Thursday, September 27, 2018

Greetings--Permanent Payment Explanation

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Friday, February 23, 2018

Tim Kaine Forgets Vietnam

Maybe because the Vietnam war was actually a quagmire into which Democrats led us, some Democrats seem to forget that the point of constitutional law mentioned here has been sliced, diced, and trampled into the ground for about as long as Tim Kaine and I have been--conscious, anyway, or arguably even alive. Anyway, from U. S. Senator Tim Kaine (D-VA):

I’m highly concerned that the Trump Administration is not seeking the Congressional approval the Constitution requires before taking military action — especially given the recent news that an increasing number of U.S. troops will remain in Syria for missions beyond countering ISIS without a new war authorization from Congress.
Under the Constitution, the President cannot declare war without Congress, but the Trump Administration operates as if Congress doesn’t need to be involved at all. Our founding fathers tried to prevent exactly this: a President acting like a king by unilaterally starting war.
As the U.S. mission in Syria continues to expand, the Trump Administration still has not released its memo justifying last April’s airstrikes to the American public or Congress. That lack of transparency is unacceptable, and I’m concerned this same legal justification could be used as a precedent for further executive unilateral military action, even an extremely risky ‘bloody nose’ strike against North Korea.
I’m calling on the Trump Administration to immediately release all legal justification for its broad view of executive war powers — including the Syria memo — and get Congress’ approval before continuing to put American troops in Syria and Iraq in harms way.

Congressional Hearings on Monsanto Have Not Gone Far Enough

Here's what I appended to a form letter an organization e-mailed around. Unfortunately, because the organization is trying to gank more contact information about me than I'm willing to give them, the organization "lost" the part of the letter that Congressman Griffith isn't getting from zillions of bots. I sometimes wonder about these form letters anyway. Why, when we sign them and personalize them, do they redirect to fundraising pages? Are they actually delivered to elected officials, or are they just used to enable pushy sales pests to annoy people who support their causes?

Dear Representative Griffith,

Yes, this e-mail was prompted by a form that's being circulated...but it's a real message from a real live Gate City voter.

I developed celiac sprue in 1995. The gene runs in my family, but celiac sprue used to develop in those who had the gene only in old age, and I was only about 30. Furthermore, several neighbors and relatives had similar symptoms but different diagnoses, and the local beekeeper burned his hives that year. At the time I thought it might be something in the water.

Over the years, I've become good at avoiding wheat gluten, staying active and healthy, "breaking the family curse" of unexplained disabilities...except when some (insert worst words you ever use) has sprayed glyphosate or other poison in the neighborhood.

Last summer, after utility workers repaired a damaged power line and mindlessly sprayed poison on the ground below, I lost a wren, a whole colony of threatened insects, and a pet kitten, while I myself was too sick to do yard work around my own home for several days.

Glyphosate has not been confirmed as a primary cause of a specific type of cancer. Big whoop. I frequently see glyphosate exposure affecting four or five members of one family in four or five different ways. Celiacs bleed heavily into the toilet after exposure, and may have other symptoms like hayfever or asthma. Other people exposed to glyphosate may suffer from general debility. Mental problems, mood disorders, or learning problems may be noticeably aggravated. People recovering from diseases or injuries may noticeably lose ground. I know a woman who really didn't want to notice a connection between using Roundup on her lawn and continuing to suffer from vertigo, sometimes even vomiting, months after having had that as a symptom of flu. Glyphosate has been passed off as harmless because it is, in fact, so insidious that it's hard to document exactly how much harm it does do humans--but it does a lot of harm.

Monsanto's most rich and famous stockholder happens to be a well-known genius of cybertechnology, and there's no reason why he's not leading his company to focus on non-poisonous micro-robot weeders instead of poisons that harm humans, pets, and wildlife.

I’m not pleased by the hearing the House Committee on Science, Space, & Technology held to “examine” the World Health Organization's International Agency for Research on Cancer’s (IARC) classification of glyphosate as a probable carcinogen. For ONE thing, I should have been invited to testify! Now, from reports of the hearing, it appears the committee used the opportunity to attack independent scientists.

Holding this hearing and attacking IARC indicated that Congress is following the direction of Monsanto, the manufacturer of glyphosate. Recent ligation revealed that a plan to question the International Agency for Research on Cancer was started three years ago after Monsanto predicted international cancer scientists would find its toxic pesticide is a probable carcinogen. Additional documents demonstrate that a month before the International Agency for Research released its determination, Monsanto took extensive measures to manipulate public perception about the agency and discredit IARC's scientists.

I’m concerned by these reports and the actions of the Committee because this indicates that Monsanto is doing whatever it takes to keep its toxic pesticide on the market -- and that Congress may be prioritizing the interests of the company over protecting the health and safety of the American public and our environment.

The impacts of glyphosate are clear. In early 2015, The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) -- the cancer evaluation arm of the World Health Organization -- convened a meeting of 17 scientific experts from 11 countries to review the cancer data regarding glyphosate. The IARC experts unanimously voted to classify glyphosate as a probable (Group 2A) human carcinogen.

IARC is specifically qualified to conduct chemical cancer assessments like this one. IARC has been conducting such reviews for forty years, and has evaluated hundreds of chemicals. IARC is considered an authoritative body by governments around the world, and non-industry experts testify as to its integrity and scientific credibility, often in the face of harsh criticism from the industries whose products are being reviewed. Nonetheless, Monsanto and its sponsored consultants have relentlessly argued with IARC’s assessment since then.

Glyphosate is used in over 750 herbicide products and applied to fields in the U.S. at over 250 million pounds annually. Apart from significant risks to human health, the U.S. Geological Survey routinely finds glyphosate in U.S. waterways. Ecological data also reports that glyphosate and glyphosate-formulated products are toxic to aquatic organisms and are extremely lethal to amphibians. Independent studies have found concentrations of glyphosate in human urine and breast milk. Recent studies even indicate glyphosate has the potential to be even more harmful in combination with other chemicals.

In the past 19 years, glyphosate use in U.S. agriculture has increased 20-fold. Glyphosate’s long term impacts are just starting to be apparent, with monarch decline serving as just one example. Glyphosate is widely used along the monarch’s migration route -- virtually wiping out milkweed, the only food young monarchs eat. A recent report found monarch butterflies would need a 5-fold increase to recover from risk of quasi-extinction.

Monsanto's glyphosate is harming the environment we depend on for sustainable food production -- and it’s likely also harming our health.

The science is clear -- we need action now. I urge you to work with other members of Congress to protect independent scientists that are investigating the harms of this pesticide, not attack them. Congress should be holding the pesticide industry and EPA accountable by working to take glyphosate off the market, not serving as the mouthpiece for Monsanto.

Monsanto can do much better than this. And they should. And if they drag their feet when they could be making real progress, then Congress should apply a sharp stick to them.


Book Review: Ambush of the Mountain Man

Title: Ambush of the Mountain Man

Author: William W. Johnstone

Date: 2003

Publisher: Kensington / Pinnacle

ISBN: 0-7860-1439-3

Length: 242 pages

Quote: “Uh, by the way, was that man I just saw getting on the train named Smoke Jensen?”

Uh, actually, he wasn’t. Even in the fictive reality of William W. Johnstone’s “Mountain Man” novels, “Smoke” is a nickname. Smoke Jensen is one big anachronism; people with names like “Jensen” came to the United States after the Civil War and clustered in the north-central plains, but this black-haired hero comes from Missouri, where his father (Emmitt Jensen) was a Confederate soldier, and his given name was Kirby.

After an adventure that qualified as a “baptism by fire,” young Smoke went to the Rocky Mountains and lived by his wits. He never wanted to kill anybody. He just had to kill—oh dozens of baddies, sometimes in one single novel!

He has, by this point in the series, outlived one wife and married another one, Sarah. She believes he’s as kind and gentle as he can be. Let us leave the poor girl her illusions. Smoke Jensen is a fictional hero intended to appeal to readers who like a good fight. Though satisfied with boxing, wrestling, and football in real life, they quietly enjoy reading how Jensen finds it necessary to kill all those people. He may regret all the notches on all his guns but he’s not about to move to a less violent part of the world.

People who like “westerns” rate the Mountain Man stories high. They’re schoolboys’ adventure stories. The plot is that a lot of baddies want to kill Jensen, and Jensen has to kill a few of them. As the blurb on the back say, “One man has a knife. Twenty men have guns. And the odds are just about even.” Actually fan knew the odds were still in Jensen’s favor, because Johnstone was making money on these books. But if you like that kind of adventure, even printed on a page where your mind’s eye has to fill in the beautiful Rocky Mountain landscapes without help from a screen, then the odds are that you’ll enjoy this book.

Johnstone was sometimes acclaimed as the true heir to Zane Grey and Louis Lamour who might have revived “westerns” as a genre. I don’t know to what extent that’s possible. True baby-boomers, who came along while Rogers & Evans & Trigger & Buttermilk were making “western” movies, loved “westerns.” Late baby-boomers remember “westerns” as a fad that was so over. If “westerns” don’t become a fad again, though, it won’t be because Johnstone didn’t try, or because his son’s not still trying. In 2003 thirty more books about Smoke Jensen, and several books in two additional “western” series by William W. Johnstone, were in print.

This one is rising in value, but still available under this web site's usual terms: Buy it online for $5 per book, $5 per package, and $1 per online payment. If you add the ten or eleven more books of this size that could fit into the $5 package, it's a better deal than buying the books directly from Amazon.

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Book Review That Wanted to Be a Term Paper: I Never Promised You a Rose Garden

A Fair Trade Book

The Book Review That Wanted to Be a Term Paper for a Psychology Course Not Taken

Title: I Never Promised You a Rose Garden

Author: Joanne Greenberg as Hannah Greene

Author's web site:

Date: 1964

Publisher: Signet

ISBN: none


Quote: “I’m bedlam as seen by Walt Disney.”

That’s a psychotic patient’s description of her current mood. For today’s readers, it’s also an apt description of the whole novel.

Of all disease novels ever written, I Never Promised You a Rose Garden may be the best; yet it tells us only a minute fraction of what we need to learn about Mental Health...and it seemed, when published, to promise to tell us all.

The main character is Deborah Blau. As a child Deborah had an experience that was strange, possibly unique. A surgical operation left her with what we would now call brain damage. Remembered pain, clumsiness, dizziness, blackouts, distortion of perception, and recurrent dream images came to dominate her perception of the world. She hardly knew when she was seeing and hearing things as they were; she never knew for how long she’d be able to see and hear at all. Occasionally she escaped from both pain and reality into pleasant dream where her vertigo felt like flying. More often she sank into a pit of blindness, helplessness, and pain.

This is not the same disorder we now call schizophrenia, but it looked similar enough that Deborah’s story seemed to offer hope of a cure for schizophrenia. (A cure for schizophrenia is, of course, the holy grail of psychiatry, as a cure for cancer is for general medicine.) Psychiatrists had to learn the hard way that brain traumas are single experiences from which recovery is possible, while “true” schizophrenia is hereditary and progressive.

In any case, at fifteen Deborah makes a classic not-very-serious suicide attempt, opening a few small surface veins, to get...back into a hospital, the last place she consciously wants to go. But in the hospital she’s very, very lucky: after some failed experiments using harsh, obsolete, brain-damaging drugs, doctors find the formula that shuts off communication with the damaged part of the brain and stops the blackouts. All psychiatric patients should be so blessed. Very few are.

Deborah isn’t told exactly what’s being used during the highly experimental treatment process. She’s accustomed to having only intermittent, distorted perception of the world outside her damaged brain, and experiences even a harsh, often abusive psychiatric hospital as similar to home and school—better once her symptoms begin to subside. So in the hospital she begins to develop the sort of empathy and compassion that girls normally begin to develop around age ten. (This capacity for empathy can initially appear as cruelty; for Deborah it does.) She starts to make friends and even has a consciously hopeless crush on an older man.

For Deborah, recovering from her psychotic condition is part of the same adolescence all teenagers are going through, and so every girl, every parent, teacher, or counsellor working with girls, and some of the guys who read this story could read into it several things that turned out not to be true:

(1) “All You Need Is Love.” Just caring about people, even in a detached professional way, can heal brain damage or schizophrenia or addictions or who knows what-all, if we only care enough. (Wrong. Her primary psychiatrist’s kindness is Deborah’s primary source of comfort during her ordeal, but we now know that it would not have been the primary factor in Deborah’s recovery.)

(2) So, failure to bond with other people might be the cause of psychotic disorders. (Wrong. Failure to bond with other people can become a source of social anxiety that can motivate people to use drugs and damage their brains, or their whole bodies...or a source of ordinary teen angst that can motivate people to live through a few lonely years until they find more congenial people in grown-up life.)

(3) And, since it’s all about “feelings, woe, woe, woe, feelings,” people with brain damage ought to be able to receive a healthy “sense of self” (trendy Orwellian phrase for accurate perception of external reality) if they were treated like other people. Pain, seizures, and blackouts could be loved away. The most bizarre behavior might be the way brain-damaged people reacted to “feelings just like ours.” 

We now know that even healthy people perceive the world in different ways—some of us see colors and others don’t. People like Deborah, whose emotional reactions seem “unmatching” to anything others are perceiving, have most or all of their “feelings” about sensations taking place inside their bodies. Until the disease causing those sensations is cured, people like Deborah do not in fact have “feelings just like ours,” or have much energy to give them if they do.Real psychotic patients do not necessarily know or care whether we love them or not, or that we exist.

The cultural war on introversion was underway. Some people wanted to believe that nay interest in solitude or solitary work was a sign that people were going psychotic. Those who admitted that that wasn’t true still wanted to believe that people who didn’t feel a (sick, crazy, hostile, war-producing) urge to reach out and grab for attention, to fight for control of every other face we saw, were sinfully withholding love from other people. 

I think the combination of these attitudes and its stealth feminism (all the active characters are female) made Rose Garden a hit with female book lovers of my generation. I know my college roommate and I used to quote Rose Garden, at length, in conversation, as much as we did the Bible or C.S. Lewis. We didn’t understand Deborah’s psychosis at all; like many readers we tended to overlook that part, because could we ever relate to the ordinary teenage social drama in the story. We were fascinated, as Dr. Fried is in the book, with trying to sort out which bits of the story are which.

Is Deborah, teen drama queen, going to be an introvert? That’s hard to say. Though autism and schizophrenia look like the ultimate forms of introvert social withdrawal, in fact both are produced by brain damage, independent of personality, and can happen to extroverts. Deborah seems to me, as I reread rose Garden, to be expressing—being trained to express—her perceptions of her disease in terms extroverts might use to describe their experiences of mental illness. Psychotic disorders produce social isolation by reducing people’s ability to share other people’s experiences or, in extreme cases, even recognize other people’s presence. Recovery from such conditions, when possible, always includes improved ability to mingle socially with other people. The extent to which social interaction and social withdrawal are healthy are still individual things; for people whose talents are for solitary work, a high level of social activity still indicates less than optimal mental health, a block in the normal, healthy, productive solitary activity.

To some extent Deborah’s progress involves retraining her brain, a process some best-case psychotic patients seem to share with ordinary people who want to cultivate new skills or habits. It’s hard to study objectively how our "internal conversations” work, but many people use internal conversations...

“That was an interesting dream; I’d like to go back to sleep and find out...”--“Yes, and even more, I’d like to get to work on time.”

Or: “I could use a drink/smoke/pill...”--“Don’t go there, brain! Go home. Call a friend.”

Or: “What that person said/did was so obnoxious...”--“And so long ago, so insignificant, why am I even thinking about it now? What’s my immune system reacting to?”

We stereotype anger and bossiness as generally male reactions to blood pressure spikes, anxiety and depression as generally female reactions. I know people of both sexes who typically react to blood pressure spikes in both ways. Then there are the people who are chronically hypertensive, and chronically grouchy, domineering, worried, or depressed...

In Rose Garden Deborah’s experience of anger seems very different from most people’s. Early in the book she believes she’s witnessed a violent, cowardly, despicable attack on the closest thing she has to a friend. If most of us were watching that scene, we’d either run for help, or bash the attacker from behind. Deborah sits there, admiring her friend’s helpless defiance, not moving. At this point Deborah can be fairly described as insane. Later, when she’s closer to normal consciousness but still a long way from it, she’ll mention this episode to other people in words that suggest fear, but without feeling fear in a normal or specific way, either Then, in what was probably a reaction to another experimental medication, she acts out violent anger, not feeling or remembering the incident later but obviously activated by something she would have felt as anger if she were conscious. When she starts to become sane, she has no particular problem with anger. She knows about working for positive change, and the snarky sense of humor her family apparently encouraged serves her well. Deborah acts out extremely problematic emotions, yet when the physical fact of her neurological disorder is resolved, she has only “normal, teenage” emotional problems.

One lesson to be learned from Deborah’s anger is that psychotic patients are completely unpredictable, likely to do things that don’t make sense even to themselves, and to be approached very, very carefully, if at all, because they are, in fact, very, very different from us. Not only can we not understand a moment of genuine insanity; the person who had that moment will not, in a more lucid moment, understand or remember it either. (Violent psychotic rage, drunkenness, or the quiet but still psychotic moments when delirious or overmedicated patients wake up with no memory of having come to the hospital, have in common that if and when the patient becomes more sane s/he won’t remember what s/he did.) The brain is a body part like any other. It can malfunction. If our brains were to malfunction, we might do things we would not remember or understand later, too.

Another lesson Deborah still offers us is that we, too, can have physical feelings—that entrain our emotional reactions, and may even stir up thoughts that seem to go with those emotional reactions—that don’t relate to any emotions we might also be feeling. Deborah is able to experience ordinary teenage mood swings only when she’s not caught up in her neurological illness. Because cultural conditioning lead both Deborah and Dr. Fried to look for some correlation between Deborah’s physical and emotional “healing,” Deborah believes there is such a correlation and feels gratitude for Dr. Fried’s “loving” help—yet in fact Dr. Fried does not love Deborah, is merely kind in a more perceptive way than the other psychiatrists, and in fact Deborah’s two separate “healings” occur on two separate time lines in the story.

Baby-boomers and our parents wanted to read into this story something like “Even though she doesn’t actually say it, Deborah’s problem was that she was angry with the doctors because that surgery hurt, and so she got lost in a tangle of fear and anger instead of feeling love...” Wrong again. Deborah is only able to feel tangled up in the desire, fear, insecurity, and self-consciousness all teenagers feel after she’s able to carry on conversations without blacking out.

So many readers of Rose Garden (and other sweet hopeful stories about recovery from Mental Illness)failed so resoundingly to love anybody out of anything, even addiction...No amount of empathy or love ends a pain-induced nightmare, much less a disease-induced trance. People had to walk their own lonesome valleys by themselves, as Deborah does in the first half of the novel. Survivors should feel no guilt about the loved ones love couldn't“reach,” whether their primary disease condition was located in the brain or in the pancreas.

Even together, love...we couldn't have saved Deborah, if she hadn't been that rare and lucky patient whose brain damage could be controlled after the fact by medication. That said, Deborah does still have to retrain her brain.

For most of us, thinking about things other than our immediate physical environment is harmless. For some people, as Bruno Bettelheim demonstrated, imagining better environments than the one physically surrounding us can save our sanity. For some psychotic patients who’ve recovered, though, there are specific thoughts, “fantasies” for Freud’s and Jung’s patients, “stinking thinking” for addicts, self-pity or nostalgia or shame or blame or other mood triggers for people with mood disorders, that they need to avoid. Deborah has to give up, at least temporarily, focussing on the relatively pleasing mental image, the sensation of “flying” and communion with imaginary friends, that have been associated with the less painful symptoms of her disorder. For her, it’s just possible that a fantasy of “flying with the gods” of her damaged brain might indeed trigger another relapse “into the Pit.” People who’ve developed some degree of control over schizophrenic conditions have reported similar effects. Deborah has to make a conscious decision that it’s safer to think about ordinary human friends than even her best imaginary friend, the enticing false “god...who was none other than Milton’s Satan.”

So “love” is some part of what she needs, after all. Even faith is some part of what she needs, although Deborah’s faith is Jewish and she backs away from religious thoughts, once describing her religion as “Newtonian.”

Read merely as its text, Rose Garden has a hopeful ending. If it’s autobiographical, as some suspect, it has one of the happiest endings a novel ever had: Greenberg has enjoyed a long and successful career (and no, she’s not had to give up all use of her imagination—she’s a novelist). If Deborah’s story was part of hers, then Deborah was later able to use her imagination, safely, to write insightful realistic novels about people who are “outside the mainstream” in a multitude of ways—though none of those novels was as great as Rose Garden.

One reason why psychological research has not focussed more on this kind of best-case stories is that they still tend to be “statistical outliers.” Still, it would be interesting to study the histories of sane people living with major brain damage in the light of modern, neurochemical-focussed psychology, to find out more not only about the specific neurotransmitters involved in the cure or management of their symptoms but also about the limited, but still significant, roles of cognitive retraining and social bonds in recovery.

This book has been reprinted many times and is available in several different editions. If you're not particular about one of the harder-to-find editions, it can be bought here as A Fair Trade Book for $5 per book, $5 per package, and $1 per online payment. (This payment system is explained in the Greeting post.) From that we'll send $1 per copy sold to Greenberg or the charity of her choice. Seven more books of the size of the cheaper, pocket-sized paperback should fit into one $5 package, making prices competitive with ordering directly from Amazon, and you could select books by seven other living writers and send payments to encourage all eight of them.

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Book Review: In Favor of the Sensitive Man and Other Essays

Title: In Favor of the Sensitive Man and Other Essays

Author: Anaïs Nin

Date: 1976

Publisher: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich

ISBN: 0-15-644445-3

Length: 169 pages

Quote: “Guarded by universal grandchildren, Turkish grandmothers always travel safely.”

Anaïs Nin, famous in her day for lavishly detailed sex scenes in fiction and even more lavish attention to the naughty thoughts of her childhood in memoirs, never was my kind of writer. I was not always an aunt, and back when I had un-auntly tastes I thought stories about a lot of Bright Young Things fondling each other indiscriminately in somebody’s back garden might be fun to read—but they weren’t. Not because polyamory is frowned on by most churches; these characters didn’t seem to belong to a church—but because the group sex seemed to be the only kind of fun the poor slobs had at all.

Few things seem drearier, more mundane and uncreative, to me than the incompletely human sort of mind that, since it “knows neither God, Hunger, Thought, nor Battle, must of course hold disproportioned views on lust.” 

Ironically, because as a porn writer Nin was cast in opposition to censorious anti-sex attitudes, she could blather with the best about “the creative will, which could resist brainwashing,” and apparently people didn’t laugh. Maybe in those longer novels of hers that weren’t in libraries she wrote something about a character with any kind of will.

But I usually like everyone’s nonfiction better than their fiction, even when I like their fiction. So here was a book of Nin’s nonfiction. Maybe I’d like that, I thought hopefully. The twenty essays collected here are nothing aunts or even parents would mind the children finding. They're interviews, reviews, and travel stories that appeared in women's magazines in the 1960 and 1970s.

I’ve read this book five or six times, trying to get into it. Does not happen. Nin could write normal nonfiction with no mention of body parts in it, but somehow...In the final essay, quoted above, Nin claimed as “My Turkish Grandmother” an old lady she and some friends met on a plane, where the old lady, who did not speak French or English, was carrying a letter in French asking people to look after the writer’s grandmother who was coming to France. Nin read the letter and translated it for her English-speaking friends, and they did their best to look after the grandmother. It’s a nice story, but...always travel safely? Do they really? During ISIS attacks?

So I’m not a great fan of Anaïs Nin’s. You, however, might be. She had hordes of fans. In addition to the old lady on the plane she wrote about her psychoanalysis with Otto Rank,her trips to Japan and Morocco and the South Pacific, the music of Edgar Varese, the movies of Ingmar Bergman, a particularly sadistic and probably racist film by Jean Genet, her elderwoman’s view of 1970s feminism, her friendship with Henry Miller (the two were once hired to write his/her pornography together), Ira Progoff’s “journal workshops,” and more. She liked the journal workshops. If she were alive today I’m sure Nin would have a blog.

And maybe, if she’d at least tried to spare an encouraging word for Joan Didion (who got by just fine without one) or Sylvia Plath (who no longer needed one), I’d be able to think of an encouraging word to say about Nin. I’m not. In any case Nin has passed beyond caring whether anyone still admires her books or not. But her books might be due for a revival, in which case you might want to invest in them. If so, buy it here: $5 per book, $5 per package, $1 per online payment; you could fit seven more books of this size into a $5 package, and some of them could be books by living authors.

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Morgan Griffith at Energy and Commerce

U.S. Representative Morgan Griffith (R-VA-9) discusses his committee assignment:

Serving the Ninth at Energy and Commerce
Committees are the engines that drive Congress. At the committee level, Members of Congress learn about issues, carefully consider legislation, and conduct oversight to see what works in the Federal Government and what doesn’t.
Serving on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, as I do, means a busy schedule. We have a broad jurisdiction that covers policy areas of great importance to average families. In my work on the committee, I look for ways to improve the lives and livelihoods of Southwest Virginians and Americans across the country.
For example, a February 15 Subcommittee on Health hearing with new Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Alex Azar provided a forum to encourage the Trump Administration on priorities for health care in the Ninth District.
These hearings to oversee the executive branch are vital to our system of checks and balances. Americans need to know that their laws are being faithfully executed, and whether they need to be changed. But these hearings are also venues to seek cooperation.
Many from both sides of the aisle probed Secretary Azar’s intent on dealing with the opioid crisis, and I made it clear to the Secretary that we must solve this problem working together.
I further asked Secretary Azar about telehealth, a valuable tool in rural communities. It can make a huge difference for people, and I have introduced bills that would increase its accessibility. Outdated reimbursement policies, however, are preventing telehealth from expanding. Secretary Azar pledged his cooperation with Congress in identifying barriers to access in the law that can be removed.
I followed up with questions about neonatal abstinence syndrome in newborns. HHS and states have worked together to address this problem, and I encouraged him to continue looking for ways to cooperate with the states to deal with this problem.
We’ve heard from a durable medical equipment supplier in Southwest Virginia who has problems with reimbursement rates in rural areas. Delivery of these important services and equipment obviously is more difficult in rural areas than in urban cities, and reimbursement should not be the same if we expect our rural citizens to be properly served. A rule is pending at HHS that would improve this situation and help people like this supplier, who provides valuable services, and I urged the Secretary to release the rule quickly.
I was also encouraged by a hearing of the Subcommittee on Environment on February 14. While I am not a member of this subcommittee, I attended and asked questions because the topic, New Source Review (NSR) permitting, affects many businesses in Southwest Virginia.
NSR developed from the Clean Air Act, which required permission for owners looking to build or modify emissions sources such as factories or power plants. The intent is to protect air quality, something no one opposes. However, the process has become so lengthy and burdensome that it deters some facility owners from updating their properties in ways that would actually increase efficiency and reduce emissions.
At a factory I toured in Southwest Virginia several years ago, there was a ramp up and over one part of a conveyor belt and another part with a loop in between. The head honcho asked if I was curious about the conveyor belt loop to nowhere, and I said yes. He responded that because the conveyor belt also was a part of their Environmental Protection Agency-covered emission system, they couldn’t change the conveyor belt without a lot of hoopla from the bureaucracy, so they just worked around it instead of making their system more efficient.
When such a facility isn’t growing in efficiency, it loses competitiveness, which is bad for competition.
When a facility is a power generator, those inefficiencies mean higher rates for consumers. This state of affairs doesn’t truly guard air quality or treat people fairly.
I’ve heard from people in the Ninth District affected in this way by NSR, and I introduced two bills to streamline the permitting process. I came away from the Subcommittee on Environment hearing even more certain that we must act in a thoughtful, narrow way to improve permitting while protecting the environment.
As you can see, E&C has a lot on its plate. We have more coming, such as hearings on legislation to address the opioid crisis. Some of these challenges are formidable, but I think we can work together to produce solutions that will be good for people in Southwest Virginia and beyond.
If you have questions, concerns, or comments, feel free to contact my office. You can call my Abingdon office at 276-525-1405 or my Christiansburg office at 540-381-5671. To reach my office via email, please visit my website at

Book Review: The Gettin Place

A Fair Trade Book

Title: The Gettin Place

Author: Susan Straight

Author's web site:

Date: 1996

Publisher: Hyperion

ISBN: 0-7868-6086-3

Length: 488 pages

Quote: “The wafting smell must have been the dream again, the dream of Tulsa burning, the same ashen days he’d been seeing in his sleep for...Seventy years.”

Hosea Thompson survived race riots as a boy in Tulsa. As the riots in Los Angeles start waves of violence through the small towns nearby, he’s not always sure whether he's seeing current reality or post-traumatic-stress flashbacks. He and his wife have bought a small farm in southern California, kept it going, and brought up children and grandchildren. Some of those descendants will die in the course of this novel; some are already dead, and one who’ been missing will come home. Only together will the three generations of Thompsons solve the murder mystery. (The Gettin Place is a novel, but at the center of its plot is a murder mystery.)

The Gettin Place received good reviews. Washington Post’s David Nicholson called it “a triumph,” reading it as “a portrait of a young [B]lack man trying to find his way...with...acceptance of responsibility.” That would presumably be Hosea Thompson’s son Marcus, although he’s not all that young. Marcus’s nephew and student, Mortrice, is also trying to find his way; just because he's a teenager he helps the adults solve the mystery, but his story is hardly triumphant. The story begins and ends with Hosea, but if readers prefer to identify with Marcus and read it as his story, they can. They might even identify with one or more of the women in the family: the Thompson women are as stalwart as their men. The drug culture has reached the Thompsons, leaving one man and one woman with drastic brain damage, but even they are memorable survivors.

One of them has survived a real horror story, which Straight mercifully keeps offstage. The part of the story we read is more than enough. The Ariel Castro news report shows that, yes, hatecrimes against women still occur at this magnitude.

Some of this web site’s readers may like The Gettin Place because the notion of “eminent domain” comes into it, and although Straight wasn't able to give that plot element a really satisfactory ending, at  least she shows us a greedhead land-grabber getting what all greedhead land-grabbers deserve.

Some local readers might ask whether this novel about southern California was a nostalgia trip for me. It wasn’t. I have no sense of nostalgia about any part of California, and don’t remember the southern part well enough to say how well Straight brings that landscape to life—although she certainly brings a landscape to life, and convinces me that she’s writing about a place where she’s actually lived and known people. The story, however, strikes lots of ideological resonances with me. Strong women seek freedom from oppression beside, and together with, their men. One of those men even overtly separates himself from “landless boys” who’ve failed to learn responsibility. Land should be passed down through a family, not bought up and “redeveloped” by greedheads. Natural beauty and honest work do more than psychology or psychiatry to help people with traumatic stress. Teenagers who reject family ties in favor of “peer-group relationships get stabbed in the back—in Mortrice’s case, literally shot in the back (he survives, that time).

This is an “adult,” in the sense of “adolescent-mentality-bait,” or R-rated, novel with lots of violence, digusting language, at least three offstage rapes, and an onstage relationship that includes premarital sexual intercourse. Gritty contemporary reality, here. We’re not told whether the Thompsons consider themselves christian but there’s little evidence of specifically religious influence on their lives. nevertheless, the healthier Thompsons do take a good solid stand for traditional values, including sobriety—and loyalty to the family members who fail to uphold those values. If you like either Ishmael Reed or Alice Walker, you’ll consider The Gettin Place a feel-good book.

Still undecided? Check out her web site, and consider buying her new books as new books, by all means. This web site's Fair Trade Books program promotes older books and sends 10% of their price to the writers or their favorite charities, as a gesture of encouragement...but buying writers' new books is even more encouraging. Anyway, The Gettin Place is A Fair Trade Book: when you send $5 per book, $5 per package, plus $1 per online payment, via U.S. postal money order to Boxholder, P.O. Box 322, or via Paypal to the address you get from Salolianigodagewi, as shown at the very bottom the screen (whew!), we send $1 to Straight or the charity of her choice. One more book of similar size will fit into the $5 package; if it's Been in Sorrow's  Kitchen we'll send $2 to Straight or her charity.

Monday, February 19, 2018

Book Review: The Farthest Shore

(Just too late to be A Fair Trade Book. Sad.)

Title: The Farthest Shore

Author: Ursula K. LeGuin

Date: 1972

Publisher: Atheneum

ISBN: 0-689-30054-9

Length: 223 pages

Quote: “ father named the wizard Root to say the spells of increase over the lambs...but he could say only, ‘I have forgotten the words’...and indeed there’s trouble among the flocks this spring, the ewes dying in birth, and many lambs born dead.”

The late Ursula Kroeber LeGuin was not a Christian. The Farthest Shore is a non-Christian, arguably even anti-Christian, parable. (There are actually Protestant churches that might use the view of Life and Death this book presents, but Le Guin's version is non-theistic, and those churches are a minority.) It was both hailed as a classic and purged from public libraries for that reason. Some people believe that children should not have the opportunity to read how non-Christians explain the balance of Life and Death.

The position of this web site is that public libraries, if they should exist, should not censor books like The Farthest Shore—but adults should be cautious about recommending them to children, or calling them children’s books. Because the Earthsea novels are told in classic fairy-tale-and-fantasy manner, and feature wizard, dragons, and a youthful protagonist, they’ve been marketed to children. They’re not for children. The Farthest Shore is not a book even children who’ve enjoyed both the parable-fantasy in A Wrinkle in Time and the bleakness in Anne Frank's Diary are necessarily mature enough to appreciate. Though sex-free, with minimal violence and no foul language, a novel whose basic plot is about the necessity of death is a novel for adults. Some teenagers may like Earthsea; for children I think Old Yeller and Little Women did enough to expose children to mortality.

So this is a parable for adults, in which the senior magician Ged and the student prince Arren sail around the islands of Earthsea, confirming that the wizardry on which their fictional world depends is dying out. Without magic, artisans do sloppy work and whole communities seek refuge in a particularly horrid, addictive drug. Some of the saddest, craziest people in Earthsea are the ones who spout lines that were popular with real people in 1972, about not wanting to escape from “reality” into “lies” about things like magic.

Of course readers already know that Ged and Arren, with help from the friendly dragon, will save their world—in this kind of story this kind of mission always succeeds—and readers can probably guess that Ged, the advocate of death, won’t live very long after seeing that he’s succeeded. They may as well know, also, that LeGuin wrote the Earthsea books before she’d identified as a feminist; although Arren isn’t positive about the dragon’s gender, all the major human characters in the entire trilogy are male. In this book two women get one speaking part in one scene apiece, which was the sort of thing LeGuin would later do so much to change.

The Farthest Shore may appeal to some adults who like Tolkien, some who liked Grendel...only some, not all, people who like Anne McCaffrey and/or Jane Yolen and/or Suzette Haden Elgin and/or Piers Anthony and/or  Frank Peretti like the Earthsea books. Even some people who liked LeGuin’s science fiction or her occasional mainstream fiction don’t like her fantasy-parable books. Time may help. I remember reading the Earthsea trilogy in college and not appreciating it at all. I was probably patient enough and educated enough to appreciate this book before age 50, but between ages 17 and 50 I left it alone. Then again, time may not help; a lot of middle-aged people will say that they already knew death is inevitable, and didn’t need to read 223 pages of fiction that makes that point.

On the other hand, people who just want to read a well-told adventure story may like Earthsea. LeGuin was a fine writer. Earthsea is a world of big and small islands, like the Philippines, in a mostly temperate climate, like the northern Pacific islands off North America only without a mainland. It has a Pacific Coast feeling. If you enjoy visualizing a whole world covered larger and smaller, more northerly or southerly-lying, versions of Vancouver, then Earthsea is for you. LeGuin gave her characters a vividly imagined world that’s worth saving.

Personally, I might have preferred for LeGuin to have written more nonfiction and realistic stories (like Very Far Away from Anywhere Else), more provocative science fiction about what humans would do with new technology if we got it to work (like The Word for World Is Forest), and, if she’d wanted to write fantasies, cute, simple ones like Catwings

I can say that because there’s no reason why it should affect your decision to read The Farthest Shore or not. Plenty of people have loved the Earthsea books. It’s because so many other people raved over this series that I’m free to say I consider it overrated; if LeGuin were a new writer I’d probably feel a need to review The Farthest Shore with more faint praise for the dragon. (In 1972 this was a new, unusual dragon. It is now the prototypical fantasy-world dragon, but Le Guin’s dragons were not clichés when written.) People are drawn into other people’s fantasy fiction by individual tastes in common. I don’t happen to have enough for Earthsea to be my very favorite, favorite fantasy world, or even to make my top ten list—but that doesn’t mean it’s not a well written fantasy adventure story, or even that it won’t be your favorite. It might be.

I only wish it weren't too late for this one to be a Fair Trade Book. Lots of editions have been worn out. What I physically own is another first library edition, discarded, not even showing on Amazon any more (the Japanese translation below has the familiar-to-me cover art). You can buy The Farthest Shore here for $5 per book, $5 per package, $1 per online payment, if you're willing to take a pocket-size paperback in which case all six volumes of what was originally the Earthsea Trilogy will fit into one $5 package. 


Sunday, February 18, 2018

Book Review: The Light and the Glory

(From way back in the archives...this review appeared first on Associated Content.)

A Fair Trade Book

(This is the original edition, reviewed below. There are a children's edition and a revised-and-expanded edition, which may be better...I hope so.)

Title: The Light and the Glory

Author: Peter Marshall (junior)

Date: 1977

Publisher: Fleming H. Revell / Baker Book House

ISBN: 0-8007-5054-3

Length: 384 pages including copious notes and index

Quote: "Peter Marshall...had grown up in rebellion against the spiritual legacy of two famous Christian parents: the late Chaplain of the Senate, also named Peter, and his author wife Catherine. He had given up this rebellion in 1961."

He became a minister, but not a writer. Professional writer David Manuel, as well as Catherine Marshall, her second husband Leonard LeSourd, their editor Norman Vincent Peale, Bill Bright of Campus Crusade for Christ, and Tim LaHaye of Left Behind, all contributed something to the publication of The Light and the Glory. So the question to be asked is not so much whether this is a useful history supplement for Christian schools, but why it's not become as well known as Guideposts magazine, or Christy, or The Power of Positive Thinking

The Light and the Glory is, in many ways, an excellent book. Marshall and Manuel wrote clear, readable prose. Their research was extensive, with quotes from many books that should be easy to find, but were in fact difficult. (They had, for example, found a readable English translation of Las Casas' account of Columbus' voyages and the early Spanish colonies.) Their bibliography is a great resource for those who want to study any aspect of colonial and revolutionary North American history.

What Marshall and Manuel set out to accomplish in this book was to study how the first American writers' spirituality interacted with their social and political life. They called readers' attention to parts of the historical record that, at the time, tended to receive only passing attention in history classes...and, today, are likely to be overlooked altogether.

Their most conspicuous success may be the impartiality with which they confront what must have been alien kinds of spirituality. Las Casas, the Spanish Catholic priest, was physically distant from the Inquisition, but neither unaware of it nor brave enough to denounce it. The Jamestown colonists eagerly accepted the support of churchmen who described them almost as missionaries to potential sponsors back in England; in practice some of the colonists were hardly even believers, all of them were clueless, and John Smith seems never to have meditated on the commandment "Thou shalt not bear false witness." The Plymouth colonists had learned some crucial facts from the Jamestown colonists and others, but today even Anglo-Israelites, Seventh-Day Adventists, or any Amish people who tried to read their writing, would agree that they were bigots and fanatics. Other historians can ignore these aspects of the record by focussing on the military or economic history of these periods. Marshall and Manuel have to compare what these nominal Christians wrote with what they accomplished, and evaluate them as representatives of Christianity in a country that had never heard of Christianity. The task could not have been easy. On the whole, Marshall and Manuel handle it well.

I think they could have handled it better, if they had studied even longer...if, for example, they had studied the history of Virginia in between Jamestown and George Washington. I think the book has failed to last as long as it should have lasted because, despite their meticulous research, Marshall and Manuel made three major mistakes of omission.

1. They went perhaps too far in denouncing the failures of Jamestown--swallowing Willison's hostilely confrontational Behold Virginia whole, without studying enough of the books it was written to correct--and failed to evaluate the faith of other early Virginians, such as the Scotch-Irish, Huguenots, and Anabaptists. The result is what readers in Virginia could have mistaken for an unfavorable account of the state where a religious history book ought to have sold best.

2. They made no careful study of the Native Americans, either as the evangelical Christians some of them have become, or as people who had their own moral standards by which to judge Christian missionaries. They perpetuated the error of representing "Indians" as a weird, irrational force of nature rather than as people. (Not to mention the error of confusing Native Americans with Indians.)

It is true that Native Americans were not uniformly "Noble Savages"...but Marshall and Manuel seem to think that Powhatan was the only decent human being on the entire continent, which is also incorrect. Like other ethnic groups, Native America had its brilliant leaders and its village idiots. Some Native Americans were racist bigots, and some were insane; among certain tribes whose puberty rituals involved inducing "visions" by ingesting poisonous plants, the incidence of insanity must have been high.

It's also true that some Native Americans shared the Western European belief that creatively cruel forms of punishment would discourage crime. When they were friendly they tested new acquaintances in what we might call extreme sports. When they judged new acquaintances to be dishonest and untrustworthy, they intended that everyone who heard about the encounter would have nightmares. It seems likely that the Iroquois judged the penitential prayers of people like Isaac Jogues to be evidence of hypocrisy and false religion, and tortured "missionaries" like him for that reason. Even the weaker Algonquins tended to be harsh and judgmental about people who failed to share surplus food with their neighbors immediately...even more harsh than the English were about people who gobbled up all their food at once and then went hungry until they found more food.

By failing to study the Native Americans in depth, Marshall and Manuel fell into yet another error when they considered the spiritual shortcomings of the Plymouth colonists.

3. They take the Puritan authors too literally. Perhaps the easiest thing to remember about the Puritan authors is the way they interpreted everything as a judgment from God...not a "judgment" from nature about their breaking nature's laws by eating unclean food or letting too many gutters drain into a stream, but a judgment from God about their religious practice.

This led some of the Puritans into an absurd fear of "privacy and independence," which Marshall and Manuel actually perpetuated. On page 215 Marshall sermonized that "the dream [of living as a lone pioneer] is a nightmare...because God...intended live as a body, to help and support one another. And God does His work of nurturing Christians primarily through other Christians."

Preachers have always scolded people for not going to church, but if God was indeed passing judgment on Puritans who wanted to own large farms rather than living in the towns where they could walk to church every week, it seems odd that God passed no such judgment on other Christian "loners" like Thomas Walker, Daniel Boone, John Colter, John Muir, or Emily Dickinson. Nor does the Bible suggest that people need weekly meetings to practice true religion; in fact the Bible tells us that people like Moses and Elijah were called out of religious communities in order to spend time alone with God, pruning the popular errors out of their thinking...and Jesus preached to groups, but prayed alone.

Of course, many people who neglect religious services do so for wrong reasons. This was especially easy to diagnose in the records of the Puritans, early Quakers, Anabaptists, and other strict groups of the colonial period. Zealous churchgoers made personal rules into matters of contention for the whole church or congregation.

People who disagreed with trivial rules quarrelled at church, or fell away from the community in an attempt to avoid quarrels at church. People who found it easy to conform to the silliest rules, whose dyspepsia and bad teeth kept them from being tempted to smile too easily, who couldn't grow flowers that offended by being too colorful, were making virtues of their shortcomings while their actual spiritual lives withered. People who had never read the book of Job were identifying other people's misfortunes as punishments for their sins, while their own misfortunes were tests of their faith...rather than recognizing the common physical causes of hardships like diseases caused by polluted water, or the horrifying symptoms the Puritans ascribed to "witchcraft."

Marshall and Manuel seem actually to accept the claim that these symptoms had a supernatural cause. Other authors presuppose that the cause must have been psychological. Reading the primary documents of this dark point in New England history, I find it hard to doubt that the cause was physical. The bacteria these people had brought from Europe, the contaminated food and water they consumed, and the unfamiliar native plants with which they experimented as food and medicine, could easily have combined to produce the pain, spasms, and convulsions from which everyone agreed the victims were suffering.

If Marshall and Manuel had happened to be better informed about the history of Jamestown, they would have noticed a resemblance between the "sickness" some Jamestown colonists suffered after eating one species of Datura as "spinach," and the "possession" of which some Puritans complained...after living among people who used Datura extracts as medicine. While only one plant in this genus is the true "Jamestown Weed" or jimsonweed, all of them are poisonous, and several produce painful hallucinogenic effects.

It's easy to ridicule twentieth-century authors who seem to take seventeenth-century beliefs more literally than most of us now do. Unfortunately, it's also true that Marshall and Manuel managed to do an immense amount of historical research while still overlooking some pertinent facts.

Despite its shortcomings, The Light and the Glory is recommended to anyone interested in reading either the quotes from primary documents Marshall and Manuel provide in the book, or the bibliography of primary documents from which they worked.

I now wish I'd read the revised edition, which is probably a better book for students...anyway, the first edition is not terribly cheap or obscure, and can be purchased here for $5 per book, $5 per package, plus $1 per online payment. Two books of this size, plus maybe one or two more really thin books, will fit into one $5 package, and since Bing reports that Marshall is still living in retirement, for each book of his you add to the package we'll send $1 to him or the charity of his choice (which I'm guessing would be his church--he became an Anglican priest).