Sunday, December 27, 2020

A citizen's comments about "These Truths" by Jill Lepore

Comments about These Truths:  A History of the United States, by Jill Lepore. © 2018.  

In The Federalist No. 1, Alexander Hamilton asked:

It seems to have been reserved to the people of this country, by their conduct and example, to decide the important question, whether societies of men are really capable or not of establishing good government from reflection and choice, or whether they are forever destined to depend for their political constitutions on accident and force.

And rewording his question, Dr. Lepore asks:

Can a political society really be governed by reflection and election, by reason and truth, rather than by accident and violence, by prejudice and deceit?  Is there any arrangement of government – any constitution – by which it’s possible for a people to rule themselves, justly and fairly, and as equals, through the exercise of judgment and care?  Or are their efforts, no matter their constitutions, fated to be corrupted, their judgment muddled by demagoguery, their reason abandoned for fury?  (page xiv)

The “truths” of the Declaration of Independence and of Lepore’s title are:

 three political ideas  - “these truths,” Thomas Jefferson called them – political equality, natural rights, and the sovereignty of the people.  (page xiv)

Lepore asks:  “Does American history prove these truths, or does it belie them?” (page xiv)

The main points I took from this book are:  

a) White supremacy screwed up our nation from the beginning. Even though slavery “officially” was ended, the effects are with us still.  White supremacy works directly counter to those three political ideas referenced in the Declaration of Independence, and it remains to be seen if this nation can overcome it.

b) It’s the fault of greedy folks and the competent lobbyists they hired that we didn’t get universal health care in the 20th century.  

c) As I suspected, income inequality and wealth inequality are a huge threat to democracy.

d) Political polling is bad for us.  

e) The internet has made our inequality worse.

Here’s the end of Lepore's epilogue, written after the 2016 election of Pres. Donald Trump, but, notably, before the 2020 election.

… Can a people govern themselves by reflection and choice? [Alexander] Hamilton had wanted to know, or are they fated to be ruled, forever, by accident and force, lashed by the violence of each wave of a surging sea?

The ship of state lurched and reeled.  Liberals, blown down by the slightest breeze, had neglected to trim the ship’s sails, leaving the canvas to flap and tear in a rising wind, the rigging flailing.  Huddled belowdecks, they had failed to plot a course, having lost sight of the horizon and their grasp on any compass. On deck, conservatives had pulled up the ship’s planking to make bonfires of rage: they had courted the popular will by demolishing the idea of truth itself, smashing the ship’s very mast.

It would fall to a new generation of Americans, reckoning what their forebears had wrought, to fathom the depths of the doom-black sea.  If they meant to repair the tattered ship, they would need to fell the most majestic pine in a deer-haunted forest and raise a new mast that could pierce the clouded sky.  With sharpened adzes, they would have to hew timbers of cedar and oak into planks, straight and true.  They would need to drive home nails with the untiring swing of might arms and, with needles held tenderly in nimble finders, stitch new sails out of the rugged canvas of their goodwill.  Knowing that heat and sparks and hammers and anvils are not enough, they would have to forge an anchor in the glowing fire of their ideals. And to steer that ship through wind and wave, they would need to learn an ancient and nearly forgotten art:  how to navigate by the stars.  (pp 786-787)

I think we have yet to find out if the ship of state will be repaired.  Certainly in Pennsylvania the fate of democracy is still threatened, as Republican legislators will seek to gerrymander judicial districts early in 2021; as Republican Congressional leaders from PA question the outcome of the very election they just won; as PA state Republican legislators signal that they wish to remove the recently-won ability for us to vote by mail, which they themselves voted for overwhelmingly.  

I am the first to say that in a two-party system, we need both parties to be viable and ultimately focused on good governance, rather than party power.  In our history, the Democratic Party is not faultless in veering away from good governance. But right now, the threat that I see in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania comes from the Republican Party seeking, in the face of an inability to win elections based on policy ideas and fine candidates, to hold onto power by whatever means they find, including destruction of democracy.

Pennsylvanians, pay close and special attention to this coming attempt to form judicial districts for state-wide judgeships.  Judges are not meant to have constituents.  This is an attempt by the Republican-heavy legislature (accomplished through gerrymandering) to seize more power for their party and take it away from citizens.  It’s going to be hard to fight this one and win, but I feel it is worthwhile to fight it.

What will we choose for our future?  Can we choose for our future, or is it too late?

First Lines: Nov-Dec 2020 edition

So many pages, so little time,
but at least some of them are footnotes.

My reading in the last two months of the year brought me a delicious moment:  the moment when you find out that the 900+ page book you have been reading for over a year is 35% footnotes.  Oh, delicious revelation, that I could finish reading this monumental tome!  

Most of the time, in these past two months, it was a struggle to concentrate on reading anything at all.  It’s normal to cry (isn’t it?), twenty-three days after your mother died; during a pandemic with cases of virus on the rise; when you haven’t seen your grown daughter and her fiancĂ© in 11 months; when the election you risked your life for, by processing in-person voters during that pandemic, is questioned all across the nation and even in your own county.  

Some days I carry on with work and household tasks, without a care in the world.  But on other days, doing anything feels like walking through a pit of wet sand.  On those days, tasks can be accomplished, but only with enormous effort.  This seems to be the nature of my particular cross-section of personal and civic grief.  Reading has been alternately a joy and a chore.

Here are the first lines of the eight books that I managed to finish reading in November and December.

Book 1
Opening the Polls
Check Materials
Use the checklist below to confirm you have all items needed to open the polls.

Book 2
This morning, Papa call me inside the parlor.  
He was sitting inside the sofa with no cushion and looking at me.  Papa have this way of looking me one kind.  

Book 3  
Christmas is the most important season of our existence. We spend at least one month out of each year of our lives under the spell of the planet’s most widely celebrated holiday.

Book 4
I was in a coffee shop looking through the want ads when I read, “Macy’s Herald Square, the largest store in the world, has big opportunities for outgoing, fun-loving people of all shapes and sizes who want more than just a holiday job!  Working as an elf in Macy’s SantaLand means being at the center of the excitement…”

Book 5
The “Red Death” had long devastated the country. No pestilence had ever been so fatal, or so hideous.

Book 6
The librarian and her mule spotted it at the same time.  The creature’s ears shot up, and it came to a stop so sudden its front hooves skidded out, the pannier slipping off, spilling out the librarian’s books. 

Book 7
Chapter 1: An Elephant, a Funeral, and More Bad News
Monday March 11, 1897
As the hail bounced on the carriage roof, Mink suddenly wondered whether she ought to buy mourning knickers.

Book 8
Introduction: The Question Stated
The course of history is unpredictable, as irregular as the weather, as errant as affection, nations rising and falling by whim and chance, battered by violence, corrupted by greed, seized by tyrants, raided by rogues, addled by demagogues.  

The titles and authors revealed:

Book 1
Allegheny County Election Officer Handbook, for General Election 2020, by Allegheny County Elections Division

Book 2
The Girl with the Louding Voice, by Abi Dare  © 2020.  About a teenaged girl in Nigeria.  Read for book club.  Trigger warning: sexual violence and modern-day slavery.  I thought it was a story well told.

Book 3
Santa Claus: A Biography, by Gerry Bowler  © 2005
A congenial review of how the figure of Santa Claus got to be so prominent in our culture.  But the last chapter degrades into a diatribe a la “war on Christmas” which I found distasteful.   

By the way, I take issue with this book’s opening thesis statement.  The “Christmas season” is only as important as an individual chooses to make it.  Viscerally, I prefer the season of autumn.  The holidays I prefer are Thanksgiving and Advent.  But the book club likes to read a book focused on the winter holidays, and it’s damned hard to find good books for adults about winter holidays.    

Book 4
“SantaLand Diaries”, in the collection Holidays on Ice, by David Sedaris
I finished this essay-memoir, which I found to be quite amusing.  The next two selections in the collection were horrifying to me, so I didn’t finish the entire book.  

Book 5
The Masque of the Red Death, by Edgar Allan Poe, first published in 1842.
This was just weird.  I can’t even name what genre of literature this is.  I had to read it when my brother began ominously referencing walking through rooms of different colors, just so I would know what he was talking about.  This story, or allegory, or whatever it is, is highly relevant today.  I recommend it.
You can find it for free here at The Project Gutenberg.  It's about 8 pages long.

Book 6
The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek, by Kim Michele Richardson. © 2019.     
A novel about the “Blue people” of Kentucky.  These people have a congenital blood defect which makes their skin blue.  The book takes place during the Great Depression in Kentucky.  The Blue people are discriminated against, just as Black people are.  A doctor discovers a remedy that renders the skin ‘white’, but only temporarily.   Once again, book club leads me to learn something I knew nothing about.  The style of writing was okay.

Book 7
The Pigeon Pie Mystery by Julia Stuart.
A light-hearted mystery to finish out the year.  I was not paying too much attention to the details of the mystery, but found the characters and scenes very amusing.

Book 8
These Truths:  A History of the United States, by Jill Lepore. © 2018.  
I first started reading this in late 2018. It took me two years to finish, but finish I did!  This book is 900+ pages.  It was not until I got near the end that I found out that fully 35% of the book is footnotes and bibliography!   That said, it is still 787 pages of reading material, but worth reading.

I will put my comments about it in this separate post.

What about you?  What are you reading?  

Friday, November 20, 2020

Thanksgiving Survey 2020: Animals

 It's time for the Common Household time-honored tradition of the

Thanksgiving survey

2020 Topic: Animals

1. The bird that we in the United States call “turkey” is not from Turkey - it is native to the North American continent.   If you could rename the creature we call ‘turkey’, what more appropriate name would you give to this bird?

2.  Name an animal that you are thankful for, and the reason for your gratitude.

Bonus:  What is the turkey thankful for on Thanksgiving?

Please participate by giving your answers in the comments.  Happy Thanksgiving Preparation Week!

The topic of animals seems appropriate, because 2020 has been mostly a beastly year.

The first question arises from a dinner discussion we had recently.  The North American turkey is native to our continent, so why is it named after a country on another continent?    The name of this creature is all over the place, literally.  In French it is dinde, which means “from India”.  But in Hindi (a language of India) it is called… tarki.   In Portuguese, it is peru.  It seems like no language has gotten the name of this bird right.

The famed Common Household turkey pillow.

One form of a vegetarian turkey.

Not a turkey, but resembles one in certain ways. 

Saturday, November 14, 2020

Keeping the Tally


A certain subset of Americans has been working for 10+ days, sitting indoors during an airborne-spread virus pandemic, to tally votes.   This post is dedicated to them.  Thank you, election-vote-talliers.  I am grateful to you.

Some of these workers tallying votes are tired, tired, tired.  They have been harassed, crowded upon, falsely accused.  Yet they have stayed on task.  Here’s a description of the process from one election officer in Pennsylvania.

I was an election officer on election day for the past four years.  In 2017, I won an election (!) to become the “Majority Inspector” in my precinct.  This gave me the honor of working for a smidge above PA’s hourly minimum wage rate for 14-15 hours straight, twice a year, to process voters.  Together, my neighbors and I made democracy happen.  Although the conditions of the job are not excellent, it was worth it to me to participate in the election process in this way.  

This year I did not work the primary election, as the spread of covid seemed dangerous.  Silly me.  It was worse by the time the general election rolled around, but I was committed to making sure people in my precinct could vote in person on Nov 3.   

I have spent a portion of my life counting things. It is an activity I like. This is ironic, because I am horrible at mental math – can’t add or subtract in my head to save my life.  But with the aid of spreadsheets, most of my jobs have involved counting things such as corn, soybean, wheat production and trade, grain shipment vessels, members of church, dollars in elderly relatives’ bank accounts, numbers of voters, and, occasionally, the number of small children in the group I have been put in charge of.  This last one has been the most sacred of counting duties.  

Every year at Halloween the Common Household enters into the eternal argument of how much candy to buy.  The Husband buys too much, and I complain that he has bought too much.  It’s a tradition now. I have tried to keep a tally of the number of trick-or-treaters that come to our door, to use to predict next year’s Halloween candy demand.  This attempt failed to reduce the excess candy that enters the house each year.

This year, I only half-heartedly put up Halloween decorations.  But I was delighted to find, inside our Halloween box, three historical documents which I present herewith.

Common Household Trick-or-Treater tally, 1998

In 1998, the Common Household children’s ages were 5, 3, and -0.6 (in utero).   The tally sheet shows that I myself was firmly in charge of the tallying task.  I was aided by a 5-year-old who wrote all her numbers backward but had learned that 10 + 10 = 20.  

Number of trick-or-treaters: 33.

Common Household Trick-or-Treater tally, 2000

The tally for 2000 starts out well, but an interloper hijacks the tally with false data.  The 2020 election tally was secure, but we all know that 2000 had problems, and here is proof.

Number of trick-or-treaters:  who knows?  There is no paper ballot trail.

Common Household Trick-or-Treater tally, 2002

By 2002, our children were 9, 7, and 3 years old.  Our tally team had progressed to graphs and multiplication.

Number of trick-or-treaters:  28.

This year we had 7 trick-or-treaters.  And a lot of leftover candy, which is not a bad thing, considering that my favorite candidate did not win her race.  We must find solace somewhere.

Thursday, November 12, 2020

First lines: Aug-Sep-Oct 2020 edition


Late summer into fall, my life was filled with political activity, caring for elderly relatives, managing in the covid era, and doom scrolling.  I set my worried eyes on loads of news articles.  That left not much time for reading books.  Over those three months, I managed to read six books.  One of these books earned my rare ranking of “Excellent.” Below are the first lines of the six books, followed by the revelation of the titles and authors.

I’d love to hear what books you are reading these days.  

Book 1
Some men enter a woman’s life and screw it up forever. Jimmy Rosolli did this to my
Grandma Mazur.

Book 2
She left us at night.  It had felt like night for a long time, the days at once short and ceaselessly long.

Book 3  (this is an entire poem, because it is necessary.)

The Tradition
Aster. Nasturtium. Delphinium. We thought
Fingers in dirt meant it was our dirt, learning
Names in heat, in elements classical
Philosophers said could change us. Star Gazer. 
Foxglove. Summer seemed to bloom against the will
Of the sun, which news reports claimed flamed hotter
On this planet than when our dead fathers
Wiped sweat from their necks. Cosmos. Baby’s Breath. 
Men like me and my brothers filmed what we
Planted for proof we existed before
Too late, sped the video to see blossoms
Brought in seconds, colors you expect in poems
Where the world ends, everything cut down.
John Crawford. Eric Garner. Mike Brown.

Book 4
In 1955, when I was ten, my father’s reading went to his head. 
My father’s reading during that time, and for many years before and after, consisted for the most part of Life on the Mississippi.

Book 5
Chickasaw county, Mississippi, Late October 1937
Ida Mae Brandon Gladney
The night clouds were closing in on the salt licks east of the oxbow lakes along the folds in the earth beyond the Yalobusha River.  The cotton was at last cleared from the field.

Book 6
Isabel Dalhousie, a philosopher, lowered her copy of the Scotsman newspaper and smiled.  

The titles and authors revealed:

Book 1
Twisted Twenty-Six (Stephanie Plum Book 26), by Janet Evanovich.  © 2019.
A light read for Book Club.  Quite amusing.  Watch out for Grandma!

Book 2
Ordinary Light by Tracy K. Smith.  ©  2015
This is an introspective coming of age memoir and also a book about the death of the author’s mother, when the author was a young woman. Tracy K. Smith was the Poet Laureate of the United States.  The writing is not overly delicate nor flighty, as I have experienced some prose written by poets.  Smith takes us from her very early childhood, growing up as an intellectually gifted African American girl in Northern California, on through her days in college.  I've put an excerpt at the end of this post.

Book 3
The Tradition, by Jericho Brown.  Poetry  © 2019.

Book 4
An American Childhood, by Annie Dillard.  ©  1987
Read for book club.   This book is set in Pittsburgh, so I was familiar with many of the places described.

Book 5
The Warmth of Other Suns:  The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration by Isabel Wilkerson.  © 2010
An astonishing, enlightening, horrifying tale, well told.  At 622 pages, it is not a quick read.  But the tales are so well written, the reading of this book flows easily.  It reveals much that I did not know about the history of our country.  For the parts that I was already aware of, the way the author tells the stories makes them come alive, in ways that we can feel deeply.  These are stories that we need to feel.  

I rank this book as excellent.  I highly recommend it.  We read it for book club, and we had a fruitful discussion.  

Book 6
The Forgotten Affairs of Youth (Isabel Dalhousie Mysteries Book 8), by Alexander McCall Smith.  © 2011
A much-needed diversion for the final days of the election period.

I leave you with this excerpt from Tracy K. Smith’s Ordinary Light, about the power of telling your story, and the power of fiction.

Silence feeds pain, allows it to fester and thrive.  What starves pain, what forces it to release its grip, is speech, the voice upon which rides the story, This is what happened; this is what I have refused to let claim me.  Suddenly, I understood, though no one had taught me.  I understood, because what I wanted, what I needed more than anything, was someone to listen to my story, someone to help me starve even this pain - this small, private pain - so that I could stand up and figure out how to go on.
I had read novel after novel without realizing how often the narrator was doing just that: claiming the power to name and state and face the events, even the most awful events, making up a life.  This has happened to me, and because I can see it, can call it up and face it again for you, can stand my ground while I sift through it for nuance and meaning, I am stronger.  Telling my story, standing here and telling it to you now, is both a prayer for power and the answer to that prayer.  

Thursday, September 17, 2020

Stopping in Loneliness on a Pandemic Evening


Whose love this is I think I know.
Their feelings are quite distant, though;
Though depth and distance don't relate
When joy and laughter hold their glow.

With distance, strength and sorrow find
A waxing, waning. Love can bind
Across a screen, a show, a call,
But cannot tell your truth of mind.

Inadequate, how words can be
Unable to write poetry,
How gestures, touches, simple modes,
Tell more than frail writers like me.

My love is lonely, dark and deep.
But buried still, I can but weep,
With miles to go to reach your keep,
With miles to go to reach your keep.

A poem for the covid-19 era

by Younger Daughter

A few Fridays ago, Younger Daughter was having a difficult day, one of those days where the pressures of the world seemed too much.  On days like that, add pandemic restrictions, and loneliness sets in.  For some reason, we couldn’t talk at that moment, so I emailed her this:  “Do you know how much we love you?  We love you to the moon and back!”

In less than an hour, she replied with the above poem.  I think it captures the difficulty we are all in right now, at how to express our care and fondness for our loved ones over video chat.  Love can bind us together across a screen, and I am grateful that at least we have that technology.  

This happened a few days after a family Poetry Slam - a gathering (my siblings,  and their young adult children and ours) over zoom where we each read a poem (no longer than 2 minutes reading time!).  There was not anything slam-like about it, but we had a great time. I recommend this activity.  So poetry was on our minds.

Note:  As you may have guessed, the poet is in debt to “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” by Robert Frost.

Tuesday, September 1, 2020

Suburban Housewife Retelling of the Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard

The Suburban Housewife Retelling of 

the Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard

from The Book of Exertions 20:1-16

The kingdom of heaven is like a parent of teenagers who got up early in the morning to oversee the task of painting the deck.  It was an odious task, involving nasty-smelling paint and working out in the hot sun all day.  The parent decided she wanted someone to help her.  At first the parent woke her son out of a sound sleep.  He got up and, lo, readily agreed to help paint the deck, after the parent promised him ice cream at the end of the day.  By nine o’clock, the parent inspected the work, and saw that the son had painted one-fourth of the deck.  The parent went inside and found her daughter lounging around watching a movie on her ipod.  And the parent said to her, “You also go outside and help paint the deck.  Ice cream at the end.”  

At noon, the sky clouded over and the parent saw that the deck-painting would have to be speeded up.  The oldest daughter woke up (she had gotten home in the wee hours of the morning, after going swing dancing all night). The parent told her, “You also go outside and help paint the deck.  Ice cream will be involved when you are done.”  At about five o’clock the parent saw that, despite the hard work of her three children, the task was not finished, and rain clouds were fast approaching.  She went inside the house, only to find her niece, who was visiting for a month, sitting on the couch reading a book.  The parent said, “Niece, I’ll give you ice cream when you are finished, if you will go out and help your cousins paint the deck.”  

As evening came, the teens finished painting the deck.  Fortunately for the parent, the rain never materialized (this story does not take place in Pittsburgh). And the parent said to her husband, “Call the teenagers and take us all out for ice cream.  We’ll get in line, beginning with our niece, who started working last, and ending with our son, who started working before 9 AM.”  And they each got one scoop of ice cream in a sugar cone, even the son who started working at the crack of dawn.  Even the parents, whose waistlines showed that they seriously didn’t need ice cream at all, got ice cream.

The son grumbled against his parents, saying that he deserved the banana split, because, lo, he had arisen at dawn and worked all day painting the deck.  But the parent said to him, “Thank you so much, son, for painting the deck.  We really appreciate all your hard work.  We promised you ice cream, and here we all are, getting ice cream.  We chose to reward you not by paying you all an equitable wage, because we know it would have cost us at least $300 to hire someone else to paint the deck for us, but by buying $20 worth of ice cream.  That was our choice.  We’re the parents, and this family isn’t a democracy.  We hope we can all enjoy our ice cream together.”

Alternate ending

Because the teens had all studied economics and understood the principle of marginal rates, none of them complained.  They were also extremely grateful teens who recognized all the gifts their parents had given them over the years: teaching them to tie their shoes, putting them in their car seats, making that birthday cake in the shape of a train, buying them Harry Potter books, paying for a Netflix account, and, most of all, driving them all over God’s blessed creation, dag nab it.  In fact, in gratitude to their parents, these teens were overjoyed to paint the deck and viewed the ice cream as an extra.  Now THAT would be the kingdom of heaven.

About this parable, my husband said:

One person started complaining, and began asking questions about the staff:  Have they done what they actually were supposed to do, for their pay?  Where are the performance evaluations for the staff, and why aren’t they being followed?  That same person who went around and complained about everything went around to everyone, explaining how the leadership is messing everything up because they bollixed up their hiring system and payment system.  And then somebody says, “Why do we have a vineyard anyway? We should have a basketball court!”


For the record, the Common Household Son never grumbles against his parents.


The original scripture

Matthew 20:1-16

“For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. 2 After agreeing with the laborers for the usual daily wage, he sent them into his vineyard. 3 When he went out about nine o’clock, he saw others standing idle in the marketplace; 4 and he said to them, ‘You also go into the vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.’ So they went. 5 When he went out again about noon and about three o’clock, he did the same. 6 And about five o’clock he went out and found others standing around; and he said to them, ‘Why are you standing here idle all day?’ 7 They said to him, ‘Because no one has hired us.’ He said to them, ‘You also go into the vineyard.’ 8 When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his manager, ‘Call the laborers and give them their pay, beginning with the last and then going to the first.’ 9 When those hired about five o’clock came, each of them received the usual daily wage. 10 Now when the first came, they thought they would receive more; but each of them also received the usual daily wage. 11 And when they received it, they grumbled against the landowner, 12 saying, ‘These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.’ 13 But he replied to one of them, ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong; did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage? 14 Take what belongs to you and go; I choose to give to this last the same as I give to you. 15 Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or are you envious because I am generous?’ 16 So the last will be first, and the first will be last.”

Friday, August 7, 2020

First lines: June-July 2020 edition

College class reading, guarded by Isaac Newton, Auguste Rodin, and
Karl Marx finger puppets.
Not my reading list! 

In June I completed reading two books.  In July I managed to finish five books.  Of those seven, two were YA fiction. 


Herewith the first lines, and then the titles.



Book 1

On a spring morning in 1997, Jim Harper, a young man from Durham, North Carolina, woke up in his two-bedroom apartment with no clue that he would soon become gravely ill.



Book 2

Terence crept nervously through the forest, glancing often over his shoulder. He was a slim, agile boy, perhaps fourteen years old – though he did not know his age exactly – and he moved easily among the brambles.



Book 3

September 1981

People wishing to time travel go to Houston Intercontinental Airport.  At the orientation, the staff tell them that time travel is just like air travel, you even go to the same facility.



Book 4

Chapter 1: The Return of Utopia

Let’s start with a little history lesson: In the past, everything was worse.

For roughly 99% of the world’s history, 99% of humanity was poor, hungry, dirty, afraid, stupid, sick, and ugly.



Book 5

There was a time, and it was many years ago now, when I had to stay in a hospital for almost nine weeks. This was in New York City, and at night a view of the Chrysler Building, with its geometric brilliance of lights, was directly visible from my bed.



Book 6

“That is my decision. We need not discuss it,” said the man at the desk. He was already looking at a book. His two children left the room, closing the door behind them.



Book 7

After my junior year of college, ten friends and I planned a trip to drive across the country.


And the titles revealed:




The two books I finished in June:



Book 1

Black Man in a White Coat: A Doctor's Reflections on Race and Medicine  by Damon Tweedy.  © 2015. 

This memoir flows well, and gives good insights into racism in American medical treatment.  I read it for book club.


Book 2

The Squire's Tale , by Gerald Morris

 (The Squire's Tales, #1)  YA fiction.

Quite violent.  Lots of cleaving in two, without much remorse.   


* * * * * * *


The five books I finished in July:



Book 3

An Ocean of Minutes, by Thea Lim.  © 2018.

A dystopian novel with a rather terrifying premise, but I really liked the main character.  This is odd because the character kept making bad choices, which usually turns me off. 


The lesson I drew from this book:  Do. Not. Time-travel.  We read it for book club, because we hadn’t read any science fiction since our second book, several years ago.  An Ocean of Minutes was more dystopian lit than science fiction. Is there any other sci fi novel where the time travel does not take the traveler into the distant future, but only a few years ahead, and to a time that is in our own history? Polly, the main character, time travels from the 1980s to the late 1990s.  Despite the fact that she ends up in a time period we all had experienced, the 1990s we encountered in this book were quite disorienting, and yet, the book addresses a very current issue in this country.  A pandemic is involved, but is really only background in the story. 


Book 4

Utopia for Realists, by Rutger Bregman  © 2014, 2017.  English translation © 2016 by Elizabeth Manton.

Take the dive into some ideas from the left side of politics and economics.  See what you think.  I found it quite interesting.  Bregman is an entertaining writer.



Book 5

My Name Is Lucy Barton, by Elizabeth Strout.  © 2016.

Not a lot of events in this book, but interesting examination of relationships.  The story is related in a dreamy way, with what might be called an unreliable narrator. 

Read for the other book club. 



Book 6

Alanna: The First Adventure (Song of the Lioness series Book 1)

by Tamora Pierce (Y.A. fantasy).  © 1983. 

This is the first title in a young adult fantasy series, written in what I want to say was a simpler time.   Fantasy is not really my favorite genre, but I found the characters enjoyable.  There is lots to please the fantasy fan here – magic, wizards, knights, swords.  A bully, an honorable thief, and a dread illness also feature in the plot.



Book 7

Trouble I've Seen: Changing the Way the Church Views Racism, by Drew G.I. Hart.  © 2016.

My review is here at this link.



I also have been reading this book since 2018.

These Truths: A History of the United States, by Jill Lepore, © 2018.  

Almost half the way through. 

Saturday, August 1, 2020

A review of the book “Trouble I’ve Seen” by Drew G.I. Hart

A Common Household book review

Trouble I've Seen: Changing the Way the Church Views Racism, by Drew G.I. Hart.  © 2016.

I recommend this book to white American Christians. 

Dr. Hart points out the inability (or unwillingness) of white Christians in this country to be able to see life from the perspective of people of color. This inability supports prolonged systemic racism, both in the church and in the country.  In white American churches, racism is often only addressed every now and then, in a sermon here or there, based on some national event.   Hey, we mentioned racism on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, so now we can move on.

This book has tough words for white Christians to hear.  Will we have the heart and energy to persevere in looking at our role in the continuation of racism, in the face of such condemning words? I found it worthwhile to continue reading, and hope that you do, too.

This book makes the point, also seen in other recent books on racism, that racism goes much deeper than individual acts, such as “saying the ‘n-word’.  The perspective of white Americans, when it comes to racism, is shallow and short-termed, whereas the perspective of black Americans is more comprehensive and takes a long view of history.  Are we white Christians willing to try to change our perspective?

Dr. Hart shows how a “whitened” Jesus supports American empire and racism.  At the time of Jesus’ birth, “Rome was the ruling empire over the Jews, and consequently all of Israel understood what it meant to be oppressed – what it meant to live life with someone’s foot against your neck.”  (p. 59)  Throughout American history, white Christians have used a false understanding of Jesus to support oppression, rather than to free the oppressed.

But Jesus is a subversive. “In his life and ministry, Jesus found solidarity with the poor, with the oppressed, with vulnerable women, with the socially rejected and marginalized, with ethnic Samaritan outcasts, with the demon-possessed, and with the blind or physically sick.”  (p. 61)  Jesus stands against Caesar and against the existing social order.  We should consider that Jesus wants us to take a stand against the oppressive aspects of our existing social order, which includes systemic racism.

When trying to start a conversation with white Americans about racism, the author usually gets these kinds of reactions:  defensiveness, antagonism, color-blindness (“I don’t see color” is essentially an inability to recognize racism).  White people discount his experiences.  Sometimes he experiences someone who has good intentions, but who questions the author’s perspective on what racism is.   I think this intense emotional discomfort renders white Americans unlikely to persevere in addressing racism. 

Hart writes, “Dominant cultures have a way of disguising their own oppressive practices from themselves with strong proclamations of innocence and benevolence and universal principles of equality.”  This is amply described in another book I read this year - Mistakes were made (but not by me): Why we justify foolish beliefs, bad decisions, and hurtful acts , by Carol Tavris and Elliot Aronson , © 2007, 2015.  Humans have a basic psychological need to justify their own actions and to view themselves as worthy and innocent.  It is partly this basic human need and partly the socialization of the dominant white culture that prevents us white people from seeing racism.  It’s very hard for the dominant portion of society to see oppression.

The last chapter, “Where Do We Go From Here?” proposes seven “Jesus-shaped practices for the anti-racist church”.  I urge you to read all the way through to the end.

There is one criticism I have of this book.  There are a few pages in Chapter 3, “Leaving Behind the Whitened Jesus”, where I see anti-Judaism on display.  Hart espouses the theology that basically sets up all Jews in the earthly time of Jesus as idiotic bad guys because they failed to recognize Jesus as Messiah. 

Jesus [says] “You will not see me until you say, ‘Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!’ (Luke 13:35).  Most of his listeners would have been anticipating a visitation from God as Jeremiah prophesied, and many would have also expected a messiah who would come and deliver them from their unrighteous oppressors.  This would happen in Jerusalem.  Yet when the time came, they did not recognize God in the flesh.
            Isn’t that something?  They could not recognize that it was God manifested in Jesus. They attended synagogue and served the torah their whole lives.  Yet when God took on human flesh, somehow Jesus looked nothing like many people’s projections of the divine one.  (p. 70)

I don’t like this theology, nor its mocking tone.  I think it is a dangerous and wrong theology (a view I probably got from reading Jewish New Testament scholar Dr. Amy-Jill Levine, and from being married to a Jew).  I believe that Hart is trying to make the point that the Jews (“God’s people”) in that time could not recognize their own complicity in living counter to God, just as today’s white American Christians cannot recognize their complicity in racism.  But I think that Hart’s condemnation of all Jews in first century Palestine is condescending and wrong.   Is it even true that “all Jews” in that time did not recognize their role in society’s ills?  Is it even true that “all Jews” were living “counter to what God was doing on earth as manifested in Jesus Christ.”?  The gospels tell us that many Jews did believe that Jesus was the messiah.  Most of the first Christians were Jews. 

And the Jews who didn’t believe that – who can fault them?  The Christian claim that a man is God is completely anathema to Jewish theology.  In many ways, Jesus did not fulfill the traditional qualities of messiah.  Can we give first-century Jews some credit for actually sticking to their principles?  Also, let’s recognize that the gospels are polemic documents which portray the enemies of early Christians in the worst possible light.  Given the anti-Semitic history of the Christian church, I really wish Hart had not put this damaging theology in his otherwise excellent book.

Maybe Hart’s theology here just shows that the gospel of Luke is anti-Jewish, but these pages left a bad taste in my mouth, and I thought that making first-century Jews the bad guys is not necessary for Hart to make his larger point that we white Americans need to recognize how we contribute to racism – either intentionally or unintentionally.

Again, I recommend that white Christians read this book – it’s time for us to do this incredibly hard work (just don’t adopt the theology on pages 69-70).

Thursday, July 30, 2020

A review of today

"Surprised Egg" - art by
Common Household
Younger Daughter

July 30.  Day 212 of the year 2020.

Let’s review.  Today these things are going on:

GDP declined 9.5% this quarter (32.9% annualized).  Basically, GDP fell back to about the 2015 level.  This is a record decline.

We have had 19 straight weeks of unemployment claims over 1 million each week.

The Senate today failed to pass legislation to continue unemployment compensation.  They were quite willing to put $1.75 billion in their bill for a new FBI building, a gift to Trump's business.  But they couldn’t bring themselves to give $600 to out of work Americans.  The Senate bill did have some kind of scheme in it to give graduated payments ($200 or less? – I didn’t read the bill.  That’s the Senators’ job, not mine) which would probably cost more to administer than that difference of $400. 

The Trump Administration is still working to dismantle the ACA, trying to take health coverage away from millions of Americans, during a global pandemic.

The funeral of John Lewis, a true patriot, a “good, kind, and gentle man,” took place in Atlanta, with a eulogy delivered by President Obama.

Citizens all over the country continue to demand racial equity, an end to police brutality, and the dismantling of systemic racism.  The simpler changes, symbolic changes to help us move on from our racist past, such as changing the names of military bases named after Confederate traitor generals, ought to be easier.  (An aside: at a Black Lives Matter solidarity rally, local to me last weekend, protesters claiming to be “backing the ‘blue’” chanted a list of which types of people they would like to kill, right after they shouted “all lives matter”.)

The Governor of Oregon announced that she has reached an agreement that federal agents will leave Portland.    The Trump Admin disputes that.

More than 150,000 Americans have now died of the covid-19 illness.  (For comparison, annual deaths due to influenza average in the range of 12,000 to 61,000).  Herman Cain died of covid-19.  Note that Cain attended the Trump rally in Tulsa, and did not wear a mask.  Trump's national security adviser, Robert O’Brien, tested positive for Covid-19.    It has been five months since I have seen my aging mother, because her nursing home is on lockdown.  I wonder if I will be able to see her in person before her memory and cognitive functions decline irreparably.

That is today.

Is it any wonder that Trump tweeted his intent to postpone the election?  Never mind the fact that he hasn’t read nor understood the Constitution, which says that it is not in the President’s power to postpone an election.  We’ll likely hear feeble peeps from his enablers, but they won’t be courageous enough to confront Trump directly on this.  I've waited all day to hear something from my Republican Senator.  They are not willing to say their beloved emperor has no clothes. 

This very day, Trump can’t stand that the nation’s heroes, Rep. John Lewis, and Dr. Fauci, are more admired than Trump.  And oh, President Obama will get attention for making a speech with full sentences.  Trump is beside himself with self-pity.  Maybe if he tweets something outrageous about the election, he can draw attention away from Lewis, Fauci and Obama.  Did no one in this man’s family ever see that he needed help for this problem?  His untreated mental state is now our nation’s sorrow.  But the enablers will refuse to say that their emperor has no clothes.

Is it any wonder that Trump and his enablers are committed to putting federal agents in cities, to do a trial run of martial law?  The President asks you to please keep your attention on the unrest in Portland. Those moms in bike helmets and dads with leaf blowers – they are all socialist revolutionaries.  So scary!  He’s made it nakedly obvious that this is an election tactic – he openly declared he is sending agents to cities run by Democrats.  The emperor has no clothes, but dresses his mercenaries in camouflage – rather odd, since they are in an urban warfare zone.  For purposes of intimidation, perhaps?

Is it any wonder that Trump is grasping at straws to draw our attention away from the disastrous economic situation?  In March and April he and his enablers could have chosen to do the right thing, and use the power of the Presidency to ramp up production of testing capacity and protective equipment.  Instead, they did nothing but drum up a culture war over face masks.  We ordinary citizens still can’t get a covid test unless we have dire symptoms.  Imagine if we had enough tests to get everyone tested every week?  We could much more easily return to school, work, shopping.  But the enablers hide the fact that their emperor gets tested every day while we wait weeks for test results. If we can get a test.

Is it any wonder that Trump tweeted racist dog-whistles aimed at white suburban women, in order to foment fear and anger in his base of supporters?   But the enablers will refuse to say that their emperor has no clothes.

When he ran for office, Trump said, “I alone can fix it.”  A few months ago, Trump said, “I take no responsibility.”

It looks like it’s up to us to take responsibility.  What will we do?

Broken egg on driveway - science experiment by
Common Household Son

Saturday, July 11, 2020

What We Will Eat During The Anarchy

Back in May, we were a household of three.  We engaged in quite a bit of cooking from scratch, making sure to use all of our groceries.  No wasting food! was my motto.  That motto has since been slightly relaxed, but it was in full force in May.

One day our Younger Daughter volunteered to make dinner.  I instructed her to make zucchini pie, because we had fresh zucchinis and a spare pie crust that needed to be used up.  And I told her that we had to have the leftover roasted butternut squash and sweet peppers. 

After YD put the zucchini pie in the oven to cook, she exclaimed, “This dinner is full of food I don’t like!”  

Me: We’ll be having that sweet potato bread that I made.  And there is cheese in the zucchini pie.

YD:  The bread is the only part of this meal that I like.

Me: But you can learn to love zucchini.  It’s part of adulting.


I believe she found the zucchini pie was not too awful.  Good thing, because No Wasting Food!

* * * * * * * *

Sometimes adulting takes other forms during a pandemic.

Me, reviewing recipes: Oh, look!  Cranberry and Rosemary Sangria!  We could use some of that right now.

YD: Would you like me to set up a distillery in the back?

* * * * * * * *

I have yet to tell you about our family’s Pandemic Dessert Baking Series.  That will have to wait for another time.   The Dessert Series has ended because Younger Daughter moved out.   But our series led us to discuss desserts many times in the past few months.  Here are the Common Household Husband’s deep thoughts about blueberry pie.

Husband:  Let me tell you my issues with blueberry pie.   One: usually the person preparing it doesn’t take the time to take off the little stems.  Two: Then, you don’t know if they are using those tiny blueberries or normal ones.  So blueberry pie is very hit-or-miss.
A pre-pandemic set of blueberry pies, using normal blueberries.

* * * * * * * *

A few nights ago, I was reading the news.  It was completely depressing. And that was before the UFTOO-POTUS* allowed his pusillanimous convicted guilty crony The Penguin to escape justice.  In this country, laws are for the little people to follow.

Me: America is not going to make it.  It’s going to be anarchy.

Common Household Husband: But that can’t last long.

Me: You're right. Some power will take over.  Probably private militias.

Husband:  If the French take over that wouldn't be too bad.   We could have baguettes, and French pastries .  Wine would be easy to get.  Especially those pastries with the chocolate inside.  Very excellent.  But if the British take over, it would be bangers and mash, kippers and herring.  Breakfast would be excellent, but dinner might not be as good.   And tea all the time.  Lots of tea.

Me: That wouldn’t be so bad.

*Unfit For The Office Of President Of The United States
Tea Time, as depicted on a quilt.
Maybe anarchy could be like this!
* * * * * * * *

In the past few months, our use of paper towels has diminished, but lately we had been running low and found them difficult to find.  Toilet paper, on the other hand, has returned to the grocery stores, although in limited amounts.

Today I went down to the basement to check on the laundry.  My husband was there, already folding the clean laundry. 
Husband: I got you a present. 

Me:  !

Husband:  It’s there in those grocery bags.

Me, looking in one of the bags:  Toilet paper!   And paper towels!!!! Thank you so much!

Husband:  Actually, the present is in the other bag.

Me:  Skinny Pop Popcorn!  Yay!  Oooh - it's kettlecorn flavor!

 * * * * * * * *

As The Anarchy approaches, we must learn to appreciate the simple things.