Old Friends and Acquaintances

Cria Lama_2_Luc_Viatour (400x335)

Attribution: Luc Viatour

When I was working in Colorado, I also raised and sold one or two llamas a year. The babies are seriously cute, and the only way to have room for new babies is to sell the old ones.

I worked with a vet who specialized in llamas. I was his client and paid for his services, but he generously shared his knowledge and taught me how to care for my animals. We’d chat about trivialities too. He once waved away my thanks by saying the more his clients knew, the fewer midnight calls roused him from bed. He’s a very good guy.

I still have three elderly llamas and one old boy’s health issue recently led me to contact my old vet. His caring response reminded me that – I miss him.

Over the course of my life, many people have helped me. Even if we never visited each other’s homes – even if I don’t remember everyone’s name – many people made my life better. From time to time, something happens to nudge me out of my current rut and I remember.

I miss them.

I hope that sometimes I helped others too.

And for those of you who were pains in the ass – good riddance.

J. D., We Hardly Knew Ye

hillbilly elegyPresident Trump can’t catch a break.  Even when he might have had a legitimate point to make about the events in Charlottesville, the tenuous connection between his mind and his mouth failed him yet again.  Few situations carry more emotional complexity than the proposed removal of Confederate Civil War memorials, and the tragic death of a counter protester heated the situation well beyond the boiling point.  A carefully nuanced response was called for, but as everyone from North Korea to the South Bronx is well aware, The Donald doesn’t do nuance.  His convoluted ruminations wound up sounding vaguely like an endorsement of white supremacy, which it wasn’t.  His critics, few of whom go for nuance themselves, turned their amps up to eleven and let fly, never giving the slightest nod to the possibility that there might be more to the story than the heinous murder of a valiant cultural warrior, abetted by society’s fave villains, the Nazis and the Klan.

The issue seems straightforward; monuments to those who defended slavery are a stain on the moral fabric of modern America that should be obliterated (along with the voices of anyone who disagrees).  Media scribes and civil rights activists are happy to label those who oppose this erasure as racist crackers and toss them into the ninth ring of Hell along with the likes of Ted Bundy and Jeffrey Dahmer.  Ideologies espoused by groups like the KKK and the American Nazi Party are easily and justifiably condemned,  but the roots of their appeal go far deeper than raw racist bigotry.  Society is always better served by trying to understand its deviants, if only because how we deal with them may determine how many more of them there will be.

How quickly we seem to have forgotten about Hillbilly Elegy.  J. D. Vance’s spare, poignant account of growing up in the world of the white not-so-privileged is still hanging around the NY Times best seller list.  But the lessons it should have taught us about the thought processes of  disaffected poor whites in America apparently didn’t get through. Continue reading

I’ll Show You a Tyrant

Nicolás_Maduro

Venezuelan President, Nicolás Maduro (By Tasnim News Agency, CC BY 4.0)

If you are a pessimist, 2017 has so far been a pretty good year.  The chaotic beginning of the Trump presidency has provided the nation’s media with truckload after truckload of low-hanging political fruit, and pundits are in breathless competition to enumerate the ways in which Donald Trump is likely to destroy American democracy.  Readers of The Times or The Post could be forgiven for believing that we are on the verge of following pre-WWII Germany down the terrible road to tyranny, and the picture painted on social media looks even worse.  Angry Twitterers and Facebookers would have us believe that political conditions here are fast approaching the level of disarray currently on exhibition in Venezuela.

As it happens I recently stumbled upon an interview with the last American journalist to be granted a visa to report from Caracas.  Hannah Dreier, who writes for the Associated Press, spoke to Politico Magazine about what life was like in a country where democracy is actually circling the drain.

Venezuela was once one of the richest country in South America, a beautiful tropical land above and the world’s third largest petroleum reserves below.  But political instability, economic inequality and poverty have long persisted there and, a la Cuba,  populist discontent eventually brought populist Hugo Chavez to power in 1999.   After the bombastic Bolivarian revolutionary ascended to the presidency, he courted the masses by spreading the wealth generated by $100-a-barrel oil.  But collapsing oil prices deprived the country of most of its cash flow just as the death of Chavez, from cancer in 2013, deprived it of charismatic leadership.  Enter Nicholas Maduro, Chavez’ Interior Minister and political heir, whose futile – and increasingly brutal – efforts to keep the Chavista Revolution alive have left his country economically paralyzed and its people descending into anarchy.  Since winning the presidency by a bare 1% margin Maduro has shown no proclivity for running Venezuela other than to make absolutely sure that he gets to continue ruling it.  Bolivarian democracy means never having to say Vaya con Dios!

What has Maduro’s brutal incompetence meant for Venezuelans?  Dreier’s reports that even the most affluent are becoming malnourished while the poor are approaching starvation.  Inflation has rendered the national currency nearly worthless.  The Black Market is the only source for staples like toilet paper.  Kidnappings and robberies happen hourly, and no neighborhood is safe.  Dreier tells of being robbed only to be told by her local friends that it was a “good” robbery, since she survived it.  Later she was also kidnapped and was momentarily relieved to discover that her abductors were none other than Maduro’s secret police, who nevertheless threatened her with rape and worse.

Despite international sanctions, Venezuela continues to sell millions of barrels of oil per day, but no one seems to know where the money is going.  It is certainly not in evidence anywhere outside Maduro’s circle.  Rioting, however, is everywhere, as are Maduro’s police and the (presently) loyal military, their control measures growing more violent as the death toll rises into the hundreds.  The situation is so horrific, reports Dreier, that many Venezuelans are willing to embrace Maduro’s nascent dictatorship just to see some stability in their lives. Continue reading

Another Rocky Flats Wildlife Refuge Update

A previous posting mentioned that anti-Rocky Flats activists had filed suit to stop construction of a visitor center at the refuge on the grounds that the requirements for the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) had not been met. The good news is that the suit has been dismissed. The bad news is that the court dismissed the suit because the activity is not imminent. The exact wording from the July Rocky Flats Cold War Museum Newsletter is that the “. .  .plaintiff’s (the activist organizations) made a motion in the case for a temporary injunction to stop the construction of the Visitor Center.  The judge denied the motion citing the fact that construction is not imminent anyway.”

Why Are You Still Here?!

The groundswell of disgust and disbelief that has been sloshing around the White House since Inauguration Day is building into a tsunami that many media savants opine will drown the Donald Trump presidency.  Some House Democrats have already brought forth a bill of impeachment, but party leaders have lent only tepid rhetorical support to the idea, knowing full well that it will get little traction with Republicans in control of both Congressional houses.  And that, I suspect, is just fine with the Dems for the moment.  They want Trump right where he is, for at least another year.  Let me explain.

First let me state that I’m not a Trump supporter and never have been.  He is proving to be a worse Chief Executive than anyone imagined.  I would love to see him out of office, the sooner the better. However, I strongly believe that the process of removing him from office must be legitimate and unassailable, maybe more so than the election that put him there.  Right now, hard evidence to support that scenario does not exist and Schumer and Pelosi know it.  Rank and file Democrats are getting their Trump therapy by conflating Russian attempted interference with actual interference. They then further muddy the water by claiming that Trump or his cabal solicited Russian intervention and are now trying to cover their tracks.  They claim that Trump wants to torpedo the investigations because he has something to hide. This conspiratorial construct is not based on any verifiable facts, but on their analysis of his behavior, which I believe is incorrect.  Here’s my analysis:

Donald Trump is such a monumentally narcissistic egomaniac that he views any slight as a declaration of war and any question of his motives or actions as treasonous.  He is fighting the investigations because he sees them as unwarranted attacks to be repulsed.  I expect he is innocent of any collusion because he believes that he didn’t need the Russians or anyone else to help him win the election, and he takes it as a personal insult that his opponents believe it.  Members of his campaign may have met with Putin cronies and may have lusted after whatever dirt on Hillary the Russkies promised to provide.  Trump himself may have been in that loop somewhere. Hard to prove.  But Trump’s most likely response to any offer of foreign assistance would have been, “Sure, whatever.  We don’t need them.  I’m gonna win bigly anyway”.  And should Jr. and Kushner be found to have committed any act beyond criminal stupidity, Trump will shed it like he has everything else.  He not only doesn’t remember what he said or who he said it to last month, he doesn’t care.  He lives in the moment and will say whatever suits his purpose today.  He is immune to embarrassment or shame, and attempts to impugn him will make his behavior worse, not better.  He is also immune to impeachment for any crimes committed by underlings of which he had no knowledge or part.  His removal by this route is possible only if a lot more solid evidence comes to light, and then only if this craven Congress has the integrity to undertake it. I’m sure Ryan and McConnell will not lean in. Trump may be a colossal ass, but for better or worse he’s their colossal ass.

If Democrats were focused only on actual governing, they might start stroking his ego and playing to his insatiable need for adulation rather than continuing to goad him. They might even get him to switch parties if they could swallow their post-election angst for a few months.  Trump was a Democrat not that long ago, remember?  But I’m not expecting that.  I expect that they will keep doing what they’re doing, swamping him and Congress with leaks, attacks and innuendo to keep the Republican agenda stalled, but letting him Tweet on so that every Dem candidate for office, from Senator to dog catcher, can run against Donald Trump in 2018.  Good luck with that, as he is likely to be more vulnerable and will almost assuredly be more unhinged by then. Why would Progressives want him impeached right away?  That would leave them with three years of President Pence, who is even more hostile to their ideology than Trump, and as an incumbent (and a decent human being) might be a serious threat in 2020.  No, The Donald is of more use to the Democrat Party as an abhorrent adversary than as an ex-President. Unless he is on the verge of starting WWIII or letting the Russians annex Alaska, Democrats will be content to let him blunder on.  What’s a few international crises and a couple more years of gridlock when control of Congress is in play?

When it comes to President Donald Trump, both Republicans and Democrats have a lot to be ashamed about.  From my vantage point, neither party in this soap opera really cares about anything other than gaining a political advantage from it, and both will use Trump as best they can to do so. Meanwhile, the country and the world will just have to stand nervously by and watch.

The Past Isn’t Dead – It Isn’t Even Past

Two Harvard University researchers announced Friday that they have found a second parchment manuscript copy of the Declaration of Independence in a tiny records office in southern England. bostonglobe.com

This news gives me a bit of a thrill. History is fascinating and important. Sometimes it puts America in a good light and sometimes not.

I recently listened to a panel discussion on Book TV by three authors who have written about terrible crimes wrought on Native Americans by the American government and people in the 1800s – the word genocide applies. Meticulously documented using contemporary written sources, this horror was no secret at the time. The atrocities have slipped from our national consciousness.

Every nation and people have horrors in their past. Whether we “should” teach the bad as well as the good depends.

  • Why do we study history?
  • Why teach it in school? At what age and in what detail?
  • How should good and evil be balanced?
  • How should we portray people from a different era, with different beliefs?

These aren’t simple questions. I might add a question about beloved tales. George Washington chopping down the cherry tree is not true, but it’s a lovely story many of us learned and want to share with today’s children. Should we? Some citizen committees who review textbooks have said yes.

There are more important historical issue: Continue reading