Friday, July 29, 2016

July 29, 2016--Day Off

I will return on Monday.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

July 28, 2016--HILLARY

Watching the role call the other night, as Hillary Clinton's numbers approached a majority, Rona said--

"I wish I really liked her, but it's 2016 and it's about effing time that we had a female president."

I agree.

 "And, I'm inebriated enough to make a prediction," she said.

"I know you hate predictions. But what is it?"

"She's going to win in a landslide."

I agree.

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Wednesday, July 27, 2016

July 27, 2016--Midcoast: Rhumb Line

It was a hot morning and George took a break from mowing our lawn.

"I hear from you missus that you're looking for a new place to have lunch on Wednesday."

"Yes, a cousin is going to be in the area. In Rockland."

"I know you like the Slipway in Thomaston. The same owner now has a place on the harbor in Camden, the Rhumb Line."

"That's exciting," I said, "He had one of our favorite places in Port Clyde. Until Linda Bean of the LL family bought the property. He couldn't stand her because of her homophobic politics and refused to remain as chef. That's when he opened the place in Thomaston."

"The one in Port Clyde was called the Dip Net."

"In addition to being such a good restauranteur," I said, "he comes up with great names for his places."

"What do you think about Rhumb Line?" George asked.

"We haven't been there yet," Rona said.

"I mean the name."

"I know what a dip net is--a long-handled net used to land fish--and a slipway is a boat launching ramp. But a rhumb line? That's a new one for me. It sounds nautical."

"It's a navigation term," George said, "If you don't know what it is I think you'll like it."

"I'm eager to hear."

He let go of his lawnmower and with a sweeping gesture, using both hands, created in the air the shape of a large sphere. "Make believe this is the earth," he said, "In three dimensions."

"I got you. I loved solid geometry in high school. Especially how to think about and understand how lines on a solid three-dimensional globe work. Arcs and such."

"Exactly. So if you, for example, head east from here across the Atlantic and don't change course--in effect, go straight--the shortest distance from point to point is not a straight line, as it is in two-dimensional plain geometry, but an arc, a circle. Thus ships or airplanes follow the great circle route to get to England most directly."

"And a rhumb line?" I asked.

"I'm getting to it." George likes to take his time when explaining concepts to be sure you're following him. He is exceptionally good at this. Particularly if the concept is complex or full of ambiguity. His favorite type. He also likes telling stories of all sorts. The shaggier the better.

And so, again with a gesture, maintaining the outline of the globe with one hand while with the other, where the Equator would be, he traced a spiral in the air, up from the Equator toward the North Pole.

"A rhumb line is a line on a globe that as it moves forward crosses all lines of longitudes at the same angle. That's the key--the same angle. Longitude, as you know, being the way on a globe that we map north-south slices of space and location."

"I think I'm beginning to get it," I said, "To trace a great circle on a sphere one moves along in a three-dimensional arced line, not changing course because the distance between lines of latitude are constant."


"But with a rhumb line, to cross longitudes at the same angle one has to constantly change one's course."

"And thus a spiral is traced on the globe because as you head north--or south for that matter--as one approaches a pole the separation between the lines of longitude get narrower and narrower. If you will, compressed closer and closer together so it's necessary to constantly adjust your heading."

Rhumb Line
"And?" I said.

"And what?" George said.

"Whenever you get into these kind of things you always have another meaning or two to offer."

"Me?" he said with a shrug, trying to hide a smile.

"Please proceed."

"I know how you like to go round in circles. I mean," he quickly added, "not in a bad way, but metaphorically to see what you might stumble onto that's interesting."

"Could be true," I conceded. "And so?"

"With great circles and now rhumb lines you have more circles and spirals within which to go round." George winked.

"But is it a good restaurant?" I thought I had cleverly circled around to where we began.

He smiled and said, "According to the theory, no matter what course you set we all end at the same place."

As I pondered that, he said, "Be sure not to forget to order the fried oysters."

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Tuesday, July 26, 2016

July 26, 2016--Hillary Quiz

Some claim that Hillary Clinton, with the exception of a few of America's founders--Thomas Jefferson, for example--is the most "qualified" nominee ever to run for president.

This assessment more than anything is based on her resumé. It is indisputably impressive.

She was First Lady for eight years and had real responsibilities. She did much, much more than preside over congressional wives' teas. Among other things, in a quasi-official capacity, she visited 82 countries.

Then for eight additional years she was a U.S. senator from New York.

In 2008, she almost won the Democratic presidential nomination.

After Barack Obama was elected, as part of his "team of rivals," she served for four years as his Secretary of State.

Even George H.W. Bush, who also had a very impressive professional history, didn't compare.

So by these resumé criteria, Hillary Clinton, on paper, is about the most qualified. Ever.

But before coming to that conclusion, there is another way of thinking about "qualified."

Not by a list of job titles and honorary degrees but by an accounting of accomplishments.

On this basis, Hillary Clinton as most qualified? Not so sure.

But, if you are inclined, convince me otherwise by taking this snap quiz.

Rate each of the following on a 1-10 scale, with 1 being indictable and 10 worthy of the Nobel Prize.

As First Lady:

Health care reform? OK, this one is too easy.

As Senator:

Support for the Children's Health Insurance Program? (CHIP)
Vote to authorize invasion of Iraq?

As Secretary of State:

"Resetting" relationship with Russia?
Keeping Russia from invading and annexing Crimea?
Containing North Korea's nuclear weapons program?
Overthrowing the Muammar Gaddafi regime in Libya?
In Syria, attempting to remove Bashar al-Assad from the presidency?
Overthrowing the Mubarak government in Egypt?
Seeing the election there of the Muslim Brotherhood?
Stabilizing Iraq?
The emergence of ISIS?
Containing/defeating ISIS?
Limiting China's expansion in the South China Sea?
Resolving the Israeli-Palistinian conflict?
Leading the effort to reach a nuclear deal with Iran?
Managing her State Department e-mails?
Other? (Anything but Benghazi) ____________

Of course we could do the same thing with Jefferson. Also on scale of 1-10:

Declaration of Independence?
Ambassador to France?
The Louisiana Purchase?
University of Virginia?
Sally Hemmings?
Other? ____________

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Monday, July 25, 2016

July 25, 2106--A True Independent

I pretend to be, but in reality am not a political Independent.

Yes, back years ago, I voted for Jacob Javits who was a "liberal" Republican senator from New York. And at the presidential level, after a failed four years of Jimmy Carter's presidency, in 1980, conveniently not remembering, I may have held my nose and voted for Ronald Reagan.

About that one, I have regrets.

But in every other election cycle, I voted as a pretty much party-line Democrat.

When I think about myself as an independent, I am not referring to how I vote but rather that I like to think about myself as independent-minded.

So this cycle, at the risk of alienating my liberal friends, in the spirit of independent thought, I have been struggling to understand the Trump phenomenon and contending here and elsewhere that he ran one of the most remarkable primary campaigns in history and that he is smart and politically skilled enough to have tapped into the zeitgeist that derives from and motivates many millions of disaffected Americans.

Though never intending to vote for Trump, I have been attempting to remain independent-minded enough to make the distinction between my voting plans while taking note of his ability to understand what is motivating alienated voters. I have also tried to alert those of us who are not among his supporters to the forces churning within our culture, forces not well enough understood by the liberal elites.

For example, just the other day, as an example of out-of-touchness, David Brooks in his column in the New York Times rather hysterically claimed that only Ted Cruz among Republicans has the chutzpah and cojones to tell the faithful the truth--that Trump has taken the Republican party hostage and will turn it into a "cult of personality." Brooks pined for the GOP party of "Lincoln, TR, and Reagan."

He forgot to mention that it is also the party of Nixon and George W. Bush. In fact, it is more their party than either Lincoln's or Brooks.'

Clearly, though describing himself frequently as an Independent, Brooks among most others has his mind fully made up, not to be confused by historical inconveniences.

In fact, surveys show that most who claim to be Independents are anything but, and conclude that only between and 5 and 10 percent truly are. They are the only ones struggling to figure out which candidate to vote for--Trump or Clinton. The rest of us are committed to one or the other and there is almost nothing that could happen between now and November that would convince us to switch affiliations.

As Trump horrifyingly but insightfully boasted, he could shoot someone on Fifth Avenue and still win the nomination. And Hillary could have said, "I could break the law about passing along top secret documents via my private e-mail server and also be nominated."

So how intrigued Rona was the other morning when we stopped at a local market to pick up a copy of the New York Times.

Passing the paper to her, Kate said, "I am in a quandary about the election and for the first time may not vote."

"Really?" Rona said.

"Really. I like some things about Hillary and some things about Trump. But then there are enough things about each of them that I don't like that I may stay home on Election Day."

"Are you a registered Republican or . . ."

"Neither," she said, "I'm an Independent."

"We'll talk more later," Rona said. "We're rushing to meet someone. But to tell you the truth, you may be the first legitimate Independent I've ever met. Everyone else I know may say they are but aren't."

"That's me! Kate smiled.

Back in the car, after reporting this brief exchange, Rona said, "That was such an unusual way to talk about the election. How there are things she likes about both candidates."

"Very unusual," I said. "Do you think we know any liberals who consider themselves Independents saying anything like that about Trump?"

"Or for that matter any Trump people having anything positive to say about Clinton?"

"I can't wait to talk more with Kate as November approaches. Very interesting."

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Friday, July 22, 2016

July 22, 2017--Europhiles

I know many progressives who are again saying they are giving serous thought to moving to Canada if Donald Trump is elected.

I say "again" because many of these same people said this when Nixon was elected and then when Ronald Reagan became president and even while contemplating a George W. Bush presidency.

But as far as I know, these friends remain comfortably in America though they are still grousing.

The grousing is not situational--it does not emerge only every four years like some locusts.

Not so between the lines, they disparage America no matter who is in office.

They see us as culturally, intellectually, and governmentally inferior not just to Canadians but, more pervasively, to Europeans.

These frankly anti-American liberals have such an elevated opinion of themselves that they turn to Europeans for special forms of friendship, appreciation, and emulation. They see the Brits and French and Germans, particularly, to be more nuanced in their thinking and how they conduct themselves in a globalizing world.

They like the books they read and the movies they make.

In sum--those who live in these countries are civilized; we are not.

If we were civilized, they wonder, how could Donald Trump be running nearly neck-and-neck with Hillary Clinton. The best explanation--most Americans know nothing about history, world affairs, or social policy. In fact, there is a longstanding, deep strain of anti-intellectdualism and paranoia pervasive in American culture. And above all else, these of my friends are horrified that perhaps 30-40 percent of the American population is fully anti-science and directed in their personal and political lives by their  religious beliefs.

Some of this is true and helps explain why many accomplished Americans look across the Atlantic for a more enlightened approach to life in the 21st century.

Yesterday I wrote satirically about socialist French President Francois Hollande and his capitalist $10,000-a-month hairstylist.

Today, I refer you to Great Britain's new Foreign Secretary, Boris Johnson, former mayor of London and principal proponent of England's exit from the European Union. He is the one, in case you missed this news of his appointment, with a version of Donald Trump's signature hairdo.

On Wednesday he held a joint press conference with Secretary of State John Kerry.

Previously, Johnson had said very disparaging things about President Obama and Hillary Clinton and so this was an awkward moment for Kerry, who somehow managed to maintain a stiff upper lip.

Johnson recently called Obama a "part Kenyan" with an "ancestral dislike of the British Empire." A few years ago, he compared Hillary Clinton to Lady MacBeth, writing that she's "got dyed blond hair and pouty lips, and a steely blue stare, like a sadistic nurse in a mental hospital."

He didn't say anything about how he knows so much about what nurses look like in mental institutions.

That's not all. Boris compared Vladimir Putin to Dobby the Horse Elf from Harry Potter, and, more outrageously and riotously, claimed that President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey had sex with a goat.

Again, we do not need to know how Foreign Secretary Johnson knows about that.

And then there is Germany, where the far-right . . .

So, I say to my Europhile friends, before emigrating to Canada or Western Europe, take a close look at what is really going on in your favorite country. By comparison, America might not look all that bad. Which, I suppose, is why no one I know has expatriated.

Boris Johnson

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Thursday, July 21, 2016

July 21, 2016--CoiffeurGate

French President Francois Hollande, how shall I put this, on his head, at best, has a rim of hair.

But the socialist president has had it tended to by a private though publicly-paid-for hairdresser, Olivier Benhamou, otherwise known as Monsieur O.

Hollande's popularity could hardly be lower--he failed to deliver on all his election promises. The French economy is worse than when he took office four years ago, youth unemployment hovers at close to 25 percent, and of course there have been a series of hideous terrorist attacks.

But because of CoiffeurGate Le President's numbers have declined even further.

We in America, frequently looked down upon by the French because of their self-proclaimed superior culture, life style ("soft power"), food, language, and politics have had our own grooming flaps.

Remember back in 1995 when Bill Clinton tied up air traffic in Los Angeles for more than an hour to have his hair done on the tarmac onboard Air Force One. Embarrassed, Clinton forked over the cash to cover the cost and avoid another count of impeachment.

And of course there was John Edwards, the Two-Americas John Edwards, who in 2008 had the campaign pay for two $400 haircuts and thereby was exposed as the millionaire phony he was.

Then, also in 2008, the McCain campaign dolled out thousands for Sarah Palin's hair, makeup, and fancy outfits.

But there's a difference--Clinton and Edward's, whatever one thinks of them (me--not much), unlike Francois Hollande, had hair. And Sarah Palin, if nothing else, was something to look at.

And compared to President Hollande, they were modest. He had the French government pay Monsieur Olivier in euros about $10,000 a month. Every month since assuming office in 2012. About what a senior minister in France is paid.

He may be worth it but Monsieur O needs to hold back a bit on the dye. On Hollande's hair it looks to me like black shoe polish.

Speaking of hair, we do have Donald Trump. The French as you might imagine are loving his candidacy, very much including making fun of his coiffeur.

I can't help but wonder how much The Donald's  haircare costs. I mean, its upkeep and styling. But who cares--the taxpayers aren't paying for it. He's self-funding his campaign. And I assume his hair.

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Wednesday, July 20, 2016

July 20, 2016--Melania's Speech

The flap about Melania Trump's speech yields good gossip and obvious material for late night comedians, but it is important in other, revealing ways.

Thirteen months ago when I wrote here about why we should take Donald Trump's candidacy seriously and not dismiss him as a narcissistic comedian, I quoted a friend who told me why he was putting out lawn signs to show his support for Trump.

Though he had never been to New York City he surprisingly knew about Trump's efforts to fix the problems with the ice skating rink in Central Park. How the city government had struggled for years and spent millions to fix it but still it produced slurry and not ice and thus could not be used.

Frustrated, in a few months, at his own expense, Trump repaired it and since that time many thousands have enjoyed it.

To my friend, this was in effect a metaphor for his enthusiasm for Trump--no matter his policy views (and they were as confused then as now), Trump, he was convinced, knew how to get things done and would make our government work again in behalf of all Americans.

Then there was Melania's speech. No matter how it was composed, by Mrs. Trump or a gaggle of speech writers, it in fact does almost word-for-word plagiarize--there is no other word for it--Michelle Obama's 2008 convention speech.

Is this an example of Trump competency?

Who are the hack writers who were hired to produce perhaps the convention's most important speech? The one that was to humanize the Donald, to show his sensitivity to women? In political terms this was to be another ice skating rink. A way to demonstrate that he knew how to do business, to make things great again.

But all it reveals is careless disregard for the public, especially for those who doggedly supported him and waited on line for hours to attend his rallies and cheer him on. Instead, it shows how he takes people for granted and feels entitled to their support and belief in him.

The speech also reenforces another narrative about Donald and the other Trumps: that they are grifters.

People who have made their way and their inflated fortune by duping and in other ways taking advantage of people who look up to and respect them. Or who are symbiotically attracted to the glittering image the Trumps fraudulently project to the world.

Grifters who shamelessly will even steal another person's words.

Whether she knew she was being used or not, ironically grifted, Melania the night before last doomed the Trump candidacy to the proverbial scrapheap of history.

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Tuesday, July 19, 2016

July 19, 2016--Midcoast: Incognito

"What are you doing here?" It was John.

"Having breakfast. What we do every morning." He knows that. I thought he was putting us on.


"Where else? We're at the diner at about this time, what, four, five mornings a week."

"You can't be."

"What do you mean we can't be?" I knocked on the tabletop to assert our material existence. "Here we are. I'm beginning to think I'm in a Pirandello play."

"What's going on with you?" Rona asked, "Is everything all right?"

"How did you get here?" John said, ignoring her.

"We drove of course. How else would we have gotten here?"

"But where's your car?"

"Outside. Where it always is."

"I didn't see it," John said.  "I thought maybe you went to town and were at Crissy's"

"No. Here we are. We . . ." I finally realized that John didn't see our car because the one we're driving is a loner from Volkswagen. "Ours is being repaired and they gave us this one until Monday when it's supposed to be fixed."

"It's a clunker," Rona said. "Twelve years old with about 150,000 miles."

"Only 42,000 more than ours which is only seven years old."

"This makes me realize," John said, "that around here, and I'll bet in any small town, people know everyone's car."

"I've noticed that," I said. "Why do you suppose?"

"I suspect for at least two reasons. If you're driving around, say passing by the diner, and see your car, if I have the time and the inclination, I might pull over and come in to join you for a cup of coffee."

"That I get," Rona said, "But what's the other reason?"

"Don't take it personally," John said, smiling, "But I might be driving by and see your car and if I'm not in the mood to hang out, if I want some time alone, I pass by. Looking straight ahead, of course."

"To tell you the truth," I said, "we do the same thing. For example, twice last week we had breakfast with Jim. I like Jim but not enough to want to see him every day. So when we were about to pull up to the diner and saw his car we hotfooted by. With him twice in a week is fine. Three times is pushing it."

"That's my point," John said, "And why we all know everyone's car. That helps us decide what to do. To stop or keep on going."

Rona, who always urges people to be honest about what's on their minds, has for some time argued that as hard as it is to do we all should figure out ways to indicate what we do and do not want to do."

She said, "For example, you pop in after seeing our car and have an inclination to join us."

"I think I know where this is going."

"But if we're in the mood to be alone, why is it so difficult to say that without your feeling rejected?"

"Good question," John said, "Because to tell the truth, I probably would feel at least a bit rejected. Do you want me to . . . ?"

"No, no. Stay," Rona said, reaching out to him. "You're much more than a two-times-a-week person."

We all laughed at that. I said, "Maybe you're a three-times-a weeker."

John knew I was fooling with him. "But," he said, "there is something nice about having a loner for a few days and driving around sort of incognito."

"If you're inclined to want to have an affair, do a little fooling around, it could be a good way to do it."

"That's what my motorcycle's for," John said with a wink to make sure we knew he was just, well, fooling around.

"I wondered about you and your bike," Rona said.

"I recently got rid of it. With my retina problem I don't want to tempt fate. But, maybe rather than return the loaner you could pass it along to me. Being a little incognito once in a while isn't such a bad thing."

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Monday, July 18, 2016

July 18, 2016--Vice President Mike Pence

If there are moderates flirting with the idea of voting for Donald Trump, take a close look at who's in his caboose and would be, if Trump were elected, one proverbial heartbeat away from the presidency.

Mike Pence.

A recent piece in the New York Times, "A Conservative Proudly Out of Step With His Times," summarizes some of Governor Pence's extremist views--

In 1998, long after it was indisputably proven that cigarette smoking causes cancer, Pence mocked the requirement to include warning labels on cigarette packs, calling it "hysteria." He wrote, "Time for a quick reality check--smoking doesn't kill." He has yet to retract this view.

During George W. Bush's first year in office, when Republicans overwhelmingly were supporting a Medicare prescription drug benefit and a major education reform program, No Child Left Behind, then congressman Pence voted against both.

He wears his fundamentalist beliefs on his sleeve, calling his Christian faith more important to him than even his family. And he is so abstemious that he once said, "to avoid temptation," he would only appear at an event where alcohol is served if his wife were present. (Trump, by the way is a teetotaler not for religious reasons but because his brother died of alcoholism.)

Pence opposes abortion under any and all circumstances, even if it has been determined that the fetus has Down syndrome.

He so passionately opposes same-sex rights that, as governor, last year he worked hard to get the Indiana legislature to pass a law that would make it easier for religious conservatives to refuse service to gay couples. A version of Jim Crow laws designed not to exclude African Americans but homosexuals.

It was only after there were threats from numerous national organizations and businesses that they would boycott Indiana that Pence reluctantly relented.

Though a President Trump would not agree with most of these views, there is always the danger that a Vice President Pence would at any moment wind up in the Oval Office as President Pence.

Even by comparison Newt Gingrich or Chris Christie would look good.

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Friday, July 15, 2016

July 16, 2016--Nice, France

By coincidence, I wrote something satirical for this morning about France; but after the tragedy last night in Nice, I will post it another day.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

July 14, 2106--Searching for Trump Supporters

A friend who is remarkably up-to-date with reading the New Yorker, knowing I am always at least three months behind, sent me a link to the very, very long piece by fiction writer George Saunders, "Who Are All These Trump Supporters?" (Two parts July 11th and 18th.)

The first third touches the familiar bases--the people who attend his rallies are ill-informed (I'm being kind), make up their own facts, are undereducated (kindness again), semi-coherent, bullying, violent, and at least borderline racists and bigots.

So I skimmed through that. Been there, heard that.

The middle third is more nuanced, even empathetic, and thus gets closer to the complicated truth.

It does leave out one significant part of the diagnosis--how Trump followers (and Bernie's as well) feel duped, lied to, and manipulated by both political parties. What's the Matter With Kansas remains the classic statement of that insight.

I hung on until the end of the article though in the final part I began to glaze over--the same reaction I have to Saunders' over-mannered fiction.

But it does include a dense and brilliant quote from Norman Mailer's 1960 Esquire piece about the emergence of John Kennedy at the Democratic national convention--"Superman Comes to the Supermarket." Title aside, Mailer too was a better reporter than novelist.

I leave you with it at the risk of your plaintively asking as I do--where is Norman now that we need him?
American presidential campaigns are not about ideas; they are about the selection of a hero to embody the prevailing national ethos.  Only a hero can capture the secret imagination of a people, and so be good for the vitality of his nation; a hero embodies the fantasy and so allows each private mind the liberty to consider its fantasy and find a way to grow. Each mind can become more conscious of its desire and waste little strength in hiding from itself.
I love it as does Saunders who asks--

"What fantasy is Trump giving his supporters the liberty to consider? What secret have they been hiding from themselves?"

This, like so much else, is still to be determined. It may be that our very future depends on the answers to these questions.

Norman Mailer

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Wednesday, July 13, 2016

July 13, 2016--Trump's VEEP

Even after the FBI director essentially indicted Hillary Clinton, according to yesterday's NBC tracking poll, she still leads Donald Trump by three percentage points. Though this is within the margin of effort, Clinton remains in the lead. And a lead is a lead.

With the GOP convention only five days away, to overtake Clinton, Trump needs to do at least three things--

The convention itself needs to be engaging, even entertaining since so much of what got Trump here in the first place was, how else to put it, amusing. Even his frequent but unpredictable gaffs.

Then he has to deliver a vice presidential candidate who is relatively uncontroversial--which should rule out Chris Christie (Bridgegate) and Newt Gingrich (forced to resign the House speakership). Trump needs a VEEP who has gravitas, knows the world, and could credibly step into the presidency if Trump is in one way or the other unable to serve.

Third, equally important, he has to stop being a jerk.

This latter requirement will likely prove to be most difficult because just by not inviting Clint Eastwood to speak to a stool will assure he has a better convention than Mitt Romney. And almost any VP candidate, compared to Trump, will add seriousness to the ticket.

But a jerk he will likely still continue to be.

In regard to his vice president, without Christie and Gingrich, the consensus seems to be swinging toward Mike Pence, the governor of Indiana.

He has the right kind of congressional and gubernatorial experience to fill in some of those gaps for Trump, but he is unknown and so boooooring.

This has some advantages considering that Trump now might benefit politically by being a bit more boring--to demonstrate that he is not devoid of gravitas--but Pence would not bring any sizzle to the ticket. And some sizzle, some energy could be useful as Trump's act begins to feel stale.

With Jack at the Bristol Diner, like us a liberal, we discussed Trump's VEEP conundrum, made much more challenging because of his alienating so many senior Republicans. To the point that every day one or another announces he or she will not attend the convention or vote for him.

Of course, with the GOP and Trump's base having the Bushes stand him up and hint they will not be voting for him, this alone to many on the right is encouragement enough to firm up their decision to vote for him.

But this election, like most, will be determined by the five-to-10 percent who are truly independent and undecided. What Trump VEEP would appeal to them?

"Easy," I said, "Condi Rice." Feeling proud of myself for this long-shot prediction, I looked from Jack to Rona.

"She'd never agree to it," Jack said, "The Bushes would never talk to her again."

"The Bushes are finished," Rona said. "Who cares if they won't talk with her?"

"Doesn't she feel any loyalty to them?" Jack said.

"Look, she thought seriously about running for the GOP nomination in 2008 and Jeb had his eye on that. There's loyalist and then there's ambition."

"What does that mean?" I wondered, thinking further about what Jack had said.

"She's only 61," Rona pressed on, "Prime time for anyone who wants to be president. At the moment she's on the faculty of Stanford and on a few corporate boards and after being George W. Bush's National Security Council advisor and then his Secretary of State, life must feel boring to her."

"She could help continue to fight the wars that Bush and his team started."

"She's actually less hawkish than Hillary," I said.

"And if she agreed to do this for the party," Jack said, getting into the possibility, "it would help line up support for her for 2020 if they lose or for that matter if they win and Trump gets bored after one term and decides not to run for reelection."

"Of course," Rona said, "there are the obvious demographics she would bring to the ticket."

"Another thing that would appeal to Trump is that she's a football fanatic and loves golf."

"She's one of only two female members of the Augusta National course. She might even be able to sneak Trump in for a round or two. For certain he's not a member. They wouldn't have him even if he somehow managed to become president."

"I like it," Jack said, "I don't mean I like it enough to vote for them, but from an excitement, gravitas and political junky perspective, it would be a home run."

"And satisfy Trump's and the public's desire to shake things up," I said, rising to my own idea, "To do the unexpected since the same-old-same-old isn't getting the job done."

"Maybe it's making things worse," Rona said.

"I still think it's a long shot. But it's fun to speculate."

"It could prove to be an interesting week."

"He'll probably go for Pence," Rona said, sounding glum.

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Tuesday, July 12, 2016

July 12, 2016--Ruth Bader (Goodbye) Ginsberg

It is rare for Supreme Court justices to speak publicly. Unless they are making the rounds hustling a book. In that case mammon trumps courtly custom.

But just yesterday one of the Supremes trumped all of this--Ruth Bader Ginsburg not only spoke publicly but politically--trashing Donald Trump and bemoaning the possibility that he might be elected president.

She didn't do a Madeleine Albright, relegating people who do not vote for Hillary to "rot in hell."

Ginsberg did Albright one better, sputtering, "I can't imagine what this place would be--I con't imagine what the country would be--with Donald Trump as our president. . . .  For the country it could be four years. For the court it could be--I don't even want to contemplate that."

But contemplating that, quoting her husband, smiling to the New York Times reporter, she added, "Now is the time for us to move to New Zealand."

Among other things, I hope she has an updated passport since I think that's a fine idea. At 83, with little energy or discretion remaining, even having not said something this outrageous, it is long overdue for her to head for the Antipodes or Boca.

In the same Trump interview, she also rued the fact that the Senate has refused to vote on President Obama's nominee to replace the recently-departed Anton Scalia.

But she failed to mention her own situation and inevitable replacement because as an old and ailing octogenarian soon to be departing or retiring in New Zealand, with the possibility that Trump might be in a position to nominate a replacement for her (she, not I, brought up the subject) as concerned as she now is about the ideological balance on the court, she should have stepped down during Obama's first term to assure that a liberal would take her seat.

But no. There she more-or-less still sits. Full of herself and hypocrisy.

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Monday, July 11, 2016

July 11, 2106--Baton Rouge, Falcon Heights, Dallas . . .

There are no adequate words.

Five Dallas policemen massacred, Alton Sterling shot by police in Baton Rouge, and, streamed live on Facebook, there was the murder by a policeman of Philandro Castile in Falcon Heights, MN.

All in less than a week.

Even our eloquent president could not find anything truly meaningful to say other than express hurt and outrage.

But someone not directly involved managed to find a way to chime in--William Johnson, executive director of the National Association of Police Organizations. The national association for police labor unions.

On Fox News (where else) he said that there is "a war on cops" and that the Obama administration was to blame for what he labelled "appeasement" of those who attack the police.

I suppose in America even he is entitled to his rancid opinion.

But while he is assigning responsibility, he forget to assign blame to the shooters in Baton Rouge, Falcon Heights, and to too many other places to mention.

To the best of my knowledge in all these cases the shooters were policemen who, it might be said, are appeased by Johnson's organization.

William Johnson

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Friday, July 08, 2016

July 9, 2016--Laundry Day

We have so much laundry to do this morning that we'll need at least six machines at the riverside Coin-O-Matic Wash & Fold laundromat. So, I'll be helping with that instead of typing.

I will return on Monday with who knows what.

Thursday, July 07, 2016

July 7, 2016--Hillary, Oh Hillary

It's even worse than I imagined.

Hillary Clinton was fortunate not to have been indicted, but what the director of the FBI said about her is devastating.

If she had been charged with crimes, she would have had to drop out of the presidential race, Joe Biden would have been nominated, and then gone on to easily defeat Donald Trump. But though "cleared" of criminal wrongdoing, the focus will not be on the legal process but on what she did and lied about. There is a lot of both.

If she were headed to trial that would have been the story. Now it's about her irresponsibility and chutzpah. Chutzpah for the many intentional lies she told--

That she used private e-mail innocently (there was supposedly no illegal "intent")

That she had only one email account and device (she had four or five)

That she never received classified material via email (she did at least 100 times)

That she failed to set up a secure private server and system (in spite of her claims that she did)

That she turned over to the FBI all but her most personal emails (1,000 are still missing)


In addition, among other things, she will need to reconcile and explain away the following chronology--

The FBI investigation has been proceeding, some would say, dragging on, for exactly a year and there were dozens of agents and lawyers assigned to getting to the bottom of things.

Then in a sudden rush, seven days ago, three weeks before the Democratic convention, Bill Clinton in the now infamous encounter with attorney general Loretta Lynch on the tarmac in Phoenix, self-reportedly, schmoozed with her about golf; grandchildren; and, according to the New York Times, that if Hillary were to be elected, the possibility of Lynch staying on as AG. When the meeting and the nature of their conversation leaked out, she recused herself from the investigation. One might say, this was irrelevant since it now appears that the fix was already in.

Just three days after that, this past Saturday afternoon, for up to four hours Hillary was "interviewed" by a team of FBI agents and lawyers.

Two days later, Tuesday, though criticized severely by FBI director, James Comey, she slithered off the indictment hook.

Later that same day, some would say in an attempt to change the subject, she and Barack Obama, in North Carolina, campaigned together.

After so many months, quite a week of action.

I am not a conspiracy-oriented person, but . . .

Two examples--

After a year of presumably careful investigation, it then took the FBI only two-and-a-half days to scrub the details of Clinton's lengthy "interview"? They must have worked around the clock over the July 4th weekend.

And was it just a coincidence that Barack Obama, the nation's ultimate law enforcer and constitutional law professor, just happened to be campaigning with Clinton on the day she wasn't indicted? Might he have known when this was to be announced well in advance (Comey and Lynch report to him) and to help Clinton, his legacy-assurer, he . . . ?

Voters will draw their own conclusions.

I've already done so.

I'll be sitting out this election.

In the past, the choice has too often come down to voting for the candidate I perceive to be the lesser of two evils. This time, it's to choose between two sociopaths.

For me, that's too much of a stretch.

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Wednesday, July 06, 2016

July 6, 2016--Midcoast: Rona

The day after the 4th we got a late start and didn't get to the Bristol Diner until about 9:30. On the way over, we speculated about how busy it might be. Probably packed," I said. "What with people still visiting and some departing, I'll bet we'll have to wait for seats at the counter. Forget a booth."

"Maybe one of our friends will be there and we'll be able to squeeze in with them. But I predict," Rona said, Rona who hates to predict anything--even the outcome of the Kentucky Derby, said, "My guess is it won't be that busy. It's past the breakfast hour."

"During holidays breakfast hour can be any time, including 2:00 in the afternoon."

"That's true," Rona acknowledged.

It turned out to be packed and we had to wait 10 minutes for a booth. It would have been much longer because the new waitress was overwhelmed and to help move things along, including making space for us, Rona cleared the table and toweled it off.

We sat for at least another 10 minutes before the waitress could get us a couple of cups of coffee. And then 10 minutes more before she got around to taking our order. Also in an attempt to move things along we both ordered the same thing--Deb's terrific budget burrito. We took a pass on asking for anything exotic, like what Rona on the way over said she was in the mood for. If Deb had made potato pancakes, then Rona was interested in one with a poached egg on top. If not, sautéed spinach and mushrooms over a toasted English muffin. Rona has taken to ordering these so often that they're coming to be known as a Rona.

Deb was cooking. She is well-known for being able to juggle at least half a dozen orders simultaneously but this morning she too seemed backed up.

"Is everything OK?" Rona asked Deb.

"She's new," Deb said empathetically, "and is having trouble entering orders into the computer. The one that then sends the order to me so I know what to cook. That's what's slowing things down. Plus, we've had a very busy morning and probably could have used another girl. To help with the customers and to wash dishes. Look at that stack?"

Rona did and got right up off her seat and made her way to the sink. For the next two hours she cleared tables and washed dishes.

I sat alone with my burrito but happy to do so because with Rona's dishwashing and expediting everyone was getting their orders more or less on time and the vibe in the diner went from slight annoyance to a more-familiar happy buzz.

During those two hours something else happened--

We knew a few people who were there having breakfast and one or two noticed I was alone--which in itself is unusual--and that Rona seemed to be working for Deb. Yet more unusual.

At first, by this they were discombobulated but quickly figured out that Rona had not taken a dishwasher job--though doing so is one of her on-going fantasies--but rather had simply pitched in to help.

Then, as more and more customers poured in, some now having to line up to wait for a place at the counter or a booth, a number of people who were just two in a four-seater booth, shifted themselves to the counter and a few began to help buss tables. One or two running stacks of dirty dishes back to Rona at the sink in the kitchen.

It was as if the entire place, likely inspired by Rona's example, took responsibility to help Deb and her new hire get through the morning and make it easier for people to place orders and get seated without having to wait longer than absolutely necessary.

After her "shift," by 11:00 when breakfast was no long served and just before the lunch rush, Rona, all sweated up but exhilarated, emerged from the kitchen and said, "I think I'm done. Let's go to town to get the paper."

"That was terrific," I said, feeling good about Rona, "And I'm sure . . ."

Deb had also come out from the kitchen and finished my thought, "I can't tell you how much I appreciated that. We were at the tipping point. Actually past it, and you pulled us back."

"Thanks," Rona said, "To tell you the truth I've always wanted to do that. I really enjoyed it. And look what everyone else did--shifting to the counter to make room for larger groups, bussing tables, generally helping to clean up. That's what I love about this town. How people pitch in."

"I don't take it for granted," Deb said. "I really don't."

"One more thing," Rona said.

"Anything," Deb said and she meant it.

"What time do you want me tomorrow?"

"It's your lucky day," Deb said smiling, "We're closed on Wednesday. Enjoy your day off."


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Tuesday, July 05, 2016

July 5, 2016--Alison Bernstein

Alison Bernstein, my prodigious colleague and friend died last week. Below is a note I sent to her daughters--
Dear Emma & Julia
Here's a story about your mother from nearly 50 years ago.
It was 1969 or so and I was working at Staten Island Community College in the backwaters of higher education. The backwaters because in, traditional higher education terms, in status terms, it was doubly-challenged: it was a community college and located on very conservative Staten Island. In effect--nowhere and nothing special.
But, the president of SICC (SICK, students dubbed it), William Birenbaum, was an inspired and inspiring educator totally devoted to the purported mission of urban community colleges--for the disenfranchised to make access to a quality education welcoming and effective. 
On Staten Island, the local leadership saw the college as a version of a trade school where the male students should take business courses and the women study to be either nurses or secretaries--the college's two most popular programs.
Bill rounded up a crew of progressive educators to help him, as he put it, break some windows to enable new, more egalitarian ideas flourish. As you might imagine he was not a favorite of the Staten Island Italian Club who effectively ran the island. But Bill, if nothing else, was ambitious and persistent. So he hired "Flash" (a former dock worker and union organizer), a bunch of Vietnam veterans, one or two scholar-activists (Stanley Aronowitz and Colin Greer), diversity activists Joe Harris and Ernesto Loperena, me, and the very young Alison, a newly-minted Vassar graduate.
How did Bill find his unlikely way to Alison? How did she make her unlikely way to him and godforsaken Staten Island?
While at Vassar, Alison was involved in pressing the administration to place students on the board of trustees. She and her coconspirators wanted it to be 50-50, with 50 percent student members, but they settled for one seat, which Alsion of course occupied.
Alison being Alison, she immediately took the lead to establish a national organization for student trustees. In that era of social protest many colleges were adding students to their boards.
And with such an organization in place, again Alison being Alison, she organized a national conference of student trustees. To the second or third annual conference--during Alison's senior year--she invited Bill Birenbaum to be the keynote speaker.
He accepted in less than a heartbeat and showed up in Chicago, or wherever, roaring drunk. (We later learned we would find him in that condition by 4:30 every afternoon.)
Even when high, perhaps especially when inebriated, Bill was brilliant. In his speech, as he would put it, he did his thing. And after he was done--I wasn't there but heard he was at top of his game--he invited Alison and the rest of the organization's executive leadership to go out for drinks.
He carried on for hours over many glasses of Dewar's, his favorite. 
He was especially attracted to Alison (I feel certain in more ways than one.) Well past midnight, when all but Bill and Alison remained standing. Literally. To her he said something like the following--
"You say you want to participate in making a revolution. I respect that. In fact, I endorse it. But you can't do it at Vassar. That place is for rich kids. For the over-privileged, like you, who want to play at bringing about radical change. If you want to make a revolution in education there's no better place to do so than at two-year colleges. At mine. That's where the action in. So, if you're serious, it's time for you to shit or get off the pot."
"I want to, I want to," Alison said with her heart pounding in her chest.
"In that case, with you graduating soon, if you really are serious, which I doubt, I will hire you to be a secial presidential assistant and from that position you will be able to find things to do to help bring about social change."
"I'll be there," Alison said.
Bill said, "I will hold an office for you only until July 1st."
And the rest is history.
Not mentioned thus far in any of the many notes and testimonies or the president of the Ford Foundation's otherwise fine tribute, is Alsion's work with community colleges. 
After her time at SICC, when at the Fund For the Improvement of Post-Secondary Education (also insufficiently mentioned), Alison began a nearly 30-year deep involvement with community colleges. First from her position at FIPSE in the Department of Education and later during her two assignments at the Ford Foundation. 
With the support and encouragement of Susan Berresford, The Urban Community College Transfer Opportunity Program, which Alison conceptualized and ran, was mold breaking. Thousands of students who didn't have a friend in philanthropy, benefitted mightily by the work that Alison pioneered, advocated, and protected. It wasn't sexy like a lot of other philanthropic work, but it made a measurable difference in the lives of many.
Back in 1969, she showed up at SICC before July 1st and got off that metaphorical pot. From then on, for decades she lived and thrived and inspired.
That was a magical time of great accomplishment.
I loved her very much.
In more ways than one.

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Monday, July 04, 2016

July 4, 2106--A Year of Mourning

I am by nature skeptical. Especially about things that involve ritual or belief. I am more comfortable with evidence-based reality. Or, at least, my version of what constitutes "evidence" and "reality."

And so when my mother died a year ago Friday, at the time a close friend said it will take a full year of mourning to reach "closure" and for me to be able to fully "move on."

From what she said and how she said it it should be obvious that my friend is a therapist, a good one, but on occasion speaks psychobabble-tinctured English.

"And," she added, "though I know you are not a practicing Jew, in your tradition, an entire year is devoted to mourning. The rabbis," she winked, "determined that and as you know--as a believer or not--they could at times be wise in the ways of the world and the heart."

I chose just then to avoid a theological discussion, thanked her for her views but, as I said, I am skeptical about these kinds of matters.

As it turned out, she--and perhaps the rabbis--had it right.

Until this year I was naively oblivious to the annual procession of holidays, birthdays, and anniversaries. Passover, for example, is a holiday that since early adulthood I did not practice. But this year, knowing that if my mother were still alive, she would have been observing it at the Passover seder at Forrest Trace where she lived the last 20 years of her life, I wanted to be there with her, reconnecting to the ancient prayers, chants, and songs. And of course the matzoh, three cups of wine, and the rest of the traditional meal.

On the first night of pesach this year, I surprised myself by unconsciously intoning the Four Questions, the Fir Kashes, as I used to do when I was the youngest male at the extended-family seder. Those words, likely mispronounced, taught to me by my mother when I was six, brought more tears than I was expecting even before I got to the second question.
Mah nishtanah, ha-laylah ha-zeh,mi-col ha-leylot 
Why is this night different than all others?
Theology aside, the answer this past year was that that night was different because it was the first one for me that did not include the living presence of my mother. And it came with the realization that it never will again.

Mah nishtanah: "Why," indeed.

Then this past Saturday, in the Pemaquid lighthouse keepers' cemetery, just up the road from us, Rona and I participated in digging a grave for our great friend, Boyce Martin's ashes.

When his wife, our beloved friend, Anne Ogden told us, "You do not have to participate. You can decline . . ." I cut in to say, "If it's still all right with you, we want to help."

"In the Jewish tradition . . ." I said and then interrupted myself, a bit confused, when I realized that after a year of my mother no longer being with us, more than ever, I find myself unexpectedly referring to things Jewish.

Still I persisted, "In the Jewish tradition there is the mitzvah system. A hierarchy of good deeds or mitzvahs, that Jews are expected to perform. For example, at a Jewish burial, family and friends are invited to help fill the grave. Doing that is a mitzvah of the highest order because it is one that the 'beneficiary,' having passed away, is unable to thank you for."

"I like that," Anne said--she has a strong spiritual and ecumenical core--"So in that case do that mitzvah for Boyce."

My mother would have agreed.

And so we did. Now I am the one feeling blessed.
Anne Ogden

Boyce Martin

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Friday, July 01, 2016

July 1, 2016--July 1st

Half the working people in the vicinity have today off and though what I do here is hardly equivalent to those who work very hard, I am joining them. So I will return either Monday or Tuesday. Probably Monday.