Friday, June 29, 2018

June 29, 2018--The Supremes

Fret not. At least not yet. 

Yes, Anthony Kennedy is stepping down from the Supreme Court, and liberals and moderates (if there are any of these left) are concerned that his so-called "swing vote" and moderating presence will depart with him. 

And so if Trump nominates and the Senate confirms (as they will--leave that to Mitch McConnell) a stealth arch-conservative similar to Clarence Thomas' new best friend, associate justice Neil Gorsuch, say goodbye to any hope that on key occasions justice Kennedy will join the four progressives on the court and things will be at least a little right with the world.

I hate to sound cynical, but Kennedy isn't so moderate and hasn't often, in truth, been that swinging a Supreme. 

With the exception of gay rights and in limited ways abortion rights, where as a libertarian he has been supportive (after all he's from Northern California) he has almost always been the dependable fifth vote, joining the four knee-jerk conservatives.

This year, for example, on all but one occasion he joined the right-wing four. So if he swings, almost all the time he swings to the right.

Thus his leaving the court will not change that much.

But here's what to fret about--

RBG. Ruth Bader Ginsberg.

She seems still to be vital, but at 85, the court's oldest justice, a pancreatic cancer surviver, how much longer can she schlepp herself to her chambers?

(With Kennedy retired--he is 81--the next oldest justice is liberal Stephen Breyer, who is 79.)

I'm no doctor, but though RBG could make it through the remainder of Trump's (first?) term, what are the odds of her being around for the four years after that? I'm not a betting person but . . .

I hate myself for saying this, but considering her medical history, if RBG genuinely cared about the issues she has devoted her life to--like the various rights of women--why didn't she step down during the first half of Barak Obama's first term when the Democrats controlled not only the White House but both houses of Congress? It would have been possible for him to nominate and ram a moderate through the Senate confirmation process.

Then we would have little to fret about. But now we need to do more than fret but to worry and I mean worry profoundly.

More than anything else we need to vote in November and work hard between now and then to increase turnout.


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Thursday, June 28, 2018

June 28, 2018--KinderTransport

How fitting it is that on what would have been my mother's 110th birthday I would be writing about children being sent to safe havens by parents who know it is unlikely they will ever again see them. The ultimate act of sacrificial parental love. My mother's and many mothers' specialty! 

I am thinking about young children being sent north to safety in the United States from Central American where their lives are in peril. Fleeing gang-infested Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala.

And I am also thinking about other children sent to refuge by their parents. Those from Germany and other Eastern European countries overrun by the Nazis where just being Jewish put their lives at risk.

In regard to the latter, I am thinking about my ex-wife Lisa's aunt Mimi Schleissner, who was born in 1927 in Sudetenland, and who, in 1939, at age12 was sent from Czechoslovakia to sanctuary in England via the KinderTranport ("Children's Transport"), an organization that came into being soon after Kristallnacht, to rescue children. In less than a year, 10,000 had been saved by the English who served as foster families.


The KinderTransport
After the Nazis occupied her town, Mimi and her family fled to the country and then on to Kolin where she was hidden by a Christian family and then subsequently transferred to safety in England, through the KinderTransport, to live initially with an uncle in London and then, during the Blitz, to Cheltenham in the Midlands, on the edge of the Cotswolds. 

And how, when there, she met and fell in love with a Newark-born American GI, Eddie Ormond, who played the violin in an army musical group. He was 24, she 17. Her parents didn't approve but still they married, came to America, had three girls, and settled in Cleveland where he was a member of the Cleveland Orchestra.

On the Left--Eddie Ormond
Unlike so many, most of Mimi's immediate family survived, having escaped to Palestine through Italy.

We are seeing a version of the same thing right now, today, along our border with Mexico where there has been and is a steam of unaccompanied young people, some just 10 and 11, sent north by their parents, on their own, to live, if they are fortunate, in the shadows, without the support of organized groups such as the KinderTransport's sponsor, the Jewish Agency. 

They are not murderers and rapists. And their's are not heartless parents. Heartlessness resides elsewhere.


Mimi Schleissner On the Right

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Wednesday, June 27, 2018

June 27, 2018--Down Day

I was unusually occupied yesterday and thus wasn't able to complete my writing  I will return tomorrow with a piece about KinderTransport

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

June 26, 2018--Immigration Fact Check

In case you missed this, the Sunday New York Times ran an interesting piece that debunked many of the stereotypes surrounding our current so-called immigration debate.

In "Migrants Are On the Rise Around the World, and Myths About Them Are Shaping Attitudes," see the section, "People Perceive There Are More Immigrants Than There Really Are"--
A study based on surveys in the United States and a variety of European countries by the economists Alberto Alesina, Armando Miano and Stefanie Stantcheva found people across the board vastly overstate their immigrant populations.
The overestimates are largest among particular groups: the least educated, workers in low-skill occupations with lots of immigrants, and those on the political right.
They overstate the share of immigrants who are Muslim and underestimate the share of Christians. They underestimate immigrants' education and overestimate both their poverty rate and their dependence on welfare. Almost a quarter of French respondents, as well as nearly one in five Swedes and about one in seven Americans, think the average immigrant gets twice as much government aid as native residents do. In no country is this true. 
People who are against immigration generate a sense of crisis," Professor Alesina said. "They create a sense that 'This is a huge problem; we need a wall.'" 
In any event, the sentiment is eroding support for Europe's social democratic model as well as for the United States' more limited safety net. "Just making people think about immigrants generally generates a strongly negative reaction in terms of redistribution, Professors Alesina, Miano and Stantcheva write.
Worldwide, everyone must be watching Fox News.

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Monday, June 25, 2018

June 25, 2018--Arthur MacArthur & Queen Hope

My friend Boyce Martin died two years ago and his wife and my great friend, Anne Ogden, knowing that I too am a history buff invited me to rummage through his shelves of books, thinking correctly that I might like to have a few of Boyce's books. After all, I wear his Kentucky hat every day.

As our reading interests are similar many of the books he had read were among those I had devoured. But I did find a few that I knew would interest me that I hadn't known about, including one devoted to the middle years of Winston Churchill's career (Young Titan: The Making of Winston Churchill) and the breathlessly titled, The Most Dangerous Man In America: The Making of Douglas MacArthur.

I had a peripheral connection to General MacArthur because his only child, Arthur MacArthur IV, was a college classmate and friend. A fellow literature major. We both sat and studied at the feet of the mesmerizing Lionel Trilling.

Though we were friends, Arthur was very private, which I understood, considering the endless controversies that swirled around his father, even years after he was fired by President Truman for insubordination during the Korean War, and his failed attempt in 1952 to secure the Republican nomination for president. Ironically, losing it to his former aide, General Dwight Eisenhower. 

And there was the relentless interest the media of the time had in all things MacArthur, including Arthur. There had even been a 1942 Life magazine cover story about him as a four-year-old that reported on his life with his parents in Brisbane, Australia, where they resided, having sought safety after escaping from the Japanese invasion of the Philippines. Life told about little Arthur's "curiously mixed-up accent," his kindergarten routine, and his new tricycle.

In contrast, at that time, in East Flatbush, I spoke Brooklynese and made a scooter out of an old orange crate and a disassembled roller-skate.

As an unlikely couple, we read and discussed Dostoevsky and Kafka and Conrad together, but during those years Arthur never said a word about his early life, though I did know he was born in the Philippines the same year I was in Brooklyn, and he and his parents had barely escaped with their lives when the Japanese overran the archipelago. 

I assumed from knowing a little about the military careers of generations of MacArthurs that there must have been unimanageable pressure on him, the general's only child, named for many heroic MacArthur "Arthurs," including his grandfather, to fulfill the family military destiny. But he was as unlike a warrior as anyone I knew and it must have taken a different kind of courage, psychological courage, to want to be at Columbia studying Proust, rather than at West Point immersed in Napoleon's campaigns.

Now, with The Most Dangerous Man In America in hand, enough new details about Arthur's life were included to have me searching the Internet to see what I could learn about him. Including, is he still alive!

He is and appears to have continued to lead a hermetic life, including evidence that he changed his name after his father was relieved of his command by President Truman as there were apparently threats on Arthur's life.

No one, though, knows the name he assumed nor where he lives. Most likely in Greenwich Village, where I too reside, though I suspect if we passed each other on the street, which we likely have, that neither one of us would recognize the other. But once back in the City I will be looking around more than usual as I would like to pick up our college discussions as well as belatedly get to know more about him and how he has been faring.

One additional curiosity--

From reading the little that is available about Arthur it appears that during the late 1960s he was considered, within certain elevated social circles, a very eligible bachelor. (I suspect this is not true since the Arthur I knew had no interest whatsoever in dating.) 

In fact, he had no inclination to date Hope Cooke, who, rejected by him, in 1963, married the crown prince of Sikkim and two years later, when he became king, became, as she was known in the tabloids, "Queen Hope." But before that, in spite of Arthur's lack of interest, she was apparently quite interested in him.

She never converted to Buddhism but, as Henry Kissinger noted, she was "more Buddhist than the population of Sikkim." 

As it turns out I knew Hope rather well as she was a classmate and close friend at Sarah Lawrence of my first wife's and, at the time, we found it more than amusing that by this marriage, the daughter of a San Francisco flight instructor, transformed herself into a Queen. 


Since Hope does not live as privately as Arthur (in 1975 her husband-king was deposed and five years later she divorced him and moved back to New York City), we do occasionally run into her. The last time on an escalator in Bloomingdale's. We were descending, she of course was going up.

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Friday, June 22, 2018

June 22, 2108--Beyonce & the Mona Lisa

Rona said, "Isn't this the stupidest thing you've ever seen in the New York Times"?

She read from last Sunday's Magazine--
Every week the magazine publishes the results of a study conducted online last June by the New York Times's research-and-analytics department, reflecting the opinions of 2,903 subscribers who chose to participate.
"Doesn't sound uninteresting," I said, "It would be nice to know what Times readers have to say about Russia or the Middle East."

Having said this, to be honest, I tuned out as I was deep into the Sports section, trying to make heads or tails of what was going on with the soccer World Cup.

"Not even close," Rona said. "Here's the question they sought opinions about." Again she read from the NYT--
Dear Reader: If you were invited to lick the 'Mona Lisa,' would you do it?
"What?" I said, now paying attention.

"Listen to the results."

"You mean there were actual results?"

"Ninety-seven percent said no, 2% said maybe, and 1% said yes."

"You probably could get 1% to say they'd slash the canvas with a linoleum knife."

"I agree," Rona said, "But isn't it incredible the lengths the Times will go to try to be relevant?"

"Maybe they asked this question because Beyonce and Jay-Z recently shot a video in the Louvre, in the room where the Mona Lisa is, for their latest self-indulgent album."

"What?" It was Rona's chance to be incredulous.

"I saw a piece about it last week, also in the Times. Nothing inscrutable about that. Though of course this isn't quite the same thing as licking it."

"I give up," Rona said.

"You started this," I said.


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Thursday, June 21, 2018

June 21, 2018--Jack's Secret

"You know, Jack, I'm so disgusted by what Trump and the Republicans are up to that I don't want to have anything to do with them or, for that matter, you."

"Here I popped in to share a cup of coffee with you and you're giving me all sorts of grief. What did I do this time to get under your skin?"

"Are you kidding me? Did you just get back from Mars? Even if you did I assume they have Fox News there."

"On Mars?"

"Don't try to wiggle out of this by pretending to be cute and innocent  You know what's going on. You know how despicable you and your people have been. I'm so angry about what you are doing at the border with Mexico that I don't want to see your face much less sit together and pretend nothing is going on."

Jack remained standing in place in the middle of the diner. 

"For years I tried to talk with you rationally. Even respectfully. To hear your views. To try to understand where you were coming from. How you could possibly think Trump would be a good president. Why you thought he could be elected and when he won, as much of a hallucination as that was, I listened to you talk about about how he would surprise me and get all sorts of good things done. That he wasn't a monster. How he might even be a closet Democrat. You remember how he was going to clean out the swamp, which I agreed needing doing? Tell me about that now. Among others, he and his family have taken over the swamp." 

Jack remained fixed where he was.

I paused to catch my breath. It felt as if I was going to have a heart attack. "But then this. This. You remember at the beginning of the campaign how he out of the blue savagely attacked John McCain? How he blasted him because he had been captured during the war in Vietnam? Trump the draft dodger said he liked winners, not people who were taken prisoner. Saying this about McCain, who was shot down flying a bombing mission, I thought for sure would doom Trump's candidacy. But he rose in the polls as he did after he claimed he could shoot someone dead on Fifth Avenue and get away with it. Any normal candidate saying that would have been ridden out of office. But no, his poll numbers continued to rise. Well, he's just topped himself again. What he's up to would politically doom anyone else. This one you're going to have to explain to me."

"Can I . . . ?"

"No. Stay right where you are, or yet better, leave." I had never talked to Jack this way.

"And to think I came in this morning to share a secret with you."

Not finished, I ignored him. "Tell me one thing and after that I'll see if I ever again want to have anything to do with you."

"Shoot," he caught himself, "Forgive me, I know you don't believe in guns. Please continue."

"I don't need your permission. Stay where you are. I have a few other things to get off my chest. Since you had the audacity to show up I do have a question for you."

Jack leaned toward where I was sitting in the booth. 

"My question is how any of your people, I mean the non-crazy ones (though there are too many of those for my taste), how do they justify what's going on with those families seeking asylum in America? I know, Trump and his most awful people want to send a message to anyone heading north from Central America and Mexico that if they show up at the border with children they will be taken away from them and the parents will be sent right back home, leaving their children behind in cages and tents without air conditioning. In the hope that this will deter others from following in their footsteps. I know we can't welcome everyone fleeing poverty and violence--that would be millions of refugees, but is what the government is now doing justified by wanting to keep immigrants, OK, undocumented immigrants out of the country? To treat children this way? Is this their perverted way of making America great again? It's making America evil again."

I raged on, "I mean, this is far from what we did to Japanese citizens during the Second World War. Citizens. What we did then was worse. We put them in 'internment' camps. A fancy word for concentration camps. We took away their property without any due process and held them for years. Years. During Roosevelt's time. During a liberal Democrat's time.  So there is plenty of blame to go around. But shouldn't we at least learn a few things from history? Minimally, what not to repeat."

"I . . ."

"Answer that for me."

"I came in to talk to you about donuts. What you been writing about . . ."

"Forget donuts. Enough about donuts. What's going on in our name, as Americans, is evil. How can anyone justify this? How can anyone . . ." I was sputtering.

"The donut thing is relevant to what you're saying."

For the moment I was out of gas, "This I have to hear."

"It may surprise you that I agree with you about separating families. About zero tolerance. We are still a nation of immigrants. We need immigrants. We don't have enough workers. And we should welcome refugees. Not all of them but as many as our cities and workforce can handle. But real refugees who are trying to escape from persecution."

I couldn't believe what I was hearing.

"We should increase the number we allow into the country legally. How can anyone feel good about having ten million here illegally? We should figure out a way to make most of them permanent residents. I don't know about paths to citizenship kinds of things. But we shouldn't be rounding them up and deporting them. And, by the way, your Obama was a pretty good deporter. And we sure as shit shouldn't be separating families. Conservatives are supposed to believe in families. And not just white ones or families who are here illegally. Families are families. That's what conservatives should believe. And liberals too. We can have our disagreements about what a family is, but we should do what we can to help people remain families."

I was stunned. Though I did know about Jack's very troubled family and his childhood.

"Which brings me back to the donuts."

"Shoot," I said.

At that he smiled the familiar Jack ironic smile and continued, "You wrote that you needed a break from the serious news and that the donuts stories--which I loved, by the way, especially the ones about your friend who comes from a longtime Maine family and the one where you and another friend thought there was a bear in the woods--that the donut stories and the bear and chipmunk story were a diversion from the awful hard news. 

"I get that," he continued, "But here's the secret--you're playing right into the hands of Trump and his people. Not that you're writing for the New York Times or are that influential, but they want all of you who are left-wingers to get so exhausted and frustrated by what's going on that you'll give up and opt out and look for things to distract yourselves. In, other words, capitulate.

"Yeah, you'll vote for Democrats in November, but not in overwhelming numbers. Which could tilt things Trump's way. They want you to get so frustrated that you come to feel that the situation is hopeless. That if you lose your enthusiasm that will be good for Trump, whose approval numbers, by the way, are creeping up. 

"One example--two nights ago, during her show, Rachel Maddow began to cry--cry--while reporting about the children who are being separated from their parents. Among other things, it revealed how exhausted she is by all of this. I assume others are feeling the same way. It could lead to many, out of self-protection, to pull back. 

"But my secret is that what Trump is up to every day, when he creates another crisis, is designed to overload the nation's circuits. He's putting it to Democrats, who are so good at talking and criticizing and writing and being smart about everything to see if they can punch back. To see if you have staying power or if you'll fold up in frustration."

I continued to stare at Jack. 

"That's it," he said.

Shrugging, after a moment he turned to leave. I made no move to stop him.


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Wednesday, June 20, 2018

June 20, 2018--Getting Through the Week

I've been attempting to get through the week without mentioning Donald Trump. Hence all the donut postings. 

But his administration's policy to separate children from parents who are desperately trying to enter the United States is so egregious, so evil that I cannot restrain myself. Nor apparently can the weaselly Senator Ted Cruz. 

And though to continue to rip children from the arms of their parents is Trump's ultimate responsibility, for which one day he will have to atone, even worse is the wide approval among Republicans for this heartless policy.

A recent Quinnipiac poll found that 55 percent of Republican voters support the president's "zero tolerance" policy. 35 percent oppose it.

Who are these people, this 55 percent? Are they living among us? Are they online ahead of us at the supermarket? Are they at the next table during dinner? Do they love their children? What could they possibly say to them or us to explain themselves? 

How does one come to endorse this shameless policy? How do they come to hate life so much that they are unmoved when they see images of these young children having their lives literally cut in half? Even before their lives have begun? 

I do not want to understand. I do not want to know about or know anyone who could be this vicious.

Yes, what to do about immigrants is roiling the Western world. The German government this week came close to collapse over Angela Merkel's empathetic immigration policies. What to do about those seeking asylum is complicated.

We cannot admit to the country everyone who seeks refuge or simply a better life. But while individual cases are being reviewed and ajudicated families can easily be kept intact. There is no policy or security purpose or justification for this so-called "family separation" policy.

It is based on fear and hatred. Even of the most innocent.

It is as simple and despicable as that.


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Tuesday, June 19, 2018

June 19, 2018--Donuts On My Chest All Day

Whenever I write about donuts I always get a big response. One email after my posting last week about the Nobleboro Village Store just said, "Yum."

One can't have enough good sources for donuts and so I am pleased to receive suggestions for other places to try. Like, from one friend, the Willow Bake Shoppe in Rockport, Maine, though I am skeptical about the authenticity of any place that spells shop shoppe.

From all these responses it must be true, as I claimed, that donuts are one of the five essential food groups. Pizza being another.

And thus I was happy to receive a note from a dear friend who is a long-time resident of this area, the Pemaquid Peninsular. Her family owned much of the land near the lighthouse and Jill Davenport comes from a long line of storytellers. She also has a wonderful sense of local history. Including about donuts.

Her Uncle Basil was a scholar, anthologist, and weaver of gothic tales. He also was a sort of pied piper to the local children of Pemiquid who loved to huddle with him as he regailed them with shimmering stories. Acting all the parts.

Her mother, Gwen Davenport was a very widely-read novelist. She was the author in 1947 of Belvedere, which formed the basis for a series of movies, including, my favorite, Mr. Belvedere Rings the Bell, and a successful TV series.

And her father, John Davenport, in 1949, in The New Yorker, published an amusing piece, "Slurvian Self-Taught.

He is an excerpt--
Listening to a Hollywood radio commentator the writer heard her say that she had just returned from a Yerpeen trip and had had a lovely time nittly. He readily understood that she had just returned from a European trip and had had a lovely time in Italy. Speaking in this manner is Slurvian. 
The writer has made a study of it and includes a number of examples, including words that when spelled as pronounced make good English words other than the ones they are supposed to be such as bean for human being, form for forum, and lore for lower. 

Then, from Jill Davenport, here is what she wrote about the local donut situation--
The great and worthy donut finds life in small New England kitchens and only faintly resembles its more modern counterpart, the puffy and overly sweet confection found in all its manifestations at Dunkin Donuts.
When I was a small child, my grandmother would sometimes take me to what is now the Seagull Shop, adjacent to the Pemiquid lighthouse, for a breakfast treat. We would sit at the counter and we had donuts. These were small, brown, modest and they ran rings around any donut I've tasted since. 
The old donut was unglazed, looked overdone and its appearance hardly generated the swiftly indrawn breath of anxious expectation which a more spectacular donut might have done. But sink your teeth into its unprepossessing surface and bear witness to a rather juicy crunch imparted by its trip through the hot grease, and to a cinnamonish flavor unequaled in today's world of fat donuts so devoid of character.  
I miss those sturdy New England donuts. 
My father once managed to charm his way onto a lobster boat for a day's fishing. He got up early and had a substantial breakfast before setting out on his adventure. He and the lobsterman spent the morning hauling pots and by noon my father was starving, but the lobsterman seemed unfazed by his long separation from nourishment. 
So my father asked him what he had eaten for breakfast. The lobsterman said, "Two donuts. They sit on my chest and nourish me all day."


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Monday, June 18, 2018

June 18, 2018--Midcoast: The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Chipmunk

Neurologist and author Oliver Sacks was an acquaintance who wrote widely for lay readers about the complex world of mental "disorders." 

I put disorders in quotation marks since in his writing he challenges many of the traditional paradigms that classify many mental conditions as abnormal and as cognitive deficits. 

In my favorite of his books, The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat, in four sections Sacks presents a series of brief case studies focused on aspects of neurology. 

In the first part he discusses neurological conditions that are usually construed to be deficits in normal brain function. Taking a very different tack, he argues that the medical community tends to define almost all divergent neurological conditions as some kind of deficit.

But, he claims, this paradigm is too narrow because it marginalizes these conditions, making it difficult to understand their full range of function, and that the traditional medical classification system also underestimates individuals' abilities to find ways of compensating for atypical mental function. 

In other words, the deficit model often leads to a lack of empathy and nuance and gets in the way of a full understanding of what is almost always characterized as illness and thus impedes effective ways of working with individuals who present unusual behaviors. Including behavior experienced by Dr. P., someone Sacks worked with for a number of years who had a rare form of "face blindness" that left him unable to distinguish between his wife's face and his hat. The man who mistook . . .

I thought about Sacks and the book late last week while standing in the road with George, a close friend, who was asking me how my PD is progressing.

"The meds seem to relieve much of the tremor in my right hand," I said, "It's my only symptom thus far. So I'm feeling optimistic about the situation."

I extended my hand to show him. "That looks pretty good," he said, "Do you notice any things that cause increased tremoring?"

"When I have any anxiety, which I am prone to have, it does increase the tremor. In fact, it's happening right now. Maybe because we're talking about it." 

To show him I extended my arm again and my right hand was shaking quite visibly. "It stops right away if I tell myself to calm down." I showed him how that works. In a few seconds my hand completely calmed down.

"Does your neurologist say what might be in the offing?"

"In fact the last time I saw him I asked about that--'How long will it be before I'm like Michael J. Fox?'"

"I like that and I like Michael J. Fox," George said.

"I do as well. The doctor asked again how old I am and when I reminded him he said, 'In your case you'll be long gone before that happens.'" Liking how that sounded he smiled. Which is unusual for him.

"So I have something to look forward to," I said.

"What's that?" he asked.

"I said, also smiling, 'Being dead.'"

"That sounds good to me," George said, playfully referring to me.

"One thing, though," I added, "There's this commercial on TV for a med that claims it can lessen the delusions and hallucinations that supposedly 50 percent of people with PD will experience. That doesn't sound so good to me."

"Again," George said,"before that happens maybe you'll be fortunate enough to be long gone." He's a good kidder, which I like about him.

"What's that?" I said to him with my hand flapping.

"What are you pointing at?"

"Down the road, all the rustling in those bushes." I indicated where with my steady hand.

"I can't see what you're referring to," he said, "It would be strange since there's no wind."

"Rona's doing a lot of pruning. Maybe that's her in those bushes." I pointed again down the road where it looked to me like she must be working. "But that would be unusual since that's really not on our property, though the owner of the log cabin, who's rarely here, likes it when she neatens things up."

George and I stood there peering at the bushes that were in rapid motion. At least they looked that way to me.

"Maybe it's a bear," George said.

"Do we have bears here?" I asked taking him seriously.

"Not usually " he said, "Though strange things happen all the time. The berries are starting to set so bears could be lurking."

With that there was increased movement in the bushes. I clutched that shovel I had with me, getting ready for I knew not what.

And just as quickly, all movement ceased and popping out from the bushes was not Rona or a bear but a chipmunk that preceded to bounce across the road.

I'm not sure what George made of all this, but I was thinking about my friend Oliver.


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Friday, June 15, 2018

June 15, 2018--Serious Donuts

If you have a serious interest in donuts (in my view they are one of the five basic food groups), you will understand my obsession with tracking down and savoring only the very best.

Rona and I have been known to fly for just the morning from New York City to Kansas City so we can gorge ourselves on LeMars etherial doughnuts. Sadly, they have since been franchised but the originals were made and sold in an old gas station. You'd wait on line to buy a dozen and then woof them down, all of them, scrunched in your car unless you had somewhere close by where you could sit more comfortably. Though I'm fine with the car.

Among other aficionados, Calvin Trillin considers LeMars America's best. Could be but we still have a few places to get to before we agree with that.

When on the road, in desperation--say you are driving east through the middle of Nebraska--you might think about pulling off to get your hands on a couple of Dunkins. But the truly obsessed resist that temptation and press on, believing that in a small town such as, say, Gretna there might be someone who gets up every morning at 3:00 am to turn out a heavenly batch of chocolate coconuts.

In fact there is--Sunrize Donuts (been there)--which, in Michelin terms, is worth a detour.

Up here in Maine we live in one of these between-places places and thus felt relief when we learned that "only" 40 miles from us, in Brunswick, there is Frosty's. It has been there for decades. They open at 4:00 (by then a short line is already formed) and close when there're out of donuts. Usually before noon. So if you want Boston creams and toasted coconuts for lunch, and are motivated to head for Brunswick, be forewarned.

But the bad news is that the family who ran it for many years about two years ago sold it and the new owners have been cutting corners on ingredients and looking to have local supermarkets carry their brand. In other words, Frosty's has gone commercial and is now not much better than a Dunkins.

When we reluctantly came to this conclusion we were distraught. We moaned--how will we be able to get through our six-month Maine season without periodic melt-in-your-mouth artisanal donuts.

We were almost tempted to think about summer rentals in Gretna, NE. 

Then, one night at a wonderful home-prepared dinner with friends we met someone they included who they thought we would like to get to know. 

She's great in all respects--very smart, very funny, as well as being a mover and shaker in Damariscotta. Among other things she knows everything about all the local businesses (she had been president of Rotary and CEO of the Chamber of Commerce), and when she heard us whining about Frosty's she asked if we had been to the Nobleboro Village Store.

We confessed we hadn't though it is close by. When she heard that she got all excited and told us there was a treat in store for us. 

"Their donuts are even better than Frosty's were in their prime. Like Frosty's, get there early," she advised, "They also sell out quickly. They make maybe a total of five dozen and some of the guys who come there every day can easily eat a dozen each. There are some very big guys in the area."

Two mornings later we got up early so we could get there by 7:00. The place is in a residential neighborhood and from its look feels like you can pass it by without regrets. It's more a general store than donut joint but it does have a small L-shaped counter with four or five chairs. Usually, a couple of local guys are there, reading the paper and joshing around while sipping a cup of coffee, eating an egg sandwich, and finishing up with a few donuts. 

Sure enough that first day the donuts were picked quite clean but there were a little more than a dozen left and, as outsiders, though in the interest of research we were tempted to buy and eat all of them, we restrained ourselves and brought only six.

We thought, just looking at them, next time we'll get here no later than 6:30 so we can buy a mixed dozen without feeling guilty.

They specialize in basic cake-style doughnuts, generally our favorites. And by now we've been there enough to have seen and sampled their full repertoire.

Plain-plain, plain sugar-coated, plain chocolate-covered, chocolate coconut (my favorite as they come with a handful of thick, clinging coconut shavings), maple crunch,  . . .  You get the picture.

If we allowed ourselves to do what we really desire we'd go there at least once a week. But since we're trying to eat a lower carb diet, we now show up about every four weeks. This past Wednesday was our once-a-month visit.

We bought and finished ten. I could have handled one or two more but resisted. "We only now come once a month and we haven't been here since last October so . . . "

Rona cut me off. She has better discipline than I and wanted to concentrate on a chat she had begun with one of their regulars. 

He was talking about how in the 1970s, though he had never ventured far from Nobleboro, seeking a little adventure  after high school, he moved for half a year to Florida where he got a job at an exclusive beach club as a bellhop and occasional chauffeur.

The other morning he was full of stories about some of the famous guests he encountered--Jackie Gleason, James Garner, Sammy Davis Junior, Frank Sinatra, Bebe Rebozo, and Richard Nixon. He told us how in his bellhop role he had delivered a message to the president who didn't tip him. And also how he met and spent some time with Henry Kissinger. Then there was . . .

So I'm thinking--I'm sitting on a backless stool at the Nobleboro Village Store, in the middle of a version of nowhere and talking with a guy who spent time in the early 70s with Henry Kissinger. All the while inhaling a half dozen of the very best donuts ever. 

I leave you with this--The place is worth a journey. As much for the likes of our new friend as for the donuts. He's an amazing storyteller. So when you get there (as early as possible) ask him to tell you about Kissinger. The best part is his dead-on version of Kissinger's heavily accented English. That alone is worth the trip.


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Thursday, June 14, 2018

June 14, 2018--Donuts

I'll be here tomorrow with a story about my lifelong search for the best donut.

I think I found it!


Wednesday, June 13, 2018

June 13, 2018--Trumped In Singapore

He couldn't wait to get out of town. 

After a total of about three of hours of meetings--first a one-on-one 45 minutes with Kim Jong-un, then a brief lunch and another meeting that included advisors (John Bolton among them so Kim and the North Koreans could see the man who most wants to nuke them), then, like a couple of kids who stole their parents' car, after showing Kim the interior of the president-mobile (called the Beast by the Secret Service), and a brief press conference where all the questions were about North Korea and not Stormy Daniels, Trump hustled up the steps to Air Force One, told the pilot to put the pedal to the metal, and raced away before he could trade more away to the North Koreans than he already had. For example, casually agreeing without a quid pro quo to end annual "war games" the U.S. has for decades engaged in with the South Koreans.

What had occurred and who won and who lost was revealed in the maximum leaders' two faces--Kim's was all private smiles for what he had accomplished (getting the president of the United States, the president of the most powerful nation in the entire history of the world, to fly 18,000 miles for a few hours of handshakes and, especially, thousands of photographs) while not needing to agree to anything much less actually having to give up anything such as his intercontinental nuclear missiles that are capable of reaching Chicago.

Trump's face, on the other hand suggested that he was either choking on what they served at lunch or knew how snookered he had been by that 34 year-old nut-job who, it turns out, is no nut-job but a brilliant manipulator who should not be laughed off but taken seriously, very seriously.

Kim is the one who channeled The Art of the Deal while the coauthor forget its dos and don'ts.

Why this might be is worth thinking about.

Both men needed this meeting. Many assumed it was Kim who leads a country that is beyond falling apart. He doesn't even have a plane that could get him safely from Pyongyang to Singapore. Forget providing electricity or food for his people.

Trump was holding all the cards, it was thought, including the crazy card--his advisors whispering to Kim that Trump is so deranged and uncontrollable that unless he was genuflected to might actually bomb North Korea back to the Stone Age. Though most of the country already is in the Stone Age.

The truth is that Trump is the desperate one. 

Kim might have a few more generals and family members who want to topple him but he can take care of that pretty easily--poison them or let his dogs literally tear them apart.

Trump, though, has Robert Mueller. Does more need to be said?

As further evidence that Trump is off his feed was his pathetic attempt the day before the summit to trash Justin Trudeau, who, as a result, is not just off the charts in popularity in Canada but I have friends who want to lure him to the U.S. so he can serve as our president.

But the evidence I want to share about Trump's mental health, in case you missed it, was the semi-coherent spritz he offered about North Korean real estate.

He actually said--
They have great beaches. You see that whenever they're exploding the cannons into the ocean [Huh?]. I said look at that view. Wouldn't that make a great condo beyond that?
You could have the best hotels in the world right there. Think of it from a real estate perspective [!]. You have South Korea, you have China, and they own the land in the middle. How bad is that? Right? It's great.
In spite of myself I'm beginning to feel sorry for him.


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Tuesday, June 12, 2018

June 12, 2018--Gotterdammerung

In something I wrote and posted on May 25th, "What's He Up To?" I speculated that the he, Donald Trump, obsessed with making as much money as possible, but fearing he is compromised by the goods the Russians have on him, and the still-leaking revelations about his tangled sex life that includes, now admittedly, paying hush money to a porn star, Stormy Daniels, faced with this, Trump will do all he can to undermine the various probes underway into these and other malfeasances, especially smearing the Mueller investigation which is clearly most comprehensive and threatening.

I ended with what I thought would be a smirky throwaway line--  

"Then, if [this] fails there is the Gotterdammerung scenario where Trump goes up in flames and brings the metaphorical house down on all of us."

Well, fewer than three weeks later the Wagnerian scenario seems to be the one unfolding with Trump and Rudy Giuliani in an operatic duet that eventually will bring on the flames.

Trump like Siegfried is on his own Rhine Journey. In Wagner's version, Siegfried first kills a dragon and then subsequently is murdered while Rudy, in familiar drag, channeling Brunnhilde, is ready for his own Immolation Scene. In the Gotterdammerung ("Twilight of the Gods"), Brunnhilde assembles her own funeral pyre and after igniting it rides her horse into it where she is consumed by flames.

Of course I'm being metaphoric.

But the best recent example of the approaching political Gotterdammerung was Trump, acting out of a geopolitical death wish, basically blowing up the G-7 summit meeting held last week in Canada with our allies. Or should I say, "former allies"? 

"There's a special place in hell for Justine Trudeau" intoned Peter Navarro, a senior Trump economic advisor, because the Canadian prime minister wouldn't roll over for Trump when it came to accepting Trump's outrageous trade demands.

Not getting his way on trade, our petulant president in a improvised smirky aside said that if the other G-7 nations will not give in to his ruinous requirements on trade and tariffs maybe the U.S. should take home its "piggy bank" and stop trading altogether with EU and Asian members.

Sensing this, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau (who Trump called "weak" and his economic team on the record accused of "stabbing Trump in the back") quipped that maybe the G-7 should reorganize itself into the G-6 Plus-1. Or, an actual possibility, just the G-6 with us and the Russians dealt out.

Since de facto this is already underway, when I heard this, I said to Rona I'm glad the stock market is closed for the weekend since acting-out Trump is in the process of bringing down the world's economy.



Siegfried and Brunnhilde

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Monday, June 11, 2018

June 11, 2018--Ladies of Forest Trace: President Grump

The phone rang as we were in the midst of preparing dinner. 

"Who would call us at this time?" I asked. "Anyone who knows us knows we have dinner about this time."

"Maybe it's a robocall," Rona said. "Check the caller ID."

I did and said, "It's from an unfamiliar area code--123."

"Pick it up. Maybe an actual person is placing the call. Not a computer. We've had an increase in the number we've been receiving. Maybe you can get them to take us off their caller list."

"Forget that," I mumbled. I was just about ready to add the spice mix to the vegetarian chili that was simmering on the stove. 

Rona said, "I thought no area codes are allowed to start with a 1."

"With telemarketing and hacking," I said, "I assume anything goes. So maybe I shouldn't answer it. We don't want to get drawn into anything that will take over our computer or phone."

"Now you have me curious," Rona said, "I wouldn't worry too much about that. I'll add the spices. You answer the phone. Let's see what this is."

"You would think I have all day." On the phone it was a woman's voice that sounded vaguely familiar."

"Who is this?" I asked tentatively.

"Have I changed that much in three years?"

"Who is it?" Rona mouthed.

Shrugging, I shook my head.

"Well, in fact I do have all day," the caller chuckled.

"Tell me what this is about. We're in the middle of preparing dinner. Chili." I was poised to hit the phone's Off button.

"How can I be at rest while that Grump is making himself a king?"

"Is this . . . ?" I began to tremble.

"Who else calls you when you're hiding in Maine?"

"We're not hiding . . . " I couldn't catch my breath but finally said, "Mom?"

"This is not the time to be hiding away. It wasn't easy, but if I could get permission to call you between now and November the least you can do is put down your potholder."

"Is it really . . .?"

"The girls and the people who run this place are very concerned with what is happening."

"In Maine?" I didn't know what to say. My heart was thumping and I thought I was about to pass out or have a stroke. 

I collapsed in a chair and Rona rushed over to see if I needed help. I signaled that I was OK. Just overwhelmed with emotion.

I mouthed, "I think it's my mother."

"How can that be?" Rona said so loud that my mother or whoever was on the phone could hear her.

"Tell my darling I love her and not to worry about me. They take very good care of us here. Even better than Forest Trace. Especially the food. Last night we had flanken with horseradish. It was delicious, I could chew it, and best of all it didn't give me gas."

Rona reached for the phone but I pulled it away. So she ran into the living room and snatched the other one from its cradle.

"Mom?"

"It's so good to hear your voice. I miss you every day."

"I think about you all the time. What an inspiration you have been and continue to be. So now you're here to . . . ?"

"Help with the election. We don't have newspapers or cable so I can't listen to Wolf or read Maureen Shroud. It's been difficult to keep up with the news. But we do know who was elected and can't believe what his people are doing to our  country. The same country that rescued so many of my family who fled the pogroms before the Nazis took over. Today, Grump would want to arrest us and send us back to Auschwitz."

"It isn't that bad," I said, and then after a pause added, "Yet."

"That's what they said in Germany. Things are bad but we will be safe. All we have to do is not make trouble. We're Germans, yes Jews, but we have always lived side-by-side with gentiles and they won't allow the worst to happen." She took a deep breath and said, "And then the worst happened. More than the worst."

"And so?"

"So, we have to make trouble. That's why I got permission to call. To make sure you and your friends--not just your Jewish friends--make trouble."

"Which means?"

"Working every day to make sure good people get elected. If he wins in November I fear for the future. It will say the American people agree with what he has been doing. What a message that will be to the world. And how it would encourage him to continue doing all the things he is doing. What will this mean to young people? I was a teacher and a mother all my life. My heart breaks when I think about what the future will be like for young people. They will lose hope. For the young, that would be the worst thing. Not to look forward to the future."

"That would be a tragedy," I agreed, "But young people are activated and it seems are eager to vote in November."

"They didn't vote two years ago. Not enough of them. They wanted Burning Sanders and when they couldn't have him they didn't vote. And what about women? I remember when we couldn't vote. I was 12 years old when they passed the Amendment. My sisters were suffragettes. They marched and marched and marched. In the heat and the rain and the snow. But now too many women didn't vote for the first woman running for president. Hillary. Not my favorite but better than him, no?"

"Much better," Rona said, "Especially as we see what he is doing. At least with her things wouldn't be this bad. But more than 50 percent of white women voted for Trump. So it was white women and young people more than anyone else who helped elect him. But we are organizing and demonstrating. Just last week we did well in primary voting in California."

"I hadn't heard about that," my mother said, "That is good news but unless Democrats won by big numbers it may not be good enough. And when I think about the demonstrations I am not impressed. How long has he been in office?"

"About a year and a half."

"And what did you have? Two marches? One right after he was sworn in, the Pussy Cat march (I'm old fashioned and hated the name), but it still was good and then there was the one organized by the Florida children after 17 of their friends were killed. Also very good. But I didn't make all this effort to be able to talk with you to pretend to feel good about two marches."

"What would have made you feel good?" I asked.

"A march every week or at least every month. That would be at least 18 marches already. I know the news people would stop talking about it but if it went on and on they would have to pay attention and it could make a difference. It would keep the drum drumming  It would also show that people, including young people, care about the future of America and the world. Their country, their world. Not mine and too soon not yours.

"What do you mean 'too soon'"? I asked, fearing she knew something I didn't.

"Time. Time is marching even if Americans aren't. Time doesn't need to do much or really anything to keep moving along. Time and tide. Look out your window up there and pay attention to the tide."

I glanced at Johns Bay and was about to ask about the tide since it ebbs and flows, first north and then it swings around to the south. I wasn't sure why this was significant to her. But before I could enquire, she told us she needed to pass the phone to one of the Forest Trace ladies who was waiting in line. She promised, until November, to try to call every few weeks. Maybe, she said, on her birthday, June 28th, when if she were still here she would be 110. Not, she said, that they make a big fuss there about birthdays. Or that 110, considering where she is now, is a big deal.

But before yielding the phone, she asked "Doesn't chili give you gas?"

The Ladies of Forest Trace (Mom Standing)

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Friday, June 08, 2018

June 8, 2018--One More Day

I need a little more time with this one. It will for certain be posted early Monday morning.

In the meantime, happy birthday RM!

Thursday, June 07, 2018

June 7, 2018--Gardening

We spent the day roaming garden shops and so I did not get anything else done. I will return tomorrow with a surprise.

Wednesday, June 06, 2018

June 6, 2018--Frappuccino

Many of my friends are excited that the executive chairman of Starbucks, Howard Schultz, is stepping down and giving serious thought to running for president in 2020 as a Democrat.

I have been hearing from them all day.

"He's our best chance to defeat Donald Trump," one e-mailed, "A real businessman who can take on Trump, a mom-and-pop operator who's really nothing more than a snake oil salesman."

"Schultz built a global empire," another friend texted, "He made billions of dollars for Starbucks. And he's a progressive! Just last week he shut down all the Starbucks stores in the United States for diversity training."

"On his watch they created, my favorite, the Frappuccino," someone wrote, seemingly feeling this qualifies him to be president.

I say, forget for the moment if he's qualified. My question--Can he win?

Sorry, but I doubt it.

Just what we need, another businessman who knows nothing about domestic issues or international challenges. Just because there are 14,000 Starbucks shops overseas in 62 countries doesn't qualify Schultz to be commander in chief.

And, I don't know how to put this without stirring up a hornets nest, but do we need another New Yorker running for president, much less someone from Brooklyn?

I say this as a Brooklyn native.

My obsession continues to be about winning in November and then in 2020. Won't we progressives ever learn that someone known for selling Americanos and lattes doesn't have a chance. I can already hear the mockery. Remember when me-generation Democrats where called Yuppies who cared more about brie and Chardonnay than social or political issues?

My view--yes, in the mix of potential nominees let's look for CEOs who could take on both Trump and actually have the experience needed to be an effective president. For me, Howard Schultz is not that person. 

In addition, I hate Frappuccinos. 


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Tuesday, June 05, 2018

June 5, 2018--David Fairchild Day

For a change of pace I've been reading The Food Explorer: The Adventures of the Globe-Trotting Botanist Who Transformed What America Eats.

It chronicles the remarkable adventures of David Fairchild who in the mid to late 19th century travelled the world in search of foods not available in America and as a consequence the thousands of plants and seeds he sent back to the new U.S. Department of Agriculture, which were test-cultivated by farmers, dramatically changed our diet.

Before Fairchild what was available for Americans to eat was quite limited. Eating in America was about subsistence not enjoyment.

Without what Fairchild rounded up there would be no citrus fruits available to us--no oranges, no grapefruits, no lemons. There would be no avocados, no pomegranates, no mangoes, no bananas, no grapes. 

Until stumbling on Daniel Stone's book, I had never heard of David Fairchild. I did know about the sumptuous Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden in Coral Gables, Florida but did not associate it with him nor with what he did to transform an important part of our lives.

Thinking about him and the hundreds of others who profoundly but without due recognition contributed to life in America I thought that perhaps there should be a David Fairchild Day so that Americans could learn about his achievements as well as hopefully be inspired to venture out on their own.

Running this thought by Rona, who liked it as well as the book, she suggested coming up with a list of 364 other people we could celebrate in modest ways on days of their own--many of whom are lost to history--as a way of recognizing their achievements and, again, to inspire us. Especially young people, who are seeking to lead adventurous, accomplished lives.

Provoked by her, here is a simple of the kind of people who might make Rona's top 364--

Sybil Ludington Day: 

There are others who deserve more credit than Paul Revere, who didn't finish his ride before being captured by the British. Notably, Sybil Ludington, a sixteen-year-old girl who rode sidesaddle alone in the rain for 40 miles (twice Revere's distance) to alert her father's troops that they needed to meet at the Ludington farm to fight back British raiders in Danbury, Connecticut. During her ride she used a long stick to knock on doors but also to fight off a highwayman she encountered on route.

James Armistead Lafayette Day:

During the Revolutionary War some aristocrats sent their slaves to battle in their place, but James Armistead Lafayette, a slave, asked his master for permission to fight on the side of the rebels. He became the first African-American double agent. First, he was assigned to spy on the defector and traitor, General Benedict Arnold, who trusted him so much that he asked Arimstead to guide British troops through the local roads. Subsequently, he served undercover with British General Cornwallis and while with him reported secretly to the patriots about British troop and arms deployment that contributed significantly to the capture of Cornwallis in the Battle of Yorktown.

After the war ended, he returned to his life of servitude since a 1783 law that freed slaves who served in place of their masters did not apply to him since he was technically a volunteer. But with the help of his owner and General Lafayette, he was granted his freedom.

Martha Graham Day:

She was an American dancer and choreographer whose style, the Graham technique, reshaped American dance and is still widely used here and worldwide. She in effect created modern dance, which liberated dance from the restrictions of traditional ballet. To do so she needing to battle the dance establishment which largely rejected her highly-charged, "primitive" style. She danced and choreographed for over 70 years and was the first dancer to perform in the White House and received the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Lydia Folger Fowler Day:

Born in1822, in 1850, Fowler was the first American-born woman to receive an MD degree. After attending Wheaton Seminary in Norton, MA, she entered Central Medical College in Syracuse, NY, one of the few institutions that accepted women as students. During her second term, while still a student, she also served as principal of the "Female Department." After graduating, she was appointed professor of midwifery and diseases of women at the college, becoming thereby the first woman professor in an American medical college. Later, she lived and practiced in New York City, lecturing frequently to women on hygiene and physiology while championing women's rights and the temperance movement.

If you have further suggestions about who might be honored in this way, please pass them along.

Having my change of pace, now back to reading about the potential for fascism in America,  including a fascinating book, Jules Archer's, The Plot to Seize the White House, that chronicles the movement in 1934, during the second year of the presidency of Franklin Roosevelt, to replace him with an American-style facsist dictator. 

Leaders of this crackpot movement, funded by major bankers and business leaders (allegedly including J.P. Morgan), offered the role of "American Caesar" to two-time Medal of Honor winner, Marine General Smedley Butler. He was to recruit 500,000 veterans to form the "Silver Shirts," the American equivalent of Mussolini's Black Shirt and Hitler's Brown Shirt thugs. 

A true patriot and supporter of FDR's, General Butler exposed the plot and testified about it to the initial, liberal version of the House Un-American Activities Committee, which found his testimony to be credible.

On the other hand, maybe I'll watch a little of the French Open.

David Fairchild With Mangoes

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