Wednesday, August 31, 2016

August 31, 2016--Aperol Spritzes

Two dearest of friends arrived for a visit that we were eagerly looking forward to.

As usual, but not to be taken for granted, they arrived all aglow with happiness and totting, as they always do, a picnic basket.

These baskets are traditionally overflowing with things they have come to love during the past year that they are eager to share--a favorite wine, sumptuous cheese, crunchy biscotti, exotic fruit, a book that is perfect for lazy Maine afternoons, and a household object or two like the rustic "Lodge" sign they brought one year which we display in our front window. Not that we are the best of hosts, but the sign suggests we do try.

With these friends, though, we are so happy to see them that no trying is required.

This time they surpassed themselves. There was no cheese, no wine, no books, no decorative items, just what appeared to be a bag of eclectic bottles and a curious handful of ordinary oranges.

"We know you two are not cocktail-philes as we are."

"Well, Rona said, "that's not quite true thanks to Kentucky-native Judge Boyce Martin, a beloved neighbor who died earlier this year, thanks to him I have become enthusiastic about bourbon. On the rocks but also in mixed drinks like bourbon Manhattans. I've even been know to order a bourbon sour."

"Interesting," HR said.

"But I'm still pretty much a wine-with-dinner imbiber," I said, "Though when I was in my 20s I ran with a drinking crowd and hung out with them in Billy Reed's Little Club on East 55th Street. Quite a watering hole. Tanqueray and tonic was my drink of choice and then after a few of those, a lot of those, rusty nails."

While Rona and I brought our friends up-to-date about our drinking habits, TG was with rapt concentration unloading the basket.

"What's that?" I asked. "I know about the Prosecco, sort of Italian champagne, and the bottle of sparkling water. And obviously I know those are oranges. But what's the large bottle of green stuff?"

"HR told me you also used to like Campari and soda . . ."

"True. Like a pseudo-sophisticate, I called it CampariSoda. As it were one word."

"And so, this Aperol, the green stuff, is a little like Campari. Bitter, herbal. We're going to make you Aperol Spritzes. It's very popular in Italy, especially in Venice where we were not too long ago to reaffirm our marriage vows."

"Sorry we couldn't join you there," Rona said, "We so much wanted to but the timing didn't work for us. So let's celebrate that while you here visiting."

"With Aperol Spritzes!" TG said as he was slicing the oranges into wedges on our cutting board. "Do you have large tumblers?"

"In fact, we do," Rona said. "Anything else?"

"Yes, please put three ice cubes in each glass."

"You even brought your own shot glass," I noticed.

"I like to be very precise when mixing drinks,"  TG said, "Notice how this one is marked to help measure the ingredients."

"I see," I said.

"So here's the recipe--three parts Prosecco," he measured three half-shots for each of the four glasses, "And two parts Aperol, a splash of Polar club soda, and a wedge of orange."

He handed a glass to each of us. "Now twirl it carefully to mix all the ingredients," which we did.

Raising his glass he said, "Salute!"

They are wonderful and so are HR and TG who brought the mixin's.

By the end of the evening the bottles of Prosecco and Aperol were nearly empty. The good news is that Hanaford carries both.

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Tuesday, August 30, 2016

August 30, 2016--Let's Vote Already

Jack said, "I'm not talking about early voting," though in some states, more than two months before Election Day, early voting is underway, "I'm saying let's move Election Day to Friday. This Friday. Three days from now. I'm sure everyone has made up their mind who to vote for. Let's put all of us out of our misery."

"It's true, "Rona said, "This election is making me miserable. But doesn't the Constitution say . . . ?"

"I know what it says. But what it doesn't say, and should say, is that when you have two candidates, one worse than the other, Election Day gets moved to September 1st."

"I agree," I said. "That way too we could enjoy the return of Dancing With the Stars without having to have it preempted by the debates or feel pressure to watch them. Can you imagine what the first debate this time is going to be like? A train wreck."

"That at least should be good for a few laughs or groans," Jack said. "But seriously, will anything happen between now and November 8th that will cause anyone to change who they plan to vote for?"

"Maybe if North Korea fires a nuke at Japan or . . ."

"If Hillary is indicted or . . ."

"Or if Trump actually shoots someone on Fifth Avenue."

"Even if any of those things happened I don't think it would change anything. Both the Hillary and Trump people are locked in," Jack said, "And are suffering from overexposure to the point that when we get to Election Day half the people will be hoping that Ralph Nader was in the race."

"Or Al Gore or . . ."

"Or Sarah Palin or . . ."

"Herman Cain."

"I love Herman Cain," I said, "He was so funny. 'Nine-nine-nine.' Remember that?"

"At least the primaries were amusing,"Jack said. "especially on the Republican side. Though Bernie also made things interesting."

"I drive around town here and I don't think it's an exaggeration to say there are no lawn signs for anyone. Four years ago there were tons for Obama and Romney."

"And almost no bumper stickers," Rona said. "What do you think's going on?"

"It turns out that they're both terrible candidates with absolutely no sense of humor. Even when they make gaffs they're not amusing ones. In Trump's case, giving him the benefit of the doubt that the stupid things he says are gaffs, all of them are more disgusting than either interesting or unintentionally satirical."

"And in Hillary's case when she says something careless or gets caught in not telling the truth--I'm being nice--she always responds by whining as if she's being wronged by the right-wing conspiracy. Neither of them is ever seen to be smiling about anything. I haven't been watching, but I can only imagine that Saturday Night Live, which the past three or four elections only had to quote candidates verbatim to crack everyone up--Sarah Palin case in point--must be struggling for material."

"So what happened?" Rona asked. "This should be a fascinating, historic campaign. What with the wife of a president and the first woman running against a true non-politican, both with the potential to interest the electorate, are turning out to be as about as boring and insubstantial as it gets."

"Hillary does talk about policy," I said.

"But in an excruciatingly uninteresting way," Jack said, "I think she knows she has a big lead and is playing it safe. Saying as little as possible, none of it unscripted or in press conferences, so she can run out the clock, avoid mistakes, and stumble to victory."

"And Trump, no matter what you think of him, was an amusing and unpredictable primary candidate. By now he's turned into a bore. Like a TV reality show that is out of gas and about to be cancelled."

"His show ends November 8th. But, as I said, I wish it could happen Friday."

"At least it looks as if Derek Hough is returning to Dancing, I said, "That'll help get us through September and October."

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Monday, August 29, 2016

August 29, 2016--English Not Spoken Here

Mid-September we are planning to spend a few days in New York City.

It's a long, seven-hour drive for a brief visit so we are considering alternatives--the train (too many connections required), JetBlue (we'd have to deal with airports and long security lines), and then there is a bus from Portland to Midtown.

This so-called Concord "luxury bus" is reported to be quite comfortable, is only $138 roundtrip, and offers snacks and a movie.

I asked a friend, Ronnie, who recently took it, what kind of snacks they offered, hoping they would include popcorn because watching a movie on I-84 while munching popcorn sounds diverting. When he said they do, I said to Rona, "Let's book it."

Its New York City terminus is East 42nd Street. A short walk to the subway or a fifteen-minute taxi ride to our apartment.

"Book it," I said again. And so we did.

A few days later there was a piece in the New York Times about the ever-changing taxi situation in town.

I hadn't realized that the Taxi and Limousine Commission had already eliminated the geography test for potential drivers. This means that one can't count on his knowing where Lincoln Center is or Rockefeller Center. Forget Kings Highway and Flatbush Avenue in Brooklyn or the Grand Concourse in the Bronx. Yankee Stadium could also be a mystery and maybe even Nathan's Famous in Coney Island.

What a contrast with London where aspiring drivers study for literally years to memorize cover-to-cover every street and mews in the city bible, London A-Z. As remarkable as it may seem, neurologists claim that the effort not only assures riders that they will get the shortest route to Trafalgar Square, but that driver's brains are physically enlarged.

What happened to NYC cabbies' brains is another story that I won't touch.

Now, the TLC is eliminating the requirement that drivers know English. From my experience, anecdotally, I already assumed that English was not required since it is not easy to have much of a conversation with most drivers. But this move makes it official.

The lead City Council sponsor of the legislation to eliminate the English requirement, which was signed with enthusiasm by pandering mayor, Bill de Blasio, said that the English requirement was "a barrier for would-be drivers from immigrant communities who were looking for work."

Sponsors also claim, preemptively, that Uber drivers, already putting a lot of yellow cab drivers out of business, are not required to speak English.

Again anecdotally, this does not appear to be a problem because all that I have used spoke perfect English and, with or without GPSes on their smartphones, knew where they are going.

With the street smarts that still thankfully exist in the city, the Times quotes a 26 year-old cook who lives in Queens, David Hernandez, "If you're in New York, you must speak English. This is an English-speaking country."

Even for drivers who come from an amazing 167 countries, with the largest share from Bengali-speaking Bangladesh (24 percent) and Urdu-speaking Pakistan (10 percent), this still is an English-speaking country.

To help you out, if you're in town and  hail a cab and want to get to Lincoln Center and your driver is from Bangladesh, here transliterated in Bengali is "Take me to Lincoln Center"--

Āmākē inlyāṇḍēra liṅkanē tairi ēkadharanēra jhalamalē sabuja raṅēra kāpaṛa kēndra nitē

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Friday, August 26, 2016

August 26, 2016--Enough Typing

Enough for the week. I'll return Monday with a New York story.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

August 25, 2016--Down At the End of Mary's Lunch Counter

"Those are my parents," he said, nodding in the direction of the couple sitting at right angles to him down at the end of Mary's lunch counter. "My mother and father. I'm six-two but she's only four-nine and he's just an inch taller. I can't explain me. My two brother are both under five feet."

He didn't look at her but was sitting next to Rona with me on her other side. We were sharing a turkey salad sandwich.

"Genetics," she said. "There's no other explanation."

"'S'pose so," he said. "Makes for a lot of confusion. I thought they weren't my folks when I shot right by them. Made them feel good though. To have a normal son. Me? I was fully grown at 12 and was the tallest person in the school. Including the teachers. The kids thought I was a freak of nature. Not a lot of fun there. So I never did get much education. Or much luck for that matter."

"Sorry to hear that," Rona said. "You look fine to me."

"Bag-a-bones, that's me. Can't hardly eat no more." Mindlessly, he stirred his hash and eggs together, making a desultory mess of them.

He was painfully underweight but Rona said, "Better to be thin than the alternative."

"You got that right." For the first time he perked up and scooped a forkful of the mix he had made. "Haven't been able to eat a thing for more than a year now." Deflated again, he lowered his fork.

"Sorry to hear that," Rona repeated herself.

"Since my wife was diagnosed."

"Sorry to . . ."

"Was as rough as anything you could imagine. It was rapid spreading. Took her in less than six months. That was about half a year ago."

"You're so young. She must have been . . ."

"Thirty-six. Just getting started. One good thing, we didn't have kids. Must have been related to her condition. I was quite an eater before that. When the doctor told us what was going to happen, I stopped cold turkey. Pardon the pun. Juice and soup kept me going. Not that I wanted to. But for Sally . . ."

"Really rough," Rona said.

"You don't know the half of it. What it did to her. And me." He resumed staring at his food. His mother gestured for him to eat.

"Now they want me to eat. Twenty years earlier, I was living with them. I was just a kid. They hid food from me. Had a chain with a lock 'round the fridge. Some life. If you can call it that."

So his parents couldn't hear, Rona whispered, "A lock on the refrigerator? I never . . . " She caught herself now that what had been happening with him was becoming apparent.

"Yes, that's right." Rona hadn't said anything. "From the look of me now you'd never guess. Right?"

"I don't. I mean. It could be." Rona didn't know what to say.

"Six-fifty." For the first time he looked at her and smiled. "That was me. Six-two with parents who were almost midgets weighing six-fifty."

"Well, I . . . "

"Nothing to be upset about or feel badly about. That was me then and this is me now."

He picked up his T-shirt to let the hanging flaps of his now emaciated stomach come into view. "That's the last of that me," he said, pointing, "I may need surgery. But to tell you the truth, what with . . ."

He broke off and returned to playing with his food.

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Wednesday, August 24, 2016

August 24, 2016--Midcoast: Peggy Pays A Visit (Concluded)

"Back in New York no one would eat anything recommended by Paula Deen who's an out-and-out . .  ."

"That's not the way things work up here," Dan said, remaining calm. Peggy fussed with the knot in her Hermes.

"So just how do things work up here, Danny?" I wasn't sure if Peggy was being condescending.

"Well, how do they work down there in New York?" Dan said firmly but without attitude.

"Among other things we pride ourselves in being tolerant. No restaurant person I know would have anything to do with the likes of Paula Deen."

"Well, we're pretty tolerant up here too. Maybe even willing to give someone like Paula Dean the benefit of the doubt. She was mortified by what she said and apologized profusely. No one you know in the Big Apple ever make a fool of themselves?"

Peggy didn't have a ready answer to that but pressed on, "I look around this diner and what do I see?"

"You tell me," Dan said.

"Well, Danny, everyone looks like you." She paused to let that take its full effect.

"I hope not," he said, "That would be a sight for sore eyes."

"I mean," she leaned closer and this time in a sub sotto voce whisper said, "Not a person of color. Not even one working in the kitchen washing dishes."

"I'll let that stereotype about who might be washing dishes pass. But, yes, Maine has very few minorities, if that what you mean. 'Round here in the Midcoast even fewer. So by that definition of yours it's true were not diverse. But," he added, "that's not the only way to think about it."

"Well, how do you folks define it up here? The rest of the country . . ."

"Let me cut you off right there," Dan said, "'Cause there's no 'rest of the country.'" He made air quotes.

"You're losing me," Peggy said. "On CNN, on MSNBC, in the New York Times, even on Fox News which I assume you watch, that's how they talk about diversity."

"Your rest of the country is not all the same. There are lots of local differences. I remember talking with Rona and Steve back in May about the election and how we agreed that we have to be careful making assumptions from our limited individual perspectives. I quoted someone I heard on CNN, which I watch, who said that he asked at a dinner party in Manhattan how many people had been to Paris and how everyone raised their hands. Then he asked how many had visited Staten Island. He reported that only a handful had. It's just a ferry ride away and pretty much no one had ever been there."

"Well, I have," Peggy said, "And couldn't wait to get back to civilization. But return to your claim that Maine, in spite of who I'm seeing here, is diverse."

"I'll say even more so than your downtown New York."

"I'm all ears," Peggy said, cupping her ears.

"What you're seeing and being blinded by, if I may say so, is skin color. Not that I'm minimizing the importance of that but it's only part of the picture. Even liberals would agree that not all Hispanics or black people are the same. You also have to look at how much education people have, the kind of work they do, what they read. But Im not just talking about that though that's an important way to see the diversity here. We may look the same in part because we all dress more or less alike--basic clothes, informal, and all that--but you'll see what I mean when I tell you about who's in the room."

Peggy swung around in the booth to see who Dan was talking about.

"At the counter from the left is an orthopedic surgeon who specializes in feet and next to him . . ."

"Is he the one who now smokes salmon?"

Dan smiled but continued, "Next to him is a retired science teacher who taught at the Lincoln Academy for 30 years, then there's Jimmy who makes a living these days as a clam digger. That's John who is a former accountant in New York City who runs a very successful steel fabricating business who has clients around the world, especially in Europe and the Middle East. Under that overhang next to the air conditioner is a minster who runs the Office of Religious and Spiritual Life at Bowdoin College in Brunswick. His wife, right next to him, is a major fundraiser for a variety of social service agencies. At the next booth is Al, a former contractor who is now a graphic designer and book publisher. You may have seen one of his own book of photographs at the bookstore in town."

While Dan paused to catch his breath, Peggy said, "And what about you? What don't I know about you?"

"By comparison I'm boring. I was a lineman for the local phone company for 35 years. Now I build wood boats. But are you getting what I'm trying to say? I could go on with who's here right now but don't you already see how diverse we are? Beyond appearances?"

"I am seeing that," Peggy said.

"And here's the big point--"

"What's that?"

"How we're all here having breakfast together. This is a place where people from all sorts of backgrounds are comfortable with each other. Know each other in many cases all our lives. Those with a lot of education and impressive careers and others who are just getting by working two, three part-time jobs."

"I must admit where I go for coffee in the morning there isn't much of this kind of diversity."

I jumped in, "When we're in the city we go to the same place for breakfast and though we love it there, pretty much everyone agrees with everyone about politics--everyone's for Hillary--to movies to restaurants."

"That's my final point," Dan said, "How right now in this room there are people with very different perspectives--of course about politics, but also about religious beliefs (or non-beliefs), what constitutes friendship and love, childrearing, favorite books, the importance of money. You'd be surprised what we talk about. And, disagree about. We know how to do that. We have to be good at that because we need each other, have to live more or less comfortably together."

"I must admit . . ."

"Don't let me mislead you. This isn't paradise here. There's also a lot of nasty stuff. A lot of family abuse, too much drug usage, some people cheat the system and lie to get public assistance. Fortunately, we don't see too many of them at Deb's. But they're here too. Some just up the road. But we try to be civil with them too." He shrugged. "They're our people and we have to want the best for them. And, if we can, be helpful. There's a lot of that. People helping out."

"Well Danny," Peggy said, "You've given me a lot to think about. And as to these two," she didn't turn to us, "back in the city I'll tell Meg not to worry about them." She let out one of her patented laughs.

"But one more thing," she said, "You mentioned politics. Don't tell me you're voting for Trump?"

"I'm very conservative, as you probably heard. That's true, and under other circumstances I would be open to that, but thanks in part to many conversations over coffee with them," he winked at Rona and me, "like you, I have a lot to think about."


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Tuesday, August 23, 2016

August 23, 2106--Midcoast: Peggy Pays A Visit (Part 1)

"If we agree to take you to the diner for breakfast you have to promise no political talk."

"So what am I allowed to talk about? The weather? Is the rain hurting the rhubarb?"

"It's past rhubarb season. But you could ask Dan, if he's there, how his peaches are doing."

"Peaches? I prefer rhubarb. At least it has some bite. Like me." She smiled coyly and that had me worried.

"Why don't we have breakfast at the house," I therefore suggested.

"I schlepped all the way up here from New York to munch on an white toast? Actually, I came all this way to witness the two of you in your vegetative state. Rising with the sun, going to bed at 8:00, eating kale. Everyone is asking what's going on with you. Salman, Meg, who by the way says hello. Everyone."

Passing over that, Rona said, "We also have very good bagels from a local baker." She added, to make the prospect of not going out enticing, "He used to be a broker on Wall Street."

Mockingly Peggy said, "And I'm sure you have lox from Russ & Daughters. Or is there a local source? Maybe someone who smokes salmon who used to be a neurosurgeon?"

"That we don't have but we do have cream cheese made by a local dairy farmer."

"I know cream cheese has to come from a cow on a farm, but I'd prefer mine from Dean & DeLuca in Soho."

"What the heck," I said, "Let's go out. But please, can we not talk about Donald Trump?"

Peggy ignored me and headed toward the car where she promptly plopped herself in the passenger seat. Rona, as a result, had to sit in the back.

"Do you think the Hermes scarf is a bit much for your diner?" Peggy asked Rona.

"I wouldn't recognize you without it."

Dan was there when we arrived and signaled for us to join him in his booth. Ever the gentleman, he rose to greet Peggy.

"So this is the famous Danny," Peggy bubbled, turning on half her charm. That, at least, was a good sign. Full charm would have levitated the diner.

"And you must be Peggy. I've heard so much . . ."

"Is he the one voting for Trump?" she whispered to me so sotto voce that everyone in the diner turned to stare at her. Unfazed, Dan smiled in her direction.

"So what's good, Danny?" Peggy asked wiggling her way into the booth next to him, "Whoopie pies? Maine blueberries? Lobster whatever? I hate lobster. Kale?" She stole a look in our direction.

"Actually, everything's good," Dan said. "I never eat it, but Deb makes homemade hash which she serves with poached eggs accompanied by her own biscuits. They came in sixth in Paula Deen's biscuit contest."

"That Paula Deen who used the N-word on TV?"

Here we go, I thought.

"I wouldn't know about that," Dan said. "All I know is that Deb's biscuits are among the best."

"If I were Peg--is that her name?--I would have turned down the award or prize or whatever."

"Her name's Deb," I said, "And her biscuits are the best."

"Back in New York no one would eat anything recommended by Paula Deen who's an out-and-out . .  ."

"That's not the way things work up here," Dan said, remaining calm. Peggy fussed with the knot in her Hermes.

"So just how do things work up here, Danny?" I wasn't sure if Peggy was being condescending.

"Well, how do they work down there in New York?" Dan said firmly but without attitude.

To be continued . . .

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Monday, August 22, 2016

August 22, 2016--Don't Know Much About Algebra

For many, college resumes today. Including for the daughter of our friend Sarah who is a freshman at the University of Maine, Augusta.

She's splendid. This past summer, between high school graduation and her first day at UMA, she was one of three incoming students to be selected to spend the summer in Costa Rica, living with a local family and working as a medical assistant in a hospital in San Jose.

The college was so impressed by what they were hearing about her that they upped her scholarship by a few hundred dollars and asked her to take the lead in beginning a student EMS program at the campus in Augusta.

This should be a sweet time for Alexa, but it is turning into a time of trial.

First, she, as all students, is required to have medical insurance. For middle--middle-class kids this should be no problem--they would be covered by their parents' policy.

The problem is that Sarah is a single mom, works three part-time jobs, and has no employer-provided coverage. In the aggregate, her jobs yield slightly more in income than would qualify her for the subsides provided by the Affordable Care Act, Obamacare.

"The least expensive policy I could get that would also cover Alexa is $385 a month."

"Wow," Rona sad, "That's more than $4,500 annually."

"To be precise, $4,620. With a $5,000 a year deductible. They call that affordable?" Sarah sputtered, "Give me a break. And I voted for him two times. Obama. Why, I'll never know. But I'm a liberal. I suppose that's why. So now what am I going to do about Alexa? Get another job? I'm already working seven days a week."

"What are you going to do?" I asked.

"Good question. See if I can borrow some money from my mother. Not that she has much. Or maybe Alexa will take out a student loan. I hate for her to have to do that. Saddle her with tens of thousands in debt when there probably won't be that many good jobs when she graduates."

"Sad but probably true," I said, "But she sounds special and will probably do just fine."

"It's all about the probablies."

To shift the subject somewhat to something more positive, Rona said, "I'll bet she's excited. She's off to such a good start even though she is just starting."

"She is excited, but good kid that she is the money issues are getting in the way of her feeling positive about beginning college. She's talking about taking a year off, deferring her admission and working to save up enough money to help out with all the costs."

"A lot of young people are doing that. Look at Obama's daughter, Malia, isn't she taking a year off?"

"With all due respect, we're not talking about the same thing. His daughter . . . "

"Touché," I said, "Sorry."

"Not a problem," Sarah assured me, "I know you're trying to be empathetic. But there's one more thing. Something really outrageous."

"What's that?" Rona asked.


"They're still using textbooks?" I said. "I would think with the Internet they would be more and more obsolete."

"Not as long as they can make money selling them."

"I know they can be ridiculously expensive."

"Take a guess," Sarah said, "She needs one for Biology and another for her required arts elective, the History of Music."

"When I used to teach, they could be as much as $50 dollars each," I said.

Sarah smiled and gestured that they cost more than that.

"Seventy-five dollars?" Rona guessed.

"I'll save you the trouble,"Sarah said, "You're not even close. It's three hundred for the music text and . . ."

"You've got to be kidding," Rona interrupted.

"I wish I was. And, even more outrageous, the biology book is $400."

"So just two books run $700. I'm staggered. How corrupt this feels."

"That's the right word for it, 'corrupt.' Is it any wonder that people in America are angry? I mean modest hard-working people."

"No surprise at all, I said, "We're fortunate to be financially secure and don't have kids in college but what you're saying makes me furious."

"This helps explain some of the Trump people," Sarah said. "Not the crazies or the bigots, but, frankly, people like me. I'm working my butt off; have no child support from Alexa's father; I'm a feminist--in the way I live, not just in the way I talk--and I'm not a fascist. As I said, I'm pretty progressive. But things have gotten to the ridiculous stage and out of frustration, if Trump wasn't such a jerk--and worse--I can't tell you I wouldn't be thinking about voting for him."

"I think I understand that," Rona said.

"Things need radical change and I'm feeling that voting for Hillary, who I can't stand, would not be voting for someone who'll make things better. She's cut from the same cloth as all the other professional politicians. More concerned about themselves. Don't really get me and people like me. They mouth the words but it's just words to get us to vote for them. Trust them. I did that eight years ago and then again four years later. But what did Obama do that was good for people like me? Including with his famous Obamacare. Again, for people like me, it turns out to be a scam."

"Well . . ." I started to say.

"I know, I may be overstating things. But have you ever worked seven days a week? I'm not meaning to give you a hard time, but I've been doing that now, all on my feet, for more than three years."

"Well . . ." I started to say.

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Friday, August 19, 2016

August 19, 2016--Visitors

We have visitors and I have taken time off from typing. But I will return on Monday

Thursday, August 18, 2016

August 18, 2016--Midcoast: Skunk Patrol

We had just dropped off a load at the dump, and with windows open to let the smell dissipate, we turned up the Bristol Road, heading for the diner where we hoped to run into a friend or two.

About a quarter mile north, half off the road on the right side, a car had pulled over and its four-way flashers were winking. Not unusual as there are some mailboxes there and people frequently pull over to empty them. But what was unusual was the sight of what looked like quite an old man seemingly staggering in the middle of the road, straddling both lanes.

For as far as I could see in the rearview mirror, there were no cars in sight so I moved toward the center of the road to provide at least some protection. Cars along that stretch often race along at 60 mph or more.

As we crept closer, not wanting to startle him, I saw he was carrying what looked like a long-handled tool. Perhaps a rake or shovel. Strange, I thought. Perhaps to use as a sort of crutch to steady himself as he was clearly wobbling.

"I wonder if he's sick or something," I said.

"Slow down even more," Rona said, "And watch out for oncoming traffic. Maybe pass him and pull over to the left side so with your flashers on there'll be warning lights on both sides of the road. Maybe we can help him get to the other side where he'll be safer than wandering in the middle of the highway."

"And we'll see what's going on with him. Maybe help get him to the hospital if he's having some sort of medical or neurological problem."

So I drove past him, going very slowly, and as we did I saw that he was pulling a shovel behind him. Still moving slowly with effort.

We got out of the car and approached carefully since he was not paying attention to us and we didn't want to startle him.

When ten feet away, I asked, "You OK?" He didn't respond so again I called out to him, "Are you all right?"

"Be with you in a minute," he said, sounding fully compos mentis and formal. "Just doin' what I have to."

We then noticed he was shoveling up a dead animal, roadkill, that had been squashed flat. "Looks like a skunk," Rona said. She is hypersensitive to smells in general and dead skunks are among her least  favorite. Seeing he was not in danger and didn't need any form of help, she turned toward the car but hesitated, thinking, as I was, that something unusual was going on with him and the dead skunk.

"I think we saw him in the diner yesterday," Rona whispered, "We were sitting with Ken and he came over to say hello."

That occurred to him at the same moment. "You're the New York folks from the diner."

"We were there yesterday and you introduced yourself. When we saw your car pulled over and you on the road we though to stop to see if you were OK."

"That was nice of you folks. I 'preciate that."

Traffic in both directions was light so we stepped fully off the road to talk with him. "You said you were doing what you 'have to' do," I said.

"That's what I said," he said with a shrug.

"I don't mean to pry," I said, "But you have to do this?"

"Not exactly," he said, laughing.

"Do you mind my . . . ?"

"Perfectly fine. Understandable," he said. "It's what I do. Don't really have to so I guess I mislead you. Didn't mean to. But I take care of the road. This part of it anyways. North from the dump up far as the diner. 'Bout three miles. Other folks work the road down to the lighthouse and others all the way into town. To Damariscota. Do it every morning. Lots of roadkill this time of year. Days getting shorter so animals are thinking where to settle in when it gets cold and there's less for them to forage. And there's more traffic as we get closer to Labor Day. Makes more for me to do," he smiled, "I mean taking care of the road. Keeping things here the way they should be."

"You just do this?" Rona asked.

"Don't get paid for, if that's what you mean. Just do it. I don't know how I got started but I've been doin' it for long as I can remember. My father before me."

"I have trouble with skunk odors," Rona said, "So I really appreciate you're doing this."

"I get used to it. Come to sort of like the stink, tell you the truth. So . . ."

Clearly he was ready to move on. To see what he would find further along on his was up to Bristol.

"My name's Bob by the way. Maybe," he winked, "I'll see you later at the diner."

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Wednesday, August 17, 2016

August 17, 2016--Preview

Guests are arriving and so I'll be busy. But I plan to return tomorrow with a piece about the skunk patrol. Not pretty.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

August 16, 2016--Midcoast: Driving Alone

It's only August 16th so how come the summer season has fewer than two weeks to go?

Not the astronomical summer, which ends on September 22nd at 10:21 A.M. EDT, or the old summer-vacation summer that spans Memorial Day and Labor Day, but the summer that ends when it's time for kids to go back to school.

That summer this year ends as early as August 23rd. Actually, cousins in Florida are already back in school. But summer in Florida is different--it's always summer there.

The beginning of the end of this latter version of summer is palpable here in Maine.

Stores and especially restaurants that depend on high school and college students to wait tables and work checkout counters are worrying about how to keep going when in a week or two their summer employees will be heading out. Help Wanted signs are everywhere and our favorite restaurant, Coveside in Christmas Cove, will soon be scaling back on the number of days they will be open during their version of the shoulder season.

The deeply-wired part of me that begins to get a knot in my stomach as the beginning of the new school year approaches (even though I haven't been in a school in more than 50 years) is not something I look forward to so early in the year--all my schools followed the old-fashioned calendar, ending for the summer on or about June 30th and not reopening until at least a week after Labor Day. That still determines the setting of my internal clock.

But then I like it when the summer people and outside visitors begin to depart as I love the quiet, the solitude that descends as suddenly at the late-summer sun.

In fact, just looking at the houses and cabins along out hardscrabble road shows evidence that the season is at the beginning of the beginning of the end.

Whereas last week three of the cabins had four cars in their driveways, as of Monday morning one cottage appeared to be already shut down and the two others had just one car parked.

Rona said, "I like it when there aren't so many cars in sight. The rural feeling returns."

"Me too," I said, "But I was struck this year that there were more cars than usual. In fact, when Mark Prior stopped by last week he said it looked like a campsite."

"Particularly how Jan's cabin was dwarfed by four huge cars."

"Four people, four cars," I said, "Of the same family of four that has been renting it for more than 20 years. Two parents and two grown sons. All very nice people."

"Ten years ago when they arrived there was only one car, then a few years later two, and now four. Their sons are not only old enough to drive but have cars of their own. Everyone has a car. And each of them drove all the way from Massachusetts."

"I suppose it enables them to do whatever they want. To not feel pressure to do the same thing. To be independent. If one wants to go out for breakfast, he has a car. If another wants to sleep in, he can while the other three do whatever."

"Progress, I suppose," Rona said, not meaning it.

I shrugged, "It's their America."

"Though not cost free."

"I agree. I know I'm prone to be nostalgic, but I think that families where everyone has a car are missing something."

"I know what you mean--they miss driving together."

"One of my favorite memories is of when my whole family would pile into the car and my father, who was very good at this, wandered around, seeking new streets and roads to drive down, hoping to come upon unanticipated things. Including getting lost. Especially getting lost. He loved that. And how as a foursome we would figure out how to find our way again. Speak about metaphors."

"I wish my family had done more of that," Rona said, "When we did it was lots of fun. One of the few things we did together, out of the house, as a family, that I enjoyed. Though we always got lost and that made my father nervous. He wasn't into adventure of that kind. I guess these days it would be thought of as a 'bonding experience.'"

"For our wanderings," I remembered, "we provisioned ourselves, taking along a stack of sandwiches and cold drinks. Always including a couple of bottles of seltzer in those old-fashioned siphon bottles. That was my responsibility--to make sure we had enough seltzer. As if if we really got lost for days it would sustain us."

"It was Jewish champagne," Rona said.

"In truth, we never really got lost but pretended to. To create excitement out of relatively simple things. It also allowed us to try out different family roles. I was the provisioner, my brother the map reader as he had an exceptional sense of direction, and my mother, fulfilling a stereotype, was the official worrier. My father of course was the fearless leader ultimately on whom we all could depend. And, regardless of the challenges, would bring us through safely."

"I can see that," Rona said. "But today, with everyone having their own car none of this is possible. It could be another form of alienation. How too many people are missing the opportunity to find affiliation."

"Like how Putnam's 'bowling alone' now also includes driving alone. And how compounded with the pervasiveness of social media so much gets missed."

"Maybe at least while doing all this solo driving they at least have books on tape."

"I guess, but that too is not my favorite thing," I said, "I prefer being responsible for my own version of the sound of the text. But don't get me started on that."

"I'm even sorry to have brought up the cars business."

"Me too. But I do like it with fewer cars around. It would be even better," Rona said, "if you were less grumpy."

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Monday, August 15, 2016

August 15, 2016--No Daylight

With Donald Trump searching desperately to remain in the media spotlight and as a result of that and his proclivities descending deeper and deeper into political trouble; with the drip, drip, drip of Republican defections (Maine Senator Susan Collins is the most recent GOP leader to announce that she will not vote for Trump); with his candidacy in free fall and Hillary Clinton opening up an unprecedented 10-or-more-point lead, it is time to call for expanded press scrutiny of Clinton to learn more (if that's possible) about her character and fitness to be president, since it seems virtually certain now that she will in November be elected to serve as the United States' 45th chief executive--for these reasons it is imperative that media resources such as the New York Times pause in their daily assault on everything Trump and turn the same investigative energy to things Clinton.

Case in point the blasé way in which the Times has been dealing with the dump of thousands of new Hillary Clinton emails which this time move beyond exposing the "extremely careless," at best quasi-legal way in which she used her personal email account and server to conduct top secret State Department business, to now peeling back the veil that has obscured the ways in which she abandoned her pledge to President Obama in 2009 to sever all ties to the work (read, raising up to $3.0 billion) of the Bill, Hillary, and Chelsea Clinton Foundation and Global Initiative while serving as his Secretary of State.

The Clinton Times story, "New Questions About Overlap Between Clinton State Dept. and Charity" gets buried on page A10 while stories about Trump "topping out" among registered Republican voters or how his "camp is falling to tame his tongue" becomes the lead story on the front page.

His, political process stories; hers, about fitness to assume the presidency. Not by any measure of equal consequence.

The Clinton story is not new. It has rattled around for years.

Here's how it appears things worked while she was Secretary of State--major donors to the Clinton "charity" were given expedited access to State Department officials when they had matters of personal advantage to bring to the attention of the right people or received favorable fast-tracked decisions and exemptions if one of Clinton's deputies winked in the right direction.

These deputies included Cheryl Mills and the ubiquitous Huma Abedin, both of whom somehow managed to be on both the Clinton Foundation and State Department payrolls. Or perhaps as Mills claims, in one assignment or another, they did Clinton bidding as "volunteers." At least, so they say.

The conservative but credible advocacy group, Judicial Watch, through the Freedom of Information Act, secured this latter cache of emails which, they demonstrated by quoting, reveal that between the State Department and the foundation, "there was no daylight."

As texts of the emails attest, JW got that right. And now it is passed time for the New York Times to also get things right.

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Friday, August 12, 2016

August 12, 2016--Russia Is Winning the New Cold War

It is now generally acknowledged that Russia's intervention in Syria has, from a Russian perspective, been effective.

Putin's Russia, unlike Obama's United States, is now seen to be the leading and most influential great power operating in the region. Russia's military and political support for Syria's president, Bashar al-Assad, has effectively ended the rebellion against his government, and so now, since they made this possible, he is "owned" equally by both Russia and Iran, Assad's major patrons.

The United States is now relegated to the insignificant sidelines, unable to figure out which rebel faction(s) to support and is also seen to be impotent in regard to efforts to impose "red lines," topple Assad, or defeat ISIS.

Even in Second Cold War terms, Russia's modernized military is more than a match for ours even though we have outspent them on the development of smart weapons designed for asymmetrical warfare. This represents another miscall by the CIA and our military intelligence operatives--as during the First Cold War when they failed to notice that the Soviet Union's economy was collapsing under the pressure of attempting to compete with us weapon-system-by-weapon-system, this time around they failed to alert us to the power and sophistication of the new Russian military.

Most revealing, as Russia flexes new muscle to protect its borders as well as reduce the power of the United Staes and especially Western Europe, is the new cynical feel-good relationship developing between Russia and Turkey.

Just nine months ago a Turkish jet downed a Russian military aircraft and though it looked as if a hot war might break out between the two nations, in spite of this, earlier this week Turkish president Recep Tayyip-Erdogan was in Moscow to talk with President Putin about putting aside the past and establishing a closer relationship.

They both have skin in the regional game (and both leaders within their own countries need propping up) so going to war with each other would not be in either one's best interest.

Thus, out of mutual need, Turkey is raising questions about its role in NATO--something Putin enthusiastically welcomes--and Russia is helping to cut off the military aid the U.S. is supplying to the Kurds who are eager to carve Kurdistan out of land they live in in Syria, Iraq, and most geopolitically important, Turkey.

Erdogan is blaming America for the recent coup that failed to topple him and is suspicious about our agenda regarding the Kurds, while Putin seeks to destabilize NATO and push its forces, very much including those of the United States, back from its western borders.

Thus the appearance of these unlikely bedfellows. And their mutual interest in the candidacy of Donald Trump who is confounding our freight policy establishment as well as that of our NATO allies when he questions the on-going role of NATO, particularly why the U.S. should underwrite a disproportionate portion of its budget.

A more credible Republican candidate would have a field day with these failed polices of President Obama and former secretary of state Hillary Clinton.

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Thursday, August 11, 2016

August 11, 2016--Fogged In

It's that kind of a mysterious morning. I didn't get a chance to get something done so I will be back here tomorrow.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

August 10, 2016--Stray Current

"Here's one for you," George said.

"Not another one like the one about the rhumb line?" He knew I was attempting to be amusing. I loved his rhumb line story. Even wrote about it.

A hint of a smile confirmed I was about to hear another of his shaggy parables.

"You know I was in the Coast Guard, right?" I did know that. "Well, do you know about stray currents?"

We were at his house where he and Fran were hosting a lively dinner party. George had waited until I had too much to drink before springing this one on me. "Not that much."

"I don't want to repeat what you already know so . . ."

"In fact, I never heard of stray currents. So I'm all yours." He liked that.

"Say you're below deck and there's a little standing water down there."

"Doesn't sound good to me."

"Well, it is and it isn't."

"I'm assuming this is about when it isn't. So get right to it. My ability to follow you is limited. I was fine until you started pouring lemoncello, which, by the way was delicious."

"Let's say that one of the electric lines down there is a bit frayed or corroded. It shouldn't be. We pride ourselves on exceptional maintenance. It's the Coast Guard." As if that was supposed to say it all. "And at one end of the line there's a tear or rupture."

"Doesn't sound good."

"So some current gets loose, is stray," he winked, "and starts moving around in the bilge water. It's seeking some place to get to, to ground itself. That may not be its only option. Before reaching ground, it could leap to the other side and complete a circuit. If that happens you don't want to be standing there with your shoes all wet."

"I can imagine," I said, not really fully able to. In fact I'm not even sure I'm remembering this correctly, I don't know my electricity, except that seeking and reaching ground is much the preferable.

"Why are you telling me this?" I was puzzled more than I usually am with his stories, which sometimes feel like non sequiturs. This one about stray currents for example.

"Well, this one's a political story. Related to all the political talk tonight." There had been quite a lot of that.

"Think now about Donald Trump's supporters. Earlier you proclaimed them shearing away. As the result of how he abused the Kahn family. Of their remarkable son. You mentioned that many of your conservative friends here, Trump supporters, are beginning to have second thoughts."

"I have been noticing that. I think it's over for him. For Trump. But what's the point of your stray current story?" It was getting to be past my bedtime. What with all the wine, the intense talk, the ribaldry, I was happily done in.

"The story might be thought to be about the ungrounded rogue current."

"That's it?" I said.

"That's it," he said.

"That's it?" I asked.

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Tuesday, August 09, 2016

August 9, 2016--Tomorrow

I will return tomorrow with what George had to say the other night about stray currents.

Monday, August 08, 2016

August 8, 2016--A Hillary Story

The Trump campaign, actually Trump himself is imploding.

He could get away during the GOP primary season with calling John McCain's heroism into question (it was written off by his people as refreshingly incorrect), but now in the general election he shot himself in both feet when he repeatedly made gratuitous and disparaging comments about the parents of Capt. Humayun Khan, an American Muslim who in Iraq saved his comrades when he took the full blast of an insurgent's suicide bomb, giving up his life in the process.

This unforgivable transgression plus the good vibes that ultimately emanated from the Democratic convention has propelled Hillary to a commanding seven to 10 point lead. Political savants from Joe Scarborough to David Plouffe have pronounced the election effectively over. To them and others, the only remaining question is how big Hillary Clinton's landslide will be and will it be overwhelming enough to enable sufficient Democrats to ride her coattails and thereby retake the Senate and maybe even the House.

I suppose there is one other remaining question--whether or not WikiLeaks has more compromising Clinton emails and phone logs to dump into the news feed that are so damaging as to derail her candidacy.

Even if they do, we may be at a point not unlike where we were seven months ago when Trump boasted that he could shoot someone on Fifth Avenue and his people would still vote for him. Now, even if Hillary is conclusively shown to have knowingly passed along top-secret information, her people will still vote for her. As much as anything else to vote against Trump.

I am trying hard to get with the program--I will of course vote for her but still not with any enthusiasm. To me she is corrupt in significant ways and a cut-from-the mold establishment politician beholden to big-money special interests. This would make it hard for me to support her if she were running against . . .

But there's my problem--I can't come up with a plausible alternative. So Hillary for me it is.

In an effort to feel better about her, and to convince a wavering very conservative friend to vote for her, the other morning over coffee I told him "my" Hillary story. As much to push him along as to convince myself she is better than I think she is.

The story goes back to 2005, when she was New York Senator Clinton and I was senior director for Education, Media, Arts and Culture at the Ford Foundation.

The foundation was funding a school-reform project in Roosevelt, Long Island, the state's lowest-performing school district. It is small with one high school and a feeder system of about a dozen elementary and middle schools. Academic performance was unacceptably low and thus progress from one level to another was such that only a few students graduated from high school and of them just four or five athletes each year entered college.

Our project was to work with all the schools and teachers in the district to bring about improved, coordinated instructional methods especially in reading, language skills, math, and science. We made an upfront commitment to parents and their children when they entered first grade that if they progressed satisfactorily from grade-to-grade and graduated from high school on time, four years of college scholarships would be waiting for each of them.

Senator Clinton learned about Project GRAD and contacted Ford, indicating that she believed in the effort and wanted to consider becoming involved. I suggested that she might want to visit Roosevelt's schools, to get a "before picture."

And so for the first time, the senator visited Roosevelt, a de facto segregated town that for decades had been where Long Island's wealthy townships, not wanting them in their midst, provided low cost housing for welfare recipients. Some said "dumped" them there. It was a godforsaken place with a  small, boarded-up downtown where it felt dangerous to wander.

On her first visit, Clinton, without entourage or press, spent nearly two hours in Roosevelt's schools. At the high school, the principal and I walked her about. She was mobbed in the hallways when classes changed and was eager to talk to and hug students who were drawn to her. She wanted to know what life was like in Roosevelt ("scary," I remember one sophomore girl saying) and in the high school ("going nowhere," one seemingly depressed one junior reported).

On the second floor, the corridors were quiet. It looked as if half the classrooms were not in use. "Why is that?" Clinton asked, "Classrooms on the first floor seem completely full."

The principal said that that was because the science labs were on the second floor.

"Don't the children take lab science?" the senator asked.

"Well, they do, but the labs here are not functional. They have no power, no running water, no gas for bunsen burners."

"But doesn't the state require that to earn an academic diploma students are required to take three years of lab science? Meaning that the lab component is required?"

"Yes, that's true but we have a way to deal with that," the principal, smiling said. "Once a week we bus our science students to one of the Great Neck high schools where they observe Great Neck students doing lab experiments. We certify this as fulfilling the lab requirement."

I could see that learning about this did not please the senator, but she remained silent.

Later that day, still thinking about how humiliating it must be for Roosevelt students to have to satisfy their lab requirements by observing white, affluent kids in Great Neck, she pulled me aside and with a heavy heart, said--"I want to be involved. I want to see if you can get Ford to expand its involvement. I'll help raise money for the college scholarships, but the next time I'm back here--and I will be back--I want to see those labs up and running. I want you, Steve, to get the money for that from the foundation."

"This is perfect," I said. "As the result of your involvement we will expand our commitment; but, I need to tell you, the foundation does not make grants to fund facilities. So Ford wouldn't be able to pay to fix the labs. Maybe we could . . ."

"I know the president of the foundation, and I'm willing to call him to see if in this case an exception might be made."

I stammered, "Whatever you say. You're the senator."

She gave me one of her signature laughs and said, "Don't worry. I won't get you in trouble with Frank."

As a result of her call, more money from Ford was forthcoming and I was able to add $100,000 to the grant to make the labs functional.

About six months later I received a call directly from Senator Clinton, "Steve. It's time for me to pay another visit to Roosevelt. Can you meet me there next Thursday? On the second floor," she paused for emphasis, "To check out the labs."

"Well, I . . ."

"At 2:00," she said and hung up.

The work on the laboratory renovations was behind schedule, as almost everything was in Roosevelt, so I called the mayor and district superintendent and told them the senator was coming in ten days and by then everything needed to be completed.

I held my breath but come a week from Thursday when we met at the high school, on the second floor, all was in working condition, including the bunsen burners. Senator Clinton told the beaming principal that when she comes back in the fall she expected to see all three labs in use.

They were.

And then eight months later, Hillary Clinton, again accompanied by just one aide and a Secret Service agent, returned to the high school to participate in the graduation ceremonies. After just a year and a half of Project GRAD the graduation rate had about doubled and nearly a third of the graduates were on their way to college with the scholarships that'd been set aside for them.

I told this story the other morning to a very conservative friend, who, though rapidly becoming disenchanted with Donald Trump, was far from willing to even consider voting for Clinton.

But Rona asked him, "So what do you think?"

"This morning I learned a lot of new things about her." He was reluctant to speak Clinton's name. "I have a lot to think about."

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Friday, August 05, 2016

August 5, 2016--Area 51 and the New World Order

And here I thought that Area 51 conspiracy theories were just about alien invasions and psychic phenomena. Little did I know until the night before last that the military's ultra-top-secret weapons development facility hidden away in the Nevada desert is also where the New World Order is taking shape.

The U.S. government will only fess up to using Area 51 to develop and test aircraft such as the U-2 spy plane and the F-117 stealth fighter.

They deny dabbling in ESP experiments or consorting with aliens who conspiracy theorists claim have been arriving in the area for years, decades, centuries, even millennia.

(The latter limited, of course, to those who believe in Evolution and the earth being more than 6,000 years old.)

I've learned about this by listening to late night talk radio. In recent years especially to George Noory, host of Coast to Coast AM, which for four hours every overnight is devote to things paranormal. I am not alone among insomniacs. His show is carried by over 600 radio stations and listened to by at least 2.75 million.

The other night, needing a break from listeners calling in to report about being abducted by aliens, I switched over to my other favorite late night show--Red Eye Radio, pitched to interstate truckers, shift workers, and fitful sleepers. I of the latter category.

It is broadcast over 38 stations and attracts a nightly audience of perhaps a million. It is political in nature, no flying-saucer people, and hosted by Eric Harley and Gary McNamara, two reasonably intelligent and well informed conservatives who are sane and smart enough to be troubled by Donald Trump's candidacy.

In the midst of their angst about Trump, a caller, perhaps like me straying from Coast to Coast, brought up Area 51. Harley and McNamara moaned, sensing where this was headed--they've heard it all--but, gentlemen that they are, didn't hang up on her. It was as if they were saying--"OK, bring it on. You just got back from Mars and . . ."

She surprised them. She didn't want to report about being teleported from Cleveland to Roswell, New Mexico--she wanted to talk about the quasi-governmental New World Order.

This I knew something about from my interest in Millennialism. The belief that the world is nearing the end and when that is signaled by the Rapture, after a millennium of Tribulation, Christ will reappear and during this Second Coming will sort out who are going to heaven and who are going in the other direction.

Symptoms of the End Times include the emergence of a New World Order (some say the UN or the current American government is its progenitor) and the appearance of the antichrist (some say this is Obama, others that it is Hillary).

The caller had a different spin to share--it was right there in the Nevada Desert that the New World Order is being assembled. And here's the extraterrestrial connection--

It begins with the claim that aliens have been among us for at least centuries. The government knows this and through the deployment of "men in black" has been covering it up since they are collaborating with the aliens, who are manipulating developments in human society so as to be able to better control and exploit earthlings.

According to the caller, these aliens have shapeshifted into human form so they can move among us undetected. They are now close to taking control of our government and corporate and religious institutions and are as a result in the final stages of their plan to take over the world and impose a new order.

In return for the coverup, the U.S. government gets help from the aliens in the development and testing of flying-saucer weapons systems.

Quite a Faustian bargain, I thought.

Finally cutting her off, Harley and McNamara chimed in, "Compared to this, Donald Trump doesn't sound so bad."

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Thursday, August 04, 2016

August 4, 2016--Preview

I wil return tomorrow with a report about Area 51. For years conspiracy theorists have claimed it is a place in Roswall, New Mexico where the government engages in top-secret flying saucer research. But in this heated political era I have been hearing callers to late night radio talk shows expressing concern that even more sinister things are happening there. Things such as . . .

Wednesday, August 03, 2016

August 3, 2016--If Trump Withdraws?

President Obama yesterday all but called for Donald Trump to withdraw from the race. Politically, this wasn't wise, or maybe it was slyer than what one might at first think.

If this was unwise it was because it is none of someone from another party's business to be meddling in his opponents' political affairs. Thus, Obama's implying that Trump withdraw will likely have a reverse effect--the president, universally despised by most Republicans, could inadvertently contribute to an outcome opposite to what he ostensibly desires because whatever he proposes would be automatically rejected. So his hints that Trump consider dropping out will assure his staying in the race.

This is a vivid example of the political physics of equal-and-oppositeness.

But then there could be the sly part--as Trump's campaign implodes it is making it more and more likely that an almost-equally-disliked Hillary Clinton will win in a landslide. So Obama's jujitsu could be a brilliant play. A strategy to assure that Trump stays in the race and is trounced.

On the other hand, though it may be wishful thinking, I am seeing it more and more possible that Trump will withdraw, concocting some lame explanation--I made my point, now it's time for someone else to take over. My family needs me. My business needs me. My golf courses need me. NBC needs me--they want to revive The Apprentice. My . . .

In all of history, this has never happened so what would be the outcome?

If he were president the 25th Amendment would take effect and his vice president, help us, Mike Pence would automatically become POTUS. Just as Gerald Ford did when Richard Nixon resigned.

But Trump is not the president, just the GOP's nominee. With emphasis on his being the Republican Party's nominee. Not America's nominee, but the party's. This is all extra-constitutional.

That means that the party would select his replacement. Not the delegates. There would not be a second rump convention. The new nominee would be elected by the Republican National Committee's National Committee. Basically a group of establishment party officials.

What they would do is anyone's guess.

The Trump people would make a ruckus, but if Trump was really out of the way, it is unlikely that they would coalesce around any previous candidate. Ben Carson? Carly Fiorina? (I'm beginning with the non-politicains.) I doubt it.

What about runner up Ted Cruz? The party elders hate him even more than Trump and would never turn to him.

Jeb Bush? Mitt Romney? Marco Rubio? Of this sorry "establishment" lot, Rubio would have the best chance. But his fade out in the spring doesn't offer much encouragement that he's ready for primetime.

But my prediction, one I made here months ago, is that waiting "reluctantly" in the wings is the vestal Paul Ryan. The coy non-candidate hovering in pretend-denial but longing for the designation. Recall how he swore up and down that he didn't want to be Speaker of the House? And what is his current job? His current title?

From a GOP perspective I see him to be the ideal choice since he wouldn't disrupt current prerogatives and could actually be elected.

If Trump is only seven points behind Hillary, and among other unhinged things is expressing regret that he didn't win a Purple Heart (Rona says--"Doesn't he know he needed to be in the army to be in the line of fire?), if someone this unraveled is almost within the margin of error, anything can happen.

Lesson--be careful, very careful what you wish for.

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Tuesday, August 02, 2016

August 2, 2016--Run the Government Like A Business?

A friend said, "It's just another Republican scheme designed to fool people. I'm tired of hearing about it."

"You mean those people who say they want to see the government run like a business?"

"Exactly. It's a crazy idea born out of frustration. Which I understand. The frustration. But businesses are all about making profits. Governments aren't."

"True," I said, "But let's take a step back to see what they really might mean. I agree with you on at least two counts--people are fed up with what they see to be failures of government to do legitimate and high quality work and, also, claim to want to see them work more like businesses to stick it to people like us who they feel are anti-business socialists. That we want a nanny state where government takes over roles more appropriately carried out by individuals, families, charities, and churches. Spending hard-earned taxpayers' money as if it's their own."

"Well put," my friend said, signaling to get his coffee cup refilled. "That's exactly what's going on. Can you imagine the country being run like a business? Especially by a Donald Trump who it appears more every day isn't really that good a businessman? Too much of what he apparently did was based more on scams than the result of more honest competition."

"Can we agree that as hard as it is to do, let's try to talk about this without making reference to him because, theoretically at least, it could be interesting to think about what a legitimate, big-time CEO from business might do as president. For example, Google's Eric Schmidt, General Dynamics CEO Phebe Novakovic, or Facebook's COO Sheryl Sandberg."

"Seeking to make a profit? That's the bottom line. Literally. And so . . . ?"

"Let's also try to deal with the profit business, to get it out of the way and hopefully, for the sake of this discussion, put it in a better context."

"Lot's of luck with that," he said.

"Of course, in capitalism, in business the focus is on P&L and at the end of the day making money. But more thoughtful people who think about what it would it be like to run the government more like a business know that though a government obviously wouldn't be seeking profits, it could benefit by running more according to well-established business methods and practices."

"Keep going," my friend said, seemingly at least a little interested. Or maybe the coffee was going down well.

"They look more at the methods than the bottom line. Accepting the fact that governments at their best also have bottom lines--not profits but the quality and efficiency of their services and even their goods. With goods usually thought of as all the manufactured goods the government procures (weapons systems front and center) and the services it supplies, among others, in education, health care, sponsored research, food and housing assistance, drug quality control, a strong military, intelligence gathering, and environmental protection."

"This is worth thinking about. I can see how certain so-called business practices might help with some of these."

"In big picture terms, without getting into too many specifics, one thing that frustrates business-inclined people is the fact that among government workers--appointed as well as Civil Service--there seems to be little value placed on efficiency or accountability. Both things at their best are characteristic of businesses. If you do well, you're rewarded with promotions, salary increases, and bonuses. If you do poorly, you're let go. There's a little of that in government but very little. Proponents of business applications to government work claim--and I think with some credibility when they're not just being mean spirited--that we have too many redundant and under-performing, unaccountable government workers with too many of the good ones discouraged by an indolent work culture and, as a consequence, either move on to private industry or essentially sit around counting the days until they can collect their pensions."

My friend said, "There is undoubtedly some truth to that, especially in regard to redundant and obsolete programs, but I think the extent of this is greatly exaggerated. Though I'll grant you there are too many $500 toilet seats."

"What's your evidence that the critique is exaggerated?"

"What's yours regarding the case about governmental incompetence and goldbricking?"

"Fair enough. This kind of argument on both sides is usually based on impression, anecdote, or ideology. So here are a couple of statistics--excluding the military, back in 1940, seven years after Roosevelt took over during the Great Depression and after there was a leap in the number on the federal payroll, there were about 700,000 federal workers. Now we have nearly 2.1 million. Also, the 1940 numbers are after years of new government hires to stimulate the economy. Back in 1930 there were only tens of thousand of government employees."

I paused to take a breath. My friend said, "I have to think about this. But don't forget that the country's population doubled during those years."

"It actually more than tripled. From about 100 million to more than 325 million. But I'll have to think about what you're saying. While doing so, while we're talking about the size of the government workforce, when was the last time--again applying business methods--that we took a truly objective look at the increased and expanded rolls government now plays? I can't believe that X percent of that couldn't be eliminated and in some cases even privatized. Any efficiently run business would do that, does that routinely. And by the way," I added, "shouldn't we liberals who see a large and essential role for government be the ones clamoring for efficiency and accountability? Why do we leave that political plum to conservatives?"

"I'm still stuck on profit being the bottom line for business and how that focus would be applied to not-for-profit government. Wouldn't it lead to harmful and cruel cuts to safety-net programs beyond what would, in pruning terms, be healthy or acceptable?"

"This is a necessary concern and caution. One final thing then," I said, "During the Bill Clinton years, especially during his second term, the government, after cutting 'welfare as we know it,' as they said, and other programs, plus of course a relatively booming economy, generated substantial budget surpluses. Trillions. Sort of like profits," I winked, "which, if George W. Bush hadn't taken us into war in Iraq and Afghanistan and had paid for his prescription drug plan and hadn't insisted on multi-trillion dollar tax cuts, that surplus would have eliminated the national debt in a decade. That sounds like good business practice to me."

"As I promised," my friend said, "I'll give this some more thought. That is, assuming you also agree to do so." He winked.

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Monday, August 01, 2016

August 1, 2016--Bill & Hillary

It's Shakespearean, Bill & Hillary Clinton's relationship. But even after all these years it is yet unclear if it's a comedy or a tragedy.

For a glimpse of what might be the truth, here is how Bill began his Philip-Roth-like speech the other night at the Democratic convention--
In the spring of 1971, I met a girl. The first time I saw her, we were, appropriately enough, in a class on  political and civil rights. She had thick blond hair, big glasses. Wore no makeup. And she exuded this air of strength of self-possession I found magnetic.
After the class, I followed her out, intending to introduce myself. I got close enough to touch her back, but I couldn't do it. Somehow, I knew this would not be just another tap on the shoulder, that I might be starting something I couldn't stop. 
I saw her several more times the next couple of days but still didn't speak to her. Then one night in the law library talking to a classmate who wanted me to join the Yale Law Journal, he said it would guarantee me a job at a big law firm or a clerkship with a federal judge. I said I wasn't interested--I just wanted to go home to Arkansas.
Rachel Maddow on MSNBC thought the speech was "weird," perhaps even demeaning. Certainly, she said, it was not feminist to talk about the Democratic nominee, the first female nominee, as just a "girl."

What I on the other hand took away from the speech were feelings about love and sadness.

The love upwardly-aspiring Bill had for Hillary as more than just brilliant and seething with ambition, but a flesh and blood woman for whom stirred an immediate attraction and even lust. It humanized her. Which he felt necessary to do since she has a problem in public with appearing to be human.

The speech's comic side was quickly revealed by all the late night comics who quipped--

"In 1971, I met a girl. In 1972, I met a girl. In 1973, I met a girl. In 1974 . . ."

The sad, the tragic side was of love lost. Or compromised.

To have begun this loving way 45 years ago and to know about the wreckage he later brought down upon that love and to the life-long commitment he claimed that began that first day when all he wanted to was touch her back.

In his speech of course there was no mention of that other girl he met in November 1995, in the Oval Office, a girl who . . .

It was, though, a remarkable speech. Hopefully even in large part genuine.

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