The Dust of Life

Posted by Sappho on October 13th, 2019 filed in Music, News and Commentary

Miss Saigon is playing this week at Segerstrom in Orange County. I have never seen it, and am not planning to see this show. Instead I’ve heard the soundtrack, have seen the opera on which it was based, Madame Butterfly, and the movie M. Butterfly, which takes the Madame Butterfly story in an entirely different direction. But it has been on my mind this week, in particular the song “Bui Doi“.

They’re called Bui-Doi
The dust of life

Conceived in Hell
And born in strife
They are the living reminder of all the good we failed to do
We can’t forget
Must not forget
That they are all our children, too

“Bui Doi,” Miss Saigon
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if a president can ask a foreign government to go after one American citizen …

Posted by Sappho on September 26th, 2019 filed in Computers, Election 2016, Election 2020

Not for nothing but, if a president can ask a foreign government to go after one American citizen, he can ask foreign governments to go after any of us.

Tweet by Charles P. Pierce

Yes, exactly. And you don’t even need to have chosen to politically defy him. You could be an ordinary computer security expert who did your job uncovering a Russian hack, with no idea that hack would be used to help elect a POTUS who would welcome the help.

In January, 2016, I was laid off from the company where I then worked in software quality assurance. By March, 2016, I was employed again. But in the meantime, I engaged in a busy job search, with multiple target companies of interest. Because I had both interest and background in computer security, one of those companies was CrowdStrike, a company with an excellent reputation in the computer security field.

I had no idea that company would, by doing its job in accurately tracing a computer hack to Russia (an evaluation that was later confirmed by ample supporting evidence – see Volume I of the Mueller report), CrowdStrike would become the center of a political firestorm, and that years after the fact, a weird claim that the DNC server was somewhere in the Ukraine would figure in a phone call between the presidents of the US and Ukraine, where Zelensky tried to get military aid and Trump tried to get Zelensky to supply information damning to Biden and, independently, to CrowdStrike.

You don’t have to be a political activist to be at risk from retaliation by a self-interested authoritarian. You just have to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, and turn out to have information that he wants to discredit.

To all the people who were just doing their jobs trying to find out what Russia was doing in 2016, whether private computer security experts or people in intelligence services, my sympathy.

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On Kavanaugh, Trump, and impeachment

Posted by Sappho on September 22nd, 2019 filed in Election 2016, News and Commentary

Last week began with an excerpt from a new book on Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh by Times reporters Robin Pogrebin and Kate Kelly. It ended with the revelation of a grave abuse of power by Trump. In both cases, the word “impeachment” was raised in response to the revelation. And in both cases, at least some folks responded that, hey, removal via impeachment isn’t going to happen, so why make the Republicans’ day? I want to make it clear why I give that argument weight for Kavanaugh, but no longer think it holds water for Trump. Here’s why:

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She Died With Her Lipstick On

Posted by WiredSisters on September 17th, 2019 filed in Feminism, Sexuality, Uncategorized

     I read a fantasy novel a while back. I no longer remember the title or the author.  One of the main characters, however,  was a woman named Jezebel, who usually went by "Bel," or something like that. She revealed her full name in a conversation in  which she pointed out that the biblical Jezebel was an admirable woman, who fought for the faith of her fathers against strong and ultimately deadly opposition. 
I like your take on Jezebel even better. The traditional words we use to describe the morality of women all have to do with sex. The old phrase "make an honest woman of her" has nothing to do with inculcating habits of truth-telling into a woman. It means (based on the presumption that she has been sleeping with a man who is not her husband) marrying her, and thereby making her a solid citizen rather than a slut.
Similarly, when we talk about a male teenager as "wild," we mean he drinks and uses drugs, rides a motorcycle, and gets into a lot of fights, sometimes leading to interactions with the police. When we talk about a teenage girl as "wild," we mean she sleeps with guys to whom she is not married. Period. (She may also drink, use drugs, get into fights, etc. But those are superfluous characteristics, neither necessary nor sufficient to get her branded as "wild.")
When a young man is "in trouble," we can mean he is negatively involved with the police, the IRS, Interpol..... you get the idea. When a young woman is "in trouble," that can mean only one thing--she's pregnant.
And, by the way, one of the main reasons I still cheer for the Sexual Revolution, despite many of its questionable consequences, is the fact that, when I was in high school and even in college, when the body of a young woman dead from non-natural causes was found, the first thing the medical examiner checked for was pregnancy, which could serve as adequate explanation--and perhaps even justification--for either homicide or suicide.
This narrow slant on female morality has by no means disappeared. But it is a lot less prevalent. The terms used to insult a female politician, for instance, still include a lot of references to her lack of attractiveness, and may occasionally accuse her of sexual deviancy. But the trolls who drive visible women out of the cyberworld rarely accuse them of sleeping around, though they often accuse them of being too ugly for anyone to want to sleep with. Or, heaven forbid, fat.
And, on the positive side, the good things we have to say about women almost never have anything to do with chastity. Courage, industriousness, intelligence, kindness--lots of good stuff like that. Purity, chastity, irreproachability, not so much.
Which puts me on the side, I guess, of the optimists like Stephen Pinker, or the Second Wave feminists, in saying proudly, "We've already paid the piper--let's dance."

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Posted by Sappho on September 17th, 2019 filed in Bible study

“A jezebel” is an immoral woman. And, because of conventions about how women get to be immoral, the word now has connotations of sexual immorality. The dictionary lists “seductress” and “temptress” as synonyms.

Yesterday, I checked my daily chapter on 929 and was struck by how Jezebel’s story is much more about a different kind of wrong. It’s true that Jezebel puts on makeup at the time of her impending death. But what did she do before that? She arranged for Naboth to be slandered, framed, and stoned to death, so that her husband, Ahab the king, could seize Naboth’s property.

Jezebel isn’t Stormy Daniels. She’s Lady MacBeth. Or
Jiang Qing driving the Cultural Revolution. Her central sin is abuse of power.

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Posted by Sappho on September 15th, 2019 filed in Blog maintenance

An old co-blogger may be returning to talk about a call that he has received, and a new co-blogger will be guest blogging sometime this week.

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Try to find a way to make all our little joys relate

Posted by Sappho on September 2nd, 2019 filed in Bipolar Disorder, News and Commentary

When someone dies by suicide, appropriate responses are: sympathy and support for their surviving friends and family, and promulgation of suicide prevention resources. I’ll note that NAMI and DBSA provide useful peer support groups.

Suicide is something I wish on no one. Whatever your past has been, whatever your prospects look like now, someone loves you.

And people get to be complicated. Someone can be mentally ill, have hurt some people, have been hurt by other people, and perhaps be in the process of becoming a better person.

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#NativeForum 2020

Posted by Sappho on August 19th, 2019 filed in Election 2020

Today (Monday, August 19) and tomorrow (Tuesday, August 20) are the days of the Frank LaMere Native American Presidential Forum. 11 Presidential candidates (10 Democrats and 1 independent) have confirmed their attendance at the event, either in person or by video conference. Panelists consist of tribal leaders, tribal members, and youth.

Candidates who spoke today, in order of appearance: Marianne Williamson, Elizabeth Warren, Amy Klobuchar, and (by video) Steve Bullock.

Order of speaking tomorrow: Joe Sestak, Mark Charles (independent), John Delaney, Kamala Harris (via Skype), Julián Castro, Bernie Sanders, Bill de Blasio.

Here is an post about the forum.

And here, from, is a recap of the morning session (Marianne Williamson and Elizabeth Warren)

Klobuchar promises strong relationship with Indian Country if elected(Klobuchar comes from a state, Minnesota, that has a significant Native American population, and has relationships with Native communities in her state; as a result her responses at the forum were well informed.)

Ahead of the forum, Opal Boyer (Yavapai-Apache nation) looks at the question: Where do Democratic candidates stand with tribal nations and indigenous communities? Which candidates have standalone platforms that address indigenous issues? Which candidates incorporate indigenous issues in other sections of their websites? And which don’t reference indigenous issues at all? See Opal Boyer’s post to find out. Also includes links both to standalone plans and other sections of websites covering Native American issues, and an analysis of what issues each candidate addresses.

Here you can find a Vimeo video of the first day

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“Members of the press, what the fuck?”

Posted by Sappho on August 7th, 2019 filed in Democracy, Election 2020, News and Commentary, Race

There’s a thing people sometimes say about Trump. I saw it not long before the mass shooting at El Paso, from a Trump supporter on Twitter. I’ve seen it said, before, by people who aren’t Trump supporters, but who are saying how they think Trump supporters see him. It’s, sure, he’s not Presidential. But that’s why we like him. He’s a regular guy. He’s like us.

Watching Beto, both sad and angry at the slaughter in his hometown, reply to a question with “Members of the press, what the fuck?” I am struck by what a regular guy actually is. Not Trump. Beto.

I don’t mean, vote for Beto for President. I can pick another candidate with better plans. I can pick another candidate who’s smarter, or better in a debate, or more likely to win. And some of these candidates have just as good character as Beto. So, likely I’ll vote for someone else, and likely we’d be better off with Beto dropping out and running for Senate, to maximize the proper political distribution of good candidates.

For now, though, that’s not the point. The point is, it’s Beto in the spotlight, because it’s his city where the attack happened, and Beto, in every way, is acting like a regular guy, like a normal person, like us. There’s Beto, in his first response to the attack, near tears. There’s Beto, at the blood bank, bringing along his kids so they can see what it’s like to give blood. There’s Beto, getting angry just like a normal person: “What the fuck?”

People say, sometimes, that Trump gets angry like a normal person, but he doesn’t. He gets angry like a distinctly abnormal person. He reads his condemnation of white supremacist violence from a teleprompter but, oh, should anyone show him less than the deference he thinks he’s due, that’s when he gets angry. He basks in “lock her up” and “send her back” chants about his opponents and critics, but he’s never angry on anyone else’s behalf, unless it’s Ivanka. That’s not what normal people are like.

Beto, on the other hand, gets angry like a normal person. Sure, you figure he’s perfectly capable of being angry on his own behalf. But he also gets angry for his home, for his city. Like normal people do.

And, here’s the second thing. To love your home, your particular place, is to love the people who are actually there. For me, it’s to love my home in California with all the people who actually live there, and to set myself against white supremacy because it’s an attack on my actual home. So, too, with Beto. His home is El Paso, a city that’s closely linked with Juarez, and has been for some time. You can’t love El Paso by loving only the Anglo part of it. You love it all, as Beto does.

And you can’t love America, which has never been a white only nation or even close, unless you can love America as it is, a country of many “races.”

That’s why we need a President who will have no more talk of “invasion” or send her back,” a President who will be President of all Americans.

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Coffee with Katie Porter again

Posted by Sappho on August 4th, 2019 filed in Daily Life, Democracy

Yesterday Katie Porter had two more “Coffee with Katie” events, one in a coffee house in Lake Forest, quite close to me.

“Coffee with Katie,” both this time and last time, was standing room only. Katie says that she never realized the events would be this popular, that in fact the first time she did one, she had brought some correspondence to work on in case no one showed up, and thought if anything there would be just a few people coming to chat.

As with last time, I’m rendering the questions and answers from memory, as I didn’t record or take notes. Any errors are my responsibility.

Q) Someone asked a question (which I couldn’t fully hear) about the deficit.

A) Katie replied that she was glad to be asked about the deficit, as it’s important. There’s been a lot of discussion of the Trump tax bill – Does it make taxes lower? Higher? Lower for some, and higher for others, she says, and Orange County is particularly hard hit due to the cap on the SALT (state and local tax) deduction. As a result, some of her constituents have higher taxes, which they have had to put on their credit cards. But it’s not just about who pays more and who pays less. The tax bill increased the deficit. Katie hopes that Republicans can return to being a party that values fiscal responsibility, and work with Democrats on a responsible budget.

Q) How do you get the word out about what’s happening in Congress?
A) Some of my colleagues have said to me, “I don’t do national media like you, Katie.” I do national media for one reason: Orange County, the 6th most populous county in the US, has no TV station. It can be hard to get the word out, and we use all the means we can: media, social media like Twitter and Facebook. If you want to get a fuller picture of the news, I advise you to read newspapers, don’t just watch TV. You can read the paper on your phone or Kindle, but read.

Q) Do you support restoring Glass-Steagal?
A) We’ve had a lot of talk about who is socialist and who is capitalist. (Here Katie mimicked someone whispering, embarrassed to say it aloud, “I am a capitalist.”) Well, I’ll say it (here she raised her voice): “I am a capitalist!” And not just for the economic benefits. Capitalism secures our freedom. But for capitalism to survive and thrive, it needs regulation. (Here Katie talked about the ups and downs of a business cycle in a capitalist economy, with hand gestures to show what a roller coaster it can be without regulation.) Financial regulation stabilizes our economy, and so I support Glass-Steagal.

Q) How do we secure our elections?
A) Just the other day, I listened to Adam Schiff. I was hoping I’d learn from him how I could reassure you, as election security isn’t really my area. But he said, we’re in trouble. The problem is, election security legislation has passed the House. It was part of HR1, which restored the Voting Rights Act and included anti-corruption and election security measures. What happened to that bill? “It’s with Mitch.” The good news is that Orange County elections are very well run. But we need more. There’s now a plan to break up HR1 and send the provisions one piece at a time to the Senate, to put the pressure on Mitch to allow at least some of it to come to a vote in the Senate.

Q) A question about healthcare.
A) Katie doesn’t have the answers but knows our current system isn’t the best. We need to fill the gaps.

Q) What about disability? People waiting to go on disability have trouble getting healthcare.

A) This is true. There’s a delay while people are unable to work but not on disability yet. People in this situation can be at risk of bankruptcy. We need to address this.

Closing: Coffee with Katie has been more popular than expected. You can also call, email, or come by her office and talk to staff. Her office is busy responding to calls and emails and keeps track of all of them. And Katie personally answers any correspondence from children.

Note on other political events this weekend in Orange County: Amy Klobuchar had a meet and greet, and there was a gun control demonstration (with people encouraged to color their hands red) in Orange, both of these events today. I, though, learned of these events too late to have my EV sufficiently charged (am charging it overnight tonight), and so had to give them a pass.

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Posted by Sappho on July 28th, 2019 filed in Poetry

I want to reflect on a poem in which Rudyard Kipling presents a model of manly virtue:

If you can keep your head when all about you   
    Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,   
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
    But make allowance for their doubting too;   
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
    Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,
    And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:

If you can dream—and not make dreams your master;   
    If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim;   
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
    And treat those two impostors just the same;   
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
    Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
    And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools:

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
    And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
    And never breathe a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
    To serve your turn long after they are gone,   
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
    Except the Will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,   
    Or walk with Kings—nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
    If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
    With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,   
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,   
    And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!

“If” by Rudyard Kipling

I’ve never fully resonated with this poem.

For one thing, I don’t divide virtues into those that make you a man or a woman – for me masculinity and femininity are more about sexual display, and the ideals I strive for as a woman should be more or less the same as those I’d strive for if I had been born a man.

For another, a few of the things listed don’t actually strike me as good traits. Why would I want my husband to risk all our possessions on one game of pitch-and-toss? And, if he did lose that toss, why would he want never to breathe a word about his loss?

Still, at least most of the qualities described in the poem are qualities worth having.

I’m afraid that I’m seeing some far worse models of manhood celebrated these days.

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On accusations of bigotry, good faith and bad faith

Posted by Sappho on July 20th, 2019 filed in Race

This post is going to be shorter than my last post. It’s about how I judge whether I consider whether accusations of bigotry are made in good faith or bad faith, and it’s really pretty simple.

Let’s say that you are Jewish. You tell me that you consider a certain statement to be anti-Semitic, or touching on anti-Semitic tropes. Or you tell me that a certain statement, that other people have called anti-Semitic, doesn’t strike you as anti-Semitic at all, and that it’s being taken out of context.

Whatever your position may be, and whether or not it makes sense to me, I consider myself obliged to: a) listen to you, and b) assume that you actually care about what is or isn’t anti-Semitic, and that you’re coming to your judgment in good faith, whether or not I wind up agreeing with you. (I’m not obliged to agree with you – how can I be so obliged? – because it may well be that people who are Jewish disagree with each other on just this matter.)

Now substitute in place of “Jewish” any other group that has a history of suffering from any sort of bigotry, and someone from that group either seeing something as bigoted or not. You are, perhaps, black or indigenous or Latinx or Muslim, and you see bigotry or discrimination against people like you. Or you don’t, and in a particular case think that much ado is being made about nothing. If that history is real (and all the groups I listed surely suffer from bigotry and discrimination), and if you really are a member of that group, I start from the assumption that you believe what you’re saying, and that you care about what you’re saying – that you’re speaking in good faith. I don’t start from the assumption that you’re “playing the race card.” Before I judge you to be speaking in bad faith, I had better have a damn good reason for my judgment.

Now, let’s say you’re not a member of the group on whose behalf you are protesting, and you are a partisan. But you don’t, as far as I know, have your own history promoting the bigotry of which you complain. In that case, I don’t make a particularly strong assumption of good faith. There’s a decent chance that you care more about your partisanship than about the point you are arguing. But I also don’t assume bad faith from the get go. I’ll look at the facts, and come to my own judgment, and I’ll take my time in reaching any conclusions about whether you are, on these matters, someone I can trust to speak in good faith, or whether you aren’t.

If, on the other hand, people on “your side” display virulent examples of the bigotry you are condemning, and you excuse them or even promote what they say, and if, alongside your condemnation of bigotry from person X, you say things about person X that are provably lies, and if, finally, your condemnation of person X itself includes bigoted tropes – well, then I assume that your condemnation of person X for bigotry is made in bad faith. I assume that you’re acting in bad faith even if I should judge that person X has actually said something problematic, just as I make the starting assumption of good faith, in the case where the criticism is coming from someone who’s actually part of the group in question, even if I should judge that person X hasn’t actually said anything as problematic as is being alleged.

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On “the standard definition of racism”

Posted by Sappho on July 20th, 2019 filed in Race

Learn to pronounce
noun: racism
prejudice, discrimination, or antagonism directed against someone of a different race based on the belief that one’s own race is superior.
“a program to combat racism”
synonyms: racial discrimination, racialism, racial prejudice/bigotry, xenophobia, chauvinism, bigotry, bias, intolerance; More
the belief that all members of each race possess characteristics or abilities specific to that race, especially so as to distinguish it as inferior or superior to another race or races.
“theories of racism”

Definition of “racism” at

Trump’s “go back” comments were nativist, xenophobic, counterfactul and politically stupid. But they simply do not meet the standard definition of racist, a word so recklessly flung around these days that its actual meaning is being lost.

Brit Hume on Twitter

Lots of debates online these days loop back to whether something meets “the definition” of racism. Or anti-Semitism. Or white nationalism. So, just for the record, here is how I use the word “racism.” It isn’t “the standard definition of racism” (for that, see above), but it’s an elaboration that’s consistent with the standard definition of racism (I’m not doing a Humpty Dumpty “When I use a word, it means just what I choose it to mean.” This will be a meta post, so, though some well-known public figures may be “racist” by more than one of the criteria that I list, don’t assume that I’m saying that one person checks all the boxes. You don’t, after all, have to check every darn one of the boxes to be racist.

There are three usages for the words “racist/racism”:

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“Still, like air, I’ll rise”

Posted by Sappho on July 18th, 2019 filed in Democracy, News and Commentary, Race

If the crowd that shouted “Send her back” about a sitting American Congresswoman who came here as a child don’t like living in a country that accepts refugees, they’re free to leave. If they don’t like living in a country where a Muslim refugee woman can get elected to Congress, they’re free to leave.

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You won’t have a name when you ride that big airplane

Posted by Sappho on July 14th, 2019 filed in History, Music

I first learned the song “Deportee (Plane Wreck Over Los Gatos Canyon)” as a child, many years after Woody Guthrie wrote it. You may know the words, or at least the refrain: “Goodbye to my Juan, goodbye Rosalita, Adios mis amigos, Jesus y Maria! You won’t have a name when you ride the big airplane. All they will call you will be, deportee.”

You may know at least a rough outline of the incident that inspired the song: In 1948, an airplane crashed near Los Gatos Canyon, and all on board were killed. A newspaper relating the story of the crash gave the names of the pilot, first officer, and stewardess, but listed the passengers as merely deportees. Woody Guthrie wrote a poem lamenting their anonymity, a poem that was later set to music by Martin Hoffman, that became the song “Deportee.” The song has been performed by many, including Pete Seeger, Arlo Guthrie, Judy Collins, Joan Baez, etc.

But I only just discovered this performance of “Deportee” by John McCutcheon. And I learned something new. The dead have their names back. Many decades after the song was written, and after the 28 Mexican agricultural workers had gotten their anonymous burial in a mass grave, several people, at the same time, had the idea: perhaps these people don’t have to stay anonymous. Perhaps they can be known by some name besides “deportee.” They came, after all, legally under a bracero program, and were deported when their visas ran out. Surely there was a record of them somewhere? I’m not sure what work went into tracking them down and recovering their names, but they were found, and if you listen to the linked recording, you can hear McCutcheon sing the old familiar song, as the names of the dead are read between the verses.

At their grave, there is now a memorial to the plane wreck at Los Gatos Canyon’s forgotten victims. Find-a-Grave has a photo of the grave. It is in Coalinga, the hometown of my college boyfriend Brian Sayre, who died young himself in an accident. Had he lived, I think he too would be glad that these dead have their names back.

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Coffee with Katie Porter

Posted by Sappho on July 13th, 2019 filed in Daily Life, Democracy, News and Commentary

I was late. I think it was a problem with the controls of the new car. My old car, fifteen years old, became too expensive to repair. New cars have new features, like connecting your phone with Bluetooth. This pairing, once done, apparently has the effect that, if you can’t find which of the many buttons actually lets the stereo play Bluetooth sound, has the effect of silencing Google Maps, so that it carefully maps your every next turn but doesn’t tell you any of these directions (and it’s not exactly safe to look at a cell phone screen while driving). Lesson learned: Bluetooth off when the phone is in the car, until I can get the dealer to tell me where the control is to make it audible.

At any rate, arriving halfway through the event, I thought it wise not to ask questions that others might already have asked, and settled for listening to the Q&A. The setting was a coffee house in Anaheim. The coffee house was crowded. Katie Porter stood on a chair. Several of her staffers were present, to help constituents once the questions were done.

Here are the questions and answers that I remember, a couple of hours later (I didn’t take notes or livetweet):

First topic: Impeachment. The man next to me spoke up, applauding Katie Porter’s stand on impeaching Donald Trump. Katie Porter explained how she had come to her stand. She had, she said, deliberately not supported impeachment during her campaign, because she believed, on principle, that it was wrong for her to take a stand on the subject before the Mueller investigation was done. Once it was done, she and her staff carefully read the whole report, and looked at the history of impeachment (being a law professor, she said, helped). She found deciding in favor of impeaching Trump an easy call. There were four cases where Mueller had found all of the items necessary for obstruction of justice, and others where Mueller found some of the items for obstruction of justice to be present. Obstruction of justice is a grave offence for someone entrusted with authority. This isn’t like a drug dealer flushing evidence down the toilet. It’s like a dirty cop altering the evidence. Rule of law requires that we be able to trust our government not to obstruct justice. So the hardest thing for Katie Porter was not coming to her decision, but pretending to be undecided for a week (here she threw in a joke about how she doesn’t tend to hold back what she thinks). She did this only because she wanted, when she made the announcement, to be ready with a video and a FAQ. She understands that she has constituents on both sides of this issue (her calls are mostly running pro-impeachment, but there are some con calls as well). But this was the stand she needed to take.

Green New Deal: A woman across the room from me asked why Katie Porter hadn’t come out in support of the Green New Deal. Katie replied that when she takes the risk of coming out for something, and takes whatever hit she may take from people on the other side, she wants it to be for something that will get something specific done. She applauds Green New Deal supporters for keeping the pressure on to do something about climate change. She thinks the principles driving the proposal are good. But she prefers to work on climate change proposals that are stronger on specifics that will lead to a clear payoff: a carbon fee and dividend bill, a bill that would supply money for more free public charging stations to encourage the use of electric vehicles, asking our military to address climate change as a national security issue, and providing assistance in waste management for developing countries.

Wells Fargo: A woman had a specific problem with Wells Fargo. I didn’t record the details. Katie started by referring the woman to her staffer who deals with financial issues, and then launched into a long discussion of how, now that she is in Congress, she is addressing issues ranging from sketchy lending practices to companies forcing consumers into arbitration agreements. This is a particular area of expertise for Katie Porter (and she shows it in the videos where she questions people in committee hearings). So, for example, when another constituent followed up with a question about a Chase announcement related to adding arbitration for disputes to their customer agreement, Katie noted that on her Twitter account and from her office you can get a form letter to use to reject arbitration. Katie says that arbitration is great for businesses dealing with each other, less good for business/consumer relations, where power is more lopsided, and arbitration is used to hide the history of disputes that would show up if all the cases appeared in court.

Student loans: Does Katie support Bernie Sanders plan to forgive student loans? Katie notes that there are multiple plans to forgive student loans, differing in detail. She isn’t wedded to a particular one. Rather, she supports committee work to come up with a comprehensive solution to addressing college finance issues, which could include student loan forgiveness and also a plan going forward. She started a caucus to address the issue.

Climate change debate: Does Katie Porter support having a climate change debate? Yes, she does. She also takes the opportunity to say that one question she will not answer is who she favors for 2020.

Trump is our President/student loans/immigration: A man behind me managed to get in three questions in quick succession. One took the form of a statement that, whatever you think of him (and the man says he didn’t vote for him), Trump is our President, and deserves the respect owed to a President. Katie answered this one by saying that yes, Trump is all of our President, whether we like it or not, just as Obama was everyone’s President, both for those who liked him and for those who didn’t. She confined herself to stating these obvious legal facts.

The second point raised by this man was that he felt that Katie had been too dismissive, in her student loans reply, when she talked about parents’ and grandparents’ loans. Who was better able than parents and grandparents to assess students’ plans and abilities. Katie said, yes, parents and grandparents are better able than students to assess the terms of a loan, but she thinks it not ideal for college education to be too loan dependent.

Third, the man wanted to know what limits Katie would put on immigration; didn’t we need to place some limits on how many people our country can accept? Katie said that her constituents have widely varied views on immigration, and her office hears all of them. Certainly we need some limits. For instance, we already have fencing on parts of the border, and this is a good thing, because those parts of the border with fencing are, in general, areas where it’s unsafe to cross. We have differing views on how many and what sorts of immigrants we can receive (Katie listed examples of areas where people might differ and what some of the differing views were), and these views should be resolved through the political process, by working out a compromise. This, though, the Trump Administration isn’t willing to do. Katie would like to see a deal like the bipartisan Hurd/Aguilar proposal. Trump, though, won’t accept any deal that doesn’t include whatever he wants at the moment and his wall.

Immigration: Another woman spoke up, lamenting the separation of families at the border. Katie agreed, and said that rule of law required that we live up to our treaty obligations regarding asylum seekers.

That’s as much as I remember (except for the fact that somewhere in there we learned that Katie is vice chair of the Scouting Caucus, and several constituents were given the names of specific staff members who could work with them on a particular issue). I stayed for a little while after the event ended, long enough to see that several staffers stayed behind when Katie left, to listen to individual constituent concerns.

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So, it turns out that the milkshakes weren’t concrete

Posted by Sappho on July 2nd, 2019 filed in News and Commentary

In this case, I don’t feel suckered. I was suspicious of the “concrete milkshakes” claim, so I didn’t include it in my post about Andy Ngo. I said that a video showed him being attacked, while carrying a camera, and it does. Still, for about a day, the rumor of milkshakes with fast drying concrete raged through Twitter, not just about right-wing folks who still believe that Hillary Clinton had Seth Rich killed, but among serious people. And it turned out to be wrong. And it’s interesting to see people’s reactions.

On the one hand, you have folks like Cathy Young, spreading the correction (and this is why I include her in my follows – she’s at a different point on the political spectrum from me, but she’s fact-based).

On the other hand, I see someone saying, hey, it’s still “petulant terrorism” to throw milkshakes, and, when Nicholas Grossman replies that “petulant terrorism” isn’t a thing, and not everything bad is terrorism, I find that a thread replying to one of his tweets has veered into the argument, not just that throwing milkshakes is terrorism, but that serving milkshakes is a form of Antifa terrorism because Antifa might take the milkshakes and throw them at someone. And then, I suppose, someone might decide that the milkshakes contain concrete. And all of this would somehow be the fault of the people who served the milkshakes.

Guys, you can by all means go ahead and condemn people who threw milkshakes at Andy Ngo; the milkshakes don’t have to have concrete in them for you to object to the tactic. Certainly go ahead and condemn the people in the video who appeared also to be laying hands on him. But if you condemn supplying milkshakes to drink at an event where lots of people are likely to be thirsty, I think you’re going way overboard in your definition of violence.

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Why I don’t write about Antifa much

Posted by Sappho on June 30th, 2019 filed in News and Commentary, Peace Testimony

A mob attacks Andy Ngo in Portland. Truth be told, I had no idea who Andy Ngo was until he was attacked. I can only keep track of so many bloggers, even ones who undoubtedly have way more readers than I do. But I’ve seen the video, and it does show him being attacked, and he is, in the video, armed with nothing more than a camera, so condemning the attack is an easy call, right?

And Jill Filipovic does just that. I’ll copy her entire Twitter thread, ignoring any copyright infringement on her Tweets, because I doubt she’ll mind.

This is reprehensible. I really, really hate much of what @MrAndyNgo believes. But you don’t physically attack a person because of their views. You don’t defend a violent mob attacking a person who is alone. This is wrong and disgusting and shameful.Jill Filipovic added,

Yes, the right-wing fever dreams about Antifa are way overblown, and Fox etc uses a largely invented Antifa threat to terrify its audience. No, many of the same people who defend Andy wouldn’t do the same for leftists who were attacked. But that can’t be the standard we adopt.

Even if you don’t give a shit about Andy or violence or think he deserved it, what, strategically, is the point of this? To put leftist protesters in the same category as violent hateful Nazis in the minds of a great many Americans? To give credence to the “outlaw Antifa” view?

Also this stuff is just so self-indulgent. You are not defeating the Nazis; you are losing the moral high ground and putting vulnerable people at risk. It feels good because you’re an angry boy living in extended adolescence, but this is about your own ego, not much else.

There actually are good guys and bad guys here. The alt-right racists and grifters are professional victims. Physically attacking them, not in self-defense, helps their cause. It puts more vulnerable people at greater risk of state violence. It is bad strategy. It is dangerous.

Seems reasonable enough, right? There’s a quote that’s often apocryphally attributed to Voltaire, but apparently actually from Evelyn Beatrice Hall: “I don’t agree with what you say but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” Can we agree that, at least sometimes, “I really hate what this person says. I share your hate of what this person says. But you’re dead wrong if you defend physically attacking him for it” is the right position to take?

But then I looked at the replies Jill Filipovic is getting. The first thing I saw was people taking issue with Jill’s “Yes, the right-wing fever dreams about Antifa are way overblown” by pointing to exactly the video attack that she’s condemning. Because, apparently, if anyone associated with Antifa attacked anyone ever, in any way, that means nothing said by the right wing about Antifa can be overblown. But I’ve read, myself, things by right-wing writers, about Antifa, that are clearly giving exaggerated accounts of Antifa violence in order to defend minimized estimates of the threat of “alt-right” violence. Like the article in the Federalist that described the Proud Boys as a “free speech” group that stands up against the terrifying, violent Antifa. Like the person just now who replied to Jake Tapper’s tweet “Antifa regularly attacks journalists; it’s reprehensible” with a tweet suggesting that Jake Tapper, through some alleged past defense of Antifa, provoked the violence in Charlottesville.

That violence, I’d like to remind folks, started when a Unite the Right rally attracted people from all over the country to protest a local decision about a Confederate memorial. It was that crowd that showed up with semi-automatic rifles, that marched with torches through the streets shouting “Jews will not replace us,” and that encircled and attacked a smaller group of counter-protesters on the evening of August 11. It was “Unite the Right” protesters who showed up outside a synagogue with semi-automatic rifles on Saturday morning, August 12. And it was those white nationalists who are responsible for the one death at the protest, when a man whose name I refuse to remember (but who is now sentenced to life in prison) rammed a car into a crowd of peaceful protesters. So, no, Jake Tapper isn’t responsible for any of that violence. Even if it’s true, as it is, that by August 12 armed leftists as well as armed white nationalists showed up ready to rumble, making Antifa out to be the aggressor at this demonstration is a dodge, a way of avoiding acknowledging which homegrown ideology really has racked up the highest body toll in the US during the past couple of years. That ideology would be white supremacy.

That fact, though, doesn’t make Jill Filipovic, or Jake Tapper, any less right about attacks on journalists (even bloggers whom you don’t much like) deserving criticism wherever they come from. Jill’s getting other replies that say “It’s always self-defense” or that Ngo must have staged this.

And, then again, Twitter being Twitter, both the attacks on Jill “from the left” and those “from the right” may well include trolls and bots. I have no particular confidence about how much of Twitter Antifa is actually real (unless I actually know the person tweeting), and a certain portion of Twitter Trump support is likewise astroturfed.

Given this mix, of empowered right-wing white supremacist violence that’s currently more dangerous than Antifa, of apparently credible reports of actions by some people affiliated with Antifa (attacks on journalists) that are reprehensible, and of some incidents that appear on later reports to have been exaggerated to include worse actions than what actually happened (the demonstration at Tucker Carlson’s house), it’s hard to know when, if I criticize something, I may later find out that I was suckered. But Jill Filipovic is absolutely right on the general principle. Throwing things at Andy Ngo is neither self-defense nor defensible politics. And there are people who are trying to exaggerate the threat of Antifa to make excuses for the likes of the Proud Boys. Both these things are true. The one doesn’t make the other not true.

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Links and reflections on the humanitarian crisis at the border

Posted by Sappho on June 26th, 2019 filed in Blogwatch, News and Commentary

Some Suburb of Hell” camps. Dozens-of-kids-get-only-two-lice-combs-and-their-blankets-are-taken-away-when-they-lose-one camps. We-won’t-let-you-wash-your-hands-or-clean-your-baby’s-bottle-or-give-you-toothpaste camps. If-you-don’t-want-me-to-call-them-concentration-camps-I’m-damn-well-going-to-substitute-another-phrase-that-says-just-how-awful-they-are camps. Don’t-expect-me-to-use-the-euphemism-immigrant-detention camps. If-you-did-this-to-your-kids-you’d-be-put-in-jail camps.

Within my Quaker meeting, we’ve been discussing how we can respond. Doris was moved to speak both the past two Sundays in meeting for worship about the children in camps. Becky has supplied a form that, if we print it on card stock at home, will supply postcards to send to our representatives (we’re in several Congressional districts), our Senators, and our President. There’s a vigil, in many locations, on July 12; if you can’t make it to San Diego, you can watch for local events at the Lights of Liberty web site.

I am struck by the fact that, a year after we protested family separations, families are still being separated, so toddlers can be given to the care of 7-year-olds and 8-year-olds in crowded baby jails. Dara Lind’s Vox Explainer on the horrifying conditions facing kids in border detention reports:

Traditionally, an “unaccompanied alien child” refers to a child who comes to the US without a parent or guardian. Increasingly — as lawyers have been reporting, and as the investigators who interviewed children in detention last week confirmed — children are coming to the US with a relative who is not their parent, and being separated.

Because the law defines an “unaccompanied” child as someone without a parent or legal guardian here, border agents don’t have the ability to keep a child with a grandparent, aunt or uncle, or even a sibling who’s over 18, though advocates have also raised concerns that border agents are separating relatives even when there is evidence of legal guardianship.

Clearly, this is wrong, and contrary to common sense. Grandparents are family. Aunts and uncles are family. If the law doesn’t recognize that when people are fleeing a desperate situation, sometimes the children fleeing will be in the care of grandparents, aunts, uncles, or adult siblings, the law needs to change. When I was four and my aunt died, my grandparents sold their home in Illinois and moved to California to care for my cousins. Two years later, those cousins moved across the country to become my sisters and brother. I imagine us having to flee, after my sisters and brother had joined us but before the adoption, perhaps without paperwork of legal guardianship. Sure, if we crossed the border to Canada and then Uncle Gordon had asked for his children back, it would be the job of the Canadian government to send them to their father. But if Uncle Gordon wasn’t in the picture, or if he was already waiting in Canada? I picture toddler Jessie, as the two-year-old that she was when she joined our household, being taken away from us, and I picture seven-year-old Jean, the oldest of the three, having to take care of her little sister, in a crowded baby jail that couldn’t be counted on to supply diapers.

The court hearing was not specifically about the Clint facility — it wasn’t about what investigators found last week at all. And as Ken White explained for the Atlantic, Fabian’s cringeworthy “safe and sanitary” argument came from the awkward stance the Trump administration has taken in this litigation: In order to challenge the court appointment of a special monitor, they argued that there’s a difference between a promise to keep kids in “safe and sanitary” conditions (which the government has agreed to for decades) and a guarantee of particular items like toothbrushes.

Dara Lind, The horrifying conditions facing kids in border detention, explained , Vox, 6/25/2019

It’s the fate of the children that’s most heartbreaking, but even our treatment of adults is unconscionable: people are legally entitled to request asylum, but we meter for weeks with no hint of when they’ll get to present themselves and apply, till desperate people cross the border outside the border checkpoints, in hopes of setting foot on US soil and being able to make their application. And so we come to the photo of the drowned man and his drowned toddler daughter.

A member of my Quaker meeting, a retired professor who now does volunteer work on immigration issues, is now in Tijuana volunteering for El Otro Lado, and has a blog. She writes

My day started at 6:30 this morning, when I went to the Pedwest pedestrian entry point — the same one I just walked through yesterday to get here — and met a few other volunteers. We were to do outreach, handing out flyers and letting people know about the services offered at Al Otro Lado, but also watching for any problems with the treatment of refugees trying to enter.

This is another change: the increased number of people other than Central Americans, and the complicated procedure by which people get a chance to be processed by U.S. authorities. Here’s now it works, in brief: anyone who wants to apply for asylum in the U.S. has to come here and write their name in a spiral notebook that is under the control of “list managers,” who are migrants themselves. However, the notebook is physically the property of Mexican authorities, who pick it up when the numbers for the day have been called and who bring it back the next morning. The list is numbered — ten names per number — and you can only present yourself to U.S. authorities after your number is called. If you show up more than a day or so late, you may be told you have to start all over with putting your name at the end of the list.

There are all sorts of problems with this system. For one, it is subject to corruption (e.g., authorities who, for a price, will get you moved to a higher spot on the list). Also, the slow metering means that people must wait for many weeks in Tijuana, during which their pass to travel through Mexico expires and they often run out of money. I had a really tough moment today hearing three Togolese men tell me how desperate they were — out of money, and with an expired pass, hassled by police who would try to extort money from them because of the expired pass, and with no idea of how many more weeks they would have to wait for their number to be called.

I encourage you to read Betty’s blog. It will be more informative, right now, than mine.

And please, write, call, demonstrate, make it clear that our government’s immigration policies need to change. No more sticking people in if-you-did-this-to-your-child-you’d-go-to-jail camps.

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Reflections on a memory of Sarajevo

Posted by Sappho on June 8th, 2019 filed in History, Peace Testimony

“They’re trying to kill me,” Yossarian told him calmly.
No one’s trying to kill you,” Clevinger cried.
Then why are they shooting at me?” Yossarian asked.
They’re shooting at everyone,” Clevinger answered. “They’re trying to kill everyone.”
And what difference does that make?”

Joseph Heller, Catch 22

One day, back in 1993, I sat in a room full of people from the various warring countries that were then still known as “former Yugoslavia.” My husband, Joel, who had spent three months in 1992 mostly in Croatia and Serbia (with shorter visits to Slovenia and Northern Macedonia), had been invited to join this gathering. Some of his friends were there – a Serbian woman, a Bosnian man. All of the people in the room had gathered in the hope that, somehow, if Serbs and Croats and Bosnians in the US could meet and talk, they could find a way to help fix the ongoing disaster in their respective countries.

Still, they disagreed. Serbs who were appalled at the actions of Milosevic still hoped to press their country to stop its acts of aggression without encouraging the US to bomb Serbia. Others thought that bombs might be just fine, as long as Serbia was stopped. And so a Serb posed the question to a Bosnian whom we knew, a man from Sarajevo. I’ll call him Adin, because that was not his name, and because I don’t think most Americans have preconceptions about the name Adin, as they might if I called him, for example, Ahmed.

“But if the US bombed Serbia, wouldn’t that just mean that other families are getting bombed?”

“Yes,” Adin replied, “But my family would no longer be bombed.”

Bear in mind, as you read this, what was happening in Sarajevo at the time. The Siege of Sarajevo was the longest siege of a capital city in the history of modern warfare. It began on 5 April 1992 and ended on 29 February 1996. At the time we spoke, the Serbs had managed to blockade the city since 2 May 1992, as they assaulted the city with artillery, tanks, and small arms. According to Wikipedia,

Read the rest of this entry »

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The Sociopath Next Door, Quakerism, and the blessing for the tsar

Posted by Sappho on May 26th, 2019 filed in Quaker Practice

I recently finished reading Martha Stout’s book The Sociopath Next Door. Stout’s argument is that 4% of the population has antisocial personality disorder, or, as she puts it, are sociopaths, and that sociopaths are without conscience or love. Coming from the perspective of being a therapist who helps people pick up the pieces after being damaged by close relationships (family, romantic, etc.) with sociopaths, she issues the warning that not all sociopaths are behind bars. That many of them are our neighbors, coworkers, friends, or lovers, and we need to be prepared to protect ourselves from them.

The book is readable, backed up by some footnotes pointing to research, but not so loaded with research references that it will be put off any lay reader. I found interesting Stout’s discussion of different kinds of sociopaths, and how to detect a sociopath. (High on the list is the “pity play,” which, as I see it, doesn’t mean anyone you’re inclined to pity, but does mean you want to run like hell from someone who both wrongs you and appeals to your pity – don’t be the woman singing “As Long As He Needs Me.”) Stout is also ready with suggestions on how to respond if you find you are dealing with a sociopath (distance yourself!).

Two questions stuck in my mind, as I read the book. The first: How far can I rely on Stout’s account? Clearly, she’s more expert on this subject than I am. She’s a therapist, and I have a rusty undergraduate psychology major from decades ago. But she’s not the only expert. For instance, her estimate of 4% of the population is backed up by some studies (peer reviewed ones that are referenced in footnotes), but I’ve also seen apparently reputable sources giving other estimates – in one case 3% of men and 1% of women, in another 1% of the population as a whole. Whether we’re talking about 1% or 4% doesn’t change the situation that much, but it’s a reminder that no single book is the whole story on antisocial personality disorder. More telling is the question: Are sociopaths actually as unfeeling as Stout says? Here’s a report on a study suggesting that they feel more regret than we think, but aren’t able to integrate that regret into their decision making.

Still, there does seem to be agreement among psychologists that there’s a minority of the population, whether it’s 1% or 4%, who are, let’s say, conscience challenged. And that raises the second question: how do I react to that information, as a Quaker, remembering George Fox’s exhortation to “Walk cheerfully over the world, answering that of God in everyone”?

Simply brushing aside the challenge of sociopathy strikes me as a kind of spiritual bypassing:

Spiritual bypassing is a defense mechanism in which one uses spirituality in order to avoid uncomfortable or painful feelings. Maybe one wants to avoid anger, or grief, or loss, or boundaries. So instead of feeling that anger (or grief, or loss, or boundary, or whatever the thing in question may be), one papers it over, and calls the papering-over “spiritual.” 

(The image illustrating this post is a great example of spiritual bypassing in pop culture: Princess Unikitty from the LEGO movie. She’s a sparkling rainbow unicorn, and she over-focuses on the positive, refusing to acknowledge anything that hurts… until she reaches her breaking point, whereupon all the negativity she denied herself causes her to boil over in rage. Image via Stephanie Lin.)

About Bypassing, by the Velveteen Rabbi

Early Quakers had a notion called the Day of Visitation. It’s an idea that seems theologically liberal, perhaps, compared to the Calvinist belief in predestination that was prevalent in 17th century England. Everyone gets a Day of Visitation! No one is predestined not to get this chance. But perhaps also not so liberal compared to how we often think now. Can you miss your chance? (As one hymn, not a Quaker one, puts it, “And that choice goes by forever, twixt that darkness and that light.) I do, though, find myself thinking back to that notion whenever I encounter someone who doesn’t seem to have a sense of empathy that’s reachable now. I don’t get to see the whole arc of that person’s life. Maybe I’m just not present for that person’s Day of Visitation.

Stout, in fact, thinks that sociopaths are to some degree genetically hardwired for lack of empathy, but not entirely hardwired for anti-social personality disorder. She notes that research in China has shown a much smaller percentage of the population meeting the diagnostic criteria for antisocial personality disorder (by which I mean, much smaller whether you take the 1% estimate or the 4% estimate of incidence in the US), and says that culture influences how much sociopathy gets expressed.

Then there’s the question, how do I respond to sociopathy, as a Quaker?

I would say, with humility. Judging someone else to be irredeemable, because a sociopath, is above my pay grade. In most cases, I won’t actually know that the person has antisocial personality disorder, and can I really know who will never change? No. But I can know who I can’t change. I can know, if someone is damaging to me, and has repeatedly shown no willingness to stop that damaging behavior, when it’s time to give that person the blessing for the tsar: “May God bless and keep the tsar – far away from us.”

And that’s OK, because none of us can be there for everyone, trust everyone, or work with everyone.

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