truepenny: artist's rendering of Sidneyia inexpectans (Default)
Dear Senator Johnson:

I am very disturbed by your reaction to the white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, VA, August 11-12. You made a statement condemning "hate and violence" initially, but since then, you seem determined to make everyone forget that the rally ever happened, that white men carrying Nazi flags, making Nazi salutes, and chanting Nazi slogans marched through an American city--and that a woman is dead because one of them thought he could get away with ramming his car into a crowd of counter-protesters in broad daylight.

What's even worse is your reaction to President Trump's appalling speech. You have said you "don't think" Trump is a racist, although you can't offer any reasons for that belief, and the most negative thing you have yet said about his speech is that "it didn't move us closer. It certainly didn't put the issue behind us."

Senator, it's not clear to me what you think the "issue" is.

You have not spoken out against the racism of the rally. You have not condemned the white nationalist principles of its organizers. You haven't even gone so far as to say that you are anti-fascist. This isn't hard, Senator. "Nazis are evil" is not a complicated or difficult concept. And yet it's one you don't seem to grasp.

You want us to "put the divisive issues off to the side" and "accentuate the positive." By which you mean, you want there to be no consequences of this Nazi terrorist action. You want those of us who are not white men to, once again, swallow the insult and injury offered to us because we are being "divisive" by pointing out that these alt-right Nazis want us dead and are demonstrably ready and willing to kill us themselves.

That's what the fuss is about, Senator. That's why some of us are so unreasonable as to not yet be ready to "put the issue behind us."

Moreover, your call for unity is alarming. I'm willing to extend you the benefit of the doubt--perhaps you genuinely don't know this--but the root of the word fascism, and the concept at the movement's core, is the fasces, the bundle of sticks that is stronger together than any one stick would be by itself. Fascists are all about unity, and when you call for "unity" in the wake of a fascist attack, and when it is clear that by "unity" what you mean is that non-whites and non-males need to sit down, shut up, and stop rocking the boat, I think a person is justified in wondering what you, yourself, think about fascism.

So that's my question to you, Senator. Are you pro- or anti-fascist? It's a very simple question, requiring only a one sentence answer.

I eagerly await your public response.



[ETA: I have emailed this letter to Senator Johnson, and will send a hard copy tomorrow. Plus I have sent a shortened version of this letter both to my tiny local paper and to the Capital Times.]
truepenny: artist's rendering of Sidneyia inexpectans (Default)
The Witches: Salem, 1692The Witches: Salem, 1692 by Stacy Schiff

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


[library]

To get it out of the way, I hated the audio book reader. HATED. She sounded like a local TV news reporter doing a "human interest" story (smugly supercilious, like she finds it all too precious for words), and she had this way of pronouncing sixteen ninety-two that drove me UP THE WALL ("Sixteen ninedy-twoo" is the best rendering I can give; it made me understand why non-Americans can find American accents grating.) When quoting anyone's testimony, she over-emphasized and poured sincerity over the words like maple syrup over pancakes, making everyone sound like Gertrude, who doth protest too much. And The Witches is a VERY LONG book, so I was trapped with this woman's voice for a VERY LONG TIME. (I would have stopped, except that I sincerely wanted to hear the book, moreso than I wanted to get away from ther reader's voice, but it was sometimes a very close call.)

Okay. Aside from that.

This is really an excellent book on the Salem witchcraft-crisis. I don't agree with Schiff at all points (e.g., she's clearly following Breslaw in her assessment of Tituba's testimony, and I don't agree that that's the tipping point of the crisis), but she has done something that no one else writing on Salem has done, and it's something that needed doing. Schiff traces the relationships between the participants and she traces the history of those relationships back from the 1690s to the 1680s to the 1670s. Boyer and Nussbaum made a start at this sort of analysis in Salem:Possessed, but Schiff demonstrates how limited their analysis was, as she examines the web of relationships between afflicted persons, accused witches, judges, ministers, all the way up and down the social ladder from the indigent Sarah Good to the governor of the colony, Sir William Phips. This is a researcher's tour de force, and Schiff is a good, clear writer whose explanations are easy to follow, even when heard instead of read.

My biggest quibble with her is the same quibble I have with almost all scholars who write about Salem. She ends up making it sound like the entire thing was a series of nested frauds rather than the result of anyone's genuine belief in witches and witchcraft. I've talked about this in other reviews, how to a modern reader, it seems almost impossible that it could be anything but fraud and how hard-bordering-on-impossible it is for us to understand, much less enter into, the Puritan worldview, their sincere belief that they were at the center of the cosmic struggle between Go(o)d and (D)evil (sorry, can't resist the wordplay) and their sincere belief that the Devil was real and walking in New England. Puritanism was a culture that enshrined delusions of persecution/grandeur and in that culture witchcraft made sense in a literal way it doesn't in ours. And some of it was fraud. Some of the afflicted persons confessed as much. But fraud alone did not kill twenty-five people (19 were hanged, 1 pressed to death, 5 died in prison, 2 of them infants), and that's the weak spot in Schiff's otherwise excellent book.



View all my reviews
truepenny: artist's rendering of Sidneyia inexpectans (Default)
In the Kingdom of Ice: The Grand and Terrible Polar Voyage of the USS JeannetteIn the Kingdom of Ice: The Grand and Terrible Polar Voyage of the USS Jeannette by Hampton Sides

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


[library]

This was extremely entertaining, and taught me a great deal about the WACKED-OUT science of the late 19th century, with its paleocrystic seas and thermal gateways. It also provides excellent competence porn, as George De Long, his chief engineer George Melville, and the ship's doctor James Ambler were all insanely good at their jobs, and had plenty of opportunities to show it in the two years the U.S.S. Jeannette was trapped in the Arctic pack ice. (There's a fabulous piece of CSI: Jeannette as Dr. Ambler tracked down the cause of the lead poisoning that was slowly killing the crew.) 20 of the 33 members of the crew, including De Long, died in Siberia after exhibiting more epic heroism than should have been allowed to end in failure (but history, unlike fiction, does not care about your heroism), and the Jeannette's voyage remains eclipsed by the Erebus and the Terror

Trigger warning: aside from the ghastly deaths of De Long, Ambler, and most of the crew, horrible and cruel things happen to sled dogs, polar bears, and innumerable Arctic birds.

The audio book reader was competent and mostly a pleasure to listen to, except for his habit of raising the pitch of his voice when quoting women's writing and lowering the pitch of his voice when quoting men. This makes all the men sound excessively MANLY, and makes Emma De Long sound like a simpering idiot, when it's clear she was anything but.



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truepenny: artist's rendering of Sidneyia inexpectans (Default)
Damned Women: Sinners and Witches in Puritan New EnglandDamned Women: Sinners and Witches in Puritan New England by Elizabeth Reis

My rating: 3 of 5 stars


I hate starting a review with "this book was meh," but . . . this book was meh.

Reis' thesis is that in seventeenth-century Puritan New England, when everyone was obsessed with scrutinizing their souls for signs of damnation or salvation, and when a central event in a person's life was likely to be their conversion testimony (you stand up in front of the church you want to join and tell the church members how you came to realize that (a) you were a sinful crawling worm and (b) God had chosen you to be among the Elect regardless), while men tended to say that their sinful actions corrupted their souls, women were much more likely to say that their corrupted souls led them to sinful actions. She talks about how this led (or might have led) to women's confessions of witchcraft--if you view sin as a continuum, and if your corrupted soul means you cannot deny that you are sinful at heart, then how can you be certain that you aren't a witch?

Reis proves her thesis, and it's a subject I'm quite interested in, but the book itself just . . . meh. It was a book. I read it. If you're researching the subject either of Puritan witchcraft or the experience of Puritan women, it's definitely worth reading. Otherwise, not so much.



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truepenny: artist's rendering of Sidneyia inexpectans (Default)
Dear Senator Johnson:

I am writing to ask you to persuade your Republican colleagues to abandon efforts to repeal the ACA. While I whole-heartedly believe that the American healthcare system needs to be reformed, repealing the ACA is not the way to begin. The ACA is not failing, is not in a death spiral, and would in fact be more and more successful if President Trump and Republican legislators would stop sabotaging it.

I am writing to ask you to reach out to your Democratic colleagues. I am writing to ask you to work on a reform process for the ACA that is built on bipartisan cooperation and includes committee work, public hearings, and the full, correct parliamentary procedure for Senate legislation.

There are so many other issues I am angry and/or frightened about, like President Trump's ban on transgender service people, the utter disgrace Jeff Sessions is making of the office of Attorney General, and this new and horrible attack on the rights of people in nursing homes, but I feel defeated by my prior knowledge that you are not interested in my concerns. I am writing anyway because it is something I can do in defense of my ideals and my country, unlike all the many things I can't.
truepenny: photo of the keyboard and raised lid of a 1911 Bluethner grand piano; the inside of the lid has inlaid brass letters reading BLUETHNER LEIPZIG (bluethner 1911)
So this year, after a gap of twenty-five years, I started taking piano lessons again, focusing--because I'm an adult and get to choose for myself--on ragtime. There's a bunch of stuff around this decision that does not need to be explored at this juncture, because what I want to talk about is one of the biggest fucking paradigm shifts I've ever experienced.

I learned piano very much in the traditional you-learn-pieces-and-perform-them-at-recitals-and-they-get-progressively-harder mode (also traditional is the nice Lutheran lady teaching piano in her living room), and one of the reasons I started again was that I could work with somebody who went to UW-Madison for music--somebody, in other words, who's been exposed to the theoretical underpinnings not just of music, but of teaching.

Dude rocks my fucking world, I tell you what.

Partly, this is because I'm an adult and I've been exposed to the theoretical underpinnings of teaching (I always know when a teacher is using a particular pedagogical technique on me--which interestingly doesn't always make it less effective). I learn differently now and with a different understanding of what "learning" is. This is the place where Csikszentmihalyi has been extremely helpful to me, because I can recognize how a successful learning engagement works. ("Learning experience" would be a better phrase, but it already has connotations that are really kind of the opposite of what I mean.) And the pressure to learn pieces for recitals is mercifully off, which helps, too. But partly it's because this guy approaches music completely differently, bottom up instead of top down.

But the thing that has changed my relationship with my piano is something my teacher said (and I can't for the life of me remember what it was) that made me understand--quite literally for the first time in my life--that fingerings aren't arbitrary and they aren't just put in music so that teachers can judge whether students are obeying them or not. Here's where playing the piano is exactly like rock climbing:

The notes in the score are like the hand, finger, foot, and toe holds used to set a route in a climbing gym. You work the fingerings out yourself, the same way that a climber works out her own solution to how to get to the top of the wall using the holds available. And he said, "This music is for playing." A weirdass chord progression or run is like a difficult sequence in a route; it's a game, a puzzle that a musician who's been dead for 100 years set for all the pianists who came after him to solve. You work out the fingerings (4-5-3-5 WHAT THE ACTUAL FUCK) so that you don't hang yourself out to dry, the same way that a climber works out her holds so that when she has only her right hand free, the next hold isn't three feet to her left. When you make a mistake, you laugh and pick yourself back up and go up the wall again, because it isn't a pass/fail test. It's a game. You have a sense of glee that you share with the route setter about solving this incredibly intricate puzzle almost--in a weird way--together.

What that means is, (1) playing piano, which I have always loved, is now infused with a sense of fun that it truly has never had; (2) I know what I'm learning--not just "music" but the route up the wall, the game that underlies the performance; (3) when I'm fumbling through a new chunk of music, I know why I'm fumbling. It's not because I'm stupid or the music is stupid; it's because my brain is trying to process so much new information that it gets overwhelmed. That's why I miss easy chords and consistently play that damn C-sharp when the piece is written in G. Because THAT'S WHAT THE LEARNING PROCESS LOOKS LIKE.

But honest to god the idea of music as a game being played between composer and performer, and not a game like tennis, but a game like riddling--riddle set and riddle answered--is a seismic paradigm shift for me. Everything looks different now.
truepenny: artist's rendering of Sidneyia inexpectans (Default)
Dear Senator Johnson:

Thank you for speaking out against Senator McConnell's methodology, which looks suspiciously more like tyranny than democracy. I hope that you will publicly refuse to vote to repeal the ACA with nothing lined up to take its place. McConnell's plan is catastrophic and could only be put forward by someone who neither knows nor cares anything about the healthcare needs of his constituents. I am strongly in favor of bipartisan reform for the ACA, and I hope that you will reach out to your Democratic colleagues to make that happen.

I know I will never persuade you that you are wrong about the effect of the free market, but, because I choose to believe that you are acting in good faith, I have to--in good faith--try again:

The problem with the free market is that it erodes ethics. Free-market capitalism says that ethics are irrelevant--if they're not actually a liability, making you less able to compete. This is why it is crucial that the government regulate corporations. The government doesn't need to worry about corporations making money. They'll take care of that part themselves. The government needs to ensure that they don't run roughshod over employees and consumers in the process. Deregulating everything and trusting to the free market to solve the problem is like opening all the cages and trusting the tigers to solve the food supply problem. Corporations, like tigers, will solve the problem for themselves. We need the government to make sure the problem is solved for everyone.

This is why we need government. This is why government should never be run on the corporate model. It is not a corporation, and if it is to succeed in providing justice for all citizens, it cannot be a corporation. It has to be the balance to the corporations, to keep their untrammeled free market competition from literally poisoning everything they touch. In the past fifty years, America has proved repeatedly that deregulation is not the answer. Deregulation only and always makes things worse, because--hey, wait for it--our country is not a corporation. Treating it like one merely destroys it.

This is why ethics are not something that can be discarded. Because without ethics, you get the Trump administration, and I have to tell you that, no matter how it looks from where you are, from where I am, all I see are tigers.



There's also email to Governor Walker about why isn't he one of the governors speaking out against ACA repeal?
truepenny: artist's rendering of Sidneyia inexpectans (Default)
Dear Senator Johnson:

For most of this week, I've been too angry to write a letter. I'm angry at Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan and Steve Daines and all the rest of the smug Republican apparatchiks who think scoring points against Barack Obama is more important than the lives of tens of millions (if not hundreds of millions) of their constituents. I'm angry at the way the GOP is trying to bully the Congressional Budget Office into giving their healthcare bill a better score. And I'm afraid, Senator Johnson, that means that I'm angry at you.

Your weaseling around to try to make the CBO score "better" infuriates me. First because you're trying to change the rules of the game (to use Senator Daines' extremely unfortunate metaphor) so that you can reach the goalposts your party has moved with your actions this year. Second because, while l6 million people uninsured may be fewer than 22 million people uninsured, it is not BETTER.

I wish I thought I had any hope of making you understand that.

It appalls me that you have any say in the governing of our country. (You're not alone in that. I'm equally appalled that Paul Ryan has any say in the governing of our country. Not to mention Donald J. Trump.) It makes me cringe to think that when I say, "I live in Wisconsin," people will now immediately associate that with the guy who argued that 16 million people uninsured was a meaningful improvement over 22 million people uninsured. And it infuriates me that you, my elected representative to the United States Senate, demonstrably and out of your own mouth care not a single iota about my welfare, or the welfare of 99% of your other constituents.

We both know you won't read this letter. Honestly, that is the least of my disappointments in you.
truepenny: artist's rendering of Sidneyia inexpectans (Default)
Senate Republicans have sent the BCRA back to the CBO.

1. To Senator Ron Johnson:

Dear Senator Johnson:

You and I disagree fundamentally on what's wrong with the BCRA. This is only to be expected, given your belief in the power of the private sector, whereas my experience of being an American citizen for the past 42 years is that privatization and deregulation ALWAYS MAKES THINGS WORSE. *ALWAYS.* And your horrifying analogy between health insurance and car insurance gives me no confidence that you will ever understand my point of view.

However, I appreciate that you disagree with the BCRA, and I appreciate that you are willing to say so publicly. Please, even if we disagree on why it's wrong, continue to oppose the BCRA. The democratic process and democratic government only work with public and honest debate, NONE OF WHICH THE BCRA HAS HAD. Please vote against it. Please insist on public hearings.

Thank you.

2. To Senator Tammy Baldwin:

Dear Senator Baldwin:

Thank you for your opposition to the BCRA. This bill *TERRIFIES* me, both on my own behalf and on the behalf of my family and beloved friends. The BCRA threatens my ability to afford the health care I need to manage a number of "pre-existing conditions," including major depressive disorder, restless legs syndrome, and chronic migraines. Without management, these conditions will destroy my ability to be productive, and they will make my life a daily misery. I promise I am not exaggerating. My friends who are self-employed artists, who were only able to pursue their dreams because of the ACA, are now facing the loss of the health insurance (i.e., the access to affordable and sufficient care) they, too, desperately need.

Please continue to speak out against this cruel bill. Please continue to fight it.

Thank you.
truepenny: artist's rendering of Sidneyia inexpectans (Default)
Q1: More about Jack the Ripper! Who do you think did it?
Q2: Research -- do you plan your approach, or is it more freeform/serendipitous/falling down rabbit holes?
Q3: Are you exclusively reading true crime? If so, what's that been like? If not, what else are you reading?
[each from a different and lovely reader]


Read more... )
truepenny: artist's rendering of Sidneyia inexpectans (Default)
Dear Senator Johnson:

Yesterday, you compared me, not favorably, to a car: "We’ve done something with our health care system that you would never think about doing, for example, with auto insurance, where you would require auto insurance companies to sell a policy to somebody after they crash their car."

I cannot tell you how furious I am.

First of all, in comparing health insurance to car insurance, you are implying that:

(1) we can avoid illness, cancer, strokes, etc., the same way a driver, hypothetically, can avoid accidents (although accidents can't always be avoided, either);
(2) human beings are nothing but machines;
3) if we are not useful--as, say, children or elderly people no longer able to work are not useful--we are not worth taking care of;
(4) we decrease in value when we are damaged.

All of these implications are wrong. Frankly, they are all reprehensible. Also, a car accident is in no way, shape, or form like a "pre-existing condition." "Pre-existing conditions" are chronic. You can't deal with them once and then move on, the way you can buy a new car if yours is totaled. You have to deal with a "pre-existing condition" for the rest of your life; it goes on being expensive, eating up energy, and making your daily life harder long after the crisis point (the accident, in your analogy), if there even was one. Many people's "pre-existing conditions" start before they're even born. It is a false and pernicious analogy which you should never have permitted yourself to make.

Moreover, my "pre-existing conditions" are not things that I did, or things caused by my bad choices. The same is true of my friends who are bipolar. The same is true of any child who has cancer. Illness, whether mental or physical, is not a moral judgment, and a person's value, which is inestimable, is neither measured nor affected by the health care they need. And no one can predict the health care they're going to need--in much the same way no one can predict a drunk driver crossing the median and colliding head-on with their car.

Frankly, I have never expected you to oppose TrumpCare, whether it's called the AHCA or the BCRA, and I was angry enough about that. But the contempt this analogy shows for your constituents and for their need to have effective and affordable health care--a need that does not correlate with either their socio-economic status or their moral rectitude and that should never be thought of in terms of free-market capitalism--is appalling, especially from someone who claims to consider it "an honor and a privilege to serve the people of Wisconsin." I sincerely hope that this analogy is not a reflection of your true opinion of your constituents.

Senator Johnson, I AM NOT A CAR. I am a person, created equal with yourself, and I deserve to have my elected representatives respect my humanity and treat me with dignity.
truepenny: artist's rendering of Sidneyia inexpectans (Default)
Gentle Readers, however many of you there may be,

I'm in the mood to take requests. What would you like to see me write a blog post about? All suggestions will be entertained (writing, politics, mental/physical health, true crime, Shakespeare, etc.), but may or may not be acted upon.

I'm screening comments, in case you want to ask privately for a public response.
truepenny: artist's rendering of Sidneyia inexpectans (Default)
(I said this on Twitter, I might as well say it here.)

So, yesterday I outed myself as mentally ill. Which was a conscious choice & one I'm not fully happy about, but it needed to be done. It also means that I have admitted I have a disability. (Actually, I have several.) Which I'm also not happy about, but facts are facts.

However, I'm now waiting for the person who's going to come along and tell me I'm not disabled enough:
  • "You don't look/act disabled." (You're not really disabled, just making excuses/trying to make yourself look special.)
  • "You're not on disability." (You fail to meet a arbitrary, quantifiable standard of disability, therefore you are not disabled.)
  • "I don't think you have a real disability." (You fail to meet my arbitrary, unquantifiable standard of disability, therefore you are not disabled.)
  • "You have a job." (You can't really be disabled. You're too functional.)
  • "Your description of your disability does not match with other people's descriptions of their disability/with my experience of my disability." (You're not disabled, you're just lying.)
  • "Other people have disabilities that are much worse than yours." (How dare you claim to be disabled.)
  • ETA 2017 06 25 "You can totally overcome this disability if you think right/eat right/exercise right/pray right/take the right supplements/buy the right Lucky Special Stick." (You're not really disabled, you're just not trying.) [I forgot this one, as I said to rachelmanija when she reminded me of it, because it's the one I still say to myself.]

Well, if that's how you think, I have news for you:

1. FUCK YOU.

2. Disability is not a competition. Yes, there ARE people whose disabilities are much worse than mine. That doesn't make the issues I struggle with less real.

3. You have no idea of how hard I may be working to not "look disabled."

4. Also, and I repeat, fuck you and the horse you rode in on. Whoever you are and whatever your credentials, you do not get to constitute yourself the disability police and tell me, once again, that I'm not disabled enough to count.

I don't want to be disabled. (Jesus fucking Christ, who would?) I don't want to acknowledge that I'm disabled. I'm doing so now because the Republicans are trying to make people with disabilities disappear, and it's time to BE VISIBLE as a person with disabilities who doesn't "look disabled," instead of just passing for "normal" as best I can.

So stop telling me to shut up because I don't meet your standards.

I have disabilities. They're real. By the definition of the health care that I'm in danger of losing, HELL YEAH are they real. I *do* have a dog in this fight, and me and him, we're gonna go down YELLING OUR FUCKING HEADS OFF.
truepenny: artist's rendering of Sidneyia inexpectans (Default)
ETA: Per Snopes, the Warm Springs Foundation, which provided Senator McConnell with polio rehabilitation, was a nonprofit organization with extremely close ties to the federal government (as we'd probably phrase it today). If someone from Senator Johnson's office contacts me to point out my errors, at least I'll know they read my letter.

ETA(2): ALSO THIS.


[via email]

Dear Senator Johnson:

First of all, thank you for speaking out against the speed with which Senator McConnell is trying to force his Better Care Reconciliation Act through the Senate.

Secondly-- As it turns out, Senator McConnell had polio as a small child; his health care was entirely government-funded. This is exactly the kind of health care--the kind that provides needed services to children whose parents *are*not*wealthy*--that he is trying to destroy. The hypocrisy of this infuriates me, above and beyond all the other things that I think are appalling, shameful, and horrifying about the BCRA.

The BCRA is potentially catastrophic for me. I have a number of chronic conditions, including Major Depressive Disorder, Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, and Restless Legs Syndrome, that are controlled, entirely or in part, by medications--medications that I cannot afford without health insurance. Without the chemical assistance to straighten out my brain chemistry and neurology, I will very quickly become paralyzed by the apathy of depression and the brain-lock induced by OCD--not to mention the chronic sleep-deprivation caused by RLS. And these conditions are all incurable. They can be *managed* very successfully, but I will never be free of them. I need these medications for the rest of my life. (I'm 42. I'm hoping "the rest of my life" is a very long time.)

Right now, I have insurance through the State of Wisconsin. But--as you are possibly aware--the state has been steadily chipping away at its employees' health benefits for the last 20 years, and if the BCRA passes, it gives Wisconsin greatly increased leeway to make state employees' health benefits ever more meager, which will mean my out-of-pocket costs for prescriptions and doctor visits will continue to increase and increase, while my insurance covers less and less of the care I need. (The medication which principally controls my RLS already has a co-pay of more than $100 a month.) And if I *lose* that coverage, I will be uninsurable. I am a walking compendium of "pre-existing conditions"--I didn't even tell you about the chronic migraines or the fibromyalgia or the Obstructive Sleep Apnea.

Senator, I need health insurance. I need it to be affordable. I need it NOT to be contingent on my never having been and never becoming sick, because that door slammed shut a long time ago. I need it to PROTECT ME, not benefit the health insurance companies and pharmaceutical manufacturers.

I am hoping that, as my senator, you care more about my well-being than you do about providing tax cuts to a handful of people who do not need them. I am hoping that you recognize Senator McConnell's rank hypocrisy and that it angers you as it does me. I am hoping that you will defend me and your other 5.77 million constituents who need, as a matter of quite literally life or death, the access to affordable healthcare that Senator McConnell and his BCRA are trying to strip away from us.

Please continue to oppose the BCRA. Do not let this unconscionable bill be your legacy.
truepenny: artist's rendering of Sidneyia inexpectans (Default)
Dear Senator Johnson:

I'm writing to ask you to put pressure on Senator McConnell to release the text of the AHCA bill and to hold public hearings before the bill is put to the vote. I ask this in a nonpartisan spirit, simply as a principle of ethical governance. Patrick Henry said in 1788, "The liberties of a people never were, nor ever will be, secure, when the transactions of their rulers may be concealed from them. . . . to cover with the veil of secrecy the common routine of business, is an abomination in the eyes of every intelligent man, and every friend to his country." I believe that's as true now as it was then.

Please don't let Senator McConnell set a precedent with the AHCA. Insist that the text of the bill be published. Insist that there be public hearings. We fall short of the ideal of American democracy a lot of the time, but we are better than this crude and childish attempt to strong-arm an unpopular bill through the Senate by refusing to let anyone see it.

It would only take three Republican senators refusing to vote for the AHCA without proper disclosure and hearings to make it impossible for Senator McConnell's strategy to succeed. I would like to believe, not only that there are three Republican senators who have the ethical and moral strength to make that refusal, but also that the senior senator from Wisconsin is one of them.
truepenny: artist's rendering of Sidneyia inexpectans (Default)
So, I try very hard not to hate people. It takes energy away from things I'd rather be doing, and it's destructive of the soul. (There isn't a secular word that means quite what "soul" does--"psyche" is the closest, and it's not very close. And I'm really talking about the soul, the part of you that struggles with good and evil. Just understand that I don't mean it in a religious sense, but in a moral/ethical once.) But then you get to where we are right now, in a dystopia imagined by Monty Python (the president is "yelling at television sets in the White House," reports the Associated Press), and I realized that, yeah, okay, I've got a lot of hatred going on here, but also that this is not unreasonable, and here's why:

  1. The American Health Care Act
  2. Executive Order 13792 (the one trying to take away National Monument status from, hey, National Monuments)
  3. The whole thing with Russia
  4. This new policy rollback with Cuba
  5. The general determination to undo everything Obama did, just because Obama did it
  6. His behavior toward Israel
  7. His behavior toward everybody in the Middle East, even leaving aside the "Mother of All Bombs"
  8. His behavior toward the Mayor of London
  9. His behavior toward Angela Merkel and the German people
  10. His behavior toward the CIA
  11. His behavior toward the FBI
  12. His behavior toward the Pope
  13. Also the appointment of Newt Gingrich's wife as Ambassador to the Vatican
  14. Ditto John McCain's wife as "ambassador at large." We can see what you're doing, people.
  15. His stupid-ass decision to withdraw from the Paris Climate Accord
  16. The ongoing hypocrisy of (a) yelling about "fake news", (b) yelling about "witch hunts", (c) demanding apologies from all & sundry
  17. The lying, for fuck's sake.
  18. The excruciatingly blatant nepotism. (Most recently, choosing his event planner--who has lied about having a law degree--to "to head up the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Region II, which includes New York and New Jersey, where she’ll oversee distribution of billions of taxpayer dollars.")
  19. Betsy DeVos
  20. The quiet rollback of the federal government's role in defending civil rights
  21. The catastrophic budget cuts to the EPA, the NEH, and everything that isn't (a) guns or (b) more butter for the rich
  22. Choosing to mark Pride Month by going to a Faith and Freedom Coalition conference, where he praised the founders of the FFC and of Focus on the Family, both of which organizations are poisonously homophobic
  23. The "Mother of All Bombs"
  24. The travel ban
  25. ICE
  26. Melissa Ortiz
  27. That completely bizarre televised Trump-worship circle with his Cabinet
  28. Remember way back when, when he made fun of a reporter with a disability on national TV?
  29. And let's not forget the sexual assault thing, either, or the "locker room talk"
  30. The "plan" (please notice sarcastic quote marks) to privatize infrastructure, starting with air traffic control
  31. His ignorance of the basics of American history, like, you know, the Civil War
  32. His atrocious behavior on Twitter after the terrorist attack in London
  33. The way he fucks off to play golf, like the terrible conflicts he has sparked in his own country (both accidentally and 100% deliberately) don't matter
  34. His completely casual leaks of classified information (and don't give me that bullshit "ignorance" excuse; a FIVE YEAR OLD would know better than that)
  35. His complete failure to behave, in any way or in any aspect, like the actual leader of an actual country


Okay, stopping there, but, really, as Vizzini says, I'm just getting started.

I still don't think hatred is the right answer; it makes you into the monster you're fighting. But racism, sexism, classism, ableism, homophobia, xenophobia, plutocracy, religious bigotry, the hatred and fear of education, institutionalized sociopathy: every trend and tendency I hate about mainstream American culture is represented, as beautifully as if he were a metonym, by Donald J. Trump and his leadership of our country. He is actually MORE HORRIBLE than I thought he would be when I had the first of many anxiety attacks on Election Night.

My consolation is that there are a lot of us shouting that Emperor Trump isn't wearing any fucking clothes. I don't advocate hatred--I'm trying to let it go myself--but please don't stop shouting.
truepenny: artist's rendering of Sidneyia inexpectans (Default)
Dear Senator Johnson:

I try very hard not to think that you are a bad man.

I try to believe that you act on principles that you hold as deeply and fervently as I hold mine. I try to believe that you have the best interests of your constituents always at the forefront of your mind, and that even if you and I don't agree on what those best interests entail, you are doing the best that you can possibly do to serve the people of Wisconsin.

Senator Johnson, sometimes you make this very hard to believe.

In particular, your recent support of President Trump's decision to withdraw from the Paris Climate Accord, your continuing attempts to dismantle the ACA, and your complete failure to demand that the Senate hold public hearings about their AHCA bill all make me think that, in fact, you are no different than your fellow Republican power holders, interested only in profit and power, motivated only by selfishness and bigotry.

If you truly believe that the AHCA will "rescue the American people from the disaster of Obamacare," as Vice President Pence puts it, then there is no reason to rush it to a vote. There is no reason why there can't be public hearings, or why the Senate can't wait for the CBO score. There is no reason for all the urgency and secrecy and backroom deals--unless, in fact, neither you nor your fellow Republican senators actually believe that the AHCA is in the best interests of the American people.

I know, really, that there's nothing I can say that will change your mind about the Affordable Care Act. But please show me that you have the courage of your convictions. Show me that even if we don't agree, I can respect you as a principled man. Insist publicly and loudly that the Senate hold public hearings on the AHCA. If the AHCA is in the best interests of the American people, then you have nothing to fear from public hearings. If it isn't . . . if it isn't, why aren't you fighting it tooth and nail?



N.b. (1) I will also be calling Senator Johnson and Senator Baldwin's offices. ETA: I have called Senator Johnson and Senator Baldwin's offices. Got real people both places. Again, props to Sen. Johnson's staffers for being polite and friendly and sounding sincerely interested in my opinion, despite us all knowing that Sen. Johnson does not give a damn what I think.
(2) Again, anyone wanting to use this or any of my other letters as templates is welcome to do so.
truepenny: artist's rendering of Sidneyia inexpectans (Default)
Circles of Delight: Classic Carousels of San FranciscoCircles of Delight: Classic Carousels of San Francisco by Aaron Shepard

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


This book is full of gorgeous photographs of the carousels and carousel animals of the San Francisco Zoo carousel, the Yerba Buena Gardens carousel, and the Golden Gate Park carousel. I am particularly enamored of the carousel at Golden Gate Park, both because it was built by Herschell Spillman (Celebrating North Tonawanda Carrousel Animals 1883-1959) and because it was restored (1977-1984) by an artist named Ruby Newman, who made the transgressive choice not to follow the original color scheme (and Golden Gate Park loses major points for not crediting her in their description of the restoration). Normally I am all about AUTHENTICITY!, but her choices make the carousel alive in a way that sometimes purely authentic historical restorations fail to achieve. (For one example, look at this stunning fellow.)

If you are as hopelessly in love with carousels as I am, I recommend Circles of Delight wholeheartedly.



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August 2017

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