June 4, 2020

Trump Really Doesn’t Seek to Divide Americans

It is often said that Donald Trump seeks to divide Americans rather than unite them. His actions certainly have that effect. Nevertheless, I don’t think that division of Americans is really Trump’s objective.

Donald J. Trump
Donald Trump knows in his heart that he is a minority president, that most people dislike him and everything he stands for. But he is who he is, and Mr. Trump is not about to pander to the majority, which frankly hates his guts. Instead, everything he does is intended to please his base, those folks who think like him and, in most cases, adore him. He is terrified of losing any of these people because he has no talent or inclination to win over Americans who are not already devoted to him.

Dividing Americans is not really a good political strategy, either for winning elections or for governing. But Donald Trump has discovered, probably much to his surprise, that, with a devoted following and substantial help from our undemocratic electoral system, he can win a national election. In 2020, however, the voters disdained by the president are more strongly motivated than they were in 2016.

Let us hope that Mr. Trump’s perverse strategy doesn’t work twice.

May 27, 2020

A Son’s Tribute

When his mother and my former wife, Betty Deimel, died, my son, Geoffrey August Deimel, wrote a tribute to his mother on Facebook the next day. With permission and minor editing, I have reproduced his essay below. My own tribute to Betty can be found here.
Many of you—particularly those who knew me in my Pittsburgh or Annapolis days—knew my mother, Betty Deimel. After battling an infection (not COVID) for the last several weeks, she succumbed to her illness late last night [May 21], dying in a hospital here in the Finger Lakes.

Her last few years were difficult. She had been quite sick for a very long time with a complex of conditions that became progressively more debilitating ever since she suffered an embolism in 2006.  I don’t think she ever felt truly herself again after that incident.

As much as my final years with her made an impression—and left their scars—I can already tell that they will fade. Instead, I will remember her as the mother I knew when I was growing up. The one who was so dynamic and hopeful.  The activist and rabble-rouser.  The social justice warrior. The political operator who organized for the ERA and marched with Dr. King. My mom gave me my confidence, my politics, and many of my ways of engaging with the world. She was a great parent, always doting and loving. She always had time for me despite a hectic career and dealing with her own considerable difficulties.

The picture below is from a book on the Women’s Movement.  There’s my mom on the right side.  And that’s my little head, in the snuggly on her chest. That’s the mom I’ll remember, the one I’ll forever miss.

Betty at march for the ERA

Betty Deimel (May 6, 1948–May 21, 2020)

Betty Deimel, the former Betty Elaine Lovell, died in a hospital in Canandaigua, New York last Thursday. She apparently died of a bacterial infection and was not a COVID-19 victim. Our son, Geoffrey August Deimel, and his wife, Sara Marie Wagner, were in attendance when the end came. I had visited the day before, when a family friend, the Rev. Vicki Wesen, led Ministration at the Time of Death via Zoom. Betty was unresponsive for our visits, and, until Wednesday afternoon, had been on a ventilator.

Betty had been rushed to F.F. Thompson Hospital when she could not be roused for breakfast May 9 at the Ontario Center for Rehabilitation and Healthcare, where she had been living. She had suffered various medical problems for some time. Problems became increasingly serious in 2006, and she became unable to work. Her son and daughter-in-law had brought her to the Finger Lakes from the Chicago area to offer her better care.

Betty with son August
Betty with son August
Geneva, New York, August 2018
Betty and I met at the University of Chicago, where she was an English major a year behind me. We got to know one another at my Alpha Delta Phi fraternity house. She was dating a fraternity brother a year ahead of me. Like me, he was a physics major. When Boyfriend-Number-One graduated, Betty and I began to see more of one another and became square dance partners. (Square dancing was not mainstream at Chicago.) After my graduation, we wrote to one another and had a few opportunities to meet. Two-and-a-half years later, we were married on the Chicago campus, by which time, I was in the Army fighting the Vietnam War with my clarinet.

Betty had wanted to be a children’s librarian and earned her library degree from the University of Hawaii while I was stationed in Honolulu. After we moved to Atlanta to allow me to continue my graduate studies, Betty landed a temporary position at Emory University as a reference librarian. She loved the job, but her failure to be offered a permanent position changed the direction of her career. She earned a second master’s degree, in public administration, at Georgia State University. In Raleigh, North Carolina, she held an administrative position with the National Association of Attorneys General before becoming an owner and worker at a startup canvas works. She also became a mother in Raleigh. Later, in Meadville, Pennsylvania, she worked in the development office of Allegheny College.

In 1987, Betty joined the technical staff of the Software Engineering Institute at Carnegie Mellon University. (I joined the SEI a few months later.) She stayed at that job for a decade before forming her own consulting firm, Gateway Associates, to continue the work she had been doing at the SEI. Her work was directed at software process improvement and involved a good deal of travel, including several stints in Australia.

Betty and Lionel at the wedding of August and Sara
Betty and me at the wedding of August and Sara
Annapolis, Maryland, June 2008
So much for the obvious facts. Who was Betty? I’m sure many of her friends would call her a people person. She was a sensitive, caring extrovert, and many mutual friends were surprised when she married me, who was, at least at the time, a not-very-sensitive (if slightly romantic) introvert. Moreover, I was an intellectual and academic, and she was mildly disdainful of those things. She was a person who remembered birthdays and sought out gifts she could give for no obvious reason.

Also, Betty was a liberal, and I was a conservative Republican from New Orleans. We were both interested in politics but seldom let our differences get in the way of our relationship. Betty did convince me not to vote for Nixon in 1968, and I eventually became a committed liberal pretty much on my own. Betty became a feminist, a development that didn’t trouble me, but we clashed over the Equal Rights Amendment. She marched for the ERA; I wrote a letter to the editor against it. Betty was right, and she simply indulged me at the time. Betty also helped elect the first female mayor of Raleigh,

When I was on the faculty at North Carolina State University, we met Don and Vicki Wesen. Don was in animal science and worked with cows. Vicki volunteered as librarian at her Episcopal church. She became good friends with Betty and enlisted her help in organizing the church library. Perhaps not surprisingly, their conversation eventually turned to religion. Vicki was surprised to learn that her friend was not a Christian, having grown up nominally Unitarian. “But you’re the most Christian person I know,” Vicki remarked, presumably based on Betty’s demeanor. As a birthday president, Vicki arranged for Betty to have talks with her priest. This eventually led to both Betty and Geoffrey being baptized. Betty and I were later confirmed in the Episcopal Church. I discovered that the Episcopal Church was the church I had been looking for.

It always seemed surprising that Betty had such success at the SEI and later in her post-SEI career. She had been working with computers since her Georgia State days and was comfortable with computers, having used SPSS and assorted administrative software. I suppose that being married to me also gave her some useful familiarity with technical people. Anyway, she joked about helping software engineers get in touch with their feelings. Mostly, she taught them to be disciplined, something that often doesn’t come naturally to programmers. It was Betty’s communication and interpersonal skills that made her successful in an area far removed from library science.

Most especially, Betty was a planner and a doer. She built a career by making the most of unexpected developments. She led a troop of blind Brownies in Raleigh. She planned the renovation of the kitchen in our newly purchased Mt. Lebanon home. She planned parties and vacations, and she planned psychological exercises for use by our church. She helped individuals by administering and interpreting their Myers–Briggs inventory, an activity for which she actually had credentials. She arranged for Geoffrey to attend a prestigious Anglican boarding school in Australia for a term. She planned how we could finance our son’s college expenses.

We never did return to square dancing, and our dalliance with ballroom dancing was fleeting. We did some hiking in Hawaii, but that was more my thing than hers. We both were movie buffs. Betty was on the board of film society in Raleigh, and we even attended an AFI event in Williamsburg, Virginia. Besides parenting, music probably brought us together more than anything. In Pittsburgh, we enjoyed the symphony, ballet, and opera. We also sang together for many years in the chancel choir of St. Paul‘s Episcopal Church in Mt. Lebanon. Betty took some piano lessons but didn’t stick with it.

For reasons I never completely understood, Betty wanted to live near water and wanted to sail. That and her concern that I would not be able to deal with her medical problems led to our separation and eventual divorce. She planned even that to be as minimally disruptive as possible to everyone’s life. Betty moved to Annapolis, Maryland, and bought a house within shouting distance of a cove that opened into Chesapeake Bay. Alas, her health never allowed her to fully realize her dream, and her life near the water was short-lived.

Her final years were a constant struggle simply to muddle through. Betty moved back to the Chicago area but never achieved a stable living situation. She never lost hope for better times, but she could not overcome her infirmities. In the Finger Lakes, she experienced stability if not happiness. We have remained friends, and I will miss her.

Rest in peace, Betty Deimel, and rise in glory.

May 15, 2020

What Republicans Believe

Trump supporters do not think like the rest of us. They share many odd and dysfunctional views. Although they are not uniform in their opinions, even those ideas not universally held are nonetheless widely believed. Because Donald Trump has effectively reshaped the Republican Party in his own image, characterizing Trump supporters characterizes the GOP itself.

It’s important that we understand what Republicans stand for. Those who see no difference between Democrats and Republicans are fooling themselves. Republicans intend to destroy the United States that came of age in the decades following World War II.

Below, I have created a list of the notions widely held among Republicans. I may have exaggerated a bit, but not a lot. This list was not difficult to construct, but I cannot claim that it’s comprehensive. If your view of the world includes most of the ideas enumerated, you are, or should be, a Republican. If you reject most of these ideas, you are, or should be, something else, most likely a Democrat.

A caveat: Republican officeholders often act in self-serving ways that may not be consistent with their stated opinions. (Remember what Lord Acton said.)

Keep this list in mind when you vote in November.
  • Donald Trump is a very stable genius.
  • Fox News is the most reliable source of information.
  • The United States spends too much money on the defense of other nations.
  • The world is not getting warmer.
  • Deaths from the coronavirus are much exaggerated.
  • The crowd that attended Trump’s inauguration was the largest in history.
  • Public schools expose children to government propaganda.
  • Democrats are in the pocket of Wall Street.
  • U.S. elections are rife with voter fraud.
  • People on welfare should have to work to receive benefits.
  • Wind turbines cause cancer.
  • Widespread possession of guns makes everyone safer.
  • Republicans are the guardians of fiscal responsibility.
  • Russia is a friendly nation.
  • The FBI is corrupt.
  • The U.S. was founded as a Christian nation.
  • Trump was elected despite an illegal plot by Obama to undermine his campaign.
  • The United States should not be the world’s policeman.
  • Illegal immigrants commit crimes and drain public resources.
  • Saudi Arabia is a strong ally and a valuable business customer.
  • Obamacare threatens our freedom.
  • Congress has no legitimate power over the president or his administration.
  • Abortions cause depression in women who have them.
  • Our nation is properly led by white people.
  • Vaccines cause autism.
  • Even legal immigration is a threat to our nation.
  • Donald Trump is our greatest president since George Washington.
  • Recovery from a coronavirus infection confers lifetime immunity.
  • Minimum-wage laws cause unemployment and pay some people more than they’re worth.
  • Fetuses should have the same rights as everyone else.
  • Bill Barr is our greatest attorney general.
  • Religious schools deserve as much public support as public schools.
  • Unions are inimical to free enterprise.
  • Government regulations depress our economy.
  • Israel needs to control all of Palestine to secure its safety from the terrorists who surround it.
  • Journalists are enemies of the people.
  • Muslims are terrorists.
  • Democrats exaggerated the coronavirus pandemic to harm Donald Trump.
  • Senators and Representatives of the president’s party are obliged to support their president.
  • The “real” U.S. is rural and agrarian, not urban.
  • The supply of fossil fuels is virtually inexhaustible. 
  • The Democratic Party is effectively a socialist party.
  • Military spending benefits everyone.
  • Government officials are poorly paid and should use their positions to make money on the side.
  • No president has endured as much undeserved criticism as Donald Trump.
  • The United States Postal Service unfairly competes with services such as FedEx and UPS.
  • Illegal aliens should be deported irrespective of how long they have been in the country.
  • Supporting the United Nations is largely a waste of money.
  • The coronavirus threat has been neutralized through widespread quarantining.
  • U.S. intelligence services are incompetent.
  • The country is too accepting of perverts.
  • Democrats have a visceral and unjustified hatred of Donald Trump.
  • Taxes should be reduced to discourage government overreach.
  • Drug users deserve to be in jail.
  • The government should not subsidize the “arts.”
  • Kim Jong-un only seems hostile because North Korea has not been treated well by the U.S.
  • Too many people escape criminal punishment on technicalities.
  • Free trade invariably harms U.S. interests.
  • Blacks commit most of the crime in this country.
  • Donald Trump always speaks the truth.
  • The United States is the greatest country on earth.
  • People should take responsibility for their own health care.
  • Churches and corporations should be allowed to endorse political candidates.
  • The CDC is particularly hostile to President Trump.
  • Government workers are an impediment to needed change.
  • The #MeToo movement gets too much attention.
  • Building the wall on our southern border should be completed at all costs.
  • God, in his munificence, made Trump president.
  • The Federal Reserve should be controlled by the president.
  • Freedom to act on one’s religious beliefs is our most important civil right. (Well, maybe not quite as important as the right to bear arms.)
  • Many universities undermine our nation’s ideals.
  • Bilateral trade agreements allow us to impose our interests on other countries.
  • Jared Kushner is a multitalented genius.
  • The WHO favors China as opposed to the United States.
  • The moon landing was faked.
  • The world is flat.

May 6, 2020

Sorry, Nancy

Nancy Pelosi
Nancy Pelosi
On August 4, 2018, I wrote a post titled “The Wisdom of Dumping Pelosi.” I argued that Nancy Pelosi, who was then minority leader in the House of Representatives, had become a lightning rod for Republican criticism. I suggested that her reputation among Republicans could have negative consequences in the upcoming congressional elections.

I am writing this post today to apologize for that earlier essay. I mistakenly suggested that Pelosi’s negatives among Republicans could have consequences analogous to those of Hillary Clinton in 2016. Of course, this concern was much overblown. Clinton was widely disliked by citizens of all stripes, and that attitude clearly affected presidential votes. Pelosi, however, was only running in her own district, and her influence on congressional elections generally was likely slight.

Even were Pelosi’s remaining as minority leader a negative influence for Democrats in their various races, it turns out that Ms. Pelosi is an enormous asset to the party. She is, in fact, one of the most—perhaps the most—talented politician on the national scene. It would have been a tragedy to lose her talents in the House.

Republican operatives will smear any Democrat they view as a threat to their exercise of power. If Ms. Pelosi were “dumped,” as I suggested, Republicans would easily have found other Democrats and other Democratic policies to trash.

The Democrats did not dump Pelosi, and we are better off for it. To Nancy Pelosi, I can only say, “I’m sorry.”

May 5, 2020

The Coronavirus and Meat-Processing Plants

I just saw a news report of another coronavirus outbreak at a pork-processing plant. It’s time to think more carefully about the significance of such outbreaks, which are becoming all-to-common and, potentially, are threatening our meat supply.

When it is discovered that, say, a pork-processing plant has hundreds of coronavirus-infected workers in a town that was not thought to be greatly threatened by the current pandemic, we should be worried. News and commentary have suggested that plant workers will go to their homes and infect family members or other people they encounter. This is assuredly a threat.

But the situation is worse than we might imagine. How did so many workers become infected in the first place? Surely, the virus did not come into the plant in hog carcasses. Instead, one or more employees must have brought the virus into the workplace, and that person or persons were in close contact with co-workers on the processing line. In other words, the virus was circulating in the area before the outbreak occurred in the plant. That plant, however, was a perfect incubator for multiplying infections.

We must stop thinking of outbreaks of coronavirus in meat-processing plants as isolated incidents. Instead, they are canaries in the coal mine. We need to ramp up testing rapidly to discover how desperate matters actually are.

May 4, 2020

In Praise of the Diaeresis

I recently encountered a Facebook post that collected several English language quirks. One of my favorite items asked whether the “s” or the “c” of “scent” is silent. (Think about that one.) Another noted that you can drink a drink, but you cannot food a food. (Likewise, you can exit and exit, but you cannot entrance an entrance.)

Most of the observations in the post were clever, but I found one upsetting:
Why are Zoey and Zoe pronounced the same but Joey and Joe aren’t?
By normal English orthographic rules, one expects that the final “e” in “Zoe” should be silent. Thus, “Zoe” should be pronounced as though it were rendered as “Zo,” which, of course, is not pronounced the same as “Zoey.”

There are people named Zoe who pronounce their name using a single syllable. Most people named Zoe, however, pronounce their name as though it were spelled “Zoey.” Other folks render their name as “Zoë.” This last spelling, I assert, is the correct one for the common two-syllable name.

The two dots above the “e” in “Zoë” are not, as some assume, an umlaut, an identical-looking diacritical mark much used in German. English readers most often encounter umlauts in German names, for example, Schröder or Müller. The umlaut indicates that the vowel over which it sits is pronounced differently than it would be in the absence of the diacritical mark. Generally, the sounds indicated by umlauts represent sounds absent in ordinary English. One of the skills one must learn in a German course is how to pronounce these modified vowels. It does not come naturally.

What the unlaut-looking mark in Zoë is is a diaeresis. Rather than telegraphing that the indicated vowel is pronounced in a special fashion, the diaeresis signals that it is to be pronounced individually, rather than being silent or being a participant in a diphthong. Thus, Zoë is pronounced Zo-e. Diaereses are uncommon in English, but the crop up in familiar names such as Chloë and Brotë. Noël, naïve, and naïf may all be seen with diaereses, though the mark is sometimes dropped.

Americans are not fond of odd symbols creeping into their spelling. Thus, words like “rail-road” becomes “railroad,” and “e-mail” becomes “email,” an abomination an electronic neophyte might be tempted to pronounce em-ail. Likewise, “naïve” may be simplified to “naive” out of ignorance, laziness, or inability to render “ï” using a keyboard. Words with which we have become familiar tend to lose their diacritical marks in most writing. Thus, we have the familiar spelling of “cooperate,” which, according to normal English pronunciation rules should be sounded as coop-er-ate. Through repetition, we have learned to ignore the fact that the spelling of this word is actually goofy. The New Yorker and I—and practically no one else— always render this word as “coöperate,” which, I proudly assert, is the only literate spelling. (“Co-operate” is an acceptable alternative for the diaeresis-phobic.)

Although it is seldom called into action, the diaeresis is useful for clarifying how words are to be pronounced, and it is a shame when they disappear. It is worth noting, however, that there are words that would seem to demand the diaeresis but which have never had one. Why isn’t “aorta” written as “aörta”? The answer probably is that “ao” is not recognized as a diphthong, making a-or-ta the only reasonable pronunciation. Tragically, “preaortic“ is also a word, over which the medically naïve might easily stumble.

I conclude with some thoughts about another word. In the world of e-commerce—please, God, do not let this word become ecommerce—one sometimes pre-orders an item such as a book. With increased usage, this word may become “preörder” and, finally, “preorder.” You have likely seen this final form already. Shouldn't the word really be “preörder”?

April 28, 2020

How to Do It

We may not always want to admit it, but our behavior is influenced by what we see in the media. When we see beautiful and seemingly competent people doing even everyday things, we feel that we should be doing things the same way. This is easier said than done. Let me offer three examples.

In the commercials, we see attractive women washing their faces with some promoted brand of soap—or should I say, “beauty bar.” Then the person in the commercial puts her two hands together and deftly collects water that she then splashes elegantly across her face to remove the soap—beauty bar—residue. Somehow, I cannot seem to master this procedure. If I use both hands to collect my rinse water, when I lift my face, the water drips down my shirt because I don’t have a towel handy. The towel rack is too far away to reach with my head down, and, should I put a towel on my shoulder before rinsing off the soap, it will likely fall into the sink. Instead, I keep a towel in one hand and use a single hand to collect rinse water. More than one hand’s worth of water is invariably required. My method works, but it lacks the elegance of what I see on television.

Then there’s the matter of brushing my teeth. At the suggestion of my dentist, I bought an electric toothbrush. I am reasonably convinced that it does a better job of cleaning my teeth than I was able to do with a manual toothbrush. In television commercials, models use their electric toothbrushes smiling and generally looking both beautiful and capable. How hard can using a toothbrush that does most of the work for you be? I haven’t worked on the smiling part—I’m not a perpetual smiler anyway—but I would at least like to look neat. Instead, the brushing procedure seems to produce a foam of toothpaste that I cannot keep completely in my mouth. Instead, it leaks out, making me look like I have rabies. Not a pretty look.

Finally, there is the simple matter of removing a tee-shirt. YouTube hosts a demonstration of what, reputedly, is the fastest way of doing so. It only uses one hand, sort of. I don‘t think that many people use this technique, which looks more like a magic trick than an elegant lifestyle skill learned in charm school. No, what appears to be the standard way one is supposed to remove one’s shirt is to cross your arms, grasp the hem of the shirt with each hand, and pull up, thereby removing the shirt over one’s head. In Equus, Jill performed this maneuver so effortlessly before Alan, revealing that she was wearing nothing underneath. I, however, cannot pull this off. (Pardon the pun.) When I get my arms halfway up, my shirt kind of gets stuck. I can remove the shirt in the end, but I don’t look at all cool. In practice, I pull my shirt at the neck and pull it over my head.

I’m sure there are other everyday tasks I’m not good at, but those described above are the ones that most seem to bug me. Do others share my disabilities?

The Great States

She is hardly the only person to use the locution, but Rachel Maddow repeatedly refers to a state as “The Great State of [wherever].” (I haven’t caught her referring to “The Great Commonwealth of [wherever],” but, then again, I don’t know why Arizona is a state, and Massachusetts is a commonwealth. What is a commonwealth anyway? For what it’s worth, the official seal of Pennsylvania refers to “The State of Pennsylvania,” but the governor’s seal carries a “Commonwealth of Pennsylvania” label. Crazy, but you can look it up!)

Clearly, “The Great State” is intended as a kind of honorific, though it isn’t clear why Ms. Maddow (or anyone else) needs to be so deferential toward a state. Moreover, she seems to be indiscriminate in her usage; she will talk about both “The Great State of California” and “The Great State of Mississippi.” One can perhaps make a case for California’s being a great state, but the corresponding case for Mississippi is, shall we say, weak. Perhaps the objective is to avoid giving Fox News a reason to claim that one state or another—probably one with a Republican governor—was defamed on her show. As for me, if I ever speak about “The Great State of Mississippi,” it is likely that I am being ironic.

I find this “great state” business tiresome. Perhaps at the present moment, however, we have a legitimate way to distinguish great states from not-so-great states. New York, with its Democratic governor who is clearly concerned about the welfare of the state’s people generally and of the well-being of its medical facilities and staffs particularly, would seem to argue, along with other facts, for speaking of “The Great State of New York.” Georgia, with its Republican governor who is eager to resume “normal” economic activity without any cause to believe that coronavirus infections will not massively increase, probably does not deserve to be called “The Great State of Georgia.”