Monday, February 29, 2016

February 29, 2016--Leap Day

My favorite day. Leap Day. February 29th.

To realign the moon and stars and our calendar, it's inserted into February once every four years. Really big picture stuff. Bigger than health care policy or who messed up the Middle East.

And so complicated for the 10,800 Americans currently alive who were born then. As a kid, since I knew someone who had been, I worried about how she celebrated her birthday. Did she only get to blow out candles once every four years? I didn't know her well enough to ask directly about what I assumed was a frustrating situation. But life was simpler. Life was sweeter back then.

And then wasn't February 29th also Sadie Hawkins Day? Made up or made popular by Al Capp in his classic comic strip Li'l Abner?

I was a little older when that became an issue. It was allegedly, in old fashioned ways, the one time when girls were free to ask boys for dates to dances or take the initiative in seeking other forms of romantic activity.

As a socially maladept adolescent you can imagine how I felt when no girl ever chased after me. I had to wait to much later until I developed enough self-confidence to manage to get up the gumption to approach girls.

So celebrate!

We are visiting family in St. Petersburg (which by coincidence in 1892 was incorporated on February 29th) and then later this evening, when we're back in Delray, we'll see if Rona comes looking for me.

I'll play easy to get.

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Friday, February 26, 2016

February 26, 2016--Politico-Babble

Thus far my tally is 22 and 37. Twenty-two "lanes" and 37 "paths."

Last election cycle everyone was talking about "brands" and "narratives."

Were Michele Bachmann, Sarah Palin, and Herman Cain running for president or teasing that they might do so because they seriously thought they had a chance to be nominated--forget elected--or were they running to enhance their brands, their ability to command top-dollar speaker fees and secure seven-figure book deals?

And then what about poor Mitt Romney's ability to explain and represent himself to voters? it was said that a coherent and attractive narrative was missing. In fact, running up to his eventual nomination, all his rivals were criticized for the same thing--the lack of a convincing narrative about how their life stories and experiences wove together into a plausible and engaging picture that plain folks could understand and within which find at least a semblance of authenticity.

Four years ago, this politico-babble was purloined from the world of marketing and advertising. It was thought--still is--that unless a product or service has a strong brand identity (read essence) it would not stand out, would languish. This was especially true if that product or service didn't include a compelling narrative that people could relate to and thereby eventually consider purchasing.

This time around, if you listen carefully, as I have been attempting to do, on the cable news networks and in publications commenting on the primaries and caucuses, you'll hear all about paths and lanes.

Once I tuned into this I've been keeping a tally of how often these are used to explain the state of the Republican and Democratic campaigns. Particulalry, how individual candidates are faring.

At this point is is being noted that as Hillary Clinton and Donald TRUMP widen their leads, it is difficult to chart a path to the nomination for _____ .

Fill in the blank with, say John Kasich, who continues to claim he is a legitimate candidate, not just in it to polish his brand (he does at least have a credible narrative) or increasingly Bernie Sanders whose now unlikely path to the Democratic nomination requires him to get about 55 percent of the votes through the mega-primaries of March. A long and winding path for sure.

And, to make matters worse, what lane or lanes are open for Ted Cruz or Marco Rubio? Cruz's big-picture strategy from the beginning was the Evangelical Lane. With a charismatic preacher for a father (a Cuban Canadian citizen no less), a well-worn bible, and a copy of the Constitution close at hand, this was his lane and should have stood him in good stead in Iowa (it did with a few dirty tricks thrown in to help) and was supposed to then be wide open for him in South Carolina.

But TRUMP riled these plans, blocking Cruz's lane much like the way Chris Crispy blocked those leading to the George Washington Bridge.

And Rubio's lane was supposed to be the one leading to establishment support. Jeb Bush and John Kasich made a bit of a mess of that--if not blocking it, minimally trying to wedge their way into it, which is why there is so much pressure from Rubio supporters, especially after last night's effective debate for Rubio, for Kasich to drop out this week, if possible today, so with Jeb also out of the way that lane would be wide open for Marco.

Maybe Rubio will try to make a deal, promising to name Kasich his vice presidential running mate. On the other hand, TRUMP may have already made that deal with the Ohio governor--to stay in the race, blocking Rubio's until the convention and then . . .

Rubio should live so long. Kasich is going nowhere. He can live on, campaigning on fumes and to whom do you think Kasich would prefer to be second banana?  Rubio? TRUMP?

I have no idea how these politico-babble terms leach their way into the tsunamic vocabulary of political chatter, but there you are.


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Thursday, February 25, 2016

February 25, 2016--Jose the Fanatic

Of the many startling things about Donald TRUMP's decisive victory in Wednesday's Nevada caucuses, beyond the fact that there was an historic turnout and he garnered more votes that Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio combined, was the fact that he also won easily among Latinos.

So much of both parties' campaigns is challenging conventional wisdom--that to win one needs a powerful, big-data-directed ground game (TRUMP has won three of four primaries and caucuses with hardly any ground game at all); that it's all about who can raise the most money (Jeb Bush and Ted Cruz did and look what happened to them--TRUMP raised hardly any, spent even less, and look who's leading); that Americans won't vote for a socialist (Bernie Sanders take note); and Latino voters overwhelmingly vote for Latino candidates (ask Rubio and Cruz about that) the same way blacks tend to vote for blacks, Jews for Jews, and so on.

In Nevada, TRUMP ran away with 45 percent of the Hispanic vote. Note, in 2000, George W. Bush was elected largely as the result of appealing successfully to Latino voters--he got an historic 40 percent nationally.

So TRUMP, who pretty much everyone having access to a microphone said would be lucky to get 10 percent of the Hispanic-American vote considering how he castigated illegal immigrants (mainly, to him, Mexicans) defaming them by labeling them "murderers" and "rapists" and promising that he would deport 12 million, that Donald TRUMP thus far, especially with the Latino-rich voters of Nevada, has run the table. How it might translate to the general election is for the moment another matter.

But his "appeal" to Hispanic voters is worth some thought. Why would any vote for him?

For insight I am reminded of one of my favorite Philip Roth stories--"Eli the Fanatic."

It is also one of his most overlooked, perhaps because of the direct way in which it deals with and excoriates secularized, seemingly-assimilated Jews.

Set in suburban America, it concerns a non-observant Jew, lawyer Eli Peck, who is hired by his Jewish neighbors to convince a recently-arirved group of orthodox Jews to close the yeshiva they established in their midst. The other Jews in town are embarrassed by the visible presence of these Hasids, fearing they will call attention to them and thereby interfere with their desire to blend in among the largely gentile residents of Woodenton.

To make a short story short, Eli fails in his attempts to get the ultra-orthodox to back off, including abandoning their traditional ways of dressing, and, after an epiphany of his own, gives up his normal wardrobe and appears before his stunned and outraged Jewish neighbors in Hasid garb, thereby exposing the ethnic roots of all of them.

Could it be that TRUMP's appeal to a large and growing percentage of Latino voters is because increasing numbers counter-intuitively support his views about illegal immigrants--that many favor building the wall and deporting those here without proper documents?

As in Roth's Woodenton, those Hispanics in the United States for decades and for others in the Southwest for many centuries, from even before Europeans landed at Plymouth Rock, for Latino citizens, for Hispanics who are comfortably "Americanized," having so many other Hispanics here illegally threatens their sense of relatively unobtrusive assimilation.

For Roth's secularized, well-educated, and affluent Jews, having Hasids in their midst, they feared, exposed them to their Christian neighbors who would not distinguish between them and the ultra-orthodox. Seeing them both in the same light and thus out of step with American culture, still rooted in Eastern European beliefs and superstitions, and wanting to live and cling together in self-imposed ghettos.

Perhaps the United States' most successful and assimilated Latinos, who are not self-hating, have some of the same kinds of feelings and support TRUMP as one way of declaring loyalty to the great American immigrant narrative, not wanting their place in society to be confused and conflated with those who came here illegally and live insufficiently in the shadows.

Philip Roth

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Wednesday, February 24, 2016

February 24, 2016--Donald TRUMP and the Jews of New York

For this I know I will be in big trouble.

Yesterday, on its Web page, the New York Times published two articles that essentially trashed Donald TRUMP:

"Donald Trump, Crony Capitalist" and "Trump Is No Power Broker in New York, Despite All the Signs." The signs being the ones on all the buildings with TRUMP on their facades--TRUMP Plaza, TRUMP Tower, and so on.

Putting aside the remarkable coincidence that the articles appeared on the day of the Nevada caucuses and exactly a week before Super Tuesday, they left out one important thing when talking about TRUMP as a crony capitalist, making deals with City officials to get permits and tax abatements to make his deals work (so what else is new in NYC?) and noting that his real estate "empire" is hardly an empire when compared to those of the real moguls--the Tishmans, the Silversteins, the Dursts, and so on--the critical thing missing from both articles is one thing that goes a long way to explain why TRUMP's NYC real estate colleagues have little good to say about him--

It is the fact that he isn't Jewish.

What do the following leading real estate families have in common with the aforementioned Dursts, Silversteins, and Tishmans?

The Malkins
The Roses
The Rudins
The Tishes
The Resnicks
The Zekendorfs
The Speyers
The Sterns
The Macklowes
The LeFraks

This is not a random or closely edited list, but rather the names of most of the major real estate families of New York City.

At the risk of being accused of being anti-Semitic, let me note that I am not a self-hating Jew, but someone proud of my heritage.

I also happen to be someone who spent a number of years involved with many of these remarkable men (they were all men) when I was acting dean of New York University's School of Continuing Education within which was situated the amazing Real Estate Institute.

With NYU's president I spend quite a few breakfasts and dinners with various mixes of these men in an attempt to advance the interests of the Institute and to, frankly, raise money for the university.

At the time, Donald TRUMP was beginning to make a BIG name for himself, consummating and carrying out huge deals in Manhattan all with his name emblazoned in brass. A little tacky some of my real estate friends said. Though Larry Silverstein, the Institute's chairman was angling to purchase the World Trade Center, there was no move to rename it for his beloved mother who launched the family real estate empire by each month visited the Silverstein tenement buildings on the Lower East Side to collect cash rents.

And so, though there were office buildings, residential towers, and hospital wings named for each of these men, TRUMP's obsession to name everything he owned after himself was considered to be beyond tacky. And it didn't help that he was not generous in his philanthropic work. Hardly an emergency room in town was named for him or Fred, his greatly-admired father, or his prematurely deceased brother. The Donald seemed interested only in making money and promoting himself. He was, I realize now, even at that early time, halfway to starring on The Apprentice.

Unspoken, but clearly implied or hinted at was that TRUMP was "not one of us."

At first I thought this referred to his lack of interest in NYU and the Institute, though each year he bought a table at the Real Estate Dinner and kicked in a minimalist $25K or so as a place holder. This when Larry and the other "boys" were anteing up millions for us and other New York charities. Especially, contributions to numerous Jewish causes, including for pretty much anything to help Israel and its government.

I once, perhaps after a drink or two or three, asked a couple of our benefactors, who also were university trustees, if Donald's estrangement from NYU and the RE Institute was because he wasn't Jewish.

The glances they exchanged and the fact that they changed the subject resonates with me still.

Larry Silverstein, Third From Left

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Tuesday, February 23, 2016

February 23, 2016--Oy Vey Another Debate

I just realized that there's another Republican debate scheduled for Thursday evening. At the same time as American Idol.

This presents problems--

I am addicted to both. The GOP campaign and Idol. Thankfully there is On Demand so I'll watch the debate live and then stream Idol.

After getting trounced in South Carolina, Rubio and Cruz have declared that it is now a three-man race. Ignoring the continuing existence of John Kasich and, yes, still in it, Ben Carson.

Kasich still thinks he can win the nomination, especially after Super Tuesday (a week from today) when the campaigns turn more to the Midwest. Kasich Country he believes. Carson will continue until the last votes are counted since his campaign has never been about the presidency but about promoting his brand and selling books.

So what to look forward to on Thursday? I mean in the debate.

Pundets are saying it's really a two-man race. Not between Cruz and TRUMP or Rubio and TRUMP, but between Cruz and Rubio. For second place. Whoever loses is then supposed to follow Jeb and drop out, making it a two-man race, again forgetting Kasich and Carson both of whom will trundle on since it costs them nothing to do so. A few airline tickets and a freshly pressed suit to wear to the debate.

So the fireworks, one would think, would be between Rubio and Cruz.

I suspect in fact the fireworks will be between Cruz and TRUMP and Rubio and TRUMP. One will hope to emerge as the better potential giant killer and thereby become TRUMP's chief rival.

This prediction is for whatever it's worth.

But lest you are taken in by this, you should know I predicted Amelia Eisnehauer on American Idol would make it to the top 14.

She was sent home last week. I had assumed enough people would think she's the granddaughter of President Dwight Eisenhower and that would get her some votes.

So much for what I know.

Amelia Eisenhauer

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Monday, February 22, 2016

February 22, 2016--De-Gendered

Do you recall the year 2000 Senate race in New York State? Hillary Clinton verses her Republican opponent, Congressman Rick Lazio?

She was elected by a wide margin, but what is most remembered about that contest by political junkies is their infamous debate in Buffalo in September.

Ensconced behind two lecterns about ten feet apart, everything was proceeding more or less normally until Lazio extracted some papers from his jacket pocket, a pledge form, he said, that he had signed not to use so-called "soft money."

He challenged Clinton to sign it. Even at that time 16 years ago, Hillary, wife of still President Bill Clinton, was way ahead in the race to attract big-donor money. In fact, that Senate race shattered all previous records by turning out to be the most expensive in history.

It was clear that she was not willing to do that and so, to make his challenge more dramatic and presumably to show his toughness, Lazio stepped from behind his lectern and walked toward Hillary with the pledged form thirst at her. As if fearing a physical attack, Clinton took a half step back then stood her ground. The audience gasped audibly.

After all was said and done, with Hillary Clinton elected to the Senate, political analysts and gender-sensitive reporters, looking back at the race, said that Lazio lost any chance of winning that night because of the physical confrontation.

It, many claimed, was an inappropriate way for a man to challenge a woman. By "violating her private space."

One good thing emerging from the current, increasingly nasty race is (1) that no one--not even Donald TRUMP--would think to do this now and (2), much more significant, no one, no male candidate, would hold back in challenging Clinton forcefully and directly. This is the result of the cultural shifting since that time and very much because of Hillary Clinton's preparedness, relentlessness, unapologetic ambition, and smarts.

As a result, one thing her candidacy has accomplished is to de-gender, at least for this campaign, the debates, political ads, and how the race between Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton and Hillary Clinton and the Republican candidates are treated in the media.

She and the others are treated mainly as equals. No deference is shown to her because she is a woman. More than anything this shows how much progress has occurred since 2000. Things are far from perfect, but they are much better than when she and other women politicians were thought of primarily as female candidates.

The less gendered playing field makes it possible for opponents to exchange comments and attacks even about sexism.

For example, we have seen debates about who is the most sexist--Donald TRUMP for his misogyny or Hillary Clinton for putting up with and thereby enabling Bill Clinton's sexual malfeasance.

As ugly as things can get, in the current race even the mud-slinging is being spread around more equally. In fact it is progress.

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Friday, February 19, 2016

February 19, 2016--His Holiness

If there is anything that might motivate me to vote for Donald TRUMP it is what Pope Francis said about him.

To quote CNN--
Thrusting himself into the combative 2016 presidential campaign, Pope Francis said Thursday that GOP front-runner Donald Trump "Is not a Christian" if he calls for the deportation of undocumented immigrants and pledges to build a wall between the United Staes and Mexico.
TRUMP called this "disgraceful," and that is an understatement.

What is additionally disgraceful is what TRUMP's Republicans and Democratic opponents have said.

Do I hear silence?

They are so afraid of upsetting Catholic voters. That comes before everything.

Does anyone have a problem that the Pope, while inserting himself into our presidential election, where church and state are constitutionally separate, that his so-called holiness didn't also note that Bible-thumping Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio have a Golden Rule problem?

Among other anti-Christian policies, how golden is their pledge to take life-sustaining health care away from innocents?

And what does this Pope, who still has not spoken full-throatedly about pedophile priests, bishops, and cardinals, think about the possibility of a Jew being elected president?

If Donald TRUMP is not Christian enough for him, certainly Bernie Sanders isn't.

First they come for them. Then they come for you.

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Thursday, February 18, 2016

February 18, 2016--Dunkin'

When running for president don't expect much privacy. In fact, about everything is scrutinized, from hairdos to the kinds of shoes worn by candidates.

Not all this scrutiny is gossip. Beat reporters have been known to go through candidates' garbage when seeking the truth or when trying to catch a hint of what kind of president one is likely to turn out to be.

I remember 2008 when Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton were vying for the Democratic top spot. There were reports, credible ones, about how much each candidate's campaign spent on pizza. Obama was spending way more and I thought that meant he was leading in the number of young people volunteering for him and that this meant he would likely win the nomination. Call it the pepperoni-pizza poll. It turned out to be right.

This time around news is leaking out about how much everyone is spending on coffee and donuts.

In a report published in Forbes Magazine last week, from data acquired from the Federal Election Commission, we learned how much on the trail each can candidate spent at Dunkin' Donuts--

Hillary Clinton--$1,866
Jeb Bush--$402
Bernie Sanders--$238
Marco Rubio--$235
Ben Carson--$170
Chris Christie--$106
Ted Cruz--$92
Donald TRUMP--$10.46

What can you get for $10.46? A medium coffee and a dozen mixed donuts?

Draw your own conclusions.

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Wednesday, February 17, 2016

January 17, 2016--My Republican Friends

She sounded so angry.

"I hate them!" It was a lifelong friend calling from New York.

"Is everything all right?"

"No! Everything's all wrong!"


"I just told you. With everything"


"Well, not everything." She was beginning to calm down. "But pretty much everything. We're finished."

"We're? Who's the we? And again what's the everything? Or the pretty much everything? That sounds serious." I was looking for some way to lighten the mood.

"The country. Everything's getting worse. Look at the election. I mean, at the Republicans."

"We can argue about all of this because I don't think everything or pretty much everything is getting worse. I agree that some things are worse; but I'm old enough, and to tell the truth, so are you, to remember when down here in Florida there was legal segregation, women couldn't easily get into medical or law school, pretty much all gay people were closeted, there was a lot of overt antisemitism, there was World War II and the Cold War, and . . ."

"You're right about much of this but still. Maybe it's an aging thing, I hate what's going on and I hate them."

"Again the them. You have to help me out here. Clearly I'm not following you. If, as you say . . ."


"That's who you hate?"

"I despise them. Is that better than hate?" I could sense her quivering.

"To me, not that much better. And . . ."

"And I know what you're going to say. I've told you this before, you spend too much time with them. With Republicans. I read your stuff and a lot of it sounds as if you're apologizing for them. How many positive things have you written about that horror show Donald Trump? Whose last name you keep insisting on capitalizing."

"About this we can really disagree. Both in Florida and in Maine I do have quite a few Republican friends and, though I differ with them about most of their political views, I really like them and beyond that learn a lot from them. Partly by having some of my insufficiently examined beliefs and views challenged but also because I find myself agreeing with some of what they have to say."

"There. You said it--you agree with them."

"Not about everything. Far from that. But . . ."

"But about what?"

"Like we need to revisit the cost structure and effectiveness of our social programs. Especially Social Security, Medicare, and the Veteran's Administration."

"You'd cut them back? Obamacare too?"

"No. But make them work better and make sure that people who need them get more assistance than at present. Making the system more pay-as-you-go. Remember that concept? Shouldn't we liberals or, if you prefer progressives, who believe in a significant role for government, be the first ones clamoring to clean up the inefficiencies and abuses and stop making excuses for them?"

"Sounds dangerous to me. If we join the conservatives in critiquing these safety-net programs that people pay for, we'll only contribute to pulling the rug out from under them."

"But doesn't our reflexive, unquestioning support for these programs do more harm than good? Doesn't that call our credibility and the justification for these programs into question? I'm trying to say that though I come to very different bottom lines than most of my Republican friends I share their criticism that all these programs should have to face scrutiny and be forced to clean up their act. So they can run more efficiently, be less vulnerable, become more cost-effective, and do more good. I don't hear too many progressives saying this."

"And what about your Donald Trump? You seem unduly attracted to him."

"He's not mine but I'll admit to that."

"You'd consider voting for him?"

"Maybe but when it comes time to pull the lever I doubt I would. In any case, I'm not ready just yet to do any declaring."

"What's the attraction?" I was happy to hear that my friend had stopped sounding so agitated.

"For me he's a wonderfully disruptive force. Even a radical one. More than Bernie Sanders. Which is why both establishments are so afraid of him. He could turn out to be a traitor to his class. I'm not saying he's potentially dangerous because the GOP feel he'd lose to Hillary. Or because the Democrats are afraid he'd win in November. But because they both fear that if he wins he will expose and then change the nature of the game both parties have been playing for years and getting away with."

"I still hate them all."

I chose to ignore that.

"Take just two recent examples--how he responded to getting booed during the debates in New Hampshire and South Carolina. How TRUMP turned on the audience, saying that the auditoriums were packed with party hacks, donors, and lobbyists who were invited to attend by the Republican National Committee. He was right about that. Ditto, by the way, for the Democrats. And, here's the radical part--he didn't care that they were booing him. He responded with a dismissive wave, indicating he doesn't need them. That in fact they are at the heart of our political and governmental problems. Not part of the solution."

"I admit I did like that," my best friend said.

"And my other example, an even more potent one, was how he insisted on picking at the 9/11 scab, saying, correctly I'm sure you would agree, that George W. Bush didn't 'keep us safe.' Quite the opposite. He reminded Republicans that George W was president on 9/11, not Bill Clinton, and had been for eight months. Then after that he had us invade Iraq, lying--that was his word--about their having weapons of mass destruction. And how as a result that region is now in almost total chaos. What did you think about that?"

My friend muttered something into the phone which I didn't understand.

"Remarkable, right, that the GOP front runner would say this, and double down on it, while in South Carolina on the very same day ex-president Bush emerged from his political cocoon to campaign for little brother Jeb. And when someone from the press suggested that he'd pay a political price for saying this, especially in so-called 'Bush Country,' TRUMP said, he literally said, 'I don't care.'"

"I didn't hear that."

"Maybe that's because you don't have enough Republican friends."

At that at last we both laughed.

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Tuesday, February 16, 2016

January 16, 2016--Hooked?

For some time in this place I have written about my struggles to get comfortable with the new media. Especially "mobile devices," which I understand to mean primarily smartphones, while mobile devices down here in Florida are more walkers and wheelchairs.

I am feeling left behind as the two generations succeeding mine seem so naturally comfortable with texting, tweeting, and snap-chatting. I watch them thumbing their iPhones at preternatural speed as they dodge traffic on Broadway, while eating out, and when waiting on line to get into a club or movie.

Though viscerally discomforted by this--partly, if I'm honest, largely because this feeling of being left out is more personal than technological--I have tried to see something positive deriving from all of this hardware and software.

The amateur historian in me knows that there were similar, worrisome things said about the paradigm-shifting impact on culture, society, and the Church brought about by the Gutenberg Revolution and the resulting proliferation of books.

For the most part, that worked out well. But mobile devices that are now possessed by billions around the world and hundreds of millions mainly young people here in the United States, may be turning out to be quite a different, less benign or liberating story.

Are we seeing the emergence of a passive generation of techno-zombies hooked on connectivity?

To help sketch the extent of one aspect of this, here is an excerpt from Jacob Weisberg's essay in the most recent issue of The New York Review, "We Are Hopelessly Hooked":

Hands and minds are continuously occupied texting, e-mailing, liking, tweeting, watching YouTube videos, and playing Candy Crush. 
Americans spend an average of five and a half hours a day with digital media, more than half of that time on mobile devices, according to the research firm eMarketer. Among some groups, the numbers range much higher. In one recent survey, female students at Baylor University reported using their cell phones an average of ten hours a day. Three quarters of eighteen-to-twenty-four-year-olds say that they reach for their phones immediately upon waking in the morning. Once out of bed, we check our phones 221 times a day--an average of every 4.3 minutes--according to a UK study. 
This number may actually be too low, since people tend to underestimate their own mobile usage. In a 2015 Gallup survey, 61 percent of people said they checked their phones less frequently than others they knew. . . . 
What does it mean to shift overnight from a society in which people walk down the street looking around to one in which people walk down the street looking at machines? We wouldn't be always clutching smartphones if we didn't believe they made us safer, more productive less bored, and were useful in all the ways a computer in your pocket can be useful. 
At the same time, smartphone owners describe feeling "frustrated" and "distracted." [Though] in a 2015 Pew survey, 70 percent of respondents said their phones made them feel freer while 30 percent said they felt like a leash. Nearly half the eighteen-to-twenty-nine-year olds said they used their phones to "avoid others around you."

Weisberg then cites Sherry Turkle's book, Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in a Digital Age:

The picture she paints is both familiar and heartbreaking: parents who are constantly distracted on the playground and at the dinner table; children who are frustrated that they can't get their parents' undivided attention; gatherings where friends who are present vie for attention with virtual friends; classrooms where professors gaze out at a sea of semi-engaged multitaskers; and a dating culture in which infinite choices undermines the ability to make emotional commitments.

It does feel like a very new world. I will continue to struggle to get comfortable with it and to find good things to say about where we are headed. In the meantime I do have my books.

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Monday, February 15, 2016

February 15, 2016--Anton Scalia "Originalist"

I know I should hold back from criticizing Associate Supreme Court Justice Anton Scalia. That I should pause to honor him and his service, but since so many are already speculating about his place in history and his successor--principally whether or not Barack Obama should nominate one or capitulate in advance to Republicans in Congress who want him to stand aside and let the next president do the appointing--it is hard to sit still and listen to Scalia's being overpraised, even canonized.

This of course is not unusual when a person of stature dies, but to picture him as a towering, even historic figure, to extoll his scholarship, is beyond anything that should go unchallenged, even during this period of mourning.

Yes, he was influential as a result of his ability to cow colleagues, most notably Clarence Thomas, and his assertion that he was the one true conservative "originalist" on the court. A judicial practice that seeks to apply how the Constitution's framers' original words should direct appellate court decisions.

In truth, since it is not possible to interrogate the Framers to see how we should deal with issues not explicitly mentioned in the Constitution--among others the use of the electric chair, women's and gay rights, automatic weapons, and abortion--Justice Scalia worked backwards in his search for logic and precedents to bolster his opinions and dissents. Backwards because he began with pre-determined conclusions and then searched for so-called originalist evidence (evidence that did not exist and thus often was made up by him) to justify those conclusions.

This is the way so much of our political discourse proceeds and in this Scalia acted more like an ideologue or political operative than a dispassionate judge seeking the truth. Most often with him the truth was what he arrogantly determined it to be. Not the Framers.

Two examples--

Bush v. Gore, the SCOTUS decision that gave the 2000 presidential election to George W. Bush.

The Constitution could not be more explicit about how it is up to the states, via the Tenth Amendment, to manage and adjudicate local electoral disputes, including in federal elections. Rather than allow that process to culminate in Florida within the state's supreme court, the U.S. Supreme Court, under Scalia's leadership, shopped around for originalist rationalizations that permitted the nation's highest court to abrogate a state's right to complete it own constitutional judicial review of the legitimacy of the vote in Florida.

Scalia wanted Bush elected, that's where he and four of his Republican colleagues began their deliberations, then they shopped around for arguments to prop up their ultimate shaky decision.

There would not have been a President George W. Bush if there hadn't been a Justice Scalia and, lest we forget in this election cycle, brother Jeb!, then governor of Florida, and his corrupt Secretary of State. Remember Katherine Harris?

Also to illustrate, there is Anton Scalia's originalist interpretation of the Second Amendment, which states--"A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed."

Even a well taught high school student knows that this amendment gives citizens the right to bear arms only in order to participate in the formation of a well regulated militia. It does not confer the absolute right to bear arms even for self protection. It was written that way because our Founders and the Constitution's Framers were leery of the new nation, in contrast to countries such as England and France, having a potentially oppressive standing army that could be mobilized by unscrupulous rulers to abrogate citizens' freedoms.

In District of Columbia v. Heller, again with Scalia leading the way, the Court held that the government is essentially powerless to prohibit or restrict weapons in "common use." The majority wrote that this right to bear arms "is not defined by what the militia needs, but by what private citizens commonly possess."

This is a gross misreading of the Second Amendment.

This notion of common possession is nowhere to be found in the text, structure, or history of the amendment. This unprecedented, idiosyncratic notion of "possession," gives gun makers and individuals--not legislatures or even the courts--the power to determine public policy.

This finding feels about as far away from anything considered to be originalist as one can imagine. But once again, Justice Scalia, with tortured logic and an ideological distortion of constitutional history, more through bluster than dispassionate argument, held the day and Heller was decided in the affirmative.

Yes, Anton Scalia could be charming, loved opera, apparently and unpredictably befriended Ruth Bader Ginsberg, but a towering legal mind? An historic figure? A "lion of the court"? Mourn his death as we would anyone's who died a bit prematurely, but let's get a grip on all the unstinting praise.

In spite of the conservative criticism of "activist" judges "legislating from the bench," since 1986 when he was appointed to the Court by President Reagan, that well describes what Justice Scalia had been doing up until this weekend.

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Friday, February 12, 2016

February 12, 2016--The Beginning of the End of Bernie Sanders

In yesterday's debate with Bernie Sanders, Hillary Clinton won by a TKO.

For non-boxing fans, a TKO is a technical knockout. One fighter is doing so poorly that the referee steps in to stop the match.

Last night, the PBS and CBS moderators stepped in and ended it seven minutes early. Not because they lost track of time but because Hillary was overwhelming Bernie to the point that he began to resemble Marco Rubio--no matter the question he kept returning to his default position that the economy is rigged and it is the one-percent who benefit at the expense of the rest of us.

His problem was exposed early when Hillary dismantled his health care plan. Such as it is.

Agreeing that Obamacare is not the final answer--20 million Americans are covered by it but at least that many remain unprotected--she calmly, subtly, and not-so-subtly poked holes in his ideas to pay for it.

This was not that difficult to do because Sanders' numbers do not add up (nary a progressive economist disagrees with that) and he was left on stage unstrung. So much so that I found it hard to watch as I hate uneven boxing matches. American Idol was on TV at the same time and, political junky that I am and far from a fan of Hillary's--Joe Biden where are you--I still found myself switching back and forth.

So where are we?

Again last night a newly-retooled Hillary was politically brilliant at calmly playing to and at times pandering to the next demographics that she and Bernie will face in Nevada (Latinos) and South Carolina (African Americans). Though Bernie also could be shameless in reaching out to these communities, it was obvious that Hillary is much better at it. To be fair, she is also much more experienced in working with and for people of color and more comfortable talking about their issues, experiences, needs, and aspirations.

So it was Clinton by a TKO.

Bernie's only hope was that no one was watching. Aren't we all by now suffering from debate fatigue? Even if that was true, he has a chance in Nevada but will surely lose in South Carolina. The congressional Black Caucus endorsed her yesterday, South Carolina Congressman Jim Clyburn will do so this weekend and, chiming in, the bellwether Reverend Al Sharpton, incapable of turning away from a mealticket, will be on board by the middle of next week.

Among other things, I feel badly for young people (including my niece) who have made such a passionate commitment to Bernie.

But there is some good news--there's a lot to learn about life when things are not going your way and it feels as if you are being unfairly (or fairly) pummeled. It is at those times when the depth of one's beliefs are challenged that it is necessary to dig deep and keep on fighting. To use an old-fashioned phrase--it's character building. Who can't use more of that?

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Thursday, February 11, 2016

February 11, 2016--The Excitement Gap: "I Want My Own 1960s"

I have a niece who is in her mid-20s. She is enthusiastic about the election. More so than during any of the six or seven years she's been eligible to vote.

"Why's that?" I asked recently, suspecting I knew the answer.

"I'm attracted to Bernie Sanders' ideas and ideals. He's serious about issues and his resonate with mine. I also like his mien."

"Understood, but what about Hillary?"

"I suppose she's all right," she said making a face.


"I'm turned off by her condescending outreach to young people. Very much including my generation of women."

"I've been hearing that. Of course I have. By now, who hasn't?" So I asked, "Tell me something new."

"I don't know if this is new but he, and I suppose Donald TRUMP," she made a face again, "is bringing a lot of excitement to the race. Not for the specific reasons Gloria Steinem said. To meet boys." I waited for her to make another face.

"What are your reasons?"

"As we've discussed before, I know about the '60s and the Kennedys and the music and counterculture of that era. I know about the Vietnam War and the anti-war movement. How politically it brought down the presidency of Lyndon Johnson. In many ways I wish I had lived then," she shrugged, "But of course I didn't. And then there were the Women's Movement and the battle for abortion rights and before that the Civil Rights Movement. I wasn't there for them either, but I have been around to support Gay Liberation and same-sex marriage."

"I'm not sure I know where you're going with this."

"My point is that those were not only important times but exciting ones. I know not all of it was joyous--protestors got beat up by police in some cases and by hard hats in others. And of course college students were shot and killed by the National Guard at Kent State. I do know about that. But there are a lot of serious problems now. The familiar list of problems from friends and other young people trapped in student loan debt and underemployed so they have to live with their parents. And there is the feeling that our place in the world is slipping. And above all else there's the growing gap between the top one percent and the rest of us. Bernie's big theme. Something he's right about and that most people on the left and even the right are feeling frustrated and angry about."

"Isn't Hillary talking about these things too?"

"I suppose. But with her it doesn't feel genuine. Or uplifting. Like she'll say whatever she thinks she needs to say to get elected."

"But again what about the excitement part?"

"Though she didn't express it in the best way, actually how she said it was insulting, but Gloria Steinem was on to something."

That surprised me. "What's that?"

"That it was, it still is, exciting to be involved in a movement to chance things. To engage in it with friends and, in the case of young people, with others who through social media can work together using social network websites, including those that tell you where to gather for meetings and rallies."

"I get that. It was exciting to march to end the war even if there was the threat of getting clubbed and beaten."

"You had your '60s," my niece said, "And now I want my own 1960s. You had your anti-war movement and I want the equivalent. You got arrested for what you believed in and even if there is danger I want to have that kind of cause to believe in and get mobilized around."

"I can understand that."

"My generation--so-called Millennials (I hate that name)--have been characterized by middle-age people as being self-indulgent and entitled. For some that may be true. But with concern about the climate, the economy, the people left behind, the rights still to be won, and crises all over the world, we finally have our causes and . . ."

She trailed off. "And?"

"And, it's exciting. Very. And that counts too."

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Wednesday, February 10, 2016

February 10, 2016--Jeb!

During a long interview on Monday on Morning Joe, don't quote me, but I came to conclude that Jeb Bush was very impressive.

He was personable, relaxed, almost likable; but more important revealed genuine knowledge of the issues, domestic and international. And his ideas about what to do about them seemed well thought out and less radical or pandering than his GOP opponents'.

I found myself not ready to vote for him but thinking about him differently.

Yes, big-winner TRUMP is right--he has an energy, fire-in-the-belly problem. It feels as if family forces and the resulting competitive, almost Oedipal inner demons are propelling him forward as opposed to his motivation coming from a more authentic interest in running for president.

I recognize that the electorate thus far has not been that interested in "experience." With the exception of how Marco Rubio is more and more being viewed as having no experiences whatsoever to prepare him for the presidency other than a lifetime of running for office and a series of predigested sound bites that, we now know, he repeats robotically over and over again as if he has neurological issues.

But, if we are beginning to gets serious about selecting candidates, thinking who might actually make decent presidents, the two "best-prepared" candidates are Bush and Hillary Clinton.

No matter what else we think about them, no matter what we conclude about the quality of their actual accomplishments--pretty thin--they are the only two (maybe the surging John Kasich also qualifies) who have a grasp of issues, a modicum of relevant experiences, and plans to solve or deal with actual problems.

One more thought--

If we care about the country, in addition to struggling to figure out who to vote for, we should resist the temptation to root for a weak candidate from the other party.

Thus, if we support Bernie or Hillary, we shouldn't hope that Ted or Marco is nominated because we assume either one would be the weakest opponent. Since one never knows what happens on Election Day, we should hope that the best of the lot is nominated in case he somehow manages to be elected in November.

The same should thought should be posed to TRUMP or Jeb! supporters. If your candidate loses to the Democratic nominee, who among them is best suited to be your president because the political cliché is true--whoever wins is president for all of us.

That is with the exception of all the folks who tell me they're moving to Canada if The Donald is elected. These, by the way, are the same people, still residing here, who planned to move there if Ronald Reagan or George W. Bush was elected.

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Tuesday, February 09, 2016

February 9, 2016--The "Establishment"

During last Thursday's debate, Bernie Sanders accused Hillary Clinton of being part of the Establishment.

He said--

"Secretary Clinton does represent the Establishment. I represent, I hope, ordinary Americans, and by the way--who are not all that enamored with the Establishment."

In response, Hillary Clinton said--

"Well look, I've got to jump in here because, honestly, Senator Sanders is the only person who I think would characterize me, a woman running to be the first woman president, as exemplifying the Establishment. And I've got to tell you that it is really quite amusing to me."

It may be amusing to her, but if Hillary Clinton isn't a part of the Establishment, I don't know who is.

Let me count the ways--

Wife of the former governor of Arkansas, former First Lady of the United States, former U.S. senator from New York, presidential candidate finalist in 2008, Secretary of State and then as a former Secretary able to command $250,000-a-pop speaker fees from the likes of Goldman Sachs, someone who with her husband has accumulated assets of more than $200 million after being "broke" when they left the White House, someone who received advances for books in excess of $5.0 million each, a principal in the Clinton Global Initiative, mother of a daughter-of-little-accomplishment who is able to garner highly-paid no-show jobs at McKinsey and Company and NBC ($600,000 a year!), and mother of a daughter who on her own commands speaker fees of $65,000.

(As and aside, someone needs to explain Chelsea's career to me, including that $65K.)

Hillary Clinton is not a member of the Establishment?

Not a member, she claimed the other night, ignoring all of this, because by definition she is not part of the Establishment because she is a woman. A woman running, audaciously I assume she would say, to become the first "woman president."

It appears this is working less and less well.

A female college student interviewed by MSNBC right after the debate visibly cringed when asked if Clinton's claim resonated with her.

She said, "That's irrelevant to me. What I care about is if she or anyone else would make a good president. In that regard, her being a woman doesn't mean much to me." She paused, took a visible deep breath and added, "Her feminism doesn't represent my feminism."

Nor apparently did it mean much to young voters in Iowa where Sanders led Clinton by 85 to 15 percent among people between the ages of 17 and 24. Fully half of them young women. We'll see what happens later today in NH.

Hillary Clinton's default position whenever challenged or feeling threatened is to blame, as she did in the past, the "right-wing conspiracy" or, more commonly now, that this is because she is a woman.

Not to be outdone, husband, white knight Bill has been all over New Hampshire this week coming to his wife's rescue, including to claim that Sanders' alleged attacks on Hillary are sexist. Talk about chutzpa. Bill Clinton in the Oval Office wrote the book on that.

In addition, Bernie Sanders himself is a comfortable member of the Establishment.

He is almost as much a career politician as Marco Rubio. By the numbers more so. His political career stretches back 35 years when in 1981, at age 39, he was elected mayor of Burlington. After being reelected three times, in 1990, he ran successfully for the House of Representatives, and then, in 2006, was elected to the U.S. Senate.

Sanders has been comfortably ensconced in Congress for 26 years. Including, during the past year, when he has been as much a no-show at his day job as Rubio and Ted Cruz.

That to me feels very Establishment.

Though I am more and more liking what he has to say about the "rigged" economy and am inclining to vote for him, let's not forget who he really is and how he has, at taxpayer expense, made his way in the world.

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Monday, February 08, 2016

February 8, 2016--The Gender Trap: Albright's Inferno or Where the Boys Are

At a campaign event on Saturday in Concord, NH, when introducing Hillary Clinton, former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, scolded young women for supporting Bernie Sanders.

With the grinning Clinton at her side and New Jersey Senator, Wall-Street favorite, Cory Booker on stage left applauding enthusiastically (see below), the 78-year-old former secretary mocked Bernie Sander's political revolution, saying that electing the first female commander in chief would be "a true revolution."

Feeling it, she added--

"We can tell our story of how we climbed the ladder, and a lot of younger women think it's done. It's not done."

Feeling it even more, she apocalyptically shouted, "There's a special place in hell for women who don't help each other!"

A "special place in hell"?

Later, to double-down, in an interview with NBC News, Albright said that "women could be judgmental toward one another and they occasionally forget how hard someone like Mrs. Clinton had to work to get to where she is."

Note that she referred to Ms Clinton as Mrs. Clinton. A bit of a hint about how hard she felt Hillary Clinton, wife of Bill, had to work to get to where she is.

Not to be outdone, Friday night on Bill Maher's Real Time, 81-year-old Gloria Steinem, perhaps the feminist movement's most prominent remaining icon, while explaining how women tend to become more active in politics as they grow older (this not verifiable by facts or data), claimed that younger women were backing Senator Sanders mainly because they could meet young men--"When you're young, you're thinking, 'Where are the boys?' The boys are with Bernie."

This self-revealing comment suggests that this might be some of what motivated Ms Steinem back in her day, but it also ignores the obvious evidence that half or more of Bernie's youthful supporters are women. The polling numbers show that.

This suggests, in Steinemian terms, that in reality "the girls," more than "the boys," are with Bernie and perhaps, to Ms Steinem, more comfortable projecting herself back to the 60s, it's deja vu again. As a reminder, check 19-year-old James Kunan's 1969 best seller, Strawberry Statement: Notes of a College Revolutionary, in which he confessed that a lot of guys showed up at the "revolution" to meet girls and get laid.

To be honest, that was at least half the reason I showed up at my Alma Mater, Columbia University, during the campus-occupation "revolution" of 1968. I did meet some girls but didn't manage to get any. Though I did manage to get my hands on one of President Grayson Kirk's cigars. Symbolism abounds.

This parade of strident, aging feminist supporters is the reason Hillary Clinton, to her tone-deaf chagrin, has thus far been unable to appeal to young women. Or to young men.

An astonishing 85 percent of them are with Bernie.

Talking at them, shaming them, and assigning them to hell will likely mean that 100 percent of young voters will soon be with Bernie.

It's not that young women (and many young men) are unaware of feminist history and how far the Madeleine Albrights, Gloria Steinems, and Hillary Clintons have come, or how hard that was, or how significant their achievements have been--how they blazed a trail and punched many cracks in the glass ceiling, all those good and remarkable things--but it is 2016 and young people do not want to be reminded constantly how much they are beholden to their grandmothers'' generation. (Yes, grandmothers--time is whipping along).

They want to live their lives, frankly taking advantage of the opportunities and ways of living brought about by their predecessors. They do not want to be told to look at everything through a gender lens. And they decidedly do not want be hectored by being told what to do, what to think, or what to feel. By men or by women.

It's their time.

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Friday, February 05, 2016

February 5, 2016--Too Much

I was up so late last night watching the Democratic debate and listening in on the post-debate instant analysis that I didn't have the time or energy this morning to get much blogging done.

(I thought Bernie Sanders handily won the first hour, which was devoted to domestic issues and Hillary the second when they turned to foreign affairs. None of this surprising. He needs to bone up more about what he would do in the world if elected. He's not ready to be commander in chief. I hope this doesn't come off as sexist, but Clinton has to stop shouting. It hurts her "likability." A real problem.)

Also, earlier in the day we went to the movies to see 45 Years. It includes about the best final scene ever and two astonishing performances. A great anatomy of a long relationship.

After that we watched the latest episode of Billions. It's a soap opera and not a very good one at that, full of anti-Wall Street clichés. We may pull the plug on it.

And later today, we will take a look at The People v. O.J. Simpson.

Then there's the Super Bowl and . . .

It's been that kind of last few days.

Thursday, February 04, 2016

February 4, 2106--O.J.-OD

I have a good friend who is encouraging me to watch the O.J. movie on TV. On FX, The People v. O.J. Simpson. The first part, broadcast Tuesday, is On Demand, she tells me, and so I can watch it whenever I want.

My first response to the news that I can watch it whenever I want was, "Never!"


"Never is when I'm going to watch it."

"I thought you were into the O.J. trial in real time, while it was underway. Broadcast from the courtroom on TV. Didn't you watch the reruns of the trial after work and then watch the Geraldo show all night long?"

"True. Sad, but true. And that's precisely why I don't want to watch the new O.J. movie. I was addicted to the trial. I mean that almost literally, and don't want to get readdicted to it or anything, for that matter, on TV. I watch too much as it is. Obviously, including my obsession with the election and especially anything having to do with Donald TRUMP."

"I've noticed that," I could hear her say with sympathy for me. "But I think this is different. Not the addiction part because I assume if you watch the first episode you'll get hooked. But it's worth it. I can't wait to hear what you think about John Travolta playing Robert Shapiro or the fact that the Kardashian girls as young children appear in the series. They're daughters of one of O.J.'s Dream Team lawyers. Robert Kardashian. Perfect, no? Reality TV could be said to have started with the O.J. trial and is in full flagrant display with Keeping Up With the Kardashians."

"You're making my point--first I'll be riveted by the O.J. film and that will lead me to the Kardashians. To tell you the truth, though I hate them and all they stand for, I'm also fascinated by them. How this family of boring and talentless people are as popular as anyone in Ameirca. Even more than Donald TRUMP."

"More reality TV," my friend said with a hint of irony. In part, if the truth be told, because of my interest in, even fascination with the TRUMP phenomenon.

"OK, I'll fess up--not only did I stay up all night for 12 months back in 1994-95 to gorge myself on the trial, but one time, when Rona and I were in Los Angeles, while the trail was underway, we drove by the crime scene on South Bundy and then raced as fast as we could to O.J.'s house on Rockingham to see how long it took. As a way of checking the voracity of the prosecution's and O.J.'s stories. We sort of did our own investigation. We even walked from Mezzaluna, where Ron Goldman worked, to Nicole Simpson's apartment where he was stabbed to death. The fatal route he took to return her sunglasses."

"You really do have it bad. I feel sorry for you. Maybe you shouldn't watch the TV series after all. There are ten parts and . . ."

"Ten parts! What a nightmare. I'll be a wreck."

"I fear for your stability and equanimity." She sounded as if she really did.

"Thanks. But it's too late. Even before watching it, from what you said, I'm hooked. I really do have an O.J. problem.

"I feel terrible that I brought it up."

 "It's OK. It would have happened on its own."

"The good news is that's it's only ten weeks."

"Only? I might not survive."

"You will. You're strong. Have you had a cardiogram lately?"

 "I probably should." And the half-seriously, I said, "Is there a 12-step O.J. recovery program?"

"The gloves don't fit."

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Wednesday, February 03, 2016

February 3, 2016--In the Spirit of Nelson Mandela

The Board of trustees of Amherst College voted last week to retire its traditional mascot--Lord Jeff. Actually, to kill him off.

"Lord Jeff" has been the affectionate name for Lord Jeffery Amherst, a British commander during the French and Indian War. It is after him that the town of Amherst, Massachusetts, is named, and then after the town Amherst College.

This is a critical distinction since protestors want to get rid of just the mascot, not the name of the college itself. In a clever have-it-both-way move, they say that the college's name can remain because it was not named after Sir Jeffrey but after the town of Amherst. And this will mean that the value of an "Amherst" degree will be preserved.

No one ever said that Amherst students don't put first thing first.

Lord Jeffery was a heroic warrior, but he is also known as an advocate of white racism, among other heinous things he arranged for the distribution of smallpox-infected blankets to Indians. As he put it, "to extirpate this execrable race."

As an offshoot to the Black Lives Matter movement, students at some elite colleges have been pressing administers and trustees to eliminate any evidence of racism--current examples but more usually from the past.

At Princeton, for example, student protestors are demanding that white supremacist and former Princeton and U.S. president Woodrow Wilson's name be taken down from various campus facilities and academic programs such as the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs.

At Amherst, the focus thus far seems to be on the college's mascot.

Lord Jeff (On the Left)
Not to be outdone, an activated group of students at Oxford University's Oriel College are demanding that statues of Cecil Rhodes be taken down and that all traces of one of its most successful graduates and benefactors be obliterated. Including the most prestigious of academic fellowships, the Rhodes Scholarship. Thus far there have been about 8,000 Rhodes scholars, including Bill Clinton.

After graduating, Rhodes moved to South Africa where he founded the De Beers diamond empire. In the process, it is claimed by a recent doctoral student, Brian Kwoba, that Rhodes was responsible for "stealing land, massacring tens of thousands of black Africans, imposing a regime of unspeakable labor exploitation in the diamond mines, and devising pro-apartheid policies."

All legitimate and serious charges.

But when thinking about Lord Jeff and especially Cecil Rhodes--about what I would recommend--I was reminded of an experience I had in South Africa in 1995, one year after Nelson Mandela had been released from prison and became the country's first feely-elected, black president.

I was a guest at a debate in the SA Parliament about one aspect of the legacy of apartheid. There was a movement among many newly-elected legislators to remove all statuary and portraits of apertheid-era presidents and political and military leaders such as Jan Smuts, Pieter Botha, and Willem de Klerk.

Mandela was present and listened silently for more than an hour as the arguments pro and con were passionately presented. It was clear that a sizable majority were prepared to vote for the removal of these reminders of the ugly past.

At that point President Mandela, still in physical pain from his long captivity, rose slowly from his chair and all members present turned toward him in silence.

Quietly, Mandela presented the case for leaving all the memorials intact.

"They are a part of our history," he said. "One doesn't legislate the elimination of history, no matter how painful. In fact, it is more important to remember the pain and suffering than our recent liberation. So we will never forget."

At first a few and than the overwhelming majority of those present on the floor nodded and murmured in agreement. And as a result, the paintings and statues were left in place. And today, years after Mandela's death they remain where they were originally placed. To assure that over the generations no one forgets.

Jan Smuts

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Tuesday, February 02, 2016

February 2, 2016--A Win Is A Win

After last night's results, I should drop out of the prognostication business.

Though I got Hillary right--she squeaked by by about a half a percent--I totally missed what was happening among Republicans.

Ted Cruz came in first?

Marco Rubio a very close third, almost leaving Trump in his dust?

What does this say about Iowa voters who had half-a-year to think about what to do?

How did Cruz sell himself as an alternative to the "system" when he and his wife are embedded parts of it? Princeton, Harvard, Goldman Sachs, the U.S. Senate? Bankrolled by billionaires?

Was it all about religion in a state that is made up of 60 percent evangelicals?

Maybe Iowa, as it has been in the past, is a niche electorate and that things will become more predictable and understandable in New Hampshire and beyond.

I have to do a lot of recalibrating.

It's hard to think that Cruz will win in NH or many places beyond.

And I am consoling myself by remembering that the last two GOP Iowa caucuses were won by Mike Huckabee and Rick Santorum.

A couple of things may be clear--

Trump will not win the nomination. Half of what he's about is his self-proclaimed winning. These results undermine that.

Cruz also will not win the nomination. I am certain the phones were ringing all last night from the Koch Brothers and Sheldon from Las Vegas, coalescing at last around a so-called "establishment candidate. One they can support and own--

Marco Rubio will be offered that deal as he has shown in the past that he is comfortable being supported by billionaires (car-dealer Norman Braham in his case) and has no problem answering his phone when they call and doing their bidding.

For Hillary, though messy, a win is a win and she should go on fairly easily to secure the nomination after losing to Sanders in NH.

By next week at this time, in addition to Huckabee and Santorum, it will be the end of the road for Carson and Carly and Christie and poor Jeb! And . . .

Here I go again, still prognosticating. I have to get over this addiction.

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Monday, February 01, 2016

February 1, 2016--The Emotional Culture of America

The day before the evening caucuses in Iowa--the first time in 2016 that actual votes will be counted--it feels timely to pause, reflect, and predict.

I'm being advised by some friends, including one of my best friends who is wicked smart and well informed, to stop paying so much attention to Donald TRUMP. The implication loud and clear is that by doing so--even with a critical or satiric edge to my writing--I am aiding and abetting his candidacy. That it's obvious he's dangerous and needs to be defeated.

Perhaps my friends are right. I should step back and think about what they are counseling. Not necessarily come to agree with them, but take seriously what they are saying.

We go back and forth for a few rounds and then someone claims that TRUMP is dangerous because of what they see to be his fascistic inclinations.

If TRUMP is a fascist, what else is there to say? Except that hopefully the America of 2016 is not the Italy of 1922.

All of this aside, as I pause to think about the current state of the presidential race, to wonder if I have been showing too much favor to TRUMP and his candidacy, I should ask myself how I think he and others are doing, what can be learned from that, and who am I inclined in November to support.

I have been arguing here that TRUMP has tapped deep chords in current American consciousness and has exploited or resonated with them (take your pick) with astonishing effect.

As a candidate he was initially thought of to be a "clown," an impostor, someone only interested in enhancing his "brand" and, once he accomplished that, he would drift away and return to his literally gilded tower.

But, unlike other Republican political comets, from Michele Bachmann to Herman Cain to Sarah Palin, he has not flamed out but has lingered at the top of the polls now for more than seven months. No other first-term candidate in 100 years has done so so consistently for this long. Not even ultimately popular candidates such as Franklin Roosevelt in 1932, Dwight Eisenhower in 1952, or John F. Kennedy in 1960.

In the face of friends' criticisms I have tried to insist it's important to understand as fully as possible TRUMP's success, and successful he has been, so we can better root it out, defeat him, and--most important to me--learn as much as we can about what it means about today's America. To continue to mock him, write him off, assume he will implode will not get that job done. So, it has been my view that we had better be sure we do not continue to ignore the forces undergirding his appeal and energizing his candidacy and in that passive way be of unintended help to him..

As examples of these views, here are excerpts from a few of the emails I have sent to friends in an attempt to explain my posture--
TRUMP and the other spawn of reality TV, talk radio, and Fox News have seized control of the process. Maybe of reality.
And, they are no longer beholden to the forces that launched them or the people who bankrolled them . Interesting, isn't it, that we haven't heard much lately from the Koch Brothers or Sheldon from Las Vegas. 
What I mean to say is that politics is now operating in a parallel universe of its own. 
I am eager to see if (1) TRUMP maintains his refusal to participate in Fox's debate Thursday night and (2) if he doesn't show up what, if anything, will be the consequences. 
We can already hear the whiners saying that he's afraid of someone wearing a skirt (Megyn Kelly). How can someone who fears a WOMAN be trusted to stand up to really bad guys such as Putin, the Ayatollahs, or ISIS. (Roger Ailes of Fox News already said literally that.) 
It may be that Donald is a political Frankenstein, more powerful than his creators. And, to them, more dangerous. If so, they deserve him.
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The case for TRUMP is that more conventional, better prepared and experienced candidates and presidents have been dangerous disasters. Herbert Hoover, Jimmy Carter, and George W. Bush come to mind. 
But it may be that he has just the right temperament for the job that now needs to be done. In my view, he is so threatening to the status quo that the array of forces, worried about their prerogatives, are lining up against him. From Bill O'Reilly and Sean Hannity at Fox News, to the Rush Limbaughs, to the Republican establishment Koch Brothers, to the Wall Streeters, to the professional bureaucrats, and of course all the liberals and movement conservatives. For me, this is an attractive list of opponents and enemies.
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I'm concentrating now on both the process and on what what is happening reveals about the political and emotional culture of America. For that, for me, the TRUMP phenomenon is as important as it gets. I think there is a great deal to study and I'm trying to see and learn as much as I can. 
Next stage--after some dust settles (I think Hillary and TRUMP will win in Iowa, Bernie and TRUMP in NH, and then Hillary and TRUMP in SC, with Hillary and TRUMP then on inexorable paths to the nominations) for me then it will be time to try to understand what kind of presidents they might make.  
It may be true that TRUMP could be dangerous, but I do not until there is more actual evidence join in that feeling. And to me also, because Hillary is so full of personal ambition and inner demons, she also frightens me. 
My fantasy since I can't see myself voting for either TRUMP or Clinton-- 
Hillary gets indicted or censured for the email mess and Joe Biden and/or John Kerry enter the race. The Bernie people would go crazy, of course. But Biden and Kerry are the only two people I feel good about. To me either of them would be good presidents.
Otherwise, Hillary wins it all in a walk.

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