Posts © 2011-2012 by Gerald G. Day

Monday, August 13, 2018

August 12, 2018
It’s interesting, although in my case humbling, to run through lists of the hundred greatest novels (or hundred books everyone should read, etc.), and keep score.  I did that earlier this year, and found that the lists do not reveal any criteria for inclusion or any obvious pattern to their choices, except for “BBC's Best Loved Novels of All Time.”  Even it includes many I’ve never heard of.
There is bound to be some variation, as not all of the lists have the same format.  Four of the ten that I found included only novels, and another only British novels.  However, the rest contained mostly novels (with various combinations of classics, plays, essays, children’s books or collections of short stories added), so there is good deal of overlap.
Only one entry made every list; appropriately in an age of doublespeak and perpetual war, it is Orwell’s 1984. Jane Eyre appeared on nine.  Animal Farm, Catch-22, David Copperfield, Lord of the Flies and The Great Gatsby made eight.
Brave New World, Emma, Great Expectations, Lolita, Mrs. Dalloway, Midnight’s Children, One Hundred Years of Solitude, On the Road, Pride and Prejudice, The Catcher in the Rye and Ulysses made seven lists.

Included on six were A Passage to India,  Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Anna Karenina, Brideshead Revisited, Crime and Punishment, Heart of Darkness, Madame Bovary, Middlemarch, Moby Dick, Tess of the D’Urbervilles, The Grapes of Wrath, To Kill a Mockingbird and Wuthering Heights.
Many of the other choices seem quirky, an impression reenforced by the fact that, of the 486  books which made up the lists, 271 appeared only once.  Of those, I counted 212 novels or novel series.  Several others are novellas or collections of short stories.
The oddest choice by far, appearing once, is Thus Spake Zarathustra, Nietzsche’s tale of a wandering guru.  Although I had read some of Nietzsche in college, and some later, I had avoided Zarathustra because of its obvious oddity.  When I discovered it on "99 Classic Books Challenge," I read it in an attempt to determine what could have led to its inclusion.  It certainly isn’t due to literary merit, at least in the translation referred to. Nietzsche wrote it in antique German, which reaches us in a form of English suggesting, in style, a bad first draft of the King James Bible.  (There are more modern translations, entitled Thus Spoke Zarathustra).  As to content, it often is incoherent, and when it makes sense, it is reprehensible.
Although the lists aren’t, or ought not to be taken as, a collection of what one “should” read, they do serve as a reminder that there are good books out there that otherwise are forgotten, overlooked or postponed.  I’ve noted a few.  We’ll see.

Thursday, August 2, 2018

August 1, 2018
Watching crowds at Trump rallies, I can’t help wondering whether Hillary Clinton was right, after all: these people are deplorable.  Certainly there are some such among them, for example racists.  However, many of them may well be good, even sensible people in another context, but politically they are not thinking clearly and are strangely unaware of the character of the man they cheer for.  Trump’s character isn’t a secret, and it hardly deserves approval.  True, some of them are worried about immigration, but can they condone forcibly separating parents and children and deporting the adults while the kids remain in custody? 

Though those at rallies may be the most extreme in their loyalty, polls show that Trump has retained the support of self-identified Republicans, and of independents leaning to the right, at baffling levels.

Why doesn’t his failure to make good on his populist promises convince voters that he’s either a phony or unable to perform, or both?  Why don’t they flee from his support of tax cuts for the rich? Haven’t they noticed that, far from draining any swamps, his administration is waist-deep in conflicts of interest?  His distance from ordinary people was underscored yesterday when, at a rally, he claimed: “You know, if you go out and you want to buy groceries, you need a picture on a card. You need ID.”

Don’t his attacks on our allies clash with making America great?  (Isolation isn’t strength).  Doesn’t his fawning over Putin and denial of Russian interference in the election make us look embarrassingly weak? Don’t his clumsy attempts at obstruction of the investigation reveal a guilty conscience?

Have his supporters not noticed that his own staff consider him to be slow-witted, some referring to him as an idiot?  His briefings must be light on text and feature pictures.  The President of the  European Commission had to use flash cards to explain trade to him.  That wasn’t surprising: his grasp of trade is so tenuous that he could say “trade wars are good and easy to win” before starting and losing them. 

Perhaps his fans watch Fox and swallow Trump’s claim that all other media are traitors.  Perhaps they follow Trump on Twitter, but his tweets should convince them that he is not the assertive leader that he claims to be.  He has a habit of issuing orders by Twitter, suggesting that he is afraid to confront others.  This morning at 6:24 a.m. he launched this: “Attorney General Jeff Sessions should stop this Rigged Witch Hunt right now . . . .”   Administration by way of the fan base.

Many of his tweets reveal that he’s not playing with a full deck.  The prize may go to this one, which stretched over three segments, on Jan 6, 2018 at 5:30 a.m.:

“Now that Russian collusion, after one year of intense study, has proven to be a total hoax on the American public, the Democrats and their lapdogs, the Fake News Mainstream Media, are taking out the old Ronald Reagan playbook and screaming mental stability and intelligence.....

“Actually, throughout my life, my two greatest assets have been mental stability and being, like, really smart. Crooked Hillary Clinton also played these cards very hard and, as everyone knows, went down in flames. I went from VERY successful businessman, to top T.V. Star....
“ President of the United States (on my first try). I think that would qualify as not smart, but genius....and a very stable genius at that!”

The mere fact that he spends a good part of each day in bed tweeting, ought, in itself, to demonstrate that he is the political equivalent of crazy grandpa who should be put in a home.

Tuesday, July 31, 2018

July 31, 2018
My computer crashed early this month.  I now have a new one, and someday I may learn how to use it.  It has (ugh) Windows 10, and other innovations.  It s amazing that every “improved” software requires not only learning new methods but unlearning the useful old ones.  Continuity is not a priority. 
In contemporary politics, however, continuity definitely is present.  The events of the past few weeks, however stunning, have fit the existing pattern: the rush to turn the country into a backward, isolated autocracy.  Let’s begin with that former bulwark against corruption, the Supreme Court. 
Justice Kennedy announced his retirement.  He has been celebrated as a swing Justice, the implication being that replacement by a conservative would be a disastrous change.  As to some issues, the change indeed may be for the worse, but in general it would be business as usual.
Kennedy’s status as a disinterested jurist disappeared in 2000 with his vote, the crucial fifth, to award the presidency to George W. Bush.  Bush had lost the popular vote, so ensuring that the electoral count was made fairly was critical, and that hinged on the Florida recount.  The Court halted it, giving Florida’s electoral votes, and the Presidency, to Bush. Kennedy’s retirement prior to this year’s election, handing the replacement to Trump and the Republican Senate, confirms his political orientation.  Trump’s nominee to replace Kennedy, Brett Kavanaugh, represented Bush in the Florida case, bringing matters full circle.
Kennedy authored one of the worst opinions since, well, Bush v. Gore, in Citizens United v. FEC.  By any standard — legal reasoning, use of precedent, common-sense logic or real-world implications — the opinion is a travesty of jurisprudence. It is, in short, a surrender to corporations and to the power of money in politics.  Another attack on free, democratic elections came in Shelby County v. Holder, in which the Court gutted the Voting Rights Act.  The majority opinion, in that case written by Roberts, joined by Kennedy, again is one which cannot withstand scrutiny.   He joined the majority in District of Columbia v. Heller which gave Constitutional sanction to a distorted and dangerous view of “gun rights.” 
 And so on.    Kennedy’s replacement might well follow a similar pattern.  
 President Trump went to Helsinki to meet Putin, for reasons known only to them; certainly there was no likely advantage to the country Trump allegedly represents.  In a post-meeting joint press conference, he confirmed, underlined, made embarrassingly clear his regard for and subservience to the Russian dictator.  That, combined with his attacks on NATO, the EU and the G7, make clear that he cannot be trusted with our interests or those of our allies. 
Back home, reading a script, he attempted to explain away one of his pro-Putin, Russia-didn’t-interfere remarks.  It deservedly fell flat, and did nothing to silence criticism.  Revealing again his thin skin, Trump then acted in typically childish fashion by threatening to remove security clearance from his critics.   Putin has invited Trump to another meeting, which no doubt would be another disaster.        
The President and the leader of Iran engaged in a battle of words, Trump’s of course being on Twitter (in all caps, showing that he really, really means it), the principal effect of which was to demonstrate that neither of them should be in charge of policy. 
Many immigrant children and parents remain apart, and some never may be united.   Yes, there is continuity.

Saturday, June 30, 2018

June 29, 2018
            Donald Trump continues to demonstrate his unfitness to hold the office of President, or any other position of responsibility.  In the face of public outcry over child separation, he staged another of his look-I-can-sign-my-name events with an order which does nothing to reunite those already separated and leaves the zero-tolerance policy in place.             
            He is well on his way to destroying our alliances.  One aspect of that is his imposition of tariffs, leading to retaliatory imposts on our exports.  Back in February, 2017, Trump extolled Harley-Davidson as "a true American icon, one of the greats."  He thanked the company for "building things in America."  No doubt he didn’t intend to discourage the company’s producing motorcycles here, but that is what he did, by starting a trade war.  The EU now has imposed tariffs on American-made Harleys, so the company  is planning to avoid them by manufacturing abroad those intended for Europe.  Trump now has attacked the company and threatened to tax its motorcycles imported from overseas plants, apparently unaware that those sold here will be manufactured here.           
            Other industries also are about to feel the backlash from Trump’s trade tirade, in the form of tariffs imposed by the EU, China, Canada or Mexico. America’s largest  manufacturer of nails has laid off employees and may go out of business due to the increased cost of material and its effect on prices.  It will be interesting to see whether the President’s supporters will vote their pocketbooks next time.  
            The child-separation initiative resulted from bias, political calculation — confidence that an anti-immigration stance always would be a winner among the base — and a lack of moral sense great enough to blind him to the likely backlash.  The tariffs seem to have originated in a belief that the world is taking advantage of us; Trump would show the world who’s in charge.  The strategy would be economic warfare, encapsulated in his inane tweet, "trade wars are good, and easy to win." Ignorant may be too mild a term to explain that; delusional would be more apt.     
            Then there is his notion of diplomacy.  After his meeting with Kim, Trump declared "that there “is no longer a Nuclear Threat from North Korea.,” and “Everybody can now feel much safer than the day I took office.  Well, no.  Despite the boasting, Trump sent a report to Congress on June 22 stating: "The existence and risk of proliferation of weapons-usable fissile material on the Korean Peninsula and the actions and policies of the Government of North Korea continue to pose an unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security, foreign policy, and economy of the United States."  Accordingly, he said, "I am continuing for 1 year the national emergency with respect to North Korea" declared in Executive Orders stretching back to 2010.
            Trump seems unable to resist saying, or tweeting, the first thing that pops into his head, regardless of truth or effect, or even the likelihood of looking foolish.  Sarah Huckabee Sanders recently was asked to leave a restaurant because the owner disapproved of her association with the administration.  Trump responded by calling the restaurant filthy, but it has a far better health record that several of his.  Obviously he never learned about glass houses and stones.
            The immigrant-child issue has caused a decline in Trump’s approval ratings, according to Gallup, from 45 positive (his high) - 50 negative, to 41 positive - 55 negative.  Approval  among Republicans went from 90 to 87.  The Donald has a different view, or views. At a rally on June 25, he offered this analysis, apparently unaware of (or ignoring) the drop announced that day: “We’ve never had higher polls than we have now,” he said. “Even Gallup, who treats me horribly. You know polls are fake news also, you know? What they do, it’s called suppression. They put out these horrible polls, and then they hope that everyone’s going to say ‘Hey, I like Trump, but he’s got no chance of winning.’ Suppression. It should be illegal, actually."  My numbers are great, but if they aren’t, here’s why, and there ought to be a law.
            In truth, those numbers are, even after the decline, bafflingly high considering his record, ability and tendencies.

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

June 19, 2018

Along, no doubt, with many others, I have wondered how low the Trump administration can go. The answer has been given, at least until something more despicable comes along: separating children, including infants, from parents. The government has refused to stop this practice despite complaints by loyal supporters such as Franklin Graham, and by three former First Ladies. Trump has added hypocrisy to the mix by pretending to disapprove the practice. He and his Homeland Security Secretary have tried to shift blame to the Democrats for a policy announced by the current, Republican, Attorney General.
Sessions has attempted to justify that practice by citing the Bible, a ploy which presents several aspects. He referred to Romans 13, and paraphrased verse 1: "obey the laws of the government because God has ordained the government for his purposes." There is no law requiring separation, so apparently he means that laws against illegal immigration must be enforced. Some have entered illegally only because our border agents have refused asylum, leaving illegal entry the only option for those afraid to go back. In any case, enforcing immigration law does not require separation; that simply is the chosen, barbaric, way of discouraging entry.
Romans Chapter 13 also was cited in support of slavery — we must uphold laws of slave states and the Fugitive Slave Act— a history which resonates through Sessions’ southern accent. Sessions’ reading probably is not accurate exegesis, but that’s hardly the point. The use of proof texts is bad enough in religious debate; to resort to it in defense of a government policy demonstrates that policy’s lack of merit.
One measure of Trump’s failure to make America great is the condemnation of the policy of separation by the United Nations Commission for Human Rights. In a statement which labors the obvious for an administration unable to see it, a spokeswoman for the Commission said this:
The use of immigration detention and family separation as a deterrent runs counter to human rights standards and principles. The child’s best interest should always come first, including over migration management objectives or other administrative concerns. . . . Detention is never in the best interests of the child and always constitutes a child rights violation. . . . We call on the US authorities to adopt non-custodial alternatives that allow children to remain with their families and fulfil the best interests of the child, their right to liberty and their right to family life.
Does this abandonment of civilized principle, this international embarrassment matter to voters? Trump’s job approval rating is, according to Gallup, at an all-time high.

Sunday, June 17, 2018

  June 16, 2018

The Time cover of Donald Trump seeing himself as king reminded me, as do his actions and blather, of another demented monarch:

— I will do such things —
What they are, yet I know not: but they shall be
The terrors of the earth.
King Lear, Act II, Scene 4.
Shakespeare could have been thinking of King Donald. He will do wonderful things, but what, and how? His signature line is "let’s see what happens." 
He promised to Make America Great Again, but has no idea how to accomplish that, or even of what greatness would mean. Nearly all of his policies or attitudes have lowered our standing in the world and made us more vulnerable. He alternates between praising and insulting both allies and foes.
Even when his promises are — verbally — specific, they are illusory. Trump wants to save or add to American jobs. How will he do that? One plan is to impose a tariff on imported automobiles and parts. Even The Wall Street Journal couldn’t swallow that one, estimating a net loss of 157,000 jobs. Policies or rationales change almost from day to day. Proposed tariffs on steel and aluminum won’t be applied to Canada or Mexico; yes, they will. Tariffs imposed on Canada are based on national security; no, they are in retaliation to Canada’s tariff on dairy products.
A wall on the Mexican border will be paid for by Mexico; no, Congress is at fault for not funding it. His policy on China — punish it, seek its aid in Korea, impose tariffs, help save jobs for ZTE — is anyone’s guess on any given day.
He wanted to bring North Korea under control and destroy its nuclear capacity, or maybe just talk. He threatened fire and fury, then had a medal struck showing him and Supreme Leader Kim Jung-un. He called the meeting off, insulting Kim, but then decided that it’s on, and hoped that they will like each other. Operating without knowledge, experience or preparation, he declared that summit negotiations are just a matter of attitude.
After babbling about Canada’s burning the White House, Trump arrived late to the G-7 meeting, left early and attacked the host country and Prime Minister Trudeau by his ususal route, Twitter.
He then flew to Singapore to meet Kim. The meeting was a made-for-television affair at which he embarrassed himself and his country by fawning over Little Rocket Man and saluting a North Korean general.. He wants to dominate the world, but he gave status and legitimacy to a cruel dictator who boasts that his missiles can reach the U.S.
Trump got nothing in the joint statement but a vague promise of "denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula," given before without result. He gave up joint war games with South Korea, without having alerted that nation or our Defense Department. He had denounced the agreement with Iran, which had teeth, and now is touting one with North Korea which does not. Trump, the master of the deal, was played.
He tossed off a few of his usual inanities, the topper being his suggestion that we view North Korea from a real estate perspective: "They have great beaches. You see that whenever they’re exploding their cannons into the ocean. I said, ‘Boy, look at that view. Wouldn’t that make a great condo?’ "
Trump’s disdain for alliances, his trade wars — and threats of the shooting variety — and his fascination with dictators such as Kim illustrate his desire, like Lear’s, to be the terror of the earth. His megalomania and autocratic ambition, along with his daffiness, were revealed in an episode yesterday. Noticing that "Fox and Friends" was taping on the White House lawn, he tweeted: "Wow, the highest rated (by far) morning show, @foxandfriends, is on the Front Lawn of the White House. Maybe I’ll have to take an unannounced trip down to see them?" After all, who beats them in adulation of our leader? During an impromptu interview, he said, referring to Kim: "He is the strong head. . . . He speaks and his people sit up at attention. I want my people to do the same."
Trump’s tweet brought other reporters to the grounds. Wandering among them, he was in full fantasy mode, praising himself for imaginary successes ("I did a great job this week"), and blaming Democrats for everything wrong, for example his administration’s policy separating immigrants from their children.
Donald Trump is, to put it bluntly, as dumb as a post, even as to matters of self-interest. He is under investigation for colluding with Russia, so he proposed readmitting Russia to the G-7. He claimed that he fired James Comey based on a memo criticizing Comey’s handling of the Clinton e-mail investigation, but admitted on national television that it was about "the Russia thing" and, in a meeting with Russian officials, said "I just fired the head of the F.B.I. . . I faced great pressure because of Russia. That’s taken off."
At that meeting he gave away a secret provided by Israeli intelligence; he later said publicly that he didn’t identify Israel as the source, which of course made everything right. He is under investigation for obstructing justice, but has criticized his Attorney General for recusing (rather than shutting the investigation down), threatened to take over the Justice Department, floated the possibility of pardons for those who might turn on him, and even asserted the power to pardon himself. He’s innocent, but manages to look very guilty.
His only visible talent is for self-promotion, but even that is simply the working out of his pathetic need for adulation. His frequent references to opponents as weak, or to critical news media as failing, reveal his fear that he is weak.
A republican form of government was supposed to be an improvement over hereditary monarchy because it would avoid the advent of an incompetent leader. It doesn’t always work.

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

June 4, 2018

 In a column in The Wall Street Journal on May 31,  John Kasich, Governor of Ohio, presented an example, as if we needed another,  of the ability to see only that part of reality congenial to one’s political views.  Although the column was captioned , "Entitlements Will Eat America’s Economy," Governor Kasich began by attacking the federal spending bill enacted this year.  The bill "did more than continue to fund the federal government; it also set America on a course to add at least $1 trillion a year to the national debt by 2020."  
That is, indeed, a problem and, for him, a dire situation.  If the national debt rises, or even remains where it is now, he warns, it will "strangle economic growth, push interest rates higher and put fiscal well-being and national security at risk."
One could question many of the spending bill’s provisions, such as the usual massive military funding, or perhaps the Governor is unhappy with a more liberal provision.  We don’t know, because he said no more about it, except to assert that Congress must "get serious about meaningful spending restraint and entitlement reforms."  With that segue, spending restraint, whatever that may encompass, leaves the picture, and the real culprits are identified: Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.
"Why is entitlement reform so important?  Because government spending and increased borrowing — driven by entitlements — continue to gobble up America's gross domestic product, putting economic growth at risk . Without growth, the debt can't be paid down."  Leaving aside whether "entitlements" are the major contributor to debt,  real GDP (adjusted for inflation) has grown every year since 1992 except for 2008 and 2009, devastated by risky banking practices, controls over which are about to become looser.
 Kasich managed to avoid any mention of the tax cuts enacted by the same Congress, which will have a direct impact on deficits and debt.  The balance sheet could be improved by reversing those cuts and, better still, increasing certain taxes; as to the funding of Social Security, begin with eliminating the annual-earnings cap.
However, tax increases will not happen soon; Republicans know only how to cut them.