Friday, October 31, 2014

October 31, 2014--Best of Behind: Take Back Halloween

This is a reprise of my first Halloween posting from back in 2007. It's rough around the rhetorical edges but, I think, still pertinent--

Not too many years ago when we first moved to Greenwich Village, the Halloween parade was called the Children’s Parade and all who marched down Fifth Avenue into Washington Square Park were children in costumes accompanied by parents in regular clothes. Now, no right-thinking parent would bring a small child out into the current mayhem. Yes, there is a separate rump event for kids, but it’s a sideshow. The real action now goes on for miles up and down Sixth Avenue and it is pretty much for adults-only raunchy affair.

Crank back in time some more, as I am quite capable of doing since I have a few years on me, and Halloween in the city and suburbs was totally for and about children. We even made our own costumes (see below). Tricking and Treating went on in a serious way with the emphasis on the tricks. Kids carried on on their own—parents stayed home. Some of the tricks were ashamedly rough and even violent. Since no one was interested in gathering candy treats we set off stink bombs on people’s doorsteps even before they could answer the doorbell.

Accuse me of indulging in nostalgia, but isn’t there also some sort of cultural shift reflected in adults purloining this formerly kids-only day?

The first evidence of this takeover was adults attempting to turn the treating into something benevolent—to defang it, taking all the perverse pleasure out of the soft-core wilding. They did this by pressuring kids to collect money for UNICEF rather than scrambling after Hershey’s Kisses and mini Three Musketeers bars. Then, either out of fear that their kids would be molested, poisoned, or kidnapped they began to accompany them as they made their rounds.

We now live in a doorman-protected apartment house and you would think parents who live here would be comfortable tonight turning their tikes loose in the hallways. But no, when our doorbell rings, 100 percent of the time the children will have parents tagging along with them. Parents, by the way, frequently in costumes more elaborate than their sons’ and daughters’.

You tell me what this all means. I suspect it has something to do with adults feeling the need to escape adulthood, or their current identity, by reliving childhood—this time as they wished they had lived it back then.

Me? I’m going out tonight as Alex Rodriguez in an LA Dodgers uniform. And, like A-Rod, I’ll be collecting money for myself.

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Thursday, October 30, 2014

October 30, 2014--Time Wars

I hate it it when the clocks spring forward or fall back. I like my routines and this disrupts them.

Sunday they fall back when Daylight Savings Time ends. The worst of it is not a jet-lag-like hangover but the fact that it will be dark up here before 5:00 in the afternoon. Not my favorite thing; but we head for NYC early Sunday, and I suppose it will be light enough when we leave for us to see the first snow of the season that is forecast for then.

But over in the Middle East, as with virtually everything else, one more thing the Israelis and Palestinians aren't on the same page about is Daylight Savings Time.

The Palestinian Authority ended DST two days before Israel, out of stubbornness more than anything else, or as a pathetic declaration of independence, and so for those two days, those few workers allowed to cross the Gaza or West Bank border to get to jobs in Israel, going one way arrived, by the clock, at an earlier time that when they left and their return commute took an hour more of seeming clock time.

According to the New York Times, the website reports that over the past 15 years the Palestinians and Israelis have changed time at the same time just seven times, for some unknown reason always when springing forward. Making matters even worse--which is difficult to achieve in that fraught region--three times it took a month before their clocks were in sync.

So here's my plan--

Forget entirely about Daylight Savings Time. I have confuted a decidedly unscientific survey and have found hardly anyone all that passionate about retaining it. They tell me that whatever time it is they get used to it. Even darkness in late December in northern places such as Maine that falls by mid afternoon.

On the other hand, I doubt Israel and Palestine would any more agree to this than settlement policy or work permits for Gazans. It seems the more things they have to disagree or fight about the better they like it.

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Wednesday, October 29, 2014

October 29, 2104--Catching Up With the Times

Is it just me, or is it true that the news of the world these days is unusually, relentlessly grim?

Maybe it's always dire, but take the headiness from a couple of pages in last Saturday's New York Times--

"Islamist Party in Tunisia Appears Set to Rebound" It turns out that this in fact didn't happen but the Saturday piece saw a strong likelihood that the Islamist Ennahda Party, in the country where the Arab Spring began, would win a plurality of votes, defeating the more secular parties who now control the caretaker government.

"In French Port, 'Psychosis' Over Migrants From Middle East and Africa" Faced with ever-increasing numbers of migrants from Africa and the Middle East, the French government, in response to civic anxiety, is sending police reinforcements to the port of Calais to control the unruly situation.

"With Guile and Tiny Torah, Women Hold a Bat Mitzvah at the Western Wall" Calling for equal rights for women at the holy Western Wall of the biblical Jewish Temple, defying religious authorities and the police, women smuggled a miniature Torah to the Wall and conduced a Bat Mitzvah of a 13-year-old girl. The ceremony was broken up by the police and many participants were arrested. The orthodox insist that only men be allowed to conduct religious ceremonies there.

"Putin Lashes Out at U.S. for Backing 'Neo-Fascists' and 'Islamic Radicals'" In his strongest diatribe yet, Putin claimed that the United States fomented most of the world's recent crises. From Syria to Ukraine.

"31 Egyptian Soldiers Are Killed as Militants Attack in Sinai" Two coordinated attacks in the Sinai by followers of the Muslim Brotherhood led to the deaths of 31 and the wounding of at least 28 others.

"Hong Kong Stars Who Back Protests Are Losing Work and Fans in Mainland" Chinese actors, musicians, and other celebrities who have supported protests in support of more open government are being stigmatized and boycotted on the Mainland.

"Pro-Beijing Lawmaker Urges Hong Kong Leader to Consider Quitting" A pro-business party leader in Hong Kong is pressing the city's chief executive to resign.

"Ottawa Gunman's Islamic Radicalism Deepened as His Life Began to Crumble" The young man who ran over and killed a Canadian soldier last week in Montreal turned to militant Islam as he felt his life's chances diminishing.

"Sunni Militants Draw Iraqi Forces Into Intense Battles on Several Fronts" A report about ISIS or ISIL's progress in attacking Shia and Kurdish strongholds. Another article two days later revealed that ISIS fighters are now equipped with sophisticated Chinese shoulder-fired ground-to-air missiles, making it difficult for the Iraqi and American air forces to attack their positions. I continue to wonder why ISIS militants are so adept at warfare while the Iraqi army, that we trained for years, can't shot straight.

"Poland Appeals Ruling on Transfer of Terror Suspects" The Polish government is appealing a court ruling that claims it transferred two terrorism suspects to "black sites" in northern Poland run by the CIA.

"Israeli Troops Kill Palestinian Teenagers in West Bank, the 2nd in 8 Days" Israeli troops shot and killed a Palestinian teenager who allegedly threw a fire-bomb onto a main road in the West Bank often used by Israeli soldiers.

All the News That's Fit to Print indeed.

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Tuesday, October 28, 2014

October 28, 2014--Gar-bage Time

It's Gar-bage Time in Washington, with the emphasis on the second syllable--Gar-bage.

As a basketball enthusiast, Obama knows about Gar-bage Time. It is now that time for Barack Obama and his administration.

In the NBA it's when LeBron James' team is 30 point ahead in the fourth and final quarter. Rather than continuing to run up the score and thereby taunt and humiliate their opponent, it's when the coach puts in the third stringers and they run up and down the court for the final 10 minutes making fools of themselves.

In this case, the Obama administration is 30 points behind and there's only a little over two years left in his term. He's entering the fourth quarter of his eight-year term.

I know, this will feel like an eternity. Just as it always does during Gar-bage Time. But with Obama there are things he and his team can do to avoid making fools of themselves.

Before turning to that, to drive home the basketball analogy, in 2004, just before delivering the keynote speech at the Democratic National Convention that launched him--the "One America" speech--to pump himself up as well as to give us a rare glimpse of his ego, Obama proclaimed, "I'm LeBron, baby. I can play at this level. I got some game."

He really said that.

That may have influenced the Nobel Prize Committee, which in 2009 awarded him a premature Peace Prize, but for those of us paying attention during the first three quarters, Obama's initial six years, to paraphrase Lloyd Benson's barb delivered to his hapless VP opponent Dan Quayle, who had the chutzpah to compare himself to John F. Kennedy, "I know LeBron James, and with all due respect, Mr. President, you're no LeBron James. In fact, you don't have that much game."

I should add that Quayle, George H.W. Bush's VP nominee, actually won.

Overnight I was thinking about what the first Wikipedia paragraph will say about post-presidential Barack Obama. Currently, the first sentence says he is the "first African American too hold the office of President." I assume that will remain and certainly the first paragraph will include Obamacare; but when it then comes to sum up the rest of the essence of his presidency, to highlight his major achievements, these will include extracting us from two George W. Bush wars, finally tracking down and killing Osama bin Laden, and playing a leading role--even before he was elected--in supporting measures to prevent the Great Recession from becoming the Second Great Depression.

Then, the rest of the Wiki entry will be a list of disappointments and out-and-out failures.  Here's a list--

The Obamacare rollout
The VA hospital scandal
The IRS scandal
The Arab Spring which quickly devolved into the Arab Winter
The Ebola response
The return of the Cold War
Reupping the Patriot Act and expanding its use
Supporting the extension of Bush's tax cuts
Edward Snowdon
Red Lines in Syria
Angela Merkel's cell phone
Losing the Democrat majority in the House and, soon, the Senate

So, in the face of this and the public's disenchantment with him, how can Obama avoid two-plus years of Gar-bage Time?

By being bold. Show that like LeBron you do have game.

Prodded by Nancy Reagan, Ronald Reagan during the doldrums of the last year's of his presidency, in the midst of Iran-Contragate, made a deal with the Soviets to effectively end the Cold War.

I can only imagine what Michele is now pushing for--
  • An easy one--bring Cuba back into the fold of Western nations
  • Stop the continuing flood of deportations being carried out by your administration and stand up forcefully and repeatedly for the "rights" of undocumented immigrants who are essential to our economy
  • Put what little is left of your political capital on the line and honor your Nobel by personally and directly intervening in the Arab-Israel nightmare. If necessary, begin the process of cutting Israel loose since they are at the heart of the ongoing problem. Ignore the Israel Lobby. You don't need them. You're not running for anything anymore.
  • Reiterate your agenda even though there is no chance whatsoever of any of it being enacted into law. Maybe some of your lofty ideas will influence future presidents. As with Teddy Roosevelt.
  • Speak more about race. Reread your own amazing speech delivered during the heat of the Reverend Wright affair and get back to those themes. Many of us think much of your problem with Congress and with too many Americans is lingering racism. Who other than you can do this in ways to help get more of that malignant affliction behind us. 
  • Most important, devote much of your remaining time talking about the American Dream to disaffiliated young people. Poor, middle class, and wealthy. Too many of them fear for the future. And they are right to do so. Someone has to help them understand what is happening and figure out how to deal with a host of new realities. 
Or, you can continue to drag yourself dispiritedly up and down the court, feeling sorry for yourself, running down the clock. And, one more thing, put Air Force One in the hanger and if you go anywhere travel commercial.

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Monday, October 27, 2014

October 27, 2014--Busy Bees

I caught a lot of grief about Friday's blog, "Just Talk."

Those I heard from felt I was being unfair to liberals and too "understanding" and "casual" about those beliefs of conservatives that are not only "outrageous" but "harmful." That I let off the hook too casually those who do not believe in evolution or climate change. In a world threatened by ebola, as an example, how could I sit so comfortably over coffee with someone resistant to the findings and "truth" of science? Perhaps, some speculated, I have become so besotted about life here in Midcoast Maine that I have lost perspective and my ability to think clearly.

There may be some truth to this but some of this criticism missed my bigger point. Or at least the point I thought I made clearly enough that was to me the bigger point--

That credibility accrues to those who are activated by their views (even views one rejects or disagrees with) and less to those who just talk about them. And my perception--perhaps over-generalized--is that it is we liberals who tend to talk while letting others act for us while conservatives are mobilized, looking to change things. And among the things they want to change, if we would listen and pay attention, are at times things in which we are in agreement. Even if the underlying reasoning is something about which we differ. I cited Willy's and Ben's active support for local recycling, not so much for environmental reasons but for literal cost-benefit ones. In this instance, we can stand on common ground about the behavior if not the motivation and ideology.

And so, as I ended the Friday piece--it's complicated.

Here is another example from Saturday night.

We were invited to a wonderful dinner and evening with good friends. Among the many things in which they are engaged is beekeeping.

This is a relatively new interest but they are doing it quite successfully in that this year, for the first time, they are gathering and using honey from their hive. It is producing enough (amazingly, I learned, it takes 50,000 individual pollen gatherings to produce just one teaspoon of honey) that for us and the other couple who was there, there was a ribbon-adorned jar to take home. Of course we couldn't wait and tasted some at the table--it is amazing!

I asked them how and why they got interested. "Well," he said, "you know about how there's a dangerous dying off of pollenating bees."

"I've been reading about that," I said. "Sounds serious. But how does that relate to your interest?"

"When I became aware of this I decided, in my own way, I wanted to do something about it. Not just to read and talk about it."

(See where this is going?)

"I guess all I do about the problem is read about it," I mumbled, as if to myself.

"We weren't satisfied just being aware of the problem. Mind you, we thus far have two hives and maybe 70,000 bees and we know that won't solve even a small part of the problem. But the way we look at it, every little bit helps."

"Indeed it does," I agreed, again, more from theory and concern than practice.

I don't know all that much about these friends' politics or ideologies. We haven't spent that much time talking about it. We have so many other things to discuss and enjoy together. But I sense he, at least, is a true political Independent. I know, for example, that he has voted for perhaps as many Republicans as Democrats for the presidency and Senate. Perhaps more. I guess that qualifies as Independent.

But when it comes to bees, though he blames big agribusiness for much of the problem (over spraying of the wrong insecticides), and this might be construed to be the progressive take, about other matters he feels quite friendly to many aspects of big business and would like to see more backing off from some of government's regulations.

So, again, it's complicated.

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Friday, October 24, 2014

October 24, 2014--Midcoast: Just Talk

After a complicated breakfast with Jim, during which a nuanced and balanced conversation about affirmative action and same-sex relationships descended into indiscriminate Obama bashing (Jim whispered conspiratorially as we were leaving, after I confessed disappointment in Barack Obama's presidency, "Don't you agree that he's working to bring down America?") over anniversary dinner later in the evening with other friends, we got to talking about how in small towns such as this one, where people depend upon, even need each other to get through life's perils, we generally find ways to disagree and often those with whom we have the sharpest disputes are the very ones we call on when things are most urgent; and, if we are honest about that and, more important about ourselves, we discover that our differences almost always amount to just words.

They amount to just words because, in truth, most of us are not actively or directly engaged in working to bring about social or political change (no matter its ideological direction or content) and are not that active in fraternal or civic organizations. Rather we talk. Talk passionately about things we believe in while remaining relatively unengaged.

Is this too cynical a view?

In some ways yes. In other cases maybe not. Like so much here this too can be complicated.

It is not cynical when it comes to holding accountable many of my fellow liberals (me as well) who are especially adept at the talking while this cynical view is unfair for many of those of more conservative persuasion who tend to be more actively and directly involved in the life of the community.

They are more likely to be volunteer firemen or, as a member of the EMS squad, are the ones likely to come in the middle of a stormy night to race us to the local ER. Or active on the Town Board. Or lead discussions about why source separation of trash is important--not necessary as liberals would have it to preserve the environment but because the Town can make money selling recyclables and thereby lower taxes.

About that, Rona wondered out loud if our environmentalist-minded friend, Peggy (to pick on her), back in New York City recycles as much or as assiduously as Jim in Bristol, Maine.

"No way," I said, agitated by my awareness of Peggy's hypocrisy as well as mine.

Jim, who is 81, is active on the local school board even though his youngest is in her thirties. "I have grandchildren, you know," he shrugs as if that explains it all.

And though he's not so sure about including a lot about climate change in Earth Science or referring too much to Evolution in Biology, he's out there in the middle of winter determined not to miss even one meeting while I talk, talk, talk about how we can't ignore the lessons of science, not only if we want to try to repair our planet but also to prepare our youngsters to be competitive in the global world of the 21st century. And though the signboard by the school I drive by at least twice a day says "All Are Welcome" to board meetings I haven't made it to one yet though every year I intend to make them all.

When I confess this to him, to help alleviate my guilt, he reminds me that I was an educator for more than 40 years and I do write and publish my views on schooling. That I've "paid my dues," and--

"But," I say before he can finish making excuses for me, "Yes, but still . . . I know. . . Maybe next . . .

He smiles to let me off the hook but . . .

Bottom line--a lot of things seem to work better here because at the most fundamental level we all know it is our relating and caring for each other that counts more than the talk, which in spite of various forms of inflation, is still cheap.

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Thursday, October 23, 2014

October 23, 2104--Anniversary

Celebrating. Back tomorrow, Friday.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

October 22, 2014--Roar Lion, Roar

In case you've been living off the grid and haven't noticed, it's football season.

The NFL is about halfway through its schedule and as far as I know no one has been arrested for spousal abuse for at least a month.

Florida State is Number 1 again and its Heisman-Trophy-winning quarterback, Jameis Winston, hasn't been caught selling autographs, arrested for DUI, or accused of sexual harassment. Also for the last few weeks.

And the footballers at Sayerville High School in New Jersey are maybe back in class and not at the moment abusing and sexually harassing their freshmen teammates.

Then, closer, to home, my college's football team, the Columbia Lions (not the disgraced Nittany ones) continue to lose almost every game they play. In fact, on Saturday they set an Ivy League record for the most loses in a row against a single team when they were beaten for the 18th consecutive time in 18 years by Penn by a score of 31 to 7.

Well, at least they scored.

Also, over the past two years they have lost 16 games in a row, which is dwarfed by what they perversely achieved back in the 1980s when they lost 44 straight. That is not a typo, they actually lost 44 games in a  row. About five years' worth of games.

This is even worse than when I was enrolled during the late 50s. As I recall (and I am by now not that good at recalling), while I huddled in the rickety wooden stands against the wind blowing off the Hudson River, the Lions won one or two games. Not per season, but during my entire four undergraduate years.

Why am I not ashamed of the Lion's dismal record? Why, in fact, am I feeling a little good about this pathetic history?

For one thing the team used to be a football force. One year, 1934, they beat otherwise all-powerful Army and went on to the Rose Bowl (you can look it up) and shut out Stanford, 7-0.

So we know about winning, though almost everyone who was a student at that time is dead or in deep decline.

Our quarterback back then was a Jewish kid from Brooklyn (just like me--the Jewish part), Sid Luckman, who, after graduating, joined the Chicago Bears and there had a Hall of Fame career.

And of course, of a very different sort, Jack Kerouac went to Columba on a football scholarship; but after one year, 1940, dropped out and, well, went on the road. Not with the team but with his pal Neil Cassady.

We used to chant, when getting our annual trouncing by Rutgers, about how though they might be better jocks we had Lionel Trilling. Not the coach but the literature savant. This made us feel superior in realms on a higher plane than football.

And so maybe last Saturday, while getting whipped for the 18th year in a row by Penn, the otherwise forlorn Columbia students who made the trek to Philadelphia reminded the opposition that, since 2000, we have had six Nobel Prize winners on our faculty while Penn, on the other hand, has had . . . well, twelve.

Clearly you can't win 'em all.

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Tuesday, October 21, 2014

October 21, 2014--Midcoast: Independents

Rona asked why is it that half the Republicans we know say they're not Republicans but Independents.

We were with a friend who took us out to a farewell lunch (we're here for two more weeks), and to Rona's question, said he too is an Independent.

"I'm for LePage for governor this time around, but two years ago I voted for Angus King for senator. He's officially an Independent and caucuses with the Democrats."

"But why is it," Rona pressed, "that every time we have this discussion and you say you're an Independent all the examples you give of government programs you don't like are ones supported and defended mainly by Democrats?"

"Could it be," I piled on, "and please don't take this personally, that some Republicans are reluctant to admit they're conservatives and so they pretend to be Independents? Of course I'm only speculating," I hastened to add, winking.

"That's not me," our friend said. "I'm not trying to evade responsibility for my political beliefs."

"But let's get back to my more fundamental question," Rona said, leaning across the booth to get closer to him so she would not be overheard by the people in the adjacent booth, and to keep me at arms distance--this was her issue, "Why do so many Republicans pretend they're Independents when--"

"I'm not sure I'm following you. Give me a few examples since I think I'm pretty balanced."

"How many times have you told the story about the woman you saw in the supermarket who paid with a SNAP card and then got into an expensive car?"

"Well, she did."

"And what about Obamacare? How you claim it's mainly for illegal immigrants--which in fact it isn't. It specifically excludes them."

"Well, if they show up at the ER they get treated, don't they?"

"Not because of Obamacare," I said.

"And," Rona continued, "you talk all the time about people ripping off welfare, when in fact you can't be on it for more than a lifetime total of three years."

"Well, I--"

"And when you talk about people cheating the system the examples you cite are all of poor people, never a Wall Street or hedge fund fat cat. People who are really taking advantage of what they can get away with. Making millions and paying less in taxes than you or I. Which means the rest of us have to pick up the tab for what it costs to pay for their loopholes."

"They're the job creators."

"Now you're sounding like you're friend Mitt. Which is another example of my point--the only politicians you like--and admittedly there are very few of them--are Republicans and--"

"Don't forget Angus." He smiled.

"Point well taken. But, tell the truth, the examples you generally cite of the things you don't like are of things liberals tend to support."

Shifting the subject he asked, "Why is it that when I drive around and see all those political yard signs, if there's one for the Democrat Mike Michaud, all the other signs are for Democrats. Shenna Bellows for the Senate--whoever she is--Chellie Pingree for the House of Representatives, Chris Johnson for the Maine Senate. All Democrats."

He leaned back feeling he had trumped Rona's argument.

"But there you go again,"she said.

"Once more I'm not following you."

"Again your bad example is from the Democrats. When you drive around and see a LePage sign and a Susan Collins sign, and a Les Fossel sign they're all Republicans aren't they?"

"Well, I suppose if you're an Independent," he was still attempting to avoid Rona's point. "I mean a real one, you'd have a mix of signs. Wouldn't you?"

"Fair point," Rona conceded, "But to tell you the truth, with everyone here claiming they're Independents I've never seen that kind of mix of lawn signs."

"We'll, if you want to, you should come to my neighborhood."

After lunch we did, even driving by his house.

In fairness, he didn't have any signs on display.

"That's what I call a real Independent," Rona said, looking sly. "He doesn't support anyone."

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Monday, October 20, 2014

October 20, 2014--Operation Hesitation

I am pleased to report that I will now be able to sleep through the night because our current military operation in Iraq-Syria at last has an official name--Operation Inherent Resolve. 

Since Desert Shield (our war with Iraq to expel Saddam's army from Kuwait), Desert Storm (George H.W. Bush's war with Iraq), and Iraqi Freedom (George the Son's preemptive invasion of Iraq to finish the job he felt Daddy left unresolved)--I've been curious why our wars need names.

What's wrong with World War I, World War II, or the Korean War? Did our war in Vietnam have or need a name other than the Vietnam War? These seem descriptive enough.

Yes, various operations in wars since at least WW II had names--Overlord is perhaps best known. It was the code name for the allied invasion of Normandy, culminating on D-Day, June 6, 1944.

In truth the invasion didn't need a code name. Everyone who cared knew forces for a massive invasion were gathering in England. And no one was fooled by wondering what this Overlord was about. The Nazis knew the allies were coming. The most important thing they didn't know was where the cross-Channel invasion would occur, and having a code name didn't do anything to help hide the specifics of the plan. For some reason Eisenhower must have liked the feudal sound of Overlord. Perhaps that's how he regarded himself.

Come to think of it, why was June 6th called D-Day? Wiki says all invasion have d-days with the "d" standing for day or date. Get it? Nothing special.

But in regard to Operation Inherent Resolve, according to the New York Times, for three months the Pentagon has been hassled by the press to come up with a name for the bombings and drone attacks we have been inflicting on the Islamic State (or ISIS or ISIL).

Secrecy is not an issue otherwise the Pentagon wouldn't have shared the eventual code name with the waiting world--
The name Inherent Resolve is intended to reflect the unwavering resolve and deep commitment of the U.S. and partner nations in the region and around the globe to eliminate the terrorist group ISIL and the threat they pose to Iraq, the region and the wider international community.
There was no concurrent mention of the fact that one key "partner nation," Turkey, geographically in the middle of the fighting, has thus far not only refused to become involved but has impeded our efforts, in effect holding us up for ransom--there will be no Turkish involvement, they say, until the U.S. agrees to directly support rebels fighting to overthrow Syrian president Bashar al-Assad.

Under pressure from the press I can just imagine the high-level discussions that went on for three months in the Pentagon and White House Situation Room while struggling to come up with an appropriate name for the operation.

"How about Operation Isolation?" the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff offered, all puffed up.

"I like that sir," his adjunct chimed in. "It's clever. Even includes a pun. ISIL, isolation. If I may say so, sir, very clever."

"This is a nasty business. No place for puns," growled the Chief of Naval Operations. "My boys are flying dangerous missions and--"

"Sorry to interrupt Chief," the Army Chief of Staff interjected, "But that's boys and girls." He sat back in his leather chair, self-satisfied, smiling.

"Correction accepted," conceded the Chief of Naval Operations. "We do have some wonderful gals flying those planes. Lives at risk. Just like the boys. Times have changed"

"How about Operation Hesitation," chuckled the Commandant of the Marine Corps. His colleagues glared at him. "You know, the CIC [Commander in Chief] was hesitant to get involved with those ISIS-ISIL folks. It's another quagmire. We all know that. he got beat up in the press pretty bad for indecision. Had to have those fellas' heads cut off before he got his ass in gear." No one made eye contact.

"Not that I blame him. Been there, done that. So maybe for once we should come up with one of these names--why we even need them I'll never know--that tells it like it is. Operation Hesitation could be the first." He puffed on his unlit pipe.

"Yeah, and we should have called Iraqi Freedom Operation Slam-Dunk," said the Vice Chair, all agitated.

"Or," offered the Commandant of the Coast Guard, "Operation Preemption," getting in on the act.

"Let's get serious guys. That's not going to fly," the Chairman admonished his colleagues, "We have to come up with something he'll go for. That suits him. You know, something academic sounding. A name with class." He rolled his eyes, feeling he had more important things to do.

"I have it," exclaimed the Chief of the National Guard, "How about Operation Enduring Resolve?"


"I'm liking this," the naval commandant said, "The resolve part especially. Very Marine. Like Sempre Fi, but in English. Like it. Licking it."

"Your boys aren't even involved," the Chief of Naval Operations pointed, "No boots on the ground this time around. At least that's what he said. Just Mark's flyboys and my guys. And by guys I mean guys and gals of course." He winked.

"But I'm not liking the enduring business," the Chairman said, "Feels ominous to me. If I take your meaning it sounds like we'll be at this forever. I mean, if it's enduring. I'm not sure we'll be able to sell that."

"Good point. So how about inherent?" the Chief asked, "We want to indicate we're taking this seriously, that it's not going to be a slam-dunk. Going to take some time."

They all seemed to like that.

"I'll pass it along," the Chairman said, "Let's run it up the flagpole and see if it flies."

The rest is history. Or will be history.

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Friday, October 17, 2014

October 17, 2104--Liberal Wusses

For about 10 minutes last night, on TV, I stumbled onto the Maine governor's debate. That's all the time it took--actually, five minutes would have sufficed--to figure out who will win: current Republican governor Paul LePage in a walk.

It will help that he has two opponents, both in effect Democrats, and they will split the progressive vote so that LePage, as last time, will win with less than 40 percent of the vote. Actually, his two opponents this time are such wusses that he could easily get close to that magic 50-percent-plus-one.

Even as a part-time resident I know enough about LePage's record to cause me to hate the idea that he is one of my governors. (The other two, Rick Scott in Florida and Andrew Cuomo in New York, are in their own ways as terrible as LePage.)

I know--so what else is new.

I see LePage winning easily in spite of the fact that he's currently in a statistical dead heat with Mike Michaud--he's at 40 percent, Michaud 39 percent, and Eliot Cutler trails with less than half that.

Here's how I know--

LePage has an awful record when it comes to government programs targeted to make life a little easier for low-income Mainers. Of course he's against Obamacare and refuses to support it here. He also turned down federal support for the expansion of Medicaid. And you should only hear what he has to say about Food Stamps and minorities, even though Maine is almost all white.

Michaud and Eliot favor all of these programs and then some. They even look like central casting governor material--tall, slender, full heads of hair--while LePage has a weight problem, is height challenged, and has a snarly-looking face.

So, what's the story and why am I so sure that LePage will trounce the two of them?

I needed to hear responses to just one question to convince me who will win--

One of the things LePage has not done is expand food programs for poor, school-age kids. The host of the debate asked all three candidates what they would do about the 20 percent of Maine youngsters who do not get adequate nourishment. This should have been an easy one for Michaud and Cutler. Who doesn't want to see kids get fed? Especially if the federal government picks up most of the tab.

The two governor-types, all earnestness, took weak shots at LePage (missed opportunities) and proceeded to rattle off a long list of forgettable statistics, none of which scored any points with the audience or this viewer.

Then it was LePage's turn to respond.

He leaned forward, depositing his full weight on the podium (I feared for it) and snarled, "I know what it's like to be hungry. I didn't grow up rich [a swipe at his two rivals]. There were days I went to school hungry. I know about hunger. So don't lecture me about feeding kids. I favor that and have done everything I could during my first term to work on the problem [a lie]. And if I'm reelected I'll do more [probably another lie]."

Case closed. Election over.

One reason Republicans are doing better than Democrats is because Republican politicians, as insincere and hypocritical as they are, are better at coming across as authentic.

Take George W. Bush as as example--people thought that Yale-Harvard graduate George W, a third generation Brahmin Prescott-Bush who never wanted or worked hard for anything, was actually one of them. Just plain folks who it would be fun to hang out with and have a (nonalcoholic) beer. This also explains the appeal of a Chris Christie. Another faux-authentic.

Most Democrats, in contrast, come off as effete know-it-alls, telling people that they know best what's good for "ordinary people." Think John Kerry and Hillary (not Bill) Clinton. People are tired of hearing this, being treated this way. Lectured to.

I hate the idea, but I am trying to get used to the idea that I'll have four more years of LePage and probably Rick Scott. Cuomo I can swallow. But if liberals want to make a comeback, they had better practice being real. Or at least how to pretend to be.

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Thursday, October 16, 2014

October 16, 2014--Cuba Libre

Last week there was a report in the New York Times that during the most recent fiscal year, about 25,000 Cubans entered the U.S. illegally. More than at any time since the massive arrival of Boat People back in 1970s, 80s and 90s when a total of at least 300,000 came ashore (or drowned) in Florida, including 125,000 alone on 1,700 homemade vessels during the 1980 Mariel Boatlift.

Clearly our borders are even more porus than we imagined.

Central Americans and Mexicans continue to enter through gaps in the fence along the Rio Grande and, as an echo from the past, tens of thousands more are arriving again from Cuba in the same sort of rickety boats and rafts used previously.

This time they are not so much flooding into the country to escape Fidel Castro's oppressive regime but more the result of Cuba's collapsing economy. They are mainly economic, not political refuges.

And though we now have policies in place that make it easier for Cubans with families in the U.S. to enter legally, as this news reveals, the current policy is not working for all the Cubans who want to come here to begin new lives.

Cuba is such a hot-button topic that even with a growing interest by both of our political parties in appealing to Latino voters, about Cuba policy almost no one is saying, "Enough already."

Hardly anyone is suggesting we "normalize" relations with the Raul Castro government (Fidel lives on but, in his dotage, is in more than semi-retirmeent) and few are concluding, as communist-baiter Nixon did, that it is finally time to find ways to establish working relations with Cuba as Nixon dramatically accomplished with "Red" China.

Blocking any bold moves to recognizing the Cuban government must be the lingering fear that aging Cuba Libre Cuban-Americans, some of whom are Bay of Pigs veterans, will vote against any candidate or party that calls for normalization and, in presidential elections, might tip Florida into the column of the candidate who opposes any changes in status. Since as Florida goes, so goes the general election.

Which brings me to Barack Obama who is desperately seeking to do things that demonstrate he is an effective leader who still counts--

Do a Nixon.

Get Henry Kissinger out of retirement and have him (secretly) prepare the ground for an Obama trip to Havana to shake hands on a deal with Raul. In the same way Kissinger paved the way for Nixon to go to China to meet with Premier Chou En-lai and Chairman Mao. The rest is history with Nobel prizes waiting.

So the old Cubans sipping cafe con leche and puffing cigars on Calle Ocho in Miami will be upset. Who cares. They aren't oriented to vote for Hillary or Democrats anyway and Obama isn't any longer running for anything. Just for his place in history.

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Wednesday, October 15, 2014

October 15, 2014--Nobels

It is chauvinistic to worry about this year's spectrum of Nobel Prize winners?

For example, remember when Americans thought that though the Japanese economy was booming it was because they were assembling products for us and the rest of the West using our scientific and technological discoveries? That they were good at copying but not inventing?

For example, for decades TVs were manufactured almost exclusively in the U.S. but by the 1960s nearly all came to be manufactured in Japan. But, we were told and believed, the Japanese discovered and invented nothing having to do with television, from transistors (a Bell Lab invention) to the picture tubes themselves (developed by RCA and Western Electric). All the result of American research, ingenuity, and, unspoken, superiority.

So should we be upset that this year, of the 13 awarded, more Nobels were won by Japanese than Americans--three to one?

The three Japanese laureates are physicists who did important work on the development of blue, low-wattage LED light which is already revolutionizing lighting in resource-poor countries worldwide.

Even the Norwegians won more prizes than we--two to neuroscientists who did pioneering work on how the brain computes spacial memory. I imagine, why we don't bump into things. Though I do at night when staggering to the bathroom.

The coveted Peace Prize went to Malala Yousafzai, an inspired and courageous Pakistani advocate for girls' education, and Kailash Satyarthi, an Indian children's rights activist.

There is a Brit (John O'Keefe, physiology) and a Romanian-born German (Stefan Hell, who shared his prize in chemistry with the one American--W.E. Moerner) and then, as if to rub it in, there are two French winners--

In economics, Jean Tirole, whose award continues the Nobel's recent support for work that challenges the Chicago School's free-market orthodoxy. Tirole's work, in contrast, see markets as "imperfect."

So, not only didn't we as usual win an economics prize, but the one that was awarded attacks mainstream economic theory effectively made in America!

Finally, my personal favorite, literature.

The winner this year was Patrick Modiano. His Italian-sounding name not withstanding, he was born and raised in France.

Once again, no Philip Roth. As they say in my old Brooklyn neighborhood--Wait til next year.

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Tuesday, October 14, 2014

October 14, 2014--Gwyneth

The "paper of record," the staid New York Times strives to be objective in its reporting. No matter what the right-wing critics say, though there is a liberal tilt to the editorials, in the news reporting, with rare exceptions, they are fair and balanced.

But then every once in a while something so egregious happens that they can't control themselves and the reporting reads like an editorial or is intentionally satirical.

The latter happened last week in a report about an Obama fundraiser out in California at the home of Gwyneth Paltrow.

OK, I'll admit my own bias--I can't stand her: I don't like her acting, I don't like her looks, I don't like her smarmy politics and so I loved the Times' report.

You know, it was one of those events in Hollywood that Fox News delights in trashing--it costs $1,000 to get in, all right, but $15,000 to have dinner with Him.

How much fun can that be? Look at Obama--to stay that skinny he hardly eats anything.

But, as Rona would say, "It's not about the food."

When the formal part of the evening was about to begin, the Times recounted how Gwyneth "struggled to hold herself back as she stood next to President Obama"; but, after composing herself, told the dozens of Democratic donors who had gathered at her Brentwood house, which, to quote the mean-spirited Times, looked "like something created by Restoration Hardware on a multi-million dollar budget," she "rambled on about why she considers herself his biggest supporter [take that Barbra Streisand]" and how his support for women's issues is "very important to me as a working mother."

In full gush, again transcribed by the Timesman on duty, before she turned the microphone over to him, she giggled, "You're so handsome that I can't speak properly."

Nonplussed, Obama took the mike and proceeded to give the same after-$15,000-dinner talk he gave the night before at the home of some Jeffrey or another. About how everything is getting better at home and abroad. Blah, blah.

Come to think of it, maybe he only picked at his baby lettuces, but from this delusional stump speech he must have been hitting the sauce.

Then, in the very last sentence, returning to the passing-the-mike-to-Obama moment, the Times' Michael Schmidt couldn't resist--

"After handing the microphone to the president, [working-mom Gwyneth] sat down next to her two children--Moses and Apple--to listen."

Moses? Apple? On the other hand, what kind of a name is Gwyneth?

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Monday, October 13, 2014

October 13, 2014--Long Weekend

Great but late wedding so no time for blogging. Back to Maine today and hopefully to this tomorrow.

Friday, October 10, 2014

October 10, 2014--Best of Behind: Gay Wheels

A piece of fluff from April 13, 2007--

Here I was all excited about the car we rented for an upcoming trip to Europe. For years I’ve had my eye on the Mini Cooper, thinking it’s not only fuel efficient but also pretty cool. I’ve been fantasizing about tooling around in one along the shores of the Mediterranean.

But now I read that if I’m seen in a Mini everyone will think I’m gay. At least according to the New York Times. They report that everyone on the TV show The L Word drives around in Minis so what will they think of me? I’m pretty secure in my sexuality, but then again . . . 
Maybe I should switch to a Land Rover.

If I’m reacting in this homophobic way, you might think that the last thing in the world an auto manufacturer would want would be to have one of its models come up on’s list of “Top 10 Gay Cars” or on’s. You will be surprised to learn, then, that a number of car makers are unabashedly pitching their products to the gay market. For some years, Subaru most prominently featured Martina Navratilova in print ads with the double-entendre nature-nurture tag line “It’s not a choice. It’s the way we’re built.” The campaign was so effective that Subaru Outbacks have become known as Lesbarus.

This could easily be seen as a sign of progress. Not only have more and more gay people become liberated by emerging from the closet but many are becoming increasingly comfortable either throwing off or embracing homosexual stereotypes by driving, for example, cars such as black Mazda 3 hatchbacks that they consider butch.

On the other hand, some nervous straight guys drive “gay” Miatas by day but when dating rent Escalades to fend off the perception that they might be . . . you know what.

And I naively always thought that the dudes who drive Muscle Cars are the gay ones.

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Thursday, October 09, 2014

October 9, 2014--Chapel of Love

Friends are going to get married and we're heading for the chapel of love in, of all places, New York City.

I will post a Best of Behind on Friday.

Today would have been my cousin Chuck's 80th birthday. He was my older brother and I miss him every day.

Wednesday, October 08, 2014

October 8, 2014--E=MC2

The speed of light is very fast, in fact there is nothing faster in the universe. It is a very big number--light travels at 186,000 miles per second, or 299,792,458 miles an hour, which means that the light emanating from the sun, which is about 93 million miles from Earth, takes only 8 minutes and 20 seconds to reach us.

But on a cosmic scale, this is small potatoes.

The galaxy in which our solar system is located is so huge that that hugeness is expressed not in miles but in light years--how many miles light travels in a year. At 186,000 per second, that's very, very far. To give you a sense of that, our galaxy, the disk of the Milky Way, is about 100,000 light years in diameter.

Then, the ultimate measurement, our universe, everything that there is, is 93 billion light years in size, an almost infinitely large number to comprehend.

I have been thinking about the speed of light because a friend, Leslie Woodhead, is writing a book about the Atomic Era, not so much about the science as about the cultural and political consequence of a world full of atomic weapons. He wants to interview me because I am obsessed with The Bomb and how it has affected life on our planet. To satisfy my obsession, I have read and thought much about these issues. In addition, since he's British he wants to gather reflections from Americans who lived as youngsters through the early days of the Atomic Era and Cold War. I qualify in that regard as well.

In thinking what to say to him, I have dipped a bit into the science of the A-Bomb, especially the theory Einstein developed that defined and quantified the convertibility of mass to energy. As evidence and to demonstrate what that would mean in practical terms, converting a relatively smallish mass of Uranium-235 or Plutonium into a massive amount of energy (an atomic explosion), he propounded perhaps the most famous of all mathematical equations--E=MC2, with E representing Energy, M Mass, and C-squared the speed of light times itself.

With the speed of light by far the latest number in the equation, and then squaring it (multiplying it by itself), and then multiplying it additionally by the mass in question, reveals how such a powerful explosion could result in converting such a relatively small mass of radioactive material into energy--the cataclysmic force of an atomic explosion.

For example, a bomb weighing less than 10 tons with a Uranium-235 core weighing only141 pounds of which just one kilogram (2.2 pounds) underwent nuclear fission, an atomic bomb called Little Boy, was dropped on Hiroshima in 1945, exploded with the force of 63,000 tons of TNT. Tons. And killed 135,000 Japanese.

I will want to talk with Leslie about take-cover drills in school where we were taught to dive under our desks if we saw a "blinding flash of light" from an A-Bomb exploding over Times Square, ground zero; and how, after the end of World War II, under Cold War pressure all presidents from Truman to Eisenhower to Kennedy to Johnson to Nixon were under pressure from their military advisers to use nuclear weapons preemptively, in turn, against the Soviets, the North Koreans, Cubans, and Vietnamese; and how this led to the establishment of a "national security state" with inordinate power accruing to the President with Congress assigned a subsidiary role, effectively resulting in  the end of  the Founders' concept of the "separation of powers."

But it will be hard to not be thinking about E=MC2, the speed of light, that kilogram of U-235, and those 135,000 killed that August.

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Tuesday, October 07, 2014

October 7, 2014--Midcoast: L.L. Bean's Gun Shop (Concluded)

In the gun shop, with Rona in tow, I moved moved more confidently than earlier toward the rack of 22s. "See, these are higher caliber," I said, feeling at least knowledgeable enough to point out the difference between them and the 30-30s. "But they're not for me. They're for real hunters. Not someone like me who's interested in target practice and small game. You know, your groundhog."
"To tell you the truth I'd rather trap and release him. After all--"
"I agree. I was just thinking about Ben and Willy needling me."
Standing by the rack of 22s was a salesmen with Nick on his name tag. "Can I help you with something?"

"Not really," I stammered. "We're just browsing. I mean I am. Rona's my wife. She just came along for the ride. You know, moral support." I couldn't stop myself from chattering on.

"My wife likes guns too," he said, looking very serious. "She carries."

"Carries?" I asked.

"A weapon. Concealed. We live out in the woods, deep in the woods, and there are all sorts of pretors back there. Both the four and two-legged kind." I thought I saw the beginnings of a smile. "She has a license of course. I don't want her not to be armed. She needs to protect herself."

"Well, we're, I mean I'm thinking about," I emphasized the thinking, "about maybe a 22 or something. I had a BB gun when I was a kid but don't know anything about weapons or guns or whatever." I was sounding silly to myself.

"We can take care of you," he said, gesturing at the long rack of 22s. "We have quite a collection here." He sounded proud, proprietary.

"These all used? I mean second-hand? Previously owned?" He nodded. "Why's that? I mean, don't most people want new guns?"

"Not anyone who knows about 'em. Unless you want to pay thousands. As they say, they're not makin' 'em like they used to."

"That's sadly true about a lot of things," I said.

"I'm not happy about that either, and a lot of other things," he said, shrugging. "But that's another story for another time because you're here to think about a 22." I was happy he picked up on the fact that I was thinking not shopping. "But I'm happy to help, to answer any questions you might have. Take as long as you like. My time is your time. The little lady too." For the first time, looking at Rona, he smiled.

"Well, so as not to waste your time, if I wanted to buy one--and I mean only if--could you sell one to me? I'm from New York and was wondering--"

"No problem at all," he said, sounding cheery. "We sell 'em to people from all over. Where you from in New York."

"Manhattan," I said.

"In New York City, right?"

"Yes," I said, trying also to sound cheery.

"Then I'm afraid we have a problem," he felt deflated. "We can't sell 'em to New York City residents. Or to folks from Washington, DC, and a few other places. Sorry about that," again he shrugged. "The law's the law. And I respect that no matter what I feel about it."  He began to cough and sneeze. "I have this darn cold," he said covering his nose and mouth. "Don't get too close. I think I'm past being infectious but want to be sure--"

"I appreciate that," Rona said. "Are you taking anything?"

"Naw. Nothing seems to help. Only time."

"We won't be keeping you then," I said. "As I mentioned, I was just thinking and now that I know I can't well--"

"But you can. You really can. It's in the Constitution. It's our right. All you need to do when you get back to the city," he sneezed again and Rona took a step backwards, "is get one of those forms you need to get approval for a firearm. Just follow the instructions and turn it in. They'll check you out and I'll sure in a week or two they'll say it's fine. As long as you never committed a felony or anything."

I shook my head, "Only a few parking tickets.

"And you're only wanting a 22. Not an Uzi for God's sake." He seems a little disgusted thinking about this, my rights and, I was sure, New York City and what that represented to him, living armed in the woods.

"You know, after I finished with the service--I was in for three tours--my wife and I lived in the city. For 18 months or so. I'll bet that surprises you." In fact it did but I didn't say anything.

"I was working for a private security company. We loved it there. Best year-and-a-half of my life." I was, to say the least, not expecting this. "We lived in Washington Heights and whenever we had any free time took the subway downtown and enjoyed the restaurants and movies. We even took in a few Broadway shows. But Sarah, that's my wife, got pregnant and we both felt Maine was a better place to raise kids. Her folks had some land they let us have. About 12 acres. We built a house and then moved up here. The rest, as they say, is history."

"I agree," Rona said, seemingly nonplussed, "Maine feels like a better place for children."

"But we try to get back to the city for a long weekend every year," he said. "Maybe the next time we're there I'll help you with that application."

With that he laughed and wheezed at the same time.

I whispered to Rona, "I can't wait to tell Willy and Ben about this."

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Monday, October 06, 2014

October 6, 2014--Midcoast: L.L. Bean's Gun Shop (Part 1)

Willy asked, "Have you given any more thought to getting yourself a weapon?"

Exasperated because we had been down this path before, I said, "I'm not thinking weapon but a 22 rifle or gun, if you prefer." He looked at me skeptically.

"In fact, we're going to Freeport on Wednesday, to L.L Bean. Rona wants to look for new gardening clogs and I could use a couple of belts. And, I thought, while there--"

"All the way there for belts? What kind of belts are these? Must be something verrrry special." He was making fun of me again as he has an occasional inclination to do.

But I was happy to not be talking about guns. "Well, I bought a belt on line--this one--I like the braided ones. And it was made in England. Plus, they're on sale." I slid out of my seat to show him. "Nice, no?"

"To me a belt's a belt." In fact, he wears suspenders. "And while there? That's what you said, didn't you--'while there'? What's that about?" He was smily slyly.

"I thought I'd look at their rifles," I lowered my eyes, "22s. For targets and--"

"And get after Rona's famous groundhog."

"Also there's a deer munching on her phlox so--"

"So you're thinking of shooting the deer with a 22?" He guffawed. "They wouldn't even feel it. If you want to--"

"I don't want to kill it. Just make it unpleasant so he'll think twice about coming back."

"Make it unpleasant," he was mocking me, "This I'd have to see."

Ben winked at Willy.

*  *  *

It was gray and drizzly Wednesday morning and so we headed first to Brunswick for a guilty-pleasure tray of Frosty's donuts and then on to Freeport.

After downing half a dozen we drove the remaining ten miles to L.L. Bean and happened to park right by the entrance closest to the gun shop. Truly, it was the only open parking space.

"Tomorrow's your birthday," once inside Rona said, holding me by my arms so she could get close and look directly in my eyes, "So take all the time you want," I knew what she was referring to, "I'll be up in the shoe department and when I'm done I'll sit and wait for you. Even if it takes you an hour or more. We're not in any hurry." She kissed me and disappeared between the racks where camouflaged outfits were displayed.

Alone, I wondered if I should get something camouflaged too. A cap at least. Maybe with a 22 of my own I might want to do some walking in the woods and so, to be less visible, I should . . .

But I checked myself and decided first-things-first and drifted obliquely toward the gun displays so as not to make it seem I was doing so intentionally. I was pretending to myself that it would be by accident that I found myself among the shotguns and other firearms.

I was surprised to see that most all the guns were displayed on open racks, barrel end up, and that customers were comfortable, on their own, without the assistance of salesmen, rooting among them and occasionally removing one from the rack and hoisting it to their shoulders, sighting and aiming at imaginary targets in the shop--a stuffed deer head, the L.L. Bean sign, a rack of ammunition. Careful, though, not to point the guns toward customers even though they were secured by what appeared to be locks on the triggers.

The rifles were arranged by size, by caliber--22s, 30-30s, 30-40s, shotguns. I made my way quickly from the larger caliber ones to the rack of 22s. They looked like real guns, not souped-up BB guns, and I felt confident I would be able to handle them. Not just in the gun shop but out by our house and perhaps even in the woods.

I looked at the price tags on a few but was nervous about the thought of picking one up much less trying out how it felt tucked in against my right shoulder. Would it seem alien? Even unexpectantly comfortable? But I did think they were expensive. At least $300 with some approaching $1,000, and that they all appeared in prefect shape but used. Looking around I didn't see any new ones behind the service counter. I'll have to find out about this. Just from curiosity of course, because I was quickly coming to feel that even something as minimalist as a 22 wasn't for me. I'm not really a gun person, I said to myself. Not even a 22-person.

With this realization, seemingly out of nowhere, I was swept with a wave of palpitations strong enough for me to fear I might be about to pass out. To steady myself I held onto the checkout counter, wedged between stacks of ammo. This whole gun business, I thought, is too much for me. Belts and gardening clogs are what I can handle.

I reluctantly admitted I was not man enough for this. That I was too old to even have gun-owner fantasies. I needed to get out of there, look at the belts or, better, seek Rona's comfort in the women's shoe department.

"You look terrible," she said, sounding alarmed when she spotted me weaving unsteadily toward her. She was walking about testing a pair of clogs. "Are you OK? Did something happen?"

"I'm fine," I lied. My heart was still racing. "Keep shopping. I'll sit right here," I collapsed in a chair, "Those look nice." I wanted to avoid talking about what had happened and how I was feeling.

She moved quickly to sit by me and put her arms around my shoulders. "I can tell that something happened in the gun shop that you don't want to talk about."

"After more than 30 years together I can't get away with anything," I said and took a deep breath to stifle my surging emotions.

"Tell me, love."

"I don't know what happened. I wanted to look around and even checked out a few guns. 22s. But began to feel faint when I thought about taking one from the rack."

"You can just do that? On your own? Pick up a gun?"

"I was surprised too," I panted, "Even kids were doing that. They seemed so comfortable. I, on the other hand--" I couldn't complete my thought.

"That's OK. I know this is a complicated thing for you and--"

"I had no idea how complicated. The worst of it," I confessed, "is feeling I'm getting too old and . . ."

"I know it's almost your birthday but--"

"But, that's how I feel. And not being comfortable with even a puny 22, well that didn't make me feel too good either, or intrepid. In fact, the opposite." I was nearly in tears.

Rona pulled me to her, gently stroking my back. "Did anyone offer to help?"

"Not really," I said, now composed. "There were salesmen there but they didn't seem interested in helping me or anyone for that matter."

"I suppose since most of the people who shop there are familiar with guns and--"

"The other customers sure felt like that. I guess I was feeling embarrassed that I didn't know the difference between a bolt-action rifle and a--"

"I'm impressed that you know about bolt-action, whatever that is," Rona smiled and kissed me on the cheek, trying to restore my pride.

"To tell you the truth I'm not sure what that is. What it means."

"But I am concerned about this feeling-old business." Rona was attempting to calm me, to make what had happened seem normal. Nothing all that much to worry about.

"I'm really disappointed in myself," I said. "You know, in spite of what Willy and Ben think I'm really only thinking about it. Buying one. I'm not a gun person but--"

"But still you'd like to be able to handle yourself better, for example, in the gun shop."

"Exactly! What's the big deal? I mean--"

"Well, it is a big deal if you're experiencing it that way.

"If you're willing to come with me--if that isn't too babyish a thing to ask--I'd like to try again. Maybe I could handle it better and--"

"Even though I'd be with you, you'd feel better about yourself?"

"Something like that." I smiled. My heart rate was pretty  much back to normal.

(End of Part 1)

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Friday, October 03, 2014

October 3, 2104--Gloria Steinem's Legacy

Gloria Steinem turned 80 recently (everyone says still looks no more than 65). Partly in acknowledgment of that and also because she was and continues to be a major figure in the history of the Women's Liberation Movement, Rutgers University's Institute for Women's Leadership raised money from a variety of sources to endow a chair, a professorship in her name. It will be in the fields of media, culture, and feminist studies.

Everyone in attendance when the chair was announced (this did not include Ms. Steinem) felt it was not only well deserved but important.

As the director of the Institute, Alison Bernstein said, as Steinem turned 80, "what struck me profoundly was that there needed to be a legacy. When you do a chair you basically are saying this is a curriculum that needs permanence, it isn't going to go away." (My italics)

I worked for and with Dr. Bernstein during her and my days at the Ford Foundation. From her I inherited the women's studies portfolio of grants and an initiative that sought to see mainstream into the undergraduate curriculum some of what scholarship had learned during the preceding few decades about women's history and their many contributions to culture and the larger society.

Mainstreaming suggested that some of the earlier battles to support women's studies research had been won--women's studies programs and courses were by the 1990s widespread in academia and it was time, Ford and leaders in the field felt, to move from separate-and-more-or-less equal status to a permanent place in the undergraduate program.

In other words, in contradiction to what Alison Bernstein said last week at Rutgers, there isn't a pressing need now to endow a chair in women's studies as an expression of legacy or to assure permanence. Permanence's goal should be just what that old Ford initiative was about--to become part of the core curriculum, to move in from the margins. Not to continue to construct separate-but-equal realities.

Honor Gloria Steinem for certain--fund scholarships in her name for women and men, offer her honorary degrees, name classrooms for her, feature her work in special programs that chart the history of late 20th century feminism, but resist the temptation to make permanent separate streams of academic research and instruction.

The work still remaining to be completed to foster women's equality is to press the fight for equal pay, challenge corporations to continue to promote more women to the executive suite, and elect more women to Congress and, perhaps soon, to the White House.

But little of this agenda is appropriate for the university. It is up to women and men in all facets of life to join in actions designed to breach these final barriers.

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Thursday, October 02, 2014

October 2, 2014--It's My Birthday and I'll . . .

Since it's my birthday, I'm sleeping in. But I will return tomorrow, a year older, with thoughts about the newly endowed chair at Rutgers University named for Gloria Steinem.

A hint--I'm not happy about it.

Wednesday, October 01, 2014

October 1, 2014--60 Minutes With Professor Barack Obama

So he went on TV and told Steve Kroft of 60 Minutes that the situation in Syria is fraught with contradictions--"I recognize the contradiction in a contradictory land and a contradictory circumstance."

Yes, he actually said that. Much appreciated Professor Obama.

Among the contradictions, he acknowledged, is the fact that we (really, he and his administration) did not know in advance that ISIS (or ISIL as he obstinately insists on referring to them) was going to turn out to be such a threat to the Middle East and ultimately us.

After 9/11 and the failure to connect the dots that should have warned us about an imminent, cataclysmic threat to the U. S. homeland, one would have thought, with that dark lesson in mind, that something as elaborate as ISIS's emergence and, yes, remarkable barbaric capabilities, would have shown up on someone's Oval Office radar.

Al Qaeda was a relatively small band of terrorists incubating in an under-scrutinized part of the world (the forbidding mountains on the Afghanistan-Pakistan border) compared to the thousands of ISIS jihadist warriors arming and preparing themselves to operate even captured American tanks in plain sight right in the middle of the civil war in Syria.

All one needed to do was go to the Internet to learn directly from ISIS itself what they were about and were intending to do. Undoubtedly and appropriately humiliated, Obama told Kroft that we (he) blew it and so now we're involved in another war in the Middle East that we can't win that will soon cost billions and the lives of more of America's finest young people.

Meanwhile, at about the same time, literally closer to home, there was that embarrassing and dangerous event at the White House. An armed intruder jumped the inadequate and unguarded fence, ran across the lawn, entered the ground floor through the unlocked North Portico, raced left to the East Room, and then, still alluding the Secret Service, entered the Green Room where he was finally tackled.

It would not be my favorite thing to have seen him shot well short of the mansion, but allowing him to make it into the building, where, if he knew the layout better, he could have raced up the stairs to the living quarters, I'd opt for the security forces taking him down.

The Secret Service is far from what it used to be--which might serve as a metaphor for much of our federal government and, alas, much of America--but this latest incident is so pathetic as to render one almost speechless.

We learned in the process that, with Obama family members in residence, in 2011 a sniper hit seven windows in the living quarters, firing armor-piecrcing bullets from hundreds of yards away and that that information was withheld from the public and the Obamas, including the distressing fact that it took White House security forces four days after the attack to even know it occurred!

Under questioning by members of Congress yesterday, Julia Pierson, director of the Secret Service, took responsibility and promised that it won't happen again.

Well it already did happen again, and on her watch. There was the shooting incident in 2011 and then the intrusion 12 days ago. I call that happening again.

And another thing that will happen again is that she will not be fired just as no one was fired for the Veterans Administration or IRS scandals or for that matter the Obamacare website rollout fiasco.

As our professor president said, ours is a contradictory land and what we are seeing are contradictory circumstances.

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