Friday, December 30, 2022

Morgan Griffith on Santa Claus

Editorial comment: Isn't this a fine way of reminding people that "there is no Santa Claus"? 

From U.S. Representative Morgan Griffith, R-VA-9:


December 22, 2022 - 

Christmas is a time of tradition and ritual, both religious and secular.

For Christians like myself, it is a time to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ. We do so with church services, hymns, readings, and other religious observances.

But Christmas also has developed traditions outside its religious aspect, or which may have once been connected with Christianity but no longer possess a religious character.

The figure of Santa Claus is perhaps the most obvious example. Christmas is a season of miracles – the virgin birth, the Star of Bethlehem, and so forth – and how a Mediterranean holy man of late antiquity became the red-suited gift-giver of modern Western culture surely fits in the season’s theme of the unlikely taking place.

There is little definitive record of Saint Nicholas, the historical figure who provided the basis for Santa Claus, According to, he is believed to have been born around 280 A.D. in modern-day Turkey. The stories that surround him praise his generosity and kindness toward the poor, the sick, and children. The day he is believed to have died, December 6, is celebrated as a feast day by the Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Churches.

Saint Nicholas became the patron saint of children and sailors, among others, and was adopted as a patron saint by countries and cities as well. His relics were venerated, and he garnered popularity across Europe, including the Netherlands, which proved to be a key stop on his journey into American popular culture.

In the Netherlands, Sint Nikolaas, as he is known in Dutch, or Sinter Klaas for short, was said to leave gifts for children on his feast day. Not yet the portly presence we recognize, Sinter Klaas was portrayed as a white-bearded man dressed in red clerical garb.

This version of the Saint Nicholas legend came to North America with the seventeenth-century Dutch settlers of New Amsterdam, renamed New York when acquired by the English, and was celebrated for centuries before it gained a wider foothold in our country’s imagination.

In the early nineteenth century, one of the young country’s leading authors introduced a version of Sinter Klaas to a larger audience. Some of the products of Washington Irving’s pen, such as Rip Van Winkle and the Headless Horseman of “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow,” remain well-known to us today. Irving was a New Yorker familiar with the region’s Dutch culture. He helped shape the image of Sinter Klaas, describing a version of the saint who flew in a wagon from house to house, dropping presents for good children down their chimneys.

In 1823, “A Visit from St. Nicholas” was published. Better known by its opening line, “Twas the night before Christmas,” the poem was written by Clement Clarke Moore for his children. Moore did not take credit for its authorship at first, but his creation introduced still more details we recognize today, including a sleigh pulled by eight reindeer as his vehicle instead of Irving’s wagon.

As the modern portrait of Santa Claus took shape in words during the nineteenth century, it was matched by illustrations. Thomas Nast was a cartoonist famed for his political work. His legacy includes the identification of the Republican Party with the elephant, matched against the Democratic donkey. And it includes a Santa Claus that largely fits how we think of him. Nast’s cartoons for Harper’s Weekly portray Santa as large and white-bearded, cheerfully distributing presents.

If Nast helped to settle the image of Santa Claus, the Coca-Cola company propagated it. Its colorful ads, drawn by Haddon Sundblom, from the 1920s onward, portrayed a jolly, rotund, red-cheeked Saint Nicholas inspired by Moore’s poem.  These ads were in magazines such as The Saturday Evening Post and National Geographic. They always featured Santa and a bottle of Coca-Cola.  Through the years they produced many advertising items with the Sundblom Santa from metal trays to dolls.

The popular conception of Santa Claus has evolved over the years, but the consistent association of Saint Nicholas and kindness speak to the lasting meaning of the Christmas season. I will let Santa, as portrayed in “A Visit from St. Nicholas,” have the last word:

"Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good-night."

If you have questions, concerns, or comments, feel free to contact my office. You can call my Abingdon office at 276-525-1405, my Christiansburg office at 540-381-5671, or my Washington office at 202-225-3861. To reach my office via email, please visit my website at Also on my website is the latest material from my office, including information on votes recently taken on the floor of the House of Representatives.



Book Review: Bud Not Buddy

Title: Bud Not Buddy

Author: Christopher Paul Curtis

Publisher: Random House

Date: 1999

ISBN: 0-440-41328-1

Length: 243 pages

Quote: “Especially don’t you ever let anyone call you Buddy…Buddy is a dog’s name or a name that someone’s going to use on you if they’re being false-friendly. Your name is Bud, period.”

Sound advice, North or South: Unless “Buddy” or “Son” or “Honey” or “Baby” or “Sweetie” really is a private pet name you use, with conscious irony, in private moments alone with one very special person, and you’d want to think twice about it even then—when you hear those words plopping out of something that is looking at you, you keep your eyes on it and feel for your weapon. People of good will do not call people names like that.

People of ill will do, however, use the claim that they do as a test. If you fall for it, you’re stupid and deserve whatever else you get from them, which is guaranteed not to be good.

Curtis’ character, Bud, never knew his father, and didn’t know his streetwise-too-late mother for very long. It’s 1936; there’ve been deaths in every extended family and in most immediate families. Bud is one of a multitude of orphan children but he holds on to what’s left of his mother—her words, and five advertising flyers for a band called the Dusky Devastators of the Depression. (This was, Curtis explains in an afterword, the name of a real band, with which his own grandfather played.) Bud’s mother didn’t keep a lot of souvenirs of anything so Bud has a feeling that the leader of this band might be his father.

As most of the millennial generation probably know, given the huge success of this book, Bud will never find his father. But he will find a band of extraordinarily nice people who accept him as a member of the band and…oh, read the book. This is, after all, a Depression Story. Christopher Paul Curtis was not alive in the 1930s but his parents were, and he wrote the kind of Depression Story that people who remembered the 1930s told. The stock market’s crash did not directly affect most Americans but its economic ramifications dragged on long enough that they did. Infectious diseases like polio and tuberculosis became epidemics; rich people died too, but more poor people died. A lot of people remember long, hard times—as when my father came down with polio, didn’t die and forced his arms and legs to get back to work, but he basically stopped growing for much of the 1930s. But what kind of story was that? The stories people told about the Depression were about the good times, the heartwarming things that made the financial worries, bereavements, even actual hunger in some cases, seem like backgrounds that only made the good stories sound better. To hear them talk, in the 1930s everybody was poor (not true) but everybody except a few ridiculous jerks was very, very nice (probably not true either, but be fair—did your elders actually say that or was that just the way all Depression Stories ran together in your mind and sounded to you?).

The music they listened to was similar to the stories they told. Some songs from the 1930s express grief and sorrow. More of them express cheerfulness, even manic, pumped-up, forced cheerfulness. If the happy days were not yet “here again,” they soon would be. There would be metaphoric bluebirds of happiness over the White Cliffs of Dover, though any birds literally flying there were more likely to be any of dozens of other species than Sialia sialis. So pack up your troubles in your old kit bag and smile, smile, smile! (This was when the United States became the world’s toothiest nation. Tooth-baring does not, in fact, prove that anyone is still alive, but people talked as if it did.) At this period the efforts being made to help people who became “depressed” or alcoholic were pretty horrible, so, if you wanted to survive, you tried to seem cheerful. One thing people did for extra money was compete in ballroom dancing endurance contests. Since a lot of people were competing for these prizes, some couples kept grimly shuffling around the ballroom, taking turns sleeping on each other’s shoulders, for several days. See! They were DANCING! FUN FUN FUN!!!

So the good stories that people wanted to tell, and hear, were the ones that were actually unusual, with the surprise happy endings. My grandmother was pronounced dead, obituaries were printed, burial arranged. (That was commonplace.) Then she came out of her coma long enough to wink at a young doctor, scaring him badly enough that he wanted to try insulin shock to make sure she was well and truly dead before she was buried. So he was granted permission to inject an insulin overdose and, instead of dying, Grandmother sat up, got well, and lived for another thirty-nine years. (That was interesting, a real Depression Story.)

The President had had polio, just like some young relative you weren't allowed to visit, but everyone saw him, in the newsreels, walking and talking as if he’d never been ill in his life. And bad men roamed around robbing banks and shooting people, but good men came out to kill them or put them in prison. And extremely bad men were doing horrible things to your relatives back in the Old Country, but there was a plan for taking care of them, too, if everyone cooperated and planted Victory Gardens and stayed within their rations. So, smile the while you kissed the soldiers in your family sad adieu, and direct your feet to the sunny side of the street—and strike up that band! “Big” bands, often actually small groups that made “big” noises with wind instruments that could never be completely on key, were the fashion. Saxophones blared out polkas and marches and thoroughly cheerful songs about “the blues.” Funerals called for really jubilant songs about “When the Saints Go Marching In.”

Bud is still an orphan but he has grandparents. And friends. And a choice of future careers, which may include playing a saxophone in a band. That’s only a fictional imitation of a Depression Story, but it meets the criteria for a real one. Maybe in some family, somewhere, it was true.

Music Tolerance as a Gift of Age



This post contains multiple music links. I think they're to amusingly, entertainingly bad songs. I cannot be responsible for those who find that they're "earworms.")

I don't get blogger's block. Sometimes I get blogger's obsession, though. I've been reading a Christian book and my head's been full of Christian thoughts. This web site does specifically Christian posts on Sundays. So what to post on Friday morning? I went to Twitter to look for a topic, and found one.

What I found was a tweet about "growing up in the 1980s" in England. Out of twenty-some items on the Twit's list, two resonated with my memories of the 1980s in even the Eastern States. And the background music? "THAT is NOT eighties music!" It actually had a melody. 

Actually, in the early 1980s, there was some interest in doing interesting things with melody. John McCutcheon's major album, "The Wind that Shakes the Barley," came out in 1980. Mannheim Steamroller was selling well in the early 1980s. Sha La Vah was. Quirky instrumental arrangements of classic hymns and gospel songs were the new thing in the Christian music stores. Synthesizers were the new thing and some of us wanted to use them for more than bang and boom.  But alllll you could ever find on the radio, except for NPR and a few university stations, was boom-bang, boom-bang. 

I haaated that boom-bang sound that everyone agrees dominated 1980s pop music in the US.

I remember one Eighties song that made musical sense to me. I heard it in a bus station, changing Greyhounds in the middle of the night. It sounded burnt-out and depressed and angry all at once. It sounded like a dumped but unscrubbed ash tray in a bus station at three o'clock in the morning. But it didn't pretend to be about love; it's about a form of psychotherapy that encouraged sick, angry, depressed people to yell and pound on pillows. 

It wasn't something I wanted to take home and listen to over and over, but it did sound...congruent. If all the other pop songs of the 1980s had been about pounding a pillow in a psychotherapist's clinic, I thought, they would at least have made sense.

Not surprisingly, in the 1980s most of my friends were other discontented melody-oriented musicians, many of whom I met at church groups or folk music clubs. I did attend a lot of classical and folk concerts, often in the company of teachers who were delighted that some young people weren't into "rock music."

Not that most of these older people knew what they even meant by what they said about "rock music." If they weren't paying attention to top-forty lists in each official marketing category, most of them would actually like some rock music, often the same songs and bands I liked. What they really didn't like was heavy metal. All genres of pop music in the 1980s had that boom-bang back-beat, but heavy metal was the one where the noise completely dominated any hint of a tune. Discontented young musicians and older church folk who had heard they were supposed to hate "rock music" could always agree that it was hard to tell whether you were listening to the latest heavy metal hit "song," or had been awakened by an insane garbage crew that were throwing garbage cans about while torturing dogs. Then if we slipped them a piece of rock music we liked, they'd probably agree that it was a nice bit of Anglo-folk or country-western or maybe blues, depending on the accent...A song like this one, which I remember identifying as the last good rock song, was actually enlightening, in its way, about the condition of the unsaved soul, we could get older people to agree. While sober.

It was not as if I wanted all songs to be soft or cheerful. I just thought it was obvious that the depressive, disturbing rock song linked immediately above is a song about someone who is feeling bad, whereas most Eighties songs, even if the words were about "love" or "parties," were just noise cranked out on machines by people who were probably going to succumb to brain tumors, drug overdoses, or both, probably within the year...

If for some reason I didn't want to sound like a judgmental musical misfit I'd tell people to blame my HSP hearing. I heard all the high and low notes on those heavy metal songs and hearing them all at the same time gave me a sick headache. My natural sister, who does not hear most of the high notes and has never been able to hear what most of humankind would agree the records she used to inflict on our parents actually sounded like, said being too close to any band made her ears hurt. That may have been true, too. 

It was just one of so many little differences between the homes of my childhood and my natural sister's childhood. I grew up in a home that demanded complete conesnsus on every use of a valuable phonograph needle, whereas my sister grew up with desperately lonely empty-nest parents who put up with a lot worse noise than the typical Eighties parents were expected to endure. 

I would probably have been forbidden to talk to any friends who had suggested that I ever listen to anything with that kind of language in it. Let alone that sound. But that's typical Eighties, I use the term advisedly, "music."

In addition to her loss of hearing my natural sister also had a certain lack of perspective. I had just dumped a guy who, well, seemed to like me more than I liked him anyway, because he got all grumpy about my lack of enthusiasm for the following song. Well, especially early in the morning, when some of his housemates were trying to sleep and I was trying to keep some sort of breakfast down. 

The original Eighties version was, as I recall, louder. Also it was a few years into the present century before I found anything to like about Neil Young. Well for one thing I've heard some things about Justin Trudeau that I find disagreeable and insupportable, but it seems to me that if Canadians want to sing songs about his bad ideas they ought to be able to write their own, and if I were going to write a song about Justin Trudeau I would not address him as "Canadian Man" and thereby alienate any sympathetic listeners I might have had, all over the whole country. 

So I had considered this song of glorification of violent hatecrimes against women by the Ungrateful Visitor Who Ought To Stay Home, and the breakfast, and the way this guy looked early in the morning, and I had decided that approximately two-thirds of the men in Washington were more attractive than he was. But I loved my baby sister and understood that she was not really hearing her records the way I heard them, so I very gently and tactfully suggested that she wait for me to start typing fast and then blast whatever she wanted to listen to, but not blast that Eighties sound at me while I was thinking about what to write...and she went into a full-blown Fragile-Southern-Belle Meltdown with threats of homicide and suicide and hitchhiking to California and who knows what-all. 

There was something addictive about Eighties music. It was a sickness, I thought. As was shown by this red-faced screeching 150-pound child, from a decent home, who had to have remembered that when I was her age I didn't even mention it at home if I wanted to listen to Mozart because Dad didn't like "snob music" and we had to have a complete consensus.

Then the Nineties arrived, right on schedule, and I slept on my neck the wrong way after pulling a 12-hour shift in the chips factory (experience for the writer!) and woke up with 60% hearing loss on the left side, and after the panic subsided I realized that life was actually simpler that way. Now the music the slightly-younger crowd were blaring out of their blankin' bleepin' ghetto blasters still didn't sound like music, to me, but it no longer caused me pain. Now I still didn't want to get emotionally involved with any Neil Young fans, but if I were offered a really good job that involved sharing an office with one I could imagine being able to keep the job.  

Now I...just about outgrew music, as the tinnitus didn't go anywhere. The composer Robert Schumann supposedly became profoundly depressed because his ears kept ringing the note A. My tinnitus never was a single clear, true note. Sometimes I've envied Schumann. It did not make me profoundly depressed but it did make me a great deal less music-oriented, as an adult. 

I went through most of my adult life with this 60% hearing loss due to tinnitus on the left side. According to scientific tests my 60% hearing loss did not put me at much of a disadvantage relative to the average person, especially since it was only on one side. On the right side I still hear dog whistles.

But as noted on this web site, about two years ago, my left ear popped open and once again the world was full of painfully loud and irritating noise everywhere. The computer keyboard. I hadn't been thinking of it as clattering the way it does. The crackle of unfolding a newspaper. The faint whine solid-state electronics devices emit when they're left plugged into the wall...Dear little stapedius muscle, I thought to myself, can't you lock up to, maybe, say, about a 30% hearing loss?

Well, it did.

I ask people to repeat what they're saying less often than I did three years ago, unless I really want to try to call their attention to what they've said.

I hear electronics whine when they're plugged into the wall, again.

I can still hear myself and others singing, mostly on key, against a background of off-key dissonance ringing in my ears.

However, during the past two years, I've found myself hearing recorded music in what must be much closer to the way everyone else does. 

Now when e-friends post Eighties music, I actually listen to it. It is not and will never be my favorite musical genre, but it no longer causes pain. I find it interesting to hear what probably sounds like what other people were hearing in the 1980s. 

In the 1980s, a few Christians were actually earning their livings by travelling around, demonstrating how you could use special stereo devices to play certain 1970s songs backward and they'd sound like different songs, and they had (panic time!) BACK-MASKED LYRICS THAT EXPRESSED EVIL THOUGHTS. 

This was true, by the way. It sounds like the stuff of which urban legends were made, but in fact some people were recording music with a track that sounded, well, amusing to somebody or other, when you played the whole thing backward. (Strangely, this fad did not sell any great number of special stereo devices that would play music backward.) The hidden message in one song was something like "Congratulations! You have discovered the secret message. Write to Box [whatever] to claim your prize." The phrase "the taste" sounds like "Satan" when played backwards, and a few people managed to write songs with back-masked tracks about Satan. Where the anti-backmasking lecturers tended to lose young people was this song.

You can hear "another one bites the dust" backward as "Decide to smoke marijuana" if you really work at it, but you can hear it as a lot of other things too. In any case, some of my friends were doing more stupid and self-destructive things, but nobody I knew did decide to smoke marijuana. So although many people I knew could agree that (1) that was a stupid song, and/or (2) Queen was a tacky band, and/or (3) "Another One Bites the Dust" might have been more popular if it had been backmasked, we had to ask: What was causing these older people to hate rock music so much?

We thought that age must cause intolerance.

Here I stand to testify that, in my cae, age has produced musical tolerance.

Enjoy your earworms, Nephews, and please use discretion about inflicting them on your various mothers, especially the one who was my darling baby sister. Though if you really want to torture her, you probably already know that most of the works of John Philip Sousa are availaboen line's one that was memorable enough to be mentioned in a book you'll want to read when it is printed...

Thursday, December 29, 2022

Butterfly of the Week: Lesser Batwing

Proceeding alphabetically, we come to the genus Atrophaneura, the Batwing butterflies. Batwings are large, mostly dark-colored butterflies whose wing structures are like swallowtails' except  for not having "tails." Apparently they looked startling to European naturalists because they have Halloween-type names. The Lesser Batwing, Atrophaneura aidoneus, was named after a Greek god usually identified with Hades or Pluto, the King of the Underworld. 

While some of the Atrophaneura species are gaudy, A. aidoneus can look as sober as one of those religious people who used to give up wearing bright colors to show their commitment. (It was not an unreasonable commitment in the days when colorful dyes made fabric more expensive.) Then again, if the light hits the male's wings just right...

The iridescent wings usually photograph as dark grey with black stripes along and between the veins. The female is not so iridescent, but on careful observation appears to be more of a dark gray with darker gray stripes along and between the veins. 

The body doesn't look hairy, but gets its color from fine glossy hairs. The hairs can be iridescent blue-black, as shown, or they can be shocking pink.

Often the body just looks black.

This specimen from India, with the pink head and black body, does remind me of a vulture--which seems unfair, considering that this is one Swallowtail species in which even the males are not primarily composters, and behave less like vultures than some of the brighter-colored Swallowtails do. All of the Atrophaneuras can have pink or red on part or all of the body. 

Huu Lien has a photo essay about the three species found in Vietnam at

These large butterflies flit through southern Asia: India, Thailand, Myanmar, Nepal, parts of China. Their wingspans can be six inches or a little more, usually a little less. Females tend to be slightly bigger than males. Variations among individuals are not usually considered to form clear sub-species distinctions, though some Indian researchers use sub-species names.

While butterflies depend on the sun for warmth, this species' warm environment supplies all the warmth it needs, and it looks for shade. Both males and females pollinate flowers, especially in the genus Lantana. Males slurp up mineral salts at puddles but don't seem to congregate at puddles as some male Swallowtails do. Like most of the very large butterflies and moths, they have never been really common. They are not, however, generally considered to be at great risk of extinction. 

In Bangladesh and Nepal, local populations are endangered by human activity. Since their habitat includes public park land, government efforts have focussed on protecting butterfly habitat inside these parks.

Relatively little has been written about this species. While Google shows that lots of people recognize and photograph the adults, whose range in space and time is extensive (they fly between April and November), they're not economically important to humans. By Indian standards, they're not even very showy. (If you think six inches of bright iridescent blue is showy, wait'll you see the butterflies people in India do notice.) Google shows no positively identified images of eggs, larvae, or pupae of this species.

Book Review: Southern Living 1985 Annual Recipes

Title: Southern Living 1985 Annual Recipes

Author: Southern Living magazine staff

Publisher: Oxmoor House

Date: 1985

ISBN: 0-8487-0679-X

Length: 339 pages, plus indices and space to write in additional recipes

Quote: “Even though Southern foods, generally speaking, are becoming lighter and fresher, they still offer down-home appeal with typically Southern ingredients. We are grateful to you, our readers, for sharing with us your treasured recipes.”

This was the seventh of Southern Living magazine’s big, hardcover collections of all the recipes from the magazine (sorted out from the ads, the landscaping and decorating ideas, the tour guides, the feature articles…most of the splashy full-color pictures, too, though not all of them). Some serious magazine collectors want to have them all and, though it’s not in mint condition, I have an intact copy of this early volume.

Most of my comments on the 2004 annual [LINK] were already applicable to the 1985 annual. Things that have never changed were the magazine’s goal of featuring foods that grow in kitchen gardens in the Southern States—all of them, not excluding the Southwest—without excluding contributions from readers who, no doubt for good reasons, are writing in from the North, and of highlighting a few of the minority communities in the Southern States in each collection; of featuring updated versions of traditional favorites like cornbread and pinto beans, and a few “diet” recipes (in 1985 they were a separate monthly feature) and microwave recipes, and some elaborate confections made a little less time-consuming by using prepackaged food, and some locally achievable variations on trendy recipes. About half the recipes have been contributed by subscribers; in 1985, local lurkers will want to know, the magazine didn’t print any recipes from Gate City but did print a handful from Bristol and a handful from Kingsport.

One thing that’s changed: in 1985 the magazine either wasn’t big enough, or didn’t choose to offer, a collection of recipes sent to them by grateful advertisers. Another thing that’s changed: in 1985 the magazine readers and staff liked pecans, and who doesn’t, but they weren’t yet throwing them into everything. In 1985 many Southerners’ idea of lightened-up recipes still favored butter over olive oil. All but a few of the salads (in the December section) are drowned in mayonnaise, which many Southerners do like, but not this one.

One thing that’s changed at this web site: When Amazon, blaming the coronavirus panic, imposed sales quotas on Associate and Affiliate web sites, this web site notified youall that it could pay for some of you to order a few books through this site. (I posted that in time for Christmas shopping, too.) If youall had needed the Amazon links, you would’ve bought some books here in December. You didn’t. Google made it more time-consuming to throw in the links. The memory of my late lamented blog buddy saying she didn’t want to read a blog cluttered with Amazon links, which she said didn’t work with her computer, lingered in my mind. I had more on my mind, with a new truck in the family, and the absolute worst illness I’ve ever had in my life (coronavirus is NOTHING), and the never-ending drama of wasting a lot of my “stimulus” money testing various private Internet connection plans and finding that none of them worked, than buying stuff just to please Amazon. So this review surely does look different from my review of the 2004 volume. This web site is no longer Amazon-affiliated. You don’t have to look at all those photo links.

Anyway: If you’re not a cookbook collector, you have room for only one cookbook, and you live in a Southern State, there are valid reasons why a Southern Living annual might be a good choice. These are not cookbooks for raw beginners, although they do have short glossaries for people whose grandmothers didn’t use that technique or that name for it. They are for people who already know how to scramble eggs, toast bread, put together sandwiches, chop up almost any combination of fresh vegetables for a salad, and even simmer soup that did not come in a can—the kind of thing most Southerners eat every day. These are the recipes for the fancy confections we serve at parties, which are the only kind of recipes many Southerners need to bother writing down. Even the ones identified as light, quick, and easy aren’t very; there’s no separate feature for budget-friendly recipes, and most of these aren’t very budget-friendly either, unless you have an acre of garden for “back yard” and a few pecan trees up front, as many Southerners do. So if you’re a good plain cook planning a feast, this would be the cookbook for you. The sideways stacked cakes were so quirky that they’d probably seem new again.

But when I display Southern Living annuals for sale, they’re always bought by collectors.

Wednesday, December 28, 2022

Book Review: The Memory Keeper's Daughter

Title: The Memory Keeper’s Daughter

Author: Kim Edwards

Publisher: Penguin

Date: 2005

ISBN: 0-14-30-3714-5

Length: 401 pages

Quote: “My dear, I know nothing about babies, but even I can sense that something’s not right…She’s nearly a year old and only now learning to sit up.”

It was a dark and stormy night in 1964, when babies were normally delivered from fully anesthetized women. Delivering his own twins, young Dr. Henry was reminded of his poor afflicted sister, and he handed the baby who had Downs Syndrome, like his sister, to a nurse with orders to put it in an institution. He would allow his wife to believe it had died. He would spend the rest of his life remembering how much he had loved and missed his sister, and wishing he’d given himself a chance to know his daughter.

Nurse Gill, instead, takes the baby and goes out to find another job, in another city. Putting babies in institutions just seems so, oh, unfeeling. She’s never been interested in being a single mother in the usual way, but she bonds instantly with little Phoebe.

If you are a young woman reading this book, you’re supposed to share Nurse Gill’s intuitive feeling that putting babies in institutions is unfeeling, and the rest of the story—Phoebe grows up, the Henrys drift apart—is supposed to convince you that, if you happen to give birth to a brain-damaged baby, you’re supposed to love every moment of raising the poor little thing, and if you don’t, you might want to run out and adopt one, because brain-damaged children are the greatest thing since sliced bread.

If that sounds like a flippant summary, that’s because I’m not convinced. I am turned off by stories that start out with detailed descriptions of complicated births, for a start. I continued reading this one because I’d heard that it was good. I did not find a point at which I got interested in the story or any of the characters.

Despite some verbiage about Dr. Henry not being an evil man, just a man whose hasty choice gradually ruins the rest of his life, I felt judged.

Our abilities to work with other people’s different combinations of talents and disabilities are as variable as anything else we inherit. I’ve done reasonably well with blind and mobility-impaired people; I’ve never done well at all with deaf or cognitively impaired people. Though symptoms of pregnancy-blocking ovarian cysts appeared in the year older people admitted I might be old enough to consider motherhood, so I’ve never had to think seriously about having a baby of any description, in my gossipy little town rumors used to fly every time a sister or cousin gave birth. (And I have a lot of cousins...hyperfertility runs in the family and, yes, one young lady who looks a bit like me had six babies, the first one born within a month of its uncle, and yes, she was married to its father.) 

One of those babies, who wasn’t mine but whom I was actually seen carrying around, happened to be deaf. While it was tiny, its not being disturbed by sounds was convenient. When it started toddling about and showing how much information it was not absorbing by hearing words, communication with it became one of those exercises in frustration nobody wants to go through, with adults repeating, louder and louder, the words the child just doesn't understand, until the child starts to cry because (it’s not able to say) “Right, now I hear you saying ‘coat, coat, where did you leave your coat,’ but what is a coat and why do I, alone of all the world, not already know this?” Because I felt particularly fond and protective of that child—now a bright, good-looking young adult with job skills and talents, likely to enjoy a long healthy life—I started saying “Don’t send that one to stay with me. Our disabilities clash. It's deaf, and I'm not good with deaf people.” I believed it was an intelligent child with good intentions, and didn’t want to give it any foolish notions to the contrary. I expect I’d feel the same way, but more so, about a child with Downs Syndrome. Would I keep one, if I’d given birth to one? In the alternative world where that could happen, who would the child’s other parent be, would he have better communication skills than I have, what kind of nursery and tutors could we afford?

On another web site, some time before writing this review, I got into a discussion about the “choice” of abortion. I don’t believe a fetus is a person, and if it were a person an unwanted fetus would be a trespasser, and the fact that any fetus is unwanted may indicate that there’s a reason why it's not meant to become a person. Normal healthy fetuses are loved, often given names and rooms, from the moment their existence is confirmed. I don’t know how good for the babies it would be in the long term, but I would find it delightful in the short term, if all the anti-abortion activists in this country were required to adopt some wanted fetuses who have become homeless babies.

I do believe that, statistically, giving birth is safer than having a surgical abortion, and I’ve seen evidence that, statistically, most women who “choose” abortion are bullied into echoing the “choices” their men and/or their parents and/or social workers make for them. So I don’t imagine I could ever have chosen abortion in that alternative world where I might have become pregnant. Daughter and granddaughter of poster girls for live natural birth against all odds, and, more importantly, of devoted Christian parents…If someone had spiked my drink so that I’d behaved irresponsibly on a date, and my date and I had been expelled from our church college, and his parents had threatened my life if I sent him so much as a postcard, and add any more melodramatic details that come to mind, what I could then and can now imagine happening would have been more like the’rents saying, “Here are directions to the home of the relative out West you should visit first, here’s the local lawyer who can advise you on changing your name, here’s a ticket…and call 'collect' as soon as you get inside the house!” It would still have been the 1980s and some mumbling about a short-lived fictional marriage might have been expected, but before the baby was a year old my parents would have wanted to see their grandchild. There were reasons why my natural sister eloped, though her children, plural, resemble their father, singular, but in any case both of our parents absolutely adored having grandchildren. So I have no idea how I’d react to an unintended pregnancy if I’d had the sort of "Eeek, I'm not old enough to be a grandmother, call this doctor, he'll help you get rid of it" parents many single mothers seem to have.

Likewise, I have no idea how I’d relate to a baby who was born deaf. I’m not altogether sure how I’d relate to a baby who even had extroversion, much less Downs Syndrome. In theory parental hormones compensate for a lot of things for both fathers and mothers; in practice, if parents know they’re not going to be able to communicate with a child, putting the child in an institution, or giving it to anyone who wanted it, might be a better choice than keeping it.

In The Memory Keeper’s Daughter the doctor’s emotional feelings about having been unable to help his (older) sister when he was a little boy, and feeling unable to keep his daughter later on, push him away from his wife and son, and the family falls apart, while the nurse just enjoys raising her adoptive daughter. It’s a novel, I remind myself; that’s one way the situation could have played out. Then again, if the doctor, who had had the experience of loving someone who has Downs Syndrome, had insisted that his wife rear their daughter, that might have pushed him away from his wife and son even faster than his unspoken guilt trip did. If he’d married a better sort of woman, however far apart they might have drifted, she wouldn’t have thrown herself at so many other men, would have concentrated on her own career until one day he was able to confess and she was able to say “Oh, is that all you were hiding.” If the nurse, for that matter, had been a different sort of woman, she might have said, one day when baby Phoebe was young, “This is not working,” and carried out the original orders to put the child in an institution. We never know how this kind of complex situation is going to resolve itself in real life.

Being so attached to our own modes of perceiving, thinking, and communicating that we can't work out how to communicate with people or animals who perceive a different world than we do, actually, is a disability. It seems to be common. Justifying it by claiming that it's "normal" to feel that "the disabled" should be kept away from "normal" people, as the Old Left used to do, or used in medical experiments, as the National Socialists recommended, is bad and should be judged harshly. Simply acknowledging it as a disability and trying to give children the chance to be reared by people who don't share that disability seems to be humane. Edwards doesn't seem to recognize that these are two different things. For my relative who lost so much hearing at such an early age to be able to communicate with me would involve person's being intelligent enough to work with my disability, which is possible but not to be taken for granted in those cases where it happens. Helen Keller's genius was not her finding ways to read and learn, but her ability to communicate with the "normal." For me to have insisted on my fair share of time bringing up that child, in view of my disability, would have been inhumane.

Edwards says that her story was “given” to her by someone whose real story resolved itself differently from her novel: the baby with Downs Syndrome was put in the institution and lived and died there before his own mother heard that he’d been born. That baby’s brother grew up to be a man who wanted to “make Downs Syndrome children visible to the world.” That’s not an unreasonable goal.

Actually, before reading this book, I knew a couple who’d been warned that children they had were likely to have Downs Syndrome and agreed, based on their experience of life with people who had that gene, that they could enjoy sharing the short lives of children who’d be lucky to reach a mental age of seven before dying at the physical age of thirty. It’s not a decision I’m sure I want to understand, but since they took full responsibility for both of their Downs Syndrome children it is a decision I respect. Perhaps if Edwards had talked to them, and written about a family that fully accept a Downs Syndrome child, she would have written a story that would read as more persuasive and less judgmental than The Memory Keeper’s Daughter.

Many consider Edwards a good writer; and this novel even has Pittsburgh in it. This is an indication of how thoroughly the book turned me off. Though I like my own home and have no desire to go anywhere else, physically, I enjoy armchair traveling, love the scenery in western Pennsylvania, and have particularly warm memories of Pittsburgh. I found The Memory Keeper’s Daughter, the doctor and his family, so abrasive that I didn’t even feel interested in its descriptions of Pittsburgh.

Can an Individual Create a Bill of Rights?

Sometimes we laugh about committees; we joke that if the horse had been designed by a committee, it’d look like the camel. We tend to think the horse is soooo much nicer to look at or live with.

People who lived in places where the camel was the native species did not share this feeling. The law of ancient Israel actually contained a rule that the king was not to keep horses. The idea was that donkeys were for riding around the farm, oxen were for heavy work, camels were for crossing the desert, and horses were just for show! Ancient Israelites had seen foreign warlords ride their horses into battle, where the idea was to kill someone else’s horse and then try to get your own horse to trample him before somebody killed your horse, and they saw how cruel and wasteful this was and they wanted no part of it. They had no such problems with the camel. Hebrew and Arabic words come in families, and the word for "camel" is part of the same family with words for “perfect” and “beautiful” and “just right for its intended purpose.” The camel was not meant to be a horse. It’s just right for its intended purpose.

Similarly, our Bill of Rights, which was the product of a lot of intensive bickering by a committee, is just right for its intended purpose. No single person could have got all those ten important points in there, right at the beginning. Nobody’s ever just written a Bill of Rights all by perself.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt, however, was not exactly a normal man. His going down with polio as an adult, and then recovering as an adult, was like a metaphor for his character.

Without vaccinations or even earlier exposure, most adults just build up enough resistance that they don’t go down with polio like that. Adults can be immune carriers of polio but they rarely show recognizable symptoms of the disease. So FDR lacked something that most people have.

Then again, most people who have polio at any age are disabled by it for a long time. They have to work to be able to walk again. Adults who notice that they have polio usually die. FDR forced himself through the exercises and stood up and walked and worked for more than fifteen years. So he also had something that most people lack.

Among the other things he had was an oversized ego, so oversized that he thought he could just sit down and write a new Bill of Rights. He seriously thought that, and talked about it in public. Among the things he lacked was any idea how impossible it was that his ideas could lead to what his “new bill of rights” claimed he wanted.

The right to a useful and remunerative job in the industries or shops or farms or mines of the nation;

The right to earn enough to provide adequate food and clothing and recreation;

The right of every farmer to raise and sell his products at a return which will give him and his family a decent living;

The right of every businessman, large and small, to trade in an atmosphere of freedom from unfair competition and domination by monopolies at home or abroad;

The right of every family to a decent home;

The right to adequate medical care and the opportunity to achieve and enjoy good health;

The right to adequate protection from the economic fears of old age, sickness, accident, and unemployment;

The right to a good education.

FDR also had four presidential terms. He was going into his last one when he read his “new bill of rights” on the radio in 1944. He wanted everybody to have, first and foremost, a useful and remunerative job.

That is one of the things a person needs to have in order to be a good citizen. We’ve tried just throwing money at people, instead. It’s like saying, “Nobody needs anything you can do, you’re useless, we hate you, but let it never be said that we didn’t give you the stuff you needed to survive. Not actual grocery money, you’d probably spend that the wrong way, you worthless useless bum, but we’ll give you some food. Well, yes, it is pretty nasty, but beggars can’t be choosers and since you didn’t earn the money to buy food you’d like, why should you expect better quality food than your dog? If anything we prefer the dog to you. Now, now, now, you don’t need soap to survive. You don’t need toilet paper to survive. We don’t actually want you having cash you might use to buy those things. But we can certainly give you plenty of food, even if half of it is rotten and the other half is zucchini. Well, if you had a freezer you could freeze the zucchini, anyway. You’re not expecting us to give you a freezer are you? Of all the nerve! Here we’ve been kind enough to GIVE you forty zucchini and you expect anybody to GIVE you a freezer as well!” 

We are an overprivileged nation. You have to be horribly overprivileged to imagine that someone who does not own a freezer is going to think kind thoughts about anyone who dumps forty zucchini on their doorstep.

No. We cannot just feed adult human beings, and we need to stop trying. We need to integrate them into the community. They must have jobs. They must be able to earn the money to pay for what they choose to eat. If they’re going to be good citizens of a democratic nation they should be earning at least ten times as much as they spend on food. You don’t ever want anyone to feel that all their day’s work has earned is food. Work all day, choke down a little food, repeat—that’s not life in a democratic nation. If the body’s needs are going to be satisfied by a dinner that costs five or ten dollars, then the job needs to pay fifty or a hundred dollars a day, in order to count.

If the dinner costs only ten cents, then the person might feel satisfied by a job that pays a dollar a day. When FDR was born, a dollar was still an acceptable day’s wages because a dime would still buy an acceptable day’s food rations. Almost every American in FDR’s generation was able to earn that dollar a day. Once FDR’s policies got rolling for my generation, we see where we’ve got to. A lot of people who want to earn fifty or a hundred dollars a day are being denied that opportunity and being offered food handouts instead.

Data point: The longest this underpaid writer has just stopped buying food, because spending every dang penny on food is such a miserable substitute for a living, is seven weeks. So far. It would have made more of a statement if I'd starved, but I had a stockpile of caffeinated drinks and a not-a-lawn full of edible "weeds," and I felt perky while losing only flab.

We as a nation need to criminalize telling anyone “Well, we have food banks, we have food stamps.” Able-bodied people do not need food. They need JOBS. We have to break this fixation on feeding people. We don’t even know what they can digest, for pity’s sake. We need to replace “Oh, there’s a poor person! I’ll give person some food!” with “Please, Mr. or Ms. Poor Person, I need your help with this JOB that will pay more than the cost of another day’s food.” Just keep biting your lips together, a little bleeding won’t kill you, until you have that hundred dollars to offer the person for a JOB.

FDR also thought everyone had a right to raise and sell products. Get that—he didn’t do too well with policies that protected the right to raise and sell your own food, but at least he did recognize that it was a fundamental human right. One reason why this right is crucial is that, when people’s right to raise and sell food is not being interfered with, people who are “trying to help” can’t distract themselves from what is really needed, which is the JOB, with their crazy babbling about food.

Imagine a world where we still took that one seriously. “Let’s use tax dollars to build a lot of slums where nothing green can grow, tell poor people they have to live in the said slums, and give them a lot of food!” would be a proposition nobody could seriously make. “What is the matter with you? Poor people already have their kitchen gardens. Get back in here. Lie down. You need rest—and treatment.”

FDR actually thought that people, even poor people, had the right to achieve and enjoy good health. FDR happened to know a little about how good health is achieved. Not only he and his wife, but his macho celebrity relative, Theodore Roosevelt, had fought their way from a sickly sedentary life to an active and vigorous life. Before he started swaggering around the world "carrying a big stick," TR had been a mopey little nerdboy with asthma. That's how FDR knew that vigorous outdoor exercise was his ticket back to life after polio.

A few readers Out There, Grandma Bonnie Peters' contemporaries, may still remember the FDR era. This web site would love to hear from youall. What do you remember best about the early 1940s? Was it...the "Victory Gardens"? Toward the goal of financing the War, the Roosevelts urged everyone to raise as much of their own food as they could. The idea was that more good healthy American potatoes could be shipped out to feed the troops, but the Roosevelts knew that gardening would also build healthier young Americans. They even promoted efforts to get children from urban areas placed as summer boarders in rural homes, so poor little city children could get some healthy fresh air and outdoor exercise.

In his time FDR's writing his own Bill of Rights was controversial. Some thought that being in the White House too long had given him delusions of monarchy. In the 1940s most Americans thought that a man who had no farm to work on had better get himself into town and find a job, and if he didn't get a job, why, something was badly wrong with him and he probably belonged in jail. Why would any reasonable President bother his head about that, they wondered. Since when was it the federal government's business to find jobs for people? All the federal government had to do was fend off invading armies, coin money, and deliver the mail, and people would take care of everything else for themselves. People were proud of responsibility rather than afraid of it.

No matter how much the "Progressives" carried on about the situations where responsible individuals didn't make everything perfect, by some indicators people were better off then than now. Yes, people (even at this web site) can be heard to say that "progress has been made"...but they don't mean "People pay more taxes now," or "Federal regulations are more complicated now." They mean "Antibiotics and even antiviral treatments have been discovered," or "People have at least been educated to resist certain specific forms of prejudice, although even intelligent people fall into the Genetic Fallacy of Thinking," or "Rapid travel and communication are fun."

We could do better than insist that today's "Progressives" focus on working back toward FDR's original attempt to rewrite the Bill of Rights, ludicrous piece of presumption that it was. One person can't write a Bill of Rights but FDR did know more about what can actually help disadvantaged people, e.g. people with major disabilities, than today's Progs seem to know.

Tuesday, December 27, 2022

Book Review: The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time

Title: The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time

Author: Mark Haddon

Publisher: Doubleday

Date: 2005W

ISBN: 0-585-51210-4

Length: 226 pages

Quote: “My name is Christopher John Francis Boone. I know all the countries of the world and their capital cities and every prime number up to 7,057.”

But of course, being fifteen, Christopher J.F. Boone doesn’t know a lot of other things. Being autistic, he’s reached an age where his own parents are somewhat afraid of him, and the stress that living with him has put on their marriage is one thing Christopher learns more about in the course of this novel. (Christopher has an academic understanding that people “do sex” but he’s not yet reached a level of hormone activity at which he can understand why.)

The dog belonged to one of his neighbors. Christopher had often petted it before but this time he realized it was dead. He was holding the dog when its owner accused Christopher of killing the dog and called the police. Christopher hit the officer who tried to hasten him, but he’s not usually violent; he just doesn’t like being touched.

Then, for a school writing assignment, he decides to write a mystery novel about how he played detective and found out who did kill the dog. What he learns blows his mind and impels him to do the bravest thing he’s ever done—braver than insisting on being allowed to take the “A level in mathematics” test, although it becomes obvious that most of the children in his “special” school aren’t even going to pass the O levels.

In the British system, students and their teachers get a choice about how many of which of these exams teenagers take; which tests, in what subject, and how they score on each test, determines which university and trade school courses they’ll be allowed to take. “Ordinary levels” are good enough for some things but a student who wants to be an astronaut (or an astrophysicist), as Christopher does, needs “Advanced levels” in math and science. Christopher’s teachers warn him that they’ve not prepared him for A levels and nobody from his school has ever passed these tests before. Christopher convinces them that he’ll pass the exam, easily.

On the other hand, a simple commuter train ride is a real challenge for Christopher, and with a little extra time for covering his ears and groaning he convinces himself that he can do that, too.

Many readers who were in school after 2005 have already read this book; it nudged titles like The Red Badge of Courage off many school reading lists. Several adults bought it in 2005 because it was a bestseller. If you’ve refused to spend your money on a bestseller, and held out for a secondhand copy, well I have one. It’s worth having waited for. Haddon’s ability to sustain a fictive voice, writing the way some "high-functioning autistic" people talk, is what everyone admires; the precision with which he brings scenes and characters to life is delicious, too.

Part 3: What Have the Petfinder Posts Done Lately?

Warning: This post contains far too many pictures for some devices. I hope those who are able will share these pictures with everyone in the Eastern States anyway. It's too soon for this web site to have helped these animals find Fur-Ever Homes yet, but this web site would like it if they all had loving homes by New Year's Day.

Here we revisit the most photogenic Petfinder animals in the Eastern States as featured at this web site in October and November. 

Creepers from New York: "Possibly adopted." 
Jeepers from New York: Web page closed.
Chester from Fairfax is still available to adopt or foster!

His web address is . Shelter staff still want to see your house but emphasize that you can both meet and foster Chester free of charge before making any commitments. 

Angelica from Atlanta: "Possibly adopted."
Penny from New York: Still available for adoption. These pictures are here for sharing with everyone in the vicinity of the animal...

Penny's web page is She is a spring kitten who likes to play. When you meet her you might want to ask the staff to recommend another bouncy-pouncy kitten to play with her. 

Sushi from Cambridge: "Possibly adopted."

Tootsie from Santee Nacoochee is still available for adoption.

Her web page is Possible factors in her not having been adopted, in spite of that gorgeous coat, is that she's actually a pretty long drive north from Atlanta--three miles south of Helen!--and the shelter sounds unnecessarily control-freaky. I am sorry I didn't mention her being so close to Helen. That means people in north Georgia, Tennessee, or North Carolina, who have not been tagged by these posts in the past, may consider themselves tagged now! 

Priscilla Cat from Hartford: "Possibly adopted."

Priscilla Cat from Harrisburg is still, shelter staff think, seeking a senior human with a lap... This is the cat who the volunteer believed wanted to leave a house where she was put outdoors. It is possible that they're too picky about what they understand this cat to be saying about her needs, but somebody out there surely knows a catless senior human with an empty lap.

Priscilla Cat from Cumming also remains unadopted.

By tilting your screen, if necessary, you can see that the dark bolster-shaped blodge has a lovable tortie-cat face. At this cat could be getting better p.r., but somebody Out There knows someone who didn't get a cat for Christmas. 

Priscilla Pup from Puerto Rico: Adopted.

Priscilla Pit from Potomac remains available for adoption.

Right. Some of her ancestors were Dreaded Pit Bull terriers. She is, however, described as a good little terrier with a strong sense of responsibility. She's appointed herself Shoe Manager at the shelter. If your home needs a Shoe Manager, visit .

Priscilla Pup from Pontiac: "Possibly adopted."

Kenny from New York is still adoptable.

Sammy and Maggie from Mount Rainier: Adopted! Hurray!

Raven from Fayetteville is still seeking a good home.

Amber-Eyed Silver Tip, the creme de la creme.

Zeke, from North Carolina, staying in New York, remains unadopted.

This pup has suffered enough, and needs a good home. His story is at .

Chimmu from Bowie also remains unadopted.

His web page is at .

Champ from Cumming: "Possibly adopted."

Otis and Bessie from New York are still available.

I remember liking the look of pure white animals as a child, then losing interest in them as I grew up and realized how often albinism is part of a defective genetic pattern. Many pure white animals are unsatisfactory pets--white cats, for instance, are often deaf. I mention this because, unlike so many white cats, Otis and Bessie are described as healthy.

Grace and Asher from Woodbridge: Adopted! Cheers!

Penny, Lilith, and Vera, the Weird Sisters from Atlanta, are still looking for a home together. All three of them would appeal to the same person. They are smart, social cats who were born feral and tried training humans to feed them. Unfortunately they picked a human who had them put in a shelter. They have extra toes and some other genetic quirks that are more of a problem. They're funny-looking, what might be called ugly cats, with lots of personality. I know some of you Gentle Readers enjoy reading about my wacky, wonderful cats...well, here is a wacky, wonderful cat family for you.

Lilith, showing her extra-long fangs, and Vera, looking almost normal, in the background. Lilith's front legs are short in proportion to her hind legs...Mogwai was born that way, and grew out of it. Monkey cat. Lilith is described as a purrer and cuddler, too, like Mogwai. These cats are being offered as a package deal but they're such interesting cats that each one has her own web page.

Vera is described as the shy follower, at Because the sisters' paws and claws are not only polydactyl but genuinely deformed and dysfunctional, they need to be mostly if not entirely indoor pets. Why not build them a "catio" sun porch? You too can have fun with cats who are absolutely, unmistakably, not human but persons

Gray tabby cats often seem to be on the shy or wild side, relative to other cats, and these three are likely to be especially so because they were born feral...but, because they chose to domesticate humans, whoever adopts them is in for a fantastic adventure learning about cats. 

(Would I take them? Of course! Would Serena be jealous? Likely. You adopt them, and write your own blog about living with super-intelligent freaky mutant cats.)

That's 3 wins to 11 losses, so far, but it can take a month or two for people to make up their minds about an animal adoption. Now sponsors know. These posts seem to be boosting animals' chances of finding homes, and people do come back to them and share them as they sink down off the front page of this web site, but the animals aren't moving out of shelters overnight

Can you or another blogger do better? By all means, try it and see! I'll follow the blog that tries it and try featuring different animals. It's not about who's "better." It's about getting animals out of cages.