Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Enough is Enough!

My father fought against the Nazis in WWII. His unit liberated a concentration camp. He won a Bronze Star for his service. I prosecuted Nazis and their collaborators for almost 32 years. I have visited concentation camps. I know a thing or two about Nazis. None of them are nice people. The only ones who think so are other Nazis and their ilk. Lesson over.

Monday, May 29, 2017

Forever Young - The JFK Centennial

Change is the law of life. And those who look only to the past or present are certain to miss the future.

John F. Kennedy, the 35th President of the United States (1961-1963) was born on this date one hundred years ago.  

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Awaking Happy in Africa – Dispatches from South Africa

Ernest Hemingway was onto something when he confessed that he never knew a morning in Africa when he awoke and was not happy. Before arriving here I would have questioned if such a thing were possible. I’ll stand by it now.

I have arisen happy each day since our arrival. From our first morning in country, when we set off for a drive through central Johannesburg to teeming Soweto, the black township situated on the southwestern edge of the city; to the mornings in Brits, in the shadows of the Magaliesberg in northern Gauteng province near the national capital of Pretoria in the Cradle of Humankind, when we set off to spend time with elephants and monkeys; to the chilly mornings near Dullstroom, high up on the western fringes of the Drakensberg Escarpment in Mpumalanga province, where we explored the Blythe River Canyon with its beautiful waterfalls and dramatic mountain scenery and where I had a chance to do some fly-fishing for native trout; to the early morning treks into the bushveld of the Kapama game preserve in Limpopo province, in South Africa’s far northeastern corner, where I watched the African wildlife come alive. Isak Deneson, writing in Out of Africa (1937), said: "You know you are truly alive when you’re living among lions." I did not how true this is until I saw them with my own eyes in the natural habitat they share with elephants, Cape buffalo, white rhinos, and large herds of antelope and a variety of birds I had never seen before. I was happy right through to the evenings when we trekked out into the bush to watch how these animals end their day.

And now I arise happy on these mornings here in Cape Town and the West Cape, in the country’s most southwestern corner. I awake and watch the sun’s early light bathe the imposing face of Table Mountain and Lion’s Head while smelling the briny perfume of the South Atlantic as it laps the rocky shores of Mouille Point on Table Bay just outside our front door. It is autumn here in the southern hemisphere yet the weather is gorgeous . . . bright sunny days with low humidity and comfortable sea breezes blowing over the cold South Atlantic waters.

How could one not wake each morning in Africa with a smile on one’s face. The people I have met are so friendly and courteous and always willing to share a broad smile. To quote Ms Dinesen again: "Here I am, where I ought to be."

Check out the "Looking Toward Portugal" Facebook page for more information and photos.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Looking Toward the Antarctic - Dispatches from South Africa

Sally Ann and I arrived in South Africa eleven days ago. Since then we have spent time in and around Johannesburg, the country's largest city with 8+ million inhabitants. We toured the historic Soweto township on the city's outskirts, visiting the Nelson Mandela house and also seeing the current homes of Winnie Mandela and Bishop Desmond Tutu. A single street in Soweto was home to two Nobel Peace Prize laureates!

After a couple days in Gauteng province which is home to both Johannesburg and the capital city of Pretoria, where we visited an elephant and monkey sanctuary, as well as the Cradle of Humankind, we headed to the northeastern provinces of Mpumalanga and Limpopo, visiting a fly fishing resort near Dullstroom where I caught a beautiful rainbow trout which the chef prepared for me for dinner one evening. And then on to the private Kapama game preserve near the Kruger National park for several days of game trekking in the lowveld bush country where our ranger and Shongaan tracker put us on several herds of impala, kudu, blesbok and other varieties of African antelope, not to mention four of the "Big Five" - elephants, Cape buffalo, white rhinos, and lions. Only the leopard proved elusive although we had a chance to have an up close and personal encounter with a pair at a game park near Johannesburg, including their feisty newborn cubs.

After an intense safari experience in the northeastern quadrant of South Africa (I'll be posting more about that so stay tuned) we returned to Johannesburg early yesterday morning to catch a two hour flight to the southwestern corner of the country . . . Cape Town and the West Cape. It is like being in a whole different country. We have rented a lovely little flat directly on the water on Green Point with a splendid view of Table Mountain and Lion's Head. This will be our home for the rest of the month until it comes time to head back to the States and our regular routine.

Last night, after settling into our flat, we took a short walk along the seaside promenade (see photo) and enjoyed our first Cape Town sunset. And then again this morning to the Green Point Light House (also pictured). The promenade is lined with palm trees and palmettos. From here - just a few miles north of the Cape of Good Hope - I can stare out into the South Atlantic knowing that the next land mass in Antarctica! The sunshine is intense and the air is warm - it is autumn here in the southern hemisphere, after all. But the water is remarkably cold.

Cape Town is a beautiful city. I could very easily get used to this lifestyle.

Check out the "Looking Toward Portugal" Facebook page for more information and photos. 

Monday, March 27, 2017

More Notes from the Panic Hole

The following is the text of a guest blog posted today at Coös Networks, – – a community website serving the far northern precincts of New Hampshire.  Coös Networks has become an important meeting place for the exchanging ideas, sharing information, while "deepening relationships across disciplines and geography, and building regional vitality."  I thank Coös Networks for giving me an opportunity to contribute this guest blog.
“I have never seen a grander or more beautiful sight than the northern woods in winter.” With these words a young Theodore Roosevelt described his regular sojourns to a wilderness camp in northern Maine’s Aroostook County.  I could not agree with him more.  For the past several years I have been making regular trips to northern New Hampshire during the height of winter.  Trekking the ridges and hollows of the Great North Woods, hard on the Québec border has proven a palliative for whatever ails me at the time, and it has helped me put my life into perspective on more than one occasion.

Regardless of the season, this region has become my “panic hole” which, as defined by Gerald Vizenor, is a physical or mental place offering respite from the real or imagined pressures and stresses of daily life and the responsibilities that go with it.  Who could not use one of these?  Seven years ago, on one such winter trip, I trekked into the snowy back country above the Connecticut Lakes to consider retirement after a 32 year career with the Department of Justice, in Washington, DC.  What would the rest of my life hold for me?  The mind cleansed itself with each inhalation of the crisp, cold mountain air.  When asked why he liked the Middle Eastern deserts, T.E. Lawrence (of Arabia) supposedly replied: “Because it’s clean.”  The same can be said for the Great North Woods of New Hampshire in winter.  Trek into the snowy woods and you will not find anything so pristine . . . so clean . . . so quiet.  

Living as I do on the southern flank of the heavily urbanized megalopolis stretching from Washington, DC north to Boston, an occasional escape into the woods of rural New England helps lower the daily stress levels at home.   These trips always begin with a quick trip up to the Baltimore-Washington International Airport for the hour-long flight to Manchester.  As I wing north I watch the landscape below gradually turn white announcing the winterscape I am in search of.  Leaving Manchester I continue north through the White Mountains and “above the notches” into the Great North Woods to the roof top of New Hampshire.  I can feel the stress ratchet down the farther north I travel.  When folks back home ask me how far I go, I tell them “Until the road signs are in French.”

My most recent visit occurred this past January when I arrived the day after New Year’s Day.  What better way to celebrate the advent of a new year than a trip to the Great North Woods?  There is one constant here in late winter . . . the days are short.  Very short.  The sun does not inch above Mount Magalloway and the eastern ridge lines until around 7:30am, and from there it makes a slow arc across the southern skies, setting around 4:30pm below the western height of land that marks the US-Canadian frontier. The sun had already set when I arrived at Tall Timber Lodge, along the shoreline of Back Lake, in Pittsburg.  I settled into my regular room upstairs, unpacked, and quickly returned downstairs to unwind with a couple adult beverages in the tavern before enjoying a long anticipated dinner in the Rainbow Grille.  I have been staying at this lodge for many years, and everyone knows my name and treats me like one of the family.  After dinner I step outside into the gripping cold and breathe in the fresh air and appreciate how lucky I am to be back again.  I have a nightcap in the tavern.  How can I not sleep well every night I am in the Great North Woods?   No reason to panic here.   

The next morning, after a hearty breakfast downstairs, I was off on my morning trek.  Driving up Moose Alley – US Route 3 above Happy Corner – passing Lake Francis and First and Second Connecticut Lakes, I parked at the Deer Mountain Campground where I strap on my snowshoes and set off along the Coös Trail through the Moose Falls Flowage and among the frozen outlet waters of the Third Connecticut Lake.  I have fished this area for brook trout in other seasons and so it was interesting to experience this familiar topography cloaked in deep snow.  It is not all downhill skiing or snowmobiling up here where speed seems to be the common denominator during the winter months. 

I prefer snow-trekking, the slow and often painstaking movement across deep snow and ice.  Slow is good.  You can see what there is to see in the winter landscape while enjoying a silence interrupted only by the sound of wind blowing through bare, creaking branches.  I first snowshoed on my grandparent’s Michigan farm when I was a kid.  Back then it was the old wooden frames and webbing made of deer hide.  Now snowshoes are constructed of tempered steel, aluminum, and heavy-duty plastics and are much easier to navigate through deep snow.  My wife and I first tried these new-stye snowshoes a few years ago in western Montana and I was sold.    

As I wandered up through the Flowage along the Coös Trail I kept my eyes peeled for animal tracks, hoping I might be lucky enough to come across a shed, a moose or deer antler no longer required by its former proprietor.  No sheds; more than likely they are buried under the deep snow.  I did, however, chance upon several bevy of whitetail deer along the trail.  Approaching these from upwind I managed to get fairly close.  We stood there motionless for a few moments watching each other before they sprang quickly and quietly into the snowy puckerbrush, their white tails flashing in the morning light as they disappeared from sight.  The snow was over two feet deep, drifting even deeper in some places, so there was no clear path of escape.   For the deer or myself.  A trek through deep snow can be arduous.  Even with snowshoes.  

Eventually arriving at the northwestern shoreline of Third Connecticut Lake situated less than a mile below the Canadian frontier and the tiny Fourth Connecticut Lake (more of a bog than a lake) which is the headwater of the might Connecticut River, I braved the wind-abraded, snow-encrusted ice to visit a lone ice fisherman at his shanty where he was tending his tip-ups a short distance off shore.  We stepped inside briefly seeking shelter from two dervishing snow devils as they passed incredibly close by.   This reminded me again of my more youthful days when I joined my grandfather as  he fished the frozen ponds of southwestern Michigan.  One is truly alone with one’s thoughts sitting in an ice shanty on lonely lake.

The day was wearing on as the sun sank lower is the southern sky beyond Deer Mountain.  I continued up the trail to the US-Canadian border above the lake and from there I was able to catch a ride back to my car parked at the campground.  Good thing, too, as it began to snow quite hard.   It would have been a long walk back.   A full day and I was happy to make my way down to the lodge to change into warm, dry clothes before heading back to the tavern for a beer and the anticipation of another fine dinner in the Rainbow Grille.

I did not have anything as momentous as possible retirement to ponder on this visit to my panic hole, which is also one of my favorite places on God’s green (white?) earth.  It was just another pleasant opportunity to be far away from another human soul and alone with my thoughts as the vast expanses of snowy forests and lake ice stretched out before me.  Teddy was right.  It doesn’t get much grander than this!

Check out the "Looking Toward Portugal" Facebook page for more information and photos.

Friday, March 24, 2017

Pondering the Future

Has it really been seven years already? This photo was taken on this date in 2010 at Doc Ford’s Rum Bar & Grille, Florida writer Randy Wayne White’s restaurant on Sanibel Island, Florida. I had retired from the US Department of Justice just three weeks earlier after a 32 year career in Washington, and SallyAnn and I were in the midst of an extended road trip around Florida so that I might clear my head and decide just what it was I wanted to do with the rest of my life.

We decided it would be nice to inter alia wander the sea shell beset beaches of Florida’s Gulf Coast with no set agenda or time table. Where would each new day take us? One day we happened to end up at Doc Ford’s after a windy day wandering the sands of Sanibel Island and neighboring Captiva. I treated myself to some very fresh Gulf of Mexico oysters served chilled with lemon and cocktail sauce along with a pile of steamed Yucatan shrimp dressed in butter, garlic, Colombian chilies, fresh cilantro, and Key lime juice. A memorable repast to be sure. By the time this photo was taken I was washing it all down with another cold beer trying to decide where to go and what to do next. There would be plenty of time for long range planning and soul searching. I still had places to go and things to see.

While I was scribbling into my pocket notebook the gal behind the bar asked me if I was related to Hemingway. This was not the first time this comparison had been made, and when it is offered I have mixed feelings. I certainly respect the writing, if not the man (he was quite a prick from all reports). My only reply to her was from Hemingway himself. "An intelligent man is sometimes forced to be drunk to spend time with his fools." I left her to sort out the meaning of this . . . and I was off to the Everglades.

Check out the "Looking Toward Portugal" Facebook page for more information and photos.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Circling the Drain?

The days of our years are threescore years and ten; and if by
reason of strength they be fourscore years, yet is their strength
labor and sorrow; for it is soon cut off, and we fly away.
-- Psalm 90:10

Hmmmm. That does not sound good at all. Not if one finds himself turning three score and six today. But how can this be, when I feel so young at heart? I have no plans to fly off any time soon. That said, this getting older is for the birds. I don’t like it yet I know there is nothing I can do about it. Consider Sir Thomas Browne (1605-1682), writing in Hydriotaphia, Urn Burial, (1658): "The long habit of living indisposeth us for dying." And yet dying is something we will all do at some yet undertermined point in time. "If we begin to die when we live, and long life be but a prolongation of death, our life is a sad composition; we live with death, and die not in a moment." We all do it. Some more graceful than others, perhaps, but when you get right down to it, we shall all eventually shed this vale of tears. But I’ll be honest with you. I’m not ready. I’m not near ready. And I can only hope it will be a very long time before I hear the beck and call from the far side of the Stygian shore, before I find myself "circling the drain," that rather macabre slang referring to an unfortunate soul that clings to life while future prospects seem dim at best.

So what got me on this grim subject besides the fact that today I am another year older? And each years seems to pass by faster the previous one? This morning I finished reading A Really Big Lunch: The Roving Gourmand on Food and Life, the just published book of essays by Jim Harrison, the late poet, novelist and essayist, who passed away a year ago on March 26, at the age of 78. I have been a devoted reader of Harrison for over forty years – a fellow Midwesterner whose often skewed and oblique views on life, writing, and yes, even food and drink, have fueled my own hopes and desires for what I wanted to accomplish in my own lifetime. He was a gourmand extra ordinaire and a connoisseur of fine wines who also taught me that, as a writer, one must "mix your essential gluttony and writing carefully." I have learned how true this is. "Despite your complaints you have lots of time to do so," Harrison confesses. "Good food is so much more important than the mediocre writing that pervades the earth" ("Real Old Food" published in the Canadian journal Brick, in 2015). I strive for something above and beyond the mediocre, but I understand that writing is not everything. One must enjoy that which satisfies the body as well as the mind. Jim did not mince words and did not suffer fools. He and I are simpatico on that score.

Yet the thought that no more words will be unleashed from his pen (he refused to use a typewriter or a computer) saddens me deeply. I never met Harrison, yet my life and my own writing (and the search for good food and drink) have orbited his efforts since the early 1970s, when I first became aware of his unique perspective on human foibles and our interaction with the natural world as a palliative for what ails us. His death has left me be bereft and still I am both saddened and raised up as I read these latter day reflections knowing Harrison was running with the dark horse of night (Marlowe) and his time on earth was coming to its inevitable end.

Now well into my seventh decade (and proud of it . . . hey, I earned it, right?) I still believe I have several good years in these old bones (decades, had I my druthers). No, I don’t feel like I am circling the drain yet, nor do I hear any loud cries to come hither from beyond the River Styx. There is the old adage that you are only as old as you feel, and for the most part I feel just fine. I no longer float like a butterfly or sting like a bee, and maybe I never did. And there are the aches and pains I have to get used to along with the occasional "senior moment" when I forget a name or where I put something. But I can live with this occasional nemesis as long as I am able to accomplish what I set out to do with the advent of each new day . . . or in this case . . . the beginning of another year.

Three score and six?? Why not? I say "Bring it on!"

Check out the "Looking Toward Portugal" Facebook page for more information and photos.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Spreading the Good Word

I have been posting on this blogspot since late 2008 and I appreciate everyone – whether you are a longtime reader or a first time visitor – who has tuned in to read what I have had to say about this and that. If this is your first time, I invite you to check out the 400+ postings that have appeared here. There is not much that I don’t have an opinion on one way or the other. Most of what you will find here are recollections of past adventures and descriptions of those more recent. Occasionally I will rant about an injustice or some reckless folly (in my humble opinion), but I have tried to keep these to a minimum. That has been very hard to do in recent months, but I try.

I guess people out there are paying attention. I have just been invited to be a guest blogger . . . and a paid one at that . . . for Coos Networks, a community website serving the far northern precincts of New Hampshire which have figured into some if my postings here. Coos Networks has recently become an important meeting place for the exchanging ideas, sharing information, while "deepening relationships across disciplines and geography, and building regional vitality."

Over the past two decades this region has become my "panic hole," a physical or mental locus offering respite from the real or imagined pressures and stresses of daily life and the responsibilities that go with it. And so I have decided to talk about this in my guest blog - "More Notes from the Panic Hole" - which will be posted on the Coos Networks website on March 27 and which I will share here shortly thereafter.

I am very excited about this opportunity to spread the word beyond my regular audience. Perhaps this is the harbinger of bigger and better things. Let’s see where it leads. Can I have an amen to that?


Check out the "Looking Toward Portugal" Facebook page for more information and photos.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Sphinter Control???

It appears that the sphincter muscle has been removed from American political discourse (and its foreign policy, for that matter).  This has resulted in an uninterrupted discharge of feculent pronouncements and policy statements.  DJT and his dark minions may think they are draining the swamp in DC, but the manure heaps out back of the White House and the Capitol are quickly piling up and expanding outward.  I thought you should know.

Check out the "Looking Toward Portugal" Facebook page for more information and photos

Monday, March 6, 2017

The Deconstruction of American Foreign Policy

Navigating through the shambles that is the United States’ current foreign policy initiatives is like wandering hopelessly lost in a vast desert.  I just finished reading “Trump’s Many Shades of Contempt,” Roger Cohen’s very disturbing March 3 op-ed piece in The New York Times concerning the sad and dangerous state of affairs inside our foreign policy establishment.  Cohen knows whereof he speaks.  He has been a columnist for The New York Times and the International New York Times, as well as for many years a respected foreign correspondent who has gained important insights into the US State Department and US foreign policy, particularly in the Middle East and Afghanistan. 

Cohen’s column addresses the president’s complete and utter contempt for US foreign policy as exemplified by the fact that he has now called for a 37% reduction in the State Department’s budget.  Add to this the massive exodus of career foreign service officials since the election in November, a flight that has increased since the inauguration and Secretary Rex Tillerson’s ascendency at the State Department.  I am not talking about political appointments from the previous administration; I am referring to the departure of career foreign service officers and diplomats who staff the Department of State bureaucracy in Washington, as well as our embassies and consulates around the globe.  A case in point . . . Daniel Fried, who resigned after forty years of experience dealing with many of the most important foreign policy issues of the day, particularly in Central and Eastern Europe.  Rex Tillerson, the former CEO of Exxon/Mobil, who has no governmental or foreign policy experience, was nevertheless confirmed by the Senate as the new Secretary of State and has yet to take the reins of his department.

Cohen reports that Tillerson “is a near phantom” at the State Department.  And there
is no second in command since his boss, the president, vetoed Tillerson’s choice as deputy.  One of Tillerson's first directives to senior staff - what little senior staff that still remains in place -  was an order that his briefing materials not exceed two pages. How is it possible to explain complex international issues in the space of two pages?  Previous Secretaries of State regularly dealt with briefing books dedicated to a single, complex issue.  He has been extremely press shy since taking office a month ago.  According to Cohen, there has not been a single press briefing by Tillerson or his staff since DJT took office five weeks ago.  His only public statements were brief and came during foreign visits to Mexico and  Germany.  Since the 1950s such press briefings have been an almost daily occurrence, something one would expect, considering the myriad challenges and conflicts facing this country and the world at large.  Is Tillerson avoiding public appearances thinking this will cushion him from the increasing blowback against the new regime in Washington?  “The State Department has taken on a ghostly air,” according to Cohen.

Throughout his Senate confirmation hearings Tillerson appeared personable and informed, qualities that seemed to assuage to some degree the opposition to his appointment.  Since his confirmation, however, he has done very little to suggest that he is calling the shots at Foggy Bottom, deferring instead to his boss in the White House.  Mr. Tillerson asked Elliott Abrams, a high-level State Department veteran during the Reagan regime, to bring his experience back to State as the new deputy.  Granted, his experience would have been useful to some extent although we should not forget that Abrams was convicted for his role in the Iran-Contra scandal during which he withheld information from Congress during the investigation of the affair.  Although Abrams was ultimately pardoned by George H. W. Bush, this alone should have been reason to remove Abrams from consideration.  Instead, the president overruled Tillerson’s choice because of Abram’s outspoken criticism of DJT during the campaign and election.

What is perhaps more discomforting than this is the fact that Steve Bannon, a white supremacist and nativist who as the president’s chief political strategist has called for the “deconstruction of the administrative state,” has been elevated to a position on the National Security Council.  This after the Chief of the Joint Chiefs of Staff was unceremoniously uninvited from regular attendance at meetings of the NSC.  On top of this DJT’s son-in-law Jared Kushner, another top advisor operating beyond the aegis of either the State Department or the NSC, is regularly usurping Tillerson’s role at meetings with world leaders and diplomats, particularly on the issue of the peace process in the Middle East and this country’s troubling relationship with Vladimir Putin’s Russia.  Under normal circumstances it is the Secretary of State who serves as the mouthpiece for an administration’s foreign policy prerogatives.  It is the Secretary who discusses these with foreign leaders and diplomats.  With a few exceptions this has  not happened since January.  To date Tillerson has been absent or far in the background when the new president met with the prime ministers of Canada and Israel at the White House.  It is difficult for the State Department to conduct foreign policy through proper diplomatic channels and following accepted diplomatic decorum when it has to face challenges from parties within the White House who do not feel bound by proper procedure not to mention the president’s often ill-advised and off-the-cuff tweet blitzes. 

Tillerson’s foreign visit to Mexico, a country we have threatened to seal off with a wall, was chaotic, awkward, and received only a lukewarm welcome from the host government.   This comes on the heels of Mexican president Enrique Peña Nieto canceling his trip to Washington, the first scheduled visit by a head of state to the new US president.  It is clear to the Mexican government that it is the president who is calling the shots when it comes to bilateral relations with our neighbor to the south.  There was really nothing of substance to discuss with Tillerson, a man so clearly out of the loop.   

Tillerson’s meetings with his G-20 counterparts in Germany, at which he signaled America’s now lackluster support for important trans-Atlantic alliances such as NATO, were troubling in that there was little support for rebuilding trust and confidence with our valued long-term allies.  While in Bonn, Tillerson’s staffers tried to arrange a meeting with UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres who has himself just began his five-year term on January 1.  Instead, the Secretary of State deferred to the new US Ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley.  Tillerson was also a no-show at a high-level meeting in Bonn attended by Mr. Guterres who to date has not even been able to arrange a phone call with the Secretary.   Tillerson also refused to meet or speak with Patricia Espinosa, the executive secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).  It might be interesting to note that she is Mexican.

Tillerson is not in control of his department.  While he was in Europe, over two dozen of his senior staff members were abruptly reassigned.  What role he played, if any, in the reassignment is not clear.  To date, less than ten of the over 100 State Department positions requiring Senate confirmation have been filled, including our ambassadors to foreign states.  Bruce Bartlett, a former advisor to Reagan and George H.W. Bush, has suggested that this seemingly intentional decimation of the State Department is a means of forestalling diplomatic solutions to an array of international problems in favor of military solutions.  Let us not forget the president has called for almost $60 billion increase in military spending while gutting the State Department’s budget.  Diplomatic solutions are lightbulbs waiting to be turned on. Military solutions are hammers looking for a nail.

Just this past week Tillerson broke with tradition by choosing not to attend the public release of the State Department’s annual report on human rights.  This is normally a very high profile public event at which the Secretary of State uses the prestige of his or her office to underscore the importance of human rights as a keystone to American foreign policy.  Such was not the case last week.  There was no public event.  No Secretary of State.  Instead, reporters were briefed by telephone by an anonymous State Department official.  This is very troubling to human rights advocates around the world coming as it does after Tillerson repeatedly vowed to promote human rights during his confirmation hearing just a few weeks ago. “Should I be confirmed as secretary of state, I would be charged with promoting American values on the world stage, and that means standing for universal human rights and fighting for the dignity of every person.”  So why did he refuse to do just that?

I think the reason is pretty clear by now.  Mr. Tillerson is Secretary of State in name only.   And I think we also have a good picture of who is dictating American foreign policy.  It is men and women with agendas whispering in the ear of DJT, a man who has no real grasp of the complexities of international diplomacy.  You might recall during the campaign that DJT was asked about foreign policy.  Where was he getting his information and advice?  It seems to me a logical question.  “I’m speaking with myself, number one,” he replied.  “Because I have a very good brain and I’ve said a lot of things. I know what I’m doing and I listen to a lot of people, I talk to a lot of people and at the appropriate time I’ll tell you who the people are. But my primary consultant is myself and I have a good instinct for this stuff.”  Does that make you feel better?  I hardly think so.

So how is any of this acceptable?  The simple answer is that it is not acceptable.  It will never be acceptable on any level or under any circumstance.   Unfortunately I see the situation getting much worse before there is any improvement.  The important question remains.   What happens to this country’s foreign policy during an extremely dangerous time when our long-held and cherished values are being challenged at every turn . . . including by many in the White House at the exclusion of experts at the State Department?  I shutter to think.

Check out the "Looking Toward Portugal" Facebook page for more information and photos.

Sunday, March 5, 2017

A Basic Lesson in Civility

This is what makes America great!!! Former President George W. Bush sharing an affectionate moment with former First Lady Michelle Obama. Despite coming from vastly different social and racial backgrounds, and from two widely divergent political and ideological beliefs, two Americans find common ground in the exercise of basic civility. "When I saw her, it was a genuine expression of affection." Mr. Bush credits the former First Lady's appreciation for his sense of humor as the main reason for their affection. "She kind of likes my sense of humor. Anybody who likes my sense of humor, I immediately like." I suspect it is much more than just this. They are both Americans. What more reason does one need to justify civil discourse in our country? We are all Americans.

This photograph speaks volumes about what this country is all about. Despite our differences . . . and the most recent election has underscored these in spades . . . we are still all Americans whether we were born here or came here to seek a better life by becoming naturalized American citizens. And there are those who came here and have yet to become citizens regardless of the reason. They are still protected by the Constitution and the laws of the land. We are a land of immigrants . . . we have always been one . . . and yet one whose current leadership has found it necessary to declare war on immigrants . . . and on the very process of immigration itself. We as Americans have, for the most part, been instilled with many of the same basic values. And as such, we need to work together to insure they remain values by which we chose to live. Despite our many differences and disagreements we need to find common ground. It’s out there. We just need to make the effort to find and exploit it. We must put aside these differences and disagreements when it comes to dealing with those issues that affect us all. Issues that will determine the ultimate survival of this country.

Don't get me wrong. I have never been a big fan of George W. Bush. In fact, I disagree with almost ever thing he did as President of the United States. That said, however, he came to the office with skills and a realization that true governing is dictated by compromise and an informed bipartisanship. He did not always practice this, but he understood the concept. He is thick skinned and handled criticism of himself and his policies . . . and there was plenty of it and rightfully so . . . with grace. If you can't do that, you have no legitimate claim to the highest office in the land. It takes a thick skin. The president should be a leader . . . not some insecure and narcissistic bully who degrades and insults rather than leads. Despite my faults with Mr. Bush, the current president can’t hold a candle to him on the best of days. A jellyfish has thicker skin than the current president whose enemy list . . . which includes millions of Americans, indeed the very American way of life . . . is long and distinguished and getting longer by the day. That my friends is what scares the shit out of me!

So take a good look at this photograph. We don’t need walls and immigration bans to make this country great again. Despite our faults and shortcomings we were great long before DJT arrived on the scene. And we will remain so when he is footnote (and hopefully a short one) in the history of this great country. All we really need to do is to practice some basic, common civility. Look at the photograph! This is what it looks like. It works if given half a chance. So DJT . . . get with it or get the hell out of the way! We Americans . . . all of us whether we were born here or came here from a distant land and a different culture . . . have serious work to do and we must learn to do it together. It’s the only way it will work.

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Friday, February 24, 2017

Another Big Chill Weekend

“In a cold world you need your friends to keep you warm.” 
    – The Big Chill

Last November, just a couple weeks before Thanksgiving, a group of our oldest and dearest friends gathered for a “Big Chill Weekend” at a rustic cabin in Blackwater Falls State Park, near Davis, West Virginia.  In years past we would gather regularly at one of the state parks in West Virginia, but as we have grown older, with mounting family and professional responsibilities, these have become less frequent.  We have missed them and decided it was time to gather around the fires more often.

This past weekend we convened once again, this time at Cacapon State Park near Berkeley Springs, in West Virginia’s eastern panhandle.  It was a beautiful, late winter weekend with the temperatures creeping through the 60s into the low 70s, both at home in the environs of Washington, DC, and along the eastern Allegheny ridge lines at the northern terminus of the Shenandoah Valley.  Having endured the first surreal month of the new regime in Washington (I find it difficult to call it an administration or government since no perceptible administering or governing has taken place), all of us were more than happy to find an excuse to get the hell out of Dodge for the long Presidents Day holiday weekend.  The beautiful weather was just icing on the cake. 

Over the years we have escaped to the rural hinterlands within a reasonable day’s drive from our homes.  Sometimes it was just an escape for a long weekend.  Other times the gatherings, although happy and festive on the surface, have been tinged with anger and disappointment.  Once we gathered in Rehobeth Beach, Delaware - a Blue State - to escape DC during Dubya’s second inauguration, in January 2005.  Our gathering in West Virginia - a Red State - last November came just days after the conclusion of the most vicious national election in my memory, marked by the electoral “victory” for DJT and his minions despite the fact he lost the popular election by a few million votes (a fact which he still denies without reason or support).  We all said we would not talk about the election, yet but how was this possible?  We had all just observed a fundamental shift in the political, if not the cultural, fabric of our nation, not to mention its quick slippage into corporate fascism at the highest levels of government.   How could we ignore the fact that the President-Elect was endorsed and applauded by the Ku Klux Klan, the neo-Nazi National Policy Institute, along with other white supremacist and nativist cliques.  This alone was sobering, if not frightening in the extreme.  So we enjoyed our fires, our hikes, our books and puzzles, and our communal food and drink, as best we could.  Still, it was hard to ignore an enervating penumbra settling upon the American grain not to mention our own personal lives.

I hate to report that what we feared last November has been visited on us multi-fold since that most outlandish inaugural event just a month ago.  I won’t even begin to tick off the litany of bizarre statements and events that have been the benchmark of the last four, long weeks.  So once again we set off to distance ourselves from the craziness that is Washington these days.  What better time for another “Big Chill Weekend?”   

You may recall Lawrence Kasdan’s 1983 film The Big Chill starting Kevin Kline, Glenn Close, William Hurt, JoBeth Williams, Tom Berenger, Jeff Goldblum, and Mary Kay Place.  Gary Susman, writing in 2013 to mark the 30th anniversary of the film’s release, claimed that it “touched a huge raw nerve in the culture and became an enormous mainstream hit as a result”.  They cast is a group of seven former college friends, now in their 30s, who attended the University of Michigan during the heyday of the radical student protests against the Vietnam War.  Some have become pillars of the establishment they once railed against.  They have gathered at the vacation home of one of their number in the South Carolina’s Low Country to attend the funeral of another who had committed suicide.  Add to their ranks Meg Tilly, the young girlfriend of their deceased friend played by Kevin Costner . . . cut from the film and uncredited; we see only his sutured wrists as the undertaker dresses him for burial.  “Amazing tradition,” the Jeff Goldblum character offers.  “They throw a great party for you on the one day they know you can't come.”

Since their days as young student revolutionaries, some have married and grown into responsible adulthood.  Others have not.  They are a unmarried real estate lawyer who desperately wants a baby; a physician married to a wealthy business man and former classmate; a sex obsessed novelist writing for People magazine; a Hollywood television actor who cannot deal with celebrity; a maimed and bitter Vietnam veteran turned drug dealer; and an unfulfilled housewife and mother who has designs on the actor, an old college crush.  Their dead friend was a scientific prodigy and progressive firebrand who abandoned academe for social work and manual labor. . . and eventually suicide.  They talk about their former lives and their current disillusionment at what they have become, pointing out how each has sold out their old convictions and values for what seems a steady, mainstream life In Ronald Reagan’s America  . . . except for their dead friend.  “I feel I was at my best when I was with you people,” the physician played by Glenn Close admits.  They eat, drink, smoke dope, and listen to the great rock and R&B music that served as a readily recognizable benchmark of their heady student days.  There is lots of finger pointing and censuring, yet they rediscover their common bond and they all manage to kiss and hug when the weekend visit ends.  They return to their separate lives promising not to wait until the next funeral to renew their friendships.  It is a story of old friends searching for something they have lost only to discover that all they needed was each other.  “Wise up folks,” say the William Hurt character.  “We are all alone out there.

Much like the gathering in The Big Chill, almost all of us in our group came of age in the 1960s and 1970s.  We remember Vietnam although none of us were called to serve.   We were all in Washington on September 11; some of us watching the smoke rise from the Pentagon.  We understand the world in which we live.  We are a lawyer, a computer specialist, a historian and research consultant, an artist, two archivists, and a librarian.  All of us have lived and worked in the Washington milieu for decades.  Some of us have grown children; some have never been parents.  Some of us are now retired and some still get up and trudge into the crowded and traffic-choked city each morning to earn coins of the realm.  So an escape, even for just a couple days, is worth the effort.  Thankfully our weekend gatherings have never centered on a funeral or some other sad or tragic occasion although we have certainly gathered at these, as well.  And one of these days the end of one of us may bring us together much like the cast in the film.  Yet, for the most part, our gathering have been mostly happy occasions when we have managed to escape the Washington humdrum for a long weekend in the woods.  We have lounged in front of cabin fire places and outside fire rings.  We have hiked, shot trap, worked on puzzles, read, listen to and played music, and shared kitchen duties as we prepared communal meals accompanied with good drink.

The film comes with an admonition: “In a cold world you need your friends to keep you warm.”  We realize we are going to have to rely on each other more and more in the days, months and years ahead.   There will certainly be a need for more of these Big Chill escapes . . . opportunities to reset our compasses in search of a way out of this dark storm.  Hopefully this recent election, despite its insane and fearful aftermath, will result in a self-correction of this bizarre anomaly that has beset our nation.

We must remain confident that we will awaken from this bad dream.  In the film the former college radicals grew silent as they matured into comfortable live.  Rocking the Ship of State was no longer necessary, even desirable.  We should take a lesson in this.  Perhaps it is time for all of us, comfortable in our lives up until now, to stand up and start to rock the boat anew.   It worked before.  It can work again.

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Wednesday, February 15, 2017

An Executive Order Does Not a King Make - A Return to the Imperial Presidency?

                        Your king is SUPPOSED to explode?  What
                        kind of government system is that?”

                                 – Jefferson Smith, Strange Places (2014)

We have been hearing and reading quite a bit lately about the freshet of executive orders issued by DJT since January 20 (“a date that will live in infamy”).   He seems to think that all he has to do is express his will, show everyone his signature on each order he signs, and it suddenly becomes the law of the land.  Not so fast buddy! 

David Schulz, a professor of political science at Hamline University, in St. Paul, Minnesota, who is a noted authority on public policy and administration and the author of American Politics in the Age of Ignorance: Why Lawmakers Choose Belief Over Research (2013), tells us that there is a Constitutional foundation coupled with legal precedents governing the issuance of executive orders.  Article II, Section I, Clause 1, of the Constitution vests executive power in the president, while Article II, Section 3, requires that the chief executive insure that all laws “be faithfully executed.”  An executive directive – now known as an executive order – is issued by the president to an executive branch department or governmental agency and has the full force of law, just as if it had been passed by the Congress of the United States.  However, an executive order has the force of law ONLY when it comports with the responsibilities and duties of the president granted to him or her by the Constitution of the United States, by federal statute, or by the US Congress.  Add to this the important fact that each executive order can be revoked or stayed by the Supreme Court or a lower federal court, if it violates the Constitution, federally mandated statutes, or any other discretionary powers granted by Congress to the Chief Executive.   There does not appear to be much wiggle room when it comes to the constitutionality of an executive order.

These orders date back to the beginning of our republic.  George Washington issued the first one in 1789 to clarify the duties of the executive branch.  Thomas Jefferson ordered the Louisiana Purchase from France in 1803, and James Knox Polk ordered the annexation of the Republic of Texas in 1845.  Perhaps the most famous executive directive, as it was known at the time, is Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation.  Issued on January 1, 1863 under the war powers act, it changed the legal status of slaves in the confederated states in rebellion against the United States since 1860.  Woodrow Wilson issued an executive order in 1917 in order to prepare this country for entry into World War I.  FDR issued numerous executive orders during World War II.  During the Kennedy and Johnson administrations (1961-1969), these two presidents issued executive orders to facilitate racial integration and to end segregation throughout the South, and to enforce civil rights across the country.   

These executive orders were designed to give the president the ability to deal with domestic or international emergencies, to clarify stated policies, to streamline existing law, or to address inadequacies in governmental operations.  Unfortunately, there are those, including DJT and many in his administration, who view these orders as a means of circumventing the legislative branch and the strict interpretation of the separation of powers.  And oddly enough, Congress does not seem to have a problem with this.  Well, the federal courts do.  The American people do.  And it’s high time DJT and his minions and Congressional cronies understand this.    

The intended purpose of executive orders, however, is not to unilaterally gut or dismantle programs and policies of a previous administrations.  That is not governing.  That is partisan retribution with no consideration as to how these changes impact the people being governed.  We have seen quite a bit of this over the past three weeks.  It makes one hark back to the imperial presidency of Richard Nixon (someone every president hopes ro emulate?) who used executive orders in his attempt to defund or dismantle federal agencies.  Thankfully the federal courts stymied these attempts. 

Since the inauguration of DJT almost a month ago I am certainly not the first to remind him that he is a president and not a king.  And as president-elect, he stood in front of the Capitol with his hand placed upon two Bibles and took an oath to uphold the Constitution of the United States of America.   He seem to be somewhat confused as to what that actually means.  The dozens of executive orders DJT has signed to date appear, in almost all instances, to address matters and issues he does not fully comprehend; perhaps because he was not paying attention during all those important transition briefings, most of which he either ditched or apparently doodled and Twittered his way through.  He needs to show some due diligence before he acts and speaks.  So far this has not been the case.

Plain and simple . . . DJT does not have inherent power to issue executive orders to satisfy his personal foibles and caprice.  Their authority must come from the Constitution or laws, subject to their limitations.  I hate to rain on his parade, but hell, let it pour.

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Sunday, February 5, 2017

Communities of the Just - There is No Place in America for Intolerance Against Muslims

Photograph by SallyAnn Rogers
                    Give me your tired, your poor,
                    Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
                    The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
                    Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed, to me . . .
                        – Emma Lazarus (1849-1885)
                           “The New Colossus”

Last week at church my pastor spoke about nourishing each other regardless of who we are or where we come from.  I thought about this over the past week, a week filled with media reports about the current administration’s banning of refugees from seven predominantly Muslim countries.  The Statue of Liberty, where the Lazarus sonnet appears on a bronze plaque, does not apply to only certain huddled masses, but to all refugees to these shores regardless of where they came from or what god they chose to worship. 

In its self-professed infinite wisdom, the administration believes this travel ban would prevent “Islamic terrorists” from entering the country and doing harm to Americans.  Strange that Saudi Arabia, the homeland of 15 of the 19 September 11 terrorists, is not on this list.  It seems to me that the president is not so much interested in protecting Americans and those who reside in this country, since many affected by the ban are legal residents of the United States, and have been for year.  He is more interested in protecting Christians, both here and abroad.

After ordering the ban, and during an interview with the Christian Broadcasting Network on January 27, the president stated that persecuted Christians would be given priority over other refugees seeking to enter this country, adding that they have been "horribly treated."   He freely admitted that others (I am assuming he means Muslims) are being persecuted in these countries covered by the ban – “they were chopping off the heads of everybody” - before he began offering up his alternative facts - “but more so the Christians.   And I thought it was very, very unfair. So we are going to help them."   Where is the evidence for this?  When has this country ever given priority to Muslim refugees over Christians?   Please show me.  And how can we equate legitimate refugees fleeing terrorism with those wishing to come to this country to perpetrate terrorism?   Please, please show me!  Where are the facts?  Not the alterative facts, but the real facts?

So I thought back to last week’s lesson at church.  Nourish others.  OK, let me offer some food for thought.  True Christians – and I like to think of myself as one – live their lives in the words of Christ.  So consider what the Bible says about intolerance of others who do not necessarily share one’s beliefs.  In the Gospel According to Luke, there is the story of Jesus visiting a Samaritan village on his way to Jerusalem. “But the people would not receive him.  And when his disciples James and John saw it, they said, Lord, do you want us to bid fire come down from heaven and consume them?  But he turned and rebuked them.  And they went to another village."  (Luke 9: 53-56]
Jesus had to remind his disciples that he came not to destroy the lives of others, but to give them comfort and salvation.  It was up to them whether they chose to listen.

Paul, in his first letter to the Corinthians, in which he commented on the dietary habits of Christians, cautioned them not to offend the followers of other religions.  "So, whether you eat or drink, or whatsoever you do, do all to the glory of God.  Give no offence to the Jews or to the Greeks [Gentiles] or to the church of God, just as I try to please all men in everything I do . . . ." [1 Corinthians 10:31-33]  Can a just society do anything but this?

And just as true Christians live their lives in the word of Christ, true Muslims honor the word of God/Allah through the message of the prophet Mohammed.  Muslims are taught to treat Jews and Christians, described in the Qur’an as “the People of the Book,” with equal justice, and with love and compassion.  In the 60th Surah - Surat al-Mumtahana - Verse 8, God speaks through Mohammed: “God does not forbid you from being good to those who have not fought you in the religion or driven you from your homes, or from being just towards them. God loves those who are just.”
In the 5th Surah - Surat al-Ma’ida - Verse 48, God speaks again through Mohammed:
“We have appointed a law and a practice for every one of you. Had God willed, He would have made you a single community, but He wanted to test you regarding what has come to you. So compete with each other in doing good. Every one of you will return to God and He will inform you regarding the things about which you differed.”

The values and teaching of the Qur’an hold a true Muslim responsible for treating all people, whether Muslim or non-Muslim, kindly and justly.  They are called upon to protect the innocent and those in need and live a just life "nor forget your portion in this world: but you do good, as God has been good to you, and do not seek mischief in the land.  For God does not love those who do mischief." [28th Surah - Surat al-Qasas - Verse 77)

It turns out all of us - Christians and Muslims –  have been taught the same lessons, and we want the same things in life.  There is no reason to fear Muslims, or to be intolerant of their beliefs, simply because they have chosen a different path to God/Allah.  I am happy to see Americans . . . Christians, Muslims, Jews, Buddhists . . . it really doesn’t matter . . . standing up and marching here in Washington, and across America and the globe, speaking out as communities of the just against the myopic and xenophobic intolerance and fear-mongering of the new administration.   While it tries to seal America away from the rest of the world, it is the duty of each of us to echo the final verse of Emma Lazarus’ sonnet.  “I lift my lamp beside the golden door.”  Let the light of truth shine through the darkness of hate and intolerance, and let the communities of the just have the final word.

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Wednesday, February 1, 2017

I Hate February . . . The Cruelest Month

OK, let's get it over with. I hate February. I always have and I always will. True, it is a short month, but not short enough. Not in my book.  It lasts only 28 days (and sometimes 29 although thankfully not this year).  Only 28 days and yet they always seem to be the longest days of the year.  I hate February.  My wife tells me to “get over it,” but it’s not an easy thing to do.  Here’s why.  It’s not a pretty picture.

February is not quite winter, and nowhere close to being spring.  A dreary month indeed.  Tomorrow we observe Ground Hog Day when the critter interrupts its hibernation to emerge from his hole to see his shadow or not, and to decide how much winter remains before returning to his slumber.  Is it possible he looks out and realizes “Holy shit, it’s February,” and sees no reason to stay awake?   I know the feeling well.  “Hey,” says Lewis Black looking down at his wrists in February.  “Maybe I should slit 'em to see color!”

There is nothing to looks forward to forward to in February.  But what about Ground Hog’s Day?  It’s just a reason to remind you how much February sucks.  But what about Valentine’s Day.  Originally a Christian liturgical feast day, it has morphed into a highly commercialized franchise (run by a big eastern syndicate, you know).  Cards, candy, expensive dinners, and rose petal strewn sheets on a heart-shaped bed in some bungalow in the Poconos (too much information?) . . . it has become my Scrooge “holiday.”  A “bogus holiday at best” to once again quote Mr. Black [].  I love my wife of 42 years for 365 (and sometimes 366) days a year, and I don’t need a special day . . . least of all one in February (you will see Mr. Black put it more succinctly if you click on the link) . . . to demonstrate that fact.  Does that make me a Scrooge?  If so, so be it.  Bah, humbug! 

When I was a kid we celebrated both Abraham Lincoln’s birthday (February 12) and George Washington’s (February 22) as public holidays, although today only a few states recognize Lincoln’s birthday as a separate holiday.  Washington’s birthday is a federally recognized holiday, but now it is celebrated on the third Monday of February (this year on 20th) and is more popularly known as Presidents Day.  Now we are obliged to celebrate all presidents, whether they were born in February or not (besides Washington and Lincoln, only Ronald Reagan and William Henry Harrison were born in February).  So now we are called upon to celebrate the likes of Franklin Pierce, James Buchanan, Warren G. Harding, Andrew Johnson, Ulysses S Grants . . . . oh, the list goes on right up until today.  I don’t want to celebrate these guys, and I certainly don’t want to do it in February when everything already seems grim and hopeless.  Sanctuary now!

Come to think of it. why are the prettiest young ladies on the annual Sports Illustrated swimsuit calendar always consigned to the February???  It’s just not right.  So my apologies to any of my readers, friends, or family who were born in February.  I know it is not your fault.  You can’t help when you were born.  Still, couldn’t you have been early or late.  Babies are always early or late.  So, in some small way, it's really your own damned fault.  Even I, whose timing is not always the greatest, managed to hold off until March.

I told you it was not a pretty picture.  So yes, I hate February.  I always have and I always will.

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Saturday, January 28, 2017

The Year of the Cock

Well, that title must have caught your attention.  One can also say it is the Year of the Rooster, or, more correctly, the Year of the Chicken, since the Chinese word applied to this particular lunar new year cycle is not gender specific.   But I got your attention, right?

The cock, or rooster, is an energetic creature and very aggressive.  It is not monogamous, preferring to stand guard over several hens and their general nesting area while attacking any other cock that attempts to encroach upon its territory (hence the term “cockfight”).  Cocks also strut as they exercise their dominance over their female broods.  

The Chinese New Year 2017 – the Year of the Cock – begins today, which corresponds with the second New Moon after the Winter Solstice.  Usually falling between mid January and mid February, this ancient ritual celebrating the spring renewal is the longest of the traditional Chinese holidays, dating back to circa 2600 BCE.  It will last for six days, until February 2.  It is said that the Taoist sign of the cock – a yang symbol that is the tenth sign in the twelve year cycle of Chinese zodiac – represents an observant and quick wit suggesting practical solutions through hard work, punctuality and fidelity.  It predicts a time of rebirth, transformation and growth; a year to renew and to restore, to replace the old with the new.  A cock with new plumage as it were.  It is the only fowl to be represented in the Chinese zodiac, last appearing in 2005.

Although modern China uses the international Gregorian calendar today, it still observes the traditional lunar calendar.  And this year the Chinese New Year is getting a lot of attention both home and abroad.  The Economist is reporting that China’s largest festival is going global in a big way, and the government hopes that Chinese communities around the work will ramp up the festivities.  Other countries throughout Asia celebrate the lunar new year in their own unique way, but the Chinese version is probably the best known and most widely celebrated as a result of the widespread Chinese diaspora going back to the 19th century.  An aggressive celebration of a new year represented by an aggressive, and yes, sometime vain cock.  Is this a cautionary tale perhaps?

This year’s celebration in China includes a faux panegyric to our fresh-baked Chief Executive . . . something I am quite certain he will enjoy and take in the spirit it was intended . . . or not.  A large statute of a white cock, this one adorned with his golden coiffure representing what was once described as “the furrowed wake that a speedboat would leave on a lake of orange sherbet” . . . “a mullet that died in some horrific accident.”  Oh, I could go on and on.  One of the statue’s feathered “hands” gesticulates our Dear Leader’s omnipresent lecturing finger, the other accentuating his “AOK” sign formed with his thumb and middle digit (the guy really needs new shtick, I think).  This statue was recently erected outside a shopping mall in Taiyun, the capital of a northern Shanxi province, and it has become the subject of a media frenzy.  Since then a factory located in Jiaxing, near Shanghai, has been manufacturing and selling dozens of giant inflatable presidential cocks, some as high as 15 feet, to shopping malls across China.  Photographs of these statues have been popping up in the international media and have gone viral on numerous social media platforms. (I wonder if DJT will demand more photos to prove that there are actually more presidential statues than were actually manufactured and sold?)  You know you cant trust the media, or so he wants us to believe.

Anyway, I thought it would be fun to share this with you.  Have a Happy Lunar New Year!!

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Monday, January 23, 2017

An Appetite for Destruction?

Human brutes, like other beasts, find snares and  poison in the provision of life, and are allured by their appetites to their destruction.
    – Jonathan Swift, circa 1765

We can only hope.  I will continue to write and post here and elsewhere about the new “administration” [sic], but I will never use that man’s name, nor will I post his photograph.  Yet you will surely know who I am writing about.  He likes to see his name in print.  His day is brightened each time his visage appears in the media.  But not here.  Ever!! 

To quote Ruth Marcus, writing in The Washington Post on January 20, 2017 . . . inauguration day; “he has triumphed despite his dishonesty, his vulgarity, his addiction to social media, his lack of religious faith, his many wives, all of the elements of his character and personal history . . . . ”  He is a “man incapable of confessing error and constantly compelled to counterpunch . . . . “

He will find no sanctuary here. I refuse to nourish his puerile appetites.  We can only hope they will lead to the ultimate repudiation of the man and his vision of America.

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Saturday, January 21, 2017

We Still Have A Dream - A Women's March on Washington and Beyond

This is the upside of the downside. This is an outpouring of  democracy like I’ve never seen in my very long life.
   – Gloria Steinem

It was a foggy, rainy morning today here in Washington, DC.  I dropped my wife at a friend’s house before they assembled with others at a local church to be shuttled to the Washington Mall in busses provide by Maryland Representative Steny Hoyer (who also happens to be the House Minority Whip).  They would add their bodies and voices to the hundreds of thousands of women and men who had assembled there in a call for universal human rights, civil rights,  and gender equality.  Although the primary goal of the march was to show solidarity on these key issues, it was also an orderly groundswell protest against the xenophobic policies and comments of a new president and the ill-advised and dangerous direction in which he wants to lead this country. 

I had hoped to join in the march, but with the ever expanding schedule of events and speakers, and an extension of the original march route, I soon realized my back and hip would never hold up.  But I was there in spirit, listening to live streamed speeches throughout the day while checking out all the photos and texts being posted on social media platforms.  It is too bad the weather was not more cooperative, but it did not prevent the messages from getting though loud and clear.  This is my personal contribution to that effort.

And they were not marching just here in Washington!  There were reports of over 600 “sister marches” across the nation.  I have friends who were marching in New Hampshire and Maine . . . in Florida, Chicago, Toronto, Montréal. Cincinnati, Denver, and New Orleans.  They also marched in Seneca Falls, New York, in Helena, Montana . . .  and in Berlin, Germany.   There were marches in Mexico, Australia, London, Paris, and Capetown.  Too many to list here (see map).  They were even joined by a small international group on board an expedition ship in Paradise Bay, in Antarctica.  Voices were raised across the planet since the demand for universal human rights and gender equality are global issues, not just American ones.  And these are not just women’s issues.  "We cannot all succeed,” Malala Yousafzai tells us, “when half of us are held back."  Women and men were marching together in solidarity.  And isn’t this the way it should be?  We are all in this together.  We will all suffer if we are not heard and respected.

What happened today here in Washington and across the globe cannot end today. “The end is not near,” film maker Michael Moore told a reporter.  “The beginning is near.”  But there is still a great deal of work left to be done.  It will not be easy; it will be a constant struggle.  That said, however, it is no Sisyphean ordeal.  Gloria Steinem hit the nail on the head.  "The future depends entirely on what each of us does every day; a movement is only people moving."  Let’s ALL keep moving forward, pushing forward . . .  even if it is an uphill battle at times.

Tonight the streets of Washington are quiet again, but the demands for a commitment to universal human rights, to gender equality, as well as for economic and racial justice . . . for everyone . . . will continue to echo far and wide . . . IF we continue to stand in solidarity with one another.  To quote Ms. Steinem again in conclusion: “Whenever one person stands up and says, ‘Wait a minute, this is wrong,’ it helps other people do the same.“

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Friday, January 20, 2017

Inauguration Day - A Descent Into Mediocrity . . . or Worse

                        Mediocrity knows nothing higher than itself.
                            – Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

I have gone dark today . . . except for writing this.  It is a dark day for America and I have no interest in what that man has to say. There is no resonance of truth in any of his many boasts and claims.  A liar, a narcissist, a sexual predator, a mediocrity of the first order as he respects no one more than himself.  Sir Arthur Conan Doyle got it right.

The new president (a lower case president to be sure) seems to bask in his ability to remain detached from the world we live in.  He does not read or attend intelligence briefings.  He considers it a badge of honor that he does not read books.  He speaks in cliches, catch phrases, and self aggrandizing encomia.  Soft skinned to the extreme, he cannot tolerate dissent or debate, maintaining he already knows everything he needs to know.   So how can I celebrate the next chapter in the history of our republic when it looks more like an epilogue?  And a sad and disheartening one at that.  I cannot bring myself to acknowledge the pomp and circumstance playing itself out today less than three miles from where I sit in my home study writing this.  I see no reason to celebrate.

Instead, I have just re-read “Les Amis du Président,” William Styron’s essay based on his July 26, 1981 account - “A Leader Who Prefers Writers to Politicians” - published in The Boston Globe after he returned home from attending the inauguration of French president François Mitterrand two months earlier.  Styron (1925-2006) spent a great deal of time in Europe, especially in Paris, and was among the founders of the seminal Paris Review, in 1953.  Mitterrand would later name Styron a Commandeur in the French Légion d'honneur.   He was among seven writers . . . three of them American . . . personally invited by the newly elected President to be among the fewer than 200 in attendance for the actual ceremony at the base of the Arc de Triomphe on a gray day threaten by rain . . . very much like today here in Washington.  He joined Arthur Miller, Elie Wiesel, Gabriel Márquez, Carlos Fuentes, Julio Cortázar, Yachar Kemal, as well as the widow of Pablo Neruda..  There were no heads of state, no diplomats . . . “very little pomp and circumstance.”  Yet there were the writers!

Styron sat next to French European Commissioner Claude Cheysson (1920-2012), soon to be tapped as the new French foreign minister, at a luncheon at the Elysée Palace after the ceremony.  When asked what he though of the invitation, Styron told Cheysson it was a rare honor; “Writers were very rarely accorded this kind of recognition, especially in the United States . . . and that it was fun to help celebrate this day with a president who was so obviously and passionately in love with the written word.”  Mitterrand, in Styron’s eye, was “perhaps alone among the chiefs of state of our time, who cares for writers more than the members of any other profession – more than lawyers, more than scientists, more than politicians . . . . “  And when the new French president and his party processed down the broad boulevard Saint-Michel, on the Left Bank, on their way to the Sorbonne after the luncheon, he was accompanied by Styron and the writers invited to the ceremony.  “A concern for culture and the intellect is not mere style with Mitterrand,” Styron writes.  “But central to his being.”

As far as I can tell, not one Republican president has ever invited a poet to read at his inauguration, to celebrate the rich heritage and diversity of our nation.  In 1961, John F. Kennedy invited Robert Frost.  Jimmy Carter invited James Dickey sixteen years later.  Maya Angelou and Miller Williams were on the dais when Bill Clinton took the oath of office.  Barack Obama invited Elizabeth Alexander and Richard Blanco.   Once again there was no poet in attendance today.  I would hardly expect one to show up even if she or he had been invited.  Language, culture, intellect means nothing to the man now ensconced in the White House, a man who has called for the elimination of both the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities?  He should not find much objection from the conservative Republican in Congress (is there really any other kind?).  Instead, former US poet laureates Robert Pinsky and Rita Dove will join American poets of every stripe and color to protest today’s inauguration with “Writers Resist” rallies around the country.

Finally, should not leaders of their peoples and nations be among the smartest people, the most engaged people their nation has to offer?   I am reminded of John F. Kennedy, one of our more intellectually and culturally astute leaders, who while speaking at a White House dinner celebrating Nobel laureates, in April 1962, called the assembly “the most extraordinary collection of talent, of human knowledge, that has ever been gathered together at the White House, with the possible exception of when Thomas Jefferson dined alone.”  Think back to Jefferson and our other revolutionary founders – Washington, Adams. Jefferson, Madison, and Monroe.   Add to them John Quincy Adams, Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, Franklin Roosevelt, Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, and Barack Obama.  These men all understood how one governs properly.  That said, there have been other presidents who were less than stellar – Martin Van Buren, Franklin Pierce, James Buchanan, Andrew Johnson, U.S. Grant, Warren G. Harding, and Richard Nixon.  All of them mediocrities on their best day.  In 1980, and again in 1984, American elected a mediocre movie star.  Now they have elected the former host of a “reality” show with absolutely no government experience.  No idea how governing really works.  He is also the first president in 25 years without an advanced degree who seems only interested in himself.  Americans seem to idolize celebrity over intellect.  But are we prepared to pay the price for our failure to elect a qualified leader who understands the nuances of governing?    

A mediocrity pure and simple now captains the ship of state.  Should we not be raising the bar instead of lowering it?  America certainly deserves better than it is got today.

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Monday, January 16, 2017

Today is Not Just Another Day Off

Today we commemorate and honor the life and legacy of Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929-1968). We have been doing this on an annual basis since 1971, and this year it is of the utmost importance that we do so. Yes, it is a holiday and most of us are enjoying a rare three-day weekend with family and friends. But it is critical that we remember Reverend King and what he stood for. Let his wisdom and words guide us as this country enters a period of uncertainty when our people seem more divided than ever before in recent history.

Reverend King reminded us that we should never be silent . . . that we should stand up for what we believe in and speak out against injustice in every guise. "Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter." As we observe the transition of power in Washington this week, we should not look at it as the end of what was good, but as a clarion call to rise up and speak out for what we believe in. We will not be intimidated. "In the end," Reverend King warned, "we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends."  Don’t let this happen!

Fifty years ago this country appeared to be coming apart at the seams. Our cities were burning and we were divided over a war so many of us opposed. It was a time when some of us found our own voices for the first time and finally stood up to say we would not be dictated to. We fought to take our country back and put it on a path on which we could all enjoys peace and the pursuit of happiness. Today we find ourselves divided again. It is time to speak out again. Do not be silent.  Let your voice be heard.  "History will have to record that the greatest tragedy of this period of social transition was not the strident clamor of the bad people, but the appalling silence of the good people," Reverend King told us a half century ago.  Words of wisdom we should never forget.

So stand up, speak your mind, and let your voice ring out loud and clear!

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Sunday, January 1, 2017

Time to Sweep 2016 Under the Rug . . . And Don't Put Away That Broom Yet!!

It is said that on December 31, 1943 the monks at the Benedictine abbey situated atop Monte Cassino, in Italy’s Liri Valley southeast of Rome, wrote in their log: “A terrible year has ended.  God forgive us our errors.”  Not that the monks had any say in the death and destruction brought to Italy that previous autumn.  Over the next several months the abbey became the focal point of a life and death struggle as the Allies tried to capture Rome, liberate Italy, and expel Nazi Germany from the soft underbelly of Europe.  It was a pile of rubble when it was all over.

So there have been many bad years throughout history.  Yet this past year has sucked in so many ways and on so many levels.  And honestly, given the present circumstances, I do not hold out much hope that 2017 will be any better.  Already this morning a major terrorist attack in Istanbul has claimed the lives of dozens of innocent holiday revelers.  Come this time next December, we might all look back on 2016 as the “Good Old Days.”  I might be wrong, but I am guessing I’m not. 

There have been heartfelt losses every year, but 2016 seems to have been particularly cruel in robbing us of so many impressive and talented people.  In no particular order there are those heroes who worked hard to preach peace instead of war, who struggled to make this world a far better place in which to live and love: Elie Wiesel, Simon Peres, Umberto Eco, John Glenn, Boutros-Boutros Ghali, Tom Hayden, Daniel Berrigan, and my old boss Janet Reno; those whose music were benchmarks in the late 20th century and into the 21st: David Bowie, Prince, Leonard Cohen, Natalie Cole, Glenn Frey, Keith Emerson, Merle Haggard, Bobbie Vee, George Michael, Paul Kantner, Leon Russell, and George Martin; those who entertained us on stage, in films and on television: Alan Rickman, Garry Shandling, Patty Duke, Gene Wilder, Florence Henderson, Abe Vigoda, Michael Cimino, Edward Albee. Peter Schaffer, and now this past  week Carrie Fischer and her mother Debbie Reynolds, and in the waning hours of 2016 William Christopher; there are those who amazed us in sports: Mohammed Ali, Arnold Palmer, Ralph Branca, and Gordie Howe; and the writers and journalists whose work set the highest standards for a free expression of ideas: Jim Harrison, Harper Lee, Pat Conroy, Alvin Toffler, Gwen Ifill, Morley Safer, and John McLaughlin.  May they all find peace in whatever lies beyond this mortal coil.  There are also many who have left us to whom I say good riddance.  The world is better off without them.  Even better had their lives never shadowed our threshold.  I won’t even utter their names.  Unfortunately the good often die young, or before their time, and far outnumber those who have outlasted their welcome.  That will never change.

Another loss we cannot even begin to measure is our cherished democracy here in the United States which is quickly slipping through our fingers.  After what Dave Barry has called “the grim death march that is the modern American presidential campaign” Americans have elected - or should I say a group of less than 600 men and women chosen by the individuals states to serve in the long obsolete electoral College have elected - a new and hopelessly naive president-elect who seems to bask in his ignorance of the very real problems facing this nation and its people . . . especially the most disadvantaged among us.  And he apparently had the Russians’ help in the process.  What is wrong with this picture?

Nero fiddled while Rome burned, and our president-elect tweets while ignoring those who can advise him well.  He eschews intelligence briefings while claiming he already knows what is best for America.  Does he?  On top of it all he pledges he will be unpredictable.  "No one is going to touch us, because I'm so unpredictable."  The conservative writer Charles Krauthammer tells us that this pathological narcissist has gone “beyond narcissism” exhibiting an “infantile hunger for approval and praise” as he lives in “a cocoon of solipsism.”  This does not bode well for America and the many challenges we face in this fast paced world.   The presidential historian Joseph J. Ellis reminds us of a historical truism . . . . “that inherited circumstances define the parameters within which presidential leadership takes place - that history shapes presidents rather than vice versa.”   An individual can make history yet this same individual will never fully understand the ramifications of the history she or he has made. This is a lesson the president-elect would do well to heed.   But it does not look like he got the memo, or he failed to read it, if he did.

Since his election in November the president-elect has gone out of his way to appoint individuals to his cabinet and administration who seem hell bent on destroying the very departments and agencies they have been asked to lead. The CEO of Exxon/Mobil and a good friend of Vladimir Putin, the fascist thug trying to make Russia great again, has been tapped as Secretary of State; a former governor of Texas and presidential candidate who threatened to eliminate the Department of Energy (although he could not remember what it was called during a debate) chosen to head that very same department; a rather dim-witted neurosurgeon to head the Department of Housing and Urban Development despite the fact that he admits he knows nothing about its responsibilities and has never held a government position in his life; a Wall Street hedge fund manager with no government experience to be the Secretary of the Treasury although the president-elect railed against these “hedge fund guys” during the campaign and has indicated he wants to get rid of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform legislation; a supporter of private and charter schools over free public education to lead the Department of Education; a vocal opponent of Obamacare without an alternative plan to oversee Health and Human services; an attorney general designate who failed to win confirmation as a federal judge due to his poor civil and human rights record; a fast food executive who opposes a liveable minimum wage to head the Department of Labor; a supporter of unlimited drilling and a climate change denier to head the Department of the Interior; retired generals to oversee Defense and Homeland Security and to serve as National Security Advisor (after the president-elect claimed during the campaign that if elected he might fire some of the top generals now running the military); a billionaire investor who opposed existing trade agreements to head the Commerce Department as the president-elect has pledged to eliminate the Consumer Protection Act; a billionaire corporate raider to be Special Advisor on Regulatory Reform; a former head of World Wrestling Entertainment to run the Small Business Administration; a supporter of the fossil fuel industry to head the Environmental Protection Agency; and the wife of the Senate Majority Leader as Secretary of Transportation.  Add to these a white supremacist and nationalist as a senior White House advisor and strategist.   And the president-elect is not yet finished with his appointments. How is this going to make America great again as he has promised?   He hasn’t really told us how yet and I suspect he doesn’t really know.  Are you scared yet?

On top of this the president-elect wants build a wall to keep out browned skinned people from Mexico and beyond.  We wants to bar entry to any Muslims trying to enter the country and to register those already here . . . much like the Nazi’s registered and tattooed the Jews and other undesirables.  He wants to put all mosques under surveillance.  He wants to deport millions of immigrants illegally living in the United States. He wants to eradicate health insurance, especially for those who need it most, while offering nothing concrete to replace it (although he tells us it will be “terrific” when he does).  He wants to defund Planned Parenthood while pledging to “take care of women” (we all know what that means, right?).  He has made fun of physically challenged individuals for a cheap laugh.   He has bragged about grabbing women’s pussies just because he can.  He wants to eliminate the Environmental Protection Agency and strip away environmental safeguards through ignorance about the science of climate change.  He wants to gut the legislation that has taken years to clean our water and air.   He wants to start a nuclear arms race.  He wants to return American to its former isolationism that made it possible for despots and demagogues of the past to force the world into wars that this country eventually had to fight.   That said, he wants to “bomb the shit out of ISIS” while authorizing the killing of family members of suspected terrorists while authorizing the use of waterboarding and other torture. He wants to expand military spending for weapons and military adventuring while gutting the Department of Veterans Affairs.  He has at one time or another pledged to take the United States out of the UN, NATO, NAFTA, and the TTP.   Why not make them better?   He wants to end the exploration of space.  He wants concealed-carry permits recognized in all 50 states and he has claimed he would get rid of gun-free zones at military bases and in schools despite the plague of mass shooting in this country.  He is a racist, a misogynist, and a sexual predator.  And all of this is somehow going to make America great again?

What makes America great is building on what has made us great in the past; not to reverse or destroy it just because someone else came up with the idea first. The president-elect must be comforted by the realization that he knows what is best for this country and its citizens. Unfortunately, history is full of narcissistic demagogues who convinced themselves that they had all the answers.  And they somehow convinced their citizens to believe them, to trust them, to follow them to greatness . . . usually by finding a scapegoat on which to blame their nations’ ills.   It never ended well and these “leaders” saw their creations cast onto the ash heap of history at the cost of millions of lives.  Is this how we want to make America great again?   I don’t think so.  I never thought I would ever find myself quoting Ronald Reagan, but maybe I should since many who voted for the president-elect see him as a natural successor to Reagan and his vision of America.  “Someone once said that every form of government has one characteristic peculiar to it and if that characteristic is lost, the government will fall. In a monarchy, it is affection and respect for the royal family. If that is lost the monarch is lost. In a dictatorship, it is fear. If the people stop fearing the dictator he'll lose power. In a representative government such as ours, it is virtue. If virtue goes, the government fails. Are we choosing paths that are politically expedient and morally questionable? Are we in truth losing our virtue? . . . If so, we may be nearer the dustbin of history than we realize.” Unfortunately Reagan did not follow his own advice and his warning proved true.  Still, maybe the president-elect might want to sit up and take note . . . to learn from history?   But I doubt he will.  He and his cronies know what is best for us, right?

 All of a sudden 2017 is not looking very bright or promising.  And it all begins with Santa Claus murdering dozens of holiday revelers celebrating the arrival of the New Year. 

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