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                   Café Talk

Saturday
Oct282017

My Book is Not an Airplane Book

I was in the New Orleans Art Center and two people who bought my book said something like, “This is great. I have a flight coming up.” To which I said, “That’s great. It’s a good airplane book.”

Now that some time has passed, I don’t think it’s a good idea to tell people my new book is an airplane book. To me an airplane book is a book that demands nothing of you, particularly the demand to think about what you’re reading. Read Chapter 3 and then tell me that I’m wrong. I tell people it’s a fun book with a dark side. But it isn’t an airplane book. Or I hope it isn’t.

The title of the book is The Girl in the Silver Mask. I’m not comfortable with the title for the simple reason that there is no girl in the story. There are women, but no girls. So, I have my protagonist, Drake Ramsey, an author like me, only successful, unable to develop the plot of his new book because he’s fixated on coming up with title with the word “girl” in it. Drake says,

I don’t actually have a plot idea yet, because I can’t stop thinking about the title. I know. Little bit of horse-before-the-cart stuff, but have you noticed how many successful books out there have the word girl in the title? Years ago it was horse. Awhile back, it was wife. Now it’s girl. I think that Larsson fella got it started...

You see my problem. How can I figure out a plot, when I’m going crazy trying to think of a title with the word girl in it? It’s important. I’m sure you see my point. And how many first-time best-selling authors’ second books have flopped? A lot! Well, not mine. I’m covering my ass on this.

Drake then lists over fifty books with the word “girl” in the title. To be clear, I found the titles on Amazon and in bookstores. For a while every time I walked into a bookstore I carried a pad to jot down titles with the “girl” in them. I’m sure my fifty plus titles listed on page 4 of the paperback edition are just the tip of the where-have-all-of-the-feminist-gone iceberg. My editor wanted me to delete the whole lot saying no one would read them. Of course people won’t read them. The impact is visual. If I had found fifty more titles with the word “girl” in them, I would have included them as well.

I was walking past a bookstore on Decatur Street and through the large front window I saw a customer looking through a copy of The Girl in the Silver Mask. I almost stopped to watch, then thought Philip Roth would never do that. So, I moved on never knowing if she actually bought the book. It was an odd feeling, I think mostly because the odds of passing a bookstore that actually has a copy of The Girl in the Silver Mask on display at the very moment a customer is looking it over must be breathtakingly enormous. Still, if she actually did buy the book there is a good chance she will enjoy it. And I do hope she would enjoy the inside joke about the word “girl.”  

As I write this, there are three bookstores in New Orleans displaying my book. I should have taken photos of the books on the shelves to show you, to relieve you of the burden of having to trust me. But I figured that Chuck Palahniuk doesn’t walk into bookstores and take pictures of his books so I put my cell back in my pocket.

I had three humble “author events” while in New Orleans. The first was at the New Orleans Art Center, which you should definitely visit if you are in NOLA. The cover image of The Girl in the Silver Mask was designed by Alan Zakem of ZakemArt.com. Tina and Herman, who own and run the Art Center, displayed some of Alan’s work and set up a table with my books. Alan talked about his art, me about my book. I sold some books, though admittedly not many.  

The second event was also at the Art Center and I filled the artist talking about their work spot. I found this interesting though we didn’t need police for crowd control. Still, I sold some books. I wonder if Roberto Bolaño every sold any of his books in an art gallery.

The third event was in the Treme Coffeehouse. The book opens in the Treme Coffeehouse with these words: “A few days before Halloween, I was sitting in the Treme Coffeehouse, counting my heartbeats.” It was a good idea to have a reading at the café. The Coffeehouse and I provided free coffee, cookies, and cake, as a bribe, and I did a short reading. Problem was, I was terrible! So embarrassing. I bet Cormac McCarthy never humiliated himself like that. Amazingly, I sold some books, and ate some cake. Once again, crowd control was not a problem.

Now that I’m back from New Orleans I’m waiting for The Girl in the Silver Mask to go viral. When it does, I’m going to give a bucket load of money to the New Orleans Art Center and the Treme Coffeehouse, anonymously of course. Given that I am not Roth, Bolaño, or McCarthy, Herman and Tina in the Center and Tracy in the Coffeehouse took a chance on me. Yes, they made a little money too, but I need to emphasize the world “little.”

So, if you want a fun book with a dark side, give The Girl in the Silver Mask a try. Your purchase could be the one to get the viral ball rolling, or more accurately, clicking. And I would suggest that you hold judgement on the whole airplane thing until you’re done with Chapter 3. I bet Milan Kundera never said that.

Copyright © 2017 Dale Rominger

Thursday
Oct052017

The American Marriage of Freedom and Death

Since the Las Vegas mass shooting I’ve heard it said that the 59 deaths and the 527 injuries are the price we pay for our freedom. I’m assuming that by extension the one mass shooting every day* and the 90 deaths and 200 injuries due to one-on-one weapon violence every day are also the price of freedom. Death and injury by weapon violence in the United States is so commonplace it is taken for granted by the citizenry. Killing each other is as American as apply pie.

It is an interesting and disturbing concept that to be a patriotic American you must suport weapon ownwership  and accept the link between killing and freedom. I am not saying that people after Las Vegas were claiming freedom is maintained through the killing of our fellow citizens. Of course they were not. I am saying that many defenders of the 2nd Amendment insist that the killing is an acceptable cost of maintaining the right to own weapons and thus our freedom. It's almost as though there is a kind of organic link between the two. Take away the primary source of the killing, our weapons, and our freedom dissolves.

It might surprise many in the United States that there are countries around the world where people are just as free as Americans and do not associate the safeguarding of their freedom with weapon ownership and the killing of fellow citizens. The link between maintaining freedom and citizen on citizen killing is incomprehensible to them. The notion that death is some kind of unavoidable byproduct of having freedom is nonsensical. The claim that enduring the continual killing of citizens by citizens is an unfortunate requirement of a free people is insanity.

When I lived in Great Britain, after every mass shooting in the United States people would ask me to explain why Americans continue to kill each other when steps could be taken to at least reduce the slaughter. They would explain that after the massacre of sixteen children and one teacher in Dunblane in 1996 the British government, with the support of the people, enacted gun control. Since Dunblane there has only been one mass shooting and death by gun violence has gradually gone down. They would point out that after the Port Arthur massacre in 1996, when thirty-five people died and twenty-three others were injured, the Australian government legislated for gun control which resulted in a dramatic fall in gun violence and no more mass shootings. 

Of course I talked about the 2nd Amendment and did my best to explain the importance of the US Constitution. I spoke about the incredible power and wealth of the National Rifle Association and its influence on our elected state and federal officials. But it didn’t really help. When I said that the right to own weapons is more important than the lives of our children, people just stare in disbelief. And why should they understand the outlandish reality that in the United States the concept of freedom is intimately married to the killing of citizens?

Ironically, those of us advocating for at least anemic gun control would never suggest the United States consider the measures taken by Britain and Australia to protect its citizens. We would not be so naïve and foolish. This is America, after all. No, we are simply pleading for at least humble beginnings to stop the carnage. Make it illegal for mentally disturbed people to buy weapons. Make it illegal for potential terrorist to buy weapons. Make it illegal for everyone to buy weapons that are more suited for warfare then hunting and home protection. But even these commonsense restrictions are unacceptable. The NRA fought for and won the right of people on the no fly list, that is people the FBI suspect might be terrorist, to purchase weapons. Why? Apparently to protect our freedom. (There is more to say here since the vast majority of mass shootings are done by “normal” American white males.)  

For a society to marry freedom to death in such a visceral and pseudo religious way is an indication of a serious social pathology. While we accept regulation in other areas of our lives, absolutely no regulation is allowed when it comes to our sacred weapons. We have a zillion regulations and laws protecting citizens from dangerous cars and kitchen stoves, flammable furniture fabric and scolding hot coffee, dangerous toys and dangerous medication. If a fire in a high rise kills residents, we learn what happened and take steps to prevent it from happening again. If a car proves to be dangerous, it is recalled. Our safety culture is alive and well. But when it comes to weapons, that harm and kill people every day, absolutely no regulations are allowed. No adjustments to make the weapons less dangerous are allowed. No restrictions on who can purchase a weapon are allowed. No restrictions on what kinds of weapons can be sold are allowed. The government is not even allowed to study the impact of gun violence on the nation.

This kind of societal behavior is simply bizarre and sick. To accept that one cost of our freedom is killing each other each and every day is a sign of a corporate social illness. And note. We are not talking about the killing of a common outside enemy threatening our freedom. We are talking about the killing of fellow citizens. We are killing each other. Only a violent and pathological society could accept such a reality.

People have been saying that self-imposed death is the cost of freedom. What they should be saying is that self-imposed death is the cost of freedom in the United States. It is a uniquely American pathology.  For only in America have people reified an ancient clause and thus accept a philosophical, pseudo theological, political, and psychological fusing of freedom and death.

* The FBI defines a mass shooting as four or more people killed and/or injured during a single shooting incident.

Copyright © 2017 Dale Rominger

Wednesday
Sep202017

Three Bangkok Cafés I’ll Never See Again

Café First ~ Walley House Restaurant

In Bangkok I stay in a small but pleasant hotel on the Chin River, a tributary of the Chao Phraya River. It’s called Hotel Mystic Place. It was my first day in Bangkok and I couldn’t sleep so at about 11:45 pm I left he hotel looking for a place to get something to eat. What I found was the Walley House Restaurant.

As far as I could see, the Walley House was simply a number of small tables, all for two people, hugging the walls of a narrow alley. The alley walls were dirty yellow. Plants hung from green posts located every six feet or so. Strung from pipes running along the walls, also painted green, were bells ringing in the breeze. There was corn hanging from the rafters. Outside the alley entrance were tuk tuks raced by and filthy beaten down dogs stood, no doubt smelling he food. One dog walked up to my table, looked at me, then curled up by my feet. It didn’t ask for anything. The Walley House was down and dirty, but the food was good, the Singha beer was cold, and I couldn’t sleep.


Café Second ~ Tha Tien Pier Café

I hopped on a Chao Phraya Express Boat running a watery taxi service on the Chao Phraya River. I alighted at Tha Tien Pier because I was told there was a large reclining Buddha in the area. And indeed there was. From my reckoning, a huge reclining Buddha. The temple was being worked on and there were colourful broken tiles in numerous piles. I took what looked like a green leaf as a souvenir.

As you walk up the dock at Tha Tien Pier immediately to your right is, what I called, the Tha Tien Pier Café. It was constructed of a potpourri of wood, corrugated steel, old signs, and was built over the water. I sat at table for two on the riverside and watched three young boys swimming in the river, which was filthy. There was a latter built onto the dock which they eventually used to escape the trash and plastic bottles floating on the water. Still, the looked happy enough.

All the tables were old worn wood with Formica surfaces chipped and peeling. In front of me were three drunk Thais sharing a bottle of whisky. Across the river was the Wat Arun temple and as I sat there numerous monks came across the river, walked up the dock, past the café, and continued, presumably, to the temple the reclining Buddha. One, however, stopped and took a seat in the café not far from me. He was dressed in the traditional saffron civara and sat quietly drinking a Lipovitan-D. The waiter completely ignored him and he seemed quite contented just sitting staring at the dock. He was an elderly man with a dignified profile. When he had finished his Lipovitan-D, he placed the small bottle on the table, signalled the waiter, and whispered in his ear. The waiter nodded and the old monk got up and walked away.

Floating quietly below and to my left, its huge car engine and long tiller system at rest, was a long-tail boat. Long-tail boats are used as a river taxis pausing at designated stops and people’s homes along Klong Man Canal. A few days later, the owner of the café told me not to rent a boat on my own, as tourists often did. It was not uncommon to take tourists out into the middle of the Chao Phraya River, turn off the engine, and ask for more money. Instead the owner of the café made arrangements for me to ride on a long-tail up the Klong Man Canal with the locals and back again to Tha Tien Pier.

The Tha Tien Pier Restaurant was run by one family. The son cooked the meals. A young girl who brought me my beer then sat and did her homework. The mother and daughter cleaned and bought supplies. The father sat, always with a happy surprised look on his face, not judgmental or mocking, just good natured, as if life was always a wonder to him. Behind and slightly to my right were stairs leading up to the family’s living quarters. The youngest, a beautiful little girl with a bright smile, was forever running up and down those stairs.

As I sat at my table I could watch my meal being cooked in large woks heated with gas cylinders right in front of me. I never saw those woks cleaned, and I ate at the café over several days. The water that was heated to cook meats, vegetables, rice and noodles was never dumped and replaced, just replenished. Small fish swam below the cooking area where they threw food over the railing. Sitting there I could smell the food cooking, constantly surrounded by a mixing of aromas. The air was hot but the Singha beer was cold.


Café Third ~ Blade Runner Café

Walking through sections of Bangkok it often seemed to me that people occupied concrete space on large roads or boulevards between large concrete buildings and built homes and small business out of wood, corrugated metals, cardboard, whatever they could lay their hands on. As a result I often walked down very narrow roads, alleyways really, sometimes in the shadows of the high city buildings. One evening well after dark, I walked down such an alleyway. People were out along the way, both working and simply doing what people do – living. I walked past a young woman cleaning dishes in a large plastic bowl in front of four hotplates. No doubt her small business. Children, doing what children do all around the world, were playing. Men sat smoking. Most of them looked at me as I walked by.

I eventually came to a small café with two large doors open to the alleyway. I could see no name, neither outside above the doors or inside. Inside the café was dark. It was like walking into a cave. Low burning feeble lightbulbs hung from the ceiling, which was quite low. The place was humble, to say the least.

To my right on the wall was a television showing the movie Terminator. I claimed a table and watched Arnold do his thing. In the back of the room was a red neon sign advertising international telephone calls. Under the sign were half a dozen booths with, you guessed it, telephones. Today no doubt, if that small café still exists, there will be monitors with internet connections. Sitting there in a run down less then clean café, drinking my beer, the clash of poverty and technology struck me. And as if on cue, it started to rain outside, the rain pounding down into the alleyway between high rises, splashing in through the open door. If felt like I had just stepped into the film Blade Runner.

Copyright © 2017 Dale Rominger

Tuesday
Aug292017

Time to Choose a Side ~ Charlottesville Made It Easy 

Did Charlottesville, Virginia change anything for you?

We got to see the two sides of Trump: the scripted and the spontaneous. We all know now that his first statement after the events in Charlottesville laid blame for the violence on “both sides.” This hint at moral equiveillance between white supremacists, Nazis, KKK, and fascists and all those who opposed them caused outrage among many, though not enough among members of the Republican Party in Congress for them to call Trump out by name. Unfortunately, his “both sides” comment was just the warmup act. The following day Trump read a scripted statement condemning supremacists, Nazis, KKK, and fascists and it should have ended there. However, Trump is like a stupid ill-behaved adolescent and the following day we saw and heard the spontaneous Trump. The issue of moral equiveillance was articulated clearly, washing away any ambiguity the words “both sides” might have had for some. And his anger while defending some of those “nice people” in the alt-right shouted volumes.

The contrast between the scripted Trump and the spontaneous Trump demand we make a decision. It is for all of us to decide which of the two Trumps on display is the real Trump, or at least as real as real can get with this man. Choose. It’s easy. The two sides are mutually exclusive.

In case you are still conflicted, I suggest you watch Trump's Phoenix rally speech. A lot of words are used to describe Trump’s speeches but one we hear quite often is “unhinged.” This speech was no exception. Regardless of your political persuasion or what party or movement you belong to, the Phoenix speech should worry you. His continued assault on the free press and the crowd’s response is unnerving. Journalists are fake, the enemy, people who don’t like the country. I’m surprised no journalist has been shot given the level of anger Trump generates towards the media. Also, his constant bold and unrepentant lying is breathtaking and dangerous. For example, he declared loudly (most of what he says he says loudly) that the television networks were turning off their cameras because they didn’t want people to hear what he would say live on TV. In fact, all the networks that were there televised his entire speech. He bragged about the massive crowd that had come out, while photographs showed the opposite. The Washington Post Fact Checker calculated that this truth-challenged man lies on average 4.6 times a day. 

We no longer have the luxury of ignoring Trump or remaining silent. He may be the most incompetent and dangerous president the United States has ever elected. His suggesting there is a moral equivalence between alt-right, KKK, Nazis, and white supremacists with those who oppose them, is unprecedented for a president. We cannot let it stand. If you doubt his affection for the extreme right, take a close look at Sherriff Joe Arpaio of Arizona. I agree with Paul Krugman when he wrote in “Fascism, American Style” in the New York Times: 

Let’s call things by their proper names here. Arpaio is, of course, a white supremacist. But he’s more than that. There’s a word for political regimes that round up members of minority groups and send them to concentration camps, while rejecting the rule of law: What Arpaio brought to Maricopa, and what the president of the United States has just endorsed, was fascism, American style.

If you’re not concerned about the Arpaio pardon, perhaps this will help. First, the pardon signals to other officers of the law who are loyal Trump supporters that if they choose to follow Arpaio’s lead, a presidential pardon may protect them. Second, the pardon signifies to judges that finding a loyal Trump supporter guilty before the law may be a waste of time. Third, the pardon is indicative of a man who disrespects the law while embracing authoritarianism. Is this a presidential precedence you want created? Hint before answering: things change.

Many of us use the word “fascism” and “fascist” when writing and talking about Trump. It’s not unreasonable to question the legitimacy of using those words. But given Trump’s attacks on the media, his attack on the judiciary, his attack on the electoral system, his speech to the Boy Scouts, his words and behavior at the press conference when responding to the Charlottesville crisis, his Phoenix rally speech, and his pardoning of Arpaio, if he is not a fascist he is perilously close to becoming one.

We need to shut down Trump and his followers hard for two basic reasons. First, Nazis, white supremacists, fascists, and KKK members have been emboldened by Trump and have crawled out from under their rocks. Societies, including the United States, will always have these hateful people. They need to be kept in place through legislation and cultural precepts. Trump has set them free. It has to be made perfectly clear that that is unacceptable. Second, though we might debate the legitimacy of calling Trump a fascist, many of his followers are and if we don’t assertively and definitively end Trump’s time in the White House, the white supremacist who may follow him into that house may be far worse. Democracies are always and only a few votes away from fascism and the United States is no exception.

Apparently people thought it unfair that white people marching in Charlottesville were called Nazis. They thought it unjust and wanted to know why it happened. I think I can help.

1. They were carrying Nazi flags.
2. They were giving Nazi salutes.
3. They were chanting Nazi slogans.
4. They were fucking Nazis!

Now, if you were one of the people outraged that Trump’s "good people" marching and shouting anti-Semitic and Nazi slogans were maligned, and in case you don’t know shit all about history, again, I think I can help. Nazism is anathema to our democratic and enlightenment values. We fought a war in which millions of people died to put them back under their rocks. This is not a grey area. So, I don't really care if your feelings are hurt. I am not moved by Nazis crying on YouTube because they lost their jobs or they felt put upon. It's time to choose a side. Do your sympathies lie with the Nazis or the anti-Nazis. Choose. It’s not hard.

To my Republican friends: I know many of you voted for Trump because you utterly hated Clinton and I suspect you've had some uneasy moments because, let's face it, Trump and his followers never hid who he was. We all knew. We all know. But if you did doubt he was really that bad, his appointment of Gorka, Miller, and Bannon should have relieved you of your doubts. These guys never hid who they are either and they were in your White House soiling the carpets – actually, one still is. Don’t make too much of the fact that two of them are now gone. They’re still with us and feeling strong.

Now, I'm guessing you are not white supremacists, fascists, or Nazis, so it's time we started hearing from you. It's time to hear whose side you're on, because I'm pretty damn sure Charlottesville was the beginning, not the end. I didn't vote for the bastard, you did, so I'm afraid it's more on you. Time to stand up, grab that metaphorical megaphone and shout. We could use your help. Don’t wait for Republicans in the House and the Senate. Their moral integrity went walk-about a long time ago. No, you’ll have to do this without their help.

So, American democracy or Trump and the Gang? It’s time to choose sides. It’s easy. There is no grey area here. There is no nuances to concern you. It’s time to choose a side. And remember, not choosing is in fact choosing. So, what will it be?

Copyright © 2017 Dale Rominger

Wednesday
Jul192017

Fours Things You Can Do for an Author

The other day someone reading one of my books asked what she could do to “say thanks”. It was a funny kind of question. People either say nothing about reading my books or they say things like “Really enjoying your book.” They don’t every ask what they can do for me because they are enjoying my book. However, I did not hesitate in answering her. Here’s gist of what I said.

One, if you actually know the author simply tell him or her that you like the book and thank them. Even a short comment feels good and is appreciated. If you really feel inspired, engage in a conversation, ask the author a question. Last Sunday a man told me he was really enjoying The Girl in the Silver Mask and then asked if I had been to New Orleans – the book takes place in that city. I said that I had, that I had made two visits to the city for research staying several weeks at a time. He then asked if I had been to Ghana – Chapter 3 is about a visit to the Cape Coast slave castle in Ghana. I said I have been to Ghana several times and, of course, visited the slave castle. My answers confirmed what he had thought saying as he reads he feels as though he were in New Orleans and Ghana himself. We talked about the need for information about a place and having a “feeling” for a place, though I did tell him Google maps is also a great tool. My point is, I enjoyed talking to him about the book and welcome such conversations.

If you don’t know the author, which is usually the case, you can try and track him or her down. Most authors have blogs or websites and are more than not on Tweeter, Facebook, Instagram. It’s not hard to find a way to leave a message and perhaps strike up a conversation.

Two, tell your friends about the book. Or even buy them a copy. Even authors who publish with traditional publishers have to do their own marketing these days. There are a million books, articles, websites, blogs, DVD’s, and courses promising to teach authors how to sell their books. There are a million websites that promise to give an author’s book exposure through the website, Facebook, Tweeter, etc., and increase its sales. Most of us read some of the books, visited the blogs, signed up for the courses. Most of us have tried the exposure websites. And most of us are lousy at marketing. However, from what I’ve read, when it comes down to it, word of mouth is still the best marketing in town. If someone is selling a lot of books, it more than likely is because people are telling their friends what a great or interesting or significant book it is.

Also in the category of “tell a friend” you can suggest the book for your book club. If you know the author, you can hold a book reading and signing evening in your home or church or community center and invite friends and acquaintances. A little wine never hurt book sales.

Three is easy, the easiest of my four suggestions. Don’t lend your copy of the book to your friends and family. Either encourage them to buy their own copy or buy one for them. If you lend your copy to three friends, that’s three sales lost to the author. Yes, it’s true, most of us write because we enjoy writing. And most of us do not have delusions of grandeur and are pretty sure we are not going to get rich, or even comfortable, writing books. One of the days a royalties check arrive in the mail I told my wife I was going to take her out to dinner and then asked where the closed McDonald’s was. I excitedly added this time she could have a drink with her meal. No, wealth is probably not in the cards, but that’s not to say we don’t enjoy making some money. Sales are nice.

Four, write a review on Amazon. Reviews really can help. 88% of customers say they trust online reviews as much as they do personal recommendations, and 85% say they read up to ten reviews. People tend to trust Amazon reviews because Amazon actively defends the integrity of reviews. 

There’s a lot of talk about how reviews impact Amazon’s ranking, but some things seem pretty clear. Amazon’s algorithm weighs newer reviews, reviews from verified Amazon customers, and reviews voted most helpful by other customers more highly. As a result the number of 5 Star reviews is important. Anything below 4 Stars is considered “not recommended.” A book’s ranking is affected by the number of clicks a book gets, but at bottom line the ranking is mostly determined by the number of books sold each day (downloads, paperbacks and hardcovers). In addition, once a book has ten reviews, it’s eligible to be included in the “also bought” listing that you see when you look at a book – you know, the “customers who bought The Woman in White Marble also bought The Girl in the Silver Mask.”

A book’s ranking determines its visibility. Your review helps a book sell, which increases the its visibility, which increases its sales.

You don’t need to be a professional review/critic. You just need to be honest. You don’t need to write a long review. Short is okay. You do have to be an Amazon customer who has spent at least $50.00, but most of us are. So give it a shot. Write a review. An author will be very grateful. And if you do and have the time, don’t forget Amazon is in the US, UK, Australia, etc. If you’re a US customer, also post your review in the UK, for example.

So, it’s simple really. If you want to help an author:

  • Thank him or her and engage in conversation;
  • Tell your friends and family about the book;
  • Don’t’ lend your copy out, but encourage others to purchase their own;
  • Write a review.

Copyright © 2017 Dale Rominger

Wednesday
Jul052017

Notes from Billings, Montana, 1819

In 1976 and 1977 I conducted archaeological survey for the forest service in Montana as a graduate student in anthropology at the University of Montana. In the summer of 1997 I stayed in Wisdom, Montana (Wisdom was surrounded by farms, so while the town had a population of only 25 people, the greater area was more populated). I was surveying along the Continental Divide, would go up into the mountains for two or three weeks, and then come down and stay in Wisdom for three or four days to recoup. I learned that when returning to Wisdom it was best not to shower before going to the café for dinner. And it was also best to keep wearing my cowboy hat, though I found that more difficult. This was Montana.

I stayed in a cheap hotel and ate all my meals in the café. I became well known in that café and when I left at the end of the summer the young woman behind the counter gave me a café mug as a remembrance. I think she found me interesting. I would sit at the counter drinking my coffee or beer, depending on the time of day, eating my meal while reading a small hardback copy of War and Peace. The book had a black cover and thin paper like in a Bible. One day the young woman asked me why I read the Bible so much. It took me a second to realize that my copy of War and Peace did indeed look like a Bible.

Believe it or not, Wisdom had a second hand bookstore and I spent many hours browsing on my off days. One day I found A Brief History of the United States, published 1871, 1879, 1880, and 1885 by A. S. Barnes & Company of New York and Chicago. A Brief History of the United States was a text book and begins with “Suggestions to Teachers”:

The following method of using this work has been successfully employed by many teachers. At the commencement of the study, let each pupil be required to draw an outline map of North America, at least 18 x 24 inches in size. This should contain only physical features, viz., coast-lines, mountains, lakes, and rivers…As the pupils advance in the text, let them mark on their maps, day by day, the places discovered, the settlements, battles, political divisions, etc., with their dates. They will thus see the country growing afresh under their hands and eye, and the geography and the history will be indissolubly linked. At the close of the term, their maps will show what they have done, and each name with its dates, will recall the history which clusters around it.

I have to say, it seemed like a good idea, though I never drew a map or read the book in its entirety. However, what intrigued me, and what motivated me to buy the book, was Edna Cardwell.

An Illustration in Brief History of the United States Edna Cardwell was the owner of this particular school book, now owned by me. At the top of the first page is written:

Edna Cardwell
Billings, Montana
Dec. 11, 1889

At the bottom of the page is written:

Edna Cardwell = marry

(She had drawn several lines though her name.)

On the inside front cover is stamped:

 

 

DRUGS AND MEDICINES,
PERFUMES, POWERS,School Books & and Supplies,            
GANDIES 7 FRUITS,

TOYS,

WHOELSALES. G. w. SHOWMAKER, RETAILS.

Bilknap Block, Opp. H’d’q’tr’s, BILLINGS, M. T.


The store also sold paints, oils, brushes, glass, stains, razors, scissors, knives, pocket books, musical instruments, all kinds of stationary & blank books. Quite a store, and presumably where Edna’s parents bought Brief History of the United States.

Edna Cardwell's notes in Brief History of the United States Edna made numerous comments in the margins and the text throughout the book, and on pages obviously there for pupils to write on she made more detailed notes. Also, and to my delight, there were four yellowing pieces of paper folded and tucked in the pages of the book, all with various writings, in pencil, in her own hand.  

On one is a list of states and dates, and capital cities. On the other side most of what she wrote is scribbled out so I can’t read it, but one sentence remains readable: “Have you thought any more about boys or girls?”

On a second page is: “I was into Earnest P. room yesterday.” Below these words is a diagram of the room with its dimensions. Below that is: “They have a lovely dance room,” again with a diagram and the room’s dimensions.

The third has short biography of Hawthorne, beginning with these words: “Hawthorne was born July 4th 1804 and died May 19th 1864.”

The fourth piece of paper is the most interesting. At the top is her name and then this:

On Queen St. in Portsmouth at a tavern door about one hundred years ago there lived a woman by the name of Mistress Stavis.

Up over the clock was a portrait of the earl of Halifax with his scarlet coat.

At the (can’t make out the word) station the Earl had seen Stavis her husband dressed in bottle green driving his stage coach.

The Earl was interrupted by a little girl barefooted and ragged who men would adore and through her streets she goes with a pail of water and bathing her feet.

As she hurried by with laughter in her eyes a sunbeam danced in her pail.

The Earl of Halifax seen the sight and heard the words “Martha Hilton” how dare you go down the streets half dressed and she repeated “I shall ride in my own chariot.”

One day a portly person riding a chariot with a three cornered hat and a crimson velvet coat, a gold headed cane and diamond buckles on his pants. Gov. Wentworth had a great large house down by the bay and was not seen from the high road.

(I have copied the “story” exactly as Edna wrote it.)

And that was it. I loved the line “As she hurried by with laughter in her eyes a sunbeam danced in her pail.” I wondered if the story continued on another page that didn’t get folded into the book. Of course, I’ll never know.

George Montagu Dunk, 2nd Earl of Halifax (1716–1771) became known as “the father of the colonies” because of his long tenure as president of the Board of Trade (a British colonial advisory group). I’m assuming that is the Halifax Edna is writing about. 

Benning Wentworth was Colonial Governor of New Hampshire 1741-1766, but here’s the fun part. Martha Hilton was Wentworth’s maid. In March of 1760 Wentworth invited the upper crust of Portsmouth to dinner where he announced that he, the rich portly 64 years old widow with two dead sons, was marrying the 23 year old maid Martha Hilton. He wanted an heir and Martha “decided the crotchety, portly, gout-beset Wentworth was husband material…” As it turned out, Wentworth died ten years later without an heir, but left his wealth and land to Martha. Eventually Wentworth’s nephew, John Wentworth, stripped Martha of the land having contested his uncle’s will through the courts in England. But in 1789 the ex-maid got the last laugh when she hosted President George Washington in the Benning Wentworth mansion in Portsmouth and accompanied the new president to church.

An Illustration in Brief History of the United States I wasn’t able to find where in A Brief History of the United States Edna might have found the confusing story she wrote in pencil on a now yellow and fragile piece of paper. Perhaps she simple made most of it up. Nonetheless, I’m left wondering who is Mistress Stavis? Where was the tavern located? Who was the little girl with the pail of water and whose feet did she wash? But most of all, I wondered, and still wonder, who was Edna Cardwell?

How old was she when she read A Brief History of the United States in Billings, Montana? Did she pass her history class? Did she ever marry? How long did she live? How did she live?

It’s interesting looking at a person’s handwriting written in 1889. I imagine her fingers holding the pencil and her hand sliding across the paper as she wrote. What was she thinking? What did she feel? What did she hope for?

She seems young to me, though the history book is obviously not for young children. I did make the effort to find her. I looked at numerous Montana genealogy sites and birth records but with no luck. My guess is Edna was born in Billings, but I don’t know how old she was in 1889 when she signed her name in A Brief History of the United States.

I will never find you, Edna, but I have your book, I have your notes, I have your calculations, I have your handwriting, I have your now yellow paper. I just don’t have you.

Copyright © 2017 Dale Rominger

Wednesday
Jun072017

Twilight Zone, Morality, and the Unimaginable

For the past couple of years I’ve been slowly going watching all the old Twilight Zone episodes, though I must confess since Trump’s election I’ve been watching them with greater frequency. Last night I watched Episode 26, Season 5, entitled “I am the Night – Color me Black.” More about that below.

Created by Rod Serling, the series ran for five seasons from 1959 to 1964. All the original episodes were filmed in black and white, which gives them a certain gravitas today, sometimes not deserved. The stories ranged wildly from sci fi to fantasy to psychological drama to comedy. Almost always, these different genres were used to make an explicit social and/or moral point. And if we the reader were to miss that point, Serling was always there at the end to spell it out for us. His opening and closing monologues are still a delight to watch.

Of course, one of the joys of watching the Twilight Zone today the anticipation of seeing now established stars in their not so famous younger years. There are a lot of them (the following list is not exhaustive):

  • Robert Duvall in “Miniature”;
  • Vera Miles in “Mirror Image”;
  • Carol Burnett in “Cavender is Coming”;
  • Don Rickles in “Mr. Dingle, the Strong;
  • Jack Klugman in “A Came of Pool”;
  • Burgress Meredith in “Time Enough at Last,” “Mr. Dingle, the Strong,” “The Obsolete Man,” and “Printer’s Devil”;
  • Elizabeth Montgomery in “Two”;
  • Peter Falk in “The Mirror”;
  • Lee Marvin in “The Grave”;
  • Rod Taylor in “And When the Sky was Open”;
  • Dennis Hopper in “He’s Alive”;
  • Roddy McDowell in “People are Alike All Over”;
  • Cloris Leachman in “It’s a Good Life”;
  • Burt Reynolds in “The Bard”;
  • Charles Bronson in “Two”;
  • Ron Howard in “Walking Distance”;
  • Veronia Cartwright in “I Sing the Body Electric”;
  • Jonathan Winters in “A Game of Pool”;
  • Martin Landau in “The Jeopardy Room”;
  • Sydney Pollack in “The Trouble with Temptation”;
  • Dennis Weaver in “Shadow Play”;
  • Leonard Nimoy in “A Quality of Mercy”;
  • William Shatner in “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet” and “Nick of Time”; and of course,
  • Robert Redford in “Nothing in the Dark.”

We all have our favorite Twilight Zone episodes but surely these must be on the best of best list:

  • “Walking Distance” October 30, 1959;
  • “The Lonely” November 13, 1959;
  • “Time Enough at Last” November 20, 1959;
  • “The Hitch-Hiker” January 22, 1960;
  • “The Monsters are Due on Mable Street” March 4, 1960;
  • “Eye of the Beholder” November 11, 1960;
  • “Game of Pool” October 13, 1961;
  •  “It’s a Good Life” November 3, 1961;
  • “A Quality of Mercy” December 22, 1961;
  • “Miniature” February 21, 1963;
  • “In Praise of Pip” September 27, 1963;
  • “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet” October 11, 1963.

As I said, I’ve just watched “I am the Night – Color me Black,” Episode 26, Season 5 written by Serling, which means I have ten more episodes to go (the series finally ends with the 156th episode, “The Bewitchin’ Pool,”). Here is the opening narration of “I am the Night – Color me Black”:

Sheriff Charlie Koch on the morning of an execution. As a matter of fact, it's seven-thirty in the morning. Logic and natural laws dictate that at this hour there should be daylight. It is a simple rule of physical science that the sun should rise at a certain moment and supersede the darkness. But at this given moment, Sheriff Charlie Koch, a deputy named Pierce, a condemned man named Jagger, and a small, inconsequential village will shortly find out that there are causes and effects that have no precedent. Such is usually the case—in the Twilight Zone.

The story is simple. A man, Jagger, has been convicted of murder and is to be hanged at 9:30 a.m. The man he killed is portrayed as a “bigot,” a cross-burner and murderer. Thing is, there seems to be unease about his conviction. Sheriff Koch can’t sleep the night before the execution. The town’s newspaper editor, Colbey, claims that Jagger’s conviction was due to prejudicial policing and bias reporting. Deputy Pierce claimed Jagger’s shot the man from across the room, but there were powder burns on the victim. And while Pierce looks forward to the hanging, Koch and Colbey are feeling guilty. The Twilight Zone Twist? It is morning, but the sky is as dark as night.

While standing before the gallows, Jagger is confronted by Rev. Anderson, an African American. Anderson points out that he and Jagger are of different faiths and different colors, but he says that Jagger “stood up for me and mine. You spoke for us and God help us you killed for us.” The town’s people are yelling for Jagger’s hanging. He walks up the steps of the gallows, turns and shouts that he will not give them the satisfaction of saying he is sorry for killing the racist. Jagger’s looks at the noose and the good reverend speaks again. Jagger turns back to Anderson and the crowd and shouts he has too much hate to keep it held in. It is at this point that the episode reveals the point of the narration. It is not about murder or false convictions. It is not about racism and justice. It is simply about hate. After further questioning, Anderson announces to the crowd that Jagger is indeed guilty, but not of murder, of hatred, to which Jagger says, “It’s important to get with majority, isn’t it.” Anderson responds, “That’s all there is, the majority. The minority must have died on the cross 2000 years ago.”

Jagger is hanged. Anderson turns to the crowd declaring that the darkness is hatred, which resulted in killing and death. The blackness, the darkness, all around is the hate. As the preacher ceases to speak, it gets even darker so that the people could “hardly see anything.”

The show ends back in the sheriff’s office with Koch, Pierce, and Colbey listening to the  radio news reporting that batches of darkness were descending across the United States and elsewhere.

“I am the Night – Color me Black” is a typical Twilight Zone morality play, and while the plot has some complexities (why did the sheriff and the newspaper man feel guilty if the murderer admitted his own guilt?; why the railroaded conviction for that matter?), it doesn’t matter. The racism, murder, injustices were just means to get to the point, which is simplicity itself. The point is purely that hatred is bad, very bad. And of the viewers of 1964 happened to miss it, Serling was there to spell it out for them. His closing narration:

A sickness known as hate. Not a virus, not a microbe, not a germ—but a sickness nonetheless, highly contagious, deadly in its effects. Don't look for it in the Twilight Zone—look for it in a mirror. Look for it before the light goes out altogether.

As I have been watching episode after episode over the last two years, it struck me that the Twilight Zone now seems naïve and moralistic, and perhaps that is why I have enjoyed viewing them so much. Perhaps, the episodes take me back to a time when I imagine things were more simple, less tarnished, more clear. The moral lessons were black and white. There was no grey area to be concerned with, and Serling was always there to make sure no greyness was imagined by the viewer.

Interestingly, I don’t remember thinking the show as naïve and moralistic when I first watched it. So, is it society or me that has changed? Or, of course, both?

Is it because I am now older and have been bruised and disappointed enough that morality tales lack the depth needed to address my life, but, nonetheless, entertain me with a longing for simpler times? Or is it that society itself has rendered the past shallow? Clearly, the past was never as naïve as our nostalgic interpretation would have us believe. Serling wrote “I am the Night – Color me Black” as a response to the assassination of John Kennedy. But surely, as we were watching the Twilight Zone for the first time we could never have imagined that the United States could elect to the presidency a man so utterly incompetent and devoid of any moral and ethical integrity as Donald Trump.

If Serling had written an episode depicting a fictitious president doing exactly what Trump has been doing since taking office, it would have been considered a satire or comedy, but certainly not realism. If realism is the attempt to make art and literature resemble life, then Trump is simply unimaginable. After all, the recently fired FBI Director just told the world under oath that the president of the United States of America is a liar and cannot be trusted. If you every meet with him, be sure to document the encounter when you're done. Perhaps find a notary public. Do they have notary publics in the Twilight Zone?

Copyright © 2017 Dale Rominger

Sunday
May282017

The Politics of Past Grievances and Suspicious Truth in the Beantown Tavern

Last week I flew from Seattle to Charleston, that is from very blue to very red, from liberal elite to conservative left behind. My wife and I jumped into our rental car and headed for the hotel, which was located a short distance from a town called Matthews. After checking in and unpacking, we got back in the car and, guided by our GPS, made it to Matthews’ small and pleasant town center.

Matthews is a nice place. By the time we got there the only place still serving food was the Beantown Tavern. The tavern consists of three large rooms with very high ceilings. Down home to say the least. No silly tablecloths here. There is a nice long bar in one room, the location of most of the indoors customers. The others rooms have numerous tables and were mostly empty. There is also an outside sitting area overlooking the town green and the large town hall and library. This outside area has a roof to protect people from the rain or the sun and has three slowly rotating ceiling fans. There are ten or so high pub tables and chairs and we took one at the very end of the area, the only one still available.

The first thing that needs to be said about Beantown is that the staff are wonderfully and genuinely friendly and good at their jobs. We ordered draft Sam Adams, cheeseburger with regular fries, and tuna melt with sweet potatoes fries. The food was excellent and the beer was refreshingly cold. At the table next to us was a guy who had had too much to drink, and by the looks of him he had had many days and night of too much to drink. He also smoked, which contributed to his pasty, old, beaten up appearance. But he was a happy drunk and explained in detail that he was dog-sitting the very dog that was sitting there smiling at us. Watching the people it seemed clear that most of them, if not all, were locals.  

If what I’ve been reading is true, most of the people I saw at Beantown are angry and voted for Trump and whatever Republican was running for whatever office because they are angry. It is apparently my responsibility to get to know them and why they are so angry. For the record, I still resist the group hug of unity and peace that I’m supposed to join, if not initiate, but after two visits to the Beantown Tavern I’m less hostile to the idea. Perhaps they could meet me half way, though I suspect that more than a few of them would just as well shoot me if they knew what I really believed, particularly about their orange savior.

As the current knowledge goes, they’re angry because they have been left behind. I can understand the anger. After the 2008 crash due to greed and criminality on the part of the financial industry, we the people were left holding the bag. We bailed out the banks with trillions of $’s, €’s, £’s, ¥, etc., as well as our libraries, childcare, healthcare, police forces, cultural, schools, social care, and so on. While we were doing that at the height of the crash, the bankers continued to give themselves bonuses. Yes,  since 2008 hundreds of people in banking have gone to jail, but only one or two CEO’s were arrested. Admittedly, a few of these masters of the universe, who believe in raw unregulated capitalism, that is until they need our help, at which point they become enthusiastic socialist, lost their jobs. In Britain a couple of them lost their knighthoods, but the general sentiment was big fucking deal. And did our governments do anything? Of course not. Obama actually brought into the White House the very men who caused the crisis in the first place. We are still paying and I doubt many of the big boys lost their yachts and second, or third, or fourth homes. Yea, I get why the people in Beantown are angry.

If every we doubted who was running the world and for whom it is being run, I would have thought our doubts would have dissolved after 2008. In the big scheme of things we are all being left behind, though some have suffered far worse than others. But many of those who felt they have been left behind, or lost, or displaced, or replaced, in the great American melting pot of color and customs weren’t just moaning about the globalization mix they so hate and perhaps fear.

I cant' call the good folk in the Beantown Tavern racists. After all, they are like everyone else in the country. Some are out and out racist and others, hopefully most, are trying everyday to minimize the damage (given our history of genocide and slavery, all Americans are racist to some degree). However, it sure seemed like the recent election was the white man’s and woman’s great last stand. There was that unpleasant fact for many that a black man was not only living in the Big House, but was the boss. The black man and his black wife were referred to as monkeys and apes, sometimes by the men and women elected to Congress. There were open calls for the black man’s assassination. The black man’s black children were mocked and insulted. And the signs and t-shirts that encouraged us to put the white back in the White House were pretty unambiguous.

Well, the white has been put back in the White House (literally), and also in the House, the Senate, and Supreme Court (metaphorically). The great left behind, angry about their loss and financial insecurity, elected a selfish billionaire who lived in a gold coated apartment at the top of a tower with his name on it. Go figure, and if you’re wondering how that is working out, just look at his first budget. It doesn’t matter that it is dead upon arrival at Congress. It speaks to who the man is and to whom he is loyal. While the U.S. has been slipping out of democracy and into oligarchy for years, it seems with Trump’s election it has now arrived (see Democracy, Oligarchy and a Manifesto for Resistance). He has the wealthiest cabinet the U.S. has ever seen comprised of oligarchs with absolutely no experience. Government by rich amateurs. The great Trump kelptocracy.

We embrace a politics of identifying past grievances and a suspicion of present truths. If you are angry, it is important to identify who’s to blame and so we scrutinize our recent past for culprits. Since we have been so let down we can no longer believe there is truth, or even facts. It’s as if the French post-modernists have taken over the U.S. As we stood with the rain on our faces, our orange savior told us the sun was shining, and we believed. If only he can fix the mess we are in, if only he can identify our grievances, if only he can define what is true and what is false, it must follow that he should brush aside the pesky persistent free media and that messy complicated constitution. It is necessary that he be an autocrat. Trump’s autocratic credentials area evident, in part, through his audacious lying even when everyone can see the plain truth. Especially when everyone can see the plain truth. Such temerity redefines the lie as a truth and, thus, a new reality. The autocrats trump card.

Perhaps it is true that all oligarchies are autocratic and all autocracies are control by the oligarchy. Democracy cannot survive such a partnership.

Now that autocrat is not a bad word, so perhaps autocracy isn’t a bad political system. The good people in Beantown may not have voted for Trump in spite of his open abuse, calls for violence, attacks on the media, the judiciary, and constitution, but because of them. Both Putin and Russia have rising approval ratings, particularly among Republicans and Independents. Trump has made no secret his admiration for Putin, but as I have written elsewhere (Chipping Away at Democracy), Putin isn’t the only strong man Trump admires. Trump’s new pals include: Vladimir Putin (Russia), Xi Jinping (China), Recep Tayyip Erdoğan (Turkey), Rodrigo Duterte (Philippines), Prayut Chan-o-cha (Thailand), Viktor Orbán (Hungary), Marine Le Pen (France), Nigel Farage (Great Britain).

I must say, the cheeseburger I had at the Beantown Tavern was the best I’ve had in a long time. A couple of days later we stopped in once again at the old Beantown and were treated to two talented good old boys playing guitar, twelve string guitar, mandolin, the fiddle while singing up a storm. Cold beer and good music on a hot day was great. The waitress was pleasant and efficient and her southern accent made one feel like love was in the air. We were red state happy.

I don’t think it mattered much to the good people drinking beer and listening to their southern favorites that Trump had actually lost. Nor should it have. He won fair and square, given our rather antiquated system, the Electoral College, which violates the system of “one person, one vote,” making, for example, a voter in California less important then a voter in Ohio (Americans love to hate the French, but at least in their presidential elections the person who gets the most votes at the end actually becomes the president.) Forget those three million votes, not to mention the millions who voted for other candidates besides Clinton and those who didn’t vote at all. What the hell is a mandate anyway? It’s what an autocratic politician says it is, of course. Nothing more and nothing less. I mean, it’s enough that Trump’s mandate was symbolized in the alternative facts that he had the biggest inaugural crowds ever in the history of the U.S. and that the sun shown during his big speech. It’s the truth. I know because the orange savior told me so.

Copyright © 2017 Dale Rominger

Wednesday
May172017

Caught between the Calcified GOP and the Gruelling Trump

On December 19, 1998 the House of Representatives approved two articles of impeachment against President Bill Clinton, one for perjury before a grand jury and one for obstruction of justice. Clinton was found guilty of lying under oath (perjury) and trying to cover up (obstruction of justice) his affair with Monica Lewinsky.

The only other president to be impeached was Andrew Johnson in 1868, who, like Clinton a Democrat, was impeached by a House controlled Republican Party (though it should be stressed that the pro-slavery and anti-Reconstruction Southern Democrats and the Radical Republicans, opposed by Moderate Republicans and conservative Republicans of Johnson’s time were quite different from the Democrats and Republicans of today). My point is, however, that the impeachment of two presidents was decided by their opposing party. If their own party had controlled the House, it would have been very unlikely that impeachment proceedings would have reached the floor.

Of course, we can’t forget Richard Nixon, who would have, if had he not resigned first, been impeached by the House and, unlike Johnson and Clinton, would have been found guilty and removed from office by the Senate. And while the House and Senate were controlled by the Democrats, it was Republican Party leaders who went to the White House to tell Nixon the game was up. It’s hard to imagine the Grand Old Party of today – a bizarre collection of misfits, armatures, pre-enlightenment, anti-science, religious fundamentalists and right-wing idealogues– marching to the White House and telling Trump to pack his bags. The GOP lost its moral and ethical heart long before Trump came on the scene.

It is worth noting that Nixon was never conclusively found guilty of the burglary of the Democratic Party headquarters in the Watergate building. The burglary alone did not lead to Nixon’s resignation. However, it was clear that he did ordered the cover-up and was thus guilty of obstructing justice. Likewise, having sex in the White House with an intern is not an impeachable offence. It was not sex that lead to Clinton’s impeachment. Perjury and obstruction of justice did. We do not actually know that Trump and/or his team colluded with the Russians to defeat Hillary Clinton during the election. But we do know that Trump fired the FBI Director because of, what Trump called, the “Russian thing.” We know this because Trump told us. It is possible, that the “Russian thing” may not bring Trump down, but his obstructing the investigation potentially could.

Trump with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Russian Ambassador to the U.S. Sergei Kislyak in the Oval OfficeNeedless to say it has been a crazy week in U.S. politics and the life of the nation, and it’s only Wednesday. Once again, it is necessary to remind ourselves what Trump has been up to, simply because if we saw it on a TV political drama, we wouldn’t be able to suspend our disbelief. So, for the record:

  • We learned that Obama warned Trump against appointing Michael Flynn.
  • Trump asks the FBI Director James Comey if he, Trump, was being investigated by the FBI.
  • Trump fires Comey.
  • Trump announces in an interview that he fired Comey because of the “Russian thing.”
  • Trump threatens Comey in a tweet warning him not to speak publicly about their conversations, implying he might have “tapes” of those conversations. Unfortunately, Trump’s mendacity is so complete there is no way of knowing at this time if tapes actually do exist.
  • Trump meets with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Russian Ambassador to the U.S. Sergei Kislyak in the oval office. U.S. media are excluded from the meeting. The picture of Trump, Kislyak and Lavrov comes compliments of a photographer for the Russian news agency, TASS, who was in the room and released the photos.
  • We learn that Trump revealed high level intelligence concerning ISIS terrorist plans with Lavrov and Kislyak in the oval office, thus threatening the informant on the ground and trust of U.S. allies. The information is considered highly valuable, was difficult to obtain, and was not to be shared even with close allies. Trump’s National Security Adviser Lt. General H.R. McMaster, apparently in the room at the time,  says, “It didn’t happen.” Trump tweets that he had every right to share intelligence with the Russians.
  • We learn that Trump asked James Comey to halt the investigation into Michael Flynn’s contacts with Russian agents.
  • We learn that Trump asked Comey to arrest journalists and his own staff who leak information.

It’s an amazing list of events, and accomplished in a few short days. The fact that Trump asked Comey, then the Director of the FBI, if he, Trump, was being investigated by the FBI, that he asked Comey to cease investigating Flynn’s link to Russia, and that he actually said to the entire world that he fired Comey because of the FBI’s investigation of Trump and his team’s collusion with Russian agents to alter the outcome of the general election, could lead to articles of impeachment – most obviously obstruction of justice and abuse of power. That’s before we even get into the issue of revealing classified information to Russia, no less. Each occurrence alone is impressive.  But put them all together and it’s breathtaking. Clinton lied about sex and was impeached. Trump may have colluded with a foreign country to interfere in a U.S. general election and did fire the Director of the FBI because he didn’t like the FBI’s ongoing investigation. So, where is the GOP?

I don’t believe impeachment is on the cards simply because the Republican Party are in control both the House and the Senate. I agree with Thomas L. Friedman’s article in the New York Times on May 16, 2017 entitled It’s Chicken or Fish. Friedman says that impeachment is a liberal fantasy because the GOP will never abandon Trump. Asking if anyone will stand up to Trump’s abuse of power he writes: “The G.O.P. never would have embraced someone like Trump in the first place — an indecent man with a record of multiple bankruptcies, unpaid bills and alleged sexual harassments who lies as he breathes — for the answer to ever be yes. Virtually all the good men and women in this party’s leadership have been purged or silenced; those who are left have either been bought off by lobbies or have cynically decided to take a ride on Trump’s Good Ship Lollipop to exploit it for any number of different agendas.”

It’s all about power, raw power. The only thing that could possibly move the Republicans to act against Trump would be the threat of losing their jobs in both the House and the Senate at the midterm elections on November 6, 2018. The late night monologues are great fun. The marches are uplifting and important. Organizing is a must. Participating too. sign petitions and make phone calls. But if you want to stop Trump, then vote. That’s it. We have to let Republicans no we are going to fire their asses. We have to vote.

Copyright © 2017 Dale Rominger

Thursday
May042017

Chipping Away at Democracy

Trump has been chipping away at the foundations of our democracy during his campaign and his first three months in the White House. We seem to be taking it in stride, so perhaps a small recap might help.


Judiciary

Trump has been having a hard time with federal judges, particularly in the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. First his infamous travel ban has been blocked, twice. His response was to declare that our judges are putting the country at risk and are playing politics. Responding to the travel ban he said: “I think it’s sad, I think it’s a sad day. I think our security is at risk today. And it will be at risk until such time that we are entitled and get what we are entitled to as citizens of this country. We want security.” While it is unusual for a president to comment on court rulings relating to policy, Trump’s purpose seems to be to undermine the integrity of the judiciary in the public’s mind, to separate citizens from their judges, and to blame the judges for any future terrorist attacks in the United States.

Things get more disturbing when looking at Trump’s response to the blocking of his executive order on Sanctuary Cites. After declaring that the judge’s ruling would be a gift to gangs and criminals and threaten the security of citizens, he attacked the judge for not being an elected official, those creating a competition of legitimacy between the judiciary and the presidency. He said: “This case is yet one more example of egregious overreach by a single, unelected district judge.”

Personal attacks on judges is nothing new, of course. We remember that Trump attacked Judge Gonzalo Curiel, who was overseeing the fraud case against Trump University in San Diego, calling him “a ‘hater’ who was being unfair to him because the judge is ‘Hispanic,’ because he is ‘Mexican’ and because Trump is building a wall.” To the issue of security and legitimacy, we add race.

Instead of dealing with the law and the courts in a constructive way (perhaps writing legal executive orders, for example), he suggested instead breaking up the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. If the judges are difficult, just reorder the judiciary to reduce its power.

Trump’s attack on the judiciary is both personal and political. The purpose of his assault is to create mistrust of and distance from the law. He seeks to separate citizens from the law while nurturing the voters’ trust in himself.

The United States is a nation of laws. While that principle is an ideal, it is still shocking to hear a president say: “As the leader of the free world, I should be able to do what I choose. The court shouldn't be able to get involved.” To suggest that the law should have no authority over the president’s policies and actions is remarkable in a democracy. To suggest that a president should be able to do whatever he or she wants is to say that the president is above the law.


First Amendment

Trump has shown little respect for the First Amendment: Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.


His attacks have focused on undermining the legitimacy of the free press and arguing for changes to the libel laws to make it easier for people to sue the press. He has called the press the enemy of the people, that it puts the country in danger, that it is a source of fake news, that it is out of control and dishonest, that it is failing, and that it is not “my or your priorities.”

Once again it seems his purpose is to undermine the integrity of the media, to generate distrust, and to create a chasm between a free press and the citizenry. He and his White House gang have consistently and persistently challenged the media’s interpretation of events. He has challenged the basic understanding of our shared reality. Trump has labelled all communication from the media, with the exception of Fox News and Brietbart News, as fake, unreliable, and dishonest, claiming that only he can be trusted to tell the truth. Once again he is attempting to shift our loyalties from foundational institutions of our democracy to himself – from institution to person.


Electoral System

Throughout the campaign Trump challenged the integrity of the electoral process. He repeatedly claimed the election was rigged and that his followers might not accept the results if he were to lose (one of his many illusions to possible violence if things did not go his way). He claimed that electoral fraud was a huge problem in the country even though study after study has demonstrated that there is virtually no systematic fraud in American elections.

He claimed that millions of non-citizens were voting even though states report that only between 0.0003 and 0.0001 percent of votes were cast by non-citizens. He declared that Clinton’s almost three million vote majority in the popular vote were illegal votes, again with no evidence. And during the campaign he refused to say whether or not he would accept the result of the election if he lost.

Trump worked to undermine the integrity of and the trust in our election process.


Constitutional Checks and Balances

Finally, Trump has questions the very heart of our constitutional democracy: the checks and balances between the legislature, the judiciary, and the executive. In an interview with Fox News he said: “You look at the rules of the Senate, even the rules of the House — but the rules of the Senate and some of the things you have to go through — it's really a bad thing for the country, in my opinion. They're archaic rules. And maybe at some point we're going to have to take those rules on, because, for the good of the nation, things are going to have to be different.” And: “You can't go through a process like this. It's not fair. It forces you to make bad decisions. I mean, you're really forced into doing things that you would normally not do except for these archaic rules.” 

Once again, remarkable statements from the president of the United States. He did take make an oath to protect the Constitution, did he not?

The separation of the branches of government and the ability of each branch to check the others is part of our constitutional bedrock. Obviously, it can be frustrating. It can slow the working of governing. And when one political party decides to thwart the mechanism of governing, it can lead to gridlock. However, it is essential that the federal courts can declare legislation by the legislature and/or the executive as unconstitutional. Without that check, it is easy to image a congressional dictatorship or a president who really is above the law and can do whatever he or she desires. It’s important that Congress can override a presidential veto to prevent presidential overreach. And so on.


Shadows of Autocracy

The attacks on the judiciary, the First Amendment, the electoral system, and the constitutional checks and balances, all fundamental to our democracy, can be read as an attempt to consolidate power in the presidency. It is a move towards autocracy. Perhaps we should take more seriously the world leaders Trump admires: Vladimir Putin (Russia), Xi Jinping (China), Recep Tayyip Erdoğan (Turkey), Rodrigo Duterte (Philippines), Prayut Chan-o-cha (Thailand), Viktor Orbán (Hungary), Marine Le Pen (France), Nigel Farage (Great Britain).

It would be harmless, if Trump were speaking to a blank wall and tweeting into digital emptiness, but he is not. There are 62 million Americans who love his bluster, attacks, tweets, executive orders, and rants. His bizarreness, pathological lying,  unintelligible interviews, and embrace of authoritarian leaders have no impact on their support. The fact that his policies, if implemented, would have a severe detrimental impact on their lives matters not. The fact that facts are irrelevant to him, is just fine. Those who are not part of the 62 million should be concerned. We really have fallen down the rabbit hole.

Despite the 62 million, Trump’s ratings are in the toilet. The combination of autocratic tendencies and terrible polls is concerning. All presidents benefit from bombing other countries. I have no doubt that if Hillary Clinton had been elected, she would have by now dropped some bombs on somebody somewhere far away from the US. As it turned out, we’ve handed control of our military to Trump and he has benefitted from putting it to use. We’re all aware of the 59 Tomahawks he dropped on Syria. Even some in the liberal press started gushing that Trump had finally become presidential (which says a lot about American values – bombs not bread indicate presidential integrity). However, with little fanfare Trump has also increased bombing in Syria and Iraq in general. In the first three months of 2017 Trump has dropped 60% more bombs than the first three months in 2016. 

What we should also fear in this contentious relationship between military power, autocratic dreams, and presidential job ratings, is a major human made disaster taking place in the United States. If an autocrat wants to increase his powers – free himself of the annoyance of free speech, a truth-seeking media, problematic judges, and constitutional restraints – a crisis is most helpful.

Turkey was once a secular democracy, but it is now quickly becoming an autocracy with theocratic leanings. Aided by the failed military coup attempt in July 2016 the voting public has willingly and enthusiastically voted to move Turkey from a democracy to an autocracy giving Erdoğan immense power. Since the failed coup he has fired 120,000 people from their jobs and arrested 40,000 people, a purge that has been directed at the media, military, police, government, judiciary, universities, and religious organizations (The Gülen movement founded by Fethullah Gülen). The free press is being eliminated (about 150 media works in jail). The constitution has been changed to consolidate power in the presidency. Political opposition has been stifled. And yet, the people rejoice.

It seems melodramatic to even imply such a thing could happen here. The United States is not Turkey, or Hungary, or the Philippians, or Russia. And yet. The journey from democracy to autocracy does not happen overnight (though the failed coup in Turkey surely moved things along for Erdoğan). Break up the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals as you convince the 62 million that judges can’t be trusted and that they endanger the country. Undermine the integrity of journalism one tweet at a time while telling the 62 million who they can trust – Trump: “I am your voice. I alone can fix it. I will restore law and order.” Increase the powers of the presidency to counter those pesky constitutional checks and balances. Just chip away for eight years. Take advantage of every terrorist attack and bad news story that comes down the pike. And hold on to your 62 million. If you think I’m melodramatic, listen to historian Timothy Snyder of Yale University: it’s “pretty much inevitable” that Trump will try and overthrow American democracy by staging a coup. Hmmm…

Copyright © 2017 Dale Rominger

Wednesday
Apr262017

Spanish Moss and a Man on a Pole ~ Confession of Melancholy 

The first foreign country I visited was Florida. I took the train down from New Jersey with my two sisters and my mother. I don’t remember anything about the train ride, but I do remember getting off the train and walking along the platform when we arrived. I was on my mother’s right, my older sister on her left, and my younger sister, only a baby, in my mother’s arms. Suddenly a man came up to us, spoke to my mother, and then took our suitcases. I remember being very bothered by this. It seemed somehow inappropriate, perhaps morally questionable. I wondered what my father would say. I was very young.

Now I can see the scene clearly. A young woman in her late twenties carrying a baby and suitcases, while trying not to lose contact with two other small children trailing behind. Some nice man gave her a much needed hand. So why did I, probably no older than five, feel uneasy? How could that unease settle in so early? Where did I learn it? From whom – my father or my mother? The TV? It certainly didn’t bode well for the future. Trust me when I say others figured out the relationship thing a lot sooner than I did.

Of course, Florida wasn’t a foreign country, but to me back then it seemed like one. We had headed down from New Jersey to spend our vacation with my mother’s sister and her family and stepping out of the train station into this strange Florida land might as well have been getting off a plane in Mozambique or Singapore. One of the first things I saw was Spanish moss hanging from a giant tree. I stopped and stared. I had never seen anything like it in my life. It was amazing. It was my first experience of the exotic, the foreign, and I liked it. That did bode well for the future. Though I was slow off the mark (is there a theme here?), I eventually did travel extensively, Mozambique and Singapore being familiar stops.

I have very few memories of this vacation in Florida. I would have spent time with my cousin Greg, two years older than me. Even in those very early years Greg was always more streetwise than I would ever be. I shot my first gun with Greg, a .22 rifle. I killed a frog, who had done nothing to offend or threaten me. While there was a certain thrill to shooting a frog, I was more wary of the rifle’s power then excited. This did bode well for the future (An Open Letter to American Gun Owners; Guns versus Spoons; Kindergarten Shooting Drills).

I do remember we went to a shopping area. These were the days before the great American shopping mall with the stores, shops, food courts, bathrooms, and chapel all  enclosed in a huge protecting structure surrounded by a million parking spaces came into being. So, was it one big store or several smaller stores collected together? Who knows. I remember is was very busy – lots of cars and people – and in the parking lot there was a very large high pole with a platform precariously fixed to the top. On the platform was a man. The man was living up there for a few months. People were pretty excited about it. My aunt Barbara made a point of taking me to the bottom of the pole so I could get a sense of its heights. She was clearly enjoying herself. I can still see her smile (a good aunt to me was Barbara). I was completely fascinated, and not a little confused. Why on earth would a man sit on a very high pool for months? I thought what strange people lived in this land called Florida. Still, I had never seen that at home, so very exciting.  

After the pole Barbara bought me a stuffed alligator about a foot long. Now that really was something. I assume it was actually a real stuffed baby alligator. It was a long time ago and if someone thought they could make money by killing baby alligators and selling them to young children there would have been nothing to stop them. I kept that poor thing for years, until the legs fell off and the stuffing came out.

I remember sitting outside watching a horror film with my cousins. How that could have been, I don’t know. Perhaps we were at a drive-in, or maybe the TV was on the patio. I don’t remember. I do remember that the movie scared the crap out of me. It didn’t bode well for the future. Horror movies still scare the crap out of me and I’m now in my third act. That night in Florida I couldn’t sleep and just laid in bed listening to the cacophony of insects outside my window.   

As with my entire life, I remember only the smallest fraction of that visit to Florida. I remember the man at the station, the Spanish moss, the man on the pole, the alligator, the movie, and the insect concert, but that’s it. All the rest is gone. I have no idea who that little boy was. He is a stranger to me, though the echo of his existence traverses the space and time between us.

Copyright © 2017 Dale Rominger

Wednesday
Apr192017

Kindergarten Shooting Drills ~ Welcome to the United States of America

The other day I attended a poetry reading at Island Books on Mercer Island in the greater Seattle area. Peter Ludwin and Megan Snyder-Camp each read several of their poems, which I both enjoyed and valued. I know very little about poetry, so I’m not sure if it is a compliment or a damning indictment that I liked their poems. I’m going to assume it is a compliment. After the reading we had an interesting discussion about motivation, research, inspiration, and the sticky issue of cultural appropriation. Megan Synder-Camp shared that her former teacher, Liz Bradbury, said: “When you’re trading into waters that aren’t yours, walk slowly and shuffle your feet.” I liked that.

At the end of Megan’s presentation she read a poem motivated by an encounter with our young son who was in kindergarten the time. When she asked what he had learned that day, he told her about the “shooting drill.” Obviously the children weren’t being taught how to shoot, though I have no doubt that somewhere in the United States people are teaching five and six year olds how to shoot weapons. No, a shooting drill is an exercise to teach children what to do if someone attacks the school with the purpose of killing as many children and teachers as possible. The poem spoke of children being taught to press themselves up against the wall or, for the lucky few, how to hide in a dark closet.

I have known for years that U.S. schools hold shooting drills. I read of one school that had some children play the murdered victims of a school invasion while the other students sought safety. However, the poem had an instant and powerful impact on me. Suddenly, the utter absurdity, insanity, of having five and six year old children being taught how they might survive an attack seemed surreal, almost incomprehensible.

What kind of society allows this to happen? Well, the answer is easy. A weaponized society that has cloaked gun ownership in quasi-religious justifications.

What kind of society refused to stop this from happening? Easy again. A society that believes, while unfortunate, the death of its children is an acceptable price to pay for the right to own and carry weapons.

When what should be unacceptable becomes normal, the question of acceptability ceases to be asked. America is a place where people draped in assault weapons and hand guns go into schools and university and shoot children, young people, teachers, and anyone who gets in the way. Given that even the lightest suggestions of restrictions and regulations on weapons is deemed immoral and political suicide, it becomes imperative to teach five and six year old children how to protect themselves in the event of an attack. It’s only logical.

The gun lobby demands no restrictions at all on weapons. Trump has made it possible for mentally ill people to buy weapons and the Republican Party opposed efforts to prevent people on the no fly list – because they are potential terrorist – from buy weapons. Such moves are wrapped in Second Amendment glory even as the brutality and insanity of a society practicing shooting drills in kindergarten classes goes unquestioned.

Gun enthusiasts have a solution to the massacring of our children. Arm the teachers. The solution is to teach teachers how to kill students. More guns is always the answer to gun violence. When what should be unacceptable becomes normal, the question of acceptability ceases to be asked.

We have numerous restrictions on our freedom: we are required to have a driver license and obey the laws of the road; we cannot just say anything despite the immense importance of the First Amendment; we have to pay taxes (well, most of us); we cannot buy and sell any old drug we want; we cannot sell food found dangerous to public health; in my community development I cannot paint my front door red or live my garbage cans out all the time.

Living together in society means accepting a boat load of restrictions on our freedom, but in the U.S. not when it comes to weapons. And so, we need to teach our children to hide against walls and in dark closets and hope for the best. We need to teach them to psychologically deal with the ever present danger of being shot. We need to teach them to empty themselves and press against the wall. And we need them to grow up healthy and happy in this greatest country in the world.

Copyright © 2017 Dale Rominger

Saturday
Mar252017

I Will Not Hug Trump Voters

We the people have a president who told us, without embarrassment or shame, that the sun was shining as the rain was falling on our face. I’m assuming he knew he was lying. To assume otherwise is to acknowledge that we handed immense power to an individual who has virtually no handle on our shared reality.

In case we're beginning to forget who he is:

  • Admitted abusing women (easy because he is famous);
  • Publicly mocked a disabled person;
  • Wondered why we can't use nukes in Europe because "it's a really big place";
  • Advocated violence during his rallies;
  • Refuses to show his tax returns;
  • Admires Putin;
  • Refused to say if he would accept the election results if he lost;
  • Defended Russia against the US;
  • Started the birther movement and then blamed it on Hillary Clinton;
  • Proclaimed there was election fraud with absolutely no evidence;
  • Wants to change the 1st Amendment and libel laws so he can sue newspapers;
  • During his campaign said he was going to clear the swamp only to say after he won that it was a silly slogan and he was surprised people liked it;
  • Called the media the enemy of the people;
  • Attacked the legitimacy of the judiciary;
  • Appointed the most inexperienced and wealthiest cabinet in US history;
  • Is so intelligent he doesn't need intelligence briefings;
  • Went bankrupt several times;
  • Thinks Breitbart and the National Enquirer are good sources of news;
  • Said he will be working so hard as our president that he will hardly leave the White House;
  • Goes regularly to his Mar-a-Lago estate to play golf (at $3million a pop);
  • Criticized Obama for playing golf;
  • Conducted an emergency international situation meeting at a public dinner with other diners filming the event on their cell phones (Mar-a-Lago again);
  • Tweets with an unsecured cell phone;
  • Refused to divest in his businesses (for obvious reasons);
  • Wants to ban Muslims from entering the US not for religious reasons but because they are Muslim;
  • Wants to see the breakup of Europe and has little time for NATO (good news for Putin);
  • Believes climate change is a Chinese fake news plot to harm the US economy;
  • Believes all news is fake if he disagrees with it;
  • Banned news organizations from a White House briefing;
  • Brought a white supremacist fascist and neo-Nazis into the White House as a key advisor and operative;
  • Is supported by the KKK, Nazi and alt-right individuals and groups;
  • Accused Obama of high crimes with no evidence (he heard it from a rightwing news story and thought it worth tweeting);
  • Is praised by rightwing leaders around the world – Marine Le Pen, Geert Wilders, Udo Voigt, Gabor Vona, Rodrigo Duterte and of course Vladimir Putin;
  • Said he knew more about defeating ISIS than all the generals;
  • Said he had a secret plan to defeat ISIS in thirty days (we’re still waiting).

The above, which could go on and on, speaks to Trump’s character and competency. I don't really give a damn about his hair, his red tie, and his small hands, though some might argue all this is about his small hands.

Who to blame for this disaster? I’ve done a lot of wrong things in my life, but I didn’t vote for this bloated brute of a man. No, this is on those who voted for him. So, with whom does the blame and responsibility lie?

Source: Photo from American Renaissance*To start there are the KKK members, Nazis, alt-righters, racist, sexist, xenophobes, misogynist, gay bigots, etc. These people are easy to blame. They represent hatred and they voted for a hate filled candidate. While this hatred has an American brand and intensity, it is not unique to the United States. All countries have hateful and dangerous people and always will. Some people say it is healthy for these horrible people to come out in the open. I disagree. We will always have them. While we need to know where they are and what they’re up to, we control them through cultural norms and legislation. We do not give them a platform and thus credibility. Unfortunately, now here in American, and to a lesser degree in Brexit Britain, they are out from under their rocks and feeling strong. They’re even represented in the president’s administration, holding key positions in the White House. They voted themselves out from under their rocks, but they couldn’t have done it on their own. They got help.

They got help from Christian fundamentalists who voted overwhelmingly for Trump. 81% of white fundamentalists/evangelists voted for Trump, and in so doing proved that they were never about righteousness and family values, but always about power and politics. I don’t blame them for seeking power to realize there political and social desires. I blame them for their utter hypocrisy and the embarrassingly absurd justifications for voting for this man. We were told that his many affairs and divorces were God’s way of highlighting the importance of family. We were told that Melania’s many nude photos on the Internet were God’s way of showing us how beautiful is the human body. How they sleep at night is anyone’s guess, though sleep they probably do. However, the mask has been ripped off.

They got help from stupid Republicans. No, I am not saying all Republicans are stupid. And there are a lot of stupid Democrats, independents, greens, socialist, libertarians, and communists too. But stupid Republicans helped to send this dangerous mess down on our heads. I keep hearing how the Heartland was let down and I need to go to the red states to hear their story and have a big group hug (it’s my bet that a lot of Trump voters would not actually welcome a hug from me and some Second Amenders might rather shoot me first). Well, a lot of people have been let down through the years, but how could any rational person think a bragging blowhard billionaire who literally promised us everything was going to give a damn about poor, working, and middle class Americans? The man brags about living in a gold tower. I hope that his cabinet appointments (four Goldman Sach alumni in Trump's administration) and his first budget will enlighten the Heartland. Do I feel sorry they may lose their healthcare, or jobs, or libraries, or meals? Yes, of course I do. Am I going to carry the can for them? No I’m not. Time for everyone to step up and take responsibility because our democracy is in danger.

They got help from Tea Party extremists. The GOP is now an extremist party with little or no respect for democracy and the constitution (have a look at the House Freedom Caucus). Can’t convince Americans to voter for you, then stop Americans from voting, and then brag about your success. Can’t defeat the president through votes in Congress, then shut the entire government down. Don’t like the man the American people elected as president, then refuse to work. The present state of the Republican Party makes American democracy difficult if not impossible. They are excusing and tolerating this uniquely unqualified person and judgment must not be spared. Surely they know Trump is not qualified to be president. If they do not, then they are incompetent. If they do, then they are culpable.

And they got help from good old fashion old time Republicans. Yes there are a few of them left. I know a few myself. How did they vote for this man? Foremost was their hatred of lying Hillary. They were convinced that Clinton lied about everything. The fact that fact-checking organizations during the campaign season consistently reported that Clinton was the most honest of all the candidates, with Sanders right behind her, meant nothing. So, they voted for a man that fact-checkers concluded lied on average every five minutes. The irony is staggering. Did they not see it? Did they not see that “straight talking” was actually bullshit? Or was their hatred of Clinton so overpowering that they would have voted for a terrorizing Donald Duck. None of this speak well for a democracy in the TV and Internet age. We now have an administration that has a distain for facts, from lying at their own confirmation hearing to claiming almost everything is fake news. We should be worried.

 These old time Republicans also seemed convinced that running a hotel is the same thing as running a country that occupies a continent, has a citizenry of almost 320 million people, the largest economy in the world, the largest military in the world, a whole lot of national and international responsibilities. And apparently then bought Trump's line that he and only he, that straight talking wizard, could fix everything. Well, the deal maker couldn’t make a deal when it came to repealing and replacing Obamacare. After seven years and almost 60 votes, and with a large majority in the House, Republicans couldn’t kill the ACA. Trump said his first order of business as president was getting rid of Obamacare. The deal maker failed. Hundreds of congressmen and women who have their own powerbase weren’t intimidated by a shouting threatening supposed deal maker. The Unites States of America ain’t no hotel.

For those of you who voted for Trump and are happy about how things are going and want me to stop complaining for the sake of unity, I remind you of what you and the GOP did for the past eight years. You protested and refused to cooperate with the legally elected president. It was your right, though it might be argued that the Republican Party fell short of its obligations. I claim my democratic right and for you of all people to deny me that right is absurd.

For those of you who voted for Trump and are feeling uneasy, or even bad, about what you did and want me to give you a big hug, I ask you to look at the above bullet points again. You knew who he was and you voted for him. And I might also add, your president is under investigation by the FBI for possibly working with the Russian government and Putin to defeat Hillary Clinton. Your attorney general perjured himself during his own job interview. You ex-national security advisor failed to mention that he had been in conversations with the Russians and that he was working for a foreign government. Your US Councilor to the President speaks about alternative facts and that microwave ovens can turn into cameras. Your Secretary of State is skipping his first NATO meeting to go to China and Russia. I could go on, but why bother.

No, sorry folks. This one’s on you. No hug. No “it’s going to be okay.” If you want me to get on your side, then convince your party to get rid of this dangerous buffoon. You do that, than I’m in.

* American Renaissance appear on a list of 115 "white nationalist hate groups" published in the Intelligence Report of the Southern Poverty Law Center.

Copyright © 2017 Dale Rominger

Wednesday
Mar082017

My Life in a Blue Plastic Capsule

On December 1, 1969 the Selective Service System of the United States of America held a lottery to determine the order in which young men would be drafted into the military to fight a war in Vietnam. The lottery numbers selected in December 1969 were used to call-up men for induction and physical examination in 1970. I was part of that lottery. 

Here’s how it worked. Each day of the year, including February 29th, were assigned a number between 1 and 366. Each number was written on a piece of paper and then placed in a blue plastic capsule. The capsules were mixed up in a shoe box and then dumped into a large glass jar. The glass jar was placed unceremoniously on what looked like a step stool. Capsules were taken out of the jar one by one. The honor of taking the first capsule from the jar fell to Republican Congressional Representative Alexander Pirnie of New York’s 34th District.

The first number taken from the jar by Pirnie was 258 which represented the date September 14th. All men registered with that birthday born between 1944 and 1950 were assigned lottery number one, which meant that those men would be called to service immediately . The second number drawn represented April 24th and so all men born on that date would also be called up immediately. This process continued until all the capsules were retrieved from the jar. Somewhere between the first birthday drawn and the last, the military reached its quota of draftees for 1970, but at what point that happened was unknown to those of us waiting for the capsule with our birthdates to be drawn. What was clear, however, was that those drawn early in the process would get a call and those drawn late in the process would not.   

Rep. Alexander Pirnie, R-NY, draws the first capsule in the lottery drawing held on December 1, 1969. I was rather offended that a lottery drawn by some stuffy politician would determine my future so I went to the library to study while almost all other men on campus were gathered around radios listening to numbers and dates being read out one by one. I think I lasted thirty minutes in the library. Unable to concentrate, I hurried back to the dorm and started listening. I remember vividly that they were drawing the tenth capsule from the jar when I sat down, which was December 6th. Time went by with tension filling every room on every floor in the dorm. 25th number called, 50th, 100th, and still I had not heard my birthdate of August 27th. Somewhere around the 150th number I started to worry that August 27 might have been drawn in the first nine numbers! I began asking people if they heard August 27th in the first nine, cursing myself for going to the damn library. What was I thinking? Who was I kidding?

Of course, no one knew. They were only listening for their own birthdates. 250 and still no August 27. At 300 I was truly worried that I was in the top ten for immediate call-up. And then on the 352nd draw I heard August 27. I was 352 which meant there was no chance in hell, short of WWIII beginning, that I would be drafted. It meant that I dodged my generation’s war.

My roommate got 334 and we but a sign on our door saying: “I’m 334 and I’m 352.” The next morning we found the sign had been burned. We hadn’t meant to be insensitive. We were excited and relieved and didn’t really know how others had faired. Two guys on our floor left college within days. They both were in the first ten. My girlfriend baked me a yellow cake with chocolate icing with the number 352 drawn on the top in yellow icing. I immediately requested my 1-A status from the military.

My excitement eventually morphed into guilt. My cousin was fighting in Vietnam during all this. The unfairness was vivid. I hadn’t been drafted because I was fortunate enough to attend college and thus get a deferment until graduation. When he came home from leave I told him I was going to volunteer and he told me in no uncertain terms to forget it. While he was proud serving in the US military, he told me the whole damn war was drugged and corrupt, and he wasn’t talking about listening to the Who and drinking Bud. And so I stayed in college and he went back to Vietnam.

We all had draft cards back then and one of the most common protests against the war was to burn your draft card. That was not my chosen form of protest. However, I did burn my draft card one evening at Pizzeria Del-Dio, which we all called Dio’s. Here’s the thing: We each had a draft card or a Selective Service System Registration Certificate. Mine was signed by Diane M. Beck. Along with the Registration Certificate we were also given a Selective Service System Notice of Classification card. This card was issued each year when your classification was renewed or changed. With a college deferment I was classified 1-H, until I requested my 1-A (1-A meaning you were eligible for immediate call-up). Well, that night at Dio’s my friend I decided to tell our girlfriends we were burning our draft cards as an act of protest against the war. In fact we were planning to burn our old Notice of Classification card. It was to be a good joke, but I pulled the wrong card from my wallet and actually burned my Registration Certificate. I didn’t discover my error until a week or so later when I tried using my draft card to buy beer. I told Diane M. Beck that I had lost my original draft card and she kindly sent me a Dup. Issued card. By law we were required to have our draft and classification cards in our possession at all times.

In September of 1969 the Beatles released Abby Road which, while not their last release (Let It Be was to come in 1970), John Lennon had left the band by the time we started listening “Here Comes the Sun,” and Paul McCartney quit the following year. In December I didn’t know that and played Abby Road to left my spirits. Also in December of 1969 John Lennon was offered the role of Jesus Christ in Jesus Christ Superstar; in Chicago fourteen police shot and killed Fred Hampton and Mark Clark, members of the Black Panther Party, while they were sleeping; arrest warrants were issued for the Manson cult for murder (you might recall Charles Manson and I had a brief staring contests in prison); Seattle unveiled the new Boeing 747; the USSR conducted a nuclear test in Eastern Kazakh/Semipalatinsk; the L.A. police attacked the Black Panthers;  the first strain of the Aids virus migrated to the US from Haiti; People’s Park in Berkeley was claimed; Arlo Guthrie released “Alice’s Restaurant;” USAF gave up its search for extraterrestrials and closed Project Blue Book; the US performed a nuclear test in Nevada; “Leaving on a Jet Plane” by Peter, Paul, and Mary hit number one; Diana Ross had her last performance as a Supreme on the Ed Sullivan Show; The French Lieutenant’s Woman was a bestselling novel; people all over the US were listening to “Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head;” and I avoided the draft.

Copyright © 2017 Dale Rominger

Tuesday
Feb212017

Coffee with Hermann Hesse or How I Survived the 1960s

My senior year in college, 1970-1971, the German born Swiss author and painter Hermann Hesse was all the rage. Hesse wrote both fiction and nonfiction and was awarded the Noble Prize in Literature in 1946. I suspect his popularity on college and university campuses began with his novel Siddhartha, at least that was the first of his novels that I read. I followed Siddhartha with Steppenwolf, Demian, Rosshalde, Narcissus and Goldmund, and The Glass Bead Game, and probably in that order. If you click on this Wikipedia link you’ll read that Hesse’s novels “explore an individual’s search for authenticity, self-knowledge and spirituality.” As it turned out, just the thing for the late 1960’s and early 1970’s.

If I were to divide my life into periods – you know, Period I: Birth, Period II: Pooping and Pissing – the period in which I was reading Hesse would best be described as my Self-indulgent and Pretentious period. You can’t blame Hesse. It wasn’t his fault. Nor should you judge me too harshly. I really was searching for authenticity and self-knowledge. Unfortunately, I also wanted a rather creative, intelligent, and beautiful woman to know, indeed observe, that I was searching for authenticity and self-knowledge. Often times when we were together I would give the impression of being lost in my search, unware of the mundane reality around me. As Emil Sinclair was led in his search by Max Demian, I too was being led by my unnamed daemon. I did my best to enter a trance-like state of self-reflection, or at least did my damnedest to give that impression. I indicated that I had entered my state of self-realization by staring into space, or at the floor, and pretending I was oblivious to what was happening around me. It’s difficult to attain authenticity when you are working to create the impression of authenticity. What can I say? I was young and falling in love. 

I should also note, that this period defined by my daemon-lead search for authenticity was also my poetry writing period. I wrote my first poem on an anti-Vietnam war march. I remember pausing, retrieving my small journal and a pen, holding the journal against a post, registering that the creative, intelligent, beautiful woman was watching, and wrote. I would wander around the campus by myself waiting for my daemon to inspire me. As it turned out, during that beautiful spring when it only rained at night, my daemon inspired me twenty times, and then thankfully stopped.

I still have those poems and the other day I showed them to my wife. We had killed a bottle of wine at dinner and while doing so, for reasons I don’t remember, I told her I had written poetry and done some drawings while in college. When we got home from the restaurant I handed her both and went downstairs to watch TV. The next day I asked if she had read the poems. She had. I then said, with a sincerity and enthusiasm meant to impress: “Aren’t they great! I never should have stopped writing poetry.” The look on her face was a joy to behold. It was a combination of loving concern, painful embarrassment, and unsolvable conflict. I started to laugh and said: “I’m just kidding! They’re horrible! I mean really horrible! They’re so bad I can’t  throw them away.” Yes, those poems are a proud artifact of my important daemon period. If ever I feel pretentiousness surfacing from the deep dark hole where I mercilessly drive most of my character flaws, all I have to do is read the poems.  

It's important to note that I was just emerging from the late 60’s. Vietnam, and then the bombing of Cambodia, disturbed me to distraction, awakening in me moral outrage. I was playing the White Album over and over again. I was reading Abraham Maslow’s Motivation and Personality, studying the hierarchy of needs, seeking peak experience, pursuing self-actualization. I was reading the Population Bomb by Paul Ehrlich and doing my best to convince my parents that doom was just around the corner if we didn’t act. I was introduced to the new and exotic word “ecology” and began to understand what we were doing to the planet, and in a flash was back to my parents telling them the oil would run out one day. I was traumatized by the killing of four students at Kent State University and then fractured again eleven days later by the killing of two students at Jackson State College.

I was political and practical. I read, wrote, spoke, protested, got arrested, and fell in love. I was hopeful and angry. And I was searching for myself. Laugh now if you will, but the times were inspiring and challenging. A cultural revolution actually was taking place. I walked around barefoot for goodness sake.

In the folder where I keep my magnificently horrible poems are five drawings, not very good, but not magnificently horrible either. They only exist because I was asked to draw them by one of my professors. I took a class on Hermann Hesse in the spring of 1971. I remember the prof was very good and, I realize now, young. I can still vaguely see his face. I don’t remember his name. During the semester we read and discussed the Hesse books I listed above. The class didn’t meet in a proper classroom. We met outside sitting on the grass under trees. I remember I couldn’t hear people very well. We met in a cafeteria, or was it in a lounge. Either way, I remember I couldn’t hear people very well.

The prof asked if I would do drawing of my impression of some of the female characters in the books. I don’t remember why he asked me to do that, nor do I remember how he knew I could draw. I do remember that there was a final “project” in which all the students contributed (there were only six of seven of us), and that those contributions would be shared/displayed somewhere on campus. My contributions were the drawings and it came as a surprise to me, and I suspect the others, that the prof wanted to make public our work. I refused. My drawings were never shown. Why? Well, mostly because they are not that good and I try to avoid embarrassment at all cost. I do not like feeling the fool.

The drawings scattered about this text are they. I don’t remember which characters in which books are represented in the drawings. Obviously the eyes are male and I don’t remember who they represent. Still, the drawings and the poems are miniscule, but nonetheless important, happenings on my journey towards authenticity. Why else would I still have them after all these years? I refused to show them in 1971, but am willing to do so now in 2017. Why? I’m not sure. Certainly not because they are worthy. Perhaps the showing and the vulnerability move me ever so closer to authenticity. Perhaps not. However, the poems will forever remain hidden.

Copyright © 2017 Dale Rominger