I accept responsibility. To blame others.

Modern political dissembling may have been perfected by Richard Nixon. A really sweet example is his first Watergate speech, where he’s explaining to the country why Haldeman, Ehrlichman, Kleindeinst, and Dean have resigned, and where he takes personal responsibility for the whole affair. In it, he says:

“For the fact that alleged improper actions took place within the White House or within my campaign organization, the easiest course would be for me to blame those to whom I delegated the responsibility to run the campaign. But that would be a cowardly thing to do.

I will not place the blame on subordinates—on people whose zeal exceeded their judgment and who may have done wrong in a cause they deeply believed to be right.

In any organization, the man at the top must bear the responsibility. That responsibility, therefore, belongs here, in this office. I accept it. And I pledge to you tonight, from this office, that I will do everything in my power to ensure that the guilty are brought to justice and that such abuses are purged from our political processes in the years to come, long after I have left this office.”

Wait, what? You think blaming subordinates would be cowardly. The responsibility is yours.  And you  therefore pledge to find out which subordinates are responsible. Nice! That man knew how to dissemble. He was the best.

It’s a little hard to compare Trump to Nixon is this area, because Trump isn’t really dissembling. When he says, without irony, “No one respects women more than me”, he actually believes it, so it’s probably not technically a lie. Trump might even believe he’s going to build a border wall and Mexico will pay for it. With this guy, who knows?

In any case, we’re learning that you have to let Trump be Trump – you can’t expect too much in the way of accountability. His surrogates are another matter, though. At some point someone has to explain the excesses, and this is where some heavy duty dissembling is going to be needed.

At a campaign event this week, a gentleman wearing a “Hillary for Prison” T-shirt, spotted members of the media and yelled at them “We know who you are! You’re the enemy!” and repeatedly chanted “Jew-S-A”. Get it? Not “U-S-A”, but “Jew-S-A”. So clever.

No one is really surprised by this kind of thing in Trump-world. Just google “leugenpresse” for a little more on this.

Trump spokeswoman Hope Hicks said the campaign “strongly condemns this kind of rhetoric and behavior”. See, she figured saying “strongly condemns” is a lot more convincing than just saying “condemns”, so, you know, let’s go with that.

So, what can we look forward to here – what form will the strong condemnation take? Kicking the next Nazi wannabe out of a Trump event? Trump asking the crowd to dial it down? Reminding everyone that his daughter is married to a Jew, converted herself, and is raising their children as Jews? No, that won’t work – everyone knows Jewishness is in your blood, and you get it from your mother.

Well, I’ll end the suspense and tell you what to expect in the way of anyone taking responsibility here. Nothing. Movin’ on. A surrogate dissembling for two seconds is all they have for you. Now, it’s back to the dog whistles and incitement.

We certainly can’t hold Trump responsible for the actions of others. Somewhere, Nixon is smiling.


Some people feel the rain.

Others just get wet.

I know as little about poetry as I do about wine, which is to say practically nothing. I took a wine class once to try to fix this. On completing it, I felt this cartoon accurately reflected my new level of knowledge:


In high school, I was exposed to some poetry basics, like “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” or “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner”. Around a campfire,  “The Cremation of Sam McGee” seemed awesome, but that was about as far as I got.

My more literate friends gave me the side-eye when I said  Bob Dylan’s “Like a Rolling Stone”, just sitting there on the page with no music, was the best poem I ever read. Fifty years later, it turns out I’m a damned poetry genius.

As with everything Dylan, getting the Nobel Prize for Literature stirs  controversy. Part of it is his initial apparent snubbing of the prize people, but most of it seems like envy and misunderstanding – critics being critical and needing to show how clever they are by putting something down. Like the man said, “Don’t criticize what you can’t understand”.

I think maybe there’s something else going on as well. It’s like the legendary visit Steve Jobs made to Xerox PARC, where they gave away all their innovations, which  Jobs then used to revolutionize desktop computing. Jobs said he was so blinded by the brilliance of the first thing they showed him (the graphical user interface),  that he completely missed the importance of two others (ethernet and object oriented programming).

Maybe Dylan’s powerful vocal style and “finger-pointing” songs blinded the critics to his beautiful music and his brilliant poetry.

Dylan’s vocals were unique and authentic, so much so that many thought he couldn’t really sing. Mitch Miller was head of A & R at Columbia when they signed Dylan, and said he “didn’t see the genius in it”. They wanted beautiful voices and beautiful arrangements.

And sometimes you don’t realize how beautiful Dylan’s tunes can be until you hear them covered by someone else, and he’s been covered by more contemporary artists than anyone. This site catalogs something like 6000 recorded covers of 350 different Dylan songs covered by about 2800 different artists.

But the torrent of words, images, thoughts, dreams, and ideas that flowed from Dylan is the thing, above all else, that defines his brilliance, and has only now been accepted by the literary establishment (or at least the Nobel Prize committee) as “new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition”.

Dylan may be quoted more that any other English language source besides Shakespeare and the Bible. Dylan is the song writer most quoted by the Supreme Court. There are over 700 references to Dylan’s words in the biomedical journals database.

Everywhere you look there is a Dylanism. Today I saw something in the bookstore subtitled “The whole world’s watching”. I’m guessing the author didn’t know this is from “When the Ship Comes In”, a brilliant song and poem that has been largely forgotten, except that I just this second heard it on TV as the soundtrack to a VW Golf Alltack ad.

So much has been written about Dylan that it seems silly to try to add anything new at this point. But if you’re looking for expert opinion on poetry, I can now say with confidence that you’ve come to the right place today.

Also, watch this space for my thoughts on why Gruener Veltiners and Rieslings co-exist so well in the terroir just west of Vienna.

Roger Cohen swings and misses

Again. As usual.

In today’s NYT column, entitled “Why Israel Refuses to Choose”, he admits that the two-state solution is probably not a real thing. As usual, his column is about what Israel needs to do about it. For “fairness”, also as usual, there are one or two sentences explaining how the “Palestinians” could help, but the article is about how Netanyahu is refusing to choose between having a small Jewish state alongside a Palestinian state, or having one large democratic state.

The current situation, you see, is Israeli “occupation”, which oppresses and humiliates the Palestinian people, and Israel needs to fix it.

First, I don’t know why it’s taken all these years for people to realize the two-state solution won’t work. How do I know it won’t work? Because we already had it and the Arabs didn’t like it.  Remember? From 1948-1967? We had the state of Israel in the pre-1967 borders and no Jewish settlements in the West Bank or Gaza. For “fairness” I should point out that the U.K. version is that the Jews started the 1967 war.

Second, there’s a problem talking about “occupation” as if we all agree on what we’re talking about. In the west, it has always meant Israeli presence in the West Bank and Gaza, the lands won in 1967. Of course we’re all against “occupation” of someone else’s land, at least when it comes to Israel.  But, in the Muslim world, “occupation” does not mean lands taken in 1967. It means lands taken in 1948, i.e. the State of Israel. Occupation ends when Israel ends.

Most people in this country don’t grasp this distinction and don’t think about this “fallacy of equivocation”. This is particularly true of ignorant but idealistic college students, e.g those  of Portland State who last week passed a resolution defining the founding of Israel as occupation. This is a great triumph for the Iranians and their clients, who have long sought to delegitimize Israel, as well as for anti-semites everywhere who have no problem with the idea of 50 Muslim states but can’t abide the idea of a single Jewish state.

Lastly, Cohen’s article is subject to the same problem that virtually all Tom Friedman’s articles are: the people he knows and writes about on the other side, the victims of this horrible occupation, are the elites. They are people just like us – educated, entrepreneurial people, often Christians (as in this instance), who would not object to living in a pluralistic society alongside others of different faiths.

If Israel had to co-exist only with people like the ones Cohen writes about, the conflict would have been over decades ago. It’s a little ironic that the same Palestinian factions that refuse to make peace with the Jews now would also purge their Judenrein paradise of Cohen’s friends as well, if they ever got the chance.

Mini-Me gets a scolding

This article covers a recent debate between Mark Kirk, Republican senator from Illinois, and his challenger, Tammy Duckworth, a Democrat who lost both legs piloting a helicopter in Iraq.

Kirk is recovering from a major stroke, and won’t release his health records. In contrast, Hillary Clinton has been falsely accused of various infirmities and has released hers.

But, a foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds. Especially when a Republican senate seat is at stake. So Republicans, in the main, are all in for Mark Kirk.

Kirk seems to be a small-scale Trump in a lot of ways.

Like Trump, Kirk exaggerated his own military record. Remember all that marching Trump did in school – it was more experience than guys who actually served?

Like Trump, he also diminished the real military record of his opponents. Remember Trump asserting McCain is no hero?

Like Trump, he questioned the ancestry of his opponents and detractors. Remember Trump keeping the Birther thing alive for five years? Or raising the issue of Cruz’s eligibility?

Like Trump, he makes absurd accusations about Obama, e.g. calling him “Drug-dealer-in-chief”, then denies he ever made them.

Like Trump, he has been told by his minders to stay on message and away from extemporizing to the media. Remember every day of the Trump campaign?

Like Trump he uses vulgar language and opines on things he should shut up about, e.g saying the unmarried Lindsay Graham is a “Bro with no ho”. Remember every hour of the Trump campaign?

Like Trump, many have pointed out he has no control of the filter between what he thinks and what he says. Remember every minute of the Trump campaign?

But here’s the best part: although it would seem that Kirk would be exactly the kind of incumbent Trump would want to help, he made the unforgivable mistake of un-endorsing Trump after the “Mexican judge” thing. And if there’s one thing that defines Donald Trump above all others, it’s his thin-skinned and petty inability to let go of a grudge.

So, Kellyanne Conway gave Kirk what he had coming, by tweeting (of course), under the title, “Senator Mark Kirk mocks disabled Iraq war vet Tammy Duckworth in debate for her mixed-race heritage.” :

“The same Mark Kirk that unendorsed his party’s presidential nominee and called him out in paid ads? Gotcha. Good luck,”

Stupid is the new smart

Full disclosure: I’m old.

I complained about the outdated voting procedure and the geriatric poll volunteers, and it probably seemed like I was saying I could do their job better than they were doing it. No, I would be worse. I’m older than any one of them and am no better equipped to do their job  – not sharper or smarter, don’t hear or see any better, don’t have more energy or compassion, and certainly don’t have the needed patience for dealing with other people for more than a minute or two.

In  Hombre, Fredric March explains to Paul Newman why he stole from the Indians he was supposed to help by saying, “It’s a shock to grow old.” For me, “It’s a shock to BE old” says it better. Growing old didn’t feel like anything at all. What nobody ever tells you is that you might find your 17 year old self living in a 70 year old body, with desires, tastes, opinions, and so on, pretty much unchanged.

At least, that’s the way it worked for me. Maybe it’s because I have no children and never had to really accept the role of “adult”. Maybe I’m just selfish or have some sort of arrested development syndrome or that I’m just a weird outlier of some sort. Not sure.

It’s the way others see you and what you see in the mirror one fine day that’s shocking.

It would be nice if there were some benefits to getting old, like maybe a little respect or deference from younger people. Historically and forever, any time someone said something like that, about how “kids today” have no respect for their elders, the response was always to quote Heraclitus or someone complaining about the same thing a million years ago, meaning nothing is different now and it will always be thus.

But in the internet age, something really is different. The casual mockery and disdain for old people is part of the DNA of the digital world, a world created and driven by young people, largely catering to their own needs and fashions. Ageism is really the only unchecked and even unremarked prejudice left in today’s hypersensitive world. There is no “safe place” for old people to avoid the “triggers” that everyone else agonizes over.

And any knowledge acquired through age is now irrelevant. Thanks to the internet, knowledge has become a completely de-valued commodity. There is no incentive to learn and retain information that is instantaneously available to everyone on their phone. You can’t impress your friends by reciting your memorized list of state capitals. It’s something no one cares if you know because anyone can know it at any time.

Once in a while I’d like to expose someone’s nonsense by saying something like, “Benghazi? What are you so upset about? I bet you can’t even tell me what country it’s in!” But all they’d have to do is glance at their phone to prove me wrong, even if I was right.

Stupid is the new smart.

And, it turns out, wisdom isn’t really something you get more of as you get older either. Experience is worth something, I suppose, but experience and wisdom are not the same thing.

For old white men, all this is exacerbated by the various political and social movements that aim to diminish and discredit the influence and achievements of old white men past and present. It’s a bummer for the Mozarts and Galileos, but it is what it is.

But I’m not complaining.  It’s now obvious to me that old white men actually don’t know anything more useful or valuable than anyone else. There is absolutely nothing that qualifies me to make a decision about anything that affects anyone else.

And I take this to mean that the same was true for just about all the old white men that came before me, and for any that now insist their birthright has been taken from them and want it back.

Double Down, Ramp It Up

Remember how easy it used to be to screw up your chance to be president (or even vice president)? Those were the good old days. Here’s a little visual quiz. See if you can remember what’s going on in each of these pictures. I’ll give you a slam dunk for the first one. Meet you below the pics.


Gary Hart resigned his senate seat in 1988 to run for president. He was the front-runner in the primary when allegations of womanizing forced him to drop out. That’s right, allegations.

Ed Muskie shed a tear during a NH speech. See ya.

Gore sighed at some stupid thing Bush said in a debate. Elitist!

GHWB looked at his watch during a debate. Outrage!

Thomas Eagleton saw a therapist once for depression. Lunatic!

Biden defends himself against plagiarism charges. OK, you got me there.

When Trump entered the race last year, a lot of people were saying it’s just a publicity stunt like everything else he does. He’s so obviously unqualified, even he knows this can’t go anywhere. As time went on, his scattershot nonsense somehow resonated with Republican primary voters (surprise, surprise), but even as he gained momentum, the guys who thought they were actually running things did not take him seriously.

They said, “When the field slims down and people can unite behind an establishment candidate, this will change”. Then it was the “Anyone But Trump” movement, the brokered convention hope, and a few other fleeting intermediate manifestations of denial. Finally it was, “Now that he’s the nominee, he’ll pivot and show that he is actually ‘presidential'”.

Throughout it all, many people still held to the belief that even Trump knows he can’t do the job and, let’s face it, wouldn’t want to.  He will find a face-saving way to bow out before it’s too late. As the mountain of bullshit coming from the Trump campaign grew, the thought was that sooner or later he’ll say something so over-the-top that even FoxNews will turn on him and he’ll have to quit.

But it never happened. In fact there was so much jaw-dropping blather to refute, fact-check, and just marvel at, you didn’t have time to re-act to a particular thing before there were two more outrages to process. Re-tweeting shit from white supremacists? Mocking people with disabilities? Trump University? Buffett doesn’t pay taxes? Obama founded ISIS, not figuratively but literally? Ted Cruz’ father conspired to kill Kennedy?  Even starting a small list diminishes the importance of  the dozens of other “should disqualify” things you forgot about.

No one ever held him accountable for any of it. And if someone did try to call him on something, he never took a step back from it, other than the occasional “He was just kidding, and, anyway, why aren’t we talking about Clinton’s emails” from Kellyanne Conway.

It was always double down. And then ramp it up.

Finally Trump’s exit strategy reveals itself. The way out is clear. Go down swinging as hard as you can and take your 50 million “followers” with you to the next level.  We can look forward to Trump monopolizing what passes for political discourse in this country for the next four years, and making a ton of money in the process.  No one can take their eyeballs off the spectacle, and eyeballs are money, as our finest “journalists” readily admit. You might as well call the coming media empire the DHC Network – Delegitimize Hillary Clinton. “Lock Her Up” was just a taste of what’s to come.

Can’t “Make America Great Again”? No worries, it was actually “Ruin America for Personal Gain” all along.

The New Yorker Endorses Trump!

Just kidding.

They endorsed Clinton, of course. As if anyone gives an actual shit about who The New Yorker or anyone else “endorses”. But this brilliant piece says everything there is to say about it.

Early voting started on Monday and my local library opened its booths at Noon. I went over there at about 12:30 and there had to be 150 people in line ahead of me. I saw a guy came out of the booth with a red “Make America Great Again” ball cap. I guess it can’t be unanimous, even in Massachusetts. But as he passed by me on the way out, I saw that his cap actually read “Make Donald Drumpf Again”. Maybe it CAN be unanimous.

I don’t know why voting is always so much more inconvenient than it needs to be. Let’s just do it on the internet, like we do everything else. Some of the problem is the little system they have in place, and some of the problem is the geriatric volunteers there to “help”. Apart from the helpers squabbling among themselves about who has more pens, etc., you have to jump through too many hoops, and the helpers can get a little discombobulated.

When your turn comes, you step up to the first guy who asks your name, which he can’t hear. After a couple of attempts, you try to spell it out and he can’t find it on his list. Some time goes by and he finally turns his computer screen to you. You point out your name and even this takes three tries.

Then he prints out a little ticket, and says the next woman will help you. You take a step sideways, Soup Nazi style, and stand in front of the second woman who ignores you for what seems like two or three minutes while she shuffles envelopes around and mumbles.

Finally, a third woman next to her calls out to you, “Sir. Sir! Can you please step over here?”  Yes, yes I can. I can step anywhere I’m directed to step. She hands me an envelope and a ballot, tells me to write my name and address on the envelope, sign it, go into the booth, mark the ballot, put the ballot in the envelope and return to her for further instructions.

First, though, we have to find a pen.

Finally, I’m able to actually vote. I return to her, she inspects my name and address, directs me to place the signed envelope in the ballot box and hands me the “I voted” sticker. Whew. All done.

This system is meant to be an improvement over the conventional experience, which is check in with the voters-list guy,  get a ballot and fill it in, put your ballot in the box, and check out with the second voters-list guy.

In eliminating the second voters-list guy in favor of the woman who inspects your signed envelope, they quietly, and probably without too much thought, also eliminated one of the bedrock principles of our free elections: the secret ballot. For the first time, your ballot is now wrapped in an envelope with your name on it.

Well, at least it’s convenient.