I don’t know how your day went, but I met one (unknown) presidential candidate and was interviewed twice – once by a videographer for Scripps, then by a print reporter for the Union-Leader. And that was before I’d finished breakfast. To live in Manchester during primary week is to be immersed – no, saturated – in political campaigning.

Thus began my first morning in Manchester, this visit. It had snowed overnight, about three inches, so my trip to the Red Arrow Diner took place in the clean hush of a new blanket. The walk to this culinary mecca from my lodgings, about three-fourths of a mile, is downhill and I had to take care not to suddenly travel faster than intended. (The return, uphill, is good for working off one’s meal.) Point of honor: prior to walking to breakfast I shoveled out the driveway of my airbnb house, to permit a later rapid exit to the events of the day.

Settling in at the counter of the Red Arrow, I could see a fellow a few seats down from me holding forth, surrounded by media types. This, I learned, was Joe Walsh, a Republican conservative running against Donald Trump in the Republican primary. (I hadn’t known the GOP was even holding a primary. It turns out former Massachusetts Governor Bill Weld also is running, to the left of Trump.) I said hi to Mr. Walsh. Walsh is a former Illinois congressman, elected in the Tea Party wave of 2010 and defeated two years later, after which he was a conservative radio host. He backed Trump in 2016 but was disillusioned by the prez’s cozy relationship with Mr. Putin. Walsh calls Trump ‘morally unfit’ and a ‘danger to the country.’ Can’t argue with that.

I love the idea of someone running against Trump from the right but the chances of Walsh’s making even a ripple in the flow of this election cycle are zilch. (And Walsh as one might expect had his own unsavory moments, such as calling President Obama a Muslim – for which he’s now apologized. I learned that later, on looking him up.) But the man at the diner counter is a nice guy, friendly, down to earth, real. He notes sheepishly, of a waitress he apparently knows from long ago, “I used to ask her to hold my hand, when we were in school together.” She asks him if he’d go talk to a couple who have asked to meet him, and as they walk over, she holds his hand.

Joe Walsh checks his bill; plenty of cameras etc. still surrounding him

After Joe has gone, I’m approached by a young bearded man with a video camera who’s been shooting all sorts of things: backgrounds, waitresses, coffee mugs, impossibly high cream pies in glass domes. Having perhaps exhausted these, he turns to me, asks how I’m doing, whether I’m here for the primary, and so forth. He is Bo Evans and works for EW Scripps; learning where I’m from, he notes they have just acquired WPIX-TV in New York to add to their stable. He asks if he can film me as we talk about impressions of the primary, and the candidates. (Delighted! – stardom beckons.) As I hear myself talk I sound only slightly more interesting than the coffee mugs: Pete B. is a fresh face, out of nowhere; Bernie loves to campaign and his followers love him back; Iowa was a mess… blah blah.

I am a lousy interview, I’m sure. I can’t do this on the fly — I have to prepare!! I’ll spend tonight working up some catchy points, really I will, promise. But Bo is easily pleased. He comes back a bit later to get some gripping film of my eating my omelet and drinking coffee. Maybe I still have a chance.

Although it’s (highly) doubtful any of this will run on anyone’s news, Bo mentions that it will all be available via WPIX’s website. I’d be scared to look for it, but you dear readers are invited to search.

Then a print reporter, Mr. Hayward, stops by – I think his name was Bob but I didn’t write it down and my memory for names doesn’t serve. He actually has a physical pad and holds a physical pen, with which he writes stuff down on the pad. My heart warms to him, a fellow dinosaur facing electronic extinction. He’s with the Manchester (now ‘New Hampshire’) Union-Leader. I offer my impressions of candidates, only slightly improved from five minutes earlier, but practice helps. A fellow diner has an actually amusing anecdote of literally bumping into Rudy Giuliani back when Rudy was trying to become president four years ago – he turned suddenly in a crowd and almost knocked Rudy down – “he’s only like four feet tall, y’know, but don’t say I said that; he’s just short and I didn’t see him.” Mr. Mayor’s bodyguards were on this fellow in a hurry, but no harm done.

I expect that if Mr. Hayward’s editor is remotely competent the Rudy anecdote has a chance of surviving and my opinions, sage though they may be, do not. Still, this is what it’s like to be here. It’s what I came for, and it’s fun.

The walk uphill is made at good pace, as I lingered over breakfast and now worry I will be late for my first scheduled event, a foreign policy ‘conversation’ of Senator Amy Klobuchar with a couple of retired generals. It opens at noon at Southern New Hampshire University, maybe a 20 minute drive away. I will talk about that in the next post, along with the second event of the day, starring Pete Buttigieg. I should be able to make it; good thing I already shoveled out the car.

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The First Thanksgiving – recollected from elementary school

Once upon a time, there was a group of people in England called the Prurient Men, but because most everybody was illiterate and not too educated like now, the rest of the people called them Puritans for short. Everybody hated the Puritans, even in England where people are pretty easy going. Most people wanted to play football, go down the pub on Saturday, and sometimes go to a new play by their friend William Shakespeare, who was a very excellent writer. But the Puritans did not want to play football or go down the pub or go see a play. All the Puritans wanted to do was wear black hats and tell everybody else that they were bad for going down the pub or playing football and they did not like plays. So after a while, everybody hated the Puritans and chased them out of England.

The Puritans went to Holland which was full of Dutch people, who were pretty easy going. The Dutch people mostly wanted to ice skate, and go down to Amsterdam on Saturday to look at the girls in the windows, and sometimes go look at a new painting by their friend Rembrandt van Rijn, who was a very excellent painter and whose last name means van Rijn. The Puritans didn’t like to do any of that either. So soon the Dutch people hated the Puritans too and chased them out of Holland.

The Puritans decided to go to the New World because they thought nobody lived there so nobody would hate them and they could mind their own business being miserable to each other. They got in a boat and crossed the Atlantic which Columbus had crossed in 1492 but he found a nice warm place with beaches and discovered it. The Puritans had bad luck and landed in Massachusetts, an Indian word that means a desolate place with high taxes. There were Indians there, which the Puritans had not expected. Later there would be Native Americans but there was no America yet so they couldn’t be, but they were Indians.

The Puritans landed in 1620 and they could tell it was 1620 because each year the Indians in those parts would carve the number of the year into a large rock and put it on the beach so all year they could tell what year it was. Then the next year they would carve another one, and replace the expired rock. This was the first calendar in Massachusetts but was not as good as the Aztecs down south because it could not tell when summer or winter started, except in Massachusetts they could tell from the weather so they didn’t need to.

Anyway it was 1620 and along came these Puritans and landed and looked around and didn’t see any Indians at first, just the rock so they knew somebody was there. It was winter and really miserable and all the Indians were inside with fires and fur blankets, but the Puritans landed even so, and soon were being miserable to each other on shore while they built houses out of wood. Eventually they built some houses and moved in and ate food they had brought with them, mostly old sandwiches that did not cheer them up much but they survived. The best thing the Puritans did for themselves mostly was survive.

In the spring the Indians came out and showed them how to plant things to grow for food like potatoes and beans but they didn’t tell them about tobacco or chocolate because they could tell the Puritans would not like that and the Puritans wore lots of black clothes even in the summer and didn’t go swimming with the Indians so the Indians could tell this was not a fun bunch.

The Indians for a long time used to paint their faces with designs like for going to a party or just for fun. The Indians saw that several of the Puritan girls had a red ‘A’ painted on their forehead so they took this to mean these girls were sort of Indians-in-Training and they invited them to their parties. The Puritans did not appreciate this and some discussions ensued to clarify the correct interpretation, which resulted in all the Indians being killed, but that was later. (See chapter 2, “Taming the Wilderness.”)

Then it was the fall after that first year, so now we’re talking 1621 even though the Indians did not put out a new rock as the Puritans said they knew all about counting years even without rocks thank you very much. After the harvest, the Puritans felt like celebrating the fact that they had survived a year, and the Indians felt like celebrating the fact that last winter half the Puritans had died and next winter was only a few weeks away so maybe that would finish the job. So they got together for the one and only time the Puritans threw a party, even if all they brought was cooked beans and potatoes the Indians had shown them how to grow, and the Indians brought venison which is deer, and stuffing and pumpkin pie and spirits which means alcohol which they made from corn and today we call it bourbon because there were also Spanish people further south but that is separate.

Well after a while everybody around this big wooden table specially built for the occasion was feeling pretty good and the Puritans promised they would be friends of the Indians forever, and the Indians promised they wouldn’t really celebrate until all the Puritans had died, but these were each in their own language so no harm was done. Afterward the Indians tried to teach the Puritans bowling, but the Puritans were having none of it and were already feeling guilty they had given a party in the first place. Some of the Puritan girls tried to learn bowling and therefore they were witches and had to be burned but that was after the Indians left.

The Puritans survived and after many years the Indians were mostly wiped out because the Puritans and the rest of the people who showed up had to have room for lots of houses, but some Indians survived to get revenge on the Puritans by opening casinos and taking all their money ha ha.

To this day there are descendants of Puritans in that same area and they still go around making everybody miserable and all the other people hate them. This explains the New England Patriots and Boston Red Sox. And some Puritans still try to tell everybody else how to live and don’t let anybody have any fun. (See chapter 47, “The Rise of Elizabeth Warren.”)

The End

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Election Day

I haven’t posted on this blog in six months; today seems a good time to start again.

In my defense, I’d say I have been busy: traveling to Colombia and Colorado, teaching Sunday School, cleaning out the garage and basement, serving as team parent for my son’s high school baseball team, leading the John Street Insurance Association through the year. But these haven’t prevented my posting. I have not been sufficiently inspired, nor am I sufficiently disciplined to stick to a schedule. But today is Election Day, surely inspiration enough!  And by tomorrow when the results are in I’ll be too depressed, I’m sure.

One wonders whether to start with the larger problem or the smaller — my petty personal difficulties, or the fate of the nation. Best to start small, I think, and work up.

I went to vote at my local polling place, the Murray Avenue School here in Larchmont, with the simple intent of casting, for the first time in my life, a write-in vote for president. I’d tried to do my homework first online, with limited success: the instructions for New York write-in votes (on the new horrible computerized ballots ) dated from 2009.  Those instructions said to fill in the oval next to ‘write in’ and then write the name. The filled oval would alert the computer scanner that a write-in vote had been cast and in turn call for a human being later to read the name, since handwriting is beyond the machine’s ken. The instructions made sense to me.

But the actual ballot did not match the description — no oval to fill in next to the write-in space. I asked poll helpers about this, but they had never dealt with a write-in vote before. They referred me to the supervisor. He said just write in the name in the space – but also said, “New York doesn’t count write-in votes.” I informed him that was untrue. In fact, New York publishes a list of those candidates who have been certified by the state as write-ins (there are about 30 this year), and their vote totals are tabulated.

So concerned was I about having my vote count that I did not vote for any other offices — I wanted to be sure that when the machine said ‘vote successfully cast’ it must be reflecting my write-in, as there were no other marks on the ballot. So I cast a single vote for a single candidate, and let the others go: no vote for Chuck Schumer for senate (I’d never heard of  his opponent), no vote for Elliot Engel for congress (running virtually unopposed), and no votes for judges; thankfully there were no ballot measures or referenda.

What do the other races matter anyway? For all the public-spirited hoopla about voting, there are mighty few places these days where the result is not preordained.

Improved redistricting skill by state parties means that fewer and fewer congressional districts are up for grabs. This produces office holders who, responding to their constituents, are less centrist. These office holders in turn drive their parties further to the left or right, respectively, and there is less room in each party for those who are more moderate.

Ideally that should not affect the parties’ presidential candidates: the parties realize that for the top job, victory still requires 51% of the whole country’s electoral votes.  But this year, circumstances bedeviled the GOP.  Various factors led to an overpopulated Republican field:  there was no incumbent, no heir apparent, and no incumbent opponent; indeed, the presumed opponent looked very beatable.  I spent a week in New Hampshire immediately prior to their primary.  It is long ago now; at the time it was exciting and seemed tremendously promising.  But in a large field, the most newsworthy, loudest, most distinctive voice has the edge; he — that would be Mr. Trump — attracted his natural supporters and let the others split the rest.  He won with 35% of the vote.  The media, eager for viewers and listeners, happily fed the fire.  By the time the others were winnowed to one or two, it was too late.

Thus today in Mr. Trump and Ms. Clinton I faced an awful choice.  Both candidates are unworthy in personal character, and both are prone to lie almost reflexively, one to exaggerate his deeds, the other to conceal hers.  One a thorough buffoon, the other deeply corrupt.  In terms of competence to govern, there is no contest, but as her dreams for this country are not mine, Ms. Clinton’s competence is to me a negative.   The few positions she held that attracted me – voting for the Iraq war, supporting the trans-Pacific trade pact – she’s backed away from.   Oddly for two so opposite creatures, neither appears to favor increasing America’s projection of strength in the world.  She is a liberal, but Mr. Trump is no conservative; he has managed to split Hillary-loathing conservatives down the middle.

I tried hard to vote for one or the other, as I felt (still feel) that a vote for a third-party candidate is largely a wasted vote.  I finally decided I could not live with myself if I voted for either.   A quick review of the better-known third parties, the Greens and the Libertarians, confirmed my expectations that I couldn’t support either of those.  And I did not want to write in someone who is not running (e.g. John Kasich) as New York doesn’t even count votes for people it has not pre-certified as write-in candidates.  So I voted instead for someone whose chance of winning is at best minuscule.

I don’t usually publicize my vote, although I don’t keep it a secret among friends either.  But desperate times…   and if you’ve read this far, you’re entitled to know!   I voted for Evan McMullin.  Who??  Well, as Casey Stengel would say, you could look it up.

I feel good about it; glad I voted.  But Ms. Clinton will win this election.  I am very afraid of the next administration.

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Visit to A Library

One of the principal joys of being retired is that you can spend time to save time.  Back when I was gainfully employed and wanted a certain book from the library, I would go to the library here in Larchmont, usually on the weekend, and if it was not on the shelf, I’d order it by placing an inter-library request.  Usually within several days thereafter, the library would call to inform me my book had arrived, and the next time I could get there, I’d pick it up.  It’s a good system and allows readers to access books held by any library in Westchester County.

Now, however, when a book is not available at my own library, I look to see which other libraries have it on hand — then I just go there and get it.  I spend time driving to another town and back in order to save a few days’ waiting, and the libraries usually aren’t busy during daytime on a weekday.

For example, my book club currently is reading SPQR — A History of Ancient Rome, by Mary Beard, which I’m enjoying in all its grand, gory voluminousness.  I got my copy from the library in Rye, NY.  The Rye library is lovely and has good parking, but its staff, although genteel, are somewhat thuggish, and I expect any day now a Rye Police Department car will be outside my house, bearing a search warrant for the overdue item.

Yesterday I wanted to pick up Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, the Anita Loos minor classic, that I’ve never read.  My daughter is doing a paper on it, for a Modernism class, and of late I’ve tried to read some of what she is reading so I can offer my thoughts, if requested.  Recently we read Richard Wright’s Native Son which I’d escaped reading in high school or college.  It’s an in-your-face portrait of race on the South Side of Chicago, circa 1940; well done in my opinion, but I was happy to turn to the froth of Gentlemen.

The book was not available at Larchmont so I checked the catalog listing and found the two nearest copies were at the Eastchester and Mount Vernon libraries; oddly, the latter showed it under ‘nonfiction.’   A judgment call?  Sometimes there’s a fine line between fiction and history: I confess that most of what I know of the French Revolution probably is from A Tale of Two Cities, and all I know of whaling is from Moby Dick.

I drove down to Mount Vernon.  I know there are some relatively nice areas of Mount Vernon, with solid houses and apartment buildings and well-kept lawns, but I was not in them.  The way to the library took me through depressed and depressing neighborhoods where every building looked grimy and decaying, sidewalks were littered, streets potholed, and, to my chagrin, most intersections devoid of street signs.  I finally got my bearings at the corner of Third Street and Third Avenue, but the streets seemed all one-way the wrong way to my goal.

I pulled into the parking lot of a huge supermarket which had to be just two or three blocks from the library.  I parked and walked.  I was the only white person I saw.  A grizzled man was returning glass bottles to an outdoor recycling machine next to the supermarket; it wouldn’t accept one of them, so he tossed it into the corner of the enclosure, where it shattered.  As I left the parking lot, I passed a yellow line on the street; above it on the wall, a sign said ‘Stop!  Your shopping cart will halt once you cross the yellow line.’   A product with a name like Cart-Lok was in use; I noticed a little gizmo on a wheel of each cart.   Who steals shopping carts?  I considered a thief meeting his modern Fagin: “Good haul today boss – I got some gold chains, a 2015 Lexus, five credit cards — and a shopping cart!”   Really?

I walked to the library past more of the same, everything broken, dirty, abandoned, trash-filled.  Not at all threatening, just depressing.  To a progressive, the neighborhood shouted “This is unfair – how do you expect people to succeed and flourish when they’re surrounded with constant reminders that they don’t count, we don’t care about them, the country’s not built to serve them.”  To a conservative, it said “OK, it’s poor, but there’s still homes, cars, supermarkets — and a few out of control guys are ruining it for the rest of the locals.”  Both of these are true.

The library is a faded yellow-brick building I first mistook for a school; looks to have been built sometime in the 1930s through 1950s.  For a building of its size, the front doors seem small, unobtrusive.  Inside, stairs lead up, past the door to a street-level room that is being used for voting.  Stairs up to a detector – for metal, or unchecked-out books?   The upper lobby is handsome, with dark wood on the walls, stained-glass skylights, arched murals of ancient Greek temple scenes at either end.  Inside, the main room is for nonfiction.  Fiction is around a couple of corners, follow the signs, another large room.  The book is not on the shelf.   I head back to the main desk and say, “I’m looking for a certain book…” and immediately am told to ask at the reference desk in the next room.   The staff at the main, circulation desk are young black women;  at the reference desk is a middle-aged white guy.

He types in the title.  I observe his typing, upside down from across the counter.  “We have it, but it’s not coming up.”  I suggest he maybe try “DES in Blondes” as I saw him type it without the E.   Some computers are very literal and very dumb.   (And some patrons clearly are getting obsessive in their old age.)   But that’s not the problem; then he finds it, and frowns: “It’s listed under nonfiction – that’s just a cataloging error.”   The book is in storage in the basement, but he has a meeting in his lunch hour so he has to leave; his colleague will help me.

She has just arrived, a nice looking woman, late thirties.  She says she’ll go get it, but I ask her to first take care of the lady behind me, who has been waiting.  The middle-aged black lady behind me,  who’s here to pick up papers to register for something, says that is very kind of me.  I mumble ‘sure,’ missing my chance to say “I’m happy to give my time, of which I have much, to increase your convenience, of which you need more,” or something equally snappy.

I wander for five minutes while she’s helped.  I find the biographies section and am scanning them, working backwards from Z as the shelves happen to be arranged, around the outside of the room.  I get to S and a few R’s, but the next set of shelves is empty.  The books pick up again six feet later, with L’s.  One whole set of shelves is bare.  I look around in the room but can’t find the missing sequence anywhere.

When I return to the reference desk the librarian has just finished with the lady and says she’ll go now to get the book I want.  I ask her about the biographies.  She looks pained.  “We had a very bad leak over that section.”   So are the missing books someplace in the basement, drying out?  “No, I’m afraid they were too damaged to save.”  So, they’re being replaced?  A pause.  “We… hope to replace them.”

Well, so much for Mandela to Robeson.  Not to mention Obama.  And, less race-consciously, one of my idols, Mr. Cole Porter.  Or Annie Oakley, James Naismith, Marshall McLuhan.

We look at each other.  I want to hug her, in consolation.  (My education, obtained chiefly from musical comedies, warns me against this. “What can I say, my dear, to catch your ear?  I need you badly, badly, madam librarian…”)  We both know that the lives changed are not those between the covers of the books, but those attached to the hands reaching for books not there.

She returns soon with the slim volume.  I go to the circulation desk, which is a large, D-shaped hollow ring with space for maybe ten staff; just one is there.  I go round to her and hand her the books and my card and she says, “I don’t need your card; you’re just returning these right?”  No, taking them out.  “Oh, the checkout is on the other side.”  She then walks over to that side, followed by me outside the ring.   At this point a young woman shows up and says “Pardon, I have an appointment for 2:30.”  I’m mentally praising her promptness, as it’s 2:26 on the wall clock.  Then the librarian asks her who she is seeing.  “I haven’t got a clue,” she says.  She didn’t catch the name.  Uh-oh.  I think back over the hundreds of appointments and meetings I’ve shown up for; I have never not known whom I was to see.  How does that happen?   The librarian calls a couple of people, asking if they expect to interview someone at 2:30 — this evidently is for a job.  As I get my books checked out, they are still searching.

As I leave the building I notice that the voting going on in the anteroom is for the library’s annual budget.  Several young women, all black, come in to vote as I’m leaving, and I hold the door for them.  They wouldn’t show up just to vote against the budget, would they?  So I am encouraged.

Walking back to my car, I pick up some litter from the sidewalk; I remember there was a trash can next to the supermarket.   (I get these sudden moods of philanthropy; like temporary insanity.)   I took out three books in all, and because I like to finish books, I expect they will be overdue when I return them.  I can return them to the Larchmont library.  But I know as I leave that I will come back to Mount Vernon to return them, and to pay the overdue fines there.  A bargain.

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April 23rd

Thinking (feebly) of Mr. S on his birthday and the quadricentenary of his death:

One who’s wicked,                                                                                                                                  Another good,                                                                                                                                  Knave or brave,                                                                                                                                   Yet understood.

Common folk and royalty                                                                                                                     In virtue or perfidy                                                                                                                          Drawn in quartos                                                                                                                            Prose and poetry.

Maid, soldier, lover, king,                                                                                                            Shout, quarrel, whisper, sing.                                                                                                          Cast our parts; direct our roles                                                                                                   Pierce our hearts; try our souls

Happy birthday,                                                                                                                                Then peaceful rest;                                                                                                                                   Scant fifty-two summers                                                                                                                    To weigh humanness.

Page to stage                                                                                                                                       And mind to pen,                                                                                                                                  Take his gifts as ever new                                                                                                                And know ourselves again.

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Mirabile Dictu

Having not posted for over a month, it seemed high time I did.  But one cannot rush these things.  All appearances to the contrary notwithstanding, I really do exercise self restraint and editorial judgment; several times I’d embarked on what seemed inspired journeys only to run aground on the shoals of my own (depressingly low) standards.

Sometimes, however, it is clear sailing.  I performed my first miracle today.  That seemed worth posting.

Those even casually familiar with the Bible will know that it is given to the most righteous, faithful people to work miracles by calling upon the Lord.  Moses comes to mind, parting the Red Sea and so forth; in the New Testament, Peter, previously not the brightest bulb, gets the knack of raising folks, e.g. Tabitha, from the dead.

One imagines that if Peter could make the jump to miracle-worker, the requirements might not be all that steep.  I have been leading a not-terribly-evil life for some decades now, and more recently I’ve served on the boards of my church, led a not-for-profit educational and social group, started doing my own laundry, and refrained from snarling at people who can’t complete a simple cash transaction when they’re in front of me in the supermarket line.  Also, I don’t smoke.  Taking all this together, it seemed brimming with righteousness; if not quite at the Albert Schweitzer level, then surely close enough for some miracle capability.  But of miracles there were none.  (I don’t count my loving wife and wonderful children, my health and theirs, our relative affluence, citizenship in America, good friends, love of learning, and baseball; these are what we call “taken for granted” and therefore by definition don’t count.)  I was starting to question whether all my arduous do-gooding was even worthwhile if there was no payoff, but I realized that was just the sort of question that could scotch the whole deal, so I put it out of mind and resolved to carry on in sullen beneficence.

And then today it happened.  I was teaching Sunday school (did I mention that I also teach Sunday school?  Greater love hath no man…) and this week’s topic was the Twenty-third Psalm — a fortunate choice among the Psalms as it’s the only one I know.

My third graders were reasonably attentive as we went through what a psalm is, what this one is about, and how “the Lord is my shepherd” can be seen as a metaphor.  This led to talking about what a metaphor is, as it’s always good to learn something about English along with what the third-grade curriculum laughingly calls religion.  We discussed what it means to ‘anoint’ someone.  We also talked about the different translations in various versions of the Bible: the kid-friendly New Revised Standard Version that we use in class refers to walking through ‘the valley of fear’ or some such, which I felt, and showed them, was rather watery compared to texts like my (not-new) Revised Standard Version, which says ‘valley of the shadow of death.’  The kids liked that one better – it was scarier.

When I felt we had about ten minutes more before class would end, I brought out the box of Munchkins I had kept hidden, as a reward for their being (reasonably) well behaved and to spur their enthusiasm for the last push.  I know they like them – one boy’s first words on entering the classroom today were ‘Are there any Munchkins today?’ which I had declined to answer at the time.  I had just four students today and I told them they could each have two to start.  Three dug in; one girl declined, saying she preferred cupcakes.  In fact, she said “I eat five cupcakes a day.”  I let that pass; some things it’s best not to know.

As we continued with the text, they continued to eat more, with my permission.  And I had some myself.  When the bell rang, I asked each of them how many they’d had – I knew the two boys were making a banquet of it.  One (who shall be nameless so his parents don’t kill me) had had eleven, and the other, seven; the non-abstaining girl had had three; I had eaten two myself.  I wrote the numbers on the blackboard and, never missing a chance to do some math work, asked them for the total consumed.  They all could do that: twenty-three.  I wrote it on the board — and said, “And which is the Psalm we’ve been talking about today?”

I must say the reaction was gratifying.  Their jaws literally dropped and their eyes stared.  He who had eaten eleven was the first to speak – sugar must help your reflexes – and he said “How did you do that?”   Ever modest, I told them that I hadn’t done it, and pointed ceilingward.  They left the room as if in a trance.

I would like to think that, as the future years unfold, the courses of these children’s lives will have been profoundly altered, for the better, by this event.  Alternatively, they’re set for a quicker fall into cynicism when they decide the whole thing’s a humbug.  Or most likely, they won’t even remember the event a month from now.

But I will.  So it’s not the Red Sea, or even the loaves and the fishes.  But as I turned off the lights and closed the classroom door behind me, I said, to no one in particular, thank you.  And about time, too.

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We Will Negotiate with Them on The Beaches…

Battling my gathering gloom over the American political future, I turn my eyes abroad; a change of scene may provide relief.

I turn to England.  Spring comes to that green and pleasant land, the sun returns.   Clouds of daffodils supplant winter’s grey.  Bloggers wax poetic.

And here too, politics raises its head, for a Question has been asked, and will be answered.  The British people’s immense forbearance, the more or less polite grumbling, the going out from home each day to get on with the job, the minor celebrations – the pint and the football match, working in the garden, wielding the sense of humor — all still there, but all making room as well for a Question: to leave the European Union or to stay.  And the answer to be given on 23rd June by referendum.

I claim no expertise here; I’m an outsider, but one who spent his working life serving the interests of insurers in the London Market, at Lloyd’s or the companies in the surrounding streets of the City of London.  And most of the financial world of that City – a world I respect – supports the UK’s continued membership in the EU.  As does the Prime Minister, David Cameron, who is a Tory (Conservative), as I would be were I a British subject.  The business and economic arguments all weigh in favor of staying in.  Those arguments reach not only the top rungs – the 1 percent, as we’d say here – but the employees, the working or middle class: they’d probably suffer economically to some degree, perhaps substantially, upon separation from the EU.  The pocketbook issues are real, sensible, and powerful.

And Britain’s EU membership has always been incomplete: most obviously, it has kept the Pound rather than embrace the Euro.  Mr. Cameron recently negotiated some smallish further concessions in the relationship, e.g. allowing the UK greater leeway in limiting benefits to foreign workers.  So England is not Germany or France or the rest: even within the EU it retains some distance.  Further, the gradual coalescing of Europe seems to be the long-term trend; as our president would say, the arc of history bends toward it.

And yet.  The small contrary voice in me won’t go away, and over time has become louder.  It’s the voice that I consign to ’emotion’ or ‘the heart’ when I overrule it, but call by the name of ‘judgment’ or even ‘conscience’ when it prevails.  It’s the voice that says that money – or practicality, or convenience – is but one item placed on the scale and maybe not the most important one.

There is the matter of sovereignty.  The authority of  a state to govern itself.  The word comes from sovereign, a supreme ruler.  England still has one, a real sovereign – not some tinpot dictator, nor a written constitution dividing power, but an honest-to-God Queen, with (some) real powers and duties, and her name on ships and currency and letterboxes, and possessing a swell castle (several) and swell jewels, and a lineage that goes way back (admittedly with odd connections here and there, but so much the better for the twining of history with legend).  And I know there’s the Parliament, who run things, and there are the inevitable bureaucrats, who really run things – but Parliament goes back a long way too.

My point is not to advocate monarchy or argue that the Queen’s presence prevents integration into the EU; obviously it doesn’t.   My point in a word is exceptionalism.  I believe in it.  I believe in American exceptionalism, and as a corollary I believe that countries are not all equivalent.  Each is entitled to respect, but some stand out.  Some are qualitatively different than others.  Some are more important or worthy than others.  And Britain – let’s be purists and say England – is exceptional.  And my judgment says, better to suffer some likely economic setback, which I think would be temporary, than keep England on the path to being a mere component of Europe.

The arc of history bends where it will, but there are also constants, and one is this: for a thousand years and more, England has been separate from and different from Europe.  And millions of Englishmen, and Englishwomen too, have died over the centuries to keep it so.  Integration into a combined European state is no less a loss for its being accomplished over decades, statute by statute, than over weeks and months by an invading army, battle by battle.  Churchill did not vow to negotiate with them on the beaches.

British history must not be consigned solely to history.  This small island held half the world in her hands, and bequeathed the blessings of her empire – I say that with no sarcasm –  to myriad benighted lands.  The world is far better for the fact of Britain’s not being of Europe; just look at the fate of the Empire’s former colonies compared to those once held by France, by Germany, by others.  And I have no animus toward France; I consider myself a francophile.  The French elevated our daily bread into art and miracles, became wise in how to live life, and crafted a language as beautiful as English is functional.  But France without full authority to govern itself is still French; it can accommodate a shared sovereignty.  It’s had practice at that.  England has not.  Vive la difference.

The constant, ever-growing regulations spun out of Brussels would eventually ensnare Britain in an iron web of sameness and Continentalism if allowed to continue, unless the EU were to collapse from its own fissures.  Either way, now is the best opportunity to escape, to walk the rockier path of independence.  The arguments to reject separation are based upon fear of what will befall; yes there will be hardship.  But there are worse fates than hardship.  Perhaps it’s heresy to adapt Patrick Henry in this context, but is comfort to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery?

Think of all that would be lost as Britain becomes one more European country, sharing government in thrall to a central authority distant from its shores, run by functionaries no Englishman or -woman ever voted for, or prayed to save.

It’s not a large country.  It’s a little island, but a unique and exceptional one, important far beyond its bounds, with a character that will not gently abide rule by others.

This blessed plot, this earth, this realm, this England.

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Spring Training

Today, February 18th of 2016, the sun is shining and the air, though still brisk, is warm enough that I’ve doffed the winter coat in favor of a light fleece jacket.

A corner has been turned.  Pitchers and catchers have appeared on the playing fields of Florida and Arizona.  Nearer home, at the dog park — Ward Acres in New Rochelle — only a few pathways through the woods still bear traces of ice.  I have seen no crocuses yet but do not doubt they are stirring, beginning their climb to sunlight; the lengthening daylight is noticeable now.  I wake to it.  The equinox is one moon away.  We have survived the worst of another winter.

But that worst was so recent.  Only last weekend, you will recall, winds blew cold and temperatures were far below freezing.  When I walked the hound at Ward Acres last Saturday I met just one other human there.  She said “Only the real dog lovers are out today,” and I (not much given to praise even if shared) remarked that people in Minnesota probably would laugh at us.  She disclosed that she’d grown up in Winnipeg but this was a cold day by any standards.  (Winnipeg?  Seriously?  Yes — she said “We laugh at the people in Minnesota!”  Good God.)   I completed my walk with an air of chastened determination, a look I’ve seen on my dog after she’s been pulled off the trail of some squirrel.

The dog walk fell between the hours of 1 and 3 p.m. because that was the period when son James was at an indoor baseball facility, ProSwing, in Port Chester, for his high school team’s weekly winter practices.  When I drove to pick him up the wind still buffeted the car; inside, the heater was blasting as I tried to thaw my fingers and toes.

James has become enthusiastic about baseball, which is gratifying to me.  He enjoys the practices at ProSwing with his buddies.  He is concerned that he will not make the varsity team although he thinks he should make it.  He’s a freshman; I tell him that unless he’s exceptionally skilled, junior varsity is more likely this year.  This comment goes by him like an outside fastball.  All right, optimism is good.

When we get home after 3 o’clock, he’s got a plan: we’re going to the park to practice.  Really?  For sure.

Back last fall, we had practiced quite a bit.  I had very much enjoyed those practices, whether at Flint Park catching his pitching, or hitting fly balls to him in center field, or just in the street in front of our house, having a catch (a hundred in a row, a couple of times, without either of us dropping one).  But last October it was 60 degrees out, and the evenings were full of mist and mellow fruitfulness, as whatshisname put it.  This afternoon, last Saturday, it’s 15 degrees outside with howling winds.  (I’d recite the wind-chill factor here but — much like climate change — I feel we are better off not acknowledging its existence.)

So I bundle up and off we go.  He’s got sweatpants and a light jacket on.  The good news is that we have the park to ourselves.  The field is half covered in snow that has iced over.  The outfield is clear, although the stubborn grass is frozen hard, and we set up there for outfield drills.  He stands facing me a few steps away; I say “Go” and he turns and runs straight out, and after a couple of seconds I hurl the ball over his head, leading him more or less like a quarterback throwing to a receiver, but with a higher arc.  He’s supposed to look up over his shoulder, judge the ball and run under it to make the catch.  This is difficult, not least because my throws are inconsistent at the best of times; they are not helped today by the wind and by my wearing a wool glove on my throwing hand.  So sometimes he turns to look over his right shoulder only to find the ball is to his left.  Other times, it’s hopelessly out of reach ahead of him, or so short he has to put on the brakes and try to come back to it.

The first 20 tries or so, no catches.  But no complaints either.  We persevere.  Eventually he catches one, and soon after, a few more.  Then three in a row!  We keep at it for 30 or 40 minutes.

Then some infield drills, with James running across the diamond from second to third base, or toward first, as I throw it from the catcher’s spot randomly to make him run.  Some of his return throws come in hard enough to hurt my hand – the hand with the fielder’s mitt.  I attribute this mostly to the cold, but to avoid the pain I start trying to catch the ball up in the webbing of the mitt, which causes me to miss some entirely.  He also intentionally bounces some of his return throws off the snow in front of me, amused at how the ball skids along the ice rather than bouncing — this is hazardous to my shins and I start leaping away from these like a matador (even more amusing).

After an hour or so, we still are alone, the day is turning dark and my face is freezing.  When James says we’ve done enough, I agree.  As we drive home it is down to 11 degrees and headed for single digits.

All told, a perfect day for baseball.  More, please.

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Rubio, and Return

Today is Sunday and my last day here.  I’m up early to pack – which takes five minutes as I didn’t bring much – and write a note to my host Jason, thanking him for the luxurious lodgings.

Then I hit the road for a last event:  I’d rsvp’d to a Marco Rubio pancake breakfast at Londonderry High School.   Marco took a shot to the chin last night in the debate, clocked by Chris Christie for using memorized 25-second soundbites, and the senator didn’t have a snappy comeback.  The crowd at the Radisson bar, where I watched, felt Christie had landed one, and so did the press the next day.  So having chosen today’s event was fortuitous as I’ll get to see how Rubio looks the morning after.

I got two emails from his campaign later last night, after the debate was over, and they seemed a bit at cross purposes.  The first regretted that they’d be serving just coffee and muffins instead of pancakes, due to larger than expected numbers who said they were coming.  The second said that following the debate where his rivals had ganged up on Marco, it was important to have a good crowd the next morning so please make sure to come.   I expect the first was from a logistics person, and the second from a politics person.

The cafeteria at the high school is large but when I arrive at 8:30, an hour before the event is to start, it’s already standing room only.  Lots of press here too.  A couple standing next to me are talking with friends, and I keep writing notes on my pad; after they notice me I feel compelled to assure them that I’m not taking down what they’re saying.  (Actually I am filling in points from the previous day, and translating my quick scrawls into English while I can still remember what they mean.)  But this leads to our chatting.  Jim and Johanna are both Tufts alumni and both in the public health industry; Johanna added a master’s from Harvard (showoff).  They’re nice people, and clearly have been paying attention to the campaigns.  It surprises all of us when we realize today is Super Bowl Sunday; I have not thought about the Super Bowl all week.  After a while a press lady walks over and interviews Jim, first, and then Johanna.  She turns out to be from Il Messagero, in Rome, and once Jim tells her that Johanna lived in Italy for four months, they’re into an animated conversation.

Marco is maybe a half hour late.  He gets a big hand and launches right into his speech. Here is a view of some of the crowd:


I am glad to find his talk is not a copy of the one I heard from him four days ago.  He speaks of American exceptionalism.  When was the last time you saw a boatload of refugees from America wash up in some other country?  He talks about his competition; not his Republican rivals, but Hillary and Bernie.  Bernie Sanders is clear about it – he’s a socialist  – but if you want to live in a socialist country, move to Scandinavia.  Hillary is “not qualified” (that’s the phrase he consistently uses) to be president, for her handling of Benghazi and for lying to the families of the Americans killed there.   But a big part of his appeal is on electability:  I can unite the conservative movement and the Republican party, I can win independents, and the people living paycheck to paycheck.  And he notes an accomplishment – which he should have done last night – in leading the effort to get rid of the insurance company bailout provision of Obamacare.

And he again says the things that reach me: that the national debt is a bipartisan debt; that he’s not being anti-immigrant to want to secure the border; and the obligation each generation owes to its predecessors, and that it is his generation’s turn now.  When he turns to questions, his answers seem personal and thoughtful, and not canned.  Nobody asks him about last night’s debate.  He emphasizes the need for state and local control over education: if you have a complaint or a proposal, good luck going to the Department of Education in Washington to see somebody with it, but you can have influence on your own local school board.  Somebody does ask him to differentiate himself from Ted Cruz, and he points to their respective tax plans.  Cruz favors a form of value added tax, but Rubio opposes that; a VAT is too hidden, consumers won’t see it and it’s too easy for Congress to raise it; Rubio advocates simplifying and reducing the income tax we have.

After questions, there is the usual scrum around the candidate for individual talk, photos, handshakes, but as today’s event is about three times as large as those I’ve been at, the mass looks never-ending.  Still, he gradually works through it, one person or family at a time.  I have a moment with him.  OK, so it’s not my best picture…

IMG_1013 Our whole conversation is as follows:  “You need to adjust for the next debate.”  Rubio: “We’ll be fine.”  Me: “I’m rooting for you.”  If he recovers from his stumble of last night, something he’s surely aware of despite his confidence, I will take full credit.  I am available as campaign strategist, for a reasonable fee.

Each candidate probably sees the current election in terms of some particular past election.  On the drive home it seems to me that Hillary wants to take us back to 2008 and recapture that coalition; I have no idea where Trump wants to take us; Cruz wants his to be the Reagan candidacy of 1980; but Rubio reminds me of a certain candidate from 1960.  Which would slot Hillary into the Nixon role, which I somehow feel she’d object to.

This year New Hampshire may not fulfill its self-proclaimed role of “choosing the president.” But it’s still the best place to take the measure of those who want the job.  I’m glad I made the trip.

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Looking back from the perspective of (advanced) middle age, youth seems like a time of fun, great promise and opportunities, strong feelings and enthusiasms, and physical power, if not outright fearlessness.   That view however is the result of the removed vantage point, like a rainbow: beautiful from a distance, but for those standing in it, mostly clouds. I can remember that youth was full of anguish, anxiety, and frustration — and mine was happy!    Youth knows the huge hassle of everybody always telling you what to do, soon followed by the huge burden of having to make decisions without those good people telling you what to do.

What’s this got to do with the New Hampshire primaries?  The rest of the day Saturday, after Carly Fiorina’s event, gave the stage to youth in various settings.

In the afternoon I make email contact with Evan Madin and Joe Liberti, teachers at Mamaroneck High School.  I was in touch with them prior to my trip; they were taking a large group of MHS students, from their Government & Politics and Journalism classes, up to New Hampshire to see the primaries up close.  Mr. Liberti has done this a couple of times before, and it’s a unique opportunity; MHS is the only high school to do it.  I’d seen their interview on local tv via YouTube and read a couple of the news stories.  This time joined by Mr. Madin’s journalism students, the group was about 100 kids.  I had told them of my trip and blog, and offered my availability; Mr. Madin had said some students might be interested in talking to me about my political tourism.

As I am here from Tuesday to Sunday, but the students only from this afternoon, Saturday, til primary day Tuesday, our overlap is short.  They are staying in Concord at the Holiday Inn.  I contact them and am told I can visit around 5 p.m., so I drive up.  Concord is half an hour north of Manchester.

I find them in a room off the main entry of the motel, about 20 students sitting around a large table, each in front of a laptop.  I’ve brought the laptop in case they want to see photos or blog entries, and take assorted stuff I’ve picked up: flyers, stickers, the program from the Democratic gala, even my Bernie hat.  Mr. Madin tells me they are working on writing stories, on a deadline.  They’ve been able to meet with some NY Times people earlier.  I say I hope they will be able to see the candidates, or some of them, and he assures me they will.

I get the feeling he is being polite to me as a constituent.   (They know I’m a parent in the school district, and my daughter was in one of Mr. Liberti’s classes a few years ago.)  But he is clearly preoccupied with the pressure of overseeing the large group, and apparently does not see me as being of any use to his students.  (Probably right.)  So after a glance around the room – a couple of students give me a curious look back – I thank him and take off.  I meet Mr. Liberti in the foyer; he is busy too but more cheerful, and I pass along to him the details of the fabulous Mr. Ovide Lamontagne in case he wants to try reaching him.  And that is it.

The students’ work is available through with the tag new-hamp-2016.  They appear to be straight news stories.  (You may have noticed my own style is more eccentric.  They don’t teach eccentric in high school, except in England.)

Now driving back from Concord a little after 5 o’clock, it occurs to me I can go over to the Republican debate, at St. Anselm’s College, which is in Manchester but on the west side of the river.  I have no illusions about actually attending the debate – I think the audience is by invitation from the party – but it will be neat to see the scene.  And journalistic responsibility calls.

St. Anselm’s – it’s Benedictine – is on a hill, and as I slow to a crawl on the street leading into campus, now one of a long parade of cars headed there, I realize this must be the ‘shining city on a hill’ I heard so much about during the Reagan years.  For indeed, it is shining very brightly ahead.  The sky and ground at the top of the hill are dazzling.  Arrays of klieglights blaze, and at the turnoff toward the debate hall, police are checking papers and waving in the happy few, and directing the rest of us to keep on straight down the road.  As I inch past the turnoff, I see there’s a large field, brilliantly lit, full of (mostly) young people with signs and banners for their respective favorites, Trumps and Cruzes and Kasichs and the rest.

After a while I turn off this packed road, drive on a more empty one, turn again right, and then again, now on a dark, completely empty street of scattered houses.  Maybe faculty live here, or just people who live next door to the campus.  I pull up in front of one near the end of the street, and park.  Why not?  No anti-parking traffic cones here.  A little walking and I’m back on the crowded entry road, with the bright lights ahead.  In the land of the traffic jam, the pedestrian is king.

I get to the field and mingle with the kids carrying signs.  Under the tv lights the scene is doubly brilliant as snow covers the ground, reflecting up.  Plenty of good-natured jostling, and groups yell and wave signs whenever something happens – a bus or fancy car pulling in, a shift in the lights, the presence of a reporter.  Any camera of course draws a crowd; so do friends’ arrivals with boxes of donuts.

So as not to be mistaken for a stalker, I follow the example of the few real reporters there and ask a couple of kids some questions.  Are they students here?  No; they’re from Connecticut, and came up for the day, to do this.  They’ve been here a few hours.  They’re cold but they’re having fun.  (They must have too much time on their hands, just like me.)

After a little while of this I decide I’ve seen what there is to see, and I’m getting cold too.  But then an actual newsworthy Event happens and I’m there to witness it.  A stream of marchers comes from the street, apparently discharged by buses, and heads through the gate into the field.  They’re loud, and holding signs all on the theme of a $15 an hour minimum wage.  They are mostly young, and some probably are students themselves, but they tend not to be dressed as well as the candidate-supporters, and they include more people of color.  They are chanting “What do we want?  Fifteen dollars!  When do we want it? Now!” and “Hey hey – a living wage!” or variations on that.  The signs, professionally made, mostly just say “$15” but there are some labor union signs as well.  They march through the midst of the candidates’ supporters and drown them out.  There are more and more of them; somewhere many buses are unloading, and they just keep coming.  It’s very noisy and crowded, but peaceful.

And then, after a few minutes, I see a handful of Cruz supporters not twenty feet from me, still carrying their signs, walk over to a few Rubio supporters.  They huddle for a while – then fan out and talk to their friends.  And a large bunch of Cruz and Rubio supporters, mixed together, starts a counter-chant: “Free market!  Free market!”  and they go on to other counter-chants, although with a minute or two between each, as each time they have to come up with words they can agree on.  I clicked a photo but it doesn’t do the scene much justice — minimum wage protesters on the left, candidates’ supporters on the right:


I am smiling.  Somewhere, Milton Friedman is smiling.  I don’t know which pleases me more, the kids’ economic beliefs or the cooperation between rivals.  But I feel warmer, and younger, as I walk back to the car.

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