Friday, April 29, 2016

April 29, 2016--Apple of Discord

Apple, Inc. by capitalization is the world's largest corporation valued at more than $700 billion.

Earlier this week they reported second quarter earnings.

For the first time in 13 years they not only failed to meet earnings projections but saw revenue fall in comparison to last year's Q2 income by nearly $7.5 billion. Down to $50.6 billion from $58.0.

Third quarter projections are looking even bleaker.

What's going on?

Mainly problems with iPhones, the company's cashest cow since it was first released in 2007.

This past quarter iPhone sales were down by 10 million units--51.2 compared to 61.2 in 2015.

This may be cyclical--people holding on to their current phones in anticipation of rushing to line up to buy the new model later this year. Or, it may be that the air is beginning to come out of Apple's balloon. I almost said bubble.

Since Steve Jobs died, new products have all been pretty much failures. The Apple watch, for example. Anyone know somebody who owns one? I don't.

The Apple we know is still Job's company. What has been and still is profitable are all things designed and marketed during his brilliant time heading the company--iPods, iPads, MacBooks, tablets, and of course iPhones. All the ongoing success derives from the momentum he imparted to the company.

Further, Apple has been the go-to place for consumer electronics in large part because its products have been aesthetically beautiful and, more important, "cool."

Thus Apple is vulnerable because so much of its success depends on its continuing to be convey status.

This could evanesce in a hurry if someone else's smart phone--the Samsung android, for example--is viewed to be cool.

Cool, by definition, doesn't last forever. In fact, iPhones have been most desirable for much longer than the past history of cool things might suggest.

As soon as the kids and hip-hoppers move on to whatever becomes the "latest," that will be when we really will see Apple's earnings and stock value fall off a cliff. This is apparently already happening in China.

If I had any Apple stock, I'd get out of it right now.

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Thursday, April 28, 2016

April 28, 2016--Bandwagon Effect

Among other things being underreported about both the Republican and Democratic races is the bandwagon effect.

The inclination of people to join a winning campaign in spite of having sat on the sidelines up to the time when it became clear who would win or having previously supported another candidate.

It's the impulse to support the winning ticket. To be associated with winning. Not to be left behind. In part to be able, retrospectively, to say that, "All along I was for so-and-so."

The so-and-so's in the current situation, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, who, in the last two weeks have broken into the clear as frontrunners and are now self-proclaimed "presumptive nominees."

Literally, a bandwagon carries a band in a parade or other entertainment such as in the circus. In fact, the bandwagon as metaphor was first noted in American politics when Dan Rice, a famous circus clown, used his bandwagon to attract attention to his political campaign activities--he was so popular that in 1868 he ran for president of the United States!

An actual clown running for president. How unprecedented.

Some refer to the phenomenon as an "information cascade," a rush to consensus derived from the rapid spread of information about how one candidate or another is faring. This used to occur through newspaper reports and word-of-mouth as the result of what was heard or seen on radio or TV. Now, with the proliferation of cable news networks and social media platforms one can learn almost instantly what is transpiring and thus rushing to get on board before it is too late can happen rapidly.

There have been careful studies of the impact of the bandwagon effect on political campaigns. The best of these studies suggest that voters are potentially twice as likely to vote a particular way when someone is expected to win. Thus, politicians are prone to play the "expectations game." Sometimes lowering expectations to disguise a poor outcome or, in situations where expectations can unleash bandwagon behavior, exaggerating expected results.

If the bandwagon effect is now operating as a consequence of Hillary Clinton's and Donald Trump's remarkable string of primary victories, one might expect to see a quick wrap-up to both campaigns.

Keep an eye on Indiana. Cruz and Trump at the moment are running about even. If there is a bandwagon rush to Trump's candidacy, we might expect him to win on Tuesday, even with Kasich sort of sidelined, by at least ten points.

But then there's the Carly Fiorina effect . . .

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Wednesday, April 27, 2016

April 27, 2016--Dust to Dust

It is likely a stage-in-life thing.

I find myself these days thinking about the one thing that is inevitable.

No, not taxes. Death.

Republicans can cut taxes to zero, but as for death . . .

So I was intrigued by a piece in last Saturday's New York Times about eco-minded death. Actually, how to be eco-minded after death. Literally, what to do about corpses.

Artist Jae Rhim Lee has apparently done a lot of thinking about this.

She sees most of us in deep denial. To take profitable advantage of that, the funeral industry embalms bodies and then tries to get families to agree to putting them in fancy non-biodegratable coffins which in turn are entombed in concrete liners. More and more in above-ground tombs.

Forget for the moment the growing interest in cryonics, which promises to preserve bodies, or just heads, by freezing them for later revival and presumably medical restoration. Think Ted Williams and Walt Disney.

But here's my favorite politically- and environmentally-correct way to think about this--

Ms. Lee's Infinity Burial Suit.

At $1,500 a copy it includes mushroom seeds, yes, to grow mushrooms meant to help "break down" a human corpse, thereby supposedly cleansing the body of toxins and excelerating the distribution of nutrients into the soil.

Mushroom Suit

Ms. Lee has other things going on--

To quote the Times, for some time she has "been obsessed" with how humans as part of nature's realm coexist with the environment. To that end, as an MIT graduate, she uses her body for experimental purposes, including to see if by adhering to a strict vegan diet she could so purify her urine that it could be used to water plants. She was so successful at this that she then used it to grow cabbage that she in turn made into kimchi.

Count me out.

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Tuesday, April 26, 2016

April 26, 2016--The Colluders

Almost as quickly as it was hammered out, the agreement between Ted Cruz and John Kasich to coordinate their opposition to Donald Trump--that the absentee governor of Ohio would not contest in Indiana and the absentee senator from Texas would leave New Mexico and Oregon to Kasich--that quickly, as reported in the New York Times Monday afternoon, the agreement began to "fray."

Largely because the signals being received from the political class was that it was a non-starter. Not that there was anything wrong with the odd couple carving up the territory this way, but because it wasn't working. And in the politics of self-interest all that counts is that something's working.

My take--

The agreement began to unravel as soon as it was announced when Trump tweeted his response.

The Donald said in a tweet, and subsequently, that they were "colluding" and that in every other aspect of life but politics, in business and banking collusion is a crime.

He called it like it is--"pathetic."

That took the air out of the balloon.

Kasich supporters (and there are some) said their votes were not to be traded away even by the person they were supporting and Cruz's supporters in Indiana (and for some reason they exist) said they actually wanted to vote for him.

So, so much for their pathetic deal.

Bottom line--

Trump's uncanny ability (bordering on political genius) to establish and control the narrative even when he is in trouble. Perhaps primarily when he is trouble.


This botched "alliance" guarantees that Trump will carry Indiana a week from today and with that begin to lock up the nomination.

My fear--

Donald continuing to be Donald has a really good chance of beating Hillary, assuming the FBI doesn't get her first.

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Monday, April 25, 2016

April 25, 2016--Dateline: The Rest of the World

While waiting for election returns from Pennsylvania, Connecticut, and Maryland, and Prince's autopsy findings, a new Cold War is breaking out. This time not only with Russia but also China. And, who knows, maybe with Saudi Arabia.

Vladimir Putin's Russia is beginning to sound and look like the old Soviet Union with economic dislocation fueling an aggressive foreign policy to both reannimate dreams of a restored Imperial Russia and as a chauvinistic distraction for the Russian people who will soon likely be needing to line up for hours to buy a loaf of bread or a liter of vodka. But while in line they will have their nationalistic dreams to sustain them.

Circuses but no bread.

Rather than acting like a European partner, which we saw signs of for a decade or so, Putin is leading Russia's military buildup and deploying forces on numerous fronts in an attempt to secure what it sees as its sphere of influence and to provide opportunities to flex military muscle in order to poke the US and Western Europeans in the eye, partly as a response to the economic sanctions we and our European allies have imposed on Russia in retaliation for its expansionist moves in Ukraine.

And, while they're at it, they've taken to buzzing U.S. warships in open waters

Under Putin's leadership they have of course reannexed Crimea, threatened various parties in the Balkans, and have become actively involved in Syria, deploying an entirely new mix of smart weapons whose existence has caught Western observes by surprise.

What happened to all those clunky Soviet tanks and misfiring missiles? Clearly once again avoiding CIA detection, right under the noses of our various surveillance agencies, the Russians seemingly overnight on the ground and in the skies in Syria are putting on display a whole range of new, sophisticated 21st century weapons systems.

So much for recent efforts under Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton to "reset" relations with Putin and Russia. He and Obama can't even talk to each other. Even Stalin and Roosevelt got along better!

Meanwhile, in Asia, also with thoughts about a restored Dynasty, President Xi Jinping of China, also in part to distract the Chinese people from a cooling economy and to deflect thoughts from rampant governmental and corporate corruption (which directly involves his own family), Xi has been investing heavily in modernizing and rapidly expanding China's military capacities and reach.

New fighter jets, aircraft carriers, and a modern submarine fleet are among recent acquisitions. In addition, as an extension of its imperial moves in the South China Sea, encroaching on what we impotently claim to be international waters, and pushing toward South Korean and Japanese waters, under Xi, China is creating a series of new islands which already include air strips and naval facilities. We talk and talk and threaten and threaten while China dredges and dredges and builds and builds.

Perhaps most ominous is Russia's and China's moves to modernize their nuclear weapons. Making warheads smaller and smaller so that they can be mounted on advanced intercontinental missiles with vastly increased capacities to avoid detection. In retaliation, the Obama administration, has quietly begun to do the same for our aging nuclear weapons and delivery systems.

Ironically, Barak Obama who came to office proclaiming that nuclear disarmament was his highest priority, and thus quickly received the Noble Peace Prize, is leaving office engaged in a restored full-tilt nuclear arms race with Russia and China.

And also while we have been obsessing about our presidential election and other entertainments, in response to the bold nuclear deal we struck with Iran, Saudi Arabia is talking quietly, in response to that, of developing its own nuclear weapons.

Sic transit . . .

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Friday, April 22, 2016

April 22, 2016--Back On Monday

I didn't get any work done on Thursday except to go to a friend's memorial service. But I will return on Monday

Thursday, April 21, 2016

April 21, 2016--Headline: TRUMP TAKES 60.5% OF REPUBLICAN VOTE IN NEW YORK

The real headline should have been--


More than anything else, these percentages have befuddled print and digital media pundits. They do not fit the conventional narrative.

Until the New York votes were tallied, the story has been that college-educated voters do not vote for Trump and, even more starkly, only a quarter or so of Trump supporters are women.

Democrats, liberals have been not-so-secretly thrilled about this. If only Trump can hang in there and win the nomination, turning off well-educated and women voters will guarantee that Hillary will win in a landslide.

Not so fast.

As the New York numbers may portend, it could be that a "presidential" Trump has more appeal among the college-educated and women than generally assumed. If so, this makes him a potential winner in November. Even against Hillary Clinton.

How could that possibly be? Are the New York numbers an aberration, perhaps attributable to the fact that Trump is a real New Yorker and that trumps everything else?

We may be chauvinistic in New York (Trump appeared at his rally last night to the strains of Frank Sinatra's swaggering, "New York, New York"), but we're not stupid.

Finally getting a chance to vote in a primary that has real meaning (the nomination process is usually pretty much over when it gets to be New York's turn) focused voters' attention and I suspect registered Republicans took their choice-making very seriously.

So the question remains--why did Trump do so well among women and the college-educated?

To my female and male feminist friends who are supporting Clinton primality because she is a woman (still an insufficient reason to me) or because she is "good" on women's issues such as equal pay, parenting leave, and the right to choose (all critical issues to me as well), for many non-feminst women (and there are millions of them) Trump is a better choice because he for them is on the right side of the issues that count most for them--mainly economic and national security issues.

Exit polls indicated that Trump's female voters care more about who they feel is best able to keep the country safe from terrorist attacks than who will fight harder to achieve pay equity. They care more about the security of their jobs and their capacity to make enough money to support families and themselves than about keeping abortions legal. They care more about how their children will fare in college and their viability as the nature of the American economy continues to morph into something unrecognizable than about securing paid leave for childcare.

Not that these are unimportant issues--women (and men) can support the right to choose but still vote for someone who wants to limit or even end it because they are not litmus-test voters. For them it appears what James Carville said back in 1992--"It's the economy stupid"--is still the most potent impulse.

And, understandable.

This, then, may be at the heart of Trump's appeal and staying power.

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Wednesday, April 20, 2016

April 20, 2016--Dinner at the Yale Club: New Outfits

"You, I mean we really should do some shopping."

"Why?" I asked.

"Because we could use a few new outfits."

We were about to leave to meet Hedy and Tony for dinner at the Yale Club, where they are members.

Rona was plucking lint off my jacket lapel while at the same time brushing some dust off the shoulders.

"How long has this been hanging in the closet?" Rona asked.

"You mean in years?"

"Yes, years."

"Quite a few," I admitted.

"Give me an estimate. I don't need to know in years and months. I'm trying to make a point."

"That's clear," I said beginning to feel grumpy. "But, OK, it could be fifteen."

"Months or years?"

"You just said . . ."

"Forget what I said. My point is that you, we could use some news clothes. This jacket, for example. I like the fabric but . . ."

"But what?"

"Look at the lapels," Rona had plucked off all the lint. "They're wide enough to almost reach your armpits."

"I think it looks cool. Kind of retro, that I'll admit, but still pretty good looking."

Rona shrugged as if giving up on me. "I have others. Newer ones. But since it's warm out tonight, I thought I'd wear my lightest jacket."

"It's fine," Rona sighed. "Let's get going. You know I hate to be late. But I still feel we could do a little better. I mean dress a little better. Me as well. Look at this top. How many times have I worn it the last two years? I think every time we met Hedy and Tony for dinner. You may be OK with it, but they must be wondering about us. Always wearing the same clothes."

"That's why I thought to wear this . . ."

"So we'll be a few minutes late."

"What's happening?"

"There have been a few things disturbing me lately that I think we need to talk about." She put down her purse.

"This sounds serious," I said, not really in the mood for a heavy-duty discussion right before heading out.

"Doesn't have to be," Rona said. "Depends on how you take it."

"Tell me what's on your mind. Disturbing you."

"You know the tremor you have in your right hand?"

"The essential tremor?" I said.

"That one. Though I don't know why you call it that."

"I did some research and it clearly is and . . ."

"Have you asked a doctor about it?"

"Not yet. But I'm sure it's not Parkinson's, if that's what's on your mind."

"Among other things."

"It's pretty common among older people," I said.

"So is . . .  Forget it. I know you'll go in your own good time."

"Really. I've done a lot of research and it's not Parkin . . ."

"And you seem to be doing more shuffling when you walk."

"Only in New York City where the sidewalks and streets are so full of cracks and potholes. I'm just trying to be careful."

"Which is a good idea, but it's also . . ." Rona turned away from me.

"But it's also . . .?"

"Another side of aging. Out of fashion clothes, tremors, shuffling."

"What can I tell you, I am aging. I'm just trying to do it carefully."

"What does doing it carefully have to do with your beginning to come downstairs for breakfast in your pajamas?"

"There you have me. I've been lazy about that. I'll be more . . ."

"It feels to me that you're doing that because you want to be dressed for your midmorning nap. Admit it, you're not just being lazy."

"I haven't been napping in the morning. It's just that . . ."

"It feels to me that you're getting ready to do that. I mean, have a nap after breakfast."

"Criticism acknowledged. I'll . . .?"

"I don't mean it as criticism. Just that I don't want you to prematurely assign yourself to being old when you still have all your marbles and most of the rest of you."

"Anything else," I asked. "We should probably . . ."

"In fact, there is."

"Shoot. I mean tell me what it is."

"You know that coarse hair that began to grow out of the tip of your nose a few years ago?"

"I do. We both thought it was funny. How this happens to men as they . . ."

"Can you please keep it trimmed? It seems to grow two inches every day. I don't ask for much and . . ."


"I'm sorry, there is still one other thing."


"The jacket. Can you maybe change it to one that's only ten years old?"

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Tuesday, April 19, 2016

April 19, 2016--Dinner at the Yale Club

I will return tomorrow with a piece about dinner with friends at the YC.

It has nothing to do with my having gone to Columbia or the fact that during my four years there we lost every Yale-Columbia football game (many Yallies actually wore pre-PETA-days raccoon coats to the home games) and the crew, of which I was a pathetic part, did likewise.

Monday, April 18, 2016

April 18, 2016--No to Hillary

It may be a small matter when seen in the context of what to do about ISIS, Israel, or the minimum wage, but for me it's a metaphor for why I cannot bring myself to vote for Hillary in tomorrow's New York primary.

I am not feeling the Bern, but I am not comfortable voting for a candidate who lies so blatantly, so frequently, so casually.

I know "they" all do it to some extent--exaggerate, spin, tell half truths, and sometimes just out-and-out make things up. But there are lies and then there are lies, and Hillary last week calculatedly engaged in a whopper.

Here, in her spoken words (as distinguished from a statement issued by a dismissible staffer or surrogate) is what Clinton had to say about Vermont's, and by clear implication, Bernie Sanders' position on guns.

With feigned deep concern, looking censoriously into the camera, from a carefully crafted script, here is what Hillary Clinton had to say--
When challenged on his gun stances [Sanders] frequently says, "Well, you know, I represent Vermont. It's a small, rural state. We have no gun laws." Here's what I want you to know. Most of the guns that are used in crimes of violence and killings in New York come from out of state. And the state that has the highest per capita number of those guns that wind up committing crimes in New York come from Vermont. [Emphasis added.]
Now, here are the facts as reported by the Associated Press--
The U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms compiles data about weapons recovered from crime scenes nationwide, along with data, where possible, about where those guns were originally sold by licensed dealers. The agency reports that in 2014, law enforcement official in New York recovered and traced 7,686 guns. 
[New York] itself was the source for 1,397 of the weapons, making it the leader in absolute numbers. Virginia was runner-up with 395. Vermont ranked 15th on the list, accounting for 55 of the weapons--less than 1 percent of the total. [Emphasis added.]
A radically different story that exposes Clinton's slander. One still not apologized for nor withdrawn. And, by the way, underreported in the media.

For me, exaggerating or lying about oneself in a political campaign is sadly familiar and comes with the partisan territory. But to make up "facts" of this serious sort about an opponent crosses a line.

The false story Clinton told during the 2008 campaign about the "sniper fire" she came under at the airport during a 1996 First-Lady trip to Bosnia--a story she repeated frequently--is for me by comparison benign. It says something not good, even desperate about her character, but lacks viscousness.

I am incapable of voting for someone who is so loose with the truth. And so, at least for tomorrow, as flawed as he is, I'll be voting for Bernie.

Hillary and Chelsea Clinton---1996 Spring-Break in Bosnia

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Friday, April 15, 2016

April 15, 2016--Watching Alone

A few weeks ago a friend asked if I had gotten around yet to watching all 13 episodes of House of Cards.

"I'm only up to number six and . . ."

"Be patient, it gets better," she said, "I thought it started a little slowly but when they got to Claire's mother who . . ."

I cut her off. "Please don't talk about it until I've seen all the episodes. I don't want you to unintentionally say something about one I haven't seen and by doing that take away some of my pleasure. I'm into it and liking it and that's all I want to say right now. We're resisting binge-watching so we can squeeze out two a night, to attenuate the pleasure, and so it won't be until next week that I'll be ready to talk about it."

"Can't you maybe pick up the pace? I'm dying to hear what you think, especially what happens to Jackie . . . "

"There you go again. Really, please let me enjoy the show at my own pace and then we'll talk about all of it."

Which I did and, after that, Reggie and Rona and I had fun comparing reactions.

"You know," I said, "in the earlier days of TV, before a Netflix or Amazon existed much less could dump a whole season of programs in one batch on line or before there was On Demand, which allows you to watch a favorite show at any time. In the past if you missed an episode of, say, The Sopranos on Sunday night there was no way to see it until a year or two later when it was into reruns."

"In addition," Rona said, "if you were working in an office one of the pleasures would be to come in Monday morning and gather at the water cooler or coffee machine and talk with colleagues about the shows we all watched over the weekend. Very much including The Sopranos."

"Or Mad Men," Reggie added.

"I miss those days," Rona said. "It made for good colleagueship."

"Including of a different kind," I said.

"What do you mean?" Reggie asked.

"Well, at the proverbial or real water cooler secretaries and bosses had something in common to talk about. In a non-hierarchical way. Everyone could chime in as equals."

"I try to resist being too nostalgic," Reggie said, "And, in spite of my nudging you about House of Cards, I think that was a better way to watch and then talk about one's favorite programs, especially since there were always a few shows that everyone seemed to be interested in."

This reminded me of Robert Putnam's classic 1995 essay, "Bowling Alone," where he noted the reduction in all forms of social interaction which Americans previously used to participate in to enrich the fabric of their communal lives. He argued that this decline had the consequence of undermining the kind of active civic engagement that democracy requires from its citizens.

I ran all of this by a young friend who, when typically I talk about the differences between then and now, rolls her eyes and pats me sympathetically on the arm, as if to say, "Then was your time and now is mine.

"But," I pressed her, how do you and your friends talk about things you've watched? That is, if you watch any TV at all much less talk about any shows."

"We watch plenty, especially some of our favorites on TV when they're first broadcast and we do a lot of communicating about it."

"Communicating? That's an interesting way to talk about it. Is that different than talking about it? I mean, I know there are no more water coolers."

"I suppose so."

"Help me out here. Give me a few specifics. How does this communicating work?"

Take Girls, which we all love."

"No surprise there."

"My friends and I watch it in real time, on Sunday night on HBO, and communicate about it all along the way."

"You call or text each other while the show's on?"

"Sort of. But manly we Tweet about it. Twitter is perfect for that. Short and sweet comments so we can pay attention to what's happening on the show."

"And when an episode's over, say the next day, do you talk about Hannah's tribulations?"

"Not really. Pretty much what we do is Tweet."

When I told Reggie about this, she wasn't that happy about what I reported. She doesn't have much patience for social media. In truth, neither do I.

"What about OJ?" she asked.

"The People verse OJ Simpson?"

"I thought it started slowly but once they got to that episode devoted to Marcia Clark, it really . . ."

"Let me stop you again. We've only seen three episodes and as with House of Cards we're rationing our viewing. It's so much fun that we're stretching it out and . . ."

"That may be fun for you, but I'll tell you what's not fun."

"What's that?"


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Thursday, April 14, 2016

April 14, 2016--Stil Recovering

Must be a stomach virus. I am doing better but slowly. I expect to return tomorrow.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

April 13, 2016--Under the Weather

The weather's fine but I'm not. Perhaps food poisoning. I'll spare you the details but for certain will return tomorrow.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

April 12, 2016--Rhonda's Biscuits Concluded

It took awhile for our breakfasts to arrive.

We were sitting diagonally across from Rhonda and had a clear line of site and so could watch her carefully and deliberately cook one order at a time. Unlike other short-order cooks, she took her time.  First, she scrupulously scraped and wiped the grill, then in a mixing bowl, she cracked and beat with a fork two eggs. Two at a time even if she was making eggs for a party of two (like us) or four (like the folks at the table all with biscuits) where more commonly the chef would scramble on the grill all four or even all eight eggs, and then divide them into portions when they were done.

"I can see why this place is so crowded," I whispered to Rona, "Even now, close to 11:00, it's still full. Probably people have been here since 8:30 waiting for their orders to be completed."

Rona punched my arm to shush me. "Keep your voice down," she said, "We're strangers here."

"I'm just finding this fascinating," I said and took to just observing what would happen next.

When Rhonda had four plates with eggs and bacon and grits ready to turn over to the waitress who was hovering patiently, two at a time she brought them to where we were perched on our stools, sipping at our coffee, and slid open a large stainless steel drawer, looked around--it felt like mainly at us--and extracted carefully, one biscuit at a time which she in turn gently placed on each of the plates. Blocking us so we couldn't see what else might be in that draw she slid it shut and only then was she ready to turn the steaming dishes over to Ellie, the waitress, who caught our eye and shrugged, as if to say, "What can you do. It's a living."

Mr, Harris, next to us at the counter said, "Next time you're round these parts I recommend the catfish. Uh, uh," he said and slowly patted his mouth with his perfectly-folded napkin. "If I hada thought, I woulda offered you a taste. I'm 92--don't say I don't look that old 'cause I know I do." He smiled.

"You don't look . . . ," I said but he cut me off before I could finish. At most he looked 75.

"Been coming here for years. Every Saturday morning. Like clockwork. I have to be patient too. Don't take it personal. We're off the interstate here and don't get that many strangers passing though who are in a hurry. I don't mean you're strangers or anything like that," he added quickly. "Old Rhonda takes her good time and treats us all like equals."

He made a point of that as he was the only black person in the teeming restaurant.

A middle-age woman interrupted him as she was heading toward the cash register and said, with what looked like a small bow, "How nice to see you, Mr. Harris. It must be Saturday again," she chuckled. "And how is Mrs. Harris?" She din't pause to hear the answer, "And I trust your granddaughter is doing well at school."

"Yes, thank you, everyone is well."

"What courses is she taking again? I'm losing my memory, wouldn't you know." She sighed.

"She's in her final year and then it will be time for her to do her internship. Still says she wants to be a surgeon. I keep telling her that's not an easy thing for a girl. I mean, a woman. But she's determined. Stubborn too. Just like her mother."

"Well, next time you talk to her, please tell her I was asking about her." Then she turned to us and said, "A lovely family. The best people in town."

"Don't forget your umbrella," Mr. Harris said.

"See what I mean about my memory," she said to Rona.

"What medical school is she at?" I asked.

"Up in Baltimore. I can never remember its exact name. We just call it Hopkins. I know . . ."

"Johns Hopkins," I said. "Half the time I call it John Hopkins. I forget the Johns part. But it's a wonderful place. Good for her."

Another diner who had finished his breakfast was waiting for the women who claimed to be losing her memory to move along so he could say a few words to Mr. Harris.

"My Sally knew you'd be here," he said, pulling on the peak of his Redskins cap. "She said you'd be here like clockwork and there you be."

"Lovely woman, that Sally," Mr. Harris said half-turned toward us. "I trust her treatments are going well."

Sally's husband sighed, "Good as can be expected, I s'pose. It's all in His hands." He looked up toward the ceiling.

"And the doctors, too," Mr. Harris said, reaching out to touch him on the arm.

"She and I too really 'preciate all your concern and how every Sunday you and yours remember to send over a big basket of fruit. You know how she loves fruit. It's 'bout the only thing she enjoys these days. Poor thing." He wiped at his eyes.

Mr. Harris struggled up from his stool and embraced him. "You'll be fine," he whispered, still hugging him and patting his back. "Now, you've go to be strong for her."

"I will do my best," he said, "And thank you again for everything. I'll see you next Saturday. Same time, same place." And with that he headed for the front door

After Sally's husband left, Mr. Harris turned fully to Rona and softly said, "She is a lovely woman. Been good all these years to our family. She was a teacher in the high school where my granddaughter went. She was the one who encouraged her to take all those science courses while many of the others there suggested she be realistic and forget about being a doctor and train instead to be a nurse and stay in town and work in the hospital. And now she's . . . she's struggling against the odds. But if being a good person means anything, there's a better place waiting for her."

By then we were ready to leave, said goodbye to Mr. Harris, and with the check began to make our way to the cash register where Ellie was waiting.

"Hope you enjoyed your breakfast," she said.

"I loved everything," I said, "The food and everything else," I gestured back to where we had been sitting and toward Mr. Harris."

"Isn't he somethin' special? You'd never know how old he is."

"He is remarkable," Rona siad. "How everyone stopped to talk with him."

"Every Saturday he's always here. If you forget, his sittin' over there havin' his fried fish reminds you of that."

Rona was busy extracting cash from her wallet, "Maybe next year on our way south, we'll drive down route 310 and . . ."

"Be sure to do that, honey. We'd love to see you. We'll all be here. And if it's a Saturday . . ."

". . . Mr. Harris'll be having his catfish."

"Sure as the day is long. So be sure to stop by to see us, yuh hear."

We both nodded. And then, as we were about to say something, over her shoulder, Rhonda, still at the grill, working on a couple of sunny side eggs, called to us, "Make sure you do that. Next time you all can have all the biscuits you want."

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Monday, April 11, 2016

April 11, 2016--From the Road: Rhonda's Biscuits

In Rocky Mount, NC, where we overnighted on our drive north, the weather forecast for the next driving day--to get us to Reston, VA, called for pockets of heavy rain and winds gusting to 35 miles per hour.

We needed to cover 250 miles and the thought of driving for hours along traffic-clogged I-95 in such a storm, with crosswinds buffeting tractor trailers from lane to lane, sounded scary. To the point where we thought that maybe we should stay put for the day and hope for better driving weather.

But the longer on-route forecast wasn't much better. In fact, Saturday night-Sunday all day sounded even stormier and more dangerous. Perhaps enough so that roads along the way might be blocked by fallen trees or precautiously closed to all but emergency traffic.

None of this sounded attractive.

Rona said, feeling more intrepid than I, "Why don't we get going and see how we do. We can always bail out and find a place to hole up."

"I'm game for that," I said, "In truth driving in this kind of weather is not my favorite thing but I'm eager to make progress and hit the City no later than Sunday afternoon when traffic at the Holland Tunnel and in the City itself is manageable. After three months in more laid-back South Florida, arriving near the City on a busy work day is a bit much for me."

"Why don't we look for a road north that parallels I-95? I'm sure there is one that might be less trafficked."

"Sounds like a plan. In fact, there is such a road. Route 301 that was the principal north-south route before I-95 was built. We did some driving along it yesterday for a blue-highway change of pace and it was fine."

As so we packed up, turned on the GPS and headed out.

"I'm not that hungry," Rona said, "Why not drive for awhile and see what we find. Off the interstates we always seem to stumble on interesting places."

"No Dunkin for me today," I said, "And no Cracker Barrel."

"They're OK in a pinch, I suppose. But I think we can do better."

And we did, two hours later, at Logan's Diner in Emporia, Virginia.

It didn't have the traditional look of a road-food place. A bit glitzy for us. Too newly renovated looking, but by then we were hungry enough to, if necessary, settle for coffee and a couple of eggs and toast at Cracker Barrel.

But the first hint that Logan's might turn out to be special was the fact that at 10:30--late for our favorite kinds of morning places--every seat in all the booths were full of what appeared to be local folks and there were just two stools left at the end long counter, which we quickly took possession of.

"I'll bet they have good country ham," Rona whispered. "We are after all just above the state line in southern Virginia."

"And biscuits," I said, "I'd be happy with just a couple and a cup of coffee."

"I think we can do better than that," she said, nodding toward the very elderly man next to whom we were now sitting. He was meticulously working on what appeared to be two perfectly fried catfish.

"I'll have coffee," Rona said to the cheery waitress, Ellie her name tag read, who had approached us with a steaming pot even before we could get fully settled. "And I think we're ready to order. It's raw out there and we are starving."

"You've come to the right place, dear" she said, smiling broadly. "Take your time. We've got nothing but time here. You look as if you've been battling the rain and wind all morning."

"True," Rona said, "More that two hours, "It's been . . ."

"This here coffee'll fix you right up," she said. "And," sliding two menus across the counter, said, "If you take a look you'll see you've come to the right place." She reached over to refill our neighbor's cup. "I'm sure Mr. Harris here will vouch for Rhonda's cooking." She winked and nodded toward to the sturdy woman working the grill.

The coffee was just what we needed and by the time the waitress returned to take our order, Rona said, "We'll both have a couple of soft scrambled eggs. My husband will have a side of country ham, which I'm sure he'll be willing to share."

"It is quite generous," Ellie said, nodding again in Rhonda's direction.

"And if you have 'em, I'd like some grits with butter and my husband will have a couple of biscuits. They look wonderful." Rona looked over toward a table packed with four townspeople, all with eggs and biscuits.

"Grits we can do," she said now leaning toward us and in a conspiratorial whisper adding,"but I don't know about them biscuits." Then, almost inaudibly, said, "I mean two."

"I realize it's late for breakfast," I said, "Do you have whole grain toast? I'm fine with that."

"Honey, that's not the problem." I looked at her quizzically. She was almost head to head with me and shrugged, again in Rhonda's direction, who was carefully lowering a couple of breaded catfish into the deep-fat frier.

"I don't want . . . ," I stammered.

"Here's what I'm thinkin'," she said so softy that only Rona and I could hear. "You both have her eggs, you have the ham, you honey have the grits, and then each of you have a biscuit. One," she said for emphasis.

Not really understanding but even hungrier by them as the smell of Rhonda's cooking permeated Logan's, I said, "I'm good with anything. Even one of Mr. Harris' catfish." He heard me and nodded, carefully wiping his fingers with a perfectly folded napkin.

To be concluded tomorrow . . .

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Friday, April 08, 2016

April 8, 2016--Logan's Diner

I will return on Monday with a story about Logan's Diner in Emporia, Virginia.

Thursday, April 07, 2016

April 7, 2016--Day Off

Busy settling in. I will return tomorrow, Friday.

Wednesday, April 06, 2016

April 6, 2016--With Charity for One

In his Second Inaugural, near the end of America's bitterest and bloodiest war, Abraham Lincoln called for "malice toward none . . . with charity for all."

In more recent years the Koch Brothers called for charity for one. Or two. Them.

Here's how this works thanks to an analysis by Jane Mayer in her important Dark Money: The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right--

Drawing largely on their half-understanding of the work of Austrian School economist Friedrich Hayek and the juvenile pieties and simplicities of novelist Ayn Rand, brother Charles, to justify the Kochs' anti-tax, anti-charity views, also cited the 12th century philosopher, Maimonides, by referring to him as saying, "I agree with Maimonides who defined the highest form of charity as dispensing with charity altogether, by enabling your fellow human beings to have the wherewithal to earn their own living."

In other words, do not allow inclinations or pressures to be charitable to interfere with people's motivation to amass unfettered wealth. Charity if unchecked can interfere with the workings of the Market's "invisible hand."

No matter that this is totally untrue. It fits the Kochs' narrative of what to them and their network of big-money activists constitutes a better world.

They also call for the end of all taxation--federal, state, personal, inheritance, corporate, and capital gains--as it too gets in the way of the freest of enterprise.

Foster Freiss, the Wyoming fund manager and Koch ally since the 1980s asserted this blatantly when quoted in Chrystia Freeland's, Plutocrats: The Rise of the New Global Super-Rich:

He argued that the public benefited more when the wealthy were not taxed because they would use their money to benefit the public more efficiently and effectively than the government. As he put it, left alone and unregulated, they would "self-tax" by contributing to charities.

With a straight face, Freiss wrote--
It's a question--do you believe the government should be taking your money and spending it for you, or do you want to spend it for you? (sic) It's the top 1 percent that probably contributes more to making the world a better place than the 99 percent.
Key to understanding this gibberish is the "probably."

The top 1 percent probably would do so many wonderful things to improve the world. Like fund right-wing think tanks. Like promote the activities of the Tea Party. Like support states in their efforts to gerrymander and suppress voting. Like giving more money to museums that will carve their names in granite than to organizations that are dedicated to assisting the poor.

Have the Kochs ever given anything to God's Love We Deliver, an organization that brings hot meals to the homebound?

Have Freiss and the Kochs contributed any of their cash to rebuild crumbling bridges?

Have they supported any charities that provide healthcare for the indigent?

Is there a homeless shelter named for any of them?

They have not done any of these things.

If they were sincere, rather than merely selfish, to demonstrate that if the government, which they want to phase out, were to eliminate all social programs, including Medicare and Social Security (which they favor) and would eliminate all forms of taxation (which they advocate), to illustrate their generous intentions, if they were allowed to keep all of their money, they would in fact have already done things, again to quote Freiss, "to make the world a better place."

With the exception of some charitable giving to cancer research, I can find few such examples.

Though they have thus far given $64 million to the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

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Tuesday, April 05, 2016

April 4, 2016--Trump Is Post-Peak

A friend wondered if Donald Trump has peaked. 

What with his various stumbles last week--

His campaign manager being charged with assault and battery;

His reckless comments about encouraging Japan, South Korea, and Saudi Arabia to take up their own defense, including developing nuclear weapons;

And his being lured into acknowledging that if abortion becomes illegal, becomes a felony such as manslaughter or even infanticide, which he now supports, of course doctors who perform them would have the be "punished" (Trump's word) but so would women who take the first step in initiating this "crime" when they schedule an appointment and then undergo the procedure.

This latter thought--that women would also need to be "punished"--unleashed such a storm of criticism about Trump's misogyny and outrageous views that he felt the need to "walk it back" as well as change his position at least four times since Friday after stepping in it during a brilliant, badgering interview conducted by Chris Matthews where this "punishment" kerfuffle began.

One would have assumed that this outrage directed at Trump would have come exclusively from those on the political left who believe fervently in a woman's right to choose.

And though the chorus of criticism came mainly from that source, a great deal of it was from those on the right--anti-abortion conservatives, including Ted Cruz, who gleefully joined in the vilification of Trump.

Cruz, in his usual weasely way, said: "Of course we shouldn't be talking about punishing women. We should affirm their dignity and the incredible gift they have to bring life into the world."

Cruz and his ilk were delighted to see Trump blunder into further trouble with female voters though, like Trump, they too want to criminalize abortion but claim that only the doctors should be punished. Calling for the prosecution of women seems to them too Scarlet-Lettery. Or, closer to the truth, too politically risky.

In an email back to my fellow progressive friend, here's what I said about Trump's peaking--
Trump is post-peak. 
Among other things the Trump phenomenon is a classic media tale--build him up then delight in tearing him down. The usual mix of entertainment, distraction, ratings, money, and blood sport. Bread and circuses. Everything about this is just so hypocritical and cynical.  
My favorite thing at the moment is how Trump stumbled into revealing the ugly truth about abortion. A truth GOPers don't in general want to hear or acknowledge-- 
Trump really favors abortion but to pander to the base and have a chance to win the nomination he flip-flopped and became pro-life.  
But what are the implications--to ban it, to make it illegal, not only must the doctors be "punished" (T's word--interesting choice) but also the women. Anti-abortion people have focused on punishing the doctors (including winking at murdering them) but see women opting for abortions to be victims.  
This is more sexist regression--women again perceived to be victims. But, of course, it is women who choose and thus to be consistent in a lunatic, anti-abortion environment, they too must be punished. 
Which is what Trump said.  
And as a result got massacred by the Republican establishment who are afraid to state the full implications of their heinous policy (to ban all abortions with no exceptions) because that would drive even more women than at present away from supporting GOP candidates.  
They've been hiding from this truth for years but Trump ripped off the scab. Or, if you prefer, revealed what's under the rock. 
He may be crazy but in his unpredictability and version of "truth"-telling he's dangerous to Republicans. That's the real reason they hate and want to get rid of him. Not that he's a loser and would bring the party and its current candidates down. 
But because of what Jack Nicholson said, "They can't handle the truth." 

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Monday, April 04, 2016

April 4, 2016--Tuckered

The drive north took four days and was intense because of the weather and traffic. So, I am taking today off but will return tomorrow.

Friday, April 01, 2016

April 1, 2016--Bowling Alone

We're overnighting on Georgia's charming St. Simons Island.

Thus, no time for writing. But when I return on Monday, I will have some updated thoughts about Robert Putnam's classic, Bowling Alone.

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