Sunday, June 16, 2019

Twenty Aphorisms

One of my literary idols is François de La Rochefoucauld, the renowned author of many famous maxims. Perhaps his most famous--and my favorite--is "We all have enough strength to endure the misfortunes of others."*

Blame James Geary for this post. I have been reading Geary's Guide to the World's Great Aphorists, which has led me down this path.


He who buries his treasures needs a good memory.

If you miss the boat, don’t try to swim.

Never trust the judgment of a man who looks in the mirror and doesn’t laugh.

The power of a simple “no” is vitiated when followed by a complex explanation.

It is difficult to be thankful for a gift horse if you don’t have a stable.

If they do one thing, they’re bound to do another.

A moment of doubt calls into question a lifetime of belief.

If all occupations were self-regulated, planes would fall from the skies.

No philosophy is sound that can’t be lived.

The longest journey ends with a single step.

Only a fool needs a horoscope to tell him when to travel.

Hope is for losers.

A shallow man can harbor no deep secrets.

A straight line is the shortest distance between two points. Unfortunately, the landscape seldom obliges.

Why should I believe what you profess today—when you didn’t believe it yesterday, and won’t believe it tomorrow.

Once is a favor. Twice is an obligation.

The problem with the future is that it isn’t past.

A job not worth doing is not worth doing well.

The opera is over when the fat lady takes a curtain call.

An ace up your sleeve is no good if you’re playing chess.


*Usually rendered, "We all have enough strength to bear the misfortunes of others."

But I think bear can be ambiguous here. So I prefer endure.

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

I've Pledged Already, Thank You


                                              R. Taylor, The New Yorker, June 4, 1960


Does one imagine that the next day the couple—with or without giggling—plighted their troths again? 

Silly to ask, you say?


I bring this up as a back-door way to get around to discussing today’s “Knickers-in-a-Twist” winner, Kristy Swanson. Ms. Swanson, an alleged actress, tweeted (don’t they ever stop?) about a teacher who apparently doesn’t stand during the daily recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance.* Quelle horreur! Even worse, that teacher told the students that they didn’t have to stand either if they didn’t want to. 

Well, untwist your underpants, Ms. actress, for the teacher, opting out, is doing that most American of things: exercising his/her freedom of speech. And students don't have to recite it, because forcing them to violates the First Amendment, which protects free speech. 
If there is any fixed star in our constitutional constellation, it is that no official, high or petty, can prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion, or other matters of opinion, or force citizens to confess by word or act their faith therein.         Justice Robert Jackson, writing in the majority decision in West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette.**

Despite the Supreme Court ruling, there is nothing some people love more than dragooning others into a conforming loyalism—and somehow that show of loyalty always happens to coincide with what the dragooners believe. (I wrote about this three years ago.***) 

It is quite curious to me that the nation managed to exist for over a hundred years before the Pledge of Allegiance was thrust upon its citizens in 1892. And even more curious to me is the fact that the Republic survived more than another half-century before God was shoe-horned into the mix in 1954.


To return to our starting point—the newly-weds—with a philosophical question: at what point does reciting one’s marriage vows become redundant? Or, to focus on our main topic: how many times does one have to pledge a pledge?

For me, having once pledged my allegiance, I stand by that pledge, until such time as I renounce that pledge or pledge loyalty to another flag.



Friday, May 24, 2019

Kris Crossed

Kris Kringle—also known as Santa Claus, Father Christmas, Papá Noel, Père Noël—comes around one day a year, traveling by sleigh. He brings gifts for young and old that are generally appreciated (except for the odd “That tie is positively ugly”). By his example of generous gift giving, he has inspired people to do the same, thereby boosting both the local and national economies.

Need we point out that he is one of the most beloved—if, unfortunately, imaginary figures in many cultures (as his many names indicate).


Another Kris, the unimaginary Kris Kobach—hereafter to be known as “The Knob”—is, unfortunately, with us all year round. He attended Harvard and received a law degree from Yale.(1) After losing attempts to gain a seat in either the Kansas state or national legislature, he finally found a job he could be elected to—Kansas secretary of state. The job consisted mostly of paper-pushing, such as regulating including sports agents, trade unions, cemeteries, and funeral homes.(2)

Obviously, sniffing around graveyards and funeral homes was not going to raise the heartbeat of The  Knob, Ivy League striver. So he latched onto another paper-pushing aspect of the secretary’s job: administering elections and voter registration throughout the state. In that role, he mounted his Rocinante and ventured out to tilt against the windmills of voter fraud. His quest was summed up perfectly in this sub-head of a Bloomberg article: 
Wild goose chases, phony accusations, imaginary threats: Nice work if you're Kansas's secretary of state.(3)
Another headline:
Judge Tosses Kansas' Proof-Of-Citizenship Voter Law And Rebukes Sec. Of State Kobach(4)
In that federal court case, The Knob—forgetting the old adage that a man who represents himself in court has a fool for a client—was, besides being the loser in the case, sharply rebuked by the judge:
Chief District Judge Julie A. Robinson sanctioned Kobach — who led President Trump's voter fraud commission— by ordering him to take a legal class on the rules of evidence or procedure. 
So much for a Yale Law School education!


Unfortunately, as I said above, unlike Kris Kringle, Kris The Knob is with us all year round, showing up in the most astonishing places. The latest sighting found him stuffing papers into an envelope to be delivered to the Grifter-in-Chief; it was an application to join the grifter mob as immigration czar. Actually, in addition to an application, this political loser(5) included a list of demands:

Kris Kobach’s Conditions for Becoming Immigration Czar
Mr. Kobach submitted the following list of demands during discussions for an administration post.
  • 1. Office in the West Wing.
  • 2. Walk-in privileges with the president.
  • 3. Assistant to the President rank - at highest pay level for WH senior staff.
  • 4. Staff of 7 people (2 attorneys, 2 research analysts, 1 scheduler, 1 media person, 1 assistant).
  • 5. POTUS sits down individually with Czar and the secretaries of Homeland Security, Defense, Justice, Ag, Interior, and Commerce, and tells each of the Secretaries to follow the directives of the Czar without delay, subject to appeal to the President in cases of disagreement.
  • 6. 24/7 access to either a DHS or DOD jet. Czar must be on the border every week.
  • 7. Ability to spend weekends in KS with family on way from border back to DC, unless POTUS needs Czar elsewhere.
  • 8. Security detail if deemed necessary after security review.
  • 9. Serve as the face of Trump immigration policy - the principal spokesman on television and in the media.
  • 10. Promise that by November 1, 2019, the president will nominate Kris Kobach to be DHS Secretary, unless Kobach wishes to continue in Czar position.(6) 


Amazing, wouldn’t you say? Even outdoing the other grifters with their dining tables and telephone booths—“24/7 access to either a DHS or DOD jet,” anyone?

Old Kris Kringle, who brings joy each year, somehow manages with a sleigh propelled by some Arctic fauna. 

Hey, Knob! You’re not in Kansas anymore!


(1) Now, really, how many knobs, beside The Knob, have graduated from these places and infiltrated into our lives, government, and culture?


Monday, May 20, 2019

Death Un-Donne

Death, be not proud, though some have called thee 
Mighty and dreadful, for thou art not so . . .
John Donne

How right was the great poet, and it was shown the other day. Death—mighty and dreadful though it appears to be—will be obliterated by a stroke of the pen:
E.P.A. Plans to Get Thousands of Deaths Off the Books by Changing Its Math                   NY Times*
According to the story, the Trump Environmental Protection Agency (an oxymoron, if ever there was one) will finagle some figures to make it seem that “the 1,400 additional premature deaths per year that the E.P.A. had initially forecast as a result of eliminating the old climate change regulation” will not occur. 

Take that, old Grim Reaper! The sleight of hand of a new modeling method will foil you.

The Times continues:
The new modeling method, which experts said has never been peer-reviewed and is not scientifically sound, would most likely be used by the Trump administration to defend further rollbacks of air pollution rules if it is formally adopted.  But the proposed change is unusual because it relies on unfounded medical assumptions and discards more than a decade of peer-reviewed E.P.A. methods for understanding the health hazards linked to the fine particulate matter produced by burning fossil fuels.


Today in my mailbox the daily Pacific Standard newsletter contained two links to stories relevant to the ongoing pollution crisis. The first story tells of the dangerous levels of air pollution in Mexico City, which have caused authorities in Mexico City to declare 
an environmental emergency on Tuesday after pollution reached potentially hazardous levels. . . .
On Thursday, the Mexican government took steps to limit residents' exposure by closing primary schools and limiting public works projects, according to the [Washington] Post. Authorities advised parents to close windows and keep children indoors.**

 The second article is even scarier. The headline reads:

The sub-head explains:
A new report finds that inhaling air pollution doesn't just impact the heart and lungs: It can damage all parts of the body, and cause or worsen diseases.***
The article notes that in addition the damage caused to the heart and lungs, pollution also causes damage to “the brain, bladder, and skin” and that various other health conditions “such as diabetes, dementia, cancer, and brittle bones, may be caused or worsened by air pollution as well.”


So you may experience everything from rashes to tumors, but never fear: the E.P.A. has you covered. In the US, at least, you won’t die because of pollution. Maybe in Mexico—but then again, when did Trump ever care about Mexicans?



Also here: 

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Hunger Games

In the coming weeks, thousands of college students will walk across a stage and proudly accept their diplomas. Many of them will be hungry.

Thus the New York Times in an article entitled “Tuition or Dinner? Nearly Half of  College Students Surveyed in a New Report Are Going Hungry.”(1) The article tells the stories of some of the “45 percent of student respondents from over 100 institutions [who] said they had been food insecure in the past 30 days.”  

I would like to offer those undernourished graduates-to-be the wish that they have enough strength in their legs to make it to the podium to collect their sheepskins. However, I must—in all honesty—warn them that their lunchless days are not going to disappear if they follow the advice offered in an article in USA TODAY entitled “You don't need that: Average American spends almost $18,000 a year on nonessentials.”(2) In that piece Maurie Backman of The Motley Fool provides a list that purports to show “How Americans spend on luxuries” and urges us to ditch, among other things, our ride shares and our gym memberships. (One imagines that we can get our exercise by walking from one end of town to the other.) But most striking about the alleged luxuries to be dumped is lunch, which is claimed to cost $173.62 per month. And what is one to do with the money not spent? Why, buy life insurance, say the folks behind the information-gathering (who just happen to be in the business of selling? that’s right, life insurance).(3)


A week ago, the Warwick, Rhode Island school district told students with unpaid bills they had only one choice for meals: a sunflower butter and jelly sandwich.(4) That announcement raised an almighty wrong-headed tsunami of protests—to which the school district reacted by abandoning the new policy. You perhaps are wondering why I wrote “wrong-headed”? The new policy would have been for those students perfect preparation for their real world future. From unappetizing sunflower butter and jelly to the hunger of college to lunchless workdays—what a seamless transition!

But they have no reason to despair at what life holds for them: at the end of it all, there will be some insurance money to pass on to their descendants.


         (3) For a takedown of this article, see:

         (4) Not even a peanut butter and jelly sandwich!

Friday, April 19, 2019

Moish Explains All

Us: Today we have in our office Moses, who happens to be visiting the city.

Moses: I’m not visiting the city; I’m visiting Kaplan, the podiatrist. You know, forty years of walking on hot desert sand does a job on your footsies.

Us: Well, thank you for taking time out to come here and answer some perplexing questions about the Exodus, Moses.

Moses: Call me Moish. I got to say it’s a pleasure to be here—to meet somebody new. Forty years wandering around with the same bunch . . . You know, we Israelites had no words for “hello” and  “goodbye.”

Us: Why’s that?

Moses: Because nobody ever left and nobody new ever showed up. Forty years crossing the desert and we didn’t even meet Lawrence of Arabia. All we did was to go from oasis to oasis—and let me tell you it wasn’t easy-peasy trying to find an oasis without GPS. 

Us: But surely it had to be pleasant being at an oasis.

Moses: Yeah, for maybe a week or two. But it soon gets old sitting around eating dates and figs, figs and dates. 

Us: You must have been aggrieved at your fate.

Moses: Not “aggrieved”—“Argive.”

Us: “Argive”?

Moses: Yeah, we were like those Greek guys in that book—The Iliad. But they only waited ten years before they got where they were going. And they had fights to kill time. And wood to build stuff.

Us: To move on: could you tell us about the miracle of the parting of the Red Sea.

Moses: That was no miracle. It took two years of installing pumps. It was no miracle—it was engineering! I’ll tell you what was a miracle.

Us: What was that?

Moses: Me climbing up Mount Sinai after a day of walking across the desert. That was a miracle! And I had to shlepp those tablets back down. Today, God would just send an email.

Us: One last question: is it true that Pharaoh’s daughter discovered you as a baby in the bulrushes?

Moses: I can’t answer that. For one, I was so small I remember nothing about it. And for two, I don’t know what the hell bulrushes are.

Us: Thank you for dropping by, Moses . . .

Moses: Moish.

Us: Right. Moish. Is there anything else you’d like to add?

Moses: Yeah. Can you get me a piece pumpernickel? Forty years of matzoh—enough already!

Thursday, April 18, 2019

Burning Questions

Today we have on the phone a special guest—Jesus of Nazareth.

Us: Thanks for taking time to chat with us, Jesus. I hope we haven’t interrupted anything important.

Jesus: Nah. I was just turning some water into wine—Cabernet Sauvignon, as a matter of fact. Not bad, if I say so myself.

Us: We wanted to speak to you because your name has popped in the news again . . .

Jesus: That so?

Us: Yeah. You have been reported as having been seen in the fire at the roof of Notre Dame de Paris the other day.* 

Jesus: What day was that? 

Us: Monday.

Jesus: Monday is laundry day. I was down at the Sea of Galilee washing the sheets. Besides—and this is important—I am camera-shy. I have not had a picture taken of me since the fourth grade. 

Us: Let me get this straight—does that mean that all those icons and such aren’t you?

Jesus: Can’t be. Some guy with a Leica once tried to sneak a photo, but Luke collared him and dispatched him with a boot up the backside.

Us: Well, how about that daVinci painting called “Salvator Mundi,”** which sold for $450 million at auction in 2017? That’s not you either?

Jesus: You gotta be kiddin’. The guy in the painting looks like some kind of stoner. Me? Ha! And for $450 million? Do you know how many loaves and fishes you could have gotten?

Us: Anyway, to change the subject—The New York Times has published a story about clergymen sporting luxury sneakers and other rich apparel:

Carl Lentz, the pastor who baptized Justin Bieber in a professional basketball player’s bath tub, appeared wearing a pair of Nike Air Fear of God sneakers that were selling online for about $500. Then John Gray, a pastor from South Carolina, was shown in blood-red Air Yeezy 2s, the sneakers made in collaboration with Kanye West, that were going for upward of $5,000. And in another photo, Chad Veach, who preaches in Los Angeles, had a $1,900 Gucci bag and wore $795 pants.***
Jesus: You’re putting me on, right? I mean, we’re really far away from that Assisi guy. You know, around here we go around barefoot most of the time; we have sandals that we wear when we have to walk long distances, just basic leather things—no Birkenstocks and such. I will admit that I had an old pair of Keds once that some tourist had left behind. But they quickly disintegrated. Anyway, I like to wiggle my little piggies.

Us: OK. Thank you for your time, Jesus. I know that you must be busy with Passover and Easter coming up . . . Oops, sorry about that.

Jesus: Yeah. This weekend is a bummer. But I like to think I rise above it. Ciao.