Saturday, September 26, 2009

My Generation

I am an unlikely source of insight on race and immigration issues. I live and grew up in New Hampshire, a state for which the Onion once suggested "Affordable, racially pure living" as an alternate motto. My family tree has white English protestants in all directions.

I grew up in the town of Lebanon, New Hampshire. If, as the name suggests, it was founded by pilgrims from the Middle East, they have long since moved on. Lebanon was not a place of vast cultural diversity. I remember returning after a year of college in upstate New York and a good friend asked me "Are there Jews there? What are they like?"

I married my high-school sweetheart, who grew up in a house 2 blocks away from mine. Her father is French. This fact seemed mostly unremarkable until my father-in-law retired after working in the US for 36 years and returned to the village where he was born, on the Mediterranean island of Corsica. We went to visit him, bringing our young son to meet that side of our family. In a medieval mountainside village of stone houses, we enjoyed long lunches of wine and wild boar with a dizzying, extended cast of aunts and cousins. Listening to the conversations in Corsican and French going on around me, it occurred to me how far I had come. This was my family too. My children might grow up in a little New Hampshire town as I had, but this too would be part of our lives. Suddenly, the family tree had branches extending in some different directions.

As I pondered the fact that I had married into new cultural traditions, I considered the choices made by my close circle of friends, the kids I grew up with, and the few good friends met along the somewhat circumscribed journey of my life. Given my homogeneous beginnings, there was some surprising variety.

Jeff, the friend who asked about the mysterious Jews, had become one. I was the best man when the rabbi officiated his marriage to Alison. The large wedding crowd consisted of Orford farmers on one side of the aisle and Hartford lawyers on the other. Erik moved to Baltimore for a while, where he met and married Krista, who is black. They returned to Maine to make their home. Lee, who is first generation American via German and English parents, married Jennifer whose family is from China. Josh married Talita, and spends his mornings at the Brazilian embassy in an effort to bring his son to meet his grandparents in Sao Paulo. Scott's parents came from Portugal. Anna's are from Serbia. Ă–mer was my roommate in college, direct from Istanbul. After Hamilton he stayed in the US and married Kate, whose family is Korean. They live in New Jersey.

These are not bonds along the lines of who we will tolerate, or learn to respect, or accept as a neighbor or colleague. These are bonds of matrimony. When given the chance to choose one person who completes us, with whom to share and build our lives, to have and to hold, these were our choices. Our children have sets of grandparents that look different, or speak different languages, or celebrate different holidays. Constraints of mobility, culture, tradition, tribe, and history that guided our parents and our parents parents for generations do not seem to apply us. The cultural divide is not that divisive.

The first US President to come from my generation, is a self-described "mutt" with a story that runs through Kansas, Kenya, Indonesia, and Hawaii. His parent would have met during a very different time. But today he stands as a powerful emblem of our era. A colorful first-family may seem novel to us, and stunning to those who have been alive long enough to see this history in the making. For our children it will be normal. This is how a president looks.

I look at my boys and I wonder who they will meet, where their lives will take them, and what choices they will make. I think about their world. Already, their friends include two cooler and more popular boys, born in Cambodia, being raised by two adoptive fathers. Their perspectives will be broader still.

I think that family tree will keep branching.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Sarah Palin's Fake Pregnancy

It was only a year ago that Sarah Palin was plucked from a gubernatorial backwater and came strutting onto the national stage. She may return one day, or she may be gone for good, leaving us with nothing but ghostwritten facebook notes, phony newspaper editorials, and our memories.

Whatever Palin's future may hold, there is one aspect of her not-so-distant-past I would like to shine a light on. That is this question:

Is Sarah Palin the biological mother of Trig Palin?

I believe the answer is: No, she is not. I claim no special, first-hand knowledge. But the preponderance of the available evidence supports this claim. But first...

Who cares?

Sarah's bright star may be fading, but this topic remains interesting for several reasons:

  • As mysteries go, this one is wonderfully binary. All the usual scandal deflection techniques ("I didn't know about it." "Ok, I knew about it, but it's no big deal." "Ok, it's bad, but everyone does it." etc, etc... ) are irrelevant. Either she was pregnant and delivered a baby and I do a great injustice to her by suggesting she did not, or Sarah Palin perpetrated a brazen fraud. There is no fuzzy middle.
  • Trig's birth occurred in the past, but not the very distant past. These events happened during the first 4 months of 2008. Sarah Palin was in office, the governor of the state, and in the public eye all that time. Pregnancy is no small thing, and takes place over an extended period of time. It should not be difficult to determine the truth. The pregnancy or non-pregnancy of the governor, should be clear from the public record.
  • This topic is almost universally regarded as a crazy, fringe theory. The Obama "birthers" get way more play than the Trig Truthers. Even most liberal, Palin-hatin' web sites won't touch this story. I do not consider myself crazy. "There's a lot to be said for sanity" is an old Swainbank saying, and we take pride in our good judgment. If the emperor is naked, it is best to say so.
  • I allege that Sarah Palin, while in office as Governor, faked a pregnancy. She told the public she was pregnant, when she was not. In the final days of her "pregnancy" she wore a fake pregnancy suit, including wearing a fake pregnancy suit to a Republican Governor's Convention. Prior to that, she sustained this outlandish claim with minimal camouflage and maximum bluster. Mostly, she got away with it. Five months after pulling this stunt, she was nominated to join a national ticket. She almost became Vice President of the United States. She remains a prominent figure in national politics and the Republican party. This is one for the history books. It's well worth a look...

    History and Sources

    When Palin was announced as VP candidate and introduced to the world, the rumor that she had faked a pregnancy appeared almost immediately and spread rapidly. The main source of the rumor was a post on the DailyKos web site. DailyKos is no fan of Sarah Palin, but also tries to avoid this kind of explosive rumor. The post was taken down very quickly, and is no longer available on the site.

    The original post was saved and archived. It is available here.

    On the eve of the Republic National Convention, the McCain/Palin campaign moved to diffuse this rumor. Did they provide journalists with proof that it was false by producing Trig's birth certificate or some portion of Palin's medical records? They did not. Instead, the campaign announced that Sarah's daughter Bristol was 5 months pregnant, and thus, could not have delivered a baby 4 1/2 months prior. Case closed.

    The press, populous, and blogosphere had a hard enough time trying to figure out Sarah, and trying to separate Palin fact from fiction. The BabyGate issue was dropped for the remainder of the campaign and was largely forgotten.

    But not by everyone...

    A blogger by the name of Audrey started the web site The site, and the associated blog, are dedicated to inspecting all aspects of Trig Palin's birth story. Audrey, site researchers, and a committed cast of commenters spent the last year scouring the internet, plumbing the public record, and building their case.

    This kind of diffuse, collaborative journalism is quite new and only possible in the internet age. In our wired, interconnected world is it possible to keep a big secret? If enough strangers go searching for a specific, but concealed truth, what can they find?

    As it turns out, they can find quite a lot.

    The Case

    The investigation has gone in a multitude of directions. A good place to start is that DailyKos diary entry that started it all, which provides a solid summary.

    The entire entry is well worth reading.

    While the issue has been banished to crazy-conspiracy-land, after a year of scrutiny, the allegations made into post have held up.
  • Nobody thought the governor was pregnant even as she announced that she was 7 months along. This took her staff, the press, the public, and members of her immediate family by surprise.
  • Sarah Palin does not appear to be pregnant in the photographs during that time.
  • Sarah's daughter Bristol was sent to live (but not attend school) with her aunt in Anchorage during the months leading up to Trig's birth.
  • Palin claims she started leaking amniotic fluid in Texas and then got a plane to Alaska, landed and drove several hours further to give birth, to her premature baby with downs syndrome, at her tiny home-town hospital. The airline staff failed to notice a pregnant governor, in labor, on their flight.
  • There is no corroborating evidence -- no birth certificate, no medical records, no clear photographic record, and no compelling first-hand accounts that demonstrate that Sarah Palin, the Governor of Alaska, was pregnant and gave birth.
An Alaskan newspaper tried to debunk the fake-pregnancy rumor. They failed. The newspaper was unable to obtain evidence that Governor's pregnancy was real.

There are a number of threads you can pull on to see what unravels. But we can keep this simple.

Forget everything you know, and any thoughts you may have about Sarah Palin. Now consider these two photographs...

Ask yourself this question: Is the woman depicted in those photos in the third trimester of a pregnancy?

My wife, Christine, who is wise about a great many things, says it's possible. She says we can't know for sure. Every pregnancy is different.

My reply: Um. No. They aren't. It is a universal feature of pregnancy that every pregnant woman in the third trimester has several pounds of baby and supporting tissue and fluid in her uterus. This creates a visible bulge.

Even if there are medical miracle women who can create babies without showing, Sarah Palin is not one of them.

I choose the 2 photos above because they are the clearest, and were taken at identifiable, public events. A full timeline with all known Palin photos and footage during the pregnancy period is available here.

What About Bristol?

If Sarah didn't deliver this baby, then who did? Bristol Palin remains the most likely candidate. Those were the rumors and Bristol did not attend school in the months leading up to Trig's birth. For this to be possible, either Trig's or Tripp's reported birth dates would have be incorrect. There is no available documentation of either birth. Either (or both) is a distinct possibility.


Why would Sarah Palin do this? I don't know. We can't know. But we know people do stupid and inexplicable things. Politicians can be incredibly reckless. We can scour photos and web sites and piece together the what. The why is always lost to us. Ultimately we can only know our own minds.

And so, I'll end this by turning the question back on you. You've come this far. Am I spewing a crazy conspiracy theory or just pointing out the obvious? Do you believe it was all a lie, or do you believe Sarah Palin was pregnant and gave birth to Trig? Why?

Friday, September 4, 2009

Scenes from Health Care Town Hell

Last Saturday I spent a rainy afternoon attending a Health Care Town Hall, here in Portsmouth, NH. This was my chance to make my voice heard, and to participate in the great debate of our day. In the finest tradition of our republic, I and about 150 of my fellow citizens, gathered to address our Congresswoman and to grapple with the thorny question of how best to insure the future health and well-being of the people of this great nation.

Despite dire warnings, the time spent waiting to get into the event went pleasantly. There was a remarkable lack of screaming, and most of the signs seemed to be of the pre-fab, pro-reform variety. I was tapping my toes to the tunes of the local Leftist Marching Band. Everyone was on their best behavior, and my line-neighbors where in good spirits despite waiting in the rain.

After being searched and wanded and passing through several layers of security I was into the main event. Clearly Congresswoman Shea-Porter was preparing for any contingency. If things to too rowdy we would be subjected a power-point presentation consisting of the artistic works for Norman Rockwell. Fortunately, it never came to that.

As I grabbed an empty chair in the middle section, signs of division began to show. Along the sides of the room there were several photographers. The baseball-cap-equipped man seated in front of me singled out the only one with a dark complexion and demanded to know why he was taking pictures of us. A murmur of approval went up around me. I began to realize that the group I was seated in the midst of, were, perhaps, not Obama voters.

Making the most of my situation, I struck up a conversation with the gentleman next to me and asked for his thoughts on Obama's health care reforms. He was opposed. We agreed that the bill itself did not constitute a government takeover, and came to a rough consensus on the contours of the slippery slope. Still, my neighbor wasn't going to get behind the Obama plan.

"I'm a long-term strategic thinker. Always have been. Maybe this bill won't lead to a government takeover. Maybe it won't happen for another 20 or 30 years. But I won't let them take that first step."

My conversation with the long-term thinker (henceforth to be dubbed L.T.) , would turn out to be very fortuitous. He would be my Virgil, my guide throughout the madness, the key to my understanding the events that followed.

At last, Representative Shea-Porter arrived, and the event could begin. The Congresswoman had been swept into office from relative obscurity in what was probably the biggest upset in the 2006 congressional elections. She had survived a reelection rematch in 2008, but was still relatively new to the job. This was the first time I had really seen her in action.

Shea-Porter welcomed us and established some ground rules. The chance to ask questions would be established by lottery. This upset some people who seemed to think priority should come by order or appearance or ranked by belligerence. Shea-Porter had an actual uniformed boy scout draw the numbers --establishing unassailable fairness of the system.

Before the audience Q&A kicked off, the Congresswoman had some invited guests provide their testimonials. One of her guests was a local woman named Laurie McCray. Laurie told the story of trying to buy insurance for her family, which was a kind of nightmare version of my own. Laurie's family members have some "pre-existing conditions" so their insurance policy, which has an obscene deductible and so covers nothing, costs them $2400 a month. And it still doesn't include their son, who has downs syndrome.

Although we came from all sides the political spectrum, naturally, Laurie's story had a profound effect on all of us. There was a shared sense that if it was impossible for a hard-working middle-class family to even buy insurance, then the system was truly broken. Our humanity united us, and there was collective acknowledgement that something had to be done.

Naw, I'm just kidding. That crowd wasn't going to agree on anything. As Laurie's allotted 2 minutes expired there were outbursts. "Time's up!" "Next!". As the next question would indicate, the extent of our differences extended to the very purpose and nature of the event we were attending.

"I've called your office every day for weeks to find out when you were going to face your constituents, who pay your salary, at a health care town-hall meeting." he announced. "I've been waiting since 8AM" (to get into this health care town-hall meeting). "I've been waiting for my number to be called, so I can ask my question, and now my number has been called, and I'm going to ask my question!" His question... "Why are you afraid to have a health care town hall meeting?!?"

The next questioner took things further down the rabbit hole, jumping right to "This is a Nazi plan." He then stepped back, gave a little smile, looking around the room. Clearly, he was impressed with his own courage and creativity and felt it would lead to YouTube stardom. To the audience's credit, there were more groans than gasps. I watched to see if Shea-Porter would go all Barney Frank on him. She went with "I may detest what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it." But her heart wasn't in it. "Nazi" has been done to death.

Judging by the boos and clapping, the room was evenly divided between reform advocates and opponents. The opponents were far more boisterous, better prepared with little speeches, and far more memorable. Advocates tended to just thank the Congresswoman, or ask a real question. I was thinking my question would be something really penetrating like: "Since the current system of ever-escalating costs is bankrupting so many citizens, businesses, states, and our federal government, and we have a vast and ever-growing number of uninsured people falling through the cracks in this failing system, do you support President Obama's modest effort to move to more rational, more competitive system, where everyone might be able to get some health insurance?" Shea-Porter indicated in her opening statement that she did support the current plan. So, I was kind of scrambling to come up with a new question.

Since incisive interlocutor didn't seem to be my role in this little drama, my major contribution was that of anti-heckler heckler. I often found myself shouting at someone who was trying to shout down someone else. My moment of triumph came when a grumpy guy jumped in, for the fourth time, with "I waited in the rain for two hours!" and was met with a chorus of "We all did!". I totally started that.

One woman said this was a socialist plan that was taking away our freedoms. She didn't specify which ones. The next speech came from someone who was going on about how there where 35 czars in the Obama administration, and why did he need so many czars? Shea-Porter actually argued with the guy about the precise number of czars there really were. This seemed a little beside the point. My seat-neighbor, L.T., seemed to find the czar argument compelling. I asked if he was aware that they weren't, actually, real czars. The czar nickname is kind of a joke. L.T. informed me that it was "the media" that called them czars. I was envisioning Glen Beck deciding to dub various bureaucrats as czars and then freaking out because there are so many government czars. It's a perfect, paranoid-delusion, feedback loop.

Apparently, one of the czars is even a communist czar. A guy named Van Jones declared himself a communist in 1992. The speaker was going on about his evil communist ideology. I wasn't familiar with the work of comrade Jones myself. Once again, I turned to L.T. for guidance. I did kind of snort in his face when L.T. informed me Van Jones is a "green jobs advisor", but L.T. took it well. I guess we were supposed to be scared that he's a communist. It seems more a comment on the sorry state of communist infiltration these days. Joseph McCarthy had a list of 200 card-carrying communists in the State Department alone. Obama just has one communist? Does he even carry his card? I think those cards are only good for 10 years.

Congresswoman Shea-Porter stayed pretty calm and patient throughout. She was asked if she had read the bill. Clearly she had. She was on a committee that helped draft it, and she was able to quote specific sections, or point out what had been removed or amended. She seemed committed to real reform without being overly dogmatic. When things got rowdy she was able to calm the room with a school-marmy "I can wait." And then she waited. It worked surprisingly well.

In the end there had been a lot of sound and fury of unclear significance. As we filed out, no doubt most of us left with the same opinion of health care reform we had come in with. We had said our bit, shouted at our congressional representative, or shouted at people shouting at our congressional representative, and participated in the democratic process.

Will we, as a country, overcome what divides us, come together and pass some real health care reform? Apparently the democrats, socialists, fascists, Nazis, czarists, and communists all support reform. If they can agree, there's hope for all of us.