Responsibility and Influence: Divergents

Agreed: Trump is responsible for the violent acts committed by his supporters. (42,700,000 hits on Google.)

Agreed: Trump is not responsible for the violent acts committed by his supporters. (42,600,000 hits on Google.)

Sadly, I am not a debater. Since I rarely spoke in high school or college, the mere thought would have caused severe anxiety. The one time I did voice an opinion was in an interview for a foreign exchange student spot. Although you will find it hard to believe, I argued in favor of socialized medicine. Apparently with some fervor, because I didn’t get to study abroad.

Today it should be possible to write with calmness and not fervor, logic and not passion: fourteen bombs sent to Trump opponents did not go off. That story hints of the miraculous but more likely will be part of the instigator’s plan: fear was the intent, not death.

Until the shootings in Pittsburg. Eleven people at a synagogue were shot to death Saturday at a baby’s naming ceremony. All of them were older people, the eldest a 97-year-old woman. It is stomach-turning. This link discusses the events as well as the support from the community, including a Muslim group that has raised over $50,000 for the victims. Yet an outcry over Louis Farrakhan’s “Jews are termites” comment was not heard. It was generally condemned, but his responsibility wasn’t highlighted.

Several approaches to these disparate-seeming events came to mind. The first was simply a refusal to support the idea that tweets cause carnage. I have been disabused of that idea. Here is a quotation from Jonah Goldberg at National Review: “It’s obvious to me that Trump’s demonizing rhetoric, his inveterate lying, and his insinuations that his supporters are the only real Americans are dangerously irresponsible. His responsibilities as president of the whole country do not change regardless of what his critics say about him. But the reactions to Trump are often irresponsible, too. And saying ‘Trump is worse’ doesn’t change that…Yes, everybody is right. But that doesn’t mean everybody isn’t wrong, too.” If you read the entire article, you’ll see that the idea of a vendetta is not limited to Republicans, but looking at hypocrisy from the Democrats can wait. My thought was that the images of Kathy Griffin holding a decapitated Trump’s head or Julius Caesar dressed as Trump being assassinated or Congressmen being shot at a baseball practice might just transcend what-about-ism.

I moved on. My next idea was that influence is real, and not just in reverse. One friend who voted for Trump has never told anyone about the choice. These events, however, influenced this person to stop hiding their views (I know, but it’s the new way to conceal gender) and show courage when others assume a certain slant because of race. The link I was sent is to Blexit, a portmanteau word that combines “black” and “exit.” Their motto? “We free.” Their purpose: “BLEXIT is a frequency for those who have released themselves from the political orthodoxy. It is a rebellion led by Americans wishing to disrupt the simulation of fear. BLEXIT is a renaissance. It is our formal declaration of independence.”

A renaissance, not a resistance. Power, not politics. I hope it works.

Finally, I arrived at what seems a really odd place: The Garden of Eden. Yes, it’s to do with Eve. When you google “The devil made me do it,” you get all kinds of references to our expulsion from paradise being Eve’s fault, her decision blamed on the snake making her sin. I unequivocally reject that. Talk about sexism! It is, indeed, the root of sexism, but I’ve written about that before. For those of a certain age, thought, the phrase “the devil made me do it” originated with comedian Flip Wilson, and you can listen to the skit here. He also invented the phrase “What you see is what you get.” Those were the days.

In conclusion, where am I besides far afield? Influence is not predictable.­Even if someone tells you to commit an evil act (extermination?), it is your decision to do it. I can hear the counterarguments being mounted: What about those weak-willed maniacs for whom words are motivation? I think there is no hope, no help for that. Will we ever return to normal discourse? I doubt it. Until that’s clear, a simple reduction can be recommended. Don’t decapitate people. Don’t shoot them. Fear God, not man. Move on.


Bad News and Pocahantas News

Bad news, good news. I think it should go this direction although the cliché is the other way around. Here it is: William Shakespeare is no longer my first cousin. There were many who doubted it anyway, but it was a connection I rather loved. The link still works, but I can’t find our mutual grandparents anywhere. Another cliché: It was good while it lasted.

But wait, the good news. Now we have Pocahantas as our 9th aunt. Here’s the link for the chart as it exists today. Her sister was our 9th great-grandmother. Nicketti Mangopeesomon “She-Sweeps-the-Dew-from-the-Flowers” Powhatan, poetry indeed. Somehow she is known to us as Jane Hughes. The line from her to us is clear enough, but problems emerge with some of the couples having 20-25 children. Not really likely. You see it all the time, a sort of stuffing of people into families. It doesn’t work well and is the dickens to unravel. (That’s not a formal genealogical research term but works well enough.)

Of course, you know where this is going: poor Elizabeth Warren and her DNA. With news cycles as they are, this would have been old news by now, but she keeps talking about it. Warren took up Pres. Trump’s $1M bet to locate her Native American ancestry. An expert came back with the results. She may have had a Native American ancestor six to ten generations ago, based on Colombian, Peruvian, and Mexican samples because of distrust by Native American donors. One writer at the esteemed New York Times put it succinctly, “Warren should not have taken the test; having taken it, she should not have publicized it; having publicized it, she should quietly fire anyone who urged this gambit and move on.”

It could have all been so different. The original tale—her parents marrying against her father’s family’s wishes—was good enough on its own. They were young, they were in love, and they eloped. If there was indeed prejudice, then Sen. Warren could have let it stand. She could have said she prized her heritage. Instead, she traded on it. The Cherokee Nation has called her out; this Washington Post article deems it a “blistering” rebuke. You don’t just invite yourself into someone’s family for personal gain.

Which brings me back to me. While there was no personal gain involved, I did mention my connection to the greatest writer in the world more than once. As noted, some found it to be in the irritating-to-dishonest spectrum. I’m sorry about that now. (People have also asked that I not brag about my [brilliant and handsome] grandchildren or use unnecessary superlatives to describe them. Done.) I only include Pocahantas now because it seems so completely unlikely.

Perhaps Elizabeth Warren can make a recovery. A real apology, not an “I-wish-I’d-been-more-mindful” excuse. She did indeed say she was Native American, but she didn’t say she was a citizen of a particular tribe, except in the infamous cookbook. Her comment yesterday that she wanted to “rebuild trust in government” misses the mark too. My concern is not so much that she used her heritage but that she could not see the reasons not to. Wisdom, people, wisdom. It matters.

All is not lost. I’ve got plenty of famous cousins I can lend her. Elvis maybe (10th cousin)? Davy Crockett (4th cousin)? P.T. Barnum is actually the closest of the lot. Circuses, sideshows, and politics—the perfect mix.


Balaam’s Donkey

Superlatives interest me: the best, the brightest, the first, the highest. The word itself has to do with extremes and exaggerations. While that may not be the “best” approach, it is useful to introduce what I think is the oddest story in the Old Testament, that of Balaam and his donkey.

Here’s the basic tale. Balaam is not a particularly good guy, not the worst, but certainly not the best. He trades in curses and divination. The Israelites had left Egypt and multiplied, so they needed a lot of food. That kind of thing. To Balaams’ credit, his asks God what to do when King Balak wants him to come and curse Israel, for a price, of course, but to his shame, he ignores what he hears. He’s told not to go more than once, but finally, the price is right so Balaam loads up his donkey and heads out. (Because I don’t use coarse language, I won’t be calling her a dumb a__, but that was what she was, Biblically speaking.) The word “dumb” means two completely different things, as you know—either unable to speak or stupid. As it turns out, she was neither. Balaam angers God by being disobedient, and the donkey sees an angel standing with a sword no less in the way, prepared to cut Balaam down. She changes course three times, ostensibly to protect him. He beats her.

After the third time, God allows the donkey to speak (the oddest thing). She asks why he’s being mean, and he says she’s mocking him. He’d kill her, if he had his sword, he adds. She reminds him that she’s never done anything like this before. Then God opens Balaam’s light to see the angel. That gets his attention, and he repents. What’s more, he goes back on his promise to curse Israel. When Balak takes him up to the place from which he wants the curses to flow, Balaam blesses Israel instead. He also sees her future and the coming of the Messiah.

Besides the talking donkey, what’s odd here? Balaam doesn’t even seem to think it odd! That’s almost weirder than the animal speech. He’s in a state about the entire matter, but you’d think he’d at least ask her how she can suddenly converse. I’d assume he doesn’t think hers is the voice of God, or he wouldn’t threaten to kill her. Just one of those things that happens.

Are there lessons to be learned here? Always. Obedience, first. Best. Always. This little donkey was obedient but also protective, in service but also a master in that she was dutiful to her responsibilities. So I’m going to have her be the hero of this little incident. Balaam comes off humbled, Balak vanquished, Israel ultimately victorious. The Old Testament is hard going, but Numbers 22-24 is worth the time. I just wish I knew that little donkey’s name, perhaps an odd idea as well.

My Friend’s Love

On Saturday evening, I received a challenge to get off all negative media and reflect on my feelings while doing so. Some friends have already left FaceBook for the next eight days, and I considered a break from blogging. However, for me it is such a positive thing, I decided to write about love (a positive itself) even if some of my readers have to wait awhile to read this. “My Friend’s Love” was written for a particular friend who has since passed away. When she moved here, she didn’t think any of us were too friendly, but that didn’t stop her inimitable ability to make us her friends. I shared this poem with her (and its dedication), and she sent it out to other friends, who told her they loved it and who put it on their frig doors. I think Wordsworth could not ask for more, these days. I miss you, Peggy, and wish I could be the person you thought I was, and my children as wonderful as you told me they were.

My Friend’s Love

Someday, I shall be sitting among the jewels

Of my life, my experience in this estate,

And I shall come across a thing,

An object which I will recognize as

My friend’s love.

I shall take it above the rest for a time

And hold it to sparkle in eternity,

Remembering the one who loved me,

Who made me believe in

Noble purposes,

The depth of wisdom,

The goodness of life—

Seen and measured in meaning—

For the glory of God.

And I shall find that this thing—

My friend’s love—

Has become an object of great worth

Which, as it leaves my fingertips,

Shall enter the heavens and shine,

Warming anew a world entire,

A world waiting for its sun,

A billion souls to bask in its light:

My friend’s love which once—

An age or so before—

Had given its warmth to me.


For Peggy


DRAFT: National Day of Giving

Some years ago, I had a student from Nepal who had worked with the United Nations rescuing child soldiers. Needless to say, I learned much from him. One day he made a challenging comment: “If Americans could only be taxed one percent of their income for charity, poverty would end in the world.” I explained that we were not likely to do that; it’s not our way to be compelled to give.

His comment sparked my interest in offering a voluntary way for people to give, if not to the world, at least to our own communities. The economy is doing well these days, for which we are thankful. But the foodbanks are hurting. For example, the North Texas Food Bank offers a listing of its available food to the local pantries that purchase its goods. Last week, it was a page and a half; in the past, it was usually five. What’s more, the list includes many items that most families don’t need: two flavors of coffee creamer, five varieties of Ensure, two kinds of baking chips, seasoning packets, pumpkin spice latte, vinegar, canned pitted plums (the only canned fruit), and ring pops candy. Obviously missing are basic items like tuna, chili, spaghetti, and corn.

An international giving day already exists, run by an organization called Giving Tuesday. Last year, over $300 million was raised for participating organizations. However, this group provides funding for all kinds of non-profits, not just food resources.

I have a simple request: As a bipartisan effort, encourage donations to local food charities by designating a National Day of Giving. Gaining national recognition would grow awareness and increase funding for food pantries across the country. Food providers have in place their own application processes and boundaries. None support dependency. Government aid through SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly food stamps), when appropriate, should continue. Americans want to help those in need directly, however. These days, how gratifying, how satisfying it would be for the nation to come together for this simple effort!

My suggestion for a time would be the Thursday before Thanksgiving. Americans are looking forward to a meaningful holiday. Many are more aware of their community efforts to supply meals to their neighbors during this season. While holiday giving always increases over usual monthly donations, an influx of food and money—and potentially new volunteers as well—would boost many food banks for months to come.

Thank you for considering this proposal. I appreciate all that you do for our state.


Warm regards,

Mary Ann Taylor




(Not) Rock Bottom

Once, interesting. Second time, that’s odd. Third…and, wow—I better write about this, especially when everything came within a day and a half.

At 6:24 a.m. last Friday, I was waiting for a meeting to begin when a woman sat down beside me and said, “What a horrible week it’s been!” She meant the events in Washington. When a third woman said she really doesn’t watch the news, I told her she was lucky and not to start this week. The first woman and I commiserated a bit about the horrors and then let it all go.

Later in the day, I saw this posted on Facebook: “The next election isn’t just between two parties. It’s between good and evil.” Chilling, that.

Finally, another friend had this experience to report: “Just received a text from someone asking who I was voting for Senate in November. They also told me who would be best for the job. Reply: I’m voting for whoever does not steal phone records to mass text people and also profile last names such as Garcia to gain the Hispanic vote. Freaking idiot (emoji).”

On one hand, we are looking for “the truth” about what happened or didn’t decades ago, talking about “credibility” and “believability” and “culpability” and “suitability,” watching hostility, anger, even violence roil into public life, and wondering when or where or how it will all end.

On the other hand, we can just ignore the whole thing until it comes for us. Acknowledging, of course, that this is not a particularly provocative choice.

But here’s the quinkydink—not a single reference to a party or a person appears in any of these exchanges. I think that’s remarkable. I don’t know whose side my friend from the meeting is on. It didn’t come up: it was a bad week for everyone. Two parties were mentioned on Facebook, but the writer didn’t say which one is evil, which one good. And interestingly enough, my last friend didn’t say who’d sent the offending text. While I have a pretty good idea, I won’t say because it doesn’t matter. One candidate is not terribly well liked and has the reputation of running a campaign with some odd tactics. He sent out letters for fundraising marked SUMMONS ENCLOSED, for example. The other candidate uses a Hispanic-sounding nickname even though he isn’t Hispanic. I’ve had to tell three of his supporters that he’s not because they just assumed he was, on the side which obviously isn’t.

There doesn’t seem to be a good choice. Almost 100 years ago, W.B. Yeats wrote “The Second Coming,” just after World War I. Things were horrible then, really horrible, worse than now. No one really knows what the poem means, of course, since it’s modern, but it seems to be about the end of something, and the beginning of something worse. It’s quoted a very lot. People talk about 1984 these days, but this poem may be more relevant.

Because I tend to be an optimist, I’ll go with George Will’s opinion that we are not in a Constitutional crisis but that, in American politics, we can always go lower. I think I’m going to pay less attention for a while. Seek beauty instead (Keats said that’s the same as truth in this poem, but no one knows what that means either.) No one is going to text me for my vote, after all. Maybe I’m safe.