A metal toggle switch with plate reading Listen and Ignore, symbolizing how we choose to pay attention to certain messages

Recently I shared an article on Facebook by a Bernie-supporting Hillary skeptic who articulated his reasons for voting for her. He’d decided the volatile political climate and the increasing unreliability of polls made it too risky–even in “safe” states–to stay home or to vote for a third-party candidate.

I had not heard this argument before, and wanted to inject this thoughtful piece into a discourse largely dominated by bashing from both sides of the political divide.

Right away a Facebook friend I haven’t seen since college commented: “Don’t you think that incessantly hectoring people might have the effect opposite to that desired?”

I was taken aback. My posting rate on Facebook hardly qualifies as incessant. Besides, there was nothing remotely hectoring about this article. Still, there’s no denying that my motivation in sharing it was to persuade reluctant voters to choose Hillary.

I decided to engage with rather than ignore my friend. He immediately replied that he didn’t mean me personally, “but that the daily attacks on the folk who are not gung-ho for HRC, including the accusation that we are women-haters, are really counterproductive.” He likened well-meaning attempts at political persuasion to the noxious proselytizing meant to convert people from one religion to another. Besides, it made him think that Hillary’s supporters lacked the faith that she should and could win, and found their apocalyptic pronouncements about not voting for the Un-Trump unhelpful.

His response reminded me of a party I attended right before the 2004 election. Amid a dozen or so Chardonnay-sipping liberals eternally bitter over the selection of W four years earlier was one lone Nader supporter. Unrepentant, he planned to vote for Nader again.

“How COULD you?” everyone exploded in unison. As we all moved in for the oh-so-persuasive kill, I could see this man’s jaw tighten, his posture stiffen. You can probably guess who he voted for.

I’ve learned a lot since that encounter—if you want to preach outside the choir, it’s better not to screech or beseech. Still, there are reasons to try. Or was my Facebook friend a case in point that such attempts invariably backfire?

Recently I’ve had many conversations with my friend Linda (who also doesn’t like Hillary but who will vote for her). She has been talking with her son and his friends, most of them young, fervent Bernie supporters who care deeply about racial justice. They now feel totally disillusioned by the political process, seeing little difference between the parties and no point in voting. Linda has a lot of empathy for this viewpoint, and mostly listens. But when she does talk, whatever she has to say doesn’t only fall on deaf ears—it closes those ears further.

Periodically I send things with a fresh or compelling perspective to Linda, saying, “What about this? Could this help?” One was a recent column by Charles Blow. Linda was almost persuaded until the last paragraph:

Protest voting or not voting at all isn’t principled. It’s dumb, and childish, and self-immolating. I know you’re young, but grow up!

With those words, Blow blew it. Of course, Linda never forwarded the article to her son, and has wisely stopped talking to him about the election altogether.

Years ago Republican pollster Frank Luntz quipped, “The trouble with Hillary is she reminds everyone of their first wife.” She also reminds people of their mothers. There are legitimate reasons to be skeptical of Hillary, but this unconscious association has gotten short shrift in understanding the level of antipathy generated by the candidacy of the first woman who has a shot at the presidency. Often what mothers say, no matter how wise and well-intended, has the effect of generating resistance. You should listen to your mother, but do you really want to? Middle-aged mothers like me who are trying to persuade others, especially young people, may only be perpetuating the maternal nag problem.

Is it possible to change people’s minds? We are now inundated with 24/7 information and misinformation, and live in silos that reinforce our worldview while keeping out other perspectives. Social science research demonstrates that when people are shown evidence contradicting their firmly held beliefs, they don’t reconsider; instead, they double down.

If one person’s persuasion is another’s hectoring, what’s a mother to do? What’s a concerned citizen to do?


 Have you tried to influence anyone’s vote in this election season? Has anyone tried to influence yours? What works and doesn’t work?



Mental Health and Presidential Politics

presidents-mental-illnessWith all the furor over the presidential candidates’ physical and mental health, I found myself wondering not about the ethics of armchair analysis or the quality and timing of the information released so far, but another question: What would happen if the medical records of someone running for president revealed any current or past treatment for mental health issues?

In 1972, Democratic Vice Presidential nominee Thomas Eagleton had to step down when news surfaced about his prior hospitalizations and electroshock treatment for depression. What would happen today if there was a notation about ECT, Prozac, Lithium, addiction, or the like in a candidate’s chart? Would it be disqualifying? Should it be?

Given the stigma and discrimination that still surround mental illness, it’s not surprising that very few politicians and no presidential candidates admit to struggling with or seeking treatment for psychological problems. This does not mean there haven’t been plenty of afflicted presidents; a 2006 study found that nearly half of 37 presidents whose historical records were reviewed met the criteria for psychiatric diagnoses. Some, like Lincoln, rank among our greatest presidents.

It’s a shame that stigma and discrimination discourage proactive and responsible responses to many treatable conditions. It’s not the presence or absence of a mental illness (or life circumstance) that counts, but how someone deals with it. As any therapist knows, what’s worrisome is not the person who knows something is wrong and seeks help, but the person who doesn’t.

Not all mental illnesses are the same. Nor are all jobs. Military personnel and commercial airline pilots routinely face the quandary that acknowledging significant psychological distress may derail their careers not only because of stigma, but due to legitimate concerns about risk to self and others.

What about the presidency, a high-stress, high-responsibility job if ever there was one? People often quip that you’d have to be crazy to want to be president. It’s no joking matter, though: for decades there have been serious proposals for an independent and impartial evaluation of the physical and mental health of all presidential candidates. Assuming we could find such examiners and eliminate stigma, though, diagnosis is an imperfect art and poorly predictive of performance. (Thomas Eagleton, for example, went on to have a long and distinguished career in the Senate and academia.)

Anti-social personality disorder, malignant narcissism, and paranoia have been commonly cited as conditions that ought to raise alarm, if not disqualify someone from the presidency. There is often a partisan slant to these opinions. But even if an official and impartial diagnosis could be made, why would it be persuasive when the traits and behaviors in question are already perfectly obvious for all to see? Besides, such characteristics may or may not have anything to do with a candidate’s mental health.

Perhaps we should be more concerned about the ill state of the body politic: We are too often split into polarized camps, divorced from reality, and suffering from anxiety, paranoia, withdrawal, and despair.

These problems are much more difficult to diagnose and treat.


What are your thoughts about this?


When Will It Be Over?

giant-meteor-2016Please! Make it stop!

That’s how a lot of people are feeling about the 2016 presidential election. So I had to chuckle when I saw the novel solution to this endless and demoralizing campaign season proposed on the above bumper sticker.

Still, planetary annihilation seems a steep price to pay, especially when you consider that the race will actually end one way or another in just a few weeks.

So rather than clutching our heads and moaning, “When will it be over?” a better question is “When it’s over, how do you want things to be?”

For me, the choice is easy.

For starters, I’d like a president who actually believes that climate change is real, so will try to do something to prevent planetary annihilation.  Or not bring it about more catastrophically than even a giant meteor would:

“I genuinely believe that if Trump wins and gets the nuclear codes there is an excellent possibility it will lead to the end of civilization.”  — Tony Schwartz, the repentant ghostwriter of  The Art of the Deal, in conversation with Jane Mayer of The New Yorker.

On a less dire note, I’d like a president with steadiness and grit.

I’d like a president with lifelong dedication to public service and fighting tirelessly to improve the lives of children, women, families, and ordinary Americans.

I’d like a president who will appoint Supreme Court justices who will uphold a woman’s right to choose and overturn Citizen’s United.

I’d like a president who will build upon and improve Obamacare so that everyone can have high-quality and affordable healthcare.

I’d like a president who will make college more affordable and create good-paying jobs for the world we live in now.

I’d like a president who is famous for the ability to listen, do the homework required to understand complex issues, work collaboratively even with people whose views are different, and find solutions to vexing problems.

I’d like a president with experience, heart, keen intelligence, and respectability on the international stage.

I’d like a president who doesn’t insult and mock people, incite violence and prejudice, cheat people, lie routinely, drive businesses into the ground, and require 24/7 attention.

That’s why I’m voting for Hillary Clinton. And spending my free time volunteering to help elect her.

Sure, I’m not thrilled about her hawkishness or the self-inflicted wounds we sometimes see. But even if she’s not my ideal candidate, I’d vote for her even if I didn’t think her opponent would be an unmitigated disaster whose elevation to the highest office would reward and reinforce all that is worst in America.

Fortunately, I like and admire Hillary, and think she’d make an excellent president. But if you share only my misgivings about Trump and not my enthusiasm for her, you can still vote while holding your nose.

That’s it. That’s the choice. No third-party votes or staying home to “send a message.”

Because that message might result in President Donald Trump.

I’d rather withstand a giant meteor.




Fifteen Years Out

Candle in the darkIt’s been fifteen years since nineteen men on a suicide mission turned the Twin Towers into smoldering rubble and America into a traumatized nation. I turned off the TV soon after the horror broke. Back then, I had no need of seeing the black billows of toxic smoke on continuous loop, the skyscrapers imploding again and again. Instead I fastened on stories of humanity’s best in response to humanity’s worst—people standing in line for hours to donate blood; young kids emptying their piggybanks for the Red Cross; volunteers forming brigades to get food and supplies to rescue workers; the heroism of first responders; outpourings of sorrow and support from all over the globe.

It’s hard to remember such ordinary and extraordinary acts of kindness and courage now, obscured as they are by what often seems a world in flames. Those planes flew not only into the heart of financial and political power, but right into our collective psyche, fracturing a unifying moment into long-lasting reverberations of fear and vengeance.

As we commemorate the trauma that has so shaped our new century, I’ve found again a remnant of hope. The Red Bandanna: A Life. A Choice. A Legacy, by Tom Rinaldi, recounts the story of Welles Crowther, a 24-year-old volunteer firefighter turned equities trader who led people from the 78th floor of the burning South Tower to safety, returning again and again to rescue others before dying himself when the building collapsed. His body was found six months later. Those whose lives he’d saved remembered him for his red bandanna, something he’d worn since his father gave it to him at age seven.

The NPR segment in which I learned about the Man in the Red Bandanna featured Crowther’s mother, Alison, speaking at the dedication of the National September 11 Memorial in 2014. Here’s what she said:

“It is our greatest hope that when people come here and see Welles’s red bandanna, they will remember how people helped each other that day, and we hope that they will be inspired to do the same in ways both big and small. This is the true legacy of September 11th.”

Her words bring back to me what I felt in that briefest of pauses fifteen years ago, when people’s love and generosity and courage prevailed over hatred and fear.


What are your thoughts on this anniversary of 9/11?


Rocky Mountain High!

The last time my husband Jonathan and I hiked the Continental Divide in Rocky Mountain National Park, our daughter Emma–now 28–was 3 months old and scrunched at the bottom of a Snugli. When we reached the highest elevation, we heard strange little gasps emanating from the carrier, so we raced down to lower altitudes so as not to deprive our newborn of oxygen.

This time around, we were the ones gasping for oxygen, at least for the first couple of acclimatizing days. Here are some highlights from 9 days of hiking:

And here is Inkwell and Brew, the café in Estes Park where we’d go for lattes, almond-poppy-seed bread, and decent wi-fi to reward ourselves after our treks:


I know you’re supposed to unplug on vacation, but one of the most delicious aspects of our vacation besides baked goods was following the news of Donald Trump’s many self-inflicted wounds and plummeting poll numbers. Here is my screen shot from FiveThirtyEight’s August 7 predictions:Polls on vacationMay he keep up the good work, and get to earn the long vacation he so richly deserves!

Jonathan has a cousin in Newfoundland who has been encouraging us to visit for some time, so we decided to take him up on his offer. Since Denver’s east of San Francisco, we were practically already there! Why not just extend our trip?

We stopped first at Quebec City for a dose of walled-city charm after the limitless grandeur of the Rockies, and to scope out the emigration possibilities should Trump prove correct in his prediction that he could shoot someone on Fifth Avenue and still not lose any votes. .

Quebec City is where the English eventually defeated the French, although you might assume a different outcome given that Quebec is the only Canadian province in which French remains the sole official language (the entire country is officially bilingual).


IMG_0945Despite the ubiquitous cannons glorifying the constant battles between the French and the English, we loved the beautiful old city:


After two days in Quebec City and two flights to Newfoundland, we learned that some time zones are on the half hour and that cousin John and his wife Elizabeth are the most gracious and generous of hosts. IMG_0957They showed us a grand time on the water and in the cafes close to their home in Corner Brook, including a night of traditional music.


We also took a fabulous boat tour and hike in Gros Morne National Park, where trails end at Adirondack chairs instead of cafes.

We said goodbye to the green of Newfoundland and returned home to drought-scorched California. My journey continued the very next morning to Long Beach with Emma, where she is starting an MFA program in drawing and painting. Now she’ll be closer to sea level, fighting for oxygen in the atmosphere of greater Los Angeles.

Katie at Long Beach Bluff 8.2016

You’ve come a long way, baby!


Vacation highlights?


bernie and hillary signs (multiple)On the morning of the California primary, I waved my “Hillary” sign at a major intersection during rush hour. When my shift was over, I stopped to chat with two young women on the opposite corner who were holding “Feel the Bern” signs.

“Did you go to the rally last night?” I asked, referring to Bernie’s final get-out-the-vote push in San Francisco.

“Yes! It was so amazing!” they exulted.

“That’s so exciting!” I said, adding before I went off for my morning latte, “As long as we all come together in November.”

Although I meant it sincerely, I must have come across the way every middle-aged mom comes across to children wary of criticism disguised as sweet talk. Their tone darkened immediately: “If we do, Hillary owes us big time.”

I thought of these young women as I watched the Democratic Convention, struck by how young so many attendees were. They had come full of hope and passion, the tears streaming down their faces as their hero Bernie took to the podium. I recognized those rapt faces, those tears. A long time ago that had been me (albeit in my living room, not on any convention floor) soaking in the glory of my hero, George McGovern, incredulous and heartbroken that our noble mission had fallen short.

But I was also myself as I am now: an older woman who felt horrified by the lack of respect and decorum these same young convention-goers showed as they booed and jeered the speakers.

Then I thought of another indecorous young person—my daughter. When Emma was in high school, a classmate’s mother died. My husband and I were away at the time, but when we returned we learned that Emma had attended the memorial service wearing a hot pink wig and a matching sequined mini-skirt that barely covered her privates.

Horrified and ashamed, I lamented my daughter’s inappropriate behavior to a friend.

“Well,” that friend responded. “At least she showed up. That’s what matters.”

Thank you, Bernie supporters, for showing up, with all your passionate, rowdy, heartbroken, idealistic, organized, and chaotic fervor. You have improved the debate, improved the platform, improved Hillary, improved the country. We do owe you big time. I hope you continue to show up.

That’s what will matter, in November and beyond.

Supreme Safety for Women

Supreme Court BuildingIn a major decision upholding a woman’s right to choose, the Supreme Court just overturned a Texas law that imposed severe restrictions on abortion. Under the guise of protecting women’s health, the law’s real aim was to make it much harder to gain access to safe and legal means of terminating a pregnancy. A majority of justices called out this deception in no uncertain terms.

On the same day, the Supreme Court issued a separate ruling that also furthered genuine rather than sham protection of women. By a vote of 6-2, the Court upheld a federal law that bars people with misdemeanor domestic violence convictions from owning guns even if their actions are deemed “reckless” instead of “intentional.” The little-known case pitted gun-rights groups against advocates for victims of domestic abuse.

Unlike false claims that abortion clinics compromise women’s health, batterers with guns pose a real threat. According to Everytown for Gun Safety, people with a history of committing domestic violence are five times more likely to subsequently murder an intimate partner when a firearm is in the house.

The Supreme Court’s decision is in sharp contrast with a do-nothing Congress that consistently ignores strong public support for common-sense gun laws. Although the ruling does not mend the spotty and poorly enforced patchwork of state gun laws that leave so many at risk, it blocks an attempt to undercut a 1996 federal law designed to protect victims of domestic abuse. Had the Court decided the other way, states trying to stem the tide of violence by keeping guns out of the hands of abusers would have been stymied.

In upholding a law that actually protects women while overturning one that doesn’t, the Supreme Court decisions stand as a pointed rebuke to predominantly Republican lawmakers who profess to care about women’s safety even as they undermine it.


Is It Safe?

Earth from space“Do you think I should still go to Israel?” our 25-year-old daughter Ally asks. She’s nervous after the June 8th  shooting deaths in a popular Tel Aviv market.

“Security’s incredibly tight there, so you’re probably safe,” my husband reassures her.

“I confess it makes me nervous,” I chime in, “But who would have thought before this weekend that it was risky going to Orlando, Florida? These things are incredibly scary, but still really rare.”

They don’t seem rare to Ally. She was 8 years old when two teenagers unloaded their lethal anger at Columbine; 10 when the Twin Towers fell; 12 when we went to war against Iraq. Ally was terrified whenever planes flew over her middle school, afraid they’d drop bombs. Mass shootings have unfolded with increasing regularity throughout her life—Virginia Tech, Aurora, Tucson, Newtown. A year after Ally graduated from the University of California at Santa Barbara, a disgruntled young man murdered six students on the same streets she had walked along every day during college.This Friday marks the first anniversary of Dylan Roof’s murderous rampage in a South Carolina church. The Planned Parenthood gunman, San Bernardino, Orlando–the list goes on and on, though many more daily gun homicides and suicides never make the news.

“Has it gotten worse?” Ally asks. “Were you scared growing up?”

We recount the threat of nuclear war, the Cuban Missile Crisis, the Cold War, the assassinations of JFK, MLK, and RFK, the war in Vietnam, Jonestown, the murders of Harvey Milk and George Moscone. These were our times. People just a few years older feared polio. Our parents lived through all this as well as the Great Depression and WWII.

The truth is, though, that I was never scared. Even the possibility of my older brothers and male friends getting drafted seemed abstract. The outside world seemed far away, the violence less random.

But now with news feeds implanted in our brains 24/7, the outside world has broken through.

My family is lucky. We’ve never had to flee a war zone, worry about catching a stray bullet walking in our neighborhood, gone hungry or homeless, been brutalized by police or bullied for being different.  Ally fears an infinitesimally small possibility, not the grinding daily reality too many live.

I remind Ally of a service trip to Mexico she made a few years earlier with a church group. Before they left, the minister tried to assuage parents’ anxiety about drug violence.

“The world is a risky place,” she said. “I worry each time my own children travel to faraway countries. But then I realize that the far greater risk comes from never leaving home.”


How do you answer the question, “Is it safe?”



Getting Out the Vote

Bernie and Hillary signsOn Sunday I got lost in the hills of a nearby neighborhood canvassing for my candidate in the Democratic presidential primary. This is not something we Californians normally do, since the contest is usually put to bed by the time we vote in the primary. And since California is the deepest shade of blue among the blue states, hand-to-hand combat with our neighbors in the fall is unnecessary. Mostly we just write checks and work the phones so we can disrupt people’s dinners in swing states.

This year, though, friends and neighbors are passionately divided over Hillary and Bernie, who are neck and neck in the fight for California’s cache of 475 delegates. Victory (or defeat) is of highly symbolic if not mathematical importance.

I have liked both Sanders and Clinton from the beginning. Both have significant and different strengths and vulnerabilities. For a long time I was undecided, and certainly thought I could vote any which way in the primary because it wouldn’t really matter.

I no longer believe that. And I am no longer undecided.

I am proud to be walking neighborhoods and voting for Hillary Clinton. She has greater depth and versatility than Sanders, and would be more effective at governing and moving a centrist country toward progressive solutions.

Bernie has been a valuable spokesman and motivator for the defining issues of our day. At one point I would have loved to vote for him in the primary.

But Republican leaders, in keeping with their damaging “party above country” stance, are now falling all over themselves to support a candidate they know to be unfit and unqualified for any office let alone president. Democrats can no longer afford to stay in their usual favorite formation, the circular firing squad.  I’m all for the primaries playing out, and for Sanders having a big say in the platform and at the convention. But an ongoing two-flank battle for the nomination itself is a foolish pipe dream that only weakens Hillary (who has legitimately won millions more votes and nearly 300 more pledged delegates than Sanders).and strengthens the Republicans for the fall.

I’ve decided to work hard and vote for Hillary now not only because I think she’d make the best President, but so she’s in a strong position to take on Trump.

My friend Ruth used to say, “My heart’s with Bernie, but my head’s with Hillary.” I know many people whose heads and hearts line up for Bernie, and now Ruth and I both count ourselves among the many whose heads AND hearts line up for Hillary. If you are still divided  within yourself, please consider what I am saying, and choose Hillary for California.

Most important, no matter how you vote in the primaries, vote Democratic in November.

Vote Democrat

Baby Blue

Baby BlueWhen I called our insurance company to put our brand new, baby blue car on the policy, the agent asked, “How many miles are you planning to put on it?”

“None,” I confessed. “I’m afraid to drive it.”

Our old car was riddled with dents and scratches. Naturally, I blamed our daughters, who’d learned to drive on it.

Would our pristine Baby Blue suffer the same fate?

“We won’t let them touch this one!” I’d vowed to my husband.

In all honesty, though, I was responsible for at least half the damage to our old car. I had even dented its front left fender while pulling into the garage the very first day we drove it home from the dealer.

The fact that our new baby was all-electric intensified my fears. The car was either eerily quiet or emitting weird beeps. We couldn’t tell if the engine was on or off, or how to work the lights and windshield wipers. And it was so tiny!

My husband and I felt just like we did as new parents coming home from the hospital with our perfect infant. Was she still breathing? What did those strange noises mean? How badly would we mess her up?

Still, there’s no going back. Just as kids can’t remain in a bubble, cars can’t stay in garages forever. Baby Blue just turned a year old, with close to 8,000 miles on it. Our daughters, now in their twenties, have traveled around the world a time or two. So far, everyone’s made it through pretty much unscathed. There’s a ding in the car’s windshield, but I’m happy to report it happened on my husband’s watch. As for the dings our daughters have taken on, it’s anyone’s guess how they got there.

In either case, life bangs you up a bit, but hopefully doesn’t flatten you.

And if anything big goes wrong with Baby Blue–well, that’s what insurance is for!

Too bad it doesn’t cover raising kids!


That “first ding” fear with cars or kids?