Noise Pollution

So here you are nearing the emotional vortex known as middle age, or over the hill, depending on what age group you are teaching that day and the quality of the mirror staring back at you.

Despite blithely practicing the whole “ignorance is bliss” axiom for many years, you have entered a period of semi- ( I’m being generous with the prefix) enlightenment. In other words, you do Buddhist meditation for at least 75 seconds a day, stretch at regular intervals, journal, take constitutional walks with the dog which include the blasphemous poop scopping and don’t scream at green lights for not allowing you to text longer nor red lights for interfering with your gas pedal fondnessl.

You even do yoga stretches outside on your patio every other morning and buy both brussel sprouts and almond milk at Whole Foods, the latter of which actually gets used. And you can remember at least four of the pillars of Buddhism’s eightfold path.

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Bob Dylan would be proud.

Although you haven’t quite reached the Deepak Chopra stage yet nor do people look at you and say, “Now that’s the kind of eastern-minded, zen master in training I could learn a thing or two from”, your friends do notice you are more relaxed. For example, Paul says, “Geez, there is something different about you. It’s not the Prius nor the few gray hairs. But you just seem like a semi-normal, half grown up.

And your other friend Peter remarks that he can actually trust that any metaphysical advice you give him is not coming from the same person who just screamed at an eighty four year old lady for being unable to locate her credit card while trying to pay for groceries.

Even better, both your wife and mother no longer refer to you as Peter Pan

Your self-applied nickname is Me 3.0

Now the maturity kicker. You wake up early. As in before dawn early. And you have adopted a  whole sequence of “growth inducing”, carpe diem styled rituals  which include well, a bunch of things you thought only incense lighting, new agey, “come see my orchids and tomatoes growing in my homemade organic garden” kind of people did. And within this new discipline, you can go an entire early morning hour without fondling your phone..

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Melania Trump                                                                             Donald Trump

 

So here’s the part where hopefully you my legions readers come  can relate.

Your chi is strong as you have done all the physical and spiritual calisthenics necessary to have a good day. And feeling this mojo, you decide to go to the grocery story (substitute Starbucks, the gym or some other popular close-to-home destination) prior to launching into your day of paid work, or in some cases, chasing your two year old around the house for several hours.

As you are being proactive, you are also doing mental multitasking, perhaps composing work-related emails in your head or conjuring several verses for a short story or poem you plan  to write. And if entering lets say Publix,remembering the one or two things you omitted to put on your grocery list such as food and drink.

Entering the premises, the omnipresent AC which is set at freezer temperature provides a pleasant diversion from the heat. But then out comes the snake in the grass, the acoustic sneak attack that I can only describe as the inner peace disruption equivalent of chalk squeaking against the blackboard –

Music!

No I don’t mean the dental office, Elton John variety that I still find really annoying because of all the unnecessary flashbacks it causes. And definitely not real music such as classic rock, classical or jazz. I mean, the “If I could pick three songs right now that I wish were banned from the airwaves forever, these would be them.” type of tunes. What’s worse is the decibel level. It’s 8:30 am and the store owners think you at an early 90’s gay friendly nightclub sometime after midnight.

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I’ll give you a quick sample:

“He’s a coldhearted snake look in into his eyes……”
Oh, oh he’s been telling lies he’s a lover boy”

Disclaimer – I had to look up the second verse

This lyric and others like it repeat themselves for the next three minutes. But it only gets worse. After there is a bad Madonna song and then I think something from George Michael, or Wham or Culture Club. And it’s loud. Like aerobics class loud

My inner ranting begins – “If I wanted to listen to music, I would have stayed in the car. But I came here to complete my zen morning and run an errand I previously would have avoided.” …. And look at my shopping cart, everything fresh.. But it’s too late – the early 90’s music zombies have poisoned my train of thought.

I rush to pick up the rest of my groceries, completely forgetting to buy milk and dinner meats. And as I am standing on line, I don’t know at whom I am angrier. The store and others like it which continually blare bad music against the customers will or me, for sort of knowing the lyrics to the songs and having, yes in the name full disclosure, bought both the Paula Abdul and Madonna albums of note back in the day.

As I am writing this, the answer is creeping all too close to perfect clarity.

Either way I feel violated.

I make it to the check out counter and get the same question I get every time I am at the grocery store -“Hi. How are you?”

I wonder if the cashiers ever get tired of asking this question. And as I always do, I start preparing a paragraph sized response. Except in this case, I really want to spill my guts in full-length essay form

Intended response:  “Well Mabel, thanks for asking. You know I was doing great, like attaboy great until about eight minutes ago. And although I was a little miffed to find out that the couscous and pasta were five aisles apart and can’t figure out why there is no pre-packaged fresh salmon, I found the overall item-locating experience to be quite satisfying. Oh and I went for a twenty minute run this morning. But in all honesty I have to tell you that my auditory mechanisms have been assaulted. The music they play in here sends me on a 25 year flashback. Not the good kind. Not that modern pop is any better. But why is this ear splitting nonsense blared almost everywhere I go . I’m literally afraid to walk into  once favorite hangouts because of this grenade attack on my eardrums. Who is the DJ around here? It better not be you Mabel and assuming it’s not, I would like to have a little word with that person. I don’t know if you value peace of mind… but I do. And seriously, what is up with the AC? Any dead bodies I should know of?

(I’m discovering a little more of my inner Larry David every day).

Actual response – I am fine thank you. And I found everything I was looking for with ease!

 

The Boy Who Cried Fake News

These are exciting times to be a journalist. And very depressing ones if you have certain preferences for what you would like the news to be. In fact, I’m having a tough time wondering whether what is going on here in the upper power echelons of DC are real or an ongoing episode of the Larry Sanders show.the-lary-sanders-show-watching-recommendation-videoSixteenByNineJumbo1600-v6

Actually I was hoping not to have to write anything more about it, you know “it”, as I have exhausted almost all my creative and journalistic potential trying to make sense of the buffoon who occupies the White House.

And then this last week happened.

Now keeping my mouth shut seems tantamount to avoiding my citizenry duties.

If you have ever read Flowers for Algernon, by Daniel Keyes, you will recall the main character Charlie undergoes an experimental surgery which transforms him from being developmentally disabled to a genius level outlier. But the effects of the surgery have a shorter half-life than expected and by book’s end, Charlie is reduced to point A.

402059 - AlgernonPhoto courtesy of Donald J. Nixon-Trump

As events unfolded this week, I couldn’t help but think of the book. Not that Trump is low on traditional measures of intelligence nor will he ever be confused with an intellectual heavyweight. But it seemed, at least for a brief period, that Richard Milhous Trump had been provided some a super equilibrium pill or normalcy injection in late April and his rule was bearable. Then the  treatment started to wear off.

Now once again we must try to make sense of the nonsensical. We must deal with the absurd slings and arrows of electing a part-time reality TV star and full-time huckster to the most powerful position in the world. And the sad thing is, Richard M. Trump has only furthered his involvement with his business holdings (note his weekly trips to Mar-a -Lago and the number of foreign dignitaries who stay at the Trump Hotel) and while The Aahnold replaced him on the Celebrity Apprentice, Trump started a new show airing five days a week at all hours here in the Nation’s Capital, the Political Apprentice. The irony of course is that the host was the main apprentice but in Trump’s quixotic world, details aren’t so important.

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But there’s a point when you can’t make sufficient comedy of nor rationalize absurdity well enough in order to have inner peace. That point has come. Even though this week’s news is no apocalyptic matter, the firing of FBI Commissioner Jared Kushner, I mean James Comey, still portends a terrible sign of how the growing Trump monarchy plans to rule. If you even consider pointing out that facts have consequences, or that the republic has operated a certain way for over two centuries. his chronic insecurity evolves into full-fledged delusion.

What it shows is that the leopard can change his spots but can never really change. From the campaign’s bizarre beginning, Trump was unwilling to play by the rules. Entertaining for sure. Threatening? Even more so. He never has played by the rules, “firing” people in his virtual reality world, and either screwing over or ostracizing others in his business life who deigned to disagree. He’s the plagiarist who arrests the person who allowed him to copy.

What’s worse, are the rationalizations, that somehow Comey was a threat to his institution, not to mention, the U.S..  For the sake of my own sanity, I will mention just a few of the tall tales which led to this bizarre “something is rotten in the state of Denmark” moment.

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First, in the days before the election, Trump claimed over and over again that the election was rigged, an election he ended up winning by over 90 electoral votes.

Second, he claimed his phones had been wiretapped by the Obama administration, a claim vigorously denied by any intelligence agency and his inner circle.

Third, having won the election and actually been sworn in to the presidency, he continued his claim that the election was rigged, saying the popular vote misrepresented the actual vote, citing hundreds of “incidents of voted fraud”

Fourth, he has consistently denied any connection to Russia even though his national security adviser was fired for lying about paid trips to Russia, several of his former advisers took bribes and his current Attorney General had to recuse himself from the Russia investigations because of several meetings with Russia Ambassadors.

Fifth, he claimed Comey told him three times that he was not under investigation when the information pertaining to the investigation is classified and even presidents are not made aware of classified information unless we are at war.

There are more tall tales for the honorable mention list but these are good a start.

Comey may be a loose cannon and a big shot. But to pull the wool over our eyes by saying it had anything to do with the Clinton scandal is like saying that we are arrested a drug kingpin, not for dealing narcotics, but for failing to register his business as an LLC.

To close this rant, I will give a quick plot summary, in extended syllogism form:

(1) Candidate likes a commissioner because he aids  him in keeping an election close.

(2) Commissioner keeps current position when the candidate actually becomes the president-elect.

(3) The president-elect wants people to do their jobs unless their jobs involve telling the truth or possibly exposing the worst case of election corruption in American presidential history.

(4) Commissioner seeks to do his job.

(5) His job happens to nvolve seeking the truth and potentially making the president and his henchmen look bad.

(6) President fires the commissioner

(7) President goes on major lying spree and Twitter tantrum

(8) President continues twitter tantrum because he can’t figure out why the media is critical of him.

(9) President plots evil schemes against the media

(10) The media fires back

(11) The president accuses the media of falsely reporting a Russian-Trump connection and hypocrisy concerning the fired commissioner.

(12) A modern day Hamlet has begun

Post-script:

(1)The media needs serious medication to make sense of what’s going on

(2) Such medicine is no longer covered by insurance, courtesy of the new AHCA

(3) Ratings for the Political Apprentice reach a Nielsen’s Ratings high.

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Is this what T.S. Eliot meant?

Normally I wait until the end of the year to do my chronological recap of key news events . But I’m getting older and fear I may not have the neuronal power to remember anything from the year, including my birthday. Besides this is a new era, a bold political biospheric type of world in which most things must be examined upside down and inside out. So to wait till December to make sense of any of it involves a bit too much risk.

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Besides, April was surprisingly uneventful. You know one of those times when the hustle and bustle of the world as we know it came to a little standstill, when all the chaos of living in a world characterized by insecure dictators, hegemonic aspirations and almost apocalyptic clashes between civilizations took a little hiatus.

Well if you were in a coma that is.

Otherwise, the geopolitical version of Murphy’s Law took place in April. In fact to such an intense degre it actually made Donald Trump seem like just a face in the crowd. T.S. Eliot’s epic poem “The Wasteland” begins with the famous line, likely a reference to Easter, that “April is the cruelest month”. I’m starting to see why.

Lets start in my temporary hometown of Washington, DC. The month began with the confirmation hearings of Supreme Court nominee, Neil “Gorshy” Gorsuch, a.k.a that kid in high school who was just a little too intent at sitting in the front row and memorizing facts. After sitting vacant for nine months, the seat which had formerly belonged to Antonin “Don’t Call me John Belushi” Scalia was temporary filled by Jared Kushner. While Trump tried  to circumvent traditional Supreme Court protocol by making the Kushner fill-in permanent, eventually Trump was talked out if it by none other than Kushner himself who said he was more interested in becoming the next Russian president.

Gorsuch

In a rare display of partisanship, Democrats decided to filibuster the Gorsuch nomination one as payback for denying Obama appointee Merrick Garland a hearing and two, because Garland was a bit evasive during his confirmation hearings refusing to answer such fundamental questions as “Do you think Brown v. Board of Education had any impact on schools?” and “Should baseball game attendees be allowed to put both ketchup and mustard on their hot dogs?”

In both cases, Gorsuch said such matters were personal and in keeping with 5th amendment statutes, did not want people who were unaware that schools were integrated nor non-baseball fans to read into his statements one way or the other.

Eventually the Republicans, frustrated that a political party dared  to give it a taste of its own medicine opted  to go for the nuclear option which involved what Donald Trump thought was pointing a fully engaged nuclear missile at Chuck Schumer’s house until his wife said “uncle”. But as it turns out, the nuclear option implied deciding on the nominee based on a gigantic game of tug of war between Democratic and Republican members of the House. For a moment, it appeared the Democrats might win, especially with Lebron James and Hillary Clinton cheering from the sidelines, but a late game referee change which involved a Russian grabbing the whistle allowed the GOP to add Rush Limbaugh, the Patriots offensive line, Porky the Pig and Winston Churchill to their side, eventually resulting in victory and the nominee of their choice.

Speaking of which, the Brits formally declared their intention to Brexit the European Union which actually benefits the rest of the EU more than thought. Now tourists can no longer officially declare that European food stinks on the basis of the Brits lousy food.

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Actually the Brexit declaration was formalized on the grounds that as America in learning in all-too-unfortunate fashion, if something has worked really well for almost all parties involved for a really long time, there must be a catch. As a condition for leaving the EU, however, the Brits must admit that most of Shakespeare’s plays are nearly impossible for high school students to read, much less their teachers, without the use of Sparknotes.

Speaking of reading, the first book ever produced by Snapchats was written by a 15 year old girl entitled “Why do the Rich Always Complain about Taxes When They Don’t Have to Pay Them?” In her dedication, the author wrote: “To Donald Trump, the man who vehemently asserted during a debate ‘Why should I pay taxes if the government is going to waste it?’ and has then proceeded to fly a football team sized entourage every weekend of his presidency to Mar-a-Lago while simultaneously authorizing increases in military spending.

In response to the dedication, Trump replied, “She makes some valid points but she’s got to realize that I’m a busy man. If the IRS really wants me to go public with my tax returns, tell them they are going to have to grab it by the “p—y”.

In fairness to Trump, April was a rather busy month, one in which he spent three consecutive weeks playing “Eeny, Meeny, Minny, Moe” as to whether he should be friendly to Russia, a decision made slightly easier when he realized that:

  • (1) Russia was aiding and abetting the Syrian government in using Sarin and other chemical weapons against its own people this month.
  • (2) Russia, despite any labeling to the contrary, is still a Communist country, employing all the features of Communist rule including poisoning its enemies and spying on pretty much anyone suspicious
  • (3) His wife is Slovenian, not Russian
  • (4) Vladimir Putin has a man crush on Napolean Bonaparte, Julius Caesar and all former Russian czars.

To temper some of the chaos, a month which included two decent decisions by Trump, one responding to the Syrian attack by launching an attack of our own on Assad;s weapons base and following it up with the mother of all bombs on a Taliban outpost in Afghanistan, the Donald hosted the 115th Easter Egg hunt on the White House Lawn.

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With his 17 children, wife, three mistresses and a few Russian “observers” in tow, Trump was quoted as saying his favorite part was getting to pat the Playboy Bunny and with his newfound biblical wisdom in full force, celebrating the emancipation of the Israelites from slavery in Egypt.

When told that story referred to Passover, Trump responded, “Well my son-in-law said that too but you know how son-in-laws usually tell you what you want to hear.

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With a week to go in April, we should be holding our collective breath. France just experienced its first round of elections and the two finalists are 39 year-old Francois “MacDaddy” Macron who developed the “Mrs. Robinson Syndrome” at age 15 and Jean Marie Bonaparte Bannon Le Pen who in the kindest terms seems  makes Trump look like the founder of Ellis Island when it comes to immigration.

Meanwhile, back in his backyard, Trump is pledging to go forward with tax reform. The plan is rumored to include a proposal to only have Democrats and working class Republicans pay taxes, then make Jared Kushner the new head of the IRS.

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Without Dennis Rodman to carry out what he does best, shuttle diplomacy between the U.S. and North Korea, things are a little precarious. Needless to say a young, stupid and delusional dictator with nearly unlimited power and an older, egomaniacal and insecure president with his hands close to the nuclear button are a combustible mix.

But despite all the gloom and doom, there is a hint of hope. Trump has begun to take a stronger stance on Russia (mainly for above reason#3), baseball season is upon us and the spring bloom is in full swing.

But in the meantime, I would take a look at T.S. Eliot’s poem. Like I said, we still have a week to go. The Wasteland

 

 

 

 

This is not The Matrix

I write this blog in the wake of Saturday’s senseless and surreal shooting at Merrick Park, which left three people dead, including the shooter Abek Wilson.

Coral Gables is a peaceful community and the Romanesque Merrick Park is a symbol of its commitment to the good life.

As much as I love being a Democrat, and vote that way in most elections, I am foremost a humanitarian, secondly a believer in the collective joy of living, and alongside that a husband, father, child and on good days, half sensible.

Moreover, I am a Miamian who believes this ever-growing oasis of tropical pleasures should manifest itself in an even greater degree of kindness and appreciation.

We pride ourselves on staying active and helping others try to get the most of their lives.

But this ideal doesn’t happen when angry people start carrying guns.

Three lives in the prime of life lost because a young man decided the best way to deal with a frustrating professional curve ball and what I assume was some pent up anger, was to grab his gun and make sure pulling the trigger did what it was designed to do.

Three wasted lives because of a homicidal impulse.

Gun stories don’t have happy endings. You don’t hear of stories that go something like “Bob was angry so he grabbed his gun, dipped it in paint and decided to create a beautiful mural out of it.” Or “Fred saw a young boy fall into the river but Fred wasn’t a good swimmer so he ran to his car, grabbed his gun and shot it into the air which roused a beautiful little mermaid from her slumber to save the drowning boy.”

Nope. Guns are used to kill people. Yesterday was no exception.

I could go on and on about the absurdity of it all. In fact, vote Republican all you want, but please don’t base your preference on anything related to protection of the 2nd amendment. The right to provide for a well-armed militia made sense during the American Revolution, but chances are the biggest invader of our peaceful communities today are Starbucks and Chase Banks. From a national security standpoint, we are surrounded by oceans to the east and west, and allies to the north and south. Last time I checked, aliens were still the province of the movies.

My suggestion is to speak to your representatives and tell them you absolutely don’t give a crap how much money the NRA pours into your campaign, nor how sacred you think the constitution is when it allows anyone who has played a few too many games of Call of Duty or revels in watching the opening scenes of Saving Private Ryan, or just anyone with a little too much testosterone to carry a firearm. In fact, tell them to show some real self-defense by speaking up on what is right.

I’m not buying the argument “that it’s not guns that kill people, it’s people who kill people.” That’s like saying it wasn’t the Atom Bomb which decimated Hiroshima and Nagasaki, it was the men flying the Enola Gay.

That kind of logic is demented.

During the Republican primary, Marco Rubio, actually all the GOP candidates with the exception of the half-sensible Jeb Bush, bragged about their gun ownership, as if it was some form of Republican nominee rite of passage. Something to the effect of, “Well I’m not really big on serving the greater good, but I do know how to load a weapon.”

Owning a gun is nothing to be proud of. At least not in my eyes. If you want to brag, talk about how many nice pieces of art or classic books you own. Brag about how you believe in civil disobedience and non-violent reactions to aggressive behavior. Even brag about your families.

Speaking of which, Marco Rubio has four kids. Trump has five. It’s almost rhetorical of me to ask how they would have felt if those victims were his own children.

The irony is that many of these same gun toting advocates call themselves “pro-life”. What hypocrisy. If you’re pro-life then the safety and sanctity of the born has to match that of the unborn. And don’t try to rationalize being pro-life with pro death penalty and pro war.

Really, this incident took place on a relatively small scale and is quite the aberration for peaceful Miami. But for a perspective, lets look at Japan, a country we almost entirely eviscerated into one big mushroom cloud, and is surrounded by two of the more hostile and well-armed nations in the world, North Korea and China.

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According to a September 2016 article in USA today

https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/2016/09/22/study-guns-owners-violence/90858752/, there are approximately 265 million guns owned in the U.S., which is more than one per every adult. In fact, half of those guns are owned by just 3 percent of the population.

Do with those statistic as you see fit, but my simple reaction is that if you are really gung-ho about shooting your guns, join the military or move to the Middle East to enter the fight against ISIS.

Then you can pretend you are in The Matrix.

Snap out of it

Last Saturday I had an early morning flight from DC (Currently being renamed Domain of Charlatans) to Miami. My family and I had Disney World on the brain upon my arrival so making the 6:30 am flight was a relatively easy sacrifice.

Somehow in my 40’s I became the person I was supposed to become in my 30’s ( I’ve always been a late bloomer), so mornings are now my thing. As a general pre-dawn rule of thumb, I do not use my phone the first hour of the day. Besides the fact that I have way too many other things to do in the early hours, including cleaning leftover frying pans teeming with petrified eggs and bacon, I’m not coordinated enough to properly swipe the screen.

Teenagers are different though. They live in an “Unbrave” New World where waking up is easy as long as they have phone battery life and at least three digital devices within arm’s reach. Not that they do anything other than caress those devices the first hour of their day, but that’s not the point..In their minds, despite being entirely cloaked in a digital fog, they are on up and “connecting” to the world around them.

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Which brings me to my point. I had an already been up over an hour so I was sort of fidgeting with my phone. On the plane next to me were two teenage siblings, at least I assume they were teenagers because they were Snapchatting. Yes I know people of all ages Snapchat, including the Ghost of Christmas Past, John McCain, Obama and Napolean Bonaparte. But for anyone to “snap” this early in the morning, they had to be unable to legally purchase a drink much less an R-rated movie ticket

I am unsure what or why they were snapping, but they were snapping away, ten second endorphin boosting, pheromone emitting bursts of digital desire. From the looks of things, they were in snaptopia, almost begging American Airlines to find some mechanical defect with the plane so they had more time to snap. As a foil, I started reading and annotating the newspaper, just to give them a glimpse of what the dinosaurs still do.

They seemed to be uninterested but at least they didn’t point me out as the type of potential disturbance we are warned to report in the pre-flight announcements.

I think part of the problem is that kids are warned but not shown. Hinted at but not directed. Then again the problem could be the phones themselves. Just as nicotine includes addictive agents, the transmitters phones use must send waves of pheromones, more seductive than oysters to a woman, more powerful than the salivatory response when exposed to the smell and sight of freshly baked Krispy Kreme Donuts. In fact, clinical research corroborates this statement, though I’m fairly certain that even Steve Jobs with all of his tactile obsession never intended nor anticipated the compulsiveness his Iphone would generate.

Sure swiping is fun. Far better than smoking or biting one’s nails. But I’m assuming Jobs was far too learned or concerned about making the future a better replace than to intellectually paralyze most of the adolescent population.

I studied a little developmental psychology and from what I reckon the teenage years, despite the obsession with instant gratification are an irreplaceable time to build neural connections, develop academic passions, improve task awareness and establish lifelong study skills. All I know is that the the middle and high school students I teach in DC kind of like learning, but not when it interferes with their constitutional right to snapchat. Unfortunately the teachers for whom I substitute forget to leave a lesson plan comprehensive enough that would minimize the opportunity to swipe, tap and press, then rinse and repeat. While subbing third period last week, I asked one of my 8th grade students who was snapping, how many snapchats she had sent that day – her response, “not very much, like 25”.

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(Study compiled by Donald J. Trump,  Neurobiology Department Head at Trump University)

But back to the air. The flight took off a tad before 7 am and I confess to having a bit of swiping withdrawal. I actually could have used the plane’s wifi to get service on my phone but wanted to at least discipline myself to make the two hour flight without caressing my phone. The teenagers were plugged in, listening to music, playing games and looking at pictures. And then just when I was about to lose hope in all Generation Swipe, something magical happened. Snapchat girl pulled out a biology textbook and what seemed like a set of homework problems. For the next ten minutes, or maybe three, all societal pessimism was suspended as she diligently worked through several problems without any sighting of her phone. Brain activated. Neurons firing, paper and pen restored to the human order of operations.

Studies show that the average adult checks his/her phone over 150 times a day and uses it at family meals about 20 percent more than teenagers. This fact came from an article in Wired Magazine, not Donald Trump. I might be one of those adults, especially if I am trying to figure out what to buy at the grocery store. But once upon a time I could sit and read for two hours without any digital interruptions and write for even longer. I have proof of being able to survive in an analog world.

I’m still trying to figure out which of the literary conflicts best applies to the adolescent connection to their phones. I think its man v. Man. If the protagonist does really have free-will, it’s no longer man v. himself. So I use the upper case M for the antagonist because the phone is some type of superbeing. It has the 3 O’s which are usually associated with God, yes including omniscience. In fact, why build a $100 million public library when you can just give everyone free wifi?

I could go on and on about all the metaphysics of this new digital frontier. But that’s for science fiction writers to capture.   All I know is that there doesn’t seem to be any way for man to beat the machine or MAN. The machines are getting stronger, more ubiquitous and more manipulative. In contrast, man doesn’t even have time to muster a defense.

Within five seconds of touching ground in Miami, my neighbors loaded up the Iphone and started massaging their apps. I’m almost positive the girl Snapchatted and her brother went on Facebook. I asked the passing stewardess for leftover newspapers. For them, waiting two hours for full phone use probably felt like they had just conquered nature, some type of rugged endurance test akin to running a half triathalon in adverse weather conditions. Meanwhile “the dinosaur” tried to follow his five minute rule of not touching the phone to savor the touchdown experience.

My neighbors seemed happy. I was feeling literal and minor digital hunger pangs.

Although I was home, I felt like a stranger in a strange land. I obviously have no place in this digital paradise, I mean dystopia.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The New Abnormal

Normally I wouldn’t blog twice in a week.

It feels a little self-indulgent, a little bit like posting selfies.

But sometimes extenuating circumstances force a writer-at-heart to be intellectually impulsive, and lend his two cents to an issue which simply cannot be ignored.

Such is the case with Donald Trump’s latest shenanigans. Despite a megadose of absurd reality TV in the past 72 hours, I am still trying to see the political glass as half-full, although half full of what is the question. Yet his latest theatrics got under my skin deep enough that I feel compelled to try to sort it out

In fairness, Ronald Mc”Donald” Trump has already been president for 6 weeks and hasn’t started any world wars outside of the Twitterfield, nor has he ruined the stock market. He hasn’t deported any of those “evil” journalists he so often maligns. And he has promised not to pull health insurance from the terminally ill, at least those who voted for him in the general election.

Back to immigration, he has even fought the urge to deport his wife.

But these glimmers of hope aside, things are a little unsettling for many of us good old fashioned folk who like to operate in the sphere of lets simply say, reality.

Trump’s America reminds me of an old movie with Bruce Willis and Kim Basinger called Blind Date. In it the main character Walter Davis needs a date to go to a company dinner with some very important Japanese clients. A little low on the Romeo pole, Walter is desperate to find a date and so his wife offers to set him up with her cousin Nadia. Nadia is quite the spitfire, but there is one caveat – If she has any alcohol, all hell breaks loose and her alter ego runs wild. Now this isn’t bad in moderation but in Nadia’s case, there is no such thing as moderation. Of course as Hollywood movies have it, fate is tempted, the warnings come to life and the night turns into full-fledged Murphy’s Law.

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But as thin is the line between entertainment and national politics, the presidency is not Hollywood as the stakes and stage are much larger. To me the conditions are simple – Feel free to give a huckster, corner cutting, narcissistic, megalomaniac, Russian black market oligarchial suck up all the air time and business opportunity you want, but if you give him the keys to the White House, I suggest either cryogenically freezing yourself for at least the next four years or escaping to a country in which he has no vested business interest or the prostitutes (on Trump’s behalf were cheap), lets say Belize.

Of course, what’s the first thing the American electorate did when it had the chance? As even Fred Flinstone would have avoided, we gave him title to the White House  with a little help from good old “better dead than red” Russia.

Talk about tempting fate.

As far as I see it, a president should have at least all of the following qualities: Intelligence, diplomatic savvy, charisma, a vast knowledge of American and World History, patience, salesmanship, thick skin, a strong command of current events, a fundamental understanding of the difference between truth and fiction, a robust work ethic, and an almost obsequious reverence for the position.

I will give Trump the benefit of the doubt and say that he possesses two of the above qualities.

I also accept that the rules of the primary season especially, that one needs to pretty much say and promise anything to win the nomination. I also accept that with such a large pool of candidates as the GOP primary had (my most accurate count was 9401), the more outlandish the behavior, the better. But once you are in the general election, the pivoting must begin and if by some 2017 Oscars-styled miracle, you actually defy all the odds and you get elected, with a little help from the Russian Napolean/Lord Voldemort, you better believe you should start looking the part.

Unfortunately, Trump has been in full Don Quixote mode since “taking over” the White House. Sure his beef with the media has some merit, after all most of the print and cable TV media loathes Trump even if he has been the optimal news generating cash cow. But if the law of karma ever applied to American presidential politics, this was it.

His Obama birther bravado, which I have mentioned before, essentially started the viral fake news phenomenon. I can’t tell you the number of FOX news gobbling, highly formally educated though jello-brained voters who still think Obama was born in Kenya or some other foreign country like Arkansas or Miami.

The fact of the matter is Trump doesn’t even deserve the Don Quixote label. The book is far too elaborate for his jello brain. But we can at least call him Pinocchio and Steve Bannon, Geppetto. And speaking of reading, presidents should read. A lot. Even the intellectually challenged George W. Bush frequently read. Yes he was reading Mother Goose when 9-11 happened but he read  books most of his spare time

. Trump hardly reads in the conventional use of the verb. And he really blows his load any time he gets challenged in his comfort zone, the 140 character sized pantheon of Twitter.

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This week Trump’s alter ego gave a half-respectable speech to a joint session of Congress. Granted he may have given out free joints but basking in the afterglow, even the media toyed with the possibility  that Ronald Mc”Donald” might actually be able to look the part, at least on special occasions.

This illusion lasted about 12 hours. And then Trump forgot to give Steve Bannon a kiss goodnight and once again, he turned into a pumpkin.

In the past few days, Trump has gotten even more testy about his affair with Vladimir Putin. I mean the Donald of all people should know best – if you’re going to have a mistress, make sure she is not more wealthy and better connected then you are.

Perhaps I am too close to middle age to take it all in stride. Perhaps I am simply not seeing the con game Trump has so deftly played in the past. But I cannot stomach the pathological Pinocchio sized-lying when millions of your constituents are more gullible than a teenage girl and the other 100 million are grossly affected by your blatant, perhaps blind disregard for the truth,

Mr. Trump, it’s Lent. Given your epiphantic and clearly “genuine” religious conversion, you of all people should be leading by example. In honor of Lent, which is not a fake holiday concocted by the media, why not pick something near and dear to your heart and surrender it to God for the next 40 days?. And no I am not talking about giving up grabbing the American people by the “p-$$-“.

I mean actually giving up something that you consider sacred. Since you have a few noteworthy vices, I will choose it for you – lying. I’m not talking about little white lies, lets say telling Melania you couldn’t return her late night text because you were Googling “How to Submit a Tax Return” when in fact you were spooning with Steve Bannon. I mean the really fiber optic friendly lies that somehow cross the blood-brain barrier faster than Bacardi 151 and thus irreversibly alter the judgment of millions of fact challenged Americans.

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Yes these kinds of lies, like saying during the campaign that you “saw thousands of Muslims dancing in the streets of N.J. on 9-11”, that 90 million Americans are unemployed a number includes a combined 75 million Americans under the age of 14 and over 80. That an election that you won by 80 electoral votes was “rigged” in Hillary’s favor and that there was major fraud in the popular vote which explains your deficit of 4 million votes in the popular vote. And the latest of your weekly tall tales – that the Obama administration wiretapped the phones in the Trump Tower during the election to learn of confidential phone calls with Russian officials, a claim blared through nearly every media channel without any basis in fact

As if Obama had nothing better to do with his political capital then tap your phones.

Enough is enough. We get it. You like to grab the truth by the p-$$- and then chuck it aside. You like attention, dislike bad press and start to rabble rouse every time the heat in the truth kitchen gets a little hot. We get it.

But come on Donald. It’s Lent. And you are supposed to be some version of a born-again Christian.

You gotta give it up. That God you so fervently worship in places like Orlando and Cedar Rapids Iowa expects you to surrender that cherished habit. These are just the rules of the game buddy. That’s what true believers do during Lent.

Believe me I love to tell stories too. I wouldn’t have majored in English if I didn’t, much less weave a short story or two when inspiration hits. But Lent has none of my fictionalizing abilities.

Besides, other than weaseling myself out of parking tickets, my Lenten promise is not to lie either.

You can do it Donald. Really just try. In fact they say the truth will actually set you free.

 

 

 

Whining their way to victory

Disclaimer:  I wrote this Monday morning so as you read, pretend it is Monday afternoon or whenever you usually have a few moments in your hectic day to read the brain droppings of someone who isn’t the most linear thinker, but earnestly tries to make the most of that. Enjoy and feel free to respond.
I didn’t see last night’s Oscar Awards, but from what I gather, it was the ceremonial version of a Freudian Slip.
Besides, there is one thing I cant really understand about the Oscars. How can a night that celebrates the year’s many cinematic achievements, including edge of your seat action thrillers, be so tedious? Actually maybe the entertainment value is 7 stars out of 10, and if they showed the award night bloopers, even an 8. But given my limited time, it makes no sense to watch a drawn out, maudlin and seemingly scripted awards ceremony instead of one of the nominated films themselves. Its like choosing to watch the NFL Draft instead of the Super Bowl.
But back to last night. Apparently Jimmy Kimmel channeled Steve Harvey and so Warren Beatty was handed the wrong scorecard. I wish this had happened with November’s Presidential Election, something akin to “My fellow Americans I apologize but when we were declaring who won two key swing states, Pennsylvania and Florida, we accidentally said who won the primaries there, which in fact was Donald Trump. But the winner of the the Sunshine and Cheesesteak states were, drum roll please, not Donald Trump nor even a male. The actual winner and thus next president is Hillary Clinton.”
It’s nice to fantasize
But last night Oscar’s were Hollywood’s version of a NFL make up call.  Apparently the across the board nominations of non-black actors in 2015 and 2016 caused such backlash that Hollywood’s most prized actress, Jada Pinkett Smith, the one who made her husband Will so famous, boycotted the awards. Smith was joined by the usually taciturn Spike Lee who said, “if I wanted to see black people get ignored, I would have hung out a ski slope.”
I have vowed to keep this blog under 500 words so I won’t go off a long rant, something that lets say Pinkett-Smith and Spike Lee might do if they felt racial justice wasn’t being served. But I do want to poke a few holes in their logic. They and other well-intentioned liberals ( I guess not as well-intentioned as the liberal writing this blog) believed Hollywood needed to be sent a message about its lack of inclusion. Now chances are historically the awards have not reflected the diversity on which America’s performing arts scene has flourished, considering how few Asians, Latinos, Native-Americans and Hindus get nominated even though collectively they constitute about 30 percent of the American population. But contrary to all of the dissension, African-Americans have done well at the Oscars.
Since 2000, a black actor has won the best actor award three times, Denzel Washington, Forrest Whitaker and Jamie Foxx. Lebron James would have won last year but they are not too happy about him in California.
Three of the last five best supporting actresses have been African-American and 12 Years a Slave and Crash, both Afrocentric films, won best picture.
These numbers may not speak to a truly representative list of winners, but they do suggest that blacks have had consistent placement in the winner’s circle.
Which brings me to the point I wanted to make in the first place. In the 21st century, the concept of diversity has to be examined beyond surface appearance. Schools, workplaces, and cultural institutions all seem to define diversity in terms of race and ethnicity. This may be semantically true but I think it undermines what diversity really encompasses.
First, diversity is an established fact of American life. It is not a quest nor a paperwork requirement. Diversity, especially in the modern age, should foremost be approached less superficially, including heterogeneity in thought, strategic approach, personality, taste and experience level. In fact, trying to define diversity in terms of skin color actually contradicts the intention, and if anything homogenizes the issue .
I recognize that much of what Hollywood does it scripted, but if it wanted a diverse sample size for each category, then make decisions which are color blind, P.R. neutral and instead based on what the people who go to the movies actually think.
Anyway, take nothing away from Viola Davis and Mahershala Ali who won best supporting actress and actor respectively, but those awards really should have gone to Jada Pinkett-Smith and Spike Lee. And no offense to Moonlight and kudos to the city of Miami, but now that the Hollywood referees have evened the score, hopefully we can find a way to judge art and artists on their merits, not on what is politically correct.

Life in limbo

I have spent a good portion of the last year up in the air.

And I am not just being metaphoric.

In fact, I spent most of yesterday afternoon in that state of limbo.

A slight professional flight of fancy coupled with a yearning to be in DC during the election has necessitated a weekly commute from DC to Miami. As the respective weather follows seasonal patterns, this trip provides for the best of both worlds, a first-hand look at our ever so dysfunctional political system during the weekdays and the fun and sun of the Truman show like bubble of Miami on weekends. Pundits then papayas.  “What’s the news”, then “que pasa?”

In order to get to and fro, I need to fly. I could write a Steven King length book about the quirky and neurotic world of aviation but that wouldn’t “fly” with my readers. As you know, it is a world like none other, aptly depicted in the George Clooney film “Up in the Air” and even more wryly in the David Sedaris essay I will post at the bottom of this blog. Nonetheless, since it is becoming such a big part of my psyche, here are some observations and tricks of the trade accumulated over the last half year of binge flying.

I encourage you to add these ten insights to your aviation survival kit.

(1) Tell Tall Tales If you need to make any modifications to your planned itinerary, be sure to over-exploit the fact, even if it’s not completely factual, that you have a wife and baby. I know I do. For instance, if you want to fly earlier in the day than your scheduled flight time, tell them you just found out your wife is pregnant again and you want to rush home to confirm it with her at the OB-GYN. The best time for that “appointment” is 11:30. Given the frequency with which I have told this story, my wife is now carrying quintuplets, all conceived at different times.

And if you need to push your flight later in the day, it’s because your son isn’t feeling well.

(2) Bring your own food, bring your own food – Despite the fact that airports offer more consumer benefits than a mega mall, in fact some savvy shoppers are now simply doing their holiday buying sprees at airports (In Dallas, some non-flyers actually spend weekend nights at the airport for food and fun), things are a little pricey. A shout out to my friend Radio who caught onto this around age 7 and likely empties half his fridge to travel with his large contingent. Nonetheless, bring food because if not, you will be out $20 for a bottle of water, a cookie and a turkey sandwich made with meat from a Jetsons’ episode.

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Should I buy two Valentines cards or one bottle of juice?

Below is my receipt from yesterday! Note the cost of O.J.

(3) Don’t follow the masses – airport gates are the worst example of conformity.

Q:  When is the best time to start getting comfortable in your seat while waiting at the gate?

A – When everyone else stands up.

This particularly happens with Southwest. As soon as two or more people stand up and start inching towards the ticket counter, everyone follows en masse. Mind you, this usually takes place before the incoming flight has even landed. I once asked a middle aged eager beaver why this was so common and his response was “ I guess they start forming a line to wait on another line before the actual line on the gangway.” My response – “Interesting”

(4) Don’t make time specific plans on the other end.

With American Airlines, always assume people are on Cuban time, unless you are in a rush. Then  American Airlines flights leave ten minutes early. But if they did usually follow ETD, I think the flight attendants will be bored.  Assuming you get to the airport with ample time to spare, just figure out ways to stay busy for another hour because your flight will invariably encounter some major problem like, the soap dispenser in the bathroom has been removed and the FAA has issued a airport wide man hunt to track the culprit down. Or we apologize but there was a granola bar undesirably found on the take-off runway and we are first  sending in Miami CSI to investigate before scrubbing the entire runway.

(5) Brown nose

Start simply, without ulterior motives, any and all flight attendants. Be inquisitive, ask them about their lives, their favorite cities, clouds, flight plans for the day, then after take off, move in for the kill. Refills without request, inside information about the flight, extra snacks and in some cases, a chance to move closer to the front. And if the flight gets delayed, don’t get on their cases… it’s bad karma, not to mention bad policy, eventually the flight does take off and you will need their help.

(6) Armrest/Elbow rest battles

Here’s the crux of the whole experience, the rising action of the flying novel, the part I have analyzed and kept large data records for years. This is where you find out if you have the testicular fortitude to literally “bump elbows” with the competition. Any flight over four minutes requires ample elbow space, but our neighbors often by virtue of girth, ignorance or poor observational skills, don’t like to share the space. Therefore you have to prepare a battle plan. Here are my four true and tried steps to reclaim your turf.

1 – The faith stage. Give it five minutes. Just pretend that the person next to you as still trying to figure out that you also have two elbows. With some passengers, this could stretch to ten minutes. But hold out hope that they will eventually come around.

2 – If the faith stage doesn’t work, try the friend stage. Figure you can get them to lessen their elbow lock by befriending them. Simple pleasantries and even a compliment or two should get them to share the space.

3- Subtle hint stage. This happens after about twenty minutes. At this point, you are feeling the pinch. I usually start with a reference to food. Me – “Hey do you know if they are serving food on this flight?” Elbow hog – Yea I sure hope so”. Me – “Well if they do, I could go for some pasta, maybe some elbow, yea elbow macaroni. At his point you also give their protruding elbow a slight nudge. There are good variations on this theme. “Hey do you like watching hockey/” Passenger – Yea great sport. Very physical. “ Me – Agreed, especially when they give them a good elbow, you know really slam them into the boards with their elbows.

4- The elbow war. Just nudge their elbows, even a good aerial hit to get them to cede their space. This, while the last line of defense, can also be the most satisfying. Naturally this is a little trickier if your opponent is asleep, but don’t let their level of comfort deter you.

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(7) Study your neighbors:  

In writing this, I’ve come up with a thought. Airlines should force people to upload their pictures before claiming a seat. Either that or biographical data. Then we can pick a seat based on a number of variables including the potential for surrounding annoyances. Though I base my preferences on what the people carry on. If they bring next to nothing, lets assume they are a little bit boring and will likely have some ADD and therefore very fidgety. If they bring books, a laptop or a notepad, that’s your winner. They will keep to themselves, not to mention , likely respect the elbow rest rules.

(8) Don’t get all worked up before your flight – Somehow these pilots really know what they’re doing. I guess all that flight simulator practice pays off. Personally, as glorious as defying Newtonian Physics  and winning the man versus nature battle is, I can’t think of a job I would be less suited for. Maybe a professional organizer. Although I have overcome my fear of flying, I still get a little queasy for a minute or so before the flight and start reciting biblical verses every time we hit some turbulence. But all this high anxiety isn’t worth it. Have faith…. The skies really are friendly..

(9) If at first you don’t succeed, start writing in your journal:

Since you must share an elbow rest, not to mention, play accidental games of footsie, you might as well try to get to know the passengers next to you. Besides, and I’m sorry to be so honest, if you are anything like me, you will probably fart a lot during the flight (Yes I’m that guy). In my case, it must be a combination of nerves and bananas. But if you are a bit of a threat to the ambient air quality, at least buy yourself some leeway by befriending your neighbors. This could start with something simple like “Where are you flying to?” or “By any chance are you allergic to pretzels because I’m not?”. The point is, there will be times when you want to pass what feels like time suspended in air more quickly so fraternizing can speed up the process.

But if they are not too responsive, then grab a little more of the elbow rest and start writing in your journal. You could even write a little character sketch about them.

(10) Don’t check your phone until you reach the gate:

This is a bit of superstition but there were times that people actually waited until they got home, walked the dogs and thrown out the two week old spaghetti  left on the kitchen counter before they could check in with loved ones. Or at least there was the surprise of exiting security and seeing a loved one waiting for you, or in the case of some Latin families, twenty family members including the dog, all waiting with welcome home posters.

But my reasoning is a little different. Use whatever analogy jumps to mind, but I say savor the afterglow. Man you just traversed five states in 140 minutes. You even wrote two good poems and an apology letter to your former boss. Feel the ground, thank the pilots, fart once or twice more just to leave your final imprint. Then once you get to the gate, you can check your FB. Really just take note of your new surroundings first. After all, if you are flying American, your DC bound flight  may have just landed in the middle of Honduras.

P.S.: For another perspective on flying, I strongly suggest reading this essay –

http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2010/08/09/standing-by

 

Can’t fight the urge… or maybe that’s someone else

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 – Photo taken from Donald J. Trump’s upcoming book on Zen Buddhism

Last week in my inauguration piece, I wrote about how at the beginning of the day, there was a hint of bipartisanship in the air, courtesy of a “smoke out” aptly timed to precede Trump’s inauguration speech and swearing in. After accidentally stumbling upon the rally, or gathering, or zombie fest (whatever the proper label is), I tried to convince, or maybe console, a few happy attendees that de-legalizing recreational marijuana use was not “high” on the president-elect’s agenda.

Depending on what side of the fence you stand, this has either been a bold or brazen week for President, actually lets just call him Ronald Mc”Donald” Trump. I will reserve more judgment until after my description.

As an aspiring journalist, I am also not sure whether to be appalled or enriched by all the commotion, but as someone who is drawn to satire, this is truly  manna from heaven.

And as far as the weed issue goes, lets just say Mr. Trump himself might benefit from keeping it”high” on his priority list, and even more so, for the rest of us, even those like me, who are not too well-versed on the ways of the weed world.

Size matters (at least to Trump)

The hullabaloo started last Tuesday when after three or so days of staying on his meds, a man who is pathologically insecure, admitted his embarrassment at the stated size of his, especially compared to Obama’s, size of his, size of his…………… inauguration crowd.

Granted many aging men express clinical despair over the size of their………..inauguration crowds, but this is something you are supposed to well, sort of keep in your pants.

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Mr. Trump, in what then could only be described as both delusional and maybe the subject of a good Polock joke, took to compensating for his inferiorly sized inauguration crowd by challenging the popular vote count of 10 weeks ago, perhaps asking for a recount. I could think of ridiculous analogies galore but will simply say this would be like the Super Bowl winning quarterback taking steroids before the game, celebrating in the locker room, prepping for his Disneyworld junket then sometime the next day, and then stating that outcome of the Super Bowl should not be made official until both teams’ quarterbacks are tested for steroids. Or calling the IRS to revisit the tax code because you think you cheated on your taxes.

Hopefully you get the point.

His insistence on voter fraud was all the buzz until he created another diversion by experiencing an intense bout of a premature executive-actulation. Needless to say, Mr. Trump has gotten a bit infatuated with his newfound power, a little bit like giving an eight year old a bazooka squirt gun at a mid July birthday pool party. The only problem of course, is Mr. Trump’s executive action gun has a little wider range.

Wednesday:

This reckless spree started by re-igniting the border war with Mexico, in the form of announcing an executive action to build the wall. Can anyone please say “Mr. Anderson, Mr. Anderson?”

Having considered the sane possibility of mending PR fences with our closest neighbor and largest trading partner in the hemisphere, Mr. Trump opted to fan the flames of mistrust. His solution: return to his bravado-filled, almost drunken pledge to build a border wall and make Mexicans pay for it by of all measures, forcing them to sell everything they stole from the Incas back to Peru and reclaiming the copyright royalties to Speedy Gonzales.

speedy_gonzales_1955_short

Arriba, Arriba, Andale, Andale – Translation: “I can run faster than you could build!”

What psychologists now associate with this draconian pledge is a latent resentment towards Mexican culture, specifically at Dos Equis for not choosing him many years back as “The Most Interesting Man in the World”.

Thursday:

Speaking of Speedy Gonzales, Mr. Trump pledged a day later to re-assemble his national security team, removing anyone with expertise in the field and/or peaceful intentions and instead replacing them with John Rambo, Ted Nugent, Yosemite Sam and Wayne LaPierre, the head of the N.R.A.. Atilla the Hun was also added as an honorary member.

Friday:

Speaking of honor, Mr. Trump did the most honorable thing he could do to “honor” the many domestic achievements of former president Barak Obama by moving even further to undo Obamacare which provided health insurance to 20 million previously uninsured Americans; In fairness, Mr. Trump opted to keep several important provisions from the original bill by maintaining coverage on pre-existing conditions such as delusion, megalomania, erectile dysfunction and premature executive-actulation.

Saturday:

Speaking of Viagra, Mr. Trump was in full erectile spirit when he issued his 73rd Executive Action of the week (2 more than his number of tweets) by declaring a ban on transients entering the U.S. from Muslim dominated countries that have at least two syllables in their names, falafel sandwiches whichcost more than the cost of an inauguration t-shirt and places where the most popular hashtag is now #WeactuallymissGeorgeW.Bush

The ban has not gone over well with unexpectedly detained passengers, many of whom were asked to play interrogatory games of uncle in which they were asked questions such as:

(1) If Allah’s name was changed to Trumpah, would you now bestow praises on him ten times a day instead of your traditional five?”

and

(2) if they would issue a religious fatwa that would force Kareem Abdul-Jabbar to change his name back to Lew Alcindor.

Speaking of tall people, Donald Trump claimed he had finished reading his first novel in 40 years, a little Spanish fantasy tale named Don Quixote. Asked what he liked most about the book, Trump was quick to respond: “I like his imagination, you know his flexibility of mind. This Quixote guy, along with his sidekick Steve Bannon, I mean Sancho Panza, is a visionary. He tends to see things that, well, the average person, does not.”

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Stay tuned my friends, Dos Equis may have new “Most Interesting Man in the World” campaign, Just don’t be surprised if they change the adjective in that punchline.

 

 

 

 

A Tale of Four Protests, well maybe 3 and a pot-fest

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I was excited to go cover the inauguration on Friday, at least in the  journalistic sense. I grabbed my #Imwithher poster,  a Clinton-Gore hat from six inaugurations ago, and two phones for ample picture and note taking. As I stepped out of my door onto O St., however, I realized I had forgotten two things. One, to drink a cup of coffee and two, to wake up.

Once both of those steps were taken, I read the newspaper headlines just to make sure I hadn’t been a coma for 10 weeks. With that scenario disproved by the headlines, I grabbed a “great” cup of coffee and stuffed a half-charged iPhone (Which implies 32 minutes of battery life), four unusable pens and a notepad into my parka. I also attempted a minute of deep breathing techniques in case I ran into, well, lets just say a few too many of those folks donning those infamous red hats.

In truth and in my typically naive fashion, I expected to simply find scattered masses of people engaging in  healthy debates about the future of the country, bi-partisan yoga workshops and food truck vendors so swept up by the unprecedented level of national unity and immigration support, they were giving away meals, especially the Mexican vendors.

To add to the anticipation, I heard a fairly large demonstration only two blocks away from my apartment. Since, I also had to go the CVS just across from where the commotion was emanating, I grabbed my “Goodbye Obama” sweathshirt, sweatpants and rushed over to the noise. It was roughly 9 am.

As I approached the throng, surprisingly the dialogue did not appear to be hostile nor even disagreeable. However, as the crowd more clearly entered my field of vision (I may have been the only one who could see clearly), I did a double take. Rather than seeing Trump or Clinton or “#not my president” signs, or anything even remotely political, I saw lets just say, many symbols of a Reggae Fest. My sense of smell confirmed this first impression.

So yes, this was not exactly a political rally. In fact, I am not sure a good chunk of the people even knew it was inauguration day. At least not anymore. They were rallying alright,  Cypress Hill style, one puff at a time, for: More munchies, hemp products and the right to get every bystander and cop in a six block radius loopy from second hand smoke.

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Frankly I am not sure I have ever seen a more zealous and patient queue, particularly on a Friday at 9 am. My guess is a good chunk of these “activists” wouldn’t have waited more than five minutes on a voting line, but promise them one free joint and discounts on “medicinal” paraphernalia, and they could wait the entire morning. Apparently some of them did.

I wasn’t sure whether to immediately turn around and head to CVS. But I replayed the wisdom of my public affairs professor who always says that the news is usually the opposite of the plans, so I took out my phone and attempted to interview one of the dutiful souls on the queue. As a non-pot smoker, I am not so savvy about the weed hype. In fact, my biggest point of departure is why legalization is so important when its previous illegality never denied anyone access to it. But to better play an objective on the street journalist, I pressed the issue a bit.

Me – ” So what brings you to this rally?”

Bob Marley Jr – “Dude, I’m sure you can figure it out. Look at all the weed”.

Me – “But do you have to go to the other end of the city just to get “weed”? (I felt a little phony just saying the word)

BMJ – “Yea but it’s free”

Me – “But don’t you have a bunch of friends who would give it to you for free?”

BMJ – “Haha.. Yea but I can’t guarantee that. Besides, Trump’s probably going to take all our weed away. The fascists want to take away all our freedoms”.

Me – “Actually I’m not sure Trump has mentioned anything about weed. My guess is that it is not big on his agenda. ”

BMJ _ “Yea just wait. Pence will. He’s one of those uptight Christian guys. Probably thinks hippies are all the devil’s army.

Me – “So how long will you wait on this line?”

BMJ – “As long as I need to. I waited forever for weed to be legal. What’s an hour?”

My weedfest observations could continue indefinitely. But my brain is getting a bit Trumpy just thinking about it. I’ll just relate a little anecdote from waiting in line at CVS to get my TB test read. There were at least half a dozen people waiting to use the bathroom. They were very fidgety. Most had died hair. Others had ripped jeans and multiple earrings. And they kept talking about the line.

Me – So are you here to get a flu shot too? If so, you can sign in at the kiosk over there.”

Them – laughing, more laughing “Nay man, we’re here to make sure it stays legal.”

Me – “You mean weed or the flu shot?”

Them – “What’s the flu shot? Does it protect us against Trump? You getting one?”

More laughter.

Me – “Actually know I’m here to get, ah never mind, nah ( I wanted to seem a bit saintly), not my thing.

“Right on. You’re missing out though”.

Me: (eavesdropping on their conversation):

Them – “Dude, the line is crazy. It goes up the street like three blocks. Think there will be weed left?”

Another dude: ” I dunno. If I were you I would cut the line.”

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“Political” activists wait patiently to inhale their deepest sentiments

(Photo courtesy of Donald J Trump – CNN photographer)

“Yea but thats not cool. Could you imagine if I cut in front of someone and I ended up being the last guy to get some?”

“Holy shit, That would be dope, I mean for you. But they would go crazy. That might actually get you deported.”

This is where my weed story ends, well almost ends. Just as I was leaving three girls walked out of a bathroom designed for one person. Before my inner 22 year old jumped to conclusions, I asked one of my informants what she thought was going on.

“Oh they were probably rolling a joint. I think they were in the bathroom earlier. There was so much green stuff on the sink, I almost licked it”.

The smell of clean air, well sort of:

At this point, I felt more compelled than ever to do some real journalism. I heard there was a Dream Act rally going on towards the Mall so I took the metro to Foggy Bottom and started following the crowd from there.

My sense is that there were some people who were genuinely afraid their first amendment rights would be taken away when Trump was sworn in, so they took full advantage of their last few hours. As I started walking around Foggy Bottom, a larger procession of revelers was heading towards the Tidal Basin. I didn’t see any #MAGA hats so I started tagging along, eavesdropping on conversation and trying to get caught up in the democratic spirit. This procession was in fact heading towards to Dreamers gathering so I had guessed right.

This was a fairly PG rally. And low and behold, there were two red hat Trump supporters there who said they didn’t think Trump was going to follow through on his deportation threats but if he did, they would be at the head of the line to protest. My 32 minutes of iPhone battery life expired so I have no pictures from this rally but I’ll share some of the best lines from posters.

“Melania can stay but deport Donald”

“As long as you hump Trump, you can stay”

“Deport hate, protect hope”

“A dream deferred is our future denied”

“Beware of things that go Trump in the night”

“Your wealth was built on our backs. No immigrants = No buildings”

“Note to president Trump – Let he who be without sin cast the first stone”

At about noon, the promise of rain came true. Mind you this was the time that Mr. Trump was taking the oath of office. I’ll leave any possible symbolism to the reader. So I left the Dream Act rally and started heading towards the center of the action. About an hour later, I received warnings from my wife and sister not to go towards 13th and K. At first I had no intention of going to K street but after their warning, I immediately started heading in that direction. Though on the way there, I heard something that sounded like the combo of an Obama campaign rally and a spoken poetry contest so i stopped there first.

My sense is a good chunk of the attendees had also waited on the weed line. I’ll assume that once they realized it was inauguration day, their priorities had shifted somewhat

It was spirited, inclusive and overtly anti-Trump. Given my preppy, shy nature, I felt a little out of place, but I listened.

Te first speaker, lets call her Wanda, had an Afrocentric, 90’s feminist hip hop kind of tone. I will try to recreate what she said using some poetic license:

“We will not let the machines of oppression remanufacture our souls,

Nor white supremacy murder our goals,

We won’t let Obama’s dream be destroyed by that son of a bitch

We won’t let them re-enslave us so they can get more rich,

They can’t confine us, Trump can’t redefine us

We will stay at the front of the bus

Black lives matter. Can I get a black lies matter?”

“Black lives matter!”

“Louder. Prouder!”

Black lives matter

“We aint niggers, we aint diggers, we aint forgotten, we don’t pick cotton”

Black Lives Matter!!

The remaining speakers were equally fired up. A Native American who had apparently run for Congress in North Dakota named “Chase Iron Eyes ” spoke in really Thoreauesque terms about saving the river from oil exploration and a bunch of other really deep spiritual metaphors about the “omnipresent soul of nature”. I don’t even think he went to the weed fest and was still this deep.

screen-shot-2017-01-23-at-7-38-23-am

He was also playing the harmonica, a flute made from bamboo and sang with a cadence that pulsated river currents through my veins. I was rather awed as was the crowd who chanted a bunch of really cool verses in authentic native american dialect. I felt like I needed to see Dances With Wolves again.

The last speaker I heard was a Muslim-American female. She was pretty intense, blaming pretty much everyone for the mistreatment of a handful of Muslims and negative perceptions of them. Clearly Trump’s speech didn’t sit well with her. Islamaphobia, in her eyes, was more widespread then lets say love of major league baseball. But everyone cheered and chanted “Down with Islamaphobia. Don’t with xenophobia, down with gynophobia, down with diversophobia (or something like that).

She was a little too extreme for my taste but I cheered anyway. Apparently she didn’t even know she was to going speak so everything was said extemporaneously. Her last comment was particularly striking.

“If they say Muslims don’t belong, I say bring more

If they say Muslims are the problem, I say just look at the score

of American terrorists on Muslim lands and Muslim values

Confining Allah within the hateful chambers of biblical lies

If you are really afraid of Muslims Mr Trump, look in the mirror and take off the disguise.

You are the enemy. Your hate bullets which spread from city to city, state to state

You and your millions of ignorant followers are what keeps America from being great”

……. I clapped, I’m not even sure I agreed with much of her rant, but I clapped like my team had just gone ahead in the last minute of the game.

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1st Amendment in the spotlight

I could go on and on here but I will close by saying that I felt a little boring by comparison. I’m a white guy from New Hampshire who’s biggest complaint is that my neighborhood sidewalks are a bit hard to traverse with a baby stroller.

From here, I felt ready for some more adventure.

At first I felt stronger than nature. I even facetimed my wife to prove how brave I was. But as I got closer to the center of the action, I could see that something was burning and no it was not a Caja China nor a recreation of the weed-fest. There were overturned trash cans and they were either making human sacrifices or burning Trump gear or maybe both. A Trump guy came over with a fire extinguisher and then as squatters tend to do, they got a little resentful and sure enough everything I was forewarned about came true.

Most people stuck around to take photos but I went running. Ironically stopping only to speak with a group of Red Hats…

I apologized to them.

Me – “These are not real Democrats. I think they are just a little too stoned and still upset that Bernie Sanders lost. Or they really just want to make the news.”

Them – “Yea I know. But still this is ridiculous. (One of them started ingesting chewing tobacco. Another seemed pretty hammered.) I survived eight years of Obama ( I hate this line) and we didn’t break things or try to pick fights. We sucked it up.”

Me – (better part of reason) “I mean it’s a free country. People can vote for whomever they want, even Donald Duck. Anyway, I hope you guys have a good inauguration weekend. Hopefully I won’t see you in four years though.”

They – laughing, hopefully you will see us. I wish more Democrats were like you, friendly and all.

Me – I’m sure they are, they are probably just hanging out in coffee shops reading the paper right now.

More laughs

Like a casino enthusiast, I was tempted to go back for one more look. Really. All the swarming cop cars and sound and fury didn’t dissuade me. But I looked at my phone and saw a message from my wife telling me to be safe. I actually followed her suggestion.

Disclaimer – The next few sentences will depart from satire.

Walking along the parade route, I had conflicting feelings. One I was embarrassed or at least confused by all the hysteria. Trump was elected 10 weeks ago. They had plenty of time to exercise their first amendment rights. Secondly, did all these vigilantes actually get out and vote? Third, maybe free marijuana and the constitutional right to assemble on inauguration day isn’t such a good blend. Fourth, If Clinton had been elected, would the Trump people be doing the same thing? For some reason, my instinct told me no. And five, Trump hasn’t even moved into the White House. Maybe the hysteria should wait until he actually does something.

I kept walking, peering over at the White House and getting a little miffed at a guy selling big Trump banners. Shit, he must be making a ton of money on this crap. I think I was just a little jealous. The only knick knack I have ever sold are Mindo t-shirts and I sold those at cost.

The slogan perplexes me. When did we stop becoming great? Obama created 10,000 million jobs in his second term and the economy is more robust than at any time in decades. Millions want to immigrate here every year. Why did 63 million people buy into this trope?

And then an idea came to me, a coy response to this ridiculous and erroneous slogan. Why not flip it on its head?  Okay Trump wants to make America “great” but we were “really great” before he took office. America’s status has now been downgraded. “This is genius,” I thought to myself. I’m going to make bumper stickers, hats, flags, towels, etc. This will be the opposition’s catchphrase.

My pace quickened. Where should I post this? Facebook? Twitter, text all my Democratic friends or just catch everyone by surprise?

Now I was floating on air. Hah, I bet Trump’s PR people never thought of this. I wanted to scream it out to all the Trumpeteers. “Wow, so we are great now, but we used to be really great. The joke is on you.”

By now, I was out of the eye of the storm. I fought the urge to text my new slogan and went inside the GW gym, ready to release much of the day’s angst on the squash court. I was a bit curious as to what was going on K St. And then another thought crossed my mind.

Maybe I really need to get a life. Either that or start reading more Native American philosophy.

#GodblessAmerica