Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Truth, Justice, and the American Way

Dear Pro-Life Friends,

Please consider voting for someone other than Donald Trump for President of the United States in November, 2020. I understand that the sanctity of life is very important to you, probably the most important issue to you. I understand that many of you believe so strongly and passionately about this issue that every other issue pales in comparison, and that some of you would consider yourselves one-issue voters because no other issue, and indeed no other combination of issues, could possibly be more urgent and more significant than the fact that 860,000 babies per year are aborted in the United States.

I get all that. I understand your position. And I’m asking you to vote for someone other than Donald Trump anyway.

There are several reasons for that. But let’s start with what your vote for Donald Trump does not achieve. First, your staunch support of anti-abortion policies does not result in a dramatic increase in saved lives. I wish it did. But it does not. Here is a link to a September, 2019 summary of current abortion statistics in the United States: It analyzes current abortion statistics from a variety of perspectives. I encourage you to read it. One item I would like to point out is that there is no correlation between the number of abortion clinics and the number of abortions. In other words, fewer abortion clinics does not result in fewer abortions. In some cases, noted in the study, states that saw abortion clinics close between 2014 and 2017 actually reported higher numbers of abortions during those years.

Overall, the number of abortions continues to decline in the U.S. from a high of 1.6 million per year in the U.S. in 1980 (or 29.3 per 1,000 women between the ages of 15 and 44) to approximately 860,000 per year in 2017 (or 13.5 per 1,000 women between the ages of 15 and 44). This is a trend that has been consistent for almost the past 40 years, and has obviously carried across multiple Democratic and Republican presidential administrations. In other words, abortions are declining. They declined during the George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama administrations. They are declining during the Donald Trump administration. But your vote along party lines, quite clearly, doesn’t affect that. If you’re a pro-life person, you should feel somewhat heartened. The number of abortions is going down. But it’s not because of who sits in the Oval Office.

So let’s discuss who sits in the Oval Office, and how that might affect a few other things. Let’s discuss what a vote for Donald Trump in 2020 DOES mean. But before I go there, let me note one of my underlying assumptions: you do not vote according to your pocketbook. It’s okay. I don’t either.

In the 1990s, Bill Clinton was (in)famous for many reasons. But one of them was his terse summary of what drove voters: “It’s the economy, stupid.” That is, economic concerns were more important than any other issues, regardless of their moral and ethical import. I’m betting that Bill was wrong then, and that he’s wrong now because of your overarching beliefs and principles. You, after all, have made one issue supreme over all others, and it’s not the economy, stupid. He’s wrong for me. I’m working on the assumption that he’s wrong for you as well, and that the economy, which in general has performed well during the Trump administration, is not what will motivate you when you step into a voting booth in November, 2020. Are we in agreement?

So let’s talk pro-life. Historically, the term has become synonymous with anti-abortion. But the words, in and of themselves, obviously encompass life – inside the womb, outside the womb, from conception through the end of life. So when we speak about being pro-life, I think it’s important to consider the implications of the statements of the President and the policies (s)he supports to gauge the total impact on life, from conception through death. And how do the words and the deeds of Donald Trump measure up according to that standard? To quote New York Times columnist David Leonhardt):

  • He has pressured a foreign leader to interfere in the 2020 American presidential election.
  • He urged a foreign country to intervene in the 2016 presidential election.
  • He divulged classified information to foreign officials.
  • He publicly undermined American intelligence agents while standing next to a hostile foreign autocrat.
  • He hired a national security adviser whom he knew had secretly worked as a foreign lobbyist.
  • He encourages foreign leaders to enrich him and his family by staying at his hotels.
  • He genuflects to murderous dictators.
  • He has alienated America's closest allies.
  • He lied to the American people about his company's business dealings in Russia.
  • He tells new lies virtually every week - about the economy, voter fraud, even the weather.
  • He spends hours on end watching television and days on end staying at resorts.
  • He often declines to read briefing books or perform other basic functions of a president's job.
  • He has aides, as well as members of his own party in Congress, who mock him behind his back as unfit for office.
  • He has repeatedly denigrated a deceased United States Senator who was a war hero.
  • He insulted a Gold Star family - the survivors of American troops killed in action.
  • He described a former first lady, not long after she died, as "nasty."
  • He described white supremacists as "some very fine people."
  • He told four women of color, all citizens and members of Congress, to "go back and help fix the totally broken and crime-infested places from which they came."
  • He made a joke about Pocohontas during a ceremony honoring Native American World War II veterans.
  • He launched a political career by falsely claiming that the first black president was not really American.
  • He launched his presidential campaign by describing Mexicans as "rapists."
  • He has described women, variously, as "a dog," "a pig" and "horseface," as well as "bleeding badly from a facelift" and having "blood coming out of her wherever."
  • He has been accused of sexual assault or misconduct by multiple women.
  • He enthusiastically campaigned for a Senate candidate who was accused of molesting multiple teenage girls.
  • He waved around his arms while giving a speech to ridicule a physically disabled person.
  • He has encouraged his supporters to commit violence against his political opponents.
  • He has called for his opponents and critics to be investigated and jailed.
  • He uses a phrase popular with dictators - "the enemy of the people" - to describe journalists.
  • He attempts to undermine any independent source of information that he does not like, including judges, scientists, journalists, election officials, the FBI, the CIA, the Congressional Budget Office, and the National Weather Service.
  • He has tried to harass the chairman of the Federal Reserve into lowering interest rates.
  • He said that a judge could not be objective because of his Mexican heritage.
  • He obstructed justice by trying to influence an investigation into his presidential campaign.
  • He violated federal law by directing his lawyer to pay $280,000 in hush money to cover up two apparent extramarital affairs.
  • He made his fortune partly through wide-scale financial fraud.
  • He has refused to release his tax returns.
  • He falsely accused his predecessor of wiretapping him.
  • He claimed that federal law-enforcement agents and prosecutors regularly fabricated evidence, thereby damaging the credibility of criminal investigations across the country.
  • He has ordered children to be physically separated from their parents.
  • He has suggested that America is no different from or better than Vladimir Putin's Russia.
  • He has called America a "hellhole."
And to quote no one but myself:

  • He's about to undergo impeachment proceedings because he attempted to strongarm and blackmail another nation into spying on his political opponents.

  • I’m summarizing. Hundreds of real-life examples, with dates, citations, links, and videos are available upon request.

    Read that laundry list. No, really, read it. Many of you, my pro-life friends, identify as Christians, and you have given your allegiance to Jesus, and to the understanding of Jesus as revealed to you through the Bible and the historic teachings of the Christian Church. Is there anything in that laundry list that reminds you of Jesus? Anything? One thing?

    So please do me a favor. Do not vote for this man in 2020. He makes a mockery of everything you claim to believe and value. He raises the serious specter of blatant hypocrisy in your midst when you claim to follow Jesus and still support him.

    So vote for someone, anyone else. I’m not kidding. If the thought of voting for a Democrat sends you into paroxysms of panic and grief, don’t vote for a Democrat. Vote for another Republican. Vote for a third-party candidate. Get your friends together, talk it over, and come up with a strategy to elect someone else. But please don’t vote for Donald Trump. It’s a very bad look. The world – people you claim to love, people Jesus died for – is watching, and they are repulsed by what they see. So is much of the Christian Church. They see a segment of America that claims to follow Jesus but has utterly lost the plot, that is driven by fear of the other and by a series of grievances against not Satan, not foreign powers opposed to the nation we love, but other Americans. For the sake of Truth, Justice and the American Way (yep, all three) cast your vote for anyone other than Donald Trump next November.

    Monday, October 14, 2019

    Technology Nightmares

    Or how to spend almost an entire weekend in fruitless pursuit of what worked fine a couple weeks ago …

    I recognize the value of technology. Technology allows me to communicate with many of you. Yay, technology!

    But I’m telling you, I miss the relatively carefree, placid days when communication arrived via the U.S. mail, and required a postage stamp (look it up, kids), and you adjusted the rabbit ears on top of the TV set to improve the picture quality of CBS, NBC, ABC, and PBS.

    Nightmare #1

    A fine technician from WOW visited my home for the third time in ten days. The reasons for these visits have included a picture that was so pixelated as to be unwatchable, and a perfectly clear picture on a screen reading “No signal detected. Please contact customer support.” In between the three visits there have been several conversations with customer support that have taken up 4 – 6 hours of my time as I run through the standard scripts with yet another new customer support person, who coos reassuring things to me and has me check the cables on the back of the box, makes sure that my TV can turn on and off, etc. So technician #3 arrived late yesterday morning, replacing the new box that was three days old with an even newer box. He fiddled with wires and cables, had me test all the channels and, amazingly, all the channels appeared in non-pixelated form with no error messages. So Kate and I left to run an errand (see Nightmare #2, below). When we arrived back home, I triumphantly switched on the television and witnessed a few seconds of a pixelated screen, which was quickly replaced by a picture on a screen reading “No signal detected. Please contact customer support.”

    I called customer support. I said, in slightly more polite words, but only slightly, “Skip the cooing. I’m not going to mess with cables and wires. I want you to cancel my service, and I want you to guarantee that I am not going to be penalized financially because I’m ending my 24-month contract early. The reason I am ending my contract early is because your company cannot provide cable TV and Internet service to my home. So don’t give me a hard time.” The customer service representative proceeded to give me a hard time. The supervisor/manager, who I then asked to speak with, also gave me a hard time. It’s still not resolved. But I’ll be damned if I’m going to be financially penalized for not receiving services I pay for, and because I find the current “solution” to be completely unacceptable. This is not my problem. And I’m not going to pay for it. Stay tuned, if you care. I know you’re all awaiting the resolution of this cliffhanger.

    Nightmare #2

    Periodically, my Mac desktop informs that an update is waiting for me, and that I should install it. One such message showed up Saturday, and I clicked the magic “Install update” link. Yeah, yeah, I agree to everything, damn it, so go ahead and install it.

    Big mistake. It’s on me, I know. Yes, I should have read the fine print. But honestly, who reads the fine print? I’m thinking that a more fruitful and truthful approach would have been to stop the installation process at a couple points along the way with screens that said something like, “WARNING!!!!!!! By installing this version of the operating system, all your music will go away. Are you sure you want to do this?” and “You should also know that all the apps, such as Microsoft Word, Microsoft Excel, and Microsoft Powerpoint that you paid for long ago, and that have worked just fine for years, will no longer be available to you once you install this new operating system. You’ll have to pay a monthly fee to use the same apps in the Cloud, sucker. Are you sure you want to do this?” That would have been helpful to know.

    Alas, I did not know, and found out the hard way. So that errand we ran between the installation of Cable Box #3 and the fateful call to cancel cable/Internet service was to the Apple Store, where the genius at the Genius Bar helped me uninstall the latest, “greatest” O/S and helped me re-install the previous version of the O/S. Guy was a genius. And really, that was helpful, and once I figure out how to transfer the roughly 340,000 songs from various external hard drives back onto iTunes, which is now a blank slate, I’ll probably be eternally grateful.

    At any rate, we returned from the Genius Bar to find a pixelated screen and the wondrous “No signal detected” message on the TV.

    I love technology. I hate technology. So that was my weekend. How was yours?

    Wednesday, October 09, 2019

    The Mandate of Heaven

    There is a lot to swallow with Christianity. Virgin births. One God in three persons, two of them invisible, and the other one a real human being/divinity who lived 2,000 years ago but is still alive. Resurrections from the dead. And that’s just for starters. But the strangest, most unlikely supernatural occurrence may have to do with Donald Trump losing the mandate of heaven.

    I’m not sure how Donald Trump got the mandate, or how one would know, but according to televangelist Pat Robertson, he has the mandate. And he could lose it – could very well chuck the whole enthusiastic approval and holy imprimatur from the Creator of the Universe – by his support of Turkey instead of the U.S.’s Kurdish allies.

    Part of me agrees with Pat Robertson, which in itself is a minor miracle. I think what Turnabout Trump is allowing to happen to the Kurds is a tragedy and a betrayal. But I still have all kinds of questions about the mandate of heaven. Presumably, 73 years of lying and grifting, blowing through marriages like test drives of new cars, and pursuing porn stars while his third wife was home with his infant son weren’t enough to shake the mandate of heaven. Still good, St. Don. Apparently, theological non-sequiturs such as maintaining that he had no reason to pray or repent because he had never done anything wrong weren’t enough to topple the Heavenly Mandate crown. The 13,000 lies in three years? The narcissistic preening? The constant fits of bluster and profanity? Caging toddlers? Referring to human beings as savages and cockroaches and infestations? Mocking disabled people? Threatening to sic his thugs on those who disagreed with him? Blessed are the thugs. No big deal. It’s apparently what Jesus would do, right? Mandate from Heaven territory.

    But you mess with the Kurds and you’re risking the departure of God’s glory.

    I love Jesus. This is why I continue as a Christian. But one has to ignore a lot of absurdity from Christians. I can deal with virgin births and resurrections far easier than I can deal with the mental and spiritual gymnastics that have to take place to not only excuse, but to exult Donald Trump. This is just more of the ridiculousness and heartbreaking sorrow that has characterized the last half decade of my life.

    Saturday, October 05, 2019

    Fly Boys

    I'm guessing that I've been in airplanes hundreds of times. But every single time it happens, I think to myself "I'm sitting in a big metal tube flying through the air," and it never ceases to astound me.

    Today I visited the U.S. Air Force Museum outside of Dayton, Ohio, and that never ceases to astound me, either. Right down the road from Wilbur and Orville Wright's bicycle shop, and a couple miles west of the big open field in which they launched themselves into the air and prepared the way for those big metal tubes, the Air Force Museum is a stupendous monument to these magnificent men and their flying machines. We were there all day and saw roughly one-third of what there was to see. I've been there before, but I'll be back. Because the vision still dazzles me after all these years.

    There must be something about the flat Ohio corn fields. Wilbur and Orville dreamed their dreams in them, and so did John Glenn down in New Concord, and so did Neil Armstrong up in Wapakoneta, about an hour north of Dayton. Farm kids who looked up, way up, from the tops of the corn stalks.

    So too did my father-in-law, Carroll Krupp, raised on a farm not too far from Wapakoneta. Carroll was a child of the Depression, and his parents could barely afford to put food on the table, let alone send their dreaming son off to college. So Carroll did it on his own and took flight lessons in his early twenties, and was doing loop-de-loops his second time out, scaring his instructor and calling down the wrath of the authorities. By the time he quit he had 44 patents to his name, and he had designed spacesuits for NASA and brakes for big commercial airplanes and diving suits for deep sea diving. I see his handiwork in the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum whenever we venture to D.C.

    Carroll, who was quiet and timid and a genius at designing and making things with his hands, didn't like the fact that I wanted to marry his youngest daughter. We circled one another warily for a while until he figured out that maybe, just maybe, it might work out between young Kathleen and this upstart Creative Writing buffoon. We're approaching four decades now, and he probably would have made his peace with the notion at this point. He is, alas, long gone.

    But I think about him every time we venture over to Dayton, Ohio, drive through the flat cornfields to witness the massive, sprawling place that honors him and all the magnificent young men and their flying machines. All those Ohio fly boys made their mark, dreamed big dreams, and, by God, flew through the air. I'm still astounded.

    Friday, October 04, 2019

    Abe Lincoln on Despotism

    In the wilds of the online jungle, Abraham Lincoln has been credited with all manner of illustrious deeds and profound statements. Author of the Magna Carta, inventor of the Internet, first man on the moon, Abe was and is all things to all people.

    But he actually did say some of the things he is credited with saying, and he actually did write some of the things he is credited with writing. Here is one of them:

    “As a nation, we began by declaring that ‘all men are created equal.’ We now practically read it ‘all men are created equal, except negroes.’ When the Know-Nothings get control, it will read ‘all men are created equal, except negroes, and foreigners, and Catholics.’ When it comes to this I should prefer emigrating to some country where they make no pretense of loving liberty – to Russia, for instance, where despotism can be taken pure, and without the base alloy of hypocrisy.”

    That was from a letter Lincoln wrote to his friend Joshua Speed in 1855, back when he was just a struggling lawyer from downstate Illinois.

    Why is that relevant today? It is relevant because despotism is alive and well, and because this very day, and for the past, oh, let’s say four years, Donald Trump has been openly asking foreign governments to interfere in presidential elections against his rivals. Yesterday, he asked not one, but two foreign governments to assist him in investigating his political rivals Joe Biden and Elizabeth Warren. Openly. Brazenly. And Republicans are allowing it to happen by doing nothing about impeachment or ensuring that elections are fair and secure.

    In response, Ellen Weintraub, the chairperson of the Federal Election Commission, wrote yesterday, “Let me make something 100% clear to the American public and anyone running for public office. It is illegal for any person to solicit, accept, or receive anything of value from a foreign national in connection with a U.S. election. This is not a novel concept. Electoral intervention from foreign governments has been considered unacceptable since the beginnings of our nation. Our Founding Fathers sounded the alarm about “foreign interference, intrigue, and influence.” They knew that when foreign governments seek to influence American politics, it is always to advance their own interests, not America’s. Anyone who solicits or accepts foreign assistance risks being on the wrong end of a federal investigation. Any political campaign that receives an offer or a prohibited donation from a foreign source should report that offer to the Federal Bureau of Investigation.”

    Want to hear something funny? Not ha-ha funny. Shake your head in disbelief funny. Ellen Weintraub can write whatever she wants, and she can write statements that are completely ethical and legal and well founded on the vision of American governance. But the Federal Election Commission can’t do its job. The federal agency that polices America’s elections is paralyzed because it doesn’t have a quorum to vote or to do a damn thing. Commissioners have retired and have not been replaced, and this is a pattern that has now gone on for the last several years. You know who needs to appoint and confirm new commissioners? Take a wild guess. If you answered, “Who are the President of the United States and the United States Senate, Alex, er Andy?” you win Double Jeopardy. Without the quorum the FEC can’t investigate complaints, issue opinions, or fine violators.

    Huh. Is there someone who might benefit from this arrangement? Anyone? Bueller?

    We are in chin-high shit as a nation, and we may very well go under. I think Abe Lincoln might have said that, but maybe not. He surely thought it. But I’m going to say it.

    Here’s something else I’m going to say. If Donald Trump gets away with impeachable offenses, if the Republicans and the Cult, Evangelical and otherwise, just shrug at despotism, and turn a blind eye to blatant evil, then I’m gone. And I can’t wait to leave. If and when it comes to it, I too should prefer emigrating to some country where they make no pretense of loving liberty, or Jesus, or any other high-minded concepts or teachings or man-God persons who have been cruelly used and turned into objects of doubleplusungood propaganda to confuse and manipulate the muddled masses. I don’t think Russia would have me. But maybe Mexico. If I can get over or through the wall.

    Wednesday, October 02, 2019

    The Beautiful Mess of The Goldfinch

    This is one of the few reviews of “The Goldfinch” that attempts to grapple with trauma, and the effects of trauma, in a young life. And while I can (and will) quibble just a bit with the commentary, I think it’s fundamentally correct. I’m still baffled by all the negative reviews of this film, and I will defend this film as both a faithful encapsulation of Donna Tartt’s sprawling novel and a beautifully framed and filmed love letter to New York City. What a lovely movie.

    But let’s talk trauma, shall we?

    First, the quibble: I didn’t find the portrayal of the young Theo to be inaccurate or in the least unbelievable. He doesn’t act like a little adult, as the reviewer comments. He acts like a repressed kid on the verge of adolescence. He stuffs the trauma. He simply doesn’t know what to do with it. It comes out in dreams (as it often really does). It comes out in the inability to articulate emotions. It comes out in the uneaten meals, the inability to concentrate on a stupid game of chess.

    I agree with the reviewer that the young adult Theo still acts like a child. He is impulsive (flying off to Amsterdam on the verge of his wedding), indecisive, confused, addicted, floundering. But again, such behavior is entirely consistent with the devastating effects of childhood trauma, which leaves its victims stunted, emotionally frozen at the point at which the trauma occurred. Again, the behavior is entirely believable. The audience wants to see a young adult. But there is no young adult there. There is only a badly damaged young adolescent.

    I like this film. It’s not perfect, but it’s good, and it’s true. At this point, all the negative reviews have probably doomed it to a quick exit from theaters. And that’s unfortunate. It deserves to be seen. See it while you still can.

    Friday, September 27, 2019

    Bill Schroeder and the Great Red, White and Blue Calf

    On this day when the country is unraveling, when the clay-footed idols strut and sputter, I can't help thinking about Bill Schroeder.

    William "Bill" Schroeder was one of four students shot to death at Kent State University in May of 1970. He was a member of the ROTC, an exemplary student, and an Eagle scout. He had the audacity to be walking to class on May 4, 1970, and was more than 100 yards away from the protesters and soldiers. He was carrying a folder. That was his weapon of choice. And he was shot to death by members of the Ohio National Guard.

    In the weeks and months following Bill Schroeder's death, his parents received over 2,000 threatening/harassing messages. They were called every vile name imaginable. They received death threats.

    Think about that. Not one or two hateful nutcases. 2,000 messages.

    I was shocked when I read that, and part of me still is. What it suggests to me is that the Great American Civil Religion, which is the real deity of the land, and whose chief symbol is the American flag, and whose faith is based on unquestioned and unquestioning allegiance, is a far more powerful and dangerous idol that I had ever envisioned. As time has passed, and as I've reflected on the many ways the worshipers prostrate themselves before the red, white and blue calf, my convictions have only grown stronger. Richard Nixon, who was guilty as hell, and who absolutely deserved to be impeached, could whip up the idolaters simply by wrapping his lies and denials in patriotic jargon. He was not a crook. He was a good, upstanding patriot. All those naive, idealistic kids and parents and grandparents who marched and carried signs and protested a senseless war in Vietnam were Communists.

    And I see similar dynamics at work today. A President can be caught redhanded in blackmailing a foreign nation and then attempting to cover it up, in using $400 million of taxpayer's money in military aid as leverage to pressure a foreign country into damaging a political opponent. And his contributions for re-election can and will go up as a result. All that idealistic malarkey about upholding the Constitution? It's a mirage. Many Americans - perhaps enough to re-elect an admitted crook - don't really give a shit about that stuff. The evidence dates back at least to the spring of 1970, and it can be found as recently as this week. If you were on the campus of Kent State University on May 4, 1970, and you were shot, then you deserved to die. And so did your parents. Damn Communists. And nothing has really changed. It's still all about demonizing "Communists" and/or journalists, waving that flag like a talisman, and reminding idolaters about unquestioned and unquestioning obedience.

    It is hard to remember this, and it is hard to watch it happening again. The evidence from 49 years ago. The evidence from this week. It is difficult and demoralizing to be an idealist. And a Christian who tries not to be an idolater.