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.

Bird Brain


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As a kid, though I spent a lot of time outdoors in woods and swamps, I ignored birds. They required patience and binoculars. Toadstools and salamanders did not.

UnknownBut I wasn’t completely oblivious. There were Robins in the side yard and, when the Mountain Ash was full of berries, Cedar Waxwings in the back yard. The rest were sparrows or pigeons.

My first direct avian encounter did not go well. It was a parakeet. It lived in the kitchen, screeching and shitting and chewing the wallpaper. Even my parents,Unknown-1 who had bought it, grew to hate it, and we all wished it an early, painful death, which, after three months of terrorism, it met, possibly out the window, perhaps in the trash can, with no We gave it to a nice farm family cover-up.

Unknown-2The first time birds really drew my attention was in Northern Nigeria, in the Peace Corps, especially the Pied Crows, with their tuxedo outfits and their click-click-click telephone-dial imitations; and Black Kites in fighter squadrons mowing down locusts fleeing the annual burning of the farm fields.

After that, Dad, who had taken up bird-watching as aUnknown-3 retirement pastime, got me started in the woods across the street, with Pewees, Scarlet Tanagers (we called them Scarlet Managers, my sister’s invention), and Veeries. Mom, who was emphatically not a birdwatcher, hit on what really matters — the aesthetics of birds — with her description of the Veery’s flutey, downward spiraling song as a sterling silver corkscrew.

Unknown-4All fascinating to a learner, but it was Warblers — small, exuberant flashes of color and song — that tested my beginner skills and hooked me for life; and it was Nighthawks (not actual hawks, but related to Whippoorwills) — rising at dusk, calling plaintively, making right-angles in the skyUnknown-5 with their long, thin wings — that symbolized the grace and beauty of birds.

Of course, birds are more than just a pretty picture or an enchanting song:

In London, I’ve been shat upon by a Starling and menaced by an angry Swan. In Singapore, I’ve chased a Blue Winged Pitta around a bush to add to our team’s imagessighting-list in the Great Millennium Bird Race (we didn’t win).

In Strasbourg, I’ve rescued a baby Blackbird (the European, not the American, kind) that flew into the hotel breakfast room and landed on the ham tray. In Lugano, I’ve mistakenly assumed that what was actually anUnknown-6 aggressive Chaffinch, hurling itself at its reflection in our curtained hotel window, was naughty kids dropping marbles, at 6 am, on the floor above.

In Colorado, while fishing, I’ve watched an Osprey steal a trout that might have been my catch. But, then, I’ve had the consolation of hosting a bold and quizzical Unknown-8hummingbird on my fishing rod for a nice rest.

Even Mom has her tale: While she was getting ready for work, she saw two Pileated Unknown-7Woodpeckers in the side yard, doing an elaborate and athletic mating dance. She was so transfixed that she got to work late, with an excuse that was too implausible to be doubted.

End Note: While I was writing this, the New York Times (October 24, 2017) published an article about an art gallery owner, Avi Gitler, and his crew of artists who (with permission) are painting murals of endangered bird species on buildings, in alleyways, and even on the rolldown shutters of local shops. The work is in honor of John James Audubon, who lived and died on W. 155th St. in Manhattan. The story gives hope and the paintings glow. Check it out at: https://nyti.ms/2zAUfiq

Driving Miss Daliya


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UnknownSaudi King Salman recently announced that, as of June 2018, Saudi women will be allowed to drive. Why the delay? some have asked, missing the point that the real delay has been one of decades, not months.

These few months are important, with questions to resolve before a safe, orderly change can be made (unlike Nigeria, where, the story goes, one planner, working on the shift from driving on the left to driving on the right, suggested a phased transition where, initially, only lorries and taxis would drive on the right).

I have been part of the planning team, which, sensitive to the need to protect Saudi women’s virtuous image, has faced a fundamental question:

Who will teach women to drive?

Male instructors would have been the logical choice. Saudi men are the ones who already know how to drive. And Saudi society has become accustomed to having women driven about by male chauffeurs, many of them outside the woman’s family.

We recognized, however, that there is a difference. Chauffeurs sit in front, women in the back, fully covered, often armed with a cellphone. In an instructional situation, teacher and student both must be in front, with the woman less than fully covered if she is to see the road and avoid getting buttons or pedals ensnarled in black cloth. And, Allah forbid, hands might touch, adjusting a mirror or reaching for the gearshift. NO MALE INSTRUCTORS, we decided.

We toyed with the idea of women teachers, but there are no qualified Saudi women, of course, and not enough Arabic-speaking women instructors elsewhere.

Then came my Eureka! moment. I recalled my brief experience with Hal, the self-driving car (My Self-Driving Car and I; June 21, 2017). Yes, that had ended badly, but at least it showed that car and driver could communicate. And, yes, Hal was engineered so that the human could override the car, whereas, in a teaching situation, the car must be able to override the human.

Still, I figured, it was worth a try. I decided that, given Hal’s temperament, a less volatile personality would be better. Thoughts of Nordic equanimity turned me quickly to Volvo, which jumped at the opportunity.

Volvo officials assured me that their self-driving prototype, Hjalmar (a name that did give me a momentary shiver), could easily be programmed to speak Arabic. Adjustments could be made so that Hjalmar could override the student driver. We all agreed that a self-driving car embodied the very qualities a driving instructor must impart: attentiveness, anticipation, self-control.

My team was convinced, and the Saudi authorities welcomed any arrangement that would eliminate the male/female contact problem. We recruited ten Saudi women to be our test students.

I still worried lest a student get into a standoff with Hjalmar like mine with Hal. I needn’t have frettedUnknown-1. Both sides handled the situation with Nordic, or at least Nordic-like, sang froid, and all ten of the women passed their drivers’ tests on their first try.

In a final evaluation meeting, the Saudis expressed their delight, though they did mention their puzzlement that the trial students now seemed to be speaking Arabic with a noticeable Swedish accent, and four of them had dyed their hair blond.

The Volvo engineers smiled, acknowledging they too had been a bit bemused at the colloquial Arabic vulgarities Hjalmar had picked up, and his tendency to honk his horn even before the red light had turned green. They were certain this could easily be engineered away.

We all agreed it was a shining example of technological inventiveness and cross-cultural cooperation, and we hoisted our water glasses in a rousing toast.

The South May Rise Again


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I have no particular fondness for the American South — not for its history, nor its politics, nor its religious leanings. But, when the President asked me to report on the situation in Texas in the midst of Hurricane Harvey, then in Florida during Hurricane Irma, I could not say no.


In and around Houston and the Gulf Coast, the suffering of so many — the loss of lives, the destruction of homes and livelihoods — diverted me from my fury at the stupidity of environmentally destructive zoning and construction policies.

In Florida, the situation was similar. In the Keys, houses utterly demolished; in Jacksonville, widespread flooding; throughout the entire state, millions of people without power or communications.

But not everything suffered loss.  Reports from the Everglades noted that the python population was flourishing, what with all the abandoned dogs and cats on the loose.

And, as I discovered, Mar a Lago had been completely spared while everything around it had been utterly destroyed.  (The parallel with the pythons and the pets struck me forcefully, but I kept my mouth shut.)

The immediate experience of the devastation and suffering was so overwhelming that, initially at least, I could not process the riot of images with sufficient clarity to give the President a coherent sense of the situation.

As, finally, I was able to organize my mental images of houses and buildings collapsing,Unknown baby carriages floating out to sea, trees keeling over, but also to focus on what was not damaged or swept away, I realized that the only things left absolutely untouched (besides Mar a Lago, of course) were Civil War monuments — plaques, obelisks, statues — most of them dedicated to Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson.

I was stunned. Could this be more than pure chance? I asked myself. Perhaps it was simply that these things were solid and heavy — stone and bronze, not glass and aluminum. But other things that seemed equally grounded — fire hydrants and public toilets — had suffered far more.  And I knew that, in the chaos, no special efforts had been made to protect these monuments.

I could scarcely bring myself to ask the question: Did some power intervene to protect them and yet allow innocent people to lose their homes, their possessions, their lives?

Or, more to the point, Will the people who regard these monuments as virtual religious shrines conclude that Their God had intervened to protect and console Them, just as he abandoned and punished the rest?

I debated whether to include this statistical aberration in my report, but finally decided that, since it was bound to come to light, with all its explosive potential, it was best to prepare the President.

I needn’t have fretted. When I told him of all the dogs and cats that had perished in the coils of Everglades pythons, he got misty-eyed. When I confirmed that Mar a Lago had been spared, he wept.

images-1By the end of my report, he was in such emotional turmoil and confusion that he seemed to think Lee and Jackson were among the first responders, and had ridden their horses into the maelstrom to rescue victims. He instructed his staff to contact them and arrange a photo op when he visited. I kept my mouth shut.