Only 2 Republican votes to defeat Kavanaugh?

We keep hearing that the Democrats need only two Republicans to vote with them in order to sink the Kavanaugh confirmation to the Supreme Court. But there is a big, unspoken assumption in that strategy, namely, that Democrats will vote as one against the confirmation.

There is, I believe, a very good possibility that Democratic senators in blood-red states will buck their colleagues and vote to confirm.
Incumbents Joe Donnelly in Indiana, Claire McCaskill in Missouri, Jon Tester in Montana, Heidi Heitkamp in North Dakota and Joe Manchin in West Virginia all have wrenching decisions to make. If they stick with their party and vote against confirmation, they will alienate their constituents and likely lose their races. But if they vote to confirm, they will make their constituents happy and thereby have much better chances to keep their seats and possibly help flip the Senate for the Dems.

Joe Manchin, for example, represents West Virginia, a state where Trump received close to 70 percent of the votes. His opponent, Republican General Patrick Morrisey, is one of 18 attorneys general who have joined a lawsuit against Obamacare. If they win the suit, coverage for pre-existing conditions will be terminated. The other senators named above are strongly committed to preserving what is left of the American Care Act. It behooves Democrats to keep Manchin and other red-state Dems in the Senate.
Besides, it is not at all certain that the two Republicans who might vote against Kavanaugh will in fact do so. Neither Susan Collins of Maine nor Lisa Murkowski of Alaska have signaled that they will defect and abandon their party. If just one of them votes to confirm, Democrats would need to find another Republican to vote with them. The same is true if even one, let alone four or five or more, of the red-state Democrats votes with the Republicans.
The odds against confirmation are very slim, so the red-state Democrats may see there is nothing to gain by falling on their swords when the battle is lost.

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9/11 Elegy

The ghostly Towers of Light, which appear every year on September 11, manifest the loss endured by New Yorkers and the nation.

The Twin Towers are not all that is missing but remembered. Lost are the almost 3,000 victims in the U.S. on 9/11; 5,000 American and coalition soldiers in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, tens or hundreds of thousands (estimates vary wildly) of Iraqis and Afghans killed violently since 9/11 by airstrikes, collapsed infrastructure, and the ISIS occupation.

We have lost the dubious pleasure of air travel, the ability that we took for granted to simply walk to the gate and board a plane after leaving our bags at the curb or the counter. We lost the freedom to walk into many buildings without being scanned and searched. The New Year’s Eve celebrants in Times Square must undergo screening and rub shoulders with hundreds of armed police. How festive is that?

In one respect there is a gain— the multiplication of victims. They are the loved ones of the slain who suffer their loss.

Was killing Bin Laden and exacting vengeance on his co-religionists really worth the spilling of so much blood, the draining of national treasure and the transformation of everyday American life? We are still debating the answer.

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A street in Palermo’s historic district

The streets in the historic Palermo not too long ago were all but off-limits to any but the mob-connected. To wander there at night was to bet your life with the cards stacked against you. In the past 25 years, however, the district has gradually been transformed to the tourist-friendly magnet it is today.

At the intersection of the two main streets an especially large square opens up. Each of the four corners is cut away. A semi-permanent fixture at one of these “corners” is an incredibly garish and unique “cart” that evokes the traditional “carretto siciliano” that farmers used to take their harvest to market.

Despite all the fruit and flowers, this vehicle’s sole purpose is to serve tourists and their cameras

It’s impossible to walk along the street and stay hungry.

Ice cream is serious business

Service with a smile and often a hug, because the customers quickly become friends


The servers at the ice cream bar never have to handle money. The server has only to enter the price into the machine on the right. It takes in coins and bills and gives back the correct change in coins and bills.

Dogs like ice cream, too

“Bite and run”










Across the street, sit and sip.

Restaurants and cafés take their places in the square on one side of the street

Restaurant proprietor and diner become friends











Coffee, dessert and another friend








The Palermitani are very friendly and welcoming people. It is, of course in their interest to welcome tourists, but they manage to do it in a way that comes across as genuine. If you ask, they are happy to tell you about their families, how they began in business, what they have done in their lives, etc. They trade anecdotes with you and are eager to hear your story.

Not only are Palermo’s streets safer than they have been in a long time, they are more beautiful. Ruined palazzi and run-down mansions are being restored and renovated as desirable condominiums.

Some doorways

are irresistible

Some, not so much

A gentleman of Palermo

shows off the building he is restoring and dividing into apartments





A little farther down the street looms the Cathedral of Palermo

After the cathedral, the street assumes a different personality.





Past the park, the street ends at one of the four medieval gates of the city.

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Palermo vs the mafia

In the center of Palermo’s old city, I was struck by the doors of a 19th century home hung with a blue banner proclaiming resolute opposition to the mafia. I wondered about the story behind it, as Palermo is the home of the Sicilian Mafia, who call themselves “Cosa Nostra” (our thing).

Walking farther on subsequent days, we encountered exhibits demonstrating the determination of Palermo to rid itself of the mafia. They are part of Manifesta 12, Europe’s most important biennial contemporary art exhibition. It coincides with the designation of Palermo as the capital of Italian culture for 2018.

The city is waging a campaign against the mob whose lethal grip for decades took over much of the government and compelled the city’s merchants, industries, and citizens to pay tribute.

Murdered anti-mafia prosecutors Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino

During the 1980s, the judges Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino prosecuted hundreds of Cosa Nostra members in what was known as the Maxi Trial, the largest mafia court case in history. Four hundred and seventy-five mafiosi were brought to court and 346 were found guilty. In 1992, both Falcone and Borsellino were martyred in revenge killings. They became heroes whose names are known everywhere in Italy. Palermo’s airport, for example, is named after them. They are portrayed life-size in majolica at the entrance to one of the anti-mafia monuments.

Borsellino’s scroll notes, “The fearful die every day. The fearless die only once.”

Falcone’s says, “Men die, but their moral convictions remain, and they will continue to walk on the legs of other men.”

Under Sicily’s emblem is Goethe’s 1817 tribute, “Italy without Sicily leaves no impression at all on the spirit. It is in Sicily that one finds the key to everything.”

Since Borsellino and Falcone were struck down, 4,000 more have been assassinated. Journalist Attilio Bolzoni recalls that Palermo was a war zone:

I had been in Afghanistan, the Balkans, Iraq, but I had never felt so afraid as I did in Palermo during those years…. I had to watch my back all the time. You found the mafiosi everywhere, on the streets, in the shops, in the banks. It felt like a curfew was in place, there wasn’t a single cafe where you could sit at a table in the evening.

But the two murders marked a turning point. Thousands of Palermitani went into the streets to protest the killings and bombings. In 1993, an anti-mafia mayor was elected by 75 percent of the voters. New laws, harsher penalties and prison conditions made the mafiosi’s lives much more difficult. More than 4,000 mafiosi have been arrested in the ensuing years. Armed soldiers patrolled the streets of Palermo until 1998.

The city’s architecture reflects the mafia’s malevolence. Cosa Nostra took over the construction business and subsequently went on a building spree. Backed by their politicians, the mafia tore down beautiful art nouveau mansions and replaced them with ugly blocks of colorless apartment buildings. They ruined the beaches with rubble from the demolitions. It has been called the “sack of Palermo.”

With help from the government, Palermo’s citizens were able to invest in restorations of beautiful buildings that had been abandoned since they were bombed in World War II. In the last 25 years, more than 60 percent of Palermo’s historic buildings have been renovated.

In addition, a part of the funds and property (an estimated €30 billion) that were confiscated with the arrests of the mafia bosses has been used to create about 800 new social, environmental and cultural spaces for the city.


This 18th-century building houses an exhibit of Manifesta, a video of plaques and memorials placed on the spots where victims of the mafia were assassinated.



Spiral of Life

In the heart of the old city is another installation that is part of Manifesta. It represents the continuing war against the mafia and commemorates the mafia’s victims. Gianfranco Meggiato has created “an ode to the defense of the values of life and culture. It is the Spiral of Life, as opposed to the spiral of death, which seems to dominate in today’s society.” (explanatory sign)

The 2,000 burlap bags of which it is made are “sacks of memory,” each stamped with the name of a victim murdered by the mafia, Borsellino and Falcone among them. It was inaugurated on the anniversary of the massacre of Borsellino with five of his escorts.

Today Palermo is regaining its old splendor and the mafia is in decline. Art is winning and corruption is losing.

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After the storm

The day after

Sunset over a peaceful sea

The storm has passed

Day of the storm
Boats race against the coming tempest back to a safe haven

It was the the middle of August and a big, national, summer holiday. Everyone except emergency crews and restaurant and hotel staff was on vacation. The heat and humidity were oppressive.

Then the storm came. It lasted, with varying intensity, through the night. The lightening was focused on Capri: it blazed through closed shutters, dousing the house with light. Reluctantly, because of the heat, we had to close every window and door; the shutters were ineffectual at keeping out the rain. The deafening thunderclaps pounded us from less than a mile away. I have never experienced a storm so violent. (Hurricanes are in another category.) We were warned that global warming would produce extreme weather…

Next morning, no power, no surprise. No power also meant no water. Big holiday. The electrician was away and the plumber didn’t answer his phone. The power company threw up its defenses and no one answered those calls either. Soon we found out that we were the only ones without power.

A full day passed. We carried buckets of water upstairs from the garden, where one tap was still flowing. We charged our portable devices at a neighbor’s house and left candles at the ready. Back home, it seemed quaint to carry lit candles from room to room as we readied for bed. No streaming movies, but thanks to our electronic devices, we could enjoy reading.

Fortunately, power was restored the next morning, lifting the sense of isolation and allowing us to appreciate the storm’s gift: refreshing, cool, dry air.

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The Well-Dressed Horses of Palermo

Everyone loves horses and has at some time or other dreamed of sitting in a horse-drawn carriage. Tourists especially like to ride them. Palermo offers horse-drawn carriages wherever tourists hang out in Palermo. The horses look much fresher than the ones on Central Park South in New York City, who seem rather more tired and weary. The Palermo horses’s millinery shows an Italian sense of style.

They wear lace-trimmed straw hats:










and casual straws



slouch hats adorned with flowers
and a plain model for the guys

dress-up frilly ones









and lest you think the men can’t be elegant too

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Palermo Journal: Life is sweet

Sicilians are famous for their desserts; they have a greater variety than the other Italian regions. They owe this distinction to the Arabs, who ruled Sicily for over 200 years and greatly influenced the island’s culture, cuisine and agriculture. Among the many foods and plants the Arabs introduced are citrus fruits, almonds, cinnamon, apricots, pistachio, pomegranates, sugar cane and watermelon, all of which feature prominently in Sicilian desserts.

So the signs were unmistakable. From our first breakfast in Palermo, we knew we were in Sicily. On a table laden with pastries there was a plate with empty cannoli shells and a bowl with creamy ricotta filling— Palermanitan DIY. In Sicily, cannoli are not pre-filled, because the shell gets soggy. (N.B. English speakers: “cannoli” is plural. One cannolo, two cannoli.)

We stepped out of the hotel into a land of cannoli, granita and ice cream.

IMG_3525I love cannoli and it was too early (for us) to have ice cream, so my eyes gravitated immediately to a store named Cannolissimo. They sell mostly cannoli, and they make them to order from a counter the width of the doorway and the store itself.

Custom cannoli

First, choose the shell: two kinds of plain or lined with chocolate or two other flavors. Next the filling: ricotta or ice cream, each with six flavors. What would you like sprinkled on top? You have seven choices.

We discovered ice cream heaven on our first night. Cappadonia had opened just two weeks before. The ice cream was the best we’ve ever eaten. The chocolate was to die for and the cantaloupe sorbet could have stood in for the melon with prosciutto.

Antonio Cappadonia

Antonio Cappadonia is the proprietor. The staff calls him “Maestro,” and so he is. He explained to us his process for making chocolate ice cream using only organic ingredients. Antonio insisted we taste his sorbet, which he makes only with fresh fruit that he himself selects, only when it is in season.

Tiziana and D’Amico

Il D’Amico and Chris with their new friend

Cappadonia is evidently an expert in human relations as well. It took months for him to put together his “team,” the out-going, gregarious and affectionate staff that serves the ice cream. They befriended us, kissing us when we arrived and again when we left.

No evening thereafter was complete for the team or for us without an ice cream fix  and warm hugs on all sides. Italians, especially in the South, open themselves to strangers, but I think they must not like strangers, because they rapidly transform them into friends.

Granita completes the trio of the most popular street sweets. You tell the vendor what flavor you like, and he pours flavored syrup over shaved ice. Granita is reputedly very refreshing in the heat, but it is too sweet for my taste.

Legend surrounds the invention of ice cream. Marco Polo may have brought it from China in the 13th century, though the emperors of the Tang Dynasty (618 – 907 CE) are believed to have been the first to eat “a frozen milk-like confection.” Italians are always players in the fanciful (or not) history of ice cream.

Some believe it was invented in Sicily and taken to France by Catherine de Medici when she married King Henry II. Others attribute it to a Sicilian in the 17th century who opened the first café in Paris and there introduced gelato, the Italian version of sorbet, to the French public.

The Arabs, who ruled Sicily from the ninth to the eleventh centuries, drank an icy refreshment flavored with fruit juices. They called it sharabt, which later became sorbetto in Italian and sherbet in English.

It wasn’t until the 17th century that sorbet as we know it evolved with the addition of sugar. A Neapolitan is said to have written the first recipe for sorbetto. He also added milk to it, creating the first real ice cream.

Suffice to say that ice cream is so loved that everyone wants credit for introducing it to the world.

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