Friday, November 17, 2017

November 17, 2017--Betty's Concerned About Me

"You're not yourself," Betty said, calling from Maine.

"Not even a hello?" I said.

"You know I'm busy, working three jobs and all. I don't always have time for niceties."

"I know that, love. It's just so unusual to hear from you after we relocate to New York. Also, you caught me off guard and I was moved by your concern. I'm not good at handling people being concerned about me, as much as I appreciate it. But," I added, "I'm OK. I mean, I think I'm OK . . ."

"Well I do read the things you write. And the one the other day about you're not feeling happy in New York upset me. To think of the two of you not being happy."

"I appreciate your concern. I really do. I was just having a down day."

"Sounded like more than that. In fact, I've been sensing you've not been yourself for some time. From even before the storm and the trees down and power outages and that crazy guy who slammed his car into yours."

"True, all of that was upsetting. Especially the car business. He came close to really injuring Rona. I think that . . . I mean . . . feeling exposed and vulnerable just at the end of our time here--I mean there, in Maine--set me back. But the bottom line, as time goes by, I'm less able to handle change, including coming back to New York or, in the spring also, returning to Maine. As much as I love it there." 

I took a deep breath. "Then of course there's what's going on in the rest of the world."

"I've been sensing all of that," Betty said. I could hear her taking a deep draw on her cigarette. She was on her break.

"You know it's funny to hear you say that. What's going on in the world is profoundly upsetting. You know me, how I try to be optimistic. I'm always looking for ways to come up with the best explanations for even the most dire situations. And how I try to find ways to fix things. But then Rona the other morning, we were having breakfast in Cafe Rona, asked if I believed we were coming to the end. 'Not the Big End you sometimes write about,' she said, 'I'm not becoming one of those Rapture people waiting around for End Times. I mean,' she said, 'the end of the system. The end of our democracy. Is our system strong enough to resist the direction in which it feels like we are heading?'

"That really shook me up," I said, "Rona's not inclined to think that way. She's also a problem solver. She too thinks we can figure out whatever we need to figure out."

"To tell you the truth it's feelings of these kind that are coming through on most of the things you've been writing recently. Not the funky pieces like those audiology tales, but the political stuff."

"Could be true," I said.

"And it's not primarily the content part--the pieces on Trump and the Russians and the Virginia and Alabama elections are right on. That's the point-of-view part. The concern I have is with the writing itself."

"The writing?"

"Yeah. It feels less confident, less energetic, more squeezed out with effort than inspired." She paused to see what I might say.

"Well, first of all, I appreciate your feeling that some of my stuff is--or has been 'inspired.' Your word. And to tell you the truth I have at times been feeling weary and maybe that what's coming across. Things are not flowing the same way. I've attributed it to aging. Of course. My favorite place to go when I feel anything changing."

"How many of these things have you written?"

"About 3,200."

"And how long have you been doing this?"

"More than 12 years."

"And how old are you?" Before I could say or lie, she said, "Scratch that. I don't think it's that. Aging. Maybe just a part of it is. I think it may be more that you're feeling overwhelmed. Overloaded." She paused, "Like the rest of us. That's what he's doing to us."


"Who else--Trump. It feels like he's trying to be the last man standing. The last person. He pummels us daily. There's always something waiting that we have to deal with. He's great as setting the daily agenda. Usually with ridiculous things like his latest name for Kim Jong-un. He called him 'short and fat' the other day. So we have to engage with that. We have to take it seriously because he's the president and has the ability to get us into a big war with North Korea." 

I said, "I'm exhausted just thinking about the past week. We even had to deal with his crazy thing Wednesday with the water bottle. Like he was channeling Marco Rubio who had his own water issues. It's as if Trump has a huge reference library of things from the past that he can dip into and get us all agitated about one more time while he sits back and husbands his energy. He's trying to win by wearing us down to helplessness. He's more than 70 years old, doesn't sleep, is grossly overweight, and eats crap. Yet there he is every day full of piss and vinegar while the rest of us are feeling exhausted."

"I can see that in the things you've been writing," Betty said, "Again, less in the content, more in the lack of flow and energy in some of your pieces."

"I pride myself," I said, "in being persistent. I've said through the years that much of what I've been able to accomplish is the result of  refusing to give up, pressing on when others may flag. To outlast people. So here we are faced with things of much greater consequence trying to deal with the master of distraction, agenda setting, and persistence who's full of narcissistic energy."

"This could be what's happening," Betty said. "I feel it in your writing and maybe it's also responsible for the malaise that feels so widespread."

"Let's assume this is true," I said, "That would make things more dangerous. At a time when maybe our democracy is at risk those who dread and oppose what's unfolding are beginning to run out of gas. I put it this way--those who oppose this--because there are some who are happy about what's going on. Too many. They don't value democracy. They want a strongman to take care of them. In trade, they're willing to surrender their freedom. But those of us who do value freedom better get rested up and recharged because there are these threats and there's a long way to go until the next election--a year--and who knows what we'll have to deal with between now and then. Even tomorrow."

"I have to go in a minute," Betty said, "But I have one more thing to mention--we'd better hope that that Roy Moore is defeated in Alabama. To put him down and that Bannon who is behind him, to reject them is really important. There's about a month to go before the election and related to that I liked that piece of yours about how liberals have to get off our butts and work hard to take back our country. Minimally, everyone should send $50, a $100 to his opponent's campaign. Doug Jones's. And we have to commit ourselves to never giving up, no matter how tired or frustrated we feel because that's what Trump and Bannon and their others are counting on--exhausted, we'll simply surrender."

"That's never going to happen," I said.

"That's the optimist in you," Betty said with a smoky laugh.

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Thursday, November 16, 2017

November 16, 2017--About the Nicest Thanksgiving Story Ever

During breakfast at Cafe Rona (how we refer to our sweet mornings at home), after ten days back in New York City where a single shot of espresso in a paper cup can cost as much as $4.50, where an ordinary egg sandwich in an undistinguished place can arrogantly cast $18, we spoke about feeling ripped off. 

Few people on Broadway are smiling. Most walk through the swarming downtown streets with their heads drooping, buried in so-called smart phones. I have taken to calling them dumb phones since that seems to be the affect they are having on people who look as if they are shuffling along like crack addicts.

Clearly, we are not feeling happy. To quote Wordsworth, too many are involved in "getting and spending" and thus "lay waste their powers." For him, the power to be a part of Nature.

Most everything is commodified--where we live and shop, how we work and play, where we seek fulfillment and, hopefully, love. 

So much is rank ordered. It seems as if everyone, everything is situated within social, economic, and cultural hierarchies so one literally knows where one stands. Most feel unhappy with their sense of how they are doing.

For almost everyone, the answer is that they feel they are not succeeding even if by objective standards we are by comparison to almost everyone else on the planet among the most privileged, particularly in the context of what is most valued--authority, affluence, power, stuff.

Our longing for the life we left behind in Maine (where we cannot extend the season because our cottage is a "primitive" relic of the last century that is more about charm and coziness than infrastructural systems--I mean, we do not have much insulation and very little heat) our longing for a simpler, more authentic life is intensified as we see all the desperate seeking that surrounds us.

And thus we are not much looking forward to the holidays. For the most part here they too are often about desperation. To find ways to feel optimistic, to feel cheered by our place in the world, and sufficiently distracted to get through the days and out the other side to 2018. 

But then on Facebook there was a notice posted by one of our favorite local restaurants in Bristol, Maine--the Harbor Room.

I read it quite early yesterday morning and thus needed to reread it later in the day to make sure I hadn't misunderstood or had been hallucinating. 

Co-owners and friends Taylor Corson and Cerina Leeman posted--
Everyone has been inquiring as to what our plan is for Thanksgiving, so here it is . . .  
We are excited to share that we will be providing a Community Thanksgiving Dinner free of charge to all who come!  
Nothing is more rewarding than bringing our community together and we want to provide an opportunity for everyone to share a delicious meal with neighbors, friends, and family regardless of circumstance. 
Help us spread the word! We will also deliver to those with transportation issues with advanced requests.
Now we know where we want to be, including on Thanksgiving, but . . .

Taylor Corson & Cerina Leeman

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Wednesday, November 15, 2017

November 15, 2017--Punishing Sexual Assault

Some of the most distressing news of recent times has been the wave of outings of men with power using it to sexually assault usually younger women over whom they have authority.

But some of the best news of recent times is about the courage these women are showing as they confront their accusers and risk stigmatization and the resurrection of the emotional nightmares they experienced in some case decades ago.

From movie producer Harvey Weinstein to comedian Louis C.K. to senatorial candidate Roy Moore, and lest we forget, Bill Crosby, the stories are horrifying, yet familiar.

And, yes, there is Fox News, which makes the predatory sexual climate of Mad Men seem like an innocent tea party.  

In my case, I know one of the accused, Leon Wieseltier, the former literary editor of the New Republic. This for me brings it close to home. 

The details of Leon's behavior are sadly typical--

Several women said they were humiliated when he kissed them on the mouth in front of other staff members. Others said he discussed his sex life, including describing in detail the breasts of a former girlfriend. He made passes at female colleagues and pressed them to describe their sex lives. 

Daily, we are hearing stories like this and worse.

But things get more complicated when thinking about appropriate punishment.

With the exception of Crosby and perhaps Weinstein, it is unlikely than any of these men will be criminally prosecuted. Some are and will be sued in civil court and hopefully, if guilty, will need to pay for emotional damages that they caused.

And then there are the private settlements that have occurred. Most dramatically, Bill O'Reilly paying one of the women he abused an astonishing $32 million.

In other instances, especially when the accused are well known or famous, they will suffer public disgrace and likely lose any possibility of resuming their careers. Weinstein will never again produce a feature film, Bill O'Reilly will never return to TV, Leon Wieseltier will never write and publish another literary critique.

Some will enter sex-addiction treatment programs (or pretend to), stay out of public view for a year or so, and then attempt to crawl back to their previous occupations. Weinstein is allegedly in such a program. 

In these instances the punishment is informal--employers will not take the risk to bring them back. In the case of the news or entertainment businesses, executives will not take the chance of being picketed or that sponsors will abandon them. Sponsor abandonment and boycotting are what ultimately brought O'Reilly down.

In the case of Roy Moore, perhaps, perhaps the voters of Alabama will keep him out of the Senate and the public eye. That would serve as a version of punishment.

Coauthor of Game Change, Mark Halpern, did numerous slimy things a number of years ago (and, who knows, perhaps more recently). After being exposed recently he lost his multi-million dollar book deal with Penguin Press and was fired by MSNBC and Bloomberg News. Will any publisher or TV network ever take another chance with him? Will they trust that he will be able to control himself, or more significant to a network, that he will be able to attract viewers and thus sponsors or readers. In other words, build viewership, sell books, and make money?

While we are furious about what is daily being revealed, it is understandable that we might feel there is justice seeing these careers ruined. The perpetrators brought this on themselves and deserve all the punishment they are receiving. It seems appropriate. 

But in some instances is it possible that the consequences are beyond fairness? How do we even think about fairness in circumstances when much of the punishment occurs in extralegal ways?

I am not sufficiently without flaws to make these judgements. Difficult as it is with emotions so raw, thinking about this still seems worthwhile.

Thoughts are welcome.

Leon Wieseltier

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Tuesday, November 14, 2017

November 14, 2107--Chest Cold

Wouldn't you know it, we're back in New York City for a little more than a week and already I have a cold! My brain is foggy and thus I will not be attempting to write or post anything today.

It is passing quickly and I hope to have something for Wednesday--perhaps thoughts about appropriate ways to punish those being outed for sexual offenses. From Harvey Weinstein to Roy Moore. A very complicated subject. 

Monday, November 13, 2017

November 13, 2017--Republicans Hit Rock Bottom

Since June 2015 when Donald Trump descended the escalator in Trump Tower to announce he was running for president (at the time I didn't appreciate the living metaphor of this descent), along with many others I wondered out loud about when he would finally hit rock bottom in his words and behavior. 

Would his calling Vietnam war hero John McCain a "loser" because he was shot down and captured--"I like winners, not prisoners"--turn enough voters off and knock Trump the draft dodger out of the race?

Or would it be the end when he mocked the gold star parents who spoke movingly about their son who had been killed in action?

Certainly, when the Billy Bush tape became known, the one where Trump bragged about grabbing pussies and how easy it is to get sex if you're rich and famous, certainly that alone would do him in.

But, no, it failed to do so. To his supporters his vulgarity and brashness made him even more attractive--their kind of person--and the rest is history.

He continues to speak and act outrageously now that he is president. Almost daily there is something in his tweets to delight his most fervent followers. It is likely true that, as he boasted, he could shoot someone on Fifth Avenue and get away with it. 

Now, Trump may have company in Alabaman Judge Roy Moore, the Republican nominee who is running to replace Senator Jeff Sessions, Trump's Attorney General.

Moore who is convincingly accused of having repeatedly molested a 14 year-old girl in 1979 refuses to withdraw from the race and by all indications, in spite of this, is likely to be elected.

Most Republican leaders are apoplectic. After their stunning defeats in Virginia and elsewhere last week they are in full panic that (1) Moore, will refuse to step aside and further tarnish the GOP brand or (2) he will be elected and they will then not know what to do with him. Ensconced in the Senate he will remind voters daily that pedophiles are welcome under the Republican tent.

Further, Moore's continuing campaign will surface all sorts of undesirable, image-mangling Alabaman Republican leaders who have been saying that they will vote for him even if he is guilty because anything, anything is better than having a Democrat representing in Congress the great state of Alabama. Pedophiles yes; Democrats, no.

Some from the evangelical community--major players in the Heart of Dixie State--have compared Moore to Joseph of Mary and Joseph. 

Alabama State Auditor Jim Zeigler, for example, noted that there are many older men cavorting with teens in the Bible, including Mary and Joseph, who "became parents of Jesus." This is a direct quote.

So, if one is still wondering when we would hit rock bottom in our Trumpian politics take note--we just have. 

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Friday, November 10, 2017

November 10, 2017--Weekending

I will return on Monday.

Thursday, November 09, 2017

November 9, 2017--GOP In Full Panic Mode

After the Democrats' showing in Virginia, where they did much better than projected and where many saw the outcome as a negative response to the Trump presidency, Republicans, less than 24 hours after the results were known, were in full panic.

As they should be.

Most alarming to them is the huge turnout, especially among suburban women who a year ago formed an important part of the Trump constituency. Without them, the GOP may see their majority ended in the Senate and challenged in the House.

All of a sudden, everything to them seems bleak and even hopeless.

Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz must already be thinking about 2020.

Lindsay Graham and Jeb Bush too?

Can we please get Herman Cain stirring?

Most Republican members of Congress can't stand Trump and see him mainly as a political meal ticket. A ticket to ride. A signing pen if they ever manage to get anything passed by both houses of Congress. 

After Tuesday, don't expect to see too many signing ceremonies in the Rose Garden.

If these weasels conclude that Trump can't deliver the goods, they will dump him in a heartbeat. Many, gleefully. 

Someone else who until 48 hours ago seemed invincible was equally a loser. 2017's version of Karl Rove--Steve Bannon. 

Bannon who has been swaggering around for the past few months, masterminding the demise of the traditional Republican Party suddenly feels diminished. He's the one who convinced poor Ed Gillespie to pander to the Trump base during the last couple of weeks of the Virginia campaign. Under Bannon's tutelage, Gillespie made a big thing about the sanctity of Confederate statues and how we need to deport all immigrants.

How did that work out? With a week to go the race was supposed to be a dead heat. A few days later Gillespie lost by 9 points.

Expect Trump to try to cozy up again to Chuck and Nancy. Expect them to say, "No thanks."

They are expert at smelling blood in the water and they now have no interest in doing anything to help resurrect him. They're thinking Speaker of the House, Senate Majority Leader.

It's a crazy business but what a difference a day or two makes.

Governor Elect Northam

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