 2018

REVIVING OPHELIA, Christine Blasey Ford, and what most women know

In 1994 Mary Pipher's book Reviving Ophelia: Saving the Selves of Adolescent Girls was published. On the New York Times bestseller list for three years, it is still selling well almost 25 years later. It's an excellent book, and painfully relevant to today's news.

In less than an hour the Senate Judiciary Committee will start questioning Brett Kavanaugh and Christine Blasey Ford. Whatever they determine and however they vote, I am convinced that any woman who thinks Dr. Ford's story could not possibly be true has lived a sheltered life indeed.

Actually, I lived an incredibly sheltered life myself, and yet something similar - though considerably milder - happened to me when I was 11 and the boy was 12. During the school day. In the teacher's office. When class was in session, but kids were working on projects and the teacher was distracted. And that was in the bucolic 1950s. By the way, I never told my parents, and I'm feeling really conflicted about mentioning it here, nearly 60 years later.

Most women know that these things happen.

Here's a story from Reviving Ophelia about a 15-year-old girl who was assaulted by a classmate in 1993. Her assault was worse than Dr. Ford's, but look at the parallels:

"She'd been invited to a party by a girl in her algebra class whose parents were out of town. The girl was supposed to stay with a friend, but she had worked out a way to be home. The kids could use her parents' hot tub and stereo system.

"Cassie didn't get invited to many parties, so she accepted the invitation. She planned to leave if things got out of control. She told her mother the truth about her plans, except she didn't mention that the parents were gone....

"The party was okay at first--lots of loud music and sick jokes but Cassie was glad to be at a party. A guy from her lunch period asked her to dance. A cheerleader she barely knew asked her to go to the movies that weekend. But by eleven she wanted to go home. The house was packed with crashers and everyone was drinking. Some kids were throwing up, others were having sex or getting rowdy. One boy had knocked a lamp off a desk and another had kicked a hole through a wall.

"Cassie slipped away to the upstairs bedroom for her coat. She didn't notice that a guy followed her into the room. He knew her name and asked for a kiss. She shook her head no and searched for her coat in the pile on the bed. He crept up behind her and put his hands under her shirt. She told him to quit and tried to push him away. Then things happened very fast. He grabbed her and called her a bitch. She struggled to break free, but he pinned her down and covered her mouth. She tried to fight but was not strong or aggressive enough. He was muscular and too drunk to feel pain when she flailed at him. Nobody downstairs heard anything over the music. In ten minutes it was over."

Cassie, unlike Dr. Ford, told her parents, who called the police. Here's why she might have wished she hadn't.

"The guy who sexually assaulted her had been suspended from the track team pending his trial. His friends were furious at her for getting him in trouble. Other kids thought she led him on, that she had asked for it by being at that party."

If you've ever been a high school girl, you know that rejection by your peers can be the unkindest cut of all.

Maybe you believe Judge Kavanaugh, or maybe you think he's lying, or maybe you think he was too drunk to know what he did. Maybe you believe Dr. Ford, or maybe you think she's lying, or maybe you think it was someone else who assaulted her.

But don't ever say the event couldn't have happened just as Dr. Ford describes it. It could have. Similar events often did. And very likely still do.

Thursday, September 13, 2018

Truth and lies in the Kingdom of Catlovers: A grim fairy tale

[Remedios Varo, "Cats Paradise," 1955]
Once upon a time, in a land not far from here, King Leo the Thirty-Fourth ruled over the Kingdom of Catlovers. Everybody who lived in the Kingdom loved cats. They loved black cats, gray cats, yellow cats, and white cats; striped cats, spotted cats, fluffy cats, and sleek cats.

Some people thought cats should be allowed outside. Some people thought cats should be kept inside. Sometimes those people argued politely with one another, but everybody knew that everybody loved cats.

Alas, as usually happens, King Leo the Thirty-Fourth grew old and then older. One day, everyone knew, he would die, and then his eldest son would become king. There was a problem, though. His firstborn son was a twin - and nobody in the kingdom could remember which twin was born first. "Let the people choose," King Leo the Thirty-Fourth decreed. "It might have been Felix. It might have been Wiley. Which twin do you want for your ruler?"

To help the people choose, Felix and Wiley began walking from village to village, talking to everyone they met. "I love cats," said Felix. "I love cats," said Wiley. "Well," said the people, "that's no help. We all love cats."

"I want all cats to have a happy home," said Felix. "I am sad when I see cats living in alleys and under bushes. Some of those cats look very hungry. Some of those cats are sick. I will give them food and medicine. I will help them find homes." The people clapped and cheered, because they all wanted cats to have happy homes too.

"I want all cats to be safe," said Wiley. "I am sad when I see cats that live in alleys and under bushes. Some of them have been killed by coyotes, run over by oxcarts, and forced to eat disgusting rats. I will get rid of the coyotes. I will build bridges over the major oxcart routes. I will make sure no homeless cat has to eat rats." The people clapped and cheered, because they all wanted cats to be safe too.

[Engraving, Paris, 1880]
But the people weren't sure whether they preferred Felix or Wiley. They asked a wizard to help them choose, and he decided Wiley should be the next king. The very next day, King Leo the Thirty-Fourth died, and Wiley was crowned king of the Kingdom of Catlovers.

Now in the Kingdom of Catlovers there were ten Town Criers. These were people who ran through the streets of every village, telling the villagers what was happening in the whole kingdom. Some of the Town Criers were happy that Wiley was now king. Some were sad that Felix was not. But all ten of them loudly proclaimed, "King Leo the Thirty-Fourth is dead. Long live King Wiley the First!"

Oddly, one of the Town Criers added a few words to his proclamation. "Long live King Wiley the First," he said, "the first choice of all the people!" That was not true, but it made King Wiley's friends happy. It made King Wiley happy too.

"Everybody in the Kingdom of Catlovers loves me," said Wiley. "They do not love Felix."

Right away, King Wiley got busy. As promised, he had bridges built over the major oxcart routes. Unfortunately, the bridge-builders had never built bridges before. Many of the bridges quickly fell down, and some cats were pinned under them. The ten Town Criers ran through the streets again.

One of them said, "King Wiley is using bridges as weapons to kill cats." That was not true, but some of King Wiley's enemies believed it.

Two of them said, "King Wiley has built all the bridges he promised." That was true, but it was not the whole story.

Six of them said, "King Wiley has built all the bridges he promised. Half of them have collapsed. The number of cats being killed by oxcarts has not changed. The number of cats killed by falling bridges has increased." That was true.

One of them said, "King Wiley has built all the bridges he promised, and now no cats are being killed by oxcarts!" That was not true, but it made King Wiley's friends happy. It made King Wiley happy too.

"No cats are being killed," said Wiley. "If any cats are being killed, Felix is doing it. Seventy percent of the Town Criers are liars."

The people began to take sides for and against the bridge project.

[Charles Livingston Bull, 1911]
Next, as promised, King Wiley went after the rats. He sent soldiers to every village to spread rat poison wherever rats were known to gather. Soon the streets and alleys were full of dead and dying rats. The ten Town Criers again took to the streets.

One of them said, "King Wiley is using rat poison to kill cats." That was not true, but some of King Wiley's enemies believed it.

Two of them said, "King Wiley has killed most of the rats in the Kingdom of Catlovers." That was true, but it was not the whole story.

Six of them said, "King Wiley has killed most of the rats in the Kingdom of Catlovers. The villages stink, and homeless cats have little to eat. Some cats eat poisoned rats, and then those cats die too. Some cats die of starvation." That was true.

One of them said, "King Wiley has destroyed the rats, as promised, and our beloved cats are now eating well!" That was not true, but it made King Wiley's friends happy. It made King Wiley happy too.

"Nobody helps cats more than I do," said Wiley. "Nobody. Especially not Felix. Felix thinks cats should eat rats. Even poisoned rats. Felix is a cat poisoner. Seventy percent of the Town Criers are liars."

The people began to take sides for and against the rat eradication project.

And then something dreadful happened. Coyotes no longer had rats to eat, so they started eating cats. First they ate all the remaining homeless cats. The ten Town Criers ran through the streets with the news.

One of them said, "King Wiley has killed all the cats in the Kingdom of Catlovers." That was not true, but some of King Wiley's enemies believed it.

Two of them said, "There are no more homeless cats in the Kingdom of Catlovers." That was true, but it was not the whole story.

Six of them said, "All the homeless cats in the Kingdom of Catlovers are dead. Some died when they were injured by oxcarts and falling bridges. Some died when they ate poisoned rats. Some died when they could not find enough food. The rest were killed by coyotes." That was true.

One of them said, "Cats in the Kingdom of Catlovers are no longer in any danger!" That was not true, but it made King Wiley's friends happy. It made King Wiley happy too.

"I have ended cat homelessness," said Wiley. "Your cats are now safe. If Felix were king, your streets would still be swarming with dangerous homeless cats. Seventy percent of the Town Criers are liars."

[Jan Steen, "Argument over a Card Game," 1665]
Many of the people in the Kingdom of Catlovers turned against the Town Criers.

"Why do you tell lies about our great king?" some asked the Town Criers who spread bad news. "You must not like cats. We are happy that there are no more homeless cats in the Kingdom of Catlovers."

"We are only reporting the facts," the Town Criers said.

"You are biased," replied King Wiley's friends.

"You should move to the Kingdom of Rattlesnakes," said Wiley. "You should take Felix with you."

Meanwhile, the well-fed coyotes married and produced baby coyotes. The baby coyotes were hungry, and there were no more homeless cats to eat. So the grown-up coyotes raided people's yards and grabbed outdoor cats from happy homes. Soon there were no more outdoor cats. Most of them had been eaten. Some had joined the indoor cats. 

The number of coyotes continued to increase. They were still hungry, and they were also smart. They figured out how to open doors and windows. They sneaked into people's homes, grabbed the indoor cats, and fed them to their pups. Soon there were no more indoor cats.

Once again the Town Criers delivered the news. This time all ten of them agreed:

"There are no more cats in the Kingdom of Catlovers," they sadly proclaimed. "Hungry coyotes are roaming the streets. King Wiley has disappeared. Felix will be crowned tomorrow." That was true.

One of them added, "This would never have happened if people had only listened to us." That might have been true, but one never knows.

On the day he was crowned, this is what King Felix said to his people:

"I share your sorrow about what has happened in the Kingdom of Catlovers. I know we all love cats - black cats, gray cats, yellow cats, and white cats; striped cats, spotted cats, fluffy cats, and sleek cats. Some of us prefer inside cats and some of us prefer outside cats, but we can work together for the good of all cats.

"As my first official act, I shall adopt a dozen fertile cats from neighboring kingdoms. Let us all join hands and begin anew.

"And please, my fellow Catlovers, let us stop talking about biased Town Criers. Let us simply look for the truth: the whole truth, and nothing but the truth."

Nine Town Criers ran through the streets reading the king's message to people who could not attend his coronation.

One Town Crier said nothing. Some say she sneaked out of town while King Felix was speaking. That may be true.

The End
[Cat drawing used by permission of]

Saturday, September 8, 2018

One way you can (maybe) help keep Brett Kavanaugh off the Supreme Court

[Collins & Kavanaugh, 8/21/2018]
Have you been keeping up with the campaign to persuade Maine Senator Susan Collins to vote against confirming Brett Kavanaugh? You pledge whatever amount you please--$20.20 is suggested--which will fund her Democratic opponent in 2020 if she votes for confirmation. If she votes against confirmation, you will be charged nothing at all.

I'd heard about the campaign, but I was startled this morning when I learned how much has been raised. Less than a month ago, the organizers were talking about kick-starting an opponent's campaign with, say, $50,000. Last I looked, over $700,000 had been pledged. You can check current totals, read about why a lot of people in Maine oppose BK's nomination, and make your own pledge, if you like, at Crowdpac.

A few things to add, in case you think this is a wonderful or a terrible idea:

  • Remember that she's not up for re-election this year. In 2020 she'll be almost 68. Maybe she won't care if she doesn't get to stay in the Senate until she's 74, who knows? If she does care, maybe she'll think that however much this campaign brings in is a drop in the bucket compared to the more than $6 million she raised to get elected in 2014. Or maybe she'll be so offended by all this pressure that she'll vote for confirmation just to show her independence.
  • On the other hand, this may worry her. She might not want a Democrat to win her seat. If you're a Republican, you might not want that either. But if you're a Democrat, you might think it's a great idea.
  • The media gives a lot of attention to the future of Roe v. Wade. BK might well cast the vote that would reverse that decision. If you think women should choose for themselves, you're no doubt hoping Collins will vote against BK. If you are opposed to legal abortion, you might want BK to be confirmed. 
  • On the other hand, you might realize that BK's nomination is about a lot more than abortion.There are other important reasons to hope BK is not confirmed. Today's New York Times editorial,  "Confirmed: Brett Kavanaugh Can't Be Trusted," gives quite a few. Be sure to scroll past the "Related: More on Brett Kavanaugh" interruption and read the latter half of the article, where several serious concerns are raised. Most damning, in my opinion, is this: "He misstates facts under oath, and Republicans cover for him by making it hard, if not impossible, to get the documents proving it."
  • Susan Collins's vote could make the difference. 

A man who can't be trusted is not a man I want on the Supreme Court, even if he's a really nice guy. Especially since he'd often have the tie-breaking vote. There are already enough people in Washington, DC, who can't be trusted. We don't need their accomplices on the Supreme Court; we need justices who will hold them accountable. That's what separation of powers is all about. And that's why I contributed to the Crowdpac campaign today.

Click this link to make your provisional contribution.

Friday, September 7, 2018

America's Would-Be Sun King

[Louis XIV. Check out amusing parodies
of this painting here and here.]
"Is it treason? ... It's treason," the president said at the Montana rally last night.

He was talking about the New York Times op-ed piece in which an unnamed White House insider criticized the president for his amorality, the basis for at least a dozen other of his listed failings. If you've only read about the op-ed, but haven't read the actual article, you really need to read it now. It's short. And if you're a Republican, never fear: so is the writer of the op-ed piece.

Interestingly, treason is specifically defined in the Constitution, Article III, Section 3:

Treason against the United States, 
shall consist only in levying War against them, 
or in adhering to their Enemies, giving them Aid and Comfort. 

Criticizing the president is not treason. The president is not the United States. France's King Louis XIV may have said "L'√Čtat, c'est moi" (I am the state), but divine right kingship, at least so far, has not been popular here. As a New York Times editorial reminds us, "Twenty months into the job, Mr. Trump has yet to grasp that the highest law of this land is the Constitution, not whoever occupies the Oval Office at any given moment."

In fact, this president seems to be waging war on the Constitution, not preserving, protecting, and defending it as he solemnly swore to do when he took the oath of office (which you can read, if you like: it's in the Constitution, Article II, Section 1). He seems particularly upset with the First Amendment.

"There oughta be a law," he frequently grumbles - not only against people who criticize him, but also against newspapers that publish stories he doesn't like, protesters who oppose him, and religious groups he doesn't like. The First Amendment explicitly disagrees:

Congress shall make no law 
respecting an establishment of religion, 
or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; 
or abridging the freedom of speech, 
or of the press; 
or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, 
and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

Christian Trump supporters would be wise to consider that a president who attacks every clause in the First Amendment is not protecting freedom of religion, even if he helps some Christians achieve their current pet goals. Evangelicals' "dream president" (according to Jerry Falwell, Jr.) may well turn out to be their worst nightmare.

The First Amendment protects the nation against tyrants. It may seem nice to have a would-be tyrant on your side right now, but beware. White evangelicals are in serious decline - from 23% to 15% of the population in just 11 years. With a weakened First Amendment, a future tyrant  (or even this one) could easily turn on you.