Wednesday, January 27, 2021

Status Update: The Petfinder Post That Failed

As it becomes increasingly obvious that MountaiNet is not competent to maintain the Internet connection for which I've paid them, this web site's not going away, but it is considering its options while being updated only as the weather permits. And it's still January.

Fortunately, Internet access from any point inside the town limits is free and unlimited except by weather and your battery. This laptop has one fairly new battery. I am better adjusted to winter weather than most people. (Sitting in this parking lot in a jersey dress, shawl down around my waist, watching people walk past in boots and jackets and hats and so on...) 

Well...on Friday I said it was warm enough for me to be comfortable outdoors, not warm enough for the laptop to be, and that wasn't specific enough to count as phenology. Then I walked on and got some more specific information. I was across the street from a bank with one of those neon-lighted time and temperature signs flashing that the temperature was 51 degrees Fahrenheit, and the first dandelions of the January thaw were blooming beside the road. 

Now the January thaw is well and truly here; yesterday afternoon the temperature was over 60 degrees Fahrenheit, and today it soon will be. The laptop should work for as long as the battery does.

What about the Lege-watching for which some Tea Partiers may have been hoping? I'll get back to that when I have more Internet access; batteries allow barely time to check e-mail, read news headlines, and check in with a couple of e-friends. 

What about the young man toward whose surgical expenses I pledged one-tenth of the arts grant I was awarded last fall? Believe it or not, because it's an out-of-state check and it goes to the business account, I'm still working on being able to cash the wretched thing. All I have to say at this point is that, if you want to help struggling small businesses, "creative" or otherwise, don't even think about sending checks. Banks are no longer required to cash checks from other banks so, by and large, checks are worthless unless you know for sure that the person you want to pay uses the same bank you do. Amazon giftcards would be much more efficient, even though I personally intended to use most of this money for things Amazon doesn't sell, like deserving entrepreneurs' surgical expenses. 

Like this guy, about the age of my sisters, had to close his business because of the lockdowns and do odd jobs, and a couple of mean drunks claiming to be clients beat him up, and he was rolled into a hospital and released with a huge debt to pay. Come on, e-friends. If you're a fiscal conservative you will recognize this fellow as One Of Our Own. If you consider yourself liberal, you should do the liberal thing. It's January and we all have heating bills to pay, and after paying those we should think about the nice young man who is trying so hard to provide for his children. 

Is it Petfinder time? It's not Friday, but I was online and didn't make time to put up a few dog pictures last week. I'm sorry. Web sites are not being very cooperative today. The little icon at the bottom of the screen shows that the free-for-all WiFi connection is live, but it's very slow and very weak. Flashy sites like Petfinder aren't working. Blogspot is faltering, and when you have problems using Blogspot with Chrome, your connection is bad. 

Don't you hate when supposedly free WiFi networks waste your battery time trying to sell you plug-in cables? Shouldn't that be illegal? 

Petfinder posts will return, and the "non-traditional" Eighties Sweater looks will be discussed, and the Works In Progress Album on the Ko-fi blog will be enhanced possibly with decent-looking day soon. I'd like to say by the first of February. Life is uncertain. 

Sunday, January 10, 2021

Book Review: Just As I Am

Title: Just As I Am

Author: Billy Graham
Date: 1997
Publisher: Harper Collins
ISBN: 0-06-063387-5
Length: 735 pages of text, plus photo inserts and index
Illustrations: 4 photo inserts, 8 pages each
Quote: “[I]f anything has been accomplished through my life, it has been solely God’s doing, not mine, and He—not I—must get the credit.”
That’s Billy Graham’s official accounting of himself, and he sticks to it, although the facts of his long and lively career show that God at least started the process by giving the preacher extraordinary amounts of talent, energy, and stamina.
The memories included in these 735 pages are not padded out with detailed descriptions of exotic landscapes. Accustomed to biographies of people who have lived shorter lives at a slower pace, I find Graham’s anecdotes a little too terse. It’s possible, while reading this book, to blink your tired eyes and miss a good story that’s been condensed into two or three lines. Graham was born in 1918 and was only semi-retired in 1997; a list of cities where he’d done evangelical crusades fills four closely printed pages.
Reading some of the stories of how the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association got into countries that had been hostile to Protestant evangelism, I find an obscure English ballad running through my mind: “Billy broke locks, and Billy broke bolts, and Billy broke what was in the way...” This is unfair; it’s not the effect Graham is trying to produce. He’d be the first to say that God was the one who broke the barriers and opened the doors, and that many other people’s talents contributed as much to the success of his visits as his own talents did. Some of those other people are major characters in the story, identified by first names or even nicknames, like “Bev” (George Beverly Shea) and “Mike” (Martin Luther King, originally christened Michael King). At the same time, there’s no room for doubt that Graham enjoyed what he was doing. If you are going to become a legend in your own time, you might as well enjoy doing it.
Well-known preachers tend to have well-developed extrovert traits. They like attention, find it easy to like almost anyone who pays attention to them, and are vulnerable to all the sins of the flesh. From the perspective of personality psychology, nothing is more natural than that these men succumb to extravagance if not sexual lust, but Christian-phobics love to make a scandal every time a minister behaves the way a man of similar talents and temperament, an actor or a politician, is expected to behave. Graham is not too modest to tell young preachers for whom he has become a role model about the strict rules that protected him from scandal. They are good rules. More ministers, and more politicians and perhaps even more actors, should adopt them. Of course, the rule that a married man should never have a private conversation with a woman other than his wife has worked in ways that were harmful to women’s professional success. There is no particular reason why this has to be the case. Women who want their husbands to be above reproach could network with one another and find ways to compensate for whatever another woman might lose by not providing a basis for rumors.
By avoiding common or garden variety “fleshpots and harlots” scandals, Graham of course rose to a position where he was subject to criticism for buddying up with influential men. He never met a head of state he didn’t like...although the first story in the book explains why he didn’t really hit it off with Harry Truman. Sincere Protestants like Graham and sincere Catholics like John F. Kennedy were trying hard, in the 1960s, to bridge the gaps that had created unchristian infighting in the past, so naturally Graham took every opportunity to befriend Kennedy. Jimmy Carter was trying to dodge Christian-phobic hostilities by keeping his religion private, but as a good Southern Baptist he respected Graham’s ministry. By 1980, the chance to receive spiritual counsel directly from Graham had become one of the perks of the presidency, and Just As I Am describes Graham’s personal relationships with all the Presidents of the United States as well as a few foreign leaders.
This includes Presidents Johnson and Nixon. Which of those two men was more repulsive is a question unlikely to be resolved during my lifetime. Both of them had remarkably unattractive faces; both of their administrations were remembered as times of national turmoil, and although most of the controversy about these Presidents was really about a war neither of them had started, some of it was about their own personal selfish, amoral, tacky behavior. I find Graham’s account of having respected Hannah Nixon, and wanted to help her son act according to her faith, a little more credible than the phrase “my close friendship with Lyndon Johnson.” Throughout pages 400-500 of this book, readers may need to remind themselves frequently that Graham had already committed to a decision to spend time attempting to convert the unenlightened.
Graham also pleads guilty to having participated in the making of one of those dreadful movies about “Appalachia,” or Appa-LAY-shia. Pardon a rant here. Even the actual town of Appalachia was misrepresented in mass media images in the mid-twentieth century. Imagine a bunch of clueless tourist-types coming into your neighborhood, talking to the family nobody else ever talks to, taking pictures of the condemned building, completely ignoring the places where you live and work, then telling the world that the riffraff family story is your story and the condemned building is your home, office, or school, and you’ll understand why people who live in some part of the Appalachian Mountains have been known to react to stereotypes of Appa-LAY-shia by growling, “There’s no such place.” The mythical Appa-LAY-shia in the mass media has always been a figment of the imaginations of, mostly, people with evil intentions. Publicizing the worst case of neediness in a community may be intended to help a needy family or school, and may even have that effect, but in the long run it does no favor to the community.
Page 397 of Just As I Am gives an interesting example of the distortion that took place in so-called documentaries about Appa-LAY-shia. Graham describes a film crew approaching a private home and finding an old lady at home alone. Graham calls the house “a shack.” This choice of words does not accurately reflect the condition of the house—whether it was a small, plain, but solid and well maintained building, or a shabby, dirty, crumbling one, or even an outbuilding—but the strangers’ conversation with the lady of the house suggests that it was the frugal but serviceable kind of “shack.” A lot of strange men drive up to this house and ask the lady if she has a $20 bill. Under the circumstances she couldn’t be blamed for lying if she had money in her pocket, but frugal people of this lady’s generation usually deposited sums greater than $5 in the bank. She tells them she doesn’t have a $20 bill. What would she do with one if she had it? “Give it to somebody that needed it.” Graham doesn’t seem to have guessed what the lady was thinking. As I read this anecdote, I can guess. She was thinking where her weapons were, and where the rest of the family were, just in case these wandering lunatics tried to raid the house. That is unfortunately the way old ladies who do talk to strangers, when they are home alone, have to think. But you throw that scene into a montage of stories about the hardest welfare case in this town and the pellagra patients in that town, and instead of being a normal, even normative, picture of the way old ladies behave in America, it starts to look like evidence that anybody in Appa-LAY-shia who was not actively begging for a handout was probably too senile or stupid to know that he or she needed one. 
For an encore these guys could have filmed a lot of footage of burnt-out slums immediately after an urban riot, as it might have been the U Street neighborhood in Washington, D.C., and packaged it with the message, “This is where your Congressional Representatives are forced to live! Vote them a pay raise!” They didn’t do that, because too many people who realized how fraudulent it was would have been watching their so-called documentary. They got away with doing it in a predominantly rural part of the country, because many of the people who lived there were accustomed to the way certain local panhandlers carried on and did not choose to pay much attention to it. Reality is, and was even in the 1930s, that more of the obscene wealth in the United States tends to be concentrated in coastal areas than in mountain areas. Reality is not that genuine poverty, as people in any other part of the world understand it, is common in any part of the United States. When Americans are what can reasonably be called poor—as distinct from “owning only a small house and two old cars and one small bank account”—the cause of their poverty is, and always has been, more specific than merely living in a particular place. Poverty definitely existed in Appalachia, or more precisely in the mining camps that weren’t accepted as belonging to towns like Appalachia, in the early twentieth century, but it was caused by the operating policies of the coal companies.
Frugality and simplicity are also relatively widespread in rural areas such as the Appalachian Mountains. In fact, the mountains attracted religious groups that preached frugality and simplicity as a religious discipline. People who belonged to these groups might have built or bought a house with more than three rooms if they had several children, and might have painted the clapboards if they had noticed that paint was a rather cheap way of extending the “lifespan” of a board, but they chose to live in the type of house that was sometimes called “a shack.” Spending very little money on themselves, having money saved up for their old age and money to donate when an emergency created a need, was a point of honor for such people. 

A record of these people’s incomes and expenses would have shown incredibly small balances on both sides. In my neighborhood it was generally agreed that two men had made sure everyone had food, fuel, and clothing during the Great Depression. One of those men was my grandfather and the steady economic base on which he based his philanthropy peaked, after the war, at $35 per month, supplemented by selling crops and doing odd jobs. Such people did not consider themselves poor, nor were they considered poor—often they were the ones others appealed to for financial aid. They had a different lifestyle and a different view of money, something closer to a monastic lifestyle, in this respect, than to a bourgeois lifestyle. The “Landed Poor” always tried to be modest and gracious about it, but saw themselves as an upper class, whether they owned a $20 bill or not. They did not fit into any category recognized by Marxist theory; their existence disproved Marxist theory. Their existence, therefore, irritated the living daylights out of Marxist-influenced thinkers in the early twentieth century, and “progressives” like the Roosevelts tried to belittle and penalize this uniquely American social class whenever possible.
People in Seattle or Omaha could hardly be blamed for accepting Eleanor Roosevelt’s guilt-crazed fantasy about Appa-LAY-shia as fact, but for Billy Graham to have fallen for it shows how badly miseducated a good Christian and a gifted preacher can be.
End of rant. Graham admits to a “narrow focus” on preaching the essential doctrines of Christianity to the exclusion of almost everything else. This narrow, obsessive quality may well be what makes some men Great Achievers; and Graham was among his century’s greatest. But it seems to me, as I read his memories of filming Appa-LAY-shia in the early 1960s and then his memories of the years I remember too, that Graham failed to notice a number of things.
Graham and the dozens of people who helped him produce Just As I Am obviously expected that readers would be interested in celebrity gossip, of which Graham has a great deal to share. He doesn’t divulge any secrets about the Presidents, the other heads of state, or the helpful little Polish clergyman who later became Pope. He seems, in fact, too good at being a Southern Gentleman to have allowed himself to notice that President Johnson wasn’t one. He does discuss his spiritual conversations with them. The last of the four photo sections is devoted to celebrity photos, including the Queen of England, the Pope, and North Korea’s “dear leader,” for whom Graham may be the only man in America who can find a charitable word to say, as well as our own Presidents. Graham’s ministerial relationship with each President after Truman gets a whole chapter of text.
Graham’s evangelical ministry can be compared with what C.S. Lewis had called Mere Christianity. Graham preached the basic idea, let people belong to any denomination they liked. The controversy about his ministry at first, and the success it enjoyed later, are both probably due to Graham’s independence, his ability to befriend Republicans or Democrats, Presbyterians, Baptists, Methodists, Quakers, Seventh-Day Adventists, or creepy foreign dictators, impartially.
In 1997, Billy Graham was trying to face facts: “I know that soon my life will be over.” In 2007 an admirer who bought one of Graham’s other books from me said, “He will never die.” For Christians who expect the literal return of Christ, the prediction that this or that religious person will never die is technically reasonable, although the question of exactly what the physical process of their regeneration would be called then becomes more interesting than such speculation probably needs to be. Graham did, however, develop Parkinson's Disease and die in the usual way in his late nineties.

Rarely in any age has anyone been a lifelong Christian, died old, and left behind a record so clean that the only controversy about the person's service to Christ is whether the person was too liberal, too tolerant, too willing to shake hands and promise the blessed hope of salvation to anybody. Billy Graham was that one. 
This book will be useful to anyone interested in the history of the twentieth century’s ecumenical religious movement and/or the Presidents of the United States, as well as ministerial students and admirers of the Graham family. 

Friday, January 8, 2021

Book Review: The Life I Really Lived

Book Review: The Life I Really Lived

Author: Jessamyn West
Date: 1979
Publisher: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich
ISBN: 0-15-151562-X
Length: 404 pages
Quote: “Why tell the truth now? To...end the belief that I wrote of joy and courage and faith because I had never known anything else.”
This is not, of course, the life Jessamyn West really lived. This is a melodramatic novel, written as the memoir of an inspirational novelist, Orpha Chase, who decides in her late seventies to write about what she did before her last, and lasting, marriage.
In a sense this novel is a sort of apologium for the kind of novels Jessamyn West chose to write. They weren’t saccharine, exactly; they dealt with war and murder and slavery and betrayal and suicide; but they dealt with those things as good Christian ladies deal with them—clearheadedly, refusing denial or despondency, holding the self at a distance from ugliness. In the 1960s and 1970s any novel that was neither obscene nor depressing was likely to be accused of escapism, of having “refused to confront the reality” of the bad things in the world, or of having been written by someone without life experience. The Life I Really Lived is West’s retort. It's fiction to protect the privacy of West's family and friends.
Orpha has chosen to write about joy and faith because she was born poor and brought up tough; because her first husband, a bisexual teacher falsely accused of molesting a girl student, shot the accuser and himself in front of Orpha; because Orpha chose, at first with the help of her first husband’s boyfriend, to adopt the student’s unwanted baby; because her second husband, chosen for the hope of security, stifled her creativity until she chose the disgrace of divorce in the 1920s; because her brother, an ordinary bratty boy, matured into a saintly minister whose reward for his good deeds was to be accused of murder. In addition to the brother and the first two husbands Orpha also finds time to love two other men before finding the right one to marry. She also remarks darkly that her memoir will include incest, though this at least turns out to be in a psychological sense.
It takes a while for Orpha to discover the liberating joy of sexual self-control, but in other ways there is a consistent integrity about her—not to mention a gift for pithy phrases that summarize things perfectly. She deserves a happy ending. She will get one, but it won’t be any of the ones she’s led readers to imagine.
West was one of the handful of novelists whose fiction-for-adults I’ve consistently liked. A lot of people who felt that way about novels-for-adults felt that way about Jessamyn West, in her day. High school literature books used to include episodes from The Friendly Persuasion or Cress Delahanty alongside the work of Steinbeck or Hemingway. I suspect her sudden disappearance from the canon had more to do with academic identity politics than with any reevaluation of the merit of her work—I’ve never seen such a reevaluation. West, like Pearl S. Buck, Madeleine L’Engle, or even Phyllis McGinley, was the sort of feminist foremother the NOW movement found embarrassingly hard to live up to, and although all of them made solid feminist statements in their writings, none has been much studied in Women’s Literature courses led by NOW feminists.
And there is, ahem, that little matter of their being Christian. Despite the adultery and incest in Orpha’s life, The Life I Really Lived is a story about the spiritual life and growth of a serious, even radical Christian. Women don’t adopt the unwanted babies of the people responsible for their adored first husbands’ death unless the women have some kind of radical faith; Orpha’s faith happens to be conservative and Protestant. Orpha’s brother believes that his life, throughout most of the story, is the direct result of a spiritual experience. By the time we learn that Orpha is moving up on age eighty (as was West), we have to consider the possibility that her survival is also intended to be read as the result of her spiritual experience. This is not a book Christian-phobics can appreciate.
If you are not Christian-phobic, and if you appreciate the kind of stories smart, tough, goodhearted senior citizens tell, you’ll probably like The Life I Really Lived. A particular treat is the way the novel manages to show us the young Orpha’s passionate sexuality without ever being graphic or tasteless. “Today a woman having bedded with a great general feels free to tell us that in bed the general could not present arms. Women of my generation would have spared the great general the revelation of this failure...I would have, though Jake needs no such protection.”
Then there’s the wit that sparkles through a story that’s never actually funny. “Bernard...just stuttered away until what he was after came out. He seemed to like stuttering.” “I was just as ladylike as could be about words myself. I never said belly for stomach...True, there were quite a few words I didn’t know were pussy.” “He could’ve stirred the soup with his toes without harming the soup.” “Ending my thirties, I thought I had entered age.” One of the qualities for which Jessamyn West used to be known was the high percentage of wise or witty, very quotable, aphorisms in all her work. The Life I Really Lived is rich in them.
There are Christians who disapprove of the whole idea of novel writing. They existed even during the mid-twentieth century, although during West’s active years the rest of the reading world tended to view nonfiction as hack work, memoirs as self-indulgence, and only novels or poems as respectable forms of Literary Art. Christians who accept novels as a valid way for writers to say what they think may want to reread Jessamyn West’s books, and demand that the literary community reestablish them in the canon of excellent twentieth-century fiction.

Thursday, January 7, 2021

Book Review: If the Gods Had Meant Us to Vote They Would Have Given Us Candidates

Title: If the Gods Had Meant Us to Vote They Would Have Given Us Candidates

Author: Jim Hightower

Author’s web site:
Date: hardcover 2000; revised paperback edition 2001
Publisher: Harper Collins
ISBN: 2001 edition 0-06-093209-0
Length: 418 pages of text, 4 pages of contact information, 11 pages of index
Quote: “[A]s actress Rosalind Russell once said, ‘politics makes strange bedclothes,’ and while Al wore a cloak of green, he had sewn large pockets inside it to store campaign funds slipped to him by oil, chemical, development, timber, mining, agribusiness, and other polluting interests.”
Jim Hightower used to be Texas’s commissioner of agriculture and used to describe his politics as populist. It’s been said, with reason, that populists are—or were, when there were enough of them to form a party—the polar opposite of libertarians. In some ways. But only in some ways. “Populist” might be the most historically accurate thing to call the kids in the Libertarian Party who think people might somehow happen to agree freely that they need a government to help them reach their full human potential. They see the same problems real libertarians see, and they react with a similar temperament. They come up with different solutions. Accordingly, what Hightower wanted politicians to promise and deliver to the nation, in response to the situations he discussed in this book, is often what I still think we the people ought to find ways to do for ourselves.

How much did it matter? If you were looking for statistics, stories, and witty quotes, not necessarily very much. As a politician and as a journalist, Hightower saw several of the things he writes about in this book firsthand.

The question that might divide readers of this book is what to do about these things. As every primary school teacher knows, Hightower says, you can’t just keep cleaning up the mess; you want to control the little brats who are making the mess. Yes, and as everyone who has graduated from primary school and gone on to high school knows, you don’t just want to go whining to Teacher for help to control the brats who are making messes with your stuff; it’s more efficient and more satisfying to hang out with a crowd of kids who agree that making messes is babyish. In these 433 pages Hightower uses very little ink arguing for bigger government to control everybody in the name of controlling the mess makers, although that does happen to be what he sees as the solution. He spends his time describing situations that can also be read as calls for individual responses from libertarians.

The Saipan sweatshop story is the one you’d expect a feminist to cite, so I’ll use the less familiar Chiquita banana story instead. Hightower accuses Chiquita corporate honcho Carl Lindner, a Republican, of giving Bill Clinton huge amounts of money as a bribe to get Clinton’s support in forcing a smaller group of Caribbean banana farmers out of the European banana market. Hightower claims Europeans, left to themselves, actually preferred the Caribbean bananas. So, do we need to spend time looking for a President with the fortitude to tell Lindner where to stick his hundreds of thousands of dollars? (If you really think that’s what we need, perhaps the best man to deal with Lindner would have been rival banana seller Robert Dole.) Or do we need to work toward the goal of becoming a nation of people who will call up newspaper offices asking for more details of this story, make the story headline news, and tell grocers we’d like to try some of those Caribbean bananas? Who are we, as a nation, anyway? How many of us belong in primary school, and how many of us are ready for high school?

At the time of writing it’s 2020, and a detailed analysis of the 2000 election, followed by several domestic political issues Hightower thought should have been better publicized during that election, hardly qualifies as news. Still, a first-time reader of this book might be surprised to realize how many of these people are still active and how many of the issues are still hot. This book provides historical background that will enrich your understanding of today’s news. 

For example, the discussion on pages 319-320 about smaller producers of food. Regular readers may remember that one of the founders of this blog, Grandma Bonnie Peters, had a business called Allergy-Ease Foods. What they packed and shipped around the Eastern States were gluten-free vegan "burgers"; what GBP sold in her "Test Kitchen" included were full meals, with the emphasis on salads and a gluten-free, soy-free, sugar-free, yeast-free, honey-free version of almost everything. Recipes were rated by Kingsporters looking for a good cheap lunch. The ones that rated high were then standardized and distributed to restaurants. (In Tennessee a Test Kitchen License and a Restaurant License were two separate things. What GBP had was a Test Kitchen.) Over seven years, GBP sold about half a dozen different recipes to restaurants; the best known was probably her Corn Soup.

So what happened? The market for gluten-free Veggie Burgers is limited, but it exists. The ethnic foods were authentically seasoned and popular with real Mexican- and Italian-Americans. And most of her clients never even had a chance to sample Rice Biscuit Bread, because GBP could hardly bake it fast enough to meet the demand. The health food stores through which Veggie Burgers were sold were moving Veggie Burgers, even starting to move the micro-batch soups. What went wrong? People worried about Grandma Bonnie’s health. If she was still up and about, they asked me, why did she close the Test Kitchen?

Some effects of stress have been apparent when I’ve talked to her. Please put up with a little boasting on Hightower’s part as you read the discussion of how “Some prisons have fewer walls, razor wire barriers, and armed guards than food wholesalers and retailers use to keep upstart food makers off the shelves.” It’s true.

Food City wanted to make Veggie Burgers available to the everyday hurried yuppie shopper. Locally, even a monster chain like Kroger's can’t afford to be outdone by Food City, so Kroger’s buyers were looking at Veggie Burgers too. A contract with Pal's restaurants was also discussed. Any of those contracts would have allowed Grandma Bonnie to keep on employing needy residents of Hawkins County, Tennessee, up to the present; or at least, if the contract had been signed after she let her needy Tennesseans go back to welfare, kept the Test Kitchen open for people in need of hypoallergenic fast food. The contracts weren’t signed, because protectionist policies kept placing more and more financial obstacles in the way of Grandma Bonnie and other suppliers of locally grown food. A lot of money has gone into ensuring that Tennessee residents who don’t have time to browse around Kingsport’s Wednesday Market, and don’t know the small producers personally, will find truckloads of foreign-grown, DDT-sprayed produce when they want organic Tennessee produce. And Green Giant gluten-and-yeast burgers when they want Allergy-Ease Veggie Burgers.

In order to get into the food production game, Grandma Bonnie used up her life savings and those of three friends, sold two small farms, double-mortgaged her house, postponed dental care long enough to lose four molars, let her home utilities be disconnected, took out loans, begged, borrowed, some of her relatives would even say stole, and still was never able to pay all the expenses the protectionists have made mandatory for anyone who wants to put food on the supermarket shelf. 

You might think the Green Giant Corporation, which has done so well at packaging frozen vegetables, would be glad to let its rather yucky gluten-burgers, with their bitter aftertaste, pass into oblivion. You’d be wrong. Green Giant fought hard to keep you from being able to buy (Ohio-made, gluten-based) Morningstar Farms Grillers, and continued fighting just as hard to keep Allergy-Ease Veggie Burgers out of your hands. Big-chain producers have worked out deals with big-chain stores to require small producers like Grandma Bonnie to carry big-time insurance just in case food became contaminated in the supermarket, require big amounts of specialty food to be produced overnight regardless of need (guaranteeing losses because the selling point of these specialty foods is that they're not soaked in chemical preservatives), and several other requirements that were cooked up just to make it impossible for a local store manager to offer a local food product to local shoppers.

Grandma Bonnie Peters wanted to pay her debts rather than pulling a Trump-style bankruptcy. She was still paying, and still living in poverty in a nice neighborhood, at the end of her life. Being an entrepreneur is a gamble, and there are those who feel that people who gamble more than they can afford to lose deserve to lose their homes and go bankrupt. As a general principle I agree with this. But I also think the public should know that millions of dollars have been spent to ensure that only millionaires will be allowed to supply a demand for a new, Green food product. 

Maybe GBP should have stuck to peddling Allergy-Ease Foods in the Wednesday Market until she’d saved up enough money to guarantee that selling them nationwide would be profitable. Maybe, too, the amount of money required to launch these foods on the national market should have been kept at a level that would have been achievable within the lifetime of that little girl posed on Grandma’s knee on the boxes of Veggie Burgers.

Populists want more elaborate regulation of the market to guarantee people like Grandma Bonnie a chance. Libertarians want more complete deregulation of the market to achieve the same result. Which is generally a more realistic strategy, I’ll leave you to decide based on your experience. I will say that during his term in office Hightower at least tried to solve the problem as best he could, according to his lights, and populist policies would seem more realistic to me if we met men like him every day.

According to his web site and newsletter Hightower has followed the "progressive" leftward drift of his party's leaders, as time went by. This book, however, comes from a period when the D's could reasonably be called liberal, and should have some appeal even to hard-core conservatives.

Wednesday, January 6, 2021

Fix Facts First: Feelings Follow

In the 1990s a series of books about how "men" were supposedly interested in the facts of a situation, while "women" were only interested in their emotional feelings about it, was madly popular. I found the popularity of those books hard to believe. I picked one of them up, read the writer's explanation of how he won a typical argument with his wife, and expected to read that his wife had moved across the continent and taken out a restraining order to keep him from ever speaking to her again. 

From time to time it surprises me when I talk to a woman who does like to blather about her emotional moods, regularly, even when what she's emotional about isn't even Romantic Love. I know a few men like that and I know a few women like that but it's obvious to me that this interest in naming emotions is not an attribute of "women." It is not produced by sex hormones. It is a learned social behavior. 

For an honest discussion of the possibilities, in a large group of educated people (mostly but not all women), I've found none better than the one that started on Live Journal at and went on for several days thereafter.

The blogger known as Ozarque posted a link to an article in Oprah Winfrey's magazine in which a young woman, describing how she'd learned not to talk about her own emotions, self-identified as "suffering from empathy deficit disorder" and described herself consciously practicing asking her friends about their emotions after having made a flippant, insensitive reply to a dear friend.

It would interest me very much to read my readers' reactions to Amanda Robb's article and/or any of the comments on it at 

Though it's obviously correlated less with actual sex than with society's gender stereotypes, the question of how we typically respond to friends' expressions of emotions is part of the Myers-Briggs personality descriptions. "You should be grateful for an offer like that!" is the extreme TJ reaction to the friend who's having mixed feelings about being offered a high-salaried job the friend doesn't want. "But I sense that you're not completely happy with that offer?" is the extreme FP reaction. 

For whatever reason--I suspect it's because one of the "dimensions of personality" Myers and Briggs measured is physically predetermined, and the other three are learned--I've only been able to claim one letter on the Myers-Briggs personality chart. I am at least a solid Introvert. I alternate between Sensing and iNtuitive, Thinking and Feeling, Judging and Perceiving, in different situations, enough that I've never been able to identify with one side of those distinctions more than the other. 

One preference I do have, though, is for not wasting any time blathering about what people are "feeling" about situations that call for changes or responses in the real objective world. 

Part of the reason for this probably has something to do with the way, obviously an oldfashioned way, I primarily understand and use the words "sympathy" and "empathy." Any recent dictionary will tell you that empathy is the ability to understand that other people have feelings, even sensations of pain when their fingers are bitten, which babies don't have but children gradually develop around age ten or twelve. (People want to believe their children are developing empathy earlier than that; most people are wrong.) But when I was learning to read, "empathy" was a bit of a neologism, an awkward new coinage used mostly by psychologists in clumsy explanations of how they didn't feel any sympathy for the convicted criminal, etc., etc., but they were able to wield the professional skill (or tool) they called "empathy," which allowed them to believe that he felt some sort of thing and thus understand him better than the people screaming that the criminal had no feelings. You didn't want people feeling "empathy" for you. If you noticed someone seeming to be exercising "empathy" in a conversation with you, that was proof that he was an enemy, and justification for anything you did to block his manipulative plans.
"Empathy" is a much nicer word than it used to be.

"Sympathy," on the other hand, never really changed but it seems to be less favorably perceived than it used to be. Sympathy is feeling someone else's pain, at least in a theoretical way, whether because you really have a sentimental belief that you will (or ought to) bleed if your friend is cut, or because you have an interest in your political ally's success, or anything between those extremes. This used to be considered mostly a good thing, even when "sympathy" was used in figurative ways like the Luscher Color Test's instructions to "choose the color you feel the most sympathy with." It seems to be more cynically perceived now. 

Like most Highly Sensory-Perceptive people I feel sympathy, easily and often. I think of the pena ajena I felt while my husband was watching for news of his friends in New York in September, 2001. I tried watching the news with him for about an hour, but during the fifth replay of the footage on which the person in the orange jacket ran out choking and collapsed on the pavement I said, "If we can't do anything to help those people, we can at least not look!" I think that's probably a diagnostic example of how HSP introverts express sympathy. 

Though being HSP introverts does not absolutely guarantee that people will be nice; the flip side of the capacity to feel pena ajena, pain of others, is the capacity to feel Schadenfreude and enjoy the thought of other people's suffering. I don't remember positively relishing the idea of Saddam Hussein being hanged or Osama bin Laden being shot, but I have always chortled at the joke where bin Laden wakes up in the afterlife and finds himself in the custody of seventy large, indignant Virginians.

As a middle-sized child, beginning to develop empathy, I remember verbalizing the sympathy I really felt for a visiting relative. "Poor Aunt A, it's too bad that after waiting all year to go on that hike she sprained her ankle in the first hundred yards." I remember being told by my Drill Sergeant Dad, "Yes, it is too bad, but don't keep talking about it the way Aunt B and stupid people like her do--it only makes things worse!" I remember thinking about that. I don't remember feeling moved to repeat words about the reasons why other people were obviously not happy, again. 

In the psychological jargon of my youth this kind of experience was puffed up into WOUNDedness, and efforts were made to get everybody emoting about how HORribly that SENsitive INNOCENT CHILD they used to be had been HUUUURT by those COLD, unCARing...and at that point I used to have reactions like "Oh, sit on it." I was not the one who was wounded on the day Aunt A sprained her ankle. Aunt A was. Aunt A was another cheerful practical adult who focussed on the facts rather than wailing about her feelings. My father was the way the Army used to want sergeants to be, which wasn't always the way anyone else wanted anybody to be; he could be verbally abusive but on that day he was helpfully explaining how I could avoid aggravating Aunt A's distress. As a young woman I didn't like Dad, but I hadn't noticed any of the people who were so judgmental about his ways of thinking and talking loading up bundles of clothes and furniture for the family whose house had burned down, either.

This kind of impasse was neither scientific nor therapeutic so, in the 1990s, Daniel Goleman's Emotional Intelligence offered a great improvement in our collective understanding of how people process their emotional reactions. When we cry or rage or do little happy dances, different neurons in our brains are firing than when we sit down calmly and plan our response to a situation. Different emotional reactions activate different neurological circuits, which are probably not exactly the same for any two people, but generally the left frontal lobe of the brain is involved in calm planning, while the right side of the brain is more involved in emoting. 

So we have the phenomenon of people not actually feeling an emotion at all, even when they react to things that seem as if they would cause some sort of emotional reaction. There may even be a low-grade physical stress reaction, but, on a brain scan, the part of the brain that "feels angry" or "feels afraid" is not activated by the thing the person denies feeling angry or frightened about. Sometimes this ability not to feel inconvenient emotions is positively desired, and conditioned by systematic desensitization.

Being a child of the 1960s, I grew up feeling, all right, and fully in touch with my feelings, no inhibitions about crying or swearing or doing happy dances, but also understanding that "maturity" and "intelligence" had a lot to do with the ability to think through situations rather than wallow in mere feelings about them. 

Some situations have no solutions, like bereavement. When loved ones die I think nature intended us to cry. Daily, if that feels appropriate. Real tears, bellowing and howling, if those feel appropriate. 

Other situations do have solutions and, although it's hard to blame people who feel sad or scared or angry or frustrated or whatever when they find that a door is locked, it's also hard to see any benefit in acting out or talking about such emotions when we can just insert the key. 

Drill Sergeant Dad was more vocal about it than Mother was, but actually both of my parents had nice healthy Thinking, Judging, and Acting reactions to many of the situations that left other people their age bogged down in Feeling. All the older people I wanted to be like seemed to have such reactions, when I was growing up. Babies cried outside doors. Adults found keys. 

I don't remember being hurt or wounded or punished for having been a baby. I do remember that, like all healthy children, I wanted to be more like an adult and less like a baby every day. My experience thus consisted of positive rewards, from myself and others, for strategizing rather than agonizing. If nothing else, when I thought rather than emoted, I had the pleasure of feeling more mature, which is always a nice reward for a child.

It was heartening to see the comments in the Live Journal discussion from other women who are as old as I am or older, were exposed to more sexist stereotyping, and still had never been taught whatever it is that allegedly allows some women to feel "validated" when people sit down and talk about their little emotional feelings. 

I can't imagine what that would even feel like. "I was offered a job I don't really want." "I was fired from a job I don't really need." "I've been awarded a trip to Europe." If I were the one saying each of those things, I'd want a sympathetic friend to ask, "So what are you going to do?" I'd probably be talking to this friend because person had some sort of relevant experience, or could give me more information to use in deciding what to do. I might say "What would you do?" I might say, "I don't know--it depends partly on whether X is still required for..." I do not want to waste a single minute repeating words like "sad, glad, mad." 

In a large number of situations where people have wanted to deflect a more useful conversation to a useless exchange about emotional feelings, what I was feeling was fully justified dissatisfaction with them and their work. Attention all employees: if someone is dissatisfied with your work, you should not say "I know you're feeling..." It is not your place to think about what the customer might be feeling! Bleep you think you are?! You work for a company that packs two different right shoes in different sizes in a box where a matched pair ought to be! Stop distracting yourself with presumptuous fantasies about being some kind of psychotherapist and put your mind, such as it is, on your job

Then there's the situation where the person--stereotypically this person would be Japanese--is pretending to feel such terror of disturbing my feelings that person really does disturb my feelings. I do not really mind being told that the table that seats eight has already been reserved for lunch today. I would obviously prefer that it be available, but if it's not, so what? We eat somewhere else today; we visit your restaurant some other time. I find it very annoying when someone backs and fills and stalls as if I were the Lord High Executioner. I start to wish I really could order that person's head cut off. The table is already reserved or it isn't, but trying to "soften" the news that it is reserved comes across as "I'm really ashamed of my dishonesty but I don't think you're 'important' enough to deserve a reservation." Even in Japan, all cultures have unhelpful aspects, and evasiveness is one of them.

C.S. Lewis knew people, presumably in the philosophy department at the university, who sat around scrutinizing their own happiness until they realized they weren't feeling happy any more. This is possible, if we are foolish enough to sit down and scrutinize happiness. 

Self-consciousness, obsession with me-me-me and my little feelings, is never a very pleasant thing to feel. Self-consciousness takes away enough of a really pleasant feeling to spoil it, but adds enough to an unpleasant feeling to make the unpleasantness spill over. Suppose I'm waiting for a bus; say, a Metrobus in Prince Georges County, Maryland. This is moderately unpleasant because the bus routes in Prince Georges County cross railroad tracks; since the trains no longer run on schedules, no more can the buses, and so nobody in Prince Georges County can be assured of making a connection or getting to work on time. This unpleasantness has annoyed people, not enough to make them build bridges over the railroad tracks, but enough to make them look for places to live other than Prince Georges County, for many years. To think that two and two are four, and neither five nor three, the heart of man has long been sore and long 'tis like to be. I must have some reason for being in Prince Georges County; nobody would be there without some reason. Dissatisfaction with a fundamental aspect of Prince Georges County is the sort of thing that might produce some subliminal level of irritation, for me. My blood pressure is not hypertensive but it might be a few points higher than usual. I'm not howling and gnashing my teeth but a wrinkle in my forehead might be more conspicuous than usual. Or it might not. I don't really mind this level of dissatisfaction because, if left alone, it will soon pass. But suppose you are the kind of horrible person who never leaves these things alone, and you plop down on the bench beside me gushing, "Smi-yul! What's wroooong? You look so unhappy." Presto! I'm unhappy all right--about people who let their idiot relatives roam in public. I'm not even wasting a glance on you. "Police? A person is harassing me at the bus stop..." 

Here are some tips that might help people who feel tempted to tell other people that they look a certain way: 

1. The body cannot give a false message. The body does not, however, stick to one topic. If it looks to you as if someone is feeling something they're not verbally expressing to you, it can be healthy to assume that what they're feeling is some sort of physical reaction or process you don't want to know about. It may even have something to do with the literal meanings of the S-word or the F-word. You need to understand that most of the things other people feel are Not About You.

2. If you keep probing lower levels of the human mind, as Freud told us long ago, you get to a repressed unconscious desire to kill everyone of the same sex and make babies with everyone of the opposite sex. Many think it's possible to probe even lower than that and get to an unarticulated desire to kill everyone, though some think the mind, at this level, does not think beyond the person immediately in front of the face. Do not probe for hidden motives. Probing may lead you to the urge-to-kill level faster than you expected, especially if you were hoping for the urge-to-make-babies. Surface-level communication is good. Accept the answers you get on the surface level.

3. If you find the way you think people look interfering with your ability to hear what they say, try doing your talking by phone. You get more relevant nonverbal cues from listening to the voice than you get from looking at the face. 

4. When people worry about the emotional moods of other people (who are not actively venting emotional moods on them, not bellowing that it's all their fault, e.g.), the bottom line is selfish. It is "I want to feel more reassurance that this person liiikes me." Some people claim to find this endearing, although some of those people also enjoy being sadistic about it, making the insecure person work for crumbs of reassurance. Personally, I find it tedious. If your own internal sense of your relationship with your Maker does not give you a solid sense that you have a right to exist in this world, possibly you do not have one, though more likely you only feel that way because you're feeling guilty about something you did, possibly manipulating and cheating someone. Whatever. Work out your own sense of self-worth somewhere else. 

"But I want to be closer to people, to get to know them on a deeper level. I don't feel satisfied by just doing a job and getting paid, just passively and negatively not being a bad neighbor. I want intimacy in my life." The only way to get intimacy in your life is to build close long-term intimate relationships with specific, selected people. These relationships are not based on "You're so attractive" or "You're single, so you ought to feel as lonely as I do" or "You're not in my social clique, so I feel sorry for you." They are based on the trust you've built up by doing things together for years. The fact that you're pushing for more intimacy is off-putting and likely to prevent that intimacy from ever developing in a relationship with me. Possibly you can, however, deepen your relationship with a family member or an old friend who has already found some reason to care about you. 

Some of the examples the Live Journal bloggers offered seem especially counterproductive. One commenter mentioned "'Are you upset?' when I'm visibly upset." Ick. In my vocabulary, emotions can be irked, annoyed, peeved, miffed, irritated, aggravated, and other things that stop short of real anger; although, in my vocabulary, anger is a natural emotion more often than it's a Deadly Sin. People might just be angry if they've missed the bus. 

For some people, I know, it's the other way round. Some people have been taught that we should only say "angry" when the natural emotion has been encouraged to grow into the Deadly Sin. I was taught that the people who only ever admit feeling annoyed when the bus is late, because if they were angry they'd be running for office on a platform that left room for the introduction of laws requiring that bus drivers who don't comply with schedules must be shot, are practicing dishonesty. I suppose they might be considered honest within a social group where everybody used words that way, and hypothetically such a group might exist, somewhere.

Anyway, in my vocabulary, what are upset are apple carts, stacks of cans in stores' displays, houses of cards, sometimes tables, often plans, and quite often stomachs. A person might be described as "upset" after a collision, or an earthquake. People standing on their own feet are not "upset" except, by extension, when their stomachs are. So "upset" doesn't mean "annoyed"; it means "nauseated." I can picture the blogger waiting for a bus in Prince Georges County, Maryland, and feeling annoyed because the blogger has lived in places where buses ran on schedules. Up comes the blogger's tiresome friend asking "Are you upset?" and I think of a certain early Stephen King movie...I've never actually felt able to answer "Are you upset?" properly, but I'd cheer if the blogger could. People who say things like "Are you upset?" deserve to have other people's breakfasts dripping down their shirts.

Supposing we can set aside "upset" as strictly a linguistic concern, another serious reason why we should never, never, never poke at people's unstated "feelings" is that most rational adults feel quite a number of emotions on which we don't act. We feel that the animal that attacked the smaller animal deserves to be roasted alive over a slow fire; we think that the more aggressive animal might do better as someone else's only pet, and put it up for adoption. We feel that it might be fun to drive away in that car that doesn't belong to us, eat that high-calorie food, sleep all day and worry about the job we were supposed to do today some other time, and all kinds of things that we think would not actually be fun in real life. The only purpose of poking at such "feelings" is to aggravate them. The person who aggravates the anger, envy, avarice, lust, sloth, gluttony, or arrogance into which these "feelings" might lead us is our own personal Satan, our spiritual enemy, and needs to be firmly rebuked and cast out.

The question then becomes whether we should, or whether I believe we should, give people opportunities to talk about the emotions they do want to talk about. Some feelings do deserve to be shared and communicated. Feelings of annoyance and dissatisfaction are less likely to grow into a Deadly Sin when they can be quickly communicated, acted on, and resolved, when the cause of dissatisfaction is removed. Among people whose grief is neither overwhelming nor unbearable, sharing memories of a departed friend seems to help us feel that we have "said goodbye." Reminiscing, generally, is informative and entertaining. It might be beneficial if more of us talked more about feelings of admiration, affection, topophilia, gratitude, or public spirit than we do. The case for talking about feelings seems hardest to make with regard to feelings of worry and anxiety, but even then, at some times, for some people, talking about really silly fears and worries can help people see how groundless their fears are, and overcome them. 

Personally, I'm not so firmly committed to the TJ side of things that I'm not willing to listen when people want to talk about their feelings. I just don't want to poke. If people really want to talk about the mix of emotions they feel for their loved ones, Romantic Love or the love of grandchildren, few people have been made artificially ashamed of feeling that sort of thing, and most people will talk about that kind of feelings if they're not firmly discouraged. This can hardly be the kind of feelings Amanda Robb thinks she ought to encourage her friends to talk about. No; what she found herself feeling relieved when a therapist encouraged her to talk about were feelings of insecurity, inadequacy, confusion, childishness--the sort of thing that may offer some sense of relief to the person talking about them, but rarely if ever offer any effective solution to any problem.

Sometimes I indulge people who want to blather about that sort of feelings. Usually I prefer to help them move through that state of mind as quickly as possible, because it is not a useful state of mind. 

Highly Sensitive People are, of course, emotional, by definition. We feel intense, rich, complicated emotions. We do not, however, share the curious belief that emotions need to be "validated" by anyone other than the person feeling them. Really interesting emotions might deserve some solitary reflection. Emotions about behavior someone else needs to change might be worth expressing to that person. Otherwise, an interesting conversation might include expressions of emotion, but would not be about the emotion. 

I can, however, understand why some bloggers had harsh things to say about Amanda Robb's un-empathetic reactions, as described by her. "I've been fired."--"Wow, you'll have a great story to tell at the party..." ??? 

I can understand the Totally Unsympathetic Response or Lack of One as a way to create more emotional distance from a person one really doesn't consider a friend. "I'm in love with you! I'll die of a broken heart!"--"That's nice." 

I think I would at least check the facts before assuming that a friend worth keeping thought losing a job would make a good story. That's empathy, as defined in modern dictionaries: the ability to imagine that the friend might be feeling pain, using my mirror neurons. But I can also imagine that, if this person is someone I really enjoy having as a friend, person might want some time for quiet reflection before going to the silly party. What's hard for me to imagine is whether, or how, person might want to be "therapized" with what I'd consider idle and tedious questions like "How do you feeeel about that?" 

For me, empathy at least begins with catching myself starting to say something like, "So, I heard you were shipwrecked and had to paddle a lifeboat with two young children in it for thirty-eight hours before you were rescued!" and toning it down to, "So, do you have stories to tell about your year in the South Sea Islands?" Person may want to spend time saying things like "...and then I felt thrilled because we'd been rescued, and eager to get back home, and tired like I've never been before, but also I felt sort of embarrassed when they gave me an official island name that means 'Captain'..." Then again, person may not. 

It's only in Writing and Editing Mode, when I see the "She looked out the window and felt..." kind of thing, that I suggest replacing all the descriptions of "feelings" with concrete actions that communicate the "feelings" to the reader. 

Non-HSPs tend to like to believe that our mirror neurons are reliably mirroring the same thing other people are feeling. The mirror neurons exist; there are apparently some people for whom they don't work efficiently, but for HSPs they do. We can hardly watch an actor pretending to have an injured knee without feeling some stiffness in our own legs, or else some harsh judgment of the actor. Learning to lower the intensity of the emotional signals, work through those left frontal lobes, is one way we cope with what some "total empaths" claim is an overwhelming burden of emotional input from other people.

What we, as well as they, often need to learn is that in spite of the general patterns our mirror neurons recognize, we really don't and can't know what other people feel. Everybody has a reasonably similar set of muscles in the back, for example, and everybody feels great inconvenience if one of those muscles is damaged. Everybody does not, however, feel that inconvenience through the same kind and number of sensory neurons. If you touch a non-HSP's back and ask the person how many of your fingertips are touching per skin, most non-HSPs have almost no idea at all. HSPs feel each fingertip separately even when two fingers are close together. HSPs have more nerve endings, in the back and everywhere else. 

This "extra" sensitivity helps HSPs work through and around some kinds of difficulties that disable non-HSPs and can produce a certain insensitivity... "She's never known any kind of pain worse than childbirth," wails the HSP blogger as a friend prepares for surgery. "It's only thirty-five miles!" growls the HSP employer whose employee's car can't be driven home. "My knee hurt, but I wanted to stay in the game," recalls the HSP athlete, "and now they tell me the kneecap's broken." Non-HSPs literally have no idea how it feels to be able to breathe their way through childbirth or play the last quarter of the game on an injured leg. They're missing some of the nerves we use to control muscles and blood flow, to reduce our perception of pain, which is still intense. When non-HSPs recover from illnesses and injuries they're not able to participate consciously in their own healing process. Even when we tell them about meditating to get our blood pressure down or breath control to work through pain, they do not and probably cannot understand. 

We do not, in fact, feel the same things. When non-HSPs and HSPs are exposed to the same stimulus, one feel "pressure on the back" and the other feels "three fingers pressing into the flesh around the inner angle of the left scapula." One sees "a line of fine print" or "a grey blur at the bottom of the page," and the other sees "Copyright Brand X Inc. 1992." 

Now about that terribly important "feeling" non-HSPs are probably really thinking about no matter how many other feelings they have to talk about to get there: I, personally, don't liiike them. Never have, never will. They shouldn't have wasted their time. There. I may care about them, wish them well, do what I can to help them, but I do not like the behavior of blathering about "feelings" nor has it ever led to a feeling that the people who do it are like me in any way. Fellow HSPs' perceptions are different one from another's, too, but for me it's been easier to live or work with blind HSPs than with non-HSPs.

And in some cases it's been easier to communicate with a dog. The proportion of experiences or of "feelings" dogs and humans can share is a small one. Still, at least dogs accept that humans are not dogs, and were never meant to be dogs. This makes dogs much more lovable than the sort of non-HSPs who can only bond with friends by "sharing all the same feelings." 

The myth that all humans have the same feelings and can bond by sharing them was very important to some religious groups (and substitute-for-religious groups, especially in psychotherapy) in the late twentieth century. It is not, however, supported by facts. What it's led to has been the neurological research that has determined that we do not, in fact, feel the same things. So not only does "talking about feelings" not unify humankind, but it can become a trigger for envy and resentment. 

Which is why most of my Zazzle designs feature the motto that's been the most helpful single saying I've used in my lifetime:


Whether or not people are able to share or understand each other's emotional feelings, most of the really uncomfortable ones have to do with facts in the real world that almost everyone can agree that we perceive. This means that, when the facts of the situation have been changed so that everyone is satisfied, the unpleasant feelings just disappear. 

Google and Zazzle aren't getting along too well at the moment so I'm not even going to try to upload any of the official Zazzle images of my "Fix Facts First" Collection. Click here: 

These designs weren't meant to be beautiful; they were meant to help remind the people around us not to bog down in unhelpful discussions of the feelings people have about the facts they want to change.
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Eighties Sweaters Are Back: 1.6. Salish, Canadian, North American

The last major ethnic traditional influence on 1980s knitting is the development the traditional gansey took on the coast of British Columbia. (Though Eighties knitting was fascinated with ethnic traditional textiles generally, and books about knitting in Peru, China, and Japan were also published, the remaining installments in this series will discuss "new" influences on 1980s knitting.) In the nineteenth century a mission school teacher from Scotland showed her students how to knit ganseys. They learned the general idea from her and proceeded to reinvent it into a radically different type of jacket, soon to be known as "the Indian Sweater" (according to one Canadian poet, "No garment suits us better / For working in the cold") or, more generally, the Canadian sweater.

What made these sweaters "Indian"? 

a. Since they weren't made in India they might be more properly described as Salish or Cowichan. What makes a sweater really Salish or Cowichan is having been designed and knitted by a member of that ethnic group. 

b. The Salish and Cowichan people were accustomed to dressing in fur and leather, and did not share the British idea that sweaters needed to be as "fine" as possible. They knitted super-bulky snowproof sweaters of thick, quickly homespun wool. What mainland knitters seldom copied accurately was the extreme bulk and stiffness of the knitted fabric--on much of the continent, those would have been excessive anyway. A typical Salish sweater was knitted at three stitches to the inch, but from wool that most knitters would have knitted up to two or fewer stitches to the inch.

c. Even the parts of the sweater that didn't contain pictures were sometimes worked in two different yarns to produce that a heavy, snowproof fabric.

d. The authentic "Indian sweaters" were three-color designs: undyed black or brown wool, undyed white wool, and a heathered gray or beige wool made by spinning the white and colored wools together. 

e. Influenced first by traditional totem images and then by what sold to visitors, Salish knitters usually knitted a big picture, usually of an animal, into each jacket. Traditional Salish animal images were stylized rather than realistic; this makes them much easier to reproduce in bulky knitting. Some traditional sweaters featured geometric patterns. 

f. Some Salish sweaters were knitted as pullovers, though few people find them easy to wear indoors. Most opened down the front, and as the technology came onto the market, increasing numbers of Salish sweaters were made with front zippers.

g. Most authentic Salish sweaters also featured a distinctive style of collar. It could be described as a shawl collar but it's much closer around the neck than a typical shawl collar.

Was the Canadian sweater tradition the same thing as the Salish sweater tradition? 

Of course not. As the style spread back east and south, knitters designed their own bulky two-layer jackets, with or without big cartoon-like pictures. Traditional geometric patterns from Fair Isle and Scandinavian knitting were often used. Bulky acrylic, as well as wool and other animal fibres, was so popular that Patons used to call its bulky acrylic yarn "Canadiana." Cotton, which absorbs moisture and thus doesn't turn snow as well as wool or acrylic, was less favored for winter jackets in Canada, but as people got used to the bulky sweater look, cotton pullovers became popular all over North America. 

People who wanted to wear sweaters indoors as fashion statements more than "for working in the cold" tended to prefer that their sweaters not be snowproof, and as the style spread south, knitters were often inspired to make more elaborate, lifelike pictures with lightweight dyed yarn. At this point the category of "Canadian traditional" blurred into the category of "witty knitting," which was also madly popular in the Eighties. Fusion was very much an Eighties thing.

Like most U.S. knitters I've always been attracted to the fact that classic Canadian-type sweaters can be made with cheap, widely available yarn. If that yarn is either Red Heart or Canadiana, the sweaters will never look expensive, but they will look good--for their kind of thing--even if they've been fished out of the lake and machine-laundered, for many years. The only problem is that they are very very warm.

"Save the Whales" was the most distinctly Eighties sweater I ever made. The idea of a picture of an orca bordered by geometric bands is Salish. This particular orca does not have the traditional Salish shape; it was graphed from a photo in England, where the sweater was designed and sold in English wool yarns, and was a large man's size. (Oversized sweaters were an Eighties and Nineties fad.) My contribution was redesigning it in U.S. acrylic yarn to fit a medium woman's size. It passed the test for a Canadian-type sweater: when worn in falling snow, it formed a barrier between the crust of snow that stuck to the outside and the well insulated wearer inside. It also passed the test for an Eighties sweater, with its classic 1980s motif! I will never make another sweater just like this one but I will use other patterns from this collection of Eighties-to-Nineties designs in aid of the original charity...

These picture motifs are from Maine, actually. Pictures (and the chicken-wire stitch on the chicken sweater) were designed by Chellie Pingree. 

Helene Rush published these and many other picture motifs for Maine sweaters while living in Maine. But she was born in Canada. The pictures, like the knitter, have crossed the border many times.

The shape of this square patchwork sweater was actually designed by a Canadian, Ann Bourgeois, and it's a classic, big, snowproof sweater with room for layers of lighter shirts and sweaters underneath. AB knitted her mandalas and I knitted mine. 

(I'm not sure why Blogspot refuses to line pictures up neatly. Of things that bloggers might have hoped would be fixed by all the tweaking and breaking-of-what-never-needed-fixing at this site, I see that this is not one.)

Books to look for

1. Shirley Scott, Canada Knits, is an authoritative study of the history of the Canadian sweater. It is not a pattern book, though published patterns for many of the samples shown are easy to find, or used to be.

2. Patience Horne, Patons Book of Knitting and Crochet, is where to find some of them. Many traditional knitting patterns were circulated by yarn manufacturers; Patons sold a lot of yarn and patterns in Canada, and this book includes some vintage picture knitting patterns. (However, most of the knitted garments are designed to be made with lightweight yarn.)

3. American School of Needlework, The Great Knitting Book, includes those iconic Mary Maxim picture knits with the horse and the deer in knit-by-numbers realism. 

4. Priscilla Gibson-Roberts, Salish Indian Sweaters, gives a thorough study of the history of these sweaters, profiles of some currently active knitters, many picture patterns, and detailed instructions for knitting the pictures into your own Salish-inspired garment (or blanket). The book came out in the Nineties but Gibson-Roberts had published articles in magazines, and sample patterns, for this type of sweaters throughout the Eighties.

5. Ann and Eugene Bourgeois, Fairisle Sweaters Simplified. Again, the book was not in stores in the Eighties, but the styles and colors were in the knitting magazines of the Eighties. In this case the wool, the knitters, and the idea of knitting fairisle stitch in chunky wool, are 100% Canadian Content. 

6. Ironically, while Sally Melville may be Canada's best known knitter, she's not known for traditional designs. Though her first full-size book does contain several patterns for snowproof knits with two layers of thick wool and/or acrylic yarn, and some of them even look like waterfowl and maple leaves, SM's knitting has generally explored new or unusual techniques and this book's no exception. Several patterns in this book, including the cover sweater, are designed to be knitted in one color and then inlaid with woven-in contrast colors.

Blogspot is showing me the link but not the book picture. Anyway I'd like to try something new here...Amazon builds collection pages for popular authors. This link should take you to the Sally Melville book collection: .

However...I hate to be a spoilsport, but...serious pattern hoarders will recognize a Sally Melville sweater as something that was still new, if not unique, after the Eighties. The rest of the world will not give a flying flip, of course, but if you were to tell me a SM design was an Eighties Sweater I'd laugh.

7. So, if you'd rather be more authentically Eighties than authentically the Eighties chunky picture knits were also identified with Maine, and relatively small and cheap pattern books printed in Maine and New England were selling well. And they're also becoming hard to find (and, at the moment of typing, to display on Blogspot). Incredibly, Amazon doesn't even show a page for Helene Rush's classic Maine Woods Woollies, sales of which in the mid-Eighties helped convince publishers that knitting pattern books were worth marketing. The two children's sweaters pictured above, with the moose and pine tree motifs, are variations on patterns in Maine Woods Woollies. Amazon does show a page for More Maine Sweaters, the 1987 sequel that applied the same knitted pictures to adult-sized garments, and for Head to Toe, a 1993 collection that applied them to accessories only. 

8. Also popular in the late Eighties, growing into a real industry in the Nineties, was Chellie Pingree's North Island Designs company. The book series began with Maine Island Classics, which includes both the chickens and the boat motif shown above. According to Amazon the whole series is way overdue for reprinting, with most volumes "not available" and three-figure prices for copies of the volumes that are available. 

9. Then there were the Huber family's Country Knits venture. Steve and Carol Huber started out with an antique business that sold Early American textiles. Carol designed sweaters with motifs inspired by their antiques. Most of the sweaters had a standard shape; the interest was all in the colorwork. Though the densely printed books always encouraged knitters to use up whatever scraps they had, the Hubers seemed to work with the Columbia-Minerva yarn company and their business seemed to decline with that company's. Only one of the original four books still has an Amazon page, and the price per copy shows that anyone who's kept a copy in decent condition expects a good profit on it. 

Who knew those rather cheap and flimsy paperback pattern books would become so valuable? Though I'd never pay $700 for one pattern book it is worth mentioning that I once sold a single sweater I'd knitted from a Helene Rush design for $880.