nearly ready

by dichroic in daily updates

It feels deeply weird to me to have Chanukah so late this year. It’s also harder, because my mom and brother have birthdays in Early December, so though I generally try to give separate presents for each thing, I can usually do them all at once. This year, I need to handle them in two lots. Ted’s birthday is always right near CHristmas, but I’m not sure that’s good either. (For one thing, I don’t need to ship his presents!)

Still, I’m in decent shape holiday-wise. I have the ‘thing’ part of Mom’s gift and just need to figure out what to do for the donation part (I don’t usually do both, but a) it’s a milestone birthday and b) this year it feels particularly important to support charities that support those who will be hit hardest by the recent US election. I’m trying to decide between Planned Parenthood, the ACLU, the Southern Poverty Law Center, (International Rescue Committee, or maybe something Jewish. The Chanukah gift for her and my brother’s family is tickets to go see a musical aimed at kids (Elephant and Piggie) in the Kimmel Center in Philadelphia – I think they’ll all enjoy that.

My brother is accounted for – I knit him something last year that took way longer than expected, so he’s getting it this year plus a few other things. He’s got enough enthusiasms to be easy to shop for. (His wife is much harder!) I just need to get his box packed up and shipped this weekend.

Ted’s becoming harder to buy for, because we really just. don’t. need. more. STUFF in the house!! But a friend had recently asked if I’d mind if she painted a picture based on a photo of mind, and sent me a photo of the finished piece yesterday. I loved it and hope he will too, so I asked her if I can buy it. Luckily she was businesslike about it and just quoted the price she normally sells for, so we didn’t have that awkward friendship dance – I prefer to pay what art is worth, if I can. (Though it’s true that we have three other paintings in the house needing to be better displayed. One was a gift from another friend – it’s displayed but just sitting on a bookshelf, unframed; the second was a gift someone gave Ted when we left Taiwan – not someone we were close to and I don’t love it; and the third Ted painted himself at one of those painting group events. The first one of those, the gift from a friend, is the only one I really care about, and we probably should protect it with a frame.

He takes care of his side of the family (aside from some socks I’m almost done knitting and a couple dishcloths I need to do), so a couple things for friends and one knitting gift exchange, and I’m about done.

book: Fallen into the Pit (Inspector Felse)

by dichroic in books

One of the books I’m recently read is Fallen Into the Pit, by Ellis Peters. She’s best known for Brother Cadfael, but this one is an Inspector Felse mystery (contemporary, published 1951). Lately I’ve been reading a lot of BritLit from WWI to just after WWII (DE Stevenson, Angela Thirkell, Elizabeth Cadell), and in the past I’ve read lots more from then and earlier: Miss Read, Sayers, Christie, Tey, Conan Doyle, R. Austin Freeman (Dr Thorndyke mysteries), Gaskell, Dickens, Trollope, etc, etc. I can only conclude that English writers up through the 1950s or so just really don’t like Jews. At best, you get a Jewish character who is not too bad, or alien-but-really-a-decent-person, like a couple of Dr. Thorndyke’s clients or the jewel dealer Lord Peter Wimsey works with. This book is really about the only one I can remember that has a completely sympathetic portrayal of a Jew.

She’s a German Jew, a Holocaust survivor who had made her way across Europe, ended up in England, married a farmer and lived a very quiet life. Her whole family were killed by the Nazis. Peters does a remarkable, sensitive job in imaging what her inner and outer life would be like, how she might think about her past, how she could be able to reach toward happiness again. It’s also good to see that she is completely accepted by not only her husband and their shepherd but all the locals. There is some anti-Semitic ugliness, but it’s from an intruder, a German POW still in England, and Peters means it to be ugly and intrusive – it’s not shown as ‘normal’ or OK in any way, and it’s not accepted by her family or the neighbors. Even Felse, the local police inspector, offers his support once he finds out she’d been harassed, though it’s too late at that point.

It’s a very pleasant change from having to shut your eyes and hurry past the icky bits in Sayers and the rest of them.

Only problem is, I liked this book a lot but now I’m not sure I want to read the read of the Felse mysteries, because from reading reviews I get the feeling she switches focus to other locales and to a grown-up Dominic Felse, and doesn’t really develop this setting or these characters further.

defending my people

by dichroic in daily updates, politics

I promised myself to quit engaging on FB and on political topics in general because of the high blood pressure – but maybe writing it out is better than thinking it over and letting it fester.

I’m beginning to get that feeling that supposedly elected Trump – that feeling that my kind of people are ignored by those in power, those with privilege, those with their smug ‘I got mine’ attitudes that don’t care how the rest of us might struggle. Only my kind of people aren’t Trump voters.

My kind of people, the kind I come from and a lot of those I hang out with, don’t have a lot of money. They worry a lot about how to pay for their kids’ college, but they work their ass off to do it because they want their kids to have a better life. And they tend to vote liberal, for a few reasons – none of them pertaining to being part of any ‘elite’.

One is that they’ve been through hard times. This has had two effects; it’s made them see the need for a safety net in case things really got bad, and it’s given them sympathy for those who have it even worse. They can’t vote for “I’ve got mine” if it rips the floor out from under everyone else.

Another is that they’re educated – but don’t assume that makes them ‘elite’ either. Some (OK, me) got degrees and are doing OK, but a lot of others majored in the kind of thing that may help you learn to think but doesn’t necessarily have you stashing doubloons under your mattress. Still others got to be educated on their own, by thinking and reading and listening. That’s another reason they don’t vote for Trump: because they actually listened to what he said, not just the “make America great” but all the other parts too, the parts about hurting people and the parts where he said one thing Monday and denied it Tuesday. And they looked at the historical data, and saw whose policies in the past have lifted America up and whose have let her down.

To those rural folks reputed to be feeling disenfranchised, who voted Trump for that reason: quit complaining about made-up problems. If all you’re losing is the ability to assume everyone is just like you, forget it. A lot of us have never ever had that; we’ve been standing on that shaky ground for generations, and maybe it’s done us some good. And quit making your own new problems – if you really think a rich white city boy famous for screwing people over, and who has spent way less time, effort and dollars than people with comparative riches on helping others, is the only one who cares about you, you might want to listen to those words and that data a little better. Come work with us instead on your real problems. If you’re losing your farm or can’t get decent healthcare in your community, we’ll care about you and we’ll help you (and we’re the ones likely to be raising money for you). When it comes to those real problems, my people have a lot in common with you.

And yeah, this rant was sparked by Facebook. The other day, someone told me I probably voted for Hillary just because I have decent health insurance – even though I know people who have only had any insurance since Obamacare went through. (Clarification: I think Obamacare kind of sucks, and I don’t want to give any impression that I’m defending it. I just think it’s better than nothing, since Congress blocked anything that might be better.) Just now I read two comments in a row by people who are working their asses off, having trouble making ends meet, and tired of being told they must be rich because they voted for Hillary and should just throw money at their problems.

too bad Chanukah is very late this year

by dichroic in daily updates, poetry

Because I’m feeling the need for those small lights in the darkness that send a message two thousand years old: “You did your worst, but we’re still here.”

Diwali has come and gone –
any light it left behind has dimmed,
lost in the shadow of later events –
darkness, division, disenchantment
and encroaching despair.

But this is the seasons of lights in the darkness,
and the calling of bells –
the rebellious candles of Chanukah
and the innocent ones of Saint Lucia,
the warm hearthfires of Sinterklaasdag,
the conscience-fires of Kwanzaa,
the peals for every earthly desire of Omisoka,
and those for peace at CHristmas.

This year,
can we kindle enough flames,
can we keep the bells ringing
to call us together
to do whatever is needed:
to resist, to protect, to stand forth
or to heal?

more personal stuff

by dichroic in daily updates

I promise not to talk about the Electoral college in this one, or even about the election itself except obliquely.

I’m going to have to go back to my doctor, I think (my GP). Lately my blood pressure has seemed to be up, when it was taken at the dentist, my work physical, and today at the dermatologist. It had been high for a while and my Dutch doctor put me on meds; then when we came back, my doctor here didn’t think I needed them and took me off them, and my blood pressure indeed seemed to be lower. I thought it was probably due to changing from oral birth control to Implanon or possibly to coming back to a country where I mostly understand what’s going on around me. Now I’m on Nexplanon, not Implanon, but I don’t think they’re chemically different; my diet and activities haven’t changed much in the last couple of years. The only things I can figure are either that the Lisinopril built up in my system, and worked for a long time after I stopped taking it (which it’s not supposed to do); the thyroid meds this doctor put me on have raised my blood pressure (which it’s not supposed to do); the marathon training has resulted in overtraining (which I’m not seeing other symptoms of) … or the election. I’m wondering if restricting my Facebook diet would be therapeutic.

The other thing the election has done for me is to make me realize how much of my personal moral system is built on my childhood reading – I think Little Women is probably the best example and biggest part of that except for the very few places where it directly contradicts the Jewish morality I was taught (which is, literally, about two places in the book – the reference to the “best life ever lived” and Jo’s vision of immortality as a “blessed truth”). I do truly believe that any individual should be continually trying to make herself a better person – “better” in the moral sense. That’s a fairly wide category for me and probably slops over to the physical: stronger, tougher, more practical, more capable, kinder, more honest, more reliable. I believe in the value of work and the importance of duty (luckily, the 1970s milieu in which I grew up rescued me from ever thinking I had a duty to be conventional or ladylike, no matter what Jo March was told. And I believe in the duty to make the world better around you, as agreed by both the Jewish tradition and Alcott’s Transcendentalist thought.

All of which is what’s pissing me off with a lot of Trump supporters, because “I got mine and nothing else matters” or “I’m good enough as long as I’m not actively causing harm (I myself, with no responsibility for my friends or fellow travellers or allies)”. They’re affronting not just my specific moral beliefs that human worth is not dependent on the color of your skin or who you love, how well all your parts work, which specific parts you have, or what God you believe in, but also my whole moral code.

I wanted to check my feelings, so I had that discussion with my husband the other day (not a Trump supporter either – I don’t think I could bear it if he were). He doesn’t believe at all in the imperative to make yourself better, just to avoid causing harm to those around you, though he does agree that maybe people to have a responsibility to improve the world around them. So apparently I can live with that in at least some cases – as long as the person is NOT actively causing harm, or allying himself with those who do.

Little Women wasn’t the only book that formed me, but so many of the old children’s books seem to have similar morals, even as they put slightly different stamps on them (E. Nesbit’s Socialism, for instance). And maybe it’s because I get so many of the moral from children’s books that I don’t think fighting a good fight should be drudging or dreary. (It’s symptomatic that the English ones definitely tended to favor the Cavaliers over the Roundheads! Wrong, but Wromantic.) Anyway, the best idea I’ve seen yet to get rid of the divisions that led to Trump’s getting votes from close to half of the people that bothered comes from Thomas Hughes, in Tom Brown’s Schooldays. Just widen the focus a little; he’s talking specifically to young men who want to enter Parliament, but this applies to men and women of all kinds, not only wannabe politicians.

I’ll tell you what to do now: instead of all this trumpeting and fuss, which is only the old parliamentary-majority dodge over again, just you go, each of you (you’ve plenty of time for it, if you’ll only give up t’other line), and quietly make three or four friends—real friends—among us. You’ll find a little trouble in getting at the right sort, because such birds don’t come lightly to your lure; but found they may be. Take, say, two out of the professions, lawyer, parson, doctor—which you will; one out of trade; and three or four out of the working classes—tailors, engineers, carpenters, engravers. There’s plenty of choice. Let them be men of your own ages, mind, and ask them to your homes; introduce them to your wives and sisters, and get introduced to theirs; give them good dinners, and talk to them about what is really at the bottom of your hearts; and box, and run, and row with them, when you have a chance. Do all this honestly as man to man, and by the time you come to ride old John, you’ll be able to do something more than sit on his back, and may feel his mouth with some stronger bridle than a red-tape one.

Just address a wider audience and substitute more modern concepts of diversity – race, sex, religion, orientation, ability, etc – for “the professions and the working classes”, and you have the seeds of a real solution. (When he says ” riding old John”, he means John Bull, as personification of the government or the nation, and isn’t talking about ruling individuals that way. I think.) And it’s fun! Become a better person just by making new friends – and listening to them. How pleasant a study is that?

Electoral College – why?nope, nope, nope and not that reason either.

by dichroic in politics

I’ve had so much to say since this election, but this hasn’t felt like the right place to say it, for two reasons: one is that as far as I can tell this site is mostly read by people of like mind who are already thinking the same things, and the other is that everything I need to say is being said by others, usually better.

But there are a couple of things I wanted to note down. One is that as far as I can tell, the Electoral College is a useless and antiquated system and should be abolished (not just because of this election; I’ve been complaining about them for a long time). I don’t think I need to explain how it works, but someone else-internet asked why it worked that way, and what the advantages are, and I might as well save what I wrote there (tl;dr: AFAIK, there really aren’t any).

I read Thomas Jefferson’s original reasoning – at least the reasoning he admitted to – in his own letters. Remember that news was much less of a thing then than it is now. He believed that if people elected their own government, they just wouldn’t do a good job, because they wouldn’t have enough insight into the candidates to know who would be a good President. But if they elected the best, smartest people they knew, and those people used their best judgement, we’d end up with a much better person in office. (He may have thought differently after Adams was elected, given their relationship at the time!)

Caveat the first: You will note that the current system isn’t anything like what Jefferson envisioned, since electors are no longer expected to use their judgement.
Caveat the second: I suspect Jefferson had some other motivations he didn’t discuss in those letters:
The practical one: President and VP are the only offices everyone across the country votes for, and that’s a lot of votes to count by hand. I suspect that voting for local electors made the counting much simpler.
The immoral one: how many electors a state gets depends on the size of that state – and if you remember the 3/5 Compromise, that meant that slave states had a greater effect on the election than their voting population actually warranted (hence the number of early Presidents from Virginia).

The other thing you will notice is that not one of the reasons cited above applies today. We all know a lot about the candidates by the time of the election, and electors aren’t supposed to use independent judgement anyway; we have computers to count; and all non-felon adults of sound mind can vote. So I do agree with the people calling for the dismantling of the Electoral College.

So why do some people want to keep it on the argument that it protects less-populous states? Each state has the same number of electors as it does Congresscritters (Senators plus Representatives). Therefore, no state has < 3 electors, since all states have 2 Senators, and each state has a number of Representatives proportional to its population, with a minimum of 1. Therefore, states with a very small population have a disproportionate influence on the vote. Which would make sense if you were Thomas Jefferson and thought that farmers were inherently more righteous than businesspeople (well, businessmen, if you were Jefferson). Some problems with this: The District of Columbia ALSO has three electors, and thus the same disproportionate influence as those hardy sons of of the soil. And who thinks giving the most political city in the US some extra clout is a good idea? If you are in sitting at a bar somewhere in France or Japan or Ethiopia, and you ask someone from Missoula or Grants Pass or Tulsa where they're from, they're almost certain to say "America", or "the US" if they want to be precise. (One exception: Texans tend to start with "Texas" and only admit to being part of the US after that.) Only when you get talking in more detail do they identify which state they're from. We started out as a union more like the EU, and there's no doubt that we still have some strong regional identities, but while, say, Arkansas might not want to be overruled by New England, I don't think they care much if they have more or less votes than Tennessee or Vermont by Massachusetts. I think we've gone beyond the need to filter national elections through the states - that's what Congress is there for, to protect local interests. Also, logically, the disproportionate power of rural voters is offset by the winner-take-all system, in which all electors for a state go to whoever got the most votes. This means, for example, that a state like Oregon, which has 4 million people with over half of those in metro Portland and another big chunk in Eugene, still votes blue despite most of the state (by land area rather than population) being red (check out the map on this page).

So basically as far as I can see, the only possible advantage to anyone at all in the Electoral College system, is that it gives the people who like to shout about states’ rights something to shout about.

(I didn’t really answer the question as to what the real advantage of the system is. As far as I can see, there isn’t one.)

hold your ears a minute, please

by dichroic in politics


(Election nerves.)


by dichroic in politics

I’ve been following Pantsuit Nation today on Facebook. I only heard of it yesterday, apparently it was only founded a couple of weeks ago, and now it feels like all my female friends are in there.

If anyone remembers Horton Hears a Who, it sort of feels like we’ve been shouting “We are here, we are here, we are here, we are here!” and today on Facebook, on Pantsuit Nation and elsewhere on my feed, has been one giant, defiant YOP!

Here’s hoping.

a wider view

by dichroic in daily updates

Maybe from here on to the election I should just stick to posting quotes that touch me – I’ve been coming across a bunch lately, though not all of them work out of context. Tonight seems to be the night for thoughts on good and evil – I happened on these two in rapid suggestion (my erg book and my other book).

“Imaginary evil is romantic and varied; real evil is gloomy, monotonous, barren, boring. Imaginary good is boring; real good is always new, marvelous, intoxicating.”
— Simone Weil, by way of Gretchen Rubin’s The Happiness Project

This bit is just after Rabbi Small has explained that Jews don’t really believe in any afterlife (an oversimplification, but anyway).
“Then why bother to be good?” asked Mrs Lanigan.
“Because virtue really does carry its own reward and evil its own punishment. Because evil is always essentially small and petty and mean and depraved, and in a limited life it represents a portion wasted, misused and that can never be regained.”
— Harry Kemelman, Friday the Rabbi Slept Late

venting, explosively

by dichroic in politics

I have been trying hard to stay civil, throughout this whole election. It really does feel to me like this is something way out of the extraordinary and yet some knowledge of history tells me it may not be. The election of 1800 had even uglier rhetoric (even Trump hasn’t called anyone a “hideous hermaphroditic creature”) and I’m not convinced that some of our past politicians were not equally lacking in principle. Fanny Trollope, writing of America, and Anna Sewell (Black Beauty) and Emily Eden (in The semi-Attached Couple) writing of England all show elections in which the only principle was that your guy was great, the other guy was awful, and getting votes by any means was all that mattered.

Still, this is at least unlike anything I’ve seen, and I’m tired of being civil. I won’t say I’m done with it, because I think civility is a public duty, but I’m taking a short break, here in my own personal blog. Then I’ll go back to being good, at least in public.

There’s going to be frothing at the mouth here, or at least at the fingertips. I’m just venting. Read it for entertainment or click through and read something more useful. You’ve been warned.

And I just want to say, what the hell are you Trump voters thinking? Or are you thinking at all? How can you believe it’s right to make any decision in complete disregard of the facts?

Even though he doesn’t show much proof of it, Trump is a human being. Therefore, I think, he deserves a few basic courtesies: I will call him by his name, and I will judge him by his own words and actions, not by what his enemies want me to believe.

But good jumping gravy, his own words are all I need to see that the man is a walking quagmire. He denies on Tuesday what he said – in print or on recording – on Monday. He knows nothing about how government words or what the President of the US can actually do. He praises rapists and scam artists. He lets the voices of hatred and violence speak at his rallies and not only doesn’t try to silence them, he eggs them on.

There’s the guy I know from college who tells me he knows Trump is awful, but when you have rats in your house you just want them out and you don’t even care about the ratcatcher’s failings. Well, first of all, dude, you’re wrong about the rats. Sure, the US has major problems – but it’s a better place now than it was eight years ago. We have some issues we weren’t talking about then, but they’re not new, just out in the open. We still have lots of old problems too, like racism and sexism, but there’s no way any sane person can believe Trump will make those better. The one issue I can think of that’s really worse than it was any time in the last hundred years is income inequality, and Trump’s absolutely the last person to want to change that. And really, dude, you’re a Jew and a father. Do you really think they’ll come for the Muslims tomorrow and not come for you the day after? Are you going to be comfortable with a world in which your daughter is told to just leave her job if she gets harassed?

There’s the guy at work who talks a lot about his church and his religion. Dude, you’ve got daughters too, and you’ve worked hard to raise them and your son with a sense of all their possibilities – you want that shut down? You want young buys encouraged to think it’s OK to grab one of your daughters by a random body part, because she’s just there for entertainment? You’ve already got your daughters in a special group because Girl Scouts are too liberal for you; you can’t claim innocence when one of your kids’ friends commits suicide because she’s gay and she’s afraid her friends and family won’t accept her. Those aren’t Christian values, not if you interpret that phrase to mean “bearing any remote resemblance to what Jesus said and did”. And quit listening to that fringe “news”, anyway, because they’ll say anything to get you riled up. Hillary is not going to take your guns away, though she might work put in a few restrictions to make it harder for criminals to get them. You know how I know she’s not? Because, for one thing, she’s a pragmatist and knows how Americans would react, and for another she does know what the President can and cannot do.

And the rest of you: I’m not accusing you of racism, sexism and all that. Frankly I don’t give a shit what you believe or what prejudices you have; I just care how you act. And you are now supporting someone who is racist, sexist, and not only has no integrity but doesn’t understand what honor is even for.

Quit telling me Hillary is worse. I don’t want to hear it, unless you come with actual data or a citation from a believeable source – you can tell those because they point to real data. Wikileaks doesn’t count as a real source, by the way – and I think it’s just funny that anytime I’ve seen actual content of any of those emails, they havn’t been bad at all. (I haven’t seen many of them but I’ll bet the rest are similarly innocuous. You know how I can tell? Because Hillary’s campaign itself called on the FBI to release them all – which, I note, they haven’t done.)

Mostly, quit telling me anyfuckingthing at all unless you can back it up with facts. You can have your opinion, but try to base it on reality, just for a change.

Oh, while I’m at it, I’m sick of fringe news on both sides. Quit telling me “This new thing will DESTROY Trump!” or “Hillary’s going to jail now!” because you and I both know you’re babbling utter bullshit. Let me give you a definition: “breaking news” is meant to mean “new information coming out now”; it was never intended to mean “completely ignore this headline because this story is either old news, a complete exaggeration, or unimportant trivia”. You’re not going to be able to keep a news outlet going in the long run if you just train people not to believe anything you say; that is the exact opposite of what news is supposed to do.

I feel a little better for having all that off my chest. I promise, I’ll go back to civility now.

ETA: One more thing (though I’ll keep this civil). “Make America Great Again”? A country that is great for only a small part of its populace is not a great country. I’m feeling this at present because I’m listening to the audiobook version of “Friday the Rabbi Slept Late”. It portrays a social setting not too unlike the one I grew up in, just a little more prosperous, just a few years before I was born – right around the time my parents got married. I have reason to think it’s a reasonably faithful portrayal. The thing I didn’t notice when I last read this book, probably in my teens, is how hellish it would be to live in, as a woman. Such limited expectations, so little hope, so few ways to escape. Ick.