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1/20/2017
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Pressing on

Next week a range of journalists from old and new media will gather at New York University for an event hosted by the liberal website Slate called “Not the New Normal.” It’s billed as a forum on “how the news media can and should proceed to cover” the Trump administration.

Here's hoping, writes Tom Kuntz at Real Clear Politics, "the answer to that question is fair, fact-based coverage that informs the public about issues of significance."

Yeah, well, good luck with that.

High noon

I've written about our coming pot problem before but in the context of "what if. . ." Now it might be time to consider the matter with a little more urgency.

To refresh your memory, here is the Supremacy Clause in Article VI of the Constitution:

This Constitution, and the Laws of the United States which shall be made in Pursuance thereof; and all Treaties made, or which shall be made, under the Authority of the United States, shall be the supreme Law of the Land; and the Judges in every State shall be bound thereby, any Thing in the Constitution or Laws of any State to the Contrary notwithstanding.

It has come to this

President Donald John Trump. DJT. President Hillary Rodham Clinton. HRC. First Lady Melania Trump. First Gentleman Bill Clinton.

Nope. Can't get my head around any of that. Who could have predicted that our presidential choice would be between a demented huckster and an unindicted felon? Or that Indiana would have been the place where voters could have said, "You know what? This is crazy. Let's just stop it." Instead, we will be known as the ones who put the wounded Ted Cruz campaign out of its misery.

And what is the campaign going to be like? We're going to have two people most Americans don't like slinging mud at each other for months. There have been elections for which I've had to hold my nose and choose the lesser of two evils. This is the first one in which the thought of voting for either candidate makes me ill.

Hot licks

I admire good guitar players a lot, I think more than any other musicians. It must have started when I first heard Jimi Hendrix while I was in the Army and was just blown away by the sounds I heard. Nobody had ever played a guitar quite like that. So Hendrix has always been the guitar god to me. But I have also worshiped many lesser deities from all sorts of musical genres: Andres Segovia, Chet Atkins, Eric Clapton, Buddy Guy, the list goes on.

But somehow I missed Prince. I don't know if it was because I was in one of my "done with pop culture" phases (I've had several) or because I considered Prince's flamboyance a compensation for a lack of talent or whatever, but I just never paid any particular attention to his music. So I completely missed the fact that he was an an amazing guitar player. "Defying description" is the way ZZ Top's Billy Gibbons describes it.

The two of then had a remarkable (to me at least) two-hour conversation about the art and craft of guitar playing. At one point in an interview about the conversation, Gibbons describes how he has struggled to emulate the guitar introduction to "When Doves Cry."

Fairy tales packing heat

NRA Family, the National Rifle Association's family-oriented website, has caused quite a stir by "updating" classic fairy tales by arming the protagonists with guns. They've done two so far -- "Hansel and Gretel," in which the kids, guns at the ready, rescue two other kids from the evil witch, and "Little Red Riding Hood," in which Grandma holds the Big Bad Wolf at shotgun point until help arrives in the form of the friendly huntsman. In neither story are guns actually fired, which is kind of a cop-out, but never mind that. i might have also have armed Red instead of Grandma, but never mind that, either.

The group of course says it has only the best of intentions -- it's for the children, don't you know:

The NRA said the stories, written by Amelia Hamilton, whom the NRA calls a “conservative blogger” and “lifelong writer and patriot,” are part of an effort to promote responsible firearm use by children. The accident prevention program it oversees has helped teach more than 28 million kids about how to stay safe if they find a gun, according to the NRA's website.

The word's out

Instead of a "word of the day" today, how about a whole bunch of them, "13 wonderful old English words we should still be using today," from Christina Sterbenz over at Business Insider.

I already knew the first word on the list, and it just might be my favorite word of all time, "ultracrepidarian," which is "somebody who gives opinions on subjects they know nothing about." Actually, the for I knew was "ultracrepidate," the verb, meaning "to criticize beyond the sphere of one's knowledge." Think of the pope spouting off about economics, or a sportsw columnist who suddenly feels compelled to write about politics, or an editorial writer who goes on about . . . .well, just about anything. Since we're not experts on anything but having opinions and expressing them, ultracrepidarianism sort of comes with the territory. Just about anything we put into words involves a "subject we know nothing about."

What makes the word really interesting is its origin. In a Roman story, a cobbler criticized the sandals in a painting by the artist Apelles, and then complained about further parts of the work, "to which Apelles is said to have replied, 'Ne sutor ultra crepidam,' or, roughly, 'The cobbler must not go beyond the sandal.' "

The rights stuff

Hillary Clinton is getting a lot of grief for a little bit of nonsense she spouted in an interview with Steve Harvey about guns in America:

“We’ve got to say to the gun lobby, you know what, there is a constitutional right for people to own guns. But there’s also a constitutional right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness that enables us to have a safe country. where we are able to protect our children and others from this senseless gun violence.”

The nonsense is that the phrase "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness" appears in the Declaration of Independence, not the Constitution. The Declaration is a foundational document and asserts our justifications for independence, including those rights, God-given or natural, as you will, to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, but it doesn't guarantee a damn thing.

Bomb-throwing voters

Good grief. At this late date, there are still pundits and politicians who don't get the Donald Trump phenomenon? "Trump win," the headline says, "confounds people who thought gaffes would do him in."

For months, Donald Trump's antagonists in rival campaigns, in the GOP

Word police

The Word Police are on the job. This time, they're out to protect the delicate sensibilities of sensitive progressives who just can't stand some of the offensive words and phrases they encounter on the Internet. Now, with s simple Google add-on to their Chrome browser, they can visit any number of news and opinion sites where the horrible term “pro-life” appears, and in each and every instance the term will helpfully be replaced with, “anti-choice.”

It isn't really that liberals feel threatened by the pro-life language. They are offended by it. "Pro-life" gives the movement a positive spin that liberals can't abide, so in their own minds, and of course on their own websites, they will think of it as "anti-choice," which makes their own arguments seem more righteous. Of course, "pro-choice" is the preferred name of the liberal movement, and it puts a positive spin on things conservatives don't think deserve a positive spin. I would say pro-choice people are really pro-abortion people or, heck, maybe even pro-death or anti-life, but I'm not going to try to rewrite everything that comes into my browser. If you've been following what's happening on college campuses these days, you know it's the progressives who are the hothouse flowers who just don't want to hear what they don't want to hear:

Would Google tolerate a tool which took every liberal diatribe on web and substituted the term “gun control” with “anti-gun rights” in the text? How about if it replaced “voter suppression” with “voter fraud prevention” in every voter ID opinion piece? Somehow I suspect it would be less well received. In fact, we should probably contact a few lawyers about this because editing the work of others without their express consent or any claim of ownership of the original material sounds as if it should certainly be illegal, doesn’t it? It’s also an open door to completely ruin the original material in some cases.

The mystery remains

Rats.

I was enticed by those ancestry.com commercials in which the guy thought he was German and discovered he was really Scottish. I thought it might be fun to explore my own background, so I ordered one of their kits, which turned out to a be a little vial I was supposed to fill up with spit. So I did, and filled out the form, and sent everything in. Several weeks later I got a notice in the mail that my spit sample was unusable for the purposes of getting DNA. I have defective spit?

They included a replacement kit, and I dutifully went through all the steps again and mailed the stuff away again. And, several weeks later, got another letter saying my spit was unusable. They included a third kit, which has been on the back of my couch for about a month and a half. I've been working up the courage to have my spit rejected again -- three strikes, and I'm out, probably was sent here as a child from another planet.

Marching orders

A couple of years ago, The Los Angeles Times got some attention for announcing it would no longer accept letters to the editor from climate change deniers, that to publish a letter saying something like "there is no sign that humans have caused climate change" because such a statement is a factual inaccuracy," not an opinion. Trying to keep factual inaccuracies off the page I'm pretty sure is a goal of just about every editorial page out there, but this bold assertion of what is accurate and what is not is seems out of line to me. The paper has made its mind up and will brook no dissent. I've always thought the purpose of an editorial age in general and its letters package specifically was to generate debate, to keep an argument going. If it is vigorous enough, a good letters to the editor package can be self-correcting, with letters with good ideas driving out the ones with bad ideas.

When The Times' policy was announced, Mother Jones contacted eight other papers and found more or less the same policy. Some were more open than others to a certain range of climate change skeptics, but most had the "no factual inaccuracies" policy that would keep a certain number of letters out. I mean, if you want to call climate change a hoax or a liberal plot to increase the power of government, forget about it.

I mean, we have to bow to those experts. Here's the Los Angeles guy:

Tweets and twits

Twitter seems to have stalled, with its number of followers flat and its stock tumbling. And it's just made a move that many are saying will accelerate the decline. Apparently some people are leaving the platform in protest over the creation of the new Twitter Trust & Safety Council because they say the mission being undertaken here is censorship. It can't really be censorship, since technically that refers to government activity, and Twitter is a private company. But since that's the term being used, and it does convey the idea of people having their Tweets blocked or getting outright banned, let's go with that. Our newspaper has been accused of censorship because we didn't print somebody's letter, so what the hell.

Here's what Twitter said in announcing the TT&SC:

To ensure people can continue to express themselves freely and safely on Twitter, we must provide more tools and policies. With hundreds of millions of Tweets sent per day, the volume of content on Twitter is massive, which makes it extraordinarily complex to strike the right balance between fighting abuse and speaking truth to power. It requires a multi-layered approach where each of our 320 million users has a part to play, as do the community of experts working for safety and free expression.

Trump free

Watching the presidential debates is just good, clean fun for us, isn't it? By the time we finally get around to our primary in May, who knows who will be left standing? If past elections are any guide, the victors will already be known by the time we cast our ballots. So we can amuse ourselves by picking debate winners and losers without it really meaning anything.

I think Megyn Kelly had a great opening when she said, "First, let's talk about the elephant that's not in the room." That got the absence of Donald Trump, which of course had become the debate story, so it could be dealt with and dispatched. And honestly, the Donaldlessness of the evening wasn't that big a deal from then on. Marco Rubio dealt with it better than did Ted Cruz, who tried to hard to make jokes and just came off as the mean guy again. The debate overall in fact seemed to enlarge Rubio and diminish Cruz, so I guess I agree with the focus group Fox convened that gave the debate to Rubio.

Everybody else on the stage were just, well, being themselves, candidates who all have their good points but whom the voters just aren't interested in. It's pretty clear now that Trump, Cruz and Rubio will be the medalists in Iowa, maybe in that order but maybe not. (Of course everybody has been wrong about everything this election cycle, so I don't make that prediction with any degree of confidence.)

It's an outrage!

The person who merely reacts to what others say and do is not likely to be successful. The smart thing to do is to try to anticipate what others will say and do. It's common sense. When I was a kid and I wanted some money from my parents, I knew to ask for twice as much as I wanted, because I knew they always gave me half of what I asked for. (Conversely, I have read, when you answer a doctor's question about how much you drink, he doubles it in for records, because he knows you have cut the true amount by half.)

Donald Trump is always thinking ahead like that. If you've read his "art of the deal," that's how he has done business. You open up with something outrageous. Not just an offer so outrageous you know the other party won't accept it. So outrageous that the other party thinks you've lost your freaking mind. That softens him up for the offer you really want him to accept. After your outrageous opening bid, your real offer sounds so reasonable he can't possibly refuse it.

And that's how he's running for president, too. He knows just how to press our outrage buttons, and he hits the right one every time. Then, when we're exhausted from sputtering and muttering about how crazy he is, he'll soften up and say something closer to what he really wants. He's playing everybody, especially the press, like a Steinway.

Snow way

OK, we've had our first snow. Are you winter-loving freaks happy now? Well, just shut up about it.

My first cat, Pierre, was a tough indoor-outdoor feline who made it to almost 20 despite everything he endured in the jungles of Oakdale Drive. No matter how badly he got beaten up, he'd lick his wounds for a few hours then be ready to happily go right back outside. Even when there was a thunderstorm, he wanted to be out under the porch.

The only thing that really got to him about outside was snow. Every year, during the long spring, summer and autumn months, he forgot there was such a thing. So the first snow every winter, he'd step onto the porch, then jump up and yowl and rush right back into the house, shaking his paws to get the awful stuff off. Then, I swear, every time, he went to the back door and made me let him out there. He just had to see for himself if the snow was everywhere. Surely, it skipped the back yard this year! When he discovered otherwise, he came back in and sulked for half a day before he was ready to go out for a few minutes.

I will fight no more forever

Could I respectfully request that we agree to a moratorium on declaring war on anything other than another country amassing armed troops on our border? We're coming up on the seasons when everybody across the political spectrum can use the war trope to demonize a philosophical enemy, and the prospect is utterly depressing.

The holiday season is almost upon us, and conservatives will use the occasion to revive their annual whine about "war on Christmas," as if Christ will be taken out into the parking lot and mugged by Santa, who will then be banished to the shopping mall on the edge of town. And the presidential election season would be just around the corner if it hadn't become a permanent part of the landscape, so get ready for more pathetic "war on women" rhetoric from liberals, as if Republicans didn't have wives, daughters, sisters and mothers,

While we're at it, we can end a couple of long-running wars, and that can be a bipartisan effort, too.

Just death

The pope believes all lives are sacred, so he's against both the death penalty and abortion. He's sort of soft-pedaled his anti-abortion message during his visit to the U.S., but he's hit the death penalty hard, calling for its worldwide abolition. Ted Cruzdoes not approve:

GOP presidential candidate Ted Cruz said he disagrees with Pope Francis’ call Thursday to abolish the death penalty, calling the use of capital punishment a “recognition of the preciousness of human life.”

In an interview with POLITICO shortly after the pope’s historic address to Congress, the Texas senator said he respects Francis’ views and the Catholic Church’s teachings on the issue, but “as a policy matter, I do not agree.”

This is not a test

With a large part of the populace in thrall to the pope and giddy over his visit here, it's a good time to recall John F. Kennedy's religion speech. Considering where we are today, it's probably difficult for anyone who didn't live through those times to understand just what a big deal JFK's Catholicism was. No Catholic had ever been elected president, and a large part of the Protestant population questioned whether Kennedy's faith would allow him to govern independent of the church. A lot of people actually said he would be taking his orders in the Oval Office straight from Rome. It became such an issue that candidate Kennedy decided he had to address it, which he did in a major speech to the Greater Houston Ministerial Association on Sept. 12, 1960:

I am not the Catholic candidate for president. I am the Democratic Party's candidate for president, who happens also to be a Catholic. I do

The Prime Directive

I'm usually wary of essays that mix politics and entertainment, especially ones that try to divine the philosophical underpinnings of cult favorites. But I found this one, as Spock would say, fascinating: "How Star Trek Explains the Decline of Liberalism."

Gene Rodenberry and his cohorts were veterans of World War II, and when they created Star Trek in the early 60s, liberalism still meant fighting the evils of totalitarianism and liberals still believed in freedom as a universal yearning. There were clear-cut good guys and bad guys, heroes and villains:

The best expression of their spirit was John F. Kennedy’s Inaugural Address, with its proud promise to “pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, in order to assure the survival and the success of liberty.”

Go, girl

Sorry, boys. The girl won. Back to that in a moment.

I did not watch the undercard debate on CNN last night. Those four candidates aren't going to get anywhere near the nomination. I should give up "Jeopardy!" to listen to their babble?

And please realize that everything I'm going to say about the main debate might be total nonsense (and everything most other people say as well). Since Donald Trump entered the race, all the accepted conventional wisdom about political campaigns has been turned on its head, so anything can happen in this race. For example, I don't think either Trump or Ben Carson, who are polling 1 and 2 in the field, did particularly well last night, so that should hurt them, right? But they didn't do all that well in the first debate, either, and look where they are now.

Life and death

If you've made it here, welcome to the first post at the blog's new address If you haven't, I guess I'm talking to myself. Wouldn't be the first time.

Just to break in the new platform, I thought I'd start with a look from a different angle at two old issues, both of them dealing with matters of life and death.

First is the issue of abortion, and the pope's new pronouncement about it: