Edward Packard
Daily Blog

February 22,  2017

Alan Paton was a South African writer and anti-apartheid activist. His celebrated novel, Cry, the Beloved Country was published in 1948, when that country was in the grip of apartheid, and the threat of a civil war hung in the air. Almost miraculously, thanks most particularly to the vitality, wisdom, and courage of Nelson Mandela, a peaceful transition to majority rule was achieved. I never read Paton’s book, but I have often thought of the title, which conveys so much in just four words. It would be apt for a book written by an American today.

 

 

 

February 21, 2017


Michele Goldberg, in a recent article in Slate, speaking of Hillary Clinton, wrote:
“She argued not that Trump was a typical Republican, but that Republicans were better than Trump. She was wrong. Republicans in Congress have watched silently as Trump has shredded American credibility in the world, terrorized immigrants, and flirted with treason. We can now see that there is nothing—not sexual lasciviousness, not corruption, not meddling by foreign adversaries—that Republicans abhor more than they abhor Democrats, nor anything they value above power.”

 

That says it well. GOP, of course, stands for “Grand Old Party.” How American that sounds. How traditionally conservative. That GOP no longer exists. What’s happening now is a struggle for the soul of our country.

 

 

February 20, 2017


Nicholas Kristof:  “So while Democrats can gnash their teeth, it’ll be up to Republicans to decide whether to force Trump out. And that won’t happen unless they see him as ruining their party as well as the nation.”

Kristoff’s comment goes to the heart of the matter. All, or nearly all, Republican members of Congress are content to let Trump ruin our country.

 

 

 

February 19, 2017

Trump: “The media is the enemy of the American people.”

Robert Reich: Fifteen Signs of Impending Tyranny:

# 3. Publicly criticize anyone who criticizes them, labeling them “enemies.”

# 4. Turn the public against journalists or media outlets that criticize them, calling them “deceitful” and “scum.”

 

 

 

February 18, 2017

A couple of days ago, I finished reading Nick Lane’s fascinating book Life Ascending –– the Ten Great Inventions of Evolution. The author is an evolutionary biochemist at University College London. You can guess what some of the inventions of evolution have been. Others might surprise you. One, of course, was the eye, an organ proponents of intelligent design like to argue required a divine creator. Lane explains how hundreds of thousands of minute improvements, starting with cells in primitive animals that were slightly sensitive to light, produced our highly developed sense of vision. Future great inventions will increasingly include ones devised by humans. Alteration in the human genome will reduce the risk of many diseases. The human life span may be radically increased.

 

 

February 17, 2017

 

There’s a lot we don’t know about Trump’s relationship with Putin-ruled Russia, but among the things we know is that, for years, Trump and some of his closest associates have had extensive business entanglements with Russia and that Trump has expressed admiration for Putin, expressed approval of Putin’s annexation of the Crimea, indicated a willingness to relax sanctions against Russia, and expressed doubts about the utility of NATO.

We also know that Russia worked in various ways to undermine Clinton and support Trump prior to the election and that election officials in the Trump campaign were in touch with Russian officials both before and after the election. 

These are bold-face dots, and there are others, and they all connect, meaning it’s reasonable to conclude that Trump collaborated with Russia to influence the outcome of the election in his favor. If he did, it would be a far more serious crime than the Watergate break-in that forced Nixon out of office.

The situation calls for an independent investigatory commission with full subpoena powers. Anything less is acquiescence in our country’s transition to a fascist state. It's evident that the Republican leadership thinks this is fine.

 

 

 

February 16, 2017

My 86th birthday today. Thanks to good diet, good exercise, and good luck, as far as I know, I’m in good shape. I’ve noticed that, whatever age I’ve been, ten years older seems very old and ten years younger seems very young. Yes, odd as it may seem, 76 seems quite youthful to me. I didn’t feel that way when I was 66. Then 76 looked ancient. More ancient even than 60 seemed when I was 50.

When I was about 66 and had a checkup, my doctor, who was a good deal younger than I, asked me how old I was, and when I told him, he said with a grin, “Getting up there.” He hardly knew the least thing about getting up there. Now I’m at the age where most of the people I know are dead, and most of the people whom I knew best and who are still alive I’ll never see again. No matter. I don’t feel much resemblance between me and who I was when I knew them.

Oh oh, I’m rambling.

 

 

 

February 15, 2017

Traveling today, but keeping this thought in mind ––

“Fight against the normalization of the unacceptable.”
                                              Christiane  Ananpoor

 

 

February 14, 2017

Why are so many of the rich and super rich so greedy and don’t give a damn about anyone else?

I got a good idea of the reason for this from reading Jane Mayer’s Dark Money –– The Hidden History of the Billionaires behind the Rise of the Radical Right. Her book focuses most intently on the Koch brothers, the richest and most influential of the bunch. It’s characteristic of these people to have great suspicion of government. They tend to think of government as a socialistic monster that burdens them with onerous and impossibly complicated laws and regulations that sap creativity and innovation and drain resources. That would be bad enough, but then they are hit with outrageous taxes. No wonder most of the richest have to funnel lots of income through offshore tax schemes. That’s some help, but do you know how much lawyers charge to set these things up? And what the real estate taxes are on a modest twelve-room retreat in Aspen or the Hamptons? We’re being taxed to death. If we could get our taxes cut by a decent amount, we could invest a lot more in job-creating businesses, which is what America needs, and liberals, whether they be outright or closet socialists, don’t want. Let me tell you –– socialism is a constant threat, and we’ve been steadily drifting rapidly towards it. The danger was laid out a long time ago in a book titled The Road to Serfdom.

Q-  What about the large number of people living in poverty? What about all those unable to get educational opportunities, and so have no chance of lifting themselves up and achieving something approaching the American dream? What about the people struggling with student debt or crippling health care expenses? What about-

A- Let me tell you  –– most of these people could pull themselves up if they made the slightest effort. There’s nothing standing in their way, but most of them like doing nothing. They enjoy living off the government without having to lift a finger. Sure I’m rich  –- but I worked for it. I’m sick of these freeloaders who keep trying to get a handout. Watch your wallet, friends. There are lot of people trying to grab it right out of your hand.

The right-wing rich and super rich really feel that way. No wonder they’re indignant about it.

 

 

 

February 13,  2017

The psychology of the right wing rich and super rich

Why do these people habitually act in ways that are detrimental to the public interest, for example acting to oppose or eviscerate laws and regulations limiting the amount of toxic chemicals that can be released into the air or into lakes and streams, ones aimed at keeping banks and related institutions from repeating practices that led to the financial crisis and the great recession in 2008, and ones enabling more people to have access to adequate health health care?

These right wing rich and super rich I’m talking about don’t need the money. One would think that having inherited or attained great wealth, or inherited great wealth and increased it a lot more, they would realize that they won’t get happier by accumulating extra tens of millions or billions, as the case may be. Why wouldn’t what would make them happier be slowing global warming, or improving health conditions throughout the world, or supporting measures to help people in disadvantaged situations, or improve work opportunities, or reduce child poverty? Some billionaires, like Bill and Melinda Gates, have such desires and work to achieve them, but most of the rich and super rich don’t give damn about such things. Why are they that way? I’ll suggest some reasons tomorrow.

 

 

February 12, 2017

In my blog yesterday, referring to a statement Trump made the other day in New Hampshire, I wrote. “It was just another bald-faced lie that we’ve become accustomed to hearing from Trump, one among such a multitude that it may be that no one has kept count of them.”

This speculation –– that no one has kept count of them –– was wrong! Hours later, scrolling on Facebook, I read this headline:

The complete list of all 57 false things Donald Trump has said as president ––The {Toronto} Star’s running tally of the bald-faced lies, exaggerations and deceptions the president of the United States of America has said, so far.

Congratulations, Toronto Star on your meticulous work! As noted, the Star’s list is limited to false things Trump has said (lies he has told) as president. Of course the list of lies he has told since his election would be much longer.

 

 

 

February 11, 2017

The other day Trump spoke in New Hampshire to a group that included a number of senators. State senators? U.S. Senators? The reports I’ve read didn’t say. In any case, Trump said that he would have won New Hampshire in the election last fall and former Senator Ayotte of that state would have been reelected had Democrats not bussed in thousands of illegal voters for the occasion, a claim that no one believes and for which not a shred of evidence has been put forth.

There is basically not much noteworthy about this. It was just another bald-faced lie that we’ve become accustomed to hearing from Trump, one among such a multitude that it may be that no one has kept count of them. Nor was it so preposterous that it stood out from others –– it was just another example of how Trump behaves. Get used to it.

Evidently that’s what people are doing. So many are getting used to it, that no one one at this gathering shouted, “Excuse me, Mr. President, that’s a lie,” or, “How can you say that, sir? There’s not the slightest evidence for such a claim,” or “Sir, why do you have to lie, lie, lie, almost every time you open your mouth?”

Shouting out like this would have broken protocol. It would have shown a lack of respect for the president of the United States!

If this country is going to survive as a democracy, everyone has a duty to show no respect for the president on occasions when he deserves no respect. We must never stop calling a lie a lie. Instantly, the moment we’re aware of it! Otherwise, we’ll all be drowned in a sea of alternative facts.

 

 

February 10, 2017

No less appalling than Trump himself are almost all his cabinet appointees and, with them or close behind, members of the Republican-controlled Congress, led by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, marching lockstep with the reckless, ignorant, mendacious, mean-spirited, incompetent, hyper-egotistical, mentally unstable caricature of a statesman mocked by nearly all of them a year ago; marching lockstep now after their relentless obstructionism during the Obama years reaching its apotheosis stonewalling Merrick Garland’s nomination.

 

 

February 9, 2017

“There is not in the world a more ignoble character than the mere money-getting American, insensible to every duty, regardless of every principle, bent only on amassing a fortune, and putting his fortune only to the basest uses. . . Such a man is only the more dangerous if he occasionally does some deed like founding a college or endowing a church, which makes  those good people who are also foolish forget his iniquity.” 
                                                                          Theodore Roosevelt

I’m thinking of you, Charles and David Koch
 

 

 

February 8, 2017


Al Franken:  “I voted against the nomination of Betsy DeVos, a billionaire Republican donor, because she is the most incompetent cabinet-level nominee I have ever seen.”

The failure of all but two Republican senators to oppose public schools enemy #1 (Betsy DeVos) lays bare what little regard these people have for anything but money, power, and party influence: The hell with the public school system: the masses are more malleable if they aren’t too well informed. Besides, about twenty of these senators might be thinking: Betsy contributed generously to my campaign; I’d like to be able to count on her for the next one.

There’s scarcely a Republican senator or representative, if any, who shows evidence of grasping that Trump and his cabal are a mortal danger to American Democracy. Will enough of them wake up in time to save us? Maybe a lot of them are already awake, but happy to go along for the ride.

 

 

 

February 7, 2017

 

From an expert observer of Trump's role model:

 

“The point of modern propaganda isn’t only to misinform or push an agenda. It is to exhaust your critical thinking, to annihilate truth.”
                                                                            Gary Kasparov

 

 

February 6, 2017

To get relief from week after week of Trumpian affronts, I tried to remove myself a couple of millennia by reading SPQR – a History of Ancient Rome, by Mary Beard. It’s an outstanding book, but not good for escape reading, as the following demonstrates:

“Electioneering in Rome could be a costly business. By the first century BCE it required the kind of lavish generosity that is not always easy to distinguish from bribery. . . it was the events of 133 BCE that crystallized the opposition between those who championed the rights, liberty and benefits of the people and those who, to put in their own terms, thought it prudent for the state to be guided by the experience and wisdom of the 'best men' (optimi), who in practice were more or less synonymous with the rich. . .”   pps 28, 227.

 

February 5, 2017

 

Here are Democratic senators who voted to stop restricting coal companies from polluting streams with debris from their operations. These senators all come from Red states. They are afraid of coal companies propagandizing against them. It’s tough being a Democrat from a Red state. Some people have decided they have to be as socially irresponsible as Republicans to stay in office. They don’t seem to realize that bigger stakes involved.

McCaskill  (D) MO
Heitcamp   (D)  ND
Mamchin   (D)  WV

 

 

February 4, 2017

 

Vox reported that on Thursday, the Senate voted 54-45 to repeal the stream protection rule that deterred coal companies from dumping mining debris in streams. The House already approved this measure, so as soon as Trump signs it coal companies will be free to pollute water supplies considerably more than they do already.

This step is not going to reinvigorate the coal industry, but it will be bad for a lot of peoples’ health. It will cause many to die sooner than they would have otherwise. It’s no less a criminal act even though no one will be prosecuted for it.

A conclusion to draw from this report is that 54 U.S. senators are unscrupulous, including at least three Democrats.

 

 

 

February 2 /3,  2017

 


 

Traveling today, so I’m late on today’s blog, and it will serve for tomorrow’s blog as well. I’ve gotten to be a regular watcher of Robert Reich’s 12-minute-or-so daily podcast titled “The Resistance Report.” It’s available on Facebook weekdays beginning at 8 p.m. E.S.T. / 5 p.m. P.S.T. I strongly recommended it. 

 

 

Reich is immensely knowledgeable and experienced and speaks with absolute clarity about what’s going on in our country and how we must be clear-headed and active if we are to avoid succumbing to an aspiring tyrant. Most of what he discusses is distressing, but listening to him is a bracing experience nonetheless, because he has a noble spirit, speaks without rancor, and makes sense. His goal, simply, is to to restore sane and decent government our country. It’s a high calling. All of us are in great peril as long as Trump is in the White House.

 

 

February 1, 2017

Under the Republican Tent

A principal constituency of the Republican Party comprises the aspiring to be rich and already rich whose principal goal, in each case, is to get rich or get even richer and think their chances of doing so will be improved if their taxes are lowered and business regulations are removed. Another constituency comprises Christian fundamentalists or quasi fundamentalists who overlook the plutocratic-favoring and oligharcic-tilting nature of GOP policies because they believe that banning abortions, discouraging contraception, and opposing gay marriage are higher priorities for Christians than tolerance, fairness, and compassion. Other constituencies include people obsessed by gun rights, xenophobes, militarists, racists, and generally decent people credulous of right wing propagandizing. It is an unholy alliance, but it has paid off. Democrats must unite, and must fight to counter the disastrous consequences of continuing Republican control of our government.

 

January 31, 2017

Headline: “In Canada, Justin Trudeau Says Refugees Are Welcome”

Bad news. As soon as refugees arrive in Canada, they’ll start streaming south across the border!

To our dear leader, Trump: Please, we need a wall along the Canadian border much more than along the Mexican border! It’s an alternative fact that our border with Mexico is longer than our border with Canada, but it’s a true fact that our border with Canada is longer, so the wall along the Canadian border will cost a lot more, but who cares?  Canada will pay for it, right?

 

January 30, 2017

Posted by Robert Reich this morning:

“President Donald Trump has reorganized the National Security Council—elevating his chief political strategist, Steve Bannon, and demoting the director of national intelligence and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Bannon will join the NSC’s principals committee, the top inter-agency group advising the president on national security.

“Political strategists have never before participated in National Security Council principals meetings, because the NSC is supposed to give presidents nonpartisan, factual advice.

“Meanwhile, the director of national intelligence and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff will now attend meetings only when “issues pertaining to their responsibilities and expertise are to be discussed . . .”

Steve Bannon is the cruder-even-than-Trump, anti-semitic, Alt-right, white nationalist-friendly propagandist who recently said the media should “Shut up."

No further evidence is required that Trump is mentally and morally unfit to be president. Members of Congress, before it’s too late, come to the aid of your country: impeach Trump.

January 29, 2017

Dark Money -–– the Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right, by Jane Mayer.

This is a superb account of how two of the richest people in the world, the famous brothers Charles and David Koch, and their super rich allies and acolytes built a vast propagandizing and money-dispensing network for the purpose of influencing legislation and electing and maintaining in office politicians who would carry out their plutocrat-friendly agendas. Mayer quotes an observer who called the Kochs “deeply passionate,” “disciplined,” and “ruthless,” a judgment nothing in the book contradicts.

The work of the “Kochtopus” has contributed greatly to transitioning our country from a democracy to an oligarchy, a process which, with the installation of Trump as president, is virtually complete.

Can America be saved? Those who live long enough will find out.

 

January 28, 2017

It’s not good to have a sociopath be president of the United States, but that is what has happened. He has obtained tremendous power, and we can expect that he will exploit every possible means to expand it. Concerned only with his own glorification, he will be a destructive force in world affairs. Like-minded sociopaths, even if they don’t like him, will try to help him achieve his goals as long as they think it’s in their own self-interest. It will take courage and commitment on the part of a lot of people, and some luck, to get rid of this man in four years.

 

January 27, 2017

Psychopaths and Sociopaths

It’s useful to distinguish between psychopaths and sociopaths. Psychopaths take pleasure in harming others. Sociopaths usually don’t take pleasure in harming others, but in the course of pursuing their goals they are indifferent to whether they harm others. They lack compassion. They lack a conscience. They have a natural talent for the art of the con.

How can you recognize a sociopath? It’s not always easy. Psychopaths usually get into serious trouble. Eventually they are likely to be stopped from perpetuating their behavior. Sociopaths sometimes get into trouble, they they are harder to identify as malefactors. They tend to be clever and manipulative. They lie when they think it’s to their advantage to lie and tell the truth when they think it’s to their advantage to tell the truth.

Sometimes it’s easy to identify a sociopath, for example  (one out of dozens available), when a president says that when we invade a country (ostensibly for some noble reason, of course), we shouldn’t leave without taking their oil. How easy to tell a sociopath can you get?

It can be useful to be a sociopath. It’s convenient to not care about anyone else but yourself. Sociopaths often rise to high positions in their fields. Martha Stout, a Harvard psychologist, lays all this out in her book The Sociopath Next Door. She estimates that one in twenty-five people are sociopaths. A psychiatrist of my acquaintance told me he thinks that’s a good guess. Lately, I’ve been thinking it’s too low. You’re probably personally acquainted with at least one sociopath, and it’s certain you know of some who are prominent in public life.

 

January 26, 2017

An article in Slate makes a good point: Trump conned a lot of people into voting for him. People who have been fooled don’t like to admit it, even to themselves. When it becomes evident that, contrary to his promises, Trump’s actions have made them worse off, most of his supporters, instead of turning against him, will lay the blame elsewhere. Trump will strenuously encourage them to do so: It’s the corrupt media’s fault, or the long-term effect of Obama’s policies, or whatever scapegoat he can think of and exploit.

Democrats will be hard pressed to make gains in 2018 elections no matter how despicably Trump behaves. Everyone of good will must work to expose him for what he is –– an aspiring tyrant.

 

January 25, 2017

News report: Tump and members of his coterie speak as if it’s assured that he’ll win a second term in 2020. Consider that alongside Trump’s insistence that three to five million votes were cast illegally in last fall’s election; that otherwise he would have won the popular vote, a claim which is a total fabrication.

Fast forward to November 2020. Suppose, as is very possible, Trump loses that election by only a few dozen electoral votes and by margins of a few tens of thousands votes in key swing states. It takes no great powers of prophesy to know that he will claim he was defeated because of illegal voting and will refuse to vacate office until officials in key states conduct “proper” balloting and expunging of illegal votes and various investigations are carried out. Meanwhile, his right-wing billionaire backers and accomplices are horrified at the thought that the Democratic candidate, who is much more progressive than Hillary, will be installed in office if the election isn’t overturned.

Democrats take the case to the Supreme Court. Will the Court rule against Trump? Or issue a ruling that will leave the issue unsettled? Will it even take the case? Will Justices Ginsburg and Breyer still be on the Court? How many right-wing ideologues will have been added to the Court during the next four years?

 

January 24, 2017

Lately, I’ve scrolled past some Wall Street Journal ads on Facebook proclaiming that it’s America’s most trusted newspaper.

The WSJ does some excellent reporting, but its editorials and opinion pieces are overwhelmingly in line with right wing big money propagandizing.

WSJ slanting creeps into its headlines, for example: “White House Disputes Inauguration Attendance Estimates, Despite Evidence to Contrary.”

Sounds kind of balanced, doesn’t it?  Surely, in "disputing," the White House presented evidence too. Well, no it didn't.

I would view the WSJ as more trustworthy, if it had injected clarity into the above  headline:  Either of these would be more accurate:

“Trump’s Lie about Inauguration Attendance Swiftly Exposed.” 
                                   
“Trump’s “Alternative Facts” Exposed as Fiction.”

 

January 23, 2017

“Wealth begets power, and power begets wealth.”

Satisfying for some people, but a vicious circle for nearly everyone else.

 

January 22, 2017

Trump, on his first full day in office:  “I have a running war with the media.”

Ezra Klein:  “Trump’s real war isn’t with the media. It’s with the facts. . . Trump needs to delegitimize the media because he needs to delegitimize the facts.”

From Robert Reich’s 15 Warning Signs of Impending Tyranny:  As tyrants take control of democracies, they typically: . . .  #4. “Turn the public against journalists or media outlets that criticize them. . .”

 

January 21, 2017

The ritualistic trappings of the inauguration yesterday, including most media commentary, gave the impression that this was an ordinary transition from an outgoing president to a newly elected one. In fact, it was an inflection point in an unfolding crisis orders of magnitude greater than any since the Civil War. Then we had Lincoln. Now we have a travesty of a statesman whose almost every utterance is revelatory of a gross narcissistic personality disorder.

Barring unforeseen events, in 2020, the Democratic Party will nominate a candidate to run against this man. We have no idea who this candidate will be, except that he or she will not be named Clinton. We do know that in the course of that year there will be rancorous debates, soaring promises, bitter accusations, and multitudinous tweets, and we know, almost to the point of certainty, that if Trump loses the election, he’ll claim that it was rigged against him, that it was illegitimate, and he will not recognize it. What will the composition of the Supreme Court be in November 2020? Will it matter?

 

January 20, 2017

“Fight against the normalization of the unacceptable.” Christiane  Ananpoor

 

January 19, 2017

Is it any surprise that Trump seeks a cabinet of greedy billionaires, sociopaths, and off-the-wall incompetents? Hillary take note: this is what a real basket of deplorables looks like.

It would take just three principled Republican senators to join with Democrats in rejecting confirmation of most of this disgraceful bunch. I'd begin with the Dept. of Justice nominee, who doesn't believe in voting rights, then move on to the EPA nominee, who is indifferent to protecting the environment, then on to the Education nominee, who wants to cripple public education, then on to the Interior nominee, who wanted to abolish that department, though he couldn't remember its name, then on to the Secretary of State nominee, who is soaked morally in oil. Three Republican senators with consciences could brake our slide to fascism. Will any even peep?

 

January 18, 2017

I recently finished reading Nick Lane’s book The Vital Question –– Energy, Evolution, and the Origins of Complex Life. The author is a biology professor at University College London.

I had thought that it was extremely difficult for life to get started, but that once it did, then, thanks to Darwinian evolution, it’s off to the races. Apparently I was wrong on both counts. Professor Lane argues that the simplest forms of life can arise readily in alkaline hydrothermal vents on the sea floor, and indeed did so on Earth within half a billion years of its formation. These earliest organisms consisted of bacteria and archaea, simple prokaryotic cells that through lateral gene transfer can proliferate into a multitude of variants, but except in extremely rare instances can’t evolve into complex cells (eukaryotes) capable of evolving into the multitudes of macroscopic multicellular plant, animal, and fungal organisms we’re familiar with. It took two billion years after bacteria and archaea appeared for complex cells to join them.

Lane’s analysis suggests that simple life forms (prokaryotes) are very common in the universe and probably exist elsewhere in our own solar system. Complex life forms (eukaryotes), even as simple as single-celled animals, such amoebas, are very much more rare. Life forms that will wave back at us when we wave at them are rarer by orders of magnitude more.

There’s a lot in this book to ponder. One example: Lane says, “I defy you to look through a microscope at a cell from a mushroom and a cell from a human and tell which is which.”

 

January 17, 2017

Facebook:

I have a Facebook page. I never intentionally put anything on it, but if I go to my Facebook bookmark and scroll down, I see a succession of postings. Some of these are of relatives and actual friends. I don’t know whether I see all their postings or just some of them. Sometimes a list of Facebook friends, or quasi friends, appears on the side, including a few I don’t even know. At some point Angela Merkel and Justin Trudeau began posting–– I must have clicked that I like them. Lately, I’ve been seeing posts from Mark Zuckerberg. He seems like a good fellow. You don’t even have to click on his name to become his friend.

Over the past year, I’ve been seeing increasing numbers of posts from famous liberals and progressives, among them: Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, Amy Klobuchar, Al Franken, Bill Maher, Bill Moyers, and Robert Reich, who incidentally is doing great work leading the peaceful resistance against Trump. I guess Facebook must have figured out that I was a liberal / progressive type and so would enjoy seeing what these folks had to say. This is true, but lately the volume has increased, and it seems I can keep scrolling and scrolling without seeing all the postings since I last checked, so I begin to think about how I’m spending too much time on this, and I quit. Furthermore, Facebook has been slipping in more ads. Checking Facebook posts is getting close to being a net waste of time.

Although I don’t initiate posts, I sometimes comment on posts of others.  Recently I saw one I thought was so significant that I clicked on “share.” I’ve done this before. Each time, I'm informed that this had been added to my “timeline,” which, I suppose, when concluded, will consist of birth, “shares,” and death.

 

January 16, 2017

“I look to a day when people will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.”  Martin Luther King Jr.

That will be a great day, Dr. King. Meanwhile, thinking ahead to this Friday, how should a man be judged whose character is content-free?

 

Janurary 15, 2017

Consider the relationship between Exxon under the leadership of the secretary of state nominee, Rex Tillerson, and the ruling family of Equatorial Guinea. This country, only a little larger than Vermont, is rich in oil. It has the largest income per capita in Africa; yet its people are among the most impoverished in the world. Exxon takes the oil, and the ruling family and gets richer beyond rich, year after year. Checking Wikipedia, I learned that less than half of the population has access to clean drinking water, 20% of children die before reaching the age of five, the government has one of the worst human rights records in the world, and the country is a source and destination for women and children subjected to forced labor and sex trafficking.

None of this seems to bother Rex Tillerson, but you and I know it’s not right. Is it morally defensible to acquiesce in the present arrangement? Shouldn’t all Equatorial Guineans have some share of the money that flows into their country as its oil flows out? Should the secretary of state of the United States be someone who doesn’t give a damn?

 

January 14, 2017

The Senate rejected a bill that would permit prescription drug imports from Canada even though safety standards are as high in Canada as in the United States and this change would lower average costs for obtaining these drugs. Most, but not all, Republican Senators voted against the bill. Thirteen Republicans voted for it. It would have passed with ease, had not twelve Democratic senators voted against it, all or most of them recipients of campaign financing from the pharmaceutical industry. The Democratic Party likes to project itself as the party for the people, unlike the Republicans, the party of the big business. Generally, Democratic policies are far more progressive than Republican policies, but as long as so many Democratic politicians appear to be on the take just as much as Republicans –- as long as people think, “Oh, they’re all alike” ––Democrats are likely to remain shunted off to the sidelines.

 

January 13, 2017

A lot of Trump supporters who don’t have particularly high regard for him still have faith that somehow he’ll shake things up, make things better for America. No matter bad his behavior, it’s okay, because he’s the breath of fresh air this country needs. And they enjoy the way Trump keeps goading the liberal politicians and media. They scoff at claims that his policies will work against the interests of most people who supported him.

Democrats may just have to wait until the terrible consequences of Trump’s election actually happen. Even then it won’t be easy to convince Trump’s legions of followers. Whatever is reported that reflects badly on him, he’ll call fake news, meanwhile putting out a stream of his own real fake news. And he’ll throw a lot of blame in Obama’s direction: Obama messed up the country so much, it may take all eight years of Trump’s presidency to make America great again. A lot of people will believe this.

 

January 12, 2017

Many people who voted for Trump were either misled about, or simply ignorant of, the effect his policies and behavior would have on themselves and on the country. Keeping as much of the public as ignorant and confused as possible is a high priority for Trump and his political allies. They have various ways of accomplishing this.

Trump’s methodology was on display yesterday in his quasi news conference. He refused to take a question from Jim Acosta, a CNN reporter. “You are fake news!” Trump yelled at him. He called Buzz Feed “a failing pile of garbage.” He called  BBC “another beauty.” His behavior supplied an excellent example of #4 of Robert Reich’s Fifteen warning signs of impending tyranny: “Turn the public against journalists or media outlets that criticize them, calling them “deceitful” and “scum.”

 

January 11, 2017

At the hearing for confirmation of the nominee for secretary of state this morning, Marco Rubio, to his credit, demanded that Tillerson say whether or not Vladimir Putin is a war criminal –– there's more than ample evidence that he is. Tillerson ducked the question. He had to, given his long history of business dealings with Putin and that his future boss, Trump, is one of Putin's admirers. So it goes, the swamp deepens and overflows.

 

January 10, 2017

I recently finished reading Damned to Fame, James Knowlson’s definitive biography of Samuel Beckett. Knowlson’s account is extremely detailed, but it’s worth plowing through because, apart from his astonishing literary output, Beckett was such a fascinating man. Among other nuggets in the book is a report of a conversation Beckett’s friend (Dartmouth professor) Lawrence Harvey had with him:

Writing was for him, he said, a question of “getting down below the surface" toward what he described as “the authentic weakness of being.” This was associated with a strong sense of the inadequacy of words to explore the forms of being. “Whatever is said is so far from the experience;” “if you really get down to the disaster, the slightest eloquence becomes unbearable.” In this he was far removed, he maintained, from the approach of James Joyce: “Joyce believed in words. All you had to do was rearrange them and they would express what you wanted.”

 

January 9, 2017

Robert Reich notes this morning: “Trump exhibits all the characteristics of a sociopath: compulsive lying, lack of shame or remorse, pathological egocentricity and narcissism, desperate need for attention, lack of empathy, short attention span, impulsiveness, and vindictiveness.”

This has been obvious for a long time. What’s almost equally disturbing is that Republican senators, who we should be able to count on to keep Trump under control at least in some respects, have fallen slavishly in line behind him, rushing confirmation of his cabinet appointees without proper vetting for conflicts of interest and other concerns. It would take only a few Republican senators to send a message to Trump that he has been elected president, not king. Senators who fail to do that, if not sociopaths themselves, are sleepwalking and won't likely wake up till it’s too late.

 

January 8, 2017

Excellent cross-country skiing yesterday at Purgatory, in southwest Colorado. For me, and this may be true for most people, to enjoy skiing at age 85 it’s necessary to (i) eat right, (ii) do 45 minutes of stretches and strength-building and a half hour semi-aerobic activity every day, and (iii) be lucky enough to have escaped having some disease or disability sneak up on you, which can happen no matter how healthy your lifestyle.

It may seem to some that the workout regiment described above is too laborious and time-consuming to be worth the trouble. I don’t find it so, because magically it becomes addictive. Feeling a nagging desire to keep up with your exercise routine is a good addiction.

 

January 7, 2017

Yesterday heads of our principal intelligence agencies released the declassified report that described the sophisticated propagandistic and cyber attack campaign Putin-ruled Russia directed in an effort to help Trump win the election.

Trump found nothing to be concerned with about this. “There was absolutely no effect on the outcome of the election,” he said. In Trump-truth land that was the conclusion the intelligence agencies reached.

In true truth land there is no question that Putin’s efforts caused an unknown number of people who would have voted for Clinton to vote instead for Trump, and though it can never be proved, or disproved, Putin’s efforts very possibly changed the outcome. 

Trump’s message is that it’s all right for anyone, including foreign dictators, to use illegal means to interfere with our electoral processes, as long as they are acting on his behalf. From Trump's perspective the intelligence agencies acted in an unruly fashion in releasing this report. Once he’s president, he'll try to reform them so they will better serve his needs.

 

January 6, 2017

A day yet to be determined during the next four years:

Mr. President, I’m sorry to interrupt you while you’re having your hair done, but our intelligence agencies have just confirmed that North Korea conducted a successful test of a MIRV ICBM with a range sufficient to deliver nuclear warheads to continental United States.

Trump.  So, what are they trying? Kim Jong knows he can’t play games with me. I won’t let him.

Yes, sir.  Should I set up a meeting with your security advisors?

Trump:  Draft a tweet. Make it tough.

Yes, sir.  Then, should I - ?

Trump (to hairdresser). Fluff it more in front.

 

Janurary 5, 2017

Today’s New York Times obituary of the British philosopher, Derek Parfit, says that he “developed a theory of identity that downgraded the notion, and the importance, of an irreducible self — the ‘deep further fact,’ as he called it — in terms not dissimilar to Buddhism.”

This resonates with something I’ve been thinking: that the best revenge against mortality –– better than “living well,” which the old proverb counsels–– may be to shift investment in your ego more away from yourself and more onto the selves of others for whom you have affection, whether or not you know them or not personally, many of whom will outlive you, and are people who tend to spread joy and comfort rather than sorrow and suffering. Your influence, for good or ill, will outlive you. In that sense, you outlive yourself. Your self, if not immortal, is nevertheless much larger than one might imagine.

 

January 4, 2017

As long as torture is countenanced as a matter of policy of great nations, it’s improbable that the human species will long survive. If a presidential candidate approves of torture under any circumstances, even if he appears to be ideal in every other respect, he should be ruled out. Donald Trump is on record for approving waterboarding, which is clearly a form of torture, and said that he would authorize a lot worse. Trump is unfit to be president for innumerable reasons; his advocacy of torture is number one on my list.

Trump has announced that he will nominate James N. Mattis, a former U.S. Marine Corps general, as secretary of defense. Mattis, as you might expect, is no softie, but, lo and behold, he opposes torture. If he is confirmed as secretary of defense, he should issue a directive forbidding it. If Trump orders otherwise, Mattis should resign, and not quietly. The same is true of anyone in the employ of the United States, whether in uniform or not. It’s a case where to obey orders is a crime against humanity.

 

January 3, 017

The new year starts off with the Republican-controlled House of Representatives abolishing independent ethics oversight of themselves. They did this against the wishes of their leader, Paul Ryan, who doesn’t like the way it looks bad. It looks bad because it is bad, its purpose being to make corruption hassle free. The vote was taken in secret. The foxes in the hen house don't want people to know who they are.

Update: Three cheers for Zephyr Teachout and others who put the heat on members of the House of Represnetatives and, within hours, shamed them into reversing themselves and reinstating independent ethics oversight. Trump criticized their trying to shield themselves from scrutiny as their first order of business in the new year. (Subtext: try again later when it won't generate such adverse publicity.) Unfortunately, members of Congress worried about scrutiny of their ethical behavior are still in office. It's not as if they suddenly aquired good moral character.

 

January 2, 2016

It’s worth following Robert Reich’s Facebook postings. Reich is a former Secretary of Labor and is presently a professor at Berkeley. To begin the new year he lists 15 warning signs of impending tyranny. They are chilling to read, and they all apply to Trump.

Democracy in America is In peril. A majority of our citizens voted for Democratic candidates, but Republicans control the government. During the next two years, they will use their power to tilt elections even more toward their candidates. By 2018 it will be even harder for Democrats to regain control of Congress than it was in 2016. By 2020 it could be harder still.

Reich’s warning sign #1 of a tyrant in the making: Exaggerate their mandate to govern –– claiming, for example, that they won an election by a landslide even after losing the popular vote.

 

January 1, 2017

The new year doesn’t look good, but the future is unpredictable. Surprising good things could happen. Don’t be despairing. Be calm, but active.

Resolutions: I’m all for them. But they should be serious and stuck to. Mine is to write a blog every day and try to make it interesting and thought-provoking. Writing something that I know is publicly accessible puts salutary pressure on me to have it make sense.

I admire people who keep a journal. Some eminent writers, including Joan Didion and Flannery O’Conner, have said that they don’t know what they think until they write it down. We tend to toss off thoughts in conversation –– they spill out of our mouths. Same with tweets and text messages. It concentrates the mind if you put thoughts in writing, read what you wrote, and revise it and review it to make sure what you’ve written is coherent and true to what you really think. Not a bad idea to do this every day.

 

December 31, 2016

      Sometimes thoughts occur to me that seem significant though they don’t prompt me to make a decision or draw further conclusions. They linger in my mind, however, and are likely to feed into my decision-making process. Here’s one:
     There are a lot of people in the world for whom gaining wealth, power, and admiration is their most important personal goal. For others, personal achievement may be important, but they have a broader goal as well –– they take satisfaction in increasing joy and comfort, and in diminishing suffering and discomfort, of others. The character of most people probably combines these qualities to varying degrees. If you rated everyone, you’d probalby find that distribution is on a fairly standard bell curve. Mabye it's a good idea to rate yourself on this scale, then think about whether that’s where you want to be starting tomorrow, the beginning of a new year. I'll give it a try.
 

December 30, 2016            

                                       Democracies  >>>>>>  Autocracies

A recent Washington Post Op-Ed article by Miklos Haraszti, a Hungarian author and scholar, provides us with a cautionary lesson. A rising tide of pseudo (unprincipled) populism, drawing support from, and stoking, nativistic, xenophobic, and generally mean-spirited and self-delusional tendencies, has been percolating world-wide. Putin and Putinism is the most lustrous example. The same spirit is responsible for the elevation to high office of such grotesque figures as Rodrigo Duterte in the Philippines and Governor Paul LePage in Maine, for increasingly autocratic regimes in Turkey and Poland, for the Brexit phenomenon, for the rising tide of right-wing illiberal populism in France, for Trump, of course, and for the imposition on Hungarians of the proto-fascist rule of Prime Minister Viktor Orban. 

Orban, whom Haraszti defines as a “post-truther,” was duly elected despite having “depicted migrants as rapists, job-stealers, terrorists and ‘poison’ for the nation.” He has since built “a vast fence along Hungary’s southern border.”

Make {insert the name of your country} great again! This rallying cry, emblazoned on a baseball cap for American consumption, is a theme common to proto-fascist demagogues world-wide. Haraszti writes: the “favorite means of communication {of populists} is provoking conflict. . . Personal and family greed, cronyism, thievery combined with hypocrisy are in the genes of illiberal autocracy.”

Trump will do everything he can to increase his power and obstruct the election of any opponent in 2020. Everyone of good will must work to defeat him.

 

December 29, 2016 

                              Trump and the Propagandist Technique –– Part III

Since the election, Trump and his allies have continued to lie and inject fake news into the public consciousness. Typical was Trump’s claim that two million people illegally voted for Clinton. That this isn’t plausible and can’t be documented is not a problem, as the Propagandistic Playbook makes clear. Embellish. Exaggerate. Repeat. Encourage your supporters to do the same. Keep the lies coming. That’s the Playbook, the only one we know Trump has read.

Free speech and free press present a problem for Trump. We’re still hoping these institutions of American freedom will contain him.  What is our hope has been Trump’s worry. How can he and his allies fight the still vocal elements of responsible media? Lately they’ve come up with an ingenious strategy. Brand responsible traditional media fake: it’s part of an elite liberal conspiracy. Keep putting out big lies and add to them lies about the truth-tellers. Spread confusion, but assure the befuddled people you’ll rescue them from it. The worse confusion gets, the more they need you. It’s not the truth –- it’s Trump that will set you free.

     In his great essay, On Liberty, the 19th Century philosopher John Stuart Mill argued for the free expression of ideas. He said that if all points of view could be heard, the truth would win out. The wisest policy would emerge. The underlying assumption of his essay was that everyone values the truth. One would think so. But great numbers of  politicians despise truth when it does not suit their purposes. What matters to them is money, power, and winning admiration. Truth lovers need to work and fight hard if true truth is to prevail over fake truth.

 

December 28, 2016

                                 Trump and the Propagandist Method -- Part II

 


It took a weird combination of phenomena, each highly unlikely, for the catastrophe named Trump to have befallen our country. As his campaign progressed, Trump was aided by the failure of the mainstream independent media to expose him as a charlatan and a fraud, which they could have and should have by sheer recitation and documentation of facts. Instead, eager to heighten suspense and drama, and therefore ratings, they elevated Clinton’s foibles to the same level as Trump’s. Abetting his campaign further was the distorted output of right wing mouthpieces such as Fox News and Rush Limbaugh, the tilting of the scales by the F.B.I Director, and the flooding of fake news from  other sources calculated to discredit Clinton. Then there were Clinton’s stumbles, some quite bizarre, and her inability to come across as authentic. I won’t attempt to be exhaustive. What is important is that even half as an appalling person as Trump would never have been elected had not numerous highly unlikely phenomena come together in a perfect storm of political fate. Now the inauguration approaches, and a new sinister development has occurred.  To be continued.

 

 

December 27, 2016

 

                                Trump and the Propagandist Method -- Part I

Whether they have ascended to power through a military coup, revolution, or more or less democratic processes, it is the universal practice of dictators to employ one or more big lies and a continual stream of smaller lies, the purpose of which is to inculcate the brains of their subjects with notions of reality calculated to impress, intimidate, and control them. Freedom of speech and independent media are serious impediments to this process, which is why dictators suppress them as fast as practical considerations allow until they are shut down completely and public discourse thereafter is subject to scrutiny by censors. For a vivid and timely example of how this works, see Masha Gessen’s book, The Man without a Face: The Unlikely Rise of Vladimir Putin.

In the course of his campaign Trump adopted this proven technique without reservation, lying continually about large and small matters. Normally, our Constitutional protection of free speech and the existence of diverse elements of independent media would have resulted in his being drummed off the stage. The coincidence of a half a dozen or more unlikely and unprecedented phenomena allowed him to get away with it.

To be continued.

 

 

December 26, 2016

I’ve been looking through the list of Democratic governors and senators, hoping to find an outstanding candidate to pit against Trump in 2020. Of course the best candidate may be someone other than a sitting Governor or Senator. It’s early even to guess who might emerge as the strongest choice. The right candidate will be someone capable of communicating what is important and what is true to prospective voters, so they can become informed enough to vote rationally. Hillary failed to do that, besides being widely disliked, and in 2016 a lot of people voted irrationally. One possible candidate I’m keeping an eye on is Jeff Merkley, the junior Democratic Senator from Oregon. He has an impressive academic background, and, critically important, sound judgment. The other day Merkely said that Trump has the emotional maturity of a five-year old. Bill Maher, known for his excellent judgment, has likened Trump to a toddler. I think Merkley’s judgement is sounder even than Bill Maher’s.

 

December 25, 2016

Merry Christmas and Happy Hanukkah and all other greetings expressing good will and peace and love. May this spirit prevail over contrary inclinations and aberrations, and happiness abound.

 

December 24, 2016

Greetings, friends –– it’s Christmas time, a time (like all others) to wish health and happiness to all. I want to write about other things, and soon will, but the orange-haired one is as hard to look away from as an approaching tsunami. In fact, we’d better not.

“Let it be an arms race; we will outmatch them at every pass, and outlast them all,” he said the other day. What about infrastructure building you talked about, and cutting taxes, and reducing national debt? Just talk. It's building bigger nukes that will make America great again.

We may survive. We may yet return him to his towers and palaces four long years from now.

 

December 23, 2016

Despite nuclear arms reductions over the past few decades, Russia and the U.S. are capable of destroying each other several times over. Nonetheless, Putin says he wants to increase Russia’s nuclear warfare capability, and Trump says that he wants to greatly increase U.S. nuclear warfare capability. The two seem to have forgotten that they are buddies! There was a time when Stalin thought Hitler and he were buddies. Sometimes it happens with people like this: they have a falling out.

Has Trump read William Perry’s book My Journey at the Nuclear Brink? It’s hard even to conceive of such a possibility, much less lay odds on it. Because of this book’s frightening relevance, I’ve copied my August 18, 2016 note on it below:

     Throughout his career as a mathematician, engineer, professor, and executive, in various capacities in and out of Government including as Under Secretary of Defense for Research and Engineering, Deputy Secretary of Defense, and Secretary of Defense (1994 -1997), William Perry has worked with unflagging energy to bring high moral commitment, deep technical knowledge, and exceptional negotiating and inter-personal skills to bear in reducing the risk of a nuclear catastrophe. At times during the Cold War, he helped develop technological improvements in U.S. military systems to offset the destabilizing preponderance of conventional forces established by the Soviet Union. At other times, he helped bring about bi-lateral and multi-lateral agreements looking toward reduction of nuclear weapons, delivery systems, and manufacturing capabilities.
     Thanks in part to Perry’s work, when fortuitous circumstances and wisdom of principal actors held sway, steps were taken back from the brink. In particular, dismantling nuclear missiles in Kazakhstan, Belarus, and Ukraine was a tremendous achievement. Unfortunately, more recently, unwise military initiatives on the part of the West, though styled as defensive, had the effect of stoking Russian nationalistic fervor, supplying Putin with fodder for tightening his despotic grip, garnering support for seizing Crimea and border areas of Ukraine, allying himself with the Syrian war crimes criminal, Bashar al-Assad, and despite Russia’s serious economic problems, initiating a military buildup at a rate not seen since the Cold War. We are closer to the brink than we were a decade or two ago.
      For sixty years or more, thousands of ICBMs with nuclear warheads have been positioned throughout the world, targeting cities and military installations under protocols allowing no more than a few minutes in which a decision to launch –– to initiate or participate in the destruction of human civilization –– must be made. Progress toward nuclear disarmament has stalled. We face the prospect of a renewed nuclear arms race with Russia. In east Asia, China’s ruler since 2012, Xi Jinping, has been asserting new territorial claims and building military capability to enforce them; Kim Jong-un has been expanding North Korea’s nuclear arsenal and developing long-range delivery systems; dangerous tensions remain between Pakistan and India, both nuclear armed. The danger is probably increasing that agents of a hostile power or terrorist organization could explode a nuclear device in an American city. So far, we have been lucky. Perry notes, “‘Luck’ is a dishearteningly unreliable deliverer from nuclear conflagrations.”
     My Journey at the Nuclear Brink is absorbing, sobering, poignant, heartwarming, and heartbreaking. How was it that, as I finished it, the name Donald Trump came to mind? A few days ago, George Shultz, former Secretary of Labor, Secretary of the Treasury and Secretary of State, all under Republican presidents, one of the most respected statesmen of the past century, now in his nineties, was asked what he thought of the prospect of a Trump presidency. His reply though brief, needs no elaboration: “God help us.”
 

 

December 22, 2016

It’s critical for the future of this country that Democrats get their act together. They can hardly begin to get started until the last weekend in February when a chairperson of the Democratic National Committee is elected. Right now, the Party seems somewhat split between the progressive wing, e.g., Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, both of whom support Congressman Keith Ellison (though he has also been endorsed by centrists Harry Reid and Chuck Schumer) and those, Barrack Obama among them, who support the present Secretary of Labor, Tom Perez. There are some other candidates as well, and a compromise choice might emerge. 

There's no question that tough times lie ahead. Many more Democratic than Republican Senate seats are up for grabs in 2018. By 2020, we can expect that lack of judicial control over voting rights restrictions will have enabled Republican-controlled state governments to have made it even more difficult for citizens likely to vote Democratic to get to the polls and that even more extreme Republican-tilted Gerrymandering will be in place. Democrats have their work cut out for them, and as of the moment, no Democratic presidential candidate of Trump-dumping mettle is visible this side of the future time horizon.

 

December 21, 2016

On my reading list for 2017 is Jane’s Mayer’s Dark Money, an account, I gather, mainly about how the multi-billionaire Koch brothers have used their tremendous financial power to fight efforts to combat climate change and campaign finance reform, curtail voting rights, strip away environmental protections, increase inequality, and generally steer the country hard right. Many other billionaires are equally lacking in social conscience, but the Koch brothers stand out in the sheer magnitude of assets they possess and in the amount of harm they inflict on American Democracy and upon the environment.

Wise laws would limit the power billionaires have in relation to ordinary people, and, indeed, in relation to mere multimillionaires. But there are no such wise laws in place, and it’s certain they are not going to be enacted while Trump is in power. That’s why it’s time for the good multibillionaires to step up and combat the Kochs and their like. Only good multibillionaires have the financial power to even the political playing field, which has been getting more tilted every year, and with Trump’s ascendency looks as if it will become increasingly vertical year after year until it reaches the angle of a feudal castle wall.

Who are the good multi-billionaires? I’m not knowledgeable enough to provide a list, but I’ll say that I think that Warren Buffet and Bill Gates are decent men. The Gates Foundation, to which Buffet has massively contributed, has done a lot of very important good work around the world, including greatly reducing deaths from malaria. I’m not aware that either of these good multibillionaires have been aggressively active politically. I understand why they haven’t, but American Democracy is in grave peril –– it’s time for them to get in the act. If they don’t, all the good they’ve accomplished is likely to go for nought.

 

December 20, 2016

Poll: 52% of Republicans think Trump won the popular vote. I’ve seen other data similar to this, evidencing widespread ignorance of basic, indisputable information. A large percentage of people who voted for Trump were misinformed before the election and remain so.

Trump has said repeatedly that he won by a landslide. He wouldn’t say that if he’d gotten 2.8 million fewer votes than Hillary in the election, would he? He wouldn’t if he were an honorable man.

A great number of Trump supporters live in a cocoon of misinformation spun directly or indirectly out of the mouth of Trump. Democrats and the media need to do a much better job of communicating true information to the entire public. It would be nice if Republicans did too.

 

December 19, 2016

“Greetings, Friends.” Each Christmas time a poem with this title appears in The New Yorker. Ian Frazier’s (Dec. 19 & 26 issue) may be the best ever. Events lately haven’t been of a kind to send one prancing through halls with boughs of holly. Undeterred, this worthy bard composed line after line for us of witty, wise, and loving verse. Take that, despair!

 

December 18, 2016

To my friend in Barcelona:

Christmas greetings, Ricardo. I assured you some months ago that Trump would not be elected, but, as one of our greatest jurists, O.W. Holmes, Jr., remarked, “Certitude is not the same as certainty.” America risks becoming a fascist state. With a little luck, increasing numbers of citizens will realize that Trump is a fraud and a phony and poses a mortal threat to this country and to the world. Then the tide will turn against him and his ilk, and American democracy will be restored.

 

December 17. 2016

About this daily blog –– the idea is to make it wide-ranging in subject matter, including notes about my personal life, books I’ve been reading , and on what I have been experiencing or thinking about. So far, I’ve been focused on politics. That’s because I’m dismayed at how America seems to be transitioning from a liberal democracy to a Putinesque state.

Trump is the apotheosis of this trend, but it’s broader than Trump and his proclaimed followers. In the Supreme Court, in Congress, and in state governments, cynical, partisan, anti-democratic practices have been on the rise. Example: the stonewalling by Senate Republicans of Obama’s appointment of Judge Garland to the Supreme Court, a flagrant display of contempt for the Constitution.

 I don’t intend to blog all the time, or even most of the time, about political matters, but they’re shaping up to be foremost topic on my mind.
 

 

December 16, 2016

Nearly everyone understands the benefit of vaccines against disease. Trumpism is a potentially fatal disease that has swept across the land. If most Americans had been vaccinated against scourges of this sort, we could have fought Trumpism off. Now we know: before graduating from high school, every citizen should be vaccinated against con artists, charlatans, cult leaders, mesmerists, and the like. Booster shots should be given to guard against notably garish, swaggering, charismatically orange-haired ones.  

How would such a vaccine be formulated? I’d make it a requirement that to graduate from high school you had to have read four particular books. Each book would be the subject of a full-year course, so that even the least academically able students would be able to get a working understanding of it. More able students would also read and report on collateral materials.

My nomination of a book for each high school year:

      Freshman year: Mark Twain: The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
      Sophomore year: Eric Hoffer: The True Believer
      Junior year: George Orwell: 1984.
      Senior year: Karl Popper: The Open Society and Its Enemies.

 

Since we didn’t have such a vaccination program in place, we have to figure out how to save 324,000,000 infected patients.

 

December 15, 2016

One of the factors that combined with others to produce the electoral calamity of 2016 was that many voters weren’t well enough informed to realize what an extreme danger Trump poses to American democracy and to all humanity.

This lack of awareness on the part of millions of voters was caused by a number of factors, among them (i) propaganda disseminated by Republican politicians and right wing media such as Fox news and the Rush Limbaugh radio show, (ii) Trump’s effective demagogic technique, (iii) elements of the media preferring to improve ratings than practice responsible journalism, (iv) Hillary’s lapses and inability to come across as authentic, (v) the irresponsible (to characterize it charitably) behavior of F.B.I. Director Comey, and (vi) Hillary’s failure, and even President Obama’s failure, and even Bernie Sanders’ failure to draw sufficiently sharp and detailed distinctions between the consequences that would ensue from Trump’s agenda and those that would ensue from Hillary’s.

All these problems, grave and disquieting as they were, would not have been decisive if many more voters had a better understanding of American history and the American political system.

 

December 14, 2016

The outcome of the recent election reminded me of Sebastian Junger’s book The Perfect Storm, a superb account of how a highly unlikely coinciding of meteorological factors produced the storm of spectacular fury that sunk the fishing boat, Andrea Gail, in 1991, drowning its six crewmen.

Last month, a highly unlikely coinciding of political factors produced the election of a candidate spectacularly unfit to be president.

America has had exceptional good luck throughout its history. This year, as was bound to happen sometime, its luck ran out. We’ll need some luck to come back, along with dedication, courage, and hard work of millions of good people, if we’re to save America from becoming a fascist state.

 

December 13, 2016

Last night I watched a “Town Hall” conducted by Chris Hayes (MSNBC -- 8:00 P.M. Eastern) in Kenosha, Wisconsin. Bernie Sanders joined a panel of local citizens, some of whom voted for Trump and some who didn’t. (Trump won narrowly in Kenosha this year, whereas Obama beat Romney in 2012 and McCain in 2008.)
 
I think Hayes’s idea was to get a better understanding of why Trump attracted so much support in a place typical of many cities in states like Wisconsin, Michigan, and Ohio. Viewers got to see a little of Kenosha, including an immense stretch of leveled land where a factory once stood. Hayes could have cross-examined Trump supporters as to why they thought that their economic situations would more likely improve under Trump than under Hillary and as to how in good conscience they could vote for such a racist, sexist, xenophobic, crude, ignorant, avaricious, and mendacious candidate as Trump, but that would have been counter-productive, coming off as preaching by a liberal, elite, slick-talking, coastal intellectual. What counted was that during the campaign Trump’s message came across in brisk bold face type and Hillary’s in strung-out wonkish verbiage, and that, for many, Hillary hatred and mistrust neutralized Trump’s appalling behavior.

Unemployment in Kenosha is slightly below the national average, but I got the sense that average income and quality of life have fallen. Despite the supposedly low rate of inflation, living expenses, including educational and medical and insurance expenses, are up. These people have been squeezed. They are sick of establishment figures. When it came to voting, they were willing to throw their lot in with someone who “talked straight “and would “shake things up.”

What now?  I’ll save that topic till a future blog, except to say that I heartily agree with Bill Maher’s recent message to Bill and Hillary Clinton: “Thank you for your thirty years of service. Now I don’t want to see either of you again.”

 

December 12, 2016

“If we learned anything in the 2016 election, it is that a slick charismatic figure can trash the First Amendment, threaten all sorts of unconstitutional actions, incite violence and appeal to naked prejudice with nary a peep from the majority of voters.”
                                                             Jennifer Rubin, Washington Post columnist

Determining why this is true –– how such a person could be elected –– is the first step toward curing the sickness that has come over the land.

 

December 11, 2016

Donald Trump has a single standard for determining whether an assertion is true or not: if it is in accord with his personal liking, it is true; if it is contrary to his personal liking, it is false. Thus, if the CIA asserts that it has determined that the Russians tried to influence the elections to help Trump, this is false. Not only false, but it reveals that the CIA is run by incompetent, terrible people –– that it will be necessary, no doubt, to clean house.  

Suppose the CIA had asserted that there was no evidence that the Russians tried to help Trump, that this was a rumor planted by biased elements in the media. Such an assertion would be true. Indeed it would reveal that the CIA is run by fine people and that we should be thankful it stands up for the truth. As for the treacherous biased media, it will be necessary, no doubt, to clean house.

If not successfully challenged, this way of confronting reality will lead to heart-breaking and calamitous results.

 

December 10, 2016

Remember Louis Armstrong’s remark, “If you have to ask what jazz is, you’ll never know.” That’s the way I feel about Trump: If you have to ask why Trump is unfit to be president, you’ll never know. Maybe that’s what Hillary had in mind when she made her self-destructive remark about Trump supporters being “irredeemable.”

This won’t do. We should put our feelings aside. Democrats must avoid falling into the ruinous trap Hillary did by disparaging people who supported Trump. Instead, we need to learn why they came to feel the way they do. Bernie Sanders knows this. That’s why he is conducting a “town hall” in Kenosha, Wisconsin, which will be covered by Chris Hayes on MSNBC Monday night Dec. 12, 8:00 P.M. E.S.T. Romney lost Kenosha in 2012, whereas Trump won by a large margin. I’m looking forward to watching this meeting and getting a better understanding of why Trump attracted so much support.

 

December 9, 2016

Last evening Rachel Maddow reported on a new poll, in which voters were asked not about which candidate or politician they supported or would vote for, but about certain facts that reasonably informed voters should know the answer to, for example, during Obama’s eight years in office, (1) has the stock market gone up or down? and (2) has the unemployment rate gone up or down?

The great majority of those who voted for Clinton, Johnson, or Stein knew the answers to these questions. A sizable majority of those who voted for Trump did not. They thought that the stock market has gone down and that unemployment has gone up. In fact, the stock market has more than doubled during Obama’s tenure, and the unemployment rate has fallen sharply.

This poll thus revealed a new fact: the majority of those who voted for Trump are strikingly uninformed. This is important, and I will discuss it further in the next few days.

 

December 8, 2016

Today marks (the sort of) official publication of my memoir, celebrated with a new home page. I didn't intend to be tilted, as shown in this photo. Am I resisting the gravitational pull of the rock mass to my right? Maybe at least psychologically?

 December 7, 2016

Today is a good day to remember that our present danger lies within. “We must fight against the normalization of the unacceptable.” Christiane Amanpour.

 

Decamber 6, 2016

Rather than posting sporadic blogs, book notes, and personal blogs, I've resolved to post a blog on one topic or another here every day. I'll try not to miss any, though it's not likely I won't.

As for anyone keeping a journal, this project is an exercise in self-discipline, an attempt to ensure that there won't be a day when I don't think, at least a little.

There's more need for self-discipline and thinking now than ever, for we have clearly entered a new age, one that's an odd form of "ocracy," a unique one, in fact. We've pretty much left democracy; we're not quite yet in an autocracy; to a considerable extent we're in a plutocracy. Very defintiely we're in a mockocracy. Most astonishingly we've entered a trumpocracy!

It may take awhile before we know exactly what that is, but we already know it's something we need to exit as fast as we can.

_________________________________________________

December 5, 2016

Beginning tomorrow, personal blogs, nonpersonal blogs and book notes will all be incorporated under daily blog.

Pub. date of my memoir, most recently scheduled for today, is now scheduled for Dec. 8th.

 

December 1, 2016

I've decided to combine "blog" and "personal blog" under "personal blog" beginning December 6th, and will attempt to post a blog daily beginning on that date.

 

Novermber 26, 2016

Still on track for a pub date for my memoir of December 5.

I have no new book project in mind at the moment, but beginnning December 6th I'm going to try to post a mini blog on this website every day. I'll be wide-ranging in subject matter, but I expect my overriding concern will be to make America great again, a project the first step of which, of course, is to turn Trump out of office.

 

November 14, 2016

Still revising my memoir.  But now it's truly almost finished.

 

September 23, 2016

I've finished (I think) revising my memoir. With a little luck, it should be published in about a month.

It's been an interesting exercise writing it, and an instructive one too.

 

March 31 2016

    Working on my memoir of growing up in the 1930s and 1940s, I’ve been questioning how accurate my memories are and to what extent my brain has been subconsciously determining which memories can be recalled and which will be repressed.
     A lot has been written about “false memories.” It has been said that memories are stories we construct in our minds  I think the facts I will be reciting are generally accurate, but, reviewing them, I’ve noticed that I see many events in a different light than I once did. In some instances, I behaved in ways that at the time seemed acceptable, but now appall me. The insights I’ve gained have prompted me to meditate on how life should be lived. I’ll set forth my thoughts on that almost intractable topic in an appendix.

February 16, 2016

      This month I turned 85. From my perspective this is bizarre. I should be 50 –– I can swim a 1,000 yards without stopping, thanks to good diet, good exercise, and very good luck. Fifty is what I should be, though emotionally put together, which then I decidedly was not.
      When you’re as old as I am, you need more good luck every year than the year before, and some year you won’t have it. On the bright side, you can’t die prematurely!
      What does one do at 85? If you can help it, don’t slouch on the couch. Stay engaged. That’s what everyone says. I’m not sure how engaged I am. I feel more like an observer, though maybe an engaged observer, working on my memoir about growing up in the 1930s and 1940s.

 

December 10, 2015

Lately (by which I mean during the past twenty-five years), my creative efforts have been indulgences. Joseph Campbell would have approved: I followed my bliss. As a result, I produced my best work and had almost no commercial success. 2016 looks to be more of the same. I’ve started writing a a memoir of growing up in the 1930s and 1940s, a period so far back that, if Barbara Tuchman hadn’t pre-empted me, I might title my book, A Distant Mirror. It’s intended to be both a social history and a study of how I became the person I used to be.

 

October 26, 2015

About forty years ago or so, when I was working in New York, I met a friend for lunch, and he began the conversation by saying, “You’re looking at man whose life is in shards and splinters.” I didn’t say so, but I could have said the same, and not long afterward, I consulted a psychiatrist. He was about ten years older than I and impressed me as being all wise and all knowing. He nodded empathetically as I described my difficulties. There may have been some intervening discussion, but all I remember was that he said, “When I’m feeling that way, I tell myself that in fifty years it won’t matter.”

My initial reaction to this was astonishment. This man appeared to be completely self-assured, emotionally composed, healthy, enjoying his work, making plenty of money, and, by all accounts, he had fine home and family. How could his life ever be in shards and splinters? I’ll never know, but I’ve come to realize it wouldn’t have been impossible.

My next reaction was puzzlement. Is the notion that “it won’t matter” comforting, or is it depressing? Is it true?  Whether it’s true or not depends on the meaning of the word “it.” If “it” doesn’t extend beyond one’s own consciousness, the doctor was right. But shouldn’t a task of psychiatry be to encourage patients to be more attuned to their effect on others? The way you treat others affects them to some degree and may affect how they affect still others, including people you never meet. “It” may have an effect that continues radiating long after your death. For a tiny minority of historically important figures “it” may matter for millennia. 

Will “it” no longer matter after humans become extinct or have evolved so much that no trace of any of us survives? That is surely the case: At some point “it won’t matter,” but that has nothing to do with what matters now.

 

September 14, 2014

“{T}he animal brain, lacking . . . language, can never rise above the level of unreflective, purely sensory awareness of its world.”  Zoltan Torey, The Conscious Mind  (2014) p. 81, MIT Press Essential Knowledge Series.

      MIT Press would never publish a book by an author who did not have top-flight credentials. Of course many highly regarded experts disagree with each other, and I suspect there are some specialists on consciousness, neurophysiology, zoology, and other disciplines relevant to Mr. Torey’s claim who would disagree with him. From my own reading and observation, I’m sure he is flat-out wrong.
      In considering whether certain higher species of animals have reflective awareness rather than purely sensory awareness, it’s necessary to steer between the twin perils of anthropomorphism and anthropocentrism. The former is the fallacy of assuming the cause of certain animal behavior to be the same as that of similar human behavior. An example is assuming that a squirrel who stores nuts for the winter does so for the same reason a human stores fire wood: imagining that the squirrel is thinking as would a human: “Winter is coming; better get those nuts buried.” In fact, squirrels are hard-wired (genetically programed) to gather and store nuts in the fall.
      Anthropocentrism is the opposite: in this case the fallacy of thinking that if an animal is incapable employing complex language as we do in the course of reflective awareness, than it cannot be capable of reflective awareness. This where I believed Mr. Torey erred.
      Countless numbers of people have experienced instances of animals being reflective beyond mere sensory awareness without exercising linguistic agency. In his new book, Beyond Words –– What Animals Think and Feel, Carl Safina, a marine biologist professionally trained to avoid anthropomorphism, recounts numerous instances among animals of mental capabilities richer than Mr. Torey seems to imagine.
      I’m recording these thoughts under the category of Personal Blog rather than Book Notes because of some encounters I’ve had with dolphins, which reinforce my conclusion. Long ago, about 1950, I was sailing alone in Huntington Bay, Long Island, when dolphins appeared and began swimming along on either side of  my boat. They amused themselves a few minutes by escorting me before vanishing from sight. (In the subsequent sixty years I spent a lot of time sailing in Long Island waters but never saw a dolphin again.) 
      About forty years later I went swimming in Kealakekua Bay on the Big Island of Hawaii. Although the waves surged with considerable force on the narrow beach, beyond the break the waters were barely ruffled, and I had swum out a hundred yards or so, when I found myself surrounded by spinner dolphins. Like their Long Island cousins they were obviously curious about my presence. For them, hanging out with me for a while was an amusing diversion. I had never heard of a dolphin attacking a human, so I wasn’t concerned, but after a while I headed back for shore, whereupon the dolphins dispersed.
      The third incident occurred a few years later in the Florida Keys, when Sara and I visited a place that advertised, “Swim with Dolphins.” Since then, I’ve come to disapprove of confinement of dolphins and whales in tanks or pens, but on this occasion I did “swim with the dolphins.” I put the phrase in quotes, because the humans paying for this experience were in a confined area in which dolphins were also swimming, but the dolphins not only swam much faster; they also showed no interest in in swimming alongside people, much less cozying up to be patted like friendly dogs. I suspect they regarded our presence as an indignity to be suffered at the hands of their jailers.
       I learned nothing else about dolphins by the time our session ended and we humans returned to locker rooms to shed our wet suits and swim fins and refurbish ourselves in sandals, shorts, t-shirts, sun glasses, and baseball caps. For some reason Sara and I were were sluggish, and by the time we stepped out of the bath house, everyone else had left.
       It remained for us to cross a little bridge connecting two sections of the pens. At midpoint I stopped and leaned on railing for a last look just as a single dolphin surfaced close by and with movements of its tail “stood” well out of the water and made eye contact with me for several seconds before it submerged and swam off.
       What motivated such behavior? It wasn’t thinking in human language, but it was thinking, and I had a strong sense what it was thinking: What are you, you strange creature? Why do you do this? Of course it may have been thinking something else, and it wasn’t thinking in words, but I have no doubt it was functioning above the level of unreflective purely sensory awareness.
      We owe animals much better treatment than we give them, a fact that’s been overshadowed by our owing other humans much better treatment too.
 

August 10, 2015

A Maine snapshot:

Visited friends at their rambling old house on one of those long peninsulas between tidal rivers opening into harbors inhabited by lobster boats and similar craft and when you want to get lobsters for dinner you drive across an ancient wooden bridge with spaces in its supports to let the strong tide wash through without bringing it down or causing an unintentional waterfall to a dock and call out to a lobsterman what you want and he motors his dory in with them; later swam in a cove with only a light slosh of waves and an occasional encounter with a clump of kelp. Maine coast too cold for swimming? Not where we were two hours after high tide, when the water has receded from the rocks enough to reveal a narrow strip of beach, and relatively shallow water has been warmed by the sun. 
  

June  20, 2015

How To Not Be a Zombie

      In the movie The Invasion of the Body Snatchers aliens get into the brains of humans. Victims appear to be acting in consequence of their own volition, but their decisions are directed by an alien will. They have become zombies.
      Philosophical debate endures between those who believe that we have free will and those who think it’s an illusion and that everything is predetermined. If the latter view is right, we are all zombies. 
      I don’t think that’s the case. I think we at least have the capability of free will, but you don’t have to resolve any deep philosophical questions to show that a lot of people are burdened by psychological constraints on thinking and acting rationally. Their free will has been compromised by harmful embedded emotions. To some extent they have become zombies. For example, a person with low self esteem may shrink from seizing an opportunity because of fear of failure even when there is no basis for it, even when there’s a greater risk of failure if he holds back! That particular harmful embedded emotion is controlling his decision-making. What’s already in his head can be as sinister as if occupied by an alien being.
      It took me a long time to transition from being a zombie in some crucial respects to being a self-willed human. At least, I think I’m a self-willed human. It’s impossible to be sure, because it’s in the nature of a zombie not to know he is one.
      How did I get not to be a zombie (assuming I’m not)? I read some very good books about how the human mind works. That was probably not enough in itself –– acquiring relevant knowledge isn’t certain to produce an epiphany –– but, in my case, reflecting on what I had learned got me feeling uncomfortable about my past behavior. Truth that had been walled-off seeped into my conscious mind.         
     How do you not be a zombie? It may not always work, but when you’re about to make an important decision and feel even slightly uncomfortable about it, consider whether harmful embedded emotions may be affecting your thinking. Truth may not suddenly dawn on you, but it can work its way into your conscious mind. Then you’ll be a zombie no more.

 

April 3, 2015

On the trail in my apres ski outfit.

 

 

March 8, 2015

 

A Case Study in Stupid Decision Making

 

 

Skiing at the Nordic Center north of Durango a couple of days ago, I went down a short steep slope and fell, taking the impact on my right shoulder and breaking my collar bone. Back at my house, arm in a sling, icing my shoulder, I wondered how such a thing could have happened to the author of All It Takes –– the Three Keys to Making Wise Decisions and not Making Stupid Ones. It didn’t take long before I determined that I had ignored decision making traps I described in Key 2 – Think Clearly and in Key 3 – Keep Your Decisions Under Surveillance:

 

 

Failure to Gather and Consider All Relevant Facts: A fact I considered in reaching my decision was that the temperature had climbed to over 40 degrees, and in the sun-lit area where I had been skiing the snow had softened. I already knew, but did not consider, that the steep slope I was approaching faced north and was more likely to be icy. No investigation was needed to find this out; I could have simply reflected on what I already knew. I should not have been surprised to find myself going so fast once I started down.

 

Overconfidence: This tendency is ingrained in the human psyche and is a common cause of bad decision making. Our species might not have survived if many people had not been overconfident but succeeded anyway! Unfortunately, a price is paid by most of us for overconfidence, sometimes a high one. The feeling “I can do it!” can be exhilarating and inspiring, but may require analysis. In this case it shut down my thinking.

 

 

Confirmation Bias: When people want to accomplish something or reach a particular conclusion, they have a tendency to dwell on factors supporting that inclination and screen out ones that work against it. In considering whether I should try to ski down the slope, I reflected that (i) I had skied down it several times before without falling, though I had not attempted it this year; (ii) I was in good shape and and had good stamina and muscle tone; (iii) I had been warming up for twenty minutes on gentle terrain and felt lithe and well balanced; (iv) It seemed unlikely that I would fall. 

 

Why didn’t I consider that, though the probability of falling might be low, it was not negligible, and given my age of 84, the consequences of falling while traveling at the speed I might attain were more likely to be serious than if I were younger? Confirmation bias blocked such thoughts from my mind.

 

Keep Your Decisions Under Surveillance:  Sometimes we make decisions that should be reversed if there’s time to do so. I did not keep my decision to ski down the slope under surveillance. I wasn’t open to reconsidering it. If I had been, I might have turned around.

 

 

February 4, 2015

 

Edward Packard joins those answering Eight Eighties Questions from Jade Heasley:

 

http://1980skidblog.blogspot.com/2015/02/he-let-us-choose-our-own-adventures.html

Books and interests as a child: Treasure Island and Robinson Crusoe. They were the inspiration for bedtime stories I made up with my kids and for the book I wrote which came out of them, which I titled The Adventures of You on Sugarcane Island: You are swept overboard while on a sailing trip and cast up on a mysterious tropical island. What will you discover? How will you survive? Will you ever get home again? All questions that have the makings of great adventure. I was also interested in astronomy and wrote a short book on the subject. It was very much out of date because my principal source was an ancient encylopedia I found in the attic. 

Books that influenced me as an adult: I’ve heard it said that the mark of a great book is that it changes the way you think about life; it gives you a jolt in a new direction, one hopes for the better! I think there’s some truth in that, and I have that in mind in trying to answer this question, though it doesn’t make it easier to pick particular books among so many candidates. Among those I found most engaging and illuminating are Proust’s In Search of Lost Time, which I have a feeling is the greatest novel ever written, The Odyssey, which must be the greatest adventure story; Shakespeare’s incomparable plays; in our own backyard –– Huckleberry Finn; and among short stories, Tolstoy’s Master and Man and James Joyce’s The Dead; in contemporary non-fiction, Daniel Kahneman’s Thinking Fast and Slow, which helped me learn to think twice about everything except things you have to think fast about. 

Career transition from law to writing: The law was not my natural calling, and I never missed it once I discovered I could make a living writing. 

Inspiration to start Choose Your Own Adventure. When I realized that my first book initiated a new genre, it was natural to imagine a series of them. I thought of calling them Adventures of You books, but Lippincott (later merged into Harper), which published my next two books, headlined them “Choose Your Own Adventure in the Wild West” and “Choose Your Own Adventure in Outer Space.” That designation appealed to Bantam, so when they started publishing books in this genre, they trademarked them as Choose Your Own Adventure books. 

Endless ideas for titles: All it took was to imagine the kinds of adventures I would like to have or might have without wanting them! If aliens captured you and brought you onto their UFO, what would it be like inside it? What would it be like to find yourself hundreds of years in the past; Or in the future? Or be caught on a sailboat in a typhoon? Or go through a black hole and enter another universe? Or be an eagle or an elephant? There’s no limit to “what ifs.” 

How many Choose Your Own Adventure books did I write: Probably about forty in the main series of 180 books, and maybe ten more in the Skylark series for younger readers, plus eleven in other interactive series I invented, such as Space Hawks (you are an elite space pilot helping defend Earth from alien invaders); Earth Inspectors (you are an enlightened alien sent to Earth to learn about the strange creatures called humans that live there); Escape books, which I call story mazes (you are trapped on an island on an alien planet); there is only one ending in the book –– the ending in which you escape –– and it’s very hard to reach. 

What am I working on: I’ve written and am having illustrated a children’s picture book titled Space Trip; collaborating with developers in producing a computer game based on my book, Escape from Tenopia; writing a science fiction short story in which Kooz, a super rich entrepreneur tries to achieve immortality by uploading the content and neural patterns of his brain into a computer, then creating a new-born clone of himself, whose brain, as it develops, will assimilate his mental state from the computer, whereupon (a three-time Nobel prize-winning neurobiologist has assured him) he, Kooz, will experience his sense of self-awareness –– his very being –– emerging in the person of his clone. Sound far out? I wouldn’t argue with you. I also write blogs and book notes, which I post on my website, edwardpackard.com 

The one piece of life advice I’d like to share: Did you know that free will vs. determinism is still a big subject of contention among philosophers? Assuming it is possible to have free will, which we must if we don’t want to just walk around like zombies, the question is how do we maximize it? How do we free ourselves of emotional constraints on thinking clearly? It’s a question I began asking myself when I realized I had made some simply awful decisions because of harmful embedded emotions I wasn’t aware of. There was a famous movie decades ago titled Invasion of the Body Snatchers. As I remember, these were aliens who took over peoples’ brains, after which, though these poor humans thought they were making their own decisions, it was actually the aliens who were making them. Harmful embedded emotions that we are not conscious of –– ones we may not have the slightest idea exist –– such as, for example, a feeling of unworthiness, can mess things up for you just as much as evil aliens. My one piece of advice is to think about decisions you’ve made that you wish you hadn’t and try to identify any harmful embedded emotions that may have driven them. If you can free yourself of such influences, you’ll probably have no trouble thinking clearly. 

 

December  31, 2014

HAPPY NEW YEAR!  I wish I could give a prescription for how to bring it about! No chance of that, but I do have a clue to offer –– a piece of wisdom I learned –– which is that healthy-minded people feel happier when they act kindly toward others. I've resolved to keep that in mind thoughout 2015.

 

September 28, 2014

Three years ago I self-published a book titled All It Takes –– The Three Keys of Making Wise Decisions and Not Making Stupid Ones, a project inspired by curiosity as to why my decision making over the years had often been sensible, even inspired, and at other times stupid, even destructive and self-destructive.

A few months ago, I revised the book, sharpening the writing, correcting some errors, and adding some new material. The new edition is now available. I think many readers could benefit from reading it.  I wish I could have read it a long time ago. See the All It Takes page of this website for further information.

 

September 18, 2014

On the trail in the San Juan Mountains of Colorado.

Chipmunk and Sara

 

August 26, 2014

There’s not much more exhilarating than climbing a trail through a magnificient conifer forrest and breaking out above the timber line. That’s why the Coal Bank Pass Trail, officially known as the Pass Creek Trail, is my favorite. Last Thursday we parked at the pass (10,700') and began the climb to Engineer Mountain. I made it as far as 11,450' before rain clouds were rolling in and I was getting chilled and turned back. My wife went further, my daughter further still. The boys outdid us all, continuing past the intersection with the Colorado Trail at 11,650’. Whatever the altitude, the urge to keep climbing is almost irresistible.  

 

August 11 - 13, 2014

When I was about nine years-old my family vacationed in the Adirondacks. I've always wanted to return there, and last week I did. My wife and I rented a cabin on a remote northern lake with a panoramic view of Whiteface and neighboring peaks. My son and his two kids joined us. The place came with a couple of kayaks and a clunky row boat. Swimming was excellent; the kids liked kayaking to reefs they could climb on about a quarter mile away. Watching loons cruise by, giving their eerie calls, was a pleasure for us all.

Remote as it was, the lake was "built up," with little houses along almost the entire shore. The water pump in our bedroom "closet" was too loud. Neighbors set off firecrackers nightly at dusk. We had a good time, but another time I'd rather be on a really remote lake, one where to get to it you portage your canoe, a long-slog on an overgrown trail, swatting at insects, until mirabile dictu, you behold a place that, for all practical purposes, is from another time.

 

June 13, 201

After trying to get some of my grandchildren to read more and spend less time on computer games, I'm collaborating wtih a developer in creating a computer game based on one of my books. (I guess it's a case of "If you can't beat 'em, join 'em.") Is this a step toward promoting literacy, or undermining it. Promoting it! This game will require reading and thinking. It will be educational! I hope that doesn't sink it.

 

May 23, 2014

D. A. Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus exceeded their Kickstarter goal for funding their documentary movie, Unlocking the Cage. This will be important movie. I hope it wins the Oscar for best documentary. We need to raise our general level of empathy if our species is to survive as long as we imagine it will. This movie will help.

 

May 5, 2014

D.A. Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus are making a documentary titled Unlocking the Cage about the lawyer who is representing a chimp and trying to get his client freed from being wrongly imprisoned. This guy is no crackpot –– he taught at Harvard Law School. The lower court ruled against  him, but treated his case seriously, and of course he's filed an appeal. I don't think a court will ever rule that a chimp has standing to bring a legal action, but maybe it should, since the Supreme Court of the United States ruled that a corporation can have a religious objection.

D.A. and Chris need extra financing for their film and are trying to raise it through Kickstarter. I hope they reach the $75,000 goal they've set. 17 days left to get it. It's worth checking out on Kickstarter even if you don't plan to contribute. It's a worthy project.

 

April 11, 2014

To hear a podcast of today's Marketplace piece on the story of Choose Your Own Adventure, search: NPR Marketplace podcast Choose Your Own Adventure.

 

March 4, 2014

The new home page for this website is a photo of Earth and the moon taken from the vicinity of Saturn, about a billion miles away, courtesy of NASA’a Cassini spacecraft. Along with our planet and its moon is the cover image of my just self-published children’s picture book, The Good and Bad Dragon. My agent tried mightily to place this book with an established publisher, but couldn’t. The universal verdict: it’s too old-fashioned, too long a story; not the kind of book you’ll find in bookstores these days.

 

February 14, 2014

After many years in the making and a year fruitlessly trying to find a publisher, I've self-published a children's picture book titled The Good and Bad Dragon. This is a lengthy, old-fashioned folk tale, a subgenre I've learned is precisely not what sells in the current marketplace. Samuel Johnson said, "No child is so loved as the child of the brain," so it's not surprising that I think the story is terrific. In any case, the illustrations by Beth Ogden are nonpareil.

 

December 31, 2013

Happy New Year and good wishes to all who stop by!

Here I am, 82 years-old and still trying to think up a New Year's Resolution before midnight.

I know it's best not to overreach and describe all the ways one might change to become perfect. Pick out one thing and really mean it and stick to it is a more sensible way to go.

How's this? "In all relationships, at all times, be mindful of how what you say or do would look from the other person's point of view. "

As a matter of fact, I think that was a resolution I made on New Years Eve about thirty or thirty-five years ago and didn't keep.

All the more reason to make it for 2014.

 

December 15, 2013

I have two more sessions before graduating from physical therapy, with an A-, or at least B+, average –– my shoulder is about 85% restored to full function, and I've been cleared for crawl and backstroke swimming, though not butterfly, which is probably what brought on my ailment to begin with. As you get older, you have to exercise more to keep from turning into mush, but in the course of this you risk doing a type of exercise that's wearing part of you out. That was the case with my butterfly.

 It's probably a good idea to review your exercise program with a physical therapist as a preventative measure. If I'd done this some months ago I would have spared myself eight weeks of time-consuming and generally boring P.T.

 

November 5, 2013

If you're lucky enough not to be struck down by disease or experience some other outrageous fortune, it's amazing how mobile and active you can be even in your eighties provided you adhere to a healthy diet and get a lot of exercise. I've been lucky and stayed in shape, and it's paid off. Trouble is: as you get older, body parts tend to wear out. My shoulder started hurting, especially if I moved my arm a certain way. Diagnois: impingement tendonitis. Treatment: There are 17 muscles involved in the shoulder. You have to rest some while building up the others. It's not easy because they are mixed in together. I have to go to P.T. three times a week for five weeks and do prescribed exercises for an hour every day. After two weeks I'm just beginning to feel improvement, enough so I'm motivated to keep at it. Body parts keep breaking down, and it gets harder and harder to build them up. But life is a challenge at every age. I remind myself how lucky I am to expect to get in plenty of cross-country skiing this winter. There are said to be a billion or more planets the size of the Earth in our galaxy. None prettier than ours, I bet.

 

October 18, 2013

  Back in Durango after a five-day drive from New York, four nights on the road. In May we drove east mostly on I-70. We returned on I-80, the more northern route, on which we encountered generally better roads and fewer trucks. Pennsylvania’s ridgy, rocky topography, which continues into eastern Ohio, is moderately appealing; then the terrain flattens, and the trek through western Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois, where agribusiness meets industry, was of little interest. Crossing into Iowa was like reaching the promised land. Smooth curves of low hills form ever shifting horizons against the blue sky. Farmhouses and silos, even the rest stops, bespeak neatness, cleanliness, and prosperity. Surely everyone who lives in this state is sane and sweet and good. . . with exceptions––this is where they have the crazy political caucuses. Yet I grew fonder of Iowa, especially after passing great windmills, each a marriage of technology, nature, and art. I wish there had been a place to stop and listen to the enormous blades turning. I’ll always especially remember this state.
     The wind blew harder through windmill-less (at least along I-80) Nebraska and harder still through fracking-infected northeast Colorado. On the final leg of our trip I marveled at the aspen at full color interspersed with dark spruce on the mountain-sides. Higher elevations were clad with snow, which turned pink as the clouds as the sun went down.

 

October 2, 2013

I am born again. Not in the religious sense, but I think the transformation of my state of mind has been as radical as for those who, through some startling catalytic event, find a new faith. My epiphany took thirty years or so. What a sluggish rebirth. Surprising I didn’t turn blue. In any case, my previous self is definitely dead. Looking back at him, I am appalled by some of the stupid and unworthy ways he behaved. To be fair, he often acted commendably. He wasn’t a bad sort, just not someone I particularly admire.

 

September 18, 2013

Clearing out possessions in preparation for decamping from our Long Island place, I thought of an aphorism, which has no doubt has been thought of by many others before: "Clutter is the enemy of clear thinking." There's a depressing effect of clutter, a subliminal feeling that things are out of control. Conversely, uncluttering lifts the spirits.

 

 September 10, 2013

September is the kindest month this year in eastern Long Island. You can look a mile in each direction and see only a scattering of people reading in their beach chairs or lying on the sand. There have been no tropical storms within a thousand miles or so: no need to watch for knock-you-over-and-churn-you waves as you swim. The beach is clean and smooth. Seagulls step aside as you walk barefoot on the firm sand along the surf line, on and on. . . The sun is warm, but won’t bake you the way it will in July. Dark clouds hang above the horizon portending . . . nothing.

 

September 1, 2013

Following Thoreau’s dictum, “Simplify, simplify” we put our Long Island home on the market. It’s where I have about 90% of my tangible personal objects, which I find myself storing, giving away, shredding, recycling, shipping to our remaining house, and designating for distribution to kids and grand-kids. It’s a process that’s given me the strange feeling of having died but miraculously being able to act as my own executor, a real-life echo of my novel Notes from the Afterlife, and a poignant yet strangely exhilarating process.

 

August 17, 2013

Thoughts after returning from the beach while sitting at the dining room table with two grandchildren:

What is one to make of kids who seem perpetually buried in their electronic devices, eyes eight to ten inches from the screen? They are not reading e-books. They are playing games and watching dumb movies. Will they ever read anything resembling literature? Will they ever read anything? They will in school, of course, a thin gruel of standard stuff. What will happen when they grow up? Will they wonder why their kids are immersed in the fruits of some strange new technology instead of playing computer games?

 

July 17, 2013

An old friend I'd gone to school with for eight years visited for a couple of days, and our conversations drew me back to a question I've been mulling for a long time. I'm a Progressive, a Rachel Maddow and Chris Hayes fan; my friend is a thoroughgoing Conservative; his views sound like Wall Street Journal editorials. We had similar social and education backgrounds. Why the stark difference? I can think of a number of similar cases, even in my own family. My father was, if anything, more conservative than my friend, but my father's father was an environmentalist and animal rights activist.

Why is this? I'm beginning to think it's genetic variation, like blue eyes or brown eyes.

 

June 23, 2013

Lovely day here in the Hamptons, in fact perfect. The south-wester came up early. It's pleasureable looking up at the treetops, top branches, twigs, and leaves bending in reponse to the wind, sometimes markedly when a puff hits them, the same sort of puff that, over the water, heels your boat over so, if you're close-hauled, water runs over the rails and you work up a little to windward to ease the pressure on the sails.

The beach, not yet overrun with summer visitors, perfect too. Whitecaps on the gray-green ocean tending toward Caribbean blue. Walking along the surf line: What a shocker! It can't be; it is –– a Portuguese Man O War. Do not touch; beautiful but what a sting! And a stinging truth: this is the first one I've ever seen in eighty years of walking on Long Island beaches. Global warming. More evidence. Bit by bit. Buzz Aldrin and Steven Hawking have been talking about how humans will have to move off the Earth to survive. Won't happen.

 

May 30, 2013

     Sara and I recently drove from western Colorado to the East Coast, and I was reminded again of the unmatchable sense of the land one gets on a long road trip. Some impressions that stayed with me: The long climb to Wolf Creek Pass in south-central Colorado was dispiriting. The conifer forests on the west slopes were devastated, I think by pine bark beetles. In mid-afternoon we took our last look at snow-capped peaks of the front range and began the long trip across the plains, beginning with a sixty-mile stretch through empty, mostly flat, land, relieved at one point by the dramatic view of a wind farm –– a long row of towers on which were mounted three-bladed propellers, each about hundred-and-fifty feet long. I wished for a giant statue of Don Quixote confronting them.
     We stayed overnight in Lamar, near the border, and crossed into Kansas and reached the big town of Garden City early the next morning. No gardens were visible from the Interstate; the place seemed dominated by feed lots (fattening-up lots) for cattle, most of which were lying down, presumably because they were so stuffed. We passed a chicken-rendering plant, and I wondered if workers in it ever rid themselves of its particularly repellent stench. You may resolve to become a vegetarian after passing this town.
     We reached Wichita that afternoon and stayed two nights, visiting Sara’s cousin. Our second day skies darkened and buzzers went off on the TV and on cell phones: A tornado had been reported west of the city. Rain, then marble-sized hail, came down hard, and the sky turned black as midnight, a phenomenon I’d never witnessed during daytime. We descended to the basement. The skies eventually brightened. Wichita had been spared, but it was this system that spawned the super-deadly tornado that struck near Oklahoma City the next day. Where we were, morning dawned partly cloudy. We set off early, journeying up the Kansas Turnpike to Emporia. En route, we passed through the Flint Hills, which may be the lowest hills in the country, pretty to look at just the same. From then on we proceeded on I-70, which must be the premier east-west truck route across the America. Missouri passed rather pleasantly, I thought. Crossing the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers is always a thrill, bringing to mind what I learned in grade school, that this is one of the great river systems of the world, and evoking thoughts of Mark Twain and Huck Finn. We crossed Illinois with relative ease and settled for the night at the Holiday Inn, a few hundred yards off the Interstate at Terra Haute, Indiana. We were tired and selected it because we wanted to stay at a motel with a restaurant on the premises, but this old style Holiday Inn had a phasing-out feel to it. The food was barely edible. Our room window wouldn’t open, and the air smelled as if had been circulating through pipes and rooms for decades.
    Passage through Indiana in the morning was unpleasant in the extreme. Trucks ahead of us, trucks behind us, trucks to the side of us, all sending up oil-tinged mist from the drizzle-soaked road. More than any other, though there was plenty of competition, Indiana’s stretch of I-70 abounded with construction area delays, in only a small fraction of which we observed actual construction. Ohio seemed more open, and the topography, especially east of Columbus, more interesting. It helped that the sun came out. We made good time through this state and reached my nephew’s house in Presto Pennsylvania in plenty of time for welcoming arms, an excellent dinner, and refreshingly pleasant quarters. We would like to have stayed another day, but we had to reach Philadelphia by late afternoon, so after a short morning walk, we set out again. Our route to the Pennsylvania Turnpike took us through a tunnel, then east along the edge of down of downtown Pittsburgh, which reminds me of Manhattan, the Monongahela corresponding to the East River and the Allegheny to the Hudson, these two formidable waterways joining at Pittsburgh’s “Battery” to form the Ohio, the analogue of Upper New York Bay. Traveling the Pennsylvania Turnpike on a sunny late-spring day is an agreeable experience, and we arrived at our destination in good time.
     Throughout our trip we were reminded from time to time that the air is not as fresh and clean as it once was. There is a great deal of talk about climate change. Air pollution is its companion problem, and an even more immediate one.

 

May 5, 2013

Last week I observed my grandson Chris’s violin lesson. He took up the instrument at age 4 and is now 11. I wonder whether he would have stuck with it if he hadn’t had such an engaging teacher. Shelly and Chris give the impression of colleagues rather than teacher and student. They speak what amounts to a private language. A nod or a few soft words and gestures moves the lesson along. Sometimes Shelley plays a passage with him. They seem perfectly attuned to each other. No remonstrances, no orders, no phony praise. Just the way it should be.

 

April 16, 2013

    I have a recurring fantasy. I imagine going back in time and having a talk with the me I was when I was 14 years-old. Do I have a lot of tips to give the young me! And, though most 14-year-old boys aren’t likely to be receptive to advice given them by someone two generations older, this one ––the me I was at 14 –– will be, if only because the advice is coming from the same person, only far more experienced and with the same interest in me that I have in myself.
     It happens that I have six grand-children, and their average age is 14. Naturally, I’d like to have the same talk with each of them, modified in each case because the circumstances of each is to some degree unique and in all cases quite different from what mine was when I was 14. Still, I’d like to get some of what I've learned across to them. I try to do that when I see them, but this kind of communication is an art, for sure. Nothing as easy or efficient as it would be if I could talk to the me I was when I was 14.

 

March 28, 2013

For several years I've been writing blogs for this website. My aim has been to contribute to public political discourse and to impel myself to organize and distill my thoughts. As Ionesco said, "I write to learn what I think."

This is my first "personal" blog. Entries under this heading will deal with personal reflections and experiences. I recently reached the age of 82, an age at which one is likely to have had a lot of experiences and, if one's brain is still working serviceably, have a lot to reflect about.

One thing I've been mulling over is the question "To what degree am I the same person I used to be?" It seems to me that in some important respects the person I was at age twenty, or thirty-five, or fifty is dead. I say this after reflecting on decisions I made and attitudes I had at those ages. In some cases what I now view as having been a stupid, unkind, or unfair decision was the result of inadequate knowledge; more often it is my perspective that has changed.

To give an example: At one time I was bothered by how some people had behaved unkindly or thoughtlessly toward me, but not at all bothered by how I had behaved unkindly or thoughtlessly toward others. In recent years, I've come to care not about how people have mistreated me, but about how I mistreated others. This is not to claim that I've evolved from being a selfish person to an unselfish one. I think the shift is more the product of an intellectual insight than moral improvement: a realization that the mistreatment of me by others did not adversely affect my psychic state except to the extent that I let it, but that my mistreatment of others did.