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!