Monday, November 30, 2015

November 30, 2105--The Legacy Business

I know, all recent presidents do it toward the end of their second terms--play the legacy game.

Nancy Reagan put Ronnie under pressure to focus on arms control during his last years in office to counteract the perception that he was a rigid, unrepentant Cold Warrior. He was so good at being flexible with the leadership of the Soviet Union that he was able to strike a series of arms control agreements with Mikhail Gorbachev that contributed a few years later to the collapse of the USSR and the end (at least until now) of the Cold War.

George W. Bush, stung by increasing criticism of of his Middle East policy, jettisoned one of the leading public faces of that failed war policy--Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld--and committed himself to pulling all combat troops out of Afghanistan and Iraq. He saw that to be an essential ingredient of his legacy, also pushed along to do so by his wife.

Which brings us to Barack Obama--the inheritor of various failed Bush policies, from a collapsed economy, out-of-control deficits, and Bush's unfulfilled pledge to withdraw our combat troops from the region, something Obama more or less carried out as part of his own legacy-building agenda.

Obama, in fact, has been thinking about his legacy from almost day one.

He did not want to go down in history as just "the first African-American president." He cared at least as much about substance. Thus Obamacare was a major accomplishment unto itself but also prime-cut legacy material--he uniquely was able to bring about a dramatic expansion of healthcare coverage, an unachieved goal of all presidents from at least Harry Truman days. As Joe Biden said at the time, "This is a f ***king big deal."

So that legislative achievement may make the first paragraph of his Wikipedia entry.

The same legacy claim was made when he appointed Sonia Sotomayer to the Supreme Court, the first Hispanic to serve.

Then, more recently, with his presidential clock counting down, Obama and his people began to think even more overtly about his legacy.

The nuclear deal with Iran is claimed to be his capstone foreign policy achievement and a big legacy item. Ditto for the recent Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal. And even yesterday's headline on page one of the New York Times about the current climate summit was titled, "Obama's Legacy at Stake in Paris Talks on Climate Accord."

Not, the "World's Future at Stake in Paris Climate Talks."

That would be the more appropriate headline considering the nature of the problem--not Obama's legacy but the fate of Earth.

So, enough with the legacy business. We have serious issues to face. Including the defeat of ISIS/ISIL/IS/ or Daesh

In legacy terms this is not going well for Obama who just a day before the Paris massacre declared "ISIL contained."

Again, in legacy terms, it is sadly understandable that he was reluctant to appear too upset by the situation in the Middle East and now Europe. He doesn't want to rise of ISIL to creep onto the first page of his Wiki entry much less future histories of his presidency.

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Friday, November 27, 2015

November 27, 2015--Black Friday

I can't believe that the PC Police haven't as yet put pressure on the retail industry to come up with a new name for the day after Thanksgiving.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

November 26, 2015--Thanksgiving

I hope you have a happy holiday. I will return on Friday or Monday.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

November 25, 2015--Word of the Year

Each year the Oxford English Dictionary--the ultimate repository and conservator of all the words in the English language--adds hundreds of new words to its existing list of 1,025,109 words.

All languages evolve. In the case of English rapidly.

This has been going on for a very long time and new words come from many sources. From Shakespeare, for example, who alone contributed at least 1,700 words to our vocabulary--now everyday words such as baseless, castigate, summit, and grovel--to prison slang, some of which over time meets the OED criteria as "acceptable" English. Slang words such as slammer (prison), screw (prison guard), and bats (cigarettes).

Each year the OED adds upwards of 1,000 words. This past year about 800 were added including--

Hangry--a blend of hungry and angry

Melty--partially melted

Butt dial--to accidentally dial a cell phone as by sitting on it

Ginormous--huge or very big

To amazon--the verb to shop or browse on

Manspreading--someone sitting with his legs wide apart, like the man I sat next to yesterday on the subway

Foodfie--a selfie of someone with food

Selfiecide--death of a person while taking a selfie

Then the OED has its Word of the Year, which by the rules doesn't have to be a word that was invented during the year but can reflect major events of the day. For example, last year refugee was shortlisted.

Two years ago selfie itself won. Last year is was vape. At a time when electronic cigarettes were all the rage, it meant the vapor emitted when smoked.

Runners up this year were on fleek, meaning extremely good or stylish and lumbersexual for a young urban man who dresses as if he has a rugged lifestyle.

The winner for 2015 wasn't even a word. The rules also allow that and so for the first time an emoji won. Not the word emoji, which was added in 1997 from the Japanese character for picture, but the emoji itself for tears of joy.


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Tuesday, November 24, 2015

November 24, 2015--The Woodrow Wilson Memorial Bridge

There is a move afoot on the campus of Princeton University to take Woodrow Wilson's name off campus facilities  and academic programs such as the residential complex, Wilson College and the prestigious Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs.

This because Wilson, who served as Princeton's president from 1902 to 1910 before becoming Governor of New Jersey and than the 28th president of the United States, was an unrepentant racist.

Among other things, he said--

To an African-American leader that "segregation is not humiliating, but a benefit, and ought to be so regarded by you."

And, he wrote about "a great Ku Klux Klan," that came into being to rid whites of "the intolerable burden of governments sustained by the votes of ignorant Negroes."

Regarding Princeton itself, during Wilson's tenure as president, no blacks were admitted. But this is only part of the Princeton story--this Ivy institution did not enroll African Americans until 1940, fully 30 years after Wilson stepped down as president. So there is a lot to criticize and atone for.

As a footnote, Jews were not welcomed until about the same time and even in my day, under pressure from my father who was prestige- and assimilation-oriented, I applied and was somehow admitted. I was subsequently told by a prominent alum that there were no eating clubs on campus that welcomed Jews and so, if he had advice to offer, I should . . .

Which I did and went to Columbia instead, which by then, having shed its Jewish quota, begrudgingly admitted and made sort of welcome my kind.

So I can understand the pressure minority Princeton students are putting on the administration to take down Wilson's name. In a throwback to the 1960s, to get their way, a group last week occupied the president's office.

The faculty now has promised to consider these demands and, knowing faculty as I so well do, I feel certain the outcome is inevitable.

The Princeton situation may turn out to be just prologue.

Looking at the history of American presidents who proceeded Wilson, fully 12 of them were more than racist--they owned slaves.

George Washington owned 250-350, Jefferson 200 (including Sally Hemmings), Madison more than 100, Monroe 75, Jackson about 200, Van Buren "just" one, Tyler 70, Polk 25, Taylor 150, Johnson (Lincoln's vice president) 8, and Grant (Lincoln's favorite general) enslaved 5.

If Wilson's name is to come off one of Princeton's student residence halls, shouldn't we also change the name of the Woodrow Wilson Memorial Bridge that crosses the Potomac outside Washington, DC? And what about the 13 American cities named for Jefferson? Or the names of James Madison University and Madison, Wisconsin?

What about those 21 counties in as many states named for Andrew Jackson, who, recall, owned about 200 slaves?

And then there is our nation's Capitol itself. It is named for our first president who owned at least 250 human beings. Is this acceptable with today's racial consciousness?

What then might be a politically correct new name for Washington? There is also a movement there to change the name of their football team--from the Redskins to . . .?

I welcome suggestions.

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Monday, November 23, 2015

November 23, 2015--Why Belgium?

I have been wondering why, when learning more about terroristic activity in France and other incidents in Europe, all roads appear to lead to Belgium.

From my two or three visits, I remember Belgians to be peaceful and civilized, to naive me best known for excellent cooking, Leffe beer, memorable art towns including Bruges and Ghent, and of course their silky Neuhaus chocolates.

But a haven for terrorists? The place from which barbaric attacks on Paris and other European targets are planned and organized?

Clearly my interest in Hieronymus Bosch's horrific triptych, the brilliant Last Judgement in the Groeninge Museum in Bruges and litres of Leffe, have blocked my understanding of what is going on there beyond the surface of what visitors experience.

But then toward the end of last week a piece online from the Associated Press, "Paris Attacks Rooted in Brussels," helped explain things--

To quote the director of the Centre for Terrorism and Counterterrorism, "Terrorists do shop around for locations where it's easier to be unnoticed." And for that Belgium qualifies.

It shares a long border with France, a favorite venue for terrorists, with few if any controls and the population pretty much speaks French as its first language.

Laws controlling weapons are by European standards lax and largely unenforced so it is "easy," says a professor of criminology at Ghent University, "to get your hands on heavy arms in Brussels."

Austerity measures have led to severe cutbacks in funding for police and the justice system and this has contributed to disarray in government bureaucracies, law enforcement agencies, and the ability to keep track of potential terrorists.

Making matters worse, much worse, is the fact that central Belgium, where planning for terrorist acts thrive, with a population of about 1.0 million, is divided into 19 separate municipalities and six uncoordinated policing zones. Therefore, police in one zone are not allowed to track suspects into neighboring ones much less across the border into France.

New York City, in contrast, with a population of 8.4 million has one police force and one integrated court system.

Thus, to quote the AP, in Belgium, "extremist ideology has been allowed to thrive due to police neglect."

And then further compounding the enforcement challenge, with a total population of 11.2 million, living in Belgium there are 650,000 unintegrated Muslins.

What a deadly mess.

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Friday, November 20, 2015

November 20, 2105--ISIS v.ISIL

Most of the right-wing radio talk-show hosts I monitor in the middle of the night are so frustrated, almost  speechless, so descended into sputtering about what is going on in France and the Middle East that a recent focus of their anger and impotence is calling Barack Obama to task, actually savaging him,  for his stubborn insistence on calling the Jihadist terrorists ISIL while most of the rest of us "ordinary folks" refer to them as ISIS.

Small differences in ordinary circumstances but in the current inflamed state of things yet another opportunity to rant and fulminate.

ISIS gained its name as the Iraqi branch of al Qaeda after it invaded Syria in 2013. ISIS is the acronym for "Islamic State in Iraq and Syria" or "Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham," which is the original Arabic name for the caliphate in the region.

ISIL stands for "Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant." A much larger region that stretches to the eastern shore of the Mediterranean and includes present day Syria, Lebanon, Palestine, Israel, and Jordan. The Obama administration prefers ISIL claiming it is a better translation for al-Sham.

A few things--

By thinking about the regional terrorists as active in all of the Levant, rather than "just" Syria and Iraq, isn't Obama granting them more geographic girth and influence than thinking about them as more contained?

Also, Levant etymologically and historically is a French construct. From the Middle French lever, literally "to rise," meaning, from a literal European perspective, facing east to the Orient where the sun rises. Couple this with the traditional European-defined lands of the "Orient," also of French origin, from the Old French oriri, "to rise," and the Middle Eastern region becomes the Orient, which in the Near East includes the Levant and those who study it "orientalists." None of these any longer politically correct.

Except perhaps, with deep irony, to Barack Obama who should know better.

What does President Obama's surprisingly Eurocentric insistence on ISIL suggest?

Nothing good. It seemingly means that to him ISIL is even more widespread in its influence than it currently, fortunately, is. And by viewing them as ISIL, cedes to them the possibility that over time, unthwarted, they will seize all the lands of the Levant.

The Eurocentrism is also surprising and disappointing for a president who came into office pledging that he would treat all of the world, especially the Islamic world, more equitably and less xenophobically than his predecessors.

Additionally, unreported in the posturing and demagogy on all sides is the fact that the Levant plus the current Iraq is the final playing field for all three religions of the Book--messianic Judaism, evangelical Christianity, and apocalyptical Islam--as they all, in their most extreme expression, await and look forward to the End Time when the world will end in a cataclysm.

Thus it is understandable that many, especially those on the right who hate and feel put down by Obama's dispassionate, patronizing professorial tone, would find his stubbornness, even fixation on ISIL maddening. Even if they know nothing about the Levant or connect any of this to eschatological matters.

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Thursday, November 19, 2015

November 19, 2015--By the Numbers

I noted here previously that the true horror of Paris is not equal to the number killed and wounded.

Yes, 129 were killed outright and another 350 wounded, some critically. And another 224 were killed last month when ISIS brought down a Russian charter jet over the Sinai Desert.

But in other, earlier terrorist actions about as many and sometimes more were slaughtered and maimed.

Thus, in an attempt to keep emotions from overwhelming us, including policy makers, government officials, and the public, it is important to keep things in perspective. I suspect, though he wasn't overt about it, this attempt to contain heated calls to rush to declare World War III, one explanation for President Obama's tepid response is that he was trying to keep his head while others about him were losing theirs and beating the drums of war.

Me included.

Here then is the bloody scorecard--

The terrorist bombing of the U.S. Marine barracks in Beirut in 1983 killed 161 Americans. Ronald Reagan promptly withdrew all forces from the region. And, tellingly, was not widely criticized for doing so.

In 1998, simultaneously in Tanzania and Kenya two American embassies were bombed. 224 were killed. It was the first time al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden were brought to the public's attention.

During the peak of the Madrid morning rush hour, in March 2004, four commuter trains were hit with ten bombs by al Qaeda-inspired terrorists. 191 were killed and another 1,800 wounded.

And then of course, on September 11, 2001, four passenger jets were taken over by al Qaeda jihadists and deliberately crashed into the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and, when passengers fought back, a field in Shanksville Pennsylvania. 2,996 in the planes and workers in the buildings were killed. Another 415 first responders lost their lives.

And then there are deaths of a different sort--

22,000 die annually of drug overdoses. 32,000 die on the highways in car crashes. Another 41,000 commit suicide. 12,500 are killed with legal handgun and assault weapons.

In the latter cases there is no panic, no calls for dramatic action, and certainly no rush to either judgement or retribution. We accept these fatalities as we accept the inevitability of the sun rise and tides. As if they were natural, unremediable phenomena.

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Wednesday, November 18, 2015

November 18, 2015--Who Knows What

I will return tomorrow with who knows what.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

November 17, 2015--ISIS's Oil

I haven't been paying enough attention to how ISIS funds itself.

Mainly by stealing Iraqi oil I am embarrassed to admit I recently leaned. To the tune of at least $50 million a month's worth. About half-a-billion a year.

The oil comes from wells in northern Iraq, territory that ISIS now controls, and then is trucked overland into Syria and, after that, who knows.

But it has been working well for ISIS and up to now has not been interdicted by Syrian rebels, Western powers, or--and here's my rub--the United States.

One would think that with drones, satellite technology, and smart weapons easily deployed by fighter planes safely plying the skies looking for targets of opportunity, that given the go-ahead by allied forces' commanders in chief--particularly ours--it wouldn't require more than a few days to take out the oil trucks that go back and forth, east and west, through wide-open desert, at 45 miles per hour, without a place to hide.

Why then didn't we begin to bomb these facilities and trucks until two or three days ago? Why for years have we allowed this illicit commerce to take place in plain sight? Commerce that generates enough money to fund much of ISIS's evil business?

As best as I can learn the United States and it allies (such as they are) didn't want to do any permanent damage to Iraq's petroleum infrastructure. We have had the belief that ISIS would quickly be rolled up and things in the Iraqi oil fields would return to "normal." Very much in quotes.

Also, there was concern about killing civilians, mainly the drivers.

But now it appears that we feel battling ISIS will take a long time and concluding that drivers of these rigs are hardly civilians, we have turned attention to destroying the tanker trucks.

There appear to be 1,000 of them. One thousand! All easily spotted on Google Earth and of course, in even greater detail, through whatever the U.S. has in its surveillance arsenal.

In just a few days of bombing and strafing runs, according to reports in the New York Times, we have destroyed up to a quarter of them. Perhaps 250. In another few days most will have been blown up and it will no longer be easy for ISIS to remain in the oil business.

This previous hands-off approach to the ISIS oil trade also was based on the assertion that ISIS was effectively "contained" in Iraq and Syria, as claimed incredibly by President Obama just days before the uncontained attacks in Beirut and Paris.

All sorts of gears are being shifted as the result of these massive intelligence failures.

While I am ranting, I have two more questions for the Obama administration. An administration that has been ignoring reality as it attempts to "polish" its legacy. With only 15 months left in office, Obama wants to repaint reality--to claim that he ended two wars begun by George W. Bush and thus has no intention of getting in a new one against ISIS. This in spite of the fact that we are in reality half-heartedly fighting a war against ISIS.

But since we are in a version of war with ISIS why not fight smarter? Two things might help--

First, why not take down all jihadist Websites? The ones ISIS uses to promote itself and recruit young people from the Western democracies? And the ones they used to communicate among themselves, including using them to coordinate terrorist activities.

And why don't we through cyber-warfare tools disable the tanks and armored vehicles ISIS has stolen from Iraqi security forces? Vehicles and weapon systems that we manufactured and turned over to Iraqi soldiers which in turn were captured and are now being used against us by ISIS fighters?

I was just reading in Wired magazine how it is relatively easy to hack into people's Fords and Toyotas, to in effect disable them. So why not do the same thing to our Humvees and tanks that are now (see below) in ISIS's hands? I assume they are just as hackable.

If they aren't we should immediately reconfigure any weapons we sell or give to allies which inevitably get into the hands of very bad guys. As in Afghanistan where we covertly supplied the Mujahideen with weapons to use when fighting off Soviet invaders which in turn were used against us after the Mujahideen morphed into the Taliban.

I am wondering if anyone in our government and military is paying attention to these obvious things.

If not, it will be to our everlasting regret.

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Monday, November 16, 2015

November 16, 2105--ISIS in Paris

I may have a different perspective after I, perhaps, cool down.

God knows there have been much worse cases of barbarism, evil during my lifetime. Even quite recently. By the numbers, ISIS's blowing the Russian plane out of the sky over the Sinai killed more innocent people than the seven or eight coordinated attacks in Paris.

Numerically, the terrorist bombings in Mumbai, Spain, Beirut, and of course on 9/11 killed and maimed more people, but there is something different about ISIS than al Qaeda. Something different for me about Paris than even New York.

That tells you how in a rage I am about what happened Friday night.

OK, I used the e-word. Evil.

All of these terrorist atrocities, including the pubic beheadings, are more than "cowardly acts." If there is such a thing as evil, this is it. Have there been worse examples? Of course. Including in France.

The French, among other "civilized" people, during the Second World War rounded up and shipped many thousands of their Jews to certain death in Nazi Germany.

A special definition of evil is necessary to categorize the various holocausts of the 20th century.

But what was perpetrated Friday still qualifies as dastardly. Unspeakable. All too human in its inhumanness.

Words fail.

French president Hollande says this was an act of "war." The Pope said we are in "World War III." Both may be right.

If we are, what then does that mean?

France is a linchpin of the NATO alliance. NATO's charter in effect says that "an attack on one is an attack on all." That includes us. The United States.

That charter was written well before al Qaeda and ISIS existed. It was for a time when there were credible threats of a Soviet invasion of Western Europe. What does it mean now when the definition of war had shifted? Does it mean that the U.S. is also at war? That because France was "attacked," that it experienced more than an evil act of terrorism, we too have been attacked and thus are obligated to act accordingly? To join them in waging war?

I do not know how to think about this. What I do know is that this has struck me deeply. I have even been gathering information about going to France, Paris, this week. As an act of solidarity and defiance.

Rona thinks I'm crazy. She's right. I am.

Minimally I am trying to think about what France should do, more appropriately, as an American citizen what we should do because I do think we are at war.

Yes, I know how we got there. Not solely as the result of President Obama's weak leadership--though he has been weak and that hasn't helped, feeling that the "Arab Spring" would help bring about versions of democracy to the region. This just as naive in its own way as George W. Bush's delusion that toppling Saddam Hussein would do that for Iraq and surrounding dictatorships.

What matters now is what to do going forward.

Drone-guided bombings will not get the job done. Depending on lightly-armed Kurd forces on the ground will not defeat ISIS in Syria and Iraq. Russia's involvement, even if it shifts to confront ISIS rather than Syrian rebels, will not get the job done.

Nothing this simple, this limited will work.

I can hardly believe I am thinking this, but only a massive, boots-on-the-ground force of American troops has any chance of succeeding. Perhaps 100,000 are required. Maybe more.

This would mean many casualties, even the beheading of captured U.S. soldiers. But does anyone have a better, more realistic idea?

I hate this. Hate all of it. But I am feeling radicalized.

ISIS has to be shown to be a failure in order to stem the flow of young lunatics to its "cause." Disaffiliated youth from the Islamic world as well as from Europe and the United States are partly drawn to ISIS because it is perceived to be winning. This encourages those with distorted minds to believe that the apocalypse they seek is near at hand. Defeat ISIS, devastate it, and that belief system will crumble.

I am sorry. I wish I could believe in the effectiveness of diplomacy and financial warfare, including bombing the oil fields and petroleum distribution system in ISIS-controlled territory.

I don't.

As long as they feel they are winning, ISIS fighters can live on fumes. They are that motivated and tenacious.

So they have to be killed. All of them would be ideal. As many as possible is imperative.

Again, I can't believe these worlds are coming from me. I have up to now considered myself to be moderate, essentially pacifistic. Not any more.

Paris on Friday changed that.

When will we too again feel the pain and fear?

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Friday, November 13, 2015

November 13, 2105--Uber

In Aftershock: The Next Economy & America's Future I think it was Robert Reich who wrote about how the middle class has struggled to adapt to the new service economy by a variety of responsive strategies.

In the old economy, with well-paying manufacturing jobs economically anchoring millions of families, it was men primarily who worked in factories and offices while women stayed at home and worked there to maintain the household and assume primary responsibility for raising the children.

At that time, for most the jobs available to middle-class men were enough to sustain their families and provided enough so the next generation could do better than their parents.

But then the compounding affect of inflation and the decline in the number of these good jobs made it impossible to maintain families' life style with only one job and only one person working outside the home.

So men added part time jobs to help them keep even. And more and more women began to work outside the home and struggled both to do that and continue to take primary responsibility for childcare.

But 10-15 years ago this also began not to work.

To compensate families next turned to debt financing.

The one appreciated asset many families had was the rising value of their homes. Those who owned one. And so to maintain their financial status millions refinanced their dwellings. The loose lending environment was such that it was easy to get financing for more than real estate was worth, and families used that extra money--extra debt--to finance their lives and life styles.

Then everything collapsed and millions found themselves under water.

Looking around, they couldn't figure out what to do. Some decided to defer or even not have children. Others turned to the underground economy. More depended on various forms of government subsidies.

And yet others found ways to turn their only two remaining assets into income--

They earned extra money by renting their homes, apartments, and spare bedrooms via Web-based operations such as airbnb and turned their cars into taxis via Uber.

When this no longer works to keep families afloat, what will be next?

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Thursday, November 12, 2015

November 12, 2105--Preview

I will return tomorrow with thoughts about Uber and airbnb.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

November 11, 2015--Apostrophe

David Gates' Jernigan, his rather good first novel, is another in the line of American novels narrated by wisecracking curmudgeons. Holden Caulfield and Moses Herzog among others come to mind.

Some have suggested adding Jernigan to that distinguished list.

I recently had a chance to reread it. It is a bit of a period piece, as much about the alienating 1980s as the ferociously intelligent malcontent narrator. Though his tell-it-like-it-is wit propels the narrative, the human debris left behind include his wife, teenage son, his fragile mistress, and of course Jernigan himself who is seen ultimately joking his way over the edge.

His best friend, Uncle Fred, is not much help, but is a wonderful second banana and occasionally comes up with things worth contemplating. Like the following--
Uncle Fred announced that he was an apostrophe. I thought what he meant was apostate and I asked for some clarification on that. 
"It's like I'm there to show that something's missing.
Three apostrophes in one sentence! Not bad.

Unlike Uncle Fred, I see apostrophes when used in contractions to be less about the absence of something than the indication of the absence of something.

In Uncle Fred's case, he thinks of himself as an apostrophe because there is indeed something missing from his character. Character itself! But there are also indications of the shape of what that means. Thus, he is among the book's richest characters. Because of what is indicated to be missing.

So apostrophes are very much about something important. Not just something absent. A subtle difference for certain.

In Uncle Fred's three-appostrophy sentence, for example, the apostrophes help in the simulation of real speech. How we actually sound--not "It is like," but "It's like." Not "I am there to show" but, better, "I'm there to show." And not "something is missing" but "something's missing."

So in my view, the indication of the absence of something, not of something missing, in this case or many others, is not a void but a vibrant, inclusive piece of prose made robust by the stylistic capacities apostrophes enable.

Of course, having begun to think about this I turned to the history of apostrophes, thinking, since the etymology seems to be French--no surprise at at all if that turns out to be true--I would begin with that assumption.

The French have been especially inventive when it comes to the creation of new words, syntax, ligatures, and diacritical and punctuation marks.

This turns out to be true. Wiki reports that in imitation of French practice, the apostrophe was introduced into English in the 16th century.

In French it was used in place of a vowel or letter to indicate elision (to omit as a sound when speaking), as in l'heure in place of la heure.

It was also used in place of a final e (which was still pronounced in the 16th century) when it was elided before a vowel, as in un' heure.

English as employed both in Briton and the United States finds apostrophes ideal for more than contractions. More commonly they are used to indicate possession. As in a woman's hat or Smith's house or the boss's wife.

(I especially like that string of s's.)

More than that you risk entering the grammarian's world of correctness where rules abound. To enforce them there is even in the UK the Apostrophe Protection Society. Anyone can be a member. No sponsor is required.

One only needs to agree that one's favorite is Lewis Carroll's elisions in sha'n't for shall not.

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Tuesday, November 10, 2015

November 10, 2015--Angry Black Man

I have been struggling to understand Ben Carson's appeal to Republicans.

He is so boring, so unable to express himself, so passive and weak feeling, so unlike the kind of militant commanders-in-chief conservatives traditionally admire.

And so what is it that for the moment has him as the leader of the GOP pack?

Is it because of his calm exterior, his obvious God-given blessings, or the feeling that as a physician he will heal a deeply wounded America?

Or is his popularity a matter of a physician who has healed himself?

I suspect largely the latter.

I have been particularly perplexed by his defense of his claim that he had a violent past. As he put it in his autobiography, it was the result of a "pathological disease" A pathology he was able to cure, not so much because of his medical skills but because he turned to God. To Jesus.

This is a not an unfamiliar political redemption story that appeals to religious conservatives. Like George W. Bush who when he first ran for president subtly let it be known that he had a drinking problem as a young man but was able to overcome it when he was "born again." Or, to be bipartisan, Jimmy Carter's story about lust.

Redemption is essential to Carson's representation of his own personal narrative. He is after all not running a campaign rich in policy pronouncements and promises. His appeal is his life story itself and outsider status.

But his insistence that he was uncontrollably violent when a young man is unique in political history. Drinking is one thing, lust another, but violence?

If anything, if this were true, one would expect he would minimize, not inflate that aspect of his character. Admitting to having had a violence problem when, as president, he would have access to the nuclear codes with the red button always close at hand one would think would be more a political liability than an asset.

But then in his case there is also the powerful matter of race.

As a black man raised on the mean streets of Detroit, it would be understandable, sociologically and psychologically, that he would be a violent and angry man.  The very kind of African-American that looms in the fearful imaginations of many white people. Especially those conservatives who are dog whistle racists and thus for whom people of color haunt their feverous dreams.

For them, if a black man such as Carson can be "cured" of his blackness, if he can be so neutered and emerge so seemingly self-controlled there is less to be feared about the world and its threats.

For his cure to be fully believable and comforting it is essential that voters believe he began as that archetypical angry black man he repeatedly represents himself to have been. If he could heal himself of that perhaps he can be trusted to "treat" all the others with similar "pathologies" who make so many people feel threatened.

I is thus essential to this hopeful personal narrative that Carson was as violent as he has repeatedly represented himself to have been. That he stabbed his friends and once threatened to strike his mother in the head with a hammer must be believable if his campaign is to have this unique appeal and traction.

If he somehow grew up a sweet little boy who then managed to get to Yale and medical school--an urban Horatio Alger story--the meaning of his life story would be merely a remarkable exception, not literally miraculous.

And here is the political point and the key to his appeal--unless his representations are true, he could not represent himself as able to bring about similar cures for others equally afflicted. 

He represents the promise that blackness itself can be overcome. That it is curable. He is living proof of that.

Just as other Republican conservatives hold views about other pathological Americans who can be cured by prayer--homosexuals who, if they want to chose another "life style," can pray away the gay, Carson tells us that Blackness too can be prayed away.

From Ben Carson's House 

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Monday, November 09, 2015

November 9, 2015--Cadet Carson

At the risk of piling on, I can't resist a word about Ben Carson's West Point fable.

It was revealed last week in Politico that GOP front-runner, Dr, Ben Carson, lied about his military experiences. Like all his leading Republican rivals but Lindsay Graham, he managed to avoid service. But in his 1990 autobiography, Gifted Hands, a new edition of which he and his wife have been hustling while campaigning, he claimed that he applied to and was admitted to the U.S. Military Academy.

He wrote, "I was offered a full scholarship to West Point."

Then, in his more recent book, You Have a Brain, he repeated the falsehood and on his Facebook page this past August, he posted that he was "thrilled to get an offer from West Point."

It turns out that this is totally false as appear to be his assertions about his "violent past." (See Tuesday's post about this.)

He never applied to West Point, was never admitted, and the whole thing is, to put it mildly, made up.

At least Hillary Clinton, when First Lady, in 1996 was in Bosnia when she lied about having to zig-zag on the tarmac to avoid machine gun bullets. Unlike Carson, she didn't fake the entire incident.

Confronted with the fact, Carson's campaign (not the candidate himself), refreshingly, fessed up. They didn't do any zigging and zagging.

But they left hanging the good doctor's assertion that after he turned down the commission to West Point it remained available to him. In other words, he was accepted, he turned them down, but still they held a place for him. To quote him, there was a "standing offer"of admission.

I have an idea that should appeal to the redemption-minded Carson--

Take up West Point on its offer since they may still be holding a place for him. The army could use a good surgeon. And he will need something to do after not winning the nomination much less the presidency.

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Friday, November 06, 2015

November 6, 2015--Relocating

We are getting ready to head to New York City and thus I will be taking the day off. I expect to return here on Monday.

Thursday, November 05, 2015

November 5, 2015--Democrats' Agita

Democrats and progressives can't be feeling very good about the array of results from Tuesday's elections.

Nor can they be feeling secure about the latest national poll numbers.

Nothing major occurred on Tuesday--it's a very off-year political year--but the vote in Houston to reject an anti-bias referendum that would have protected the rights of gay and transgender people can't be comforting to liberals.

It is felt that the initiative failed because Houstonians didn't want their women to go to the same bathrooms as transgender men who are now females. All this in spite of the fact that the mayor is a lesbian. Or, on reflection, perhaps because she is.

Nor can the statewide vote in Ohio not to decriminalize the use of marijuana, even for medicinal purposes please progressives.

Then in Virginia, the governor failed in his attempt to get more Democrats elected to the state legislature so that he can overturn his felonious Republican predecessor's refusal to fund an expansion of Medicaid so that more poor people can sign up for Obamacare.

While in Kentucky, Matt Bevin, the Republican Tea-Party-suppored candidate, was easily elected after running on a platform that featured the promise to end the Bluegrass State's participation in Obamacare, especially using Medicaid funds to pay for it. Funds, incidentally, that are paid for fully with federal dollars.

Even in nearby Portland, Maine, the local initiative to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour was voted down.

We are not living in generous times. Middle-class people feeling strapped in their own lives, with children saddled with student loan debt, and having to work three jobs just to stay even, are angry about anything that is targeted to help those in need or who feel discriminated against. And they are voting their anger.

Democrats are experiencing additional agita when they see what's happening on the larger, national stage. The just-released results of the latest presidential poll, the generally reliable Quinnipiac Poll, show Donald TRUMP holding a very narrow lead over Ben Carson, with Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz still just in low double digits, and poor Jeb Bush languishing in Chris Christie territory with only 4 percent support. Let's hope Jeb really does have some "cool things" to do once he drops out (he doesn't), which should be before the end of the year.

But most disturbing for liberals, the Quinnipiac Poll has Hillary Clinton running only slightly ahead of Donald TRUMP (46 to 43 percent) but trounced by Ben Carson by 10 full points--50 to 40.

We clearly live in complicated times.

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Wednesday, November 04, 2015

November 4, 2015--Election Day: Carol

The diner is right across the road from Town Hall where people came yesterday to vote.

"Is it a terrible thing that I don't vote?" Carol asked shyly. "I mean, I think I'm a good person and should vote but . . ."

"But what?" Rona asked.

"Shouldn't everyone vote?" She said.

"Maybe yes, maybe no," I said, "I'm OK with people not voting if they have no confidence in the candidates or as a form of protest."

"To tell you the truth, I'm nor sure I agree," Rona said, I think it's important to be an active citizen. Not that I'm criticizing you," she said to Carol who avoided eye contact.

"But in a way you are," Carol said. "That's what I was saying. That I should. So I deserve the criticism. Though . . ." she trailed off. "I mean, like I said. I'm conflicted. And you're right. If I live and work here and pay my taxes here, I should be a better citizen."

To shift the conversation, I said, "Well, what's on the ballot this year?"

"I'm embarrassed to say I don't know. Do you?" she asked Rona.

"You got me," Rona said smiling. "I suppose it's no excuse that we're here only half the year and are registered to vote in New York so . . ."

"So what's on the ballot today? In New York I mean?" Carol smiled.

"You got me again," Rona said, also smiling.

"Can I get you a refill?" Carol asked. "That's part of my problem," she said.

"Your problem?"

"I work all the time. Waitressing here and at the other place in ___ . I barely have time to put gas in my car much less think about voting. I mean learning about all the issues." She shrugged and turned to get more coffee.

When she returned, voting was still on her mind.

"I think there's something on the ballot about the minimum wage."

"I think so too," I said.

"That should motivated me. I mean, to vote. I couldn't live on the minimum wage. I would like to have a baby but even making what I make, thank God more than the minimum, I can't afford it. I'd need childcare or preschool but they charge so much I'd be working to pay them. I wouldn't have enough left to pay rent for a decent place. Forget for now my being able to buy a place."

"I don't know how people do it," Rona said, "Having kids, paying for a place to live, heat one's house, and as you said, afford childcare. Unless you have a mother who can help out . . ."

"My mom works harder than me," Carol said. "I have this friend. She has a two-year-old. Her husband, the baby's father, died when she was in her eighth month so after the baby was born there was obviously less income than they had been planning. If it wasn't for the two sets of grandparents chipping in to help--with money and babysitting--I don't know what would have happened. My friend's not comfortable with food stamps and things like that. She feels it's important to work and pay her own way. But, it's so hard. So hard."

"Like I said, I don't know how people do it. And I do know that many people are not comfortable asking for help. Especially not from the government. Partly because of all the nasty comments from some of our politicians about people taking advantage of the system. Not wanting to work to support themselves."

"There has to be a better way," Carol said. "I mean I don't begrudge people making a lot of money. I'm not in favor of everybody making the same thing. People who go to college, people who became doctors, shouldn't they be allowed to make more than someone working in a restaurant or whatever? I'm for that. But in this country shouldn't everyone without having to ask be allowed to make a least a living wage? So they can have a kid if they want to?"

Mentioning that again, I sensed how deeply she was feeling that desire. "You would be a wonderful mother," I said.

"You know, I'm thinking," Carol said, "that maybe I do have something to vote for. Maybe I need to find the time to inform myself about what's on the ballot. If it's to increase the minimum wage here I should be supporting that. But first I need to know more. I can't just complain about things and should be--how did you put it--an active citizen. I think I'm beginning to like that idea. And, you know, I think if I could get myself going, I'd be pretty good at it."

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Tuesday, November 03, 2015

November 3, 2015--Ben Carson's End Times

It was fair to grill presidential candidate John F. Kennedy about his Catholicism. Especially, if he were to be elected president would he take his orders from the Vatican or the U.S Constitution.

At a meeting with Protestant miniseries he assured them that he wouldn't and that if there was ever an irreconcilable different between Church dogma and his oath to defend the Constitution, he would step down from the presidency.

What he didn't tell them was that he was not that observant. In fact, he went to church more for political reasons than because of faith. And he would never step down and turn the Oval Office over to the Kennedy-family-hated Lyndon Johnson.

And if it was fair to wonder in public about Mitt Romney's Mormon beliefs--he holds them strongly--particularly if as a Mormon he was or was not a Christian (many Christians claim Mormons are not of their faith), then isn't it fair to question Republican front-runner-at-the-moment Ben Carson about his beliefs?

Especially since as a Seventh Day Adventist he may hold some views that voters should know about before voting.

The Seventh Day sect is derived from the apocalyptic beliefs and preaching of William Miller, who as founder of the Adventists attracted a large following toward the middle of the 19th century when he prophesied that the end of the world would be coming in 1843, ushering in not just the end in a fiery conflagration but the Second Coming of Christ and ultimately the Last Judgement.

His followers, Millerites, in 1843 gave up all their worldly possessions and moved to high ground so they could have a front row seat for the apocalypse.

1843 came and went, even 1844 came and went and so, in turn, did the good reverend.

A few years later Miller's Adventist Church morphed into what we now know as Seventh Day Adventists. The "seventh day" refers to that aspect of Carson's church's doctrine that most of us know--the fact that they celebrate the Sabbath on Saturday, not Sunday.

But, informed voters may want to know that at the heart of the Seventh Day Adventist belief system is still the apocalyptical teaching, the eschatology, and prophecies of Reverend Miller. Adventists are still waiting for, looking forward to the end, the destruction of the world.

I would want to know what Doctor Carson thinks about this.

This is important to me as many Adventists think, believe the literal End is near, not centuries or millennia in the future.

If the End is that imminent what are the political policy implications?

Why bother fixing the infrastructure if it all will soon go up in smoke. Why set policy to improve schools as soon there will be no need for schools? Why provide health care coverage when we're all about to die in a global conflagration? Why worry about the proliferation of nuclear weapons when God has something much more explosive in mind?

A friend sent me a link to the October 28th Borowitz Report that appears regularly in the New Yorker.

This one is a satirical piece about a debate between Ben Carson and Ted Cruz, also a millennialist, about whose presidential policies would be more effective in bringing about the End Times.

According to Borowitz, the doctor promised he would end the world during his first term. Cruz one-upped him, pledging to do so on "day one." The same day he would rid us of Obamacare and tear up our nuclear agreement with Iran.

This is all very amusing, we can joke about not having to worry about the fact that half our highway bridges are about to collapse or the Social Security Trust running out of money. But it is also scary since they both really believe this stuff!

Too bad the CNBC moderators who so botched the last debate didn't ask Cruz and Carson to talk about  this rather than seek their views on on-line sports betting.

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Monday, November 02, 2015

November 2, 2015--Hallowgreen

The boys at the U.S. Department of Energy have been having some fun.

It's pretty grim business having responsibility for our nation's nuclear arsenal so who can blame them for fooling around come Halloween time.

On their official website last week, they posted ideas for what they considered some pretty hip costumes for (groan) Energy-ween.

While folks you know dressed up like pirates, zombies, and Donald TRUMP, DOE staff suggested going trick-or-treating as the Energy Vampire, who "drains the power of the unwary; a Particle Accelerator (all your nuclear-physics-minded friends will know about that); Ernest Moniz (the "classically coifed" Secretary of Energy, last seen negotiating the nuclear deal with Iran. To get his hair right they recommended buying a "Founding Father wig").

If you have even one friend who could recognize Moniz or Thomas Jefferson, consider yourself fortunate, though I worry that you might be leading a boring life.

I have a young friend who went to an early Halloween party as Annie Hall and was not entirely surprised that none of the partygoers knew who that was. As she explained with a sigh, "The party after all was in New Jersey."

Also, the Energy Department  pushed hard to get kids to dress up as Solar Panels. To make that seem cool, they suggested wearing sunglasses for "added sustainable swagger." But called for "resisting the urge to climb on rooftops." I assume their liability lawyers weighed in on that one.

This wouldn't have been more amusing, I assume, if they had called this Hallow-green?

Even less amusing was what was happening last week on campuses around the country--directives to students about how to dress up politically correctly.

This all came to the fore when James Ramsey, the president of the University of Louisville, was severely criticized for appearing in a Mariachi outfit. He's not Mexican American and so it was considered insensitive and even offensive to do something so stereotypical. By implication I suppose it would have been all right for him to do so if he was a Chicano.

Making it worse to the campus PC Police was the fact that he had his staff dress accordingly since Mariachi musicians typically perform in groups.

Check out the picture below and come to your own conclusion. He appears at the lower right.

According to an article in the New York Times, many colleges struggled with where to draw the line between costuming free speech and not wanting to upset anyone.

I, on the other hand, think one aspect of free speech is the freedom to offend. That may not always be pretty, but it is one of our cherished freedoms.

And I'm not even sure it is one essential aspect of a college education to "teach" sensitivity and tolerance. Shouldn't that be one of the hoped-for consequences of a good, well-rounded education rather than something built into the curriculum much less the extra curriculum?

People sensitive about their identity need to figure out how to struggle with and overcome that, not be overly protected from offense.

If someone wants to dress up like Pocahontas or Pancho Villa or Caitlyn Jenner should't they be allowed to make fools of themselves?

As my young "Annie Hall" friend also said when asked about personal happiness, "I don't want to be happy. I want to be uncomfortable." This suggested to me that a good education was not wasted on her.

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