The Trump Chamber

Today, President Trump’s press secretary banned a number of prominent news outlets from his press briefing.

From The New York Times (online): Reporters from The Times, BuzzFeed News, CNN, The Los Angeles Times and Politico were not allowed to enter the West Wing office of the press secretary, Sean M. Spicer, for the scheduled briefing. Aides to Mr. Spicer only allowed in reporters from a handpicked group of news organizations that, the White House said, had been previously confirmed.

The behavior of the White House is eerily reminiscent of the Star Chamber, an English court that started out with good intentions but which grew, over the centuries, into a court with endless authority.

From Wikipedia: In modern usage, legal or administrative bodies with strict, arbitrary rulings and secretive proceedings are sometimes called, metaphorically or poetically, star chambers. This is a pejorative term and intended to cast doubt on the legitimacy of the proceedings. ‘Star Chamber’ can also be used in its original meaning, for instance when a politician uses parliamentary privilege to attack a powerful organisation or person. …

The power of the Court of Star Chamber grew considerably under the House of Stuart, and by the time of King Charles I, it had become synonymous with misuse and abuse of power by the King and his circle. …

King Charles made extensive use of the Court of Star Chamber to prosecute dissenters, including the Puritans who fled to New England. This was also one of the causes of the English Civil War.

On 17 October 1632, the Court of Star Chamber banned all “news books” because of complaints from Spanish and Austrian diplomats that coverage of the Thirty Years’ War in England was unfair. …

The Star Chamber became notorious for judgments favourable to the king. Archbishop Laud had William Prynne branded on both cheeks through its agency in 1637 for seditious libel.

President Trump isn’t a court of law. In fact, he sometimes acts as if there aren’t courts of law in the United States. American citizens must fight to protect our free press and our civil liberties. To do this, we must keep up with current events and learn about previous abuses of power, so as to prevent them from being repeated.

As George Santayana, wrote in The Life of Reason (1905), “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” Other people said the same thing, using slightly different words, and they were all right.



Reading About Writing

Back in the day — I like this expression because it’s so vague — my sister used to buy and read every cookbook she could get her hands on. She never followed one recipe from any of them, but she had lots of information to share at parties. I thought this was a riot.

Until I realized that I was currently doing the same thing, but with a book about writing.

I like to write, and the occasional person has occasionally suggested that I should write a book because I’m a gluttonous reader of them. By their calculations, I should inherently know how to compose a novel, by osmosis.

However, I have no idea how to plot a book, or how to make the characters come to life. I also remember a college professor saying that it is damn near impossible to find someone to publish a first novel. Some writers do, of course, but if you look at the New York Times Best Sellers’ list, the same writers’ names appear there week after week and year after year. That fact alone suggests that publishers (and readers) like to stick with already-successful authors.

So, I bought a book on writing, written by an author I admire, Lawrence Block. The book is Writing the Novel from Plot to Print to Pixel. Block broke down every step of how to write a book, and how to get it published. I read the first 13 chapters with a student’s attention (a good student’s), but stopped reading a few pages into Chapter 14, “Getting Published.” That chapter is followed by chapters on “The Case for Self-Publishing,” “The Case Against Self-Publishing,” “How to be Your Own Publisher,” “Doing It Again,” and finally, “Now It’s Up to You.”

What I learned from the first 13 chapters is that writing a novel is extremely hard work that must be done consistently. What I learned from the beginning of Chapter 14 is that, while I might produce a publishable book, getting someone to actually publish it is an even harder job. I didn’t even bother reading the self-publishing chapters, because I know many people who have self-published and, once their friends and family bought their books, sales dried up. The authors had no idea how to market their books and no giant publisher to help them, so along with sales, interest in their books disintegrated as well.

Unlike my sister, I’m not going to buy more books on writing. I’ll either write a book, using what I learned from chapters 1 – 13, or I won’t. I probably won’t be able to find a publisher without having an agent represent my book, or find an agent without having published before, so I’ll have to leave it up to serendipity, or luck.

It’s worked for others. Those others were probably predestined to become published authors, and there’s no way to check if I’m on that list, so I’ll have to leave it to chance. I’ll cross that bridge, as they say, when (and if) I come to it.

Right now, I think I’ll go read a cookbook.

Why I Didn’t March Today

Today, January 21, 2017, the day after the installation of Donald J. Trump as the 45th President of the United States, tens of thousands of women, and many men, marched on Washington, D.C., as well as in cities across the country.

When I first heard about the march, I got excited. Two of my sisters immediately made plans to go to Washington with their daughters. One flew in from California, and one took the train from New York.

However, I had a previous, unbreakable commitment and was therefore unable to go to Washington. I could have participated in the satellite march held in Stamford, Connecticut. But, I didn’t.

I didn’t march for a number of reasons. Chief among them was that I wasn’t sure that I supported all of the causes that precipitated the march. Of course I’m for equal rights for women. Of course I don’t like the idea that our president has treated women like sexual objects. I also want Obamacare to continue to exist because my family bought a health-insurance policy that exists only because of the Affordable Care Act. And I especially don’t want the repeal of HARP (the Home Affordable Refinance Program, the government program instituted by President Obama,) which has saved the homes of many Americans. And finally, I believe in the accuracy of the statement chanted by thousands of marchers and emblazoned on their signs, “Women’s Rights are Human Rights.”

But what does “Women’s Rights are Human Rights” really mean to women in the U.S.? We women still have glass ceilings to crack in business, salaries that need to be equal to those of men doing the same jobs, not to mention housework and childcare that need to be more equitably split between partners but, all things considered, women in the United States have it pretty easy compared to women who live in countries that routinely disfigure their genitals, stone them, refuse to educate them, or keep them hidden from society.

After much thought, I’ve come to the uneasy conclusion that “Women’s Rights are Human Rights” is code for “Save Our Right to Legal Abortions and Impeach President Trump.”

“Not true,” you say. “We’re marching to ensure that all women in this country have equal rights—no matter their race, creed, sexual orientation, or income bracket.”

And here’s my problem with that argument: The demand for “equal rights” loses its power for change when the expression is used like an umbrella to cover every eventuality, even one such as not liking who is president.

It is no secret that the catalysts for this march were the election of President Trump and the subsequent precarious position of the “Roe v. Wade”decision. Abortion rights have long divided our country and our political parties, and now that the anti-abortion candidate is our leader, those who champion the right of every woman to be able to choose birth or abortion are very nervous.

So, I understand why many people felt the need to make their voices heard. As U.S. citizens, we have that right. However, every demonstration needs a clear goal. What do the marchers want to accomplish, besides the impossible? President Trump is not going to step down, no matter how many women and men express their anger at his election.

I am not happy about the outcome of this election. I didn’t vote for President Trump, but as a citizen of the United States, I will support him. It was drilled into our heads during the presidential debates that, “the peaceful transition [or transfer] of power” is a key element of our democracy. The concept has existed since the election of Thomas Jefferson in 1800.

That contest made this race look like a picnic. Elections were far more complicated then, with two men running for president from each party (Federalist and Republican). By the time Thomas Jefferson had become president, there had been bitter name-calling and character assassinations, threats of secession, possible backroom dealings, rumors of a mob breaching an arsenal in Philadelphia, destroyed correspondence, and a deadlock between Jefferson and Aaron Burr (the Republican candidates), after the Federalist candidates (John Adams and Charles Cotesworth Pinckney) were eliminated. The election resulted in a bitter divide between the Republicans and the Federalists, and between people within each party. However, Jefferson’s election didn’t result in the overturn of our republic or the overturn of his election. Federalists didn’t like it, nor did some Republicans, but they dealt with it.*

And we have to deal with the election of Donald J. Trump. If you’re unhappy with the results of this election (and/or with the results of the George W. Bush v. Al Gore race in 2000), identify the cause of your wrath—the existence of the Electoral College, which is able to negate the true wishes of the electorate—and protest that.

There’s a march I would support. If anyone wants to organize a march on Washington to repeal the Electoral College, I’ll be there. Secretary Clinton, let me know if you need a ride.

A New Life Event

My family has Obamacare. Despite what Fox News and the conservative press want you to believe, it’s not free.

We pay $1,071/month for our health-care coverage. If we didn’t qualify for a government subsidy, we would be paying $2,400/month. I’m not going to go into why $2,400/month is an insane amount of money for a struggling-to-remain-middle-class family to pay every month. I think it’s obvious that most families couldn’t afford that premium. We can’t afford the $1,071/month premium either, but we have to, in order to be insured and not fined by the government. Other things, like bills, have to be shuffled around in order to pay our premium, but that’s just life, I guess.

What is worrisome is that President-elect Trump and many Republicans are determined to get rid of Obamacare, i.e., dismantle the Affordable Care Act.

Ordinarily, one cannot qualify for new health care after January, unless he or she has a “life event,” which could mean anything from unemployment to a marriage. Now there will have to be a new qualifying life event, “loss of insurance due to Obamacare going away.”

Obamacare was not built overnight. And even when it was built, it was not problem-free. I hope the Republicans have the foresight and sense to not obliterate the program until they have another one built and ready to replace it.

I also hope that my hope is not for naught.

Where Is Pope Bobblehead?

If you need another indication that the world has gone mad, here is an opportunity to purchase a bobblehead of Pope Francis from The Catholic Company, and to track your adventures on social media using the hashtag #WhereIsPopeBobblehead.

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Carrie Fisher*

Carrie Fisher died today, at age 60. I think that she was probably Dorothy Parker’s reincarnation. Carrie greatly admired Dorothy Parker and, like Dorothy Parker, had an intelligent, sarcastic, hilarious wit. She was also brutally honest about her life. Her candor, however, was a double-edged sword. While Carrie will be remembered as Princess Leia, and as a hugely talented actor and writer, her name will go down in history followed by an asterisk.

The asterisk will remind us of her problems with alcohol and drugs. As the years progress, the asterisk might fade as the stigma associated with addiction diminishes. Carrie has said that she used drugs and alcohol to diminish the agonies of her bipolar disorder. She is far from the first person to self-medicate, and will not be the last. We can only hope that, in the near future, mental illness becomes universally accepted as a medical condition that is on a par with other illnesses that are in our genes and not of our making. She contributed to the unveiling of mental illness, and that is one of the gifts for which she’ll be remembered.

Because she was only four years older than I am, her death was significant for me. I will never be famous, but when I go, will I have left an impression on anyone? And will it be a positive impression?

As trite as it sounds, I’m grateful for my blessings: my husband, my son, my extended family on both sides, our home, the food in our pantry, our jobs, our dog, and many other things. Nonetheless, my immediate family is going through an uncertain time right now. Our faith that God will not abandon us is unshakeable but, still, we are often in states of high anxiety.

I am also very grateful for one more thing: my innate happiness. Even while things crumble around me, I still retain hope for the future. I’m an eternal optimist, which is helpful during difficult times. Only recently have I realized that sharing my happiness might be the most important thing I can do.

No matter how serene others appear on their surfaces, everyone — absolutely everyone — is struggling with something. If I can lift a person’s spirits for even a moment, that’s a gift. And it costs me nothing to compliment someone, lift his or her spirits with a funny story, or listen.

We’ve all been told that the most important thing in this world is love. We’re supposed to love one another. That seemed like an impossible goal until I learned that loving isn’t the same as liking. You don’t have to approve of someone’s behavior or particularly want to spend extended time in a certain person’s company. But you can be nice, compassionate, and kind when your paths cross. Hugs help immeasurably. Human contact can elevate spirits and probably cures many ills, as well.

That’s love. And love multiplies, because someone you’re nice to might feel better about himself or herself, and pass the good feeling on to another person. Plus, you will love yourself for making someone else happier. It’s easier to love yourself when you spread love freely and indiscriminately.

Look Before You Leap To Judgment

niqab-1621517_960_720Anti-Muslim sentiment is rampant in the Western world, ever since the Twin Towers, the Pentagon, and thousands of lives were destroyed by radical young Islamic men on September 11, 2001. These hate-filled madmen have continued to propagate murder and destruction under the banner of Allah. But, they’re not representing your average, God-fearing Muslim, or the Islamic religion.

These brainwashed, blood-thirsty, jealous ideologues hate the West and all that we stand for because we have it better than they do. And they’re willing to die in order to destroy us. As a result, many fear all Muslims now. And when people are afraid, they either strike out or run and hide. However, when many people are afraid, they don’t need to hide because there is safety in numbers and a mob mentality takes over. Mobs act in ways that the individuals, who make up the mob, would never act alone. And, make no mistake, there are mobs of Americans who are anti-Muslim, a sentiment born of fear and anger.

The U.S. isn’t alone in its Islamophobia. Cities in France have banned the wearing of burkinis, which are whole-body swimsuits worn by Muslim women. The reason given by officials is that the burkinis go against their law of secularism, i.e., separation of church and state. Other officials say that the ban is permitted if the wearing of burkinis could cause a disturbance.

Everybody needs to just stop and breathe. First and foremost, those of us who aren’t Muslim need to learn what Islam teaches. Those radical Islamists do not represent most Muslims. Muslim extremists are buoyed by the support of those who feel hopeless and helpless. This is not an excuse for their behavior. They must be stopped by more reasonable thinkers. But more reasonable thinkers also need to do some research before castigating an entire religion.

I came across a blog, Dazzling move,  written by a young European woman who was raised as an atheist and voluntarily moved to Egypt, converted to Islam, and chose to wear a niqab, that is, (according to, “a veil for covering the hair and face except for the eyes that is worn by some Muslim women.” She also covers her entire body with robes.

I started reading about why she chose to wear the niqab and was enthralled by her story. I continued reading her blog and was astounded when she wrote that Muslims believe that Jews, Christians, and Muslims all worship the same God. Here is what she said in her post titled, Moses’s Life: “All religions – judaism, christianity and islam says the Same story, the Same point. Some people says that Islam is another religion but in fact Islam teach us that these 3 religions are from the same God and the same message and leadership for people. Judaism is the oldest one and Islam is the youngest one and it completes the religion of the previous ones.” So at the end ALL IS ONE MESSAGE FROM ONE TRUE GOD TO ALL HUMANKIND SINCE THE EARTH WAS MADE.

This specific post went on to tell the story of Moses’s life and the story came straight from the Quran.

This was an eye-opener. I think we should all invest a little time in browsing the Quran before we paint all Muslims with a broad brush.

The terrorists are not practicing Islam. They’re practicing terror, plain and simple. We need to make a distinction. And we need to take the radical Islamists—not all Muslims— down.



The Second Amendment Needs an Amendment

When the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was ratified, on December 15, 1791, assault weapons, assault-like weapons, automatic weapons, and semi-automatic weapons did not exist. Therefore, it is not unconstitutional to ban these weapons.

Muskets, bayonets, and cannons were the weapons of the day. When James Madison wrote the Second Amendment, at the behest of a few of the states, he and our country’s leaders wanted us to be able to protect ourselves. Because today’s weapons were not even conceived of then, Madison wrote a law about the weapons that were being used at the time. Those weapons included cannons. However, while armies of countries possessed cannons, our founders did not expect the average colonist to own one. It probably never even entered their extremely intelligent heads that an individual would own a powerhouse military armament. The cost alone would have been prohibitive.

Over the centuries, personal weapons became more powerful, accurate, and affordable. Now, our leaders must address the weapons available today. Assault weapons and their like must be banned for personal ownership; we cannot tolerate any more mass murders committed by people with these guns.

Our founders approved the ownership of muskets and bayonets. Our leaders must determine what can be owned in our own time, just like Madison did more than 200 years ago, when he wrote our hotly contested Amendment.

Holy ….Water!

The other day while ice skating (for the first time in 30 years), I fell on my right side and sprained my hand and wrist. The top of my right hand was grayish-blue and swollen. My wrist was slightly swollen and painful.

Today, after Mass, I went to the holy water dish in our church and liberally doused the top of my hand with holy water. In front of my eyes, the color returned to normal and the swelling went away. I could see the bones in my hand again.

I was marveling at the miraculous recovery of my hand in the car, on the way home. I showed my husband and he said that my hand looked normal again but my wrist was still swollen. I agreed and said that it still ached, too. Then I remembered that I hadn’t applied the holy water to my wrist at all. I’m going back to church to finish the job.

Have faith and look for little miracles in your life. They’re God’s way of showing you that He’s with you, even if He didn’t grant your wish to win the lottery. After all, God’s not a genie.