Sunday, October 7, 2018

Sunday Potpourri

My women have abandoned me this weekend, leaving me free to pursue various methods of time wasting and reputational self-destruction which include both my Twitter habit and this blog on occasion. Fall and winter clothes in the attic are not going to bring themselves down to our closets, and the electric dog fence is not going to self-heal. There are things to do, but first, a few words.

I made a quick trip to New Jersey earlier this week to finalize preparations for my 35th high school reunion. We're essentially re-doing #30, but there are still details to be micro-managed. Having a bit of time before my meeting, I drove around some of the haunts of my youth, and I was amazed at how everything has shrunk. What I mean is that how I experience distance at 53 seems markedly different from how I experienced it at 17. My high school (Lenape, go Indians) is on Hartford Road in Medford, New Jersey. 

Driving to school each morning, either as passenger to an older brother or as driver, the distance between Elbo Lane and Lenape High School along Hartford Road seemed considerable. I also remember running to lose weight for wrestling, thinking that getting to Elbo Lane was a drudge. Driving this on Wednesday evening, I covered the distance in what seemed to be an instant. No, I was not exceeding the speed limit. And yes, my mind may have been elsewhere. But this phenomenon--the shrinking of familiar drives--repeated itself throughout the visit. Have any of you ever experienced this? Oh, and if you're Class of '83, don't forget about our reunion on October 20th at Ott's in Medford.

So much Kavanaugh in the past few days. I'd like to say I'm glad that's over, but I can't because it isn't. This is going to go on, and on, and on. We are a divided country and we see nothing but malevolence in the views of "the other". I am no angel--my problem is that I see malevolence on both sides these days, although I at least THINK that my ideology is based in principle. Others may not see it so. Former Republican national security guy Max Boot -- who has gone 180 degrees the other way and now identifies utterly with the Democrats-- and I had an exchange on Twitter this morning that raised a ruckus among others who rolled in on me from both sides. Trumpies don't care for me because I have no love for their man who I believe is doing long-term damage to our country. Liberals seem also set against me because my disdain for Trump is insufficient, I must go full Boot and declare my loyalty to their party.  I am comfortable where I am.

We are in the midst of college hunting for Kitten #2, which accounts for 2/3 of my women being gone this weekend, headed south to North and South Carolina on college visits. The college admissions game is much changed from the early '80's, and not for the better. First of all, the complete diminishment of any career not requiring a bachelor's degree has created a "demand" for undergraduate slots that is a distortion. Secondly, this demand has created (in my view) a situation in which the bachelor's degree is not worth very much, even as its cost explodes. Put another way, a degree from one of the top 50 universities in the country MAY matter, depending on what it is in. But outside of that group--unless you're in hard STEM stuff--the BA prepared you for little. The final piece of this pie is "the common app(lication)", which for those of us who hand-crafted four or five applications in the 80's without any similarity--sounds like a benefit. But it isn't. What it has become is a delivery vehicle for applications from unqualified--or worse--uninterested students who don't have as much work to do in order to apply to a school. And while universities are now able to point at how exclusive they've gotten (as their class sizes haven't increased as fast as their super-charged applicant pools), high school seniors work themselves into a lather when they see schools with what were (and are) middling reputations turning down 60% of their applicants. One hears from the next generation many tales of how much harder it is for them (likely every next generation has and will), but in this case, I think they have the facts on their side.

The geese have returned to the cove. Each season has its wonders here, and among those fall brings is the cacophonous arrival of geese. As I wrote this, a group descended noisily and distracted me from this post. And so I'll now pay them heed and wish you a good day.

Geese in the distance

Friday, October 5, 2018

Some More Thoughts on Kavanaugh

I look forward to the Kavanaugh vote, and I will accept the vote of the Senate however it turns out. This has been an entirely unsatisfactory period in our nation's history, and I look forward to its diminishment.

As I think about this whole sad and sordid affair, a number of things kept coming to mind, and I'll lay them out in no particular order. But the sum total of them has led me to be far more sympathetic to Kavanaugh than I would normally have been.

--This has never been about Kavanaugh, sexual assault, or teenage buffoonery. It has always been about Roe v. Wade and any attempt to make it about anything else is disingenuous. The left sees Kavanaugh as a potential fifth vote to whittle away at abortion rights, and they went to the mattresses in order to stop him. This includes willful manipulation of Professor Ford and her narrative and evidence.

--The degree to which the press has served as an advocacy arm of the Democratic Party in this sad affair cannot be overstated. There simply was no equality of effort in questioning the narrative of Professor Ford and the narrative of Judge Kavanaugh. Ford was believed, Kavanaugh was not, and it was open season on Kavanaugh. Ford's many, many, many inconsistencies, her failure to share even the evidence she had, and the indisputable lack of any corroborating witnesses--were never as interesting or salacious as the drinking habits of entitled young white men.

--The President's actions -- especially his performance at a rally the other night -- has been predictably gutter and utterly representative of this immoral and unethical man. That more Republicans did not vocally chastise the President is unfortunate, and unfortunately also predictable.

--The plain truth is that if the White House had pulled Kavanaugh's nomination, or if Kavanaugh had dropped out under this onslaught, a terrible precedent would have been set, one that would be more injurious to our Republic than the lifetime tenure on the court of a man who had been accused without evidence. The effort to get him to derail him guaranteed that a vote would occur.

I received a note the other day from a fellow Field Marshall in the #antiTrump movement who was dismayed at the degree to which I was not repudiating the GOP on its conduct in this matter. I reminded him of my lifetime disdain for the Democratic party and its tactics, and I pointed out that one of the things that he and I had been so vocally protesting--the destruction of political norms-- by Donald Trump, was EXACTLY what the D's were doing now with a wrecking ball (the media) at their control. I don't think the D's calculated the degree to which their efforts would cause a re-forming of the pre-Trump coalition on the Right. Don't get me wrong. I will not and can not every vote for Trump again, and I will not be a Republican while he and his ilk are ascendant. But they have the better of this argument and that's where I am on this.

Sunday, September 30, 2018

Trump's Troubadour Wonders Where the Virtuous Politicians Are

Before the 2016 election, I did not know who Salena Zito was. Through the primary and since, I have come to know her as a sort-of "Jane Goodall" of TrumpAmerica, only in this case, the anthropological case study not only catalogs the society under review but acts as its truth-teller and advocate. Ms. Zito has a new column up at the Washington Examiner entitled "The Politicians We Deserve", and it caught my attention on a quiet Sunday in the late stages of our Republic.

Ms. Zito begins the piece with a paean to former Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels, who virtually every squishy, RINO, establishment, GOPe kind of person (like me) had hoped would someday run from President. The man was as Reagany and George W. Bushy as you could get, and those are great qualifications in my book.  In 2011, he ultimately decided not to, citing among other things, family concerns including the ups and downs of his marriage. Zito recently interviewed him, and he indicated that were he faced with the same decision today, not only would he not run, but the decision would be a no-brainer, the intimation being that the changed political climate including personal destruction was to blame. Zito sums it up thusly: "Daniels’ decision as a possible presidential candidate was a very high-profile example of when good men and women decide not to run for office, not because they aren’t capable, not because they lack leadership qualities, but because of the personal cost to their lives, reputations, and their family’s stability."

Zito's piece continues: "One of the most common complaints heard on the campaign trail in 2016 was this: Of all the inspiring, hardworking, bright men and women in this country, how did it come down to a choice between two people who were not exactly the paragons of virtue?" She goes on to answer her own question: "The answer two years ago was that people in this country had such a low viewpoint of government and institutions, it was hard to get good people to be willing to be involved because they lacked faith to get involved. In retrospect, two years ago may seem like a kinder, gentler time. Today, given that character assassination comes first, and facts come later, why would any good person jump in?" And "But in this age of vicious politics, good people will step back and refuse to upend their personal lives because the other side politically is set on winning at any cost"

I don't even know where to begin to unpack this. This woman who has spent a good part of the past two years attempting to normalize and legitimize not only the vicious and vindictive statements of the President-- but also in soft-pedaling the degree to which his supporters lap it up and internalize it--is all of a sudden lamenting the lack of good people willing to get into politics? Forgive me, but maybe I'm having a memory lapse. Did a former two-term governor of Florida not run in 2016? Did a former tech CEO not run? Did a brain surgeon not run? Did Senators from Florida and Texas not run? Were the sixteen others who ran somehow not virtuous enough? And was not every single one of these others (and at least one wife thereof) not savaged in personal ways by the man who eventually won? Remember-this wasn't "the other side". This was Donald Trump, running as a Republican, burning the crops in the fields as he roamed to the cheering and applause of the people Zito lionizes.

Does Zito REALLY think that if Mitch Daniels threw his hat in the ring in 2016 things would have turned out any differently? I mean--there was no more establishment guy around than Mitch Daniels--and I mean that with esteem and admiration. "Mitch the Knife" was the King of Cutting Entitlements and budget discipline. Trump and his followers want nothing to do with cutting entitlements, and they would have cheered and applauded while Trump turned his carnival act on Daniels, who is I think two or three inches shorter than "Little Marco" Rubio. My problem with Zito here is not that she is wrong in citing this as a problem, it's just that she is the absolute wrong person to point it out, as closely identified as she is with the defense of Trumpism and its adherents. Trump and Trumpkins did not invent the politics of personal destruction, but the degree to which they participate in its practice and defense is fundamental to the movement and its narrative.

Friday, September 28, 2018

Big Fat Friday Free For All

We live in troubled times, and I fear our nation is sick and broken. My day was a busy one yesterday, and I tried to use the busy-ness as a means to foist off the ubiquitous images coming from Capitol Hill, in which a group of people utterly certain of their priors preened for the cameras while a woman told a horrible story implicating a man who says it didn't happen. I was not totally successful in avoiding the horror, but I did manage to limit its impact on my already diminished capacity to watch the country devour itself in tribal displays. I have generally been optimistic about the future of our country, but the last two years have taken their toll on that optimism. What is most depressing about where we are is the degree to which people now question personal motives behind political ideas, while ignorant of their own horrible, tribal biases. I don't know how this ends, but I am not hopeful.

I have another busy day today, one capping off in a drive to Kitten #2's school to watch her play field hockey. She plays lacrosse in the spring, a sport I prefer. That said, as field hockey games tend to be low scoring affairs, there is often a good bit of tension as to the outcome. Afterward, she and I will drive back to Easton, an hour or so of me doing my best not to poke knitting needles into my eardrums to end the pain of the music she likes to play. I am that guy, but only on internal monologue (I have been told that voicing these objections is not welcomed by one's children). Every single damn song sounds like the one before it; monotonous, folksy, earnest. Blech. 

The Kitten and I have been solo for a couple of weeks, with Kitten #1 off on a gap-year Outward Bound course in the wilds of North Carolina and Kitten #2 off at school. I have to say that I've enjoyed it and am looking forward to more of it. The passage of the seasons was marked last night in our kitchen as the two candlesticks/white candles that sit atop our kitchen table during the fall and winter returned to their positions. No friend of fall and winter, the Kitten rages against the dying of the light by eating dinner aided by these candles. I like candlelight, and so look forward to the change. It won't be long until the gas fireplaces we installed during the renovation six years ago will be fired up, and I'll have my favorite little spot back by the fire in the kitchen for the mornings that I am at home, with two slumbering black labs nearby and occasional intrepid visits by the cats.

Every five years I am charged with rallying the Lenape High School Class of 1983 for our reunions, and this being one of those five years, I have been at this. Thirty-five seems like an odd number (not just mathematically) to celebrate, but we'll gather nonetheless. The event is a virtual copy of #30 which makes everything much easier. October 20th is the date if you are hoping to attend, reach out to me for details.

The big news in my life is that I am considering ending my 25 year relationship with America Online (AOL). That's right, I still have an AOL account (email only). The Kitten and I were chatting last night about the list of automatic payments that so effortlessly fly from our treasure each month, and after her list I laid out mine, which included AOL. She brutally brow-beat me on this, and my only defense was that of clinging to something old, familiar, and comfortable. This morning, I've begun the process of getting a new personal email (gmail) account and will take a hard look at these auto payments that desperately need pruning.

My beloved Cavaliers venture into my ancestral homeland of central North Carolina tomorrow at a gaudy 3-1 to face the undefeated Wolfpack of North Carolina State. It looks like something positive is happening with the Hoos this year, and I'll search the various forms of connection I have with the world to see which might bring me this game. Further to my previous paragraph, we have DirecTV, and pay an enormous fee each month for a thousand channels I do not watch. But when the Hoos are on Big Ten TV--well, I get to watch! The Kitten suggests that we might have a more restrictive (and cost effective) plan, but I have been unable to bring myself to shed the giant menu of unwatched fare.

A good weekend to you.

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

On a Weekend in France

Readers may remember way back to last week when I wrote about an upcoming weekend visit to Paris with the Kitten. That travel is complete, and I can say with confidence that Paris is a do again.

We flew from Dulles to Vienna to Paris, a route necessitated by my having cashed in miles. Our plane was a 2-4-2 configuration, and we had a 2 on the starboard side. While not roomy, we were fine, as neither of us is all that tall. We landed in Vienna, had to clear customs and then go back through security. In the meantime, we had a nice fat breakfast before our 2.5 hour flight back the way we came.

Landing in Paris, we moved quickly through immigration and found our way to the train station, where the RER train would whisk us to St. Michel station a ten minute walk from our hotel in St. Germaine. But just as we approached the terminal, security cleared everyone out as there was a suspicious bag left unattended. Without any real sense how long this would last, I checked Uber and everything looked good-so we caught an Uber to Paris. Our driver was a jazz buff (not the first Uber driver who would be listening to jazz), and drove like a maniac.

Our hotel was a nice little spot, probably 25 rooms or so, with a bar and a breakfast room. We set our stuff down and began a walkabout--probably around 3:30 PM. On the way out of the hotel about ten yards down was a bistro that I suggested should be our place to eat that night, as my next meal is generally one of the three top things on my mind at any one time.

The Kitten is an old Paris hand, and she had a determined agenda of gardens and churches for the first day. Around 6:30 or so, I'd had enough and suggested that we needed to get moving toward the hotel to get some dinner. I'd gotten maybe three hours sleep on the red-eye overnight and was beginning to fade. She was somewhat disappointed in me, as she had researched the Louvre and saw that it was open until ten on Fridays and that Friday evenings were the least well-attended. I delayed answering her, but reminded her that before we left I had predicted that Friday evening would be a groggy one for me.

We made our way to the little bistro and had a nice dinner. Turns out they call French Onion Soup  "Onion Soup" in France. Who'dathunk it? At the end of our dinner, I let the Kitten down gently and told her I was headed directly to bed. She--independent woman that she is--said, fine, I'm going to the Louvre. She did, and I did. Actually I didn't. I read for a little while but was unconscious by nine pm.

Eleven hours later I was awakened by a fully dressed woman holding a cup of Nescafe for me, telling me I had to get up because we had a lot to do. In fact, over the next two days we did do a lot. Museums, sites, palaces, meals, etc. Having a limited time in a city the size of Paris means you either do little or do lots for short period of time. She chose the latter, and I followed along. On Sunday after a long day at Versailles and a romantic dinner in a spot at the base of the Eiffel Tower, I decided to see if I had enough mile to upgrade us to business for the long flight home (we were going Paris to Franfurt to Dulles--I know, again in the wrong direction). The wonderful gent at United said "how'd you like to get on the non-stop from Paris to Dulles leaving at 1230?" and then cited the miles I'd have to cash in. This was a no brainer.

We woke Monday, made our way to the airport, and then traveled home uneventfully.

I have a few observations to make from the trip:

1) Paris is a beautiful city. Rome is my favorite, but Paris comes close to displacing #2 (Florence). A few more days in Paris and it would likely be #2.
2) Parisians were wonderful, helpful, and kind. Parisian waiters were...rude. Except the one at our final dinner, who was great.
3) Because we did a good bit of close quarters travel (planes, Metro, trains) I was able to enjoy the wafts of BO from a great many people. I don't have a great sense of smell, so if you smell bad enough for me to notice, you smell really bad. And there were a lot of foul smelling people in France.
4) I could live in Paris for a while, in fact I may someday. The Kitten and I are thinking about a one month a year plan in which we live somewhere else when we're retired. I'll let you know how that shakes out.
5) The walk Monday morning from the hotel to the train station was brisk and wonderful. We left the hotel around 8:15, and there was a school about halfway between us and the train station; from the age of the kids we saw walking hand and hand with their parents, it was likely a kindergarten. What a scene. Businesses slowly opening up, street sweepers and cleaners out, and little kids chattering like swallows to their parents as they walked. A great scene.
6) I do not recommend intercontinental weekend trips. Too much flying for too little hanging out.

On Kavanaugh

There is nothing good about what is going on with the Brett Kavanaugh nomination for the Supreme Court vacancy caused by the retirement of Anthony Kennedy. I have been actively trying to shield myself from the constant clatter of opposing social media volleys, unsuccessfully mostly, not because I have any particular dog in this fight, but because I find the whole situation emblematic of our nation's decline. That decline is increasingly depressing.

I will assume the reader is familiar with all the history. Bork. Thomas. Garland. Nuclear options.

How we got here is interesting but far less important that the fact that we ARE here. We are in a place where a woman accuses a man of sexually assaulting her 36 years ago when both were teenagers. The accused went on to a successful career and is currently a federal judge. The President nominated him to the Supreme Court, and the accuser (Professor Christine Blasey Ford) came forward with her accusations, breaking the lid off of an already runaway process. Virtually every other aspect of this situation is tainted by politics, score settling, or team divisions (sex-based and again, political).

I simply do not know who to believe in this matter, but I do know that I will not believe either of them (or the second accuser whose story seems somewhat problematic) without some evidence. During a long and emotional conversation recently, I took pains to point out that I see both sides of this tragedy. I see a young woman, attacked and alone, who feels she cannot tell anyone what has happened to her. I see a 53 year old man who has lived what appears to be an exemplary life, without means to address an unfalsifiable claim. My interlocutor was more than willing to grant me the horrible situation Kavanaugh is in, without means to prove that he did not do something. But when pressed for how we resolve this, my friend said, "we just have to believe the woman". No can do.

There is stray voltage from both sides here. I am unimpressed with the "this isn't a trial, it is a job interview and so the rules of evidence are demonstrably less" argument. I am also not impressed with the "she must be telling the truth because why else would she come forward" argument. The former ignores the importance of truth as truth, and the latter ignores the many motivations people have for their actions.

On the other side, Kavanaugh's virginity (or not) is unrelated to the charge. I am also not convinced that calendars -- even kept by a precocious teen -- would mention sexual assault.

So here we are, a nation tearing itself up. I saw someone today on Twitter make a comparison of our divisions to that which existed in the 1850's. He was loathe to say would might be our 1860's.

Thursday, September 20, 2018

Random Thoughts Before a Long Weekend

Later this afternoon, a jet will carry the Kitten and me to Vienna on an overnight flight. We'll land, have a few hours to catch our connection, and then head a few hours back west to Paris where we'll land early Friday afternoon. This is an inefficient route, but when one cashes in airline points to travel, one's options are few.

The occasion for this trip is a comment of the Kitten's from several months ago, when she for the ten-thousandth time in the past eleven years said "I love surprises". Having listened now for nearing a dozen years to this comment, I decided it was high time to act upon it, if for no other reason than to see if perhaps doing so will make it go away. Monthly trips to the West Coast having contributed mightily to my airline status/miles account, I decided to whisk my best girl off for a long weekend in a city that she loves and which I had never visited.

Oh, I've been to France. Several times, as a matter of fact, courtesy of the U.S. Navy. I've had wonderful visits to a number of places along the Mediterranean coast, but I've never had the time or the inclination to visit Paris. I once carried on a conversation with a French woman in Cannes at a formal luncheon wherein the city's grandees feted a group of officers from my ship. She was seated next to me, an attractive woman of about 40 (I was 30ish), while her husband was seated across the round table. He was older than she, jowly and sullen. He was French and spoke no other foreign languages. She was French and also spoke German but no English. I speak English and German, but no French. Once we discovered that we could communicate -- I was treated to a tale of tired boredom as her midday wine intake increased, and eventually slipped a telephone number which I declined to exploit.

This was the same trip in which I enticed a number of my shipmates to unknowingly (we were young-ish) commit horrible relationship fouls. I had a few months earlier, come to know the charms of a young woman who wore a perfume (Boucheron) that was unusually attractive, if you know what I mean. And you do. She did not last, but the memory of her perfume did. There we were, seven or so Lieutenants and below, strolling along the main drag of Cannes--when we happened upon a Boucheron store. That's right. An entire store. So I convinced my (unknowing, soon to be troubled) shipmates to come in and "smell this stuff", which they did, and several of them reached the same conclusion that I had. This led to the brilliant conclusion that they would purchase some of it for their own sweeties. Which they did.

It was after we got home a few months later that the first inklings of dismay began to arise when one of the guys came by my stateroom to tell me about the big fight he had with his girl, and why he bought her perfume that reminded him of another woman. Apparently, "no honey, that wasn't it, the Operations Officer introduced it to me" was not an answer that held water. He was apparently not the only one to be so persecuted, and I learned a solid lesson from all of it. Interestingly, my inamorata at the time was a good sport and tried to wear the perfume "for me"-- but she was astoundingly allergic to it (and other perfumes, apparently) and so died my Boucheron fascination. Although I did keep a little perfume tester strip bearing the whiff of it in my wallet for some time thereafter...

This trip is a quick one, we'll return Monday. The surprise element of the master plan failed a few weeks ago when The Kitten consulted her own miles account and saw that there was a reservation to Paris. A calculated error in adding her number, I know. But once the cat was out of the bag, it relieved me of any other planning responsibilities, as she has gleefully ran with how to spend 72 hours there. Further evidence of my good fortune in having convinced this woman to accept me into her life is that we are sharing a single carry-on bag (don't hate, Tom).

First things first though. Our two black labs need to be transported to their luxury spa experience at our favorite "pet resort". The dogs (Baloo-7, Zuzu-5) lose their minds whenever they get into an automobile of any type, but when they realize that they are at the pet resort they are beside themselves with joy. This place is great--in the woods, lots of dogs, big play yard, the kind of joint I would want to be shunted of to were I a dog.

My only regret this weekend is that the trip coincides with a UVA home game (v. Louisville) in which we are favored. I would not bet this game, were I a gambler, but it is nice to think Vegas sees something in my team that I don't yet see.

Have a good weekend, folks.

Friday, September 7, 2018

The Silver Lining in the Darkest of Clouds

I have watched the confirmation hearings for Brett Kavanaugh with a mixture of revulsion and amusement, as Democrats and activists (but I repeat myself) beclown themselves in earnest desire to show themselves to be the wokest of woke for their increasingly leftist voter base. This is the equivalent of Trump campaign rallies, which really were performative theater based at a specific brand of voter who then delivered big time for him. It remains to be seen whether the Democrats will be able to catch lightning in a bottle, but they are certainly trying.

I believe the Trump Presidency to be an absolute calamity, and I actively desire its termination, either through the ballot or some other Constitutional means. As it decays, the true nature of its incompetence and chaos will become further known, although why anyone of sound judgement would need additional evidence of the rot is unknown to me. The assaults on norms, civility, international relationships, free trade, and free speech have been damaging, and will continue to be damaging to the civic life and national security of this country.

But what comes next is going to be equally damaging. The lurch to the left that follows this dumpster fire is going to be an assault on every political virtue conservatives hold dear, and they will accomplish it through political processes. They will have the votes. They will have convinced enough Americans that their way is best, because the fat, apolitical middle will have had enough of the ghoul-show that is the Trump Administration.

And what will be there to stand up to the assaults on freedom and liberty sure to follow? The judiciary. A judiciary whose absences will have been filled for at least two years and perhaps four, by a Senate run by a nominally conservative party whose leader was positively excoriated by the Trumpkin "burn it all down" set for being a RINO and GOPe, from lists compiled by the GOPe'est of GOPe organizations--the Federalist Society--lists that were compiled during the campaign as a direct consequence of the desire to box a wildly inconsistent President in with respect to judicial appointments (remember the President ruminating on the fitness of his sister for the bench? I do).

When I think about the storms to come, I think about the bulwark being constructed around the Constitution by Mitch McConnell and the incredible importance it will have when the shiny objects of Trumpism have dimmed and his voters return to their dulled rage states and Infowars consumption, as the hungry leftists gain power and engage in their version of norm breaking (ok, re-engage, as Barack Obama/Harry Reid were masters of this). When this happens, and I am as politically isolated as I am today in the Age of Trump--the judiciary will be there to stand in the way of leftward madness.

So on this Friday, I give thanks for Leader McConnell and the wisdom of our Founders. Because winter is coming. 

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