Watching the crazies.

The Not-So-Little Drummer Boy was a cool kid who grew up into a neat adult. He has moved out of New York and now teaches English to kindergartners, which he enjoys, and he has a girlfriend who I have not met but have talked to on the phone, and generally seems to be settling down.

He lives and works in Seoul, South Korea.

The chest thumping from North Korean leader  Kim Jong Un has made me nervous, but it is not really anything we haven’t heard before. The response from Donald Trump (threats will be “met with fire and fury and frankly, power”) made for a sleepless night.

Trump can’t be serious, can he? This is a man who lies constantly. A man known to bluff with no cards in his hand. It’s just another empty threat. Right?

My concern is that Kim Jong Un takes Trump at his word, and engages in a pre-emptive strike.  South Korea might be safer from a nuclear attack than we are here on the West Coast, I think. Kim may be crazy, but he’s not stupid: the north might experience nuclear fallout, right?

But if they have nuclear weapons, what other weapons do they have? Biological? Chemical? Just conventional weapons would cause a lot of damage.

What if Kim realizes just how weak Trump is? What if Kim realizes Trump was talking out his ass and decides to call his bluff? How safe is South Korea?

I am not a military or intelligence expert. I try to read the Washington Post and watch the news, but I tend to hyperventilate. I know I may just be catastrophizing here, but catastrophizing seems almost rational given the narcissistic incompetent we have in the White House and the crazy authoritarian across the sea. Both leaders seem to take every statement, every perceived threat, as a personal insult.

I know that all I can do is watch. I can suggest to the NSLDB that he come back to the States, but right now he’s staying put. If things go pear-shaped, how much time will he have to leave? Given his girlfriend, will he choose to stay there and ride things out?

When your kids grow up, they fly. Hopefully, they fly strong and free. I am proud of the NSLDB for trying something new, for experiencing a foreign land. For being willing to take chances.  For living a full and exciting life.

I just wish he weren’t living in a potential war zone, and that we didn’t have a petulant, thin-skinned child as a President.

Posted in Kids in all their glory, My life and times, Politics, The World | Tagged , | 2 Comments

It’s a day.

I have three separate posts that I am working on. One about Trump supporters and the Deep South, one about immigration and the Statue of Liberty, and one about art museums.

And I am not working on any of them.

Instead, I have been engaging in my favorite time sink (Facebook) and household chores. I have at least done laundry and cleaned the kitchen.

I am still so very tired a lot of the time. It’s been two months since I was diagnosed with pneumonia; I should be over it already.

I have discovered another time-sink: horse racing. I have always loved racing, but except for the big races telecast on the major broadcast networks, I have not had the chance to see much of it. Enter Fox Sports and Saratoga Live!, coverage of the last four races of the day at the track at Saratoga. I DVR it during the day and watch it at night. (DVRing allows me to skip commercials, walks around the paddock, and interviews with trainers. No trainers give interesting interviews, although I do have a fond spot in my heart for Shug McGaughey.) Since I know next to nothing about these horses, I always pull for the gray one.

Saratoga Live! may lead me into another potential time-sink: researching horse bloodlines. I am fascinated by how in any given race there might be several horses with the same sire. (I have yet to see horses with the same dam; then again, stallions produce vastly more offspring than mares do.) I have yet to succumb, however.

The Red-Headed Menace turned twenty-one yesterday. On one hand, I feel old; on the other, all my kids can now buy me Gewurztraminer for my birthday. There’s always a silver lining.

Level unlocked: Buttercream frosting. This achievement comes courtesy of the Kitchen-Aid stand mixer we got from a friend a few weeks ago. (I had been planning to do a seven-minute or Italian meringue frosting, but I figured that handling molten hot sugar was a bad idea, given my tremors.) Now, if I can only figure out how to keep flour or powdered sugar from exploding all over the counter when I turn it on….

Saffron-Raspberry cake: Take a standard white cake mix. (So I don’t make this cake from scratch. Sue me.) Boil the water required for the mix. Stir in a couple of good pinches of saffron, and let the water cool to room temperature. Cook cake according to directions, using saffron water. Melt raspberry jam in the microwave (I think about 4 – 6 ounces, but I am not sure). Split cooled cake layers, and fill with melted jam. Frost with homemade buttercream frosting.

I am trying not to be terrified about the possibility of Congress and the administration not raising the debt ceiling. I am also worried about a government shutdown, but less so. The long-term damage to the country will be less with the latter.

The days are getting slowly shorter, and the sunlight slightly less intense. I find myself smiling at this.

I talked to a family member in Mississippi a couple of days ago. It was a lovely conversation…. but then again, we avoided politics. One thing I like about my family is that we are capable of being nice to each other, even though they are Trump supporters and I most emphatically am not.

I have been reading Bruce Catton’s The Civil War (see: potential blog post about the Deep South, above). I am gaining a new perspective on a lot of things I thought I knew. Catton is a reliable source, and new ideas are almost always a good thing. While I think it unlikely that a new civil war will break out in the country, according to Catton neither the North nor the South excepted the other to go to war, either.

At any rate, that’s my day. I hope yours is going well, too.


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In San Francisco, no less.

To tell you the truth, I’m still freaked out by the whole thing.

On a random impulse, I decided to go to the beach, hoping to see the sun set. I hopped in the Rocket Scientist’s car (he’s out of town) and headed north. Then, on a yet more random impulse, as I was underway I decided “Screw that, I’m going to the Golden Gate Bridge.” (The chances of being able to see the sunset from the bridge were, as usual for this time of year, terrible.) I stopped briefly at the Great Highway to chuckle at the sight of people dressed (appropriately) in down coats in August, and to determine exactly what shade of gray the ocean was. (The breakers were a gray-green; farther out the ocean was slate.) As I left I thought that once I had crossed the bridge I would call friends in San Francisco to see if any of them were available. (Given that it was late afternoon on a Saturday in August, I figured the odds were about equal to those of me seeing the sunset from the bridge.)

In the vicinity of Golden Gate Park, while stopped at a red light, I became aware that a guy was hanging out the back window of the new Nissan Altima behind me. He was screaming obscenities at me and my Hillary bumper sticker.

“Motherfucker [unintelligible] Hillary [unintelligible] fucking Hillary … You mother fucker!!” This went on until the light changed. I drew a deep breath and drove on.

He did the same thing at the next light and the light after that. I could hear the three other guys in the car egging him on. He didn’t sound very angry (he laughed occasionally) but it was clear to me that they wanted to make me afraid.

They continued to follow me. The verbal abuse stopped, but I looked back at one point and the guy who had screamed at me was leaning out of the window photographing the back of the car. They were close enough that the bumper sticker would be legible, but more to the point the license plate would be as well.

I told myself to keep calm — they were highly unlikely to get out and confront me physically as there was too much traffic. I kept expecting them to turn off onto one of the side streets, but they didn’t. Once we were on the approach to the bridge I realized that they were not going to stay in the city. I slowed down significantly, and the driver passed me.

“Whew,” I thought. “Okay, they’re simply going north and just saw me as an easy opportunity to harass a Hillary supporter. I’ll just go to the vista point, look out at the waves and the Bay Bridge, take some deep breaths, maybe call a couple of people.”

The car exited at the vista point.

Clearly, I wasn’t going to exit there myself. I went down an exit, and because by that time my brain was screaming and my pulse racing, I got turned around and spent half an hour wandering through Sausalito trying to get down to downtown.  Sausalito has a lovely downtown with no available parking on a Saturday in the early evening. As I was driving around I did see the remnants of the sunset under the fog surrounding the full moon. It was beautiful, and if I could have found parking I would have stayed.

I managed to get back on the freeway headed south and decided to head home. At this point, I decided that although I love my friends what I really needed was to be safe under my own roof.

I’m home now, and I’m still shaking. I am telling myself that I’m overreacting, that they didn’t really pose a threat to me, that even if I had followed them to the vista point the most they would have done is keep yelling at me, and probably not even that given all the people around. (Then again, I wouldn’t have thought they would have kept screaming at me with traffic around, either.)

I keep trying not to remember the other times I have been threatened by men.

I don’t even know if they were Trump supporters. It was San Francisco so they might well have been Berniebots. It doesn’t matter. What does matter is that four grown men (ages roughly mid- to late-twenties) thought it socially acceptable to try to intimidate or terrorize a lone woman with no warning and for no reason.

Oh, what a brave new world we live in.


Posted in My life and times, Politics | Tagged , | 9 Comments

Affirmative action for whom?

The Trump administration believes that white men have been disadvantaged in college admissions. The Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department, in a development that would be amusingly hypocritical if it were not a sickening subversion of everything the division stands for, has decided to investigate and possibly sue colleges and universities with affirmative action plans.  The department is running the project out of its front office rather than its Educational Opportunities Section because the career staff wants nothing to do with it.

While they’re at it, I think the administration should look at all the affirmative action programs. Let’s start with athletes. In 2017, NCAA Division I schools were allowed 269.9 scholarships for male athletes per year and 254.1 for women athletes.  (When I was applying to college back in the dawn of time, I was at an event for potential Princeton students, where the young men (there were no young women aside from me in the room) bitterly moaned about money spent on women’s sports taking away funding for smaller men’s sports such as wrestling. Funny, they would bitch about the relatively small number of women’s scholarships in any given sport (the most for any women’s sport in 2017 was 18 for Track & Field/Cross Country and Ice Hockey) but seemed perfectly okay with the huge number of scholarships allocated to football (85 in 2017). You still see some of these misogynistic crybabies on the Internet.)

And what about rich kids? Kids whose parents can effectively buy their way in (cough*JaredKushner*cough)? What is that but affirmative action for the wealthy?

And then there are legacies. Your folks went to XYZ elite university, and you have a better shot at going there yourself. Given the lack of diversity programs in the past, legacy admissions maintain the socioeconomic status quo, and not in a good way.

I am the product of two very elite institutions. I was not a legacy, I was not wealthy, and I was certainly not an athlete. I got in because of my test scores (my grades were good but not earth-shaking) and my ability to write a decent essay. I was able to stay in because both schools had good financial aid programs. But the more I looked around, the more I came to believe that diversity of all types — racial, ethnic, religious, socioeconomic — is essential to a proper education.

I can still remember quite vividly the classmate at Wellesley, who in the midst of a discussion about America in the 1960s, said “But what you do defines you! It’s the first thing people say about themselves! You know….’I’m a doctor,’ ‘I’m a lawyer’…” ” “Not if you’re a taxicab driver or a plumber,” I replied. She looked shocked. She honestly had not considered the world beyond the narrow slice of society that she knew.

Classmates and professors taught me to understand the ways in which the experience of people of color differed from mine. I still miss things, but to the extent I am cognizant of racial inequalities I have them to thank.

And law schools almost definitionally require diversity. All of us are covered by the law, and all of us need to have our experiences reflected in the makeup of those who carry out those laws. Lawyers from elite law schools become professors, or judges, or, often, lawmakers.  We need a broad range of perspectives to ensure that we truly are one nation with justice for all.

But justice for all is clearly not a priority for the Trump administration. Otherwise, they would never be spending resources in seeking to “protect” a class of people that get more protection than anyone else.

In the end,  most of us — not merely those who benefit from diversity programs — will be the poorer for it.


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Do you ever feel like you are in a movie?

I do right now, except that if any screenwriter attempted to capture and put down on paper the current state of our government no studio would greenlight it. The whole situation is simply too bizarre.

I fell into movie unreality mode last week when Trump hired Anthony Scaramucci as White House Communications Director. Scaramucci could have walked off the big screen, only in a movie by Martin Scorcese instead of Woody Allen. Profane and verbally violent, Scaramucci lasted only ten days in the job. I’m sad to see him go, sort of: he was amusing in the darkly nasty way that so much of the Trump White House is, at least if you don’t think too hard about the implications of their actions.

While Scarmucci merely looked the part of a gangster, his boss demonstrated a willingness to engage in the tactics used by the criminals in every mob movie. Following her vote against several iterations of Trumpcare, Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski (as well as Alaska’s other senator, Dan Sullivan) received a call from Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke, who told her that Alaska would face consequences for her independence. As Rachel Maddow put it, “Nice state you got there… it’d be a shame if anything happened to it.”   (Alaskans are tough; I have no doubt that Murkowski will be fine.)

We have known for six months now that Trump does not understand the separation of powers. We get handed more and more evidence every day that he neither understands nor respects the rule of law. The attempted shakedown of Alaska is just one more example.

This is how the man ran his business. People who crossed him, who said no, who stood up for themselves, were threatened. In 1984, Trump used undocumented Polish immigrant workers in the construction of Trump Tower. He paid them half the prevailing union wage and only a little above minimum wage. When the lawyer representing the workers placed mechanics liens on the building for unpaid wages, Trump threatened to sue him for $100 million for filing unwarranted liens. When that didn’t work, he tried to have the workers deported.*

Given his insistence on ignoring ethics rules, not to mention engaging in unbridled nepotism, his fury at the Attorney General taking the proper and ethical course by recusing himself from the Russia investigation, and most of all his campaign’s possible — probable? — collusion with Russian interference in the 2016 election, Trump makes Richard “When the President Does It, That Means It’s Not Illegal” Nixon look like a piker.

None of this is news. Unless you have been blissfully living in the woods somewhere with no media exposure (lucky you!), you should know what this man is like. Every day he goes further and further along the road of despotism. He will soon be a penny-ante Vladimir Putin. Perhaps luckily for us, he lacks the competence to be a first-rate Vladimir Putin.

And every day, as our democracy seemingly inches towards mild totalitarianism, I am deeply saddened by the number of my fellow citizens who are more than willing to overlook the destructive path we are on. Myriads of pixels have been expounded on why Trump supporters remain steadfast; I can’t understand it, and I’m not sure I even have the wherewithal to try anymore. I can’t help but be appalled that these people, so many who screamed “lock her up!” about Hillary Clinton, do not care about being led by a man who views the law as something that only applies to other people. (Given how the law has been written over the years to screw them over, perhaps this is not surprising.) It seems that for many of my fellow citizens, we are no longer a nation of laws.

It is all about the man: many of his supporters want a Messiah, not a President, and are willing to overlook any flaws, forgive any defects in their chosen leader.**

God help us all.

*I usually find the Food Network’s Geoffrey Zakarian annoying. The man won mad props from me, though, after he pulled out of the lease for his restaurant which was slated to be opened in the Trump hotel in the Old Post Office, following Trump’s statements about Mexicans being rapists and murderers. Trump sued for $10 million, of course. Zakarian stated that Trump’s behavior would make it difficult to run a profitable restaurant. In his deposition in the case, Trump stated that the opposite was true: now that he was president, a lot of people would want to eat there. I hate to ever agree with Trump, but he’s right: given how popular the hotel has been with foreign dignitaries — not that they would be seeking to influence the President of the United States or anything — I feel sure a restaurant there would have a healthy business, at least while Trump was president. The suit settled for an undisclosed sum, and there is no restaurant in the area where Zakarian’s would have been.

** You see this on the left as well: the more fanatical Bernie Bots showed similar inclination to overlook their candidate’s flaws: if their guy didn’t win, it didn’t matter who did, and they were more than willing to drag the rest of us down with them.

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Before I start, let’s acknowledge that yes, Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski showed courage in their early and continuing opposition to the Republican health bill. I don’t contest that, nor do I minimize their efforts to prevent a bill that would be destructive to the well-being of millions of Americans.

But John McCain…

After John McCain returned from Arizona, after his diagnosis of brain cancer, he has been excoriated by more than one person on my Facebook. (Not my friends, but friends of friends.) They sneered at his courage. They ignored his achievements because they saw him as betraying the country by voting for the Trumpcare bill to come to the floor of the Senate.

They accused him of hypocrisy when he called for the Senate to return to “proper order,” and to engage in real bipartisanship.

They were wrong. By helping the bill come up for a vote by the entire Senate, and then voting to kill it, he makes it very difficult for Republicans to come out with yet another bill, at least until the end of the fiscal year. His first vote, a vote for proper process, became in its own way a vote against Trumpcare: had the Republican leadership not thought that they had the votes for it to pass they never would have let it get to the Senate floor. (I knew the bill was in trouble when in the moments before the vote McCain crossed over to the other side of the aisle and hugged Dianne Feinstein.)  It is also a move that neither Collins nor Murkowski was in a position to do, given their early and ongoing opposition.

The truth about John McCain is that he is more moderate than many progressives admit. According to Progressive Punch, he is the 52d most progressive senator (i.e., the 48th most conservative senator). Meanwhile, the ultra-conservative Conservative Review gives McCain an F, with a 33% “Liberty® Score.” (I didn’t know the word Liberty could be trademark protected.)

So McCain isn’t Elizabeth Warren, Kamala Harris, or Al Franken.  Neither is he Ted Cruz, Rand Paul, or Jeff Sessions.

John McCain is an undisputed war hero. Whatever you think of the US involvement in Vietnam, being captured and tortured because you are fighting in a war your country sent you to marks you as a hero, at least in my book. He still carries damage from that war.

Have we gotten that partisan that we cannot recognize and honor a man who deserves to be so honored?

During the 2008 presidential campaign, a woman in the audience at one of his campaign stops began a diatribe about Obama being a devious Muslim. McCain stopped her. He said that Obama was a good Christian and a good man. He said that there were differences of opinion about how the country should be run, but that Obama was a decent human being.  Can you imagine Donald Trump doing that? The devil would be skating to work.

McCain is not perfect; no one is. He supported Trump in the 2016 campaign and continues to support the Republican agenda. I disagree with a most of his positions and take exception to a lot of his votes. He was implicated in the Keating Five scandal in 1989, but the Senate Ethics Committee cleared him of everything but “poor judgment.” None of that changes my view of him as an essentially honest man.

On the left, we have to be careful. We have a responsibility to look at facts, not to engage in knee-jerk derision based simply on party affiliation. While we often yell about conservatives’ refusal to engage in constructive dialogue, at the same time we retreat into our ideological corner.  I don’t agree with the Republicans’ insistence that all the movement towards bipartisanship come from us. At the same time, however, we shouldn’t make the situation any worse than it is.  The country needs unity. We have to speak up for our values, but not at the expense of common decency.

John McCain’s vote against Trumpcare doesn’t make him a hero, but it does not and cannot negate the heroism he has already shown in his life.

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Dunkirk. No spoilers.

I saw Dunkirk last night. Part of me wishes I hadn’t.

Dunkirk falls into the “important movies that I think everyone should see and I am very glad I saw but I never want to see again” category, much like Schindler’s List and Saving Private Ryan. Chris Nashawaty at Entertainment Weekly summed its essence up quite neatly:

Nolan has for all intents and purposes conjured the British response to Steven Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan. If you can imagine that film’s kinetic, nerve-wracking 29-minute opening D-Day invasion stretched out to feature length, this is what it would look like.

Nashawaty, by the way, gave the film an A.

Many reviewers criticize Dunkirk‘s lack of characterization, that Christopher Nolan doesn’t concentrate enough one or two characters. They’re wrong: the large number of characters Nolan follows, and the myriad stories he tells, along with the cutting from one to the other, add to the sense of chaos.

As far as I can remember, I have only walked out of three movies because of anxiety. I missed about five minutes of Black Swan (people having psychotic breakdowns upset me). I left during the cleansing of the Krakow ghetto in Schindler’s List (for a few minutes because I was dizzy from holding my breath, and I was six months pregnant and was worried about the effect on the baby). The Rocket Scientist ordered me out of Arachnophobia because I was curled into a ball and whimpering. Only in the last case did I not come back.  (I saw Saving Private Ryan on television, or I’m sure I would have had to leave for part of that, too. I refused to see Terence Malick’s The Thin Red Line because I knew it would be too hard to watch, having had a father who served in the Pacific theater.)

I had to walk out of Dunkirk for a few minutes because I was developing a full-fledged anxiety attack. I was shaking and whimpering. I had to leave and do some deep breathing before I could come back. Even so, I spent a good chunk of the movie with either my eyes closed or a hand over my mouth so I wouldn’t scream. Or both.

Hans Zimmer’s score was masterful.  I have not heard a score that did as good a job of conveying dread and impending doom since Jaws. If he does not win an Oscar for best score that would be a crime. (Yes, I know it only July. I seriously doubt anyone is going to top Zimmer’s work here.)

In short, Dunkirk is a wonderful and terrible movie. Apparently part of the right wing condemns it for not showing war as noble and glorious, and that’s true, it doesn’t. That’s because war — even a war as important to the survival of democracy as World War II — isn’t noble and glorious, and Christopher Nolan understands that.

So, yes, definitely go see Dunkirk. Just don’t ask me to come along.

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