Thursday, June 30, 2016

June 30 2016--Little England

Until recently I never thought much about what the Great in Great Britain meant.

Of course I knew about the British Empire where the sun never sets, though by the time I was a young adult coming into political consciousness, most British colonies had broken away and were linked mainly though trade agreements, immigration policy, and as members of the British Commonwealth. With emphases on common and wealth.

Now, after the Brexit vote I am understanding that what is likely to remain of Great Britain or the United Kingdom will no longer be so united or so great.

Scotland and Northern Ireland, the major components with Wales of what is united and left of that kingdom, will figure out ways to secede and on their own, either, as in the case of Northern Ireland, unite with the rest of Ireland, while Scotland is likey to form an independent nation of its own and in both cases will, one way or another, affiliate with the E.U.

What remains will coalesce into just England, which wags and British haters (there are many on the continent, which compounds the problems) are now referring to gleefully as Little England.

From Great Britain to Little England. What a comeuppance. Or comedownance.

The European Union in its inception was supposed to accomplish a number of things.

First--and this attracted most of the ultimate E.U. countries to affiliate and for many of these adopt the euro as the common currency--first, there were the obvious economic advantages. To create the ultimate free trade zone and in that way, though far from forming a true United States of Europe, forge the world's largest trading block and collective economy.

Then there were the political reasons to build an E.U. Many of the future members had made war with each other at various times over many centuries. Most dramatically the First World War (which up to that time produced the most military and civil casualties in history) and then the even bloodier Second World War which were fueled by collapsed economies and rampant, virulent, and rivalrous nationalisms.

The thought was that if these historic enemies could become entangled for mutual advantage in an integrated economy and open their borders to commerce and people, making money together (not love) would overcome their seemingly genetic impulse to make war.

With many caveats, what was envisioned by E.U. founders such as Jean Monnet, up to now has worked. There are many spats to be sure, especially in recent years, as prominent examples, about the admission to the E.U. of Islamic Turkey and immigration and refugee policy (not unrelated), there have been no wars (trade or military) and relative prosperity, especially for the countries with the largest economies--Germany, England, and France.

But enmities remain and have been largely papered over. Xenophobic nationalistic inclinations persist and historic rivalries lurk just below the surface.

The Brits voted to leave the E.U. just a week ago and already German and French leaders, among others, are pushing the UK to leave the E.U. by the end of next week, not next year or two or three years hence.

I am exaggerating to make the point that not only do Germany and the current French leadership want to set an example of harsh and unyielding treatment of Britain to discourage others from thinking about following suit (including France where an emboldened Marine Le Pen is already calling for France to exit--Frexit), but also because of a still vibrant dislike of things British. Especially perceived English arrogance, moral superiority, and--this is important and closer to home--having served since at least the early 20th century as the United States' poodle.

For us that poodle has been important. With much of Europe suspicious of America's agenda, the UK has served as an essential bridge for us to the continent. Our "special relationship" with Britain has included not just an almost always willing partnership in global adventures and interventions (including support for the Vietnam and Iraq wars) but also as an eager partner in intelligence gathering and fiscal and cultural policy.

If as many say (fear as well as look forward to) Great Britain's fall in status and stature, the prospect of Little England, is both real and confounding. For us, there will be estrangement and thus less influence as Russia and others grow restive and flex their muscles.

Which means that over time we may be also heading to become Little America.

Jean Monnet

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Wednesday, June 29, 2016

June 29, 2016--Tuning Out Istanbul

Last night there was another horrendous terrorist attack on the international airport in Istanbul. At least 41 were killed and scores more injured. The networks, especially the cable news networks, were all over the story, proclaiming breaking news whenever there was something more-or-less new to report.

With great guilt, I watched about 15 minutes worth of the coverage. Enough for me to get the basic facts--the journalistic who, what, when, where, why, and how. And then I shut down the TV and stopped clicking on the New York Times Website for the latest.

I felt guilt since I pride myself on being well informed and concerned and compassionate when there are dire circumstances, especially when innocent people are harmed.

But in those 15 minutes of watching I got most of the who-what questions answered; and though by then no group had claimed responsibility, one knows the who and why. Sadly, these days, after 9/11 and hundreds of other "incidents," it is easy on one's own to fill in those blanks.

So why watch the same eyewitness videos over and over and over again? Because you have family or friends living or traveling in the region? To make certain the horror of the event is forever etched in one's mind? Morbid curiosity? A version of shadenfreude? Better them then me?

And then what does being well-informed mean? How does one best become well informed and then what purposes does it serve?

Isn't being well informed to help think about what actions to take? Whom to vote for? What to write about in letters to editors? What groups to join? Where to donate money? What to say to friends and acquaintances who you want to convince to change their views and come over to your side?

To become better informed about what happened in Istanbul, to immerse oneself in it, again, is for what purpose?

Assuming ISIS is responsible, other than becoming more fearful, to express more rage, what will that then mean in real-life terms?

Will it keep me off international flights? Will I no longer be willing to drop friends off at the airport? Riddled with anxieties about things I can't control, will I become more of a shut-in? Will I vote for Trump believing that he will be better at preventing these barbarous acts than Clinton? Will I sink further and further into despair and cynicism? Will I, more than I do already, want to hide out in Maine and spend less time in target-rich New York?

I can see having an interest in knowing for its own sake. Not as a precursor to taking action. I have lots of those kinds of interests. Not unrelated to Istanbul, some of them include spending time involved with escapist entertainments--my ongoing reading, a marginal interest in a few sports, wanting to listen to more music than at present. And in all cases I want to know more about them.

But as to Istanbul, at the risk of disappointing myself or deflating my self-image, I am attempting to limit my involvement. Still I know I will read more about it later today. Though as little as possible since there will be just a few important additional things to learn. But beyond that . . .

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Tuesday, June 28, 2016

June 28, 2016--Lady of Forest Trace: Mom at 108

Yes, I'm greedy.

Today would have been my mother's 108th birthday. She came up 362 days short, having died on July 1st last year. A great run, especially considering she was still pretty much her essential self well into her 107th year.

How amazing. What good fortune for her and these many of us who loved her and found inspiration in how she lived her extra-long life.

You would think that getting to my own advanced age and still having a mother to talk to and visit and be inspired by would have satisfied me. Or anyone.

But I hasn't.

I wish I could call her today and talk about Brexit and Hillary and Trump and Orlando. I wish I could be there to celebrate even if being there toward the end was more to sit with her and hold her hand as she lived out with dignity her final months and days.

A smile is all I really need. Not just today, but since I am certain I will have the same greedy feeling on every one of her future birthdays, for as long as I go through my own late-life dramas.

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Monday, June 27, 2016

June 27, 2016--Brexit

From two conversations--

The first, Friday evening at a party where I was approached by a neighbor who formerly owned a number of local businesses and who now spends nearly half a year in Africa working with Doctors Without Borders.

"It may surprise you to know that I supported Brexit. That the UK should withdraw from the European Union."

"I don't know you well enough to be surprised," I said, being sure to smile so he wouldn't think I was giving him attitude. In truth, I suppose if I were a Brit, I would have voted to stay so perhaps I was sending some attitude his way. Trying to sound neutral, I asked, "Why's that?"

"The EU government in Brussels is controlled by Europe's ruling elites and represents corporate and financial institutions' interests more than what might be good for average citizens. It's not so different from what Bernie's been saying about the banks and the establishment. I'm a Bernie person, by the way."

"And do you see any similarities between what many people are saying about the EU in other European countries and what Donald Trump is saying about us?"

He waved that off. "Trump's a jerk and maybe even a fascist."

Not wanting to talk about Trump, I said, "To tell you the truth, I'm embarrassed to say I don't really know that much about the EU, especially the Brussels-situated government. I've been trying to learn more the past few days and it does look as if that government has real power over the lives of all people and institutions in the 28 EU countries."

"And not unlike with our business-dominated government very little good trickles down to hard working people."

"But what about the immigrant issue? Isn't that similar to what many people here are all agitated about?"

"That is a huge compounding factor in the generalized anger and fear. Worse, to be sure, because none of the EU countries have really welcomed immigrants. Temporary workers have been needed since the birth rates have gone way down across Europe and places like Germany need to import workers. Remember the Turkish 'guest workers' that the Germans welcomed but expected would go back to Turkey after a year or two?"

"I do remember that."

"How did that work out?"

"I suppose not that well. I mean, from a German perspective. So many stayed."

"But the immigrant situation there, like here, is a distraction from more fundamental issues. People are not feeling they are doing well and rather than blame the system itself look for scapegoats. Immigrants front and center."

"I get your point about Trump."

"There's also something interesting going on that is best understand through the lens of developmental economics--how emotions affect economic behavior."

"Go on."

"Millions of people in the UK, a majority, knowing there would likely be personal downside consequences from bringing about Brexit still voted for it. One might say, against their own economic self-interest. Classic developmental economics on a huge scale."

"I have been thinking that too."

"Here's one more thing--and I think it's also true for the US."

"What's that?"

"People who are struggling to get by and feel their governments and institutions are not taking care of or responding to their needs and feeling are fed up to here," he gestured, "with how they are looked down upon and simultaneously pandered to be all sorts of so-called 'experts,' especially those who proclaim themselves to be experts who know better than the people themselves what's good for them. How would that make you feel?"

"No good," I said, and with that he caught the eye of another neighbor and moved on.

*   *   *

The second conversation was at the Bristol Diner Sunday morning with a very skilled and highly sought after expert about railroad systems and supply chains. He does consulting all over the world, especially until recently in Brazil. When not on the road he works from his Victorian-era farmhouse and barn in Bristol.

He came over to our booth to talk. After an exchange of the usual pleasantries, he said, "We just were skyping with friends from Aberdeen. Aberdeen Scotland."

"After what just happened there, that must have been interesting."

"It was, but also surprising."

"In what ways?"

"That unlike the vast majority of other Scots they voted to leave the EU. Demographically I would have thought they would have voted to remain. They're highly educated, successful professionally, and financially in good shape. From that alone one would expect they would have voted to stay in the EU."

"From what I have been reading, I agree. So what's their story? Did they talk about it?"

"Indeed they did. Lynne, the wife, is a senior hospital administrator and told me about something that really got under her skin that she feels represents the nature of the EU problem. She was gathering patient data and noted on one form that there were a series of EU-required question about how patients prepare and drink tea."


"Things like do they use a teabag and if so how long do they let it steep. Or if they use loose tealeaves what kind of kettle and tea brewer do they use. Do they put milk in their tea and if so, hot or cold. Sugar. Artificial sweetener."

"Maybe this was for some epidemiological study like the relationship between tea drinking and esophageal cancer."

"I guess that's possible but not from what Lynne reported. It was more like asking if a patient has any food preferences or allergies. From her perspective it was not part of a careful study but just arbitrary information gathering. Totally unnecessary EU-intrusive bureaucratic work. Again, this specific thing is not why she voted to exit but for her was a way of emphasizing how out of control the EU government is and how hundreds of things of this kind that impinge on people's lives in the aggregate have made many clearly feel disenfranchised and controlled by external, not-voted-for officials and institutions."

*   *   *

I need to do more reading about what just happened in the UK and what the underlying issues are and how widespread they are in Europe and, for that matter, here. I know some feel what happened helps Trump. Others, that it hurts his chances. I think more the former.

But in the meantime, something tectonic and under-anticipated is happened in Europe and of course here--who would have thought that Trump would have a chance to be elected president. And in France Marine Le Pen?

One thing is certain--those of us who are or feel we are part of the elite (better educated, more professionally successful, affluent, travelled, highly regarded) need to take a close look at our behavior to make as sure as we can that we are not feeling superior to the Brexit and Trump people and thus looking down our noses at them. From what we just witnessed, we are being identified by them to be part of the problem.

Above all else, we need to realize we do not know what is best for other people.

Another thing is certain--borders throughout the world--especially in Europe and the Middle East--are being redrawn. Mainly not elegantly or comfortably. One hundred years from now, people will be pointing to these massive forces in the West and the former colonial world as responsible for the new world in which they will then be living.

What we are witnessing then may be one of history's periodic, messy, but necessary cataclysms.

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Friday, June 24, 2016

June 24, 2016--Always Talks to Strangers: The Quiet Room

This is from August 3, 2007 and is a friend's favorite. She asked me to post it again--

It wasn’t a good sign that I didn’t know where to find the belt for my bathrobe.

I had never been to a spa before and when the very nice attendant helped me slip it on, after seeing me struggling to find the belt and sensing that I had come to the conclusion that it was not for some reason included, in a hushed voice, since we were in the Quiet Room, she told me it was hanging right there on the back where it had been stitched in place. Embarrassed for the first of a number of times to come, she as gently as she spoke, reached behind me and drew the two ends to the front, asking, “Do you need any help tying it?”

Only slightly embarrassed this time, trying not to sound inappropriately uncalm considering where this was transpiring, I said, “I think I can manage, thank you. I do have one at home, but it has a belt that comes strung through loops.”

At last with me securely belted up, she asked, “Can I give you a tour?”

“That would be nice,” I said.

“Well, let’s start right here in the Quiet Room. As you can see the lights are very dim. That’s intentional. It helps guests feel calm. And we also have these relaxation beds.” She pointed to about twenty of these arranged in a dimly-lit circle that she said is an “ideal arrangement to induce relaxation,” adding, “It’s a very spiritual arrangement.”

My eyes by then had adjusted to the light and I could see the teak-wood, slatted chaise-like relaxation beds covered head-to-foot with various layers of linen sheets and terrycloth towels. I also noticed that they were not adjustable and that the end where one was to presumably place one’s head was quite a bit lower than where one’s legs would wind up going.

“If I lie on one of them,” I asked, “won’t I get dizzy, and,”  knowing my propensities, “maybe even pass out? I don’t want you to have to call 911.” I chuckled less from my sorry attempt at humor than out of nervousness.

“That wouldn’t be a problem at all. We’re very close to the local hospital. You might have seen it when you drove here from Auburn.”

“I didn’t see it but it’s good to know it’s right here. I feel certain that will help me relax.”

Ignoring that ironic barb, or missing it entirely, she pressed on, “I don’t know if you noticed the music we have here in the Quiet Room. It was very carefully selected by our spa manager. He came to us from California and put these tapes together especially for us. They’re very meditative don’t you think?”

“Oh yes, I can hear it now.” What sounding like wind chimes accompanied by a lute was faintly audible as if descending from the vaulted ceiling which I saw was covered with fluffy frescoed clouds. “The music does sound very meditative.”

“I’m so glad you feel that way because at 4:30 this afternoon, the spa manager himself, Evan is his name, he will be conducting a meditation and relaxation session right here in the Quiet Room. If you’d like, I can reserve a relaxation bed for you. We still have a few free, including one right over there by the waterfall. I know it’s hard to see because of the way Evan has the lights turned down but maybe you can hear it. He adjusts the flow of the water just so, so at the same time you can still hear the music and also the relaxing sound of the water. Should I save a place for you? There’s no extra charge of course and Evan wants guests to know he doesn’t accept gratuities.” I nodded, thinking I should sign up for something. All the other scheduled activities sounded too strenuous for total relaxation—Pilates, aerobics, fasting, purging, colonics. Especially the latter.

“And,” she continued, looking very pleased that I was getting drawn into participating in at least one thing that they had obviously taken so much care and thought to organize, “Did you notice that these specially-designed bathrobes do not have any pockets? Though all the brochures say this is so guests will not bring cell phones to the Quiet Room, it’s really because Evan doesn’t want anyone to have any money with them. He feels strongly that we should ‘leave the world behind,’ that’s what he always says, when we enter here.”

She smiled ecstatically—I knew that because I could see, through the gloom of the scented air, the light emitted by the whiteness of her glowing teeth.

“Also there’s one more thing I must show you. I feel that from the way you responded to the music that this will be one of your favorite activities while you’re here with us.” Again gently, she turned me away from the semicircle of beds and pointed toward what appeared to be a cedar-wood door. “Right there,” she said, “behind that door is our Eucalyptus Shower.” While my eyes strained to adjust again to the even-dimmer light in that corner of the Quiet Room, Shelly, she had introduced herself, remained stationary, still smiling broadly and pointing at the shower door.

“I have to confess, though you’ve probably figured it out by now, that I’m not that experienced with spas and I’ve never heard of that kind of shower. How does it work—do they put eucalyptus in the water?”

“You’re being silly again,” she punched me softly and conspiratorially on the shoulder of my robe, “It’s really a steam shower.”

“Steam? That sounds pretty hot to me. I have very delicate skin. Though,” I winked at her, “you already told me the hospital is nearby.”

"It is down the road; but you don’t stand under the steam like you do in a water shower. You would get burned if you did that.” Exactly, I thought but didn’t say anything. “It’s more like a steam bath. We make steam and put eucalyptus oil in it. Everyone in California takes them. Evan feels it’s good for your spirit as well as your body. It’s aromatherapy. You know about that I’m sure.” I chose not to contradict her, hoping the eucalyptus steam bath wasn’t going to be too big a part of the session I had signed up for. Having grown up in Brooklyn I was still more of a regular water shower kind of person than a steam-and-aroma-therapy one.

                                                                   * * *

It was nearly 4:00 and since I had a half hour to kill I decided to walk around the grounds. They are very beautiful, and from the inn’s brochure I understood are modeled after Monet’s garden in Giverny. I wandered around a bit, over the arched wooden bridge that spanned the water lily pond just like the one so familiar in Monet’s late paintings; and before I knew it, it was time to return to the Quiet Room.

In fact, it was nearly four-forty. I was ten minutes late but thought that would be all right, since for an experience of the kind I was about to have, leaving the world behind, as Evan always said, I felt certain no one would be watching the clock. Probably, there weren't even any clocks.

But I was wrong—pacing back and forth by the door, tapping on his watch was, I was sure, Evan. Blonde streaks such as his could only come from California. In a harsh whisper he admonished me, “Everyone else is here waiting for you so they can relax. Please get onto your relaxation bed so we can begin.”

Cinching my robe even tighter around me in an attempt to make myself invisible, I slunked over to, wouldn’t you know it, bed number 13. As quickly as I could, half tangled up in my ankle-length robe, I lowered myself onto the bed, not at all gracefully since, as you know, the head end was so much lower that that for my legs. But I did manage to get settled without choking myself with the belt.

Almost immediately I realized that too much blood was rushing in the wrong direction and as no surprise to myself I was already getting quite dizzy.

To cover my anxiety, sotto voce, I said, as the etherial music continued to envelope us, “Lying here like this reminds me of a being in a mausoleum.” And, as I looked around at the other nineteen lying there wrapped like mummies in their oversized robes, if they had been orange and not white, we would have looked at lot more like the 38 members of the Heavens Gate Hale-Bopp cult who committed mass suicide together back in 1997 than guests paying $500 a night so we could relax.

I vowed that if I survived the session and managed to avoid being raced to the hospital, at dinner later than night in the inn’s award-wining restaurant I would be sure to have their legendary Mood Altering Warm Chocolate Cake with Bourbon Ice Cream and Toasted Walnuts. As they note on the menu—“Because You Deserve It.”

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Thursday, June 23, 2016

June 23, 2016--Creme de la Phlegm

"I don't know how to put this," our friend Bob said the other day, "But every time we have morning coffee together both you and Rona are coughing and sneezing and constantly having to blow your noses."

"It's true," I said. "Sometimes it's allergy season and though neither one of us really has allergies when there's so much pollen in the air . . . Well, you know."

"You never hear me coughing and wheezing."

"Good for you," Rona said, with a tincture of annoyance. She was having a rough respiratory morning.

"By midday, generally, we're both fine," I said, "It's mainly true in the morning. You should hear what we sound like at home. Before we head for the diner."

"Well, at least you have each other," Bob said. This time sounding slightly compassionate. "To tell you the truth," he continued, looking out the window, "I was wondering if something else is going on."

"Like what?" I asked.

"As I said, it's a little delicate."

"I've never known you to be delicate," Rona said, "That's not your forte. You're more the tell-it-like-you-think-it-is type."

"Go on, Bob, we can handle it. What's on your mind?"

"You won't take offense? Promise?"

"It depends," I said, "But give it a try."

"It's no secret that you're Jewish, right. Both of you." Now he was leaning on the window sill with his back half to us.

"What does that have to do with anything?" Rona asked, not sounding happy.

"You know."

"I don't know," I said, now also a little agitated. "Spit it out. Forgive the figure of speech."

"That you're Jewish."

"We established that already."

Now turning to face us, he said, "Is it true what they say about Jews being phlegmy?"

"Phlegmy? And who's the they?" I said, increasingly annoyed with him.

"You know me well enough to know I'm not one of those anti . . . anti . . ."

"Anti-Semites," Against my better judgement I helped him.

"That's not me. You know me how many years? Have you ever heard me say . . ."

"I know, some of your best friends are Jews." Now it was Rona's turn to turn her back to the table.

Defending himself, Bob said, "All I was wondering about was your mucous. Not your religion."

"So why did you link it to our being Jewish? You may not have intended it to be anti-Semitic," I said, "But it sure turned out to sound that way."

"If so, I apologize and promise to be more careful in the future."

"That's all I could ask," Rona said, sounding forgiving. Bob really is quite a good guy and isn't really prejudiced. Not about anything. In fact, he's very tolerant of people's differences and a genuine Libertarian.

"So if I'm a little forgiven, what about what I was asking you about? But please don't get mad again."

"About the phlegm business?" Rona said.

"At the risk of sounding anti-Semitic myself," I said, "I think there's some truth to what you were saying. There are physical, even genetic conditions that are more common among certain racial and ethnic groups. Like Sickle Cell among black people and yes, in addition to Tay-Sachs disease and my favorite, Maple Syrup Urine disease, there are, I'm not making this up, about 100 conditions  that are prevalent primarily among Jews. So I think it may be fair to say that by nature we're phlegmier than some other groups."

"And maybe that's why there are so many Jewish doctors." Rona was now smiling.

"You said it; I didn't," Bob said. Then added, "OK, having established that," Bob was feeling totally off the hook, "What about the Jewish language?"


"Yes, Yiddish. Isn't it true that it helps to be phlegmy to pronounce certain words?"

"That's a new one to me," I said. "Can you give me an example or two?"

"Maybe one since I'm not too up on my Jewish, I mean my Yiddish." For the first time he beamed one of his characteristic smiles. "How about 'hot-spur?'"

"Hot-spur? Never heard of it."

"You've used it a number of times. It's one of my favorites. Means being assertive or, trickier in ethic stereotyping terms, pushy." He maintained his smile.

"I get it," Rona said, "Chutzpah. Not 'hot-spur,' though I like you're version. It's right out of Shakespeare and a wonderful malaprop."

Bob then said, "Look at the difference in the way each of us pronounced it--chutzpah. With all your phlegm you made it sound so authentic, so rich. It's a word made for people who produce lots of mucous."

Getting into it, I said, "Here are some others for you. Yiddishisms that sound better with phlegm flowing--Mishpocha (family), yenta (a gossip), kvech (to complain), gonef (a thief), boychik (a young boy) . . ."

"That one, boy-chick, I could have figured out. I love these!" Bob gushed.

"There are more," I said, on a roll, "Kishkes (intestines, like punch him in the kishkes), bubkes (meaning nothing, as in he has bubkes), nachos (a pleasure), and even kosher. With these it does help to be phlegmy"

Bob was having a wonderful time. And by then so were we.

"And let's no forget all the Jewish foods," I said. "Mainly what I call the K-foods because they start with the letter K--kugel (or noodle pudding), kasha varnishkas (buckwheat with bow-tie noodles), kreplach (the Jewish version of wantons), of course knishes (potato or kasha filled), kichel cookies, and even kishke (cooked beef intestines)--not my favorite."

Rona made a face and said, "But there are hundreds more," Rona said. "And like most of these even if you don't understand them, they sort of sound like what they mean. Kvech is a perfect example. Complaining just sounds like kvetching."

"What about choch-key?" Bob asked.

"That's another new one to me," I said.

Rona said, "He means tchotchke--a knick-knack."

"I have a whole lot of those," Bob said, "A barn full of 'em. Sally's always after me about them. She says, 'Can't you get rid of those tchotchkes.'"

I said, "Think about how much better that would sound if you had a mouth full of phlegm."

Some of Bob's Tchotchkes

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Wednesday, June 22, 2016

June 22, 2106--Who's Afraid of the NRA?

Who's afraid of the NRA? Pretty much every Republican member of Congress--House and Senate--and a smattering of craven Democrats.

And what are they afraid of? Simple--they fear that if they vote for even modest restrictions on assault weapons the NRA will "primary" them--run and fund someone against them who hews slavishly to the NRA line.

Why is the NRA threat so powerful that almost all Republicans in lock step will resist any piece of legislation that the leadership of the NRA perceives to be against its own self interest? Not the legislator's, not the nation's, not even the vast majority of NRA members.

This is less clear since between 70 and 80 percent of NRA members actually support stronger background checks and restrictions on assault weapons and ammunition magazines that hold up to 100 rounds of ammunition. Ideal weapon systems to commit mass murder as in Orlando 10 days ago.

One would think that if an incumbent voted for some modest limitations, such as the ones voted down by the Senate this week, it would please the vast majority of his or her constituents.

Thus, I remain puzzled. It seems like an easy choice--vote to restrict, even forbid the sale of weapons to anyone on the no-fly and terrorist watch lists and easily get reelected.

But, among others, Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell, robotically following the NRA-GOP talking points, when urging senators to vote against four modest pieces of legislation that would restrict the sale of weapons to potential terrorists, said that to approve any bill would be tantamount to voting to deal with symptoms and not the cause. The cause in this case fighting ISIS since the Fort Hood, San Bernardino, and Orlando shooters all said they committed mass murder in support of the Islamic State.

This would be like McConnell saying we shouldn't treat the symptoms of cancer but should focus solely on its cure. Ignoring the obvious--do both, as we do, at the same time.

The NRA funds various PAC groups and the campaigns of individual members of Congress as a way to assure its agenda continues to have congressional protection--the unrestricted sale of all forms of weapon systems. Even to criminals and possible terrorists. Their perverse logic--if even these common sense restrictions were enacted into law they will be followed immediately by Democrats and President Obama moving to eliminate the Second Amendment.

Of course this is preposterous. But there you have it.

I have one suggestion--former New York City mayor Mike Bloomberg has spent tens of millions of dollars to support gun control legislation. Thus far this has been ineffective. Why not a change of strategy--offer to fund on a two-for-one basis any money deployed by the NRA leadership to stop all forms of anti-gun legislation and to fund primary opponents of members of Congress who are targeted (pardon the metaphor) during primary season?

The NRA itself plus organizations and individuals that fund efforts to defeat gun control legislation and candidates who vote in favor of these restrictions spend about $37 million a year. Bloomberg, whose net worth is $44.6 billion, could easily come up with $75 million annually until sensible legislation is approved and signed into law.

Hillary Clinton was right--"Enough."

Wayne LaPierre, NRA Executive Vice President

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Tuesday, June 21, 2016

June 21, 2016--Good Grief

When did all this public grieving begin? The candlelight vigils, the color-coded ribbons, the balloons, the flowers, the stuffed animals?

The latest manifestation, the outpourings were for the 49 victims of the mass shooting at a nightclub in Orlando.

All of this on some level is understandable--a way to deal with the unfathomable.

What is less understandable is the way the media, print and electronic, devote more time to covering the biographies of the victims and the grieving than the event and its implications. In this case the murders and injuries, the causes, the psychological and social policy analysis of why this occurred, the assignment of blame, the struggle to find ways to intervene preemptively and hopefully get better at forestalling future mass crimes.

In this regard, it appears already that the FBI has some work to do to get better at identifying and keeping track of potential terrorists.

But about the grieving.

I know a number of people who lost loved ones in the 9/11 attack on New York and Washington.

An acquaintance who lost her husband, on the eighth anniversary of the tragedy said to me, with considerable passion, "I've had it with the grieving and the annual public remembrances. I want to move beyond grieving  and get on with my life. I feel guilty saying this, but it's the truth. I think others, who fortunately did not lose family members, have taken possession of 9/11 and immerse themselves in it as if was their own personal tragedy."

"But don't you think . . .?"

"Yes, it was an attack on America and thus even to those more fortunate than I it belongs in a sense to them too. As in Paris how so many carried signs and wore T-shirts saying, 'Je Suis Charlie.' I get that but not the deep emotional connection to the event that they seem to have. The embrace of the mourning, the unwillingness to move on. Or to let others like me closer to the reality do so. They've taken the experience away from survivors and appropriated it, made it their own."

When I called to check in with her after the Orlando shooting, she confirmed that to her a version of the same thing is now unfolding. She was also quick to point out how the media are largely responsible. How they encourage, how they contribute to the bathos. It attracts readers and viewers. It's good for sales and ratings. She also acknowledged that she realizes she sounds cynical but feels she is also telling the difficult-to-discuss truth.

I agree.

Is it because we have trouble with authentic emotion? That what more and more has come to represent feeling has been mediated and commodified? Back in 1961, in anticipation of the media-saturated era we were entering, Daniel Boorstin wrote about pseudo-events in his influential, The Image.

A pseudo-event is one that exists for the sole purpose of generating media publicity. Or one that gets taken over by the media as a vehicle to entice and addict.

The JFK funeral two years after The Image became such an event. On a monumental scale. Yes, there were good reasons for all of us to feel deep loss and grief. But for days and days and days, 24 hours a day? That in fact was what it became. A media-orchestrated event of colossal proportions and duration.

Just as the death and funeral of Princess Diana in 1997 was transformed from a true tragedy into a pseudo-event.

In fact, it was during Princess Di's funeral that some of the elements and gestures of widespread, worldwide public grieving was first manifested--the mountains of flowers (including those that landed on and covered her hearse), the hand-wrtiten notes, the stuffed animals, the crowds lining the streets of the funeral cortege many hours in advance, the public parade of mourners.

Just yesterday, to emphasize this point, NBC News, in case anyone had forgotten the slaughter of innocents in Newtown, Connecticut in 2016 where 26 were murdered, posted on line a piece to amplify and further exploit that connection, "Newtown Offers Lessons to Anguished Orlando."

My suggestion--leave them alone.

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Monday, June 20, 2016

June 20, 2016--Lower Back Issues

A sprained back makes it difficult for me to sit in a chair and type. And so I have nothing prepared for today. It is healing (slowly!) and I hope, expect to be back here tomorrow.

Friday, June 17, 2016

June 17, 2016--Always Talk To Strangers: Sue Ellen

From July 18, 2007--

In the Safeway parking lot in Estes Park, Colorado, on route to Wyoming we met, let me call her, Sue Ellen

Into the bed of her battered pickup she was loading dozens of 24-packs of Pepsi, regular and diet; Seven-Up; Sprite; Dr, Pepper; and H&W Root Beer.  It was hot, maybe over a hundred in the starkly shadeless lot. 

“Sheet,” I thought I heard her say.

Ordinarily I would have ignored her, especially in this heat and considering I was lugging a sack of my own groceries.  But, perhaps because we were beginning our vacation, had nothing urgent to tend to, or maybe as the result of being a little oxygen-deprived because of the altitude, I stopped and offered to help her unload her enormous shopping cart, large enough, it appeared, to hold a full-size refrigerator.  She was soaked through from the effort but didn’t acknowledge my offer and again, this time I was sure I heard her, muttered to no one I particular, “Sheet.”

I should have taken the hint and moved on; but, trying to be helpful, and perhaps to lift her spirits, I said, “Looks like you have quite a party planned for the weekend.” 

At that she wheeled on me and, with hands on her considerable hips, dripping sweat on the asphalt, spat, “I should be so lucky.”  Maybe really meaning to say, “Why don’t you go back to where you came from.  The last thing I need is to be talked down to by a big-city faggot like you.”

With a snort she turned away from me and resumed unloading her cart.  She had nothing but sodas in it—no chips, no beer, no cold cuts.  She seemed to have told me the truth when she said what she said about not having a party planned.  Again I should have gone on my way, but for some reason didn’t.  Maybe, as I always do when traveling in rural areas, I was clinging to romantic notions about how friendly and welcoming folks generally are who live in small towns, and I didn’t want my first encounter to be so off-putting.   It threatened to impart a sour note to a time we hoped would be sweet and relaxing—we had been so stressed the last few weeks back in NewYork.  So in as light and friendly a tone as I could muster, considering how she had dismissed me, I said to her aggressively turned back, “You must have a large family.”  

As I spoke these words I was mortified to realize I was likely being inappropriate—too intrusive and intimate—and perhaps insulting, considering how large she was and thus what I might be unintentionally intimating about the size of, not the number in her family.

Without deigning to face me, still half-buried in the shopping cart, she said, giving equal, measured emphasis to each syllable, “I do not know what your problem is mister.  I’m workin’.  Is that OK with you?  Or don’t you have anythin’ better to do?  Like maybe having a glass of Chablis wine or somethin’?”

Though that should have been more than enough to suggest to me that it was time to join Rona in our rented car—it was clear from the look on Rona’ face that she was feeling, even though she was too far away to hear, that I was making a total ass of myself—I stood there watching the soda lady slam case after case into her truck, uttering now a stream of “Sheets.”

“So what’s your problem?  I’m beginnin’ to think that you’re quite a creep.  Or worse. A perv.”

“No, really, I only stopped to help, thinkin’ you could use some considerin’ the load you got there.”  I caught myself unwittingly slipping into my version of Western-speak and also was alarmed by my careless use of the possible “load’ double entendre.  But, undeterred, I pressed on, “You told me in no uncertain terms that these are not for a party and that you’re workin’,” I couldn’t stop myself—blame it on the altitude.  “Mind my askin’ what kind of work you do with all them sodas?”

“I run two vendin’ machines,” she muttered under her breath.

“Sorry?  I didn’t follow you.”  What business of mine was any of this?  I thought in another minute Rona would be askin’ where’s the nearest divorce court.  And I could surely understand why.  But I was fully into finding out what all this soda was about.  “‘Vendin’’ machines’?  You said you ‘run’ ‘em?”

Why she continued to deal with me, I’ll never know, but she did, “Yeah, like I said—I got two: one out by the gondola, you know that goes up that mountain over there,” to show me where she swept a massive arm in the direction of town. “The other one’s down outside the ‘mergency room.  At the hospital.”  She tossed her head to the right in the direction of, I assumed, the hospital.

That’s what you do?  Your work, I mean?  You said you was working.”

“So what’s so wrong with that?”  Before I could say “Nothing,” she raced ahead, “I know what you’re thinkin’—‘Big freakin’ deal—this bitch’s got two little soda machines and she calls that “work.”

“No, no really, that’s not what I’m thinkin’; but I am thinkin’ . . . .”  Thankfully I cut myself off before I could add, “What I am thinking is how you can make a living from this.”

“Right, you’re wonderin’ how I can make a livin’ from this.”  She noticed my impossible-to-contain smile.  Rona leaned on the car horn and I tossed a grin in her direction to indicate that things were going better, and as a plea to her to give me a few more minutes.

“Well . . .”

“Fair question.  Though it’s frankly no business of yours.”  She paused as if considering whether or not to finally end this.  I would not have blamed her—I was way off base.  But still I stood there just looking toward her.  “I ask myself that every freakin’ day,” she had decided to continue with me, “And can’t come up with a good answer.  But I’m not cut out for desk work and I’d kill myself before I’d work in one of them motels or restaurants agin—‘Can I get  you some more coffee?’ If I ever have to say that again in my life, all the time smilin’, I’d cut my wrists or put a bullet through that guy’s head.  Of course I’m kiddin’, you know,” I thought I saw the first inkling of a crooked smile.  “Though I wouldn’t want you to thinkin’ I’m violent or anythin’.  Though if you asked Gil I’m sure he’d have a different story.”

“Gil?” I asked.

“Yeah him.  Carly’s father.”


“My daughter.  Just turned fourteen.  That’s her in the cab.”  I looked in that direction and saw a mass of streaked hair just above the back of the passenger seat.

“She looks nice,” I said, not knowing what else to say.

“Shot him in the balls.”

“Sorry--Who?  Where?”

“The balls.  His dick.  Probably what you’d call the penis or somethin’”  She snickered at that.  Seeing me cringe, she said, “I’m Sue Ellen by the way.  You already met Carly.”  I introduced myself and extended my hand which Sue Ellen didn’t take.

“It’s not my business, But why did you . . . ?”

“‘Cause a her.”  She indicated she was referring to her daughter.

“Gil . . . ?”

“That’s right.  I told him six months prior I’d cut his balls off if he touched her again.  Which I didn’t, but I shot him there front and center after I found him in her room at 2:00 am.”  She looked over toward Carly.  “Never needed to do any time for it.  Everyone knew he got what he deserved, includin’ the police and the sheriff.  They all call him Capon now.  Lots a laughs all round.  That prick bastard.  I shoulda shot ‘em dead!”

“I’m sure Carly’s happy you didn’t.  I mean they might have put you in jail and maybe even taken her away from you.  You know, put her in a foster home.  That would have been, who knows, even . . . .”

Worse?”  Sue Ellen completed my thought.  “I’m not so sure ‘bout that.  Look at me--I’m such a good mother?  Maybe Carly’d be better off with someone else.  And I’d be where I’d at least have a roof over my head and get three squares a day.  Don’t sound so bad to me.”  She was now looking me straight in the eye.  I found it difficult to return her look—this was way, way more than I had been seeking when I stopped to offer to help with the sodas.  I had just wanted to be friendly, chit-chat a little, and maybe soak up some local color.  Here I found myself, less than two hours after landing in Denver, in the middle of a family soap opera.  Feeling like a total creep with nothing helpful to say or offer.

Still I tried, “I’m certain things will get better for you.  Carly’ll graduate from high school, maybe then go on to college, and make a good life for herself.  Isn’t that what we want for all of our children?” I wasn’t about to tell her then that I didn’t have any children of my own.  “My father used to call it ‘improvement in the breed.’  Sounds a little insensitive—children are of course not horses. But my dad’s was a good point nonetheless, don’t you think?”

“To tell you the honest, with all due respect—‘cause I assume he otherwise was a fine man--but he sounds like an asshole.  There’s not much improvin’ in the breed ‘round here, not even with the horses.  And when it came to me and that shit Gil, what popped out in our Carly ain’t such great shakes.  I’m sure it’s all Gil’s fault, but she’s been on lithium for six years already, got kicked out a school more times than I can count, and I’m sure’ll be droppin’ out for good soon as they let her.  Of course knocked up just like me.  So there’s your improvin’ in the breed for you.”  Snorting again, she dismissed me with the back of her hand and returned to loading up her truck.

Rona gave the horn two brief taps.  She had given me the time I had sought and, sensing things had taken a bad turn, in spite of my earlier indication of reassurance, was looking over at me lovingly and sympathetically.

Not knowing how to think about her situation or what else to say, feeling guilty and wanting to get away, I said clumsily, “All the best to you, Sue Ellen.  And to you Carly—good luck.  Nice to meet you.”  Her window had been rolled up all this time and I’m sure she had not heard one word that had passed between her mother and me.

Without looking back, I loped over to our car, tossed the groceries into the back seat, climbed in, gave Rona a peck of a kiss, shifted into reverse, and headed to our motel.  

"What was that about?" Rona asked half drugged due to jet-lag and the heat.

"Darned if I know."

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Thursday, June 16, 2016

June 16, 2016--Orlando and Trump's America

In a dark column two days ago in the New York Times, Roger Cohen writes--
Omar Mateen, the Florida shooter who had pledged allegiance to the Islamic State, just ushered Donald Trump to the White House, Britain out of the European Union, Marine Le Pen to the French presidency, and the world into a downward spiral of escalating violence. . .
Like the 19-year-old Bosnian Serb nationalist whose bullets ignited World War I, Mateen has set a spark to a time of inflammable anger.
Cohen continues--
Of course these somber imaginings may prove to be no more than that. But there is no question that the largest mass shooting in American history comes at a time of particular unease. In both the United States and Europe, political and economic frustrations have produced a groundswell against the status quo and an apparent readiness to make a leap in the dark. Washington and Brussels have become bywords for paralysis.
Anyone doubting this only needs to replay the video of President Obama's reaction. He wasn't reading from a teleprompter, but he might as well have been.

After seven and a half years in office and with all the violence from Newtown, Connecticut to San Bernardino, California, he is out of gas. Out of outrage. Out of motivation to one more time prod Congress to do something to control assault weapons. "Paralysis" captures it.

So we're left with Donald Trump to articulate what many Americans feel--enough is enough.

Even if he has no better chance to do anything more than Obama or Hillary Clinton, he is the channel through which so much anger, fear, and rage is being ventilated.

And do we not assume that ISIS and its spawn want Donald Trump to become our president? It would help confirm their heinous anti-Western ideology to have an angry xenophobe as our leader.

So expect additional massacres between now and November. Two or three more and Cohen's dystopian vision may well metastasize into our reality.

Breaking News--Or if Trump strikes a deal with the NRA to ban guns sales to those on the FBI watch list or the government's no-fly list. The NRA seems eager to talk with him about that. It is in each of their own self-interest. Just when you thought . . .

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Wednesday, June 15, 2016

June 15, 2016--Midcoast: Headscarf

The woman ahead of me in the checkout line at Kohl's in South Portland seemed distracted. While the rest of us were organizing purchases in our shopping carts, she was looking around as if under scrutiny.

Perhaps it's because of her headscarf, I thought. With the massacre in Orlando still dominating the news, and with the killer from an Islamic background, it wouldn't be surprising for an identifiable Muslim out in public to be nervous about what non-Mulsims might be thinking.

As her eyes swept the store, when she caught me looking at her, she quickly lowered her head and began to fidget with the clothing she was in the process of buying.

I said, not knowing exactly why, "It's still so windy."

With that she turned fully around, now with her back emphatically to me.

Not deterred, I said, "The forecast, though, is for it to subside later today. The wind." Still no reaction, "I'm worried about the plants we bought recently," I chattered on, "The wind dries them out and it's blowing too hard to water. Oh well."

By then she was first in line and one-by-one gently handed the pants, T shirts, and blouses to the cashier. They didn't exchange even a word but I could read the cashier's body language. She was decidedly not happy dealing with the woman and after ringing them all up, without folding them, stuffed the garments, as if they were garbage, into a large plastic bag.

When it was my turn, the cashier sighed audibly. "Not my favorite morning," she muttered to herself, but intentionally loud enough for me to hear.

"Sorry about that," I said, "It's the wind."

"Couldn't care less about that."

"Then what . . . ," I began to say knowing I should probably pay and get back in the car and head home.

"Come here to go on welfare and get us to pay for their health care and then the next thing you know . . ."

I knew she was referring to Orlando.

"Here I am working three jobs, none of them with benefits, and they just show up and have nothing better to do than go shopping." I tried to suggest without saying that I didn't want to hear this and was eager to be on my way.

"Did you see her nails? Pretty fancy don't you think?" In fact I had noticed them. "Check these out." She held her hands close enough to me so I could see them without my glasses. "Haven't had the time or money to get them done. It's been ages. Last time was when my daughter got married." She took a deep breath, "What a world."

The wind had indeed subsided as I made my way to the parking lot. As usual, frustrated with myself, I couldn't remember were I parked and so I wandered first to the left and then to the right. And saw standing there, between two towering SUVs, the woman in the headscarf.

To avoid agitating her further, I turned around and began to head back toward the store, for the moment not thinking about where I had parked. I just wanted to get out of her presence and leave her in as much peace as possible.

"Mister, mister," she called to me. I kept walking. But she continued to call out to me and so I stopped and looked back toward her. I couldn't determine what was best for me to do. It was clear she was distraught. Should I wait for her to come closer--it was evident she wanted to as she walked rapidly toward me--or should I pretend I couldn't hear her and head back into the store, feeling certain she wouldn't follow me there. It was unusual enough, from what I knew about Islamic women, that she was trying to engage me unobserved but in public.

Following my instincts, I stopped slinking away and waited for her to get closer.

"You seem nice," she said when she caught up with me. Carefully standing at least six feet from me she again avoided eye contact. "I din't mean to ignore you in the store."

"That's OK," I said.

"I knew what that woman was thinking. The cashier. What she felt about me. Especially right now with the news."

"I didn't pick anything up from her," I lied.

"That's nice of you to say. But I know it's not true. We came here from Somalia two years ago. My husband is a doctor and works now in the hospital in Portland." She gestured toward downtown. "I have two young children at home and I stay with them to take care of them. My sister's with them now. I'm studying to become a real estate agent so I can work when they're both old enough to be in school."

"I wish you well with that," I said. Still not feeling comfortable. And not entirely understanding why.

"I heard what she said. The cashier. We're not on welfare. We pay taxes. We're becoming Americans. Studying for our citizenship. More than anyone, we hate what happened in Orlando and before that in San Bernardino. I don't know why I'm telling you this. Maybe I want Americans to know who we are and how we feel."

"I can only imagine," I said, not lying.

"I know what people think. That we're all terrorists. I see the way people look at me and my husband. But with this . . ." She touched and adjusted her headscarf.

"I hope that's not true," I said, "Making it more difficult is what politicians and candidates are saying."

"I follow the news. I understand what you are saying. But can I tell you something I'm ashamed to admit?"

"Only if you . . ."

"I don't blame them. It was the same in Somalia. We came from educated people and then there were the militias. All the kidnappings and killings. They too called themselves Muslims, but they were animals. And so in Mogadishu, where we lived, if I saw a young man who made me think he was from Al-Shabaab, I wanted him to be captured and even killed. Just from the way he looked."

"I can understand."

"What I am saying is that in that way I was no different than the cashier. I even understand wanting to build walls and not let any Muslims into America." She began softly to cry. "I hate myself for saying that. But that's what being afraid does to you. So I understand."

And with that, she turned away and headed back up the aisle of parked cars.

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Tuesday, June 14, 2016

June 14, 2008--Midcoast: Alte Kaker Checklist

John and I have a lot in common.

Though I am a little older, at this age, the few extra years I have on him do not make that much of a difference. We both have our aches and pains.

That's my story and I'm sticking to it. He, on the other hand, likely has a different perspective and probably thinks those few years do make a difference, quite a difference. He after all two weeks ago with a buddy drove 10 hours north to the Gaspe Peninsula and went salmon fishing in the Cascapedia River. In the rain and in a canoe, if you can believe it. His partner caught a 35-pound salmon the first morning out and John helped land it.

I, on the other hand, that weekend, did a lot of reading and napping.

So when we met at Chrissy's for breakfast after he got back--wheezing and coughing--we picked up on one of our favorite discussions--aging.

Another thing we share in common is the fact that we both had ancient mothers. John's died two years ago at about 105; mine nearly a year ago at 107. So, from that alone, we are authorities on the subject.

And thus in an attempt to inoculate ourselves from the inevitable, we try to make light of this otherwise terrifying subject. So after hearing about the salmon (and seeing pictures to prove he wasn't just spinning a fish story), I unveiled my latest idea--an Alte Kaker Checklist.

Though John is not Jewish and doesn't understand many Yiddish expressions, having grown up in nearby New Jersey he knows enough to know that alte kaker refers to us--gracefully-aging men.

"Give me an example of what would be on the checklist," John said, humoring me. He had more salmon-fishing stories he was eager to share.

After hearing a few more, I said, "For example, Do you have two-inch-long hair growing our of (a) your eyebrows, (b) your ears, (c) your nose, (d) all of the above."

Warming to this, John plunged in, "In my case, eyebrows for sure." He brushed them up to demonstrate.

"I also see one growing out of the tip of your nose," I said leaning toward him and squinting.

Noticing the squinting he said, "How about--"How many pairs of glasses do you need?"

"For me--three," I said, "(a) one of course for reading, (b) another for driving, and then (c) a third pair for middle-distance seeing. Like for watching TV."

"I only need two," he said, flaunting his superiority or to emphasize that three or four years difference in our ages does in fact make a difference. "But," he quickly confessed, "I do or did have a detached retina. In alte kaker terms that must count for something."

"Unfortunately, yes," I said, "Admittedly though it's not the same thing, I'm growing cataracts," I said, to one-up him, "I think in both eyes."

"I already had mine done," he said. "Also both of them. Remember that--two, three years ago?"

"Put that on the checklist too," I said, "Unable to remember things from (a) childhood, (b) two years ago, (c) yesterday."

"Or, how about (d) what you just had for breakfast?"

"I think maybe it was a croissant."

To play along with him, I tried to sound befuddled. Which unfortunately was not that difficult to do. "Clearly also coffee," I said tapping my half-full mug.

"Can we agree to leave aches and pains off the list?"

"I understand. That could be a checklist all its own--an aches and pains one."

"While fishing," John said already violating our agreement, "I developed this pain in my shoulder." Grimacing, he rubbed it, "I had trouble casting my flies into the river. And forget about driving."

Changing the subject, I said, "How about, (a) no longer drive after dark, (b) can't hear cars passing on the right or left, (c) drive in the left lane five miles an hour below the speed limit."

"I've got another one for you," John chuckled, "(d) ignore wife's driving directions."

"How about (a) wearing a belt with suspenders, (b) need orthopedic shoes, (c ) found myself wearing one brown and one black sock."

"Or, (a) can't bend over to tie my shoelaces, (b) . . ."

"Me too. These days I find myself preferring slip-ons."

"Need to sit on the side of the bed when putting on my jockeys and pants."

"How about, (a) wake up to go the bathroom, (b) wake up twice to go, (c) three times, (d) . . ."

"New rule," John said cutting me off.

"What's that?"

"I think we should agree not to go there."

"Go where?"

"How should I put this--below the belt, if you get my meaning."

I quickly did and agreed. "Indeed I do. This is supposed to be fun. In another minute it could get depressing."

"I'll tell you what's depressing," John said.

"What's that?"

"That you're thinking about wearing suspenders."

"Or your admitting you get up three times a night to . . ."

"I said no such thing. The situation is bad enough without needing to get too specific."

Beginning to get up--he still has a business to run--he signaled to me to turn my one good ear toward him and with a lowered voice admitted, "OK, maybe two times."

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Monday, June 13, 2016

June 13, 2016--Narcissism

In an insightful column in Friday's New York Times, "The Unity Illusion," David Brooks gets it right.

He argues that there are two fundamental reasons why it is unlikely (he feels impossible) that Donald Trump will be able to, perhaps have a genuine interest in seeking unity with mainstream Republicans. Those, anyway, such as Paul Ryan, who are more or less true conservatives.

First, because Trump is not a conservative since conservatives, to Brooks, unlike Trump--
. . . believe that politics is a limited activity. Culture, psychology, and morality come first. What happens in the family, neighborhood, houses of worship and the heart is more fundamental and important than what happens in a legislature.
Ah, if only true, I would consider becoming a conservative Republican. But then I would have a problem with Republican-dominated legislatures interfering, when self-interested or pandering, in the private lives of women, minorities, low-income, and gay people. But this subject is for another time.

More interesting and persuasive is Brooks second point-- that
. . . Trump by his very essence, undermines cooperation, reciprocity, solidarity or any other component of unity.
This is because, psycho-history time, he is afflicted with a  personality disorder--alexithymia, clinical narcissism. This means that Trump is unable--
. . . to identify and describe emotions in the self. Suffers have no inner voice to understand their own feelings and reflect honestly on their own actions. 
Unable to to know themselves, or truly love themselves, they hunger for a never-ending supply of admiration from outside. They act at all times like they are performing before a crowd and cannot rest unless they are in the spotlight. 
To make decisions, these narcissists create a rigid set of external standards, often based on simple division--winners and losers, victory or humiliation. They are preoccupied with luxury, appearance or anything that signals wealth, beauty, power and success. . . . 
Incapable of understanding themselves, they are also incapable of having empathy for others. They simply do not know what it feels like to put themselves in another's shoes. Other people are simply to be put to use as suppliers of admiration or as victims to be crushed as part of some dominance display. 
This all derives from Christopher Lasch's 1979 book, The Culture of Narcissism, which presciently argued that much of American culture was trending in this clinical direction. Nearly 30 years later we see all around us the living proof of that. Not just among nominated and elected officials.

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Friday, June 10, 2016

June 10, 2016--Always Talk To Strangers: One Brief Moment

From July 19, 2006--
The sun was setting over the Tetons.  A small crowd of visitors with drinks in hand gathered outside the Jackson Lake Lodge to watch the sun roll behind those magnificent mountains before dropping off the edge of the earth and plunging us all into instant darkness and chilling breezes.
“I take a lot of pictures but never develop any.”  Rona and I were snapped out of our contemplative end-of-day reverie by a mountain of a man with a camera hanging from his neck that was so huge with its protruding lens that only his awesome bulk could support it.  He appeared to be from the middle of the country, likely a farmer, and from his tractor we imagined he had seen enough sunsets in his life to satisfy him.  What was so special about another even in a spectacular place such as this? 
Being from New York City though, where at best there are only glimpses of the sky, we of course could never get enough of these sunsets and are thus additionally expert at extracting their full meaning from every degree of the sun’s decline.  
Thus, we ignored him.
But he persisted, “I’ve been coming here ever year since 1987.  Sometimes twice a year.  Me and the Mrs. drive our RV here all the way from Georgia, where we’re from.”   
Resisting being brought back to the mundane, I tried half-turning my back to him.  Rona peered into her glass of sweet Vermouth, playing with the ice. 
“You see my son over there?" he persisted, "He was three the first time we came here.  He also had a camera.  He'd spend three whole days taking pictures and carefully advancing the film.  They still used film back then.  When we were about to leave he took the film out of the camera and threw it in the trash.  In one of them cans right there.  My wife, Rosie, she was fit to be tied and while she rummaged around in the trash looking for the film I asked Billy, he's the tall one there by the bench, why he did that.  Exasperated, he said to me, ‘Dad, I’m done taking those pictures.’ He was annoyed why I was asking about it.  He told us just taking the pictures was what was important to him.  Not the pictures themselves.  You see he knew to me at that time it was the pictures themselves that were important."
That got our attention.  We’re always interested in anything that promised something new and what he was saying about what was important to each of them seemed to promise that.  I felt I had mischaracterized him. Made invalid assumptions based on how he looked. So I asked, “Then what keeps bringing the three of you back here every year?" I smiled, "It’s a long drive.”
“Well, you see I’m a forester, a freelance one, and I come here to check on this place.  To see how things are changing.  And they are.  No doubt 'bout that.  And I don’t mean the result of them fires up in Yellowstone.  That’s a part of nature.  And good at that.  It’s the other thing that worries me.”
“The ‘other thing?’”
“You know what the scientists have been saying.  I’ll show you what I mean.  Look over there at Mount Moran.  You see that glacier over there?”  We looked across Jackson Lake and nodded.  “Well, when I started trekking out here that glacier was twice the size it is now.  Don’t take me for a tree-hugger.  That I’m not.  But it seems to me that we have this one brief moment."
"I'm not sure I'm following thou," I said.
"For me it’s almost over, my heart’s not been right, but for Billy over there, who’s only twenty-two, I’m worried.  You know, in the past it was religious fanatics and cult leaders who predicted the end of the world was coming.  They even came up with dates for that.  Of course it never happened.  Not yet anyway. But what’s different now is that we have every scientist agreeing that things are not heading in a good direction for us.  So that’s why I keep my eye on that glacier.”
Though understanding, this was not a lesson we had come all this way to hear--we wanted to just take things in--so I changed the subject, “You mentioned that you do forestry work freelance.  I always assumed that guys in your field all worked for the government.”
“Well, that’s true.  Everyone else I went to school with does work for the Forestry Service or some other government agency.  I, though, saw a niche for myself so I’ve been doin' it on my own.”
“How’s that?  How does that work?”
He suddenly turned silent; but since he started this I pressed him New-York style, “You worked for developers or something?”
After a moment he shrugged and said, “Sort of like that.”  I held up to give him a minute.  It was clear that he really didn’t want to talk about this.  But he added, “You’ve driven around this area, right?”
“Yes, just yesterday and today through eastern Washington and then across the panhandle of Idaho to get here.”
“And what did you see?”
“Most of it was amazingly beautiful,” Rona said, “We followed the Clearwater River for more than 200 miles.”
We didn’t get where he was going with this so we just looked back at him.  He hitched his pants up over that remarkable belly, “Did you see all those developments closing in?”  We nodded again.
He didn’t answer his own question.  He just stood there staring off at Mount Moran. 
Then he looked around to catch Rosie’s eye, she had been circling us,  “There she is.  I better get going before I catch hell.  Nice talkin’ to you. But one more thing.”


"Like you, Billy just wants to take it one moment at a time. Can't really blame him, considering." He gestured across the lake, "So that's what's going on with him and the camera. He knows what's happening out there and prefers not to make a record of it. What else can I tell you?" He took a deep breath, and from deep within himself said, "There is one last thing before I go."

"What's that?"

"I'm just carrying around this here camera. Haven't taken a picture with it the past three years."   
He laughed and with that was gone.

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