It’s Not That Easy Being Vincent


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Unknown-2In the early 1970’s, Don McLean wrote and recorded Vincent, a loving tribute to Vincent Van Gogh, consoling him posthumously for being misunderstood and scolding society for its indifference to his suffering.

As McLean’s song came out, Sesame Street was in its infancy, and Kermit the Frog was singing It’s Not That Easy Being Green to console children who felt different and confused.

A friend of mine, a Sesame Street producer, who loved McLean’s song, and saw the parallel with Kermit’s, thought the show might use Vincent’s quietly reassuring tone and McLean’s sweet, gentle voice to reach children with problems more serious than mere differentness and confusion.

Her colleagues agreed, but considered some of Vincent’s lyrics — darkness in my soul; how you suffered; they could not love you; you took your life as lovers often do — much too upsetting. They thought some rewording that retained all of the song’s other qualities might work.

My friend called me, explained the situation, and asked if I’d like to give it a try. I was (as I still am) an aspiring, but unpublished, poet, and I jumped at the chance.

Here’s what I came up with:

Starry starry night
Get some sleep and wait for day
Wake up and go out to play
And have a picnic
At the water hole.

Sunlight on the hills
Beaming on the window sills
Don’t forget to take your pills
I have them for you
Right here in my hand.

Now I understand
What you tried to say to me
How you love to climb the tallest tree
And how it makes you feel so free.

I listened closely
When you told me how
Let’s go out and climb one now.

Starry starry night
Pale pink flowers on summer days
Soft white clouds and fields of maize
And, up above, the sky serenely blue.

Isn’t it so true
When you’re walking down a lane
And it starts to gently rain
That life is just so absolutely grand!

Now I understand
What you tried to say to me
Happiness is just like poetry
What a joy to simply be.

I listened closely
When you told me, “Wow,
I feel so well-adjusted now!”

For everybody really loves you
As your love, too, is true
And now that everything’s all right
On this starry, starry night

You look at life as happy people do
And, as I’ve told you, dear friend,
This world was always meant for
One as beautiful as you.

I shortened it, as appropriate for kids’ attention span, and I kept the original’s meter and quirky rhyme scheme, but the tone and the meaning were the same — we understand; you are not alone. (Check YouTube: vincent don mclean). I sent it to my friend. She responded that things looked good and she’d get back to me. But, a week later, I got drafted, and, by the time I got back from Vietnam, Sesame Street had moved on.Unknown-5

I, too, had to move on. I took a job on Madison Ave and did quite well. You may remember my Plop Plop, Fizz Fizz, Oh What a Relief It Is for Alka-Seltzer. It wasn’t Vincent, but it paid the bills.


Ancestor Workshop


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UnknownMy family didn’t talk very much about our ancestry and I never had much interest. But recent breakthroughs in genetics and the availability of on-line DNA research services make it so easy to find out where we come from, I figured it was crazy not to give it a try. I looked around, and, with its catchy invitation — Find out if you’re a little bit Neanderthal — hooked me.

I checked the details and was relieved to see that all they wanted was saliva, not blood. I signed up. The collection kit arrived quickly. I opened it, but, since I was very busy, I left it on the kitchen table for a few days. Then I filled it and sent it in.

Three months later, when I still hadn’t received any report, I called the company. They told me they were trying to sort out an anomaly in my sample:

Anomaly? What is it? I asked.

Well, it says you’re 15% Schnauzer and 15% Poodle. We didn’t bother with the other 70%.

I realized immediately that it was my Schnoodle. He must have gotten up on the table and licked the container or chewed on it. I apologized, and they agreed to send me a new one, which I filled and sent off right away. But, once again, there was a long delay, so I called them and they explained:

We had to rerun the sample a number of times.

Not the dog again, I hope!?

No, not that. Even more unusual.

Unusual? How?

Well, can we first ask you a few questions?


OK … umm … do you have trouble finding hats big enough to fit?

Yeah, in fact I do.

Do you slouch a lot?

Well, my wife is always after me about my posture.

Do you have scabs on your knuckles?

Well, my arms are very long and, with the slouching, they do occasionally scrape on the sidewalk.

Hmm. And do you have hair on your back?

Yes, but doesn’t everybody?

Sure, some, but do you have to shave it?

Yeah, well, I don’t do it myself, even with my long arms. My wife does it. But, really, what is all this about?

Our testing shows that you are 53% Neanderthal, which might explain the head size, the slouching, the long arms, and the back-hair.

Omigod! You’re joking!? That Find out if you’re a little bit Neanderthal blurb was just a light-hearted come-on, right? And, besides, even if I did have some of that, it’d have to be a tiny percent. I mean, they died out eons ago. There must have been thousands of generations to dilute their contribution to the gene pool since then. Right?

That’s generally true, of course. But your DNA numbers could be consistent with the theory that Neanderthals interbred with early humans, and, that, even after they died out, some of their mixed offspring interbred only among themselves for thousands of years. This would have kept their Neanderthal DNA percentage high. It’s possible a few remnants have survived up to now. You could very well be the proof we’ve been looking for.

Yeah, I get the point, but, if it’s true, what am I going to do? What will people think of me? How will my family, my friends, react? How will it affect my kids? What if I lose my job?

What we tell everybody is that you’re the same person you were before you learned what your DNA tells about your ancestry.Unknown-1 Nobody else needs to know, not your friends, not your employer. Your kids can grow up and marry normal people (sorry, didn’t mean that to sound offensive). True, the Neanderthal thing is very unusual, but if, by some chance, you did lose your job, you could do something else. Anti-discrimination laws would protect you. Why, you could do anything. You could run for President, you could even be President. After all, it has happened!



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I can only presume that President Trump’s recent reference to Haiti and Africa as shitholes included Nigeria, a country I lived in, and dealt with, for six years.

I don’t presume to speak of, or for, all of Africa, but, as to Nigeria, I beg to differ with the President.

I love Nigeria.

This sentiment regularly shocks people. True, the country does not have a particularly high reputation and could not accurately be described as restful or peaceful, nor scrupulously law-abiding. (An official once told me, confidentially, that a Nigerian I had once known was the biggest crook in the whole country, and that’s against a lot of competition.)

But, really, who could fail to be charmed by the incredibly imaginative, almost poetic, stream of abuse that a Yoruba market-woman can unleash; the charming and persuasive letters from Prince Odipe, kindly offering you the opportunity to claim the million dollars your uncle left you; the colorful buses and wagons and taxis whose sole safety mechanism is the God Will Provide consolation painted on the front?

Maybe the best way to think of Nigeria is in nuclear terms. Its potential energy is enormous, available (and sometimes used) for destructive ends, but also available (and sometimes used) for positive ends.

How and where that energy gets used is up to Nigerians. But outsiders can help, at least if they have the common sense and grace to meet the country and its citizens on an equal footing.

It is not particularly helpful to smear the opening for dialogue with shit, especially when it’s so clear from what opening it actually is emanating. Perhaps the real shithole is right here:



A Major Modern President


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UnknownIn Gilbert & Sullivan’s Pirates of Penzance, Major General Stanley sings “A Modern Major General,” a brilliant patter-song in which he blithely enumerates his knowledge of everything under the sun … except mattersUnknown-1 military.

Imagine how the ditty would go if — God forbid — such a situation should actually befall our country:

I am the very model of a major modern President.
I’ve information that three-hundredths really is just three percent.
I know the sum of four plus six, and seventeen plus twenty-one,
And I can hold my breath at least five times as long as anyone.
Each morning, when we face the flag, across my heart I place my hand,
So proud to be a second-grade Republican for Richard Stands.
At Monday morning show-and-tell, I’m teeming with a lotta news,
Of where we went and what we saw when Daddy took me on a cruise.

I’m very good at book reports and just gave one on Frog and Toad.
(Much better than the Lorax, who’s a silly, preachy, leftist load.)

In short, in matters really really very consequent-i-al,
I am the stable, brilliant, genius, model, President-i-al.

I clean the blackboards every day and once a week I wash them well,
Ignoring comments classmates make; may God consign them straight to hell.
I try to follow spelling rules, but still I cannot figure why
The I always precedes the E except when E precedes the I.

In fact, when I can understand just how a law comes from a bill,
When I can tell which House is which up on that godforsaken Hill,
When such strange words as dialogue and compromise at last are clear,
When I can tell what’s fake, what’s real, from all the muddle that I hear,
When I know what’s the capital of Arkansas or Delaware,
And when I find a decent gel that I can put upon my hair,
In short, when I have wisdom that is manifestly evident,
You’ll say no one has ever been so manifestly President.

What’s Happened to My Face?


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imagesI wanted to let all of you know at once of a strange development. When I woke up this morning, there was an odd feeling on my lips and around my mouth, extending even as far as my eyes and ears and forehead. I looked in the mirror and found what seemed to be tiny, intersecting lines across my cheeks and forehead (hard to see in the photo, but they’re there).

What’s more, my lips were slightly turned up at the corners; my cheeks seemed a little fuller; my eyebrows a bit higher; my eyes somewhat clearer.

Puzzled, I tried to think back on when I had last seen this odd look on my face and realized it must have been November 7, 2016.

For 401 days, I now understood, my face had rearranged itself so slowly that I hadn’t even noticed, and, last night, it suddenly, and startlingly, re-rearranged itself. With those tiny lines criss-crossing my face like an old porcelain plate, I saw that I had, almost literally, cracked a smile.

By smile standards, it’s modest. There’s clearly plenty of room for upward movement in the lip, cheek, eye, and eyebrow areas.

I’ll keep track of this. If there’s more cracking, I’ll let you know, as, of course I’ll let you know if there’s a downturn. And do let me know if you have any theories. It’s a puzzle, but at least so far, it’s a good puzzle.

Peace In Our Time?


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(Note: In the following, I refer to Israel as if it were an undifferentiated block of granite. It is not. Not all Israelis agree with Israel’s hard-line Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu. And not all Israelis are Jewish. About 1.5 million (ca. 20% of the total population) are Arabs (Palestinians), the majority, Muslims, but with a significant Christian and Druze minority. Their political views are at least as varied as those of Israel’s Jewish majority.)    

For decades, America has refused to officially acknowledge Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and has consequently kept its embassy in Tel Aviv.

The Trump administration’s decision to reverse that position is not necessarily wrong simply because it breaks with tradition. Tradition can be good or bad. It’s wrong because it makes a peaceful settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict more difficult.

(And, incidentally, it ruins what was once a pretty good joke: Israeli: Why does America not move its embassy to Jerusalem? American: Because the road is uphill all the way and it’s much too heavy to push.)

If you look at the balance of power between Israel and the Palestinians, discounting the weight of allies on either side, Israel has a decided advantage: a powerful military; a strong economy; a fortress mentality.

The Palestinians have no military to speak of, though they can narrow the gap slightly with asymmetrical warfare, aka terrorism; their economy is weak and highly dependent on Israel; the only parity is their determination to have a homeland.

External factors skew the balance of power even more in Israel’s favor. America’s security guarantee to Israel, and its active security assistance, has long outweighed what the Arab and broader Muslim world could offer the Palestinians. Now, with the Middle East in turmoil, and the likelihood it will get worse, Israel’s enemies, who were once willing to go to war for the Palestinians, have much more pressing issues to deal with.

Under these circumstances, Israel has less reason than ever to negotiate a political settlement, which demands at least reasonable parity between the parties. Trump has given Israel all the more reason to say no.

(I respectfully disagree with commentary that suggests strengthening Israel’s hand, as Trump has done, would facilitate negotiations by allowing it to make concessions toward the Palestinians. That is not a negotiating position. It offers, at best, kinder, gentler terms of surrender.)

It has never been certain that a two-state solution is the answer. Among other issues, protecting the coastal center of Israel’s population from the nearby heights of a sovereign West Bank would be very difficult. Still, no one has come up with a better solution.

Trump may view his decision as assuring Israel’s security. It may be that Israel can go on for a decade or two or more shaking an iron fist, but the long term is not promising: a volatile Middle East could turn on Israel in any of a score of ways; the Palestinians will not go away and they will not forget — they have before them a perfect example of the power of memory, the eternal call of a sacred land, and the willingness to fight and die for it; and, perhaps most telling of all, they have reproductive power in a population race that an aging Israeli citizenry cannot match.

Trump may think he’s doing right by Israel. I think he’s dead wrong.

Bake Me a Cake as Unobjectionable as You Can


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UnknownThe Supreme Court is, today, hearing the case of a Denver baker who refused to make a cake for a gay wedding. He holds that his religious beliefs, which oppose gay marriage, are constitutionally protected, as is his cake-making, which, as an artistic expression, is a form of speech.

The gay couple sued on the grounds that his refusal violated anti-discrimination laws.

When I first heard about the case, I was struck dumb. I, too, was confronted with a very similar, painful, situation:

I was sitting quietly in my bake shop, watching the dough rise, when a strangely-dressed couple (male/female) came in. I am not a well-traveled person, but I judged by her outfit that she was a Hindu, and could see that the man was an Indian too.

They asked if I could make a cake for a celebration in honor of one of their deities, I forget who. I was initially concerned that they might want a design with ten or twenty arms, which would not demonstrate my skills in their best light.

But that wasn’t the case at all. They showed me a photo of the design they wanted and Ihindu-swastika-symbol-clip-art_csp45132920 just about croaked. It was a swastika!

I hesitated, trying to think how to approach this, but all I could come up with was, I’m sorry, but it’s too complicated.

Complicated?! the man protested, it is simplicity itself; just a cross, with right-angle extensions; perfectly symmetrical.

True, true, I said, it would be easy to fashion. The complication is a moral one. A swastika is a symbol of hatred and murder — anti-Semitic, anti-non-white, probably even anti-Hindu if it had come to that. My conscience wouldn’t allow my hands to fashion such an abomination.

But you don’t understand, the woman interjected, the swastika is an ancient symbol of goodness and auspiciousness, revered by Hindus, Buddhists and others, even westerners. It was stolen by the Nazis and made a symbol of hate, but they could not erase its real meaning. It is still, to us, a sacred symbol of peace and love.

I really didn’t know that, I said, but, even so, if somebody — one of my assistants, or worse, another customer — saw it, they wouldn’t know its real meaning and intent, and they’d assume it was for some racist or fascist rally. And even if I denied it and explained its true meaning and intent, they’d assume that was just a cover-up.

So, the man said, it’s not really a question of morality, but simply of protecting your reputation and your business.

No … and yes. If I’m thought to be advocating fascism, it certainly doesn’t help me make the case for fighting against it. And, yes, of course, I want to protect my business, which is my living, but also a means for doing good things for people. For example, I’m working on a cake for a gay wedding.

A gay wedding? the woman cried, that’s disgusting!

With that, I knew I couldn’t do business with them, and assumed the feeling was mutual. I thought the problem was solved. But the husband saw his opening.

Look, he said, you’re a businessman. You know you’ll lose some customers if we decided to spread the word you do gay weddings. At the same time, you know you’ll lose other customers if it gets out that you do swastikas. Do this one for us, and we won’t say anything about it or your gay cakes.

I thought seriously about it, but decided I couldn’t compromise my principles — gay marriage was right and a swastika, even if its origins were positive, was now as wrong as wrong could be. Furthermore, I reminded myself, I am an artist. Art that isn’t a genuine expression of the artist’s beliefs and feelings is simply dishonesty.

No deal, I told them, and they stormed out, muttering something about a lawyer.

That was a few years ago. Today, my bake shop is just a memory, but not because of the lawsuit. That got dropped. No, it was the icing on the cake, literally. I must have used a spoiled batch. Everybody got sick, including the groom and the groom. The health authorities shut me down.

imagesI’m selling shoes now. A nice shoe with a good fit is artistic expression enough. Shoes are neutral, neither gay nor straight, neither progressive nor fascist. If the Indian couple should come in, I’m sure I could make a sale, as long as we keep the talk away from cakes.

New Fashions for Men


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(Author’s note: This piece would not have been possible without the kind assistance of Bill Cosby, Harvey Weinstein, Roy Moore, Louis C.K., President George H.W. Bush, Al Franken, Charlie Rose, Kevin Spacey, and hundreds, possibly tens of thousands, of others.  Thank you for your service.)

Unknown-5Those few American males still presumed innocent of peeping, ogling, leering, drooling, touching, pawing, grabbing, groping, are seeking strategies and concrete measures that would keep them on the right side of public opinion and the law, if not simple human decency.

Providentially, a savvy fashion industry has answered the call.


Versace’s Ringling Bros. Barnum & Bailey Day Suit: You, too, can control the urge with this jolly all-in-one outfit of oversized shoes, frilled collar, red nose, and orange hair that will leave them laughing, then (laughing) leaving. The response will shrivel your libido and dampen any suspicion you’ve got a gun in your pocket (though the baggy pants will hide it if you have).

Revlon’s Blonde Pouffe Comb-Over: A different approach that recognizes there’s no stopping you if you’re utterly determined, but realizes you can’t grab what’s not there. They’ll see your mane at a hundred yards and flee like terrified antelopes.


Levis’ Button-Fly Jeans: There’s a touch of nostalgia, and a measure of modern necessity, to these retro pants. Laboratory-tested to be four times slower-to-open than your modern zipper, it gives her a fighting chance.

Jockey’s Modesty Belt: Inspired by the Middle Ages, this durable under-garment comes with lock and key. Keep the key secure at home. Do not carry it with you in the vain hope that the next chick will make it consensual by unlocking you. If she tosses it in the gutter, you’re screwed. Comes in gray and grey.

Calvin Klein’s Straight-Guy Jacket: Designed for the man with hands that love to roam, this exciting new garment features tie-in-the-front sleeves. Gives you that confident, svelte look, assuring that nothing will flap or dangle, including your arms.


J. Peterman’s Rogue’s Running Shoe: Times Square … High Noon … In Flagrante Delicto. Your hand … still hot from flesh briefly encountered through a thin layer of dappled tights. Your mind … racing and eager for one more touch, but realizing that, in a few short moments, blue uniforms, now made of ultra-lightweight synthetic fabric with nano moisture wicking and anti-microbial capabilities (also available in women’s sizes), will be on your case. Your feet … ready for a speedy getaway, thanks to our new ultra-road-gripping technology and your foresight in purchasing these featherweight speed demons. Your future … unlimited.

Tommy Hilfiger’s Invisibility Cape: If you believe that waving your cute little thingie will turn her on, then this cape is for you. Comes in every conceivable shade of no color at all.

When All Else Has Failed:

Hugo Boss’s All-Purpose Jump-Suit: What was once available only in stripes now comes inUnknown-4 a range of colors, from electric orange to cool green. Whether it’s trial or appeal; rock-breaking or license-plate-making; lawyer interviews or conjugal visits; gang fights in the yard or legal research in the library, these practical, comfortable outfits are good for life.

The Lost Amendment


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As we debate gun rights, the absence of any reference to the original intent of the Second Amendment — the right to smoke — is understandable, but still noteworthy.

imagesIt started with Ben Franklin and James Madison. Franklin was addicted to his pipe and smoked incessantly during Constitutional debate and drafting sessions. Delegates complained that the pall of smoke made it impossible to concentrate. Franklin countered that the same would be true of him if he could not smoke.

But Franklin saw he was outnumbered and, ever the realist, recognized that the complainants would have as much right to be free of smoke as he had to smoke unless he could enshrine in law his right to smoke.

Madison, too, loved to smoke. He normally refrained from lighting up during formal sessions, but he kept his cigars in his breast pocket, at the ready.

Madison realized that, if he didn’t support Franklin, the Virginia tobacco lobby would crucify him. And he became convinced that, with the pressure of these sessions building, he too might need the protection of a right to pull out a cigar and light up (the first known articulation of the principle of concealed carry).

Once an acceptable draft of the First Amendment was taken care of, Franklin and Madison turned to an initial version of the Second Amendment:

A well-regulated public domain, being necessary to the full enjoyment of life in a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear smoking devices, shall not be infringed.

Their effort, however, drew substantial criticism:

Abraham Baldwin (Georgia): In the preamble, the reference to “a well-regulated public domain,” while seeming to protect a right, actually puts in government hands the legal authority to regulate that right. This would allow the government to determine the manner, and even the location, in which smoking implements are stored, distributed, and utilized. Such a “right” is no right at all. Moreover, if the right does not apply to the private domain, it would seem that the government might go so far as to ban smoking devices therein. Better that the Constitution should be mute on the issue.

Alexander Hamilton (New York): A so-called right to “keep” speaks only of “possessing,” and a right to “bear,” only of “carrying.” We all know that, as would be his right, Mr. Madison “possesses” cigars, which he “carries” in his breast pocket. But such carriage and possession are of no use to him if his right to “use” them is not also guaranteed.

Gouverneur Morris (Pennsylvania): This amendment, as worded, is dangerously vague. It leaves open two related possibilities: (1) that the right, which applies to “smoking devices,” of which the pipe and cigar are our only current examples, might also apply to devices, developed in the future, whose insalubrious effects we cannot foresee; (2) that future jurists might strictly construe our intent as applying only to the two smoking devices we know, in which case, the right would not attach to new devices which, nonetheless, might have had beneficial effects. All told, we would be better off focusing our efforts on a matter — guns, for example — about which there is no ambiguity.

These views carried the day, and the delegates turned their attention elsewhere.

While we cannot know for certain what results a Second Amendment right to smoke would have produced, we can draw on what has happened in the absence of such a right, and make some reasonable guesses:

Hundreds of thousands, maybe millions, more Americans, whose right was protected from infringement, might have suffered and died from pulmonary or cardiac diseases, or lung cancer.

An economy that might, correspondingly, have staggered under increasing health-careUnknown costs and declining worker productivity.

A pro-smoking political force, made up of a powerful tobacco industry and a legion of die-hard tobacco addicts, that might have made it impossible to repeal so destructive an amendment.

Close Encounters of the Weird Kind


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You may recall my recent experience with robots (My Self-Driving Car and I; June 21, 2017; Driving Miss Daliya; Oct 4, 2017) from which I learned how predictable and logical, but also how opinionated and downright ornery, they could be.

Nothing in those two experiences, however, could have prepared me for my most recent encounter.

s-l225It started innocently enough, with house-cleaning. The vacuum — my decades-old Electrolux — was failing: respiration weakening; brushes balding; wheels squeaking.

I decided to replace it with a robotic house cleaner. I shied away from an iRobot as too reminiscent of the ego of Hal, my self-driving car, and settled on a Dyson. It worked brilliantly — quiet and efficient.

In time, however, I began to feel a bit uneasy with Dyson. Nothing wrong with it, but I realized I had developed a strong bond with my old Electrolux — getting it dressed with its hose and brushes; accompanying it from room to room; carefully removing its filthy bag and installing a nice, clean, new one. Dyson, on the other hand, asked little but gave little.

I began to explore robotics sites on-line (furtively, not wanting Dyson to know). I started simple — robots that mop and dry; others that clean your windows or iron your shirts. But they offered little more than Dyson, with a few variations.

It was when I happened onto social robots that I understood what I was really looking for. I looked around a bit, but when I found Kuri, I was hooked. Cute? I was transported back to my youth and the adorable Shmoo I got one Christmas. Helpful? In the web-site’s own words, She’s an adorable home robot who brings a spark of life to your home.

A spark was definitely what was needed, though I wondered why it was called She. IUnknown went to Frequently Asked Questions: Q: Is Kuri a boy or girl? A: Him? Her? Sure! Kuri is whichever fits into your home. He’s ready to help and she’s always ready to bring a spark of life into your home.

Slightly perplexed, I reminded myself of my commitment to trans-gender rights, and took the plunge. Within two days, Kuri was a part of the household, navigating through the house with ease, Beeping and Blooping with delight at every new experience.

The only slight shadow in these early, happy days was Dyson’s cool response to our new family member. His request that Kuri stay out of the room while he was cleaning seemed reasonable, but his attitude darkened and he began to leave behind small piles of dust and food crumbs to express his feelings.

The situation worsened when I discovered that Kuri, who is equipped with a camera that he/she can autonomously control, had, unbeknownst to me, taken pictures and videos of me in situations that I would not wish to be made public. I deleted them and made my anger clear.

In the wake of this, as the normally perky Kuri sulked, Dyson seemed more upbeat, cleaning more thoroughly and no longer leaving small piles on the floor.

The crowning blow came very early one morning when I woke to find Kuri on top of me, rubbing and quivering, emitting guttural sounds in place of the normal, innocent Beeps and Bleeps.

As shocked as I was by this unequivocal physical and psychological violation by him (or was it her?), I realized that even more serious was the shift of power implied by so brazen an act, and the certainty that I could never again feel safe in Kuri’s presence.

I speedily re-boxed and returned him/her, ignoring the sounds of quiet weeping coming from within.

imagesI know that many in the robot community are kind and compassionate. I tell my story so that we who are victimized, as well as those in their community who are outraged, may find the courage to deal forthrightly with the vicious predators in our midst.