Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Fake News

I am reluctant to write this theme, but I keep getting drawn to it every time someone opens his mouth in support of our fake president. His supporters continue. This morning, a correspondent was speaking with a hard-core supporter somewhere in Texas. One person said that he liked Trump because he was “really smart, and a good negotiator”.  Another person dismissed the recent press conference as just, Trump misspeaking a couple of times—“Nothing there, folks, move on”. “He shakes up the system, and it needed shaking up”. And it goes on and on.  And his message is reinforced by his favorite Fox News.  His latest gibberish cozying up to his BFF, Vlad the Impaler, apparently gave even Fox pause.

Now, to be fair, not all Fox News deserted him. A few still clung to the belief that he is right most of the time, even if he misspeaks, but some at Fox shouted at the sheer stupidity of his utterances.  But Fox may be a different kind of animal than the usual Trump supporters.  Fox is a purposefully lying agent, one might begin thinking of Fox as a true “foreign agent”—its owner is, after all foreign, and all of his hirelings act in such a way as to diminish, if not to try to destroy America.  They’re not quite Russia, but they are a highly destructive force.

But, why does anyone watch Fox, I wondered? And how in heavens’ name does anyone still believe anything Trump says, when he is patently ridiculous to even the most casual observer?

Well, it finally dawned on me. We are conditioned to believe absurdities, almost from birth.  Some of us grow out of it, but many folks simply don’t, continuing to believe in fairy tales. And to what do I refer as “fairy tales”? Why, the bible of course.  And less the bible per se than the constant state of siege we live under from so many, the priests of course, but even ordinary folks. What is almost the first thing one hears when we mention the passing of a loved one? Well, “they are in a better place . . . they have gone to meet their maker . . . they are looking down upon us, protecting us”. “They have . . .” well, you get the idea.

The organized religion folks must have understood almost from the earliest time people started thinking, that death is the great boogeyman, to be feared above all else.  And if you can arrest that fear through some fairy tale, then you will be loved/cheered/even worshipped. And, better yet, if you can promise that, if ordinary folks do as you say, follow you, then you will provide them with a guaranteed pathway to a better place, and then death should not be feared, but instead perhaps even welcomed.

And so, the fairy tale was invented. And over time, many hundreds of years, the elegance of the fairy tale grew. Much of the tale remained silly of course . . . folks drifting around on clouds playing harps, entering a golden gate and then either getting your passport into heaven, or being dispatched to Hell forever, burning and in torment, depending on how well you followed your guide here on earth.
But we are also promised access to our dead loved ones, folks who left us and with whom we can now re-engage. Maybe, if we are especially good, we could even hope to engage with Shakespeare.  Wow! And, the best part of the fairy tale??? Well, you can never be found out. Why??? Well, conveniently, no one ever actually returns after they depart for the heavenly gates.  So nobody can ever rat them out. The fairy tale remains in place forever, or at least until you croak.

Now, I submit that it is less the fairy tale itself than the idea of a belief system in which you are allowed to choose your own belief, and even your own facts, so long as they fit within your chosen narrative.  If you grow up and are inculcated with a belief system that portrays people of color as subhuman, then you will follow any fairy tale that reinforces that belief.  So, if a Donald Trump comes along and says that Mexicans are rapists, and murderers, and, if we let them enter they will all join MS-13, then that fits our narrative and we will continue thinking well of the guy who tells us that fairy story. “See, we were right all along. We should never let those people into our country.”  This guy is telling it like it is.  And why do we believe that argument? Well, at least one reason is that we have been conditioned to believe in fairy tales that we like, because they dispel fear.

And that’s how Donald Trump succeeds—by dispelling fears among people preconditioned to believe in fairy tales.  He continues to tell his supporters what they want to hear, so they continue to believe him, regardless of what the facts demonstrate.

Now, did he actually understand that strategy? Probably not at any deep level, because he’s not really a deep thinker. But he does get this notion of telling people what they want to hear, and then dismissing critics, much the way the church dismisses its own critics.

I guess, it’s not complicated, is it? And, it obviously has great staying power--I give you organized religion, which shows no sign of disappearing any time soon. 

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Dictator Playbooks

So, now he has proposed another Supreme Court justice thanks to Anthony Kennedy. Brett Kavanaugh now seems a likely choice. He did, after all, help to elect Shrub, in yet another republican illegal election ploy. Republicans seem not to mind gaining the throne via illegal means.  He also went after Bill Clinton, so the Drumpf should be thrilled. He is more likely than not to oppose Roe v. Wade, so he is a threat to women’s right to choose.

But mainly, the threat to our republic comes in a different form, and would be especially pleasing to Trump. He appears to believe that presidents should not be fussed over by the courts for illegal doings.  Should they commit a crime while in office (see Trump) they should not be required to answer until after they leave office. It would be “too disruptive” to the country’s governance for the President to have to answer to charges that he is a criminal. He (Kavanaugh) says, “There is after all, the impeachment process”.  But, he ignores the fact that, should republicans retain power, they don’t do impeachment of one of their own.  Republicans only countenance impeachment if the sitting president is a democrat.

And therein lies the central issue. Republicans in Congress now seem to believe that they (republicans who hold office) are immune to the laws of our land.  It seems not to matter what President Trump does, or says. Nothing, it would seem, will trigger even the slightest critical commentary, no less a move to censure.  So, impeachment is simply “off the table”, regardless of what Trump does.
Even when seven Republican congressmen met recently in secret in Moscow, with members of the Russian government—neither democrats nor members of the press were allowed to listen in—the republican leadership was silent. Can you imagine what they would have done or said had the democrats done the same thing? They were practically rabid about Hillary’s deleted e-mails, but meeting with Russians in secret in Moscow? Nope, not a word.  And what did Sean Hannity say about the meetings?  Well, he said absolutely nothing. Apparently, such meetings are A-OK with Sean baby.  Richard Selby headed a delegation that included Senators, Jerry Moran (R-KS), Steve Daines (R-MT), Ron Johnson (R-WI), John Kennedy (R-LA), John Thune (R-S.D.), John Hoeven (R-N.D.) and Rep. Kay Granger (R-TX). There is no public record of that meeting.  And Mitch?? No comment.  Gowdy??? No comment.

So, now, instead of a government system that includes by intent, “checks and balances”, we have a single, fully compliant government in which one party can do as it pleases, without any check on its actions at all.

So, beginneth the lesson on dictatorships.

We have a president who seems to adhere to no norms or ethical standards of behavior. He appoints unqualified family members to positions in government, he refuses to place his financial holdings into some kind of blind trust, he continues to make decisions that will benefit him personally, he categorically refuses to release any information regarding his personal finances, is almost completely incompetent in both his appointments process, and his management of his cabinet, he seems to know nobody who is not either corrupt personally, or simply incompetent to lead the offices they are being asked to run, and, last but not least, he really is abysmally ignorant about almost all of the policies he is overseeing, and is attempting to change.  He is anti-science, mainly I think because of his overall ignorance.  He has failed in almost every business enterprise he has initiated, to the point that he seems to specialize in failure (see his three failed marriages).

And his appointments have been almost uniformly a disaster, including in almost all cases people who fundamentally oppose the missions of the agencies they are being picked to lead.  Education and EPA are but the simplest examples, with DeVos and Pruitt serving as exemplars of terrible cabinet selections.

The Congress, both branches, now stand wholly in the control of the Republican Party. In the past, that statement would not necessarily be a bad thing.  Republicans of old used to have some principles worthy of the name. Now, the term “conservative” has become a bad, very ugly joke on humanity.  Conservatives used to pursue “conservation”. Now, they all seem to pursue exploitation, for personal gain. Even that old rascal Barry Goldwater must be turning over in his grave.  So, neither the House nor the Senate operates any check on the president. Perhaps to the contrary, Mitch and Ryan have perhaps existed to spur him on. He knows they care not one whit what he does, so long as he does not piss off their personal bases. And his main base, the Evangelicals, the Neo-Nazi’s, and the KKK wing of our country, seems to love whatever he does, mainly because they have no moral or ethical principles either. So long as he acts to protect white male supremacy, they love him.

And so now he has left NATO in a shambles, as he left the G-7 in disarray.  Mainly, it seems to be his modus operandi. You enter a summit meeting, you yell a lot about how unfair the world treats America, you yell even louder and more incoherently at one or more of our “friends” (see, Canada, and Germany), then you leave and claim that all is well and you personally made the meeting wildly successful.

And no one says anything in response. The media reports, as the media always reports. Trump’s media (Fox, et al) reports that all is well and Great Leader has done a magnificent job once again, and the rest of the non-Trump media report what actually seemed to have happened. They, of course, are then labeled as “fake news” by Trump & Fox and Friends.  And so it goes on.

All this tangled web he has been weaving seems straight out of the Playbook for Dictators. Mussolini, Hitler, most of the Russian oligarchs, and the other minor dictators (Kim, Duterte, etc.) all play from the same book.

But I thought we were better than this. I thought we had independent branches of government that would/could act to restrain a loud mouth, brainless twit like Trump. I thought also that the news media, whatever its political leaning, would still act to protect the public interest.  And finally, I thought that the American people would be able to look at the behavior of an idiot like Trump and declare that he was not speaking for them, and not acting for them when he separated two-year old kids from their parents, because it was God’s will that such a horror occur.

But apparently, I am wrong on all counts. We have a Congress that seems fully compliant with whatever diarrhea comes out of Trump’s mouth and feeble brain.  They will apparently support him even should he do what he suggested—going out on Fifth Avenue and shooting someone, just cuz.

And the media no longer operates in the public interest. We have The Trump PR machine (Fox) and then we have the other “fake News” media that keeps trying to report actual facts.  But the actual success of the rest of the media to keep reporting actual facts depends in part on the willingness of the American people to take in and understand actual facts. The American people now seem not simply to disagree about actual facts. They seem to hate one another, to the point that some members of the Trump PR machine are actually suggesting that a literal Civil War is near. That is, people may begin arming themselves and then shooting the people they hate.  Cuz that’s what a Civil War entails.

And my real question is, whose side is the 101st Airborne Division (et al) on? I no longer have a simple answer to that question.

And so we approach this coming November in terrible fear for the actual continuation of our formerly great nation.  Maybe the American people will surprise, nay stun, me by voting the right wing out of office. And then Snow White will appear and perhaps sing to us about beauty.

Monday, July 2, 2018

Celebrating Anniversaries With Fine Dining

So, we have been married a long time, 63 years and counting. Throughout that time, we have developed a tradition of combining fine dining with our celebratory moods. So, here is a little summary of our culinary celebrations over a 63 year time period, beginning in that little town of Spring Valley, New York. Note that we flew from New York to California the day after we were married. 

July 2, 1955 – Wedding at Spring Valley church, dinner-reception at Carol’s folks’ house in Nanuet.

July 2, 1956 – Dinner with Ruth & Niels at their home in Millbrae, CA
July 2, 1957 – After one unhappy year living in Garden Grove, CA, while I worked at Firestone Guided Missile Division in LA, we moved back to Northern California. We again had dinner with Ruth & Niels at their home.
July 2, 1958 – Dinner at a sweet little restaurant in Menlo Park, CA.
July 2, 1959 – Dinner at home at our new Sunnyvale (pre-Silicon Valley) home, which we purchased for $17,000 (3BR, 2Bath ranch style).
July 2, 1960 – Dinner at Ernie’s in San Francisco. Splendid meal, fancy restaurant. I should note here that San Francisco was so rich in restaurants, that Carol and I would traverse weekly from our Sunnyvale home to some restaurant in the city. We occasionally would select a restaurant at random from the phone book just to test the theory that San Francisco restaurants were simply the best everywhere. Largely, the tactic was successful.

July 2, 1961 – Dinner at The Blue Fox in San Francisco, even fancier, maybe the most expensive place in San Francisco.
July 2, 1962 – Dinner at a Russian restaurant atop Nob Hill, across from our apartment at 1242 Sacramento Street, SF.
July 2, 1963 – Dinner at an Italian restaurant in North Beach, SF. Later, a coffee at Enrico’s coffee House.
July 2, 1964 – Dinner outdoors at the St. George’s Hotel in Beirut, overlooking the Mediterranean. We were enroute to New Delhi, India. 
July 2, 1965 – Dinner in Old Delhi at Moti Mahal’s—Tandoori Chicken cooked by the experts.
July 2, 1966 – Dinner on a river boat restaurant in Bangkok, Thailand, enroute home on home leave.
July 2, 1967 – Dinner outdoors at a café on Mykonos, Greece, overlooking the sea and the windmills. Now we also had an amazing dinner at an outdoor restaurant atop Mt. Lykavittos, where, from the top you can dine outdoors, drink some nice Greek wine, maybe a retsina, and observe the Acropolis where, when we were there, there was an ongoing son-et-lumiere.

July 2, 1968 – Having traversed Europe, stopping in Moscow to see the Bolshoi Ballet do Swan Lake at the Bolshoi Theatre, and cruising through England, Belgium, Germany, Switzerland and Italy, and then sailing back to New York, we arrived in Manhattan by boat with our brand new Rover 2000TC, and our three kids intact and were greeted by Carol’s folks, and my brother and his wife at the harbor. We dined at a splendid harbor restaurant, and drank from a bottle of 1959 Chateau Lafitte Rothschild to celebrate our anniversary.

July 2, 1969 – Having decided that one year of snow storms in Boston was adequate for a lifetime, we moved to the Washington DC area. We moved for a couple of months to Chincoteague, and celebrated our anniversary at Chincoteague, where we also watched, with close friends, the first moon landing—Flat Earthers be gone.

July 2, 1970 – Ok, having moved into Bethesda, which is adjacent to Washington, DC, we now were faced with many choices for our anniversary dinners.  Initially, Georgetown was our favorite location. We had an amazing creperie, Maison Des Crepe, a fine Greek restaurant, a really, really expensive Italian restaurant—we once spent $350 there for dinner for two (the wine was really expensive).  So, between 1970 and 1990, we alternated frequently at Georgetown restaurants for our anniversaries (no, the $350 one was a one-off). Then during the late 1970s, we began also to go to Bethesda restaurants, as the restaurant trade there really picked up. Basically, what happened was that the subway came through from DC to beyond Bethesda in 1973 and, all of a sudden, DC was a simple subway ride away, with no expensive car parking or DC traffic. And Bethesda real estate boomed, along with Bethesda restaurants.  We went in not many years from maybe 3-4 restaurants, to over 100.  We dined frequently, weekly really at our favorite Italian restaurant, The Pines of Rome. But for anniversaries, we went slightly more upscale. But both DC and Bethesda were “restaurant-rich”, so we mainly remained in our home territory for anniversaries.

1981 – I cannot remember now whether this was an anniversary dinner, but it was close and a memorable experience. Carol’s mom, Nana was her nom-de-plume for our kids, had worked as a little kid at a restaurant her grandfather started—she used to shuck oysters at the age of 7. The restaurant was Gage and Tollner, located in Brooklyn on Fulton Street, It was opened during the 1880s and was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1982.  The place had gas lamps, so it could remain open during a blackout.  We took Nana there for her 75th birthday.  The place looked the same to her and it was an amazing dining experience for all.  Unhappily, it changed owners multiple times, and then simply closed for good.  But we were lucky to have dined at that wonderful historic restaurant that was a part of Carol’s family.

July 2, 2000 – yes we are skipping forward in time, now to capture our move to Concord, North Carolina, and my pseudo-retirement. In theory, I retired in 2000. In practice, two of my clients insisted that I continue to consult with them, which I did on at least a monthly basis until 2007, when I declared myself done with my consulting business, and schlepping up to DC and New York.  

Initially, when we moved into Concord, there was a dearth of fine restaurants. We really had to travel, maybe to Charlotte, or to a few up in Salisbury, NC. The area was not DC or Bethesda, and represented something new for us, since we had always lived within a minor drive to a rich array of fine restaurants. See, dining out, especially at anniversaries was one of our several traditions.  

Then we began doing a bit of traveling at anniversary time.  And we discovered one of the world’s great treats, a village in Canada named Niagara on the Lake. It is located about five miles from the falls, and on the confluence of the Niagara River and Lake Ontario. The village is physically lovely, with gardens and flowers everywhere. It also has three theatres devoted to the Shaw festival. The theatres put on plays by George Bernard Shaw and Shaw contemporaries.  The performances are amazing. The village is also surrounded by fine wineries, which can be visited with a short drive. It also has wonderful inns, B&Bs, restaurants and little shoppes within which one may satisfy the urge for lovely things.

We managed to visit there on several occasions, and we dined at more than one of the estate wineries. For our 50th, our 55th, and our 60th, we celebrated our anniversaries at the Peller Estate Winery. They offer wine pairing dinners, which are both fun and tasty. We also always managed to bring home boxes of wine.  This of course was when Canadians still thought of Americans in kindly ways, before our President so crudely declared a state of economic warfare existed. But he is a profoundly stupid man.

June 30th, 2018 – we managed to celebrate our anniversary a bit early by dining at our now favorite restaurant, Gianni’s in downtown Concord.  We had a wonderful meal, courtesy of Heather, the amazing chef at Gianni’s. And both Heather and John greeted us during our meal, and John brought us each a glass of champagne. We chatted, ate amazing food and generally felt special, which is how we always feel at Gianni’s. I liken the restaurant to Cheers, where everyone knows your name.

July 2, 2018 – And so, for our actual anniversary dinner, we are going to our son-in-law’s brewery, the Cabarrus Brewing Company in Concord, another place where we can truthfully say, everyone knows our name. The brewery is a special place, filled with wonderful and highly varied beers, interesting food and always a welcoming atmosphere.  So, there, a little summary of many anniversaries and much fine dining at special places. Let the tradition continue.