April 10, 2024

Facebook Idiocy

For the second time in the past few weeks, I received this warning—reproduced here exactly—when trying to make a post on Facebook:

Your post may go against our Community Standards on violence and incitement
Your post looks similar to content that we’ve removed for going against our Community Standards. You can delete it now to avoid potential account restrictions.

What I was trying to post was this:

U.S. to Israel: Kill all the Palestinians you like, but you must feed the survivors.

Any reasonable person would understand this as ordinary political commentary, slightly exaggerated perhaps, but a normal observation about current U.S. and Israeli policy nevertheless. It certainly does not incite violence; implicitly, it deplores it.

What “community standards” does this violate? A standard about saying anything not a verifiable fact? I can cite Trump supporters who never post anything that’s true! Are any words related to violence forbidden? Would a phrase like “kill him with kindness” be flagged as inappropriate by Facebook?

I assume that an algorithm was behind my warning. If a person was, that person is an idiot. (I probably couldn’t say that on Facebook.)

The last time I received such a warning on Facebook, I said I wanted to strangle some public figure. I don’t remember who that was, but it was probably someone like Marjorie Taylor Green or Kari Lake. That wasn’t an actual threat, of course, but I see how it could be taken the wrong way is seen out of context. Facebook doesn’t appreciate irony.

Anyway, I decided not to post either comment but to write this commentary instead.

April 9, 2024

More Curve-Stitch Designs

Some readers may know of my longstanding interest in curve stitching, creating designs using only straight lines. Curve stitching began using physical objects, string and cardstock. I was introduced to such designs in junior high school, but I never employed the traditional materials. Instead, I, first drew designs with pencil and paper, then with drafting paper and India ink. The tedium of creating complex figures by hand led me to follow other pursuits for decades.

Eventually, I discovered that I could produce curve-stitch designs on my computer. I did so by programming in PostScript and began posting my work on my Web site, Lionel Deimel’s Farrago. More recently, I have converted PostScript files into Scalable Vector Graphics (SVG) images that can be viewed at any level of magnification without loss of fidelity. (Earlier designs were posted as JPG or PNG files.)

The section of my Web site discussing and displaying my curve-stitch designs can be found here. In the past month or so, I have added four new pages of curve-stitch designs:

I invite readers to check out the new pages or the entire section of my Web site on curve stitching.

Sample design
Sample design from “Millington-Inspired Designs”



April 2, 2024

Republican Malfeasance

In happier times, the two political parties worked together to make life better in America. Compromise was often necessary, but useful legislation actually got passed. Now, however, Republicans do not want to pass any legislation, no matter how necessary, if there is a danger that Democrats might get any credit for it. In particular, Republicans do not want to pass any popular legislation while a Democrat is in the White House.

The most blatant example of Republican malfeasance is Donald Trump’s directing his minions in Congress to reject the compromise border bill worked out in the Senate. To facilitate the passage of aid to Ukraine that is desperately needed, Democrats compromised on longstanding positions on immigration, adopting Republican policy preferences the GOP had no reason to think would ever be achieved. But Donald Trump instructed his minions in Congress to torpedo the compromise, lest President Biden get credit for passing a bill giving Republicans what they have always wanted. Being able to criticize Democrats in the upcoming presidential campaign for failing to deal with the “border crisis” was more important to Republicans than solving the reputed crisis. 

Republicans are no longer motivated by helping Americans. They are only interested in achieving and wielding political power. If we want beneficent and effective governing, we need to elect Democrats.
 

Democratic Party Logo

March 26, 2024

Thoughts on the Key Bridge Collapse

I awoke this morning to the news that the main span of Baltimore’s Francis Scott Key Bridge was struck by a container ship and plunged into the Patapsco River. Dramatic video was already on the Web showing the accident. The ship, the Dali, apparently experienced a power failure and drifted into the south pier of the central span. Unsurprisingly, a collapse followed immediately. Apparently, the ship sent out a mayday message, and police were able to divert traffic before the I-695 bridge was hit. News reports this afternoon were raising questions about the bridge design.

The span in question was a continuous truss opened in 1977. There is no indication that the bridge was in any way defective.  It is difficult to imagine any that 1200-foot long bridge could survive a significant strike of a main support. Since the bridge was built, cargo ships have gotten much larger. The Dali is nearly a thousand feet long. Such a ship, even at low speed, carries enormous momentum. The bridge could perhaps have been protected by a fender or wall to protect the main piers. But any such protective obstacle would need to be massive indeed given the size of current cargo ships.

The immediate question is what a replacement for the bridge should look like. One attractive alternative would be replacing the bridge with a tunnel. This would be an expensive, time-consuming, and disruptive option. I suspect a new bridge will be built instead. Although the main span of the Key Bridge was a continuous truss, its approaches were carried by a series of simple beam bridges built into the river. The most obvious and secure way to protect a new bridge from out-of-control vessels is to increase the span of the bridge, perhaps even putting its piers on dry land. This would require that the much longer bridge would need to be a suspension bridge. Not only would such a bridge be better protected from accidental damage but also it would allow for construction with hardly any negative impact on traffic in what is a vital shipping channel.

Today, I heard replacement of the Francis Scott Key bridge compared to the rapid bridge replacements effected recently in Pittsburgh and Philadelphia. Such comparisons are absurd. The task faced in Baltimore is enormous and will, in any case, take years.

We will have to wait to see what sort of replacement roadway is ultimately chosen. Neither a cheap nor a fast replacement is possible.

March 7, 2024

Solar Eclipse

There is much excitement in Clifton Springs, N.Y., and nearby communities about the total eclipse of the sun that will be visible here on April 8. How visible is yet to be determined. April 8 is often cloudy, though an eclipse is an extraordinary and rare event even on an overcast day. Many organizations are planning viewing and celebratory events. I plan to attend the day-long program sponsored by the Clifton Springs Library in the park across the street from the library and a block from my apartment. The program ends with dinner and dancing.

The other day, I walked a block down Main Street to visit Main Street Arts, whose current exhibition is called “Path of Totality.” Although I wasn’t looking for inspiration, the exhibition perhaps had me thinking about the eclipse as I worked on some new curve-stitch designs for my Web site. I don’t normally name my designs, but I decided that the image below should be called “Solar Eclipse.” The design was one of a family of related images I was treating as simple abstractions. When I saw this design, however, it was impossible not to think of the coming eclipse. I thought readers would like to see it.

Solar Eclipse
Solar Eclipse

A scalable version of “Solar Eclipse” can be seen here. I considered several similar designs, by the way, which had a smaller dark center. I could change my mind, but the image here is my current favorite.

March 5, 2024

The Supreme Court Deprecates the Fourteenth Amendment

To the suprise of few Supreme Court watchers, the high court ruled on March 4 in Trump v. Anderson that Colorado did not have the power to remove Donald Trump from the Republican primary ballot on the basis of Section 3 of the Fourteenth Amendment. The court did not consider whether Trump “having previously taken an oath … to support the Constitution of the United States, shall have engaged in insurrection or rebellion against the same.” The court declared that “responsibility for enforcing Section 3 against federal officeholders and candidates rests with Congress and not the States.”

Upholding Colorado’s right to remove Trump’s name from the primary ballot would, according to Justices Sotomayor, Kagan, and Jackson “create a chaotic state-by-state patchwork, at odds with our Nation’s federalism principles.” In separate concurring opinions, Justices Sotomayor, Kagan, and Jackson; and Justice Barrett complain that the court should have gone no further than overturning the Colorado action. Instead, the majority decided matters not at issue in the case and insisted that only Congress can disqualify a candidate under Section 3 of the Fourteenth Amendment.

As an aside, I offer my own view of what the court should have done. It should have observed that the Fourteenth Amendment did not apply to the Colorado case, as the matter at hand was Trump’s seeking his party’s nomination, not his ascension to federal office. It should have further observed that an actual candidate cannot run for an office he or she cannot hold or, at the very least, cannot hold the office sought irrespective of the election outcome. In a perfect world, this would discourage the Republican Party, by whatever mechanism, from making Trump its nominee. In our imperfect world, such a decision would likely kick the can down the road. If Trump became the GOP nominee, some federal decision would need to be made that he could not run. This decision, which would surely be challenged in court, could be made by the Attorney General. Ultimately, the real question would then have to be dealt with, likely by the Supreme Court: was Donald Trump indeed an oathbreaking insurrectionist.

Unfortunately, the Supreme Court appears to have made it virtually impossible to derail Trump’s attempt to again become president on the basis of the Constitution. It is inconceivable that the current Congress will disqualify Trump if only Congress can disqualify him under the Fourteenth Amendment. The Constitution does not require an act of Congress to disqualify a presidential candidate not born in the United States or under the age of 35. Why should it require an act of Congress to disqualify an oathbreaking insurrectionist?

Justices Sotomayor, Kagan, and Jackson point out the ludicrousness of the court’s requiring Congress to determine disqualification based on Section 3 of the Fourteenth Amendment:

Section 3 provides that when an oathbreaking insurrectionist is disqualified, “Congress may by a vote of two-thirds of each House, remove such disability.” It is hard to understand why the Constitution would require a congressional supermajority to remove a disqualification if a simple majority could nullify Section 3’s operation by repealing or declining to pass implementing legislation.

I fear that the hope that the Fourteenth Amendment can save us from a second Trump term has been dashed. Whether Donald Trump or the Supreme Court is the greater threat to the Republic is an open question.

March 3, 2024

Republicans Are Not Conservatives

I am tired of the media characterizing the Republican Party or Republican politicians as conservative. The party is not interested in conserving anything other than white supremacy and the unconstrained ability of corporations and billionaires to act as they see fit. It would be more proper to characterize Republicanism as anti-woke rather than conservative, where woke entails freedom of speech, freedom to read, freedom to demonstrate, freedom to vote, freedom over one’s own body, equal justice under law, nondiscriminatory treatment regarding race, creed, sex, or sexual identity, and the ability of the government to seek the common good.

Reporters should insist that nearly all Republicans are not conservatives, but reactionaries or regressives. Moreover, Republicans who are not the most radical of right-wingers—Nikki Haley comes most readily to mind—are not moderates. They, too, are reactionaries. Being a conservative, leaving things as they are, is a moderate position. Wanting to dismantle recent innovations and return to earlier times is reactionary. Wanting to change society to increase personal liberty and protect citizens from misfortune and the rapaciousness of their fellow citizens is a liberal position. Conservatives can be found in both parties, but, in 2024, are rare in each. Republicans are by-and-large reactions, and Democrats are by-and-large liberals.

Vote for liberals, or, if you must, for moderates. That means voting for Democrats to restore sanity to the Republic.

February 29, 2024

Government Inefficiency

As I wrote on February 8, I found my misplaced passport and immediately realized it had expired. The next day, I had a new passport photo taken and filled out an application on line for a renewal. The Web site for filing my application was well-designed, but it took me a couple of tries to enter all the information correctly. (I made the mistake of declaring that I was done, printed the application, and caught my errors when I looked it over. My fault!) When I finally had a proper application in hand, I mailed it, along with my old passport that afternoon, at 3:54 pm, February 9, to be exact. That was on a Friday. The Postal Service indicated that my envelope was delivered to the addressed post office box on Sunday. I didn’t expect to see a new passport anytime soon.

Imagine my surprise and delight when I received my new passport in this morning’s mail. The passport, with impressive new security features, is valid through February 25, 2034. The last time I renewed my passport, my old one was returned to me voided. Apparently, that practice has been discontinued.

Much has been said about government delay and inefficiency—don’t get me started about the Supreme Court—but both the Postal Service and State Department far exceeded my expectations. My application was turned around in just over two weeks. The horror stories I had been hearing about how long it takes to get a passport were apparently overblown. Now if only American justice could be as efficient!

February 21, 2024

Alabama and Frozen Embryo Personhood

The Alabama Supreme Court has ruled that an embryo created via in vitro fertilization (IVF) is a person, a child, and its destruction can result in a wrongful-death lawsuit under Alabama law. The court seems to have been either ignorant or indifferent to the consequences of this decision, which was clearly influenced by the “Christian” anti-abortion movement. Predictably, IVF in Alabama has come to an immediate standstill, as everyone is trying to figure out the implications of the Supreme Court decision.

IVF is most often used by couples who have had difficulty achieving a pregnancy in the usual fashion. IVF can be unpleasant, expensive, and frustrating. Those who embark on their IVF journey must be highly motivated to have a child. Using drugs and minor surgery, multiple eggs are typically harvested from the woman. They are then fertilized by sperm in the laboratory and are allowed to grow briefly into embryos. The embryos can be screened for genetic abnormalities at this point. An immediate attempt can be made to implant an embryo to produce a pregnancy, or embryos can be frozen for future use. Implantation is often unsuccessful, so having multiple embryos in reserve provides a necessary backup. It is not uncommon for several implantations to fail before a pregnancy is achieved. Unused embryos are either dedicated to research or discarded.

The Alabama case involved the accidental destruction of embryos. In a “normal” state—a state not controlled by far-right Republicans—a couple owning unused embryos destroyed by another party without permission would have a cause of action against that party, but not one involving wrongful death. Notice, however, since Alabama now views a frozen embryo as a person, the couple cannot be said to own it. Of greater concern, also growing out of the person status of the embryo, is the question of whether a prosecutor could indict the destroying party for murder. I see no reason why not! This is a serious concern for IVF providers who are repeatedly responsible for destroying embryos.

If a couple using IVF has no further use for their (see above) frozen embryos, it would seem that those embryos need to be preserved forever, since the state disapproves of killing children. This is, I suggest, insane. Can the embryos be taken out of state and disposed of? Who knows? The state of Alabama may assert that killing your children out of state is the same as killing them in Alabama.

Until these issues are clarified (or the state of Alabama comes to its senses), IVF in Alabama is pretty much impossible. Couples wanting to employ IVF may have to move to another state.

There may be other consequences of embryos becoming people. Will embryos result in tax deductions or gain other government benefits because of their personhood?

Anti-abortion militants have applauded the Alabama decision. There is at least some irony here. The militants pretend to want to protect children, yet the decision will prevent highly motivated couples from having children to begin with. Well, those couples can love their embryos, who neither requite their love nor ever develop into real human beings, only into a perpetual obligations.

February 13, 2024

Thoughts on Mardi Gras Parades

Today is Mardi Gras. Both Sunday and today (Tuesday, of course), I’ve watched New Orleans Mardi Gras parades on the Web. I have not been in New Orleans for Mardi Gras for a very long time, but, in many ways, parades have not changed all that much.

There certainly have been improvements over the years. There are more krewes (and correspondingly more parades), and membership in a krewe is no longer limited to the New Orleans elite. Night parades are lit by electric lights rather than by the slightly scary flambeaux. (A flambeau was once dropped on the ground in front of me. Fortunately, I was old enough that the incident didn’t leave me with a permanent emotional scar.) Throws have become more varied and interesting. In addition to the classic strings of beads, there are sunglasses, neck pillows, illuminated caps, socks unique to particular floats, and other imaginative trinkets.

Some changes would be welcome. Parade units—floats, bands, mounted riders, etc.—tend to become separated from one another, often producing long delays between the arrival of units at a given location. In an era of easy wireless communication, there is no excuse for all units not halting or moving in unison.

The other aspect of parades that has remained unchanged for as long as I can remember is having floats pulled by tractors. Floats in the Rose Parade are self-propelled, a more complex but more visually attractive technology. A positive innovation is the arrival of tandem floats, essentially trains of two or more wagons pulled by a single tractor.

I got to see the Zulu parade for the first time today. Zulu has an all-black krewe. Whereas riders on the floats of most parades are masked, most riders in Zulu appear in blackface. Zulu has always been known for its unique throws—hand-painted small coconuts. 

I also saw members of the Half-Fast Walking Club, a group founded by the late clarinetist Pete Fountain. The walkers are part of no parade.

As a former Army bandsman, I pay particular attention to bands in the parades. High school, college, and military bands march during the Mardi Gras season. Even without identifying banners, the three types of bands are easily distinguished. Military bands, for example, march in perfectly straight ranks and are led by drum majors who know how to use a mace to telegraph smartly everything the band needs to know.

Near all high school bands do a poor job of keeping their lines straight. They often have multiple drum majors, none of whom seem to understand what can be done with a mace other than dance around with it. I suspect that high school band directors are reluctant to designate a single drum major and teach him—it always seems to be a him—how to do his job in high style. Drummers, who used to provide a straightforward cadence for marching, now seem to have become bands of their own, often providing more interesting music than the full band. On the other hand, I would not like to march to them. Oh, and band members need to know that marching is not just walking.

College bands, the largest groups, tend to be more disciplined than high school bands but less regimented than military bands. Among college bands, I saw coördinated movements of band members—I’m tempted to call them dance movements—that were not my cup of tea, but which were well-executed.

Finally, I have to say that I would have liked to see more military bands. And I would have liked to have heard more classic military marches (by Sousa, Alford, Fillmore, etc.) played by any of the bands.

Happy Mardi Gras

February 8, 2024

Who Owns the Train?

I have recently heard several radio stories relating to rail safety. The stories were mostly occasioned by the anniversary of the Norfolk Southern freight train derailment at East Palestine, Ohio, on February 3, 2023. More often than not, these stories identify the train involved in the accident as being owned by Norfolk Southern.

Seldom is any train owned by a single railroad in the sense that the locomotive(s) and all the railcars of the train belong to the same railroad, and the train is operated by employees of that railroad. More commonly, a train is operated and dispatched by employees of a given railroad. The locomotives may be owned by that railroad and may be running on that railroad’s tracks, but the railcars making up the train are generally owned by a variety of railroads and other entities, shippers and car lessors. There are many variations on this arrangement—motive power may be supplied by locomotives from multiple railroads, for example—but one railroad is responsible for operating the train, and the cars behind the locomotives have a variety of owners.

The train involved in the East Palestine accident was a Norfolk Southern train, but the train was not owned by Norfolk Southern. Alternatively, it can be said that it was Norfolk Southern’s train or was a train operated by Norfolk Southern. Journalists, take note.

Moving Woes

All kinds of things can go wrong when moving to a new home. Belongings can get lost, broken, or misplaced. You can also move things you wish you had left behind or fail to move things you want to use. In many ways, my move from Indiana, Pa., to Clifton Springs, N.Y., went smoothly. Since I was moving to a one-bedroom apartment, many of my belongings, particularly furniture, could not come along with me. I was fortunate in having an auctioneer (Mike Charnego) who would sell off manny of those left-behind objects for me. This didn’t earn me a boatload of money, but it simplified my move and helped me avoid extra work and anxiety.

My movers (McNaughton Moving and Storage, agent for Allied Van Lines) did a fine job. I did some packing but left the hard packing to them. (I didn’t touch the kitchen, for example.) The movers had to make three stops in Indiana, one in Geneva, N.Y., and one in Clifton Springs. Everything happened on schedule and without loss or damage.

It wasn’t long after my move that I realized that I was missing the pendulum of my Howard-Miller wall clock. The clock, weights, and pendulum had been packed separately when the clock was stored. Not only had Howard-Miller been unhelpful in my attempt to replace the pendulum, but it even denied any knowledge of my clock’s model. Howard-Miller did, however, give me the name of a clockmaker (No-Time Clock Service) in nearby Penn-Yan. No-Time assured me that the pendulum could be replaced and put me on a waiting list for complete clock service. Eventually, I was contacted by Mr. Charnego, who questioned why he was in possession of a clock pendulum. This solved the mystery of the missing component, and he agreed to send the pendulum to me.

My clock was on the waiting list for service for about a year, but I took it to Penn-Yan a couple of weeks ago. I’m waiting to hear when servicing the clock will have been completed. The clock problem, in principle, is on the way to being solved.

I have an extensive library, but I was to have limited shelf space in the new apartment. I discarded many books, particularly computer science textbooks. My railroading and church-related books were slated to come to Clifton Springs, along with a miscellaneous collection of books on other topics. The remaining books went to my son’s garage in Geneva. (The house contains many bookshelves, all of which are pretty much filled.) Every so often I find that I want to see one of the books in the garage, but, to date, I have not begun to examine those books systematically.

I have experienced a good deal of anxiety about not having found my passport. I used to keep it in the top drawer of a chest of drawers. My long-expired passport is there, but my most recent one is not. I have looked all over for the passport to no avail. I simply could not think where it might be. I was sure that it had arrived in Clifton Springs, as I had taken it to the Department of Motor Vehicles in Canandaigua when I registered my car and applied for my New York driver’s license shortly after my move. I’m not planning to do a lot of foreign travel, but I am now close to Canada and may again want to visit some Ontario wineries, a trip that will require a passport.

Last night, either asleep or awake, I remembered that had taken both my Honda file folder and my Army records file folder to the DMV. I had already looked in the Honda folder without finding the passport. This morning, however, I found the passport in the Army records folder. Apparently, I brought the folder home with the passport inside and put the folder into my file cabinet without removing the passport.

The good news is that my passport has at last been found. The bad news is that it expired last month. Now I have to renew it. 


The Passport
The Passport

February 3, 2024

Trump and the Border

House Republicans have successfully engineered a legislative crisis by refusing to authorize aid for Israel and Ukraine without also including what some would consider draconian changes to how we deal with migrants on our southern border. Pressed for action by big-city Democratic mayors dealing with busloads of migrants, the Biden administration has acknowledged that the crisis on our border is real and has indicated its willingness to employ tools devised by Congress to address it. Senate Democrats and Republicans are putting final touches on legislation that would provide aid for Israel and Ukraine combined with immigration reforms.

Just when the legislative logjam seemed about to be resolved, GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump has declared that Republicans should not sign on to the Senate bill. Apparently, Trump wants to ensure that he can use the border crisis as a campaign issue in the coming 2024 presential race. House Speaker Mike Johnson seems willing to do Trump’s bidding by not allowing the House to take up the Senate bill. Of course, at this point, no one, presumably including Trump himself, knows what is in that bill, which is still being written.

Trump is making a big mistake. That is understandable, since we know that Trump is not a deep thinker about policy issues. If he prevents legislation from being passed on foreign aid and border reform, his argument that only he can solve border problems will be countered by the Democratic argument that Trump is the person who torpedoed effective immigration reform that Congress has been unable to pass for decades. He will also be blamed for failing to support Israel and, heaven forbid, allowing Russia to defeat Ukraine. One can imagine major elements of the electorate that will resonate to the Democratic anti-Trump argument.

Trump is actually taking a page from the Richard Nixon playbook. Candidate Nixon worked to head off a resolution of the Vietnam war, so that he could preserve it as a campaign issue. The difference between Nixon and Trump, however, is that Nixon pursued his nefarious scheme in secret, whereas Trump’s self-serving machinations are being exposed for all the world to see. Trump has missed the subtlety here.

What should Trump do? How can he salvage a situation threatening to turn what he thinks will be a powerful campaign issue into an even more powerful campaign issue for Biden, Harris, and other Democratic candidates? Trump should emphasize the seriousness of the border crisis. He should assert that he dealt with it better when he was in office and that his focus on the border has been responsible for finally motivating both the current administration and Congress to act. He can, though probably won’t, portray himself as a powerful, positive force in governance rather than a negative one derailing reforms he ostensively supports.

The best outcome, of course, would be if Johnson is pressured to bring the Senate bill to the floor and passage resolves the current impasse. House Republicans are in a bind, however, as long as Trump persists in his opposition. Defying Trump’s wishes will clearly be a blow to the Trump campaign and likely one to the campaigns of Republican House candidates as well. Failure to pass a bill may be equally damaging.

January 19, 2024

The U.S. Should Play Hardball with Israel

Israel has long given the U.S. government reasons to be unhappy with its actions (in the West Bank, for instance). President Biden is clearly unhappy with Israel’s current war in Gaza, and his quiet diplomacy is having no discernable effect.

The reality is that the Israeli military cannot continue its prosecution of the Gaza war without American support and weaponry. Isn’t it time to play hardball? We should tell Benjamin Netanyahu that the U.S. will suspend all aid to Israel until his war on Gaza stops. If we fail to do that, living conditions in Gaza will continue to deteriorate for whoever the IDF has failed to kill, and the desire of Palestinians to wipe Israel off the map will only intensify.

U.S. tough love applied to Israel will not only benefit Palestinians but will also be in Israel’s interest. It may not, however, be in Netanyahu’s interest, who needs to remain in power to avoid legal jeopardy in his own country for his evident corruption. That, of course, is not America’s problem,.

January 15, 2024

All Comments Are Welcome

A reader complained recently about being unable to leave a comment on this blog because a Google account was necessary to do so. As it happens, I had mistakenly configured the blog to require a Google account to comment. This was a mistake that has now been corrected. Anyone can leave a comment.

I expect those commenting to use a name, preferably their own, but it is OK to make up a name. The main reason for this is to associate all the comments from a given person. In general, I do not allow anonymous comments, although I have on occasion allowed an anonymous post when I have thought the comment important enough.

All comments are subject to approval. Comments containing profanity or links to sites with irrelevant content are instantly rejected.

I apologize for past inconveniences.

These days, most visitors arrive here from Facebook. It is tempting to comment on a post on Lionel Deimel’s Web Log on Facebook. My preference, however, is that you comment here, where the comment will forever be associated with the essay that elicited it. You can, of course, send me e-mail.

Thanks for reading.

Why Trump Followers Follow Trump

Every day brings a new essay attempting to explain the popularity of Donald Trump. There is no single reason why citizens not only approve of this faux real-estate tycoon turned politician but support him with a passion both perplexing and alarming. Alas, pundits have yet to identify an intervention likely to rescue the misbegotten from the clutches of the Trump cult. Certainly, I don’t know how to eliminate or even diminish the influence of Donald Trump, but I want to offer my own thoughts about his popularity.

The United States, almost more than any other country, has a strong tradition of freedom of speech, albeit a tradition being challenged by certain Republican governors of late. We have embraced the theory that bad or evil speech can be countered by good or righteous speech. The theory seemed validated at a time when this country hosted myriad newspapers, magazines, and newsletters of every imaginable stripe. That time, however, has largely passed. All too many Americans rely on social media and Fox News for their view of the larger world. If someone is always watching Fox News and other far-right “news” outlets, they are unlikely to be watching MSNBC, CNN, or even NBC, ABC, or CBS. Nor are they reading The New York Times or The Washington Post. These people are constantly exposed to Trump and far-right propaganda. Opposing speech has no way to reach them. Consumers of more mainstream media, on the other hand, get a fair taste of right-wing ideas even though they are being reported secondhand. Even if the Trump media world does not grow larger, its acolytes of the Trump “base” daily grow more zealous.

Although this is surely not true of all Trump supporters, many followers like Trump because they are like and identify with him. This is probably even more distressing than the disjoint media universes in which citizens find themselves. Trump is a detestable human being, possessing a combination of traits traditionally viewed negatively, particularly by major religions. He is mean, boastful, self-centered, dishonest, mendacious, vulgar, hateful, litigious, racist, misogynistic, hypocritical, and ignorant. And he appeals to people who share many of these traits, particularly those who are misogynistic racists. Such supporters will not abandon Trump as long as they are not themselves reformed. Democrats can write off this group.

Some support Trump because they mistake braggadocio for strength and competence. These people believe the country needs a strongman to take hold of the reins of government. They were not paying attention during civics class or had no civics education at all. They love their country for all the wrong reasons. And they may believe, mistakenly, that the country is best run by a “businessman.” The government is not a business, however, and cannot afford to be run like one. Moreover, Trump is an excellent con man but a poor businessman, who has been plagued by bankruptcies and lawsuits. He is not a good businessman, even though he has played one on TV.

No doubt, some voters, unhappy with their lives or their view of the government, are taken in by Trump’s assertion that “I am your retribution.” Trump does not give a damn about such people. The only retribution of interest to him is his own. And he has an elaborate plan for extracting that retribution from his opponents should he again be elected president.

It is often overlooked that a Trump speech is surprisingly short on policy ideas. (Significantly, the GOP didn’t even bother to offer a platform in the 2000 election.) Trump may talk about his wall, of course, but most of his speeches are devoted to ad hominem attacks on the government or on Joe Biden. His speeches are all about how wonderful he is and how terrible everyone else is. In a sense, this is a clever strategy. It is difficult to criticize his policy positions, as they are almost nonexistent. Instead, his followers can read into a Trump speech whatever they like. Thus, Trump can appeal to an audience holding a variety of grievances. The lack of true substance is obscured by Trump’s folksy, repetitious style.

One hopes that, should Trump become the GOP nominee, he will be unable to appeal successfully to a general electorate by avoiding taking a stand on anything other than the qualification of Joe Biden. Democrats will have a hard time pinning down Trump on anything and will, in any case, find it difficult to persuade the Trump faithful to abandon their cult leader. Instead, this election is likely to depend principally on turnout. We probably cannot throw Trump into prison fast enough to be able to argue that governing from federal prison is a bad idea.

January 11, 2024

There Really Is a Border Crisis

I admit that I was dismissive, contemptuous even, of President Trump’s animosity toward immigrants. His opposition to immigration seemed a cynical campaign issue and his border wall a boondoggle. Ironically, both Democrats and Republicans have declared our immigration system dysfunctional, but for years, they have been unable to agree on a reform of it. Republicans have been especially reluctant to tackle the issue in a way likely to produce legislative agreement, as it has proven such an effective campaign issue.

Although the phrase “border crisis” has been thrown about a lot in the past few years, we do indeed seem to be experiencing a border crisis in 2024. Border cities are being overwhelmed by immigrants from the south and now, with those immigrants being shipped north by Republican politicians, northern cities are likewise seeing their resources taxed by the new arrivals. And people allowed to stay in the United States with an asylum claim are told that their case will be adjudicated years from now. Not only is this situation untenable, but it represents a serious cloud over the re-election prospects of President Biden. Democrats need to improve this situation, at least somewhat, soon. Republicans, on the other hand, have an incentive to ensure that doesn’t happen.

I wish I knew what the Biden administration could do in the short term to address what really is a border crisis. What is most needed is money for more judges to handle not only new asylum claims but also the backlog of such claims. We likely also need more agents patrolling the border, which also costs money. At the very least, the administration needs to acknowledge that border problems are not simply a figment of Republican imagination. It also needs to declare a willingness to address it.

At the moment, of course, House Republicans are demanding border concessions from the administration in exchange for aid to Ukraine. Although I fear what the administration might give up in response to this blackmail, it is important to note that any concessions could be modified in the future. No likely concessions will “solve” the border crisis. If, on the other hand, Russia is allowed to win in Ukraine, the victory will not only be more or less permanent for our ally but will threaten all of Western Europe. 

Lacking immediate solutions to the border crisis, I can at least offer what I hope are useful observations. The first of these is that immigration has always been and continues to be useful. We seem to have a neverending supply of jobs that are unattractive to current citizens. We are producing fewer babies that will become future workers, and our population is becoming older, with increasing numbers of retirees. It is unclear whether increased border security and prompt adjudication of asylum claims could reduce the flood of humanity seeking to enter this country to a level adequate to meet employment needs without undue increases in social spending or depression of the overall wage level. (This latter concern is beloved of Republicans but largely dismissed by economists.)

Why, we must ask, are so many people seeking to enter the United States? Obviously, one’s prospects for a good life are better in the U.S. than, say Panama or Mexico. Asylum seekers are assumed to be fleeing untenable conditions in their home country, yet they typically pass through several countries assuredly capable of offering better living conditions than those in the ones they are fleeing. Why do they not seek asylum in those countries? The answer is twofold. First, if you are going to risk your life for a better existence, why settle for a marginally better life? Why not reach for the gold ring of an American lifestyle? Second, countries such as Mexico, for whatever reason, are not interested in adding migrants headed to the U.S. to their own populations.

We tend to think of asylum as designed for individuals and their families facing persecution from their government or hostility from criminals or criminal groups. Unfortunately, whole countries can become terrible places to live, thereby sending hoards of immigrants toward the United States. We have to recognize, however, that we cannot accommodate every persecuted person in the world, which would entail almost entire populations of certain countries. In our own defense, we must be discriminating about who we can allow to enter the country.

Finally, it is worth noting that walls, historically, have been of limited use in keeping foreigners at bay, a lesson recently learned by Israel. Whereas walls may be of some use on our southern border, they create problems not always obvious to legislators. In particular, a southern border wall can prevent the movement of animals across the border, which may be necessary for their livelihood.

To Joe Biden and his administration, all I can say is “good luck!”

January 8, 2024

Trump and the Fourteenth Amendment

The Supreme Court has chosen to consider Donald Trump’s appeal from the Colorado decision that his name should not appear on the Republican primary ballot. There is much speculation about what the court will do in this case. Many would argue that Trump is indeed ineligible to again hold the office of president under Section 3 of the Fourteenth Amendment. Although that philosophy has been applied with a healthy dose of hypocrisy, the court’s embrace of originalism would seem to incline it to ratify the Colorado decision, possibly leading to Trump’s being removed from all ballots involving federal office.

The consensus seems to be that the court will not do that, partly because a third of the justices owe their appointment to a President Trump and because such a decision would upset Trump supporters and lead to civil unrest. The former argument is illegitimate and the latter argument seems weak, given that the Dobbs decision suggests that the justices do not give a damn about public reaction to their rulings. It is probably fair to say, however, that there will be significant public disgust resulting from whatever the court decides.

It is widely believed that the court will somehow duck the issue at hand. Many tactics for doing this have been suggested, most of which seem farfetched. I do think the court has an out that, at the very least, buys time for the country and the court. The court could simply say that the Constitution only suggests that Trump cannot be president but says nothing about his running for president. Winning the Colorado primary, after all, only advances Trump’s chances of becoming a candidate for office. The court could therefore rule that Trump cannot be barred from running in presidential primaries.

If the court adopts this strategy, it is only likely to be forced to allow or not allow Trump to seek the presidency if Trump actually wins the Republican nomination. Alas, that situation seems likely.

January 5, 2024

A New Lullaby

For whatever reason, I haven’t written much poetry lately. Since I moved to Clifton Springs, however, I have had opportunities to read some of my poems, and this is providing some incentive to become more productive. The 5/18/2023 birth of my grandson has also provided inspiration. I wrote an acrostic poem based on his name “Tobias,” but the poem requires too much explanation to make posting it worthwhile.

I’m a big fan of The Seekers, and their song “Morningtown Ride” gave me the idea of writing a lullaby for Tobias René Deimel Flum Wagner. Two opening lines occurred to me walking home from church last Sunday, and, in a few days, I had both lyrics and music. My lullaby, cleverly titled “Lullaby,” lacks the clever imagery of the Seekers song—this seems to be a common feature of so many lullabies—and it can reasonably be song to any infant, not only my grandson. The lines are very short, which presented difficulties in devising a tune for the lyrics. You can read my effort and listen to my first and second try at finding a tune here.