A World of Difference

I’ll assume you didn’t read the last thing I posted here. Or, if you did, that you haven’t spent the previous six and a bit months fondly remembering it. (Thank you for being here now, it’s really very sweet of you.)

So forgive me for glancing just briefly back. In A Review of 2016: At Last, Power to the People, I set myself a tricky task. In the course of several hundred words, I described 2016 in a wholly sarcastic way. I ‘celebrated’ world events that felt awful, and conveyed a jubilant sort of mood instead of my real one at the time, which was sour and dyspeptic.

Don’t worry, I realize I’m answering a question you never asked. My point, simply, is this: as I think may also be true of you, much of what happened in 2016 was so unsettling and so unpleasant that trying to make sense of it all became an increasingly futile and forlorn undertaking. I didn’t quite know how to think anymore, let alone write. So I wrote something cynical and mean, then shut the fuck up for two entire seasons.

And now, see, it’s summertime and the sun’s out… I’m resolved, at last, to think some better thoughts. No. Not that, exactly. I’m resolved to try and think some better thoughts. My friend, let’s do this thing together.

Grenfell Tower Fire

What kind of a world do we want to live in? In the country of my birth, England, do we want all that “austerity” entails? Do we want its slashing cuts, its dangerous deregulating, its outsourcing zeal? Do we want the burned out shell of Grenfell Tower to teach us, silently, no lessons?

And here in America, where I now live, do we want to sanction and endorse the strange cruelty of the Republican Party, and, at present, its corrosive disregard for the institutions and civic norms that do so much to give this country its essential shape and form? Do we want to tell 22 million friends and neighbors: no, you can’t have access to health care, after all?

Really. What kind of world do we want for ourselves and our children? What do we value, and what do we oppose?

Can we hope to be somehow upright and solid, when so many breaking news stories – and elections – evoke a world that is fearful and uncertain? Why is the UK leaving the EU? Why is America leaving the Paris Accord? Why are the Facebook news feeds of my brother and my sister so floridly Islamophobic?

Are there things among us and within us – hiding in plain sight, perhaps – that keep on keeping us from better and brighter futures? And can we, through individual and communal effort, undermine the conditions upon which these things depend?

Senate Health Care Bill Protest

The kind of world I want to live in doesn’t distribute its wealth so unequally. Working toward such a goal, can we unlearn the way we worship money? Can we compel greed to become more of a social taboo? Say “ugly rich” instead of “super rich” – and regard excessive, unnecessary wealth as terribly gauche? More simply, can we hurry up and realize that material consumption correlates to happiness only up to a point?

The kind of world I want to live in doesn’t get hot or bothered about otherness and difference. Can we take a longer view of history to see more clearly how the forces of oppression take root, and to rip these roots from our soil? And, in so doing, cool the noisy discord that drives us apart? Can we resist the world-views – and newspapers, TV networks, politicians, preachers, strongmen, and firebrands – deemphasizing or undervaluing the many things we all have in common?

The kind of world I want to live in champions compassion, fairness, and equality – and rejects, on stages big and small, ‘might is right.’ Can we second-guess the fortunes spent on readying all of us for war, and gravely count the cost of other investments never made? How boorish and brutish to stockpile long-range missiles, when so many social provisions are willfully underfunded. Can we learn to live without the aimless drifting of nuclear submarines, and drive, instead, our collective capital – and energy – into schools, hospitals, housing, civic centers, cultural institutions, and other such things which are lovely, welcoming, and helpful?

Alright. You’re surely rolling your eyes at me by now, right? All this pontificating… Perhaps I should simply have written what I often say to my two young daughters: be nice to each other. (Given the future hasn’t happened yet, it might just make a world of difference.)


Today’s post soundtracked by:


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A Review of 2016: At Last, Power to the People

Following the deaths, in 2016, of David Bowie, Prince, Muhammad Ali, Garry Shandling, and Leonard Cohen, it’s easy to feel as though a pervasive gloom has settled over us. Fortunately, though, the year now coming to a close has also bestowed many gifts – sufficient to keep even laden shoulders from slumping.


As has so often been the case, Great Britain led the way. Befitting such a fiercely proud nation – one well-accustomed to punching above its weight – it debated, honorably, its position within Europe and reached, decisively, a bold conclusion: the aegis of the European Union is now crushing what it was designed to protect, so casting it off is the right thing to do.

Lesser elected officials too often succumb to the siren song of opportunism. At the forefront of the “Take Control” campaign, however, Boris Johnson and Michael Gove proved their mettle as visionary leaders. Shrewd in their recognition that the British people are, foremost, big-hearted and open-minded, they calibrated their appeals accordingly. Principled arguments won the day and – at last – the U.K. may now look forward to better and more prosperous relations with its European partners. (Better yet, it may do so behind stronger borders.)


A new chapter in British history commenced, and the national mood was unmistakably buoyant. It was an intoxicating moment, as a still-giddy country dared to ponder giant aspirations. Dreams that for so long felt impossible or distant now felt urgent and real. What a time to be alive!

We wondered too, of course: what next for our righteous leaders – Johnson, Gove, and that other great man of the people, Nigel Farage? Hindsight tells us we should have known better. To a man, they stayed true to their convictions by putting their country first. Generously, Farage stepped down as leader of the UK Independence Party, so that the fresh innovations of others may build on his foundations. And gallantly, Johnson and Gove lent luster and fuel of their own to the meteoric rise of Theresa May, who replaced David Cameron as Prime Minister. Again, the democratic will of the British people had asserted itself: May had the all-round skills to negotiate most successfully with the unelected bureaucrats of Brussels.


In America, meanwhile, another woman sought high office. In any other year, perhaps Hillary Clinton would also have prevailed. As never before, US voters were impeccably well-informed as they headed to the ballot box – and Democrats, Republicans, and Independents alike much admired Clinton’s temperament, intelligence, and industriousness. In 2016, however, a starry-eyed coalition of voters spied a rare opportunity to set the bar still higher. In the commanding figure of Donald Trump, they recognized a generational talent who, alone, could follow the steady competence of Barack Obama with something altogether loftier. The wisdom of Americans cannot be contained. In 2016, it determined to be Great (again).


Finally! Millions of disenfranchised Americans heard a major party leader speak their words with resounding force. The love these patriots had for their country was equal only to the love Trump had for them in return. “I am your voice,” said Trump, and even the most hardened cynic couldn’t resist this claim’s uncanny persuasiveness. And what a voice! Heartfelt, honest, charming. Sometimes warmly nostalgic. Above all, Presidential.

An astute judge of world affairs, Trump saw how the forces of globalization leave too many of us behind. His rigorous policy proposals promised something better, and, at the end of an ennobling campaign, American hearts and minds were made up. Just so long as we’re all in this together, yes we can be great!


Even in a crowded field of contenders, there can be no doubting 2016’s crowning achievement. On November 8, Donald Trump became President-elect. As with the UK’s earlier vote to leave the European Union, his win pulled the future into much sharper focus. Now everything is possible!

If ever the cut and thrust of the nightly news bulletin starts to feel a little rough, we may for years to come seek solace in the events of 2016. So long as men-of-the-people like Trump and Farage help us to bear our burdens, we may look to the future with renewed vigor. And the power of their example will likewise guide our sons and our daughters to be more humble, more empathetic, public-spirited, and stouter of heart.


Surely no one would have minded if Trump had basked for a short while in his exhilarating victory. Again, though, we should have known better: America’s next President instinctively resists the shallow waters of triumphalism. Instead, without a moment’s delay, he turned his laser-like focus on to the important matters of governance, above the fray of lower-level politics.

After sensibly canvassing a broad spectrum of opinions, but also with customary decisiveness, Trump has been putting together the kind of A-team players who will help to shape his upcoming administration. Among many inspired picks, perhaps the boldest and most brilliant is Rex Tillerson for Secretary of State, the (now former) CEO of ExxonMobil. If Washington D.C. pre-Trump had become rather stale, now we may all enjoy the bracing breath of change. No mistake, Tillerson, like Trump, will shake things up as only committed deal-makers can. How refreshing, too, that both men usefully counter the shrill voices that all too often dominate conversations about climate change. Their healthy skepticism will drive American industry forward, to the benefit of all.


With a fair wind behind it, who’s to say 2017, as a whole, won’t similarly succeed? Of course the future is unwritten, but the many glories of 2016 no doubt sketch the outline of wonderful tomorrows. Thank God. Our sweet boys and girls of today may play and be silly and unencumbered – safe in the unknowing certainty that adults are capable of extraordinary things.


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I’m not a racist, but…


I’m not a vegetarian, but I haven’t eaten meat in 47 years.


I don’t know how to tie a tie, but every time I’ve attempted to I’ve done so successfully.


I don’t consider myself to be a stargazer, but most nights I do gaze at stars.


I’ve never seen The Sound of Music, but doorbells and sleigh bells and schnitzel with noodles are a few of my favorite things.


I’m not scared of heights, but I did scream, shake, and cry that one time I climbed six rungs up a ladder.


I’m not left-handed, but I do use my left hand to write, throw, catch, pet dogs, blow my nose, and point.


I don’t like golf, but I do have a tattoo of Fuzzy Zoeller tattooed across my back.


I don’t collect novelty teapots, but I do have more than 200 teapots and none of them wholly emphasize function over form.


I’m not a picky eater, but I do order Waldorf salads without the celery, apples, grapes, and walnuts.


I don’t like Mark Rothko paintings, but I do like American, post-war abstract expressionism that prominently features large, rectangular blocks of color.

all lives matter. Etc.

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Donald Trump: Everyone who hates me is correct

At the age of 70, Donald Trump has learned to control his everyday thoughts. Beyond their reach, however, his subconscious mind preys on him with unremitting force: in the gaps between wakefulness and sleep; whenever he is still or waiting to do whatever happens next; during brief moments of silence.

There is no way I can avoid spending time with Paul Ryan.

There is no way I can avoid spending time with Mitch McConnell.

There is no way I can avoid spending time with Mike Pence.

Melania hasn’t touched my dick in eight years.

Everyone who hates me is correct.

My fake orange tan isn’t attractive.

My fake Purple Heart isn’t impressive.

I thought this would make me happy.

I hate me too.

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Stop losing, start winning

A few of us agreed to meet after work, in appreciation of Patricia on her last day with us before starting a new job. We settled on a low-key kind of restaurant with outdoor seating by the Hudson, a five or so minute walk away from our office. Two of us had bikes, so cycled over there together, and the rest of us – me and four other colleagues – followed on foot.

At the end of our street, one colleague, Anna, asked us to go ahead without her. She had to post a letter, which meant a quick detour in the opposite direction. I said ok, see you over there, and started off again. Then Patricia, who hadn’t been paying attention, stopped us all. Seeing what had just happened, she said, “Hey, let’s all wait for Anna.” Sure enough, we did, in spite of Anna repeating (if only mildly) that we shouldn’t. Patricia, without meaning to, had left me feeling kind of mean. Like I was too quick to leave Anna behind, and, therefore, rather ungallant.

Thing is, though, my motivations were sound. Anna is in her 60s and, because of recent knee surgery, she walks very slowly. When she said don’t wait for me, I made the quick mental calculation that she really meant it – that, in fact, her words meant something rather more like “I don’t want you to wait.” I wasn’t by any means certain, but my instincts flagged the possibility that Anna’s slowness made her feel self-conscious and/or embarrassed – and, further, that stopping to confirm this impression, either way, would only have drawn unwanted attention. But now look: suddenly, I’m the inconsiderate younger man, too rude to wait.

Did I misread the situation? Did Patricia? Was Anna very self-conscious, only a little, or not at all? These questions, for the wont of answers, have been rattling around in my head recently. More exactly: since Donald Trump became the President-Elect of America. They remind me – in a safer, more abstract way – that people are so very complicated. Even when the stakes are low and the circumstances narrow: good luck making sense of human thoughts and actions. Or their votes.


If one out of every hundred voters switched from Trump to Clinton, millions of Americans would be a great deal happier today – and, hard to fathom, millions of others would be angrier. But they didn’t.

So now what? I know: you’ve been asking this same damn question every damn day since the election. Here, for what it’s worth, I’ll throw some of my thoughts into the hat. Two preeminent considerations, I’ve noticed, tie them all together. First, winning feels better than losing. Second, people are so very complicated.

After so stinging a defeat, visceral responses are difficult to resist – even if, in waves, humiliation and anger initially followed softer feelings like disbelief and sadness. Our options, so far, have included lashing out at Hillary, bemoaning the fate of Bernie, railing against the Electoral College, caricaturing Trump voters, marching in Los Angeles, and typing #notmypresident. Where, though, do such responses fit into the much larger scheme of winning next time?

Me, I’m really not so sure. A little less conversation, a little more action might be all the rage right now – but please let’s set our sights, at least, on a winning destination. Yes, we should guard against too much reflection; but too little is perhaps more likely and more damaging.

For a start, perhaps it’s time to stop calling ourselves “progressives.” Many liberals have an unfortunate habit of being airily condescending and smug, and “progressives” is not a designation designed to counter this impression. Opposite to it, of course, is regressive – and surely nobody wants to be called that, if only by implication. (Perhaps it wouldn’t matter, if you didn’t need their votes….)

On the flip side of this same coin, in whose interest, exactly, do we characterize all Trump voters as racist, stupid, or both? There are a basket of deplorables out there, no doubt, but let’s not complacently suppose its 62 million strong. Nor, in so doing, swap the hard toil of changing minds for the easy relief of not even trying.

In any event, waiting for the electorate to become less stupid and less racist is hardly an inspiring strategy for disappointed Democrats, let alone wavering Republicans and independents. Related, just because the GOP really ought to look itself in the mirror right about now doesn’t mean it will. Perhaps in some other universe the hot shame of elevating Trump forges a kinder, wiser, and more reasonable operation – but not in this one.

What’s left, simply, is: stop losing, start winning. Let’s think of politics as a team sport, then play it better. Get those levers of power back, and use them well.

Finding new and different ways to dislike every Trump voter, as though they’re all the same, doesn’t make winning next time more likely. Nor does rehashing Clinton v. Sanders every five minutes. Nor, frankly, does policing every pronoun. Instead, let’s follow Obama’s lead and “focus.” Donate to Planned Parenthood – but not, like a bratty kid, “in honor” of Mike Pence. Keep talking about climate change – but frame it in terms of new jobs, not melting ice caps. Hold Trump to account, but don’t waste precious energy condemning his every Tweet.

If 62 million Americans vote for the other guy, it’s ok to listen and learn a few lessons. If our values are strong enough, they’ll endure. And – if we deploy our dissent effectively – once they’re back in power, they can sing.


Today’s post soundtracked by:



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An America That Elects Donald Trump Isn’t Great, And Never Was

Can we now all agree: America was never great.

Particularly before you live here, America is easy to fall in love with. For one, it’s massive. Romantic notions of San Francisco, New Orleans, and Boston can comfortably co-exist – even though, in practice, they’re as far apart as London, Cairo, and Budapest. For two, well, you know. Because of this sort of thing (writes F. Scott Fitzgerald at the end of Gatsby):

…the old island here that flowered once for Dutch sailors’ eyes – a fresh, green breast of the new world. Its vanished trees, the trees that made way for Gatsby’s house, had once pandered in whispers to the last and greatest of all human dreams; for a transitory enchanted moment man must have held his breath in the presence of this continent, compelled into an aesthetic contemplation he neither understood nor desired, face to face for the last time in history with something commensurate to his capacity for wonder.

What did we, the people, do with all that wonder? Some wonderful things, sure. But – oh boy – so much else besides. Those Dutch sailors would soon have seen that “the new world” was already home to a great many people – and, to this day, those people and their descendants pay with their blood for our American dreams.

Countless other men and women, of course, first came to this same land in shackles. To this day, their descendants still live under the weight of a country that oppresses them. In 1955, Rosa Parks (and others before her) fought for the right to sit on an American bus. Today, her brothers and sisters must still entreaty a skeptical nation that their lives matter. Read between the lines of America’s moral ledger and it’s hard to miss a shameful conclusion: we think they matter less.

American’s dogged belief in its own exceptionalism fatefully keeps its wounded soul from healing. Loving a country is not the same as fixing it. Jingoism is a balm not a cure. Flags and guns aren’t worth a dime; it’s who is holding them that counts.

Even if it ever did, the rest of the world surely no longer looks to America for a more enlightened path to follow. But it may, unfortunately, readily discern the many reasons why not: the graceless accumulation of ever-greater wealth; the systemic failure to spread this wealth more equitably; a self-defeating account of the human condition that emphasizes otherness instead of togetherness.

If you live in America for long enough, you’ll realize that all its mainstream politicians will eventually find a way to quote Martin Luther King Jr. All that really changes is the degree to which they either do this sincerely or disingenuously. But too many of MLK’s exhortations fell on too many deaf ears, and still do. In the short-term, a President Trump is one of the gravest and most recent costs of this continuing mistake. A cost that minority groups will disproportionately bear. In the long run – united at last – we all lose.

Perhaps more than any other nation in history, America has the potential to be great. But this potential continues to be unrealized. Instead of congratulating itself for producing a Martin Luther King, America should think more deeply about why it needed to.


Today’s post soundtracked by:


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Is this what passes for quality journalism these days?

Forgive me. There are so many provocations in the world that are sensible to resist – and here, now, I’m going to do the opposite.

Blame Bob Dylan winning the Nobel Prize (either way, in 2016, do be sure to blame something). Curious to know what detractors might think about this, I stumbled upon this remarkable diatribe by Tim Stanley in The Telegraph. And his less than illuminating assertion that Dylan is “a dim star strumming a guitar.”

Quick, sidebar question: which is more irritating, the smaller quote, taken out of context – or, in fact, the context:

“But the Nobel is supposed to be awarded not on the basis of what the public likes (if it were, Doris Lessing wouldn’t have won it) but on ability matched by idealism. Dylan has both, but his body of work falls far short of that produced by past winners: Yeats, Gide, O’Neill, Solzhenitsyn etc. The scale of their output and the thematic density of their texts outstrips Dylan by light years. He is a dim star strumming a guitar; they are suns around which we orbit.”

Alright, sure, a large part of Tim Stanley’s job is to provoke a reaction. Like the host of a radio talk show that depends on listener phone calls: he must not be bland. At what cost, though, is he ‘interesting?’

It’s been a long election season. The prospect of a Donald Trump presidency is now too real and too close. My nerves are frayed, and the many provocations of the world are harder than usual to resist. And so, I admit, I erred in not avoiding this:


Isn’t The Telegraph supposed to be a beacon of conservative good sense? A broadsheet, ‘newspaper of record,’ above the tabloid fray? Maybe it is. And maybe I’m cherry-picking unfairly two articles by one writer, in a heightened state of jittery sensitivity.

Let’s take a closer look, though, just the same. What kind of journalism is When Trump goes low, Obama goes lower? And do you agree with my answer to this question: tossed-off and tawdry, and replete with pernicious conjecture, conflation, and dubious assertions.

(Yeah, I really did mean “closer look.” What follows is Stanley’s article in full, with my annotations as footnotes… feel free to worry just slightly about my current mental state!)

When Trump goes low, Obama goes lower

Barack Obama got some things off his chest on Wednesday afternoon in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. In a beautiful, rich university – on a field of AstroTurf – he called Donald Trump a risk to the survival of the republic. It’s clear that President Obama is fighting not only for Hillary Clinton but the preservation of his own, highly contentious legacy.

In an interview broadcast earlier that day he’d already rebuked FBI director James Comey for announcing that fresh emails had been found related to the investigation of Mrs Clinton’s use of a private server. “I trust her,” said the President, as if putting an end to the matter[1]. His faith puts him in a minority. A recent poll[2] found that more voters trust Mr Trump than they do Mrs Clinton.

At Chapel Hill, he quipped[3] that Mrs Clinton is “underappreciated at home” but that she is a vastly superior choice to her opponent. On that subject, the President had a lot to say[4]. He suggested[5] Mr Trump tolerated the Klan, threatened the press, “stiffed small businesses” and “bragged about getting away with sexual assault”. He even called him “a loser”. Mr Trump, said Mr Obama, is “temperamentally unfit” to be President and should not be let near the nuclear codes. He added: “This should not be a controversial opinion. Over time, crazy [has become] normalised.”

This kind of rhetoric is classic Obama. He enjoys playing the wise professor and comes off like a very smart man lowering his intellectual bar in order to school the rest of us[6] on stuff that we really should’ve grasped years ago. If you don’t vote for Hillary, he explained, then Trump will win. The country needs to be united, he added, or else it will be divided. And the Republicans who threaten Hillary with impeachment before she’s even been elected, he suggested, were encouraging gridlock in Washington. These truisms are irritating[7] not only because they are bleedin’ obvious, but also because they were delivered in a fake southern accent. Many presidents have a habit of doing this. They think they connect better when they don’t pronounce their “g”s.

But hang on a second: isn’t it a bit divisive to call your opponent divisive?[8] Especially when you imply that he’s an idiot authoritarian. Indeed, the flipside of Obama’s patrician tone is that he’s always been happy to parody his opponents to the edge of a smear. Hillary, he observed in 2008, was only “likeable enough.” And that year he infamously observed that working-class conservatives “cling to guns or religion.” Michelle Obama once said: “When they go low [meaning the Republicans], we go high.” That’s nonsense. When Obama’s opponents go low, he goes even lower.[9]

Low is where the votes are. In his Chapel Hill speech, the President acknowledged that North Carolina is now tied in the polls. Actually, Trump is thought likely to win this large, important state[10]. That puts Trump on a slightly easier path to the White House.

And if Trump enters the Oval Office then it’ll amount to a rejection of Obama as much as Clinton. This election is partly a referendum on him. For instance, many voters are furious that their monthly health insurance premiums have just gone up by a national average of 25 per cent[11] (although they can get a tax credit to help). Moreover, a Trump victory will represent the defeat of Obama’s whole style of government as well as its substance. It will say that patrician is out and Right-wing radicalism is in.

Obama always liked to believe he could move his country beyond the culture wars, even though he himself manipulated them. Well now it’s plain that much of America is tired of pretending that it’s united in affection for diversity[12] – and Obama’s old promise of hope has lost its potency. The choice faced in this election isn’t hope[13]. It’s either settling for Hillary or burning the house down with Trump.

1. “I trust her,” said the President, as if putting an end to the matter.

Stanley’s editorializing here is hardly helpful. Politicians are forever denigrated for being evasive. What, in this instance, should the President have done differently? He is, after all, offering his perspective. Why should he do so only equivocally?

2. A recent poll

What poll?! Cherry-picking polls to bolster your argument is assuredly not the hallmark of conscientious journalism. You might just as well claim, “According to the internet…”

3. he quipped

Obama asserting that Clinton is “underappreciated at home” doesn’t seem much like a quip, so why characterize it in this way? It’s the word choice of a writer who prefers that his reader not take Obama seriously.

4. the President has a lot to say

This is willfully disingenuous. Wouldn’t it be strange if the incumbent President didn’t have a lot to say about the opposition candidate to replace him, five days before the election?

5. suggested

Another revealing choice of word, leaving open to interpretation the accuracy of Obama’s words – even though they do, in fact, stand up to scrutiny. (We need not suggest Trump “bragged about getting away with sexual assault” – it is, simply, a fact.)

6. school the rest of us

Spare us, Stanley, this ‘man of the people’ shtick. You write for The Telegraph, you were educated at Trinity College, Cambridge, and your middle name is Randolph. (Says Wikipedia.) Sure, this kind of anti-establishment pose is all the rage right now… but must we really be so jaded as to resent the notion of a President being smart, or that his office may have some pedagogic utility?

7. These truisms are irritating

Can we safely assume that Stanley doesn’t much like Obama? Well, alright, to each his own. But here, surely, whatever journalism there is in this article lapses into a rant. Should addressing any of the following subjects really be outside Obama’s remit, with the election less than one week away: the consequences of not voting for Clinton; the need for unity over division; the prevalence of Republican obstructionism?

8. isn’t it a bit divisive to call your opponent divisive?

Well, no, not necessarily. This is circular reasoning; pick at this thread and it will soon unravel.

9. When Obama’s opponents go low, he goes even lower.

Charitably, I suppose the rest of this article encourages the reader to reach this same conclusion. Realistically, though, you’d have to be extraordinarily credulous – or worse – to do so. You’d have to ignore a decade’s worth of evidence to the contrary, and the brute facts of 21st century racism.

10. Actually, Trump is thought likely to win this large, important state.

Nope! Simply starting a sentence with “Actually,” doesn’t empower it to make a falsehood true. According to the average of numerous polls, North Carolina – on Nov. 3, 2016 – is about as close to a toss-up as can be. There’s nothing the least bit “likely” about Trump winning or losing it.

11. many voters are furious that their monthly health insurance premiums have just gone up by a national average of 25 per cent

To my eyes, “many” and “furious” here are the word choices of a lazy journalist, sacrificing rigor in an attempt to be persuasive. Put this objection to one side, however, and we’re still left with the problem of what Stanley leaves unsaid. The profit motive of insurance companies is hard-wired into American healthcare; blaming Obama for this is to miss the wood for the trees. Moreover, Obamacare has extended healthcare coverage to millions of previously uninsured Americans. Stanley is painting a most incomplete picture.

12. now it’s plain that much of America is tired of pretending that it’s united in affection for diversity

My goodness. Stanley is writing this sort of thing for a living. Is he also tired of this same pretense? It would, at least, help to explain much of what precedes this weirdly opaque observation.

13. The choice faced in this election isn’t hope.

Does Stanley mean “…about hope?” Or has he, at this point, given up even trying to make sense?


The stakes are too high. Journalism is too important. Let’s do better.


Today’s post soundtracked by:


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Trump Ugly

One semester as a graduate student I took a Sound Design class. Our assignment one week involved adding sound to a short, silent animation. We were all given sound recording equipment and our task was two-fold: record sounds and then match these to visuals.

It was an enjoyable project and over the course of several days I happily stationed a microphone close to many different noises. Soft, shuffling sounds. Harder, banging, clicking sounds. Repetitive, mechanical sounds – whirs, buzzes, and beeps – and irregular, naturally occurring sounds, issuing from birds, water, and the wind. (Another subject for another day: our language is much better equipped to convey what we see, versus what we hear.)

In a couple of long computer sessions, I did my best to match these myriad audio clips to images. It was a tricky task and I couldn’t call upon any particular skills or experience to make it any easier. On the other hand, however, through trial and error it soon became rather intuitive. The animation – a sort of chase sequence involving fantastical, insect-like creatures – afforded us a lot of creative license. And, better still, I was in the safe, supportive space of a university; sound-proofed, if you will, from the many, harsher noises of the world beyond. Time was on my side, and there was nothing much at stake.

I finished up, more-or-less, in a couple of free hours before class. Adding different sound effects in layers, I did a decent job, I think, of replacing the previous week’s conspicuous silence with some persuasive snaps, crackles, and pops – hardly a symphony, but, nonetheless, an honest fuzzy racket.

One effect, especially, transformed the image I matched it to with an uncanny kind of correctness. Sometimes that’s just the way it goes. If you try to be creatively successful, every now and then you will be. It feels right. The image: a bird-like creature in flight flapping its wings. My addition: the sound a stapler makes when you open it, repeated on a loop.

“Here, use this,” I said to a classmate shortly before the start of class. He was at an adjacent computer, we were talking, and the bird in his animation was still flying mutely. Why ever not? One little sound file, from one student to another. He added my little layer to his film and I didn’t give it a second thought.

Until, that is, I heard this same fellow classmate describing the small success of my sound effect to everyone else in class, with one essential detail missing: my part in the process.

It was about as brazen as lying ever gets. Our professor had asked us all if we were particularly pleased with any specific use of sound and without any further prompting my classmate described the sound a stapler makes when you open it – and, well, you already know the rest…

Why would anyone do such a thing? Twelve years later, I still wonder what could possibly be a satisfying answer.

Really, the injury to me was vanishingly slight. It was fleeting and inconsequential. But doesn’t that make it all the more inexplicable? What did my classmate hope to gain? Of course, I know people cheat and lie – but what does it say about a person when they do so for no reason? Straight-up, sincere, and altogether pointlessly.

So goddamn shabby.


I’m not a nihilist. I believe in our better angels and I lean, reflexively, toward hope and away from despair. And I also believe in the power of redemption, of second chances and fresh starts.

And yet, and yet, and yet. Some conclusions in life are easier to reach than others. Why refuse to accept overwhelming evidence when it’s overwhelmingly in front of you?

Donald J. Trump is a shitty person who does shitty things. Over and over again.

It doesn’t matter whether or not he sometimes makes salient and sensible observations. It doesn’t matter that he echoes effectively popular discontent. It doesn’t even matter that he is, or he isn’t, as successful as he claims to be.

Simply: why validate his awful personality? Why hoist up any higher something that so singularly fails to elevate the rest of us? Why paint America – and by extension the world – in such drab colors?

Haven’t we all met other ‘smaller’ Trumps in our own lives? The Alpha male bully, who never listens – only waits to speak. Who exhibits in countless ways an arrogant disregard for nuance and complexity. Who fuels his oversized ego with such a lot of bluster, and boasting, and conceit. Whose dreary, pig-headed worldview rarely, if ever, crawls beyond a zero sum, I win therefore you lose, mindset.

Just enough, already. A certain kind of man has been getting away with this bullshit forever. It’s so utterly tiresome. So goddamn shabby.


Let’s stop the cartwheels of reasoning that excuse Trump’s behavior. He has a long history of enriching himself at the expense of others. He has a proven track-record of abusing facts and truth for expedient, self-serving ends. And, perhaps worst of all, he stokes the flames of division and unrest, in a shameful bid to break the bonds of our affection.

Why should so august an office as the U.S. Presidency stoop to accommodate such a litany of tawdry behaviors? The answer, to borrow an appropriately American phrase, ought to be self-evident: it shouldn’t. Still less so when you consider how paper-thin are Trump’s plans, promises, and policies.

Oscar Wilde once was asked why America is such a violent country. He replied: “Because you have such ugly wallpaper.” The deeper truth of this apparently flip observation is a fierce warning to resist the overtures of Trump. We invite this man into our homes at our peril: his slate-grey ugliness stretches over us a larger shadow, which, unchecked, will fatefully obscure our better selves. Look around, it’s happening already.


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Homemade Caramel Sauce, Or: Icarus in the Kitchen

So that you may compare this short narrative against its stated aims, let me start it by sharing first those aims. One: explain how the “elemental deliciousness” of caramel sauce is one poor judgment call away from being burnt goat milk. Two: explore the feasibility of blaming young children for this unfortunate discovery.

Right then, off we go. Tomorrow is my daughter’s fourth birthday and I plan to put in front of her at some point some French toast. So far, so simple. Any old dolt can dip sliced bread (brioche, naturally) into lightly beaten egg, then fry this eggy bread in butter. It was my slightly more lofty goal to also pour over this French toast some homemade cajeta, which, as my Rick Bayless Mexican cookbook reliably informs me, is more widely known by the name it has in other Latin American countries: dulce de leche.

What, I figured, could possibly go wrong. The recipe has only four ingredients and a mere one extraordinary feature — the length of its cooking time. Milk. Sugar. Cinnamon. Baking soda (half a teaspoon dissolved in one tablespoon of water). You stir these four things together, then simmer, uncovered in a slow cooker, for a day. No really: an actual day — such that the milk slowly (coquettishly) reveals the “natural sweetness” of its sugars. Adds chef Bayless: “After 18 hours or so… begin keeping an eye on it.” (At the risk of doing something injurious to the space-time continuum, hindsight now compels me to call this foreshadowing.)


Providence gives with one hand and takes with the other. It turns out, I was to experience these two fates in order. Reading between the lines of my Bayless recipe, it was clear that he placed the “or” between “goat’s milk” and “cow’s milk” strategically, to separate life’s winners and losers. Sure you can settle for the quotidian cow… But why do so drab a thing if, instead, you can locate “the naturally more complex and tangy” goat?

Whole Foods came through for me and I purchased exactly half of its available goat milk: one carton for $7.49. (The other carton was Low Fat, which I presumed to be both less elemental and, therefore, less delicious.)

Back at home, the prep work was minimal. I combined my four ingredients (five, if you prefer to give that tablespoon of water its due), and turned the slow cooker on. Quickly, though, I discovered that the demands of making cajeta are more mental than physical. At least as far as culinary matters are concerned, the urge to do something rather than nothing is strong — even as a young boy, I refused to simply watch my mother cook; instead, I would stir whatever she was cooking, or put the lid on, or turn the heat down just a touch like it was the crucial intervention between so-so and divine. Cajeta has no use for such frivolous fussing. It demands only that you wait, go to bed, and then wait some more in the morning. Thus did my wooden spoon begin a resolute vigil, unmoved, and thus did I also stay mostly out the kitchen.

Roughly five hours into this endeavor, at bedtime, my wife’s muted fear that I might cause a fire overnight still seemed incongruous. The sight of cajeta at this stage is distinctly underwhelming: white, warm milk with a cinnamon stick floating on top — and scarcely a simmering bubble to pierce the placid surface. I went upstairs to sleep.

If I dreamed of cajeta, unfortunately I don’t recall the details. In any case, my younger daughter Isla was evidently keen to replace my morning reveries with her breakfast, waking us all up at 5.30 to press her case. With experience you learn not to fight these losing battles, so downstairs we went.

Enthusiasm is not a sensation I’ve ever experienced before 6 a.m., but, nonetheless, I was pleased to see in my slow cooker a liquid that was, unmistakably, a light shade of brown. It may have been just a fraction thicker, too, and — yes — bubbling a bit.

Already, the following five hours are hazy, as if a much more distant memory. Though the finer points elude me, however, I’m certain that: both my children asked me a great many questions (mostly involving the status of their next snack); both my children became incrementally more restless; and both my children expressed this gathering restlessness in a fashion liable to cause a headache. I remember, too, the cursory last look I took at my cajeta – before, at around 11, we all left for a long drive and a long lunch.

It was, in hindsight, very much cooked. Pleasingly thick. Pleasingly brown. And, no doubt, elementally delicious. The perfect moment, in other words, for me to cast myself as the tragic hero in a tragic tale of my own making. Enter hubris. “There’s no chance,” I said out loud, “that it will burn to the point of becoming inedible.”

Should you ever wonder, I can report that there are approximately 12 Donald Trump yard signs on the road between Princeton and Manville, NJ — a journey that takes about 40 minutes. And, perhaps to the consternation of these assorted Trump supporters, the Lone Star Tacos at Grub Hut, in Manville, are equal parts Tex and Mex, and all the better for it.

You’ll surely have noticed, though, that sharing these observations gives me little pleasure. All the while, back at home, my cajeta burned slowly — to the point of becoming inedible. Black instead of brown: waxy wings scorched by the heat of an indifferent sun.

Kids, eh?


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Baker, Wilder, Wogan: Cheer Up, It Might Never Happen

I remember watching an interview with the Pollyanna broadcaster Danny Baker in which he relayed a conversation he once had with his wife in an airport bookstore. Frustrated at seeing such an abundance of ‘misery memoirs’ and other similarly unappealing tomes, she turned to him and said: “You know, if they had a book called ‘Nice People Having a Lovely Time,’ I’d buy it.” Danny, true to form, agreed.

Me too, I think. So much of 2016 feels like having a bad headache on a rainy day. Keep the curtains closed, I’ll sit this one out. Outside is grey skies and noise; inside at least I can lie still, close my eyes, and hope to wake up refreshed some time tomorrow.

Click-bait… Cable news… Celebrities… Trump… Terror! Yeah, no thanks. We may be living in a digital age, but it’s an old, analog injunction we’ve spent far too long ignoring: change the record.

Or if nothing else, please let’s change the way it sounds. Must we really be so decisively FOR or AGAINST everything? Must we really be so continuously caffeinated? And quick to offend, and quicker still to take offense? Can we really no longer admit, every once in a while, “I don’t know,” without it seeming lily-livered, incurious, or bland?

Fans Burn Colin Kaepernick Jerseys

For as much as it can be useful and even nourishing, social media can be awful mean and cynical. What we call “the news” would more accurately be described as “bad news.” And, more generally, it feels as though we are daily assailed by reasons to not be cheerful. What gives? Vibes aren’t meant for harshing, yet these days a slew of curmudgeon alternatives are waiting impatiently in line to take their place: complaints, anger, paranoia, bitterness, and, that great unlovely catch-all, persecution of the other.

All of which thinking out loud gets me finally to this, a short clip of Terry Wogan interviewing Gene Wilder:


Gentle. Unhurried. Understated. Enigmatic and softly self-depreciating. If more of TV was like this, I’d watch it. And if the world was more like this, well, wouldn’t it be more enjoyable and better.


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