Category: current events

A Follow-up Kavanaugh Post: On His Testimony

Not that I love revisiting topics, but I wrote yesterday’s blog before Kavanaugh himself had testified. There was so much there for me to respond to, I decided I had to circle back to this again today.

First off, I want to say that his prepared remarks seemed very strong to me. He was angry, clearly. But my first thought was that it was a justified response. His good name was called into question, he swears he didn’t do this act, he’s got a slew of people who say he was a swell guy back then. Could this just be a case where Ford mixed something up in her memories? That happens, right? After those opening remarks, I was no longer sure of anything.

But he kept talking. And as the questions progressed, something else rose to the surface.

First off, when he was asked the same types of questions from Mitchell, he gave much worse answers. Check this one out about his drinking habits (the full transcript is here):

MITCHELL: Dr. Ford has described you as being intoxicated at a party. Did you consume alcohol during your high school years?

KAVANAUGH: Yes, we drank beer. My friends and I, the boys and girls. Yes, we drank beer. I liked beer. Still like beer. We drank beer. The drinking age, as I noted, was 18, so the seniors were legal, senior year in high school, people were legal to drink, and we — yeah, we drank beer, and I said sometimes — sometimes probably had too many beers, and sometimes other people had too many beers.

MITCHELL: What do you…

KAVANAUGH: We drank beer. We liked beer.

MITCHELL: What do you consider to be too many beers?

KAVANAUGH: I don’t know. You know, we — whatever the chart says, a blood-alcohol chart.

MITCHELL: When you talked to Fox News the other night, you said that there were times in high school when people might have had too many beers on occasion. Does that include you?

KAVANAUGH: Sure.

MITCHELL: OK. Have you ever passed out from drinking?

KAVANAUGH: I — passed out would be — no, but I’ve gone to sleep, but — but I’ve never blacked out. That’s the — that’s the — the allegation, and that — that — that’s wrong.

He’s being asked simple questions. He’s giving huge long responses. This does not strike me as him being truthful, especially when coupled with the things he personally had written about his drinking habits, and the things his friends had written, both in books and in their yearbook. Without casting any judgments on what did or didn’t happen at the party with Ford, I think it was quite clear Kavanaugh was a heavy drinker in high school and college. Here’s another example from the transcript:

LEAHY: Now, you’ve talked about your yearbook. In your yearbook, you talked about drinking and sexual exploits, did you not?

KAVANAUGH: Senator, let me — let me take a step back and explain high school. I was number one in the class…

LEAHY: And I — and I thought (ph)…

KAVANAUGH: … freshman — no, no, no, no, no.

LEAHY: I thought we were in the Senate (ph)…

KAVANAUGH: You’ve got this all — I’m going to — I’m going to talk about my high school…

LEAHY: … the (ph) whole (ph) question (ph).

I thought we were in the Senate (ph) filibuster (ph).

KAVANAUGH: … no, no.

GRASSLEY: Let him answer.

KAVANAUGH: I’m going to talk about my high school record, if you’re going to sit here and mock me.

GRASSLEY: We — we were — I think we were all very fair to Dr. Ford. Shouldn’t we be just as fair to Judge Kavanaugh?

(CROSSTALK)

KAVANAUGH: I busted my butt in academics. I always tried to do the best I could. As I recall, I finished one in the class, first in — you know, freshman and junior year, right at the top with Steve (ph) Clark (ph) and Eddie (ph) (inaudible), we were always kind of in the mix.

I — I played sports. I was captain of the varsity basketball team. I was wide receiver and defensive back on the football team. I ran track in the spring of ’82 to try to get faster. I did my service projects at the school, which involved going to the soup kitchen downtown — let me finish — and going to tutor intellectually disabled kids at the Rockville Library.

With the church — and, yes, we got together with our friends.

LEAHY: Does this reflect what you are? Does this yearbook reflect your…

KAVANAUGH: I…

LEAHY: … focus on academics and your respect for women? That’s easy. Yes or no. You don’t have to filibuster the answer. Does it reflect your focus on academics…

(CROSSTALK)

KAVANAUGH: I already said the yearbook — in my opening statement. The yearbook, obviously…

GRASSLEY: Judge? Just wait a minute. He’s asked the question. I’ll give you time to answer it.

KAVANAUGH: The — the yearbook, as I said in my opening statement, was something where the students and editors made a decision to treat some of it as farce and some of as exaggeration, some of it celebrating things that don’t reflect the things that were really the central part of our school.

Yes, we went to parties, though. Yes, of course, we went to parties and the yearbook page describes that and kind of makes fun of it. And as a — you know, if we want to sit here and talk about whether a Supreme Court nomination should be based on a high school yearbook page, I think that’s taken us to a new level of absurdity.

Again, this was not the sort of answer you give if you have a simple, truthful answer. Before he’d even been asked the question (which I assume would have been “Did your yearbook accurately describe your behavior in high school”), he was instead deflecting to what a great guy he was in high school. How hard he studied. How he went to church. But of course, you can do a lot of great things in high school and also drink a lot. Get drunk to the point of blacking out.

I believe Kavanaugh believes he didn’t sexually assault Ford. Or at least, I believe he could believe that. Why? Because I also believe that if he did assault her, it might be something he could easily forget. After all, he was quite intoxicated at the time (if her story is true), and it was nothing more than a blip on his schedule. Harmful actions we take to other people can and do affect them much longer than they affect us.

I think back on some of the hurtful things that happened to me in middle school and high school. How I was made fun of because of my weight or my last name. I think about conversations I’ve had with Denisa about her time growing up. How casual remarks and criticisms people said to her still affect her to this day. If we were to go back and confront the people who had harmed our psyches, I would honestly be very surprised if they remembered what they had done or said.

It was no big deal to them.

(Likewise, I’m sure there are things I did and said when I was in middle school, high school, college, and later on that have hurt other people deeply. There are some things I’m aware of. Some I’m no doubt not and wouldn’t remember if you asked me.)

Note: The Republicans seemed to figure this out. They could see that Mitchell’s questions were making Kavanaugh look bad in comparison, so they stopped having her ask those questions.

Did the sexual assault happen? I’m not sure. It was a long time ago. I know Ford believes it did. I know Kavanaugh strongly denies it, and seems to believe that denial. I personally would like to see a deeper investigation. It doesn’t have to play out on a public stage, but I’d think Senators would want to hear from other witnesses. Have them testify under oath. It’s much easier to write a statement and sign your name to it than it is to actually get up there and answer questions.

But another thing that was clear was that this entire thing has been politicized to death. You’ve got grandstanding on both sides of the aisle, and I don’t know that anything real can come of this. (Though if he’s confirmed, he’s publicly stated he believes this all to be one big hack job by the Democrats against him. How can he be an impartial judge at this point? How can he effectively serve on the Supreme Court if he believes all this? He might have been able to be impartial before this, but this process has ruined his suitability. Which might be a tragedy, and might not be. Hard to say without knowing the truth.)

In the end, I believe there are plenty of other, untarnished judges out there who could serve on the Supreme Court. I would like Senators to either investigate this incident more fully, or to withdraw his nomination and put someone new up for the seat. But I believe they won’t do that, as they’re too concerned that it will take too long, and they’ll lose their shot to have a conservative judge on the Supreme Court.

I’m still just depressed.

And I’m still taking notes for when November comes. Especially when it comes to how Senator Collins, my own Senator, votes.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Like what you’ve read? Please consider supporting me on Patreon. Thanks to all my Patrons who support me! It only takes a minute or two, and then it’s automatic from there on out. I’ve been posting my book ICHABOD in installments, as well as chapters from UTOPIA. Check it out.

If you’d rather not sign up for Patreon, you can also support the site by clicking the MEMORY THIEF Amazon link on the right of the page. That will take you to Amazon, where you can buy my books or anything else. During that visit, a portion of your purchase will go to me. It won’t cost you anything extra.

 

On the Kavanaugh Hearings

I’ve kept my fingers quiet on the subject of the Kavanaugh hearings up until now, mainly because I’ve had enough going on in my life that I didn’t want to devote the brain space to policing the conversation that might arise based on whatever I might write. I watched Dr. Ford’s testimony today over my lunch break, however, and I (naturally) had a few things I wanted to say.

The first is a response against the sentiments I’ve heard popping up from Republicans, claiming there’s now no way for men to be “protected” against nefarious, conniving women who will claim rape at the drop of a hat, just to derail a noble, good man’s quest to do something important like get on the Supreme Court. I find this kind of argument extremely depressing. It shows a willingness and readiness on the part of many to assume the worst of a woman who comes forward to accuse someone of rape.

“Why didn’t she come forward earlier?” “Why wait until now?” “She’s just a shill for the Democrats.”

Judging from her testimony, I don’t understand how anyone can continue to ask these questions. Why not come forward earlier in her life? Perhaps because she was a fifteen year old girl who had been drinking at a gathering with boys when the assault occurred. Perhaps because she knew full well that if she made that accusation, no one was going to believe her then, just as so many don’t believe her now. Or if they did believe her, they’d say she was “asking for it,” and they’d tell her she shouldn’t have been drinking.

Why wait until the last minute to come forward, and only when the man was up for Supreme Court justice? Perhaps because she knew exactly what the fallout would be. The name calling. The doxxing. The death threats. The accusations that she’s only politically motivated.

Doing what she’s doing isn’t an easy thing, especially not in today’s social media environment. But I suppose it’s to be expected that people today will believe what they choose to believe, well in advance of actually learning more about a situation.

Would it have been preferable for her to have come forward earlier? Sure. She did try to come forward, but it seems like the wheels of the political process were slow to pay attention to her story. Why not? Well, what would have happened if they’d jumped the gun and started clamoring about her story as soon as they heard it? I tend to think in today’s environment, they would have been casually dismissed as “unsubstantiated claims,” and chided for trying to derail the process. It was a lose/lose situation.

Does Brent Kavanaugh have a long, storied history of excellent work as a judge? Sure. Let’s say for the sake of argument that he’s the best candidate we’ve seen come through in decades. The real question seems to me to be “Should the actions we make in high school and college still have an impact on us decades later?” From what I’m reading about the man, he seems like he would have fit in just fine as a frat member in Animal House. Even when he was in high school.

“It was a different day and age! Boys will be boys! He was just doing the same thing lots of other kids his age were doing!”

That argument is worthless with me. He either did it, or he didn’t. If he didn’t do it, then let the process run its course and prove him not guilty. If he did do it, then I would like to think there are tons of qualified judges who managed to get through high school without heavy drinking and sexually assaulting women.

“But we need to do this now before the Democrats possibly get control of the Senate and ruin our chances to get a conservative Supreme Court!”

This argument, to me, raises the question: “Just what are you willing to sacrifice for political gain?” Judging by how many people continue to be willing to support Trump, that answer’s fairly simple.

The hearings are clearly political. There’s grandstanding on both sides of the aisle, and I don’t like any of it. But I listened to her testimony, and I found her credible and sincere. She certainly believes her story. Why not take the time to investigate it more fully, especially in light of the other accusations that are coming out? This isn’t a situation where she’s just coming forward and saying he assaulted her alone in a car. She’s saying there are other witnesses.

But maybe none of that matters any more. Easier just to believe the story you want to believe and ignore the parts that make you uncomfortable. The narrative that women come forward with false accusations of rape all the time is just plain flawed. Yes, it happens every now and then, but it is very much the exception. It’s incredibly depressing just how often men have been willing to sexually assault women in our history, and just how easily they have gotten away with it. We still have a President who freely admitted to sexually assaulting women.

I wish I had a simple way to end this. I don’t. I guess I’ll just watch it play out along with the rest of America.

And then I’ll vote in November.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Like what you’ve read? Please consider supporting me on Patreon. Thanks to all my Patrons who support me! It only takes a minute or two, and then it’s automatic from there on out. I’ve been posting my book ICHABOD in installments, as well as chapters from UTOPIA. Check it out.

If you’d rather not sign up for Patreon, you can also support the site by clicking the MEMORY THIEF Amazon link on the right of the page. That will take you to Amazon, where you can buy my books or anything else. During that visit, a portion of your purchase will go to me. It won’t cost you anything extra.

 

How I Evaluate the News

I imagine it’s because I’m a trained librarian, and so people are curious about what I think about various information sources, but for whatever reason, I actually have a fair number of friends ask me about news articles now and then. I had one instance this morning, and I sent back a detailed response. After writing it, I thought it might be something the rest of you would find interesting, especially these days when “the news” so often seems more like “the opinion,” as opposed to anything resembling fact (from some sources.)

So first, the question. What did I think of this article?

For teaching purposes, I’d encourage all of you to click through to that article and read it for yourself and ask yourself the same question. What do you think of it? More importantly, why do you think that? Is it an article to be trusted or dismissed? Why? This will be more valuable if you come to your own conclusions first, I think.

Ready?

For those of you who just decided to keep reading and ignore my helpful advice, the article is about how Obama might have been a plant by nefarious anti-American sources, designed to ruin our country. For the purposes of this exercise (and for all news source evaluations), I think it’s important to distance yourself from what you personally might believe about the topic. Face the fact that your preconceived notions might be wrong, and approach it as objectively as possible.

People come to librarians all the time, asking us questions. We can’t laugh at them if we think their questions are silly. Our job is to find the information they’re looking for. So for this question, I treated as “Do you think this is a reputable article? Why or why not?”

Here’s what I responded:

Hmm. My first step is to look at the source. Both the publication and the author. The publication (Washington Times) is quite a conservative source that sometimes pushes the envelope when it comes to fair reporting. (http://www.allgeneralizationsarefalse.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/01/Media-Bias-Chart_Version-3.1_Watermark-min.jpg). This is an editorial in that paper, so it’s under no obligation to present anything “fair” at all. I’d treat an editorial on MSNBC about the same way.

Then there’s the author. From his bio on the Times’ site: “Todd is a contributor to Fox Business, Newsmax TV, Moscow Times, the New York Post, the National Review, Zero Hedge and others.” I’m not going to touch the Moscow Times reference. Newsmax is hyper-conservative nonsense; New York Post and Fox are borderline, and the National Review is a site I’d actually read and give some credence to. (Yes, you can critique the chart I’m consulting. I know there are quite a few conservatives who see where Fox shows up on that and immediately start accusing it of being biased. But I really believe Fox is put at about the right spot on that chart, just as I believe most of the other sites are placed in the general correct vicinity. I think a lot of the discrepancy of opinions people have about current events can be traced to this sort of bias. Which sources to believe, and why. But anyway.)

Going beyond that, L. Todd Wood helpfully has his own website we can read to see what his views in general are when he’s not tied to any particular news source. He lists his publications, and they’re recently almost all from The Washington Times, and they’re all squarely in a single worldview. From his biography (http://ltoddwood.com/l-todd-wood-biography/), he studied aeronautical engineering at the Air Force Academy, became a pilot, got a Masters in Engineering Management, served in Kuwait, became a Captain in the Air Force, branched out into investment banking, traveled internationally, became an author, and now splits his time between living in NYC and Moscow.

His publisher is Ice Box Publishing, which from what I can quickly gather is basically a company that only puts out books by Wood. It’s an LLC, and my guess is he started a company to publish his own books.

So I find very little reason to actually give him any credence whatsoever. He’s an ex-military engineer/finance guru turned author. Most of his claimed expertise comes from the hazy 17 years he was with an investment bank. “During this second career he became highly knowledgeable in Emerging Markets Fixed Income and traveled a great deal internationally with a focus on the Caribbean.  He has conducted business in over forty different countries.  He became acutely aware of the consequences of economic decisions and their effect on national and economic security.” I’m not sure how his focus on the Caribbean prepared him to become an expert on Iranian and Russian relations, but that’s where his focus seems to be now.

In the end, taking everything into account, I think Wood’s article is a biased, selective hack job–fairly easy to dismiss.

End of my response.

That’s my answer to the question. What would yours have been? How would you approach it? I’m curious if you’d do it differently, and why.

Thanks for reading!

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Like what you’ve read? Please consider supporting me on Patreon. Thanks to all my Patrons who support me! It only takes a minute or two, and then it’s automatic from there on out. I’ve been posting my book ICHABOD in installments, as well as chapters from UTOPIA. Check it out.

If you’d rather not sign up for Patreon, you can also support the site by clicking the MEMORY THIEF Amazon link on the right of the page. That will take you to Amazon, where you can buy my books or anything else. During that visit, a portion of your purchase will go to me. It won’t cost you anything extra.

On Harlan Ellison, and Behaving Badly

Harlan Ellison passed away yesterday. He was quite a well-known science fiction author, but I don’t think I’ve personally read any of his work. Why not? Because the first time I was really made aware of him was when I watched him in person as he groped the breast of Connie Willis, a writer whose work I had read and admired. This wasn’t done in the corner of some late night party. It was done in the middle of the Hugo awards ceremony, the sci-fi/fantasy equivalent of the Oscars. Here’s video of it:

I recognized his name at the time, but I just sat and watched him make an ass out of himself in the middle of the awards ceremony, and then casually sexually assault a woman on stage. I get that he may have been “trying to be funny.” I just found him tiresome, and I was shocked more people didn’t object at the time to what he had done. Perhaps they didn’t because they thought it was scripted (it wasn’t). Or because he was who he was. (So what?)

In most cases, I try to separate the art from the artist, recognizing that the relationship I have to a book or a movie or a performance isn’t the same as a relationship to the creator of that thing. I know someone can be a failure as a human and still make fantastic art. In fact, sometimes it’s the people who are messed up the most who can somehow create the most interesting things. (Connected? Not sure. That’s a thought for a different time.)

But as I read all the eulogies about Ellison in the wake of his passing, I found myself unable to really separate the art from the actions I had personally witnessed. I don’t know Connie Willis, and I haven’t read a ton of her books. This was a single incident, 12 years ago, but it stuck with me. And as I thought on it further, I found a pattern in me. When I’ve personally had something happen to me or in my presence, I do a pretty bad job at forgiving and forgetting. It sticks with me.

I’ve interacted with editors personally, watching how they treat other people. I’ve met several authors over the years, some of them really nice and gregarious, some of them standoffish, and some of them brusque and harsh. Those personal interactions stay with me much longer than anything I read about people or hear about them. Something to keep in mind as I interact with people at signings myself. Personal connections can go a long way toward making fans or not.

I’m not angry at people who are Harlan Ellison fans. I still believe in separating the art from the artist when you can. But after thinking this through, I also can understand where people are coming from when they’re unable to do that. When they can’t look past the actions of the person in question to be able to enjoy the work that person created.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Like what you’ve read? Please consider supporting me on Patreon. Thanks to all my Patrons who support me! It only takes a minute or two, and then it’s automatic from there on out. I’ve been posting my book ICHABOD in installments, as well as chapters from UTOPIA. Check it out.

If you’d rather not sign up for Patreon, you can also support the site by clicking the MEMORY THIEF Amazon link on the right of the page. That will take you to Amazon, where you can buy my books or anything else. During that visit, a portion of your purchase will go to me. It won’t cost you anything extra.

 

Looking for an Excuse to Ignore

It feels to me these days like more and more people are looking for excuses. For reasons they can simply ignore people who disagree with them instead of actually engage them in a real dialogue. Some of this comes down to labels. “Trump supporter.” “Social Justice Warrior.” Slap a label on a person who you don’t see eye to eye with, and suddenly you’re not dismissing an individual, you’re simply ignoring a person who’s obviously wrong.

This thought started when I got a political ad in the mail yesterday. A candidate was bragging about how he was the “Only Trump Supporter” among other Republican candidates running for Senate. I looked at the ad and couldn’t help but give it a mental eye roll. “How to guarantee I’ll not vote for you,” I thought to myself as I threw it away. “Trump supporter” was enough for me to dismiss the person without a second thought. On the other hand, clearly there is a non-insignificant portion of the state for which being an avid supporter of the President is an asset, not a liability.

Then you’ve got the case of Roseanne. She Tweeted a racist joke and had her hit TV show subsequently canceled hours later. In response, some people are very pleased. Finally! A consequence for saying awful things. Some people are quite upset. Comedians make fun of Trump all the time, they say, and yet there are no repercussions to them. They see this as liberals being hypocritical, wanting to silence speech that offends them but not caring when their speech offends others.

In still other situations, you have some people looking at society today and seeing continued discrimination toward minorities, women, and LGBT issues. Meanwhile, you have white men clamoring that *they* are actually the ones being discriminated against.

Honestly, the list continues from there, but that’s enough for now. In each case, both sides are polarized to the point that they can’t even see the other side’s point of view to engage with it. In each instance, both sides feel the matter is cut and dried. That there’s no room for any view other than the one they hold.

What’s caused us to get to this point?

Some of it is due to the 24 hour news cycle. News stations are on all day, and they need to fill that time with something, and so having it be a constant argument between differing sides is one way to do that. At the same time, they’ve also discovered they get better ratings by pandering solely to one side or the other, presenting a view of the world that at best downplays the other side and at worst ignores it or demonizes it completely.

Some of it is due to anonymity online. It’s much easier to label and ignore people you don’t have to talk to and interact with on a daily basis. It’s even easier when you have no idea who those people are to begin with. Just look at the way I judge people when I’m driving my car compared to the way I judge them in person. (Spoiler: I’m not a very charitable driver . . . )

But it’s one thing to identify a problem. What can we do to solve it?

I tend to think the solution isn’t to be found online. The anonymity and toxic comments from both sides make real discussion almost impossible. Facebook tends to enable real debate to an extent, but I’ve found too often it turns into me playing referee between friends of mine who don’t know each other and so feel a sense of that entitled anonymity kick in.

So for me, I believe the real solution is to be found in the real world. Once you get outside and meet actual people, it becomes harder to dismiss their ideas. I’m not saying we have to get out there and agree with one another. But understanding where the opposite side of the argument is coming from is important. Listening is the first step: being willing to let the other side say what they’re thinking, without attacking them and pointing out all the reasons they’re wrong. The next step is to look for common ground. Find the areas of the the debate where you’re on the same side, and then build outward from there.

I have friends who are Trump supporters. I have friends who are “Social Justice Warriors.” (Sorry. That’s still one of the lamest labels I’ve heard people come up with, and I cringe when it’s used. A topic for another time.) Neither side has a monopoly on being right or on being good. Charges of hypocrisy could easily stick on both sides. But the longer each side tries to just ignore the other, the worse this problem will get. I include myself in that call for toning things down. Playing to an audience might win us views and clicks in the short term, but at a very real cost to civil discourse.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Like what you’ve read? Please consider supporting me on Patreon. Thanks to all my Patrons who support me! It only takes a minute or two, and then it’s automatic from there on out. I’ve been posting my book ICHABOD in installments, as well as chapters from UTOPIA. Check it out.

If you’d rather not sign up for Patreon, you can also support the site by clicking the MEMORY THIEF Amazon link on the right of the page. That will take you to Amazon, where you can buy my books or anything else. During that visit, a portion of your purchase will go to me. It won’t cost you anything extra.

%d bloggers like this: