DC Roaming (1)

This summer has been so busy for so many reasons that I have not had much time to do what I had been doing quite a bit of before this summer – and that is spending a day, or a good part of the day, roaming the city.  Today, my calendar was empty, so I decided to take advantage of a small lull.  I left the house about 9:30 this morning, and returned about 4.  As to my roaming skill – I think I’m a little out of practice.

It was a pretty nice day – a bit too humid, but not too hot.  My walk to the Van Ness was not out of the ordinary.  My only stop was at the mailbox at Connecticut and Albemarle, where a young woman and her do dogs were communing in front of the mailbox and had to step aside.  I escalated into the station, and found four young men – I would guess in their twenties – looking like sort of the type you wouldn’t want your sister to marry.  Their English was none too good, and their comprehension of the Metro fare structure and system was worse; the Metro lady trying to help them was having a difficult time communicating with them.  I decided that there was nothing I could add but more confusion, so I went on.

I had decided to go to the National Portrait Gallery, to see a Matthew Brady exhibit, so I stayed on the train until it got to Gallery Place/Chinatown, where I got off at the 9th street exit. I had forgotten that this museum, located right there, didn’t open until 11:30 – almost an hour later – so I needed to decide what Plan B was.  I thought about the Hirshhorn, so began to walk south from the station.  I was surprised by what I saw – several homeless people camped out on 9th street, on the west side of the museum, with all their worldly goods scattered about, including one who was living in a bright orange tent.  Then I saw that, on the museum side of the complex, on the other side of the low wrought iron fence, there was an extraordinary amount of trash.  What’s going on here?

When I got to the corner of 9th and F, I looked at the Marriott Courtyard Hotel, the old Riggs National Bank Building, now also the home of a Gordon Biersch restaurant. Built in 1891, it is one of my favorite buildings in downtown DC.  I took a nice photo, and thought that maybe I should photograph the buildings in DC that I find architecturally distinctive. There is so much mediocre design here, that sometimes you forget the good stuff.  This building was placed on the National Register of Historic Places over 45 years ago.  The architect was James Hill, who also designed the General Printing Office Building on North Capitol Street (which I walked by today) and St. Margaret’s Church on Connecticut Avenue, which I pass all the time.

I crossed F Street and turned left towards 7th (the Hirshhorn is at Independence and 7th), walked past the Spy Museum, and decided to duck into the gift/book shop of that museum.  It’s a shop I really like, with a very large selection of books dealing with the spy and intelligence biz, every single one of which I would like to read.  I’ve never bought a book there, however, since they sell them at full retail, and even their sale books average about $20 each.  But I looked around for a while and realized it still was not 11:30.

I walked by the Hotel Monaco, crossed 7th Street, and continued south, until I got to Constitution.  The Monaco, by the way, is located in an old Post Office Building, constructed in the 1830s and designed by Robert Mills, who also designed the Treasury Department building, and the Patent Office Building, which now houses the National Portrait Gallery and the American Art Museum. Then, I changed my mind, and decided that I would save the Hirshhorn for another day and instead go to the National Postal Museum where they had an exhibition on the National Park System.  The Postal Museum is located next to Union Station in the city’s main post office building.  Like the National Portrait Gallery, it’s a Smithsonian Museum.

I like the National Archives, located at 7th and Constitution, but decided to exclude U.S. Government buildings from my architecture project.  I turned left on Constitution, and walked past the United States Courthouse (a particularly unattractive building) and a fine statue of early Chief Justice John Marshall.  At the east side of the courthouse, there is a statue that I had forgotten about – a statue of William Blackstone. 18th century English judge and legal scholar who, surprising when you think about it, died in his mid-50s, before his work was really completed. This statute was completed in 1920 by Paul Wayland Bartlett, a well known American sculptor.   He also designed some of the historical pediments on the Capitol (not completed until the early 1900s), and a couple of statues found inside the Library of Congress.  For my continuing project of photographing DC outdoors sculpture, I took a picture of Blackstone, which I will post on Facebook.

I crossed the street for a brief detour because I noted a sculpture on the eastern side of the East Wing of the National Gallery of Art, a sculpture by well known artist Frank Stella.  Took a picture of that too, for Facebook. Stella is still around; he is 81.

From there, I noted two buildings on the other side of Pennsylvania Avenue.  The first houses the apparently financially stressed Newseum; I decided that, although it is new and rather unique, it was not a building that I feel distinguished.  Next to it is the Canadian Embassy; it is, to me, a very nicely designed building, but I decided I had to take its photo between December and March, but the trees surrounding it kept me from getting the view I’d like.

Crossing back and continuing to walk past the uninspiring Frances Perkins Building housing the Labor Department (how many people can identify her and her good work today?) to a much nicer building housing Washington Gas Light (maybe it’s now only WGL), the local gas utility.  This structure is not beautiful from all angles, but it is from some, so I took a picture to add to my architecture project (I now have 2 photos – in my statue collection, I have more like 250 photos), as I turned the corner up Louisiana Avenue.

But rather than continuing up Louisiana to Union Station (I decided the food court here would have my lunch), I decided to take another detour to the Robert Taft Memorial and Carillon across the street.  It’s a 100 foot tall marble tower with 27 bells (I had heard a few of them ring at the 11:30 mark). Another two photos – I could not remember whether or not I already had these in my statue collection.  Robert A. Taft, son of William Howard, Senator from Ohio, “Mr. Republican”, competitor to Eisenhower for the 1952 Republican presidential nomination. I am sure that no one under 60 knows anything about him (except perhaps in Ohio).

Continuing up the street, I saw an unusual cigarette package on the sidewalk (yes, that’s another collection).  This one was an Italian Benson & Hedges package, with a picture of a naked man curled up on a bed, and (in Italiano) stating that smoking can lead to impotence. A bit weird, to put it mildly, and certainly worth keeping.

A few more homeless people hanging out in front of Union Station, designed by Daniel Burnham (he also designed the well known Flat Iron Building in New York) and opened in 1907, but remodeled several times, and now a food and shopping facility as well as a busy railroad station (and Amtrak’s headquarters).  The latest upgrade has recently been completed, and I haven’t looked at everything, but it does look pretty spiffy.  The main lobby is now less crowded, because the central restaurant has been removed, and there are attractive benches for people to relax on.  It does seem that the retail business has slowed down a bit – although the only vacant stores seem to all be in the process of being converted for a new tenant, but there is more food on the main floor where there had been more retail establishments.  There is still the large Victoria’s Secret and H & M, and a number of other specialty shops, to be sure, but it looked like several stores are gone – like the Swatch watch store (just to name one example).  In addition, some of the shops that were specialty shops have now been enlarged so that the food shops at the next parallel level (there are four parallel corridors – the lobby, the specialty shops, the tickets, the train doors) move through to the ticket corridor.  For example, the Einstein Bagel shop has been increased and now has an eat-in section.

None of this is very interesting, I know, and besides that I didn’t study it so I might be wrong in what I say (who cares?), but what is most surprising are the changes at the downstairs food court.  There seem to be fewer eating establishments and less seating.  An entire section is gone (where the Indian and Chinese place used to be).  Also, the high end coffee bar is gone (maybe it’s been gone for a while).  And, there is now a Walgreen’s Drug Store on this level, and – even more oddly – a large Samsung Galaxy Gallery in the middle of the food court.  There are still multiple places to eat (how many? 20?). as there are throughout the building.

Surprisingly, I haven’t been able quickly to find a computation of how many food or other stores there are in the building.  But it looks like there are more than 90 on the Union Station website.  At any rate, I skipped the fancy restaurants on the main and second floors, and the new casual places on the west side of the main floor – which include Chopt, Roti, Potbelly, and Chipotle.  I went down to the food court, and stopped at the first place, Lotus Express and asked for the orange chicken and two sides special, for about $6.50. It turns out that you don’t get a choice of sides (according to the young server), but have to take fried rice and a cabbage/broccoli combination, along with the orange chicken pieces, which look not so much like normal orange chicken, but more like tater tots.  At any rate, I’d give the meal a B-, which is better than I thought it would be when I saw it being put on the plate.

I through away the trash and started towards the escalator, when I ran into my friend Bert Foer who was there with his son Jonathan Safran Foer, and two of his grandchildren (who look very big), who were apparently passing through town on their way to Colorado.

Leaving Union Station, I walked just next door to the Postal Museum.  I went through the metal detector, walked around the exhibits for a few minutes, and walked out.  I really like this museum, but I must admit that I don’t enjoy it.  It’s very well done, it has a lot of valuable stamps, and more than that has a lot of information about postal history (with supporting items and relics).  But I like the fact that it’s there much more than I like actually being there.  Now that I am home at night, I say to myself “I’d like to go to the Postal Museum soon”.  Go figure.

What to do after leaving the museum?  First, I walked up North Capitol Street, to the Government Printing Office, a building I have always admired.  It was built in 1903 and designed by the sames James Hill who designed the Riggs National Bank Building on 9th Street.  (I just read, by the way, that Frederick Douglass’ son was the first African-American typesetter at the GPO – interesting.)

Walking by the GPO, having turned left off North Capitol, I realize that I was close to one of the District’s Walmart.  I had not been in any of them, but I needed (or rather, I wanted) a new inexpensive brief case (I had thrown out two of them within the last month) and I thought they might have something, which they did. A nice black cloth (?) briefcase made in Cambodia, of all places.

The Walmart is very near one of the city’s largest and oldest male homeless shelter. Like a lot of shelters, they don’t let you hang around inside during the day, so the surrounding area is filled with homeless men talking and sleeping.  A little disconcerting.  As to Walmart, it was very busy, with a very mixed clientele (and a very mixed group of employees, it seems).  I felt like I had entered a different culture.  I had to ask a couple of employees where the luggage and cases were, and each time they told me in ways that I found hard to understand.  “See where that sign that says ‘Home’ is?  Well, don’t go that  way, but go this way until you see where that woman is and turn left and then walk past the ‘Home’ sign and turn right and you’ll find it.”  [That didn’t work].  “Go through the baby section and turn to the right.” [That didn’t work.] Eventually, I did find it.  But there was no price tag, and someone else told me I had to go to the microwaves and then look for the machine that would read the bar code and give me a price.  Very sophisticated, I thought.

Then, when I got to the cashier, who was very pleasant, I was told that the store could not process credit cards, only cash or debit cards.  No one knew why, but it hadn’t been fixed yet.

From Walmart, I walked back to Union Station and took the Metro to Dupont Circle, to do my normal review of the outside books at Second Story.  They were just taking down last week’s suggestion and putting in the new selection, so I went down the street to Emissary Coffee, and sat outside with an iced coffee writing a letter to Donald Trump (if you’re my Facebook friend, you understand this).  Then back to Second Story, where I bought a signed copy of Gloria Vanderbilt’s autobiography, and a harder to find biography of David Francis, the man who chaired the St. Louis 1904 World’s Fair.

Then walked down to 18th and Connecticut, an L2 bus home, looking at the mail, taking my car to get washed and picking up some food for supper.

That’s it, folks.





Ariel Sharon (an Israeli Donald Trump)?

I just finished reading Ariel Sharon by Nir Hefez and Gadi Bloom, a biography published just after the Israeli prime minister went on life support following a cerebral hemorrhage in 2006.  The book is not difficult reading, but it took me a while to get through it, because it is filled with information (some of which I hope I will remember, but much of which escaped me within a page or two).   The book is a bit unusual in that it is based primarily on interviews (most of which without attribution), has no index and only a limited bibliography, and no footnotes at all.  But it is detailed and, I believe, balanced, and gives the reader a good overview of the life of Sharon.  I have another Sharon biography that I have not read, the one written by his son Gilad.  It would be interesting to compare them – but I leave that to someone else.

I am not going to go through the life of Sharon here – Wikipedia (or this book) will give you that. But what interested me was the psychology of Ariel Sharon.  And what surprised me was how close it was, in so many ways, to that of Donald Trump.  To be sure, there were differences:  Sharon grew up very poor; from an early age, he showed enormous personal courage, with no apparent concept of fear; Sharon was a military leader (some consider him a hero, some consider him uncontrollable wild man), and was intimate with the politicians of Israel (although he was not one) from the birth of the State in 1948.

But there were also fascinating psychological similarities.  Look at how the authors described Sharon (and remember that this was well before Donald Trump surfaced as a political persona in the United States).

1. One “….piece of the puzzle is his resilience.  No matter how dire the predicament. Ariel Sharon would never fly the white flag of surrender.  Most people capitulate or crumble in the face of public failure or personal tragedy.  Sharon was different.” [As to personal tragedy, his first wife and oldest son were both killed, his wife in an auto accident, his son in a firearm accident. As to public failure, this happened again and again.]

2. Another “….key to understanding the Sharon puzzle is his willingness to think and act outside the box so long as his conclusions corresponded to his sense of justice.  This characteristic is one of the main reasons that Arik Sharon, from an early age, found himself at the heart of so many controversies.”

3.  He was “…..always able to read the winds of change, had a long history of equivocation.  It is not difficult to find quotes from him in favor of and in opposition to the same issue.  Sharon was for and then against a Palestinian state, a security wall, a national referendum, and the forced withdrawal of settlers from the Gaza Strip and the West Bank…….Sharon’s history of equivocations evolved from three separate aspects of his character.”

4. “Sharon was not motivated by a firm ideology, certainly not in the religious sense of the word.”

5. “Sharon liked to be in charge, the final arbiter.”

6. “Sharon viewed honesty pragmatically, as a commodity rather than an ideal.”

I find this fascinating.

In fact, I found most of the book fascinating – Sharon’s youth, his military experience in all of Israel’s wars, his refusal to let serious injuries slow him down, his decision to get into politics, his ability to attract friends and enemies and to manipulate both.  His ability to earn a lot of money and wind up with the largest “ranch” in Israel.  His tendency (a la Trump) to favor government policies that helped his businesses (e.g., keeping import of lamb and sheep meat at a minimum, while he had one of the country’s largest flock of sheep), and the continual accusations that he was either accepting bribes from or making promises to foreign individuals who had the ability to help his own business interests, and those of his sons.

The way Israel politics work is always interesting (and at times makes American politics look like child’s play).  The system of requiring potential prime ministers to negotiate coalitions of diverse parties to create governments sets the stage, of course, for deals and for dirty deals, for loyalty and for disloyalty, for promises and for lying.  And this book outlines this aplenty.

Finally, the change in Sharon, when he was in his 70s, is fascinating.  From someone who encouraged the settlements in both Gaza and the West Bank, who denied the possibility of anything approaching a two state solution, reversed himself completely when he withdrew from Gaza and forced the Israel settlers there to leave.  This was very similar to the turn of policy advocated by Yitzhak Rabin, which led to his assassination by a radical right wing Israeli.  Sharon was perhaps saved from a repeat assassination by his decline in health and final illness – that we will never know.  But, to me, the parallel changes of these two Israeli leaders, are meaningful, although I am not quite sure what meaning to draw from it. Yet no one seems to discuss this in these terms, particularly in Israel.  But as Netanyahu ages, will he become the third Israeli prime minister to follow the course of reversing his policy towards Israel’s neighbors.  Time will tell.

As to this book, I recommend I recommend it to anyone who wants to learn about, or think about, these issues.


Right Wing Talk Radio

The definition of the TV networks and a few east and west coast newspapers as “mainstream media” and purveyors of  “fake news” intrigues me.  This is what we hear all the time from the right wing.  Based on the number of people who listen to right wing radio talk show hosts, it seems to me that they may better fit the definition of “mainstream media” today, and that their labeling of the more traditional media outlets as mainstream may simply an example of politically directed right wing “fake news”.

The most popular radio show in the country is the Rush Limbaugh Show, according to Talkers Magazine.  Also in the top ten, one finds Sean Hannity, Michael Savage, Glen Beck and Mark Levin.

Right wing talk radio is vicious.  No Democrat that I know can stand to listen to any of these hosts because of their vitriol, lack of any balance or objectivity and constant disregard of the truth.  (Do their listeners agree with my characterization?  Of course not.  Do the hosts themselves? I obviously don’t know, but my guess is that, at least to some extent, they do.)

We know that these shows are very influential, particularly for those who tendencies are to trust Republicans and distrust Democrats, to be more nationalistic and ethnocentric. And for those who live in areas where these worldviews predominate, and where alternative listening choices are few.  We suspect that they are very influential in elections, local and federal.

Over the past few weeks, I have been spending considerable time in my car. listening to three different talk radio shows – Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity and Dennis Prager.  I am not going to talk about them individually, although they have differences – but in most respects they are birds of a feather.  And not attractive birds.

The first things you have to get over in listening to any of them are their egos, which are monstrous.  And then you have to get beyond the constant stream of ads (particularly on Hannity’s show, where the ads seem to take up as much time as the talk).  Then, if you listen carefully, you realize something that, to me at least, is surprising.

What is surprising is how much the diatribes against the evil left subsume any attempt to explain what their affirmative beliefs are, what their ideal “conservative” or “right wing” political program would be.  They spend all their time badmouthing the Democrats in general, Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, Nancy Pelosi, Elizabeth Warren, the “mainstream media” (in particular, the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Washington Post and, yes, the Wall Street Journal), the “coastal elite”, liberals and leftists, university faculties and intellectuals in general.  And by bad-mouthing, I don’t mean that they simply express disagreement with them, but they turn them into evil beings, dragging the country into disrepair (purposely), they refer to them as unpatriotic universalists, they turn them into scum, pure and simple. The drumbeat is constant and unrelenting.  There is no room for the serious discussion of policies or policy differences.

To their audiences, this is obviously red meat.  Why, I am not sure, but obviously red meat.  These people clearly need an enemy, need to see that there are evil powers conspiring against them, meaning to harm them, and they all come from the “left”.  If this is all you hear, all you read, and you hear it constantly, I guess this is what you will tend to believe.  And it’s easier to believe this sort of thing, than to look seriously at the issues facing the country, and the world, today.

It is this viciousness, this ignoring of true analysis, this total lack of compassion or understanding that has made right wing talk radio the success it has become.  And more than that, it is this viciousness that has led to various right wing political movements, such as the Tea Party.

None of this, it seems, was lost on one Donald John Trump.  His campaign was, it has now occurred to me, right wing talk radio taken to the next step.  He spoke like talk radio hosts speak, and he got much the same response.  He won the election (electorally speaking) the same way Limbaugh, Hannity and Prager won the ratings. So don’t discount right wing talk radio – it has made the country what it is today.

The next obvious question is:  am I going to continue to listen?  The obvious answer is:  not on your life.  To me, Limbaugh is an idiot, Hannity is pure evil, and Prager as much of an egoist as the Donald.  Oh – did I say I wasn’t going to review them?  Sorry.




Maryland, My Maryland

Baltimore had four outdoor statues dedicated to the Confederacy.  One honoring Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson, one honoring Justice Roger Taney, one honoring women of the Confederacy and one honoring the soldiers and sailors of the Confederacy generally.  In the dead of night, all four statues were taken down and put into storage, leaving only bare pedestals where they once stood.  Although my own opinions about statues honoring the Confederacy seem to be evolving as time went on, I have no problem concluding that Baltimore finally did the correct thing with regard to at least three of the statues.  In the first place, the city is almost 2/3 African-American.  In addition, although Baltimore certainly had a lot of southern sympathizers during the Civil War, the city and the State of Maryland remained in the Union, never seceding.  And, although I don’t know the history of each of these four statues, I did read that the Lee/Jackson statue was only installed in 1948, over 80 years after the end of the war.

Another statue of Mr. Chief Justice Taney was, until the past few days, located in the Maryland state capitol in Annapolis.  It is now also gone.  Roger Taney is known, and anathematized as the author of the notorious Dred Scott decision, but it should also be understood that the vote of the Supreme Court justices was 7-2.  It was not a one man decision.  And it was consistent with Taney’s history as a defender of states’ right and promoter of a limited federal government.  Whether the Taney statue in the State House, or the one in Baltimore, deserve the same fate as the other statues is, to me, a harder question.  Just as the Dred Scott decision was not a one man decision, Justice Taney’s career was not a one case career.  And Taney was not an enemy of the United States.  He did not support the Confederacy (Maryland was his home state), and he was the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.

The Dred Scott decision, which concluded that blacks are not and cannot be citizens or given the right of citizens, among other things, and which invalidated the Missouri Compromise of 1820 which limited the spread of slavery, was one of the worst decisions in the history of the Court, no doubt about that.  When I think of bad Supreme Court cases, I also think of the 1944 Korematsu case, which supported the placement of west coast Japanese Americans into concentration camps.  The decision in that case was written by Justice Hugo Black, and the concurring justices included William Douglas and Felix Frankfurter, as well as Harlan Stone, Stanley Reed and Wiley Rutledge.  No one is suggesting (I don’t think) that statues or memorials to those justices should be taken down.  What makes Taney different?  (I am asking the question, not giving the answer.)

But that brings me to another topic.  The official Maryland state song, “Maryland, My Maryland, which was adopted as the official state song by the state legislature in, believe it or not, 1939!  (Now, you may ask whether or not I have standing to say anything about Maryland’s state song, since I don’t live in Maryland and never had.  But, fact is, I am planning on residing there for eternity, which gives me as much  standing as anyone could possibly have.)

“Maryland, My Maryland” is a song dedicated to the glory of the Confederate States of America, a horrible song clearly anti-American, adopted as an official state song by a state that never left the Union 75 years after the end of the Civil War.  What goes here?  And why, in spite of a few attempts to rewrite the lyrics (and the lyrics are the song, as the melody is simply “Oh, Tannenbaum”, which has been used for any number of purposes, including Cornell University’s “Evening Song”).

“What am I talking about?”. you ask.  Here goes, with some of the lyrics:

“The despot’s heel is on your shore” [That’s Lincoln], Maryland, my Maryland

“His torch is at thy temple door”, Maryland my Maryland

“Avenge the patriotic gore that flecked the streets of Baltimore” [The riots in Baltimore trying to keep Lincoln from reaching Washington for his first inauguration]

“Dear Mother! burst the tyrant’s chain [still Lincoln], Virginia shall not call in vain” [Virginia asking Maryland to secede and join the Confederacy]

“She meets her sisters on the plain. ‘Sic semper’ tis the proud refrain'” [Sic semper referring to John Wilkes Booth, after he assassinated Lincoln]

“From hill to hill, from creek to creek, Potomac calls to Chesapeake” [again, Virginia calling to Maryland]

“I hear the distant thunder-hum, Maryland my Maryland,

The Old Line’s bugle, fife and drum, Maryland my Maryland,

She is not dead, nor deaf, nor dumb

Huzza! she spurns the Northern scum!

She breathes! she burns! She’ll come! She’ll come!

Maryland, my Maryland”

This song was written by a Maryland native living in Louisiana during the war, a southern sympathizer who wanted his native state to secede join the Confederacy.  It became a popular song in the Confederacy, and was sung by Confederate troops as they marched into Frederick, Maryland, per the direction of Robert E. Lee.  It was a southern theme song, much like “Dixie”.

So tell me. Why did it become the official state song of Maryland in 1939?  And even more importantly, why is it the official state song in 2017?


A similar post could be written about Virginia and Florida. The rest of the Confederacy is clear.


Confederate Monuments – Here Today, Gone Tomorrow?

The former Confederate states are filled with monuments to the Confederacy.  Some commemorate those who died in military service; some commemorate particular battles; some commemorate individual officers of the Confederate military or politicians. Some of these monuments are simple plaques, obelisks or the like.  Others are representations of generic or specific representatives of the Confederate military.  Of course, there are also Confederate military cemeteries, some public, some private.

I don’t have a strong feeling as to whether they should go or stay, or whether they should be moved to locations with less prominence or traffic.  We just finished a trip through the Virginia countryside.  Monuments to the days of the Confederacy seem to be everywhere.  In Onancock, for example, a central public park features a monument to a general who was a native son (actually, he wasn’t a general although the inscription calls him that).  In Gloucester, we saw an obelisk dedicated to the residents of that town who had died in the war that has been in the center if the city’s unique historic district since the 1890s, and which was joined not long ago by another monument to a representative of a “Colored” unit that fought during the war.  I don’t find any of this offensive, although some people do.

There is now a movement to move or destroy these monuments in many places.  We saw what happened in Charlottesville following a city decision to move a monument to Robert E. Lee.  We saw what happened in Durham, where a bunch of folks took it upon themselves to destroy a statue.  We just saw what happened in Baltimore, where the four Confederate statutes where removed during the still of night by the city, without anyone being informed.  (I must say, I have a different feeling about Confederate monuments in places like Baltimore, which were never a part of the Confederacy and where at least one of the monuments was not constructed until 1948.)  And we saw what is happening in Alabama, where there is state legislation which makes it a crime to move or remove any monument that has been in place for at least 40 years.

We have heard all of the arguments on both sides.  These monuments are offensive to African-Americans.  They are not consistent with American principles.  They salute enemies of the United States.  Or:  they are an important part of the heritage of the area, and one should not attempt to rewrite history.  These are all good arguments.  And, in an ideal world, decisions would be made, after appropriate discussion, etc., by local governing bodies.  Some would decide one way, and some others. And everyone would accept the decisions.

But it’s a sensitive subject and, as we have now seen, can easily become a flashpoint for matters that extend for beyond the removal of a monument or statue.  For this reason, I think the country should chill a bit on this subject.  Save the discussion for a time when tempers are not so on edge.

Had the decision to move Robert E. Lee not been made, there most likely would have been no riot in Charlottesville last weekend. But it should be clear that these riots did not occur because residents of Charlottesville wanted the statue left in place.  The rioting occurred because a bunch of ultra-right wingers decided to hold a major demonstration uniting all of the ultra-right groups they could.  Those groups would include neo-Nazis, KKK, and all the others.  And they came prepared to terrorize and do battle, and to use violence and intimidation to make their point.  The fact that Charlottesville is home to a large liberal, university community made it the perfect place to insure that their message would be met with opposition and that major national news would be made.

When Hillary Clinton created the image of a “basket of deplorables”, she was thinking about the people who decided to demonstrate in Charlottesville.  An assortment of racists, anti-Semites, neo-Nazis, “alt-rightists”, anti-immigrationists, and other dregs of society, who generally espouse, each in their own way, the concept of white supremacy (as a matter of political ideology, or religious doctrine, psuedo-science, or home team support, it really doesn’t matter) and racial separation. And, they appear to be Trump supporters and Trump voters and an important part of the Trump base.

These people have always been present in America, but usually a small presence, marginalized, and not a concern. But with the campaign and election of Donald Trump, things have changed. They now believe that they have (and in fact may have) a representative, or at least a friendly ear, in the White House, and believe that now is the time for them to come out of their various closets and increase their influence.

Unfortunately, Donald Trump has proven himself to be the ultimate “deplorable”, willing to criticize anyone who doesn’t love him, any political opponent, and any Muslim in words that usually belong only to teenage bullies. By equating KKK members and neo-Nazis on the one hand, with the disorganized anarchists who oppose them with equal violence on the other, Trump only divides the country.  And dividing the country has become one of Trump’s few consistent policies. In doing this, he is leading right wingers and left-wing anarchists to attempt to provoke each other, and terrorize the country, more and more.

So we need to come to grips with the unfortunate fact that we have a president who is working to endanger our country internally.  What can the rest of us to do to tamp down this problem?  I think the rest of the country should go slowly in doing provocative acts at this time.  That means going slow on removing Confederate monuments where the removal might cause conflict.  And those who believe that Confederate monuments represent a treasonous and racist strain in American society, it means counting to ten, and letting the monuments remain for now.

I don’t think that is giving in. I think that is helping keep the peace.


Our Weekend in the Country (Thurs-Sun)

So, we took an extended weekend trip down the Eastern Shore of MD/VA, through the bridge/tunnel, into the Hampton Roads area, and back up the Rappahannock.   Highlights follow (and you don’t want to miss them).

  1.  On Thursday, an ordinary drive past Annapolis, a minor backup on the Bay Bridge, skirting across Kent Island, and heading southeast on Route 50, stopping for lunch in Easton MD.  If you haven’t been to Easton, it’s one of those towns that flies in the face of the general feeling that small town America is in the financial doldrums, that downtowns have been eviscerated by Walmart, and that it’s easy to see why Trump carried the heartland. Au contraire, Easton seems to be upscale and flourishing.  The last time we were here about 9 months ago, we had a nice lunch at Scossa, a fancy Italian restaurant across the street from the courthouse.  This year, because we wanted to have money left for the rest of our weekend, we opted for Doc’s Downtown, just a few doors away, but looking to be more of a bargain and filled with customers.  We were seated, looked at the menu and ordered.  We hoped service would be quick and that we would be soon on our way. But then I looked around us.  Most of the tables were filled, but…..no one had any food.  S-l-o-w-l-y food began to appear, but it was clear that we were not going to be served any time soon.  I called over the waitress and asked her how long it would take.  In her very friendly manner, she looked at me sincerely and said “The chef [mumble, mumble, mumble, mumble], but we are trying to catch up the best we can”.  Then she walked away.  We guessed what might of happened: the chef died, came in late, quit, forgot how to cook? Eventually, the food came, and it was very good.  No complaints – just 30 minutes or so behind schedule. [Grade B] On the way back to the car, we passed a coffee shop (or should I say shoppe) called Weather Gage.  According to its website, it’s a New Age Coffee Shop.  I don’t know about that, but the coffee was pretty good, and the colonial/nautical decor so tastefully done, you’d think you were in a funeral parlor. [Grade B]
  2. We drove from Easton until we were just this side of Cambridge, the home of H. Rap Brown (H is for Hubert), who changed his name to Jamil Abdullah Al-Amin and who once said “if America don’t come around, we’re gonna burn it down”.  That was back when the crazies were lefties, not alt-right.  Anyway, the area is also the birthplace of Harriet Tubman, and it is she that we went to see.  Harriet Tubman, of Underground Railway fame, is – as you may recall – to replace Andrew Jackson on the $20 bill (unless she is Trumped), and I had mixed emotions about that.  I knew she was important in moving slaves out of Maryland, but, gee, replacing a president on the $20?  We went to the newly opened Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad Visitors Center, sponsored by the Maryland and National Park Services, part of a 400+ acre section of the Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge, located about 20 minutes off Highway 50. Wow!  It is a beautiful building, and a wonderful teaching facility.  You learn about the plight of blacks in pre-Civil War Maryland, and all about Harriet Tubman.  What a woman!  Born into slavery, sold away from her parents at age 6 (but allowed to maintain contact with her mother), married to a free black (who knew that a slave and free black could marry – but the marriage was not recognized to the extent that she could not be sold or ordered to keep away from her husband, and who knew that in Maryland by 1850 there were more free blacks than slaves?), seriously injured when a 2 pound weight crashed into her head although it was directed towards someone else (she suffered seizures and terrible headaches from then on), she decided to escape to the north, and was astounded when her husband decided not to join her.  She did escape, but made five underground trips back to slave territory to help others (including all but one of her sibings) escape north, to New York (where she settled) and Ontario. And of course, even being in the north did not provide security, since the Fugitive Slave Act required people in the north to turn in escaped slaves, and an industry of bounty hunters had developed.  But she did settle in New York, became very active in post-war advocacy for free blacks, and in the general movement for female suffrage, and she lived (without significant funds) in Auburn New York, dying in 1913 at the age of 91.  My conclusion after going through this extraordinary museum:  put her on the $20 bill – no one deserves it more. [Grade A]
  3. Driving onward past Cambridge and then Salisbury, on Route 50 until it intersected with Highway 13, and then headed south through Maryland, and into the two Virginia counties on the Eastern Shore, on our way past Assateague and Chincoteague (no beach time – rain, rain, rain) until we reached our goal for the night – the small, historic Virginia town of Onancock, where we had reservations at the 10 room Charlotte Hotel.  Onancock is a town of a little more than 1200, with a significant number of large old houses on large lawns, a harbor on a river that opens into Chesapeake Bay and that used to have daily ferry service to Baltimore and regular service to Norfolk, but now only has a small shuttle service to Tangier Island.  But it boasts a year-round live theater (nothing was playing the two nights were were there), and a community owned movie house (about this more below). A number of interesting shops and restaurants.  Not your typical town in this part of the world.
  4. The Charlotte Hotel gets very good reviews on-line.  It isn’t cheap, and from the outside, it sure doesn’t grab you.  It’s a three story building, quite old, on a downtown street (I think it’s the only three story building in town).  The rooms are nicely decorated (obviously, the building has been modernized), but it was a surprise to learn that ours was on the third floor, and that there was no elevator.  40 steps up, 40 steps down.  The innkeeper seemed a little grumpy, but that didn’t bother us, and there was nothing to complain about the accommodations. The first floor is the home of the Charlotte Restaurant, and the food was very good (we had salmon and a vegetarian eggplant dish, and shared), the service fine, and it was a Thursday night and pretty quiet. [Grade A-/B+] After dinner, we walked a block to the movie house, because they were showing a 2016 film “The United Kingdom”, the story of Seretse Khama, a prince of a large tribe in the British colony of Bechuanaland, who had the audacity, when studying in London, to fall in love with and marry a white English woman, in the late 1940s.  This causes a major problem with both families, but with his family, it is more than a family problem, but it causes a rift with his uncle, the current regent, who refuses to hand the throne over to Seretse unless he divorces his wife (the newly married couple have left London and returned to Africa). To make a long story short, the British colonial office comes across as very bad, among other things tricking Seretse to come back to London for consultations and, once he comes, exiling him for five years from his homeland and then, under the new PM, Winston Churchill, exiling him permanently, having promised him the opposite.  (The reason for all of this is to keep South Africa and its wealth from bolting the Commonwealth, which it said it would do, if this black/white couple were allowed to take political power in an area which they deemed a part of their own country.)  Without giving up all the details, please be advised that the Khamas won the battle with the Brits, the tribe learned to love Ruth Khama, Bechuanaland became independent of the British in 1964 and took the name Botswana, Khama became the first president of the independent country and (not in the film) their son (they had four children) is now the fourth president of Botswana, one of the most prosperous and stable countries on the continent.  The film was presented as part of the theater’s monthly international film program – it was very well attended (100 – 150 people, I would say) [Grade A]
  5. Friday morning was a quiet morning.  A nice breakfast at the hotel (it’s really a B and B), followed by a walk around town – down to the wharf, looking at the houses, some old churches and cemeteries (which included the graves of veterans of the Revolutionary War – for this is an old town, and in fact was the site of a large Indian settlement before the English appeared), the small park with the monument to a Confederate Civil War general, and a plaque marking the spot (“hard by this spot”) where American Presbyterianism was born. One of the interesting churches, dating from the 1850s, was the Cokesbury Methodist Church, the home of the Northern Methodists – did you know that the Methodist Church, at least in Onancock, split before the Civil War, with the Northern Methodists being abolitionists, and the Southern Methodists being supporters of slavery?  Apparently, at least the denominational difference remains today.
  6. After walking through town, we went to visit the prime tourist attraction in the town – Ker Place, a large 1799 Georgian brick home, that was built by a very wealthy landowner/plantation owner, and is now the home of the Eastern Shore of Virginia Historical Society, which has operated it as a museum and as its headquarters since 1960.  We were the only tourists in the house and we were assigned to the only docent in the house for a tour, which turned out to be a wonderful and interesting experience.  Our docent was a recently retired outplacement counselor from Hagerstown Maryland.  He told us about the Ker family and generally about the life of wealthy landowners in 18th century Virginia, as well as the architectural details on the house.  As to the architecture, one of the things he stressed was the importance of symmetry, so much so that one large window in the front was a fake window with a wall behind it.  He talked about the large foyer and visible stairs as being very important to set the tone for guests, how guests arrived from the river, how the guests were announced and were told either to come in, or to leave their calling cards. He talked about the farmland (there were only about 8 slaves, if I recall, all of whom were freed upon the death of Ker – he was a Northern Methodist, but could not find it in himself to free the slaves in his lifetime and leave himself without help – in fact, the slaves once freed all left during Ker’s funeral), where the main crops were tobacco, wheat and rye, as well as vegetables for the local market.  The bulk of the tobacco, wheat and rye crops were exported to England (the tobacco may have wound up in France, which is where much eastern shore tobacco went) on Ker’s own ships; he was also a trader.  The furnishings in the house were by and large period pieces, but were not Ker’s.  Most of the rooms have been decorated (wall colors, etc.) as they would have been around 1800 based on records.  The bricks were all made on site, the floor boards were narrow, something done only by the very wealthy, as they were all individually cut.  There were apparently originally about 20 outbuildings, none of which survive.  The kitchen was in a separate building; there was, at the time, no indoor plumbing.n  [Grade A]
  7. After the Ker House, we went to Janet’s Cafe, a very informal place suggest by our Ker Place docent.  It’s run by a former New Yorker who moved to the Eastern Shore to avoid the stress of New York.  The cafe was crowded, and it looked to me like she clearly brought the stress of New York with her.  My Reuben sandwich was very good; twice what I could eat.  [Grade B]
  8. After lunch, we got in the car and decided just to roam around a bit.  We had seen a sign for a railroad museum in Parksley, a town a little north of Onancock, and decided to check it out.  Parksley was a sad looking place, with a track running through its center.  The railroad museum was not worth going to.  The museum itself was poorly organized and very unappealing.  Out in back, they had a caboose, a dining car, a box car and two other cars.  The woman at the welcoming desk told us she could open the cars for us.  But we decided we had seen enough.  [Grade D].  We then drove around to various small towns, stopping for ice cream at the Sugar Shack, owned by a 60 or so year old man who had lived at 16th and Spring growing up.  My Moose Track ice cream was only fair.  The place did not have coffee.  (He wanted to serve coffee, and bought a coffee maker, but it blew a fuse and he hasn’t tried it since.) [Grade C]  We then drove to Accomack and then to Wachapreague, where Mary Washington University has a marine department, and then to Quinby, another town.  Wachapreague and Quinby each have under 300 residents.  Wachapreague looked halfway interesting, but Quinby just looked frightening.  Maybe it was the Wallace house, which had a sign in front with a picture of a gun and the words “We don’t call 911”.  Or maybe the overall feel, but we thought we had better leave quickly before they saw us. From Quinby, it was a long and meandering way back, a few towns a lot of farms, a nice ride.
  9. Dinner on Friday night was pleasant, but not successful.  I had made reservations at a downtown Italian restaurant, Buzzotos, based on the menu posted in the window.  We went in sat down, I spilled the water in the centerpiece vase, we got up and moved to another table, ordered two glasses of wine, and then looked at the menu.  The menu was different from that posted on the window, and for our purposes less than satisfactory.  So rather than eat what we really didn’t want to eat, we decided to pay for our drinks, and walk back to the wharf and go to Mallards, a funky looking but popular spot on the water.  We were asked if we wanted to eat inside or outside, and were lucky enough to get the best seat on the deck, right on the water with no obstructed views.  For everyone else, we were the obstruction obstructing their view.  It was very nice sitting looking at the water on the crowded deck.  Unfortunately, the food was not very good.  My duck was very unexciting, and Edie’s tuna was not worth finishing. [Grade C-]
  10. After breakfast on Saturday, we got in the car and headed further south on Route 13.  Our goal was Norfolk.  But first we stopped at Virginia’s second largest antique mall, spending much more time there than it was worth considering we weren’t looking for anything, didn’t need anything and weren’t going to buy anything.  But it was fun wandering through the aisles and aisles. Back in the car, we got off the highway next at Cape Charles, the last significant town before the tunnel bridge.  What a unique town, with a large beach on the Chesapeake Bay, a trendy commercial area, and some nice homes overlooking the water.  It looked to be in decent shape, but looking on Wikipedia, I see that it had twice the number of people about 100 years ago, and that its per household income is very low, and the percentage of people in poverty is unacceptably high.
  11. The Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel is quite something.  23 miles long, including causeways, bridges, two tunnels, and an island.  If you haven’t driven it, you should.  It’s one of five bridge-tunnels in the world, I am told, three of which are in the Norfolk/Hampton Roads area.  [Grade A]  Before the bridge/tunnel was built in 1960, you had to cross from the Eastern Shore to Norfolk by ferry.  The ferry was discontinued almost immediately after the bridge/tunnel was opened.
  12. When you get off the bridge/tunnel, you are in Norfolk.  Norfolk is one of the cities of the Tidewater area of Virginia known as Hampton Roads – it includes Norfolk, Virginia Beach, Portsmouth, Hampton, Newport News and several other communities. By far the most populated urban area of Virginia, it may be surprising, but neither of us had ever been there.  Our time was, of course, short (we were staying over only one night) and wanted to see as much as we could.  We started at the Chrysler Museum of Art, the main art museum of Norfolk, and the home of Walter Chrysler’s wonderful art collection (among other treasures).  Chrysler had married a woman from Norfolk.  Let us just say that the Chrysler Museum is a terrific, should-see museum (must like the Toledo Museum of Art that we went to last summer).  We spent about two hours there (and had lunch in their cafe [Grade B]) and only saw about half of the museum – the contemporary art, the more traditional American and European art, the older religious art.  We also saw some of the special exhibits:  Thomas Hart Benton at his Navy sketches and paintings (early works when Benton was in the Navy) [Grade B], the photographs of Glen McClure, depicting Shipyard Workers of Hampton Roads [Grade A++], the Pilchuk Prints (prints made using glass by a large number of artists, some very well known) [B+] and George Sosnak’s decorated baseballs [Grade B].  Definitely want to go back to the museum – admission is free/parking is free. [Grade A]
  13. From the museum, we took a rather unstructured, but interesting, drive.  First, we discovered that, in downtown Norfolk there is an impressive monument to General Douglas MacArthur.  We also discovered a beautiful old residential area with homes and town homes, all in deep red brick, large trees shading everything, and cobblestone streets.  A wonderful area.  We then drove to the neighboring city of Portsmouth because we wanted to see the Norfolk Navy Yard (who knew that the Norfolk Yard was in Portsmouth?).  We were too late for the tour, so could only look at the perimeter.  If you didn’t already know or guess, here is the truth: it is really big.  We then learned that Portsmouth also had an old residential area, very different from Norfolk’s, but equally interesting.  It is frame and shingle, not brick, but very well maintained and appealing.
  14. From Portsmouth, we let Google Maps lead us across another bridge/tunnel, this time to Newport News, where we spent the night at a Hilton Garden Inn (Grade B) and had dinner at the Second Street Cafe nearby.  We sat out on the patio, with a nice view of the shopping center parking lot.  Good service, the food was ordinary [Grade B-]
  15. Now, it was Sunday morning, and the entire morning was spent at the Mariner’s Museum in Newport News, located in a park-like area where there are a number of museums and attractions.  I expected this to take an hour or so, but we were there for almost three hours (this included seeing a 3-D 40 minute film on the troubles of coral reefs and their importance – [Grade B]). We did not see everything in the Mariners Museum but we did see the reconstruction of the USS Monitor, the artifacts from the undersea ruins of the Monitor, information about its discovery and how the artifacts were rescued, and much more on this ship, as well as the history of the Civil War at sea and especially the history of the Monitor and the Merrimack (later the Virginia) which participated in the first battle between two iron-clad ships.  But there are also large exhibits of the Navy from the Revolutionary War through modern wars, the America Cup ships, the Age of Exploration (Columbus, Cook, etc), and many, many models of ships of all sorts.  There is so much here, and so much to learn, that you cannot begin to absorb the entire museum in one visit.  You must come back.  [Grade A+].
  16. Leaving the museum, we had a modest Mexican lunch at Cafe Azteca [Grade B-] and then drove the surprisingly busy highway to Tappahannock VA on the Rappahannock River.  A small and not particularly appealing town, we stayed at the Essex Inn, a bed and breakfast consisting of 4 rooms in the main house, built in 1851, and several suites in a separate building, former slave quarters from the 1840s.  Run by two talented men, it is beautifully decorated, with very comfortable public space, and comes with first class breakfasts.  Not sure that Tappahannock is a place that you need to visit, but if it is, this is clearly the place to stay [Grade A].  We had dinner at Lowery’s Restaurant, which has been thriving since the 1930s, but may have seen better days.  One thing we noticed at the crowded Lowery’s is that everyone there needed to lose about 50 pounds.  Weird. [Grade C+].  After supper, back to the B & B, and watched Howie Kendrick hit a walk off grand slam home run in the 11th to lead the Nats over the Giants, 6-2.  Very nice.
  17. Nothing much to report on Monday morning.  The drive home took longer than I expected mainly because I decided to go over the Potomac at Port Royal and come up through Prince George’s County, rather than switching over to I-95 at Fredericksburg.  Mistake, I believe.  Home about 1 p.m.





Dr. Caligari

Last year, we attended a showing of Fritz Lang’s dystopian silent film, Metropolis, a production of Washington’s Constellation Theatre. The film was accompanied by a masterful performance by percussionist, sound designer and one man band Tom Teasley (or perhaps it would be more accurate to say that Teasley’s complex music was accompanied by the movie). It was a bravura performance of every type of drum and cymbal and all sorts of things that can be blown, shaken or scratched. Along with all sorts of computers and electronic devices. And the classic film is fascinating.

Last night, there was a reprise of sorts. The same theater, the same Teasley, but this time it was the 1920 German film, The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari.

Well, I guess it’s true. You can’t go home again. The film is interesting, to be sure, but not what I would call entertaining. And Teasley’s accompaniment was accomplished and very energetic, but to me lacked last year’s “wow” factor.

As far as the movie goes, sure it’s a classic. And quirky. But also hard to follow at times and not very interesting. The director of the mental hospital hypnotizes someone who becomes his somnambulist, asleep until commanded to awaken and kill. Who needs it? And as an analogy to the mean spirited government and sleepwalking populace? Doesn’t do it for me.


So we saw “Dunkirk” this evening. A box office success. All my friends seem to think it’s a great film. Wish I thought the same, but it left me cold.

Now I’m not generally a fan of war movies. Maybe that has something to do with it. And maybe not.

The Dunkirk evacuation was really a miracle. In many respects. One was simply the evacuation of about 350,000 troops, British and French, from the beach at Dunkirk to the relative safety of England in less than ten days. (About 1/3 of those evacuated were French, but you wouldn’t know that from the film.) They were able to escape because, for reasons not fully understood even today, the German ground troops did not pursue them once they had them encircled. (The film did not discuss this aspect of the situation and did not speculate on whether Germany would have won the war if they had not stopped advancing.)

It is true that Churchill thought only about 30,000 troops would be rescued. And it’s true that the Germans did attack the evacuation vessels from the air and at sea. Apparently Britain and Germany lost a comparable number of planes, but the British got the worst of it at sea. From what I read, Britain lost about 25% of the ships involved with the rescue, about 200 of 800.

And that leads me to my big question. I read that Britain lost about 11,000 men who were being evacuated, while over 200,000 Brits were saved. How is that possible if 200 ships went down?

Back to the film. The film was filled with continual acts of extraordinary courage. Every British soldier was a hero (of the “able to leap over tall buildings at a single bound” variety). Jumping off sinking ships, swimming for hours dressed in full battle gear in the always cold English Channel. Showing enormous courage while being strafed by German planes. Yes, every man a hero. No one was afraid, no one fell apart (except for the pilot rescued out of the Sea after being shot down), no one hesitated. How realistic is that?

The plot (or rather the three plots) were hard to follow, and I missed at least half the dialogue. (“Why can’t the English teach their children how to speak?”)

We saw the film at the Avalon, and I think that colored my thinking as well. This film requires an IMAX. 

So there you have it. Interesting to watch. Made me think. But a great film? Not to me.

Bob Woodward, Ben Bradlee, Watergate and Watergate Redux

I hadn’t thought a lot about Watergate until recently. But about a month or so ago, I read Bob Woodward’s The Secret Man, the story of Deep Throat, and watched All the President’s Men. And I just finished Ben Bradlee’s memoir A Good Life .

My purpose here is not to compare Watergate with the current Russia investigation. But rather to think about the role of the press. Or, as some call it, the “mainstream media”.

The media was very different in the early 1970s. There was network news but no cable news, and – although there was a long history of muckraking – investigatory journalism had really not yet been invented.

So when Woodward and Bernstein began to look at the Watergate break-in and discovered that at least one of the five burglars had been a CIA official and two of them were in contact with Howard Hunt at the White House, they were lucky enough to have no competition, and to work for a financially struggling newspaper which gave them pretty well free reign, at some risk.

As it turned out, Woodward and Bernstein became heroes and investigative journalism was born.

Today, of course, hundreds of journalists for print, on-line and cable media are tripping over themselves looking for signs of Trump-Russian connivance, and pointing out the myriad of self-inflicted Trump snafus and stumbles.

Of course, some things have not changed. Investigative reporter’s still rely on leaks and inside sources which all administrations look to root out without success. Everything negative reported about the government’s activities are now, as then, vehemently denied, with most of the denials easily challenged. And government officials continually attack the press both for bias and for inaccurate  (and often purposely so) reporting. This is all the same – 1972 or 2017.

Reading The Secret Man you realize the importance of sources. Mark Felt, Deep Throat, was #2 at the FBI, and bitter that he had been passed over for Director after J. Edgar Hoover died. So he was mad at Nixon – is this why he became a source for Woodward? Or is it because Felt and Woodward had known each other for years with Felt sometimes acting as a mentor for the much younger Woodward? (In the film, the identity of Deep Throat was still unknown, so nothing about his connection to Woodward or his bitterness was hinted at.)

But you learn from reading Woodward how hard he and Bernstein worked on Watergate, but also, with Felt, how important connections are. And when you read Bradlee, it’s the connections which seem the more important.

Bradlee worked as a foreign correspondent, as a reporter for the Washington Post and Newsweek, and then as managing editor and executive editor of the Post, holding the last job for over 20 years. If I had had the opportunity to meet Bradlee, I think I would have disliked him. Too much of a sense of privilege and noblesse oblige. He came from a prominent Boston family with connection after connection, he was tall, thin and personable. He fooled around through Harvard, married a Saltonstall and joined the Navy. After four exciting years in the South Pacific, and a turn as a fun loving American reporter in Paris (with diversions in Israel and Algeria), he divorced the Saltonstall and married a Pinchot.

Moving back to Washington, he bought a Georgetown house and soon found himself a neighbor of Senator John F. Kennedy and his young wife Jackie. Through his background, his wives, his jobs and his neighbors, he knew absolutely everyone. If you want to be executive editor of the Washington Post, these connections are central. (By the way, Bradlee divorced the Pinchot and married Sally Quinn. This marriage worked, lasting over 30 years until Bradlee died. But, with his first two wives, and three children, he was far from being an ideal husband or father.)

Both of these books are worth reading. Woodward’s relationship with Felt is absolutely fascinating. And Bradlee, like him or not, gives a very readable account of Watergate, along with interesting stories of his youth, his Navy service, his time in Paris, and other big stories, including Vietnam, the Pentagon Papers, and many other stories, with an emphasis on how they were covered by the paper and the choices that had to be made regarding their publication.

Journalism has never been easy. And, in case you haven’t figured this out, it is not an exact science.

Dennis Prager and Pumpkin Muffins

1. I wasn’t going to listen to Radio Sputnik again today, so I went to one of Washington’s many, many AM talk show stations (right wing all) and spent a half hour with Dennis Prager, who is typical of the lot. I learned that the third hour of his show on Tuesdays is devoted to “Ultimate Issues”. Who knew? Or cared? Today, the “Ultimate Issue” was God – about as ultimate as you can get.

He kept referring to a recent New York Times article written by a secular graduate student, who seemed to be arguing that a happy life required a purpose. This led Prager, a self defined religious Jew, to conclude that you cannot have a purpose if you don’t believe in God, and therefore a secular argument for purpose (and thus happiness) must either fail, or be in fact an argument for God even if the person making the argument does not realize it. At least, that is how I interpreted Prager.

Basically, he said that “everyone” knows that you are only able to be happy if you have a purpose, and that without God, the universe is meaningless (no reason for it to be here and at some point it will disappear), so you need to believe in God to have a purpose, to put meaning into the universe, and to be happy. And he believes the public schools shoukd teach this. He was clear to say he was not (today) trying to prove the existence of God, just to say that a belief in God is required to be able to lead a meaningful life. 

How many times have I heard this argument, which to me makes absolutely no sense as a generalization? Even if you accept the premise that a purpose is necessary for happiness, it seems clear to me that a belief in God is important for some people in this regard, and irrelevant to those happy secularists who find enough purpose In serving their fellow human beings and being a custodian of the planet.

Although this hour was not political in the typical talk radio sense, Prager did get his swipes in at “the left” which is a secular group and whose adherants have a mean streak, such as feminists who apparently conclude that women who don’t agree either are not women, blacks who conclude that blacks who don’t agree with them are not black, and Jews who think that Jews who don’t agree with them are Nazis. There is no comparable mean strike in members of the right (Dennis, are you serious?), and the alt-right doesn’t exist. 

Prager has been involved in some controversy regarding Islam, such as when he told then recently elected US representative Keith Ellison that he should not be allowed to swear on a Koran at his inauguration. He obviously is anti-Islamist, he’s a strong Zionist, and I frankly don’t know what he thinks about the average Muslim on the street. 

And anti-Islamist as he is, it seems to me he doesnt realize that he is doing a good job describing the Islamist movements as he talks about purpose and happiness in regard to the NYT article.

Islamists believe in God, they are 100 percent purpose driven, and they appear (in their way) happy. As for me, I would prefer secularists any day of the week, purpose driven, happy secularists.

So, Prager’s one size fits all definition of how happy people must look at God and the universe doesn’t stand up. People are different. They view the universe differently and different things make them happy.

Religion is a wonderful aide for many people – perhaps for most people. But it is dangerous when it creeps into the public sphere. This is why separation of church and state is so important. There is nothing more frightening than a religious-driven state enlisting the help of its religious (by either instinct or requirement) citizenry to lead a purposeful life by fulfilling the aims of their God. And this is where the Dennis Pragers of the world will lead us if we don’t watch out.

2. I ordered a Morning Glory muffin this morning at Firehook in Cleveland Park this morning, and from the first bite I didn’t like it. In fact, when I had eaten just about half, I decided to call it quits. It was only then when I looked at it and didn’t see the raisins, the carrots or the pineapple that I realized that I had been given a pumpkin muffin. I don’t like pumpkin muffins. At all. And it was too late to do anything about it.

And that’s all I have to say about that.