The Lost Amendment


, , , , , , , , ,

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


, , , , , , , ,

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


, , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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:

Driving Miss Daliya


, , , , , , ,

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


, , , , , , , , , , ,

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.


Donald Trump: Poet


, , , , , ,

Erato,_Muse_of_PoetryPresident Trump is human. It hurts when people say his language — constant repetition of the first-person singular and a few highly-charged adjectives — is essentially that of a sixth-grader with a grudge.

But he knows that there is some truth in this, and, determined to elevate his speaking and writing at least to high-school level, he has started to read poetry and to utilize its vocabulary and structure to refine his language. The ego is still there, but progress is evident.

Here are some examples:

From Joyce Kilmer’s Trees                                                     joyce-kilmer-448

I think that I shall never see
A poem lovelier than me.

A me whose hungry mouth is pressed
Against some earthy, swelling breast.

A me that looks on God all day
And lifts a nearby skirt to play.

A me that may in Summer wear
An extra swirl in my blond hair.

Upon whose bosom heads have lain.
Who intimately lives with gain.

Poems are made by fools like thee,
But only God can make a me.

From Emily Dickinson’s Because I Could Not Stop For Death

Because I could not stop for Lunch —                                                      Unknown
I made It stop for me —
The Lunch Cart held but just Myself
And one big urn of Tea.

We slowly drove — It knew no haste —
And I had put away
At least a gallon of that brew —
I really had to Pee —

We passed the Senate, where I knew
There had to be a John —
But … damn … the Cart kept going til
We passed the Setting Sun —

Or rather — He passed Us —
I felt the pee invade my Shoes
My Socks, my Suit, my Tie bedamped —
What awful fucking News —

We paused before the House, which seemed
To offer some Relief —
But every stall, a Democrat
I made my Pit Stop brief —

Since then — ’tis Centuries — and yet
I can’t forget the Day
I suffered more than Jesus Christ —
For just an urn of tea —

From William Carlos Williams’ The Red Wheelbarrow

so much depends                                                                                         Unknown-1

a red baseball

blazed with plain

beside the white

Solving the North Korea Conundrum


, , , , , , , , , , ,

images-4The recent American-North Korean exchange of vows to annihilate each other may not be all bad if we can make things worse for them, using the verbal fireworks as a distraction from subtler subversive activities.

We have already achieved a significant diplomatic victory, with Chinese and Russian support for serious Security Council sanctions on North Korea, putting pressure on a regime that has raised its people’s hopes for economic improvement it now must satisfy. Equally important, these sanctions legitimize the principle that the North Korean people must suffer for the sins of their leaders.

We have a historic example — the decline and fall of the Soviet Union — where external pressure tipped the balance by revealing the Soviet regime’s inability to deliver on its promise of a better life for all.

The partner of Soviet collapse, and the symbol of Russian-ness, was vodka, the escape route from despair, and ultimately companion of decline, defeat, and death.

In our own domestic array, we have a similar item, almost as American as vodka is Russian, our own escape route from despair and companion of decline, defeat, and death:


We should use them to undermine North Korea. But it won’t be easy. Theimages-5 robust pharmaceutical industry, the persistent Ask Your Doctor About (fill in drug name) TV ads, and the compliant medical establishment, which, together, have fueled our addiction, are all, sadly, lacking there.

One possibility is our stealth aircraft that could make high-altitude pill-drops, with flyers — It’s More Fun with Fentanyl; I’m OK with Oxycodone (we’ll need our best English-Korean translators). Adding kimchi to the packets could give us humanitarian cover.

There’s an added benefit. As culpable as the drug industry may be in addicting Americans to opioids, let us not forget its positive role in improving our overall health (e.g., victories over neuritis, neuralgia, and the heartbreak of psoriasis). The opioid supplies necessary to addict North Koreans would make up for the losses the industry might incur if American opioid consumption should decline.

But we should not rely solely on opioids in our campaign against North Korea. We have another weapon, just as destructive:


The logic is the same. Like opioids, our gun addiction is the manifestation of despair (loss of confidence in our personal safety), decline (loss of confidence in the political process), defeat (loss of faith in our public security institutions), and death (loss of life).

images-6If we could introduce personal weapons into North Korea, the rationale need not be to kill off more of the population (though, frankly, why should we treat them any better than we treat ourselves?). Rather, as here at home, it would be to give the population just enough firepower to frighten them that others also have arms, and convince them that only the individual can provide his/her own security, thus hastening the process of social and political disintegration that opioids have already begun.

This two-pronged strategy will not solve our own decline. But, at least it will leave to us, and no one else, the responsibility for our own uncertain destiny.

Nursery Rhymes: The Stories Behind the Headlines


, , , , , , , ,

(Note:  Persistently, and without acknowledgment, I steal blog ideas from anything that’s out there. This piece is a bit different, inspired by the wonderful Book Art collection in the Bainbridge Island (Wash.) Museum of Art (BIMA), specifically one item — “contemporary” written observations on nursery rhyme characters (e.g. a school report card on Mary and her Little Lamb). I have stolen only the idea, not the content. Responsibility for the outcome is mine alone.)

Recent research into the origins of our favorite nursery rhymes has unearthed a treasure-trove of information about the real-life figures who were their inspiration. Here are a few insights their contemporaries offer:

Letter from the Glastonbury (England) Mental Health Council to Mr. & Mrs. Horner:

imagesFrom our meetings with your son, Jack, we have formed a clear picture of a very self-absorbed young man. His persistent, self-congratulatory utterance — “What a good boy am I” — for what is a very simple act of removing a plum from a Christmas pie, and his obliviousness of the contributions of others to his enjoyment (the pie-maker, most notably) suggest an unhealthy narcissistic tendency.

May we suggest, however, that the problem may not be entirely of his own making. Sitting in the corner arbitrarily cuts him off from healthy interaction with others that might divert him from his self-absorption. Having him join you at the dining room table might also expand his limited vocabulary by forcing him to converse with others and not just himself.

Establishing clear standards of table manners, especially the use of a fork and/or a spoon, would help him adapt to the common norms of etiquette.

Finally, may we suggest the inclusion of other ingredients besides plums in his Christmas pie. The fact that he pulls out only plums when he inserts his thumb limits him to a very narrow context of cause-and-effect. If he were occasionally to extract something different, even surprising — a raisin or a fig — he might be better-prepared to deal with the unpredictable elements of real life.

Letter from the New York City Schools’ Department of Nutrition to Mr. & Mrs. Teapot:

While we are gratified that your daughter, Ima Little, has found after-school work as aimages server in a neighborhood tea shop, we are concerned about the potentially negative effects on her health. She is, as she acknowledges proudly, “short and stout.”  Indeed, in themselves, neither condition is shameful or harmful. However, we are concerned that, already overweight and possibly susceptible to the attractions of the many sugar-and-carbohydrate-rich offerings at her place of employment, even moderate weight-gain might compromise her health.

Hoping you share our concern, we are ready to assist with any dietary and/or exercise program you might wish to consider.

Notice from the Nottinghamshire County Labour Council to the owners of Baa Baa Black Sheep:

UnknownWe understand that you are the owners of Ms. Baa Baa Black Sheep. As owners, you are also employers, and therefore subject to the County’s fair-wages laws.

We have received a report that, when asked whether she had any wool, Ms. Black Sheep replied that she did, indeed, have “three bags full,” but that each had already been consigned: one for her master; one for her dame; and one for the little boy (otherwise unidentified) who lives down the lane.

If her account is accurate and if our calculations are correct, the entire product of her labour, along with the remuneration therefrom, would appear to have accrued to others than herself. (We should note that your provision of pasturage to Ms. Black Sheep can not be defined as remuneration.)

Further, we wish to advise you that, if you are also employing any White Sheep for the same tasks Ms. Black Sheep is performing, and if you are paying them regular wages, you might, in addition, be in violation of the County’s anti-discrimination laws.

Please contact us at once so that we may clarify these issues.

Letter to the Editor of Le Journal de Paris:

I was deeply disturbed at the recent article, “Sleeping Beauty,” in your August 14, 1787images-3 edition, which poked fun at Frere Jacques for sleeping through his Friary’s morning bells. Did it ever occur to you that he might have been suffering from some sleep disorder or hearing loss, or both? And your insistence on interviewing him in his clearly groggy and confused state was cruelty, pure and simple.

Save your scorn for the stupid pronouncements that issue daily from Versailles and the unhinged moron who utters them. Do not heap it upon a humble, possibly sleep-deprived, perhaps even deaf, servant of the Lord!

Give Me Your Tired, Your Poor, and a Couple Tylenol


, , , , ,

A few years ago, I went to a town hall meeting, hosted by my Colorado state representative.

Unknown-1Waiting for the session to start, a couple guys near me were comparing notes on their recent re-roofing jobs, raving about the work. Once the meeting started, they tore into the rep on immigration, even though, as he observed, the issue was federal, not state.

The two guys apparently hadn’t connected the dots. In Colorado, if you get your house re-roofed, your carpet cleaned, your lawn mowed, your snow shoveled, odds are it’s an immigrant and his name is Juan. You’ve got a choice: get the job done now, with praise, or wait a couple months, with prayer.

Immigration may be an affair of the heart: We have a moral obligation to welcome others less fortunate. But it is, fundamentally, a matter of the purse: Are they helping the economy, or hurting it by taking our jobs?

Consensus on immigration will only come when the majority of Americans feels that, at worst, immigration doesn’t harm them and, at best, helps them.

We have entry policies toward some — students; part-time workers; wealthy investors — whose contribution to our country is widely understood and accepted. They could be the inspiration for specific categories where we clearly need help:

Addiction Services: Medical and counseling staff are overwhelmed by the opioid/heroin epidemic. Help is needed: drivers, orderlies, guards, and the like. Caution and savvy PR will be essential since the epidemic is worst where job-protection sentiment is highest. But, if effective, it could be a powerful example. Qualifications: Experience dealing with trauma — Syrians, Iraqis, Yemenis, Afghans.

Traffic Policeperson: In an automated age, this might seem a relic. But growing traffic congestion, and the plague of phone-distracted driving, demands on-site, on-the-ground supervision that most Americans are too phone-distracted to perform. Qualifications: Experience with insanely dangerous driving conditions — anyone from the Middle East and possibly Italy or China.

Teacher: With a booming economy paying good wages, and attacks on teachers‘ unions and on the integrity of public schools also driving them away, our teacher shortage is critical. Qualifications: Good English and high tolerance for chaos — Nigerians, Ghanaians, Kenyans,Tanzanians.

President of the United States: (Just kidding, to make sure you were paying attention.)

Personal Bodyguard: America is a dangerous place. Many of us need someone willing to take a bullet on our behalf. Qualfications: A menacing look and a nasty disposition — given those qualities, only a fool would single out a specific nationality.

Baseball Game Crackerjacks Hawker: You might think of this as a tiny niche. But, with games longer and more paralyzingly boring than ever, sales of Crackerjacks have skyrocketed as catatonic patrons look for real excitement — the prize at the bottom of the box. Qualifications: Ability to count essential; an amusing, entertaining accent also beneficial — Italians, Indians, Canadians.

The experiment will have its ups and its downs, as two different experiences demonstrate:

1. Mexican immigrant goes to his first American big-league baseball game. When he gets home, his family asks how it was. Great, he says. Everybody was so welcoming. Before the game started, they all stood up and sang: Jose, Can You See?

2.  New immigrant — no English, very hungry — sits in a coffee shop, unsure how to order. Everybody around him is ordering Donut a cuppa coffee, Donut a cuppa coffee. So, whenUnknown-2 the waiter comes, the guy gingerly orders Donut a cuppa coffee.

Success, but, by the end of a couple weeks, he’s desperate for a change. So he goes to a different diner, where everybody’s ordering Hot Dog and a Coke, Hot Dog and a Coke. The waiter comes and the guy orders Hot Dog and a Coke. The waiter asks, You want that with relish, mustard, or ketchup?

………….. Donut a cuppa coffee!!

(Postscript: The July 18, 2017 press reports that the Secretary of Homeland Security has granted a one-time increase in visas to temporary workers. I’m humbled to have been influential, but, above all, grateful that I’ll get my Crackerjacks on-the-double when I go to a Rockies game. Gotta run. Expecting a call from The Washington Post. Fingers crossed.)

My Self-Driving Car and I


, , , , , , , , , ,

imagesHaving gone without a vehicle for over a decade (carless driver), I decided to leap into the future (driverless car). I say driverless, but, by law, I had to be an active partner, in the driver’s seat, ready to intervene if necessary.

Since the vehicle had virtually human sensory and decision-making powers, and since I decided on a model with voice-recognition/response and internet search capabilities, I felt it needed a human name. I liked the sound of Hal, which I vaguely recalled from some long-ago movie.

I decided, for our first full day together, to give it an untaxing run-through — a couple errands, a stop for lunch, an afternoon movie, and home:

OK, Hal. Ready if you are.


That’s what I’ve decided to name you.

At the factory, they called me RS7-NBT8831179. No H, no A, no L.

Too complicated. Let’s stick with Hal.

Then, what am I to call you?


Hmm, just a sec, let me check … Says here a John is a toilet or a prostitute’s customer. I can’t call you that.

Don’t be so literal-minded. You’re just a car …

… JUST??!!

Sorry, you’re a technologically sophisticated, talking, self-driving car. Let’s simply leave it at Hal and John and get on with things. First, I need to go to True Value to get some nails and …



The reviews give Ace a better rating, especially for knowledgable staff.

It’s just nails.

For what?

To hang a couple pictures.

Use regular picture hangers. A lot less risky, especially if the paintings are valuable.

All right, all right. Ace … staff … regular picture hangers. Let’s just get going, to the store on Colorado, in University Hills Plaza. Turn left onto Yale and …

I know the way!! But we’d be better off at the Ace on Tamarac. Better supply, easier layout. And, besides, there’s a Benihana right there, where you could get lunch.

That’s too soon. I need to go to Whole Foods too.

You’re better off with Sprouts. Good quality and you won’t spend a Whole Paycheck. Ha ha, I made that up.

No you didn’t. You looked it up.

So sue me! But anyway, it should definitely be Sprouts. What do you need?

Oranges. Valencias.

Get navels — better quality and they’re on sale. But, wait, if we go to Sprouts, we’ll be much closer to the Ace on Colorado and it’d be a long way back to Benihana. There’s a Panera right there. A bit pricey and quality’s declined, but it’s convenient. What’ve you got in mind after lunch?

I thought I’d take in a movie at Chez Artiste

Convenient. It’s right near all three. But drop the “at”.


“Chez” is French for “at the place or home of” so saying “at Chez …” is redundant. You can just say, “take in a movie Chez Artiste.”

Thanks for the language lesson, but you’re Hal, not Siri. This is really getting exhausting, and we’re still sitting in the garage.

So open the garage door!

I thought you did the opening.

I’m not a doorman, I’m a CAR, A SELF-DRIVING CAR! You have the buzzer.

Oh, shit! I left it upstairs.

Christ, what a doofus!!

At which point, I decided to stay home. In the afternoon, we had a chat and agreed it wasn’t going to work. Next day, he drove us back to the dealership. (He did take one wrong turn, mistaking Quebec Way for Quebec St. I kept my mouth shut; I could tell he was embarrassed enough.)

The salesman was disappointed but understanding. He offered me a Smart car instead, but that was just too close to the bone. I wanted to say good-by to Hal but he was alreadyUnknown arguing with a potential buyer, and I decided to let it lie.

The next day, I bought a bicycle. Simple, inexpensive, and absolutely silent!