Category Archives: Random

It’s not the withdrawal

Soldiers with the 10th Mountain Division escort evacuees at
Hamid Karzai International Airport, Afghanistan, Aug. 20

The invasion was doomed from the start.

Addressing America’s current political crisis, Ezra Klein’s essay in The New York Times, “Let’s Not Pretend That the Way We Withdrew From Afghanistan Was the Problem,” asserts that the problem is much bigger than the chaotic withdrawal. There was no feasible way to exit gracefully. All the attacks on Biden and the mismanagement of the pullout are a distraction. Focussing on the disastrous drawdown is more palatable than admitting a colossal defeat: The ignominious exit leaves Afghanistan no better off after two decades of occupation at a cost of hundreds of thousands of lives lost and an expenditure of more than $2 trillion.

No, the real problem, Klein contends, is our failure to learn from past disasters. We are blinded by the illusion that our military might can force the outcome we seek. We believe the oxymoron that we can impose democracy on a culture that we don’t know. We deceive ourselves by insisting on our honorable conduct despite all the evidence to the contrary.

The misguided faith in our ability to control coupled with our refusal to accept the limitations of our power keep leading us down a rabbit hole.

There’s no denying America is the most powerful country in the world, but what we’ve seen over and over in recent decades is we cannot turn that into the outcomes we want. Whether it’s Afghanistan or Libya or sanctions on Russia and Venezuela, we don’t get the policy outcomes we want, and I think that’s because we overreach — we assume that because we are very powerful, we can achieve things that are unachievable.

Emma Ashford, a senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security

Klein reports that Ben Rhodes, a top foreign policy adviser to President Barack Obama, told him

Afghanistan. Iraq. Yemen. Somalia. Libya. Every one of those countries is worse off today in some fashion. The evidentiary basis for the idea that American military intervention leads inexorably to improved material circumstances is simply not there.

Moreover, writes Klein, we are holding on to the illusion of our knowledge. The Iraq war should have taught us that 

We don’t know what we don’t know, and, even worse, we don’t always know what we think we know [emphasis mine]. Policymakers are easily fooled by people with seemingly relevant experience or credentials who will tell them what they want to hear or what they already believe. … We do not understand other countries well enough to remake them according to our ideals. We don’t even understand our own country well enough to achieve our ideals.

Klein alludes to the famous observation of Donald Rumsfeld, secretary of defense for President G.W. Bush and an architect of the Iraq war:

As we know, there are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns—the ones we don’t know we don’t know. 

But Rumsfeld missed another kind of unknown. Klein appends the one that proved the most treacherous, the false known, that is, believing that something false is actually true. Things like Saddam Hussein’s non-existent weapons of mass destruction and the conviction that the Iraqis would joyously welcome an American invasion.

We don’t listen to the dissenting voices that recognize the folly of foreign invasions. “That has allowed too much to go unquestioned, and too many failures to go uncorrected,” writes Klein, and

It is telling that it is Biden who is taking the blame for America’s defeat in Afghanistan. The consequences come for those who admit America’s foreign policy failures and try to change course, not for those who instigate or perpetuate them. [Emphasis mine]

Klein notes the hypocrisy of our foreign policy and its tragic consequences:

To many, America’s pretensions of humanitarian motivation were always suspect. There are vicious regimes America does nothing to stop. There are vicious regimes America finances directly. It is callous to suggest that the only suffering we bear responsibility for is the suffering inflicted by our withdrawal. Our wars and drone strikes and tactical raids and the resulting geopolitical chaos directly led to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Afghans and Iraqis.

But, he concludes,

The choice we face is not between isolationism and militarism. We are not powerful enough to achieve the unachievable. But we are powerful enough to do far more good, and far less harm, than we do now.

Will the powers that be embrace that philosophy?

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Can’t get away

A while back I tried to give up my obsession with politics. I knew that stuff was still happening, but I needed a break from the constant pounding of bad news on almost every front and Trump, Trump, Trump all the time, “shocking, but not surprising.” I devoted myself to garden and kitchen, watching the spring unfold, trying to remain oblivious to the death, disease and corruption I knew were swirling about me.

Instead, I soaked up the beauty of nature’s magnificence, drawing strength and renewing hope from the lilac, clematis, cherry, apple, lily, and iris that blossomed in turn. I looked forward to the splendor of peony and hydrangea soon to come. Buds peeped out, then swelled and popped, glorying in the sun and the rhythm of cycles set in motion long ago.

But reality finally had its way. It came rudely banging on my door, shredding my reverie. One dear friend after another began to have problems, serious problems. The Capitol succumbed to a murderous mob and lawmakers were unmoved. The American experiment in democracy was unraveling. It became impossible to look away.

So, hello world, I’m back.

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Make your own ricotta

Easy, fast and delicious

I’ve done a lot of experimenting in the kitchen in the time of Covid. Today I’m going to share Melissa Clark‘s instructions for making homemade ricotta. Why make ricotta, you ask, when it is so easy to buy? As Melissa says, “Because you can!” It is amazingly tasty and costs less than store-bought.

For the first try, make a small amount to see if you like it. This recipe yields about 1-½ cups.

You will need cheesecloth. Fold into four thicknesses and drape over a colander leaving a large overhang, so that when you pour the ricotta in to drain, the cheesecloth won’t fall in. Set the colander over a large bowl, but one that doesn’t let the colander touch the bottom. If the colander rests on the bottom, it will sit in liquid and it won’t drain.

Ingredients

  • 1 quart WHOLE milk (it makes a difference)
  • ½ cup of heavy cream
  • ¼ cup of whole yogurt
  • ½ teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1-½ teaspoons of lemon juice.*

Put everything into a large pot over medium-high heat and whisk to blend. When it begins to boil, lower to simmer and stir occasionally so it doesn’t stick.

Watch for bubbles along the edges. The curds will begin to form. Pour into your prepared colander. (If you like large curds, simmer another 1-2 minutes.) Drain until it looks like ricotta. Voilà!

You can save the whey for other uses, including a facial.

*Or vinegar: white wine, distilled or cider

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Never two without three

After two misadventures, my husband’s Italian mother used to say, “Non c’è due senza tre.”

The trio of mishaps began last night before dinner.

I tried to slice an onion with a mandolin, but the onion rings kept slipping around. Inefficient. So I sliced thinly by hand, slowly and carefully not to cut myself, though not without knocking over a glass of water by my elbow. Spilled water is a nuisance, but it is easily taken care of.

I proceeded to sauté the onion with garlic and rosemary, adding 2 pounds of coarsely chopped tomatoes and some anchovies when the onions were really limp. As the tomatoes softened and lost their shape, I added the pork chops that I had previously seared. Then I put the whole heavy mess into the oven — a really hot oven. A few minutes later, when the meat should have been cooked through, I opened the oven door to check.

My oven is about 30 years old and I live very close to the sea, so the salt air and the humidity have wreaked their havoc. The shelves don’t slide easily and the door sticks, requiring a mighty heave. The saucepan was really heavy and my arm is still weak, not fully recovered from surgery. I had a hard time grasping the single handle of the very hot and large sauté pan and could barely lift it. Moving it to the counter proved to be too much. The pan slipped in my grip and slopped half the meal on the counter, to the floor and everything in between. The cleanup was … well, extensive. Meanwhile, the meat stayed in the sizzling pan.

By the time I finally served dinner, the sauce was still delicious, but the chops were overcooked. And then my husband said, “Non c’è due senza tre.”

Superstition. The rest of the evening was unremarkable.

The next morning, everything seem to be going well. Pretty well, that is, until I tried to join my Zoom partner. The URL stayed stuck and nothing happened. I left the desktop computer, which is often slow, and went downstairs to my laptop, but that didn’t work either. I resorted to the cell phone, and when my call wouldn’t go through, I tried texting. No dice. By that time, it finally dawned on me that the wireless was not connecting.

I decided to wait it out with the distraction of a good read. Sometimes it behooves us to acknowledge and yield to force majeure.

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Coronavirus News

Princess Sofia of Sweden
  • Princess Sophia of Sweden became a medical assistant to aid in the fight against the novel coronavirus and is now working in a hospital, cleaning and cooking.
  • Trending on Twitter: #ObamaCommencement2020. President Barack Obama is being besieged by thousands of high school and college seniors who want him to deliver a national, online commencement address to the Class of 2020. Because of social distancing and quarantine the students will will be deprived of the traditional graduations and proms. “In an unprecedented time, it would give us great comfort to hear your voice,” tweeted high-school senior Lincoln Debenham, 17. His tweet has been liked by 218,500 and retweeted 44,400 times.

  • Respirators may not be the ideal treatment for Covid-19, as evidenced by the 80 percent mortality rate of patients on ventilators in New York City. Some doctors argue that respirators do more harm than good. The high mortality rate may also be due to the scarcity of lung specialists. It takes special training to master the subtle adjustments required. Covid-19 patients have lung damage that may not respond well to mechanical respiration. AP News
  • President Trump is encouraging resistance against quarantine and social distancing in states where his supporters have been clamoring for “liberation” from these restrictions. In a series of tweets, he also specifically names– in all caps– states with Democratic governors who want to extend these measures and delay “reopening.” The Democratic governors are heeding doctors who warn that quarantine and social distancing are resulting in fewer hospitalizations and that discontinuing them too soon will result in a new wave of infections. It seems that Trump embraces tactics that will, he believes, jumpstart the economy (to improve his chances for reelection), though they are potentially harmful to the public.

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Bullets vs gender

On March 16, Rep. Steve King (R-IA) posted this inflammatory image on his Facebook page. A member of the US Congress, sworn to uphold and defend the Constitution, King implicitly endorsed a new War Between the States. Yes, you read that correctly. 

King has a long history of making provocative assertions, racial and cultural insults. He uses racist language, demeans Latinos, demonizes Muslims, and promotes neo-Nazis and white supremacists on Twitter. He has a confederate flag on his desk. Long before Trump made building a border wall, eliminating birthright citizenship and persecuting undocumented immigrants the pillars of his presidential campaign, Steve King had embraced these positions. 

In an interview with The New York Times last January, King said, “White nationalist, white supremacist, Western civilization — how did that language become offensive?” That was the final straw. The Republican leadership had given King a by for years. It was politically expedient. The Iowan was a kingmaker. But finally those remarks cost him his committee assignments. The Republicans may have found their spines because the election was over.

The differences between Republicans and Democrats have never been so stark, the parties so hostile to each other. The country is increasingly more polarized, to an extent most reasonable non-extremists never thought possible. So much so that I am no longer sure a civil war couldn’t become a reality. We already have violence and aggression, shameful disrespect and outright hatred of the Other, i.e., people with brown skin or opposing viewpoints. Mass shootings are now commonplace.

Without a leader to show the way, but instead with a president who personifies intolerance, exacerbates ill will and incites violence, American democracy is on its way towards morphing into a repressive regime, even without a coup or an insurrection. 


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Everyday Life

Ben East Books

The novelist is exhausted. Whole worlds suggest themselves to her but that is all. The worlds do not appear. They do not come ready-made. They do not exist. They require focus and time and attention. The worlds must be pulled forth. Forged.

The novelist is exhausted. Characters whisper in his ear and run through caverns in his mind. They are mere glimpses, shadows that must be captured, examined, and word by word turned from slip and sliver into clay.

The novelist is exhausted. The worlds and characters must palpitate, conflict, concur, act and react, breath and bleed and weep.

The novelist is exhausted because the details that join these things require consciousness as they tarry in the unconscious, wistful faeries concealed by too much darkness or masked by the squint of too much light. The glimmer and the shadow must be shaded or lit just so.

The novelist can’t show…

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Cut Joe Manchin some slack

JoeManchinMany Democrats are excoriating  Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) for betraying Democrats by voting yes to confirm Judge Brett Kavanaugh for the Supreme Court. Gail Collins, for example, writes in the NYTimes

Joe Manchin, the West Virginia Democrat, didn’t care and took a dive. It’s a real shame. This is a senator whose he-man image is so critical to his identity that he always runs campaign ads in which he shoots offensive legislation with a rifle.

I admire and follow Collins, but this is just wrong-headed.

First, the easy part. Manchin is a West Virginian. Like most people in his state, Manchin believes people have a right to own and carry guns. By shooting a rifle in his campaign ads, Manchin cements his relationship with his constituents. He has, however, bucked his party by opposing legislation that would impose restrictions on automatic weapons sales and a bill that would ban high-capacity magazines.

More important is the fact that West Virginia is the state that gave Trump his greatest margin in 2016, and Manchin is up for re-election in a few weeks. He is ahead in the polls, but if he had voted against Kavanaugh, he would very likely lose his seat in November. Democrats can’t take that risk if they want to win control of the Senate. By gaining the majority, Democrats would also control all the committees. Imagine how Kavanaugh would have fared if Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) had chaired the Senate Judicial Committee with a Democratic majority. (see Only 2 Republican votes to defeat Kavanaugh?)

Once Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) announced her vote in favor of Kavanaugh, his confirmation was assured. It would have been incredibly stupid for Manchin to sacrifice himself on the altar of a lost cause.

Now that the votes are in, the issue is a little more complicated. Kavanaugh was confirmed 50-48. He had 49 Republican votes plus Manchin’s one. Two Republican senators did not vote. One was Steve Daines (R-MT). He had previously announced that he would be at his daughter’s wedding on Saturday, the day of the vote. The other senator was Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), the only Republican with the courage to buck her party. She had announced that she couldn’t support Kavanaugh. But Murkowski didn’t vote no, as expected. She didn’t vote. I suspect she didn’t want to be the deciding vote, the only Republican to vote against Kavanaugh. If Collins had voted no, Murkowski and Manchin and possibly others could have covered each other by voting no together.

As it turned out, if Manchin had voted with the Democrats, the vote would have been tied, 49-49, and Vice President Mike Pence would have broken the tie, giving Kavanaugh his confirmation. Manchin’s vote would not have made a difference.

 

 

 

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And now, Justice Kavanaugh

KavSneerCropsusan_collins_official_photo-e1538799982930.jpg

 

Senator Susan Collins (R-ME) put the icing on the cake. The confirmation was baked in long ago: the path to a fifth conservative seat on the Supreme Court was in the works for at least 30 years. (Remember Karl Rove’s dream of a permanent Republican majority?)

Before Dr. Christine Basley Ford described the sexual assault she had suffered in high school at a specially convened hearing of the Senate Judicial Committee, the Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) vowed that the Senate would “plow” through to a certain confirmation. But when Ford described her ordeal, she moved and impressed not only the senators, but the president, with her authenticity. Judge Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation no longer looked like a sure thing.

Then Kavanaugh testified. Red-faced, he wept and he raged. Furious, he accused the Democrats of plotting a “calculated and orchestrated political hit,” fueled by “pent-up anger about President Trump and the 2016 election.” But “what goes around comes around,” he said, apparently foreseeing vengeful retribution against the Democrats.

Following the hearing, people were appalled at Kavanaugh’s injudicious lack of control, his partisanship, fury and unseemly demeanor. The American Bar Association and the Yale Law School withdrew their endorsements pending a further investigation by the FBI. Close to 1,000 professors of law wrote to the Senate that Kavanaugh lacks the judicial temperament required for a seat on the Supreme Court.

The Republicans, all men, identified with Kavanaugh. They said they believed Ford had been sexually assaulted, yet contrived a way to exonerate Kavanaugh and justify voting for him. They began to poke holes in Ford’s testimony, pointing to her inability to remember details such as the address of the house, who took her home and the like. The people Ford named as being at the party couldn’t recall the party, much less the attack. All the evidence the senators chose to examine was gleaned from the severely limited FBI investigation. It was not enough to identify Kavanaugh as Ford’s aggressor. There was only Ford’s word. It didn’t occur to the men that a woman who had been sexually assaulted would have a powerful and excruciatingly present memory of the event, if not the superfluous details, while others present would have no reason to remember what was for them one unremarkable party among many. Once again, the woman was silenced, her searing testimony almost beside the point.

Within days, the debate shifted. Kavanaugh’s lack of judicial temperament, his lying under oath and his fierce partisanship replaced the sexual assault as the principal reasons to deny him a lifelong seat on the Supreme Court.

In the end, however, Kavanaugh’s unsuitability was tamped down by the overwhelming desire to hold on to power. Republicans have an extremely thin majority in the Senate. In the event of a Democratic victory in the imminent midterm elections, they would lose not only one or both houses of Congress, but the ability to establish a conservative majority in the Court that could endure for decades to come.

So Ford exposed her private torment to the world, and for what? For nothing, as she herself had feared?

Well, no, not entirely. Women heard her and their own buried traumas rose to torment them. All across the country women clamored to bear witness. They marched and spoke and wrote and pounded on the doors of their representatives. 

Many men listened to them. Amazed by their number, they confessed they had no idea that sexual assault was such a widespread problem. The #metoo phenomenon, just a year old, came roaring back.

Now that women’s and Democrats’ efforts have failed to prevent the elevation to a lifetime appointment of a judge whose convictions threaten the progress already made, what comes next?

Keep striving. We have to believe that though we have undoubtedly suffered a setback, we have the strength to reclaim lost ground and continue to advance into a more equitable future for all Americans.

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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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Just a little note from your “enemy”

via Just a little note from your “enemy.”

So you heard that four journalists and a sales associate were gunned down on Thursday at the Capital Gazette Newspaper in Annapolis, Maryland.

A man armed with a shotgun stormed an office building and opened fire into the paper’s newsroom in the middle of the afternoon, sending people running in fear, diving under their desks and praying for their lives.

The man who’s accused of this horrible crime had a vendetta against the paper for printing a story about him years earlier. He wrote about his rage against the paper and the reporter who wrote the story on social media quite frequently leading up to the attack.

As a result of his anger and hatred, five people who got up to go to work to do their jobs — just like you do — are dead. Their families, friends and colleagues (their second families) are now left with a huge void.

It’s senseless. It’s sad. And it’s an attack on the free press — yes I said free, please reread your Constitution. The section listed “First Amendment.”

But it’s not the only attack, as you well know. As a journalist, I’ve been labeled an “enemy” of the people. I’m accused of producing “fake news.” So says the leader of the free world, who regularly uses his platform to discredit, malign and vilify journalists. And the message, unfortunately, reaches vast numbers of people who agree and emulate this behavior.

Continue reading…

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June 29, 2018 · 12:19 PM

#ENOUGH! #NEVER AGAIN!

March For Our Lives, Washington, DC, March 24, 2018

Washington, D.C. and the entire country received a powerful lesson in civics today. Democracy worked. Hundreds of thousands, if not a million, students bonded into an unstoppable movement that is determined to change America.

The passion and the eloquence of the Parkland students was as moving and inspiring as it was astounding. They and the other young speakers at the March for our Lives rally captured the nation and people all over the world. Their tears welled up, remembering friends and siblings who were mowed down. The crowd wept with them. Only someone with a heart of stone could fail to be moved.

They hammered the politicians who support the N.R.A. and also the ones who don’t commit themselves. There was no mention of Democrats or Republicans, though they did single out a Republican senator. The Parkland students pinned price tags of $1.05 to their jackets. That is what they calculated the life of each student in Florida is worth to the Florida government. It’s the amount collected by Sen. Marco Rubio from the N.R.A. divided by the number of students in his state.

David Hogg

“The cold grasp of corruption shackles the District of Columbia,” declared 17-year-old David Hogg. Again and again, the students vowed, “We will vote you out!” threatening retribution at the ballot box for politicians who don’t support a meaningful program of gun control and safety.

Stoneman Douglas survivor Delaney Tarr scoffed at the STOP School Violence and Fix NICS Acts. “We are not here for bread crumbs; we are here for real change,” she said. “We are here to lead, we are here to call out every single politician to force them into enacting this legislation.”

Hogg continued, “They haven’t even gotten started, and we have.” Hogg personifies the audacity and authority of the mantle he and his comrades have assumed. They know they are leading the charge. “We are the future, and we will vote!”

Naomi Wadler

The intelligence and the poise of the students was amazing. Naomi Wadler, an 11-year-old girl, was one of the most polished and eloquent. She said she represented “the African-American girls whose stories don’t make the front page of every national newspaper” and “who are simply statistics.” Responding to a charge that she’s “the tool of an adult,” she avowed that isn’t true. “My friends and I might still be 11, we might still be in elementary school, but we know,” she said. “We know life isn’t equal for everyone and we know what is right and wrong. We also know that we stand in the shadow of the Capitol and we know that we have seven short years until we, too, have the right to vote.”

Trevon Bosely

Invited by the Parkland organizers, students from all over the country streamed to Washington to March for our Lives. They also were survivors of gun violence or had direct connections to the victims. Trevon Bosely, 19, came from Chicago, where his brother was gunned down while leaving church. He looked out at the crowd. We are all a family, he said, a family united in pain, hope and determination to change. “We are survivors not only of gun violence, but of silence,” he said, condemning the apathy of the adults who have done little to stop the violence.

Edna Chavez

The diversity and the unity of the students was as impressive as it was moving. Latina Edna Chavez remonstrated against the demeaning of and violence against her brown and black colleagues and black men shot by the police in South Central Los Angeles. She insisted that armed teachers, metal detectors and transparent backpacks are not the answer. They don’t work, she said.

Bosely deplored the meager resources allotted to his school and neighborhood in Chicago, charging that lack of funding in black communities leads to unemployment and contributes to gun violence.

Stoneman Douglas survivor Jaclyn Corin showed she understood that the violence endured by Chavez and Bosely is a national problem. “We recognize that Parkland received more attention because of its affluence,” she said. “But we share this stage today and forever with those communities who have always stared down the barrel of a gun.”

Samantha Fuentes begins to feel ill

A friend comes to the rescue

Feeling better

Samantha Fuentes, recovered

Samantha Fuentes was wounded at the Parkland school shooting, and her face still bears the scars. Fuentes was midway into her speech when an attack of nerves overcame her and she turned away from the podium to vomit. A black girl came to the white girl’s side to steady and comfort her friend. Fuentes regained her composure, exclaiming, “I just threw up on international television, and it feels great!” and continued her speech smiling and confident, with her friend at her side.

Emma González, crying silently

Emma González and friend, hands clenched

Three Parkland students have become the faces of the movement. David Hogg and Cameron Kasky declared the beginning of a revolution. Emma González began to speak out the day after the shooting. In her speech at the rally, she remembered the 17 victims of the infamous attack. She finished naming them, tears streaming down her face, and grew silent. After a few minutes, the crowd began to chant her name. She remained stony-faced and silent. They quieted down for a few minutes, then attempted another chant, followed by silence and tears. The awkward and uncomfortable silence lasted six minutes, 20 seconds, the time González said the shooter took to terrorize, wound and kill the Stoneman Douglas students. Correction. See @Emma4Change below

I am unspeakably proud of these kids. If they are the future of America, then we are not doomed, as I feared. They have given me hope.

Yolanda Scott

The rally was reminiscent of past movements led by young people. Civil rights, the Viet Nam war, women’s rights, gay rights— movements that snowballed until they succeeded in attaining the change they demanded.

Martin Luther King Jr., whose activism changed the nation forever, was reincarnated in the person of his nine-year-old granddaughter, Yolanda Scott. “My grandfather had a dream,” she said. “I have a dream that enough is enough and that this should be a gun-free world. Period.”

And the President spent the day golfing at his club in Florida.

The signs were left outside the empty White House

Survivor schools bond

Real Quick: my speech today was abt 6 mins & 30 secs, including both my speech and my silence. The fact that people think the silence was 6 minutes… imagine how long it would have felt if it actually was 6 minutes, or how it would feel if you had to hide during that silence

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More on Trump’s parade

Retired Army Major General Paul D. Eaton reacted on VoteVets.org to the parade being planned by “a wannabe banana republic strongman.”

Donald Trump has continually shown himself to have authoritarian tendencies, and this is just another worrisome example.

For someone who just declared it was “treasonous” to not applaud him, and for someone who has, in the past, admired tactics of everyone from Saddam Hussein to Vladimir Putin, it is clear that a military parade isn’t about saluting the military – it’s about making a display of the military saluting him.

The military is not Donald Trump’s to use and abuse in this way. Our military is the very best in the world – they are not to be reduced to stagecraft to prop up Donald Trump’s image. Any commander in chief who respects the traditions of the military would understand that.

Unfortunately, we do not have a commander in chief, right now, as much as we have a wannabe banana republic strongman.

@realDonaldTrump has blocked @VoteVets, an organization of 500,000 veterans, military families, & supporters.

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Pink Pussyhats

Streaming out of the subway in waves of pink exuberance, New York City women had lost none of the energy from last year’s Women’s March. Signs abounded, screaming opposition to Donald Trump and the harm his decisions have done to American life and the welfare of the planet. America is a nation of immigrants, so DACA and immigration were major themes. Women’s rights— #MeToo, abortion and pay parity— were the other main focus.

There were people in costume, like the man covered with dollar bills and other currencies, all splattered with blood. They were bands. One had a tuba, clarinets, saxophones, a trombone, a melodica, tambourines and, of course, drums. Another was all drums, played by women in blue, dancing and drumming. Fogo Azul (blue fire) wore blue pussy hats. They had everyone in earshot moving and dancing.

Many creative, artistic signs.

“A woman’s place is in the House, the Senate, the White House.”

It doesn’t say ‘Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled Norwegians yearning to breathe free.'”

We all enjoyed ourselves, but we appreciated

“Resign. Don’t make me march again.”

The march was scheduled to begin at 71st St. and Columbus Avenue at 11 a.m. My group met at 66th and Columbus at 11:30. By that time,, Central Park West, the main route, was inaccessible from the side streets, so the March was directed up Columbus to join the mainstream on Central Park West. It took us three hours to reach Central Park West at 77th St. A policeman told me that people had to march to 91st St. to reach the end of the line.

The procession began to move a little faster as the shadows lengthened and people peeled off.

At 4 o’clock I was the only one of my party left. I reached Columbus Circle (59th St.) and the spirit was willing, but the flesh was weakening. I told myself it was okay not to continue. I had, after all, marched 22 blocks in three hours only to return to my starting point. I wish I’d had a seat in the helicopter overhead to see the barely moving double flow of enthusiastic people waving signs and making music in a huge demonstration of solidarity.

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An sea of pink, pussy-hatted women of all ages–
babies

 

 

to grandmas–

Not every pussyhat was worn by a woman.
Although the vast majority of marchers were women, supporting men took part too.

 

 

 

Of the several themes, the most consistent, the one that tied the others together, was anti-Trump anger.

His boastful claim that when he sees an attractive woman he “grabs her by the pussy” was of course the inspiration for the pussy hat.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There were little pussycats

Big cats roared in defiance.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Covered with bloodied currency, this figure embodied scandal and corruption:

Rounding up the usual suspects for Special Counsel Robert Mueller:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Votes, instead of pussies, were proposed for grabbing instead.

Getting out the vote to defeat Republicans and Trump in particular was a popular theme. 

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

Woman power.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There were references to #MeToo.

Plunder of the Earth was a pressing concern.

And the music played and the marchers danced.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And of course, the Trump Shutdown.

 

Trump’s unforgettable language.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And finally,

 

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Women’s March 2018!

Going to be a great day!3A6A1EDB-5BDC-49D2-B305-F2CC523CB637

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Russian oligarchs and now “Baby Doc” too

Trump’s vicious smear of Haiti is coming back to bite him. 

On Monday, Haiti’s high court held an emergency session to allow the unsealing after 35 years of the documents from the indictments of former dictator “Baby Doc” Duvalier for money laundering. After three decades under wraps, the timing of their release to the public can hardly be an accident. The revelation that in 1983 Donald Trump signed the deed and accepted $446,875 in cash from the brutal and corrupt tyrant for an apartment in Trump Tower followed on the heels of Trump’s widely reported slur of the Caribbean island.

Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier in 2011
by Marcello Casal Jr

Paying cash is one indication of possible money laundering; selling to unidentified buyers or shell corporations is another.

Haiti’s president had no knowledge of the sealed documents— he learned of them through the reporting of Buzzfeed News on Trump’s likely facilitation of money laundering by Americans and wealthy foreigners through the sale of apartments in his luxury condominiums.

The report took months to prepare. BuzzFeed investigated every sale of the 22 Trump-branded condominium high rises in the United States since the 1980s. They identified more than 1,300 all-cash sales to shell companies— no mortgages, so that the buyers had no imperative to reveal their real identities or finances.

Treasury’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) in 2017 warned that

real estate transactions involving luxury property purchased through shell companies—particularly when conducted with cash and no financing—can be an attractive avenue for criminals to launder illegal proceeds while masking their identities.

BuzzFeed calculated that Trump condo sales matching the Treasury’s characteristics of possible money laundering totaled $1.5 billion. They accounted for 21% of the 6,400 Trump condos sold in the US and include Trump-branded buildings that pay the president(!) licensing fees or a percentage of the sales. BuzzFeed found that between 2008 and 2010, 11 buildings licensed by Trump sold condos to hundreds of shell companies, all paying an average of $1.2 million cash. Trump revealed in 2015, reports BuzzFeed, that his “real estate licensing deals” and other brands were worth $3.3 billion. 

Steve Bannon thinks Russian collusion won’t be Trump’s main problem with Special Counsel Robert Mueller, according to “Fire and Fury” author Michael Wolff. “You realize where this is going,” Wolff says Bannon told Trump. “This is all about money laundering.”

Early on, Trump had warned Mueller not to cross the line by investigating his or his family’s finances. Bannon reportedly scoffed at the president, pointing out that by telling a prosecutor where not to go, you direct his investigation precisely there.

As it happens, Mueller has hired Andrew Weissman, a Washington attorney who used  to head the criminal fraud division of the Justice Department. He specializes in money laundering.

Steve Bannon will testify under subpoena before a grand jury tomorrow, and after losing his position in the Trump administration, his seat on the Breitbart board, his editorship of Breitbart News, his radio show, his financial backing from the billionaire Mercer family, not to mention his close friendship with Trump, what does he have left to lose?

Stay tuned.

Correction: It is not known when Bannon will before the Grand Jury.

Update

Bannon was subpoenaed by Mueller today to appear before a grand jury, a very unusual move. Normally, a conversation (not under oath) takes place first.

In an other very unusual move, The House Intelligence Committee investigating Russian interference in the 2016 election issued a bipartisan subpoena to Bannon after he refused to answer questions in a nine-hour closed-door session. There has never been a bipartisan subpoena before.

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“Shithole countries”

When the U.S. president speaks, the world listens.

And reacts. North Korean Supreme Leader Kim Jong Un, whom Trump calls “Little Rocket Man,” in return has denounced Trump as a “mentally deranged U.S. dotard.” But the latest frenzy is another order of magnitude— not a pissing match between puerile grown men, but an odious smear of countries on two continents.

In a meeting yesterday Trump let loose when lawmakers were discussing protecting immigrants from Haiti, El Salvador and African countries as part of a bipartisan immigration deal. “Why are we having all these people from shithole countries come here?” he asked. Instead, he said, we should have more people from Norway and countries like it, i.e., whose people are white, not black or brown. In short order, the president’s words were broadcast worldwide.

Angered by the insult and mincing no words, world leaders denounced Trump as a racist. Rupert Colville, UN human rights spokesman, began by saying

There is no other word one can use but racist. You cannot dismiss entire countries and continents as ‘shitholes’, whose entire populations, who are not white, are therefore not welcome.

Vicente Fox, ex-president of Mexico said, Trump’s mouth was “the foulest shithole in the world.”

It’s incredible that Trump has been president for a year and he still hasn’t learned that everything he says is on the record. No remark or tweet goes unnoticed. We know he’s not “stable,” let alone a “genius”— not even “a very smart person,” as he tweeted:

Actually, throughout my life, my two greatest assets have been mental stability and being, like, really smart. Crooked Hillary Clinton also played these cards very hard and, as everyone knows, went down in flames. I went from VERY successful businessman, to top T.V. Star….

….to President of the United States (on my first try). I think that would qualify as not smart, but genius….and a very stable genius at that!

— @realDonaldTrump

But how can he think that people will believe his denials of something he said in front of a bunch of witnesses? No one who knows anything about Trump is so credulous as to accept his word over that of Illinois Senator Dick Durbin, who was present. The Republican lawmakers who were there didn’t back Trump, but at least they didn’t support his denial either.

Since “Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House” was published last week, it seemed the media had nothing else to write or talk about. The portrait of the president limned by author Michael Wolff is of an incompetent braggart with no knowledge of policy or history or even the Constitution. His over-riding interests are golf and making money. He hardly ever reads but he does watch hours of television every day.

But we knew all this. What is new, at least for me, are the details. I didn’t know, for example, that when he wasn’t having his usual dinner at 6:30 with Steve Bannon, Trump often would get into bed with a cheeseburger, three television screens and his telephone.

What has really caught the most attention is Wolff’s assessment that Trump is not only incompetent and unsuited for the presidency, but that his mental abilities are deteriorating. Trump repeats himself all the time, telling the same story three times in one hour. His attention span, as we already knew, is very short, a question of a few minutes.

This last brouhaha perfectly illustrates Trump’s mental deficiencies. He said something outrageous in front of a group of people. He doesn’t consider or even imagine the implications of his words and their likely effects on both the domestic and international stages. Then, when he sees the adverse reactions at home and across the globe, he attempts to recover by admitting he used “tough” language, but denying that he said what everyone now knows he said. He constantly lies and contradicts himself. Something is missing. There is no way to negotiate or reason with such a person. It’s time for Trump to go.

Republicans, grow a spine. Don’t just withdraw from the arena, resist. Fight for the Constitution and the values you swore to safeguard.

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Mental Deviants & Gun Nuts

How many more times, indeed?

Ben East Books

A dozen years ago when I worked in Saudi Arabia, the government had a habit of referring to domestic terrorists as ‘deranged’ and calling them ‘mental deviants.’ We mocked the Saudis mercilessly for it.

The Royals were denying reality. They failed to acknowledge and confront the extremist forces at loose in the Kingdom, extremist views held by murderers with the will and the means to destroy human life in large-scale attacks. In other words: terrorism conducted by terrorists.

Of course, we understood where the denial stemmed from. Saudi governing legitimacy dated to a 19th-century deal with the adherents of an 18th Century vision of Islam. To call the terrorists what they were — terrorists — would have been to condemn and alienate the traditional Saudi power base.

So ‘deranged’ and ‘mental deviants’ it was.

In today’s America we are witnessing a similarly ludicrous pandering to extremist elements devoted to archaic notions…

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They still don’t get it

In these post-Harvey Weinstein days with the #MeToo backlash against the men who have sexually abused them, women are speaking out after decades of simmering anger, resigned silence, and injury that never completely heals.

Men who used their positions of power to rob a child of her innocence or ruin a young woman’s career or deprive her of her livelihood are now losing their own jobs and being stripped of the power they used to coerce those women to indulge their lechery. Celebrity no longer shields Hollywood’s power elite or media moguls. They are disgraced and unceremoniously kicked off their pedestals.

But there is one group of men that still insists on blaming the victim. Every male Republican officeholder who doesn’t plan to resign insists on qualifying his disapproval of Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore’s abuse (“if true”) of an underage girl. (Moore has the dubious distinction of having been removed from the bench twice as Alabama Chief Justice for defying federal law and the Constitution.)

If true“? What kind of proof do they need? A stained dress hidden in a closet, uncleaned, for years? These men don’t understand that it’s not about proof. They don’t get that it’s about acknowledging women as full persons in their own right and according them even more respect than they’d give to a man, because women’s reputations are more easily sullied. It takes courage to reveal sexual violation.

Alabama Republicans rebut Moore’s accusers. A sampling: “Total contrived media garbage” (former chairman of the Mobile County Republican Party John Skipper); “Mary was a teenager and Joseph was an adult carpenter. They became parents of Jesus.” State Auditor Jim Ziegler— invoking the Bible in defense of a pedophile.

Some men are apologizing. Louis C.K. released a brutally honest statement in which he admits to everything his accusers describe and expresses what sounds like genuine remorse for taking advantage of his power and for the hurt he caused. Other men, like Roy Moore, who fondled, groped and leered at women, who taunted them with lascivious language or exposed themselves and coerced women to witness lewd acts, deny the charges. Some, like Donald Trump, minimize and dismiss them as “locker room talk.”

These men don’t understand that even if a woman has no tangible proof of abuse, her hurt and shame persist years later. They don’t understand that more enlightened men now accept that a woman is raped because of her attacker’s depravity, not the tightness of her dress or the length of leg showing beneath it.

Perhaps they will begin to see the light when they notice women like Democrat Laura Curran triumphing over the entrenched male Republican establishment. Curran and other Democrats swept into office last week in strongly Republican Nassau County, NY. In New Jersey, Republican John Carman’s dismissive tweet in which he wondered if the Women’s March would be “over in time for them to cook dinner” provoked so much anger in Ashley Bennett that she decided to run for office. In her first-ever electoral race, the Democrat wiped out the incumbent Republican Carman.

Wake up and smell the coffee, Republicans. Women are on the march and they are angry.

 

 

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Attorney General Sessions has a tell

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Sines of the times

ttps://twitter.com/alisongriswold/status/855795690462695425/photo/1

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Smart kid, cool sign!

Seen at Earth Day / Science march CoolEarth

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Customer Service with a smile

We all know what it’s like to be frustrated, speaking very slowly and clearly to someone with only a rudimentary mastery of English, only to realize that you aren’t going to get the help you needed in the first place. And that’s only after listening to a pitch or instructions you don’t need or annoying music, and then punching buttons on a phone menu, one after another, only to end up being told (by a robot) to go to the website for answers to a problem not covered by the menu.

[Tip: I have found a shortcut that often works: either I speak either gibberish or rapid-fire insulting comments like, “Of course you don’t understand. You’re a machine! I want to speak to a human being!” etc. Or “Representative. Agent.” over and over. After a few robotic responses (“I’m sorry, I don’t understand”) I usually am redirected to a person who may or may not have the resources to answer my query.]

How delightful it was this afternoon to have my call immediately answered by a real person, one who spoke flawlessly and understood the problem after I described it just once. She appeared to be genuinely friendly, because I could tell (as one always can) that she was smiling on the other end.

This is an unabashed plug for sureflap.com, the maker of the Surefeed Microchip Pet Feeder. The device is ingenious and effective: it allows only one, specific, microchipped pet to eat from it, closes when that pet withdraws and refuses to open for any other animal. (Very handy when one pet is on a special diet and the other one wolfs down everything in sight). After 14 months of continuous use, however, it began to fail until a few weeks later it stopped working altogether. The device is very expensive for a pet feeder, and I expected it to last much longer. Ergo, the phone call to the number posted on the Sureflap website.

And here’s the kicker: not only was the representative responsive and friendly, she verified that I was a customer, via Amazon, and immediately ordered another to be delivered to me. That’s service the way it should be!

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Democracy still lives

trumpangryIn the Age of Trump, many of the people who couldn’t imagine him president now fear for the survival of American democracy. Far from making America great, Trump is undermining and attacking the institutions that made America great. He has railed against the independent judiciary, firing the acting attorney general and impugning judges who thwarted his attempt to impose a discriminatory travel ban. The ban took the form of an executive order that violated the Constitution in various ways, including the contravention of freedom of religion. Trump has declared war on the press, whose freedom is guaranteed by the First Amendment, for the reason that it is playing its essential role in a democracy. Trump and his family are profiting from his position. The press is investigating illegal and suspicious acts and attempts to cover them up by the members of Trumpworld. Fake news! cries Trump with each new leak.

Every day brings new revelations of conversations and relationships between Trump and members of his administration with Russians connected to the Russian government or Putin himself. U.S. intelligence services have irrefutable proof that Russia attempted to influence the election in favor of Trump. It is becoming apparent that Trump and an increasing number of his associates have relationships with Russia that they have tried to conceal, even under oath, as Jeff Sessions did during his confirmation hearing for the post of attorney general.

If all the contacts with Russia that are surfacing are innocuous, why lie about them? Why is Trump so dismissive of the Russian tentacles winding around him and reaching deep into his administration? After it was clear that Michael Flynn had not only undercut then-President Obama by improperly divulging information to the Russians but denied having done so, why did it take more than two weeks for Trump to decide Flynn couldn’t continue as national security adviser? In view of Russia’s meddling in the election, why are most Republicans still supportive of Trump and his tarnished cohort and reluctant to appoint a special counsel? Many questions to be asked and answered.

I have sketched only the barest account of the subversion of democracy that we are witnessing today. Long before any indication of Russian influence and possible collusion, the attempted censoring of the press and the Muslim ban, I worried very much about Trump’s despotic ability to mesmerize a crowd, his erratic nature, his ignorance about the fundamentals of government, his cluelessness about economics and foreign affairs and especially his totalitarian admiration for authority. Long ago I recognized the peril in Trump’s unlikely but steady ascendancy. Democracy is fragile, I thought. I kept thinking of the complacency of the German Jews who believed “it can’t happen here.” But it is happening here. This time has no precedent and this presidency is like no other, I read time and time again. I am not at all happy to see my prescience being confirmed.

But, after all the hand-wringing, a comforting thought came to me. Democracy is still functioning as it should. The judiciary stood up to Trump. Citizens rebelled. First they flooded the airports to protest the holding of people for hours without being charged or tried. At every airport lawyers volunteered to represent immigrants and their families who were bewildered at best and tortured at worst,. U.S. attorneys filed suits against Trump’s order and with a temporary victory, they obtained a lull in the proceedings that allowed the courts to establish some order.

Beginning with the Women’s March the day after Trump’s inauguration, people are exercising their right to assemble peacefully and petition the government. The continuing protests, unprecedented in number and size, are in every town of every state. Citizens demand town halls with their congressmen/women where they demonstrate their anger and call for action. They know who represents them in Washington and they call to register their opinions. More people than ever before are deciding to run for office.

The free press now comprises all the media. Newspaper journalism is augmented by television, cable, radio and social media. Reporters are vying with each other to investigate and publish the truth behind the prevarications of the Trump administration.

But this is a race against time. Trump will be filling judicial vacancies with his own appointees, and it will become increasingly difficult to resist his policies and expose the lies and misdirection.

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Mulling it over two days later

In the immediate hours after the election, I was reeling and I wrote something I regret. I realize it’s not true:

It’s over now. It’s over for Hillary and for many of her contemporaries who fought so hard for civil and women’s rights and were finally closing in on the unattainable prize. That cohort may not live to see a woman in the White House.

It’s never over. Hillary won’t be president, but she’s not going to stay home and bake cookies. She never has. I am confident she will continue to serve.

As for her contemporaries, they’re not staying on the sidelines either. It’s time to plan for the next election. Elizabeth Warren, where are you?

As for the rest, be active and get involved! That’s how you make a difference.

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Earthrise and Saturn closeup

I was exploring Quartz and came upon these breath-taking images.

Our Blue Marble, seen at dawn, rising from the moon, is an awesome sight.

by Japan’s Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA). Taken by the Kaguya lunar orbiter

by Japan’s Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA). Taken by the Kaguya lunar orbiter.

A reverse view of Saturn, made by combining 165 images, reveals additional, fainter rings around the planet.

A reverse view of Saturn, made by combining 165 images, revealed additional, fainter rings around the planet. (NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute)

(NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute)

Saturn, its shadow and its rings
A view of Saturn from its night side. Even when not directly in front of the sun, its rings still reflect light around the planet.

A view of Saturn from its night side. Even when not directly in front of the sun, its rings still reflect light around the planet. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute)

(NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute)

 

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Hermine, the hurricane that blew us off

Dune BreakersWeathermen anticipated Hermine, or Hermione, as I like to call her, with a lot of hype because of the havoc she left in her wake as she roared through the Southeast. Then she drifted out to sea and blew past Long Island, but not without livening summer’s last hurrah. The hurricane that wasn’t inspired a happening on the beach. The curious formed a steady stream of arrivals and departures.

Breakers, Girl

As the wind picked up over the Labor Day weekend, she drew young and old, mostly with cameras, all in awe of the storm and enjoying the rowdy bravado of the surf.

 

Photographers

Photographers

With rows of breakers she washed over the sand, almost reaching the dunes, and offered photo ops all afternoon. (What happened to the abandoned tripod?)

Foam

The sun set and the moon rose late, but the ocean, undismayed, continued its assault on the beach without an audience.

 

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Naples in Capri

Bay of Naples with Castel dell'Ovo and Vesuvius

Bay of Naples with Castel dell’Ovo backgrounded by Vesuvius

It’s August in Naples. This fascinating city is a little too hot for my taste, but the food is delicious as always and the traffic is a little lighter, as it is also in New York, because so many have fled the hot streets.

Traffic may be lighter in the city as locals decamp, seeking respite from the urban hustle and bustle, but the traffic has merely migrated with them. In Capri, backed-up cars with impatient drivers honk their horns to little avail. They jam narrow streets and lanes meant for a quieter and slower way of life, for pedestrians, mules and the occasional horse-drawn cart.

The striking change in scenery, however, is restorative, and a dip in the water close by, exhilarating — if you’re lucky enough to find a parking spot.

I wrote the rest of this post last February, after a death in the family drew us to Naples for an unexpected sojourn. I found it languishing in the drafts pile.

It was time to go home. Elvira came to the hotel to say good-bye. We had breakfast, enjoying each other’s company for the third time in four days, We hadn’t seen each other in years, but there are bonds that distance doesn’t daunt.

Castel dell'Ovo and its little port at Santa Lucia

Castel dell’Ovo and its little port in Santa Lucia

Elvira accompanied us part way to the airport. She left us at Santa Lucia, one of the most sublime and photographed spots in Naples. It the site of a tiny port nestled in the embrace of a 15th-century castle.

The taxi driver, jovial and outgoing, joined the party when the conversation turned to soccer, the Neapolitan passion. When asked which team he roots for, the driver was somewhat taken aback.”Napoli, of course.”

The entire city was ecstatic. Naples had scored a 5-1 victory in the last game, rising to first-place standing. There wasn’t a conversation that didn’t quickly turn to that fabulous game and the possibility of winning the championship. My husband volunteered that his team is Juve, nickname for Naples’s arch rival. “And I thought you were such a good guy,” said Luigi, the driver. “I never imagined that you could be Juventino.”

A little more back-and-forth, until Sal admitted he could never be anything but a fan of Napoli.

“Good thing. I was about to drop you off right here,” said Luigi. He regaled us with tales about his adventures as a taxi driver until we reached the airport.

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Special Black Cat

Zulu

Yesterday was National Black Cat Appreciation Day. I’m a little late to the party because my life is complicated, but I don’t want the occasion to go unmarked. My Zulú is too dear.

He’s home with a crippled sitter. It wasn’t supposed to be that way, but three days before our departure, the cat sitter skyped from Norway to say that she’d suffered a bad sprain and a fracture on her ankle and was now on crutches. And what did I want to do? Well, since she doesn’t have to walk the cats as she would if I had dogs instead, and since we had to leave, I asked her to come anyway. So she requested a wheelchair from the airline, hobbled in and slept in the living room the night before we left. We found out she’s a vegetarian of the pescetarian variety and also has an extreme aversion to gluten, so feeding her was a little knotty. But she’s very good natured and we’re all good sports, so that seems to be working.

I’m writing this from the airport, filling in three unexpected hours as our plane was late and we missed the connection by minutes. Traveling today is not for the faint-hearted.

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One of life’s great joys

Today I spent a wonderful afternoon with the daughter of a close friend.AmyFishing

I lost Rona 10 years ago to cancer. She was generous, creative, loving — a truly special person. The pain of losing her is still acute. But when I see Amy flourishing — how beautiful she is, inside and out, how wise and warm, I think of how proud her mother would be.

I also feel a great loss: Rona didn’t watch Amy evolve from an insecure young girl to a confident, successful professional. Amy’s loss is of course even greater than mine, a vacuum that can’t ever be filled.

 

I’m thankful that Amy and I are friends and that we can laugh and cry together over our shared memories.

 

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