Thursday, August 31, 2023

How Should Companies Speak Out on Social Issues?

This is a quick reaction to a post at the company blog for a company I'd like to list as a client.

Their post asked "Should companies speak out on social issues?" and found that slight majorities of respondents thought that, yes, big companies should speak out on social issues. 

But which ones, and how? 

Everyone has to remember a Horrible Example: That beer company. That repulsive young person who alienates even genuinely gender-confused people.

If you click over to Twitter, where my page of recent tweets should by now be pretty much limited to Zazzle merchandise, please click around until you find the list of people I follow. The newest one is a person who claims genuinely mixed DNA. Like some gender-chmera animals, as a teenager he developed male characteristics on one side, female on the other. What's that like? He says that during adolescence it was...well, considerably less pleasant than a visit to Hell, the little tourist town in Michigan. "Hell" was his word. I'm paraphrasing where he went into details about the parts and sensations our contract wouldn't let us talk about, here, if we wanted to. Anyway he looks, sounds, and acts like a young Virginia gentleman with some physical quirks that would have no more place in a polite conversation than the icky details of celiac sprue. All further details on genetic gender chimerism are hereby referred to him. He's researched the genetic patterns he does not personally have, for this purpose.

Like every reasonable woman, every reasonable Black American, every reasonable homosexual, every reasonable blue-collar worker, every reasonable person with a disability, he's quick to tell you exactly where left-wing movements in aid of his demographic group have not served his demographic group well. A phenomenon I often notice among us who are conscious of our kind, but not left-wing, is the kind of bitterness that sinks into denial that these movements have served us at all. The unions did a lot on behalf of workers' rights before they morphed into just another level of management that hit laborers up for money. The feminist movement won the theoretical right to equal pay for equal work, and freedom from sexual harassment on the job, even if it also let its male funders exploit it by identifying it with a demand for easier abortions to support male irresponsibility. And so on. People with permanently gender-confused DNA, the chimeras, and people with (partly reversible) gender-confused hormones, the bearded women and abnormally curved men, often say they want less attention, not more, to their difference from other people. They haaated those beer commercials. 

That would be a far cry from noting that some women athletes who are big and may look mannish are 100% female and can have healthy children, and some women athletes who started out as tall, curvey girls and then took steroids and started to look and sound mannish, indisputably do belong on the women's teams...and then there are the nasty boys who want to join the girls' team in order to out-perform the girls on the team, and are riding for a real fall when they meet their generation's heir to Billie Jean King, and I say the sooner the better. 

And oh, by the way, whatever adults have to say to preadolescent children about adult sexuality, even if they want to go into ooey-gooey rhapsodies about how beautiful were the things our Mommies and Daddies did to bring us into this world, most people don't want them even looking at pictures of the children we know. What we want children to hear about sex is that certain parts of the body produce cells that can merge and form zygotes that turn into babies, and those parts of the body must be kept at least three feet apart at all times until people are ready to think about marriage. That is not what most of us heard, nor is it what most of us lived by, but we wish we had. 

So how could the beer company have been supportive of gender-confused human beings? Privately. Tactfully. They could even have hired the Mulvaney kid (sorry, I see it as a kid) to do some sort of actual job in the office or factory. Nobody would have had a problem with that.

In contrast to that, consider the role large companies had in reducing hostility toward homosexuals in the 1990s. They did not endorse some of the raucous "pride" displays of the past, where a "National Association for Man/Boy Love" had screamed "Sex by eight, before it's too late." In fact the corporations demanded that homosexual activists denounce the everlovin' daylights out of creeps who wanted to molest seven-year-old children. But they did hire competent individuals who were homosexual, and not obnoxious. They built a work environment where large numbers of ordinary working-class Americans saw firsthand that the "gay" accountant or editor was a decent person, even a likable person, whom they didn't want to hurt by perpetuating bigotry against homosexuals. Wal-Mart, a growing Southern-based corporation, took credit for making homosexuals respected citizens of several small, conservative Southern towns.

People do not necessarily want to identify a brand with a stand on every social issue. Taking some kinds of positions on some controversial issues will cost a brand. Taking other kinds will boost the brand. 

How can companies know which of their owners' opinions to promote and publicize, and which to keep separate from the brand image? Specific market research, of course.

To maximize the accuracy of a survey, you start by studying two things: what you really want to know, and something else. You want any approval-seeking part of survey respondents' brains to focus on the aspect of the survey that may be informative, but is not what you most immediately want to know. If you want to test for demographic prejudice, for example, in order to reduce the number of false answers given by people seeking approval, you might say you were testing reading comprehension or advertisement effectiveness. Prejudice is distracting. If people are prejudiced against, e.g., Black men, they're likely to score lower on a reading comprehension test when a 500-word reading sample has a Black man's face in the "about the author" section. Using a large, trusted survey service, you could probably survey large enough groups, crediting the same reading sample to different types of authors in different months, to determine the level of prejudice people secretly feel against (or for) Black men. 

That would be a different thing from whether or not those people would intentionally treat a Black man differently from any other kind of visitor to their towns. Almost all Americans now agree that race prejudice is a very bad thing. That does not mean that they react impartially to all kinds of new acquaintances; it means they'll try to be polite to the Black man, and may overcompensate by trying harder to show favorable feelings toward him than they do toward, say, the White British man. 

But how do you know whether their discomfort is with race, as such, as distinct from, say, a preference for men photographed wearing button-down shirts versus T-shirts or vice versa, or a preference for a Black man with a name associated with British West Indians ("Clive Bennington") versus one associated with working-class Americans ("Jaronn Fink")? Further research, of course. 

And then, quite likely, somebody thinks of a new idea that's so good nobody cares what sort of name or face you tack onto it. To sell more product, try rolling the price back to below the standard price in 2019. Inflation-pinched Americans would probably love that idea if you put Mulvaney's name on it. 

Wednesday, August 30, 2023

New Book Review: Humphrey and Me

Title: Humphrey and Me 

Author: Stuart H. Brody

Date: 2023

Publisher: Santa Monica Press

ISBN: 978-1-59580-766-3

Quote: "EVENTS IN THIS NOVEL were drawn from my real-life relationship with Hubert Humphrey or otherwise documented by credible historical accounts. Certain events, dialogue, and characters were fictionalized in service of the story, but might well have occurred as depicted."

In real life Stuart Brody was a student volunteer with Hubert Humphrey's campaigns. He still maintains that "Hubert Humphrey was an eminently good man" today. He wrote this novel, which has an authentic 1960s romance in it too, as a study of the role of hero worship, real fathers and ideal fathers and father-figures, in the life of a young man. The fictional Ray Elias has some conflicts with his real father, who dies first, and some with his father-substitute Hubert Humphrey, for whom he works and whom, of course, he also outlives. 

I think the novel shows, especially in chapters told from the fictional vice-president's point of view, that Brody is still projecting a lot of his feelings for his father onto the memory of Vice-President Humphrey. The question I would most like to ask the author is, "So, did the sitting Vice-President ever actually visit you in your dorm room, or is that the part you only wished had happened?" 

President Lyndon Johnson was...shall we say a very polarizing man? I find him utterly repulsive, but my husband, whose memories of his career were clearer, said "But he was a charmer. I can't say why, but people did seem to like him." Since I was just learning to read during the Johnson Administration, and my husband was an undergraduate at McGill, I have to give some value to his insights. Certainly the image of LBJ and his relationships with Humphrey, and other people, found in this book was a widespread one--thanks in part to Stuart Brody! The soap opera villain, J.R. Ewing, was also based largely on tis characterization of Johnson. The President who got us into Vietnam was hated in the way President Trump was hated. Like Trump, Johnson gave the nation a follow-up administration of unbelievable blunders--including allowing the price of rice to exceed the common man's ability to pay!--because some people would have voted for a dog if the other major party had nominated a dog to run against that awful person

Anyway, it's historical fiction about the lives of the non-voting but politically active students of the 1960s. A man would be better qualified to judge how well it's written. If you are a baby-boomer who wants a good long nostalgia trip, or a younger reader who wants to know what older people may be comparing you to when they say your generation is clueless and apathetic, you will want to read this book.

For others, it may be comforting to remember how endangered our civilization seemed to be during the Johnson Administration. That evil passed. So also may this.

The Weirdest Thing I Loved as a Child

It's Wednesday! Hump day! Time for another link-up at Long and Short Reviews. Today's prompt is "the weirdest thing I loved as a child." 

It just happens that I did choose a peculiar object to project love onto, for a few months, maybe a year, as a child. 

The summer before my brother was born, my parents went back to California. Not the southern part where I was born. The air there was too bad. Too many of their friends had moved away--or died! But some of their friends had moved to northern California, where they said the air wasn't quite so bad. Some of them were in Folsom, a town best known for the prison. 

I have some jumbled-up little-kid memories of Folsom. I wouldn't recognize the houses we rented (there were a few different ones) or the faces of the family friends, who were all adults and mostly older than my parents. I might remember the occasional arm or knee. Possibly because Mother had a mysterious short-term case arthritis, probably viral arthritis, that year, at age three I'd picked up the idea that the thing to do when older ladies paid attention to me was to crawl onto their laps and massage their forearms. Some of them liked that and some hated it, but they all wanted to be on good terms with Mother so they all sent me lots of lovely prezzies. 

I had learned to read, so they wanted to teach me to write, or at least print capital letters. I could print the words I could read. I could sign letters to all the cousins. What a lot of cousins there were. None of us in my generation ever wrote to each other. There were just too many of us. The parents wrote to the ones in their generation, about a hundred of their closest living relatives. "Thank you" notes for presents would come later, when my writing was more legible and the stream of packages had dwindled down.

We were the complete stereotype of an American baby-boom family where adults who hadn't had much, during the Depression years, bought their children everything. Department stores' mail-order catalogues featured a hundred or two hundred pages of toys. Usually it seemed to be true that people bought me what they wished they'd had as children, because I remember a battleship, a clunky old model vehicle that ought to have been worth some money by now that we called the Bus Or Truck because nobody was positive which it was meant to be, a fire engine, a train, and lots and lots of cowboy-theme junk, because my grandparents' granddaughter ought to be horsey even if neither of my parents was. There were also dolls, of which I remember mostly the paper dolls, and junk jewelry and doll-sized tableware. There were paintboxes and modelling clay and crayons and models to put together. There were dozens of model horses. What I actually chose to play with, having learned to read, were the books. Three-year-old children like simple stories read over and over again but at least I could read those stories over and over by myself, and not bother the adults. Only when adults wanted to pay attention to me did I want to snuggle up and let them read stories to me. Simple, boring little-kid stories. Over and over. But I did watch their reactions and tryn ot to ask the same adult to read the same story every time.

All the toys were supposed to distract me from the trauma of adults having to pay more attention to the new baby. Probably the strategy worked. I don't remember that year as being especially traumatic. I acted like the spoiled brat I was from time to time. I'd done that before the new baby came into view. 

I had looked forward to the baby. Of course he was a disappointment. I looked into the bassinet where he lay in a tiny red shirt and tiny blue-jean shorts. He would later identify as Cherokee and look like it, but for the first few months of his life he had blue eyes like a kitten. "Hello, baby," I said cheerfully. "You can look at the pictures in my new book." I started to read. Baby didn't even look at me. Baby lay there looking at the ceiling, and then he yelled for our mother. What a rip-off. 

"Could we take him back to the hospital and exchange him for a girl? You know, the kind who can play with their sisters and have fun?" The sister I was imagining was, of course, two or three years old. 

Mother wanted to go back to work almost as soon as the baby was born. Dad was the "house spouse." Nobody dared to laugh. Truth to tell, though, he wasn't very good at homemaking. Mother correctly surmised that he needed practice. Dad kept the house clean enough but cooked like the old-school drill sergeant he was. As for child care, he knew how to hold a baby's bottle and how to change a diaper, and on our best days he stayed in one room, smoking and writing, and left me to ignore my stacks of toys and reread the few of my lovely books that I understood well enough to like. Like most early-reading children, I could sound out a lot of words that I'd heard and even some I hadn't heard, without understanding the words at all.

That was the year I remember asking adults what "passion" was. I'd read it in Alice in Wonderland, where "fly into a passion" meant "make a display of anger." Nobody even seemed to want to ask about the context. People said things like "It's a word that a child your age doesn't need to know!" Nobody even asked how I'd known how the word was pronounced. We didn't go to a church that did anything special about Holy Week, but we lived near some that did. 

Then there was a set of books I liked because they were about hillbillies. Beanie and Tough Enough lived in North Carolina and seemed quite different from people we knew in Virginia--older-fashioned, I was not yet sophisticated enough to say--but they did things I would have liked to be doing, like wading in a cold stream and building little dams and water wheels. I liked reading about that sort of thing while I was moping around indoors, waiting for my nose to start bleeding from the dry heat. For a week or two in summer my nose bled at least once a day. 

I had enough picture books I liked to spend the whole day reading. Some of them were school books, some for the middle grades. I didn't quite understand them but I kept going back to them every few days and trying to figure out more. I remember quite a bit of a middle-grade book called Health Trails because I was able, over time, to make sense of quite a bit of it. That was the most interesting thing, to me, that I did that year. I learned not just to sound out words but to understand them.

But on not-so-good days Dad would remember that he was supposed to provide some kind of guidance to the older child too. Then if the weather was bad he'd try to teach me something, and succeed in teaching me that he was the world's worst teacher. He'd start out reasonably enough with addition facts and spelling words, and then, being incapable of staying on grade level, he'd get carried away on some train of thought that might or might not have been too difficult for college students. Or if the weather was good he'd blather about going out to get some exercise. 

The front lawn was boring enough. Dad and I believed we were allergic to grass. Actually it would have been chemicals other people sprayed on their lawns that stuck to our grass too. Any time we walked out on the grass our legs itched. When my legs itched, I scratched them. Also there was beginning to be a feeling in Folsom that children weren't safe on front lawns. Some people in our neighborhood drove under the influence of alcohol and ran over people's front lawns often. 

So I was sent to the back lot, which Dad called a yard out of habit. It was covered in gravel not grass, was about the size of the larger rooms in the house, was surrounded on all sides by ten feet of redwood planks, and was deadly boring. Exercise? What was Dad talking about? There was nothing to do out there. No garden to tend, no stream to splash in, no trees to climb. Drearily I picked out pebbles in the gravel yard, named them after the characters in some of my picture books, and tried to remember and reenact stories I'd read with them. The only pebble that really looked like anything was a pale stone that looked like a very bad representation of a horse's head. I named it Pal, after Beanie Tatum's pony in Beanie and Tough Enough et seq. From day to day I forgot which of the other pebbles had represented which character on previous days, but Pal was unmistakable.

So it came about that I had several boxes of expensive toys I never played with, and don't remember now, but I actually played with, and formed one of those little-kid bonds with, the pebble I called Pal.

The number of books increased steadily. When she could, Mother arranged opportunities for me to do something besides read and mope. One of her friends had a teenaged daughter who had a real horse to ride; I was taken out to ride with the teenager. I remember the horse, a friendly reddish-brown animal who let me walk under him and reach up to fondle his face. Other times we went for walks in parks, or to visit farms we might be able to buy, or on the beach. In the mid-twentieth century, on the beach near Monterey was a big gnarled cypress tree that clung improbably to a bank just above the ocean. I remember that tree, and the prettiness of fresh wet seashells, and getting saltwater stains on every single pair of beach shorts. But in order to go anywhere for exercise we had to go in the car. 

Only Mother ever drove the car. It was a Plymouth, Mother had astigmatism like me, and in theory she disapproved of cars like Dad, but somehow in spite of those things she liked to drive. Long before Lyn St James and Danica Patrick were born, someone had had the idea of putting a glamorous fashion model in a racing car. Mother had been offered the job; while mulling, she'd witnessed a wreck and taken it as a sign that racing was not for her. Dad worried even about her driving. What had convinced him to sell the house outside Los Angeles had been a near miss when another driver, coming around a sharp blind turn as fast as Mother was going round it, had barely been able to stop his car slamming into Mother's. 

In Folsom, on one of those sultry summer days when my brother was almost a year old, there was an actual crash. We all heard the metal crunch and the glass shatter. Mother was inside with the baby. Dad and I were being quiet in other parts of the house. We all sprang up and rushed out to the front window to see one of the local drunk drivers walking away from Mother's beloved Plymouth.

Mother didn't often use Army language, never used some of the words the Hillary Rodham sort of feminists thought it was liberating to say, but she used all of the swearwords she did use. She did not call the drunk driver a female dog. Mother was capable of saying "dam' DRUNK!" in a way that sounded much worse than what the drunk was calling the Plymouth. 

"Don't go out there," Dad said.

"I'm not going out there."

"She's too drunk to know what she's doing."

"I know that!"

"We'll get another car and go back to Virginia," Dad said despondently.

If I'd been ten years older I might have gone out and knocked the drunk down, for what she was doing to the parents...but for me that was a wonderful day. My nose had started bleeding again. I was just one more week of nosebleeds and itching away from home.

The parents packed and made arrangements. I continued rereading Health Trails, tried a few of the Christian magazines Dad wanted me to read with him, was sent out to the back ayrd to try to reenact stories with pebbles. 

At last the day came to climb into our new car, actually a rather heavily used Chevrolet, and--I started back toward the house.

"Where d'you think you're going? Everything's been packed and shipped. The doors are locked. You can't go back into the house.

"I don't want to go into the house," I said. "I wanted to go to the back yard."

"Well, you can't, but why?"

"I want to take Pal." 

"Get in the car now."


For at least the first fifty miles I missed the pebble I'd named Pal.

Other book reviewers' odd choices of things to "cathect," to practice loving on, are linked at Long and Short Reviews. Other readers? Was there a toy you loved as a child? Why not tell us about it in the comment section?

Tuesday, August 29, 2023


Here's a link:

It’s one reason why it’s generally good for people living in a pluralistic world to think consciously about the rules for eye contact we’ve learned, which seem so basic and so important to us, and the possibility that other people feel equally attached to different ones.

There are others. This post fascinates me partly because I was steered to it (by right after checking out another link, to a post where Brad Hicks said among other things that “those of us on the autism spectrum are the ones who absolutely must repeat certain behaviors in a certain way and in a certain order every time.” That’s one major difference between their neurological wiring and my “more typical,” dyslexic wiring: if I repeat behaviors in a certain way and in a certain order every time, my dyslexic brain starts throwing in mistakes just to fend off the boredom. I think this insight does a lot to explain why, despite benign intentions, I don’t relate well to autistic people; just as, being an ear person, I don’t relate well to deaf people. It’s a kind of disability on my part, not theirs. Don’t ask me to work with them, anyway.

My astigmatism gave me a different experience with heavy eye contact as a means of communication. I don’t have a need to repeat things in a certain precise way, so I’m not thrown off balance by the mobility of eyeballs.

I can stare into people’s eyes. On a date I’ve even been known to find it romantic to stare into the right pair of eyes.

That may be one reason why I’ve felt more often punished than rewarded for staring at people’s eyes long enough that I actually see the eyes.

When other people have presumably felt that they’ve “made eye contact” with me, they may depend on this: While they were forming their first emotional reaction to my eyeballs (“just staring, no reaction”) I wasn’t seeing even the color of their eyes. During those seconds my eyes were focussed at a different distance. I was looking in the direction of their faces and seeing a blurry blob of face-color. By the time I was actually seeing details like eyeballs their eyes were usually reflecting a hostile judgment based on the fact that they'd pulled their faces into some sort of "expression" that I didn't see. 

Astigmatism isn't going away, so if you have good vision when you take time to focus your eyes, your goal becomes avoiding live conversation with eye thinkers.

Except if they were young men. Young women’s bodies do a certain amount of communicating with eye thinkers for us. What young men picked up, and still do, from my body shape alone, was “BODY!!!!!!!!”. If I added the prolonged eye contact I need to see the eyes, on top of that, what their eyes were reflecting would probably be “SHE WANTS MY BODY TOO!!!!!!!! WHEN? WHERE?” I didn’t, so why bother with that? Of course in some cases other complications could make it more like “EVIL FOREIGN SLUT IS TRYING TO SEDUCE ME!” I didn’t need that, either. 

Fortunately, when the reptilian brain of the weaker sex is overwhelmed by the concept of "BODY!!!!!", the message it picks up from lack of eye contact is "She doesn't want my body...yet. MUST TRY TO MAKE A FAVORABLE IMPRESSION!!!" As a young single woman I generally got along very well with men. Then as a married woman I let my husband deal with them. Now I just try to identify and avoid talking to the eye thinkers, the same way I do with women.

I believe my having learned to minimize eye contact (and go through life without knowing what color most of my acquaintances’ eyes are) may have saved my life. My Indian adoptive brother had clued me in that in Muslim countries holding eye contact and smiling at someone of the opposite sex is likely to be understood in what most Americans would call the wrong way. I advertised odd jobs and would work anywhere. One evening I did some typing for a student from Iran. He was polite; I might have been his aunt. At twenty-four I was not yet an aunt and wasn't used to being treated like one, but I liked it. He paid cash. I left his apartment complex with a favorable impression of him. On the way home another young man grabbed my arm. I made a scene; flashing blue lights appeared; the young man grabbed my bag and fled. Police returned the bag, minus the cash, early the next morning. Later a police officer called to suggest that I might want to watch the evening news. Apparently an Iranian living at the polite student's address had been identified as the serial murderer police had been hunting down for two years. (The student had mentioned a roommate...) The murderer had arranged for women who advertised jobs to do some work at his flat, paid the ones he regarded as honest workers, and left the remains of the ones he considered slutty in black plastic bags near dumpsters.

So I’ve been glad that, in my family when I was growing up, eye contact was optional. Mother was the one from whom I inherited my astigmatism. Dad didn’t have it, but when we children picked up “Look me in the eye and say that” routines from school his comment was, “Brutus looked Caesar in the eye and killed him. Don’t ever think you can trust people just because they look you in the eye.” And at school I read about one of the studies that showed that some people did better at spotting some kinds of lies in phone conversation than in face-to-face conversation. As an ear thinker I’ve always felt that more can be said, and accurately interpreted, without the distraction of eye contact.

So, whatever eye thinkers may think about me, they don’t want to be my friends. It’s their decision but I can’t say I’ve ever noticed any loss.

You’d think I’d do well with autistic people since I don’t distract them with EYEBALLS EYEBALLS EYEBALLS, but they distract me and I distract them in other little ways that may or may not ever have been described at an Aspie blog, like my dyslexic brain’s resistance to doing things exactly the same way.

It never would have occurred to me that images of eyeballs flattened out in pictures would distract anyone, and yet, sometimes, I do consciously withhold eye contact when I can see the blur that is a face moving in a way that suggests it’s pushing for more eye contact. Usually I do that on a street, with someone I either don’t recognize or don’t want to talk to, or in a store where an employee is trying to chatter inappropriately, in order to communicate one thing I can communicate efficiently to most eye thinkers: “I don’t want to talk to you.” And if the person is brazen enough to demand eye contact in so many words, I do find that distracting, though in a more conscious way. The person is clearly being disrespectful and rude, refusing to heed a polite message. A stronger, harsher rejection is necessary!

If goaded enough I’ll speak to the person--withholding eye contact while speaking, just to make the person uncomfortable. People who do this will not enjoy what I have to say to them. What they’ve given me was verbal abuse. So is what they’re likely to get in return.

I believe it would be as wrong to reward obnoxious, pushy behavior  as it would be to tell a lie. This is not a neurological reflex, nor is it an emotion. It is a moral belief. The very kindest thing to say to inappropriate yapping is “Shut up.” If any more noise comes out of the yap-hole, whatever response we make to that noise should be increasingly punitive. Extroverts need to be trained that, if they’re allowed to speak to people who didn’t even make eye contact with them,  they must expect a rebuke. There will be no sale, no smile, no favorable attention.

Occasionally when I’m willing to make conversation with someone who has not demonstrated good (introvert) communication skills (which are based on showing respect for self and others and proving that you’re not a pushy pest), person has made some sort of pushy pest noises like “Look at me! I don’t know what you’re thinking!” The answer to which, of course, ought to be pounded into all eye thinkers in kindergarten: “When you are looking at people, you do not know what they’re thinking. You may imagine that you know, but usually you don’t. You have to know someone very well to guess.” 

I had a teacher (fifth grade history; I liked her) who did teach us that. “Everybody look at my face and try and guess what I’m thinking,” and she waited while all thirty of us guessed, and finally said, “Dale came the closest, guessing ‘Thank Goodness It’s Friday.’ I was thinking about what I’m going to do over the weekend.” It was so painless and so instructive. Every teacher should be doing that. You cannot accurately "read the face" of a person you don't know very well. You can get a very general impression of person's physical state of tension or relaxation from the face, and if you stare long enough you are likely to get an accurate impression that person doesn't like you, but in order to communicate you have to stop staring and listen to what the person says.

The misunderstandings produced by an eye-locked conversation might be harmless or even funny. The person might want to flirt, which might even be fun, especially if it’s a stranger on a train (just make sure the person does not follow you after you leave the train). But the useful conversation is over at least until you’ve taken the time to demonstrate to the person how per eyeballs are filling per head with misunderstandings.

I might say, “Oh, you’re one of those people, are you? Very well. Look at me. What am I thinking?...Wrong. I was consciously thinking about spotted horses’ tails. (Why spotted horses’ tails? Because somebody once recommended, if you want to stop thinking about something else, trying to remember whether the last spotted horse you saw had a white or colored tail.) Would you like to try again?...Wrong. I was thinking about what you get when you divide three hundred and forty-five by seven. (Why those numbers? Because I got tired of horses’ tails.)”

Then again, the older I get, the less time I have to waste on such silliness and the more I incline to think that people’s parents and teachers ought to have demonstrated this to them already. So I’m more likely to say, “Oh, so you don’t listen to what people say—just look at them and guess for yourself, right? Make up the whole conversation inside your head? Very well. This conversation is over." I might say it nonverbally: "You may look at the back of this newspaper.”

Usually this kind of thing can be said nonverbally, in real life. 

These neurotypical responses might work for people who have autism and don’t want to talk about it, too. Of course they don't win friends. My experience has been that people who "do most of their communicating with their eyes" aren't friends, anyway. 

Will simply accepting that their friends are going to be at least strong ear or hand thinkers, if not visually impaired, serve autistic people as well as it serves ear thinkers? I don’t know; the blogger doesn’t say. Maybe someone Out There has had an opportunity to study this by now.

But it’s interesting to see firsthand, at that blog, what a completely different mental process might be going on for an “Aspie” who’s learned to discourage visual miscommunication in the same way that works for ear thinkers. The piece of communication that works is so similar, while the mental activity behind it is so different! That, by itself, ought to help discourage eyeballers from relying on visual miscommunication.

Web Log for 8.28.23

Lot of Zazzle links today.

Announcement: Another Series You Can Sponsor 

I was reminded of this by David B. Clear's cartoon. It's not on Substack, unfortunately. Are you on his e-mail list? If you like pretty travel photos and funny cartoons, you should be. Anyway, this announcement is about THIS web site.

You now have a selection of series you can fund, all together or by ones or twos, as weekly features. This web site can look at moths in the genus Hemileuca, and potentially the related genera Automeris and Saturnia, and/or we can consider ways to save money on each part of the frugal budget. The frugal series consists of ten posts; the moth series, twenty to forty, depending on whether we branch out to the related genera. It costs only $5 per post. 

You can, of course, fund posts on topics of your choice for $5 each. Posts can contain public-domain photos as the Internet provides them and may link to educational sites, to your site, or to related music videos if there are any. (Thus, if you asked for a post about Indiana, it could include links to songs like "On the Banks of the Wabash" and "Gary Indiana.") 


Germany has officially reprimanded Biontech for its role in censoring Twitter that Twitter seems to have self-destructed, in any case. Too little, too late, but we need more of this. Try a legal requirement that if any corporation requests any kind of censorship of private individuals' posts on a web site not owned entirely by the corporation, the site MUST display a notice that that corporation has attempted to censor people's comments, probably about the useless or harmful nature of a product. And there should be a link to a complete list of all that corporation's products so that people who recognize the harmfulness of censorship don't inadvertently buy any of them.


This year's weird weather caused a phenology event that inspired Wu Fei to compose a piece of music. To read, look, and listen: 


In addition to the phenology post, this year's weather also inspired Susan Jarvis Bryant to write poems:

Actually it's been the topic of quite a lot of poems; I was not the only one who chose "petrichor" as a DVerse prompt to write about rain, surplus or deficiency of, this summer, and subsequently that topic has been a DVerse prompt in its own right. (I recommend DVerse to all who love poetry. I follow it, but I can't be part of that community. I'm sorry. Every day that site generates twenty or thirty Wordpress posts and, in order to be a good e-friend and comment on all of them, I have to type my name three times on each page, which is a fair bit of unpaid typing in its own right--and then some of those Wordpress posts still reject my comments.)


The sale today was on mugs. Here's a matched pair for any two coffee drinkers for whom "His and Hers" don't seem to, e.g.

How cool is it that Zazzle now has whole pages of "Save the Butterflies" designs? All on sale on the same days.

I like this one. Parantika (usually spelled parantica) flit through the same part of the world as the Atrophaneuras we've been reading about. They're biological second cousins to our Monarchs. 

Then there's the duvet cover, shown twin-bed-size but you can order any size you like.

The cause gets more money if you use my links to buy other people's designs:

My Zazzle bestsellers, over the years, are not liimited to the "Save the Butterflies" collection. They are: 

#1. The "I'm the mother, not the maid" T-shirt: 

#2. The Glyphosate-Free Tennessee Christmas Postcard. (Easily customizable for other card-sending occasions.)

#3. The Tiger Swallowtail Butterfly Garden Blanket, which, btw, would also make a great duvet cover.

I tried transferring the design to a duvet cover. I didn't like the way it came out, and neither did Zazzle, so here's a whole new, two-sided, king-size duvet cover. 

Book Review: The Trail Book

Title: The Trail Book

Author: Mary Austin

Date: 1918


Quote: “[A]bout a week after his father had been made night engineer and nobody had come into the Museum for several hours[,] Oliver had been sitting for some time in front of the Buffalo case, wondering what might be at the other end of the trail.”

I downloaded this book from If you’re online, you can read, print, or download it too, paying only printing expenses. If you’re not, I’ll print a copy for you at cost.

So then, in this children’s fantasy story, Oliver and his sister find the stuffed buffalo and other artefacts in the Museum telling them all sorts of stories of prehistoric North America. They learn about mastodons, about Mound Builders, about women chiefs, and more. Austin’s research in North American prehistory had been extensive; I’m not altogether sure of all of her sources, but for a fantasy story collection this is an informed and informative book.

Some children love storybooks with unrestricted vocabularies. If you are reading to a child of that type, these fantasies are more wholesome than Alice in Wonderland is for pre-readers. They were intended for middle-grade readers, but know your child; some middle school students may think this type of fantasy is too “babyish” for their advanced age (ten or twelve). All I’ll say to that type of child is that this fifty-year-old aunt enjoyed the book.


Book Review: Everything Nothing Someone

Title: Everything Nothing Someone 

Author: Alice Carriere

Date: 2023

Publisher: Spiegel & Grau

ISBN: 978-1-954118-29-4

Length: 288 pages

Quote: "I had to go looking for her to find out what she wanted. By the time I found her she didn’t seem to care why she had called me in the first place."

Alice Carriere's mother, the artist known as Jennifer Bartlett, made her art and her name out of what may have been "Prozac Dementia." The 1980s saw a specific manifestation of this disorder that was called "Satanic Panic," in which brains seeking explanation for the nerve pain and muscle cramps the drugs caused drew their inspiration from a purported memoir called Michelle Remembers, describing ritual torture at the hand of Satanist cult groups. No sane mind would have made up such horrible accusations, but no solid evidence for the stories the patients told was found. The writer of Michelle Remembers recalled, for example, having had devil horns surgically implanted on her head, but she didn't have horns, or scars where they might have been implanted and then removed. She did have headaches.

Were there Satanists in the 1980s? Yes. Was one of their major groups based near the church college I attended? Yes. Did I know Satanists personally? Yes. Did they do horrible things to each other, to animals, or to people they claimed as friends? Yes--they took drugs, they shared drugs, they broke their opposite-sex friends' hearts and drove their same-sex friends mad with grief and worry, and the whole purpose of their cult seemed to be to torture their parents. They weren't very nice to the schools and employers their parents hoped would set them on the right path in life, either. And some of them did "sacrifice" animals; and two of them were the drug manufacturers the young property owner later to be known as David Koresh evicted from Mount Carmel House. But did they use children in sadistic sex rituals, or did they merely become unfit parents if they sobered up enough to be allowed to rear their young? Mostly the latter. I wouldn't put it past some of them to have tortured children but I suspect most of them were just too stoned to do much more than, perhaps, share drugs with children.

That Jennifer Bartlett could never substantiate her hair-raising stories may prove that the Evil Principle takes care of its own, or it may prove that Bartlett's memories were drug-induced...whether her parents, her doctor, or people on the street supplied the drugs. Anyway, she demonstrated the pattern of mental illness known as dissociative mental disorder, and trained her child to dissociate too. The drugs young Alice so willingly took, mostly prescription drugs, definitely helped the mental illness along.

"Alice" was an interesting choice of a name for her daughter. Alice Roosevelt Longworth and Alice in Wonderland were the best known characters associated with this name, but then there were Go Ask Alice and Through the Broken Mirror With Alice, two young adult novels that were written to encourage my generation to say no to drugs. One novel was said to exaggerate the dangers of drugs, one to exaggerate the hope that drug users could "just say no" and sober up and be mentally healthy again.

Alice Carriere was rich but both of her parents had been just a little too arty and avant-garde in the 1970s. Both were drug-damaged, though little Alice remembered them trying to stick to legal drugs in front of their child. Alice might have shown some damage of her own even before she started experimenting with recreational drugs. 

Too Much Anger Too Many Tears, by Janet Gotkin, was an important book written to warn my generation about the dangers of the psychiatric "medications" used in the 1960s. As Gotkin recalled, she was the typical high school star student who gets into a good college and realizes that, though she is gifted, her gifts are unexceptional. She found this discouraging. She went to a psychiatrist and asked for pills to help her feel better. She kept records of the pills she was given. They did not help her feel better, to put it mildly. Gotkin was born early enough in the twentieth century to find a husband who didn't midn that she'd disqualified herself for any responsible job. Her husband, not her psychiatrist, guided her to the saving insight that what she was feeling was not in fact a mental illness but "plain old ordinary human despair." Gotkin, eighty years old at the time of writing, dedicated the rest of her life to helping women reclaim their right to sanity without these dangerous drugs.

But by the 1990s Too Much Anger seemed outdated. The new psychiatric medications seemed so much safer...

Those who fail to learn form the past are doomed to repeat it and so Everything Nothing Someone is a newer, livelier version, with more sexual titillation and more of the glamour of wealth, of Too Much Anger Too Many Tears. Alice took all the pills her doctors offered, and felt sicker and sicker, and narrates it all with the fascinating insouciance only a very young person with very old money--and a touch of dissociative mental illness--could ever achieve. 

This memoir is not for the squeamish. It contains details of a roundworm infestation in a human (Alice) and septic wounds left by inability to heal from surgery (Jennifer) and other medical horrors, all with that weird, detached voice that reads like a US version of 100 Years of Solitude.  That makes it much more fun to read than Too Much Anger was, but the message is the same. 

Using drugs in hope of destroying a damaged portion of the brain and retraining the brain to use healthier neurons is, at best, a long shot in the dark. People who feel that their minds are falling apart are more likely to reclaim their sanity without drugs. While doctors who hand out pills to help people feel happier, sexier, calmer, or more energetic may have better intentions than people who sell drugs on the street, there are much safer  and more effective ways to feel happier, sexier, calmer, or more energetic. 

Monday, August 28, 2023

Web Log for 8.27.23

Once again, just one good link...


I wonder whether it's not a positive duty to spend time in nature, to appreciate our tiny interactions with the wild things around us. I've never seen one of the hummingbirds who visit our jewelweed perch before this summer; this summer I've seen one perching and holding eye contact often. I've had neighborly conversations with white-faced hornets and been surprised by the rudeness of a Wood Nymph--a little brown butterfly, a composter, who was apparently just about to feast on some moldy fruit in the trash barrel when, to his eyes, a great big ugly human came out and set fire to it. He slammed his full weight, a gram or two, into my head. When you're a rather small butterfly that sort of display of bad temper is cute.

Unharmed by his bravado performance, the disappointed butterfly made a few circles around the trash barrel, then noticed some polluted water in the road and went off to make the best of what he had.

Blogger W.R. Pratt had the unusual luck to spot a generational overlap among monarch butterflies  Usually the adults move on before the caterpillars hatch, but in this case, we have evidence, a new butterfly fluttered by in time to meet a well-grown caterpillar. 

A Book I Refused to Resell: The Edge of Recall

It's a sweet romance with some suspense, and the author makes some good points, BUT...

Title: The Edge of Recall

Author: Kristen Heitzmann

Date: 2008

Publisher: Bethany House

ISBN: 978-0-7642-2831-5

Length: 412 pages

Quote: “Could anyone truly believe she’d killed Smith?”

The Edge of Recall has some plot elements some readers will enjoy. As a mildly comic, lightly romantic novel of suspense it features likable twenty-somethings who form friendships easily, across what older people might perceive as social barricades. The author has fun with the word “monster,” as an obsolete term of contempt for a funny-looking person, a term of exaggerated moral opprobrium for a repulsive rich man, and of course a word for the murderer—there is a murderer, although at the moment cited, when Tessa thinks someone else is the murderer and realizes the sheriff thinks she's the murderer, there's not yet been a murder. There’s a very sweet, painfully slow-building romance for the main characters, a faster-paced romance for their friends, and a Nabal/Abigail story for a couple who aren’t so nice. There's an uncomfortably close-up and realistic look at the ambivalent relationships many people have with "mental health professionals": is Tessa's psychiatrist helping or hurting her recovery from a fictively real trauma? There are moments of spiritual reflection and, to the extent that one can believe the story, spiritual growth.

How much can one believe the story? A novel of romantic suspense is supposed to keep readers guessing, without making us feel we’ve been deliberately misled. Romances used to have a choice between sweetly sad and sweetly happy endings; when I read a nineteenth-century romance for the first time I’m in some suspense as to whether both the hero and the heroine will survive to the end of the book. The twentieth century’s overwhelming preference for happy endings, which shows no signs of subsiding, leaves very little suspense in romances written after about 1910. In fact, it’s the lack of suspense that makes some writers feel that the romance form is useful; readers know how it’s going to end, so they’re reading for the details along the way, so although commercial packages (er, publishers) usually choose a travel advertisement, writers can package anything from an evangelical tract to a crossword puzzle as a romance novel. The Edge of Recall is a novel of romantic suspense. It conforms to the rules of the genre. Whether it’s cleverly written to keep you guessing, or annoyingly mis-written to mislead you, is for you the reader to decide. 

Right. In chapter one of The Edge of Recall, Tessa wakes up in a hospital where she’s been sedated, with a vivid memory of having seen a stranger stab her friend Smith. (That’s his given name.) Smith’s body has not been found. It turns out that that's because he's not dead, but in this chapter everyone is busy looking for the perpetrator of the murder that didn't happen. An unlikely rural Maryland sheriff is ruling out the possibility that the murderer cleared the scene and discussing with Tessa’s psychiatrist whether Tessa merely imagined the attack, or did it herself.

In chapter two, a younger Tessa is having mixed feelings about working with a younger Smith, although, being a heroine of romance, she can’t stop herself. Both of them work in landscaping. Her specialty is labyrinths. He’s been hired to design a dream house for a rich couple, and called the Labyrinth Lady to join him on the site after discovering that it contains the recognizable ruins of one.

Say what? It turns out that the novel has been written out of sequence, with the "most exciting" chapter yanked out of the middle and put at the beginning. But chapter two's not the beginning either. From chapter two we have to flash back again. And again.

Then there’s the one scene where Smith and Tessa actually do some landscaping work. Kudzu roots, Tessa tells Smith authoritatively, “don’t regenerate. Once I’ve cleared all remaining crowns by hand and painted the stalks with glyphosate, I’ll only need to watch out for seeds.” This is actually an ethically acceptable use of poison—painting herbicides directly onto the target plant, rather than spraying them all over the land and through the air—although salt and vinegar would be more reliably effective on the painted stalks and safer for the humans involved. Still, it shows that Cornell sold out, and is not a reliable source of information on kudzu. Poisoning any unwanted plant also wipes out whatever natural predators it has (kudzu has very few) and may also trigger aggressive second-growth patterns, meaning you have more of the plant to clean out by hand next year. If endorsing this bad landscaping idea destroys Cornell’s academic reputation forever, Cornell would deserve no less.

Kudzu roots are worth digging up because they are useful. But what property owners need to watch out for is more kudzu vines growing in from wherever the first one grew in from. The price of owning property in an area where kudzu has been introduced, especially if efforts have been made to check its growth by spraying any chemical on it, is eternal vigilance. Kudzu is a pest species because it grows unreasonably fast. Individual roots may not be regenerating, especially not if they've been harvested, but that makes no difference; there will always be more where the ones you wasted or harvested came from. If you have kudzu and you want to have a nice clean boxwood labyrinth, without a mat of monstrous vines obliterating the difference between paths and walls, you’ll need to watch out for invading kudzu vines. Daily.

So, to a literary technique some readers will find annoying, this author has--no doubt in good faith--added a landscaping technique that will, if tried, help everyone to build a kudzu graveyard. In 2008 there was some excuse for not knowing better than this, but since 2018 there is no possible excuse for including a promotion for glyphosate in a novel. So...I burned the copy that was given to me.

Butterfly of the Week: Sulawesi Rose

This week's butterfly is scantly but confusingly documented: Pachliopta (or Atrophaneura or Papilio) polyphontes, the Sulawesi Rose.

Photo donated to Wikipedia anonymously.

Was this Rose born to blush unseen, and waste its fragrance on the desert air? Possibly. It lives on only a few, relatively small, less populated islands, so it's not been seen by a great number of people. It is not currently believed to be endangered, or especially rare--only out of the way. However, because the Earth's total population of each subspecies and variety is so small, "clearing" forests on any of these islands could still endanger--or destroy--a unique kind of butterfly. As efforts to protect North America's Monarch butterflies really aim to protect the dozens of other butterflies that share Monarch habitat as well, so efforts to protect Atrophaneura jophon and other endangered residents of Sulawesi forests will, it is hoped, also protect polyphontes.

According to Google, the most interesting thing about the Sulawesi Rose is that it seems to be the model for a mimic variety, Papilio polytes. We shall come to Papilio polytes presently--some time next year, or the next year after that. It's one of the Black-bodied Swallowtails, which are generally less toxic to birds than the Red-bodied Swallowtails, but get some survival benefit from their resemblance. P. polytes shares with P. memnon the nickname "Mormon," a stale old joke based on that religious group's having temporarily allowed polygamy. Butterflies don't have family lives in any case. Male "Mormon" butterflies don't have the extended lifespan that would allow a male butterfly to be more polygamous than usual; the average Monarch or Antiopa probably mates more times than the Mormon, because those and several other species fly longer. While male Mormons are fairly plain, though large, females can have any of several dozen different looks, some very gaudy. A field guide making any pretense to equal representation has to show the male "Mormon" surrounded by pages full of possible mates. Har har very har. Anyway, P. polytes who mimic Pachlioptas share territory with the Common Rose, P. aristolochiae, but they look more like P. polyphontes. Could this mean that at some time in the past they shared territory with polyphontes?

All we know for sure is that, although black-bodied and red-bodied swallowtails coexist peaceably, they do not crossbreed. But somebody had to test some young, inexperienced birds' willingness to bite into any black butterfly they found, and determine that Papilio polytes seems to taste nasty, at least, all by itself. Its mimicry of Pachliopta polyphontes (or should I say "her" mimicry, since only females inherit the look) is Mullerian rather than Batesian. Birds will avoid eating other dark butterflies after eating a "Mormon."

A butterfly needs all the protection from birds it can get. While this example of how Atrophaneura's typical colors react to light reminded me of Mickey Mouse, at first glance, I suppose Mickey would be a fairly alarming sight for the average bird. Photo by Roland Godon.

There are four currently recognized subspecies of polyphontes: the primary or "nominate" P. polyphontes polyphontes, P.p. aipytos, P.p. rosea, and P.p. sejanus. Each is found on different islands. This ought logically to make the three other subspecies the Selajar, Sula, and Halmahera Roses, since they live there rather than on Sulawesi (Celebes), but nobody seems to be picky about this. A subspecies name bugius was proposed in 1911 for the polyphontes on Bugis island; some sources still recognize bugius as at least a distinct variety if not a subspecies. Other subspecies names have been proposed but are no longer used.

Polyphontes was first described, rather hesitantly, by Boisduval in 1836. has preserved a picture of his exact words, which just about fill up my computer screen, at :

"Taille de Polydorus , dont il est très-voisin , avec les ailes notablement plus étroites et proportionnellement plus allongées. Les supérieures ayant la partie claire plus blanchâtre , striée de raies longitudmales plus obscures que dans Polydorus , et coupée par des nervures plus noires et fortement dilatées. Ailes inférieures ayant des dents plus obtuses et une queue noire spatulée plus large; leur milieu offrant une tache orbiculaire blanchâtre , divisée par de grosses nervures noires en six taches oblongues , dont une plus grande dans la cellule discoïdale , et cinq en dehors ; une rangée marginale de lunules rougeàtres fortement obscurcies de noirâtre ; point de tache anale rouge fondue avec la tache blanche la plus interne. Dessous des secondes ailes d'un noir de velours , avec la même tache discoïdale qu'en dessus , et une rangée marginale de cinq lunules , diminuant graduellement de grandeur à partir de l'angle anal ; les trois plus rapprochées du bord abdominal sont d'un rouge carmin tendre, la quatrième blanche un peu teintée de rose, les deux dernières blanches ; une petite tache rouge sur le bord de l'échancrure anale. Corps à peu près comme dans Polydorus , sinon que les côtés de la poitrme et du prothorax ne sont pas rouges.

Célèbes. — Collection de M. Payen de Bruxelles. — Ce Papillon n'est peut-être qu'une variété locale de Polydorus."

(I read the above as: Shape like polydorus, its near neighbor, with the wings noticeably straighter and longer. The forewings have the clear parts paler, striped with longitudinal rays darker than polydorus, punctuated by nerves (veins) darker and wider. The hind wings have more blunt points and bigger, spatulate black tails; they have a white spot in the middle, divided by black veins into six oblong patches, the biggest in the discoid cellule and five surrounding it; a border of dark reddish crescents, and a red spot melting into the innermost white patch. Undersides of the wings are velvety black, with the same discoid spot as above, and a margin of five lunules gradually diminishing in size away from the tail end of the body; the three closest to the body are of a soft carmine red, the fourth white tinted with rose, the last white, a little red spot near the tail of the body. Body similar to polydorus, but the edges of the thorax are not red. Celebes--Collection of Mr. Payen of Brussels--This butterfly may be no more than a local variation of polydorus.)

Walter Rothschild, apparently reading the word Google and I see as locale as large ("a large variety of polydorus"), pronounced:

"This species is considered by several entomologists [cf Snellen (I.e.). Pagenstecher (i.e.)] as a tailed variety of P. polydorus h. ; the two insects have, however, nothing to do with one another. The fore- and hindwings of polydorus and polyphontes are differently shaped ; the abdominal fold of the male is very small in polyphontes, rather large in polydorus ; the polyphontes from Ternate and Halmahera have an orange red front of the head, whereas in polydorus from the Northern Moluccas the head is entirely black.

The specimens from the Northern Moluccas do not seem to be sub.specifically distinguishable from those from Celebes, Sulla Islands, and Talaut, though my specimens show a very slight difference in the colour of the head, the latter being more or less blackish just before the antennae in the Celebes, Sulla, and Talaut individuals, whereas the front of the head is of a uniform reddish colour in the examples from the Northern Moluccas...

Papilio polyphontes var. rosea Oberthiir, El. d'Enl. IV. p. 113. .sub n, 59 (1879) (Celebes).

Discal patch of hindwings red instead of white. This form is known only from Celebes."

Polyphontes are fairly large butterflies, typical wingspans about four inches, while polydorus average only about three inches, so "a large variety of polydorus" makes sense and may be what was printed in some other edition of Boisduval's article.

This one, from @FishGuyKai on Twitter, doesn't clearly show the red spot fading into the white spot.

Polyphontes was the name of at least three characters in ancient Greek literature. Given the long-running joke of naming the Atrophaneuras after characters associated with funerals, the one intended was probably a prince killed in battle, but the name could also have been chosen for its literal meaning, "many-slayer."  

Little seems to be known about the life cycle of this butterfly. Several photos of adults have been posted at, but no photos of the young. How long adults normally live, how many generations in a online source says.

Sunday, August 27, 2023

Book Review: Rivers of Gold

Title: Redeeming Love

Author: Francine Rivers

Date: 1997

Publisher: Multnomah

ISBN: 1-59052-513-2

Length: 464 pages

Quote: “Angel moved out of his embrace and looked up at the stars. It made her uncomfortable when he started talking about God.”

One of Francine Rivers’ literary inspirations for this historical romance was the odd fact that “Angel,” not a particularly popular given name in the mid-nineteenth century, was a common street name used ironically by prostitutes. In that context it suggested the youngest, prettiest, and/or blondest “white slave” in a house. “Michael” was not a very popular given name at this period, either; names taken from the Old Testament or the keywords in Bible texts, which were popular with the early Puritans, tended to identify people with ultraconservative religious groups in the nineteenth century. Rivers’ character, Michael Hosea, was not brought up in that sort of tradition so his name suggests that he chose it after being disinherited, identifying with a religious group rather than his family, though no such group is named in the text. Anyway, he feels called by God to rescue the most wretched prostitute who ever kept her health in the Gold Rush to San Francisco. Her street name is Angel. Only toward the end of a melodrama worthy of its period, during which Michael offers Angel three or four alternative names that don’t quite fit, will Angel tell him her original given name.

Angel’s pathetic mother “loved” someone else’s husband and was banned from “Christian” society for getting caught—refusing to abort or sell the “by-blow” of their doomed romance. If not quite the period of greatest prejudice against women in legitimate employment (but close), the 1830s were still a period of extreme prejudice against “bad” women, i.e. single mothers. Angel’s mother came to a miserable end with only one friend, a male “guardian” (in the nineteenth century women who weren’t living with their husbands or fathers had to have legal “guardians,” like children) who was “not bright” enough to do more harm to Angel’s mother than she did to herself. This man, whom Angel was taught to call Uncle Rab, apparently believed he was accepting money from a rich “gentleman” who wanted to adopt a daughter.

Oh yeah. Right. He was selling Angel to a sadistic pedophile who, among other things, deliberately set her up for a night with her own father.

In 1850, surely the peak of the French Socialist ideal of strict gender roles, Angel wouldn’t have been considered attractive if she’d been physically or mentally capable of taking care of herself. Though her slavery was not enforced by official law, she was for all practical purposes the slave of her evil guardians, whose street names (all Angel was allowed to know about them) were Duke and Duchess. They weren’t married to each other and didn’t admit being acquainted. Duke trained his little Angel to hate sex until she looked old enough to interest normal men. Escaping from his house, she reached San Francisco and was promptly recruited by Duchess, who promised her twenty percent of her earnings and paid less, in exchange for “protection” by a goon called Magowan. He’s not otherwise characterized as Irish and was probably given the only Irish name in this novel because it seemed more plausible than just calling him “my goon.” It didn’t take Angel long to learn that Magowan’s job description included breaking the bones of any of Duchess’s “girls” who asked for their money.

But, before Magowan started beating Angel up, she’d met Michael, who felt called to pay for time just to tell her that he felt God had called him to offer her marriage as a way of escape from her horrible life. Though Angel turned him down, he was in the neighborhood in time to stop the beating when it started, give Duchess all his money to “buy” Angel, and haul her off to his farm with only a dislocated shoulder, four broken ribs, a cracked collarbone, and a concussion. Understandably, Angel does not bond with him; she stays long enough to learn some housekeeping skills and goes back to San Francisco, paying his hostile brother Paul with a quick, overtly hateful sex act for a lift into town. But San Francisco is still too uncivilized to offer much of a market for housekeepers. Angel goes back to work as a prostitute on slightly better terms. But Michael Hosea still “saw the nameless child who had been broken and was still lost.”

This, apart from the basic fact of its being a credible imitation of a Real Victorian Melodrama, is my main criticism of the book. Romance readers like to feel sorry for a sweet, pathetic “child” who’s been led or pushed into sinning, suffering, and repenting. If you want to shed sympathizing tears over Angel’s emotional reactions to every kind of abuse Rivers can either describe or leave to your imagination, and identify with the friends who help her finish growing up, Redeeming Love will give you opportunities to do that. If you like a big fat romance novel with lots of ups and downs, separations and reconciliations, and the sound of a real local legend about it, Redeeming Love is for you. But Rivers insists that her novel is a remake of the biblical book of Hosea, and it's not.

In the biblical book of Hosea, there’s nothing special about the names of Gomer (“the end,” “complete,” “finished,” a name for what tired parents hope will be the last baby) the daughter of Diblaim (“raisin cakes,” probably his stock in trade) except that they’re the names of working people, not especially religious. Gomer is simply a party animal. Slavery was legal in ancient Israel; most female slaves were domestic drudges, but some probably were prostituted; Gomer, however, sells herself for liquor and luxuries, buys more of those on credit, and becomes enslaved only by running up debts to support her party lifestyle. Scholars often think the names of her children describe her marriage to Hosea. Her first child is called Jezreel, a town name that was sometimes used as a man’s name, translated as “God will scatter (the Canaanites out of this city, making room for the Israelites).” Then she gives birth to Loammi, which was not a normal name but the words for “not my people,” and Loruhamah, which was also not a standard name but the words for “no mercy.” People hearing children introduced as “God will scatter, no mercy, not my people” would have wondered what those names meant. Though Hosea explained with a warning sermon about the sins of his nation, many people still believe that he must also have suspected that at least Loammi and Loruhamah were not his children.

Then Gomer left Hosea, not because she was a slave or because his relatives disapproved of her, but just in pursuit of more of her idea of fun—wine and revelry. She was popular, according to the second chapter of Hosea’s book, “beloved of her friends,” not a pathetic friendless outcast. Her other men were not followers of the One True God or believers in Committed Monogamous Relationships. She and Hosea weren’t rich. Hosea may or may not have realized that his wife’s prostitution was funding their vines and fig trees, maybe even his barley fields, until he realized that the woman was participating in the rituals of the Baal-cult with her other men. It might have been the public shame of her idolatry, rather than the private humiliation of her adultery, that caused him to throw her out. At this period married couples did not necessarily live in one house—rich people might occupy their different properties, while poor people might still be living in separate tents—so it was up to each one to deliver the products of their labor to each other. Thus Hosea records himself telling the children, “Plead with your mother, plead...lest I...set her like a dry land and slay her with thirst.” He tried to sober up his wife simply by cutting off her supply of wine. She left. And it didn’t take her long to drink her way down from self-prostitution to slavery.

And there their personal story ends. Before his listeners or readers got restless, asking “What has this to do with us?”, Hosea moved on to his prophetic messages about public affairs, which were what he was paid to proclaim, write, and publish. He used the apparent failure of his marriage as a metaphor for how God must feel toward straying, sinning believers. The metaphor served him well enough that preachers continued to use it for centuries. Jesus blessed it by identifying Himself as the Bridegroom of Israel. Though many people want to believe that the success of Hosea’s book had something to do with people’s seeing hope illustrated in Hosea’s reconciliation with Gomer, no such scene is included in the book or in any contemporary book. We are eloquently told that he wanted to forgive her as he assured people that God would forgive them, if and when they sought forgiveness. Hosea deserved a happy ending, if ever a man did. But addictions are not cured by romantic love alone, and we can’t be sure that that reconciliation ever happened.

The Bible writers did describe some characters in such ways that we can imagine their sins to be mere reactions to hurt feelings, behavior patterns that love might actually have straightened out. Tamar, whose (strictly limited and actually legal) act of prostitution was blessed with mention in the bloodline of the kings of Israel and thus of Jesus, was one of them; she was clearly motivated not by lust for sex, money, or alcohol but by economic necessity. Shimei, whose treasonous “cursing at” King David was pardoned, might be another one; he might have been motivated by a conservative mind, a loyalty to poor mad King Saul. Zacchaeus, the “little” tax collector who didn’t dare try to find a place in the front of the audience but climbed a tree in order to be able to see Jesus, undoubtedly suffered from shame, guilt, and insecurity. The Samaritan woman at the well, whose name the pious disciples probably never found out, and the woman who washed Jesus’ feet with her tears, whose name they probably withheld from the record at her children’s request, are two more characters who are often chosen as examples of people whose sins stem from “hurts” that Jesus could “heal” through love alone.

But our sinful natures are not merely the products of loss or lack of feelings of being loved, much as some people might want to believe they are. They are primarily the products of selfishness, stubbornness, and wilful stupidity. Gomer did not leave Hosea because he didn’t love her, because she thought her other men did, or because she was too badly “hurt” to accept love; she left him because she wanted silver and gold and flagons of wine. She was not a “wounded child”; she was a drug whore. There may be a wounded child within every drug whore, but comforting that “inner child” alone has yet to break the addiction.

That is what inspired Hosea’s declarations of love. Hosea had the ability to buy Gomer, after she’d sold herself enough times that her price had dropped to a level he could afford, and bring her home and stop giving her wine. As a prophet of God he had the ability to forgive her and love her as an example of God’s forgiving love for sinful people. But he could only realize the reconciliation he was offering after Gomer accepted it and chose to change her behavior, and we don’t know whether she ever did. .

Rivers offers her readers that happy ending, but the way she gets to it is a work of sentimental fiction, with little resemblance to Hosea’s book.

For people who like long melodramatic romances—which I don’t, actually, apart from Jane Eyre, Gone with the Wind, and JubileeRedeeming Love is the kind of thing they like. There were in fact women who organized missions to help other women in the nineteenth century, and the end of Redeeming Love reads as if it were fictionalized from one of their stories. There’s even a stomach-settling sprinkle of real feminism in Angel’s last trip to San Francisco. I would just like this novel a great deal better if Rivers had left the book of Hosea out of it, and admitted that a true prophet probably understood his own wife’s sins better than Leo Buscaglia could do.

Then there’s the final confrontation with Duke. It won’t satisfy those looking for revenge porn, but it does seem likely to thrill and encourage those looking for hope that they’ll be able to defeat their demons in a thoroughly Christian, nonviolent way. Mere feminism, uninformed by faith, would want to see Angel collect all the money he owes her. I think readers will agree that the triumph Rivers gives her, instead, is worth all the gold in California.