Gandalf on killing Gollum

Posted by Sappho on January 6th, 2020 filed in Peace Testimony, Quotes

Many that live deserve death. Some that die deserve life. Can you give it to them, Frodo? Do not be too eager to deal out death in judgment.

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For the People

Posted by Sappho on December 7th, 2019 filed in Election 2020

Now that I have more time than I had earlier this week, I’m sharing a few thoughts on Kamala Harris’s exit from the 2020 race.

Summary of what I am going:

1) Harris the person: At a personal level, I really like Kamala Harris (though not only Kamala Harris!). And the things I like about Harris say something about what I’m hungry for in a President, whoever the candidate may be.

2) Harris and how her policies stack up: Harris had both strengths and weaknesses in the policy department.

3) Harris and the impact of racism on the Presidential race: Yes, of course racism has an impact. Yes, of course it isn’t the only thing. It’s easiest to see the impact of racism and sexism not through the lens of how an individual candidate fared, but through the long arc of history. And it’s important neither to understate nor to overstate the impact.

Now the detailed version:

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“You saw her bathing on the roof …”

Posted by Sappho on November 25th, 2019 filed in Bible study

There are several possible interpretations of the story of David, Bathsheba, and Uriah. But I am sure “God wants kings who abuse their power for personal gain” isn’t one of them.

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Talkin’ bout my generation

Posted by Sappho on November 6th, 2019 filed in Memory, News and Commentary

I’ve never felt like a Baby Boomer. I doubt I’m close to alone in this, among “Boomers” born after 1960. Sure, technically I’m still part of that demographic bubble, as the baby bust didn’t hit till a few years after I was born. But the cultural phenomenon people talk about when they describe “Baby Boomers” doesn’t track with my experiences growing up. I’ve always felt more like Generation X.

Baby Boomers are, we’re always told, the generation whose central experience is the decisions they made about the draft for the Vietnam War. I’m the generation that experienced the Vietnam War as the reason the father of a kid in my neighborhood was missing in action. The generation that went through high school and college during the time of the Boat People, and of the killing fields in Cambodia.

Baby Boomers are the generation that protested and protested and protested in college. I’m of the college generation that older Boomers criticized as careerist and politically apathetic. When we did have protests (and we did, and I was myself an activist), about apartheid or US policy in Central America, if our protests were of any significant size, we would get the description “reminiscent of the 1960s,” as if our protests were a 60s nostalgia party.

Baby Boomers were the generation celebrated in the Hair musical song “Age of Aquarius“. I’m the generation that heard older people singing “Age of Aquarius” and wondered why the heck there was a whole song about people born in the latter part of January and the beginning of February. I mean, it’s flattering that you think I’m all about harmony and understanding, but also puzzling.

I was in college during the time of Reagan, and my young adulthood spanned from Madonna’s “Material Girl” to the collapse of the Iron Curtain. Beginning political awareness in junior high school at the time of Nixon’s detente with the Soviet Union, I reached the latter part of my twenties seeing the fall of the Berlin Wall.

This is a very different experience from that of older Baby Boomers – and it’s mostly older Boomers’ experience that people describe when they’re explaining what shaped Boomers. I’m of the same generation as Obama, but I’m not really, in my life experience, of the same generation as Bill and Hillary Clinton.

Generation labels are like that. We stick broad labels on birth cohorts that last twenty years or so, and talk as if these described individuals. In the process, we lump together: changes that happen in all of our lives as we age (how many “Boomer/Millennial” differences are the same differences that applied to Boomers and their parents, when Boomers were young?), changes that happen over time through several generations (true for at least some changes in racial attitudes), and differences related to life experience (such as how it shaped people to grow up during the Great Depression). We lump together people of very different ages. And we lump together people whose generational experiences may not be well described by labels developed based on US history (do US labels really describe the generational experience of my coworker whose generation is “born just after Pol Pot fell to parents who lived through the killing fields era in Cambodia”?).

These descriptions may be useful as accounts of broad sociological phenomenon, but, even when they’re framed neutrally, and not in “how the Millenials ruined X” generation war terms, they still paint in way too broad a brush to match many individuals’ experiences.

I watched Watergate unfold on TV as a kid in junior high school, my first real political awareness being framed by Nixon’s “I am not a crook.” Hillary Clinton, a young lawyer, worked on the impeachment inquiry as part of the staff of the House Judiciary Committee special counsel. Are she and I really in any meaningful sense of the same generation?


You take the high road, and I’ll take the low road

Posted by Sappho on October 28th, 2019 filed in News and Commentary

I see that we’re arguing, once again, today about when we should go high when they go low, and when we should say, screw it, forget about going high. When it’s important to show respect, and when it’s patriotic not to show respect.

Can I make a meta point?

Wherever you want to draw the line, the most important respect that anyone owes Trump is not respect to the office of the presidency, but respect to Trump as an individual. Why, you may ask? Individual-1 isn’t an individual particularly deserving of respect.

Here’s why. Whatever the heck the minimum may be, that I owe any other human being, whether not he or she deserves it, for my own sake, or for the sake of others who might be harmed by the precedent I’d set, that standard is way more important than any respect I give due to someone’s station. And I have way more reason to give it to the undeserving, than to respect someone who abuses the power of his office, because he holds that office.

If, for example, I were tempted to mock Trump for being fat, I’d refrain, because that kind of mockery hurts other people who are fat, and who have done no harm. And because it’s not particularly connected to what Trump has actually done wrong as President, and if he’s to be mocked, he should be mocked for that, not for some physical characteristic that harms no one else. But I certainly wouldn’t feel obliged to refrain because of any respect I owe him as President – he’s done far worse than mock people for being fat, and mocking him for the real harm he’s done may be a useful tool in resisting authoritarianism.

And, though respect for an office even when you disagree with the holder makes sense, it’s less clear that such respect should apply when we’re talking about, not disagreement, but flat out abuse of power. While if we’re talking about the basic minimum regard that’s due an individual – such as, for example, due process of law should anyone charge Trump with any crime once he’s no longer in office – that’s not a thing you should lose if you don’t deserve it. It’s something that belongs to the undeserving as well as to the deserving, because without that, it doesn’t belong securely to anyone.

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Mini round up: The computer security and tiny cars edition

Posted by Sappho on October 23rd, 2019 filed in Computers, Science

Bruce Schneier on the NordVPN breach.

Jim Baker, former general counsel of the FBI, on rethinking encryption.

Scientists taught rats to drive tiny cars.

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The Dust of Life

Posted by Sappho on October 13th, 2019 filed in Music, News and Commentary

Miss Saigon is playing this week at Segerstrom in Orange County. I have never seen it, and am not planning to see this show. Instead I’ve heard the soundtrack, have seen the opera on which it was based, Madame Butterfly, and the movie M. Butterfly, which takes the Madame Butterfly story in an entirely different direction. But it has been on my mind this week, in particular the song “Bui Doi“.

They’re called Bui-Doi
The dust of life

Conceived in Hell
And born in strife
They are the living reminder of all the good we failed to do
We can’t forget
Must not forget
That they are all our children, too

“Bui Doi,” Miss Saigon
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if a president can ask a foreign government to go after one American citizen …

Posted by Sappho on September 26th, 2019 filed in Computers, Election 2016, Election 2020

Not for nothing but, if a president can ask a foreign government to go after one American citizen, he can ask foreign governments to go after any of us.

Tweet by Charles P. Pierce

Yes, exactly. And you don’t even need to have chosen to politically defy him. You could be an ordinary computer security expert who did your job uncovering a Russian hack, with no idea that hack would be used to help elect a POTUS who would welcome the help.

In January, 2016, I was laid off from the company where I then worked in software quality assurance. By March, 2016, I was employed again. But in the meantime, I engaged in a busy job search, with multiple target companies of interest. Because I had both interest and background in computer security, one of those companies was CrowdStrike, a company with an excellent reputation in the computer security field.

I had no idea that company would, by doing its job in accurately tracing a computer hack to Russia (an evaluation that was later confirmed by ample supporting evidence – see Volume I of the Mueller report), CrowdStrike would become the center of a political firestorm, and that years after the fact, a weird claim that the DNC server was somewhere in the Ukraine would figure in a phone call between the presidents of the US and Ukraine, where Zelensky tried to get military aid and Trump tried to get Zelensky to supply information damning to Biden and, independently, to CrowdStrike.

You don’t have to be a political activist to be at risk from retaliation by a self-interested authoritarian. You just have to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, and turn out to have information that he wants to discredit.

To all the people who were just doing their jobs trying to find out what Russia was doing in 2016, whether private computer security experts or people in intelligence services, my sympathy.

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On Kavanaugh, Trump, and impeachment

Posted by Sappho on September 22nd, 2019 filed in Election 2016, News and Commentary

Last week began with an excerpt from a new book on Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh by Times reporters Robin Pogrebin and Kate Kelly. It ended with the revelation of a grave abuse of power by Trump. In both cases, the word “impeachment” was raised in response to the revelation. And in both cases, at least some folks responded that, hey, removal via impeachment isn’t going to happen, so why make the Republicans’ day? I want to make it clear why I give that argument weight for Kavanaugh, but no longer think it holds water for Trump. Here’s why:

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She Died With Her Lipstick On

Posted by WiredSisters on September 17th, 2019 filed in Feminism, Sexuality, Uncategorized

     I read a fantasy novel a while back. I no longer remember the title or the author.  One of the main characters, however,  was a woman named Jezebel, who usually went by "Bel," or something like that. She revealed her full name in a conversation in  which she pointed out that the biblical Jezebel was an admirable woman, who fought for the faith of her fathers against strong and ultimately deadly opposition. 
I like your take on Jezebel even better. The traditional words we use to describe the morality of women all have to do with sex. The old phrase "make an honest woman of her" has nothing to do with inculcating habits of truth-telling into a woman. It means (based on the presumption that she has been sleeping with a man who is not her husband) marrying her, and thereby making her a solid citizen rather than a slut.
Similarly, when we talk about a male teenager as "wild," we mean he drinks and uses drugs, rides a motorcycle, and gets into a lot of fights, sometimes leading to interactions with the police. When we talk about a teenage girl as "wild," we mean she sleeps with guys to whom she is not married. Period. (She may also drink, use drugs, get into fights, etc. But those are superfluous characteristics, neither necessary nor sufficient to get her branded as "wild.")
When a young man is "in trouble," we can mean he is negatively involved with the police, the IRS, Interpol..... you get the idea. When a young woman is "in trouble," that can mean only one thing--she's pregnant.
And, by the way, one of the main reasons I still cheer for the Sexual Revolution, despite many of its questionable consequences, is the fact that, when I was in high school and even in college, when the body of a young woman dead from non-natural causes was found, the first thing the medical examiner checked for was pregnancy, which could serve as adequate explanation--and perhaps even justification--for either homicide or suicide.
This narrow slant on female morality has by no means disappeared. But it is a lot less prevalent. The terms used to insult a female politician, for instance, still include a lot of references to her lack of attractiveness, and may occasionally accuse her of sexual deviancy. But the trolls who drive visible women out of the cyberworld rarely accuse them of sleeping around, though they often accuse them of being too ugly for anyone to want to sleep with. Or, heaven forbid, fat.
And, on the positive side, the good things we have to say about women almost never have anything to do with chastity. Courage, industriousness, intelligence, kindness--lots of good stuff like that. Purity, chastity, irreproachability, not so much.
Which puts me on the side, I guess, of the optimists like Stephen Pinker, or the Second Wave feminists, in saying proudly, "We've already paid the piper--let's dance."

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Posted by Sappho on September 17th, 2019 filed in Bible study

“A jezebel” is an immoral woman. And, because of conventions about how women get to be immoral, the word now has connotations of sexual immorality. The dictionary lists “seductress” and “temptress” as synonyms.

Yesterday, I checked my daily chapter on 929 and was struck by how Jezebel’s story is much more about a different kind of wrong. It’s true that Jezebel puts on makeup at the time of her impending death. But what did she do before that? She arranged for Naboth to be slandered, framed, and stoned to death, so that her husband, Ahab the king, could seize Naboth’s property.

Jezebel isn’t Stormy Daniels. She’s Lady MacBeth. Or
Jiang Qing driving the Cultural Revolution. Her central sin is abuse of power.

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Posted by Sappho on September 15th, 2019 filed in Blog maintenance

An old co-blogger may be returning to talk about a call that he has received, and a new co-blogger will be guest blogging sometime this week.

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Try to find a way to make all our little joys relate

Posted by Sappho on September 2nd, 2019 filed in Bipolar Disorder, News and Commentary

When someone dies by suicide, appropriate responses are: sympathy and support for their surviving friends and family, and promulgation of suicide prevention resources. I’ll note that NAMI and DBSA provide useful peer support groups.

Suicide is something I wish on no one. Whatever your past has been, whatever your prospects look like now, someone loves you.

And people get to be complicated. Someone can be mentally ill, have hurt some people, have been hurt by other people, and perhaps be in the process of becoming a better person.

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#NativeForum 2020

Posted by Sappho on August 19th, 2019 filed in Election 2020

Today (Monday, August 19) and tomorrow (Tuesday, August 20) are the days of the Frank LaMere Native American Presidential Forum. 11 Presidential candidates (10 Democrats and 1 independent) have confirmed their attendance at the event, either in person or by video conference. Panelists consist of tribal leaders, tribal members, and youth.

Candidates who spoke today, in order of appearance: Marianne Williamson, Elizabeth Warren, Amy Klobuchar, and (by video) Steve Bullock.

Order of speaking tomorrow: Joe Sestak, Mark Charles (independent), John Delaney, Kamala Harris (via Skype), Julián Castro, Bernie Sanders, Bill de Blasio.

Here is an post about the forum.

And here, from, is a recap of the morning session (Marianne Williamson and Elizabeth Warren)

Klobuchar promises strong relationship with Indian Country if elected(Klobuchar comes from a state, Minnesota, that has a significant Native American population, and has relationships with Native communities in her state; as a result her responses at the forum were well informed.)

Ahead of the forum, Opal Boyer (Yavapai-Apache nation) looks at the question: Where do Democratic candidates stand with tribal nations and indigenous communities? Which candidates have standalone platforms that address indigenous issues? Which candidates incorporate indigenous issues in other sections of their websites? And which don’t reference indigenous issues at all? See Opal Boyer’s post to find out. Also includes links both to standalone plans and other sections of websites covering Native American issues, and an analysis of what issues each candidate addresses.

Here you can find a Vimeo video of the first day

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“Members of the press, what the fuck?”

Posted by Sappho on August 7th, 2019 filed in Democracy, Election 2020, News and Commentary, Race

There’s a thing people sometimes say about Trump. I saw it not long before the mass shooting at El Paso, from a Trump supporter on Twitter. I’ve seen it said, before, by people who aren’t Trump supporters, but who are saying how they think Trump supporters see him. It’s, sure, he’s not Presidential. But that’s why we like him. He’s a regular guy. He’s like us.

Watching Beto, both sad and angry at the slaughter in his hometown, reply to a question with “Members of the press, what the fuck?” I am struck by what a regular guy actually is. Not Trump. Beto.

I don’t mean, vote for Beto for President. I can pick another candidate with better plans. I can pick another candidate who’s smarter, or better in a debate, or more likely to win. And some of these candidates have just as good character as Beto. So, likely I’ll vote for someone else, and likely we’d be better off with Beto dropping out and running for Senate, to maximize the proper political distribution of good candidates.

For now, though, that’s not the point. The point is, it’s Beto in the spotlight, because it’s his city where the attack happened, and Beto, in every way, is acting like a regular guy, like a normal person, like us. There’s Beto, in his first response to the attack, near tears. There’s Beto, at the blood bank, bringing along his kids so they can see what it’s like to give blood. There’s Beto, getting angry just like a normal person: “What the fuck?”

People say, sometimes, that Trump gets angry like a normal person, but he doesn’t. He gets angry like a distinctly abnormal person. He reads his condemnation of white supremacist violence from a teleprompter but, oh, should anyone show him less than the deference he thinks he’s due, that’s when he gets angry. He basks in “lock her up” and “send her back” chants about his opponents and critics, but he’s never angry on anyone else’s behalf, unless it’s Ivanka. That’s not what normal people are like.

Beto, on the other hand, gets angry like a normal person. Sure, you figure he’s perfectly capable of being angry on his own behalf. But he also gets angry for his home, for his city. Like normal people do.

And, here’s the second thing. To love your home, your particular place, is to love the people who are actually there. For me, it’s to love my home in California with all the people who actually live there, and to set myself against white supremacy because it’s an attack on my actual home. So, too, with Beto. His home is El Paso, a city that’s closely linked with Juarez, and has been for some time. You can’t love El Paso by loving only the Anglo part of it. You love it all, as Beto does.

And you can’t love America, which has never been a white only nation or even close, unless you can love America as it is, a country of many “races.”

That’s why we need a President who will have no more talk of “invasion” or send her back,” a President who will be President of all Americans.

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Coffee with Katie Porter again

Posted by Sappho on August 4th, 2019 filed in Daily Life, Democracy

Yesterday Katie Porter had two more “Coffee with Katie” events, one in a coffee house in Lake Forest, quite close to me.

“Coffee with Katie,” both this time and last time, was standing room only. Katie says that she never realized the events would be this popular, that in fact the first time she did one, she had brought some correspondence to work on in case no one showed up, and thought if anything there would be just a few people coming to chat.

As with last time, I’m rendering the questions and answers from memory, as I didn’t record or take notes. Any errors are my responsibility.

Q) Someone asked a question (which I couldn’t fully hear) about the deficit.

A) Katie replied that she was glad to be asked about the deficit, as it’s important. There’s been a lot of discussion of the Trump tax bill – Does it make taxes lower? Higher? Lower for some, and higher for others, she says, and Orange County is particularly hard hit due to the cap on the SALT (state and local tax) deduction. As a result, some of her constituents have higher taxes, which they have had to put on their credit cards. But it’s not just about who pays more and who pays less. The tax bill increased the deficit. Katie hopes that Republicans can return to being a party that values fiscal responsibility, and work with Democrats on a responsible budget.

Q) How do you get the word out about what’s happening in Congress?
A) Some of my colleagues have said to me, “I don’t do national media like you, Katie.” I do national media for one reason: Orange County, the 6th most populous county in the US, has no TV station. It can be hard to get the word out, and we use all the means we can: media, social media like Twitter and Facebook. If you want to get a fuller picture of the news, I advise you to read newspapers, don’t just watch TV. You can read the paper on your phone or Kindle, but read.

Q) Do you support restoring Glass-Steagal?
A) We’ve had a lot of talk about who is socialist and who is capitalist. (Here Katie mimicked someone whispering, embarrassed to say it aloud, “I am a capitalist.”) Well, I’ll say it (here she raised her voice): “I am a capitalist!” And not just for the economic benefits. Capitalism secures our freedom. But for capitalism to survive and thrive, it needs regulation. (Here Katie talked about the ups and downs of a business cycle in a capitalist economy, with hand gestures to show what a roller coaster it can be without regulation.) Financial regulation stabilizes our economy, and so I support Glass-Steagal.

Q) How do we secure our elections?
A) Just the other day, I listened to Adam Schiff. I was hoping I’d learn from him how I could reassure you, as election security isn’t really my area. But he said, we’re in trouble. The problem is, election security legislation has passed the House. It was part of HR1, which restored the Voting Rights Act and included anti-corruption and election security measures. What happened to that bill? “It’s with Mitch.” The good news is that Orange County elections are very well run. But we need more. There’s now a plan to break up HR1 and send the provisions one piece at a time to the Senate, to put the pressure on Mitch to allow at least some of it to come to a vote in the Senate.

Q) A question about healthcare.
A) Katie doesn’t have the answers but knows our current system isn’t the best. We need to fill the gaps.

Q) What about disability? People waiting to go on disability have trouble getting healthcare.

A) This is true. There’s a delay while people are unable to work but not on disability yet. People in this situation can be at risk of bankruptcy. We need to address this.

Closing: Coffee with Katie has been more popular than expected. You can also call, email, or come by her office and talk to staff. Her office is busy responding to calls and emails and keeps track of all of them. And Katie personally answers any correspondence from children.

Note on other political events this weekend in Orange County: Amy Klobuchar had a meet and greet, and there was a gun control demonstration (with people encouraged to color their hands red) in Orange, both of these events today. I, though, learned of these events too late to have my EV sufficiently charged (am charging it overnight tonight), and so had to give them a pass.

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Posted by Sappho on July 28th, 2019 filed in Poetry

I want to reflect on a poem in which Rudyard Kipling presents a model of manly virtue:

If you can keep your head when all about you   
    Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,   
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
    But make allowance for their doubting too;   
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
    Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,
    And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:

If you can dream—and not make dreams your master;   
    If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim;   
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
    And treat those two impostors just the same;   
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
    Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
    And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools:

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
    And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
    And never breathe a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
    To serve your turn long after they are gone,   
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
    Except the Will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,   
    Or walk with Kings—nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
    If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
    With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,   
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,   
    And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!

“If” by Rudyard Kipling

I’ve never fully resonated with this poem.

For one thing, I don’t divide virtues into those that make you a man or a woman – for me masculinity and femininity are more about sexual display, and the ideals I strive for as a woman should be more or less the same as those I’d strive for if I had been born a man.

For another, a few of the things listed don’t actually strike me as good traits. Why would I want my husband to risk all our possessions on one game of pitch-and-toss? And, if he did lose that toss, why would he want never to breathe a word about his loss?

Still, at least most of the qualities described in the poem are qualities worth having.

I’m afraid that I’m seeing some far worse models of manhood celebrated these days.

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On accusations of bigotry, good faith and bad faith

Posted by Sappho on July 20th, 2019 filed in Race

This post is going to be shorter than my last post. It’s about how I judge whether I consider whether accusations of bigotry are made in good faith or bad faith, and it’s really pretty simple.

Let’s say that you are Jewish. You tell me that you consider a certain statement to be anti-Semitic, or touching on anti-Semitic tropes. Or you tell me that a certain statement, that other people have called anti-Semitic, doesn’t strike you as anti-Semitic at all, and that it’s being taken out of context.

Whatever your position may be, and whether or not it makes sense to me, I consider myself obliged to: a) listen to you, and b) assume that you actually care about what is or isn’t anti-Semitic, and that you’re coming to your judgment in good faith, whether or not I wind up agreeing with you. (I’m not obliged to agree with you – how can I be so obliged? – because it may well be that people who are Jewish disagree with each other on just this matter.)

Now substitute in place of “Jewish” any other group that has a history of suffering from any sort of bigotry, and someone from that group either seeing something as bigoted or not. You are, perhaps, black or indigenous or Latinx or Muslim, and you see bigotry or discrimination against people like you. Or you don’t, and in a particular case think that much ado is being made about nothing. If that history is real (and all the groups I listed surely suffer from bigotry and discrimination), and if you really are a member of that group, I start from the assumption that you believe what you’re saying, and that you care about what you’re saying – that you’re speaking in good faith. I don’t start from the assumption that you’re “playing the race card.” Before I judge you to be speaking in bad faith, I had better have a damn good reason for my judgment.

Now, let’s say you’re not a member of the group on whose behalf you are protesting, and you are a partisan. But you don’t, as far as I know, have your own history promoting the bigotry of which you complain. In that case, I don’t make a particularly strong assumption of good faith. There’s a decent chance that you care more about your partisanship than about the point you are arguing. But I also don’t assume bad faith from the get go. I’ll look at the facts, and come to my own judgment, and I’ll take my time in reaching any conclusions about whether you are, on these matters, someone I can trust to speak in good faith, or whether you aren’t.

If, on the other hand, people on “your side” display virulent examples of the bigotry you are condemning, and you excuse them or even promote what they say, and if, alongside your condemnation of bigotry from person X, you say things about person X that are provably lies, and if, finally, your condemnation of person X itself includes bigoted tropes – well, then I assume that your condemnation of person X for bigotry is made in bad faith. I assume that you’re acting in bad faith even if I should judge that person X has actually said something problematic, just as I make the starting assumption of good faith, in the case where the criticism is coming from someone who’s actually part of the group in question, even if I should judge that person X hasn’t actually said anything as problematic as is being alleged.

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On “the standard definition of racism”

Posted by Sappho on July 20th, 2019 filed in Race

Learn to pronounce
noun: racism
prejudice, discrimination, or antagonism directed against someone of a different race based on the belief that one’s own race is superior.
“a program to combat racism”
synonyms: racial discrimination, racialism, racial prejudice/bigotry, xenophobia, chauvinism, bigotry, bias, intolerance; More
the belief that all members of each race possess characteristics or abilities specific to that race, especially so as to distinguish it as inferior or superior to another race or races.
“theories of racism”

Definition of “racism” at

Trump’s “go back” comments were nativist, xenophobic, counterfactul and politically stupid. But they simply do not meet the standard definition of racist, a word so recklessly flung around these days that its actual meaning is being lost.

Brit Hume on Twitter

Lots of debates online these days loop back to whether something meets “the definition” of racism. Or anti-Semitism. Or white nationalism. So, just for the record, here is how I use the word “racism.” It isn’t “the standard definition of racism” (for that, see above), but it’s an elaboration that’s consistent with the standard definition of racism (I’m not doing a Humpty Dumpty “When I use a word, it means just what I choose it to mean.” This will be a meta post, so, though some well-known public figures may be “racist” by more than one of the criteria that I list, don’t assume that I’m saying that one person checks all the boxes. You don’t, after all, have to check every darn one of the boxes to be racist.

There are three usages for the words “racist/racism”:

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“Still, like air, I’ll rise”

Posted by Sappho on July 18th, 2019 filed in Democracy, News and Commentary, Race

If the crowd that shouted “Send her back” about a sitting American Congresswoman who came here as a child don’t like living in a country that accepts refugees, they’re free to leave. If they don’t like living in a country where a Muslim refugee woman can get elected to Congress, they’re free to leave.

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You won’t have a name when you ride that big airplane

Posted by Sappho on July 14th, 2019 filed in History, Music

I first learned the song “Deportee (Plane Wreck Over Los Gatos Canyon)” as a child, many years after Woody Guthrie wrote it. You may know the words, or at least the refrain: “Goodbye to my Juan, goodbye Rosalita, Adios mis amigos, Jesus y Maria! You won’t have a name when you ride the big airplane. All they will call you will be, deportee.”

You may know at least a rough outline of the incident that inspired the song: In 1948, an airplane crashed near Los Gatos Canyon, and all on board were killed. A newspaper relating the story of the crash gave the names of the pilot, first officer, and stewardess, but listed the passengers as merely deportees. Woody Guthrie wrote a poem lamenting their anonymity, a poem that was later set to music by Martin Hoffman, that became the song “Deportee.” The song has been performed by many, including Pete Seeger, Arlo Guthrie, Judy Collins, Joan Baez, etc.

But I only just discovered this performance of “Deportee” by John McCutcheon. And I learned something new. The dead have their names back. Many decades after the song was written, and after the 28 Mexican agricultural workers had gotten their anonymous burial in a mass grave, several people, at the same time, had the idea: perhaps these people don’t have to stay anonymous. Perhaps they can be known by some name besides “deportee.” They came, after all, legally under a bracero program, and were deported when their visas ran out. Surely there was a record of them somewhere? I’m not sure what work went into tracking them down and recovering their names, but they were found, and if you listen to the linked recording, you can hear McCutcheon sing the old familiar song, as the names of the dead are read between the verses.

At their grave, there is now a memorial to the plane wreck at Los Gatos Canyon’s forgotten victims. Find-a-Grave has a photo of the grave. It is in Coalinga, the hometown of my college boyfriend Brian Sayre, who died young himself in an accident. Had he lived, I think he too would be glad that these dead have their names back.

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