Belated History   (2016Jul27)


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Wednesday, July 27, 2016                                                12:50 AM

Yesterday’s nomination of Hillary Clinton to be the Democratic party’s presidential candidate and, with a little luck, the first woman president, was a major historic event—undercut only by the fact that it took us two hundred years and 44 male presidents to get here. The UK’s first woman leader is already a quaint bit of nostalgia—and many other democracies have been graced by women leaders—and we’re just getting around to it.

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That’s the trouble with America—we’ve done so much—yet there is even more still left to be done. Michael Moore recently made an entire movie about good ideas that originated in America, were adopted by other countries (who benefitted greatly) yet failed to catch on, here in the land of the free and the home of the brave. And every time a progressive puts forth a good idea for making America a better place there’s a stubborn autocrat who finds a reason to block progress. Democracy is slow, grinding work—especially when it’s swimming upstream against the Citizen’s United ruling that opened the lobbyists’ coffers.

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We saw an old lady at the convention who was a little girl in 1920, when the nineteenth amendment gave women voting rights, and lived to vote for the lady who we hope to be our nation’s first Madam President. Barack Obama’s presidency has given the empowerment of dreams to millions of African-American children—Hillary Clinton is in line to do the same for half our nation’s citizens, and every little girl in America. The GOP wants to minimize this aspect of Hillary’s candidacy, but our President is first and foremost a symbol to the world—and it’s about time we broke the gender wall. Everyone calls it a ceiling, but that’s just to emphasize the unfairness of holding women down—it’s really a wall and we need to break through.

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I was also pleased to see so many details of Hillary Clinton’s long and selfless service to the people of America—state after state credited her with making a positive difference in their lives. The truth about her civil service only makes the GOP smear campaign, over the decades, that much more reprehensible. And after tonight’s endorsements from her friends, her constituents, her colleagues, and her husband, the idea that the GOP nominee can stand up to any comparison is ludicrous.

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As president, one is expected to interact with Congress—that’s 100 Senators and 435 Representatives—over five hundred legislators—it helps if you’ve been to law school. As president, one is expected to make decisions about things happening around the globe, things happening in science, education, health, farming, industry, energy—and business. Knowing about business is great—but knowing a lot about a lot of things, knowing a lot of people, knowing how government works—these are all important, too. The presidency is a tough job for a qualified person—for a newbie trainee, it would be a tragic farce.

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I was always a problem student—I grasped concepts at once, and got very restless waiting for the rest of the class to catch up—my notebooks had more doodles than notes. Nobody appreciates the egghead who screws up the bell curve. But trust me—I’ve already solved this little multiple-choice problem and I am more than restless—I’m scared to death that the rest of the class might not catch up by November.

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Yes Mindy, There Is A Hillary (2016Jul24)


Sunday, July 24, 2016                                              3:42 PM

I agree with you, Min—choosing Pence for a VP pick was lucky for Pence, since his anti-gay and anti-abortion legislative efforts have angered his Indiana constituency—not to mention his resistance to a free-needle program to stop the spread of AIDs in his state—and it was unlikely that he could win re-election as Governor. On the other side, Hillary has chosen Tim Kaine, whom The New Yorker’s Adam Borowitz jokingly said, “exhibits none of the outward characteristics of a sociopath or clinical narcissist”—meaning he’s never had a scandal or an investigation or a fraud charge, so how can we take him seriously as a politician?

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He is a lot like Joe Biden—when you go to smear him, you realize there’s no mud on the ground. A seemingly decent person who works hard as an honest politician—it’s confusing, I know.

I also agree with you about the legislature—both the house and senate GOP swore they would block anything and everything Obama tried to do—just so they could call him a ‘do-nothing’ president. But the Democrats did manage to regulate the banks and pass healthcare reform before the GOP slipped back into Congress—so when the AP did a fact-check on all the doom and gloom of Trump’s acceptance speech last week, they found that he lied about most of it—the economy is better, employment is better, crime is down, Iran can’t manufacture nuclear weapons, we have our first global climate-change accords, relations with our neighbor Cuba are being normalized (with Congress blocking the dropping of the fifty-year-old embargo, of course) and Obama has appointed a fantastic Supreme Court nominee, Merrick Garland, who has just set a record for the longest an appointee has ever had to wait for a Senate hearing (almost a year now—and counting).

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And let’s not forget that the origin of our financial woes came from the GOP’s spendthrift war-mongering and lax banking oversight—they left Obama with quite a hole to dig the country out of—but he did it, and has us back to better than before the bank crashes. So ‘just more of Obama’s policies’ sounds pretty good to most people—just think what a Democratic president could do with a working legislature.

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To get that, we need more than just Hillary Clinton for president—we need some more Democrats in both houses of Congress. Both Clinton’s and Kaine’s Senate records show that they worked well across the aisle—so even if we don’t take the House or Senate, they still have a shot at some real governing, unless the GOP’s thinly-veiled racism simply transforms into thinly-veiled misogyny. Their acceptance of the orange Mussolini makes me feel that nothing is beyond them any more. They supposedly did some re-thinking after Obama won his second term—maybe when Trump gets his ass kicked, they’ll do some thinking worthy of the name.

Book Report: “The Jennifer Project” by Larry Enright (2016Jul24)


Sunday, July 24, 2016                                              2:59 PM

(NOTE: This review was previously posted to amazon.com)

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I’m sad to have just read the last page of “The Jennifer Project” by Larry Enright—check that box on the good-read checklist. This is a light-hearted romp—the dated nerd vernacular of the hero is almost embarrassingly comforting, like listening to your old stoner uncle. Jennifer herself shows some nerdy wit—and super-intelligence that acts more like magic than tech. Still, there is enough tech-speak and buzz-word scientifical-ness to help the willing suspension. Thrilling concepts are explored as if they wouldn’t need a book-shelf’s worth of ground-breaking new physics to implement—something I truly enjoy in my science fiction.

Terribly fast-paced—I read this book the same way I eat potato chips when I get the munchies—it must do without any tremendous amount of depth. The characters are what one would expect them to be—and we know little about them beyond their actions in advancing the story. The story’s ending might be too obvious to the experienced fan, but with the rush of words, one reaches the end before it becomes irritating. As with the better science-fiction, if you’re paying too much attention to the people and not enough to the ideas, you’re missing all the fun.

Larry Enright is a consummate speculator on future possibilities—and he knows how to entertain his readers. He’s sort of a cross between Harry Harrison and Michael Crichton. I will be reading as many more books like this as he cares to write—don’t miss out.

Pinocchio   (2016Jul22)


Friday, July 22, 2016                                                9:08 PM

The popularity contest that is a presidential election doesn’t treat intellectuals very well. People such as Al Gore get tagged as ‘college-boys’ with lots of smarts but no experience or heart. And I find it ironic that we have, in Donald Trump, the real threat that such fear supposes—he is an incredibly clever man—but he has no experience and no heart. These top-tier wheeler-dealers of our financial stratosphere are well-known to pride themselves on their heartlessness. And business tycoons like Trump have a very narrow, very one-sided view of what government is and what it does. Business owners rarely get to own billions-of-dollars-worth of assets by virtue of their tender humanitarianism or their sense of civic duty.

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That he is manipulative is proven by the fact that he has taken a woman whose life is indeed one of tender humanitarianism and a sense of civic duty—a public servant virtually all her adult life—an educated, experienced, competent lady and a doting grandmother—and reduced her to a satanic conspiracy of lies and greed. Not too long ago, Trump claimed he had sent a team of investigators to Hawaii to dig into President Obama’s birth records and expose him as the foreign-born Muslim intruder the GOP wished he was. This was after the election—when President Obama was already serving his term. This was after President Obama had already released his birth certificate. Trump actually claimed that his investigators were finding ‘incredible things’.

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But a few years have gone by, at least one or two—since he splooged that particular bit of narcissism—so let’s forget that he tried to smear the President just to get attention from the media. Let’s ignore the fact that he has yet to show any interest in the day after the coming finale—I mean election. Let’s just take his word that Hillary Clinton, without leaving any evidence, has spent her whole life trying to destroy America. We’re much better off with the world’s worst boss, I figure. He’s so entertaining—why shouldn’t I listen to him?

But that is a question. Everyone who has ever worked for Hillary Clinton just goes on and on about what a sweet, thoughtful boss she is, how smart and caring. We don’t hear a lot from Trump’s underlings (I assume he thinks of them that way) and there’s a good reason for that. NDAs. NDAs are non-disclosure agreements—they are legal papers some people make you sign before you can work for them. Trump can sue anyone who tells the world what it’s like to work for the guy. Not that he wouldn’t sue just about anyone—he has a long list of former litigants. And that’s another question—we’ve had lots of lawyers who became president—but we’ve never had a litigious businessman—I wonder which countries Trump would sue first? I wonder if I could bring myself to sue someone for telling the truth about me? Hmm.

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Here’s how I see it—Hillary Clinton couldn’t possibly be the Machiavellian super-villain her detractors paint her as—and that’s not to deny her imperfections. She simply doesn’t have any of the symptoms of a person who only cares for herself—she’s not nearly as comfortable huckstering herself to the public as Trump is (or her husband was)—she’s too sincere for that. And the fact that she has it in her to be sincere—too sincere perhaps to be comfortable tap-dancing in the public eye—disqualifies her completely from being anything near as bad as her detractors would like to believe.

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Trump however reminds me of nothing so much as the barker who inveigles Pinocchio into joining the after-party at the carnival. The American public is the Pinocchio in this scenario, you understand—and we’ll all wake up with asses-ears, being loaded into a truck like cattle. At today’s rally in Tampa, Hillary told the crowd, “I never thought I’d say this—but Ted Cruz was right.” She was referring to Cruz being booed at the RNC convention for saying “Vote your conscience.” I don’t care for Cruz, but right is right—we could all probably use a Jiminy Cricket right about now.

Unconventional   (2016Jul19)


Tuesday, July 19, 2016                                             5:59 PM

There’s something very ‘high-school’ about this Republican convention in Cleveland. In a way, Trump’s entire race has had the childish aspect of someone who can’t be tried as an adult—and knows it. And this freedom isn’t due to his own youth, but to the uncritical thinking of his supporters, and of RNC boosters generally. Just before the convention began, Trump excused his running mate, Pence, for his vote on the Iraq War, with rationalizing that belied his claim that Hillary Clinton’s vote on the same was criminal incompetence. He can’t see his own random snap-judgments as anything but strength of personality—the childish clinging to one’s preconceptions regardless of any evidence of alternate interpretations. Stubbornness is a strength—but it helps if you’re right to begin with.

The convention itself incites us to compare it to one of Mickey and Judy’s attempts to ‘put on a show in the old barn’. But that would insult the memory of those fine performers—what the RNC is putting on in Cleveland is closer to the Little Rascals’ put-on-a-show episode—or a high school dance. Queen disclaimed any authorization for Trump’s use of “We Are the Champions” in a complaint-tweet—and Stephen Colbert remarked on the oddity of Trump choosing the song of a bi-sexual foreigner.

Melania ‘borrowed’ some of her more personal remarks from Michelle Obama’s speech of eight years earlier—but they were, in her defense, excellent phraseology. And it’s nice to hear Republicans applauding Michelle’s thinking, even if they were tricked into it.

The most high-school aspect of this unconventional convention, though, is the level of discourse. Various speakers laud the goodness of Trump—where we who have witnessed earlier conventions are used to hearing about important geopolitics, economic policies, social justice concerns, et. al. When the speakers run out of adjectives in praise of Trump, they damn Hillary Clinton as if the woman were in the dockets at Salem, lo these centuries past.

The feistier ones will take the occasional poke at Obama, too—but it’s hard to hack through both his positive stats and his immense approval rating to find cause for blame and shame. I heard Scott Baio actually question Obama’s Christianity, pointing out that he had a foreign-sounding name—“Does that sound Christian to you?” he asked. Oh-Em-Gee, Chochi—that was last election—and absurd, if you remember that one of the first things they tried to tag Obama with was his lifelong relation with his ‘activist’ Christian minister.

Giuliani shouted out that we had to “protect our police”. Several officers have been killed by madmen in recent days—but Giuliani’s tone left me wondering if he wanted to protect them from armed madmen—or from criticism of their tendency to shoot unarmed minorities. I think our police forces will survive the criticism. The unarmed madmen—well, they’ve been to schools and movie theaters and nightclubs from coast-to-coast—police are just their latest fixation. Black Lives Matter has not been arming anyone, so far as I know—that’s all on the NRA and the second amendment.

I could never understand the Conservative agenda—but the fact that significant numbers of the far right are Stop-Trump-ers indicates that this is not a left vs. right election. This is something else—something that defies description—and sometimes beggars belief. I imagine it’s similar to what people felt in other countries, when they saw their countrymen falling for a demagogue’s over-heated rhetoric and quailed at the thought of the destruction to come. But, in this convention, we are seeing a consensus—an alliance of bullies backing the head bully. High school bullies are bad enough, in situ—make one the President of the United States and –watch out!

Summer Daze (2016Jul16)


Saturday, July 16, 2016                                            4:38 PM

Summer is supposed to be hot and lazy, but I’m finding this summer kinda nerve-wracking. Our geopolitics are simmering dangerously close to a full boil—at this point it would be easier to list the countries that are stable and enjoying business-as-usual, if indeed there are any, rather than compile the list of trouble-spots and terror attacks. On the domestic front, we seem to be having a presidential race that is more a referendum on fact-based democracy than a choice of parties. The gun violence has hit record highs without anyone having a clue as to how to stop it. Violence of every kind piles atop itself, barely a day going by without a new atrocity in the news—it’s actually pushed our obsessive election polling off the top-stories-list these past few days.

I saw a Medium post this morning—a tongue-in-cheek essay listing the many horrors of the last six months, claiming that ‘due to extreme disapproval ratings the rest of 2016 has been cancelled’. I applaud this blogger—she or he has succeeded in finding anything funny to say about the first half of this year. I wish I could. The only positive message sensible folks like President Obama or Secretary Clinton can offer lately is ‘things aren’t as bad as they seem’, and ‘we all have to work together’. I can’t disagree—my life, compared to the average American, is just a bowl of cherries—and I’m far better off than the usual unemployed sixty-year-old.

And I would far rather welcome refugees from war-torn countries, and make allowances for long-term undocumented workers, especially those whose children were born here. Those who face these ideas with fear and anger are forgetting that none of us are native, except Native Americans—and they are overlooking that the net effect of all immigrations is always a plus for America. We have never failed to integrate and welcome any group into our nation before (well, eventually, of course) and I don’t see why we should start now. This nonsense about building walls, deporting masses of people, and banning religions—it’s not just un-American, it’s stupid. It’s a mistake we’ve never made before, so some people can’t envision just how horribly such ideas would work out in practice. With one exception—we’re still pretty embarrassed about the Japanese-American camps at the start of WWII. That failure of our national nerve still pinches—and it gives us a good idea of what extreme nationalism can do to the spirit of this country.

Our national spirit is a fragile thing—like many valuable treasures it can easily be misplaced or damaged. It can also be warped to the purposes of a charlatan—jingoism masquerading as patriotism, capitalist greed masquerading as national security, discrimination masquerading as religiosity, and other tap-dancing by power-seeking narcissists. Practicality is often used as an excuse to stifle our national spirit—we can’t afford it; it’s too dangerous; it threatens our children; it abridges our faith—but in the end, more of us are willing to trust in our spirit, our humanity, which is how we’ve gotten to our present level of social justice, work-in-progress though it may be.

Other nations marvel at our freedom of speech and of the press—they don’t really believe that such freedom can exist. Other nations marvel at our gender equality—women’s rights are severely curtailed in many nominally ‘developed’ countries. Even in Europe, many of their foreign nationals aren’t nearly as integrated into the fabric of their communities—they exist in separate enclaves that exaggerate the separation of cultures rather than combine them into a whole. America has its failings—don’t get me wrong. The persistence of racial division is undeniable and women are not yet fully equal in pay rates and other stats. The power of the wealthy is undermining our governance, our culture, and the economic divide is ever widening. And guns—boy, do we have a problem with guns.

For Americans, guns are the good guys. The colonists used guns to defend against the ‘savages’ and the many four-legged predators of the New World. The revolutionaries used guns to win our liberty as a nation—and one of their first new rules was ‘everyone can have a gun’. Guns made up both sides of the Civil War, and afterward, guns went west and made it wild—until other guns came and tamed the Wild West. Then we used guns to win the War with Spain, the First World War, and the Second World War. America wouldn’t be America without guns—and lots of’em.

Curiously, at present, we virtually ignore our armed military, those who are facing action in at least four other countries—and focus on gun misuse by Americans against Americans. Mental health seems to be a major factor—but I sometimes wonder whether the crazed gunman isn’t at least partly a product of a crazed community. The whole country is kinda gun-crazy—the mass murderers are getting their ideas from somewhere—and they’re getting their arms from somewhere too. I wish I had a solution to offer, but I’m as stumped as everyone else. I’m just on the lookout for those ‘better angels of our nature’ that have seen us through tough times before.

It’s looking like a long, hot summer. Here’s some music to help cool off:

 

A Fool Can Ask (2016Jul13)


Wednesday, July 13, 2016                                                9:44 PM

They say a fool can ask more questions than a wise man can answer. As a political strategy, this seems to be working for Trump. David McCollough and Ken Burns have started a Facebook page “Historians on Donald Trump” , a forum where various historians can discuss Trump’s divergence from American Values and American History. In yesterday’s New York Times, McCollough explained, “I’ve always said, ‘My specialty is dead politicians.’ In that way, I could sidestep the question without getting myself involved. But this time around, I don’t feel that way any more.” Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg has also thrown the traditional reticence of Supreme Court members to the winds to lambast the presumptive GOP nominee in no uncertain terms.

Much was made on today’s news of whether or not Notorious RBG behaved improperly or not—and I can see where that might seem the most sensational angle to take. But I can’t help thinking that there’s a larger question here. What would make people, whose careers virtually require silence on such current politics, feel required to speak out and warn people?

George Will, longtime conservative columnist and lifelong champion of Republicans, has quit the GOP over Trump’s candidacy saying, “This is not my party.” Many GOP figureheads will not be attending the convention, leaving the Trump campaign scrambling for speakers to fill the three days’ ‘festivities’. Elected Republican legislators run from reporters who might ask them to explain Trump’s daily statements. The “Anti-Trump” movement is still viral within the party, even though everyone agrees it has little chance of blocking his nomination.

Even foreign governments are getting nervous at the thought of a Trump presidency. In a way, Trump is like Climate Change. Anyone with expertise will warn you against it—the Democrats fear it, and the rest of the globe fears it—only the GOP finds either phenomenon acceptable. I think Hillary’s campaign can run attack ads simply by airing 1930s newsreel footage of Il Duce—Trump’s role model, in both manner and ideology.

Why his apparent success? Well, people are unhappy—that much is crystal clear. Plus, Donald Trump isn’t really running for President of The United States—he’s running for Most Popular. When people sincerely run for President, they usually lay some groundwork in law and politics. Trump has hired lawyers and thrown parties for politicians—maybe he thinks that’ll do. But basically Trump’s message has been, “I can be mean.” His implication is that he’ll be mean for us, but I think he’ll just continue to be a mean person, a bully—and most bullies are cowards, with little interest in the common welfare.

But I think what maddens the educated, knowledgeable people, like historians, columnists, and Supreme Court justices, is the tremendous gulf between Trump’s ears when it comes to America and what American government is really about. Trump, being without experience in anything but deals and sales, doesn’t have the breadth of vision to encompass the enormity of the task he’s asking for. He’s not just too ignorant to do the job—he’s too ignorant to know what the job really is. He may win the popularity contest in November, but his presidency would make Brex-regret seem like a mild hangover, compared to a suicidal impulse. After centuries of glorious liberty, Trump is poised to make American democracy eat its own entrails.