Saturday, May 7, 2022

Women and the Fourteenth Amendment

Justice Samuel Alito says that abortion was never mentioned in the U.S. Constitution. Neither was slavery, until the thirteenth amendment abolished it. Neither was marriage between persons of different ethnicities. Neither were women. Yet the spirit of the nation was moving toward abolishing slavery, allowing marriage between different races and including women as equal partners in government. Not immediately, of course--the term "all men are created equal" didn't include  anyone who wasn't a white guy, usually a property-owning Protestant white guy. But those guys had more than an inkling that slavery was bad--see early drafts of the Declaration: Note the stuff in the first and second drafts regarding slavery didn't make it into the final version, the reason being that the writers didn't want to abandon a large source of their wealth. But like Saint Augustine they wanted to be good--just "not yet."

Even if these guys hadn't already been considering the evils of slavery and other injustices, they were hearing about these things from underlings--like their wives. Abigail Adams told her husband, John, the second president of the United States, “Well I suppose we will have to have to have a new code of laws and when you write those laws, remember the ladies, because all men would be tyrants if they could.” Against slavery, in favor of universal public education for girls as well as boys, she made it known that women should be allowed to hold political office. 

When Alito claims that rights must be"deeply rooted in this nation's history and tradition," and that the "right to abortion does not fall within this category," he's wrong. The country was always moving toward rights to privacy regarding one's own (male) body. If it hadn't been, we'd have had a constitutional amendment banning or permitting vasectomy. 

No one is arguing in favor of a slaughter of innocents or defending abortion as a contraceptive method.  Jill Lepore refers to the procedure as "morally thorny," a position I suspect we all take. When it comes to the crunch--when a woman's physical or mental health is threatened, when the pregnancy results from rape or incest, when the fetus is not viable but has a heartbeat at 20 or 30 weeks, it's cruel to ban abortion. 

It's up to women to define their physical and mental health needs; their privacy in making these decisions would be unquestioned if they were men.

Tuesday, May 3, 2022

A Human Being's Right to Choose

In 1973, when I was sixteen, the condom broke. My boyfriend and I made an appointment at Planned Parenthood and said I might need an abortion. Luckily, I didn't, but by the time I'd gotten my period, my psychoanalyst--like many an Upper West Side girl in the seventies in Manhattan, I'd been sent to an analyst--had fired a salvo: an abortion, he yelled, would have put me on the terrible slope of depression. Downhill all the way. Central casting's notion of a Viennese shrink, he assured me  "many women" came crying to him after abortions. They felt like they'd killed "the next U.S. president" or "a genius," he warned, adding insult to injury with "you're oversexed."

I'd had sex exactly once, and it had never occurred to me to imagine myself as a murderer killing the next U.S. president, a genius, or anyone else. I knew I wasn't ready to become a mother, nor did I want to incubate a child for nine months and give it away. I felt very grateful to know Planned Parenthood was there.

The Supreme Court decisions of Roe v. Wade and Doe v. Bolton decriminalized abortion nationwide in 1973. In April of that year, Ms. magazine published the police photograph of Gerri Santoro, dead, in a fetal position, blood soaking through towels between her legs. She looked as though she'd died in agony. That photo drove home to me the need for women to have access to safe, legal abortions. 

Published one year before Gerri Santoro's terrible death was revealed, Alix Kates Shulman's Memoirs of An Ex-Prom Queen included an abortion scene, a woman home, in pain and terrified, lucky to have survived, taken to the hospital, where a doctor won't perform the D&C that would prevent complications, bleeding, infections. 

Until 2018, the Catholic church let Irish women die when a heart was still beating in the chest of a brain-dead fetus. Ten years ago, Savita Halappanavar, a dentist living in Galway, began bleeding, but because the non-viable four-month-old fetus still had a heartbeat, she was sacrificed on the altar of the Irish church, dying of blood poisoning. Medically trained herself, Halappanavar knew the risks of heavy bleeding during a miscarriage, and wanted to live. Six years after her 2012 death--at age 31, from entirely preventable sepsis--Ireland finally passed the Health Act, giving women the right to abortion.

I'll never forget the Irish women who told me the story of her mother dying giving birth to her eleventh child--the child died too, she said. At the time of her mother's death in the early nineteen-sixties, Irish doctors who had to choose between the life of the mother and that of the baby picked the baby's life, on the grounds that the child was not yet baptized. 

Ireland has come a long way in advancing human and women's rights. The United States Supreme Court should not devolve, taking us all back to the days of coat-hanger  and back-street and other dangerous abortions. Abortion is a matter of personal health care and should remain protected. No woman should be berated for her choices, as I was, or prevented from making them, or offered anything but respect during what for many women is a difficult and painful decision.

Saturday, April 16, 2022

My Favorite Flea Market Find (Hint: it's Furry)

The French flea market (in the heart of the Berry) went on for many kilometers, featuring everything from appliances and La-Z-Boy chairs to a Soviet era sailor's hat perched atop a smiling bust: 


Also items that might be filed under objectifying, colonizing, exotic, racist or just plain bizarre--a lamp in the shape of a beautiful black woman slung with pearls: 

plus piles of cartoon books featuring stereotype after stereotype. But mostly one found the usual: plates, cutlery, books, dolls, clothes, shoes, boots, fireman hats, lamps, furniture, pots, pans, cotton tablecloths and napkins, and two other gems before I get to my favorite, namely a French press coffee pot for two euros and a rice cooker, complete with rice paddle, for five. (Both fully functional)

There came the moment of revelation. I clapped eyes on a wonder: Hanging from a rack in the breeze, surrounded by chipped furniture and scratched-up children's toys, a rich brown in the warm morning sun, swung a mouton fur jacket. Here she is after I got her back home: 

Her vintage (I surmise from the label inside) c. 1942. In the pocket I found a gum wrapper I deemed to be of the same era. Naturally, she reeked not of Chanel no. 5 or Emeraude Coty but of somebody's basement.

But a fifth-and-a-half of Vodka later, she smells almost normal. Like fur. No, I didn't drink the stuff. I sprayed it on--in this photo the neck area hasn't quite dried. Sprayed the lining too, including the arms. Will follow up with one more treatment, but believe me--she's cured!


Saturday, April 9, 2022

Terrifically Tasty Chicken (so easy, too)

You will need:

(1) One whole chicken. I like the French cornfed ones, but any bird that looks good will do.

(2) Salt and pepper or the herbal salt of your choice. I used Silk Route brand Seasoned Sea Salt (which has paprika, coriander seeds, mustard seeds, other nice things) but have occasionally used another filled with parsley, oregano, rosemary, thyme, celery.

(3) Olive oil

(4) Some veggies--I used zucchini and red bell pepper. 

(5) Garlic--used the elephant garlic cloves. Easier to peel and slice.

(6) a lemon.

Salt the chicken and put it in a dish in the fridge for a couple of hours or overnight. An hour before you'd like to start cooking, take it out and set it aside. Pop the lemon in. Slice the zucchini, pepper, and garlic. Heat olive oil in a frying pan and toss in the veggies. When they're nicely sautéed (just a few minutes) put them in a medium-sized pyrex baking dish (one a little bigger than the chicken). Put the chicken on top. (At this point, I spotted a few cherry tomatoes and threw them in).

Slide into a preheated 200º celsius oven (400º or slightly less Fahrenheit) for about an hour--or a little more. If the chicken starts to look brown, flip it over and let the underside cook for half an hour. Flip it back around fifteen minutes before you want to eat. If the veggies look like they're drying out or the chickn looks too brown, put a little aluminum foil over it. 

You can always make rice in the rice cooker--jasmine or basmati are good. 

Serve with a glass of cold, dry white wine.

Saturday, April 2, 2022

Of Maskless Men and Train Cars

Yesterday, I took four trains to come home to Germany from a wonderful vacation in France. On each train announcements were made in up to four languages to the tune of: "Masks are required! They should cover your mouth and nose!"  On two trains (between major cities) a fine of 95 euro was announced--to be levied on those who declined to wear masks. 

Why do so many guys roll their eyes and rip off their masks? Right after the announcement? Or wear them as chin guards? Or grudgingly cover their mouths only? Or everything's asymmetrical? Half the mouth covered, one nostril protected, everything else hanging out to infect?

There sat I in my FFP3 (an N95) watching the contemptuous dudes blibber into their cell phones. Chomp their chocolates. Sit grinning.

On my final train, a young man removed his shoes, placing his feet (with socks) on the seat in front of him, but occasionally scratching said feet as if they itched intensely. His mask slid slowly down his nose until only his mouth was covered. As he, too, pushed the mask to his chin and began to gobble chocolate, I noted that my journey would only last another twenty minutes. 

I think my mask fended off COVID. But I'll continue to be tested. I wish all those dumb dudes out there knew how unsexy they are when they pull off their masks. 

Tuesday, March 22, 2022

On Censorship and Victimology Again

Tucked into "Why are Scholars Such Snitches," Laura Kipnis's recent (March 17, 2022) essay in The Chronicle of Higher Education detailing Stasi-like persecution of academics deemed by any disgruntled colleague or student to have said or done anything offensive, is the following paragraph:

There are still, it seems, occasional old-school types (often leftists) who persist in thinking that there’s a distinction between quoting James Baldwin or Martin Luther King Jr. in full and hurling an epithet. The college-admissions consultant Hanna Stotland, who specializes in “crisis management,” told me that the snitching impulse is taking hold among younger and younger students. She used to have two such cases a year; she’s had 20 in the last two years. N-word offenses are a cottage industry here too. High schoolers squirrel away incriminating texts, or videos of friends at age 15 singing along with rap lyrics, then forward them to admissions committees when the friend (or frenemy, rather) gets an athletic scholarship or is admitted to an Ivy. Colleges are so quick to act on the intel, says Stotland, that they’ll sometimes retract an offer without even giving the accused student a chance to respond.

(1)  There really is a distinction between quoting in full James Baldwin or Martin Luther King Jr. or Mark Twain or Countee Cullen or Maya Angelou or John Steinbeck or Langston Hughes or plenty of other writers in full and hurling an epithet.

(2) Critical thinking--which supposedly we're all teaching students--is the ability to distinguish either an author's or a text's intention, its style, its tone.  Students who know how to do these things--for example, can distinguish a ballad from a sonnet and a joke from a rant--are too smart to pretend that the sound of "that word" in a classroom injures them personally or that "impact" matters and intention does not. "Performed delicacy"--the term John McWhorter uses to describe this "wounded" behavior--is accurate.

(3) The very first thing students learn about Mark Twain should not be that he uses a word that's become taboo. But a teacher should be aware of her student population. If she's got a group of kids who have only ever heard the word as an insult hurled at them, she's got to take a different approach from the one she'd use with students who have never experienced a racist insult and who would never use the word themselves unless they were reading aloud from a text using it.

(4) Scholars are snitches because everybody's pretending Ibram X. Kendi and Robin diAngelo are not shysters. Oh, and racists too.

Saturday, March 19, 2022

Unite around Zelensky

The March 14, 2022 New Yorker cover shows Volodymyr Zelensky proving through the night that his flag is still there. 

But as long as Putin knows the West is scared of What He Might Do, he's winning. His troops are advancing. He's losing men, tanks, money. None of that touches this poisoner, liar, murderer. All this the West well knows. But they're afraid of what he might do.

Zelensky stands firm, getting standing ovations--but not much else--from the West. Putin's scorching earth. Going down in a blaze taking the Ukraine with him seems to be a thing that turns him on.

Food, medicine weapons--not enough.

I wish  the U.S. would give Zelensky a no-fly zone and whatever else he needs. His requests are for the world, not just the Ukraine.

Tuesday, March 15, 2022

Thank You, Marina Ovsyannikova

Marina Ovsyannikova's bravery is breathtaking. On Monday evening, she interrupted a state-run Russian broadcast with an anti-war poster. As the seated broadcaster continued to read, loudly, trying to drown-out the truth-telling Ms. Ovsyannikova, Ms. Ovsyannikova radiated energy behind her, the poster displaying news the West has been seeing for the last 19 days but that so many Russians don't.

It takes tremendous guts to do what she did--to tell the truth when she could be thrown in prison for years--or much worse. 

I hope she gives other Russians the courage to commit similar acts of truth-telling. I hope the West stops trying to appease Putin and works to remove his power to wage war, to brutalize, to destroy.

In War: How Conflict Shaped Us (London: Profile, 2021) Margaret MacMillan remarks: "Power alone without some support from the people cannot ensure the survival of Leviathans." Putin's support is slipping. Marina Ovsyannikova's act of defiance won't be the last. 

In the final book of the Hunger Games trilogy--Mockingjay--the good guys manage to disrupt the propagandized news broadcasts coming from the capitol--and deliver real resistance news.  An electronic infiltration of state-run Russian TV sounds like a lovely idea--imagine Russians who have always trusted Putin seeing on-the-ground footage of Russian fire hitting pregnant women and children. Imagine more. Imagine the infiltration revealing Putin and his generals saying this:"Let's ask Xi Jinping for enough ammunition to pulverize the Ukrainians--if they won't throw rose petals at my incoming tanks, let's scorch earth them." Putin's given the Ukraine a choice: marry me or I'll kill you. Let's make sure Russians glued to state TV know that.

Imagine ordinary Russians having access to that information--imagine all of us having it--topped with one of Zelensky's heroic broadcasts. 


Monday, March 14, 2022

Chicken Eggplant De Luxe: Works for Women who Want to Lose a Pound or Five

 I threw this meal together: it's satisfying and good for diets in the sense that it's carb-free, a good thing at dinnertime. You'll have leftovers for the next day, too.

You will need:

Two or three chicken thighs

Sliced or minced garlic--lots

Chopped fresh parsley

Sliced zucchini

Olive oil

Juice of one half lemon

Herbal salt

Thinly sliced eggplant (Used three small ones)

Garlic powder

Chop or slice garlic and put in a medium-sized pyrex baking dish. Add rinsed, chopped parsley and zucchini. Toss in olive oil. Place the chicken thighs on top. Ideally these have cooled their heels in the fridge, already graced with herbal salt, for at least a few hours if not overnight, but if you don't have time, I won't tell. Drizzle with a little olive oil and the juice of that half  lemon.

You'll save something that looks like this:

Set aside for the moment and put your eggplant into an olive-oiled larger pan. Ideally you've salted it, let it sit for fifteen minutes, and paper-toweled off the salt (I did) but if you're in a rush, no worries. Do toss in olive oil and lay out as follows:

Everything goes in the oven at about 190ºC (about 375ºF) for about an hour--you'll check all from time to time; flip the eggplant a bit, baste the chicky from the juice in the pan. And then you'll eat:


This goes nicely with a single glass of dry white wine. Dry! No other carbs.  I promise you, you won't gain weight. You might lose a tad when the eggplant kicks in.

Saturday, March 12, 2022

Soulful Salmon (or the fish of your choice--soulful sole will work)


This two-minute preparation needs only one medium-sized baking dish.

You will need:

Dijon mustard (I like the grainy kind--but smooth will work)


Sliced black olives (I like the kind mixed with garlic)

Two slabs of salmon or sole


Olive oil

Balsamic vinegar


 (1) Place the fish at one end of the baking dish.

(2) Rinse the asparagus and put it at the other end.

(3) Mix mayonnaise and mustard to taste, and spread it over the fish.

(4) Slice the olives and lay them over the fish.

(5) Drizzle the asparagus with a little olive oil and balsamic vinegar.

 Should look like this:

Bake at about 190º for about twenty minutes (depends on how thick the fish is).

Voila! Enjoy with a glass of dry white wine. This batch could have used more of the mayo-dijon mix. We added a little packaged Hollondaise sauce to the asparagus.


Tuesday, March 8, 2022

Zelensky the Lionhearted and Putin the Liar

Twelve days. Two million refugees. At least 400 civilians murdered. 202 schools and 34 hospitals bombed.

Putin's whopper--that a Jewish former comedian and grandson of Holocaust survivors is a Nazi--has had its impact: an awful lot of Russians believe him. An awful lot of experienced statesmen aren't willing to risk the one-two punch that could stop Putin.

I wish those statesmen would take the lesson from Kurt Jooss's 1932 ballet, The Green Table, an exposé of the dithering, flattery and insincerity of politicians playing at diplomacy--firing their guns as death wanders the table, as nobody takes a stand:

Because the statesmen didn't take a stand, Hitler did.

Putin too.

But in a move that gives us all hope, Volodymyr Zelensky has also taken a stand. The following hymn--"Once to Every Man and Nation," inspired by James Russell Lowell's passionate protest of the 1845 American annexation of Texas and, in 1890, set to music by Thomas J. Williams, stands for all that Zelensky represents:

If only President Biden and Secretary of State Antony Blinken would follow in Zelensky's footsteps, and fight just as bravely, and with all firepower to defeat Putin--who like all cowards stands aside.

Monday, March 7, 2022

The Bravest Man I Know, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky

It never surprised me that a comedian with no political experience has become a world-class statesman, a David hurling stones at Goliath, Harry Potter fighting Voldemort--a hero. It's always the one seeking truth and justice, not the one seeking power, who makes the best leader. In the first book of C.S. Lewis's Narnia series, The Magician's Nephew, in which Aslan the lion creates the land of Narnia, a London cabby and his wife find themselves asked to be king and queen of the new land. Astonished, the cabby--later, King Frank--humbly demurs: he's got no experience, he says, and he's not educated. Aslan asks a number of questions--would he be fair? Not pick favorites among his children or his subjects? Defend the land? Yes, yes, yes. The cabby qualifies because he wants to do right by all.

It's the truly serious who succeed as comedians, and Zelensky's best comedy reveals dedication to the truth, to his identity:

Vladimir Putin can throw bombs and throw his weight around. He can kill Zelensky, and make a martyr who will haunt him for the rest of his career.  Military might, Putin's iron fist, can only do so much. He can kill the mouse that roared, but never the desire for freedom and self-determination, what Zelensky is so passionately defending at the risk of paying the ultimate price. The underdog with the balls of steel is the moral giant, the one putting his life on the line for all that makes life worth living.

Saturday, March 5, 2022

Unfiltered: My Hundred-Plus Mother--a Snapshot

I'm wheeling her down the hall at her assisted living facility; she's telling me it's wonderful I'm visiting when a woman exits the elevator near us. 

 "She's fat!" yells Mom, at the top of her lungs. 

High-wattage blue eyes gleaming, Mom has the charm--when she's not insulting people--of a pixie. Her expression immediately relapses to innocent, eyes wide, smile beatific.

"This place is a parking lot for wheelchairs and walkers!" she yelled a few months ago. Before she was using both herself. 

Now, she tells the aide, "your socks are ugly! Why are you wearing those ugly shoes?" But afterwords, she's nice.

Until she says, "I don't wanna wash my hands!"

"I missed you so much!" she tells me. She asks about my children and is very happy to hear about them. She asks same questions again. I tell her, and she's happy again. We do this all afternoon.

When I arrived, the receptionist said, "Oh, you're mother is so great!" They're still saying that--her aides forgive the insults and say they love working for her. But everyone talks about "her personality change."

There hasn't been one. She's lost her memory, but she hasn't changed a bit. "I like breathing," she said. "I'm going to try to keep it up." Her determination is one quality I admire.

Monday, February 21, 2022

Fun Veggie Coconut Tofu

This is pretty easy.  You will need:

Peanut oil (vegetable will do)

Sesame oil

Sesame seeds

Drained firm tofu (slice, place on kitchen towels, cover with kitchen towels and heavy book; repeat)

Corn starch (about a tablespoon or more)

Sliced vegetables--I used orange bell peppers, zucchini, and frozen peas, but any nice firm veggie will do

Grated ginger (to taste--I used a piece half the size of my thumb)

Garlic, pressed (lots!)

Can of creamy coconut milk

Tom Yum Instant Hot and Sour Paste (which you will find at any Asian store)

Rice--I recommend jasmine or sushi rice


1. Slice the veggies, grate the ginger, press the garlic--you can leave them all on one big cutting board.

2. Make rice in rice cooker

3. Sprinkle drained tofu with cornstarch--I use a small sieve so the cornstarch isn't lumpy.

4. Heat oil in large pan or wok; put in tofu, turning once or twice until it looks crispy brown.

5. Remove and lay on paper towels to drain.

6. Put ginger and garlic in pan--you may need more oil--stir and add veggies. Stir occasionally for a few minutes.

7. In a small pot, put the can of coconut sauce and about a tablespoon (more if you like) of the Tom Yum sauce. Feel free to add grated ginger, too. Heat on medium, stirring occasionally.

8. When the veggies look nearly done, add the drained tofu and a little sesame oil and sesame seeds. Pour on the coconut-Tom Yum sauce. Keep on low heat and stir. Serve over rice--goes nicely with a glass of Prosecco or white wine, too. Or beer.





Saturday, February 5, 2022

Defending Whoopi Goldberg

I can't believe she's been put in a corner to think about her sins for saying the Holocaust isn't about race but about man's inhumanity to man. Alas, she did add that "white people were killing white people," not taking into account the Nazi persecution of Jews as an inferior race.

The point is: racism is about man's inhumanity to man. I can hear them whining about the term "man" already; let's say racism is about inhumane behavior. Racism is inhumanity. But Whoopi got to the heart of the problem. Inhumanity is the problem; inhumanity is the essence of racism--and of wokeism too, as John McWhorter has recently observed in his witty masterpiece, Woke Racism

Lighten up, ABC. Madame Goldberg--who loved to pretend she had a Jewish ancestor back there somewhere, until Henry Louis Gates cornered her with a study of her DNA--made a slightly dumb remark. But she's no racist. If anyone should be reflecting on their sins, it's ABC--they've actually insulted one of the most talented, humane people around. Why wasn't it enough to say "the views expressed by Whoopi Goldberg are not those of ABC" and leave the situation behind?

She should leave ABC behind and start her own show. They don't deserve her. Their treatment of her is anything but humane.



Monday, January 31, 2022

Omicronned: The Red Tile Menace

I wasn't entirely surprised when my corona warn-app went from green to red the morning after I returned from Paris. I'd only been in the train station about fifteen minutes, mostly in an open-air part of the station, but I was indeed guilty of taking a train from a remote, non-coronaed region to the city where everything-- including corona--is lit. 

That was on January 7, and my son kindly walked me through the streets to avoid the Metro, explaining the peculiarities of France's corona laws, which make everyone on the street wear masks. But in the 500-seat university lecture hall in which he's currently compelled to attend classes, people sit cheek by jowl, and some of those jowls are not covered by masks. Germany, on the other hand . . .  a scholarly disquisition on the science of German mask rules flowed forth, and I agreed, wishing I could be half as articulate. Paris was lovely, and I picked up a delicious mini goat-cheese-and-spinach quiche for the ride back, which was as perfect as only the French can make it. Of course I ate most of it outside, to avoid unmasking in a train, but once the train car was nearly empty, I indulged in the rest. 

Maybe that's when the incident incurring my red tile occurred!

Back in my German city, I tested negative for days . . . but then another red tile appeared on January 14. The tram? The open-windowed-only-three-people-ever-there-large-university gym? 

I'll never know, but ever since then a number of sober, masked, careful Germans have experienced the red-tile panic and interrogated themselves, as if searching, like a nerds brainwashed by Kendi & co, for an evil moment. 

"You haven't done anything wrong," I have reassured several parties. 

Myself, I have sometimes failed in the ultra-vigilent moment. On a freezing, rainy day I entered a dry cleaners and was so focussed on closing my umbrella, enjoying the warmth, feeling my hands defrost, and speaking loudly enough to be heard over the machines that it took me a moment to realize the woman behind the counter wasn't wearing a mask. She did have a plastic shield up between her and me. Her colleague, steaming shirts in a corner (that corner was 2 meters away) wasn't behind a plastic shield and wasn't wearing a mask.

But I kept mine on. Oh, what a good girl am I.

Sunday, January 9, 2022

Tasty, Easy Bell Peppers De Luxe



This is one of those recipes that looks fancy-shmancy but is very easy to make. You will need:

Olive Oil


Red or any color peppers--I like a mix of red, yellow and orange.

Fresh rosemary

Wash, slice and seed the peppers. You can leave them in fairly large pieces; that makes things easier later on. Peel the garlic and leave it whole. 

Lightly grease a large baking dish. Place the peppers skin side up and tuck the garlic undernearth them so they'll take on the flavor of the peppers. Put in the oven on your hottest setting and leave there until the peppers are burned black. Charred! Then remove. If you have a large paper bag, insert the peppers in them, but you can also just leave them sitting in their baking dish on a tile or trivet until they cool down. Some people just cover the dish with aluminum foil until the peppers cool down. 

Once they've cooled, peel off the blackened skin and place the peppers and the garlic (garlic should be quite soft) in a serving dish with olive oil. Add sprigs of fresh rosemary. Serve with fresh baguette and a glass of Prosecco or red wine.

Friday, December 24, 2021

Have Yourself a Very Boostered Christmas

My younger son sent a photo: "Just got my chip implanted!" My older one got his a while back, my daughter needs one but can't get it because she'd not yet eighteen, and there there's ancient me: I'm boostered. I'm jonesing for a fourth . . . or a cure. The holidays are here, those awkward phone calls: "And you got your third shot when? Oh, you didn't? And, uh, shall we all get rapid tests before we come to your house? Oh, you don't think we need to do that? How about we take a walk? Please don't get offended . .  ."

We're doing the right thing, but the right thing feels so wrong. We would rather deck the halls and down the drinks with all our relatives and friends. Instead, the kids and I enjoyed potato dumplings, red cabbage with apple, and duck (for me and the other carnivore) but vegan cordon bleu for the family vegans. It all went down well with a little Prosecco and some red wine. We watched about half of Jurassic Park before falling asleep in front of the TV. I'm just trying to get up the energy to brush my teeth.

Here's my favorite holiday music:

Monday, December 6, 2021

The Hundred-Year-Old Covid Patient

My 100-year-old mother has been dosed, kicking and screaming, with both vaccinations and, five weeks ago, her booster. She doesn't gad about--she can barely walk, and her walks take place between her bedroom and the communal dining area in her extremely well-run, COVID-safe, assisted living community.

But Mom's favorite indoor sport--also her favorite outdoor sport--is ripping off her mask. You should have seen her at her 99th birthday party, which took place on Zoom for me, since no flying was allowed at the time. "Come sit by me!" she kept yelling at various visitors, patting the bench on the outdoor porch beside her, mask dangling by one ear lobe.

"You need to put on your mask!" said the chorus of friendly people administering cake and champagne. I waved, urged the same, and she smiled and said she couldn't hear me. (Nothing new there! That situation has been ongoing since I was born.)

I've been FaceTiming her, thanks to the lovely ladies who care for her, one of whom is now a lot sicker than she is. Mom's coughing and sneezing.

 "Don't open that window! I'm cold!" she yelled at the endlessly patient administrator in full PPE. 

"No, I don't have what's that, COVIS," she calls it, "Just a cold." She's eating well and enjoying the almond butter, hummus and other goodies I send. It's her tenacity that keeps her going. Right now, I'm not feeling at all bad about not visiting.

 P.S. She'd be yelling, "it's a hundred and a half!" and you know what? She'd be absolutely correct. Her absolutely favorite thing to be. 

Tuesday, November 23, 2021

John McWhorter's Woke Racism: A Rave Review

Ironically, reading this shrewd exposé of woke as a religion tempts me to shout, "Manna from Heaven!" Taking aim at Ta-Nahisi Coates urging "the end of scarfing hot dogs on the Fourth of July while denying the facts of our heritage," (p. 131) McWhorter observes: "this is the divorcé who can't stand seeing his ex have a good time. To tar today's America as insufficiently aware of slavery is more about smugness and noble victimhood than forging something new and needed." Bullseye! Pragmatic as always, McWhorter outlines a three-point platform for attacking racism in his final chapter: (1) End the war on drugs (2) Teach reading with phonics (3) get rid of the notion that everyone has to go to college; respect and implement vocational training for poor people.

Hooray for the last one. Over a teaching career that started in 1985 and took me to good, bad, and ugly universities and colleges, I can say I wish some of my students, of all ethnicities, had chosen vocational training. Here in Germany, more than one student has confessed to wanting vocational training (but their mother insisted on university) or not liking reading much (but the family said a teaching degree is better than running a small fast food joint.)

John McWhorter's book diagnoses fundamentalism and fraudulence in so-called anti-racists, the school of Kendi and DiAngelo. Those who dare to disagree with such preachers are blasphemers, crucified on Twitter and banished from polite society. You can lose your job for pointing out that not all inequality is caused by racism.

But here I am waving around Woke Racism as if it were the Bible. Why? I could say because it's good news, and therefore like a gospel: Rendered inarticulate by the foolishness of questions like, "how have you experienced your white privilege?" I appreciate--actually, adore--McWhorter's precise, witty takedown of what's become an industry--as he's pointed out, DiAngelo and Kendi will never have to work again. 

A loner in the midst of old friends riddled with what I see as misplaced guilt and what they see as a righteous reflection on the wounds of enslaved peoples, I meditate on the need of so many highly educated people--so many smart women!--to be insulted. I've lost count of friends who confide--as if divulging a sexual indiscretion--that some great-great-great ancestor owned slaves. So did Toussaint L'Overture, the liberator of Haiti. Whiteness is an accidental quality, not a sign of guilt. That haunted look, that "I've learned an awful lot about myself in the past few years" from educated middle-class white women isn't justified by what these women think of as America's original sin--slavery. Or their supposed racism because they thought of "flesh-colored" bandaids as "normal." Or even (gasp!) once mistook a Black store patron for a Black store clerk. Or, worse, actually used to harbor a racist notion or two, which they've vanquished but feel terrible about. 

Puritanism's rearing its ugly head, the kind defined by that sublime satirist H.L. Mencken as "the haunting fear that someone, somewhere, may be happy."

Until I read Woke Racism, I'd been inclined to think of current race pieties as mass hysteria. The Salem witch trials, the McCarthy years, the imprisonment of Japanese-Americans during World War Two, the post-9/11 backlash against Arab-Americans: "wokeness" seems of a piece. But the religious element--yes! I'm hardly the first to see Robin DiAngelo as a direct descendent of Jonathan Edwards--my hat's off to the blogger who quipped "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry Broad." Yes, she's the leader of the Elect--as Calvinist as they come: you're marked by original sin. You better suffer, white person, and you better spend your life repenting for a stain so deep it will never be washed out.

And Kendi--the smiling preacher in dreadlocks. John Milton knew his type when he criticized "blind mouths," clergy feeding on their flock, consuming them, instead of offering love, consolation, guidance. Kendi's a wolf in sheep's clothing; DiAngelo's marginally more obvious: she looks like she sucks lemons. 

But dear Professor McWhorter, the Elect aren't just a religion. They're a cult. Let's de-program them! Here's the ticket:


My favorite lines in McWhorter's delightfully logical latest include: 

For the Elect, "actual progress on race is not something to celebrate but to talk around. This is because, with progress, the Elect lose their sense of purpose. Note: What they are after is not money or power, but sheer purpose, in the basic sense of feeling like you matter and that your life has a meaningful agenda." (p. 40)

"The failure of so many thinkers to understand the difference between the effects of racism in the past and racism in the present has strangled discussions about race for decades" (p. 125)

"Ask whether microaggressions merit the same response as physical assault and the Elect do not receive this as a challenging query. To them, it is splitting hairs to taxonomize assault in this way." (p. 159)

Reading McWhorter's work, I'm struck by the uncommonness of common sense. His every line radiates common sense. But common sense remains so rare I was almost afraid, until he came along, that it was extinct. The Elect (or the mass hysterics) don't acknowledge his common sense. The lure of guilt--the seductive lure of being a flagellant--has such a hold on so many otherwise bright, productive people that common sense goes out the window. 

Scratch a flagellant and you get a sadist--the folks beating themselves up for their whiteness are the same folks who Twitter-bully people out of careers.

Two days ago I tried to bring up Woke Racism with a friend--who, predictably, exploded: "Racism is real!" Followed by her certainty that the outcome of the Rittenhouse trial would have been different had the seventeen-year-old fool who never should have been allowed in the same room as a gun been Black. Followed by the notion that since the teenager got off, white supremacist vigilantes will run wild. Coleman Hughes just pointed out that Kenneth Walker, Breonna Taylor's boyfriend, shot a cop in self-defense and was cleared of all charges--rightly so. Justice worked in the Rittenhouse case, and the kid wasn't a white supremacist either.

The reality remains that U.S. gun laws allow teenagers and other lunatics access to weapons that go off by accident, Mommy. The faux vikings who stormed the U.S. Capitol aren't leading the pack--they're going to prison. The real racism that's still out there isn't an excuse to ignore what's happening in schools: that children shouldn't be separated by race in ways that--McWhorter points out--would have pleased that arch-racist, Strom Thurmond; that children shouldn't be asked to draw "their white skin" or listen to teachers reading them Not My Idea or Antiracist Baby. Followed by Ta-Nehisi Coates' heartless declaration of "no sympathy" for the white cops and firemen who died at the World Trade Center.

This isn't social or racial or any kind of justice, Coates and co. 

Reason and wit are a balm. Thank you, John McWhorter. 

P.S. May I touch the hem of your garment?

P.P.S. I wanna start a John McWhorter fan club. With T-shirts and everything. With autographs. With friendly tea parties and wine tastings (Covid-safe). Who wants to join?