Archive for May, 2016

Gottagetgon

May 30, 2016

images-1We went to the annual Gottagetgon (“Got to get gone”) folk music festival during Memorial Day weekend. The first time was 1988. I drove up and was told, “That’ll be $26 – unless your boy is under 13.” It was actually my new, slim, short-haired girlfriend, over twice that age. Now she’s my wife, twice again that age, with longer hair, but retaining her boyish figure (and lovelier than ever).

We attended quite a few times afterward, bringing along our kid. It’s a low-key, informal event. Held at the Saratoga fairgrounds, an attraction for children was a giant sand mountain, that mysteriously remained for years. Anyway, our daughter Elizabeth endured these outings with good cheer, and even was captivated once by one of the bands (called “Western Omelette”).

Unknown-1Now she’s working in Afghanistan. Time marches on. For various reasons we hadn’t been to Gottagetgon for several years – probably more years than I realize. Going again was indeed a reminder of time’s passage. Some familiar faces were there, a little older and greyer. (A certain once-fetching lass I pursued back in the Pleistocene – I doubt she remembers – now is a dumpy old woman.)

One song began with, “Did you ever fall in love with a man that was no good?” There were several shouts of “Yeah!” from the audience. (See my disquisition on women and bad boys.)

I’m no music buff. But like any human I respond to the emotive content. And I’m awed by the artistry. Indeed, it’s fascinating how fingering and blowing on wood and metal contraptions can produce such, well, music – that stirs the soul no less. You’ve got to love an animal that came up with such a thing.

imagesAt Gottagetgon I got a good dose of my favorite kind of music – Scots/Irish/Celtic/pipes-and-fiddle music. The Miller-MacDonald band was great, as was Atwater-Donnelly. Some of this music really gets you in the heart. Nothing like “Danny Boy” for that. But my favorite is “The Star of the County Down.” The title alone feels musical to me; the melody is elegiac. I used to go to contra dances (trying to pick up girls, like the one mentioned), and they’d often do a waltz-like “Star of the County Down” as a fitting finale. Killed me every time.

And I especially love the pieces that start off kind of slow, and build, then flip to a faster, higher energy intensity level, maybe even a couple of times. You can just feel when that’s coming – a delicious tension – like when an orgasm is coming. (I learned at the festival that this sort of thing typically joins an opening “Strathspey” to a reel or jig or two.)

UnknownI love the joyfulness, the celebratory quality of this music. That’s the emotive kick. When listening to it, in my mind I map it onto human events, as though it’s a soundtrack for a story – for the progression of the great human project – or even for the trajectory of my own life. People aren’t grateful enough. There is much to be thrilled about. This music makes me feel that thrill.

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Is Trump a nascent Hitler?

May 25, 2016

Just recently I opined that Trump probably can’t win. Already I’m less sure. Republicans are drinking the Kool-Aid en masse, trying to sanitize him, or at least sweep under the rug all his repellent points. imagesI’d been thinking, he’s getting killed with blacks, with Hispanics, with women – how could enough white male votes compensate? But it seems I’m becoming the odd man out not just in my political party, but even in my gender group.

Part of it is Hillary’s negatives. I always thought her vulnerable; now she’s being shredded from within her own party. UnknownBernie seems to have drunk his own Kool-Aid, intoxicated with his campaign and adulation. Likewise his supporters, with breathtaking ferocity. It resembles a religion whose believers torture logic to convince themselves of untruths. Here it’s the belief that Bernie still could – should! – win the nomination. This truly puts reality to the torture, inasmuch as Hillary has gotten millions more primary votes than him.

images-1The Daily Show had a great send-up of Bernie-ite shrillness, exaggerating only modestly. It shows how polarized America has become, when most Republicans embrace a vile fraud because they consider Hillary too left-wing, while much of the Democratic party condemns her as not left-wing enough.

At a recent social gathering, someone read from his phone what he deemed a very reasoned appeal to Trump backers, to embrace a totally different narrative. I finally stopped him, saying, “This is preaching to the choir.” Trumpites would reject it as just the kind of thinking they despise. Unknown-1Too many Americans live in echo-chambers of confirmation bias, impervious to facts, let alone arguments, contradicting what they already think. (The phone-reader himself has a great appetite for online screeds mirroring his views. Discordant views, not so much.)

Voter bloody-mindedness isn’t uniquely American. That’s what made Dutch voters recently say no, in a referendum on the Ukraine-EU trade deal – bizarrrely playing into the hands of the pro-Russians who, remember, shot down a Dutch passenger plane. And British voters might opt out of the EU – not for any good reasons so much as sheer bloody-mindedness, to stick it to the political elites.

Hitler comparisons should always be avoided. But regarding Trump, we’re hearing, “They thought at first Hitler was a clown too.” (Alan Chartock, head of the local NPR station, loves this trope.) And Sinclair Lewis’s 1935 novel, It Can’t Happen Here, has fresh cachet.* We’re reminded that Hitler was democratically elected. images-2It’s not true. He lost the 1932 presidential vote, and Nazis never got an electoral majority. But once appointed chancellor, Hitler mounted a coup, ditched the constitution, and literally burned down the parliament.

Could Trump do likewise? There’s no comparison between 1933 Germany and 2016 America. Germany was in the throes of the Depression, having also, just nine years before, experienced a total currency collapse. Today’s U.S. economic problems are nothing like that. And Germany’s institutions were far shakier, the age-old monarchy gone, replaced by a weak new government inspiring no loyalty. In contrast, America’s constitution is an icon of veneration, guaranteeing free speech and press, with a strong system of checks-and-balances, rule-of-law, due process rights, and an independent judiciary.

Yet God did not decree we must have all this forever. Its continuation depends upon a citizenry that understands and truly values it. Such a citizenry would not elect a Trump.

That even 45% would even consider it reflects a collapse in norms of civic responsibility and seriousness. Make America great again? Trump voters are shitting on what makes America great.

* I’ve read it; it’s plausible; with some Trumpian parallels.

Big buttocks

May 23, 2016

Striving to maintain for this blog an elevated standard of excellence and seriousness, I don’t normally comment about buttocks.

(OK, I did write about overhearing a gal say she wanted Frida Kahlo tattooed there.)

imagesHowever, a line in a local newspaper story got my attention: “police say they caught him with 69 bags of heroin hidden in his buttocks.”

A reasonable person naturally wonders: how big were they? The bags. And the buttocks. Inquiring minds want to know.

The newspaper did not specify any dimensions. But, hypothesizing the smallest bags one can plausibly envision, it’s still a log of bags. Unknown-1And so we come to the size of the buttocks. Need I say more?

And what, pray tell, was this guy’s comeuppance, for being busted with 69 bags of heroin up his rear? The City of Schenectady is paying him $25,000. To settle his lawsuit claiming illegal search.

Only in America.

(He was a passenger in a car stopped because of a warrant for the driver. Courts ruled the cop needed another warrant to search the passenger; so drug charges against him were thrown out. Was his lawsuit against the City cheeky?)

The agony of an undecided voter

May 18, 2016

UnknownA person of strong views, in half a century of voting I have never before been “undecided.” But this time it’s an agonizing choice.

Not voting is unthinkable. Voting is, for me, a sacrament.

In some past elections, where I was not enthused about either major candidate (well, the Republican), I’ve voted Libertarian. It’s wrong to think such a vote is wasted. Elections are not games where the aim is to pick a winner. And one vote won’t change the outcome. Instead, the purpose is to express one’s civic opinion, which has value even if few others share it. Maybe especially so.

images-1Actually there’s no party that totally reflects my own politics: I’m a classical liberal (not to be confused with contemporary U.S. “liberalism”). In a nutshell, it’s laissez faire both in economics and personal life. (It’s the editorial stance of The Economist magazine, one of the world’s most respected journals.)

Gary Johnson

Gary Johnson

America’s Libertarian party does not embody that stance perfectly, but comes close. (Its foreign isolationism is my main sticking point.) Its candidate hasn’t been named yet, but will likely be, again, former New Mexico Governor Gary Johnson.* And he seems a great guy, with views close enough to mine that I could gladly support him. (It’s still possible, though unlikely, that another good third party candidate will run.)

And this, if ever, should be the time for such a vote. I’m sure “not enthused about either major candidate.” Both, indeed, are awful. However, one is more so. A lot more.

So we come to the proverbial “lesser of two evils.” For a quarter century I’ve loathed Hillary Clinton. (Sorry, Berners, it’s over.) There’s not room enough here to itemize her indictment. But – to quote P. J. O’Rourke (on the radio show, “Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me”) – while Hillary is wrong about everything, she’s wrong within normal parameters. She would not be an existential threat to the America I love. Trump would be. The Economist has explained why: click here.

The Republicans drinking the Kool-Aid and falling into line for the sake of party unity and winning the election are not thinking. They’re treating this like normal politics. It isn’t. Winning isn’t everything. If (God forbid) Trump wins, they’ll regret it even more than if he loses. (See this Michael Gerson column on the GOP ship of fools.)**

I’m pretty sure Trump can’t win (though like so many I was mistaken about his getting the nomination; and a major terrorist episode before the election could spook voters into doing something dumb). However, I want him not just defeated, but crushed, humiliated, annihilated, with all his “winning, winning, winning” talk shoved down his throat. Because I want it proven, finally, that Trumpery is wrong and is not, and never can be, a route to political power in America.

Unknown-2So will I hold my nose and vote for Hillary – piling mine onto, hopefully, a mountain of votes burying Trump? If my top wish in this election is Trump’s repudiation, isn’t it logical to vote for Hillary? And thereby also slap my own party’s face for the mess it’s made?

Still – a vote for a candidate is a positive act, an endorsement. In voting for someone, I feel I take some responsibility for that person in office. And I keep saying that ultimately it’s voters who are responsible for our wretched politics, through their ballot box choices. That’s why a third party vote can be justified. (What a pity so few voters are even aware of Johnson as an excellent alternative choice.) I do not support Hillary’s positions. And if I withhold my vote from her, then later I can criticize her freely, saying, “Don’t blame me, I didn’t vote for her.”

Unknown-3But is that a kind of cop-out, a refusal to exercise responsibility as a citizen? Detaching myself from the battleground and climbing into an ivory tower? Wouldn’t it be the adult thing to face up to the true choice, which is between Trump and Clinton?

And I actually have hopes that Clinton might not be so bad after all. Fortunately I think she’s being (typically) dishonest about all the left-wing rubbish she’s felt compelled to spout, to fend off Bernie, like protectionism. Her foreign policy hand will be a lot stronger and steadier than Obama’s, a welcome change. And dare I imagine she’d have the strength to force Democrats into desperately needed entitlement reform? And might even – unlike Obama – seriously seek detente with a chastened Republican opposition?

So – should I just bite the bullet for Hillary?

Or should I stop overthinking this, and simply vote for policies I actually believe in, and hence for Gary Johnson?

images

I have not made up my mind. Count me “undecided.”

* My daughter in 2012 tortured me by refusing to say who she voted for, letting me suspect it was Obama rather than Romney (my choice). Finally, months later, she blew me away by revealing, “I voted for Johnson.”

** Climbing on board for example is Rick Perry, who once denounced Trump as a “cancer,” but now angles for the VP slot. Democrats would surely run ads featuring Perry’s scathing condemnation.

The bathroom battle: what am I missing?

May 14, 2016
Transgender female

Transgender female

Scenario 1: A transgender woman – who looks female – enters a women’s room. Nobody notices.

Scenario 2: A transgender male – who looks male – enters a women’s room. The women there freak out.

Transgender male

Transgender male

The controversial North Carolina law requires Scenario 2. That is, using the bathroom of your birth certificate gender. Transgender males must use the girls’ room. How in God’s name does this protect the women who use it? Or prevent freak-outs? Doesn’t it do exactly the opposite?

So why the law? Because some people freak out at the very idea of changing one’s sex. They’re totally confuzzled and put off by it. Trying to find some way to vent this feeling, they came up with the bathroom law. Which actually, if enforced, would do the opposite of what they profess to want. That is how confused these people are.

Unknown-1Of course it can’t be enforced. Will they post guards by toilets to check birth certificates? If men’s rooms are used by people who look male, and women’s rooms by those who look female, how will anybody know there’s a problem?

And of course there never was one. Transgender people are a fraction of one percent of the population, and before this nonsense blew up, nobody ever noticed anything amiss in our restrooms. Besides, women do their business there privately, in stalls; and in men’s rooms guys mind their own business too. In literally thousands of visits I can’t recall ever seeing a penis not my own.

The law’s proponents might say they’re worried about men putting on dresses to go into women’s rooms to molest females. Do we know of a single case of this? (Molesting anyone was always illegal.) And what does it have to do with transgender anyway? Unknown-2Transgender women are not men wearing dresses. They are women.

Admittedly some rare individuals are in-between, mostly in a transition process. But surely it makes sense for them to use whichever facility they prefer at the time.

This is merely the latest example of a typical American phenomenon – periodically getting all worked up over a totally trivial, meaningless issue. A nation facing huge fiscal and economic challenges, huge overseas challenges, huge environmental challenges, is arguing instead about who can use what bathroom.

Another new currency design

May 11, 2016

After seeing my recent blog post about currency redesign, here’s what my wife gave me, to celebrate May 2, the anniversary of the day we met. This design incorporates (according to her) my heart’s desires. However, note that it’s the chocolate I appear to be fixated on.

dollar

Republicans drink the Kool-Aid

May 6, 2016

Unknown“Resistance is futile,” said Star-Trek’s Borg.

And so most Republicans are giving up – drinking the Kool-Aid.* Convincing themselves it’s not so bad. Maybe even a good thing. But anyway just go with the program. Stick with the team. Get on the bandwagon. Right over the cliff.

Some at least, like Paul Ryan, are holding back. New Hampshire Sen. Kelly Ayotte says she’ll support Trump but not endorse him. A fine distinction. Rep. Elise Stefanik says she’ll support the nominee but won’t utter the name. A few – too few – Republicans outright refuse this Kool-Aid. (Bravo to Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker.)

images-1I had said Trump was not entitled to the nomination if a majority of GOP primary voters opposed him. (His complaints against the system are bizarre since it’s actually given him a higher percentage of delegates than primary votes.) However, in each of the last seven primaries, over 50% drank the Kool-Aid. And now no candidate remains against him.

I’m a great believer in democracy. In voters, not so much. Too susceptible to demagogues. Like Hugo Chavez. Or in Brazil, where voters rejected really good alternatives and fell for Rousseff’s rubbish; now the country is predictably in deep doo-doo. Or the Philippines, with a presidential candidate, Rodrigo Duterte, who is Trump Times Three. It’s like he’s running for dictator; he promises a bloodbath. Literally. Commenting on a gang rape, he said he wished he’d been first in line. And this guy leads in the polls.

images-2Mencken said nobody ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American public. But at least we always elected serious, credentialed, more or less responsible people – we actually strove to elect our betters. Until now. Trump’s appeal is the opposite, as an avatar of his voters’ lowest impulses.

I’ll say this again. I get it that people want an outsider, who tells it like it is, and will shake things up. I’d vote for such a candidate. But not for an irresponsible liar, loudmouth, buffoon, whose policies (to the extent they can be dignified with that word), far from “making America great again,” would be ruinous, stupid, and un-American (like a religious test for immigrants).

Not for one who covered himself with shame promoting bogus “birtherism.”**

Not for one who (never having served) denied John McCain is a war hero because he was shot down and taken prisoner.

Not for one who vulgarly degrades women, mocks the disabled, and calls Mexicans rapists.

images-3Not for one who falsely insists he saw Muslims in New Jersey celebrating 9/11.

Not for one who promises to pay the legal bills of people who punch protesters.

Not for one who advocates torture (waterboarding not enough) and murder (of innocent family members of terrorists).

images-4Not for one Putin admires, and who admires Putin.

And just wait for the upcoming Trump University fraud trial.

How can Republicans overlook all this? Time was, any of these things would be totally disqualifying. What we’re seeing is a collapse of civic responsibility, at least (so far) within the Republican party. Citizenship in a great and good nation requires more from us.

I weep for my party, and for my country. I’m heartbroken. And I am one Republican who will never drink this Kool-Aid.Unknown-1

Never.

* For younger readers, the reference is to “Jonestown” 1978, where “prophet” Jim Jones convinced followers that drinking poisoned Kool-Aid was a good idea. Over 900 died.

** It’s actually Trump who lies about his origins, claiming Swedish, not German, ancestry.

Something horrible is happening: reading the obituary page

May 1, 2016

UnknownSomething horrible is happening. Dozens of local people die every day. It’s a holocaust.

I read the obituary page, and feel bad for everyone there. What’s happened to them is the worst thing that can happen to anyone. (And someday it will happen to me.)

imagesIt’s gotten worse since the local paper went to full color printing. Now the people pictured in obituaries seem more real to me.

Dying at, like, 83, is uninteresting. But I’m always drawn to those listing younger ages. “Passed away suddenly,” “died at home,” etc. – it makes me wonder what could have happened. It’s a reminder of life’s fragility. Though actually such wording – especially, “died unexpectedly” – can be a euphemism for suicide. Tragic how common that is.

Speaking of euphemism, of course most obituaries avoid words like “died.” Some read as though the person merely moved away – to a better neighborhood, at that.

Unknown-1What I like is obituaries with high ages. “Sally Jones, 103.” I say to myself, way to go, old Sal! Made it to 103! It gives me hope. And for centenarians I’ll glance over the details, to see what a person did in such a long life. It seems that high achievers in the age department are often high achievers in other ways.

One recent obit was for a Vera Lister, 100. I read it. Said she was a “homemaker for most of her life.” Zzzz. But also that, in the British navy in WWII, she participated in breaking the German enigma code. Holy smoke!

There are some amazing people among us, and we don’t always know it. One local acquaintance, the most unassuming of men, I recently learned worked on the Manhattan Project.

Of course, a big reason for checking the obits is to look for names I know. I’m not very social, yet it’s amazing how many folks one has encountered in half a century in Albany. Seeing someone on that page can be a shocker. Not long ago, a guy I knew from work; younger than me; a lively fellow, in rude health when I’d seen him just shortly before. Died in some stupid accident. Another memento mori reminder.

Sometimes merely the age is a shocker. Just saw the obit of a young feller I once knew slightly. He was eighty. How could that be? Time gets away from us.

"Hap" Hazzard

“Hap” Hazzard

Yet the obituary page – occasionally – offers some yuks too. One recently made me laugh out loud. Guy’s name was Harold Hazzard. The obit included his nickname: Harold “Hap” Hazzard. He must have had a sense of humor.

But this holocaust must stop. And we’re working on it. This is what medical science is ultimately all about. It’s not enough to cure illness when people must die in the end anyway. But aging and death too are medical problems. A key factor is telomeres, little extensions on the ends of chromosomes. When cells divide, telomeres get shorter. And, when you’re out of telomeres – you’re out.

images-2There’s an enzyme called telomerase that can replenish them. Unfortunately, a dose of telomerase gives you cancer. But maybe we can fix that.

And someday, you’ll turn to the obituary page, and it will say: no deaths to report.