personal, politics, psychology

The Problem with Hillary Clinton and the Yankees


No matter who you support in this 2016 election, there’s one thing everyone can agree on: Hillary Clinton is not very authentic.  Her every move is focus-group-tested and she’ll say just about anything to get the power she’s always craved.  We all know it.

Back in the 1990’s while I was in high school and college, I hardly followed politics at all. I was a Republican, of course. Everyone I knew was a Republican.  I remember in 1992, when Bill Clinton won the first time, my changing voice cracking as I told my high school friends the results of the electoral college.  One of my friends listened to Rush Limbaugh, and I remember how he would refer to Clinton as Slick Willy.  Although I didn’t really follow the issues, I knew that Clinton was doing things I disagreed with and that the Democrats were despicable. My first vote for president was for a doomed Bob Dole in 1996 when I sent in my absentee ballot back home from my dorm room.  Looking down the ticket, I didn’t know about any of the other candidates on the ballot, so I voted for all the Republicans.

As little as I knew of politics at the time, I did know this: I didn’t trust those Clintons, either of them.

So a few years later when Hillary decided to run for the open Senate seat in New York for the 2000 election, I agreed with those who thought it was rank opportunism.  She and Bill bought a house in Chappaqua, and she engaged on her famous listening tour.  But one detail of her pandering stood out to me: in June 1999, a month before she formally announced her candidacy, she put on a Yankees cap.

The problem with putting on a Yankees cap is that everyone knew that she, a native of Illinois, was a lifelong Chicago Cubs fan.  Switching allegiance for the sole purpose of trying to win an election was clear evidence she was a faker.  Rooting for a sports team, especially the local team from childhood, is a part one’s identity.  To suddenly cheer for another team showed how inauthentic she really was.  Oh sure, she tried to tell Katie Couric in an interview that she could be both: “I am a Cubs fan,” Clinton said. “But I needed an American League team…so as a young girl, I became very interested and enamored of the Yankees.”  The front page of the Style section of the Washington Post noted that “a sleepy-eyed nation collectively hurled,” at the obvious lie.  No one bought it.  And neither did I.

I knew Hillary Clinton was a fraud.  She didn’t have any core beliefs.  She would say whatever it took to win the election in New York.  Her newfound love of the Yankees was one more piece of evidence that confirmed my thinking.

But what if I was wrong?  I didn’t consider the possibility at the time.  I didn’t consider it eight years later during the 2008 Democratic primary when I supported Barack Obama.  Even though I had become a Democrat in the intervening years, I still didn’t trust Clinton.  (The story of my switch from Republican to Democrat will have to wait for another day.)

I found out recently that I have been wrong all these years.  Hillary Clinton genuinely did like the Cubs and the Yankees growing up.  Clinton’s love for baseball and her lifelong Yankee fandom were documented in two Washington Post articles, in the same Style section, years before she even thought of running for the New York Senate seat, left open by a retiring Daniel Patrick Moynihan.

The first article, published right before she became First Lady in January of 1993, showed how she practiced with her dad and learned to hit a curveball as well as this key detail from a childhood friend: “‘We used to sit on the front porch and solve the world’s problems,’ said Rick Ricketts, her neighbor and friend since they were 8. ‘She also knew all the players and stats, batting averages—Roger Maris, Mickey Mantle—everything about baseball.’”  Maris and Mantle, known as the M&M boys, were Hall of Famers who played for the Yankees during the years of Clinton’s childhood.  In the ’61 season, when Clinton would have been 13, they both chased the single season home run record held by Babe Ruth with Maris eventually breaking the record on the last day of the season.

The second article was published the following year when the Ken Burns documentary about baseball came out.  Burns admired Clinton’s swing of the bat when he asked,

“‘That was a great swing,’ Burns told her. ‘Did you get some batting practice before the screening, just to warm up?’  Mrs. Clinton, who as a kid was a ‘big-time’ fan of the Chicago Cubs and New York Yankees and ‘understudied’ Ernie Banks and Mickey Mantle, smiled.”

Banks played for the Cubs, and Mantle, of course, played for the Yankees.  Both started their major league careers for their respective teams in the early 50s, when Clinton was a young child.

So all this time Hillary Clinton had been telling the truth about the Cubs and Yankees.  The issue could have been easily cleared up in 1999, but it wasn’t.  Instead, a narrative about her cravenness took hold and persisted in my mind until a few months ago.  I’m sure I’m not alone.

This whole incident is a perfect example of my own confirmation bias.  One psychologist defines it like this: “Confirmation bias, as the term is typically used in the psychological literature, connotes the seeking or interpreting of evidence in ways that are partial to existing beliefs, expectations, or a hypothesis in hand.”  I already knew Hillary Clinton was untrustworthy, so when this piece of evidence about her posing as a Yankees fan in 1999 came to light, it confirmed what I already knew.

Even if it had been true, claiming to like the local sports team is obviously a venial sin.  But in my mind it represented a core truth about her.  My entire conception of her was informed by this anecdote; it stood for something much larger.  Believing such a falsehood tainted how I perceived Clinton for years.  It was impossible not to see her as a calculating panderer who would do anything to get elected.

During the primaries of the 2016 presidential campaign, I tried to take an open-minded look at all of the candidates, including Hillary Clinton.  But it was still hard to trust her.  As I learned more about her, my perspective on her slowly shifted, until I now find myself nearly 180 degrees from my college self.  My former self would have been shocked and incredulous to learn that factcheckers rated her one of the most truthful candidates.

So if I could be wrong for so many years on such a little matter that affected how I saw a prominent politician, what else could I be wrong about?

In the end, putting on a Yankees cap was a problem for Clinton, but not only because it falsely confirmed the narrative that she was a fraud.  It was a problem because the Yankees aren’t the only baseball team in New York.  Fans of the Mets had reason to be mad at her.

(I learned the truth about Clinton and the Yankees from Kevin Drum and Bob Somerby.)

book reviews, comics, faith, literature, politics, psychology

Book Reviews, May 2016

In May I read two great books on serious questions about America today that I would recommend heartily, one on what it means to be gay and Christian in America, and the other on poverty and the crisis of affordable housing in this country.  There are two reviews for comic books, too, but only one of them is worth your time.

  • Does Jesus Really Love Me?: A Gay Christian’s Pilgrimage in Search of God in America by Jeff Chu is a fascinating series of snapshots of the American church and how it is currently dealing with LGBTQ issues.  Chu spends a year talking to Christians–some gay, some not–all over the country to find out about their experiences.  When I first heard about this book, I thought it was going to be mostly a memoir about Chu’s own life.  While he does give some autobiography, almost the whole book is given over to other people’s stories.  He talks to people with views and experiences all across the spectrum.  What I really appreciated is that Chu allows people to talk and give their opinions, really seeing them as individuals, even when he disagrees with them.  He would then tell his own thoughts, but it was clear who thought what.  He even managed to do this when talking to Fred Phelps, the late pastor of Westboro Baptist Church, in a tense conversation (the book was published in 2013, a year before Phelps’s death).  Chu also spends time with those who have lost faith because of the way the church treated them, and with people in ex-gay ministries like Exodus International, and with gay Christians trying to remain celibate, and with those who have reconciled their sexuality with their faith.  He talks to some who are well known like Ted Haggard, the disgraced pastor, Jennifer Knapp, the one-time star in Contemporary Christian Music, and Justin Lee, the founder of the Gay Christian Network.  But he mostly talks with everyday ordinary people who are trying to figure out their faith and sexuality.  A recurring element throughout the book is the ongoing story of a young man who is struggling to come out to his conservative family.  It all adds up to a very powerful book.  I think any Christian, no matter where they stand on the issue, would profit from hearing the stories of these individuals.


  • Ocean/Orbiter: The Deluxe Edition, written by Warren Ellis with art by Chris Sprouse and Colleen Doran, is a collection of two stories about human space flight.  Though unrelated, both stories are science fiction about technologies beyond what we currently have.  In Ocean, a global research team attempts to figure out what is below the ice on Europa, one of Jupiter’s moons, before a technology corporation (a thinly veiled Microsoft stand in; their operating system is called Doors instead of Windows).  The answer threatens the fate of humanity.  The second story involves a space shuttle that disappeared for ten years and then suddenly returns to Earth modified by unknown forces.  Again, the answers to what happened to the shuttle affect the fate of humanity.  The concepts behind both stories are interesting to a point, but they were very idea focused and not invested nearly as much in character.  I don’t regret reading the book, but I don’t feel compelled to recommend it to anyone unless they’re craving mysterious space adventure light reading.


  • The One Trick Rip-Off + Deep Cuts by Paul Pope is a grab bag of early formative comics by an extremely talented artist.  Pope’s art is full of action and expressive characters both heavily influenced by Japanese manga.  The art is not a rip-off, though, but a blend of styles that becomes something new and uniquely his.  The title story fits nicely in the crime genre, but with a bit of a supernatural twist.  Rival gangs such as the Paid-in-Spades and the Do Nothings compete in the city, but individuals in the One Tricks gang each have a special ability to control others with their speech (much like Kilgrave in Jessica Jones).  The protagonist of the story is Tubby, a member of the One Tricks, and his girlfriend Vim.  They plan a heist of their own gang’s stash so they can get out of the city, but naturally it all goes wrong as these things tend to do.  The other stories in the collection range from poems put into comics to a short story about an eating contest to a pair of wordless stories about chance encounters.  A particular standout is a short piece about a young woman waiting for her artist boyfriend to pick her up after work late at night.  He says he’ll be right there, but then gets caught up in his work again and arrives later than he said, leading to her having to fend off sexual violence from strangers while she waits and waits.  It does a good job of perspective taking since most everything else in the collection is about young males and their viewpoint.  Overall, it’s a good read for those who like crime fiction or good art.
  • Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City by Matthew Desmond is an essential book.  Please, please, read it (Read an excerpt here).  Desmond makes the convincing case that there is a serious lack of affordable housing that exacerbates, and is a root cause of, the hardships the poor face.  The book follows the lives of a small number of tenants in Milwaukee and their landlords through their evictions and searches for shelter.  We meet Arleen and her two boys Jori and Jafaris (all the names have been changed) who get evicted at Christmas time after spending money on a funeral for Arleen’s sister instead of rent.  We meet Scott, a nurse who lost his license after he suffered a back injury and got hooked on painkillers and can’t keep up with rent because of his addiction.  We meet Lamar, a man with no legs, who tried to make up for back rent by helping paint the upstairs apartment, all to no avail after the house burned down later.  Their stories are gripping and heartbreaking.  And we meet their landlords Tobin and Sherrena, the former the owner of a rundown trailer park and the latter an enterprising owner of many dilapidated yet lucrative properties in the city leading her to proclaim that “the ‘hood is good.”  For the most part, their stories are presented in a straightforward manner based on first hand observations and recordings Desmond took while spending time with the people.  Occasionally he would add a beautiful description that made it more novelistic: “[she would] sit on a windowsill and light a cigarette, its smoke coming alive in the breeze like a raging spirit that had only seconds to live” (289).  When appropriate during the narratives, Desmond explains aspects of the housing crisis in cities like Milwaukee, but he leaves most of the research, his own and others’, in the 60 pages of endnotes (which are worth reading, too).  For example, “For many landlords, it was cheaper to deal with the expense of eviction than to maintain their properties” (75), and that over a period of two years, half of renters in Milwaukee “experienced a serious and lasting housing problem” (76).  Problems with housing ripple outwards, too, leading to health and psychological problems.  For instance, if the tenants at a property called 911 too frequently (3 times per month) the police could cite the landlord for a nuisance violation.  Landlords would likely evict renters who called 911 too much, thus leading to an incentive for renters not to call, which is of course a problem if there are genuine reasons like domestic abuse to get police involved.  Milwaukee recently changed the nuisance law to make an exception for abuse, but the incentives not to call remain for most situations.  So many poor people live in substandard housing in bad situations, but then they don’t even receive the help that they are entitled to because the programs are underfunded.  Sixty seven percent of poor people who rent received absolutely nothing from the federal government for housing assistance in 2013. It’s shameful.  At the end, Desmond offers two solutions that could begin to ameliorate the sad state of affairs in housing.  The first is to guarantee legal representation for those in eviction court, just like is done for criminal defendants.  Without a proper defense, most renters lose in court against their landlords, if they even show up to court at all.  But more fundamentally, housing should be a basic right for everyone.  One way to accomplish this would be to give everyone under a certain income a universal housing voucher that guarantees that no more than 30% of their income goes towards housing costs.  Such a program would not be cheap, but is certainly achievable if it were made a priority.  For example, the cost of the mortgage interest deduction to the federal government alone would be able to pay for the program.  For a country that calls itself a Christian nation, our priorities are certainly skewed.  If you have any interest in understanding poverty, please read this book.  It is uniformly excellent.  I can hardly recommend it enough.
book reviews, comics, criminal justice, faith, history, literature, medicine, politics, psychology, science

Book Reviews, November 2015

November’s books are a varied lot, but they were all pretty great (with one notable exception–I’m looking at you, Luke Skywalker).  You might find something you like.

  • NeuroTribes: The Legacy of Autism and the Future of Neurodiversity by Steve Silberman is a comprehensive and important history of autism.  He details how two researchers, Hans Asperger in Austria and Leo Kanner in Baltimore, both discovered autism around the same time in the late 1930s, but came to radically different conclusions based on their observations.  Kanner viewed autism as a rare condition with a strict set of “fascinating peculiarities.”  Asperger, working under the shadow of the Third Reich, however saw it as “not at all rare” and as a continuum, but his work remained untranslated from the German for decades.  It wasn’t until Asperger’s views were rediscovered and disseminated in the 1980s by like-minded psychologists such as Lorna Wing and Uta Frith that views began to shift.  In the meantime, Kanner’s narrow view of autism meant that few got a diagnosis and the help that they needed, and of those that did, he proposed theories (popularized by Bruno Bettelheim) that parents were to blame, especially “refrigerator mothers.”  The continuum model, or spectrum as it is now called, finally took hold in the DSM-III-R of 1987.  One of Silberman’s chapters details the fascinating history of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, as it relates to autism, and how with the inclusion of Asperger’s syndrome in DSM-IV in1994, the way was paved for many more individuals to get a diagnosis.  It is this new understanding of autism that has led to the “epidemic” of diagnoses in the last 20-30 years.  Autism has always been there, but now there is a label to attach to it.  Silberman slaps down the study by Andrew Wakefield that supposedly showed a link between vaccines and autism, showing how the study was seriously flawed in many respects and was later retracted by the journal that originally published it.  There were many other chapters that focused on different aspects of autism besides the clinical and diagnostic side.  One focused on the impact of the film Rain Man, which was a favorite of mine in high school (not sure how it holds up as it’s been a long time since I saw it).  Another detailed the connections between autism and ham radio and science fiction fandom.  Others chronicled how families cope with autism and how the autism community has begun to define itself.  Overall, it gives a multi-faceted perspective to an often misunderstood condition.  I would highly recommend this book to anyone who is interested in autism.
  • Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption by Bryan Stevenson is a flat-out incredible book.  Through the stories of prisoners young and old, innocent and guilty, whom he has represented as an attorney through the Equal Justice Initiative, Stevenson shows the many ways that the U.S. criminal justice system is flawed and often leads to unjust outcomes.  The main narrative concerns Walter McMillian, a man wrongly sent to death row in Alabama for a murder he had nothing to do with.  The twists and turns in the case as they try to appeal his conviction against a hostile prosecutor and law enforcement officers and indifferent courts read like a John Grisham novel (Grisham himself gives the book a positive blurb).  I could barely put it down.  The structure of the book aided this quality: he interspersed the chapters on the McMillian case with chapters on other topics including juveniles tried as adults, mothers in prison, and the mentally ill, so the reader can’t stop.  The stories are forceful and worthy of indignation.  Ultimately, Stevenson has compiled a moral argument for criminal justice reform that is a perfect complement to books like Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow and Adam Benforado’s Unfair (both of which I reviewed in May and mentioned before).  He provides the emotional heart of the argument in the stories of the imprisoned that the others make in detailed analysis of case law or social science research.  What is the point of our criminal justice system anyway?  Stevenson points out how inhumane it has become as we have overseen the era of mass incarceration: “We’ve become so fearful and vengeful that we’ve thrown away children, discarded the disabled, and sanctioned the imprisonment of the sick and the weak—not because they are a threat to public safety or beyond rehabilitation but because we think it makes us seem tough, less broken” (290).  I can’t recommend this book enough.
  • When I Was a Child I Read Books by Marilynne Robinson is an important book of essays dealing with big topics like democracy, human nature, and the difficulty of history.  It’s not nearly as daunting as that sounds, but it is a bit daunting.  First, she knows a lot about history and literature.  Second, she doesn’t write down to her audience.  It’s not that she is showing off, but she packs so much into her analyses and probing that it sometimes does take a moment to soak it all in. Robinson has a style that meanders in a pleasant way, touching on matters that don’t always appear at first to be on topic, but that she brings around to great effect.  There are many passages I marked because they were so powerful.  For example, when talking about the Homestead Act, she points out that “housekeeping is a regime of small kindnesses, which, taken together make the world salubrious, savory, and warm.  I think of the acts of comfort offered and received within a household as precisely sacramental” (93).  Or when discussing a number of books that attempt to debunk the Bible, especially the Old Testament for its violence, she proceeds to show how the Torah is heavily interested in the care of the poor, listing many laws that command making provision for those in need.  It’s a rich book, well worth the time and worth rereading.  I had the opportunity to meet Robinson once at a wine and cheese gathering before a reading.  She read from her then forthcoming novel Gilead, which went on to win the Pulitzer Prize.  At the time, I had only read one of her books, a different book of essays, but when I had a chance to shake her hand, I told her that I thought she wrote beautifully and that I planned on reading everything that she had written.  I’m still working on that project, and I’m the better for it.
  • My Life as a Foreign Country by Brian Turner is a startling and poetic memoir of an Iraq War veteran.  The book is divided into short, numbered sections, and it’s not surprising that some of them read like brief poems since Turner has written two well received books of poetry before this memoir.  To give an idea of what I’m talking about here’s the closing paragraph of an early section where he describes his time in Bosnia, where he was also deployed:  “Fires burned in Mostar and Visegrad, Gradacac, Gorazde and Sarajevo.  Season by season, the dead sank deeper into the soil—each enduring the severe and exacting labor of leaves and rain and sun in their compression of mineral and stone, there within the worm-driven kingdom of hunger, phyla of the blind.” (32)A later section about a house raid in Iraq begins with “The soldiers enter the house” and repeats the phrase like a refrain over and over, each time with a different description of how they enter the house (e.g. “with shouting and curses and muzzle flash” or “with the flag of their nation sewn onto the sleeves of their uniforms”) (The entire section can be read at this link; I highly recommend taking a few minutes to read it; it’s worth your time).  I had the opportunity to hear Turner give a reading last month, and he chose this passage from the book.  It’s the centerpiece to the book, a moving description that humanizes the soldiers bursting into the home as well as the Iraqis who are disrupted and traumatized.  The fragmentary nature of the narrative allows Turner to play around with memory and time.  Memory often works likes this, brief glimpses of the past disconnected from what came before, a moment captured, but then sometimes intertwined with an image or a person or a feeling to some other moment, leading to another glimpse.  One of the themes of the book is the legacy that Turner feels as he tries to explain why he joined the Army.  He recounts the war experiences of many relatives, including his father and grandfather, and the bonds that are forged by that experience and how it never leaves a person.  In fact, another part of the book explores how anyone can come back from a war zone and try to re-integrate into civilian life.  He describes himself as two persons, one Sgt. Turner who, although dead, still watches the other, civilian Brian Turner, from the cameras of a drone.  It’s a remarkably potent image of the nature of identity integration and the trauma of war as it is carried out in the 21st century.  I began reading the book on Veteran’s Day because I felt that I need to grapple with the experiences of our soldiers and the costs of our country’s decisions to go to war, even when I didn’t agree with the reasons for going to war.  Those men and women went on my behalf whether I asked them to or not.  Turner’s story is only one soldier’s story, but it’s worth knowing when it’s told this well.  [Here’s a great interview with Turner as well]
  • Star Wars: Skywalker Strikes, written by Jason Aaron with artist John Cassaday, is essentially a placeholder comic, not really worth the time.  I was pretty disappointed at how predictable it all was: the first arc especially is simply another small band of heroes infiltrating an enemy base.  Set between the first two movies (Episode IV: A New Hope and Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back), it is very constrained in what it can do in terms of story and character development.  These first six issues of the comic feature only familiar characters from the movies (with one notable exception at the very end of the collection).  For what it is, a retread of familiar characters in familiar situations, it actually is well done.  Aaron has the voices of the characters down, and the art by Cassaday is top notch, reproducing the facial expressions of the actors with real skill.  But I expected much more from these two creators who have written or provided art for some of my favorite comics (e.g. Aaron’s writing on Scalped and Cassaday’s art for Planetary and Astonishing X-Men).  I wouldn’t recommend reading it unless you absolutely cannot wait until the new Star Wars movies come out, and you can read it for free (like I did, from the library).
  • Davita’s Harp by Chaim Potok is another beautiful and moving novel by this author.  Like the others I’ve read, it’s a coming of age story about a young, smart, Jewish kid; unlike the others I’ve read, this one is about a girl, and that makes all the difference.  Davita’s Harp is the only one of Potok’s novels with a female protagonist.  Davita herself tells the story of her childhood, growing up in New York City during the Great Depression.  Her mother is a Jewish immigrant, but not religiously observant, and her father is from New England privilege, but has renounced the wealth that he came from.  They are Communists (when that wasn’t quite as unfashionable as it would be today) with hopes and beliefs about making the world a better place.  Her father is a journalist who travels a lot to cover strikes and other important events, eventually traveling to Europe to cover the Spanish civil war in 1937.  Her mother is a social worker and very active in the party.  Davita never quite understands her parents and their beliefs, but she loves them dearly and respects their desire to make the world better.  She wants to understand how they changed so profoundly: her mother had been brought up in a Hasidic family (a very strict Jewish sect) but had lost her faith, and her father had renounced capitalism and his wealthy heritage because of some event in his past.  It’s all quite mysterious to Davita.  As she grows, she learns more about her parents and about her place in the world, both as a girl and the daughter of Communists.  There’s a lot of connections to the history of the period, to Jewish identity, and even to characters from other Potok novels, though it’s not necessary to read the other books to find pleasure in this one.  I enjoyed this one thoroughly, and I’m glad that it wasn’t another story about fathers and sons like so many of his others (though I liked those a lot, too).
personal, psychology

The Bad Samaritan

The TV sitcom Seinfeld (in)famously ended with the foursome getting arrested for violating a Good Samaritan law. They saw something good to do and ignored it, which was typical for their characters. They only thought of themselves. Am I any different? Jerry, George, Elaine, and Kramer are grotesques—outsized caricatures of neurosis and narcissism. I don’t like to think of myself in the same company. I laugh at the show because it’s not me; it’s a parody of real human interaction. Here’s a story that makes me think I might not be so different given the right (or should I say wrong) circumstances.

I’m late to work. It only takes 15 to 20 minutes to get to school, depending on the traffic, but this morning I hit the snooze on the alarm one too many times. I hate getting out of bed—who doesn’t—but it shouldn’t be so hard to get to work at 8AM. So I’m in a hurry, driving the legal limit in town because I’m cautious even in my hurry. Mostly I worry on the inside and my actions stay the same. I maintain the appearance of calm.

I make the left onto the road to the community college where I work, still a half mile and a major intersection away. As I approach a flattened S-curve, a car coming the opposite direction out of the curve careens across the thick yellow line into my lane. Oh no. It’s going to hit me, I’m sure of it. It’s a game of chicken. There’s nowhere to turn to get out of the way. I’ll have to jerk the wheel to get out of the way, but which direction? My mind is numb. I can’t think. It’s all happening too fast. But the car kept drifting, on a vector out of the curve that takes it off the road entirely. It hops the curb and crashes through a hedgerow and a chain link fence behind the bushes and into an irrigation ditch. I’m so startled and scared. One second I think the car is going to hit me head on, the next it has crashed on the side of the road right in front of me. Houses line the left side of the road, opposite the hedgerow and ditch. I hadn’t seen what the driver looked like. I keep driving to work. I don’t know what to do. I figure someone from one of the houses will call the police or a car behind me will stop. My hands are shaking.

So that’s the story, and it raises a lot of questions I’m still trying to figure out all of these years later. Why didn’t I stop? Why did I assume that someone else would help? Here’s where it gets complicated. Let me first start by telling another story.

In 1964 a woman named Kitty Genovese was raped and murdered outside of her apartment in New York City. According to a New York Times article written about the incident, 37 of her neighbors heard her screams and did nothing. Readers were outraged by the story. Everyone wanted to understand why they didn’t intervene or at least call the cops. One of the neighbors famously said, “I didn’t want to get involved.” Were these people moral monsters? Or was there some rational explanation as to why they didn’t help? Psychologists were very interested in explaining how this could have happened. Researchers found evidence for something they called the bystander effect. When multiple people witness a situation where help might be needed, the responsibility to act is diffused among the bystanders, and so too is the blame for not acting. So maybe this partially explains my not helping the other driver. I was one of many bystanders.

Study after study has shown this diffusion of responsibility to do something if others are present. Everyone assumes that someone else knows what is going on, whether it is a true emergency or not. Everyone also assumes that someone else will do something about the emergency. Say three people are in a room filling out questionnaires and then smoke starts pouring in through an air vent. The three will be less likely to do anything about the smoke than a person alone in the room. Same thing happens in other helping scenarios. Another study had participants in groups of two, three, or six, (though separated physically while communicating via intercom) when a confederate would pretend to have a seizure. The bigger the group, the less likely an individual was to do anything to help the person in trouble.

Here’s how psychologists like Latané and Darley explain it. In order for someone to help in a given situation, the person must (1) notice what’s going on, (2) decide that it’s an emergency, (3) feel personal responsibility to act, (4) also feel competent to act, and then (5) consciously decide to intervene. It’s sometimes hard to determine whether a situation truly is an emergency. If there are many other bystanders, a person might wait and rely on the reactions of others to interpret the situation. So everybody freezes and waits to figure out what is going on. The diffusion of responsibility when there are many bystanders can also keep a person from going through all five steps. For instance, a person might not feel personally responsible if there are so many others around who could act instead. Or they might not feel as competent as others surely are. Besides that, a person might feel inhibited to act when others are watching and evaluating their performance.

So perhaps I was experiencing the bystander effect. Perhaps not, though. I did notice what had happened. I did know that it was an emergency. And I definitely felt some responsibility to act. But still I didn’t. So far my research into social psychology has not explained my behavior. Interestingly, a recent meta-analysis (2011) of all of the bystander effect research shows that the “the bystander effect is attenuated when situations were perceived as dangerous.” In other words, when a situation is unambiguous and serious, such as when someone is in obvious physical harm, there is little to no evidence of the bystander effect. My situation was rather unambiguous: the other driver was clearly in danger of physical harm. I should not have been subject to the bystander effect then.

As a side note, it also turns out that the standard telling of the murder of Kitty Genovese is wrong in some key details. When Kitty was first attacked, a neighbor did call out, “Leave that girl alone!” which prompted her attacker to retreat. He came after her again in the vestibule of her apartment building, now out of sight of most of the neighborhood, and raped and stabbed her. At least two neighbors did call the police, and when an ambulance arrived, a neighbor was holding Kitty in her arms, though she didn’t know the attacker was gone. Far from being the cold and heartless neighbors, some of them did intervene in the situation. The neighbor who said he didn’t want to get involved had his reasons: as a gay man he didn’t want to draw attention to himself by the police who often thought homosexuals were a menace (this being 1964 when the same New York Times ran headlines like “Growth of Overt Homosexuality in City Provokes Wide Concern” mere months before the killing). Somehow the reporting by the newspaper got some key facts wrong in the narrative. This doesn’t invalidate any of the psychology research that the killing inspired. But it does make it a less useful example of the bystander effect.

I first encountered the original NYT’s version of the story of Kitty Genovese in an anthology for a Composition course I taught for a community college. The class was composed of high school students who were dual-enrolled in high school and college, and they received college credit for the course. The high school was the poorest performing one in the city, located in the area of lowest socio-economic status. One of my students related to the incident in the story. He said he’d heard gunshots outside his home at night but done nothing about it. No one said a word against him in the class. I didn’t blame him either. What was a skinny 16 year old going to do about gun violence in his neighborhood? If he called the cops, it would only cause trouble for himself and his family. I had a real soft spot for that kid. He was clearly struggling with the work. Not that he couldn’t do it, but something was holding him back, maybe family life, or an unsafe neighborhood, or maybe he had to work. I didn’t know, and couldn’t know, how hard his life was.

* * *

My other explanation for my behavior of not helping is that I was in a hurry. In another famous psychology study, seminarians in a hurry to give a talk were less likely than non-hurried seminarians to stop and help someone slumped over and moaning and who seemed to be having trouble breathing. To add insult to injury, in one of the conditions for the study the seminarians were supposed to give a talk on the Parable of the Good Samaritan, while in the other condition they gave a talk on a different topic unrelated to helping. Some of the hurried seminarians “literally stepped over the victim as he hurried on his way!” (107). After they gave the talk, the seminarians were asked if they had recently seen someone in need of help and when had they last helped someone else. Most of those in a hurry realized, upon reflection, that the person who was slumped over was in need of help. But in the moment, they were too focused on the task at hand (getting to their talk) to realize the ethical dilemma in front of them. Indeed, the authors of the study even acknowledge that the seminarians were “helping” the researchers by giving the talk in the middle of the study. In other words, it was a conflict of helping. I was in a hurry to get to work. Maybe I was no worse than a seminarian. But in the moment I did realize it was an emergency. I wasn’t like the seminarians who only realized later what they should have noticed on their way to the talk. Another explanation slips away.

It still gnaws at me that I did nothing to help. I didn’t get a good look at the driver—I don’t know if it was a man or a woman. Whoever it was might have been seriously hurt. I had a cell phone in my pocket, though I didn’t have a local number at the time. Some cell phones then couldn’t call 911 anyway. Not that I was thinking all this at the time. First I was scared because the car swerved in front of me and could easily have hit me head on. My car had an airbag, and I always wear a seatbelt, but still… two cars traveling 35MPH in a head on collision is bad. Then I was shocked at what was happening. When everyone is following the traffic laws and transportation is running smoothly I hardly notice what is going on around me. But when a car careens across lanes and off the road it’s jarring. The normal patterns have been broken. But that’s the very definition of an emergency. That’s when someone has to do something that they wouldn’t ordinarily do.

I was also confounded by where to park the car if I were to stop. To my right, the road had curbs high enough that I couldn’t pull off the road into the grass. There were residential driveways on the other side, but I would’ve felt strange parking in someone’s driveway. Perhaps that’s what I should have done. Rang the doorbell. Used a landline to call emergency help. Instead I was further down the road’s curve, that much closer to the community college where I worked. With each passing second it was harder to stop, until it was too late.

So this is the truth of it, and I don’t really like it. I wanted to have social science explain my bad behavior away. But mostly it was a matter of my personal traits. I’m indecisive. While momentarily shocked by almost getting hit, I then couldn’t decide where to stop my car. I didn’t want to pull into a stranger’s driveway for fear of an awkward explanation and imposition. I hate awkward situations and making others unhappy. And each moment I remained indecisive, the inertia of doing nothing took me farther away from the entire situation until it felt too late to stop because then I might have to explain why I didn’t stop immediately. I felt guilty and ashamed, and I didn’t want to face up to my failure.

I still don’t.

About half a year ago I wrote about a time when I was a Good Samaritan, although a reluctant one (you can read it here). I’m very interested in the topic of altruism, and the reasons why sometimes we help others and sometimes turn away. I’m going to keep coming back to it.

Articles referenced:

Darley, J. M., & Batson, C. D. (1973). ‘From Jerusalem to Jericho’: A study of situational and dispositional variables in helping behavior. Journal Of Personality And Social Psychology, 27(1), 100-108. doi:10.1037/h0034449

Fischer, P., Krueger, J. I., Greitemeyer, T., Vogrincic, C., Kastenmüller, A., Frey, D., & … Kainbacher, M. (2011). The bystander-effect: A meta-analytic review on bystander intervention in dangerous and non-dangerous emergencies. Psychological Bulletin, 137(4), 517-537. doi:10.1037/a0023304

book reviews, criminal justice, faith, history, literature, politics, psychology, science

Book Reviews, May 2015

The May installment of mini book reviews has the two books I referenced in my last post about criminal justice, as well as two very different novels set during World War II, and another book on creation and evolution because I can’t stop reading about the topic.

  • The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander is a devastating critique of American society.  Alexander argues, persuasively I feel, that upon the end of Jim Crow segregation in the 1960s, instead of ushering in a time of equal opportunity, America erected a new racial caste system based on mass incarceration (via the War on Drugs) with devastating effect on African Americans.  Her argument is a complex one, requiring diving into history, law, and social science research.  It started with calls for a return to “law and order” during the tumultuous 1960s, then with Nixon calling for a “war on drugs” that didn’t really come to fruition until Reagan’s administration.  Reagan truly initiated the Drug War early in his time in office by dramatically increasing anti-drug budgets.  Interestingly, at the time he called for a War on Drugs in October of 1982, only 2% of the country thought drugs were the most important issue facing the country.  Things didn’t get better under Clinton in the 1990s.  He enacted many “tough on crime” policies such as 3-strike life sentences for certain crimes.  His administration cut public housing at the same time it was increasing money for corrections.  In Alexander’s telling, no one is blameless for the current predicament of mass incarceration.  After detailing the history, Alexander shows how police have virtually no legal restraints in carrying out the drug war.  Because there are few, if any constraints, the seemingly race neutral drug war ends up targeting and incarcerating people of color disproportionately, especially in light of the fact that whites and people of color use drugs at similar rates.  Even after someone has served a sentence for a drug crime, the system isn’t done with them yet.  Policies that control ex-prisoners make it difficult to truly re-integrate into society, often leading to second class status or, even worse, recidivism.  In order to end mass incarceration as a caste system, it is not enough to point out that drug use is a public health problem and not a criminal one.  Alexander argues that the racial component of mass incarceration has to be confronted head on.  If it is not, then even if mass incarceration is ended, another racialized caste system will emerge just as Jim Crow followed slavery, and mass incarceration followed Jim Crow.  I would highly recommend this book.
  • Unfair: The New Science of Criminal Injustice by Adam Benforado is a critical examination of the American criminal justice system.  And it is vitally important that we look at it.  Benforado details the many, many ways that the criminal justice system does not, in fact, deliver justice.  The structure of the book, from investigation to adjudication to punishment, allows him to show how things can go wrong each step of the way.  Along the way he points out the relevant social science research that helps to explain how these mistakes can be made.  For instance, some innocent people confess to crimes that they didn’t commit in order to make a grueling interrogation stop.  Or they might take a plea deal if they’re led to believe that a trial will not show their innocence.  Astoundingly, over 90 percent of those charged with a crime and offered a plea take it without a trial.  During a trial, it can be hard to determine guilt or innocence when prosecutors withhold evidence or a jury inaccurately rates a witness trustworthy or not.  Or take an eyewitness’s evidence: people’s memories can be notoriously unreliable when looking at a lineup or recalling the circumstances of a crime.  Memories can be easily corrupted or altered or even fabricated without the eyewitness realizing he or she is doing it.  And the impartial judge who oversees the proceedings of a trial may not be as objective as we would like to believe.  Of course everyone has biases, but it’s amazing how something like the time of day can affect someone.  In studies, judges are more lenient earlier in the day, but they are much harsher before lunch or at the end of the day.  How is that fair?  When it comes to punishment, Benforado puts forth the scientific evidence that “it is a desire for retribution—not deterrence or incapacitation—that has the strongest influence” (191).  This type of punishment leads to mandatory minimum sentencing, three strikes laws, life without parole, and the death penalty, which don’t work to actually deter crime.  Once in prison, it’s hard not to become “institutionalized” or broken as a person (whether by solitary confinement or the threat of rape and violence), so it’s not surprising that so many prisoners cannot re-integrate into society after serving time.  Benforado offers a smattering of possible reforms big and small that could get us closer to true justice.  One of the best suggestions, I thought, was the virtual courtroom.  It would remove obvious problems like being “swayed by the attractiveness of a witness” (266) or thinking a nervous witness is lying when they are merely nervous at speaking in public (we are not good at detecting whether people are lying or not, though we think we are).  My only real complaint with the book is that it sometimes reads too easily.  Benforado presents historical cases or the social science research so smoothly and convincingly (similarly to Malcolm Gladwell) that I was almost entertained by the story he was telling or the research findings he was presenting, when I really should be outraged.  It’s not that I wasn’t ultimately outraged, but maybe the pill should stick in the throat more rather than go down so easily. Despite that slight, and possibly idiosyncratic, complaint, I would highly recommend this book to everyone.  [Disclosure: I received an uncorrected proof from the publisher via a giveaway in the hopes that I would give an honest review of the book.]
  • The Commandant of Lubizec: A Novel of the Holocaust and Operation Reinhard by Patrick Hicks is a novel of witness and remembrance.  It’s an unflinching account of the horrors of a Nazi extermination camp told in a documentary style.  I’ll admit that I mistakenly thought it was going to be told more from the point of view of the title character (though the back cover and the blurbs are quite clear about the documentary nature of the story).  A story told from the POV of the Commandant would have been contrary to the spirit of the novel.  Rather, the narrator refers repeatedly to the absences and the missing, to the thousands killed on a daily basis, about which “traditional modes of storytelling fail us” because “the darkness itself is the story.”  It’s powerful.  And haunting.  The fictional camp of Lubizec is modeled on real camps like Treblinka.  In high school I read Jean-Francois Steiner’s account of Treblinka and the revolt by the prisoners there.  Something similar happens in this novel, but the narrator reminds us that this is not an adventure story, it is rebellion against the killings.  And though this is not a character study of the Commandant, it does in its own way try to humanize him by detailing his family life outside of the camp.  He is truly a bifurcated individual, a loving father at home and a cold, unfeeling engineer of murder at the camp.  His two selves seem impossible to reconcile.  Near the end of the novel, he even refers to himself in the third person when trying to explain his actions during the war.  I would highly recommend this book to everyone wanting to understand the Holocaust better.  [Disclosure: I am acquaintances with Patrick Hicks; he teaches literature and writing at the same college where my wife teaches.]
  • City of Thieves by David Benioff is a marvelous adventure story set during World War II during the siege of Leningrad.  The narrator, Lev Beniov (in the conceit of the novel this is the author’s grandfather telling him the story), along with Kolya, a deserter from the Army, must find a dozen eggs for an important Colonel, so that his daughter can have a wedding cake.  The city is surrounded by the German army, and the people are starving during the winter months.  It simultaneously has the quality of a fairy tale where the heroes have to accomplish an impossible task while also being a coming of age story for the 17 year old narrator.  During their search, the two young men encounter the many brutalities of the war, but there is also a lot of humor in the story, especially the way Lev and Kolya interact.  Kolya treats Lev like a younger brother whom he can teach about the ways of the world and women.  Like any quest narrative, it hits the right notes with twists and obstacles to keep our heroes from their objective, while also subverting some of our expectations along the way.  It was a very satisfying read.  As it was primarily a guy book, I would recommend it as that, though noting that anyone could enjoy it.
  • Evolution from Creation to New Creation: Conflict, Conversation, and Convergence by Ted Peters and Martinez Hewlett is a useful book on the topic of theistic evolution.  The two authors (one a theologian, the other a scientist) offer a helpful guide to the landscape of Christian approaches to origins.  They critique the young earth creationist and the intelligent design positions, but in the most fair and serious way I’ve ever seen.  They treat those who hold those positions with the utmost respect as fellow Christians (it’s a marked contrast to books I’ve read by Karl Giberson and Kenneth Miller).  Curiously, they don’t spend any time with old earth/progressive creationists.  The best part of the book is where they detail the spectrum of beliefs in the theistic evolution camp.  They analyze various thinkers in five areas: (1) deep time, (2) natural selection, (3) common descent, (4) divine action, and (5) theodicy (i.e. an attempt to answer why a good God would allow evil and suffering).  Afterwards, they present their own model that avoids some of the pitfalls they see in the other positions.  For example, most of the other thinkers used some version of the free will defense to answer how God could allow evil.  The problem they see with a free will defense is that it requires God to relinquish interacting with creation, which then makes evolutionary processes random and purposeless.  Most theists would like to avoid that conclusion.  Their approach is novel, by contrast, but it too is rather unsatisfying.  They view creation as both an initial point in time (creatio ex nihilo) as well as an ongoing process (creatio continua) that is not yet complete until it can be redeemed as a “new creation.”  In their reading, the “very good” declaration of Genesis is from the standpoint of the new creation, looking back on the whole history of creation (seems like a stretch).  They admit that they, like Job, don’t know why suffering and death are part of the creation at this time.  So, it’s still a mystery.  Regardless, the book is a handy reference for the various positions within theistic evolution.  I’d recommend it to anyone interested in the debate on creation and evolution.
parenting, personal, psychology

Resistance is (Almost) Futile

The kids and I had just finished lunch when there was a knock on the door.  I saw a minivan out the window, and I thought it might be a friend.  I opened the door to find a well-dressed man who quickly handed me a spray bottle.  “Here’s a gift for you.”  Then, “Have you heard of the something something two?”  I didn’t understand what he was asking.

“No,” I said.

“Perfect!” and he bolted back to the van, grabbed a large box and came running back to the door.  Before I realized what was going on, he had come inside. As he slipped off his shoes and bounded up the stairs to the living room, he said that he was going to give me a free demo and that I didn’t have to buy anything.  Yeah right, I thought.

This was the point where a savvier person would have told him to leave the house immediately and that there was no way he was selling anything.  But I didn’t realize my critical window was closing by the second.  I was still marveling that a now-stockingfooted stranger had entered my home without bothering to wait for my permission.  As someone whose mother used to have to buy his whole box of fund-raising candy bars because he couldn’t face his neighbors’ gentle refusals, I partly admired his moxie, even as I was appalled by it.

After climbing right over the baby-gate at the top of the stairs, he beheld the filthiness of our home.  A huge pile of laundry lay strewn about.  The couch cushions and pillows were helter skelter, part of a fort or floating rocks in lava or some other grand design the kids had envisioned.  He immediately started putting together his vacuum, a Kirby Sentria II (oh! that’s what he had said at first!) and asked me what kind we had.  I dragged out our crappy Bissell so he could do his side-by-side demonstrations.

Right away he tried to establish commonality by asking where I was from and what my hobbies were.  I could tell it was fake friendliness, but I answered his questions honestly anyway.  When I told him I was from Ohio, he started talking about Columbus because he had been there before.  It didn’t matter that I’ve never lived there.  He wanted to know if I had ever gone to a football game at The Shoe.  I haven’t.  He tried another line of questioning by asking about hobbies.  I told him I didn’t have a lot of free time with three kids to care for.  But I allowed that I do like to read when I get a chance.  He jumped on that.  Told me that he had loved reading Sherlock Holmes stories and The Hobbit (long before the movies, he added), though he didn’t have a lot of time to read anymore.  All I could think was that those seemed like generic books to mention.  Sure, I like Sherlock Holmes and Tolkien’s stories too, but doesn’t everyone?

The kids were skittish.  The 3yo kept hiding behind the curtains, occasionally peeking out and giggling.  The 1yo wanted to be held the whole time, and especially when the vacuum was turned on.  The salesman didn’t let their anti-social behavior stop him.  He said they were cute and great.  I was sure he said those things to anybody’s kids, even if they were hideous and kicking him in the shins.

Once he had the vacuum all put together, he asked me if I wanted clean floors.  I answered that of course I did.  What was I going to say, no, I’d like to live in filth and squalor?  What kind of weirdo would say that?  He proceeded to do a quick demonstration.  He used our Bissell on a section of carpet, going over it 50 times.  He counted each sweep for effect.  I already knew that it wasn’t a very good vacuum.  It picks up the visible fuzz and Cheerios, but I’ve never been impressed by its suction.  Then he used his Kirby over the same stretch of carpet, but instead of using a canister or bag, he inserted these white discs that would show exactly how much dirt the vacuum was picking up.  He stayed down on his hands and knees in order to keep switching out the discs as each quickly accumulated debris.  Then he set them to the side until the dining room floor was covered with 30 or 40 paper discs, each displaying a generous pile of crud against its brilliant white background.  It was obvious which vacuum was better.  But he asked me anyway in order to make me say it out loud.

White vacuum disc with rapidly falling price

[Not the moon.  One of the white discs with the rapidly falling price on it]

After he had tried to get me to like him by showing our similarity and asked me some questions so he could later hold me to my answers, his sales patter focused more on the vacuum itself.  He proceeded to tell my why my Bissell didn’t work well and why his Kirby was superior in every way.  But it wasn’t only my Bissell that was worthless, it was every upright vacuum that could be bought at the store.  They were all terrible in the face of the all-mighty Kirby.  It was unique among vacuums.  I had to admit, I kind of wanted one now.  But he still hadn’t told me how much they were.  We’d get to that soon enough, but first he had to give me more reasons why I had to have one.

“What’s the dirtiest part of the house?” he asked next.  I thought for a few seconds and had a flashback to when we moved a few years ago.  Friends from church helped us with the big items, and when we picked up the bed, the dust bunnies were multitudinous and feral.  “Under the bed,” I answered.  He acted stunned and said I was right.  Said only three people had ever gotten the question right (and I believed him and felt good about myself!).  He said the bed is the dirtiest part of the house because of all of the dead skin cells we shed at night.  Never mind that I hadn’t actually said the bed itself, he glossed right over that in order to give me credit.  He walked down the hallway so he could demonstrate the effectiveness of the Kirby on a bed.  I wasn’t about to let him into our bedroom, which was also in disarray.  So I showed him to the boys’ room.  He vacuumed the toddler bed and sure enough, the Kirby sucked out lots of dirt and dead skin cells from the mattress just as predicted.  It was amazing!  And gross!  And I was pretty sure that I was never going to vacuum any of the mattresses in our house whether we had a Kirby or not!

The last part of the demonstration showcased the shampooing feature which involved more accessories and special soap.  I didn’t really care.  We barely manage to vacuum once in a month of Sundays.  We’re never going to shampoo the carpet.

So finally it came time for the big reveal: the price.  I was, of course, surprised that such a fine machine cost north of 2000 dollars.  How did he ever manage to sell one of these things?  But then came the discounts that I knew were coming.  The first was the trade-in.  He offered to take our ineffectual Bissell for an outrageous sum, more than twice what we had paid for it originally.  Then he asked if I knew anyone who owned a Kirby.  When I said no, he scrambled to find me another discount (only later did I find out from my mom that she had owned a Kirby once upon a time, but gave up on it because it was so heavy to lug around).  He finally hit upon the fact that I have family members who have served in the military.  Another $200 off!  Then he found out that we wouldn’t want to finance the purchase but use cash instead.  That garnered a 10% discount on top of the previous discounts.  It was down to $1710.  What a deal!

That’s when he made his first phone call to the “boss.”  I use scare quotes because it was obvious that this was the plan all along.  In fact, I suspected that this boss was actually the driver of the van, which had conveniently driven away and left him stranded at my house. He asked her how many “friends and family” discounts he had left.  After he had his answer, he proceeded to offer me one of his five remaining “friends and family” discounts.  He acted like he was doing me a big favor to the tune of $550 more off the price.  He was on my side.  He wanted me to have clean floors.  It would only cost $1160.  The price had come down just over 50% from where it started.  How could I say no?

Somehow I said no.  Couldn’t do it.  We didn’t have that kind of money.  That’s when he started to lay on the guilt.  He brought up my earlier answers that I wanted a clean floor and that his Kirby was the better machine.  How could I not buy his vacuum knowing what I knew now?  It wasn’t my fault before, but now I had been enlightened.  The Kirby was the only way that I was going to get all that dirt out of the carpet.  How could I let my kids play on a dirty carpet?  I wouldn’t put clean clothes on a dirty carpet, would I?  He kept pressing the issue.  I couldn’t look him in the eye when he laid on the guilt about the dirty floors.  I felt kind of ashamed about all of the dirt his machine had managed to get out of the carpet.

He called his boss/accomplice again.  When she asked why I didn’t want the vacuum, he told her, “He doesn’t have a reason,” after he had swatted down everything I had offered in the negative.  I tried to explain that we don’t do installment plans (which is mostly true) and we didn’t have the money right now.  So he pushed the installment plan anyway.  Then I told him that any extra money we had was going into fixing our basement from the flood damage last year (the one exception to the ban on installment plans was getting the basement waterproofed).

One last call to the boss yielded a final offer of $1000.  How could I still say no?  They were being so reasonable and accommodating.  I still said no.  I couldn’t make financial decisions like this anyway without consulting my wife. But, he said, if your wife knew all the dirt that was in here, wouldn’t she want you to get it all?  Wouldn’t she want clean floors for the kids? I mean, guy to guy, women can be pretty particular about a clean house. Boy, I thought, you do not know my wife.  She doesn’t care much about a clean house.  And she definitely would not want to spend $1000 on a vacuum.  In fact, the nagging thought that she might kill me if I did buy it kept me from being tempted to give in just to make it all stop.

The whole ordeal took over an hour and a half.  He ignored me every time I said the kids were supposed to be taking naps.  As he was packing up, which he did very slowly, drawing it out so I had to say no a few more times, I finally put down the 1yo for his nap an hour later than usual.  I breathed a huge sigh of relief when the minivan came back to pick up the vacuum and the salesman.  I was exhausted.

On the plus side, a tiny bit of our carpet was clean.

[for more on the principles of persuasion ably demonstrated by my persecutor, check out this video by researchers Cialdini and Martin]