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I’ve been mentally collecting common political misconceptions, some of which I’ve held myself. Some have been debunked repeatedly, such as the myth that Al Gore claimed credit for inventing the internet (he clearly didn’t), though even as one crumbles, another takes shape before our eyes, such as the claim that Sarah Palin said “I can see Russia from my house!” (It was Tina Fey, playing Palin on Saturday Night Live. Millions of us heard her say it on live television, and her tone was clearly satirical, not one of literally quoting her target, and yet people still say Palin said it.) But other, more substantive misconceptions keep cropping up, so herewith a few posts taking a close look at them.

Up today: the idea that federalism, and the Federalist Party of the early United States, advocate a loose confederation of states with a weak federal government. Federalism’s modern version, in this thinking, is “states’ rights.” In fact, the opposite is true: federalism argues for a strong central government and, while not discarding states’ jurisdiction over many functions of government, tilts towards empowering the federal government to supersede the states’.

I thought federalism equalled states’ rights for years, for the simple reason that the Federalist Society, the conservative legal organization, strongly advocates states’ rights and weak federal powers. And if one looks to the authors of the Federalist Papers, there are mixed messages; one was James Madison, a founding member of the Democratic-Republican (also known as the Republican) Party, which decisively took leave of the Federalist Party. However, during the writing of the Federalist Papers, Madison was a Federalist, or perhaps federalist is a better way to put it: he thought the Articles of Confederation were too weak (the Federalist Papers were written with the express object of getting the Constitution ratified to replace the Articles of Confederation) and that a stronger central government was needed to bind the states together.

The Federalist Society, according to Wikipedia, is primarily concerned with the concept of judicial restraint, which is outlined in Federalist Paper No. 78. That was indeed written by someone who remained a Federalist all his life, Alexander Hamilton. But in many (most?) of its stances, the Federalist Society sides not with Hamilton but with the later Madison, who parted from the principle of a strong central government, and in doing so, shed the name Federalist and began a new party–the first political party and the beginning of party factionalism in the United States.

I’m sure my understanding of these parties’ positions is far from complete, and probably anachronistic; who knows where Hamilton, Madison, and other early Federalists and Anti-Federalists would stand on the issues of 2018? But it’s undoubtedly true that the term “federalism” is repeatedly used to mean its opposite.

The Federalist website, for example, though not connected to The Federalist Society, shares its general worldview, and like it, is an inheritor not of the Federalists’ political philosophy, but their opponents’.

And just last week, the Washington Post used the term “federalism” to describe pushback by the nations’ governors against Trump’s teacher-arming plan (“Trump gets a seminar on federalism as governors push back on arming teachers,” February 27). “The session quickly became a seminar on federalism — and a reminder that states really remain the laboratories of democracy,” the author, James Hohman wrote, but that is far more a Democratic-Republican article of faith than a Federalist one.

Political philosophers, government majors, members of the Federalist Society, Ron Chernow, David McCullough (biographers of Federalists Hamilton and Adams, respectively): if you have light to shed on this issue, please do.

Next post: 3/5.

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Answer: The number of days after InfoWars host Alex Jones published his “final statement” asserting that the killings at Sandy Hook were a hoax (11/18/16) that Donald Trump appeared on Jones’s show to praise his “amazing reputation” and promise him, “I will not let you down” (12/2/16).

My friend Dan Schatz teased me about my tiny little strike against procrastination, but darn it, it works. I have stuck with it and gradually added two other habits. One is taking something downstairs whenever I go, since most of our living space is upstairs and there’s always something: compost for the bin, a jacket to hang in the closet by the front door, books we’ve finished reading. I adopted this from the nurses’ rule, related by Ian McEwan in Atonement, of never walking down the ward empty-handed; there’s always something to dispose of or deliver.

The other is putting away my clothes and shoes, even my pajamas, whenever I change. I don’t always keep up 100%, but I haven’t had a great big accumulated pile of shed clothes to put away for a year or two now.

Next post: my version of bullet journaling. If I don’t watch out, this is going to turn into a Personal Organization blog, which would be a joke of cosmic proportions.

Colored pencil on paper, 18×22 cm (c) Amy Zucker Morgenstern 2018

You know what scares me most about Trump’s latest outrage? It’s not that he described other nations as “shitholes.” It’s not that he said we shouldn’t allow immigration from such countries. It’s not even the deep, toxic racism of his policies.

Those are all plenty frightening, but what’s got me most in a sweat is the evidence that no one, least of all Trump himself, has control over what Trump says and does.

There are those on the left and right who say he’s being strategic: shoring up his base with the occasional blatantly racist comment. But the people who love this comment don’t need shoring up, so if it is a strategy, it’s a bad one. Again: he is not in control of himself.

Yes, yes, condolence calls don’t bear much scrutiny and it’s time to stop analyzing what each of these poor people had to endure, or what they appreciated, about a call from our 45th (in chronology and rank) president. In a way this is a minor blip. Though of course it is not minor for the families, no one will die from a bad phone call, which is more than we can say for some of his other decisions. But it’s deeply significant for our country, the other countries of the world, and all of the billions of us who are affected by this man’s holding so much power.

1. Trump is the worst person in the world to deliver condolences. He has no capacity for empathy, he is completely clumsy with words (see: inability to distinguish between “He was willing to die for his country” and “He knew what he signed up for”) and has zero sense of what is appropriate to say when (see: same).

2. Trump, when criticized, immediately attacks others. Even if they are grieving Gold Star families.

3. Trump is a pathological liar: he lies constantly and in situations where his lies are easily exposed.

4. One of the many things he habitually lies about is his own generosity. He promises money, or claims to have given it, and then little of the money ever materializes. His charitable “foundation” is a scam.

5. He is desperate to be the unique, the best, the first. Other presidents didn’t make calls, he claims (of course they did). No other president writes a check for $25,000–or maybe what he means is, no previous president would have promised such a check and not send it until compelled by public exposure, which may be true. This narcissistic neediness causes harm to other people, such as the grieving father he strung along. What might be even worse is that Trump seems not to perceive that a promise is not actually meaningful unless fulfilled; words are not enough. No wonder he stiffs creditors, reneges on contractors and now, as president, blithely breaks treaties.

6. When caught in a lie, it’s also part of his m.o. to pass the buck like it’s a hot coal. In this case, he immediately blamed the fabrication on “his” generals. “I was told,” he said. He lacks the most elementary courage needed for leadership.
7. A president does not need to call each family that has lost a servicemember; a letter, crafted by a staffer, is fine. Likewise, some people will appreciate the call, some will be angry and bitter, and many will not remember a word. They’re in shock and grief, damn it. There is no perfect, right thing to say–but there are many wrong things to say. There’s a “first, do no harm” principle to such things that he does not grasp.

8.  In no circumstances is it acceptable to complain about this duty. Again: if you don’t know that “this is one of the hardest things a president has to do” is not a complaint, whereas “Now, it gets to a point where, you know, you make four or five of them in one day. It’s a very, very tough day” is a complaint, then it’s best to just keep your mouth shut.

9. People who have lost a child are not “politicizing” the incident by talking about it in a political context. You can’t politicize what is already political, and what could be more political than asking someone to die for his country’s aims? They are not tarnishing the sacredness of their sacrifice by pointing out its connections to policies, parties, or politicians. I lost my last scrap of respect for John Kelly yesterday when he implied the Khans had done so.

When I was a kid growing up, a lot of things were sacred in our country. Women were sacred, looked upon with great honor. That’s obviously not the case anymore as we see from recent cases. Life, the dignity of life, is sacred. That’s gone. Religion, that seems to be gone as well. Gold Star families, I think that left in the convention over the summer.

If there’s something or someone else he could have meant by this reference to Gold Star families, please enlighten me.

10. Don’t even get me started on a so-called leader who keeps trotting out “the dog ate my homework”-level excuses. Again: leadership skills 101.

11. And the whole thing blew up because Trump didn’t want us to hear about Niger. So: what are we doing in Niger? And why was it such a secret? I was hoping the silence was only because he couldn’t bear to report a failure, but it’s become apparent that this is a secret mission. So what’s going on there? Did Congress know about it?

Here’s the very first exchange between Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr, as conceived by Lin-Manuel Miranda:

Hamilton: Pardon me, are you Aaron Burr, sir?
Burr: That depends.

That’s Burr in a nutshell: unwilling to commit, even to the point of admitting his name. Oh, sure, it’s framed as a gentle rebuke to Hamilton’s manners, which he accepts: “Who’s asking?,” Burr goes on to say, a reasonable enough rejoinder when a stranger demands to know one’s name, and Hamilton catches his faux pas and introduces himself. But it is also an epitome of the defining difference between Burr and Hamilton in Miranda’s interpretation; Burr is guarded, “waiting to see which way the wind will blow” (“Non-Stop”), and Hamilton impetuous, always giving his opinion whether anyone wants to hear it or not–just as, at the end of this song, a newbie, he jumps in to the tavern debate: “If you stand for nothing, Burr, what will you fall for?”

Each will drive the other up a wall, learn from the other, and adopt the other’s ways to his own advantage. This meeting is the first step along the way to Hamilton’s becoming diplomatic enough, Burr style, to gain influence (“The Room Where It Happens”), and to Burr’s acquiring enough of Hamilton’s bulldozer drive to seek power (“The Election of 1800”) and as a result, end up fatally opposed. The reality was probably muddier, but that’s one of the thoughtful simplifications Miranda chooses, stringing a thread from each man’s earliest experiences, through their career decisions, to their final confrontation.

And then, of course, there’s the foreshadowing in the warning, “Fools who run their mouths off wind up dead,” which would be too theatrically ominous if not immediately humorously claimed, and thus undercut, by John Laurens’ shouting “What time is it? Showtime!”

Anachronistic humor is another tricky balance the play strikes well. What kind of beer does Laurens drink? Sam Adams, of course. In the gangsta-rap style introductions, Laurens speaks defiantly about the Redcoat “cops,” which prompts thought about ways in which the British and colonists were, and were not, analagous to today’s police and African Americans. Do government forces within the 21st century US perpetuate colonialism vis a vis the citizens? The play stays firmly rooted in the 18th century, but it doesn’t shy away from planting these ideas.

The foreshadowing is in the music as well as the words. Those chords of “Aaron Burr, Sir,” the second song? We will hear them again in the second-to-last song (“The World Was Wide Enough”), just after Burr shoots Hamilton and becomes “the villain in your history.”

I am in the midst of a week’s study leave. As usual, I didn’t really clear my desk before this “break from usual responsibilities,” much less write the reflection and eulogy I will need for Sunday, so it is far from a week of pure study. But I am managing to spend most of my time immersed in two topics.

One is death and grief. My first book of the week was Irvin Yalom’s Staring Into the Sun: Overcoming the Terror of Death. By pure chance, the reading for my women’s group was an excerpt on different ways of incorporating past losses into our lives, from On Living, a memoir by hospice chaplain Kerry Egan. Tuesday, I was browsing the natural history section of a bookstore and stumbled upon H is for Hawk, which thanks to a review, I knew was not only natural history but very much about the author’s process of mourning her father’s death. It is now on the pile. The next day, I was browsing the DVD section on a rare trip to San Francisco’s Main Library, and remembered that I’ve been looking for the first season of Six Feet Under for a while. They have it! I’ve watched two episodes, and the people who told me it’s a really good look at death and grief are right.

The other area of immersion is African American history and fiction, a long-term remediation project to fill the gaps in my education and better equip myself to fight white supremacy. I’ve read Bud Not Buddy, a children’s chapter book by Christopher Paul Curtis. I’m also reading March by Geraldine Brooks, with the grain of salt I keep on hand for books about the black experience by white people, especially fiction, but so far, so good: it’s teaching me some things about the Civil War years that I didn’t know, and I’ve been nibbling at this book since December so I really want to finish it. Next up is Ida: A Sword Among Lions, an intimidatingly thick biography of Ida Wells by Paula Giddings–many thanks to Mariame Kaba for the recommendation.

Here’s a problem I have EVERY time I cancel a print job: it doesn’t cancel. Usually it then gets stuck and won’t let me print anything else; sometimes it just ignores me and after wasting ink on what might be dozens of pages, I’m good to go. Digging into the print spooler usually, though not always, resolves the problem.

I have two questions:

  1. Is this a Windows problem, a Word problem, an HP printer problem, or an Amy problem?
  2. How do I make it stop happening?

If I were a poet, then I could probably make a poem of this story:

Some poems of Derek Walcott, winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature, appear on the website Poem Hunter.

Someone comments on one of them, “This is a good poem Derek, keep it up”

But I’m not much of a poet. I do appreciate good poetry, though, as well as ironic, deeply clueless comments, so hearing of his death sent me to Poem Hunter to look up some of his poems. I have read one now and then, but that’s the extent of my familiarity with his work. The very first one listed was so fitting for the service I’ve been planning for Sunday that I want to excerpt it for our centering words. It must be one of his best-known, because I’ve read it before.

Love After Love

The time will come
when, with elation
you will greet yourself arriving
at your own door, in your own mirror
and each will smile at the other’s welcome,

and say, sit here. Eat.
You will love again the stranger who was your self.
Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart
to itself, to the stranger who has loved you

all your life, whom you ignored
for another, who knows you by heart.
Take down the love letters from the bookshelf,

the photographs, the desperate notes,
peel your own image from the mirror.
Sit. Feast on your life.

I was also very moved by “R.T.S.L. (1917-1977).”

On poking around on the internet, I discovered that Walcott lost a position at Oxford when charges of past sexual harassment (which he had not disputed) were pointed out. Good. I don’t think someone who has used his position at a previous university to try to coerce students into sex should be hired by another university. And we can still love his poetry and admire whatever in him enabled him to write it. Last Sunday, speaking about issues of history and morality raised by the debates about renaming buildings that honor people we no longer consider worthy of such an honor, I made the uncontroversial pronouncement that there are no saints. The prospect of using, in the service, the lovely words of someone who abused people so badly is where that rubber meets the road.

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