Author Archive

Do You Remember the Christmas Story?

Sunday, December 25, 2016, 00:05 EDT Leave a comment

This is a repeat of a post I’ve put up in many past years, though not the last two. It warrants bringing back. Merry Christmas to all.

StarIn those days, Caesar Augustus published a decree ordering a census of the whole Roman world. This first census took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria. All the people were instructed to go back to the towns of their birth to register. And so Joseph went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to “the city of David” — Bethlehem, in Judea, because Joseph was of the house and lineage of David; he went to register with Mary, his espoused wife, who was pregnant.

While they were there, the time came for her delivery. She gave birth to her firstborn, a son; she put him in a simple cloth wrapped like a receiving blanket, and laid him in a feeding trough for cattle, because there was no room for them at the inn.

There were shepherds in the area living in the fields and keeping night watch by turns over their flock. The angel of God appeared to them, and the glory of God shone around them; they were very much afraid.

The angel said to them, “You have nothing to fear! I come to proclaim good news to you—news of a great joy to be shared by the whole people. Today in David’s city, a savior—the Messiah—has been born to you. Let this be a sign to you; you’ll find an infant wrapped in a simple cloth, lying in a manger.

Suddenly, there was a multitude of the heavenly host with the angel, praising God and saying,

“Glory to God in high heaven!
And on earth, peace to those on whom God’s favor rests.”

When the angels had returned to heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go straight to Bethlehem and see this event that God has made known to us.” They hurried and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in the manger; once they saw this, they reported what they had been told concerning the child. All who heard about it were astonished at the report given by the shepherds.

Mary treasured all these things and reflected on them in her heart. The shepherds went away glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, just as they had been told.

— Luke 2: 1-20

(Excerpted from The Inclusive Bible: The First Egalitarian Translation, Priests for Equality)

Categories: faith/religion

W.T.F. Is the Electoral College, Anyway?

Wednesday, November 9, 2016, 22:27 EDT Leave a comment

Electoral MapHave you heard? There was an election yesterday! I’ll post more on that in the days to come, but for now I’ll just point out that if the numbers as certified right now were were final, Hillary Clinton would win the popular vote, Donald Trump the electoral vote. Naturally, that has Hillary fans indignant, probably because they have no idea what the electoral vote is and why we have it.

For those who didn’t pay attention in high school history or civics class, as well as my readers from outside the United States, we Americans don’t directly vote for President and Vice President. Instead, we vote for electors, and in almost every state (Maine being the only exception, I think), the candidate whose electors get the most votes ends up winning the votes of all that state’s electors. The number of electors equals the number of the state’s United States Senators (two per state) plus the number of its members of Congress (proportional to the population), such that larger states get more electoral votes, but no state gets fewer than three. So it doesn’t matter how many total people prefer any given candidate, but rather how many electors each candidate wins. If that sounds un-democratic, that’s because the United States isn’t actually a pure democracy. It’s a federal republic, and even though state and local offices are elected purely democratically, our constitution provides that it is the various states that elect the president and vice president.

What’s the point of the Electoral College? Simply put, it exists to prevent the country’s few humongous states from drowning out the voices of the rest of the citizenry. For the sake of convenience, let’s say the are five states, which break down by population and number of electors this way:

State Population Electors
California 12,400,000 55
Florida 6,500,000 29
Ohio 4,075,000 18
Kansas 1,350,000 6
Montana 675,000 3

Now here is a possible presidential election scenario:

State Candidate A Candidate B Electoral Votes
California 5,900,000 (47.58%) 6,500,000 (52.42%) 55 for Candidate B
Florida 3,400,000 (52.31%) 3,100,000 (47.69%) 29 for Candidate A
Ohio 2,120,000 (52.02%) 1,955,000 (47.98%) 18 for Candidate A
Kansas 705,000 (52.22%) 645,000 (47.78%) 6 for Candidate A
Montana 350,000 (51.85%) 320,000 (48.15%) 3 for Candidate A
Total 12,475,000 (49.90%) 12,525,000 (50.10%) Candidate A 56 – Candidate B 55

First, a few points. The elector numbers are real for the five states. The populations are fictitious but proportional to the actual populations of these states. Only a portion of the total population, adult citizens, are eligible to vote, and not all of them actually do so. There are many more than five states. The margins of victory from state to state aren’t that similar. Understanding all that, let’s examine at the results of our hypothetical election.

Candidate A wins Florida, Ohio, Kansas, and Montana by decent margins (3-6%). Candidate B wins California by a slightly larger margin. Because California is so populous, Candidate B gets more total votes, but by a slim margin—only one-fifth of one percent. By popular vote, Candidate B very narrowly wins the presidency, even though four other states in different parts of the country with different concerns and interests preferred Candidate A.

But using the Electoral College, Candidate A—the candidate preferred by four of the five states—wins by one electoral vote. The more populous states got more electoral votes, which is as it should be, but the votes of the citizens in the four smaller states weren’t totally negated by the votes of Californians. It’s a compromise between simple majority rule and the premise, enshrined in our founding documents, of state sovereignty. It’s the same reason why Representatives are apportioned by population, but in the Senate all states are equal.

In only a few instances in our history has the winner of the popular vote not won the Electoral College, but when it has, it’s for reasons foreseen by the framers, when the popular vote was extremely close and the “tyranny of the majority” in a few big states would have essentially out-muscled the voters in the more numerous smaller states.

In a republic such as ours, I believe that compromise is entirely appropriate.

Categories: government, politics

Ladies and Gentlemen, the World Champion Chicago Cubs

Thursday, November 3, 2016, 01:00 EDT Leave a comment

[Cross-posted from the Triumphant Red Sox Fan Forum]

I haven’t posted here since the Red Sox lost game 1 of the ALDS to the Cleveland Indians. I figured I’d wait until a Sox win, which of course never happened. So I decided to root for the Cubbies, in solidarity with their long-suffering fans. The Cubs won the NLDS, then the NLCS, before falling behind 3 games to 1 in the World Series against those very same Indians. As a Red Sox fan from long before they actually won stuff, I knew that anything could happen. And, indeed, it did. The Cubbies came roaring back to force a game 7, which I watched with great interest. They took a commanding lead, then gave up the lead, sending the game into extra innings. Oh yeah, then there was a rain delay. Because of course.

But never mind all of that. I am thrilled to be able to say…

The Triumphant Red Sox fan enthusiastically congratulates the 2016 Chicago Cubs for their first World Series title since 1908. Their championship drought now stands at… zero years. How about that?

Feel free to right-click on that image to save it. Also, you can grab this one (or left-click for a .pdf you can also download):

Have a fun year, Chicago. Take it from me: it’ll be a blast.

Categories: sports

And Now, On the Lighter Side

Thursday, October 27, 2016, 21:03 EDT Leave a comment

Just because the Den Mother can wax eloquent about the most pressing issues of the day doesn’t mean she is all work and no play. On the contrary, it is October, which in my world means the World Series, even if it’s Red Soxless.

It wasn’t so long ago (exactly 12 years, in fact) that my own beloved boys of summer made the hearts of New England’s loyal baseball fans take flight for the first time in a really long time. In 2004, everyone knew that the Red Sox and Cubs hadn’t won a championship, as my dear late father used to say, since Hector was a pup. The Cubs had last won it all in 1908, he Red Sox in 1918 (against, ironically, those same Cubs). Oddly enough, the Red Sox didn’t even have the longest drought in the American League at the time. That distinction (?) belonged to the other Sox, which are also the other Chicago team: the White Sox, who hadn’t won since 1917.

No matter. The BoSox won it all in 2004 (and again in 2007 and 2013), and their white-stockinged counterparts won in 2005, though at least one ChiSox fan hardly acted like it was anything at all. Just days after the series ended, I met a young-ish White Sox fan at the Baseball Hall of Fame and, upon wishing him enthusiastic congratulations on finally coming in from the wilderness, was met with a quizzical look. Apparently he didn’t realize his team had just earned its first World Championship in 88 years. Good riddance to him and those like him.

Anyhoo, fast forward to this year, when it so happens that the two teams battling it out for the title happen to be the teams with the two longest championship-free streaks in Major League Baseball. For those keeping score at home, here’s the list, with the number of years they’ve gone without a World Series title:

Chicago Cubs 108
Cleveland Indians 68
Texas Rangers 56*
Houston Astros 55*
Washington Nationals 48*
San Diego Padres 48*
Milwaukee Brewers 48*
Seattle Mariners 40*
Pittsburgh Pirates 37
Baltimore Orioles 33
Detroit Tigers 32
New York Mets 30
Los Angeles Dodgers 28
Oakland Athletics 27
Cincinnati Reds 26
Minnesota Twins 25
Colorado Rockies 24*
Toronto Blue Jays 23
Atlanta Braves 21
Tampa Bay Rays 19*
Arizona Diamondbacks 15
Los Angeles Angels 14
Miami Marlins 13
Chicago White Sox 11
Philadelphia Phillies 8
New York Yankees 7
St. Louis Cardinals 5
Boston Red Sox 3
San Francisco Giants 2
Kansas City Royals 1

*These teams have never won a World Series championship in their history.

Even before the playoffs, I said that the Cubs were the only team I wouldn’t be crushed to lose to in the World Series. So they are my team for the next 3-5 games. Go Cubbies.

Categories: sports

Hey Hey, Ho Ho, All This Bullshit Talk about “Rape Culture” Has Got to Go

Thursday, October 27, 2016, 19:49 EDT 2 comments

If you’ve ever been to a lefty protest of almost any kind, you’ll see what I did there in the headline. For some reason, certain people believe that getting together and chanting “Hey hey, ho ho, [insert topic of protest here] has got to go” is a magical incantation that stops badness from happening, or at the very least “sends a clear message” that someone is pissed. Of course, chanting and sending clear messages don’t actually do any good. All they do is allow the protesters to feel and appear important. Virtue signalling, I think they call it. But it does make a clever blog headline.

Know what else doesn’t do any good? Invoking the oh-so-hip-and-trendy “rape culture” canard about which I’ve written before. It’s the 21st century equivalent of Mama Cass’s sandwich or the 2000 Florida recount. To quote C.H. Spurgeon, a lie will go round the world while truth is pulling its boots on. (No, that wasn’t Mark Twain.) And once it’s out there, it just won’t die.

Most recently, the ubiquitous “rape culture” topic showed up in my inbox in the form of a column by Catholic nun Christine Schenk in the latest issue of National Catholic Reporter. I don’t know if Sr. Christine wrote the headline (“Rape Culture: Of Donald and Don Giovanni“) but she definitely wrote the column, in which she calls Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump to task for being a pig. She concedes that Trump has never been accused by anyone of being a rapist, but that doesn’t stop her from concluding that we live in a society that “breeds too many Don Giovannis” (Don Giovanni and Donald Trump, get it?)

That got me wondering just how many Don Gionvannis (i.e., rapists) St. Christine thinks there are running around, and if that number is “too many,” what an acceptable number would be. Let’s presume that she, like everyone else (except, presumably, rapists themselves) considers one to be too many. What are the real numbers? Let’s ask the FBI, which addresses rape and other crimes in an annual report. The last complete report covers 2014, and it offers this summary (emphasis mine):

  • There were an estimated 1,165,383 violent crimes (murder and non-negligent homicides, rapes, robberies, and aggravated assaults) reported by law enforcement.
  • Aggravated assaults accounted for 63.6 percent of the violent crimes reported, while robberies accounted for 28.0 percent, rape 7.2 percent, and murders 1.2 percent.
  • There were an estimated 8,277,829 property crimes (burglaries, larceny-thefts, and motor vehicle thefts) reported by law enforcement…
  • Larceny-theft accounted for 70.8 percent of all property crimes reported, burglary for 20.9 percent, and motor vehicle theft for 8.3 percent

Let’s note first that there were seven times more non-violent property crimes reported in 2014 than there were all violent crimes put together. Even within the violent crime category, there were almost four times as many robberies (i.e., theft with a violent component) as rapes. If we add robberies to the non-violent property crimes, that means that all property crimes outnumbered rapes 99-1.

None of that means we don’t have a problem with rape. There were only 1/6 as many murders as there were rapes, but no sane person would contend that homicide isn’t a scourge that needs to be fought. Nor do mere numbers tell the story. A victim of violent crime suffers far more than a victim of property crime, with sexually-based crimes being particularly damaging not only physically but emotionally as well. Comparing the two straight up is like comparing a case of the sniffles to cancer: “You have a brain tumor? That’s nothing — I had to deal with FOUR COLDS last winter alone!” Yet that’s what Sr. Christine does when she places Trump’s rude and crude words and behavior alongside a literary example of actual sexual assault. It’s also what many other Trump opponents do when they equate him to a rapist, even as they defend another well-known politician—former president Bill Clinton—who has been accused multiple times of actual rape (“rape-rape,” as Whoopi Goldberg might call it).

Nor does it do any good to overstate one particular issue for what are often transparently political purposes. There was a time, barely a generation ago, when you’d think medical science was standing idly by while women were being decimated by breast cancer even as men enjoyed virtual freedom from any analogous disease. Contrary to the popular perception, prostate cancer was not only more prevalent and more deadly, but was vastly under-funded in research circles compared to breast cancer. You would never have know that because men weren’t having candlelight vigils across the country to accuse doctors and pharmaceutical companies of blatant sexism for failing to find a cure for prostate cancer.

There are certain issues—rape being one of them—that are serious enough without lying about their prevalence or using them as political bludgeons against people we don’t like who never did anything remotely close.

Categories: hypocrisy

Happy Postseason!

Tuesday, October 4, 2016, 21:07 EDT Leave a comment

[Cross-posted from the Triumphant Red Sox Fan Forum]

It’s nice to be back, folks, and under very good circumstances.

I admit to the return of my pre-2004 mindset throughout most of this season, in that I never thought our boys would actually win the division. After the last two seasons, I would have been happy with a winning record.

But they exceeded my expectations and now embark on what we all hope will be another worst-to-first postseason performance. Having limped through the last week of the season (a lone win in the final six games) that cost them home field advantage in the first round, they nonetheless start wish a clean slate. Here, are the matchups (click the image for a .pdf version you can download and print):


The Red Sox vs. Indians best-of-5 series begins on Thursday evening at 8:00 EDT. Cleveland will host games 1 and 2 Thursday and Friday, Boston will host games 3 and 4 (if necessary) Sunday and Monday, and they’ll all go back to Cleveland on Wednesday if a game 5 is required. The winner of that series will play the winner of the series between the Rangers and either the Blue Jays or Orioles, who are playing for the wild card slot tonight.

From my perspective, I say we should root for the Orioles as the preferable team to face should they beat Texas and we beat Cleveland. We beat Baltimore in the season series 11-8, whereas Toronto edged us out 10-9. Toronto is also on a bit of a high, having surged past the O’s at season’s end to secure home field for the wild card game. Baltimore, on the other hand, were swept by the Sox in the second last week of the season, so hopefully we might be in their heads a bit.

Another advantage the Sox have over the Orioles is in starting pitching against each other. Looking at John Farrell’s postseason rotation of Porcello, Price, Buchholz, and Rodriguez has fared much better overall against Baltimore than against Toronto. Likewise, our batters have done better against Baltimore.

I should point out that as I write this, the O’s have just taken a 2-1 lead against the Jays in the fourth inning. So pull for those O’s to keep it going and win this thing.

See you on Thursday.

I’m So Tired, I Haven’t Slept a Wink*

Thursday, September 15, 2016, 12:36 EDT Leave a comment

Ah, life. As the saying goes, it’s a bitch. After a week on vacation during which I managed to get my body clock back on track, it took three days and one phone call with my old boyfriend (a.k.a. the Love of My Life, or LOML) to screw it up again. Even my mildly sedating anti-depressant couldn’t knock me out before 4:00 a.m.

In my younger years, I didn’t even understand what insomnia was. You’re tired, you sleep. Who the hell couldn’t manage that? The only two times I can remember not being able to get to sleep were when I had my tonsils out at age 7 and stayed awake during my entire admission except during the actual surgery (my younger brother had died five months earlier and to me, hospitals were where children died, so I must have decided that I’d better stay awake just in case) and again in my mid-20s when the aforementioned old boyfriend called to tell me he was getting married (it’s hard to fall asleep when you’re sobbing uncontrollably for about 12 hour straight). Besides those incidents, I never had trouble sleeping until maybe my late 30s.

For a while, I took a nightly tablet of melatonin, a hormone that helps regulate the sleep cycle. That worked reaonably well and I was able to stop taking it after a few months.

Then came menopause. I couldn’t fall asleep, couldn’t stay asleep, and never awoke feeling rested. It was my psychiatrist who, in the context of a review of my meds (better living through chemistry!), suggested adding trazodone, a mood elevator that can also help insomnia related to depression. I’ve been sleeping pretty well ever since.

Which isn’t to say that there aren’t things that can and sometimes do make it harder for me to drift off into dreamland. I have a tendency to use my laptop or cell phone right before going to bed, a habit that is considered a significant contributor to sleep disturbance. Apparently the electronic glow of the screen stimulates something in the brain that keeps us awake. It wasn’t such a problem years ago when the only lighted screen we watched at night was network television, but such screens are ubiquituos now. And come to think about it, I did sleep much better when I read a chapter or two of a good book before turning out the lights.

Technology aside, another major impediment to sound sleep is mental activity. Most people experience occasional times when their minds run like a freight train and prevent them from relaxing. It could be because of stress at work, worry about a sick family member or friend, or even just having attended a high-activity event after which it takes a while to unwind. If such a mental marathon meets the physiological effects of looking at an electronic screen, watch out.

Which is apparently what happened to me Tuesday night. After talking to the LOML for over 45 minutes, I proceeded to turn it over and over and over in my mind,, analyzing and trying to make sense of every word. Then I journaled about it, which might have helped me untangle it and usher in a restful night if I hadn’t done it in an online journal. Yep, the lit screen again.

It had been so long since I took that long to fall asleep (did I mention it wasn’t until about 4:00 a.m.?) that I had forgotten how miserable it was. It was enough to make me get serious about laying off the electronics before bed. And if I must, I will follow it with a half hour of reading a book or magazine (paper, not virtual) or listening to relaxing music with the lights dimmed.

Those things I can control, unlike the situation with the old boyfriend.

(* Pat yourself on the back if you got the Beatles reference in the title.)

Categories: life, love


Sunday, September 11, 2016, 20:44 EDT Leave a comment

Today is a day of numbers. Some are familiar:

  • 11, 175, 77, 93 — The flight numbers of the hijacked planes.
  • 3 — The number of airports from which the four hijacked planes originated.
  • 8:46 — The time of first impact.
  • 2,977 — The number of people killed in the attacks.
  • 19 — The number of hijackers.

Others, less so:

  • 61 — The number of nations, besides the United States, whose citizens were among the victims.
  • 4,300 — The number of civilian aircraft grounded by the Federal Aviation Administration following the attacks.
  • 120 — The number of U.S.-bound overseas flights that were diverted to Canada.
  • 1 — The number of people who made the decision to completely shut down U.S. airspace.
  • 5 — The number of military fighter jets scrambled (alas, too late) from Otis Air Force Base and Langley Air National Guard Base to intercept the hijacked planes targeting the Twin Towers.

There are many others. The one nobody will forget is 9/11/2001, 15 years ago today, when not just our country but also our world changed, permanently.

Categories: history, remember

Art Imitates Life (Plus Some Religion)

Tuesday, August 23, 2016, 15:12 EDT Leave a comment

Being cheap—and, at the moment, broke—I don’t have television service. That’s no cable, no satellite. The only things I really miss watching are the local sports teams, but I can get those on the radio. Still, it’s nice to watch a movie or program occasionally, and for that reason I compromised and sprung for an $8/month subscription to Hulu.

The nice thing about Hulu is that it isn’t just a site where you can stream, at your convenience, programs other people watch on television. It has its own original programming as well, some of which is quite good. I’m currently watching a Hulu original series called Casual, about a woman in the process of getting a divorce who temporarily moves, with her teenaged daughter, into her brother’s house. The story follows the three of them as they navigate the various relationships (I use the term loosely) arising from each character’s pursuit of casual sex. What’s interesting is that for three people who are getting the no-strings-attached sex they actively seek, they are remarkably miserable

All of which has me thinking about Catholic teaching on sexuality, something about which I’m preparing to lead discussion as part of an adult faith formation program I coordinate at my church. Even people with absolutely no connection to the Catholic church know that its teachings prohibit pre-marital, extra-marital, or same-sex sex. (Yeah, I spent five minutes trying to figure out how to say that last one in a less redundant way but came up empty. Sorry.)

The teaching goes basically like this: the purpose of sexuality is that it be shared between two people who are joined in marriage, for the purposes of uniting them to one another and producing children. As someone who has had sex and given birth without being married, I often questioned why the marriage part was a requirement.

More recently, I have come to some understanding of that teaching, from two perspectives: practical and emotional. My pregnancy was the result of a relationship that wasn’t in any way serious or committed. I ended up raising my child alone, a difficult task materially speaking. On the other hand, when I had sex for love (with someone different), it was indeed unifying. But that relationship ended, and in three decades I still haven’t gotten over it. I wonder if it would have been easier to move on if we had never shared those sexual experiences that seemed to cement the emotional connection between us. For the record, I also had a wild phase when I sought sex for fun, but it wasn’t remotely fulfilling and didn’t make me feel very good about myself. I don’t do that any more.

Maybe that’s the wisdom of Catholic teaching. As much as we may want to believe otherwise, sex is profoundly different from other human interactions. For people who don’t take it seriously, like the characters in Casual, it can be unsatisfying at best and hurtful at worst.

Olympic Boyfriend Update

Tuesday, August 16, 2016, 16:35 EDT Leave a comment

Samir Ait SaidTen days after breaking his leg in horrific fashion landing a vault in Rio, French gymnast Samir Ait Said is reportedly on the road to recovery.

Ait Said had surgery the night of the injury and posted a video on Facebook the next day, thanking well-wishers for their support and offering words of encouragement to his Olympic teammates (according to a partial translation provided by Yahoo Sports). Yesterday he attended the rings final as a spectator.

Because I’m not an avid gymnastics fan, I didn’t realize that this wasn’t the first injury to keep Ait Said from Olympic competition. Another leg injury prior to the 2012 Games in London kept him off the team entirely. Last year, he declared his desire to medal twice in Rio to make up for what he couldn’t do in London. No one would blame him for being bitter for being denied yet again.

But he isn’t bitter, telling French sports daily L’Équipe (as quoted in the Guardian article linked above) that he is really quite fortunate:

There are worse things in life. I’m in good health, that’s the main thing. You have to put it in context. You know, people died in the Paris terrorist attacks, some people lost their children. I’ve missed out on the chance to make the Olympic final, that’s all. I’m still alive, I have my friends, my parents are here with me.

Ait Said says he plans to compete in Tokyo in 2020. I, for one, will be rooting for him to win big.

Categories: olympics