Thursday, August 18, 2005

Dancing the Mugwump Blues

During the Mugwump Decade (half in the 20th century, half in the 21st) that is now ending I devoted a fair share of my energies to the Beyond Queer Group (BQF) on the Internet. I participated at first with enthusiasm, but gradually disillusionment set in. As will become clear, this was not simply a case of "been there, done that." The name of the group reflects a 1996 anthology edited by Bruce Bawer, Beyond Queer: Challenging Gay Left Orthodoxy. This volume was a sequel to Bawer’s earlier A Place at the Table, a widely read plea for gay assimilation, supplanting the gay radicalism then still prevalent.

BQF boasts about 60 members, though typically only a third of these post regularly. Joining is strictly controlled, and candidates must run the gauntlet to make the grade. The primary purpose of this group was (or so it was said at the outset) to evolve a new approach to homosexuality, breaking with the pieties of the existing Left-liberal orthodoxy. As I will indicate, however, the group often fell short of this ambitious goal. (Those who wish to get some idea of the flavor can consult its public sister at, though one should bear in mind that that site is carefully filtered.)

Friends have rightly pointed out that my involvement with the group was disproportionate. Not exactly a waste of time, but certainly an overallocation of it.

At the age of seventy, I certainly do not have world enough and time. In my retirement I need to get on with my own long-deferred writing projects. I made two previous attempts, unsuccessful, to break the BQF habit. It is so easy to get one’s fingers going at the keyboard, and then insouciantly to push the "send" button. These previous efforts to go on the wagon failed, but now I must try for real. In future I intend just to monitor the postings, and not to intervene personally.

There follows a two-part retrospect. In keeping with the confidentiality that is the group’s hallmark, I have tried not to make any indiscrete comments or personal attacks.

As will become evident, BQF was a significant signpost for the times. Now those times seem to be ending.


1. It was fun to belong to a secret society, a Homintern as it were. The lists were closed to outsiders. Yet several members were influential journalists, and through that route our ideas found their way to a larger audience. Because of major shifts in the national climate of opinion these ideas proved resonant.
2. Closure kept out the "trolls"--aggressive, ignorant interlopers, who have made most chat rooms uninhabitable.
3. An initial agreement to avoid personal attacks held flaming down to a minimum.
4. A decade ago, most other members and I were just getting used to the Internet. And BQF provided useful hands-on experience. Halfway into the Mugwump Decade, though, we got blogging, which I have found a more suitable vehicle for expressing and diffusing my ideas (
5. When BQF began it was clear that the socialist Left, which had long dominated the gay movement and gay studies, was moribund. All the same, many of its absurdities enjoyed a vampiric afterlife in the postmodernist craze and in the liberal rhetoric of the official LGBTQ movement. To many of us it seemed a vital task to develop an alternative to these orthodoxies, which many outsiders still mistakenly regard as essential equipment for any thinking gay person.
6. Fifty years ago liberalism easily dominated American political discourse. Republicans got elected by accommodating themselves to it. A few in the Northeast still are. By the eighties, though, old-style liberalism had clearly run out of steam. This decline culminated in the dismal, me-too campaign of the hapless John Kerry. It was not just that Kerry was a bad candidate, but that the Democratic message seemed to have lost all coherence. Unlike the mainstream gay organizations BQF understood this change, and sought to exploit it to achieve gains for gay people. The argument that we must be influential in both parties seemed just. Now, however, the huge mistakes perpetrated by the current Bush administration seem to have brought this phase in the evolution of our national consciousness to a halt, or very nearly so. What we can expect is neither a continuation of conservatism or a reversion to liberalism, but something else. Some BQFers are actively involved in seeking to define what that something else will be.
7. The great issue of the decade was same-sex marriage, and BQF was a main forum for exploring the idea. In the BQF perspective gay marriage was not radical but actually conservative, serving to integrate gay men and lesbians visibly into the larger body politic Two leading proponents of gay marriage, Andrew Sullivan and Jonathan Rauch, were active members of the group, and most of the others subscribed enthusiastically. As far as gay people are concerned, that was uncontestably the master-narrative of the era.
8. Some members proved adept at sharp critique of details, particularly concerning retail politics. The group’s center of gravity lay in the DC area, and long practice had honed their killer instincts. A few members were lawyers, who understood the positive (as well as sometimes Byzantine) role of the law in effecting social change. So one ventured onto these territories with caution. While sometimes painful, the experience taught one to check one’s facts and arguments before opining.
9. In contrast to other lists I have belonged to, the active members all had clearly etched personalities. One always had a good general idea of where they were coming from.
10. All in all, it was a privilege and a pleasure to be a member of BQF. Not, however, an u n a l l o y e d pleasure, as will become apparent from what follows.


1. The postings expressed over the BQF airwaves were privileged. That is to say, one wasn’t allowed to forward or even quote from the contributions of others, unless these were subsequently published elsewhere. This rule had the effect of bottling most opinions up in the hermetically sealed sphere of BQF. The exception of course was the members who were journalists--they used the forum as a source and a try-out for their pieces. Thus there was a two-class system, as those with access to the media utilized the intellectual labor of others. Credit was rarely given. Since we all knew the rules, this complaint may seem churlish—-but it was a functional asymmetry nonetheless.
2. Contrary to the stereotype, BQF was not simply a neo-con group, as there were a good many self-identified libertarians (some in my view "jack libertarians," who modified their principles when it suited them). Several liberal members helped to keep things lively. Somehow, though, a judgmental mood of social conservatism came to pervade our discussions. At times this was grim indeed.
3. From the start, there was an animus, sometimes almost phobic, with regard to the ludic aspects of gay culture. Few could understand the appeal of drag-queen extravagance or the leather subculture. "Promiscuity" was always to be deplored. Sometimes this prudishness obstructed discussion of social evils that one might expect BQF to oppose. In raising the issue, I found that they did not want to hear about the prevalence of prison rape. That was something that happened to "other people."
4. In discarding the rhetoric of postmodernism there was a tendency to go too far. Thus there was no honor left for the principle of diversity—-a big mistake. This narrowness meant distaste for the six Ps: paraphilia, pedophilia, pornography, promiscuity, prostitution, prisons. (Readers of Dante will recall that in Purgatorio IX the poet had seven Ps—-for peccato, sin-—inscribed on his forehead. We had only six.) There was also no understanding of the possibility that another form of society—-not necessarily socialism—-might provide a better framework for the flourishing of gays and lesbians. American free enterprise was the Only Way—-except of course that it is not, as our appalling medical system shows. As my companion of 37 years is now dying owing to its bungling, I have more than theoretical experience of the matter.
5. In my perhaps overly harsh view, the BQF atmosphere was polluted by a pervasive no-nothingism, an unwillingness to transcend petty-bourgeois norms and to think outside the box. I attempted to push things in this direction, but found that most members were unresponsive. To all intents and purposes, they had little interest in gay history, on which I had bestowed some years of intense study. Reading two or three books would have filled this lacuna, but few cared to bother. Likewise, gay events in foreign countries were of little moment, unless (as with the rare outbursts of SSM there), an immediate parallel to the US was evident. These limitations were evident in the discussion, such as it was, of the concept of bisexuality. Bizarrely, but perhaps not surprisingly, some of this was conducted under the heading "Do bisexual men exist?" Long ago Alfred Kinsey showed that they do, and in significant numbers. As far as I can see only two or three members (myself included) actually own copies of the two Kinsey Reports. As in other matters, present-mindedness was the rule.
6. The ruling passion of BQF was the cause of gay marriage. As I noted above, this concern was timely. Yet the members were drawn to a utopian notion of SSM as a kind of universal panacea, which it certainly is not. Initially, they tended greatly to underestimate the practical difficulties of achieving this addition to our institution of marriage. Anyone who doubted the rosy scenario ran the danger of encountering the kill-the-messenger syndrome. As I might have known in advance, groupthink is not limited to the Left. With regard to the current status of gay marriage, the change is limited to one state, Massachusetts. There only a truncated version of SSM has been implemented. For the present the cause of gay marriage has stalled More’s the pity, but with it has gone a major reason for the relevance of BQF. It retains a number of sharp thinkers, so perhaps the group will reinvent itself.
7. Over the course of time it became clear that there was an in-group and an out-group. (Needless to say, I belonged to the latter.) Perhaps this phenomenon is an essential feature of all medium-sized organizations. Still it became disconcertingly apparent to me that several buddy relationships flourished sub rosa. Their adepts would circle the wagons when criticisms, justified or not, were leveled against the ideas advanced by one of their number.
8. As noted above, the center of gravity of the group has been in the DC area. A number of leading members have been closely involved with the federal government and thinktanks dependent on it, to one degree or another. The minutiae of retail politics, including gossip of all sorts, were the daily food of this dominant subgroup. And woe betide anyone from outside the Beltway who chanced to utter a booboo, no matter how minor, in commenting on this slough of desolation. Then the Gotcha! Brigade sprang into action. This set of political-junkie attitudes was another aspect of the failure of imagination that stemmed from an inability to assimilate the principle of diversity. "Others are not as we are" is a simple precept, yet so very hard for some to accept.
9. Public affairs then were their beat. As they were by and large savvy individuals equipped with good twaddle-detectors, it might be thought that they would be supreme in their own realm. Not so. Hawks all, in the run-up to the Iraq war they swallowed the Bush Administration’s entire megillah of prevarication. Groupthink again. As the columnist Frank Rich has rightly noted, the war is over. Yet one will not learn that truth from most BQFers. As far as I can see, the handful of those like myself who had the prescience to oppose this preposterous war were all located far outside the Beltway. Our fields of expertise were quite different from public affairs. How is it that those we should trust to form valid judgments about their own bailiwick could have judged so badly? It was déjà vu: the best and the brightest once again. That sobering experience was a major lesson in the fallibility of the BQF inner circle.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

The figure in the carpet: patterns and civilization

Owing to my long labors in the vineyards of academia, or so a friend suggests, I am too prone to look for patterns. I seek to detect definite configurations, when in reality there are just random agglomerations.

However this may be, the tendency to detect patterns is a theme that runs through our civilization. In all likelihood it is even earlier, stretching back to the hunting-and-gathering stages of mankind's prehistory.

Let us start, though, with an eminently civilized figure: Leonardo da Vinci, who attributed an interesting procedure to a noted predecessor in painting. "Botticelli said [that] by merely throwing a sponge against the wall there would be left a stain in which there could be seen a beautiful landscape. He was indeed right that in such a stain various inventions are to be seen. I say that a man may seek out in such a stain heads of men, various animals, battles, rocks, seas, clouds, woods and other similar things."

Literalists might take this technique as an archetype of the arbitrary pattern-seeking ascribed to Dynes. There is no doubt, though, that such endeavors are a stimulus to creativity.

They reflect our tendency to projection, a principle that was placed in a new context by early twentieth-century psychology. Hermann Rorschach, a Swiss psychologist, found that subjects would respond to ink blots by indicating that they "saw" various things there: a landscape, an animal, possibly a vagina. As a diagnostic device the Rorschach tests are now discounted in clinical work. Yet there is no doubt that they reflect a basic human propensity. This propensity also appeared in another psychological school, that of the gestalt, a German word meaning "configuration."

Some projections may be fantasies, to be sure. But others lead to the detection of genuine patterns, patterns not immediately evident but actually there. They permit us to discern the figure in the carpet.

Why do we human beings tend to look for pattern when we are presented with a seemingly random array? Reflecting the approach of evolutionary psychology, my approach holds that pattern detection became part of an all-important set of resources that fostered our collective survival. There is evidence that hunting-and-gathering societies, reflecting an earlier stage of human cultural evolution, highly value a skill that most hunters have. These gifted individuals can look at tracks to see whether the animal might represent either food or danger. Some of the hunters can, or so we are told, tell from broken twigs what kind of creature has passed that way, and when.

An amusing, though somewhat fanciful locus classicus of this endowment is Voltaire’s oriental tale entitled Zadig (1748). One day the sage Zadig was out walking in the country when one of the Queen’s servants came to him with an urgent request. "You haven’t seen the Queen’s dog, have you?" To which, the wise man replied: "It is a bitch, not a dog." The servant confirmed this point. Zadig went on to say "She’s a very small spaniel. She has recently had a litter. She limps with her left front paw and has recently had a litter. She limps with her left front paw, and she has very long ears."

The servant said that he must have seen the precious pet. "Not at all," replied Zadig. Asked to give an accounting of himself, he replied as follows (I omit a little of the flowery language). "I was out walking and I saw some animal tracks in the sand; I could easily tell that they were those of a small dog. Long, shallow grooves drawn across tiny heaps of sand between the paw-marks told me that it was a bitch whose teats were hanging down, which meant that she had whelped a few days previously. Other traces going in a different direction, and apparently made by something brushing constantly over the surface of the sand beside the front paws, told me that she had very long ears. And as I noticed that the sand was always less indented by one paw than by the other three, I realized that the animal had a slight limp."

The motif in Voltaire’s tale has been traced to the story "The Sultan of Yemen and His Three Sons" from the Arabian Nights. There are other analogues in world literature.

Anthropological observation provides concrete examples. For the following observations I am indebted to the kindness of the Australian archaeologist Steve Corsini. "The skills of Australian Indigenous Peoples, both men and women, in tracking game and each other are legendary. There are literally hundreds of ethnographic and popular accounts of Australian Aboriginal trackers being able to follow all manner of animals, escaped convicts and lost children and to be able to recognize members of their family or even their wider clan, from their footprints.
I know a couple of guys from the Pia Wadjarri community who can recognize individual vehicles from their tire tracks!"

Mr. Corsini reports the following personal experience: "I was on an archaeological survey once (April 1993) with a few elders from the Mt James (Burringurah) Aboriginal Community recording engraving sites and stone artifact scatters along a tributary of the Gascoyne River (north Branch) when two almost simultaneously said 'there's a wild dog round here with three legs.' Later in the day we came across a dingo hybrid hiding under a rock overhang. It took off along the river and it had an obviously broken left front foot from being caught in and escaping from a rabbit trap (these areas are sheep stations, extensive grazing properties where dogs, both wild dingoes and feral mongrels are ruthlessly hunted, trapped and poisoned)."

Moreover, "[I]n August of 1997 two old men I worked with from the Warburton Community could tell apart the tracks of two different goanna or monitor lizards (Varanus sp) that to me look physically identical apart from their coloration. Their suppositions were proven to be correct because they caught both of the animals, one was dug from its burrow, the other flushed out of a big clump of spinifex (if they had been properly cooked I'm sure they would have been quite delicious)."

All sorts of other examples come to mind. The point, though, is that we naturally look for contexts in which to place individual data. This is true in the visual realm as in others. We may not do so as resourcefully as the Australian natives, but the temptation is hard to avoid. At one stage of humanity’s cultural development this propensity was essential for survival. Today its survival is a gift, on that seems essential for creativity. One should not allow the gift to be smothered by a misplaced logical atomism.

A friend directs me the following important point made by Michael Shermer in his book How We Believe. As the tracker is confronted with a particular twig/moisture situation in the bush, two erroneous readings are possible. 1) False negative. There is a meaningful correlation of elements, but the tracker misses is. 2) False positive. The tracker overinterprets the cues.

It seems that the tendency for humans to see patterns (even when they aren’t really there) was selected in an evolutionary process. The reason for this is that the cost of a false positive (seeing a pattern when one didn't really exist) for ancestral human beings was less than the cost of a false negative (not recognizing a pattern when there is one).

The false-negative situation is the more dangerous one, as the observer could miss an important food source or, worse, fail to notice the imminent danger of a predator. False positives may lead to a wild goose chase—there is no food source; there is no predator. But the hunter survives. And survival is inclusive fitness in the sense of evolutionary biology.

This, it seems, is the explanation of why we are conditioned to overinterpret. And a good thing too.

Monday, August 08, 2005

Gay marriage international

Currently, five jurisdictions accept same-sex marriage: Belgium, Canada, the Netherlands, Spain, and the American state of Massachusetts. Scandinavian countries are sometimes mistakenly placed in this category, but what they have is closer to civil unions, not full marriage. To be sure, some restrictions persist in Massachusetts owing to lack of federal recognition. Still, the intent there is to provide gay-marriage rights as much and as soon as possible.

At first this quintet seems an odd lot. And in view of its long tradition of cultural conservatism, Spain almost seems a cuckoo in the nest.

Further examination, though, discloses a number of common features.

1) All these jurisdictions lie on the sea, and have had distinguished histories as maritime and trading nations. Other things being equal, such intercourse serves to foster tolerance.

2) They all demonstrate a comfortable degree of wealth. According to one calculation, Massachusetts led all US states in GDP per person, with $44,000 as against the national average of $38,000. In the world context, the sovereign nations enacting gay marriage statutes had impressive GDP figures: Canada, $29,700; Belgium, $29,000; Netherlands, $28,600; and Spain, $22,000.

3) Demographic parallels are notable, with low birth rates (Spain the lowest, well below replacement), and high rates of longevity. In the year 2000 life expectancy was as follows: Canada, 79.4; Spain, 78.8; Netherlands, 78.3; Belgium, 77.8; Massachusetts, 77.

4) The final factor to be noted is the most surprising, and that is the role of Roman Catholicism. Spain is credited with 99% Catholics; Belgium, 75%; Canada, 45%; and the Netherlands, 34%. There are actually more Catholics now in the Netherlands than Protestants (25%). Among all the American states, Massachusetts is surpassed only by Rhode Island in the proportion of Roman Catholics in the population.

This last category (4) seems counterintuitive. Because of the Whig theory of history, reinforced by the Weber thesis a hundred years ago, we have come to think of Protestant countries as standing in the forefront of progress. Much battered by specialists, the "Protestant ethic" remains the conventional wisdom. According to this notion, we would expect Protestant countries to be in the vanguard, with Catholic ones far behind.

Some would say that recognition of gay rights is not a sign of progress, but of decadence. Such is the view of Nazi theorist Rudolf Klare, many in Islamic countries, and doubtless many evangelical Christians. Yet most enlightened observers would see the abolition of the sodomy laws and the emerging pattern of recognition of gay marriage as part of the universal spread of the horizon of human rights.

Another point is that in recent years the influence of the Vatican has been declining in Western countries, even nominally Catholic ones. Churches are increasingly empty, while contraception and cohabitation are widely practiced. So perhaps a two-stage model is needed for the last factor: first Roman Catholicism; then its attenuation.

Local circumstances have played a role: in Quebec, spearheaded by the modernizing Quiet Revolution. In Spain the Church came to be deeply compromised by its links with the Franco regime. Still, all relevant points considered we are left with the position that religion, even in a somewhat ghostly form, may retain significance, even in societies that are increasingly secularized.

There is more. Ultimately the roots of factor 4 lie in a set of events that unfolded two centuries ago. In 1791 the French Constituent Assembly abolished the sodomy laws. This was the first time this had been done in any European country.

To be sure, the French decriminalization did not occur in an intellectual vacuum. The roots of the change go back to Marquis Cesare Beccaria. In his 1764 treatise on crimes and punishments, the Italian reformer argued that the sodomy laws were failing to deter homosexual conduct and should be dispensed with. Translated into all the main European languages, Beccaria’s work was widely acclaimed. It is the fountainhead of modern progressive criminology.

In keeping with the legislative decision of 1791, sodomy was omitted from the Code Napoleon of 1806. The victories of Napoleon’s armies ensured that this beneficial change would spread to European countries adjacent or nearly adjacent to France. These included Belgium (then known as the Austrian Netherlands), Holland (the Netherlands proper), Italy, and Spain. Because of an accident of geography these countries were mostly Catholic. Even the Netherlands, as has been noted, has had a substantial Catholic element.

Thus Catholicism as such had originally nothing to do with the change. Yet once it had been imposed, decriminalization of sodomy was accepted in such countries, and became part of their tradition. By contrast, such staunch Protestant countries as England and the Scandinavian nations, untouched by the Napoleonic invasions, retained their laws against same-sex conduct.

Be that as it may, let us return to the present. Some hold that the best test of the validity of a theory is its predictive capacity. Which will be the next countries to adopt gay marriage? Perhaps Portugal will benefit from a spillover effect, as Belgium arguably did from the Netherlands. Yet is Portugal wealthy enough now?

In addition, Ireland and France suggest themselves as candidates. However, Ireland has only recently emerged into prosperity, and (except for Belfast, not part of the Irish Republic) has not enjoyed a great seafaring tradition, as English and Scottish bottoms mainly carried its trade. For the present, the French path may be blocked by the PACs, a form of civil union that provides most of the benefits of marriage. So this question remains moot.

Which countries are, conversely, likely to resist gay marriage? Surely the rejectionist tendency will continue to blight the vast realm of Inner Eurasia, from Russia through the Muslim republics of Central Asia, and on to China. Islamic countries in general seem poor candidates. In Latin America the influence of the Code Napoleon has been beneficial, but the other effects seem lacking. Poverty persists. Historically outsiders have done much of the sea faring. However, Brazil may fit the bill, and in fact the southern state of Rio Grande do Sul shows significant stirrings in favor of gay marriage. Let us hope that this small foothold spreads.

The crystal ball remains a bit cloudy. For, as Samuel Goldwyn aptly noted, it is hazardous to make predictions--especially about the future.

(Grateful acknowledgment is made for some suggestions from Arthur C. Warner of Princeton)

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

The uses of adversity

Two decades ago I had a close friend and research associate named Stephen Donaldson. Trained as journalist, he did invaluable editorial work for me on the Encyclopedia of Homosexuality (1990), which bears his name as an assistant editor. This huge enterprise was done on a shoestring--basically I put up the money. Cost cutting was essential. For this reason I was glad to get the services of Donaldson cheaply. I got this bargain because he had spent a total of six years in federal prison, closing off other, possibly more lucrative employment opportunities.

During his incarceration, Donaldson was subjected to a variety of pressures to become a "punk," that is, the passive partner in a homosexual relationship. One one horrendous occasion he had been gang raped. Donaldson had been seared by this experience. Not lacking in sympathy, I nonetheless used to admonish him, saying that it is best to get over such things and move on. Sometimes this approach is termed debridement, from a medical term for the surgical removal of lacerated, devitalized, or contaminated tissue. That task accomplished, one should point oneself to tomorrow, letting yesterday be yesterday.

I am not sure that the sequel has proved me right in this instance. In fact, Donaldson was able to make constructive use of his catastrophic background. He co-founded an organization to combat prison rape. The lectures and writing that he and his colleagues produced did much to put a subject that the public would much prefer to ignore on the agenda. Regrettably, Donaldson died ten years ago, but his beneficial influence is still evident in Internet sites and postings.

Recently, a similar issue has arisen in conversations with a close friend. She and I sometimes compare notes on our common childhood background of poverty. Mine stemmed from cascading medical bills and debts laid on our family by my mother’s prolonged illness in the 1940s. By origin my parents were middle class, but I didn’t grow up that way. We couldn’t even afford a car—in Los Angeles! Experience taught me about something that most educated people confront only in the abstract. My friend may have even better credentials in this regard, as her poverty being raised by a single parent in a working-class Pennsylvania household was truly dire.

At one time it was de rigueur for individuals who had overcome such early obstacles in life's course to invent a glamorous past to camouflage the reality. They thought that if their business associates were to find out the truth they would be disgraced. Today, this fear might still be of practical concern in the fashion world and certain other circles; it’s hard for me to know. Most of us, though, regard honesty as the best policy in such matters. Outing oneself about one’s Tobacco Road background--however it is to be characterized--is a healthy thing.

Over the course of time my friend and I overcame our adversity. We both earned Ph.D.s and became tenured professors. My friend, who retains family ties in Pennsylvania, continues to ponder her early experiences--sometimes, it seems to me, almost obsessively. For my part, I hardly ever think of the early hardscrabble days, except when the two of us are comparing notes.

As I had done previously with Donaldson, I urge her to let the past be past. I am not sure that I am right, though. There may be several valid ways of handling these issues. Still, an excess of brooding may amount to just that--an excess.

So I vividly know now, confronted as I am with a new round of misfortune. A relationship of 37 years, which I was counting on retaining as a bulwark in my old age, has broken up. Since the separation is now definitive, I would like to let go--I would so very much like to! Yet up to now I haven’t been able to summon the strength to do so, an experience that suggests that we cannot always control our response to such challenges, choosing a different path based on "what is best." To be continued.

By the way, reflection on my early experiences did help me to change one view. Until recently I accepted the libertarian argument that medical coverage should remain private in this country. While it is true that there are flaws in even the best national health care systems abroad, this answer just will no do. The fact that, long ago, our family was ruined by medical bills helped me to a better understanding of the subject. The main reason I changed my view, though, was the rational arguments of a friend, who had not had to face this problem on a personal basis. He was operating out of objective considerations.

This conceptual change suggests an important conclusion. Social-policy arguments that are based too closely on subjective experiences are unlikely to convince others, if presented as such. They must be more broadly grounded.

Looking back on my younger days, I am not grateful for the medical treatment my mother received, as it seemed inferior and disproportionate to the expense. Yet the poverty that ensued taught me a useful lesson. And that is that I had to be self-reliant, knowing that no rich relative or "kind stranger" was going to pick me up when I fell. Better not to fall then. I have kept to that principle to this day.