December 31, 2016

Web Site Fixed

I noted on 12/22/2016 that I was having trouble with the navigation mechanism on my Web site, Lionel Deimel’s Farrago. That problem has now been fixed. I’m not sure what caused the problem or why the fix I applied was necessary, but I appreciate that the software gods are capricious.

Anyway, I am happy to be ready to enter the new year with a Web site that is working as it should.

Happy New Year to all.

Happy New Year!

December 28, 2016

Winning Is Not Always the Smartest Objective

Every chess player knows that winning is sometimes a foolish objective. When victory is exceedingly unlikely (and probably impossible), the only sensible objective is to avoid a loss. A draw is always more desirable that an outright loss.

Apparently, Donald J. Trump is not a chess player, or, if he is, I doubt he’s a good one. For Mr. Trump, winning is always his objective. He acts as if his personal motto is that articulated by coach Henry Russell (“Red”) Sanders: “Winning isn’t everything; it’s the only thing.” (According to Wikipedia, this quotation was not original with Vince Lombardi.) Donald Trump has repeatedly asserted that the United States is losing in its international relations, and he is going to make the country win consistently.

Unfortunately, winning in foreign affairs is not always the smartest objective.

Both the People’s Republic of China (China) and the Republic of China (Taiwan) claim to represent all of China. Neither claim is completely credible, but the dispute is a sensitive one. China is represented in the United Nations; Taiwan is not. Despite that Taiwan is a thriving democracy with a vibrant economy, it is generally not recognized as a separate country, though it participates in world affairs almost as though it is. Should hostility every break out between the two Chinas, it is clear which country would win. It is even believed that China would be willing to use nuclear weapons in an open conflict with Taiwan. That would not be good.

President-elect Donald Trump, in seeming conflict with U.S. foreign policy, spoke personally with the President of the Republic of China. There is good reason to believe that Mr. Trump, who has shown great hostility toward China, would favor a formally independent country of Taiwan. However, U.S. policy has been to recognize China, to not recognize Taiwan, but to trade with and sell arms to Taiwan. High-level public contact with the Taiwan president violated longstanding policy and was guaranteed to upset the Chinese government. The status quo regarding the two Chinas is not ideal, but, for the moment, it avoids conflict and allows Taiwan the independence it would not have as part of China. Perhaps, in some distant future, China will develop into a democracy, and unification of Taiwan with China will become either acceptable or unnecessary. For now, everyone is happy enough to forestall conflict.

Can a President Trump accept the status quo, which is likely not a “win” for the U.S. in his mind? In chess terms, the current China situation is a draw; neither side “wins,” though the world wins through the avoidance of overt military conflict. This may not be good enough for the new president. Recognition of Taiwan as an independent country could theoretically be achieved by the new administration without retaliation, possibly military, by China. (By no means, however, could such a newly recognized country claim all of China without igniting conflict.) Such an outcome of a deliberate strategy, however, is almost certain to fail. The up-side of pursuing such a strategy is minor, and the potential for catastrophic failure is monumental. In other words, pursuing a “win,” as Trump, no doubt, is tempted to do, is something between reckless and suicidal. Winning is not the smartest objective.

In the Middle East, given Mr. Trump’s statements, his cabinet/ambassador choices, and his Twitter complaint about the recent U.N. Security Council resolution deploring Israeli settlements on the West Bank, there is a danger that the new president will want to pursue a “win” in Palestine. Such a “win” would see Israel progressively gobbling up land on which Palestinians would like to build an independent country. This land grab would naturally include all of Jerusalem, which the President-elect wants to see become the site of the U.S. embassy in Israel. Such moves, as Secretary of State John Kerry argued today, make a two-state resolution of the Arab-Israeli conflict increasingly unlikely. Alas, we may have already passed the point of no return in Palestine with respect to a two-state solution. If, however, Palestinians can see neither two independent states in their future nor a single democratic, secular state, they (and surrounding states for their own reasons) may conclude that a final go-for-broke attack on Israel as the only reasonable path forward. That would not be a happy development and would be a win for no one.

Donald J. Trump has lived in a world where there are winners and losers, and his objective is always to be the winner. He believes that his mode of operation has served him well (though others might argue the point). World diplomacy is a more nuanced universe, however, than the commercial one in which Mr. Trump is used to operating. Wins are not always possible and are sometimes foolhardy. Draws, and even minor losses, have to be tolerated. Diplomatic success is not something that has to be maximized each quarter. In the diplomatic world, one has to take the long view. Unfortunately, the President-elect seems to have a very short attention span. His “winning” strategy may result in losses beyond his imaginings.

Mr. Trump needs a new motto: “Winning isn’t everything; sometimes it’s not the smartest thing.”


Chess pieces

Correction, 12/28/2016. In the original text, I indicated that Secretary Kerry’s speech today took place at the U.N. The speech actually was delivered in Washington, which the current text of my essay reflects.



December 27, 2016

When Was America Great?

I am still working to fix the navigation on my Web site. In the process, I am discovering files I had completely forgotten about. One of this files is shown below. I apparently created this graphic last July, but I don’t think I did anything with it. As we get closer to having Donald Trump as President of the United States, however, what I wrote half a year ago seems important to think about. You can click on the graphic for a larger image. Feel free to use this image elsewhere.

When was America great?

December 24, 2016

It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas

I wrote the poem below in 2002 and added it to my Web site, along with a description of its origin. Posting this is a more-or-less annual tradition here. The poem is really about the frantic Christmas shopping season. In posting this on Christmas Eve, I pray that you are finished with shopping, wrapping, etc., and still have enough energy to enjoy the actual Christmas celebration.

It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas
by Lionel Deimel


The jingle bells are back,
Ringing jingle-jangle ding-dong-ding
On the street corners and at the mall,
Where the giant Damoclean snowflakes
Hang menacingly from the store ceilings
Over the heads of the make-up consultants,
Displaying their perfect faces, Santa Claus hats,
And belligerent helpfulness.


The colored outdoor lights are back,
Contending with high-pressure, sodium streetlamps
To banish night and veil the pallid twinkle of the stars,
Letting the phosphor-white icicles,
Dripping electrically from the eaves,
Highlight the unnatural landscape
Of rotund, glow-from-within snowmen
And teams of gene-damaged reindeer.


The entertainments are back—
The last-minute, Oscar-hopeful blockbusters
Playing beside cheap trifles luring the momentarily vulnerable;
Pick-up-choir, stumbling-through-the-notes Messiahs
Competing with earnest Amahls and Peanuts Specials;
The cute-but-clumsy, tiny ballerinas tripping through Nutcrackers
Sorely in need of crowd control;
And the latest made-for-TV, hanky-wrenching, feel-good melodrama.


The emotions are back,
With love-thy-neighbor, brotherhood-of-man yearnings
Schizophrenically vying with loathing for the driver ahead,
As we pursue our private quests
For perfect love-showing, obligation-meeting, or indifference-disguising gifts,
Our anticipating the giving-terror, receiving-embarrassment,
The disappointing joy, and the exhilarating letdown assuring us at last
That Christmas is upon us.


Snowflake

December 22, 2016

Problems with Lionel Deimel’s Farrago

Yesterday, I was fixing some minor formatting problems with my Web site, Lionel Deimel’s Farrago. In the process, my software royally screwed up navigation on the site. I have been trying to fix the new problems, but I don’t, at this point, know when I will ultimately be successful.

The good news is that all pages are accessible. (Every now and then, as I try to fix the navigation problems, pages may disappear for a short time, however.) If you have a URL, you can go directly to a page. If you are looking for something, you can use the search page or the site map to find what you are seeking.

Sorry for any inconvenience.

December 19, 2016

We Need Direct Election of President and Vice President

As expected, the Electoral College has failed the Republic. (See “The Constitution Faces a Challenge (And It Will Probably Fail).”) Although the result still lacks final certification—truly a formality at this point—Donald J. Trump’s election to be President of the United States today became certain with the Electoral College vote.

Although the Electoral College has its defenders, most Americans neither completely understand our electoral system nor approve of what they do understand. Many thoughtful commentators have argued that the Constitution should be changed to mandate that the candidate receiving the most votes becomes President. (E.J. Dione Jr. was arguing this on The Diane Rehm Show only today.) Many advocates for scrapping the current system seem to believe that doing so by means of a constitutional amendment—a route that has been tried unsuccessfully in the past—will not succeed. Simple inertia militates against the change. Also, it is argued that small states would oppose it.

Actually, I suspect that the Republican Party would object to a constitutional amendment. It isn’t clear that the current system actually favors the Republican candidate, but it is true that the two elections in recent years in which the winner did not have the most votes were won by Republicans (2000 and 2016).

The small state argument for the current system is weak. Although it is true, for example, that one vote in Wyoming has, in some sense, more influence than one vote in California, Wyoming has so few electoral votes and, in any case, is a reliably red state, so no candidates bother to campaign there.

Admittedly, passing a constitution amendment to elect the President and Vice President by popular vote may seem an impossible task in December 2016. However, a lot of people are upset about how Trump won the presidency, so that there is probably more sentiment for such an amendment than there has ever been. If people interested in democracy continue to agitate for change, that change might eventually be effected. Think about same-sex marriage. Not too many years ago, legalizing same-sex marriage was unthinkable. Even LGBT activists were reluctant to advocate it. Over time, however, attitudes changed. This could happen with how we elect our chief leaders. But it can only happen if the issue is kept before the public.

A constitutional amendment is the proper answer to the question of how we can improve our electoral system. Passing state laws to make electors vote for the candidate with the most votes is an unreliable kludge that might easily be declared unconstitutional.

I must offer one caveat. While it’s true that Hillary Clinton received more individual votes than did Donald Trump, she did not earn a majority of the votes cast. According to the AP, Clinton received 48% of the votes, and Trump received 47%. Gary Johnson, however, earned 3.3% of the votes, and Jill Stein earned 1%. If either Clinton or Trump were declared the winner, more votes would have been cast against that person than for her or him. This might seem like a minor technical point, but there are reasons to demand that the winner win with a majority of the votes cast. (See “The People’s Choice” for more insight into why this is important.) One of the “virtues” of our current system is that it usually (though not always) delivers a winner with a majority of the (electoral) votes cast.

There are at least two basic ways to elect by popular vote and elect by majority, not simply plurality. One way is to have a second vote of the top two candidates if no candidate achieves a majority of votes in the initial election. In certain circumstances—see “The People’s Choice” again—this can produce anomalous results. As long as we continue to have only two major parties, the only real problem is having to have a second nation-wide vote. Under our current system, however, we don’t really select a winner immediately. (I dismissed this scheme in my essay just referred to, but I may have been hasty.)

A second (and better) way to assure the winner wins by a majority it to use a preference voting system in which voters rank candidates in order of preference. (See “The People’s Choice (Round Two).”) This would be the ideal sort of voting scheme to ensconce in the Constitution. It is, however, unfamiliar and difficult to describe, so people would need experience with it in other contexts before it would be widely accepted.

The will of the people, I assert, did not determine who will be our next President. We need to fix our electoral system lest our democracy be seen as illegitimate. (A Trump presidency will surely encourage Americans to consider alternatives to the present system.)

And so, fellow Americans, we need to argue for direct election of President and Vice President. We need to do it now, and we need to maintain pressure for change. Perfecting our Union demands it.

December 18, 2016

Trump 2024

Tomorrow, the Electoral College will determine if Donald J. Trump will become the next President of the United States. There is little doubt that Trump will receive the requisite votes to move into the White House.

In anticipation of that depressing development, I have written something rare for me—a piece of fiction. Titled “Trump 2024,” I consider the possible state of the country seven years from now. I sincerely hope that my speculations are wildly off-track, but I worry that they may not be.

Comments are especially welcome.

December 15, 2016

Jesus, Progressive

I am tired of the influence of the so-called Christians in this country—the people who object to abortion with the same passion that they oppose programs to help impoverished children, the folks who want label or depart Muslims, the voters who want to teach pseudo-science in schools but not mention that climate change is an existential threat, the people who hate homosexuals and liberals with equal zeal.

Jesus’ message was one of love, not of hate. He had nothing to say about abortion or homosexuality or climate change (which wasn’t an issue in his day anyway). I am tired of people who love their religion but seem to love neither God nor their neighbors. Jesus was anything but a conservative, and true Christians are inspired by Christ’s example.

These thoughts led me to devise the graphic below. Feel free to use it wherever you like. Click on it for a larger version.


Jesus was a progressive.

December 12, 2016

Package Tracking Failure

I find myself buying an increasing number of products over the Internet. Even when price is not an issue, I sometimes cannot find a particular item in Indiana, Pennsylvania. Practically everything I order these days is delivered by a service that provides tracking information for packages. It is reassuring to be able to follow the progress of a package with some certainty as to when it will arrive.

Yesterday, however, my faith in package tracking was shaken. The Postal Service was to deliver a package on Sunday, December 11. (The first time the USPS was supposed to deliver on Sunday, I was skeptical, but my order did indeed arrive when it was supposed to.) I checked the mailbox frequently Sunday afternoon, but no package ever materialized. Sometime after 6 PM, I visited the USPS tracking page. I was surprised by what I saw (see below).

Tracking information

According to the USPS, my package was delivered Sunday at 3:21 PM. If so, where was it?

This morning, I visited the local post office with a copy of the tracking information above. The postal clerk took my printout and disappeared for 5 or 10 minutes. When he came back, he explained that there had been some sort of mistake. He didn’t really say what went wrong, but he suggested that the driver on Sunday was an inexperienced one. Anyway, he assured me that my package was on a truck and would be delivered today. It was.

I was happy to receive my order, but I will never again be quite so confident of tracking information, at least from the United States Postal Service.

Falsiness

It has long been obvious that Donald J. Trump has a complicated relationship with the truth. Beginning with the birther issue—at least as far as a national audience is concerned—Trump has shown a blatant disregard for facts. Assertions by him are simply instrumental, intended only to advance his personal interests. A majority of Trump’s statements checked by PolitiFact have been labeled Mostly False, False, or Pants on Fire. Even for a politician, this is a bad record.

One might generously suggest that Donald Trump traffics in truthiness, a concept enunciated by Stephen Colbert on his satirical Comedy Central show The Colbert Report. Wikipedia explains Colbert’s term as follows:
Truthiness is a quality characterizing a “truth” that a person making an argument or assertion claims to know intuitively “from the gut” or because it “feels right” without regard to evidence, logic, intellectual examination, or facts.
A less generous analysis, of course, is that Trump lies a lot. On the other hand, Trump, who has no expertise in so many of the areas in which he pontificates, may actually believe what he says. He regularly touts his extraordinary intelligence that, presumably, allows him to intuit that which is invisible to the rest of us mere mortals.

Whatever the underlying mechanism, Donald Trump seems to live in a universe unmoored to the body of facts by which most of us regulate our lives. Distressingly, he seems to have pulled many of his supporters into his strange Land of Trump. (Rachel Maddow recently reported on a survey that suggests as much.)

The latest election-related bombshell is the revelation that the CIA believes not only that Russia hacked Democratic e-mail accounts, but also that the information collected from those incursions were leaked to the press with the intention of helping to elect Donald Trump and to defeat Hillary Clinton. Trump has called the CIA allegations “nonsense” and denied that the intelligence community could not possibly know either that Russia was responsible or that the hacking and leaking was done for a particular purpose. Ironically, the CIA has more sources and tools than Trump could possibly know about, given the fact that he regularly declines to receive intelligence briefings.

Trump’s commitment to truthiness is obvious for all to see. We need a new word for Trump’s intuitive rejection of anything that he doesn’t like, such as the notion that his victory may have been facilitated by foreign involvement in the campaign. Obviously, Trump does not want to admit of anything that would tarnish his “massive landslide victory.” He does not want to believe the CIA and therefore doesn’t. I propose that the required word for this kind of self-deception is falsiness, which we may define as follows:
Falsiness is a quality characterizing a “falsehood” that a person making an argument or assertion claims to know intuitively “from the gut” or because it “feels right” without regard to evidence, logic, intellectual examination, or facts.
Alas, all of Trump’s actions seem to be based not on reality, but on truthiness and falsiness. The same intellectual virus has infected his cabinet picks, who don’t believe in global warming or the need to protect voting rights, among other things.

Unfortunately, while Donald Trump believes he can live in a world where truth and falsehood can be discerned by his gut, the rest of us will have to live with the consequences of what is actually true and what is not.

May God help us!


Truth Matters

December 10, 2016

The Constitution Faces a Challenge (And It Will Probably Fail)

The Constitution faces a challenge later this month when electors cast their votes for the next President of the United States. What is almost certain to happen is that electors from states in which Donald Trump earned more votes than Hillary Clinton will cast their votes for Trump. Hillary Clinton will earn the votes of electors of states in which she received more votes than Trump. Some states even mandate that this should happen, although electors cannot be forced to vote in this manner. Two states—Nebraska and Maine—direct their electors to vote somewhat differently, but neither state is large enough to make a difference in the election.

What is distressing, of course, is that Hillary Clinton garnered about 2.8 million votes more than Donald Trump. Trump revels in his victory, indulging his expansive ego in a victory tour. Yet Trump is the country’s second choice for President. The people wanted a President Hillary Clinton.

Were the Electoral College to operate as was originally intended, wise electors would fail to give Trump the votes needed to move into the White House and, instead, would give that privilege to Mrs. Clinton. The only reason the Electoral College was created was to protect the nation from the popular vote for an unqualified or dangerous demagogue. Federalist Paper #68, presumed to have been written by Alexander Hamilton, offers this observation in favor of the presidential election mechanism specified by the Constitution:
It was equally desirable, that the immediate election should be made by men most capable of analyzing the qualities adapted to the station, and acting under circumstances favorable to deliberation, and to a judicious combination of all the reasons and inducements which were proper to govern their choice. A small number of persons, selected by their fellow-citizens from the general mass, will be most likely to possess the information and discernment requisite to such complicated investigations.
The constitutional mechanism ran into problems in early elections and was modified by the Twelfth Amendment in 1804. The amendment was particularly concerned with the election of the Vice President and need not concern us here.

Alas, the Founding Fathers did not anticipate the immediate development of political parties. Pretty much from the beginning, electors represented parties, not simply wise and judicious upstanding citizens. Gatherings of electors never became deliberative bodies. As the system has developed, electors are chosen by parties from the party faithful, and the likelihood that any one of them will vote for someone other than his or her party candidate is vanishingly small. It is particularly ironic that electors meet in their own states to protect them from the influence of electors elsewhere. In our wired modern society, this merely saves travel money.

In 2016, the Electoral College has the potential to save the United States from the unqualified, loose-canon plutocrat that is Donald Trump. Electors could act as the Founding Fathers apparently intended and protect the country from the collective insanity that was the 2016 election. Given that the Democratic candidate is competent, sane, and preferred by more voters, making this happen would be an easy moral choice.

For the Electoral College to make Hillary Clinton President would require that 38 electors chosen by local Republican parties cast votes for Clinton, rather than Trump. That this is as likely as snow in Death Valley in August is obvious from the fact that, although so many high-profile Republicans were part of (or sympathetic to) the Never Trump movement, that movement virtually disappeared when Trump was declared the victor in November. Being in power was too seductive. Making a deal with the Devil and risking the Republic was not too high a price to pay.

So, the Constitution faces a challenge next week. Can it protect us from an egomaniac supported by billionaires, white nationalists, religious fanatics, and hopeful, but ignorant, working people? The Constitution will certainly fail this test, and Donald J. Trump will officially become the next President of the United States.

Assuming that the expected outcome occurs, the people of the United States should immediately begin an energetic and sustained campaign to amend the Constitution to provide for the direct election of the President and Vice President. The Constitution must be amended. State laws to give electoral votes to the popular winner is a kluge that is simply not good enough. A Donald Trump must never be elected again.

Postscript. Some have argued—I, myself, have argued—that our electoral system encourages candidates to campaign throughout the country, as electoral votes are to be had everywhere. In fact, however, the system has the opposite effect. The Republican candidate need not campaign in New York, and the Democratic candidate need not campaign in Alabama. It is safely assumed that those states will go to the Democratic and Republican candidate, respectively. In a popular-vote system, however, the Republican would certainly want to campaign in New York, and the Democrat would likely want to campaign in Alabama. The perverse influence on campaigning is yet another reason to prefer voting for our chief executives by popular vote, as does every other democratic country on the planet.

Trump: Second Choice of American Voters
Click above for larger image.

December 3, 2016

A Trump Challenge

I was watching Rachel Maddow last night discuss Donald Trump’s speaking to the president of Taiwan, thereby creating something of an international diplomatic incident.

Somehow, the phrase, “arrogant asshole” popped into my mind unbidden. One thing led to another, and I began to wonder if I could construct an entire Trump-oriented alphabet, albeit one not appropriate for children.

Although entries for a few letters came easily, it was soon apparent that this task would be difficult. I therefore decided that I would begin the project on my blog and invite readers to help me put bones on the alphabet skeleton. Besides being intellectually challenging, this project may provide some temporary comfort to those suffering depression over the election of Donald Trump.

Below is my incomplete alphabet. I invite readers to offer additional entries in the comments. Feel free also to offer alternatives to the entries I have already filled it. I’m sure we can do better together. Consider this an opportunity to purge some of your negative feelings concerning the state of our country, if only temporarily.

A: Arrogant asshole
B: Biggotted blowhard
C: Clueless clown
D: Dangerous demagogue
E: Egregious exaggerator
F: Fulsome fascist
G: Grandiloquent gaslighter
H: Hirsute half-wit
I: Insufferable islamophobe
J: Jejune juggernaut
K: Kooky know-nothing
L: Lifelong litigant
M: Malefic misogynist
N: Nasty name-caller
O: Oleaginous oligarch
P: Pernicious prevaricator
Q: Querulous quack
R: Radical reactionary
S: Slimy smirker
T: Thin-skinned tyrant
U: Un-American upheaver
V: Vicious vulgarian
W: Wanton womanizer
X: Xyresic xenophobe
Y: Yankee yokel
Z: Zealous zero

It is not clear that constructing a complete alphabet is possible. It may be necessary to introduce obscure words, and, even then, certain letters may prove recalcitrant. Let’s give it a try anyway.

Update, 12/4/2016. With the help of friends, a word list, and a dictionary, I have completed my alphabet. Arguably, the list exhibits some redundancy and has a few entries that beg for improvement. Can anyone offer improved entries? (Note that I have rejected many of my own ideas, as well as those from others, some of which I hated to lose. I want to keep the list length to 26, however.)

December 2, 2016

America’s Second Choice for President

Hillary Clinton’s lead in the popular vote has grown to over 2½ million and is slowly climbing. Donald Trump was clearly favored by (and assisted by) Vladimir Putin, but American voters preferred Clinton. Isn’t it time to do away with the Electoral College?

Trump: Second Choice of American Voters
Click above for larger image.

Update, 12/10/2017.
 Clinton’s lead in the popular vote has increased to 2.8 million.

December 1, 2016

Further Thoughts on Conflicts of Interest

Yesterday, I wrote about reasonable ways that a President Trump might avoid outrageous conflicts of interest. (See “Conflicts of Interest.”) I’d like to offer two other possibilities, though either of these leave Trump’s enterprises in the hands of his children, whom he might be inclined to favor in his acts and policies, possibly to the detriment of the country generally.

Scheme 1: Donald Trump could give his holdings to his children. There would normally be a large tax liability involved in such a transaction, but a law forgiving such liability to avoid conflicts of interest might be construed in Trump’s favor. (This is not a sure thing, however.) Such a gift would have to be made with the explicit agreement that the beneficiaries were under no obligation ever to compensate Trump for the gift. Ideally, the president should be enjoined from discussing the affairs of The Trump Organization while in office.

Scheme 2: Donald Trump could sell his stake in The Trump Organization to his children and put the proceeds into a true blind trust. Finding a reasonable price that his children could actually afford might be difficult. Again, the president should be enjoined from discussing the affairs of The Trump Organization while in office.

If Donald Trump does not devise some mechanism to avoid egregious conflicts of interest, his presidency will be handling one conflict-of-interest scandal after another for four years. It is doubtful that whatever plan he unveils on December 15 will quiet the press or the ethics watchdogs.

November 30, 2016

Conflicts of Interest

The New York Times reported this today:
WASHINGTON — President-elect Donald J. Trump announced on Wednesday that he would hold a news conference with his children on Dec. 15 to announce that he would be “leaving” his “great business in total,” but details were scant
This is good news to a point. Every day, however, there are new reports of how a President Trump will have an unavoidable conflict of interest in this or that country or with this or that domestic issue. Stepping away from The Trump Organization and leaving it in the hands of his children does not constitute putting his assets in a blind trust.

A blind trust, which has been the conventional mechanism used by presidents to avoid conflicts of interest, is intended to hide (“blind,” get it?) from the office holder any personal interest that might be affected by a presidential action or policy. The only way that Trump could implement a blind trust would be to liquidate all holdings of The Trump Organization and entrust the proceeds to a neutral caretaker.

Clearly, creating a conventional blind trust for the president-elect is virtually impossible. Real estate is not fungible, and it would take years to liquidate Trump’s holdings. Even if Trump’s children are running The Trump Organization, they cannot hide such facts as that there are two Trump Towers in Istambul, where the United States has complex interests.

Undoubtedly, Trump will attempt to mute criticism concerning his ethical conflicts through some less-than-satisfactory financial arrangement. Americans should demand more. Given that putting his assets in a true blind trust is impractical, I suggest the following policies:

  1. The government can have no financial dealings with The Trump Organization (other than the collection of taxes, of course), and
  2. The President can have no communication whatever with his wife, children, or other parties regarding The Trump Organization.
To begin with, the General Services Administration must break the lease on Trump’s D.C. hotel, as it has generally been acknowledged that continuing the relationship of Trump and the government in this case is an impeachable offense. The government should not buy so much as a paper clip from The Trump Organization.

Trump’s family is more problematic. My second suggestion would be difficult to enforce. As an alternative, both Donald and Melania Trump should be prohibited from having any contact with Trump’s children, their spouses, or any person associated with The Trump Organization.

Are these suggestions draconian?  Probably. Are they necessary? Probably.

Postscript: One other arrangement comes to mind, and it might be possible to pull off, though probably not before January 20. Sell off The Trump Organization in a public stock offering, with the proviso that no Trump relative is allowed to hold shares as long as Donald Trump is President. Trump would likely lose money on this deal—this isn’t clear, given the substantial liabilities of The Trump Organization—but, hey, he decided to run for president.

November 29, 2016

TPP

All indications are that the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement is, as far as the United States is concerned, dead. I’m not sure whether this is a good thing or not. It concerns me that President-elect Trump never met a trade agreement he didn’t hate. He doesn’t seem fundamentally to be a protectionist, but his arrogant faith in his skills as a negotiator could easily lead to a trade war, which would be in no one’s interest.

I am a believer in free trade because it increases productivity globally and, at least in principle, lifts standards of living. That said, unconstrained free trade, like unconstrained capitalism generally, has pernicious effects if governments do not establish reasonable rules to avoid the evils of monopoly, labor exploitation, environmental destruction, and the like. Such constraints should be part of trade agreements.

In the recent presidential campaign, no candidate came to the defense of the TPP. Trump was against it; he thinks all existing trade agreements are bad because they were negotiated by people less skilled than himself. Bernie Sanders, for whatever reason, was against it, and Hillary Clinton was against it because Bernie Sanders was. The other Republicans had little to say on the subject.

What is remarkable is that virtually no presidential candidate made a coherent case against the TPP; candidates merely asserted their opposition. The effect of this was that voters—especially those who cast their ballots for Trump—were left with the impression that trade agreements cost American jobs. It is true that trade agreements tend to cause the loss of some jobs in some sectors of the economy, but jobs are also created elsewhere. Further, the reduction of trade barriers should result in lower consumer prices. The average voter tends not to see the advantages gained through trade pacts, as they are unrelated to agreements in any perspicuous way. Even those getting new jobs may not attribute their good fortune to a trade agreement. Anyone who loses a job, however, even if it is not directly caused by the adoption of a new trade agreement, will look for someone or something to blame, and trade agreements are as good a candidate for blame as any.

Why did no candidate explain the advantages of free trade—advantages widely acknowledged in economic theory and traditionally believed by Republicans—and explain why the TTP is defective. During the campaign, I heard all the major candidates trash the TPP, but I don’t remember anyone saying why the TPP is bad or discussing even one of its provisions. Citizens were offered no insight into the desirable or undesirable features of trade agreements.

The Trans-Pacific Partnership may indeed be a move in the wrong direction, but it is a legitimate concern that our stepping away from it may lead to China’s writing the trade rules for Pacific Rim countries. This is not a comforting concept, whatever the  demerits of the TPP.

What would President Trump have us do about the TPP? Clearly, he does not want it approved, and it appears it will not be. Does he want to replace it with something, or is he willing to give the lead in Pacific trade to China? If he wants a different sort of pact, how does he propose to craft it given current circumstances?

Trump thinks he is a great negotiator. All he knows how to do, however, is to get a good deal for himself and to crush the little guy with whom he is “negotiating.” This is not helpful experience for developing trade deals. First, as president, Trump cannot afford to concern himself with the minutia of trade talks. Moreover, his my-way-or-the-highway approach to negotiation will get him nowhere. He knows nothing of the win-win deal and has yet to learn that other countries are not going to give America something without getting something in return.

I don’t doubt that the TPP has its faults. It may be a terrible agreement, in fact. But will Trump’s ego result in a trade war that raises the prices by 40% of the products that Americans have come to regard as necessities of the good life? I hope not, but I am not optimistic.

November 14, 2016

Breitbart News and CBS News

I was distressed this evening when Scott Pelley, on CBS Evening News, described Breitbart News as “conservative.” This inspired me to send the following e-mail message to the program:
Dear CBS News:

On the evening news tonight, Breibart News was described as “conservative.” It is time for journalists to abandon the hopeless goal of offending no one in the name of “objectivity.” In no way is Breibart conservative. Call it “far right-wing” or “radical right” or “alt-right.” (One can imagine less charitable yet nonetheless appropriate characterizations.)

The freedom of every America is endangered by the fact that Steve Bannon, late of Breibart, now has a prominent role in the Trump administration. Journalists should be more alarmed than Americans generally. That Breitbard calls itself “Breitbart News” is an affront to journalism.

The media helped elect Trump. I pray that they do not act as if the period we are entering is, in any way, normal.

Very truly yours,
Lionel E. Deimel
It is past time for media to be committed to truth, not the usual he-said-she-said sort of “objectivity.” The nation is counting on it, and progressives (liberals, or whatever) need to do everything we can to encourage that commitment.

More on My November 9

In my last post, I described my mood upon awaking on November 9, the day after Donald J. Trump won the presidential election. For the record, I would like to say a bit more about that terrible day, the first day of terrible years to come.

After my pre-dawn walk, I assume I had breakfast, though I don’t actually recall having done so. As is my wont, I listened to Morning Edition on NPR, but the first time I heard the phrase “president-elect Trump” sent me into a yet deeper depression.

I was in a fog for much of the morning, having gotten so little sleep on election night. I sought to mitigate my dejection with music. I put on a CD of Prokofiev’s ninth piano sonata and followed along with the score as I listened to the music. This not only made me feel marginally better—perhaps I was only distracted—but also provided insight into one of my favorite Prokofiev piano compositions.

I thought that talking to someone might help, but the person I decided to call had been busy pricing Canadian real estate before answering the phone. She didn’t provide much solace.

I didn’t much feel like making my own lunch, so I headed out for lunch. I had planned to go to a Mexican restaurant, but, by the time I arrived there, I realized that Mexican food is not exactly comfort food. Instead, I went to Perkins, where, after a long study of the menu, I order meatloaf, mashed potatoes, gravy, corn, and—I needed to stay awake—coffee.

While awaiting my food, I heard snatches of conversations from nearby tables. Who of these diners, I thought, had betrayed the Republic?

The meatloaf was a good choice, though the potatoes were barely warm, and the gravy insufficiently generous. I made good use of the ketchup that was on the table, however, and the corn was unexpectedly tasty. Food can indeed be comforting. I lingered over coffee before heading home.

The afternoon news coverage was replete with interviews of ignorant Trump voters, with their mean-spirited hopes and unrealistic expectations. I finally heard excerpts of Trump’s victory speech, which I had retired too early to hear live.

Trump declared that “it is time to come together as one united people,” by which he meant that the majority of voters who voted against him should drop their opposition to his presidency and programs. This was the equivalent of saying that, if you’re going to be raped anyway, you may as well lay back, relax, and enjoy it. I didn’t think so.

Wednesday evening, I had tickets to a concert at Indiana University of Pennsylvania. The program seemed too interesting to skip, so, despite being in a blue funk, I decided to attend. Music might cheer me up, as indeed it had earlier in the day.

The artists were the Akropolis Reed Quintet, not to be confused with a more conventional wind quintet. All the instruments used vibrating reeds—clarinet, bass clarinet, bassoon, saxophone(s), and oboe/English horn. The music, which spanned the period from 1724 to 1984, turned out to be both marvelous and unexpected. The encore was “Mack the Knife,” from The Threepenny Opera. The instrumentation seemed ideal for Bertold Brecht’s music.

Before Akropolis was introduced, the manager of the concert series addressed the audience. Without any explicit reference to politics, he acknowledged that audience members might be unusually despondent. He suggested that people lose themselves in the music that was to follow. This was good advice, at least for a couple of hours.

When I returned home, I watched the post-election edition of Full Frontal with Samantha Bee. The program provided commiseration but not much comfort. Bee’s conclusion was that “white people ruined America.”I’m afraid she’s right.

I retired as early as I could—Full Frontal airs late—in hopes of catching up a bit on my sleep. Thursday was another day.

Postscript: I’m not sure when I realized it—it probably was not Wednesday—but the reaction to this election is strikingly different from previous ones. Whereas supporters of the losing candidate are always disappointed and searching for explanations of the unfavorable outcome, they are usually ready to pick up the pieces and move on, making the best of the situation. This time, however, Democrats (and probably some Republicans, as well as third-party voters and non-voters) are stunned and profoundly depressed over Trump’s victory. Many are anxious or just plain scared Just when it seemed that the Democrats were about to lock in the gains of the Obama years and enter an exciting period of progressive development, we are instead facing an uncertain future and a generation of regressive government.

In the end, of course, we must pick ourselves up and move on, opposing the reactionary policies of Trump and the Republicans—not one and the same—with all the political and rhetorical vigor we can muster. The fate of our Republic hangs in the balance. Victory is not assured.

Save the Republic. Stop Donald Trump.

November 9, 2016

Post-Election Depression

I slept less than three hours last night and took a pre-dawn walk trying to wrap my mind around the tragedy that befell our nation last night. I had hoped to write something insightful this morning, but I am overwhelmed with dispair.

For now, I want to call your attention to an essay by New Yorker editor David Remnick. It is called "An American Tragedy." This is all I can offer this Wednesday morning.

November 6, 2016

Thoughts on the Poorly Educated

I was dumbfounded when Donald J. Trump declared at a campaign rally, “I love the poorly educated.” Of course he does. The con man earns his bread and butter off the ignorant and the naïve. A person unused to engaging in critical thinking takes statements at face value. Assertions advanced with an air of authority are especially likely to be believed—even more so if they play into longstanding prejudices or grievances, whether real or imagined.

One should be sympathetic to Trump’s most vulnerable marks—did we fail to educate them properly?—but those who easily fall victim to the candidate’s mendacious rhetoric threaten the Republic if they vote for their Republican deceiver.

It is too late to educate the poorly educated. All we can do now is vote, and vote to put someone who is not a charlatan or a narcissistic autocrat into the White House. Whether or not you think she is the perfect candidate—who is, after all?—Hillary Clinton is a compassionate, thoughtful, and competent politician. A vote for a third party is merely a declaration that you, too, are among the poorly educated.


One should have compassion for but fear the poorly educated.

November 3, 2016

The Rigged Election

I posted the graphic below on Facebook and thought it important enough to display it here as well. Click the image for a larger version.


October 29, 2016

The Danger of Catholic Hospitals

I was reminded by Samantha Bee a few days ago that Catholic hospitals represent a unique threat to women because the institutions are constrained by Catholic dogma. Catholic hospitals will not provide birth control, perform abortions, or perform sterilizations, even when medically indicated. Should a woman find herself in a Catholic hospital and in need of an abortion to save her life, she had better see that her will is in order or find her way to an alternative hospital that is not stuck in the Middle Ages.

Bee did a fine job of exposing the danger that Catholic hospitals represent. I cannot do a better job, so I invite you to view her powerful segment from Full Frontal:


I’m not a lawyer and don’t understand all the rules under which hospitals currently operate, but there is apparently some ambiguity as to whether a hospital can refuse to perform a life-saving procedure on the basis of the religious beliefs of its owners. (See “One of the Nation’s Largest Catholic Hospital Systems Says It Can Deny Women Emergency Care Because of Its Religious Affiliation.”)

Let’s get one thing straight, however. By any reasonable 21st-century moral calculus, no hospital should be allowed to let a patient die because its “standards”—not the standards of the medical profession—do not permit it to perform a legal procedure that is the standard of care in non-Catholic hospitals.

When I was an ignorant southern conservative, I was appalled when the government asserted that owners of “public accommodations” (hotels, restaurants, etc.) could not discriminate on the basis of race. I was oblivious of the pain and inconvenience such discrimination visited upon racial minorities. I eventually came to realize, however, that society has the right to impose restrictions on institutions that offer their services to the public. Outlawing discrimination provided not only a benefit to particular populations, but also a general benefit—though one not necessarily immediately recognized—to the body politic.

A hospital, whether a nonprofit or for-profit one, also offers its services to the public. Whereas a hotel’s denying services can inflict inconvenience and embarrassment, the discrimination practiced by Catholic hospitals can inflict chronic suffering, disability, or death.

The public, through the instrument of government, should assure that all hospitals provide a standard of care determined by the medical community, not one determined by a cabal of Roman Catholic bishops. We should demand that hospitals owned by the Catholic Church are first of all hospitals, providing all the services hospitals are normally expected to provide.

If the Catholic Church is incapable of providing 21st-century hospitals, it should not be allowed to operate its pseudo-hospitals at all.

The Catholic Church and evangelical Protestants have been working—alas, with some success—at expanding the notion of freedom of religion. This has been most conspicuous in the ridiculous Hobby Lobby decision and the ongoing efforts of the Catholic Church to exempt itself from providing reproductive services to employees of church-related institutions such as universities and hospitals. The American notion of religious freedom, however, was never intended to facilitate the imposition of one’s religious beliefs on others, nor was it intended to ascribe protectable religious beliefs to non-church entities, whether purely commercial or church-related. Above all, religious freedom was never meant to sanction the virtual murder of innocent women by withholding standard medical treatment.

It is to be hoped that a more reasonable, liberal Supreme Court resulting from the election of Hillary Clinton will begin to scale back the notion of religious freedom so as to protect all citizens, not simply the hysterically paranoid on the Christian Right.

October 8, 2016

Trump Apologizes

Readers no doubt know that The Washington Post released a blockbuster video yesterday that shows GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump bragging about his harassment of and disrespect for women. (See first video below.) When I first saw this disgusting video, I was unsurprised. It has been clear to every decent American that Trump is a lying, male chauvinist pig, in addition to being an insensitive and ignorant son-of-a-bitch. Apparently, however, this latest revelation went too far for Republican Party leaders. The video made it all-too-clear that Donald J. Trump is the General of the Army of the Republican War on Women. That revelation is simply too blatant and too dangerous to paper over. Party leaders are contemplating their next move. Some have suggested that Trump should step aside; some have even suggested that, to protect his own reputation, Pence should step aside.

Trump initially issued one of those familiar non-apology apologies—if anyone was offended, etc. It quickly became apparent that this insincere statement would not do, and that that Trump had offended a large fraction of the electorate. To save his scalp, Trump later issued the following video statement:

In his statement, Trump is clearly and carefully reading from a teleprompter, a skill he is notoriously bad at. Someone suggested that his “apology” seems like a hostage video. His style of delivery does not suggest sincerity or engender confidence.

“Anyone who knows me knows these words don’t reflect who I am. (An AP story earlier in the week suggests otherwise.) Trump tries to minimize the significance of the offending video by calling it “more than a decade old.” He continues, “I said it; I was wrong; and I apologize.” Notice that he doesn’t apologize to anyone in particular—not to women in general, not to particular women, and not to the American people. Moreover, he apologizes only for what he said, not for the treatment of women that he admitted to in the initial video.

After 21 seconds of the 91-second video, Trump’s contrition is over. He lapses into a campaign ad, repeating his dystopian view of the country. His travels have changed him, we are told, and he pledges to be a “better man”—not a high standard. “I will never, ever let you down,” a not very compelling promise under the circumstances.

He cannot resist attacking “Hillary Clinton and her kind,” who “have run our country into the ground.” This is typical Trumpian misdirection. (Think of his one-sentence dismissal of his years-long birther campaign, which was preceded by an interminable plug for his new Washington hotel at a recent press conference.) The video controversy is “nothing more than a distraction”—one he desperately wants to go away—from more important issues. Issues like Bill Clinton’s infidelities and Hillary’s having “attacked, shamed, and intimidated his victims.”

I cannot understand why Bill Clinton’s infidelities are blameworthy, but Donald Trump’s are not. In any case, Bill Clinton is not running for president, and his failings, whatever they might be, have nothing to do with Hillary Clinton’s candidacy. Moreover, Hillary’s verbal barbs directed at her husband’s “victims” are exactly what we would expect for any self-respecting wife who truly loves her husband. They are not evidence, as are Trump’s statements and behavior, of a hostility toward women generally.

In short, Trump’s attempted apology is a disaster. He should have admitted that the video was legitimate, taken responsibility for what he said and for the behavior he described, and pleaded for forgiveness. Any attempt to justify himself or to blame others for “greater” sins (any sins, for that matter) should have been omitted from his statement. The apology should not have morphed into a campaign ad.

What should the GOP do? I think the answer is clear. It should disavow its ticket, cease all political activity in favor of that ticket, and admit that Hillary Clinton will be (and should be) the next President of the United States. The GOP should instruct electors pledged to Trump/Pence to instead vote for Clinton/ Kaine in the Electoral College. Nothing less is honorable.

I am not holding my breath.

September 19, 2016

Truth and the Presidential Debates

Participants on The Diane Rehm Show discussed the upcoming presidential debate today. Longtime journalist Frank Sesno was asked  if it is the job of the moderator to challenge a candidate who has made a statement that is undeniably false. Sesno was emphatic in saying that it is not. Instead, that job should fall to the other candidate, though the moderator may make time available for a rebuttal by that other candidate.

The question was especially relevant after Matt Lauer failed to challenge Donald Trump when he asserted on NBC/MSNBC’s Commander-in-Chief Forum that he had always opposed the second Iraq War. It had widely been reported that Trump was for the war before he was against it.

If American presidential debates were real debates, of course, the moderator(s) would primarily be a timekeeper, and the candidates would be responsible for answering one another. Our debates are not real debates, though, and the moderator plays a more active role.

That said, if moderators challenged every falsehood put forward by candidates, they would probably consume more air time than the candidates themselves. Frank Sensno’s position is probably a good rule-of-thumb for normal presidential debates.

Alas, the 2016 debates are not going to be normal, To begin with, very little of what Donal Trump says is true. (See PoliticusUSA story here.) If the moderator were to try to keep the Republican candidate honest, the debate would become a dialogue between Trump and the moderator. Perhaps egregious lies—those undeniably identified as such beforehand—should be pointed out by the moderator. Let me suggest why.

A major feature that makes this presidential campaign abnormal is the fact that both major candidates are widely disliked and distrusted. It doesn’t matter if this state of affairs is justified; it is the way it is. If Trump tells an outright lie—odds are that this will happen one or more times in next week’s debate—having Hillary Clinton point out the untruthfulness is unlikely to be helpful because she herself is seen as untrustworthy. Trump can simply say something like “there you go again being negative” and largely get away with his mendacity.

If, on the other hand, the moderator, who is largely seen as neutral—this is perhaps not the case for regular Fox News viewers, but what are you going to do?—challenges a falsehood, doing so will have more credibility than if the task were left to the other candidate. Moderator intervention is likely to be particularly cogent for undecided voters who view both candidates negatively. I think such intervention is indicated in extreme cases.

Finally, it is important to point out that the Commander-in-Chief Forum was not a debate, even as they have developed in American presidential races. Hillary Clinton was not available to challenge Trump on his oft-repeated lie about his opposition to the Iraq War. Matt Lauer indeed failed to do his job, at least as I see it.

September 8, 2016

On Answering Debate Questions

Last night’s Commander-in-Chief Forum reminded me of my frustration in listening to answers given by candidates to questions asked by journalists. Candidates, of course, want to deflect criticism, attack the opponent, and push their own message, whether or not that message is related directly to the question asked. I doubt that candidates are going to change their behavior during the present campaign. Nevertheless, I want to offer my wish list of how I would like candidates to answer questions:
  1. Answer the question asked, not a variation of it or a related (or unrelated) question.
     
  2. If the question states or implies an assumption you think wrong, don’t answer the question. Explain why the assumption is wrong. Never try to answer “Have you stopped beating your wife/husband?”
     
  3. Except as noted above, don’t offer an opinion about the question.
     
  4. Give succinct answers. “Yes” or “no” is a fine answer to a yes-or-no question. Let the questioner ask for elaboration rather than offering it gratuitously.
     
  5. Don’t prattle on in hopes of consuming time or avoiding the next question.
     
  6. Unless it’s classified, tell the truth or refuse to answer the question. That a truthful answer will be embarrassing is not an excuse for not giving it. Think twice about becoming defensive, but a brief exculpatory statement is acceptable.
      
  7. It’s fair game to contrast yourself or your position to the opponent or the opponent’s position. Such an attack must be relevant to the question, however. Avoid gratuitous claims of competence or (especially) virtue.
     
  8. Avoid humor unless it is genuinely funny, relevant, and devastating. Usually, this means a line must have been devised in advance.
     
  9. Don’t start to answer a question in a way that you don’t know where you are going. If necessary, pause and think before beginning to answer.
     
  10. Respond to the opponent only if absolutely necessary. Lies, but not differences of opinion, need to be countered.

Am I missing any important rules?

August 18, 2016

You Can’t Handle the Truth

I find the NBC coverage of the long jump at the Rio Olympics frustrating. The landing area is clearly marked off in meters, but the announcers report distances in feet and inches. I can estimate the length of a jump in meters by simply watching, but I have to engage in mental gymnastics to make sense of a reported jump of, say, 23 feet, 5½ inches. Reporting 7.15 meters would make more sense and make the results more intelligible.

Does NBC really believe that Americans as so wedded to the English system of measurement that they can’t be trusted with lengths measured in meters, which, after all, are so much easier to compare with one another?
Olympic Rings

August 17, 2016

Another PPDI

Yesterday, I updated my list of base-12 pluperfect digital invariants (PPDIs) on my Web site. An order-9 PPDI had been omitted from the original list:

[11][11][7][3][3][2][2][9][5]12

which is 5,145,662,993 in decimal notation.

I had corrected this omission earlier, but, as any programmer knows, correcting one error often introduces another, and it did so in this case. In the unlikely chance that someone reading this blog post is relying on my list, please be sure that you have examined the revised list for order-9 and order-10 base-12 PPDIs.

I apologize for the error(s).

I am compiling a list of base-13 PPDIs, but this project will take a long time.

August 15, 2016

The Greatest Man in the World

Originality can be an elusive thing. I had been planning to write an essay about the candidacy of Donald Trump and the James Thurber short story “The Greatest Man in the World.” A preliminary Google search, however, uncovered an opinion piece in the Los Angeles Times along the lines of what I had planned to write. The Patt Morrison essay, titled “Donald Trump and ‘The Greatest Man in the World’”—imagine that—was published nearly a year ago, on September 16, 2015.

James Thurber
James Grover Thurber
The Thurber story appeared in the February 21, 1931, issue of The New Yorker, nearly four years after Charles Lindbergh’s famous solo flight across the Atlantic. (The story was reprinted in The Middle-Aged Man on the Flying Trapeze and The Thurber Carnival.) It concerns a boorish loudmouth pilot, Jacky Smurch, who flies around the world nonstop. When Smurch lands, he is whisked away by what we might today call members of the Establishment, who proceed to cajole the loutish pilot into acting the part of a gentleman hero. Finding this project untenable, the secretary to the Mayor of New York City, with the tacit approval of the President of the United States, pushes Smurch out the window, resulting in his untimely death. Smurch is given an elaborate funeral and buried in Arlington National Cemetery.
 
“Why is this story about Trump?” Morrison asks. “Because for the Republican establishment, Trump is a better-class Jacky Smurch.” Not much better, I would argue. The question posed in the L.A. Times is whether the GOP establishment will figuratively (I assume) throw Trump out the window or whether Trump will do the same to the GOP establishment.

In September of last year, of course, the threat of Trump’s actually becoming the Republican nominee was only theoretical. The need for the party to act is now even more urgent. I don’t expect Reince Priebus literally to defenestrate Donald Trump, but the RNC could withdraw its support in the hope of saving the hides of down-ticket GOP candidates. At this point, however, it is really unclear whether pretending that Trump is a reasonable candidate or admitting that he isn’t will do the party more good.

Morrison suggested that the country may no longer prefer civilized—my word, not hers—candidates. I sincerely hope that this isn’t the case. We cannot afford a Jacky Smurch President of the United States.

August 13, 2016

How Would Jesus Vote?

The 2016 presidential race is certainly unusual. Both major candidates are widely disliked. One is distrusted by many, though the other seems to be a pathological liar, a fact that would seem to discourage trust. One has a strong résumé, but the other has no obviously relevant experience. One fails to excite voters; the other excites voters rather too much.

For good or ill, many Democrats will vote for the Democrat, and many Republicans will vote for the Republican. But more voters than usual seem to be conflicted this year. No doubt, many votes will be cast against one of the candidates rather than for the other. Some people will be tempted to vote for a third-party candidate.

A relatively small number of people will vote for the Green Party or the Libertarian Party candidates out of true sympathy for what those parties stand for. A much larger number will likely vote for a third-party candidate as a “protest.” I can respect the former view, though I am not in sympathy with their political philosophy. The protest voters, on the other hand, need to realize that their candidate will not win and their and similar votes could have an unpredictable (and perhaps disastrous) effect on who, of the serious candidates, will actually win. Delivering a protest vote is simply an abdication of one’s civic responsibility.

I am pleased that a woman is running for president, though I am not completely happy that that woman is Hillary Clinton. Nonetheless, Clinton is certainly qualified and is a compassionate and sane human being. The same cannot be said of her Republican opponent. Voting for Hillary Clinton is, I think, the only responsible action a citizen can take on November 8.

It is distressing that so many people who call themselves Christians, particularly Evangelical Christians, are supporting Donald Trump. To these people I ask, “How would Jesus vote?” Can any Christian honestly answer “Donald Trump,” the man Senator Elizabeth Warren rightly described as caring only about himself, “a small, insecure money-grubber who doesn’t care who gets hurt, so long as he makes some money off it”? Does The Donald exemplify any of the virtues Jesus extols in the Gospels? Clinton, on the other hand, has led a life of public service with a particular emphasis on child welfare. She is not a saint, but she seems to be a sincere Methodist, whereas Donald Trump appears to be a Presbyterian (and, indeed, Christian) in name only. For whom do you think Jesus would vote were he a U.S. citizen today? It wouldn’t be Trump, and it wouldn’t be a third-party candidate. The Kingdom of God would not be advanced by any of those votes.

Because I believe that “How Would Jesus Vote?” is a devastating question, I have had buttons made with that legend. I plan to wear one of the buttons every day from now until November 8. If you would like to buy one or more buttons, send me a message to that effect. I’ll need to order more, and, since this is not a profit-making enterprise, I don’t want to order more than I need to. I invite you to wear one of these buttons proudly (well, perhaps modestly).


“How Would Jesus Vote” buttons


First in Freedom

“First in Flight” license plate
While driving around town today, I found myself behind a car with a North Carolina license plate. For many years, North Carolina plates have carried the legend “First in Flight,” a reference to the Wright brothers flight experiments near Kitty Hawk. (Whether the Wrights were the first inventors to fly a heavier-than-air vehicle is an issue I don’t want to get into.)

“First in Freedom” license plate
The license plate on the North Carolina car I saw did not carry the “First in Flight” logo. Instead, it proclaimed “First in Freedom.” What was less visible while driving in traffic were two dates at the top edge of the plate. The dates were May 20, 1775, and April 20, 1776. The North Carolina Division of Motor Vehicles explains that these are the dates the Mecklenburg Declaration of Independence and the Halifax Resolves, respectively, were signed.

I have to admit that the Mecklenburg Declaration of Independence and the Halifax Resolves were not the first things that popped into my mind when I saw “First in Freedom.” What I thought of was the gerrymandering by the North Carolina General Assembly and the various laws it has passed recently to make it harder for people (especially people would don’t look like the white folks in the North Carolina General Assembly) to vote or to use the most logical public restroom.

North Carolina may have been first in freedom chronologically, but it is at the back of the pack when it comes to actually delivering freedom to its citizens. Apparently, the irony was lost of the state’s legislators. Now, North Carolina should have a “First in Discrimination” license plate. Or a new General Assembly.

August 8, 2016

Language Oddities on NPR

I’ve heard a couple of odd locutions on NPR in the last few days. One of these was on Wait Wait…Don’t Tell Me!. The odd phrasing was part of an underwriting announcement. I can’t be too specific about what I heard because I wasn’t taking notes when I heard the program on the radio, and the podcast doesn’t include underwriting announcements. Anyway, the announcement warned against someone “pretending to impersonate” someone else.

Roger Ailes
Roger Ailes
To impersonate someone, of course, is to pretend to be that person. It isn’t clear what “pretending to impersonate” someone is. Presumably, if you are only pretending impersonation, you aren’t impersonating at all. Or maybe you’re just doing so badly. Actually, I don’t know what you’re doing. I suspect the warning was about actual impersonating, and the copy, which I’ve heard multiple times, is just poorly written. That I cannot remember the sponsor certainly suggests as much.

On today’s Diane Rehm Show, Gabriel Sherman used an odd phrase, though not really an incomprehensible one. The topic of the morning was sexual harassment at Fox News, particularly on the part of former Fox News head Roger Ailes. Writer Sherman reported having heard stories from many women who had worked under Ailes over the years. Although the women had not spoken to one another, Sherman described their stories of harassment as remarkably similar. “And so,” he concluded, “I find their stories incredibly credible.” Although “incredibly credible” seems oxymoronic, it is clear that Sherman simply meant that the stories were exceedingly believable. (It is almost unbelievable how believable they are, under the circumstances.) He should have said something more straightforward.

July 24, 2016

Three More Episcopal Church Advertisements

My original 16 proposed Episcopal Church advertisements have proven popular. Readers have suggested copy for additional ads. Although I linked to advertisements with the suggested texts in the comments of my original post, I thought it would be helpful to put them into a separate post as well. The resulting advertisements follow. As before, larger versions are available by clicking on the images.

  1. Agatha Nolen suggested this one.

    The Episcopal Church: Where hearts are healed

  2. Mark Riley suggested this one.

    The Episcopal Church: Our faith is a guide, not a straightjacket.

  3. The idea in this one is related to some of my original advertisements, but it is somewhat different. It is based on another suggestion by Mark Riley.

    The Episcopal Church: We welcome questions because we don’t have all the answers.

July 22, 2016

Trump Ain’t No Ronald Reagan

Gritting my teeth for over an hour, I listened to Donald J. Trump’s acceptance speech last night. It was notable for what Trump pledged to do, without hinting at how it might be accomplished or how the candidate might be qualified to effect it.

Oddly, the Donald’s speech followed an introduction by Ivanka Trump, which could have more easily introduced Hillary Clinton. After her speaking of helping new mothers, Donald Trump said nothing about what was in her remarks. Instead, he painted a dystonian picture of America and how he is the only person who can fix everything wrong in our country. Ronald Reagan’s Morning in America was but a distant memory as America entered the dark night of our discontent.

It’s midnight in America: Vote Trump/Pence


Postscript: Andrew McLaughlin provided a moment of dark humor for the night. In a tweet, he wrote “Trump’s speech sounds better in the original German.

Update, 3:10 PM: William F. Hammond suggested a variation on the above graphic using the first logo that the Trump/Pence campaign quickly abandoned. This is shown below. Larger views of each of these graphics may be had by clicking on them.

It’s midnight in America: Trump/Pence

July 21, 2016

Never, Never, Never Ever Trump

Three days ago, I wrote the post “Never Trump” after reading Jane Mayer’s New Yorker piece about Tony Schwartz, who ghostwrote the bestselling The Art of the Deal. Based on his extensive observation of Donald J. Trump in the course of his daily business, Schwartz has attempted to warn America that, irrespective of any policy the Republican candidate for president might or might not articulate, his personality is totally unsuitable to leading the United States of America.

As if to prove Trump’s meanspiritedness and lack of ordinary perspective—he is about to become the presidential candidate of a major political party after all—Jane Mayer reported yesterday that, through his lawyer, Trump sent Schwartz a cease & desist letter that, among other outrageous demands, requests the return of all royalties earned by Schwartz on the book that helped make Trump famous. Mayer’s story is “Donald Trump Threatens the Ghostwriter of ‘The Art of the Deal’.” Mayer includes the letter from Trump’s lawyer and the dismissive reply from Schwartz’s lawyer. Trump is clearly trying to suppress all the negative things Schwartz has been saying about him, both in The New Yorker and on television.

One characteristic trait of Donald J. Trump that is indisputable, given to the overwhelming evidence of the public record, is that he brings lawsuits against people at the drop of a hat. This is clearly not because Trump is the target of the world population out to persecute him. It is instead evidence of a deep insecurity that someone, somehow, in even the most minor fashion, might gain something—anything—at his expense.

Trump has a serious anger-management problem. It is one thing to sue a writer for having a well-supported, if unfavorable, opinion of the New York tycoon. It would be quite another if Trump had control of the nuclear button. If Vladimir Putin slighted a President Trump, would the Donald start a nuclear war to protect his delicate ego? The answer is not clearly “no.”

As for the present situation, the threat to Schwartz is negligible. As a public figure, Schwartz can say outrageous and demonstrably false things about Trump and not liable the Donald. Trump has done nothing more than publicize his petulance.

That said, there is another concern here. There seems to be a trend of billionaires suiting anyone who has displeased them and, if not winning in court, at least ruining the object of their ire. This is yet another way our legal system is unfair, and it is something we should be doing something about.

July 20, 2016

Tooting The Episcopal Church’s Horn

When I matriculated at the University of Chicago as a physics major, I had no thought of joining a fraternity. Had I considered it, I would have thought doing so frivolous. When rush began, I found it easy to resist the promotions of most of the fraternities on campus. The advertising of one fraternity, though, was different. It was quirky and intriguing. A couple of my close friends and I had to check out the source. I am now a brother of Alpha Delta Phi.

It seems that my church, The Episcopal Church, is in a position similar to that of the Chicago fraternities. There are many denominations vying for attention. Many people have a hard time distinguishing one from another, and others are indifferent to the whole lot. I don’t think that we have been successful, either locally or nationally, at promoting our church.

And yet, I believe The Episcopal Church has much to offer. I admit that it is not for everyone, but I think it is the perfect Christian church for some folks, including some who aren’t looking for a church at all. On the other hand, if someone finds a comfortable spiritual home in, say, a Southern Baptist church, both God and I can rejoice.

Maybe The Episcopal Church could learn from the recruiting strategies of the Chicago Chapter of Alpha Delta Phi in the mid-60s. The chapter had not been too successful at attracting new brothers, and it was thought that only by trying something completely different could a seemingly inevitable decline be averted. Hence, the campaign that lured me in.

Does that situation sound familiar? Perhaps we can raise the profile of The Episcopal Church and draw in new people for whom our church is an attractive spiritual home, even if they are not actively looking for such a home.

With this thought in mind, I constructed some proposed Episcopal Church advertisements that highlight what I believe are some of our church’s special strengths. I worded these with the intention of contrasting with the “Christian” positions often seen in the mainstream media. I tried to be intriguing in the same way that Alpha Delta Phi advertising was intriguing when I was a Chicago undergraduate.

What you find below is my third set of advertisements. Episcopal friends on Facebook have my sincere thanks for helping me eliminate ill-conceived items and improve those that survived the bad-idea filter. I had intended to include additional advertisements involving liturgy and music, but my attempts resulted in arcane text or text of questionable generality. Readers are invited to help me out, on these or existing topics.

Until now, my advertising project has essentially been academic. However, I would be delighted if churches actually used what I have produced. I am even willing to customize advertisements for individual churches, substituting, for example, “St. Swithin’s in the Swamp Episcopal Church” for “The Episcopal Church.” If you’re interested in using these advertisements, please contact me (see contact link in the sidebar at the right).

Sixteen proposed advertisements follow. Click on any one for a larger version.

  1. This is one of my favorites. The Episcopal Church has avoided developing confessions of faith, remaining content with the most ancient ones.

    The Episcopal Church: Where it’s more important to demonstrate Christianity than to profess it

  2. This combines a notion popularized by former Presiding Bishop Edmond Browning and the familiar “The Episcopal Church Welcomes You” sign. One hopes that it is true of most congregations.

    The Episcopal Church: Where there are no outcasts, and all are welcome

  3. This is meant to contrast The Episcopal Church with those churches that read the Bible literally or believe it to be inerrant.

    The Episcopal Church: We take the Bible too seriously to take it literally.

  4. Some seem to think Episcopalians don’t really pay attention to the Bible. I originally asserted that we read four Bible passages at each service, but this is not technically true. Hence, what follows.

    The Episcopal Church: We hear the Bible read in church every Sunday.

  5. This idea is taken from Robin Williams, though I don’t know that he was the first to articulate it.

    The Episcopal Church: We don’t check our brains at the church door.

  6. Too many Christians, of course, show up in church only on Christmas (or Christmas Eve) and Easter.

    The Episcopal Church: It’s not just for Christmas and Easter.

  7. It is easy to get the impression that the “Christian” doctrine on homosexuality is that it is a sin and that homosexuals and should not be ordained by the church. This is not the position of The Episcopal Church, which welcomes LGBT people, ordains, and marries them. (See also #16.)

    The Episcopal Church: Where guys and women can be found both in front of and behind the altar

  8. Many Christians are obsessed with getting to heaven once they’re dead. Most Episcopalians aren’t too sure about what happens when we die, but they know that we have a mission to pursue before we die. This is another of my favorites.

    The Episcopal Church: Building the Kingdom of God, not waiting for it

  9. Unlike some Christian churches, The Episcopal Church has no problem with science. You can accept evolution with a clear conscience.

    The Episcopal Church: We celebrate what science can teach us about God’s creation.

  10. Episcopalians don’t claim to have all the answers. Maybe some us do, but, on the whole, we are modest about what we know. The suffering caused over the years by differences of opinion on religious issues that cannot be definitively resolved or that ultimately don’t matter is appalling.

    The Episcopal Church: We don¹t pretend to have everything figured out.

  11. Not every Christian needs to be an Episcopalian, which is something of an acquired taste. We can even respect non-Christian religions. (See #10.)

    The Episcopal Church: Loving our religion without hating yours

  12. I was very impressed with James Adams’ book So You Think You’re Not Religious. Adams argued that church rituals such as baptism and marriage can celebrate life’s milestones even in the absence of real faith. In any case, The Episcopal Church does a good job with these rituals.

    The Episcopal Church: Marking life’s milestones with dignity and grace.

  13. The most important ritual of the church is probably the Eucharist. The idea for this advertisement came from Eucharistic Prayer C. See my hymn, “Holy Eucharist,” and related commentary.

    The Episcopal Church: Where bread and wine provide solace and strength

  14. This was inspired by the Parable of the Good Samaritan and the fact that we are admonished to love our neighbors as ourselves.

    The Episcopal Church: Where you are our neighbor even if you are not one of us

  15. How can we require uniformity of belief if we acknowledge that we don’t know everything? (See #10.) We can still work on building the Kingdom of God. (See #8.)

    The Episcopal Church: Where unity of purpose doesn’t require uniformity of belief

  16. The Episcopal Church had gay and lesbian clergy before we began performing same-sex marriages. It took us a long time to get where we are, but we’re glad we made it.

    The Episcopal Church: If you’re gay or lesbian, you can get married in one of our churches.

Update, 7/25/2016. In the comments below, readers suggested additional copy for advertisements, and, in my own comments, I included links to ads using those suggestions. To make those ads easier to find, I have also put them in a separate post, “Three More Episcopal Church Advertisements.”