Did Brett’s Mother Really Foreclose on Christine’s Parents

The Answer Is NO

Perhaps you noticed a rightwing rumor floating around, perpetrated by the likes of The Daily Caller, Powerline Blog, Laura Ingraham, and others. Quoting the lede from Powerline:

“It looks like Brett Kavanaugh’s mother, Judge Martha Kavanaugh, ruled against the parents of Christine Blasey Ford, the woman who accuses Brett Kavanaugh of sexual assault. Court documents show the losing party in a foreclosure case Martha Kavanaugh heard to be Ralph and Paula Blasey of Potomac, Maryland. They appear to be Christine Blasey Ford’s parents.”

The right is using this untrue story to push out the lie that Blasey-Ford’s motive might be revenge for the judgement.

However, the story is not true.

In fact, Judge Martha Kavanaugh was one of several judges on the case, and she tossed the foreclosure procedures with prejudice. For the real story, you can consult another right-leaning publication, the Washington Examiner opinion piece titled “No, Brett Kavanaugh’s mother didn’t foreclose on his accuser’s parents’ house.” You’ll find court extracts referenced in the piece, as well. w/c



Death Along I-81

Dopesick: Dealers, Doctors, and the Drug Company That Addicted American

By Beth Macy

People should read Dopesick for many good reasons, among them to understand how this current drug addiction crisis evolved, to see how a needed drug for a limited population morphed into an epidemic with aggressive sales tactics promoting it beyond its purpose, to witness how lax government regulatory enforcement encouraged bad actors, to learn how an entrepreneurial medical profession was coopted, yet again, by a cunning pharmaceutical company, and to discover methods for helping addicts get and stay off drugs.

But beyond these reasons, most of all, people should read Dopesick to see that the addicted are human beings, just like we readers, who, often through no fault of their own, find themselves hooked on a drug prescribed to ease their pain. Macy takes us into the lives of the addicted, parents of the addicted, law enforcers trying to stem the trade, and all manner of doctors, nurses, and researchers looking for effective methods of breaking addiction and keeping it broken. Because the book teems with heartbreak, most will not find it easy to get through.

This exploration of opioid addiction begins in the mountains of western Virginia, West Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee, and northwestern North Carolina: Appalachia; and in Connecticut, home of Purdue Pharma, developers and distributors of OxyContin (a synthesized pain reliever similar to morphine) and its derivatives. It details Purdue’s aggressive marketing and sales approach to pushing out the drug, including the medical profession’s adoption of pain as the fifth vital sign (you’ve seen the ten degrees of pain in doctors’ offices).

Prescribing became common, even for pain that could easily be managed with over the counter analgesics, and those scripts often included thirty-day supplies. Once hooked, users implored and tricked doctors into extending their scripts. Then they resorted to any means of raising funds. Finally, when Oxy became too expensive, they turned to something that was not only cheaper but easier to get, that also delivered the intense high they sought, heroin. To fund their addictions, many turned into low-level dealers. And because the body adapts to opioids, users constantly needed to up their dosages not just to achieve the initial highs but to stave off the sickness engendered by dope deprivation. Which is why you hear of addicts flocking to suppliers whose customers have died of overdoses.

When you drive I-81 through the Appalachians, you enjoy some of the most beautiful scenery in the U.S. What you don’t see is the poverty and depression along the route. Beth Macy takes you off the highway into the byways where began and stills rages one of America’s worst health crises. It’s a difficult and often harrowing journey worth you time. w/c

When a Novel is Half Good

The Fever

By Megan Abbott

Perhaps it’s just us but reading about The Fever led us to believe we were in for an intriguing novelization of a condition known as mass psychogenic illness. Indeed, Abbott has used the relatively recent case (2012) that occurred in upstate New York’s Le Roy Junior/Senior High School as her springboard, folding in the various early explanations for mass hysteria among a group of female high school students, among them HPV shots, pollution, and fracking. When she’s mining this incident in the first part of the novel, she holds your interest. You’re even able to tolerate some annoying literary pretense and even more annoying frequent point of view switches.

She then takes an unfortunate detour into unrequited love and supposed betrayal, not to mention witchcraft (though, you have to concede this is a nice nod to the Salem witch trials that many now view as a mass psychogenic event with deadly consequences). The entire last third of the novel is thoroughly sophomoric.

As for style, lake chop is smoother than this book’s rhythm. Short sentences are good and highly prized. But a book’s worth of them is like reading a middle school text.

Okay for passing time, but a missed opportunity to do something really enlightening with the subject and the New York incident.

We bring up this review in anticipation of another review to come soon on Abbott’s latest novel, Give Me Your Hand, set in the competitive world of scientific research. We’re hoping for better. Stay tuned. w/c

Sexual Abuse by Nuns in Ireland

The Translation of the Bones

By Francesca Kay

Abuse and sexual scandal continue to rock the Catholic Church, the latest a shocking grand jury report out of Pennsylvania this month. Even more troubling and infuriating has been the reluctance of the Church’s leadership to admit the wrongs done and correct them voluntarily, expeditiously, and with penitence, as you would expect from a religious organization. So, with the Pope’s Ireland visit beginning, there’s no better time to call your attention to Francesca Kay’s 2012 novel.

Kay tells a compelling story about the consequences a violent act has on a group of religious and secular people, and provides an even more profound exploration of how abuse at the hands of Irish nuns — at the hands of anyone, really — might produce unexpected ramifications for those abused, those close to them, and those not.

The central story turns on the vision the simpleminded Mary-Margaret O’Reilly believes with all the faith in her, and it is considerable, that Christ has spoken to her through a statute in a chapel of the Church of the Scared Heart, Battersea, London. She’s convinced her Lord loves her, and later, after she learns the truth about her mother Fidelma, she concludes she must purify her mother by invoking the ancient ritual of atonement and placation: a sacrifice. Specifically, drawing upon among the more faith-inspiring or troubling episodes, depending on your viewpoint, in the old testament, Genesis 22:1-19.

In the first half of the short, tightly drawn story, we learn about Mary-Margaret, her dimness, her faithfulness, and her symbiotic relationship with her mother. Slowly, as we approach the mother’s critical revelation, we discover much more about Fidelma, who in many respects represents the most intriguing and tragic character in the tale. We also meet a fairly extensive bevy of personalities (some of them stock; a small weakness), given the brevity of the novel. Primary among them are Father Diamond, the parish priest, a former maths student who received his vocation early in life, but who now harbors doubts; Mrs. Armitage, volunteer church caretaker, who Mary-Margaret assists, awaiting with anxiety the return of her son from a tour in Afghanistan; Stella, wife of constantly distracted and ambitious MP (Member of Parliament) Rufus Morrison, a second wife with two adult children away in different parts of the world, and Felix at boarding school, a perplexed child of 10. Stella looks forward to Felix’s spring vacation at home similarly to Mrs. Armitage’s anticipation of her son’s return, events ultimately related to each other by the incident in the church.

The event, the second one, in the church perpetrated in all guileless simplicity by Mary-Margaret sets off the theme of the novel’s second half: how people deal with the inexplicable and, in this case, the loss it produces. Mary-Margaret’s obedience to God’s calling affects each character differently.

Now for Fidelma, whom, as you get to know her story, you’ll find yourself envisioning as a matryoshka doll, and a very large one at that. The true self of Fidelma lives within her morbidly obese body. Her body exists within the box of her 19th floor council apartment, which she never leaves. Fidelma reveals her story through reminisces of her girlhood in an Irish coastal town that includes unwed motherhood and exile to the care of nuns. While Kay does not reference the Sisters of Mercy abuse case that spanned decades, that she had it in mind seems certain. Nuns, and priests, inflicted upon innocent children beatings, sexual abuse, and other extreme cruelties, among them confinement for long periods in dark isolation. How would such treatment affect a child and manifest itself in adulthood? And what other acts of horror might result from their abominable treatment of the children? You may conclude rightly that the nuns began the chain of events that exploded the Saturday before Easter in a Catholic church in Battersea.

An insightful, thoughtful story of sorrow and redemption well told. Highly recommended, especially now with the Pope’s Ireland visit taking place. w/c

Meet a New Simon Legree

A Shout in the Ruins

By Kevin Powers

Kevin Powers demonstrates skillfully and passionately how to write an epic novel spanning more than 100 years, from the American Civil War to nearly the turn of the 21st century, containing textured characters and illustrating the pain and legacy of slavery, the prejudice that continues from it, and the suspect vision and dream of a better future—and brings the whole thing in at around 250 pages. Added to this, he does it with some beautifully evocative phrasing, not a little humor, and some nearly overwhelming emotion, including one of the best bittersweet romances and parting scenes readers have probably read in a very long time.

The terrain of the novel is in and around Richmond and North Carolina coast. Powers opens the story a few years into Reconstruction. He swings back and forth in time to paint a full picture of the Beauvais Plantation and the Reid farm and transport business, including the masters, mistresses, and slaves. Antony Levallois is master of Beauvais, a man of vision, but immensely cynical and cruel, a subtle dissembler and legal prestidigitator, a scoundrel who brooks the authority of no man, not even the Reconstruction administrative colonel. He is the Simon Legree of the tale, though French not Northerner, but possessed of the same greediness. Bob Reid, though a slaveholder, stands in contrast, a freight hauler with a modest spread, a sickly wife and vibrant daughter, Emily, and slaves Rawls and Aurelia, the kind of master, observes Rawls, who wishes constantly to apologize for owning a man by being too nice to the man who is his slave. Rawls navigates skillfully within his restricted boundaries, and stretches them, which is how he comes upon the fascination of his life, Nurse (through whom we witness the terror of slavery and war). For his life before, during, and after the war, he harbors Nurse in his heart. These characters interact in some horrifying ways not only endemic to slavery but to the privilege and control it bestows on the few for the purpose of evil.

Spawned from this Reconstruction stew, though how we aren’t quite sure at first, is George Seldom, a black man who could be mistaken for a Native American, born in the 1860s, who takes us beyond Beauvais and Reconstruction into late 19th and early 20th centuries. As we see how time changes his home ground through his eyes, we also travel with him in search of his origin. Which is how we meet Lottie, who becomes his guide to what he takes as his home. Through Lottie we meet Bill, and with them get a sense of what love between two people can be, sweet often, with a bitterness we can’t control.

The above provides you with a framework for linking the main characters and following the story, which does move quickly and jump about, to its explosive culmination. Powers has written the kind of novel that surprises you while reading it and gives you the pleasure of knitting all the narrative threads into a linear history. If not one of the year’s best novels, it certainly is one of its most ambitious. You should not miss it. w/c

Which Do You Prefer: Real or Virtual?

A Maze of Death

By Philip K. Dick

Virtuality as a concept has a long and somewhat murky history. By the 1950s, film producer, writer, and cinematographer Morton Heilig gave it a form we would recognize with the invention of the Sensorama (1962). Primitive and bulky, it did do much of what modern VR headsets do now. Even in its early conceptual stages, VR fascinated and began to appear in science fiction, witness Ray Bradbury’s short story “Veldt,” (1951), with its smart house and VR nursery (inspiration for Disney’s Smart House (1999). For Philip K. Dick, it proved the perfect literary device for his constant questioning of and speculation about what is and isn’t real. He employed it often in his short stories and novels. In A Maze of Death (1970), it is the prominent literary trope as Dick ponders the meaning of reality and which might make for a better existence, the real or the virtual. For a man who regularly dropped out of reality, exploring its nature is perfectly logical.

In A Maze of Death, fourteen colonists separately take one-way rockets to the planet Delmak-O. Each has a specialty, such as economist, geologist, physician, and theologian. They prove a disparate group which readers might view as either independent types or decidedly uncooperative, though the bunch seems to understand that to survive they must pull together. At the start, they share a hope they can muster the unity they need as they await instructions and guidance as to their mission on Delmak-O. Unfortunately, just as they gather to hear the message, the transmission dissolves into static. They are on their own. They attempt to organize a couple of times but each time their efforts fail. What’s more, they start killing each other off.

While they appear a disparate bunch, they find they all share one thing; that is a tattoo reading Persus 9. (Readers, what follows reveals the major plot twist of the novel, without which the novel makes little sense.)

Turns out, they are the crew of a spaceship, Persus 9. During their mission, they experienced a major malfunction that has left them abandoned in space. In order to preserve their resources and, presumably, their sanity, they enter into a suspended state for extended periods and exist in a virtual world created by agreement. Delmak-O is just one in a long line of virtual worlds they have generated and by consensus the worst of all the worlds, so far.

Even more interesting, the VR device appears to have developed something of a memory, being the repository of a religion that has evolved over the span of VR worlds, canonized in a book familiar to all, How I Rose From the Dead in My Spare Time and So Can You. This religion mimics the belief systems of the major faiths and Nordic mythology, particularly incorporating counterparts to the Trinity. In the end, the real and the virtual conflate when one character, while contemplating mass murder of the crew because of his personal despair over their situation, receives a message from the Intercessor. It’s a message that appears in different forms in The Divine Invasion, that each must choose his own path.

You’ll find the novel surprisingly engaging and, for Dick, a bit superficial from the plotting viewpoint. But the questions of what’s real and illusory; what’s better, real or virtual; is our paranoia justified? These are bedrock Dick themes, and maybe questions you yourself ask. w/c

Fear and Loathing in Mar a Lago

The fear and loathing of which we speak are the strongman desires of President Donald J. Trump. Like most afflicted with an authoritarian personality, the president has hide as thin as onion skin when it comes to criticism. He huffs and he puffs over the smallest things, like Melania watching CNN. Forget about the big things; these he greets with full unbridled rage, with no regard to the mess he’s causing, the permission to jackboot behavior he’s giving, and the mayhem that may result. We wouldn’t be quite as concerned, except that few in his own party will voice any sort of criticism. When a real crisis develops, then, will they and we stand up for democracy and our republican way of government? Enveloped as we are in his fog of bluster and lying, will we even be capable of recognizing a crisis? You wonder. You wonder how close we are to fascism, the varieties of which Madeleine Albright describes in her must-read new book.

Fascism: A Warning

By Madeleine Albright

Who better to help former Secretary of State Madeline Albright make her point than the first fascist, Il Duce, Benito Mussolini. He advised, pluck the chicken feather by feather so as to keep the squawking discrete; in this way, disappearing freedoms go unnoticed until too late. Sounds similar to what we are experiencing in the form of lie constantly, toss out outrageous statements regularly, do all to divert attention and confuse matters.

Using fascist leaders, dictators, and authoritarian rules from Mussolini’s and Hitler’s days, Albright describes and thereby alerts us to the pattern of how these people work. Wise people should pay attention.

Early on, Albright offers a checklist for defining a Fascist, and it’s worth quoting it here, for if you go no further than this, at least you will have a handy way for judging many of today’s strong men. “To my mind, a Fascist is someone who identifies strongly with and claims to speak for a whole nation or group, is unconcerned with the rights of others, and is willing to use whatever means are necessary—including violence—to achieve his or her goals. In that conception, a Fascist will likely be a tyrant, but a tyrant need not be a Fascist.”

Albright reinforces her point by taking readers through the circumstances allowing, the rise of, and the methods of control employed by a real rogues gallery of tough guys: Mussolini, Hitler, Franco (Spain), Sir Oswald Mosley (England), Stalin, Joe McCarthy, Milošević, Marcos and Duterte (Philippines), Chávez, Erdoğan, Orbán (Hungry), Putin, and the list, unfortunately, could be much longer. Learning about the motives and methods of these men, it won’t be lost on readers how Donald Trump seems to be drawing from these authoritarians’ playbooks. The message here is quite clear, forcefully laid out for all but the blind and addled to see: we like to believe that American democracy and our republican governmental checks and balances afford us protection against such strong men overwhelming our way of life, but we may be much to optimistic.

Back in the dim days of the Great Depression, when fascism rose in Italy and Germany, American author Sinclair Lewis saw clearly that we too could succumb to the siren song of order and national chauvinism. It’s well worth taking a look at his novelistic toppling of our government, It Can’t Happen Here (1936), both about fascist revolution and American populism manifested by Huey Long.

Again, with Albright’s book, we have yet another red flag volume that Americans should read, and that, alas, most, especially those who should, will not. w/c