Friday, September 30, 2016

September 30, 2016--September 30th

I don't know why but I'm feeling that September 30th is a good day to take off. October 3rd, however, is another story. I will be back then, a year older, with something to say about Armageddon.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

September 29, 2016--Sidney Blumen-Who?

During the last half hour of Monday's presidential debate, moderator Lester Holt asked Donald Trump the inevitable question about his many-years-long campaign to call into question Barack Obama's citizenship and thus eligibility to be president. The Birther business. And by posing it during the segment of the debate devoted to race, Holt upped the ante.

Rather than just apologizing for pressing the issue so hard for so long in an attempt to move on--as Hillary Clinton successfully did when asked about her emails, saying--"I made a mistake,"which effectively ended the matter--Trump stumbled on and offered an incoherent and defensive response that on reflection was interesting because of what was largely ignored--his mumbling something about "Blumenthal." Seemingly suggesting that "Blumenthal" had something to do with raising the Birther issue.

Neither Clinton nor Holt followed up vigorously, wisely in its own way as Trump was on his own momentum twisting in the wind.

I was half-asleep by then and did not think that much about it.

But later that night, on one of my after-midnight talk shows--"Red Eye Radio"--a caller referred to Sidney Blumenthal, a close Clinton aide, as the progenitor of the Birther movement. A movement, so called, populated mainly of middle-age racist white men. That must have been, I thought, what Trump was trying to say.

I remembered Blumenthal as a senior advisor to Bill Clinton during his presidency. I knew Clinton trusted his political instincts, especially when it came to launching political attacks. This very much included Blumenthal's trying to help Bill thread his way though the cyclone of the Monica Lewinsky affair.

I also remembered that the Obama administration would not allow Hillary Clinton, when she was named Secretary of State, to hire him as one of her senior advisors. David Axelrod and Robert Gibbs, for example, indicated they would resign their White House positions if Blumenthal was appointed.

Call me foolish, but also from the talk-show world, I thought this had to do with rumors that Hillary and Sidney were fooling around and Obama didn't want any of that going on on his watch.

To check my recollections and to see what Trump might have been attempting to say during the debate, I googled "Blumenthal Birther" and within a microsecond there was all sorts of stuff, ranging from ratings from the lunatic fringe to other postings that appeared credible. Especially one from McClatchy News' Website of September 16, 2016--a few days before the debate.

For the uninitiated, McClatchy is a major publisher of daily newspapers, 29 at the moment, including a number that they secured from the Knight-Ridder company. They have won 9 Pulitzer Prizes and the first  I.F Stone Medal for Journalistic Independence. So they are far from ideological.

Since before the 16th Trump yet again made Birther noises and mentioned Blumenthal, who since 2008 has been a close advisor to Hillary, on its Website on the 16th McCaltchy posted a piece about its role in the Birther controversy.

It appears that during the run up to the Iowa caucuses in 2008, before Trump was questioning Obama's legitimacy, when Clinton was opposing Obama for the nomination, a staffer from Iowa approached McClatchy with a tip--she claimed that Obama was not born in the United States. When the word about this got out she was quickly disavowed by the campaign and summarily fired.

Closer to the point, then McClatchy Washington Bureau Chief James Asher, at that same time was approached by Sidney Blumenthal with the same "news." They refused to run it but again the word began to leak out.

Then this past Friday, and then again on Monday, Asher was quoted as saying that, "Blumenthal did spread the story to him, and that he assigned a reporter to check it out."

Though this may appear to be a posting about Trump with the implication that he was doing his version of a good citizen's due diligence, it is anything but.

Trump has been despicable throughout, including the other night when he appeared to stammer that he didn't do what he was accused of doing (wrong) and that he had not been pressing the calumny recently (again wrong, in fact that is blatantly untrue).

What is also despicable is the cravenness of moderator Lester Holt not knowing, or pretending not to know, the true genesis on the Birther slander with Sidney Blumenthal front and center.

Trump may have been the principal mouthpiece and self-promoter in promulgating the Birther lie but it did not begin with him. More truthfully, it may have originated with Hillary Clinton's closest advisor.

If it took me five minutes to get this straight. Holt with his squadron of producers and assistants could have done the same thing in half the time. And surely Hillary or one of her people could have, should have done the same thing.

None of this is impressive.

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Wednesday, September 28, 2016

September 28, 2016--The Cyber Effect

At the recommendation of Lynn Roth, I've been reading Mary Aiken's Cyber Effect. About the neurological and psychological effects of different levels of involvement with "screens"--computers and various kinds of mobile devices. Especially on young people where over-involvement can lead, research shows, to developmental deficits.

Aiken is not close to being a Luddite. She does see the world in many ways positively transformed by the Internet and how people access and use it.

But she does caution about excessive, mindless usage. Particularly, of video games which astonishingly gross in income more than all cable, network TV, and the movie industry combined.

On average, studies she cites, reveal that people who have smart phones--by now, nearly everyone--use them actively more than three hours a day. And, if one adds screen-time on laptops, usage among the young can reach more than eight hours a day.

Or at least that's what people say about themselves. I suspect the hours of involvement that people report is an underestimate. As when asked what TV shows they watch they are more inclined to say, "Of course, anything on PBS," when in reality they're watching the Kardashians. Or when dieting people are asked what they eat in a day they tend to leave out high-caloric snacks.

So, to check myself out and not make my own underestimation of my Internet usage--or addiction--I kept a careful and honest log of my screen time this past Saturday. Note that I'm an early riser and thus shut down my computer early as well.

4:52 a.m. for 12 minutes
8:38 a.m. for 3 minutes
11:32 a.m. for 24 minutes
2:20 p.m. for 3 minutes
4:26 p.m. for 7 minutes
5:22 p.m. for 6 minutes
5:38 p.m. for 3 minutes
6:16 p.m. for 7 minutes
7:35 p.m. for 4 minutes
8:22 p.m. for 1 minute

I checked in or did a bit of surfing 10 times during the day for a total of 70 minutes. An hour and 10 minutes--well under average.

Two more notes--

I do not have a smart phone--only a laptop--and have very few email or Facebook friends.

I think I'm happy about this. I like my quiet and privacy. But the again I feel I'm not fully participating in the 21st century.

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Tuesday, September 27, 2016

September 27, 2016--Post-Debate Syndrome

It's 5:05 a.m. and I'm still effectively sleeping after getting a flu shot yesterday afternoon and staying up well past midnight debriefing. Thus a few, very few, post-debate reflections--

I disagree with Chris Matthews and most of the pundits. Matthews felt Clinton "shut out" Trump "five-to-one." I saw it to be more of a draw with a slight edge to Clinton.

There are at least two ways to think about the debate and winners and losers--

Who did an objectively better job and, putting truth and accuracy aside (Rachel Maddow couldn't get enough fact-checking into the discussion), perhaps most important, aside from who would make a better president, is the political effect of the debate--Did Hillary gain or lose voters? And how did Trump do among his supporters and with those he was hoping to attract?

When it comes to political effect, the specifics, the facts don't matter as much as how the candidates make you feel--how secure, how understood, empathized with, excited by, how they are at engendered hope. And of course how likable they seem.

Therefore, telling the effective truth is more important than getting the facts exactly right. For example, Hillary Clinton is not responsible for the emergence of ISIS, but it is effectively true that she and Barack Obama were in charge of foreign policy when ISIS metastasized.

Most of the analysts, Republicans as well as Democrats (Steve Schmidt front and center), like Matthews, felt that Hillary won. Hands down.

I on the other hand, in political terms, saw it to be effectively a draw.

They both tried to get away with whoppers, Trump more so but not exclusively--for example, denied by Clinton, as reported yesterday in the New York Times and asserted by Trump, the FBI revealed that last year murder rates rose by a disturbing 10.8 percent.

To measure the potential political impact, if the debate were divided in thirds--into 30 minute segments--Trump won the first half hour by connecting Hillary Clinton to the feeling pervasive among the majority of Americans that the economy, street safety, and in the larger world, especially the Middle East, things during the nearly eight Obama years have gotten worse and Hillary is part of the problem. Not the solution.

If viewers persisted in watching, the second third was almost a draw with Hillary doing marginally better. But, again, to quote some generally rational analysts, Hillary "wiped the floor" with Donald, showing she had more "stamina" than he as he stumbled around disturbingly when, later in the debate, at times incoherently, he attempted to talk about nuclear proliferation issues.

Most predicted that at a minimum Trump's post-"deplorables" momentum was stopped and we should expect to see Hillary again opening a beyond-the-margin-of-error gap in poll numbers.

I predict that the frustration and anger pervasive across the country was not effectively understood or addressed by Clinton (she mentioned her "plans" at least a dozen times) and thus the numbers will remain about the same. Perhaps even improve for Trump in swing states such as Ohio and Pennsylvania, which he pandered to a number of times.

In regard to atmospherics, the debate for me was largely focussed on the issues with Lester Holt for the most part, with ego in check, staying out of the way and thereby allowing the back-and-forth to unfold. As a result, there will not be too many juicy soundbites for the media to milk.

At least that's my quick take. In the meantime, it's 5:59 and I'm heading back to bed.

And while there I'll be doing some thinking about third-party candidate Gary Johnson's people. According to the latest NBC polls, with 8-10 percent saying they will vote for him, they appear to be disgruntled Republicans, not happy about either Trump or Clinton. If they decide to vote in November, where are they most likely gravitate. Could be decisive. This needs more thought and speculation.

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Monday, September 26, 2016

September 26, 2016--Debate Preview

When I saw that the cable news networks were planning to begin their debate coverage today at 4:00 p.m., five hours before the actual debate commences, I wondered out loud to Rona why they would be doing something this seemingly ridiculous, "How much is there to talk about?"

"Easy," Rona said, "They are expecting at least 100 million to tune in--an all time record, nearly half of the country's adult population--and that means big-bucks ratings. These are Super Bowl numbers and it's all because of him."

"So it's all about ratings and money?"

"What else is new. Some companies are actually making special TV commercials, including the Mexican beer Tecate, which will make fun of Donald's wall."

"Amazing, though not really. But as always with these kinds of mega-political events--the State of the Union or the Inaugural address--the media folks spend hours in advance speculating about what will be said. In the case of the debate, I'm sure they'll talk endlessly about who will get under their opponent's skin first and who will make the biggest blunder. Like poor Gerry Ford who stepped in it when he said in 1976 that the Eastern European countries are free and not captive Soviet nations."

"When he did that, the moderator, I think he was from the New York Times, was so stunned that he said, 'I'm sorry, what?'"

"So," I said, "here's my preview."

"Spare me," Rona said, but did not leave the room.

"First of all, can it be true that 100 million will watch? How could that be since at most a few thousand voters are genuinely undecided. Do you think at this point there are more than that who haven't made up their minds? In spite of what most polls report about them. Like Trump said, he could shoot someone on Fifth Avenue and none of his supporters would as a result vote for Hillary."

"If he did, considering what's going on in the country, his numbers would probably go up."

"This then means," I persisted, "that almost everyone who'll watch will be doing so for entertainment reasons. Since both candidates are thin-skinned, there's a good chance that there will be fireworks and the real possibility that someone will say something politically calamitous. It doesn't get to be more fun or high stakes than that. Better than House of Cards. More like Veep."

"I think that not since Kennedy/Nixon in 1960 will a first debate be so decisive. Yesterday morning the Washington Post poll had Clinton and Trump in a statistical dead heat. So tonight could be even more conclusive than what happens on Election Day."

"I assume you mean that after tonight the results will in effect be determined."

"That could be. So millions with their minds already made up can say they were 'there' when the tide turned decisively in one direction or another."

"But getting back to the entertainment issue. Did you see that Trump invited Bill Clinton's former mistress, Jennifer Flowers to be his guest and sit in the front row? Maybe just a few seats away from Bill himself?"

"She tweeted that she plans to be there."

"How about Paula Jones and Monica Lewinsky?"

Getting into the theatrics of the debate, Rona said, "To retaliate Hillary could invite all of Trump's former wives and girlfriends."

"Between Bill and Donald that could fill up the entire first row."

"If Flowers or any of the others show up, do you think the moderator, Lester Holt, will ask about that? It would take great restraint on his part not to do so since he's a newbie to presidential debate moderation and could probably benefit from the notoriety like Megyn Kelly did."

"Or will the NBC folks put Jennifer on camera? How about a split screen of her with Bill?"

"Anticipating that alone," Rona said, "would keep me watching for the full 90 minutes."

"Really?" I said, "I thought you might not want to watch at all. You've been so consistent in feeling disgusted with the whole process."

"But it's perversely brilliant," Rona said. "I hate it but I get it. Our politics has been morphing into an ongoing reality TV show. Obviously, with Trump propelled into public consciousness from that world. So it's not unexpected that he would have Jennifer Flowers there. Jerry Springer would if he were staging it. As for sure so would the Kardashians."

"The full apotheosis of this debasement of our political culture--not that even with the Founders it's been that high (Jefferson and Adams, for example, and Hamilton and Burr among others went at it in hurtful personal, even deadly ways)--the full flowering of politics as schadenfreudian fun--forgive the pun--would be if Trump somehow managed to get elected. I suspect that a majority of the voting population might very well be ready for that. Just as Oprah helped pave the way for Obama, Springer and his spawn may wind up doing the same thing for Trump."

Signaling that she had had enough, Rona sighed, "Save us. Please."

"Amen," I said.

"But I admit it--I'll be watching."

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Friday, September 23, 2016

September 23, 2016--Creaking (Concluded)

So yesterday I went to see Dr. Gary Schwartzberg, the audiologist, to pick up my hearing "devices" and to have my first "adjustment."

"Look, they're the same color as your hair," Rona continued to do her best to sound upbeat, "Silver gray. As I said the other day, they're cool."

"It is impossible for someone my age to be, much less look cool." I mumbled again but this time loud enough to be heard.

"Again, as I said," the Dr. S broke in, clearly not having set aside a whole day to deal with my ambivalences, "As I said, have high expectations. You're about to see how amazing these babies are."
Babies again, I thought.

"Let me help you." He slid his chair closer to me, "First let's hook this over your ear," he did so, "Then push this tube gently into your ear canal." Again he did so, "And then, last, place this wire thus in the curve of your outer ear. It's sort of like a spring that keeps the device from accidentally falling out."

"Probably, in my case, down the toilet."

"The insurance, included in the fee, would cover that." I wasn't sure if he was humoring me. Again, in 30 years he's seen it all.

Then he did the same thing with my left ear.

With them both in place what I felt was similar to using earbuds when listening to an iPod or movie on an airplane. In other words, I felt almost nothing. "But," I said, "I'm hearing even less right now than before you installed these babies," I reached toward them, "I'm afraid these aren't helping. I can, can't I, return them within 90 days and get all my money back?"

"Yes, there is that guarantee, but . . ."

"What's the fastest time in the Guinness Book of Records for someone to turn in their devices? I think I might set it if I give them back to you right now."

"I'm not surprised but . . ."

Looking toward Rona, I said back over my shoulder to him, "Forgive me for having told you so. I knew they wouldn't work for me."

I wondered what happened to my begrudged optimism.

"If you'd only give me a moment to turn these on," he said, smiling, "They won't begin to work until I've done that. I'm about to do it wirelessly through the computer. It's . . ."

Embarrassed that I had been so impetuous, so out of control, now that I had calmed down a bit, I confessed, "I feel like such a baby. I really do want to give them a chance. You've been encouraging me to have high expectations. To tell you the truth, I thought you were overselling these." I tapped the device in my right ear. "But more than that I didn't want to raise my hopes and then have it turn out to be disappointing like my father when . . ."

"Can we please leave your father out of this," finally exasperated, Rona said, "That's ancient history and . . ."

"My father," I said gasping, "You . . . I mean you . . . You . . . Your . . . I don't . . ."

"What's going on, honey?" Rona leaned toward me, concerned about my incoherent stammering, likely thinking I was having an ischemic stroke.

With that I burst into tears, but despite my sobbing, I could hear Dr. S say to Rona that he had just activated the devices.

Amazingly, so instantly I could hear more audibly than I could remember. I said, "Your voice . . . it's as it was when we met more that 35 years ago. When we were so much younger and all of life stretched before us. Listen to me--I'm talking in clichés." I took a deep breath, "How I loved your voice then but I haven't heard it that way for what feels like many years. Many. Too many."

I sat with my thoughts while staring at the computer screen and the vivid graph of my hearing deficits. "Can I get up?" I asked the doctor, "I want to hold onto Rona," who by then, softly, quietly, also was sobbing.

Somehow a box of tissues materialized. I took a few, even hearing the sound of them being pulled from the box. "So this has happened before?" I asked, now smiling through tears.

"As you said, I've seen it all. Often, people do have the same reaction. It's almost as if they're hearing for the first time. In your case . . . . Well, that's what the tissues are for."

*   *   *

Later, back home, I went from room to room as if visiting for the first time. I wanted to listen to the house.

The floor crackled like exploding popcorn. Lying down to test the sound of the bed, I heard more creaking but this time with no popping. It was softer, rounder. Through the bedroom window I could hear the songs of the first birds that appear at dusk. And the water in the bay, gently lapping the shoreline were sounds I was hearing for the first time. Using the toilet, which I had to do, was like producing a splattering cascade over river rocks.

I couldn't believe I was getting sophomorically poetic about peeing in the toilet!

Crying again, Rona reached out to me.

We stood there by the window, clinging to each other as across the water the sun completed its work for the day.

Still in contemplative mode, I asked, "Do you think the sun makes a sound as it sets?"

"Maybe you'll know in a week after the next adjustment."

See Kanye West's Right Ear

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Thursday, September 22, 2016

September 22, 2016--Creaking (The First of Two Parts)

I sent Dr. Schwartzberg the following note--

We live in a creaky house and thanks to you I can now hear the creaks.

His response was a emoticon smile.

This comes at the end of a long story which I will tell in abbreviated form.

For seemingly half my life hearing or lack thereof has been a sore and contested issue in my family. The Zwerlings. I have not escaped from this side of family heritage.

My father could barely hear from the time he turned 70 but stubbornly, in denial, refused to do anything about it for at least a decade. It wasn't until Rona took him aside and in an affectionate and loving way, with just enough tears, shared with him that because of his poor hearing he was, in effect, in his growing isolation, prematurely leaving us.

That was some while ago and when he finally relented, in part putting aside vanity, he agreed to acquire the then smallest size available which, before miniaturization took full form, were not that cosmetically invisible and since they had insufficient power he always had his fingers in his ears twisting the volume dial to ramp up the output; but to such a level that even to me--by then I too was losing my hearing--rather then helping him hear, emanating from what seemed to be his head was an audio cloud of buzzing and whistling, both the result of over-amplified feedback.

This produced the very thing he wanted to disguise--the fact that he required hearing aids. In public places such as restaurants everyone in the room, also enveloped in his cloud of electronic sound, knew he was hard of hearing and was, the real issue, an "old man,"

Even additional private talks with Rona failed to get him to agree to the behind-the-ear type recommended by his audiologist as the only ones that would address his hearing lose.

It is now my turn.

More-than-I-would-like-to-admit, I am very much my father's son. Not only do I look enough like him to confuse relatives we haven't seen for decades, I also inherited his hearing issues. And, though I am loath to admit it, have more of his vanity than I see to be healthy.

It is as if vanity thy name is Zwerling. At least this Zwerling

During my own decade of denial and avoidance, even Rona's urging, treats (fewer than I deserved), and tears failed to get me to an audiologist.

Until two weeks ago, aware that another birthday was approaching and my numbers are adding up to more than a goodly lot, I made an appointment and off we went for me to be tested. Rona came along to provide moral support but, even more important, to hear what the hearing doctor would report and recommend after an hour and a half of testing.

"These babies are made to order for you," we both heard him say.

Seeing the contraption he was holding up as a visual aid, as if my father was inhabiting me, I popped up as if to bolt but in truth so I could retreat to the bathroom for a moment of private fretting and, hopefully, relenting.

"If that's what I need," I said resolutely when I returned, "so be it. I'm not that vain," I lied, clapping my hands to encourage myself (the sound of which I hardly heard). "I'm not my father," I said to Dr. Schwartzberg, who, in spite of having heard everything after 30 years of practice, had no idea what I was saying, but smiled empathetically, sensing that something intra-psychically significant was going on, effervescently, also clapping his hands for his own version of emphasis and encouragement, said, "After running all the tests and clearing a few years of wax from your ear canal, these," he held up a sample behind-the-ear device, "are perfect for you."

He smiled for the first time in an hour-and-a-half, "I want you to have high expectations. Over the course of a month and a half--after seeing you every week for adjustments--your hearing will progress from here"--knowing I could barely hear a thing, he slid down in his chair and held his hand halfway to the floor--"to here," he sat up straight and raised it to the middle of his chest.

Dr. S sat back with arms folded across his chest to let the good news sink in.

To ease the transition from my continuing half-resistance to half-hearted surrender Rona, referring to the behind-the-ear devices, said, "These look cool. With everyone walking around the streets with all sorts of things hanging from their ears, you . . ."

"I know," I interrupted, "I'll look like Jay Z or Kanye West. Though I don't even have an iPod. Forget anything wireless."

"Well, welcome to the 21st century," Rona said. "Maybe you'll like these so much you'll finally give in and get an iPhone."

"Don't hold your breath," I mumbled too softly for either of us to hear.

To be concluded tomorrow . . .

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Wednesday, September 21, 2016

September 21, 2016--Tough Vetting


Which candidate for the presidency said this yesterday in the wake of terrorist attacks in Minnesota, New Jersey, and New York City--
So I am absolutely in favor of and have long been an advocate for tough vetting for making sure that we don't let people in this country, and not just people who come here to settle, but we need a better visa system. Let's remember what happened on 9/11. These were not refugees who got into airplanes and attacked our city and country.
The strained incoherence of the utterance should provide a clue as well as the "absolutely in favor" which suggest that this is an untruth.

When someone says about themselves that they are absolutely telling the truth we know the opposite is the case.

If you need a hint, the answer is not Donald Trump.

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Tuesday, September 20, 2016

September 20, 2016--Trump Is A Jerk II

In early June, not long after winning the Republican nomination, with a head of post-convention momentum, after delivering a decent acceptance speech that suggested he was about to pivot from outrageous-entertainer-candidate to become something resembling a more-or-less-serious, more-or-less-responsible general election candidate, Donald Trump revealed himself to be out-of-control without the temperament to be taken seriously as a potential commander in chief much less president when he attacked the Mexican-American judge who was presiding over the Trump University fraud case, slandering him repeatedly by mocking him as "that Mexican judge."

That's when I wrote my first Trump-Is-A-Jerk piece.

There was talk that Trump should either step aside and let Paul Ryan take his place (Ryan as a result tried to put on a presidential showcase) or be deposed by the Republican National Committee, turning the nomination over to Cruz, or Rubio, or even Jeb Bush.

This of course did not come to pass and Trump made attempts, with some success, to clean up his act and act presidential. He began speaking from TelePrompTers and it seemed that his genuinely-smart-and-savvy daughter, Ivanka, was writing his speeches and had him under a version of control.

For example, last week in the ballroom of the newly renovated hotel Trump Washington, or whatever it's called (the construction work also directly overseen by the now ubiquitous Ivanka) The Donald delivered a reasoned speech about his plans to revive the economy. Paul Krugman predictably took it apart but for a Republican it was a reasonable, less-draconion plan than, say, Paul Ryan's or either of the Bush president's.

A couple of days later, he delivered an even more responsible talk about child and eldercare. In regard to the latter, his, amazingly, is more generous than Hillary Clinton's since I can find no evidence that she has a plan for taking care of older adults who need assistance. She has hundreds of other plans but, as modest as Trump's is, none of this type.

National polls began to show Trump at least even with Hillary and in key states such as Ohio, Nevada, Colorado, and Florida that he was either within the margin of error or in the lead.

To boot, Hillary in public view on 9/11, collapsed allegedly from pneumonia which did two things--caused undecideds to think again if she is healthy enough to live through the unspeakable stress of serving as president (she has had a number of blood clots); and, related to that, since she tried to cover up whatever was ailing her, this contributed to the narrative that the Clintons are at a minimum not transparent and, to the conspiratorial-minded, fundamentally dishonest and crooked.

And, with rare political finesse, Trump said nothing much more that wishing her a speedy recovery and return to the campaign trail.

His numbers as a result continued to improve. Even the partisan New York Times began to have to report that his chances of actually being elected rose from single digits to perhaps 25-30 percent. Discounting the paper's political bias this more likely meant that the race was now a tossup.

But then Trump again blew it--

On his own momentum, with Barack Obama's favorables comfortably above 50 percent and Trump at the same time doing better with young voters of color, he stepped again into the Birther thing, declining when asked to pretend to be exasperated with the whole thing--"Of course he was born in America. Can we now turn to more important things such as growing the economy and providing childcare assistance to low-income [read, minority] families?"

Instead he let it sit and fester politically for a couple of days before finally appearing to be exasperated, saying, "Yes, he was born . . ." And then made matters worse when he tried to blame the whole Birther issue on Hillary.

No one any longer was talking about his plans for the economy or children. It was Birther 24/7.

Doubling down on outrageous talk, when trying to claim that Hillary Clinton would try to ignore or repeal the Second Amendment, he in effect cracked, "If she's so anti-gun, why not take the weapons aways from her Secret Service detail and see what happens."

This reminded commentators and voters of an even more outrageous, borderline felonious incitement back in August about letting "Second-Amendment people take care" of Hillary.

And this reminded me what a jerk he ultimately is and for this reason among others is unfit to be our president.

Sigmund Freud would have a field day with Donald Trump.

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Monday, September 19, 2016

September 19, 2016--Traveling

So I will not be positing anything today.

But I will return on Tuesday with, "Why Trump Is A Jerk II."

Friday, September 16, 2016

September 16, 2016--Gender Reassignment Surgery

This is not about Bruce Jenner but Chelsea Manning, a member of our Armed Forces who recently went on a five-day hunger strike to make her case that he, Bradley Edward Manning, her birth name, wanted to have a sex change operation at the Army's expense.

The military finally agreed and I presume the operation and hormone therapy will commence so that Bradley can finally become Chelsea.

Putting aside for the moment whether or not the military should pay for these treatments and surgeries, the Manning case is more complicated than it appears. Complicated because Chelsea Manning is serving a 35-year sentence in a military prison because as Bradley Edward, she passed along to WikiLeaks three-quarters-of-a-million secret defense documents.

So, how should one feel about this? Not "gender reassignment surgery" (though it's hard to resist remarking about this euphemism)--it is obvious that the process is a life-changing opportunity for thousands--but about the Army agreeing to allow Manning, essentially a spy, to have taxpayers pay tens if not hundreds of thousands of dollars for it?

If Manning had served his/her time and been honorably discharged, would the Veterans Administration hospital system agree to pick up the cost for the procedure? If the military is now more or less comfortable with openly transgender recruits serving in the Army, then it likely makes sense for the VA to underwrite and perhaps carry out the treatment.

But for a transgender inmate? Especially one who was convicted of the kinds of crimes that would yield a 35-year sentence? This is the first instance of the military agreeing to do so for a prisoner.

I suppose it is a form of progress since inmates are entitled to receive the kinds of medical treatment they require while serving their sentences.

If my cousin, a WW II veteran at 93 gets basic health care, hearing aids, and dental treatment at VA facilities, why not even a felon such as Chelsea Manning.

On the other hand . . .

Again, it's complicated.

Bradley Manning

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Thursday, September 15, 2016

September 15, 2016--Trump and Women

Timing in politics is everything. Reporting on politics is also everything. Sometimes both collude.

Take Donald Trump's speech on Tuesday in which he outlined his child and eldercare policy.

Should I whisper that his proposals are in some ways more expansive and progressive than Hillary's? Should I mention that the New York Times, the "paper of record," on Wednesday buried the story on its Website, devoting more ink to Trump's deciding not to go on/then to go on TV with the charlatan Dr. Oz to discuss the state of his health?

The same New York Times that has been castigating Trump about his reluctance or inability to discuss social policy essentially ignored Trump's rather generous and nuanced program.

They felt it more important to highlight Mike Pence's failure to rally Democratic members of Congress to support Trump's candidacy. Once again the Times chose to cover the process more than the substance.

I suspect the Trump specifics are not well known among Progressives so here in outline are the highlights--
Employers would be required to provide paid maternity leave of up to six weeks per pregnancy. (Hillary's plan calls for 12 weeks.)
Parents would be able to deduct from their taxes childcare costs for up to four children until they reach the age of 13. 
Low-income parents would receive a tax credit for up to four children. 
"Above the line" tax deductions of up to $5,000 per year would be allowed for eldercare as well as "adult day care."
There is no surprise that Clinton supporters are saying that her plans for parents and children are better. Though they have little to say about eldercare since I cannot find evidence that Hillary has much of a program of this sort for them.

And there is little surprise that Republicans are criticizing Trump and his plan because it would create another unfunded entitlement program. Something they claim Democrats do, thought they conveniently forget George W. Bush's also unfunded prescription drug plan for which a majority of GOP congressmen voted. A plan that had already added more than a trillion dollars to our national debt.

Clearly Trump is attempting to appeal to female voters who are overwhelmingly and understandably turned off by him. One could say that he is pandering to working mom's who, if even a small percentage of them now turn to him, could tip the election in his direction. In addition, if he can attract more senior citizens whose care is largely ignored by policy makers and politicians (including by Hillary), watch out.

If Trump had revealed these programs a year ago--timing again--and had not acted so egregiously when it comes to women's issues, we probably now would see him with a substantial lead. Even so, incredibly, more-and-more polls are showing him in either a statistical tie with Clinton or actually in the lead. In crucial Ohio, for example, he has a 5 point margin.

Again, timing is everything. But Hillary supporters are feeling increasing worried. Me included.

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Wednesday, September 14, 2016

September 14, 2016--On the Road

I will return here on Thursday.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

September 13, 2016--The "Deplorables"

Candidates for the presidency should stay away from private fundraisers.

Or if they do attend (and they all seem to feel the need to) they should not make comments but just go around the room and say thank you a lot.

First of all, these bundler-sessions are not private. Anyone running for the highest office in the land who doesn't know that with smart phones nothing is private is not qualified to be commander in chief where at least a few things should be secure from Russian hackers.

Second, when hobnobbing in 15,000-square-foot houses with fellow one-percenters, they are prone to utter what they really think. And telling this kind of truth can be fatal to one's aspirations.

Hillary stepped in it last week at a Manhattan big-bucks fundraiser just as Mitt Romney did in 2012 in Boca Raton and Barack Obama did before him in 2008 in Beverly Hills where among like-minded folks he thought his remarks about average people "clinging" to their guns and religion were off the record.

Romney did him one better when he opined about the "47 percent" of Obama's supporters who were "takers," "dependent" on the government for their sustenance, while the well-oiled Floridians and of course Mitt himself were the "makers."

And now Hillary will forever be associated with her comments that "half" of Trump's supporters fit into "a basket of deplorables"--a presumably unwashed species of the "racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamaphobic--you name it."

Those who shelled out $10,000 a pop to see her, the New York Times reported, applauded and laughed.

A few things to take away from this--

When will we hear equivalent outrage from the same progressives who justifiably condemned Romney for his 47-percent calumnies?

I think of my colleague progressives as fact-based thinkers who also strive to be openminded and fair. If I have that right, after they get over how to think about Hillary Clinton's alleged pneumonia and why she didn't tell the truth about it for 48 hours (when she was contagious, by the way), what will they have to say about her castigating "deplorables"? I suspect, alas, not very much.

Also, will they have anything to say about what the "clinging," "47-percent," and "deplorables" comments have in common? About how when members of the elite condescend and look down their noses at the underclass it makes those pt-upon people crazier and motivates them to embrace Donald Trump even  more fervently.

Then, as a matter of political strategy, candidates should be careful not to too lightly turn adjectives into nouns--

I suppose unsavories and amorals and obtuses work in some clever circumstances, but transmuting deplorable into deplorables can lose one the election.

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Monday, September 12, 2016

September 12, 2016--9/11 @ 15

That morning, 15 years ago, before heading to the office, Rona went out to our terrace to check the weather. Would we need something warm to wear?

It was a clear day, not a cloud in the sky. Shirtsleeves would do.

At that moment, flying at very high speed, the first plane roared right overhead. Much too low.

"I think it's in trouble," Rona said. 

Two minutes later we heard a explosion less than a mile south of us. 

And when, within five minutes, there was a second, even louder explosion, we knew that the world had changed.

Here is something I wrote about and posted in October, 2013--

We had a few hours to kill after we drove at dawn to Frosty's in Brunswick for a donut orgy.

We were waiting for the Bowdoin College Museum to open. It was the next to last day of the Maurice Prendergast show. I especially like his work on paper--watercolors, pastels, gouaches, mono prints--and didn't want to miss it.

Thinking about what to do, Rona remembered that our friend Al Trescot was planning to berth his boat in a nearby marina at the end of Mere Point. He plans a book of photographs of the waters of Casco Bay. "Let's drive down to Paul's Marina," she suggested, "From our GPS it looks as if it's only five miles."

We took our time as the historic town of Brunswick gave way to clusters of suburban-looking ranch houses before quickly turning into the more familiar look of rural Maine. The turnoff to Paul's came up quickly and I had to brake hard not to glide past the dirt road that lead down to the marina.

It turned out to be more basic than the yard where Al had been mooring his boat the past two years as he worked on a soon-to-be-published book about the Sheepscot and Kennebec Rivers. But I agreed with Rona who felt it had much more charm huddled among cabins and cottages that lined the shore facing the bay and Merepoint Neck.

We parked next to one of the cottages, maybe a bit too close; but we thought that would be all right since we intended to take a brief look around to get a visual fix on where Al would be moored early next spring.

"Let's get a quick cup of coffee," I proposed, "Just as Al said, there's a general store, over there, Judy's," I pointed toward the dock, "And maybe something to . . ."

"After what you ate at Frosty's an hour ago you want more . . ."

"Maybe some lobster?" Rona said.

I was confused. "See what that sign says."

"The Lobster You Buy Here Today,'" Rona read, "'Slept Last Night in Casco Bay.'"

"This is a perfect place for Al," we both laughed, "Let's just get a cup of coffee. More to see the shop than for the coffee or . . ."

"Good idea."

The coffee was hot and full flavored. We took it outside to a small deck and sat on a bench, passing it back and forth, looking into the half-risen sun and staring languidly out to the first of the more than 300 islands of Casco. More than enough for Al to find subject matter.

"Time to head out," I said, "By now the museum's open and I don't feel comfortable leaving the car so close to that house."

And with that, the door to it eased open and an elderly but seemingly physically vital man with a severe Amish-style beard began slowly to lumber down the few steps, heading toward our car.

I whispered to Rona as we trotted toward where we had parked, "I don't like the way he's looking at it or us. In fact, I don't like the way he looks. Let's just get into the car and not say too much. I'm in too good a mood to get yelled out for where we parked. Maybe I'll just signal a brief apology and move on."

"I see you're . . ."  I couldn't make out what he was saying but from the tone he seemed friendly. I also noticed that our car was not really encroaching on access to his garage.

I relaxed. He sensed I didn't hear him and repeated, "I see you're from New York." I nodded, by then half seated in the car. "What parts?"

"Manhattan," Rona said. "Downtown."

"Not my kind of place," he said. "All these islands right here are enough action for me." With his hand he swept the horizon.

"Where you there on 9/11?" He didn't turn to look at us.

"Yes, we were," Rona said. "The first plane flew right over our terrace. I went out there to check the weather. To determine what to wear when it flew by just above the roof, going full speed. I thought it was in some sort of trouble. Not of course what was really happening."

"Terrible day. Terrible. Terrible time. Then and since."

"I agree with that," I said, "Things haven't been the same."

"We've lost our way," he said. "That's why I hardly ever leave this place. What more do I need? I got all my wants taken care of. I don't need any of that other nonsense."

"I understand," Rona said. "When we're here we feel the same way."

"From then on things have been different," he said, still looking into the sun. "They'll never be the same."

"I agree with that," I said. "It's awful, just awful."

"Do you know what happened the day before?"

"You don't mean yesterday?"

"No, September 10th. That day before."

"Your asking about that reminds me that two of the hijackers started that day near here in Portland."

"That's right, they came to Portland on the 10th, stayed overnight, and then flew from Portland to Boston the morning of the 11th when they got onto the plane that they hijacked and crashed into the first building."

"The one I saw," Rona sighed.

"No one seems to know why they came to Portland on the 10th," I said. "Do you have any idea why?"

"I have my theories," he said. "Before I retired I used to be in law enforcement."

"Your theories?"

"That's for another day." He waved the thought away. "But I'll tell you something I bet you don't know about."

"What's that? I've tried to read a lot about the hijackers."

"In your reading did you see that they came to this here marina?"

"Really?" I exclaimed. "Here? Why would that be?"

"Don't know about why, but I do know they came right here the day before. Was a beautiful day just like today."

"To do . . .?"

"As I said, I don't know. But I do know it was them. Atta, the leader, and that Abdul fella."

"I think it was Mohammed Atta and Abdulaziz al-Omari. For some reason I seem to know the names of all 19 of them."

"They sat down right there on that dock." He pointed to a small float directly behind me. "For more than an hour."

"My God," Rona said.

"As I told you I was in law enforcement and they didn't look right to me. They didn't look like they were from here."

"What did you do?" I asked hesitantly, not wanting to probe too deeply into what might be a terrible memory.

"Well, I had my suspicions. Of course not about what they did. Who could have imagined that. Though I should have . . ." His voice trailed off.

"No one could have imagined what they were plotting," I said. "No one." And that was the truth, not something I said to make him feel better.

"But I did write down the license plate number of their car."

"And, if I may, what . . ."

"They sat down right there on that dock." He pointed to a small float directly behind me. "For more than an hour."

"My God," Rona said.

"As I told you, I was in law enforcement and they didn't look right to me. They didn't look like they were from here."

"What did you do?" I asked hesitantly, not wanting to probe too deeply into what might be a painful memory.

"Well, I had my suspicions. Of course not about what they did. Who could have imagined that. Though I should have . . ." His voice trailed off.

"No one could have imagined what they were plotting," I said. "No one." And that was the truth, not something I said to make him feel better.

"But I did write down the license plate number of their car."

"And, if I may, what . . ."

"I was at a meeting the morning of the 11th and just as we were about to get started someone rushed in to say something terrible just happened in New York, that we should come out and watch on the TV. So just like millions of others we were glued to the screen. When the second plane hit we knew it was an attack. We were all from law enforcement but no one could guess the extent of the damage or if there were other attacks all over the country. Or if we were bein' invaded."

"You're bringing that time back to me," Rona said.

As if not hearing her, he continued, "Two of the men who were at the meetin' had family working in those building and they raced to the telephone. Of course all the lines were tied up and they couldn't get through. So they came back to join us and we moved in close to them to help them get through what might turn out to be a tragedy for them too.

"At that time, horror-struck, I wasn't puttin' any pieces together. The two men who sat on the dock out there and what was happening in New York and Washington, D.C. too. Over the next few days we all went through pretty much the same thing. Fear, anger, wantin' to get even. No matter our politics we were one nation, indivisible. Just like the Pledge says we are, but for the most part we've forgotten."

"True. True," Rona said.

"A few days later--from your reading," he turned toward me but still looked out over the glinting water, "you probably know how many days--they released the names of the hijackers. The murderers."

"It was about three days," I said.

"Then a couple weeks after that they began to show pictures of them. Passport photo types. I forgot how many. 'Bout 20 of 'em.  And that's when it struck me--two of 'em (the Atta one and that Abdul fella) who took over the first plane were the same men who were here that day before. Spent an hour looking up at the sky and all them planes flyin' high overhead on the great circle route from Europe toward Boston and New York. 'Oh my God,' I thought, 'I had 'em here and let 'em get away.'"

I could hear his raspy breathing.

"There's no way you could of . . ."

He waved me off. "I let 'em get away. I'm from law enforcement. I even took their license number."

"What could you have done?" I asked, wanting to reach out to him, touch him. "Even if you had notified the police it's unlikely they would have done anything at all right them. Though they knew you and you had justifiable suspicions as it tragically turned out, it would not have been a priority for them. No one would have connected any dots and assumed they were up to such evil."

"I know what you're sayin' makes sense, and though I did talk to the FBI as soon as I saw who it was, thinking there might be more to learn about them and who was behind this, still I have trouble sleeping at night."

"I do too," Rona said. There are many nights when we're in the city and I hear a plane overhead heading for LaGuardia, my heart stops. As you said, things will never be the same."

"One more thing."


"You remember," for the first time he looked directly at me, "You remember where the president was? Bush?"

"I do. Somewhere in Florida at a school."

"In Sarasota. At an elementary school. And you remember what he did? Or what the Secret Service had him do?"

"I do. Until they knew the nature of the attack they flew him around from Florida to an air force base in Louisiana and eventually to the Strategic Command Center in Nebraska where he would be safe."

"Well, my son at the time was in the Marines. With everything goin' on I was worried about him. I couldn't reach him. I was real worried. Like I said, no one knew the full story of what was happening. There were all sorts of rumors."

I was confused about why he was talking at the same time about President Bush and his son.

"Then when Bush returned to the White House later that evening--he was eager to get to there--they showed him landing in his helicopter on the south lawn. Like they often do. But this time it felt more important to know he was all right."

"I remember feeling relieved about that," I said. "Even though I wasn't his biggest fan."

"And then I knew my son was also all right. You see, he was one of the pilots for the president's helicopter. Marine One it's called. And I saw him there when the president got off and turned to salute him."

With that, he turned toward Judy's General Store. "Gotta get me some of her muffins," he said sounding cheery, "before they run out."

In silence we drove back toward Brunswick.

At the museum, Rona said, "He never told us about his theories."

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Friday, September 09, 2016

September 9, 2016--The Fly (Last Part)

The fly landed on the computer table just out of my reach, seemingly not because he was in a state of breathless collapse from all his darting and slashing. Though no entomologist, I could see he was in fine condition and had settled in more to reconnoiter than to resume his assault.

Seizing what seemed an opportunity, I raised the swatter slowly behind him, thinking his rearview vision was limited and that would make him vulnerable. But alas, well before I was able to strike, he lifted off with lazy élan and resumed buzzing my head. Though this time more circling than attacking.

But he quickly dropped out of this loopy flightpath to return to the same spot on the table he had just abandoned. This time seemingly strutting uncharacteristically in a small circle. All the while, I felt sure--I had leaned closer to get a better look--making eye contact with me.

Not so much, it felt, to be alert to any quick attack I might launch but for the sake of taking in the scene. Not unlike what I had been doing after setting aside the swatter.

Thus we sat for what felt like half an hour but more realistically must have been only five minutes. Staring across the taxonomies in ways difficult to describe or understand. Except as part of one world.

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Thursday, September 08, 2016

September 8, 2016--The Fly (Part Two)

Clearly, I did not get much done--

With Gloucester's wanton boys and Blake's blind hand infusing my reveries, when a late summer fly began to circle as I worked at the computer, as he proved to be unusually persistent, rather than turning further to metaphorical thoughts about the arbitrariness of existence, with killer's lust, I reached for the swatter.

Where were those blind hands and wanton boys when I needed them as I slashed ineptly? I needed them in the now, the very real now and not in poetic speculation.

The fly's first attack was to my head and face which meant I needed to put aside my writing to deal with the pesky threat. I was on a run of thoughts and words and resented the interruption.

This is my space, I felt entitled to assert, you belong outside. That is your world, this is mine.

Quickly he staked out my balding head and exposed ankles for frontal assaults and then when I fended them off more with slaps of the hand than swats, thinking this would tire him out and prepare him for the kill, he took a very different tack.

He landed on the computer table just out of reach, seemingly not because he was in a state of breathless collapse.

I raised the swatter slowly behind him, thinking his rearview vision was limited and that would make him vulnerable. But alas, well before I was able to launch my thrust, he lifted off and took again to buzzing my head. But only for a moment as he returned to the same spot n the table he had just occupied. This time tracing a small circle where he had alighted.
Lear & Gloucester

Wednesday, September 07, 2016

September 7, 2016--The Fly (Part One)

I was all excited as my classmate English majors and I stumbled out of Professor Jim Zito's class on Shakespeare's Late Plays.

He had just finished his Lear lectures, this most desperate of tragedies, citing Gloucester in Act 4's most desperate of utterances--
As fles to wanton boys are we to th' gods. 
They kill us for their sport.
This gave me a reason to approach him. Something I had never done, intimidated by his brilliance.

Somehow finding my voice, I called to him, "Mr. Zito. Mr. Zito."

At Columbia, with Oxbridge-like unpretension, even the most esteemed professors were always addressed as Mister.

"What is it Zwerling?" he said, though born in the Bronx, with his academic version of a modified British accent.

We were all known by our last names, if known at all. I was struck that he recognized mine. I had never  felt secure enough to speak in class or even pose a question. Those student colleagues who did were already ready for graduate school--they were geniuses--or even professorships. I was still struggling to find something at which I could excel.

And so how did he know who I was? I supposed it was yet another example of his brilliance.

"Sir, I was wondering about the Gloucester quote.  Act 4, Scene 1."

"The one about the gods and wanton boys?"

"How did you know that . . . ?"

"Among the most vivid."

"I was wondering about William Blake. About the Song of Experience, his poem, 'The Fly,' and how . . ."

Looking up, over all of our clustered heads, he recited--

Little Fly
Thy summer's play, 
My thoughtless hand
Has brush'd away.

Am not I
A fly like thee?
Or art not thou
A man like me?

For I dance
And drink & sing
Til some blind hand
Shall brush my wing.

If thought is life
And strength & breath;
And the want 
Of thought is death;

Then am I
A happy fly,
If I live
Or if I die.

"How did you . . . ?"

"Not Blake's most nuanced. But, yes, I can see that it might refer to Gloucester."

"For Romantic Lit I'm writing a paper about . . ."

By then Mr. Zito had turned away surrounded by the chattering of his groupie geniuses.

This close encounter helped me realize that I too might have academic potential. If Mr. Zito hadn't seen the connection between Gloucester and Blake, then perhaps, maybe . . .

Though I was far from ready for graduate school, like Morris Dickstein or Sam Cherniak, both a year behind me, I began to imagine myself ten years hence on the faculty of an out-of-the-way state college or two-year community college.

These memories flooded back this past weekend when an actual fly flew into my life.

To be continued . . .

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Tuesday, September 06, 2016

September 6, 2016--Enthusiastic About Hillary

I've been doing my quadrennial survey of political yard signs and bumper stickers. A methodology admittedly not Rasmussen or Quinnipiac level, but I did get the winners right the last two cycles. Pretty much including their percentages, which were the same as the yard sign and bumper sticker ratios.

So what do I see trending?

Thus far I've noticed just one Trump yard sign and two or three stickers. No signs yet for Hillary though I have seen four "Hillary for America"stickers affixed to car bumpers. Two on one car, which presents a tallying problem. Maybe I'll check in about what to do with the Real Clear Politics folks.

Over coffee, I've been hearing more enthusiasm for Trump than for Clinton. Though admittedly, this too is a small sample. The "enthusiasm" for Trump, however, has been waning the more he campaigns and runs off at the mouth.

One Trump friend said the other morning, while gesturing dismissively, "I can't stand him but I'm voting for him. Things needs to be shaken up. I don't want to talk about it."

A Hillary supporter, also gesturing dismissively, said, "I can't stand her but she's not Trump and it's time for a woman to be elected."

"So you are not even a little enthusiastic?"

"Maybe I am. She's the most qualified person ever to run for president. Minimally, more so than any recent candidates."

"On paper at least."

"Look at her resumé. All the important jobs she's had. First Lady, senator, Secretary of State . . ."

"All true and impressive--though it was by marriage that she became First Lady--but what did she accomplish in any of those roles? Having those jobs is impressive, very, but what did she achieve?"

"More than anything else that's what she achieved."

"I'm not following you."

"That she got those jobs by election or nomination. That's what she achieved."

"I'll grant you that just securing these assignments is impressive, but that's not the kind of accomplishments I'm asking about."

"Now I'm not following you."

"While she was Secretary of State did things get better in the Middle East--Libya, Syria, ISIS? With Russia? With China? That's what I want to know."

"Well, as I said, I'm enthusiastic."

Listening to this, someone sitting at the diner's counter summed up what I've been hearing--"One's a bigot and the other's a liar. You choose. Me? I'm voting Libertarian."

Confused about what to make of this, I called a feminist friend back in New York City who has been enthusiastic about Hillary Clinton since at least 2008.

She's still enthusiastic--sort of--and has no doubts about the timeliness of Hillary's campaign to crack through the highest and hopefully last glass ceiling.

"Do you have any ambivalences about her?" I asked.

"Not really," she said.

"Not even about the emails and the way in which the Clinton Foundation operated during the time she was secretary of state?"

Not really," she said then added sounding half-hearted, "They all do it."

"And that makes it OK with you?"

"More or less. But, look, more than anything else," unable even to speak his name, added, "she's not him."

"Can I run by you a couple of concerns I have about her to see what you have to say? I want to do this because I intend to vote for her but not without reservations."


"First about her health since if she is elected when inaugurated she'll be 69."

"These days 69 is young."

"To be president? Look at the toll it's taken on the much-younger Obama."

"Women are stronger then men and live longer."

"Actuarially that's true, but did you read the two-page report about her health that her internist wrote last year?"

"Did you read his?"

"I did. It was a complete joke and a fraud, but at the moment we're talking about Hillary."

"I didn't read it."

"If I told you it said, quoting from the two-pager, that she had blood clots in 1998, 2009, and more seriously 2012 when she had a 'transverse sinus venous thrombosis in her brain,' what would you say?"

"That she's over it."

"What if I told you, quoting the New York Times, that Bill Clinton said that the symptoms 'required six months of very serious work to get over'?"

"I'd say move on."

"And that she takes Coumadin to reduce the chances of stroking?"

"As I told you I'm voting for her enthusiastically."

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Monday, September 05, 2016

September 5, 2016--Dreams and Wishes of Previous Labor Days

A good friend, Lynne Roth, sent me this riff on my blog about art history and cultural comodification. With her approval, I send it on to you. There's a lot here to enjoy and think about.

Dreams and Wishes of Previous Labor Days

Greetings and good wishes for a wonderful Labor Day Weekend.

Labor Day used to be celebrated by attending picnics hosted by a variety of unions where politicians shook hands, gave speeches and distributed campaign paraphernalia. My father was an electrical contractor here in Northwest Indiana but this was common throughout America when we had more industries and you could see, smell and hear the fruits of the laborers.  Sometimes we skipped the picnics, piled into the car and drove 25 miles west to Chicago and visited the Museum of Natural History or Science and Industry or the Chicago Art Institute. After we viewed various exhibits we then traipsed over to Grant Park and had our picnic and did some people watching.

Your blog today [about art history] painfully points out how times have changed.  Youth demands  to be entertained differently but it must be "huge" no matter the price. I like your written and visual comparisons. The prices fine art and antiques fetch have been driven higher by greed and the desire to flaunt consumption.  (My choice, if wealth or space were not challenged, would be one or two pieces from "Lure of the Forest" by Emilie Brzezinski.)

My maternal grandmother taught me "If wishes were horses beggars would ride."

So, rather than risk being shot to death in Chicago or at a local union picnic while other attendees debate national or local politics I will try to avoid the crowds and visit a museum or two via my tablet or laptop.  The apps available will take me to a variety of museums in different cities and countries. However nothing substitutes the joy experienced when viewing the real thing for the first time while on a sojourn through the major cities of Europe, America and Far East. Those trips were the fruits of my labors and exceeded my wildest dreams. 

While mulling over your blog I thought of the loss our world will experience when students are not provided art history in their curriculum. Most of my exotic travels are arm chair via CSPAN, PBS or a book. 

My goal this weekend is to take a break from all media delivering messages of terrorists' attacks, weather catastrophes, Trump's pirouetting, Clinton's deceiving webs, and pundits' predictions. I join [your] wish on Tuesday that we could go to the polls now, vote, and end the madness.

So off I go to sit under the trees, read a book and if I am lucky, catch a cat nap and maybe dream of the good old days.

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Friday, September 02, 2016

September 2, 2016--$58.0 Million Balloon Dog

If you have a spare $58 million lying around and want to use it to buy a piece of art. you have two choices--

Peter Paul Rubens "Lot and His Daughters" or Jeff Koon's "Orange Balloon Dog."

That's about what they went for in recent auctions.

Check them out below to see what will go best with your sofa.

Note--the "Dog" is very big.

In an artfully-titled piece in the New York Times, "Contemporary Casualties," Robin Pogrebin rues the evidence that old master works are falling out of favor and in their place is the rush to the contemporary, particularly what is "associated with the new and the now."

And also what fits on the walls and in the living spaces of all those $50.0 million Manhattan condos. See the cost-of-living-extraordinarily-well symmetry.

But much more is revealed by this shift in taste and conspicuous consumption. Richard Meyer, an art history professor at Stanford says, "We are losing a sense of the value of the past, including the value of past art . . . Not just the aesthetic value, but the ways in which it can teach us about the cultures and the people who came before us."

What he doesn't note, but the implication is clear, is the growing evidence that younger people do not think much about any aspect of the past and thus the subject of history itself is dwindling on university campuses with art history even more of a casualty.

Christophe Van de Weghe, a Madison Avenue dealer with an old-master name, has it about right--"People who come into the contemporary field like colors that go well with their couches."

Though I'm not sure about Koons' orange "Dog."

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Thursday, September 01, 2016

September 1, 2016--Political Poetry

Reading Larry Tye's rather good new biography of Robert Kennedy, Robert Kennedy: The Making of a Liberal Icon, I realized that one critical thing missing from the current contest for the presidency is poetry.

This year's campaign is being conducted exclusively in prose.

As Mario Cuomo said, "You campaign in poetry; you govern in prose." He of the 1984 convention speech, "City On the Hill," knew what he was taking about.

The closest thing to poetry we have had was Donald Trump's spritz-rapping during the Republican primaries. In a burst of hyperbole I may have compared him to Lenny Bruce.

Forgive me Lenny on the 50th anniversary of your OD death.

Hillary is not about poetry--she is already governing--and should be commended for no longer using black dialect when addressing African-American audiences nor getting someone with the talent of Ted Sorenson to write speeches for her full of quotes from Albert Camus or Aeschylus.

Tye writes that after the assassination of Bobby's brother, Jack, he sank into a nearly yearlong depression, roused from it largely by reading Greek literature and existentialist or absurdist authors such as Camus.

From this he learned about the meaning that can only come from tragic suffering and the dangers lurking within if we let hubris take us over.

God knows what Trump reads--just Tweets most likely--or Hillary for that matter. One suspects policy papers.

But Bobby Kennedy was comfortable with poetry--he carried with him biblical and literary quotes that he found inspiring and frequently threaded them into his public utterances. Very much including during his remarkable four-day visit to South Africa in 1966, fully 28 years before the end of apartheid.

Speaking to a mixed-race gathering of students at the University of Cape Town, he began--
I came here because of my deep interest [in] and affection for a land settled by the Dutch in the mid-seventeenth century, then taken over by the British, and at last independent; a land in which the native inhabitants were at first subdued, but relations with whom remain a problem to this day; a land which defined itself on a hostile frontier . . . a land which once imported slaves, and now must struggle to wipe out the last traces of that former bondage. I refer, of course, to the United States of America.
It was not unusual for him to begin speeches this way--leading listeners in one direction and then shifting perspective.

He continued, now in more ode-like cadences--
Few will have the greatness to bend history itself, but each of us can work to change a small portion of events, and in the total of all these acts will be written the history of this generation. 
Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring, those ripples build a current which can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance . . . . 
Only those who dare to fail greatly can ever achieve greatly. It is this new idealism which is also, I believe, the common heritage of a generation which has learned that while efficiency can lead to the camps at Auschwitz, or the streets of Budapest, only the ideals of humanity and love can climb the hills of the Acropolis.
In Soweto

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