Sunday, September 29, 2019

Take me out to the ball park

I didn't follow baseball very closely this year, so it was a bit of a surprise to see three AL teams all crack 100 wins.  It is pretty amazing when one team breaks the century mark.  Houston, New York and Minnesota had great seasons.  Hard to say who will emerge as the AL champion.  On the NL side, Los Angeles nearly matched Houston's incredible 106 wins.

A big season doesn't necessarily translate into a World Series.  I found that out many years ago when the Seattle Mariners posted a staggering 116 wins only to lose to the Yankees in five games in the AL championship series.  The Yankees had won only 95 games during the regular season.  I keep waiting for the Mariners to return to form but after 18 long seasons I have pretty much given up hope.  It seems that magical season took all the air out of their sails.  The Mariners only won 67 games this year after getting off to a hot start.

You really have to be a fan to follow a team through all 162 games.  I've caught a few games over the years. You could buy a cheap seat for about 6 bucks back then.  One time I found myself sitting between two ardent Red Sox fans in Fenway Park.  Boston was about as hapless in the 80s as the Mariners are now, but this old man and young woman knew the stat lines for all the players and were shooting them back and forth across my bow, until I offered the woman my seat, so that they could better compare notes.  The game is a religion for some.  I used to be this way about football when I was a teenager, but in time I developed other interests.

The game is much better to watch in person than it is on television.  You have to have a view of the field to see all the different alignments a team makes for each batter and each situation.  Television focuses mostly on the duel between the pitcher and the hitter.  Still, it is a long slog and if you aren't versed on the game it can be quite boring.

You underestimate the athleticism of these players until you see one of those incredible catches by a short stop and throw to first base, or one of those leaping catches at the wall to save a home run.  I once tried to take a pitch at 90 miles an hour from a machine.  It wasn't even a blur.  I didn't see the ball at all.  Imagine facing Nolan Ryan, whose fast balls were clocked at over 100 miles an hour.

Baseball is a strange and mysterious sport.  It requires a devotion not like any other sport, as you prepare yourself for key moments when you have to deliver or shut up.  The concentration level is intense.  One momentary lapse and the whole season is lost as Bill Buckner found out in the 1986 World Series.  A moment he was never able to live down.

It's a bit frustrating to see the Astros vying for another World Series title, as I wonder why the Mariners could never put together a championship season given all the great players that have come through Seattle.  Probably their best chance was in the 90s when they had Junior, A-Rod and Big Unit on the team.  Seeing Pete Alonso break the rookie home run record made me think of a young Ken Griffey, Jr. pounding balls into the outer bleachers of the Kingdome.

The city invested heavily in a new stadium in the late 90s, only to see the Mariners come up short of an NL title, let alone a World Series.  Eventually Rodriguez and Johnson would win titles at New York and Arizona.  Anyway, here's to the Astros.  May good fortune smile on them again.

Saturday, September 28, 2019

You give someone enough rope and he will hang himself.  That appears to be what the Don has done.  It isn't so much the severity of the action, as it is his feeble attempt to cover it up and all the persons involved, notably his vice president and attorney general.  Trump now has his very own "Stupid Watergate," broken long before the elections ever came.  At the very least, state Republicans might want to reconsider suspending their primaries and caucuses.

The interesting part is that this now infamous phone call took place the day after Mueller testified before Congress.  The Don obviously felt indestructible at this point and figured he could get away with anything.  His security advisers weren't so sure.  According to the whistleblower, they did their best to cover Trump's tracks by placing the transcript of the phone call with the newly elected Ukrainian president in a secured server, normally only used for highly classified state secrets.  The only thing this phone call qualified as is an attempt at extortion.

The Trump administration was eventually forced to provide a summary of the phone call to Congress, which it begrudgingly did.  The summary was surprisingly short given the length of the call and Trump's pension for rambling.  For all we know, he may have unwittingly spoke about highly classified information, as he has been known to do.

Since day one, Trump has been a walking, talking security risk.  His sense of immunity and his need to impress anyone around him, including his followers on twitter, has led him to repeatedly divulge classified information that has left intelligence experts aghast.  He and his sidekick, Rudy Giuliani, have an insatiable need to brag, basically meaning no secret is safe with them.  Even if the whistleblower hadn't written his well-articulated report, it is likely one or both of these buffoons would have revealed the dastardly transaction before long.

As it is, they both admitted to the extortion attempt but see no harm in it.  After all, this is what they are claiming Joe Biden did by withholding aid to Ukraine until then President Poroshenko fired his attorney general, who had a long list of corruption complaints.  As it was, Ukraine did investigate the matter and found nothing wrong with Hunter Biden sitting on the board of Burisma.  Trump, of course, wasn't satisfied and wanted the new President Zelensky to reopen the case.

One can find a lot of fault with what the Bidens did, but influence peddling is nothing new, and Trump has used it egregiously throughout his administration.  Trump has his own son-in-law screening foreign government requests, unbeknownst to his Secretary of State.  In fact, Jared Kushner essentially acts as an unofficial minister plenipotentiary on state matters, including the much maligned Palestinian peace deal, bypassing normal department channels.  Many of these transactions take place at Trump resorts and hotels, like the one in Washington, so he doesn't even need the notorious Watergate Hotel.

The Don was determined to dig up some dirt on Sleepy Joe, hoping to turn Burisma into this election year's Benghazi.  Naturally, Don would have known nothing about Biden's relationship to this Ukrainian energy holding company had not someone told him, so most likely this plot was hatched by Stephen Miller or one of Trump's Republican stooges in Congress, say Devin Nunes, who likes to skulk around the White House.  It has now blown up in Trump's face and he is none too happy about it.

It is unlikely that the House impeachment will lead to the removal of Trump from office, but it does make his path toward re-election that much more difficult, which might explain why he is throwing Mike Pence under the bus.  We'll see now whether Pence will take the fall for Trump.  However, chaos rarely serves a sitting president well during an election year.

Monday, September 23, 2019

You might call it True Detective for women, but Netflix's Unbelievable is far more compelling than any of the three seasons of that ill-fated show.   Part of the reason is that this detective story is indeed true, and provides a fascinating study in contrasts as to how rape cases are investigated.

For Marie Adler, who had just turned 18, reporting her rape turned into a nightmare.  Her confusion was misread, her story doubted and ultimately her case dropped as a false charge.  Not only did she lose trust in everyone around her, but the Lynnwood PD had the audacity to criminally charge her for the false claim she was coerced into signing.  Her foster parents weren't much better, providing her minimal support, and the halfway house where she was raped gave her little comfort.  For three years, Marie had to live with this infamy as a high school "friend" called her out on facebook so that she was inundated with hate mail.  If it wasn't for the tenacious work of two women detectives in Colorado, who were investigating similar cases three years later, it is doubtful Marie's story would have ever been believed.

We still struggle as a society to deal with rape.  I read recently that as many as 3 million women's first sexual experience is rape.  That's a staggering number, especially since only one-quarter to one-third of women report rape. 

In Marie's case, she was first raped when she was 7 in a foster home.  Something she had tried to bury, only to resurface in the most brutal way.  The sad part is that the Lynnwood male detectives had her case study and knew all this, yet they treated her like a basket case because of inconsistencies in her stories and that she didn't react the way they expected a rape victim to react.  It didn't help that her most recent foster parents shared their doubts with the police.

The reality is that very few women falsely report rape.  The national average is less than five percent, yet the burden of proof often falls on the victim, especially when their assailant is a stranger that can't readily identified.

The assailant was smart enough to know not to commit the same crime in the same police jurisdiction, stretching his "targets" over a three-year period in Washington and Colorado, becoming ever more careful in concealing his tracks so that no one would have been the wiser had not Detectives Galbraith's and Hendershot's paths overlapped.  They found consistencies in the twin attacks in Golden and Westminster.  They searched for more incidents, finding at least five similar cases around Denver.  Their dogged work eventually led to the arrest of Marc O'Leary, an Army veteran, who had apparently schooled himself on the fine art of rape from a police training manual.

O'Leary was meticulous, although he admitted he had badly botched his rape of Marie Adler and was surprised the police hadn't long before tracked him down.  All told, he took credit for 28 rapes, including several in the greater Seattle metropolitan area.  According to the dramatic series, the police were never able to crack one of his encrypted flash drives that would have probably revealed many more victims. 

He admitted to the crimes thinking he might get a reduced sentence, only to be handed 327 1/2 years in the state penitentiary.  Like many men, he had no idea the judge would take into account the trauma he had inflicted on these women.  To the show's credit, the director doesn't try to answer why O'Leary attacked such a broad range of women, ranging in age from 18 to 65.  My guess is that he thought no one would link them together, but the M.O. was virtually identical in each case, which proved to be his downfall.

Marie is given special attention because she had to live with all that doubt.  The other rape victims in this set of cases were all believed.  After it was finally discovered that O'Leary had began with Marie, she confronted the male detectives who had mercilessly grilled her and coerced her into signing an affidavit of making false claim.  She also sued the City of Lynnwood.  I was surprised she settled for only $150,000.

There was some contrition on the part of the Lynnwood PD to read the ProPublica story, first published in 2015, but not enough to satisfy Marie or other rape victims for that matter.  Lynnwood generally tended to dismiss rape charges, as it was a strain on their limited manpower and resources.

One would like to think the #MeToo movement is forcing us to reassess sexual assault, given some of the high profile accusations we have seen in recent years, but the burden of proof still largely remains on women, as we saw with the reaction to Christine Blasey Ford's testimony during the Brett Kavanaugh confirmation hearings.  More allegations against Justice Kavanaugh have since come out, but Ford remains considered an unreliable victim by many. 

I think one of the most basic problems here is that many men don't consider rape a big deal.  They have a hard time understanding the trauma women have as a result of these crimes against humanity.  This is why you see not only police, but judges so blithely dismiss such charges and give the perpetrators very lenient sentences, as was the case with Brock Turner.  His victim, Chanel Miller, is speaking out, and the judge in the case has since been recalled. 

For Marie, the powerful new television series represents a catharsis.   She has built a new life for herself in the wake of the horrific act, but seeing it honestly presented gives her some hope that the police won't be so quick to dismiss rape claims in the future.  This isn't like having your bicycle or cellphone stolen.  This is a part of you that is irretrievably lost, as it undermines your sense of trust in the people around you.  She considered Detectives Galbraith and Hendershot her guardian angels, helping to restore some of that lost trust.

Sunday, September 22, 2019

Are You Experienced?

On a recent trip to London, I visited the Handel & Hendrix House, a most unusual tribute to musical maestros from entirely different centuries.  The Handel House was first dedicated back in 1969, the year Kathy Etchingham was hunting for a place for Jimi to stay in the city.  She saw the plaque for Handel being put up on 23 Brook St. and knew Jimi would love it.  Later, the plaque was moved to the facade of the row house next door, which diminished the flat a little in Jimi's mind but for the better part of a year he and Kathy called this place home.

According to the grey-haired volunteer sitting in the corner of the bedroom regaling us in these stories, Jimi loved Handel.  He had a well-played copy of the Messiah, and incorporated some of the music into Electric Ladyland, a trippy album that is arguably Jimi's greatest work.  The curators of the museum went out of their way to faithfully recreate both homes, forming a very unique juxtaposition to each other.  Tribute concerts to both Handel and Hendrix are often held in the small rooms.  You can see three replicas of Handel's harpsichords, and one of Hendrix's famous telecasters on display.

Hendrix proved more elusive to the curators, as there was very little original left from Jimi's London days, except for an oval mirror on the fireplace mantel of his bedroom.  The rest they had to piece together from Kathy's photographs and memories, right down to copy of Jimi's plush toy Dogbear, who guards the room.  Since this was Kathy's choice from the beginning and she picked out virtually all the furniture, fabrics and rugs in the flat, they were able to bypass the greedy hands of the Hendrix estate, which wanted a cut in the action.  The few actual possessions of Hendrix they have are on loan from the Seattle Art Museum.

There's a nice entry room where you get a brief glimpse into Jimi's all-too-short life and times.  One of his biggest moments was playing at the Royal Albert Hall in February, 1969, which was described as "an ectoplasm of sound."  The party went on all night.  Little would anyone know that this would be Jimi's last time in the famous hall.  He was at the peak of his powers, but a combination of drugs and alcohol brought down the final curtain the following year - a sad member of the 27 club.  He and Kathy had moved to Notting Hill by this point, no longer able to cope with their angry neighbors.

Hendrix felt more comfortable in London than he ever did in the US.  The volunteer said Jimi got along with pretty much everyone except his neighbors.  He would give his telephone number to anyone who asked for it, the result being it was constantly ringing.  Kathy had a second line installed for private calls, but Jimi could never remember which number was which and often gave this number out too.  He could be seen walking the streets of Soho everyday, happy to engage with anyone around him.

There were a couple of record shops where Jimi bought his vinyls, many of them just for the covers.  He loved the artwork as much as the music.  The curators meticulously hunted down copies of the albums to put on display.  Unfortunately, the record shops no longer exist.  Today a lavish Victoria's Secret is next door, along with a fancy bistro in the rear courtyard, and a narrow mews that leads to other restaurants and shops.  VS is a fine irony to Jimi's love for women, featured on the UK gatefold cover of Electric Ladyland.

The museum could be more lively for my taste, capturing more the vibe of the place rather than a faithful recreation, but then they do have house parties to try to recreate the energy that once existed at 23 Brook St.  I'll have to keep a look out for events so that the next time I visit my daughter in London we can go to one of these experiences.

Saturday, September 21, 2019

Sitting in Limbo

John Oliver had a good piece on immigration last week, showing just how difficult it is to get into this country legally, despite Trump's constant moaning that everyone and his mother can come to America.  The waiting list is so long that Mexican families have to wait as much as 22 years to get their applications reviewed for reunification, and you wonder why so many come across the border illegally.

The irony is that our country was founded on immigration and continues to prosper because of immigration.  It's not just agriculture and the tech industry that benefit, but just about all our industries.  This is why Andrew Yang actively promotes immigration, pointing to his own story as a positive example.

Trump would have us believe that immigration is bad despite his mother and two wives being immigrants.  In fact, his current wife and her parents represent a perfect example of  "chain migration," which he deplores.  Melania invited her parents to come to America and be citizens in a much shorter span of time than the average Mexican family. 

Republicans are very selective in their view of immigration.  They want to change the flow of immigration to include more Europeans and less persons of color.  They have seen how the demographics of the country has changed considerably over the years and would like to "whiten" America.  Of course, they will never admit this, but that is clearly the immigration policy we see emerging from the Trump White House. 

This was made brutally clear when many Black Bahamians were denied entry into the country after their island nation was ravaged by Hurricane Dorian.  White Bahamians good, Black Bahamians bad, as Trump stressed at his helicopter press conference.

More upsetting was the way Trump and many conservatives treated Puerto Ricans as third-world inhabitants after the devastating Hurricane Maria, seemingly oblivious to the fact that they are all American citizens.  Funding still drags for relief efforts two years after the deadly storm.

There was a time Republicans were hoping to reach out to Hispanics and other persons of color in an effort to diversify their party, but that effort ended with Trump.  Now, all you see are cynical placards held up at Trump rallies, no doubt supplied by rally organizers.  If Trump had any real interest in wooing Hispanic voters, he would have pushed for stronger gun laws following the shooting in El Paso, instead of squashing efforts at a bipartisan bill in Congress after the NRA reminded him which side of his bread is buttered on.  Or, revoke his heinous border policy in regard to asylum seekers.

Trump has managed to convince a third or more of the American population that immigrants of color are bad for the country, and that we should make every effort to keep them out.  This has extended to the conservative media, where pundits like Tomi Lahren audaciously suggested Americans may need to shoot immigrants on Fox's Varney & Co.  Trump and the conservative media have gone out of their way to portray non-white immigrants as potential killers and rapists, regardless of their legal status.

Sadly, this is a recurring theme in American society stretching back to the mid-19th century when immigration laws were first put in place.  At that time, the biggest fear were Germans and other potential rebel rousers spreading socialism in this country.  We seem to have gotten over our aversion to Central and Eastern Europeans, and now cast our scorn on Latinos and Muslims.

Immigrants have had to fight for their place in this country, despite the fact that any economic study shows they greatly help to expand the economy with their hard work and business acumen.  We have also benefited incredibly from foreign born scientists, musicians, artists and entertainers over the years, enriching our society beyond measure. 

For whatever odd reason, many politicians choose to deny all this, focusing exclusively on negative impacts, without providing any credible evidence to support their arguments.  Their biggest worry appears to be that of demographics.  One day soon whites will cease to be the absolute majority in this country.  Their perceived special privileges will be lost.  Many even fear their religion will be lost despite Muslims barely making up one percent of the American population, most of them American converts.  It's these groundless fears that led to rise of the Tea Party and in turn Donald Trump.

It wold be nice to think we could get past these fears in the next election.

Monday, September 9, 2019

Careful what you wish for

Football season is officially upon us, and if the Antonio Brown saga is any indication it should be a wild and woolly year.

New England badly wants Super Bowl number 7 to put them ahead of the Pittsburgh Steelers, which would be even more amazing given the Pats have done it all with just one quarterback.  Their's is a dynasty that stretches back to 2000 when the Patriots took Tom Brady in the 6th round.  That's right, sixth round!  Brady was the 199th player selected overall in that draft, and the only player from that draft class still playing at age 42.  Love them or hate them, the Pats have created quite a system under Bill Belichick.

When Antonio Brown came available late last week, the Patriots didn't hesitate to grab him.  Gronk had retired after 9 bruising years, leaving a gaping hole to fill in their receiver corps. But, was it a last minute deal, or something AB had facilitated thanks to his highly public disputes with the Raiders?

Not that it really matters in the greater scheme of things, but what struck me about this whole thing was how AB was able to use social media so effectively against both the Steelers and the Raiders to get what he ultimately wanted, a place on the New England roster.  AB wants a Super Bowl ring, and it was clear that wasn't going to happen at either Pittsburgh or Oakland.  The Steelers have been struggling ever since their last trip to the Super Bowl in 2010, when they lost to Green Bay.  "Big Ben" Roethlisberger has been around almost as long as Brady, but the years haven't been quite so good to him.  He shows his age, and AB wasn't afraid to let him know it, which is how this saga began.

Brown was constantly riding Big Ben to the point the Steelers couldn't stand it anymore, so when they had a chance to trade the All-Pro receiver to the Raiders for highly valued draft picks, they did so without a moment's hesitation.

Brown came to Oakland with a lot of fanfare.  This was going to be the Raiders' year after a disappointing first season for returning coach Jon Gruden.  But, Brown didn't appear to like the direction Oakland was headed and almost immediately began to create waves.  At first, it just seemed like Antonio being Antonio.  He complained about the new helmet regulations and a whole host of other things on social media, but then he began to skip meetings and practices and even preseason games, throwing the team into total disarray.  Oakland tried fining him, even threatened him with a one-game suspension that would have null and voided his $30 million guarantee, but AB kept bitching and moaning, until finally the Oakland front office had enough and cut him.

The same day, New England reaches out to Brown with a $15 million one-year contract, $9 mil guaranteed, which left many sports pundits wondering how long this had been in the works?  Other teams were interested in Brown, but it was clear where he wanted to go because he jumped at the deal before his agent had any chance to entertain other more lucrative offers.

This isn't the first time the Patriots have picked up a disgruntled superstar on the cheap.  A few years back they picked up Randy Moss, who had similarly wore out his welcome at Oakland and Minnesota before that.  Was AB emulating the same path Moss took to the Patriots?  Only problem is that New England had a Super Bowl drought during the highly public Moss years, despite a stellar performance by the embattled receiver.

In fact, the Patriots have a way of getting more for less from all their players.  Even with an unprecedented 6 Super Bowl rings, Tom Brady is paid far less than other top NFL quarterbacks.  This allows the Pats to make cap room for other talented players they couldn't otherwise afford.  Brady makes up for it in endorsements and all the attention he gets with his glamorous wife, Gisele Bundchen.  So, Tom isn't poor-mouthing his situation.

Brady also knows that much of his success is built on the Belichick system, which essentially turns the game into a simulated model of angles and probabilities, weighing each and every play on its likelihood of success.  As long as Tom remains his highly-efficient self the system runs smoothly, even if it hits a rough patch here or there.  Tom has been to a staggering 9 Super Bowls, virtually one every two years of his long career.  A record that probably never will be broken.

No team past or present can vouch for this kind of success, and this is why AB wants to play for New England and finally get that Super Bowl ring that has long eluded him.  You have to be careful what you wish for because after 19 long years, the Pats are finally starting to show their age, even with a very impressive opening win over Pittsburgh yesterday.  Randy Moss never got his ring at New England or any team for that matter.

Unfortunately, AB wasn't able to suit up for that game, so will have to hope the Pats meet the Steelers again in the playoffs to exact his revenge against his former team, and the friend he claims he never had in Big Ben.

Sunday, September 8, 2019

Talking with the Enemy

Will blunders never cease?  Anxious to be considered for a Nobel Peace Prize again this year, Donald J. Trump tried to not-so-secretly work out a peace deal between the Taliban and Afghan government at Camp David this weekend, only for someone in the White House to leak the news to the press.  Determined not to have any more egg on his face, His Trumpness claimed he called off the secret meeting, "unbeknownst to almost everyone" because the Taliban took credit for a recent car bombing in Kabul that killed an American soldier.

It's not clear whether the Afghan government was aware of this meeting.  President Ghani was scheduled to be in Washington this week, but no mention of meeting with Taliban representatives.  The Afghan President has been shut out of negotiations between the US and the Taliban that have been going on since November of last year.  Trump is determined to reduce the number of American troops in the country but the US military wants assurances from the Taliban that it will quit trying to claim more territory and end their terrorist assault on Kabul.

The irony of this secret meeting is that it was just days before the annual remembrance of 911, which was the reason we went into Afghanistan, as the Taliban was harboring Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda.   At the time, they were led by One-Eyed Omar, who went to meet his maker in the sky back in 2013, after 12 years of relentless war with the infidels.  Turns out the wily Mullah wasn't hiding out in Pakistan as our vaunted military intelligence thought, but lived next door to US bases where he could enjoy the fireworks.  Six years later, the Taliban is stronger than ever, in control of a big chunk of Afghanistan much to the chagrin of NATO forces, which have grown weary after 17 years of war.

Like our previous longest war in Vietnam, our nemesis gets a lot of support from the North, namely Russia.  Putin was never happy with the war.  He had warned Bush against it, and only begrudgingly agreed to provide logistical support back in 2002, when he was still relatively new on the job.  He has since grown very weary of the US presence next door, and now seems to be providing logistical and military support to the insurgence.

If Trump is really trying to work out a deal with the Taliban, this would only favor Putin, who prefers to work with armed thugs as we have seen in Chechnya.  It certainly won't benefit the Afghan government we worked so hard to install, as they would be virtually defenseless against a Russian-backed Taliban.

Admittedly, it is frustrating that the Afghan government has failed to build any kind of military capable of fighting the Taliban on its own.  At least in Iraq, the defense forces proved sufficient to regain much of their lost territory from ISIS, but then they had some help from Iranian and Kurdish forces, who badly wanted to end the reign of the rogue Islamic state, or Da'ish as it is called in Arabic.  The Taliban is homegrown and has deep roots in Afghanistan, so it is much harder to fight, as the US and NATO have found out the hard way.

I suppose some kind of compromise is necessary at some point, but why on earth would you recognize their leadership by inviting representatives to Camp David?  These are negotiations that should be carried out through a third party, not directly as the US has done.  Trump has given the Taliban the recognition they have long sought.

His Trumpness seems to think he has this great charisma that allows him to seal a deal by his presence alone, hoping to unveil a peace plan ahead of the Afghan president's arrival in Washington that would make him look like the greatest negotiator of all time.  Instead, he was forced to call off a "secret meeting" because a) the news was leaked ahead of time, or b) the angry Afghan president cancelled his flight, or c) it was just a figment of his imagination.  Anyway you look at it, this will go down as another major foreign policy blunder, like the many that have characterized his abysmal administration.

Saturday, September 7, 2019

Shine a Light

To take my mind off the nonsense in the news these days, I've been reading Emerson Among the Eccentrics, a group portrait of the Transcendentalists from the early half of the 19th century.  It was a pretty amazing time.  Science and religion weren't considered competing forces.  Emerson saw God in the natural world around him, not accepting any contradiction in faith and reason because he didn't take the Bible literally.

It would be 30 years or so before Darwin put forward his theory of natural selection, but even in the 1830s, evolution was discussed by renown figures like Jean-Baptiste Lamarck and Charles Lyell, who Emerson would have probably been aware of.  His naturalistic and literary tastes, however, ran toward Rousseau and Blake.

I was curious who the Transcendentalists were, and as near as I can figure out they owe their origins to the Unitarians, who took a broader view to religion, favoring Jesus the man to Christ as part of the Holy Trinity.  As such, this is a direct outgrowth of Deism, which Thomas Jefferson and other instrumental figures in the American Revolution espoused. 

Transcendentalism was also influenced by the Second Religious Awakening, which owed its origins to Swedenborgism, which spread to America through Millennialist religious groups like the Harmonists, who established utopian communities in Pennsylvania and Indiana, awaiting the arrival of the second coming of Christ.  The Transcendentalists tried their utopian luck at Brook Farm, but they didn't hold out for such an epiphany.

Religion and science tended to work together, certainly through technology, which grew rapidly during this time.  The Harmonists were an extremely industrial sect that lasted 100 years, moving from Pennsylvania to Indiana and then back to Pennsylvania because of their resistance to slavery.  New Harmony, on the banks of the Wabash, was too close to the slave state Kentucky, and as such they had numerous confrontations with plantation owners over runaway slaves.  So, they pulled up stakes and moved to Economy, Pennyslvania, which they kept going until 1905, long after the death of Father Rapp.

Meanwhile, Emerson toured New England giving lectures on Transcendentalism that captured the imagination of many followers.  He became the center of a group of poets, naturalists and professors, who for the most part bowed to his wisdom, but Emerson promoted independence of thought, which is why he was most taken by Henry David Thoreau, who wasn't afraid to challenge him.  Their paths crossed repeatedly without ever really coming together.

I like this period because it offers a broad view of what a rapidly expanding America could become.  Emerson wasn't afraid of change or new cultures arriving on the continent.  He was an avid reader and fell under the charms of the Upanishads, immersing himself in Hinduism.

This was in sharp contrast to the American Republican Party, promoting its very narrow Nativist view of the country in the 1840s, which would later expand into the Know Nothing Party of the 1850s, the direct ideological precursor to the Nativist Republicans we see today.

Reading Emerson Among the Eccentrics offers insights into our better human nature, before we let slavery and fear rule our society.  It was out of this religious and transcendentalist ferment that the abolition movement was born, promoting equal rights not just across racial lines but also gender lines, as many of the leading abolition figures of this time were women.  There's a lot to learn from the Transcendentalists.  Nice to see that spirit still continues.

Friday, September 6, 2019

The Madness Continues

Before Dorian bore down on Alabama, Trump had other bad news to contend with.  As it stands now, the Democrats could probably run the Hurricane Whisperer against Trump and win.  It's gotten so bad that not just liberal pundits, but former conservative allies are concerned over the mental health of His Orangeness.

Trump has done himself no favors.  On top of his international altercation with Denmark over his proposed acquisition of Greenland, he had another horrid G7 conference in which he continually pressed for the readmission of Russia while skipping a key meeting on climate change.  This while the Amazon burned in epic proportions.  Making matters worse, he took the side of Brazil's demented president in the highly public spat between Bolsonaro and Macron.

For the past three years, Republican allies have tried to put out the fires Trump has started, but more and more concerned conservatives are speaking out.   Trump has burned so many bridges that his 2020 reelection chances now look dimmer than ever.  He can't even beat "Alfred E. Newman," which he derisively calls Mayor Pete.

This has led many to speculate if Trump may try to change his ticket to gain fresh confidence in his candidacy.  Nikki Haley's name is once again being floated as a possible veep in an effort to win back suburban white women, who have fled him droves.

His misogyny knows no bounds, attacking Denmark's prime minister after she had the audacity to scuttle his bid to buy Greenland.  Trump got so upset that he cancelled a planned visit with the Queen of Denmark, who had said nothing on the matter.  It seems Trump forgot his main aim of going to Denmark, lost as he was in his lucrative real estate deal first floated by the Wall Street Journal.

His intransigence has become the fodder of late night comics.  Conan O'Brien has a new segment on the Greenland Purchase and just about everyone has been mocking him on his insistence that Alabama was in the path of Hurricane Dorian, even his friends at Fox.  Trump has this bad habit of not being able to let anything go, and no doubt will bring up Greenland again once the storm has subsided.

For a man who was going to re-establish American dominance in the world, things don't look so good.  The Amazon burns, Brexit England is in total chaos, China isn't bending to his will, and dark clouds form on the economic horizon as forecasters predict a recession ahead.  Trump insists the latter is just another effort by the "fake news" to make him look bad, but these days he does a very good job himself.

Trump has not only become his own worst enemy but that of Republicans hoping to hang onto power in the Senate.  The GOP has 22 seats on the line next November, a very large number to defend.  It's not so much his ideology as his blunt approach that worries GOP leaders.  The trade war that Trump initiated last March has spun wildly out of control, leaving Wall Street in a quandary as to where big business stands.

China is no longer buying American farm goods, leaving vast stockpiles of soy beans, corn and other perishable goods to rot in silos across the country.  Trump managed to finagle a last minute deal with Japan at the G7 conference to take some of that corn off his hands, but it is hardly enough to overcome the huge Chinese market that American farmers had come to depend on.  It's not just agriculture he has undercut, but his latest tariff hikes would affect a wide-range of imported goods, which consumers will pay the price at Walmart and other retail outlets.

There is only so much even the most die-hard Trump supporter can stomach.  He's pretty much lost the American farmer, which means the Midwest is now up for grabs in 2020.  His standing in key states like Wisconsin, Iowa, Ohio and even Texas has plummeted.  There's every likelihood he could face one of the most embarrassing losses by a Republican presidential candidate since Barry Goldwater.

Amazingly, Trump seems oblivious to the turning political tide in the country, insisting that all this negative press is just fake news.  His supporters point to the overwhelming lead Hillary had in the polls back in 2015, forgetting that Trump was the insurgent candidate back then.  Today, he is the incumbent.  Not even George Bush had such unfavorable ratings this far out of his re-election bid.

It's not to say Trump can't reverse the tide.  If he were to score a major trade deal with China and restore a sense of normalcy to the economy, much would be forgiven.  However, Trump seems to be going out of his way to anger China, even blaming them for the opioid epidemic in this country by claiming they are the major supplier of illicit fentanyl.  This is a terribly misleading accusation that is sure to further erode our relationship with China.

Trump has had more than two years to work out a deal with President Xi, since he first entertained him in Mar-a-Lago in March, 2017, putting on a lavish firework show in Syria for him.  There has been multiple occasions where we were told a deal would soon materialize, only for negotiations to break down as Trump issued a new round of tariffs.  Last week was a classic example where Trump twice issued tariffs.  China seemed eager to deal, saying it wouldn't retaliate, only for Trump to issue more tariffs in response.  It's like a toddler who has discovered a new toy.

A lot of people sympathize with him in regard to China, even Democrats, but he has gone about a new trade deal in all the wrong ways.  Trump thinks he can strong arm trade deals the way he strong armed real estate deals.  There's no difference in his mind because he looks at the world in the most simplistic terms imaginable.

The child-like wonder was amusing at first but has now become incredibly tiresome.  Trump has to be repeatedly schooled not only on how trade deals work but that island nations aren't for sale.  He and his administration seemed blithely unaware that Greenland enjoys home rule, and that any negotiations regarding its autonomy would have to go through its parliament.  What makes the whole thing so absurd is that Greenland granted the US the right to use its landing fields and air space for military maneuvers.  The US doesn't even need to buy the country to enjoy access to the Arctic Circle over the Atlantic Ocean.

When George Bush lost his way, he had his father to bail him out.  Trump doesn't enjoy such a luxury.  He has made such a mess of things that any Republican who values his political future doesn't want to be directly associated with him.  They may quietly offer him some advice on the side, but it is usually to no avail.  Trump will double down on even the most absurd of premises, as we saw with the path of Hurricane Dorian.

This is why you see him trailing the Democratic candidates by double digits.  Americans have had enough of this infant terrible and want to have an adult in the White House again, even the dotardly old Joe Biden.  He can call it fake news if he wants, but it doesn't change the numbers, even at Fox News.