Witch Hunt Just in Time for Halloween

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Again with emails!

In an outrageous political stunt, FBI Director James Comey announced that the bureau would be investigating emails related to the Anthony Weiner case for possible security breaches on the part of Hillary Clinton. Even though there is no reason to suspect that Weiner’s connection to Hillary, through his unfortunate wife and Clinton staffer Huma Abedin, involves national security issues, Director Comey felt the need to resume the investigation and announce his intentions little more than a week before the general election.

Although Comey claims that the FBI is an apolitical organization, he himself has been a lifelong Republican who has spent a substantial part of his career investigating the Clintons. (cnn.com, Oct. 30, 2016) Notwithstanding his earlier decision declining to prosecute Mrs. Clinton, Comey now claims he is duty-bound to look into yet more emails (albeit ones not from Clinton’s private server) that may incriminate the presidential hopeful. This sounds more like a witch hunt designed primarily to hurt Hillary’s chances of being elected.

The timing is certainly suspicious. After the last debate, as people began to see Donald Trump for the out of control “disaster” that he really is, Trump’s poll numbers took a drastic tumble. Then lo and behold, Director Comey found more emails to hold up as ones that may or may not be incriminating to Hillary. It reminds me quite a bit of Sen. Joe McCarthy’s infamous statement, “I have here in my hand a list of 205 . . . a list of names that were made known to the Secretary of State as being members of the Communist Party and who nevertheless are still working and shaping policy in the State Department.” (“Enemies from Within,” historymatters.gmu.edu)

For those who doubt that Comey’s actions were politically motivated, just look at the reactions from the Trump camp. Trump crowed, “Maybe they’re going to right the ship,” in reference to Comey’s announcement. And Trump’s campaign manager Kellyanne Conway tweeted, “A great day in our campaign just got even better.”(cnbc.com, Oct. 28, 2016)

When the smoke coming out of Republicans’ ears clears, maybe good sense will prevail. Maybe the American electorate will actually look at the experience and temperament of the two presidential candidates and do the right thing on Nov. 8.

 

 

Harlan Coben a Cure for the Reluctant Reader

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Myron Bolitar has returned! In his latest novel Home,  Harlan Coben resumes his popular mystery series about the intrepid basketball star turned sports agent turned detective and the cast of colorful characters that peopled Coben’s 10 previous Bolitar novels.

I first became addicted to Coben’s twisting, heart-pounding thrillers with his novel Hold Tight, a story about every modern parent’s nightmare, their children’s online world. The novel asked the question: How far would you go in invading your child’s privacy in order to protect him?

Like one of Coben’s troubled junkies, I was hopelessly hooked on his blend of humor, character development, and endless plot twists. For Christmas that year, my husband gave me a box filled with most of Coben’s early novels, and I immersed myself in the world of Myron Bolitar.

In between his prolific publication of adult thrillers, Harlan Coben managed to dash off a trilogy of novels for teens starring none other than Myron Bolitar’s nephew, Mickey Bolitar. Although I had been aware of their existence and had even given the first novel, Shelter, to my son, I had never thought to read them myself – until Home was published recently.

I realized that the Mickey Bolitar series, which does feature Myron, might be a continuation of  his story and decided I needed to catch up by reading the trilogy. Like his adult books, Coben’s Mickey Bolitar series were instantly riveting, and I devoured them like candy corn.  The character of Mickey is similar to his uncle Myron in that he has a sarcastic sense of humor, a great sense of integrity, and a need to save people that propels him on adventures and puts him in danger.

Parents of teenagers, especially boys, who find their kids loath to pick up a book would do well to check out this teen series by one of the masters of modern crime novels. It is no accident that Harlan Coben has won every major mystery writing award.

Now that I have caught up on the life of one of my favorite fiction characters, Myron Bolitar, I have started to delve into his latest adventure in Coben’s novel Home. I encourage reluctant readers of any age to start on the Harlan Coben oeuvre. I guarantee you won’t be able to put them down.

Scary Clowns Emblematic of Election

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In the months leading up to Halloween, there has been a rash of scary clown sightings across America. While many reports are mere urban legend, individuals have been arrested for filing false police reports, making threats, and even chasing children while dressed as a clown.

I don’t think I could find a better metaphor for this year’s presidential election campaign. In the early days of the presidential primaries, Donald Trump’s candidacy was considered nothing more than a joke. His outrageous comments, orange hair and skin, and cartoonish bluster all pointed to a buffoon whose primary purpose seemed to be entertainment. But as his candidacy picked up steam, the ugliness of his rhetoric and of the way a certain segment of the American people really think started to come to light.

While many people think of clowns as funny slapstick figures in circuses, many others are genuinely afraid of clowns. Numerous sources estimate that about 12% of the population suffers from coulrophobia, a pathological fear of clowns. Turns out that clowns have always had a dark side. According to a recent New York Times article, one of the earliest forms of the clown was the Harlequin, who first appeared in literature as a denizen of the underworld. Subsequent scary clowns throughout history include “the baby-bashing, wife-beating, serial-killer clown Punch,” the murderous clown in the opera Pagliacci, and more recent killer clowns, such as in Stephen King’s frightening novel It. (“What Do the Scary Clowns Want?,” The New York Times, Sunday, October 16, 2016.)

The NYT article goes on to explain that the figure of the jester has historically been “the only person who could speak truth to power.” Indeed, many supporters and even detractors see Donald Trump in this role. The problem is that Trump’s malevolence overshadows any perceived truth telling. In recent months, he has threatened press freedom, vowed to sue or imprison his critics, and encouraged violence against his opponent.

So while Trump’s appearance and demeanor, his crazy ramblings both during and after the debates, and his willful ignorance about world affairs all make him ripe for mockery, his sinister threats and the disturbing rants of his followers make him a very scary clown indeed.

 

Tree Time

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Majestic Maples

Summer has mostly faded away, but here in the Midwest, October usually brings a few unseasonably warm days. On a recent such day, I decided to head out to a grand oasis in the midst of suburbia: the Morton Arboretum. I have fond memories of taking trips out to the arboretum as a child. My father’s “field trips” almost always took us into the Great Outdoors, and the arboretum was one of his favorite spots. It’s a huge showcase for one of God’s most awesome creations: trees.

The east side of Morton Arboretum was teeming with people: school groups, elderly couples, mothers with young children. This is the part of the park, after all, that features a children’s garden, a maze, the gift shop, and the cafe. I decided to head to the west side and savor some solitude.

The ground was still soft and damp from recent rains, but most of my trail was covered with mulch, which made it easier to walk. I hiked in silence under the canopy of trees. The only sounds were an occasional bird call or a squirrel rustling in the leaves. I felt very small.

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Mighty Oaks

After about a mile, I found a bench in a shady spot and sat down to read. It was such luxury to sit, cold drink in hand, and enjoy my mystery novel. I felt as if I were playing hooky from real life. Eventually, though, I knew I had to make my way back. Not the greatest reader of maps, I relied on the signs and trail markers and stayed on the path.

I love trees. I love how massive they can be. I love the different designs of the leaves on different types of trees. I love how the light peeks through them. I love how I can shut myself off from the rest of the world in the midst of them.

img_0694Desire under the Elms

Being away from all my mundane tasks, my worries, and my fears was good for my spirit. I remember my son saying that being in nature made him feel closer to God. I understood what he meant. These trees that surrounded me had been there for many years and would likely endure for many more.

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The Evergreen – symbol of eternal life

As I neared the entrance to the arboretum once again, I came upon a river – more of a creek really. The water sparkled in the afternoon sunshine. It looked inviting to me, as the warmth and the hiking had made me perspire. I felt renewed.

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Peace like a River

My idyll under the trees came to an end, but it gave me faith: faith in nature to sustain us and bring us joy, faith in others with the vision to create and maintain such a natural treasure, and faith in God that the world He has created is enough.

Sexism and Halloween Costumes

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“Sexy Middle Eastern Arab Girl Burka Halloween Costume”

There were protests when the above costume appeared for sale in Halloween costume retail stores. It is the perfect storm of sexism and cultural appropriation.

In the past, I’ve written about the harm of cultural appropriation and the need for whites to be sensitive to non-white cultures when it comes to dressing up for Halloween. While many scoff at the thin skin of those who might be offended by their giant sombrero or war-painted Indian costume, I think it’s important to be respectful of other cultures and religions. (For the record, I don’t think it’s cool to dress up as a nun for Halloween either.)

But this year, one mom’s protest against Party City’s sexualized costumes for girls caught my eye and reminded me that sexism is another problem with a lot of Halloween attire. Both young girls and women have a hard time finding a costume that isn’t either very “girly” or prefaced with the adjective “sexy.” You can be a sexy pirate, inmate, cop, nurse, etc.

I have no problem if a woman wants to dress up in a sexy costume or outfit of any kind. That is her prerogative. But the fact that it’s almost impossible to find women’s costumes of any other type speaks to a problem we have in our culture, and that is the objectification of women. That problem has even infiltrated our presidential election, in which we have heard Donald Trump talking about women’s bodies, faces, and weights, as well as his predilection for grabbing their genitals whenever he pleases.

I do have a problem with costumes targeted for young children and preteens that are sexualized. It’s one thing if your daughter has her heart set on being a princess for Halloween. It’s quite another to market a feminized or sexy version of, say, a police uniform, to a young girl.

Party City apparently took note and listened to that mom’s protest. This year’s website features the following police costumes:

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Sure, you can still be a sexy cop or wear a girlish police dress, but at least there are options for girls and their parents when they go shopping for that all-important Halloween getup.

As for me, I’m going for the female empowerment motif and dressing up as – you guessed it – Hillary Clinton.

 

A Thoreau Understanding

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Live each season as it passes;
breathe the air, drink the drink,
taste the fruit, and resign yourself
to the influences of each.

-Henry David Thoreau, Walden

I found this quote on a little card in my hotel room where I was staying while visiting my college age son. Like many quotes from the Twentieth Century American philosopher Thoreau, it has so many layers of meaning for me.

My first thought was of the “eat local” concept, which encourages us to partake of food grown nearby when it is in season instead of insisting upon year round access to everything, such as watermelon or berries in winter, for example. I also thought of how seamlessly my tastes move from the cool, crisp salads of summer to the hearty soups of fall, from sipping a cold glass of lemonade to a warm cup of tea.

I love the current season of fall and usually find myself wishing it would last longer. The riot of color on the trees fills me joy, and the dwindling daylight makes me more serious. Summer beach reads give way to literary fiction with more depth. School is in session, and my days have more order.

Yet seeing my son, who will be graduating from college this winter and who is no longer a boy, made me realize that the seasons of which Thoreau speaks are not merely nature’s persistent cycle but the changes in our lives that lead from childhood to youth to old age.

Many people look back with particular fondness at a certain stage of life: high school, their college years, the early days of their marriage, the time when their children were little. I enjoy indulging in nostalgia about the past as much as most people. But I always think that the best time in my life is now. Here in the present is exactly where I belong.

Thoreau encourages us to allow each season to change us, to affect how we see the world. I was a pretty cynical and sarcastic young woman in my twenties. I thought I had it all figured out. Marriage and children humbled me, teaching me how much I needed to learn and how much I needed to let go. Nowadays, as I get older and a little slower, I am more mellow and forgiving, not only of others, but of myself.

When I was young, I wanted to change the world. Now I try to allow the world to change me for the better, to make me more tolerant and loving, more peaceful (notwithstanding the angst caused by the current presidential election). I hope I have many more seasons to “breathe the air” and enjoy each one as it comes.

False Equivalency

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Lately Clinton supporters have been accused of overusing the idea of “false equivalency” to describe what they say are the ludicrous comparisons between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. Obviously, tossing back criticism of oneself by saying the other guy is worse is a time-honored tradition in political campaigns and on playgrounds.

However, there is one case of false equivalency that Donald Trump has been using that makes my blood boil. When an audio tape was leaked last week of Donald Trump lewdly describing his casual sexual assault of women to Billy Bush, even the many Republican apologists for Trump were appalled. So what did Trump do? Apologize and show remorse for such a callous disregard for half the U.S. population?

No. The Donald went on the offensive by bringing up Bill Clinton’s sexual peccadillos and the rape accusation that was leveled at him back in the 1970s. Even assuming the accusation (for which Clinton has not been prosecuted) were true, how is it relevant to Hillary Clinton’s campaign?

The conservative argument has long been that Hillary went out of her way to discredit and vilify these women. I would like to know just how Donald Trump would handle it if his wife’s infidelities were broadcast 24/7 and became part of a federal investigation. I doubt he would offer sympathy or succor to the men who had slept with his wife.

To trot out Bill Clinton’s infidelities as a cudgel against Hillary is the height of hypocrisy. Donald Trump himself cheated on his wife Ivanka before dumping her and marrying Marla Maples. And doing so highlights what Trump does best: deflect from his own massive deficiencies by distracting the public with decades-old stories about the Clintons.

The facts are not in dispute. Donald Trump has said numerous demeaning, sexist, and insulting things against women, not just in the past, but during this campaign. Now we catch him on tape admitting to sexually touching women against their will. Trump will never say “I’m sorry.” But we may be sorry if we elect this poor excuse for a man president.