Monday, August 31, 2015

August 31, 2015--MTV Video Music Awards

For some inexplicable reason I stayed up very late last night to watch the MTV Video Music Awards.

I am not the best reporter about things popular musical, so take take this for the very little it's worth.

To tell the truth the only people I ever heard of before the show were Taylor Swift and Kim Kardashian. The later, Kim, isn't even a musical person far as I know except she's married (I think they're married) to someone named Kanye West, who seems to be important for various things except for what he was wearing---a rumpled outfit that was last seen on a hospital orderly.

They were sitting in the first row, seemingly side-by-side, which the host, or hostess, Miley Cyrus, who wore at least a dozen outfits with progressively less fabric, kept making a big deal about. There appeared to be bad blood between them though toward the end, with me more than half-asleep, Swift gave him, Kanye, what appeared to be an MTV lifetime achievement award of some kind.

Which led to him, Kanye, making a speech that lasted for what felt like at least half an hour, most of the time taken up with him scratching his shaved head with the microphone. Not one word of which I understood. But that's just me.

Now sitting side-by-side, wife Kim and bad-blood-new-best-friend, Taylor, seemed to be enjoying what he was saying since they clapped continuously and appeared to have tears running down their Cover Girl makeup (a sponsor along with Trojan ribbed condoms).

Then, toss Nicki Minaj into the mix, apparently more bad blood between her and Taylor Swift, and it all began to make sense.

The whole thing seemed to be about skinny white girls and more full-figured black girls with exceptionally large tushies.

It looks as if Taylor Swift doesn't go anywhere without at least a dozen such skinny-white-girl "friends." They reminded me of the midget Michael Jackson used to take with him wherever he went, including the MTV Awards, where, also ensconced in the first row, he would sit with the little fella on his lap.

Kim and Kanye and Niki, I forgot to mention, travel with possess of their own--bulky black guys.

It became clear that there have been all sorts of feuds with poor Taylor in the middle of them. Kanye, I think, was saying that he regrets having snatched an award from Taylor a couple of years ago that he felt should have gone to his Rubenesque best friend Beyonce. Racism he claimed at the time. Skinny white girls versus more voluptuous black girls.

But he sort of really didn't say that, Rona clarified for me (she too was for some reason was still awake). To her hearing he still sounded defiant. 

I also failed to mention that much was made of his, Kanye's, wife Kim's butt. This made things complicated because she's a white girl but has a butt about the same size as Nicki's. Posteriors being the show's sub theme. And it's not just because she's pregnant and Kanye smoked a reefer, he reported, before turning out of the show. Maybe that's why he didn't have time to change his scrubs.

Miley, on the other hand, is quite another story. 

Time for me to go back to bed. Right?

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Friday, August 28, 2015

August 28, 2015--Friday at the Bristol Diner: The Universe In a Suitcase

"Look," Al said, "I really don't know what I'm talking about but--"

"That never stopped you," Ken said half under his breath.

"Touché," Al said, "But someone who knows about cosmology told me the other day that before the Big Bang, if you were around and strong enough, you could have carried around in a suitcase, a small one, everything that after the Big Bang became the universe."

He paused to let that take effect. "And my friend meant everything--all the stuff needed to form atoms and molecules from subatomic particles like protons and neutrons and quarks and also all that was needed, when things cooled down and coalesced, to create billions and billions of suns and solar systems and black holes that are now swirling about out there 13, 14 billion years later."

"Actually," I said, "It's even more amazing than that."

"How could anything be more amazing?" Ken asked. "I mean was everything, everything compressed enough to fit in a carry-on bag? Is that true? If so, that's amazing enough for me. Of course that's if Al knows what he's talking about." Ken tends to be skeptical about everything. Especially anything coming from Al

"But what do you mean?" Ken asked, turning to me.

"I mean, from things I've read, all the energy and ultimate mass that constitutes the universe, including the earth and us, was so densely compressed that it was the size of a subatomic particle. Which, to say the least, was infinitesimally small."

Now Ken was staring at me. "I'm not making this up," I shrugged, "Just passing along what I read."

"So forget the suitcase," Ken said, "You mean everything could have fit in a thimble?"

"The smallest one imaginable," smiling, I said to Ken.

"What's more," Al said, wanting to again take control of the discussion, "No matter the size--suitcase, thimble--some theorists say there's evidence that our universe is not unique. That it's not the first one to have existed."

"I once heard something like that," Ken said, now getting into it. "On Nova or somewhere."

"That the previous universe more than 14 billion years ago collapsed into the largest mother black hole ever and that when it got to the size of that subatomic particle Steve mentioned, it re-exploded. And so here we are, maybe again, sitin' in the Bristol Diner havin' coffee."

"What's this again business?" Ken picked up that Al had emphasized that.

"Think about it," Al said, "Not that I'm a Hindu mystic or anything, but if those scientists are right about a succession of universes, one universal black hole after another, what they call the Big Crunch, followed by one Big Bang after another, it could be, considering how complicated and strange all of this is, that we may have been here, say, 28 billion years ago or 42 billion years ago. In the same booth, drinking the same godforsaken coffee."

"You know, Al," Ken said, "Once in awhile you manage to come up with something interesting to think about."

All acted all humble. Not his usual demeanor. "So that means you'll be paying for my coffee?" He roared with laughter so hearty that it felt as if it stretched across all of time.

I reached out to slide Al's check across the table to where Rona and I were sitting. She already had the money out to pay it.

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Thursday, August 27, 2015

August 27, 2015--TRUMP: Swimsuit Competition

Barack Obama's former senior political advisor, the savvy David Axelrod, posted a clever Tweet on Tuesday.

Attempting to sum up the TRUMP phenomenon, especially TRUMP's continued surge in national and local polls, knowing that The Donald has owned the Miss USA and Miss Universe Pageants, Axelord said--

"In a parlance Trump would appreciate: We're still in the swimsuit competition. It gets harder in the talent rounds."

Now, I don't know if TRUMP knows how to play the harmonica or can pull off a hula hoop routine, but so far he is looking good and I think will continue to widen his lead over all the other candidates because his talent may be the swimsuit competition.

Not talent of the sort traditional political strategists such as Axelrod respect and feel is essential to a candidate who wants to be taken seriously as a potential commander in chief.

Ditto for James Carville and Mary Matalin. On Morning Joe yesterday, when asked why TRUMP is doing so well they both in effect agreed with Axelrod--TRUMP's electoral balloon will burst soon because of his lack of substance. They both said that once the public begins to pay attention they will want to know his specific policies about the Middle East, strengthening the US economy, fixing the education system, balancing the budget. His shtick will wear thin, they say, and the public will discover that the emperor has no hair.

Or, if you will, there's no there there. Or that there's sizzle but no beef.

They failed to note that the public they claim is not yet paying attention to the campaign is turning out in droves for his appearances and the largest TV audience in history, 24 million, tuned in to the first Republican debate. Four years ago, the initial GOP debate was watched by 3.2 million. Eight times fewer.

The next thing we'll hear from old-school political analysts is that these numbers have little to do with TRUMP but reflect voters' deep interest in Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz.

Oh really?

They don't get the fact that in addition to liking TRUMP's tell-it-like-it-is style (a quality that huge numbers of potential voters like to think they have), his can-do enthusiasm and optimism (Make America Great Again! is his campaign slogan), and his track record as a business man, a large part of TRUMP's appeal is that he seems to have just stepped out of a reality show.

In fact he did.

But beyond starring in The Apprentice for 11 years, he and his glittering family share many characteristics of the Kardashians. They are beautiful, smart, successful, comfortable with themselves, exhibitionistic, quirky, titillating, and intriguing in a Modern Family sort of way.

If you doubt this, wait until bionic wife Melania, extraterrestrial-looking daughter Ivanka, his three perfect boys, his second Daughter Tiffany (named after the store), and I suspect his previous two wives, Ivana and Marla Maples join him on the campaign trail. There hasn't been as glamorous a political family since the Kennedys.

This mix is very powerful political medicine in our celebrity-sodden culture.

Melania Trump

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Wednesday, August 26, 2015

August 26, 2015--"Behind's" 10th Anniversary

Ten years ago today I began Behind the (New York) Times, thinking I had come up with a clever, self-effacing title, a good source of material (The NYT),  and something to keep me occupied as I began to work less.

Friends, Noki and Alex Trias, encouraged me and helped set up the blog format and site. In truth, they did all the work with me watching.

During these 10 years I published 2,657 postings, an average of 266 a year. Originally, I wrote something six days a week but after five years or so, as I began to feel the effects of time, cut back to five.

What has kept me going (besides age-defying ambition and feeling I might have something to say) are all the responses I have received from readers. I've depended on that encouragement to keep me going, especially when it's Thursday and I don't have anything interesting to say for Friday.

So please keep encouraging me and, equally important, giving me grief when I write something stupid.

Here's the first posting from August 26, 2005. Feels like a lifetime ago.

August 26, 2005--The News That Fits

How big was that catfish they caught the other day in the Mekong River in Thailand? The NY Times reported that it might have been the largest freshwater fish ever. I'm not that interested in the size of catfish; just how they taste. What interested me most was that the fisherman who caught it was given $90 dollars (the boat owner $2,000!) and that he was giving the $90 to his father. My friend Alex, who has a two-month old son said, "I'm going to clip this story, save it, and give it to Jose when he's 18 so he can learn what kind of son to be." That Alex!

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Tuesday, August 25, 2015

August 25, 2015--Intimacy of Evil

In her remarkable book, Eichmann in Jerusalem, Hannah Arendt writes about the "banality of evil." How Adolf Eichmann, though he was responsible for the transport system that herded millions of Jews to concentration camps and their ultimate slaughter, was not in the ordinary sense actively and directly evil, but was a bureaucrat who, in a perverse sense, was carrying out orders as expeditiously and efficiently as possible.

For discussing Eichmann in this way--as a banal functionary and not a passionate anti-semite or a fanatical ideologue--Arendt was widely criticized as not holding him sufficiently responsible for his deeds--that he was, she was interpreted as saying, just doing his job. That his actions were "ordinary."

Quite the contrary--she saw his version of evil in a particularly horrific way--how it was manifested in a very average man which left the suggestion that there is a thin human line between "normality" and there ability to commit unspeakable evil. That someone so ordinary, so inconspicuous could participate so dispassionately in one of history's most heinous collective crimes.

I thought--how different is the evil being perpetrated today by ISIS.

We have been sad and outraged witnesses to their public beheadings and other barbaric crimes against innocent people in the lands they have overrun and subjugated to their merciless rule.

Just last week, in the ancient Syrian city of Palmyra, ISIS warriors slaughtered the keeper of its more-than-2000-year-old archeological treasures. Treasures considered so noteworthy and historically significant as to be listed a UNESCO World Heritage site.

To ISIS, since the temples and magnificent artifacts predate the advent of Islam, were built before the prophet Mohammed was born, they are the work of infidels and need to be brutally eliminated as do any people who do not embrace or follow ISIS's version of Islam.

Making an emphatic point of this, they hauled 83-year-old Khalid al-Asaad, the keeper of the antiquities for more than 50 years, into the town square and, after ordering all citizens to come forth as witnesses, according to the report in the New York Times, "cut off his head in front of the crowd" and then "his blood-soaked body was suspended with red twine by his wrists from a traffic light, his head resting on the ground between his feet, his glasses still on."

This is not the banality of evil.

This is not the impersonal imposition of slaughter.

This is not evil propagated from a bureaucrat's office or delivered from 30,000 feet.

This is not using current technology to force victims into "showers" and once there dispense with them by the administration of the latest in poison gases and then with bulldozers pushing the mounds of bodies into open trenches where the machines bury the dead and the evidence.

This is not evil where no one is touched. Where everything is by schedule and assisted by state-of-the-art technology.

ISIS's is the intimacy of evil. Not its banality.

These evil-doers hold victims in their arms. With their own hands they hold up victims' heads. And then, in that ugly embrace, cut off their heads. And then place them carefully on the ground, making sure eyeglasses are carefully arranged.

A friend here who is essentially a pacifist wants "to nuke" them. Minimally place enough American "boots on the ground"--even 200,000 if necessary--to kill them all. Kill them all.

I get it.

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Monday, August 24, 2015

August 24, 2015--Hillary's Sort of Sister Souljah Moment

After they disrupted her town hall meeting in Keene, NH, earlier this month, Hillary Clinton agreed to meet privately with representatives of Black Lives Matter, the activist organization that emerged in 2012 in response to Trayvon Martin being shot to death by George Zimmerman.

It has gained additional public attention more recently as the result of a series of killings of young black men by white policemen. Black activist members of BLM have been active on the presidential campaign trial, disrupting meetings of candidates of both parties, though mainly Democrats.

The private meeting occurred August 11th and a tape of it was released last week. It showed a very different picture of Hillary Clinton than the one seen on the campaign trail.

Rather than the cautious, heavily scripted, disciplined, insulated Hillary, who would rarely deviate from her notes and talking points or plunge into the crowd, it showed, in the words of the New York Times report, a "spontaneous, impassioned" Hillary, seemingly "unconcerned about potential repercussions."

Considering how essential the black vote is to her candidacy, she gave as good as she got in her encounter. If the media could for one moment have stopped the obsession with Donald TRUMP (which I confess to share) it could have been her Sister Souljah Moment.

That Moment occurred back in 1992 during the presidential campaign when Bill Clinton embraced and even bigger risk when he took on racist comments by Souljah, a popular hip-hop artist and black activist.

Among other things she said, "If there are any good white people, I haven't met them."

Clinton shot back, at great political risk, "If you took the words 'white' and 'black' and you reversed them, you might think [Ku Klux Klanner] David Duke was giving that speech."

Some feel this rare example of courage won the election for Clinton.

At her meeting with the Black Lives Matters group, Hillary Clinton was criticized for her "culpability" in supporting her husband's criminal justice polices that, they claimed, were responsible for the incarceration of disproportionate numbers of black men.

She listened for more than five minutes, nodding as they confronted her for not doing enough to oppose racism and federal polices that contribute ultimately to the killing of innocent black people.

From the heart, she challenged them in return, saying, "You can get lip service from as many white people you can pack into Yankee Stadium and a million more like it who are going to say,'We get it, we get it. We are gong to be nicer.' That's not enough in my book."

Further, she pressed them to move beyond rhetoric to action, citing her own work decades ago with the Children's Defense Fund. Unless young people become directly engaged in efforts that actually make a difference, she told them, if making speeches and demonstration is all that happen, "We'll be back here in 10 years having the same conversation."

That unscripted Hillary could be elected if nominated.

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Friday, August 21, 2015

August 21, 2105--Friday at the Bristol Diner: Volvos

“We sure can use this rain,” an old-timer said, not looking up from his coffee. “If it keeps up this way for a few more hours it will do us a lot of good.”

“True,” I said. “We haven’t had any for, how long has it been now?”

“’Bout 16 days by my count. The last one we had was the first of the month. Everything‘s sort of parched.”

“Compared to last year, things have been real dry,” Rona recalled.

“True enough. One thing that makes no sense is . . .”

“The weather,” Rona said, completing his sentence.

“That too,” he said with a smile and a wink, though clearly not liking having his thought appropriated. “But don’t tell me about global warming.”

“We weren’t going to,” I said to assure him that things weren’t going to turn political so early in the morning.

Ignoring me, he said, “I know it’s going on and it isn’t any good, but not when it comes to the day-to-day.”

“I’m not sure you’re right about that,” I said in spite of knowing that I might be entering tender territory, “Just the other day I was reading in the Times that . . .”

Rona was poking me under the counter and so instead of hurtling forward I took a big gulp of coffee.

“Read that too he said,” surprising me. I wouldn’t have taken him for a New York Times reader. “They did make a case for that. That some of the weather we’ve been experiencing lately—the storm and floods and in other places the droughts—might be caused by that. But not that it hasn’t rained here, in how long has it been?” He smiled at Rona.

“I think 16 days,” I said, also smiling, relieved not to have to get myself all riled up so early in the morning.

“Quite something,” he said, nodding toward the window, “Where the sun is low in the sky is over Monhegan Island. Lots of artists made their way there. The Wyeths and Winslow Homer and even old Ed Hopper. Did I tell you I knew him?” We shook our heads. “Not all that well, but well enough to run him back and forth when I had my boat. I did some line fishing in my day. Lots of cod out there then. Pretty much all fished out by now. Sort of like what’s happenin’ with global warming when you think about it.”

“Sorry. I didn’t mean to,” I stammered.

“That’s OK,” he said. “You and I are pretty much on the same page about that.” And with that, with some difficulty, he lifted himself from the stool. “That arthritis gets me every time,” he chuckled, “But got to get going anyway. Too much to do to linger with you folks. Though I enjoyed talking with you. Have as nice a day as you can.” And with that he was gone.

“I like him,” Rona said. “A little cranky but that’s how I generally am before I’ve had my coffee.”

“I agree,” I said, “We’ve been running into so many people like him up here. Friendly, but they also keep a bit of a distance.”

“As I would,” Rona said, “If I was a ‘native,’ so to speak. They have a long history here of having mixed feelings about people like us. ‘Cottage people,’ is how they refer to us. They depend upon us for the money we bring to the local economy but see them, or truthfully us, as also not always respecting their way of life. Wanting to do things our way.”

“Too often insensitively. I was reading the other day that along the coast here in many towns, including ours, there are now more outsiders than local people. And that this is even changing some town governments. Seasonable people register to vote here and manage to get recent residents elected to town boards and things like that.”

“Which often means,” Rona said, “that they want to keep things the way they are—rural and rustic and ‘charming’—while some who have been here for generations want to see the economy modernize so their children can find good jobs and be able to buy houses and stay here rather than feeling they have to leave and go to Portland or out of state to find work. It’s complicated.”

“True enough. On the way here this morning I saw a car in the parking lot with a bumper sticker that said:

Save A Lobster
Boil A Tourist.

"A little hostile but I guess it captures what some feel.” Rona nodded as she paid the check.

Back in the parking lot, based on our conversation about local people and outsiders, I said, “Let’s look at license plates to see who’s here.”

Even a quick survey revealed mainly Massachusetts, New York, and New Jersey cars.

“And look,” Rona said, “Look at the kinds of cars.”

I glanced around. “Mainly Subarus and Volvos and various kinds of SUVs and pickup trucks. But Subarus are clearly the vehicle of choice. Everyone seems to need, or want, four-wheel drive. It’s better in the snow.”

“How many of these people do you think are here in the winter? Who from New York is going to trek up here at that time? I’ll bet none. I think it’s an affectation.”

“An affectation?”

“Yeah, as a way of seeming intrepid. You know, ‘We have this place up in Maine and it’s so rural and remote and rugged that we need a 4WD to get up the road that leads to our place.’ I can just hear that.”

“Probably true. Look, even when we were looking for a car last year a Subaru was on my list of ones to consider. But then we reminded ourselves that we’ll never be here in the winter and though our cottage is on a dirt road we hardly need four-wheel drive.”

“So, what did we consider? Volvos of course. The other car of choice. And the one we finally bought, the Volkswagon.”

“Didn’t we agree at the time that we didn’t want to look like flatlanders? Folks from out of state? Or too yuppified? So that took Volvos off the list.”

“We even debated getting an American car. A Ford, which most of the locals drive.”

“But I said, we’re not locals and shouldn’t even think of trying to pass ourselves off as that. And I think American cars still have a ways to go before they’re as reliable as European or Japanese cars.”

“So we got the VW, which is working out well.”

Feeling good about ourselves we headed toward our Passat. “Look,” I said. “See how it’s getting all muddy. Talk about fitting in. Which cars here aren’t a mess? Interesting how when we’re other places we can’t wait to get it washed and detailed but up here the muddier the better.”

While I was opining about the virtues of mud, Rona whispered to me, “Look at that. Over there. Look what’s going on in that Volvo. The one between the two Subarus.”

I assumed she was pointing out a summer-peoples’ vehicular trifecta—a massing of Subarus and Volvos. “No, not the kind of cars but what that women from New York is doing on the back of her Volvo wagon.”

The hatch was up and from what I could see she was trying to load something into it. “I should go and help her. It looks as if she’s alone and struggling with something.”

“Not with what you think. Decidedly not an antique chair, if that's what you're thinking.” In fact that’s what I thought was going on. “Take a closer look. She’s far from alone and I don’t think she’d welcome your help.”

I moved past Rona so I could get a better look and saw that on the floor of the open hatch she had set up a changing mat, and wiggling on it was an infant whose soiled diaper she had just expertly removed.

“How clever,” I said. Rona nodded in agreement and I sensed she was tempted to go over to help or take a closer look. “If you’re going to have one of these kind of cars put it to good use.”

“And she surely is,” Rona added.

“But still,” I said, “I’m glad we didn’t get one of them.”

“A baby?” Rona was not understanding me as she was so engrossed in what was going on.

“You’re being silly,” I said. “Of course not. I mean a Volvo. Though I can now see its virtues.”

First posted August 18, 2010

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Thursday, August 20, 2015

August 20, 2015--Election Update

I can't believe myself--it's fully 15 months before the election and six months before the Iowa caucuses yet I am obsessed with presidential politics. Almost equally interested in what is happening in both parties.

Friends are as well. And it's all because of Donald TRUMP and Hillary Clinton--one on the ascendancy the other soon, in my view, who will be in free fall.

None of this interest has to do with policy matters, either domestic or international, but is because of their larger-than-life personalities and how what three months ago would have been unthinkable is now feeling unexpectedly likely.

For example, I just got a phone call from a family member, a very progressive and politically savvy woman who for eight years has been a passionate supporter of Hillary Clinton's, who left a message saying, "Are you ready for President TRUMP?"

She was not mocking my interest in him (my interest in his remarkable political standing not an interest in hoping he wins the nomination and the election) but is herself coming around to the view, not uncommon among liberals, that TRUMP is trumping the field in some profound way, as opposed to doing so because of his entertainment value--it is because, some say in explanation, August's dog days are hot and everyone is looking to do some escaping.

But he may turn out to be the Republican real-deal because at least half the GOP electorate want a non-politican to win (almost 50% of Republicans polled in the most recent Fox national survey, with their numbers rising, support one of the three non-politicans--Trump 25%, Carson 12%, Fiorina 5%).

Say goodbye to Bush and Walker and Christie and Perry and Santorum and Paul and Cruz and Huckabee and whoever else is running. Half of them will be gone or dead in the water before Iowa. Expect the GOP race to come down to TRUMP, Kasich, and Fiorina. If you want a preview of one of the finalists, keep an eye on whom the Koch Brothers begin to bet.

On the Democrat side, the e-mail controversy continues to fester. Actually get worse. You know the details. How now it appears that hundreds of Clinton's e-mails likely contained classified information (a potential crime) and soon investigators from the FBI no less will have their hands on the 30,000 (30,000!!) Hillary deleted because they were too personal--about her yoga classes, Chelsea's wedding, and the like. Would you be surprised if quite a few of them contained a smoking gun? We'll know by the end of September.

In spite of this, all the Internet and cable news political junkies are saying Clinton's lead is insurmountable and that there is no way that even crazy Democrats are going to have Bernie Sanders representing their party come November 2016. That would guarantee a Republican president. Though they did go for George McGovern and Mike Dukakis.

So that means Joe Biden will soon get into the race and, considering the mediocre competition, be nominated.

A related sidebar--of those Hillary supporters you know, are any enthusiastic about her candidacy, saying that she will make a good much less a great president? Or are they saying they're for her because she's a woman? That having a female president is long overdo? If anyone said a similar thing about, say, Andrew Cuomo--that's it's time we had an Italian-American president--that person would be shouted down. And rightly so. But such is the still sad state of things in regard to gender. I get it but hate it.

Thus, I am predicting a TRUMP-Biden race with the outcome a tossup.

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Wednesday, August 19, 2015

August 19, 2015--Hump Day

Taking the day off. I will return tomorrow.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

August 18, 2015--TRUMP: "He's Cooked"

"He's cooked," Joey said.

"What do you mean? I thought you believe he's going all the way."

"I thought so too until Sunday."

"Go on."

"Everything was cool at that stupid Iowa State Fair where all the candidates have to turn out and have their pictures taken hugging the butter pig."

"Butter pig?" This was new to me. But Joey is following the GOP campaign closely and I learn things from him every day. Especially about Donald TRUMP.

"Yeah, they have a pig there made out of butter. Sort of a butter sculpture. And all sorts of horrible food to eat that the candidates are forced to pretend to enjoy in order to appeal to Iowans or whoever.  Apple pie on-a-stick and Kernal Klusters and deep fried cherry pie. Can you believe it? Not that I'm a gourmet," Joey said, rubbing his considerable stomach.

"And your boy TRUMP? He hugged the pig?"

"I think he was intending too but the crowds around him were so big he couldn't get there. In the meantime, though, he arrived in a TRUMP helicopter, which was a big sensation. I mean, hasn't anyone who lives there ever seen a helicopter?'

"Probably not," I said, "And?"

"After TRUMP got off he had the pilot give kids rides. Without even asking their parents to sign consent forms. That tells me he's serious about running. Not just doing it out of ego or wanting all the attention he's getting. Don't get me wrong, he loves that."

"That's obvious."

"Did you listen to what he said to the press? How big money people buy candidates? How Jeb Bush is a 'puppet'--he called him that--because when the people who give him millions want something from him they just pull the strings. There's not much new with that. Every day he takes on another one of his opponents with zingers. Like Carly Fiorina a few days ago, pointing out that she was a failure when she was the CEO of Hewlett-Packard. Which, by the way, is true.

"But what was new was how he talked about himself. He casually confessed he does the same thing. He gives money to politicians and they answer his calls and do what he asked them to do. That that's the way the system works. He's giving voters a perspective from inside the system of the rich and powerful. How it really works and how he knows since he's been a part of it."

"It's like he's being a 'traitor to his class,' as people accused Franklin Roosevelt of being."

"Exactly. That's TRUMP's appeal. He is ripping the veil back to reveal how things are rigged against average people. This is potent political stuff.

 "So then, why is he cooked?"

"Because on Sunday, after hitting a home run at the Iowa Fair, on his Internet page he issued a position paper on immigration. He actually called it that. A three-part plan that calls for building a fence along the border (getting Mexico to pay for it); a commitment to assuring that any immigration plan 'must improve jobs, wages, and security for all Americans'; and, in the words of the New York Times, the plan includes 'strengthening the enforcement arm of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement office to be paid for by eliminating tax credit payments to illegal immigrants.' Whatever that means."

"What's so wrong with that? He's trying to sound presidential."

"Does any of this sound like Donald TRUMP?"

"Not really, but doesn't he have to--"

"Doing this sort of thing turns him into an ordinary politician. All the others have dozens of position papers and three- or ten-part plans for everything from education to cutting taxes. The kinds of things consultants write after looking at the poll numbers and, which TRUMP says, the candidates don't believe and abandon right after getting elected. They come up with three-part programs to get elected, not to guide them if they do get elected."

"I think I'm getting your point."

"He has to be careful not to be drawn into their game. If he does, he loses. His game is to be his bigger-than-life self and expose their game. Not play it."

"I think I agree with your analysis, including . . ."

"Or he'll be cooked?"

I nodded.

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Monday, August 17, 2015

August 17, 2105--Longfellow

"Forty thousand books. Can you believe it."

I knew John has a lot of books, but 40,000? "Not mine," he said, knowing what I was thinking. "I've got a barn full of 'em but . . ."

"So whose are you talking about?" Rona asked.

"Longfellow's, in his house in Cambridge. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. The poet."

"I know who he is," I said.

Ignoring me, John said, "He spoke six languages and had thousands of books in those languages as well as in English."

"Wasn't he also a professor?" I asked, seeming to remember he taught at Bowdoin, in his native Maine, and then later at Harvard, in Cambridge.

"That's the house we visited," John said, "The one in Massachusetts. It was Washington's headquarters at the start of the Revolutionary War. There's also in Portland the house where Longfellow was born. We've been there too. Not as interesting. Not that many books." He winked, knowing I too am into books--buying them, reading them, just having them. "Among other things," John added, "he translated Dante's Divine Comedy. Amazing. Really."

"'Under the spreading chestnut tree, the village smithy stands,'" Dave laughed as he pounded out the rhythmics.

"That's where the tree is. In Cambridge. Right in the middle in the village. Just as the poem says."

"The tree's still there?" Rona asked, "Almost 200 years later?"

"I mean it would be there if it was still there."

"You're losing me," I said.

"Why don't you take a drive and visit it. See for yourself," John suggested, beginning to sound exasperated, "While you're there you can count the books."  And with that turned his attention back to the paper.

Dave resumed--
The smith, a mighty man is he,
With large and sinewy hands;
And the muscles of his brawny arms
Are strong as iron bands.
"Pretty bad, no?" Dave said, "Writing stuff like this it's amazing he was so popular."

"Maybe that's why he was so popular," cynically, I said.

"Popular doesn't even begin to describe it," John said, rejoining the conversation, "I mean at the height of his fame he got $3,000 a poem and of course royalties from his books of poems. The docent in Cambridge told us when we visited that on the first day The Courtship of Miles Standish went on sale in London, 10,000 copies were sold."

Dave again picked up on that--
Just in the gray of the dawn, as the mists uprose from the
There was a stir and a sound in the slumbering village of
"Uprose, slumbering village," Dave quoted again, "This sounds so high-schooly."

"Give the guy a break, will you Dave. He wrote this in the middle of the 19th century when 'uprose' and 'slumbering villages' were good poetic form."

"Speaking of high school," Rona said, "Is that where you memorized your Longfellow?"

"He's not my Longfellow," Dave said, "But, yes, we were forced to learn shit like that. The Gettysburg Address too. You know, he said, showing off, 'Four score and seven years ago, our fathers brought forth--'"

"You can spare us," I said, cutting him off, "Though I am impressed that you still remember so much. Though I assume you hate the 'four-score' business. Too archaic for your taste."

"I can handle it," Dave said. "The speech is a work of genius. The Longfellow poems are garbage by comparison."

"I wonder if school kids are asked to memorize anything these days," Rona said.

"Probably a bunch of politically correct stuff," John said, "But don't ask me to suggest what that might be. I don't want to get myself in trouble."

Later, back at home, still thinking about Longfellow and all the stuff of his still in my head from my elementary school years--from Hiawatha to Evangeline to The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere, how could I forget that one--
Listen my children and you shall hear
Of the midnight ride of Paul Revere . . .
Borderline doggerel but still, there's something stirring about it and the others. Perhaps because the poems resonate about sweeter, more innocent times and childhood memories with their ring of patriotism and American exceptionalism. Or maybe, the poetry on its merits isn't as bad as literary snobs, me very much included, sneer.

How does this sound to the modern ear--from Hiawatha:
By the shores of Gitchie Gumee, by the shining Big-Sea-Water,
Stood the wigwam of Nokomis, daughter of the Moon, Nokomis.
Dark behind it rose the forest, rose the black and gloomy pine-trees,
Rose the firs with cones upon them; bright before it beat the water,
Beat the clear and sunny water, beat the shining Big-Sea-Water.
Not half bad. "Black and gloomy pine trees," the sunlight "bright before it beat the water." Sounds like primeval forest to me. And the "Big-Sea-Water," modern day's Lake Superior, which the Ojibwe named Gichi-Gami, "Great Sea," which Longfellow then transliterated into the more melliferous Gitchie Gumee.

Speaking of the primeval forest, how about this from Evangeline: A Tale of Acadie--

This is the forest primeval. The murmuring pines and the hemlocks,
Bearded with moss, and in garments green, indistinct in the twilight,
Stand like Druids of eld, with voices sad and prophetic,
Stand like harpers hoar, with beards that rest on their bosoms.
Loud from its rocky caverns, the deep-voiced neighboring ocean
Speaks, and in accents disconsolate answers the wail of the forest.

This I actually like. And I don't think it's just because Mrs. Borrel in 6th grade forced us to memorize it.

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Friday, August 14, 2015

August 14, 2105--Long Weekending

I will return on Monday with thoughts about Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, a Mainer.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

August 13, 2015--Cojones

I took a peak at the first post-debate poll numbers to see if Donald TRUMP with his bombast and misogynist comments had plummeted and if Carly Fiorina and John Kasich who, it was agreed did well, soared.

Yes and no.

Fiorina, who had been at low single digits (not enough to make the top-ten main event), is now at 6-9 percent and Kasich is at about that same level. He, though, competed at the adult table. Jeb Bush, on the other hand, is commencing his long-expected disappearing act. He's the Fred Thompson of 2016. Thompson, you may recall, was referred to as the Mummy.

Then there is TRUMP. 

I suspected we would see evidence of decline. The show is over. The jokes are getting stale. His 15 minutes or days of fame are beginning to fade.

Well, not exactly. 

He is now in the lead in Iowa while Scott Walker, the early summer leader, is beginning to slip toward well-deserved anonymity. And in New Hampshire, though Kasich is doing well, The Donald is at the head of the pack. We know about South Carolina, the site of the third key primary--TRUMP is trouncing everyone.

The Koch Brothers must be having coronary occlusions, not knowing where to invest their hundreds of millions. Or billions.

TRUMP, meanwhile, according to Bloomberg News, took his roadshow to Birch Run, just north of Detroit, where to an audience of 2,000 (he of course estimated it to be 5,000) he blasted the Ford Motor Company for building more plants in TRUMP's favorite country, Mexico.

He said, "Ford is building a $2.5 billion plant in Mexico." The crowd booed. "I'll give them a good idea. Why don't we just let the illegals drive the cars and trucks right into our country."

He shouted, "If it weren't for me, the words 'illegal immigrant' wouldn't be spoken right now. We have to build a wall."

The crowd began chanting TRUMP, TRUMP, TRUMP. He continued, "You can be a natural born citizen and not get a 10th of the benefits that illegal immigrants do."

A member of the audience said, "We need someone to say what's on their minds and to speak the truth." Even though TRUMP was not speaking the truth about benefits to undocumented immigrants. 

In comments to the press before the speech he claimed that he is "100 percent certain--mark it down" that he could convince Mexico to pay for a wall along the border because, "They're going to be happy about it because the cost of the wall is peanuts compared to the kind of money they're making" off the United States.

What he means by this is anyone's guess, but it went unchallenged by the adoring audience and, for that matter, the titillated media.  "Their leaders are much smarter and sharper and more cunning than our leaders."

About the proposed Mexican Ford plant he warned that as president, "I would say the deal is not going to be approved. I won't allow it. I want that plant in the United Staes. Prefereably here [in Michigan]." 

The crowd rose to its feet, chanting, "U.S.A., U.S.A., U.S.A."

"So then I have only one question--do they move the plant to the United States the same day or a day later?"

Bloomberg quoted Jim Maratta, a Vietnam veteran, sitting in the first row, wearing a VFW cap and an American flag shirt--

"We need someone with guts. I want to see him do something for jobs and get those deadbeats in Congress off their butts." He added, "I've been waiting for someone with cojones for a long time."

His wait may be over.

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Wednesday, August 12, 2015

August 12, 2015--Being Lazy Wednesday

From Wiki--

Wednesday (Listeni/ˈwɛnzd/,[1] /ˈwɛnzdi/,[2] or archaically Listeni/ˈwɛdənzd/) is the day of the week following Tuesday and before Thursday. According to international standard ISO 8601 adopted in most western countries it is the third day of the week. In countries that use the Sunday-first convention Wednesday is defined as the fourth day of the week. It is the fourth day of the week in the Judeo-Christian calendar as well, and was defined so in the ancient Mesopotamian and biblical calendars. The name is derived from Old English Wōdnesdæg and Middle English Wednesdei, "day of Woden", ultimately a calque of dies Mercurii "day of Mercury".
Wednesday is in the middle of the common Western five-day workweek that starts on Monday and finishes on Friday.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

August 11, 2015--Michele, Ma Belle

Knowing my obsession with Michele Bachmann and her pray-away-the-gay husband, knowing how disappointed I am that she is not running for president this time around, knowing that with the exception of Donald TRUMP the current candidates are not that funny (I only made it through an hour-and-a-half of last week's two-hour debate), my Virginia brother and sister-in-law sent me a piece from Salon about how Michele is gleeful about the nuclear deal the Obama administration recently struck with Iran because it foretells the beginning of End Times.

As Salon reported, in an interview on the evangelical radio show, Understanding the Times (get it--the Times), Michele Bachmann gushed that we should all feel very "privileged to live" in the End Times which are rapidly approaching "now that Obama's negotiating a nuclear deal with Iran."

She claimed that this accord fulfills the biblical prophecy from Zechariah 12:3--"On that day, when all the nations of the earth are against her, I will make Jerusalem an immovable rock for all the nations. All who try to move it will injure themselves."

The End Times are upon us, Michele revealed and "heaven's armies" are now advancing the cause. "The prophets longed to live this day. You and I are privileged to live in it."

The host of the show, Jan Markell, agreed. There "are consequences to doing things like this against God's covenant land [Israel], there are horrible consequences. You throw in other things such as the Supreme Court decision back in late June [about same-sex marriage] and a lot of other things--judgement is not just coming, judgment is already here."

It is only senators like Chuck Schumer," Bachmann sighed, who can forestall "God's wrath."

Here's where I get confused--

She cites Schumer (my mother used to call him Chuck Schmoozer) as the only one standing in the way of God's wrath, but aren't evangelicals looking forward to the End Times? Isn't that an essential step toward the emergence of the Antichrist (I know, he's already here in the person of Barack Obama), his reign, the Millennium, and ultimately the desired Last Judgement? So what's her problem? She should be ecstatic (etymologically literally) rather than bent out of political shape.

There's a solution--Michele, ma belle, it's not too late. The race is not over. In fact, no one is all that happy with the current field. The poll-topper, Donald TRUMP, has his theology all mixed up. When asked about his church going he admitted he doesn't attend that often. "When I go," he said, "I eat the little cracker." And though he's not impressed with the sacramental wine, he did admit he drinks "my little wine."

Think about how you could take him on. The discourse you two could engage in. For the rest of us, the two of you debating is almost too much to hope for.

Sont des mots qui vont très bien ensemble
Tres bien ensemble.

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Monday, August 10, 2015

August 10, 2015--On the Rag

When I saw yesterday that Maureen Dowd's column in the New York Times was about Donald TRUMP, half to myself, I moaned, "Here we go again. Yes, he deserves to be eviscerated yet more for his misogynist comments. Not for what he said at the debate about Megyn Kelly (in effect that she was unfair to him because she was--as he and I would say where we both grew up in Brooklyn--"on the rag") but for all the despicable things he has had to say about, as he would put it, "the women" throughout his life in public."

I promised myself I would get to it after reading through less-predictable stories.

When I did, as she less and less has done in recent years, Dowd this time surprised me with her fresh and tell-it-like-it-is insights about TRUMP, the media, and the state of our political culture.

Read it all if you haven't, but here's a flavor from the very end. About TRUMP talking about how he contributes money to politicians so he can have access to them and get them to do favors for him--
His policy ideas are ripped from the gut instead of the head. Still, he can be a catalyst, challenging his rivals where they need to be challenged and smoking them out, ripping off the facades they're constructed with their larcenous image makers. Trump can pierce the tromp l'oeil illusions, starting with Jeb's defense of his brother's smashing the family station wagon into the globe. 
Consider how Trump yanked back the curtain Thursday night explaining how financial quid pro quos warp the political system. 
"Well, I'll tell you what, with Hillary Clinton, I said be at my wedding and she came to my wedding," he said. "You know why? She had no choice because I gave. I gave to a foundation that, frankly, that foundation is supposed to do good. I didn't know her money would be used on private jets going all over the world. 
Sometimes you need a showman in the show.

Go Maureen!

In the aftermath of the debate, the media was obsessed about one thing, the wrong thing--themselves.

Much of the commentary, on full display on Sunday's TV talk shows and on the Internet's political websites, was about TRUMP's on-going trashing of Fox News' Megyn Kelly. Did The Donald really say she was unfair to him with her tough questions because--did he imply--because she was menstruating?

With the exception of Maureen Dowd there was hardly a post-debate word about the most important issues. For example how the four governors among the GOP "Top-10" (is this about the presidency or American Idol?) exaggerated--OK, lied--about their records in Florida (Jeb Bush), Wisconsin (Scott Walker), Chis Christie (New Jersey), and John Kasich (Ohio). How they didn't tell the truth about jobs created during their terms in office, their states' budget deficits, and about how public education fared as a result of their leadership.

Here's a flavor--

Jeb Bush claimed that high school graduation rates increased dramatically during his eight years as Florida governor. They "improved by 50 percent," he boasted. In fact, most of the gains occurred after he left office. During his two terms graduation rates grew by 14 percent.

He also claimed that he cut taxes by $19 billion but failed to mention that most of those cuts were because of federally-mandated decreases in the estate tax.

John Kasich lied when he said that the state's Medicaid program "is growing at one of the lowest rates in the country." In fact, Ohio ranks 16th in enrollment growth among the 30 states that opted out of Obamacare.

Scott Walker claimed that because of his leadership, Wisconsin "more than made up" for the job losses that were the result of the recession. In truth Wisconsin gained 4,000 jobs since that time.

How did Maureen Dowd put it? This posturing and dissembling is the work of "larcenous image makers" and of course embraced by the candidates.

But enough about this. What did TRUMP really mean when he said Megyn Kelly was "bleeding from wherever"?

Megyn Kelly and her Fox News colleagues

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Friday, August 07, 2015

August 7, 2015--Friday at the Bristol Diner: Tony Said

He said, "I don't care."

"You mean you'd vote for someone who won't tell you what he'd do about immigration?"

"I told you," he said, beginning to get heated, "I don't care. I really don't."

Jack, who was sitting opposite Tony, stared at him.

"It's his biggest issue. His political claim to fame."

"How many times do I have to tell you, I don't care.

"Or what he would do about the Middle East." With that Tony turned to the window and started humming.

"Can you believe this?" I asked Jack who shrugged and shook his head.

"You're from New York, right?" Tony turned back to us. I nodded. "You remember that skating rink in Central Park?" It didn't register at first. "It was an ice rink. The city owned it."

"It's coming back to me," I said, knowing now where this was headed.

"There was some sort of a problem with it. The cooling system. It made slurry, not ice. For years. I forget how many, the city kept trying to fix it. Spent millions. Maybe over five years but still no ice. My boy, Donald Trump, The Donald, said he couldn't take it any more. He said he'd fix it and pay for it himself."

"I remember that," Jack said.

"Again, I don't remember how long it took. At most a few months. That was years ago. As far as I know the ice machine is still working."

"It is," I admitted.

"So now you know why I'm for him. He knows how to get things done."

"You don't care what those things are that you believe he can get done? Like what he would do to 'get things done'," I made air quotes, "with the 10 million illegal immigrants who are here--hundreds of whom I assume mow the grass on his golf courses?"

"I know he got in all sorts of trouble when he said the Mexicans here are murderers. That was ridiculous."

"And so?"

"And so, as I said, I don't care. Don't get me wrong, we should figure out what to do with all the illegals--most are doing work that none of us would want to do. Like pick lettuce in the hot sun. And I believe that Trump would figure that out."

"You mean like fixing the ice skating rink?" Jack asked.

"I know they're not the same thing. I'm not that deluded."

"So what are you then?" I said, "It feels as if you drank the Trump Kool Aid."

"Maybe I did, but let me put it to you another way--The other candidates, from both parties, have all sorts of position papers about immigration and education and the environment. But we know that once they get into office they never get done what they promise to do. Maybe in their first year or two a new president can get a few things through Congress. Whatever you think about those policies. But after that all those position papers and their speeches about this or that mean nothing. And then we're left with a president who can't get anything approved and who has to fall back on whatever ability he has--forgive me, she or he has--to get things done."

"Like what?" Jack asked. "Give me an example or two of what Trump could get done after he realizes he can't get anything through what will for sure continue to be a gridlocked Congress?"

"Well, first of all, as someone who knows how to get things done on a large scale, the people he hires--appoints--to say the Cabinet: the secretary of state, of the treasury, health, education would be the same kind of get-it-done people he hires to build his hotels and casinos and condos and golf courses. People, who if they don't get the job done, get fired."

"You mean people like his daughter, Ivanka?" I couldn't help but ask.

"Yeah, like her. Like Kennedy appointing his brother attorney general. remember that? Though with that I suspect you didn't have a problem." He winked, knowing he had made a good point. "Look, no matter who wins, Democrat or Republican, no matter how much they cut the budget, there's still lots of money around to do things with. Like rebuild the infrastructure. Not all the money you or I might like, but enough to make at least a bit of a difference. Wouldn't you admit that for doing that--fixing our roads--Donald Trump would do a better job than Jeb Bush or your Hillary?"

I couldn't disagree with that. "But what about foreign policy?" Jack asked, "You'd trust him to be commander in chief? He doesn't even know where Iran is on the map."

"First of all you don't know that. You're just being partisan. We need to get away from that--making everything partisan--and focus on fixing things as best as can be done. Like our southern border which is still like a sieve after decades of politicians promising to fix it. Again, who would you prefer to work on that? Bush? Walker? Rand Paul? Ben Carson? Or Trump? I vote for Trump."

"That's clear," Jack said with a sigh. "Before I have to leave, here's more ammunition for you."

"I'm all ears."

"I forgot where I read it earlier this week, but some columnist for the Times or Washington Post said that Trump is the first post-policy candidate."

"A what?"

"Post-policy. He was making your point. That it doesn't matter what his so-called polices are. Or even if he has any. All that matters is what people believe about him. Like you--you believe he can get things done. You're not interested in the specifics of what that means. Just that you believe he can. That a lot of people are fed up with 10-point plans to fix our education system or white papers about creating jobs. Trump is attractive because he gives you and many others the feeling of competence and a certain kind of hope for a better future, a better America."

"Now you're talking."

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Thursday, August 06, 2015

August 6, 2015--Day Off

A mid-summer day off. I will return tomorrow with another Friday at the Bristol Diner.

Wednesday, August 05, 2015

August 5, 2015--GOP Debate

I've got a six-pack of cold beer ready for Thursday night's GOP debate. It should be a good one.

First, there's the matter of who will be invited to debate. By Fox News no less.

With at least 16 announced candidates, to make a good show of the 90 minutes, Fox decided to invite only 10--the top 10 based on the most recent polling data.

Thus, Donald TRUMP, Jeb Bush, Scott Walker, and Ben Carson will participate but not Rick Perry (his smart glasses will soon be available on eBay), which is too bad since last time around he was dependably hilarious; or Rick Santorum, who last time around was the last man standing when Mitt Romney secured the nomination; or Carly Fiorina (the only woman running--oh, how I pine for Michele Bachmann); nor of course will we hear from George Pataki (who?) or Lindsey Graham (though thanks to TRUMP we have his cell phone number), the latter two polling at less than one percent. It's never a good thing when you're favorability rating begins with a 0, as in  0.15 percent. Their number.

Everyone's attention will be focused on the star of the show, Donald TRUMP--what he will blurt out and the zingers the others are desperately rehearsing to launch his way. The first debate and, who knows, maybe the entire lumbering nomination process, will be about TRUMP, unless he gets bored having to hang out with John Kasich and Ted Cruz. How tedious would that be.

Speaking of Senator Cruz, little is expected of him but he could turn out to be one of the unanticipated winners. Chris Christie as well and maybe Ben Carson. These three have at least some jizzum and come across as sort of spontaneous. Compared to the ever-boring Jeb Bush and the over-managed Scott Walker these three appear to be at least alive and breathing.

Then there is TRUMP. Yesterday I caught him on Morning Joe. They had him booked for a quick phone call interview that was set to last perhaps 10 minutes. He was so good that they skipped commercial breaks and kept him on air for what felt like half an hour.

And what a half hour it was. I didn't catch any gaffs (though his trashing of John McCain and his subsequent additional surge in the polls suggests he has a get-of-out jail gaff card--for example in South Carolina, McCain's pal Lindsey Graham's state, where TRUMP has at least a 20 point lead in the polls: 34% compared with 10-11% for Bush and Carson.

More than anything else, at least for the moment, in contrast with all the other GOP candidates, he sounds actually enthusiastic about the prospect of being President. Not winning the nomination and then the general election but being the President.

The others (Hillary included) feel interested only in the process of being elected. TRUMP already sees himself sitting in the Oval office telling people what to do, as he previewed on Morning Joe.

"I'll tell Carl Ichan, a friend of mine, 'Congratulations, Carl. I'm sending you to China. Handle China.' And I'll send someone like that to Japan to handle Japan. Can you believe Caroline Kennedy is our ambassador? She said she couldn't believe they gave her the job. Speaking of jobs, I'll create jobs. I've created tens of thousands of jobs including for Latinos and African Americans. Let me tell you something, I'll win the Hispanics and blacks. Mexicans love me. They buy my apartments."

As I said, Thursday evening will be fun.

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Tuesday, August 04, 2015

August 4, 2015--The Southernization of America

Anyone interested in understanding the conservative resurgence or revolution, if you will, should turn off Fox News and read Godfrey Hodgson's prescient, 1996 eyeopener, The World Turned Right Side Up: A History of the Conservative Ascendancy in America.

If you are interested in the intellectual roots, he does a good job of summarizing the contributions of serious economists such as Friedrich Hayek; pseudo-serious novelists such as Ayn Rand; polemicists like William F. Buckley, Kevin Phillips, and Irving Kristol; evangelical religious leaders such as Jerry Falwell; and political figures including Barry Goldwater and of course Ronald Reagan.

All of this is familiar ground for anyone paying attention to the cultural and political shift rightward, but nowhere all pulled together as well as by Hodgson.

For me, noteworthy is Hodgson's insight--or at least his clear statement--of how the ideology and politics that followed on in the South, transforming it from the Democrats' Solid South, after the Civil Rights Acts of 1964 and 1965 were signed into law, and quickly became solidly conservative and Republican. The South at that time became the South that we now know and live with, continuing today to shift inexorably to the right.

Nothing that new about that. But what is new is Hodgson's perception that much of the North shortly thereafter--certainly by 1980 when Ronald Reagan became president by picking off millions of so-called Reagan Democrats--became southernized.

This happened in two stages--first there was the dramatic population shift of northerners to the former Confederate States and thereby their accruing electoral power. Reallocation of members and redistricting meant more seats in the House of Representatives for conservatives at the expense of liberal states such as New York and Pennsylvania; and, as Texas and Florida passed New York to become the second and third largest states, there was a dramatic increase in the South's number of votes in the Electoral College. With the South also becoming solidly Republican that made it much more difficult for Democrats to control Congress much less the White House.

The second stage, the result of Reagan's appeal to traditional blue collar Democrats and his election and reelection, subsequently turned a number of blue states into purple states (Pennsylvania is a good example) and over time threatened to turn a few northern purple states to red states.

Perhaps the most dramatic example of that transformation, and perplexing to progressives because of its role in the history of the emergence of the Progressive Movement, is Wisconsin, where Scott Walker managed to get elected governor three times, largely by acting as if Wisconsin were South Carolina.

As in the South he appealed to hawkish hyper-patriotism, belief in American exceptionalism, evangelical impulses, anti-affirmative action forces, a desire to limit government of all kinds, dog-whistle racism, and above all attacks on unions. Thus, Wisconsin has tipped to the right and now culturally and politically could become a permanent part of the emerging conservative majority.

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Monday, August 03, 2015

August 3, 2015--The Case for Fetal-Cell Research

I rarely, very rarely reprint articles from the New York Times or any other source. This op ed piece from last Thursday is an exception. 
It was written by Nathalia Holt, a microbiologist and author of Cured: The People Who Defeated HIV.
At a time when both sides in the agonizing debate about abortion, particularly the sale and use of fetal cells and organs for research and those who oppose it are heating their rhetoric to white hot, this sane piece provides a much-needed perspective. Among many things, what is at stake and how emotionally complicated the issues are. Even for those, like Holt, who support fetal-cell research.

The Case for Fetal-Cell Research
We first acquired the stem cells from the red receptacles of a local hospital's labor and delivery ward, delivered to our lab at the University of Southern California. I would reach into the large medical waste containers and pull out the tree-like branches of the placenta, discarded after a baby had been born. Squeezing the umbilical cord that had so recently been attached to a new life, the blood, ladened with stem cells, would come dripping out.
But sometimes a different package would arrive at our lab. Despite my distaste for wringing placentas, I felt more squeamish about what lay inside the unassuming white box. Packed in the ice was a crescent-shaped liver of dark red tissue: a human liver. Just like the placentas that were discarded after birth, this tissue was originally destined for medical waste following an abortion.
Although their fates were similar, their origins couldn't be more different. One source was the byproduct of celebrations, the other a procedure often marked with stigma and shame. While under the bright focus of the microscope the cells we isolated were indistinguishable, in our minds there was a significant difference.
Stem cell research is a big deal in California, thanks to the Institute for Regenerative Medicine, a state agency that has allocated almost $2 billion in research grants since 2004 (federal funding is still highly restricted). To meet the demand for cells, researchers turned to a procedure protected by federal law: abortions. The discarded tissues from terminated pregnancies, performed up to 24 weeks in California, is a rich source of stem cells.
But only certain fetal cells are useful. While embryonic stem cells, derived from fertilized eggs, can give rise to any cell that makes up the body, as fetal cells develop from the embryo they become committed to specific cell lineages. The liver and thymus, for instance, are packed with the precursor cells to the immune system, while the brain contains neural cells that form the nervous system.
To meet the need for these precursor cells, biotech companies form an essential middleman between tissues donated from abortion clinics and the research labs that need it. They insure that informed consent is obtained, harvest the organs, in some cases isolate and purify the cells, and then ship them out to laboratories. There are profits to be made by such middlemen in what critics call the abortion industry. I fetus runs upwards of $850, not including testing, cleaning, or shipping charges, while a vial packed with pure stem cells can fetch more than $20,000.
The use of fetal tissue in research is not new. Fetal cells extracted from the lungs of two aborted fetuses from Europe in the 1960s are still being propagated in cell culture. They're so successful that today we we still use them to produce vaccines for hepatitis A, rubella, chickenpox, and shingles. From two terminated pregnancies, countless lives have been spared.
It isn't just vaccines. Scientists at the University of California, San Diego, have injected neural stem cells into two patients to treat their spinal cord injuries. And progress is being made in the use of stem-dell therapies against cancer, blindness, Alzheimer's , heart disease, H.I.V., and diabetes.
As impressive as this is, for critics the lives saved cannot make up for those that have been lost. And as important as I believe the research was, I sympathize with the sense of loss, even after leaving the [USC] lab for Boston. 
Every week when the plain white FedEx box was delivered, uneasiness permitted the lab. We all knew that the tissues contained within were precious. We planned our experiments meticulously, trying not to waste a single drop. We rationalized using the cells by telling one another that the abortions would happen regardless of whether we used the tissue for research. And we knew that if we didn't use the tissue it was bound for the trash.
Still, even with our preparations, justification, and sheer excitement that accompanied our research, the fetal cells brought sadness. We wished we didn't have them, despite the breakthroughs.
This is why it was difficult to hear Dr. Deborah Nucatola, Planned Parenthood's senior director of medical service, discuss the organs of aborted fetuses so casually in surreptitiously recorded conversations with anti-abortion activists posing as fetal-tissue buyers. It's understandable that politicians, angered by her callous tone, are investigating how fetal tissue is handled and how research is conducted, despite the strict institutional review that governs the use of anatomical tissue donated to research.
Politicians aren't the only ones looking for answers. Scientists are searching for alternatives to fetal cells. One solution may lie in reprogramming adult cells, creating what researchers call induced pluriponent stem cells. These cells share the ancestral adaptability of embryonic stem cells, yet can also be manipulated to look and act like fetal stem cells.
And yet, every time I worked with a fetal liver, I imagined that somewhere in California a woman had made an agonizing, heartbreaking decision to end her pregnancy. Yet she had also donated her aborted fetus to medical research. I thought of this as I isolated the golden-tinged cells inside the vent hood. A promise had been made; these cells were not simply trash.

The choice I made is repeated every day, in labs all over the world, Researchers have no say in whether a fetus is aborted or developed into a human body; those decisions are made by women and shaped by politicians. Yet their science, performed on discarded tissue, has the ability to save lives. It already has.

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