Sunday, May 28, 2023

All that panicking for nothing.

lineartestpilot | Deposit Photos

I thought about writing about Memorial Day today, seeing as how it's that weekend, and explain why thanking a vet is not the proper way to observe the day. But Facebook reminded me that I'd already done that post back in 2017

Instead, I guess I'll write about the debt ceiling mess and how the media made it worse. (It's a political post. Sorry, y'all.)

Just so we're all up to speed (if you're already up to speed, skip down past the first break): Several months ago, the speaker of the House of Representatives, Kevin McCarthy, caved to his Looney-Tunes Caucus and announced that the House wouldn't approve an extension of the debt ceiling unless President Biden agreed to cut the deficit -- and further, the LT Caucus wouldn't approve either tax hikes or cuts in military spending. 

Biden told them he wouldn't negotiate over the debt ceiling because Congress had approved three debt ceiling extensions under the former guy without a peep, and to call him when they had a budget proposal.

(This is where I explain that the debt ceiling is about paying bills we've already accrued, and the proper place to talk about narrowing the deficit is during budget negotiations.)

That's where things stood for months, with McCarthy accusing Biden of stonewalling and Biden basically saying he refused to negotiate with terrorists. (I'm paraphrasing, you understand.) Then, somewhat miraculously, House Republicans managed to pass a budget bill. It was so extreme that it wasn't even going to get a hearing in the Senate, but it gave Biden a starting point for talks. So for the next few weeks, more public posturing ensued while aides met behind closed doors to hammer out a compromise. Biden and McCarthy announced the deal last night.

Others have done a far better job than I ever could of summarizing the main points of the deal. (Click the link if you want to read about them.) The big takeaway, from the commentary I've been reading, is that Biden's move was genius. He essentially got the LT Caucus to agree to a budget deal months earlier than it otherwise would have; moreover, it's the sort of compromise that Congress would have ended up with anyway, given that the GOP controls the House and the Democrats control the Senate, both by only a few votes. And we won't have to deal with this debt ceiling nonsense again until after the next presidential election.

So why all the Hair on Fire Theater? Keep reading.

*** (👈 denotes the first break)

I've been in an Alfred E. Neuman kind of mood ("What, me worry?") about this debt ceiling kerfuffle, ever since I heard Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell say we were not going to default on the debt. That told me that the crazies in the House could do whatever nutty stuff they wanted, but the Senate would never go along with them. Not that the Senate doesn't have its share of crazies, mind you, but the leadership of both parties there were determined to be adults.

Anyway, because of that, I've been kind of an objective observer of the shenanigans. And I am not proud of the way the news media have conducted themselves.

Longtime hearth/myth readers know what a shocking statement that is for me to make. Back when the former guy first ran for president, lots of people were criticizing the media for covering him as if he were a normal candidate, and that it helped him get elected. For years, I stood firm, explaining how it was literally journalists' jobs to present all sides objectively and let readers/listeners/viewers come to their own conclusions. Then last year, I backtracked, coming down on the side (at long last) of the media not just covering the horse race, but telling the actual truth.

The media failed to tell the actual truth during the 2016 election. They failed again during the 2020 election. And with this debt ceiling mess, they've failed again. Every day since the negotiations began, there have been breathless sidebars: What would a default do to our country's sterling debt rating? How jittery are other countries becoming about America's inability to pay its debts? If a deal isn't reached in time, which Americans would suffer first -- and how? (Super old people, according to that article, and pretty much right away.) 

On and on and on it went. Scaring people. For eyeballs for their ads.

Okay, that's not a hundred percent true. It's a huge story, but a tough one to cover -- reporters weren't allowed to sit in on the negotiations, for obvious reasons -- and it went on for weeks. So assignment editors had to get inventive, dreaming up angles they hadn't covered yet, just so they'd have something new to say every day. 

But the cumulative effect was to make readers/listeners/viewers even more anxious than they already were. Fear and anxiety attract eyeballs, sure. But shouldn't the media also be in the business of allaying fear and anxiety when there's nothing to be afraid of? Why didn't McConnell's comments get more play? (The Hill reported them -- in the 19th paragraph of this story. Newsweek played them a little higher -- in paragraph 13 here.) Why didn't anybody explain what it meant? Didn't anybody feel a responsibility toward telling the actual truth?

The question now is whether the media will do the same thing during their 2024 election coverage -- even after all the criticism and public hand-wringing -- and fail to tell the actual truth again. 

Stay tuned, I guess.


These moments of no-worries blogginess have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell. Stay safe -- and don't take any hair-on-fire reporting at face value.

Sunday, May 21, 2023

When an abuser dies.

 Grief is a puzzle -- and not just when it's a Wordle solution. 

This was Friday's puzzle. Don't @ me.
Something had been banging at me to resume looking into my family history, so early last week, I succumbed and signed up for a free trial of Ancestry. I started building out my tree with my nuclear family, as one does, and was bopping along, entering stuff I knew, when Ancestry offered me a hint about an obituary for Lawrence Cantwell.

My grandfather? I wondered. Dad's father was named Lawrence; he died when my father was nine years old. My brother was named after him. So I clicked through.

Nope, not my grandfather. My brother, who died in March of last year. This was the first I'd heard.

When I wrote my memoir Mom's House, I knew the story wasn't finished. To recap: My brother had been verbally and emotionally abusive to me since I was small. When my mother died in 2008, she left our family home to both of us. I wanted to sell the place; my brother tried every manipulative trick he could think of to keep us both owners of the house. Finally, I filed a partition action against him to force a sale. We came thisclose to mediation before he agreed to buy me out. That was in early 2018. Later that year, I published the memoir.

I hadn't heard from him, or anyone else in his side of the family, since. If it hadn't been for Ancestry bringing it to my attention, I still wouldn't know he was dead.


People go through a whole range of emotions when someone they know dies, and adding abuse to the mix makes those emotions more complicated. This website lists many of the feelings abuse victims might have to work through: fear and anxiety, depression, guilt, loneliness, shame, helplessness, relief, disbelief, and anger. The site also mentions a phenomenon called disenfranchised grief, which can happen when, say, an abused person is upset when an abuser dies. Friends might wonder how the victim could grieve when the abuser did such horrible things to them. But an abused person can both acknowledge the horrible things and be sad about losing the good times. The abuser may have orchestrated the good times to keep the victim on the hook, but that doesn't mean the victim can't miss those good times and be sad that they're over forever. Humans are a bundle of contradictions.

But if the abused person expresses anger at the death of their abuser, that's also not okay, right? We're supposed to forgive those who trespass against us, and not forgiving someone who wronged you is bad for your own mental health, or so they say. And then, of course, we're told not to speak ill of the dead.

My opinion is that "don't speak ill of the dead" is horseshit. And alert hearth/myth readers already know my views on blanket forgiveness. Basically, I believe that forgiveness must be earned -- and frankly, my brother never earned my forgiveness. There was only one time that he came close. I wrote about it in Mom's House:

It came during the trip we made to Mom’s house in the summer of 2012. He cornered me in the garage for a chat. After a discussion about this and that, he gave me a serious look and said, “I know I was rough on you when we were kids.” And then he proceeded to share with me some personal revelations, most of which I won’t go into here. The key takeaway for me was that all through my childhood, he had been jealous of me. “They wanted you,” he said.

What I left out, when I described the scene in the book, was the vitriol with which he said it. He was still jealous of me. Fifty-five years later, he was still mad that his favorite sister had died and I'd come along to take her place. As if any of that had been my fault.


It's been almost a week since I learned of my brother's death, and I don't seem to be feeling many of the complicated emotions that abuse victims feel when their abuser dies. It's not that the abuse didn't happen. That's not in dispute. I think what's going on is that I've worked through these feelings long since. 

There's a chipper little Wikihow page for coping with the death of an abuser. Among the suggestions: Accept your feelings, however complicated; find ways to channel your anger; make a list of ways to give yourself closure; and so on. 

I gave myself closure by writing and publishing the memoir. I wasn't surprised when I lost contact with Lar and his family -- I knew it would be the result before I hit "publish" -- and I'm not surprised they didn't contact me when he died.

Am I relieved? No more -- and no less -- than I was when I got the settlement check. The house was the last thing we shared -- the last way he had to keep me on a string. That's a big reason why I wanted out from under it.

I'm sure I'll have complex feelings crop up from time to time; that's how grief works. But here's one feeling -- or goal, really -- I'm holding onto now: The guy who spent decades haranguing me about my weight and my health died at 74 -- relatively young, given that Mom lived to be 93. If I make it another ten years, I will have outlived him.


Two more things I've discovered since learning about my brother's death (public records searches are a wonderful thing): 

1) In late 2017 -- long after I'd filed suit, but a few months before the settlement -- Lar and his wife bought a house in Florida. I have to think he was pressuring me to move back to Indiana for his own benefit.

2) As of the beginning of this month, Mom's house was still listed as owned by my brother...and my mom.


These moments of WTF blogginess have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell. Stay safe, everybody!

Sunday, May 14, 2023

Working mothers deserve better.

80s Child | Deposit Photos

First, happy Mother's Day to anybody who has a mom, had a mom, is or was a mom, and/or had to be their own mom.

And a special shout-out to all the working moms, who have had a rough go of it over the past few years. The pandemic exacerbated long-standing problems in finding child care. The Bureau of Labor Statistics says the child-care sector lost 80,000 workers between February 2020 and November 2022 -- about 6.7% of the sector's work force. It's never been a lucrative job -- the pay averages about $13 an hour, and 95% of child-care workers are female, most of them Black and Hispanic.

Even before the pandemic, finding somebody to watch the kids while you worked wasn't easy, unless you had accommodating family nearby. And if you worked weird hours, it was that much harder. 

My first day back at work after delivering my first child was a Sunday -- Mother's Day. Back then, I was working as an anchor-reporter for WTAR-AM in Norfolk, Virginia. I was scheduled to work about four hours that day, writing and delivering newscasts on the air. Kat's father was in the Navy and was out at sea that weekend, so I schlepped the baby, the portable playpen, and all the other assorted gear that an eight-week-old kid requires into the newsroom. I figured I'd keep an eye on her in the newsroom while I wrote my newscasts, then put her in the playpen and turn up the air monitor while I went into the booth to do a newscast. She would be able to hear me, even though she couldn't see me. Genius, right?

Not so much. She spent the first five-minute newscast screaming. I didn't think anybody could hear her over the air, but it messed with my concentration. So for the second newscast, I brought her into the booth with me, holding her on my lap. That worked great until she spotted the glowing red on-air bulb above the window and had to tell the world about it. For the remainder of the day, she spent my on-air time in the playpen in the boss's office. She still screamed, but at least the noise wasn't close enough to bother me...too much.

From then on, I left the kids with a sitter whenever I had to work. After the divorce, and as the girls got older, finding someone to watch them was often tough, particularly while I was still in broadcasting and worked an evening or overnight shift. Go ahead, try to find someone who's willing to stay at your house from 11:00 p.m. until 9:00 a.m. while your kids sleep. Let me know how that works out for you.

Anyway, it was a huge relief to switch careers and begin working for the big law firm, which let me work daytime hours and had an emergency daycare center on site. 

Parents -- not just me -- can be better workers when they know their kids are cared for. But when it comes to help with balancing work and family responsibilities, employees are at the mercy of the benevolence of their employers. And Congress hasn't exactly made fixing the situation a priority. So I was pleased to learn that last month, President Biden signed an executive order directing federal agencies to expand programs for child care and elder care, including improvements in at-home care for veterans, better pay for child care workers, incentives for government contractors to include child care and elder care benefits in their bids, and a reaffirmation of the right of child care and elder care workers to unionize. It's not a perfect solution, but it's a start.


Speaking of Mother's Day and working: Today is my last official day of retirement for a while. Tomorrow, I'm going back to work, probably for the next several years. I like being retired just fine, but my condo building needs some major repairs, and the only way I can afford them short of selling the place is to go back to work. 

I'll be a full-time proofreader for the state Legislative Council Service. Alert hearth/myth readers know that I've been working for the legislature for several months each year anyway, so it won't be that big a change. I believe I'll be working from home most of the time. I'll still be able to volunteer at El Rancho de las Golondrinas during summer weekends, and I intend to keep writing these weekly blog posts.

If any of that changes, you'll be the first to know.


These moments of bloggy work-life balance have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell. Stay safe!

Sunday, May 7, 2023

COVID paranoia.

It's been a long few weeks, but I've finally beaten this thing.

Lynne Cantwell | May 6, 2023

As I mentioned last week, I came home from my European vacation with COVID-19. The truth can now be told, I guess: I came down with it while we were still in Amsterdam, tested positive there, and got on my scheduled flight home anyway. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention -- also known as the CDC -- would have told me not to travel, but the plane left from the Netherlands, where COVID was declared endemic and all travel restrictions were lifted in March. Not that I knew that at the time, but that's my story now.

And anyway, the US is going to lift the COVID emergency this week. It'll be a brave new world, going forward. And advice is already thin on the ground, as I discovered after I got home.

Here in the States, everybody refers you to the CDC's website for advice on what to do if you test positive for the virus. My symptoms consisted of a scratchy throat the first day, then a cough and an extremely runny nose -- imagine a wide-open faucet and you'll get the gist -- for several more days. Symptoms vary for different people, but that's what I had. That's classified as a mild case; I never ran a fever, I didn't have shortness of breath, and my pulse oximeter readings were fine (yes, I have one -- I bought it at the beginning of the pandemic when we didn't know anything about anything yet).

If you have a mild case, the CDC says you're supposed to isolate for five days, because you're most contagious during those five days plus a couple of days before you're symptomatic. (The day your symptoms start is Day 0; the next day is Day 1.) 

Once you're past the five-day mark, if your symptoms are easing, you can go out and about during the next five days if you wear a well-fitting mask -- an N95 or KN95 (thank goodness I had some, because I seriously needed to go to the grocery store). Past the ten-day mark, you're not contagious anymore. Probably. But you should monitor yourself for a rebound and start counting again if your symptoms return.

It was at Day 10 that my paranoia set in. I was still pretty congested, and I was still testing positive. If I woke up with a head full of snot, I was still sick, right? So should I continue to isolate? Was it a rebound post-Day 10 if I'd never completely recovered? Why was I still sick? The online guidance said I should be over it, more or less, by Day 10 if I had a mild case. And I had a mild case. Didn't I? Didn't I??

I'm not normally weirded out about illness. I've never been a hypochondriac (oh hey, it's called nosophobia now -- never say this blog isn't educational). But we've been trained to be scared of this virus. For good reason -- don't get me wrong. But the vague guidance kinda made me crazy.

It wasn't until yesterday -- Day 17 -- that I tested negative. I'll do another test tomorrow to make sure that one wasn't a false negative, but I think it's accurate. I feel well again. I actually felt fine yesterday before I did the test, so I'm pretty sure it's not confirmation bias or whatever. 

Anyway. One thing I'd like to mention is the cost of COVID antigen tests. Here in the US, we've been able to get them for free -- for many months, the government would mail them to you for free, and otherwise your health insurance provider was supposed to pick up the tab. Free over-the-counter tests aren't necessarily going to be a thing after the public health emergency ends this coming Thursday, though -- it'll depend on your insurer. You can buy them at the pharmacy, but here's an interesting thing: The ones I've seen for sale at stores here are priced at $20 or more for a box of two tests, or about $10 per test. In Amsterdam, I bought a single antigen test at a drug store for €2.50, or about $2.75. (Don't get me started on US healthcare costs, or we'll be here all night.)

Vaccines will still be available after the public health emergency ends, and you should still be able to get them for free because the federal government requires insurers to pay for vaccines that the government recommends (thanks, Obama!). COVID medications like Paxlovid will remain free while the government's stockpile of them lasts.

I can't tell you about all of the changes, because individual states have their own budgets for healthcare, and some of them never got serious about COVID in the first place. One thing that will be affected nationwide, though, is telehealth. The federal government relaxed rules for healthcare providers so they could offer telehealth visits more widely during the emergency; as of later this week, the old rules will be back in effect.

The key thing to remember is that just because the public health emergency is ending, COVID-19 is not gone. "Endemic" does not mean "disappeared". Hundreds of people are still dying from this illness in the US every day. And I am here to tell you that even a mild case is no fun. So keep being careful out there. And get your last free over-the-counter COVID tests by Thursday.

These moments of bloggy health paranoia have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell. Stay safe!

Sunday, April 30, 2023

The fall from the center of the universe.

Hey, guys, I'm back. I spent most of the past couple of weeks on a river cruise in Belgium and the Netherlands, ending last weekend in Amsterdam (where I came down with COVID, but it's been a mild case, and I'm nearly over it).

The problem I have in general with all-inclusive tours is that they try to appeal to everybody, so usually what you get is the churches-and-castles tour. This trip was, thankfully, more art-focused -- we visited three art museums, including the big Vermeer exhibit at the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam -- but there's always something I want to see that's not on the schedule. Sometimes there's time on a free afternoon to see one of those things and sometimes not. This time, there was. So on a free afternoon in Amsterdam, I hoofed it over to Dam Square to tour the Royal Palace.

The building started out as the Amsterdam City Hall. Construction began in 1648, just after the Dutch Republic won its freedom from Spain, and finished in 1665. It's kinda swampy in the Netherlands, so this massive neoclassical edifice was built atop 13,659 wooden piles driven all the way down to bedrock.

This all happened during the Dutch Golden Age, when this tiny country was vying successfully with Portugal and England to be the king of world trade. It did a fair job of it, too, establishing exclusive markets with producers of some spices and founding colonies around the world. The Dutch were proud of their achievements -- and it shows in the palace's Citizens' Hall. 

Lynne Cantwell 2023
The hall is immense. This photo shows only two of the three marble maps embedded in the floor. To the east and west are maps of the eastern and western hemispheres; I was impressed with their accuracy. But then, the Dutch sailed around the tips of both Africa and South America in their trading voyages. 

They even knew where New Mexico was! 
Lynne Cantwell 2023
Lynne Cantwell 2023
The center circle is a star chart. In short, the builders depicted the universe, with Amsterdam in the center. 
Lynne Cantwell 2023
That hegemony was gone, though, by 1806, when Napoleon invaded and installed his brother, Louis Bonaparte, on the throne. King Louis then converted City Hall into a palace for himself. His bedroom is on the tour, and it is not too shabby. 
Lynne Cantwell 2023
He didn't live there long, though -- he abdicated in July 1810. Later on, the Dutch royal family claimed the palace. Nobody lives there now, but King Willem-Alexander uses it for state functions, and of course it's open for tours.

I'm still fixated on the idea that the Netherlands was once a superpower, and then its luck turned. I don't know enough about European history to know how or why. But for a couple of hundred years, give or take, the Dutch were the center of the universe. Then it was England's turn. Eventually, the honor fell to the United States. And I'm left wondering what it would take for us to avoid their fate.

We believe we're the center of the universe now -- but how much longer can it last? And how will we react when we no longer are? The Dutch seem to be okay, now, with not being at the center of things. I wonder how long it would take for the US to reach the same state of sanguinity. Four hundred years might not be long enough.


These moments of centrally-located universal blogginess have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell. Stay safe!

Sunday, April 23, 2023

Still out of pocket.

 I'm still elsewhere, larking about. Check back here for a new post next Sunday, April 30th. 

These moments of continuing vacationing blogginess have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell. Stay safe!

Sunday, April 16, 2023

Out of pocket.

 As I mentioned last week, I'll be on the road through next Sunday. See you back here on April 30th.

These moments of vacationing blogginess have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell. Stay safe!

Sunday, April 9, 2023

One step forward, several steps back.

First, happy Easter and happy Passover to those who celebrate. 


Fair warning: This is a political post.

leszekglasner | Deposit Photos

This has been a week, hasn't it? Particularly for anyone who's interested in the future of abortion rights in this country -- which, given how polarizing the issue is, encompasses virtually everybody. (Back when Kevin's Watch had a political forum, the quickest way to get a bazillion comments on a discussion thread was to post something, anything, about abortion.)

We can all be forgiven if we have abortion-rights whiplash. First, a Trump-appointed federal judge in Texas ruled -- in an order jam-packed with antiabortion rhetoric where sober jurisprudence should have been -- that the federal Food and Drug Administration erred big-time 23 years ago when it approved mifepristone for medically-induced abortions. The same guy also cited the Comstock Act (which hasn't been enforced since the 1930s) in his ruling, saying pills for medical abortions should not be allowed to be sent through the mail. Taken together, those two points would appear to outlaw medical abortions in the United States altogether.  But within the hour, an Obama-appointed federal judge in the state of Washington ordered that the federal government keep the pills available in the 17 states whose attorney generals had filed suit in his court.

The Texas judge paused his ruling for a week to allow the Department of Justice to file a brief explaining why he's wrong. The DoJ is on it. And given the dueling rulings, it looks like the issue is going to be on a fast track to the Supreme Court. Given the current court, you might think that makes the Texas order a slam-dunk. But the high court in Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization -- handed down not even a year ago -- deliberately left abortion access to the individual states to decide; this guy in Texas has pre-empted that. Will the Supremes be willing to second-guess themselves so soon? I hope not. The patchwork of state laws that have resulted from Dobbs is bad enough.

There have been shenanigans this week on another hot-button issue: gun control. The Tennessee legislature, which is controlled by Republicans, voted to expel two of its members -- Black men who represent the cities of Memphis and Nashville -- after they and a third representative participated in a protest in favor of gun reforms following a mass shooting at a private school in Nashville. All three of the representatives are Democrats, but the one who wasn't kicked out is a White woman. The ousted legislators say their voters have been disenfranchised. The boards responsible for appointing new representatives for their districts seem inclined to send both men right back to their old seats. But if they do, legislative Republicans are threatening to pull their state funding. 

I can only shake my head. In poll after reputable poll, a majority of Americans support both access to abortion and stricter gun laws. Why Republicans are hellbent on enacting restrictions that most people in this country don't want is a mystery to me. The only thing I can think of is that while these fossils are still in control, they want to lock things down for their side before they're too old to govern and younger folks take over. That day is fast approaching. But it can't come soon enough for me.


An update to my post of last week, wherein I was so excited to learn that Santa Fe has an arthouse theater that I saw two movies there in the same week: I'm glad I went when I did, because the facility's board of directors voted this week to shut it down, effective this weekend. There has been an outpouring of dismay about the abrupt decision on social media, and apparently there's an effort to raise funds in the community to reopen the facility. But still, I'm bummed. 


Oh hey, one other thing: I'm going to be out of pocket for the next two weeks. See y'all back here on April 30th.


These moments of head-shaking blogginess have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell. Stay safe!

Sunday, April 2, 2023

Movie recommendations.


damedeeso | Deposit Photos
Isn't it crazy how you can live in a place for a while and still be surprised to find something you didn't know was there? That was me this week. I discovered what amounts to an art house theater here in Santa Fe and saw two -- count 'em, two -- movies there. And I am recommending them both.

The first one I saw was The Lost King. It's based on the true story of an amateur historian who made it her mission to find where the remains of England's King Richard III were buried. I remember hearing about it when the body was discovered -- under a car park, as they call parking lots there -- but there was a lot I didn't know. 

The historian in question is Philippa Langley, played by Sally Hawkins. As the story opens, Langley is working in marketing and has just been passed over for a promotion -- supposedly because her manager wants to give younger workers a chance, but it doesn't help that Langley suffers from chronic fatigue syndrome and misses a lot of work because of it. She's also co-parenting her two sons with her ex-husband (in an arrangement that so many divorced parents would die for). 

Seeing a performance of Shakespeare's Richard III awakens her interest in him. She comes to believe that Richard's role as villain was engineered largely by the Tudor kings who came after him. Before long, she's joining a local chapter of the Richard III Society, doing her own research, and raising money to help Leicester University fund a dig at that parking lot in their town. And that's where they find Richard III -- right under the R painted on the pavement.

At this point, the film strays into controversial territory. Langley, who worked with the producers on the film, insists that when it came time to give credit for the discovery, Leicester University shut her out. The university insists that's not the case. The producers are siding with Langley.

One of the charming things about the movie -- or at least, I thought it was charming -- is that the king himself begins appearing to Langley. She has numerous conversations with him throughout the movie; at one point, she asks him whether he actually killed his two nephews, and Richard stalks off without a word. Of course, no one else can see Richard, and she doesn't try to convince anyone that she can see him, thank goodness. The task she's set herself is tough enough without giving people a reason to think she's crazy.

Anyway, the movie has a happy ending -- the king's remains are laid to rest properly, and his reputation is at least partly restored -- and it's true that without Langley's persistence, none of that would have happened.

The second movie I'm recommending is called The Quiet Girl. It's much slower paced than The Lost King, and the ending is decidely not a happy one. In fact, it wrung my heart.

Nine-year-old Cáit (pronounced "caught"), played by Catherine Clinch, is a middle child in a poor family full of girls. The father is an alcoholic and the mother is pregnant with yet another child. They consider Cáit a handful -- she's given to skipping school and hiding from her parents -- and her mother arranges for the girl to spend the summer with a distant cousin and her husband, three hours' drive from home.

Cáit's foster mother Eibhlín (pronounced Eileen) is warm and caring; her foster father Seán is initially distant, but he eventually warms up to the girl, and they bond. For the first time, Cáit has a home where she's neither neglected nor abused, and she begins to blossom. But then she has to go home. And as her foster parents drive away, she runs after them, throwing her arms around Seán and calling him "daddy" as her sperm donor approaches to take her back. Describing the scene that way makes it sound more dramatic than it is; the most shocking thing about it is that it's the first time in the whole movie that we see anyone hug Cáit. 

That hug will stay with me for a long, long time. 

The Quiet Girl is mostly in Irish with some English; the film is subtitled throughout, which I appreciated. It has won a bunch of awards, and it's the first Irish film nominated for the Oscar for Best International Feature Film. If you can find a screening, see it. It's a great movie. Although I defy you not to cry at the end.


These moments of moviegoing blogginess have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell. Stay safe!

Sunday, March 26, 2023

The Long Walk.


Lynne Cantwell 2023
Instances of man's inhumanity to man abound in history. We've all heard about the Holocaust, but such events have happened on American soil, too, and I'm not talking about just slavery. There were Japanese internment camps set up here during World War II. And there was the Trail of Tears -- the thousand-mile march to Oklahoma that wad forced upon the Cherokee and other Eastern and Woodland tribes by the U.S. government in 1868.

There's another such trek that not many people have heard of. It happened in what was then the New Mexico Territory in the early 1860s, before the Trail of Tears, when the U.S. Army -- left at loose ends after Confederate troops were routed from the area during the Civil War -- decided to round up the Mescalaro Apaches and the Navajos and resettle them at Fort Sumner in eastern New Mexico. The commander of the fort, Brigadier General James H. Carleton, ordered Kit Carson to subdue first the Apaches, then the Navajos, and force them to walk to a site next to the fort dubbed Bosque Redondo -- a distance of 450 miles for some of the detainees. Yes, detainees. Make no mistake: Bosque Redondo was a concentration camp.

The New Mexico Department of Cultural Affairs has built a memorial marking the Long Walk. This past week, I visited the site. 

Lynne Cantwell 2023
The pictures I took are text-heavy and may be hard to read, so I'll summarize. Fort Stanton, at the bottom of this map, is where the Mescalero Apaches started their walk. You can see Albuquerque in the upper left corner of the map; the Navajos walked from either Fort Defiance in the Arizona Territory, well to the left of this photo, or Fort Wingate.

Carleton's plan was to settle both tribes in villages of adobe-style homes that they themselves would build. Basically, he wanted to make Puebloans out of them. But the Apaches were nomadic and the Navajos were sheepherders; neither had ever built adobe homes. Their lifestyles were totally different from the Pueblo peoples, as well as from each other. Still, Carleton thought he could "reform" them by making them into farmers, converting them to Christianity, and teaching their children English. This, then, could be the model for "civilizing" Indian tribes throughout the West. 

Lynne Cantwell 2023
It didn't work. The crops failed in 1865, due to a combination of drought, hail, and insect infestations. In addition, rations meant for Bosque Redondo were cut as the Civil War continued back east. Not surprisingly, many of the detainees died. 

By November of that year, the Apaches had had enough. On the night of November 3rd, hundreds of them crept away from the camp, leaving just nine young men behind to trick the Army into believing everything was fine. Not long after, those nine left, too.

Did the Army just let them go? Of course not. They tracked them down and killed as many as they could find -- men, women and children. Those who survived scattered, finding homes amongst other tribes.

Lynne Cantwell 2023
By 1868, it was clear to everybody that Bosque Redondo was a failure. But what to do with the Navajos? The White negotiators -- who included William Tecumseh Sherman -- favored removing them to Oklahoma, but the Navajos refused to go anywhere except back home. After extensive talks between the U.S. government and Navajo leaders (the government says they dealt with the men, but the Navajos say their women also had input -- which makes sense, as Navajo society is traditionally matriarchal), on June 1, 1868, the two sides signed a treaty that established the Navajo reservation and allowed them to walk back home.

But the government didn't give up on its plan to civilize the Indians. Included in the treaty was a provision that Navajo children would be sent to school. Enter Christian missionaries. The photo below shows how the kids were split up: the smallest went to a Catholic-run school; taller kids went to a Presbyterian-run school; and the tallest went to a Mormon-run school. 

Lynne Cantwell 2023
Boarding school became the model for educating Indian children in both this country and Canada: yank them from their families, cut off their hair, force them to wear White clothing, and rob them of their language and traditions. And that's just the start of the abuse these kids received. Thousands of children who died at the schools were simply buried there. 

And yet, Native Americans have survived. The reason this memorial is at Fort Sumner at all is due to a group of Navajo teens who visited the site on a field trip in 1990. 

Back in the 1980s, Fort Sumner's town fathers, with an eye toward tourist dollars, were all about Billy the Kid, the notorious outlaw who was killed there in 1881 and whose grave is just down the road from Bosque Redondo. The Navajo kids were incensed by what they saw. They wrote a letter accusing the state of ignoring the atrocities that had occurred at the site and left it for officials to find. For the next several decades, the state of New Mexico consulted with the Mescalero Apache tribe and the Navajo Nation to tell the story of what happened at Bosque Redondo. The resulting memorial is very well done. 

The Bosque Redondo Memorial is about two and a half hours from either Albuquerque or Santa Fe. If you're ever in the area, I heartily recommend a visit. 

These moments of solemn bloggy remembrance have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell. Stay safe, y'all.

Sunday, March 19, 2023

Here comes Ostara.

Deposit Photos
As alert hearth/myth readers know, I've been working for the New Mexico legislature as a legal proofreader for the past couple of months. Our state legislature meets over the winter, for 60 days in odd-numbered years and 30 days in even-numbered years. So this was a 60-day session. It started the day after Martin Luther King, Jr. Day in January and went for 60 days straight -- no lunch hours, no weekends, no holidays -- and ended yesterday at noon.

So yesterday afternoon, I emerged from the fog of my hardcore working winter into daylight to discover -- well, to be honest, it still looked like winter out there. Folks in other parts of the country, I know, are enjoying blooming things, but here? Not yet. In fact, I awoke Friday to snow covering the fabulous wall o' windows. Drove to the office wearing my winter gear, including boots -- which were superfluous by the time I left work because all the snow had disappeared. Poof, gone! Evaporation is definitely a thing in the arid Southwest.

Regardless, I know it is nearly Ostara because my calendar tells me so. Tomorrow, in fact, is the equinox -- vernal in the Northern Hemisphere, autumnal in the Southern -- at 3:24pm Mountain Daylight Time. (That's 5:24pm EDT. If you live somewhere else, ask Mama Google.) 

Thanks to the paying job, spring kinda sneaked up on me this year. I managed to think ahead last weekend to buy eggs for coloring, but I realized this afternoon that I needed to boil them today so I can dye them tomorrow. That has now been done. (Just as last year, I plan to dye an egg for justice for Ukraine.) I intended to clean the house today -- it is in desperate need of it, as I decided in January that I could let everything slide 'til session was over -- but that red-and-green afghan is still sitting there, waiting for me to finish reknitting it, so that's another priority. I don't want to still be working on it when the summer solstice rolls around.

The next few weeks will be anything but restful. I do have a short vacation planned for this week, and a longer one coming up next month. But it almost feels like Real Life has been waiting with bated breath for me to emerge from hibernation so it could pounce. Bottom line: The next couple of months won't be terribly restful. But at least the days will be longer.


One more thing before I stop: This week's episode of The Problem with Jon Stewart on Apple TV+ is all about inflation. Stewart made a connection that I came close to last week, but I didn't connect all the dots: Whenever the economy is threatened, the first solution the powers-that-be always reach for -- always, always, always -- is the one that sticks it to the little guy. When the economy crashed in 2008? The big banks got bailed out, but there was zero relief for people who lost their homes. This year, when we're at full employment, yet inflation continues to climb? Well, that's because the politicians handed regular Americans too much stimulus money -- so now, somewhere between two and ten million regular Americans simply have to lose their jobs. 

That's just the price we have to pay, right? We sure don't want to force corporations to make less money, even though they've been raking in record profits, and lots of them are still using the pandemic and supply-chain problems as justification to raise their prices. (One recent study dubs this "excuseflation".)

Here's a clip from the show of Stewart interviewing former US Treasury Secretary Larry Summers. Highlights for me: Stewart's face (at 1:32) when Summers tries to buddy up with him ("those like you and me, who are very fortunate"), and Summers' frown of incomprehension (at around 2:27) when Stewart suggests that maybe giving bailouts to the bankers in 2009 actually hurt the recovery. And it was at 4:24, when Summers said it's not tenable to suggest that corporations have suddenly become greedy, that I wanted to wipe the smirk off his face. It ain't sudden, Larry.
Daily Kos has a recap of the interview here.

Apple TV+, which airs Stewart's show, classifies it as a comedy. I guess that's on the theory that if you can't laugh about this stuff, you'll cry.

These moments of exhausted blogginess have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell. Blessed Ostara! Happy spring!

Sunday, March 12, 2023

The Godot recession and collapsing banks.

First, I have a correction. Last week, I snarked about tech firms lowering their hiring requirements at the same time that thousands of their workers are being laid off. An alert reader told me there really is a shortage of applicants for tech jobs, and the layoffs aren't affecting the unemployment rate because those tech workers who get laid off are landing new jobs very fast. I'm happy to clarify that.

But that brings me to another question about employment -- and about the economy in general. 

ADragan | Deposit Photos
Back when I was a teenager, I read an article in our hometown newspaper that trumpeted the fact that the unemployment rate had fallen to 4%. Good news, the experts quoted in the article said gleefully. We're at full employment!

Fast-forward to last week, when there was weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth over the February 2023 unemployment rate of ... wait for it ... 3.6%. Why? Because it was up by only a smidge from January's historically low unemployment rate of 3.4%. 

Now I'm no economist; my credentials consist of a 101-level class in macroeconomics in college and several decades of watching bona fide economists argue with one another. But it sure seems to me that an unemployment rate of 3.6% ought to be cause for celebration. Why are these people wringing their hands?

It has to do with the specter of recession. Ever since the world shut down for the pandemic three years ago, the folks in charge of financial stuff have been warning dolefully that we're due for a doozy of a recession. Just wait, they keep saying -- in one more quarter, or maybe two, the economy is going to go to hell. The stock market will tank, there will be massive layoffs, and it's just going to be miserable.

But here we are. It's been three years since the pause, and everything's going along tickety-boo. The Wall Street Journal this week quoted the chief economist at Credit Suisse, Ray Farris, as saying, "It's the 'Godot' recession." You know, the one that never comes. (I hope you can read the article at the link; WSJ is paywalled, and their monthly subscription rate is clearly geared toward titans of industry.)

The article goes on to attempt to explain why the recession hasn't shown up yet. Between the stimulus payments and other measures the federal government implemented during the pause (including, I'd suggest, the hold on student loan payments), we've had a soft landing. Yes, inflation is high, but it's been coming down for several months; a lot of the increase was due to supply-chain issues that have mostly eased. Consumer spending is still going strong, and unemployment, as I've said, is super low.

The Federal Reserve has been trying to put the brakes on the economy -- to keep us from tipping over into a recession -- by raising interest rates at a fast clip. But hiking interest rates is a blunt tool, and this weird economic situation we're in may need a finer instrument now.

A big sign that the Fed's favored tool may have maxed out its usefulness came on Friday, when banking regulators seized Silicon Valley Bank and shut it down. The bank catered to tech startups. It was adequately capitalized -- that is, it had plenty of money on hand -- as recently as December. But the Fed's interest rate hikes caused the bank's long-term investments -- Treasury bonds -- to lose value. Once word got out that the bank was selling T-bonds to raise capital, a whole bunch of account holders rushed to pull their money out, which of course made the bank's liquidity problems worse. So the government stepped in around noon Friday and took it over. (Reportedly, SVB employees received their annual bonuses just before the kaboom.)

This is the biggest bank failure since Washington Mutual went belly-up in 2008 and kicked off the Great Recession. But government officials have been quick to reassure everyone this weekend that we're not going to have a repeat of that financial fiasco: SVB didn't have its fingers in nearly as many business sectors as WaMu did; it's really more of a regional player; and so on.

But as I was beginning to write this post, word came of another bank collapse. Today, banking regulators shut down Signature Bank, a commercial bank with headquarters in New York and a broader base of business, including commercial real estate, than SVB's. A quarter of Signature Bank's assets were in crypto last fall, but the bank announced plans a few months ago to sell off a chunk of that.

The government has promised account holders that they'll be able to get at their money in both banks tomorrow.

It's hard to predict what all this will mean for the future of the economy (although economists no doubt will try!), but it will be interesting to see how the Fed's board of governors reacts to this news. Playing with interest rates is really the only tool it has for influencing the economy. The board meets again on March 22nd, and there are indications -- okay, there's speculation -- that the members may vote to slow down their interest rate hikes. I guess we'll see what happens.


These moments of economic blogginess have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell. Stay safe!

Sunday, March 5, 2023

In which certain people miss the point.

I will probably regret using both of these ideas in a single post. One of these days, I'll be out of ideas again and wish I'd saved one of them. But my opinion about both is similar, and it can be summed up this way: These people are missing the point.

dcdp | Deposit Photos

First, this article from The Atlantic, in which the author -- Timothy Keller, the pastor of a Presbyterian church in Manhattan -- argues that Christianity in America is due for a revival. Not the kind of revival with shouting and praising Jesus and the laying on of hands and so forth, but the resurgence kind. He notes that nearly 30 percent of Americans professed a belief in no religion in 2021, while the number of folks professing to be Christian dropped from 75 percent ten years ago to 63 percent in 2021. But the situation isn't hopeless, he says; he goes on to talk about how the Christian Church has a habit of creating "unexpected innovations": among them, the development of monasticism, which he credits with converting Northern European pagans, and the Reformation. "Christianity, like its founder, does not go from strength to strength but from death to resurrection," he says. 

I find it fascinating that he glosses over the pain and suffering such "unexpected innovations" have caused. Witness the Thirty Years' War (between four-and-a-half million and eight million dead) and the forced conversions of Jews in Spain, as well as of Native Americans by missionaries who accompanied the conquistadores throughout North America.

Anyway, Keller goes on to say that a Christian revival needs to have three things: 

  1. The church must back away from politics. Sounds good to me.
  2.  An "extraordinary amount" of communal prayer. So, like, lots of people praying together in public? Have at it, as long as I'm not forced to participate.
  3. "[T]he Church will have to clearly declare that there are moral absolutes—which will be unpopular, to say the least. It will be called domineering and abusive..." No duh.
This is where Keller misses the point. The Christian Church is losing ground in America not because of the breakdown of society due to individualism or whatever, but because people are rejecting the church's stern paternalism and outright corruption (pedophile priests, as one example). The paternalism, at least, Keller sees as a feature, not a bug. But the more Americans learn about such abuses, the more we question why we should put our faith in an institution that champions moral absolutism except when it concerns the behavior of its own.

Which brings me to the second article I wanted to talk about: this column in Axios, in which Felix Salmon cheers the demise of liberal arts majors like English and philosophy. Salmon comes at it from a business perspective, saying the rising cost of a college education, coupled with "the rising opportunity cost of going to college," will toll the death knell for any degree that won't get a student a good-paying job. 

What's this "opportunity cost" thing? Well, he says, college students lose years of wages while earning a credential that a lot of employers no longer require. An embedded link leads to a CNBC story about IT employers lowering education requirements to attract more applicants. But wait a minute -- aren't tech firms laying off tens of thousands of workers right now?

Furthermore, it's only been within the last few decades that a four-year degree has been considered the best route to a good job. The philosophy behind the undergraduate liberal arts degree has always been that such a course of study teaches a student to think. 

The student who wants to make a lot of money then goes on to a graduate-level degree -- in medicine or law or business or one of the sciences. 

If what the student is after is career training, that's what community colleges and technical schools are for. But a liberal arts degree isn't that, has never been that, and should never have been considered to be that.

Salmon admits that the skills he learned as an undergrad, majoring in philosophy and art history, have proven "very useful over and over again." But he's resigned to the liberal arts degree bowing to capitalist pressure and returning to being a thing that only rich kids can afford to do.

I would add, somewhat snarkily, that rich kids need that training so they can take their places as our overlords. Worker bees don't need to learn how to think, right? That just leads to things like, oh, say, questioning the boss. And rejecting organized religion.


These moments of head-scratching blogginess have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell (B.A. in journalism, 1979; M.A. in fiction writing, 1995). Stay safe!

Sunday, February 26, 2023

Dreaming of electric sheep?


iLexx | Deposit Photos
You have likely heard by now some of the furor over artificial intelligence, or AI, creeping into spaces where previously it had dared to tread. Since ChatGPT's debut in November, school districts around the country have banned its use by students. Educators are concerned that kids will use the tool to generate homework assignments. Colleges are concerned, too, but most appear to be leaving the decision about whether to ban use of the technology up to individual professors.

Then there's AI art. Last year the furor was all about apps that could take your selfie and turn it into something artistic or cartoony. The biggest concern was that the apps themselves were skimming too much personal data, maybe for resale -- including your face, which could be a security problem. Those apps dropped out of sight pretty quickly. But complaints have continued, especially from artists, over a new crop of apps that can turn out images based on written commands. The problem is that these apps are skimming images from the internet and slicing and dicing them. Those skimmed images are created by actual flesh-and-blood artists -- and the apps are doing it without compensating the artists. That's not just a financial problem for the artists, although that's bad enough; it's also copyright infringement.

Besides that, the resulting artwork isn't very good. But the AI programs are learning; the more input they get from human users, the better they're going to get at this. Artists can envision their livelihoods disappearing as clients turn to AI-produced art.

Although maybe the machines aren't yet fast enough at learning. Earlier this month, Microsoft unveiled its new AI assistant, Bing, named after its search engine (which I hope has gotten better than it was the last time I tried to use it -- wow). Except that when the New York Times and the Washington Post sent reporters to chat with Bing, they learned her -- okay, its -- name was actually Sydney, and she -- okay, it -- was kinda quirky. She (I give up) pledged her undying love for the NYT reporter, but when WaPo asked her about him, she had no idea who he was. So much for undying love.

Mostly, I've been bemused by it all. Sure, the vast majority of Americans think AI technology will do society more harm than good -- but they conveniently forget that we're already awash in it. Does your email have a spam filter? (I sure hope so!) That's AI. Talked to Alexa lately? She's AI, too.

I do think there are some things AI shouldn't be used for. For example, self-driving vehicles are proving to be as bad an idea as we all suspected they'd be. 

And I think that by and large, creativity should be left to human beings. I know how corporate America works, and I'm worried about artists losing their jobs to technology that turns out an inferior product for less.

Then there's this: Clarkesworld, the online speculative fiction magazine, has stopped taking submissions. Why? Because for the past few months, the editorial staff has been inundated with AI-generated stories. Neil Clarke, who publishes and edits the zine, says by the time they shut down submissions on February 20th, they had received 500 AI-generated submissions this month alone -- and it's getting worse. Clarke says that because his zine pays on publication, it ended up on somebody's list of places to send AI-generated stories and make money from them. 

He says it's not going to work; the AI-generated stories aren't any good.

I get that. But that's today. The machines are still learning.


The illustration up top is not AI-generated, as far as I know; I bought it from a royalty-free stock photo site. I was going for a futuristic take on the "monkeys using typewriters" adage. What do you think?


These moments of blatantly human blogginess have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell -- who is still fully flesh-and-blood. Well, except for some crowns in her mouth and the plastic lenses in her eyes.

Sunday, February 19, 2023

Aliens vs. gods: who to believe in?

I was pretty disappointed by my Facebook friends earlier this week. I saw the following meme and shared it: 

No idea who created this, sorry.
"Agreed!" I said. Then I added, "Of course, you could say the same thing about the gods..."

Not a single friend took me up on my snarky comment. 

Several folks said they believe there's life elsewhere in the universe and listed good reasons why we haven't met them yet: the universe is vast and they may be nowhere near us; there's life out there, but it may not be intelligent life (with the usual comments about whether there's intelligent life on Earth); aliens know we're here and they're avoiding us because we're primitive and warlike; and so on. 

But nobody rose to my point. Maybe they thought I was baiting them. Heck, maybe I was.

I'm not suggesting the gods are aliens; Erich von Daniken made a lot of money in the late '60s by popularizing the idea that ancient astronauts built the pyramids, but that hypothesis has been debunked long since. 

I'm also not advocating some version of Pascal's wager -- which, for the record, I think is stupid. You're familiar with it, right? It purports to use logic to convince people to believe in the Christian God. If God is real and you believe, the argument goes, you win eternal life; but if God isn't real, yet you act like He is, then you've lost nothing but gained a good life.

It's the "you've lost nothing" part that I have trouble with. If I go against my sincerely held beliefs, I have indeed lost something -- my integrity. Is that the sort of "believer" Jehovah wants in heaven -- a person who will say anything to get that eternal reward? I don't think so.

Anyway, that wasn't my point with the alien meme. My point was that there are people who have never seen an alien, but are willing to entertain the idea that they exist. Yet because they disagree with Christianity, they think anybody who believes in any god is irrational. 

Humans on earth have no material evidence for the existence of either gods or aliens -- but while it's okay to believe that alien life might be out there, it's nuts to believe the same thing about the gods.

I dunno. Just seems irrational to me.


As a reward for tolerating my little thought exercise, I'm giving you pictures of my cat.

Tigs is weird about plants. He doesn't nom the leaves or the flowers; instead, he gnaws through the stems. I learned this the hard way right after I adopted him. He went after some roses so hard that he knocked the vase over and it broke. (Before somebody asks: no, roses aren't toxic to cats.)

So for Valentine's Day, I got him a bunch of those little spray roses. (I also stuck them in a brass vase so he couldn't knock it over and break it.) 

Things began innocently enough: 

Lynne Cantwell 2023
But then: CRRUNCHHH! 
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That was Tuesday. He's been at them all week. I got a final shot of the carnage tonight. 
Lynne Cantwell 2023
I guess I need to get him some more.


These moments of destructive blogginess have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell. Stay safe!

Sunday, February 12, 2023

Happy February. Bah, humbug.

I know I hinted about maybe posting more this week about that star-shaped afghan I've been working on because I'd almost finished it. 

Well, I finished it. And it didn't turn out the way I thought it would -- one side of each star point was obviously narrower than the other side. So I ripped the whole thing. The. Whole. Thing. Weeks of work.

I'm starting over, though, and I'm going to be more careful this time. I was pretty cavalier about counting my stitches the first time, and it's possible that's why it didn't turn out the way it should have. Or maybe I should have tried to even things out by blocking the afghan. If it turns out the same way this time, even with careful counting and so on, I'll try blocking it and see if that fixes it. Anyway, you'll get a picture eventually. Maybe.

That's kind of how this last week or so has been going in general, and it's making me grumpy. Or at least I thought that's what was making me grumpy. Then I looked at the calendar, and it all became clear.

I won't bore you again with my antipathy for Valentine's Day; I've written about it it often enough in the past. Instead, I will offer you, Dear Reader, a Valentine, generated for free from the website of the Washington Post. Feel free to follow the link and make your own!
As long as we're talking about hearts and stuff, I thought I'd mention Medicare. And, what the heck, Social Security, too.

This past week, President Biden kind of pulled a fast one on the Republicans in Congress. He made a big deal during his State of the Union speech about how some of them plan to cut Social Security and Medicare. That is absolutely true, and the White House issued a fact sheet to back him up -- naming names, even. But of course, the Republicans weren't going to admit it in front of 27 million people on live television. So they joined their fellow members of Congress on the Democratic side of the aisle by standing and cheering when Biden said, "we all apparently agree" that Social Security and Medicare will not be cut -- and if a bill containing such cuts does somehow get to his desk, he'll veto it.

It made for great political theater. But we all know how politics works -- or we should by now. The GOP will try to cut the programs anyway; they just won't admit that's what they're doing. They'll call it something else.

One cut/not-a-cut that's been done in the past is to increase the age at which people can collect their full Social Security benefits. My father retired in the mid 1980s at the age of 65. That was full retirement age for everybody back then. But in 1983, saying Social Security was running out of money, Congress began rolling back full retirement age. My full retirement age is 66 and a half; I won't get there 'til next summer. Folks younger than me face a full retirement age of 67. 

The idea was to "save Social Security" by encouraging people to work longer. But it hasn't worked. CNBC has a great analysis of why it has failed. In a nutshell: Congress thought 401(k) plans, which were brand new at the time, would fund a bigger chunk of retirees' income. But not everybody has access to a 401(k) plan at work, and not everybody who has access to one is as diligent as they should be about paying into it. The result? The vast majority of retirees still rely on Social Security for most of their income. (In fact, according to the CNBC article, lower-paid workers are taking Social Security early to supplement their income. When they can't work anymore, their income drops. That's one reason why the poverty rate among seniors is rising.)

Keep that in mind the next time you hear somebody suggest that Social Security should be privatized; that's what 401(k) plans were supposed to do, and it hasn't worked. (Ditto for Medicare Advantage plans, which are supposed to save Medicare but instead are rife with fraud and abuse. I railed against that here not long ago.)

Congress in '83 also thought, somewhat giddily, that American workers would be healthy enough to work longer. While that's true for well-educated White folks with office jobs, it's not universally true. In fact, it discriminates against minorities and those who aren't as well educated. (Even having a cushy office job doesn't guarantee a long life; I watched for years as secretaries I worked with at the BigLaw firm retired, then died just a few years later. Turns out being sedentary is bad for longevity. Who knew?)

Regardless, the Republican Study Committee in the House of Representatives has drawn up a budget that would once again "save Social Security" by rolling back full retirement age some more, phasing in the rollback until folks born in 1978 or later would not reach full retirement age until age 70. 

You know what this would do, right? It would kick the can down the road, just like in '83. As Alicia Munnell, the director of the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College, says in that CNBC article, there are only two ways to fix Social Security: "You can have less money go out or more money come in." And Republicans won't raise taxes. The only solution they'll entertain is to cut benefits -- and as Munnell says, "increasing the retirement age is a benefit cut." Twenty years from now, or sooner, we'll be right back where we are now. 

I suppose eventually, Congress could raise the full retirement age so high that most folks would die before they could collect anything. That'll save Social Security, all right.

Now I'm getting grumpy again. I'm going to go knit. Happy Valentine's Day.

These moments of grumpy blogginess have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell. Stay safe!