Archive for May, 2022


May 31, 2022

Frank Spath was my one and only client in my legal career.

When I came to Albany in 1970 as a young lawyer, working for a state agency, I lived in a room (not apartment!) with no cooking facilities. I started having my dinners, usually, in a little hole-in-the-wall restaurant, on my way home, on Madison Avenue off Lark Street, called the Betsy Ross. The food was actually good, and the owner, Philomena Spath, was a convivial sort. Often hanging out there were her husband Gerald and his brother Frank, both Albany firefighters. Gerald seemed a bit of a goofball; Frank was smarter and more serious.

One day they were beefing about a civil service exam for Fire Lieutenant, saying the questions and answers were, well, just stupid. I piped up and said it could be challenged in court. So on Frank’s behalf, I filed an Article 78 proceeding in State Supreme Court, against the City. Yes, the only time I ever acted as a lawyer for a client (I didn’t charge him). I ultimately argued the case before a judge. His decision agreed that the test was stupid, and threw it out.

Frank Spath did become a Lieutenant, and rose to yet higher ranks, had a distinguished career. He died on May 10 at 85 and I noted his obituary. Some years back, there was a feature article about Gerald, having the longest career (45 years) in Albany’s Fire Department. Then in 2011 his obituary. And a year ago I noticed the obit for Philomena Spath, who died in Texas at 85. I had not seen any of them in almost half a century. The Betsy Ross eatery has been gone for decades.

In January 2021, I wrote of another obituary, of Rick Burns — who held the distinction of being the only person ever to lose an election to me (for ward leader, in 1972). Then in February of this year I saw the obit of Edwin Tobin — who held the distinction of being the only person ever to beat me in an election for public office (city court judge, 1975). And the other day I noticed a newspaper article about the death of Donald Ross, 78, co-founder of NYPIRG. The name rang a bell; then I realized he was a law school classmate. Indeed, one of the few I actually remembered (unlike most others, he dressed flamboyantly).

I’m still alive; but beginning to feel like an ancient relic.

Biden should not run again

May 27, 2022

I supported Biden from the start in 2020, strongly, as the candidate best positioned to save the country. I think events bore out that judgment, and I don’t regret it for a minute. President Biden is a decent, honest, conscientious public servant. The antithesis of his monstrous predecessor.

America will need saving again in 2024, but this time Biden is not the right candidate.

First, forget the disgraceful nonsense impugning his mental capacity. He is demonstrably sound of mind (again in stark contrast to Trump’s cesspool of vicious psychological pathologies). Biden is generally low-key and mild-mannered — a blessing in these febrile times.

However, many voters have a natural human attraction for what they perceive as “strength” in a political leader. This has actually proven to be a huge problem for democracy, but it’s a reality, and Biden’s image doesn’t play to it.

He will be 81 in 2024. Well, “Blind Old Dandolo” led the Venetian conquest of Constantinople at 95. But here again many voters see Biden’s age as signaling weakness. Trump, note, will himself be 78, probably in worse health (physical as well as mental); yet all his negatives his cultists disregard.

Meantime negativity about Biden’s performance has taken hold. The Afghanistan debacle was a totally unnecessary self-inflicted wound, that I think was where a lot of people lost confidence in Biden. He’s taken a beating too over inflation. But a recent NY Times analysis sees the real problem as Covid fatigue, with Biden faulted as having over-promised. Yet to prefer Trump over Biden on that score makes no sense, when America’s continuing problem, and unduly excessive death rate, are rooted in Trump’s idiotic misfeasance. Biden, dealt a bad hand, did much to put things right. And to the extent he hasn’t been fully successful, that’s largely down to so many Republicans, blinded by partisanship, foolishly refusing vaccination.

Nevertheless — looking at this whole political landscape — I regretfully conclude that Biden is not the Democrats’ ideal 2024 candidate. I think he should bow out.

Kamala Harris? I don’t believe Hillary Clinton lost just because she was female — though on balance it didn’t help. But a nominee both female and nonwhite might be pushing the cultural envelope too much, unless she were otherwise a terrific candidate (as Obama was). However, so far, Harris has not made a very positive impression.

My choice? Pete Buttigieg. Yes, he’d push the cultural envelope too, but less far I think, and anyone holding gayness against him would not likely vote Democrat anyway. And Buttigieg would be a terrific candidate. In 2020, I was extremely impressed at how assuredly and eloquently he expressed himself, radiating good sense. The contrast between his strong (that word again) youthful goodness and Trump’s monstrousness would be compelling. And Trump can be counted on to utter something utterly vile about Buttigieg’s private life. Bring it on.

I believe Buttigieg would win the November election. Whether a Republican-controlled Congress would let him take office in January is another matter.

Ode to Joy

May 24, 2022

My wife and I visited the Benelux countries — our much anticipated first foreign trip in 2-1/2 years. My biggest takeaway impression: a civilization whose main business is living the good life. What we strove two million years to achieve. The soundtrack playing in my head was Beethoven’s rhapsodic Ode to Joy — the European Union’s anthem.

Bastogne War Memorial

Seeing all those people out enjoying themselves, relaxing in cafes, and so forth, I realized that some experienced, as children, the Nazi occupation. We visited Luxembourg’s American military cemetery, and Bastogne’s war memorial and museum, both monuments to the horrific Battle of the Bulge in late 1944, the Germans’ last great effort to turn back the invading allies, with 76,890 U.S. casualties.

These sites evoked strong emotions. Mindful that both our fathers took part in that American effort to save civilization. And mindful that now, not so far away, dark history is repeating, Russia’s Ukraine invasion replicating so much of the Nazi nightmare. Both wars insane.

Amsterdam is a bicycle city. Sidewalks divided between bike and pedestrian lanes, and one quickly learns that’s an inviolate border. Those bikers go fast. And the streets are lined with bicycle parking areas, filled with bikes as far as the eye can see.

Our second day there we saw the Van Gogh Museum. I realized to what a degree bodily sensations were shaping my experience. The day before, we’d visited the zoo, a lot of walking; and then I’d taken a long solo walk after. My legs were sore, with lower back discomfort too. At 74 my stamina is waning. There was also a dull shoulder ache, don’t know where that came from. Meantime, the night before, I’d taken a sleeping pill — I’ve found that doing that just once on long trips combats jet lag. But it does leave me a bit woolly-headed in the morning. So at breakfast I had a coffee (very rare for me), thinking the caffeine would be salutary. Also two glasses of juice. Yet around 10 o’clock I was feeling awfully thirsty. Looking ahead, having had a big breakfast, I knew I’d eat no lunch, but decided I’d have a coke. And for the next couple hours, almost obsessively looked forward to it. Furthermore, I was much overdue for pooping. So — all that going on bodily dominated my brain activity.

When we finally got to the museum cafe, and I could sit down, that first sip of cold coke was sublime. And I was glad my wife wanted to remain there a while and write.

As to Van Gogh, I was struck less by the art than by the human story. Here was a poor schlub who enjoyed zero success, recognition, or happiness in his short life. I wondered how he’d feel if he could see this solemn temple honoring him! Posthumously, his paintings might well have been forgotten as junk; their artistic merit not actually so obvious. Perhaps it was the psychodrama of cutting off his ear that made the difference. A brilliant career move.

Outside a Brussels bookstore. No, they did not have mine!

In Brussels, our daughter popped over from London and met us for dinner. Only two hours by train! She’s living there now, wrapping up a Masters at University College London, and starting a nice job at an NGO in education development. Plus a boyfriend moving in. I’m in awe at how splendidly she’s doing (forgive the immodesty). And that my wife and I created this person.

The next day we three hiked to the Magritte Museum. Belgium’s Rene Magritte (1898-1967) was a leading surrealist painter. I’ve always found his works enigmatically compelling; in my own surrealist days (early ’70s), I copied one (“Collective Invention”) in hommage, and it still hangs above my desk.

The museum visit was also especially a pilgrimage for me because I so remembered my first date with my wife-to-be. Walking her back from the lunch, I was still undecided whether this young thing possessed sufficient substance. Then she asked me my favorite artist.

“Collective Invention”

“Magritte,” I replied. Haughtily saying to myself, “This callow little girl won’t know what I’m talking about.”

But she did. Knew all about Magritte.

And then I said to myself: “Ooooohhhhh . . . .”

Cue: Ode to Joy.

Replacement Theory — Let’s Do It

May 20, 2022

The “Great Replacement Theory” is yet one more thing making Republicans the Party of Crazy. A recent poll showed a third of Americans are drinking this Kool-Aid.

Believing there’s some kind of plot (yes, it’s a conspiracy theory) by Democrats to achieve their Satanic aims by replacing white voters with obedient non-white outsiders imported for just that purpose. Jews are (surprise) a part of it. Remember the torchlit chant, “Jews will not replace us” at Charlottesville?

As if Democrats could possibly control the immigration process as imagined, or new citizens’ voting choices. Let alone somehow substitute them for white voters. It’s idiotic.

Fox’s *ucker Carlson is a big promoter of Replacement Theory. Many prominent Republicans too, notably the vile Congresswoman Stefanik, who has tweeted such garbage. Yet America seems likely to hand these creeps control of Congress.

They arguably bear some responsibility for the Buffalo shootings, Replacement Theory being a key motivator for the gunman. White supremacy the core of his belief system. Holding whites biologically superior, as against other, lesser, degraded ethnicities, whose ascendance threatens civilization itself. The threat acute because they’re actively working to “replace” whites.

And Republicans increasingly legitimate violence for political ends, January 6 only the most prominent illustration. A recent analysis identified about 450 U.S. killings by political extremists in the last decade. Those by right-wingers around 20 times more than by leftists. And about half by white supremacists.

In school I thought I’d learned that Southern whites had lost the Civil War. I was ignorant of their subsequent Jim Crow terrorism to enforce white supremacy nevertheless. Then in the ’60s that too would be defeated. Or so we thought. Like some evil beast refusing to be killed, white supremacy has again recrudesced. Let us finally purge this sickness for good, fulfilling the promise of America’s universal ideals.

What the Buffalo shooter actually proved is that he himself, and his kind, are the degraded inferior creatures. Swallowing stupid nonsense is surely a sign of inferiority. Only pathetic fools would take Carlson seriously.

Or believe the world’s biggest liar’s biggest lie that he “won” the 2020 election. Or that Democrats, who want to curb America’s out-of-control gun violence, are “soft on crime” — not Republicans who spout “law and order” but oppose all gun control and excuse the January 6 lawlessness. And so forth. (I won’t go into supernatural delusions.)

Compared to these whacko white Americans, it’s Blacks who are the superior race. They certainly mostly show it, living in noble equanimity with whites despite the centuries of shit they’ve endured at their hands. I keep quoting activist Kimberley Jones that we’re lucky Blacks seek only equality, not revenge.

And immigrants? Trump said, “they don’t send us their best.” What an ass. As if other countries send immigrants. People who come are those with the pluck and drive to face all the challenges of uprooting themselves, seeking better lives. Obviously also superior people who improve the quality of our population.

So, as for replacement, let’s do it. Dump Americans fouled up by white supremacy and replacement theory and worshipping the rottenest of characters. Replace them with nonwhites and immigrants and this will be a better country.

Trillions and Trillions

May 16, 2022

No, this is not about government spending. It’s galaxies.

PBS’s “Nova” science series recently had a program about the universe, with casual mention of trillions of galaxies. I was like, “Wait, what?” Trillions?

Carl Sagan never actually said “Billions and billions,” the phrase associated with him. Anyhow, I had long understood that our Milky Way Galaxy has around 100 billion stars; more recently bumped up to 200 billion. Now the same Nova program says 400 billion. I don’t know where those additional 200 billion came from. Not exactly a rounding error.

I had also been under the impression that galaxies number something like a hundred billion. All these numbers in the billions I could get my head around — sort of.

The oft-invoked reference point is grains of sand. Of course, a star is rather bigger than a sand grain. And if there are, say, a hundred billion galaxies, averaging a hundred billion stars each, that would be ten thousand billion billion, or ten trillion billion, or ten sextillion stars. And that’s way more than all the sand grains on earth.

But — if galaxies number not in the billions but trillionsthat finally blows fuses in my brain. That would mean stars in the septillions. Numbers beyond sextillion I cannot register. And, indeed, Nova’s mention of trillions of galaxies does seem to be the current scientific thinking.

Googling about this also revealed that — forget sand grains — the number of stars in the universe is also roughly comparable to the number of molecules in ten drops of water. Which tells us that molecules are really really really small.

And by the way, the universe is 13.8 billion years old, which might seem a big number too. But apparently it’s actually still in its infancy, its lifespan is reckoned to be at least 100 billion years. Maybe a trillion.

But if the universe’s size, and these time scales, seem ultra-humongous, and the size of molecules ultra-small, that’s only from the perspective of our own size and lifespans. There is no universal standard of reference that says the universe is “large” or molecules “small.” In fact, those are meaningless statements. The cosmos just is what it is.

Though it is hard to envision getting trillions of galaxies out of a Big Bang that started smaller than a molecule. But I find it harder still to imagine that galactic vastness was created by some sort of pre-existing intelligent entity (never mind the question of where she came from). Seems like too much work even for an “omnipotent” god.

Republicans and the “Grooming” Lie

May 7, 2022

The word “grooming” has exploded into our culture wars, a cudgel for the right to bash Democrats. The word has been used to describe a sexual predator (usually a gay male) cultivating someone (usually underage) for potential molestation. We heard the word in the Jerry Sandusky case. Also, with Catholic priests and altar boys, et cetera.

Now there’s much rhetoric from Republicans suggesting Democrats are engaged in one giant grooming project. It’s part of Republicans’ focus on school curricula, which they have found politically lucrative, exploiting parental concern with what kids are taught. Republican Glenn Youngkin won Virginia’s governorship last year by hammering on parental control.

“Critical race theory” is a big element, with efforts to scare parents that children are taught to hate themselves with white guilt. Even some math books have been banned for supposedly containing coded CRT messages. Now, another focus is sex education, with paranoia about anything concerning gender or sexual orientation. Thus Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” bill, barring classroom discussion of such matters.

It’s all dishonest nonsense. No white kids are being taught to hate themselves. What they should be taught (hopefully) is the reality of our slavery history, still looming large in shaping today’s America. Students need to understand this. Likewise regarding sexuality, they need to understand the human landscape in which they’re going to live.

But any idea of children being propagandized into gayness is idiotic. As if a straight male can somehow be indoctrinated into feeling sexual attraction to boys, not girls! Worse yet is the “grooming” trope. Some like Fox’s Laura Ingraham (to name just one) make it sound like schools have a program of “grooming” youngsters for sexual molestation. Telling us more about those Republicans (and their dirty minds) than about public education.

For the record: it’s a baseless misconception that gays are more prone, than the average person, to be pedophiles or sexual predators. And the notion of a gay agenda taking over our schools is preposterous. Surely they have not made a point of filling teacher ranks with gays (if anything they’re still discriminated against). Gays are a small minority of the population. The vast majority of school personnel are not gay — why on earth would they engage in some kind of pro-gay “grooming” project?

The whole “grooming” nonsense is rooted in QAnon pathology, which has swallowed the brains of too many Republicans. They believe the Democratic party is one big conspiracy of Satan-worshipping cannibalistic pedophiles. Seriously. It’s been promoted by Alex Jones; was behind the “pizzagate” whopper of Hillary Clinton running a human trafficking and child sex operation out of the basement of a certain named pizza parlor (which one true believer went and shot up).

Today’s American political polarization is not symmetrical. Democrats are mostly policy-oriented, concerned with issues like climate change, racial equity, economic fairness, etc. On the other side it’s hard to detect much of an actual philosophy. Tellingly, in 2020 Republicans published no political platform (a first in a presidential election). And look at the people who are the party’s face now: the Gosars, Gaetzes, Boeberts, Marjorie Taylor Greenes. Nothing but bomb-throwing provocateurs, with no interest in governance.

This differs from the half century during which I was a Republican. The party used to have policy goals, and to advance them exploited culture war issues; but today it’s all culture war.

Moreover, the specific culture war battles are not, ultimately, what it’s really all about either. It’s tribalism, with the culture war stuff serving mainly as tribal signifiers. An us-against-them thing. The “them” encompasses everyone not their cultural clones — gender and religious nonconformists; non-whites, especially migrants; and now too, seen as fronting for those groups, all Democrats. All to be reviled as outsiders, indeed enemies, who threaten the purity and virtue of the society they imagine themselves defending. Producing a really hateful exclusionary mentality.

As if they’re under siege. Even imagining their religion is threatened, when in reality it’s separation of church and state (actually good for religion) that’s being undermined.

Admittedly their indictment of Democrats is not completely baseless. A few have cuckoo tendencies (“defund the police”), Bernie-ites foolishly romanticize “socialism,” and there’s woke ideology’s intolerance toward free expression. But all of that is far from taking over the broader Democratic mindset, like Trumpist lunacies have hijacked the whole GOP.

So mainly, Republicans hate Democrats for reasons that are grass processed through a horse’s digestive system. Exemplified by “Grooming,” “critical race theory,” all the “Satanic pedophile” QAnon craziness. And a very big one, the 2020 election “steal,” simply a lie, enflaming Republican hatred for Democrats. With more at stake than simple truth versus falsity. This produced January 6 (and all the dishonest Republican behavior surrounding it). The “election steal” lie is corroding trust in the voting process, the heart of our democracy; while also setting the stage for Republicans to really destroy it by stealing the next election themselves.

This is why Democrats’ hatred for the Republican party is not the mirror-image of Republican hatred for Democrats. Democrats (like me, now) see Republicans as not only deranged but a threat to a small-d democratic America. This is not tribalistic antagonism, it is rationally grounded in reality.

Michelle Obama’s memoir, “Becoming”

May 5, 2022

As is typical for me with such books, I was far more engaged with the story of Michelle Obama’s early life, when she was an ordinary normal person, than with the too-familiar chronicle of her time in the spotlight.

Particularly striking was the portrayal of her mother during Michelle’s childhood, living in a tiny apartment with limited income (and a husband succumbing to illness); and eternal diligent frugality, endeavoring mightily so the family could have decent lives. For all the challenges, she managed it very well. We can fail to appreciate what a blessing even such modestly lived lives entail — the great achievement of modern civilization. And reading this understatedly heroic account of Michelle Obama’s mother in her thirties, I was cognizant this woman did wind up living in the White House.

One shocker: On page 307 Michelle explains that though residing there rent-free, they had to cover all other living expenses. “We got an itemized bill each month for every food item and roll of toilet paper.” They were charged for every guest staying overnight or sharing a meal. And since of course the White House upheld world-class standards, it was not cheap. A person of modest means, if elected president, could not afford it. This should be changed.

Michelle writes about her campaigning in Iowa during its 2008 presidential primary. Her first real taste of personal politicking. Constantly asked: how odd does it feel for a Harvard-educated Chicago Black woman talking to roomfuls of mostly white Iowans? She “bristled because the question was so antithetical to what I was experiencing and what the people I was meeting seemed to be experiencing, too.” Not racial or cultural tension but shared commonalities. She’d started out believing a Black man could not be elected president, but changed her opinion.

Reading this account, I had to remind myself it was just fourteen years ago. But it feels like she’s writing about a different planet. Sure, we had hot issues, conflicts, divisions. Yet we were a positive thinking nation of goodwill, civility, decency, even open-mindedness. Of sanity. Back then, I’d never have imagined how a single rotten person could wreck so much of that.

I recall commentator Van Jones querying, “When do the antibodies kick in?” It turns out our national immune system, protecting our civic health (as illustrated in Becoming), was compromised, perhaps ripe for the infection. We managed to survive it — barely—for the moment. Whether we ever recover to full health remains very doubtful.

I did not vote for Obama. I was proud to vote for John McCain. Remember his beautifully gracious concession speech? But there were tears in my eyes too when Obama’s victory was declared and the TV showed a middle-aged Chicago Black woman jumping up and down shouting, “God bless America! God bless America!”

Well, there is no God. We’re on our own. For two centuries the better angels of our nature were advancing. Now they’re battered, bruised, bloodied.

NY High Court Ruling May Doom America

May 1, 2022

The backstory: In 2014 Governor Andrew Cuomo pushed through a constitutional amendment supposedly ending gerrymandering. This involves legislative district maps, with one party packing the other’s voters into a few districts — so they lose everywhere else. Cuomo’s reform was a sham. Ostensibly establishing an independent redistricting commission, but engineered to fail and thus throw the process back to the legislature. Which then drew maps giving Republicans only four congressional districts.

The state’s highest court has now ruled this unconstitutional, appointing a “special master” to replace those maps with (presumably) non-partisan ones.

Ordinarily, I’d have applauded. But Republican-controlled states are heavily gerrymandered, while some others (notably California) have non-partisan systems. Giving Republicans, nationally, a big advantage. New York’s gerrymander would have offset that somewhat. But the court ruling should now give Republicans several more seats. Quite conceivably, in a close contest, tipping control of the House of Representatives.

Republicans also gain from voter negativity toward President Biden and Democrats, over issues like inflation, immigration, crime, etc. This might seen understandable, under political normalcy. But we don’t have that. Now there’s one giant issue that should trump all others:

How can Republicans be trusted on ANYTHING?

They’re a cult worshipping a very bad man who literally attempted to overthrow our democracy, instigating a violent insurrection attacking the Capitol. Based on a stupendous lie, that the 2020 presidential election was stolen. Created because Trump’s diseased psyche couldn’t face losing. Any fool knows that.

But it’s not just that Republicans swallow this lie. They’ve actually made it central to the party’s whole ethos. In Georgia’s gubernatorial primary debate, one candidate (Dave Purdue) literally led off by declaring the 2020 vote fraudulent. Both then argued over who is the truest believer. (Probably neither; most Republican politicians know it’s a lie, but they cynically exploit it.)

The lie corrodes trust in the integrity of elections, a key underpinning of a democratic system. Moreover, Republicans are acting on the lie to mess with voting procedures going forward. While also striving to whitewash January 6 and obstruct the investigation of it. And if they control Congress after the next presidential election, they will throw out its results if necessary to put Trump back in office.

That’s no fevered fantasy. Nothing would restrain them from such a brazen deed, if they have the votes. Remember how they stole a Supreme Court seat. Stealing the presidency would kill American democracy.

How can voters shrug off the unprecedented threat of today’s deranged Republican party, while in contrast viewing Democrats with unforgiving harshness?

Recently the NY Times reported on a conversation shortly after January 6, wherein House GOP leader Kevin McCarthy held Trump culpable for it, said he’s “done” with Trump, and would call for his resignation. But as with other Republicans, McCarthy’s moment of clarity quickly passed, and he pilgrimaged to Mar-a-Lago to kiss his master’s ring. And when the Times story broke, McCarthy roundly denied having said what was reported.

Then the newspaper released the audio, proving McCarthy’s denial an outright lie.

Once upon a time this would have ended a politician’s career. And McCarthy was doubly in trouble because of his lèse-majesté. Yet Trump magnanimously forgave him. (Groveling by toadies feeds his voracious ego; McCarthy’s earlier betrayal made his recanting especially delicious to Trump.) Then McCarthy went before his GOP colleagues — and wound up with a standing ovation!

“It’s debasing for Republicans to give this guy a standing ovation,” said one GOP Congressman on Fox News. So at least one retains some integrity? No, it was Florida’s walking cesspool Matt Gaetz — unwilling to forgive McCarthy’s prior momentary apostasy.*

Talk about “debasing.” Matt Gaetz, Marjorie Taylor Greene, Jim Jordan, Lauren Boebert, Louie Gohmert, Madison Cawthorn, Paul Gosar, Elise Stefanik, and McCarthy himself, are the leading face of today’s Congressional Republican party. All dishonest and irresponsible to the core. The worst of the worst.

This is the creep squad American voters seem blithely likely to hand control of Congress. McCarthy will be speaker. What a disgrace; totally insane. I’ll weep for my country, fallen so low.

*Liz Cheney is the lone remaining honorable Republican seeking re-election. The party is intent on her destruction.