Getting Even

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The Direct Approach

imagesAlmost everyone loves Spring — the return of the crocus, the maple leaf, the robin and the swallow. Count me among the almost, for Spring also marks the return of the motorcycle. I hate motorcycles, especially the loud ones, which, as the joke goes, stop at every bar while their quiet cousins stop at every restaurant.

The issue came up recently, as my back-fence neighbor used a warm, sunny day to tune up his Harley, and reminded me diabolically of Sergei Grimm and the Dirt Bike.

Sergei Grimm lived near Cazenovia NY, close to the lake, at the end of a quiet cul-de-sac. He was a Russian immigrant — an engineer and urban-planner — and, at the end of his career, the head of Syracuse’s Housing Authority. At the time in question, he was also old, retired, and, although a generous soul who once lent his piano to a young music student, sometimes grouchy, regularly with reason.

At the entrance to Sergei’s cul-de-sac lived a family with a young son and his dirt bike. The dirt bike was fond of riding up and down the cul-de-sac, past Sergei’s house, where it did a persistent, slow double-pass as it turned noisily around.

On one otherwise mild summer day, after many laps of the cul-de-sac, the dirt bike coughed and collapsed … right in front of Sergei’s house. Rather than ask to be pushed home, the bike insisted on trying and trying and trying and trying again to restart.

Sergei was not pleased. He got an axe, opened the screen door, and marched toward the prostrate bike and the youth, who was trying desperately to resuscitate it. We don’t know if Sergei said anything. There was no need. The boy understood and fled, abandoning the bike to a lingering death, its bodily fluids ebbing slowly away.

(We also don’t know what, if anything, may have happened to Sergei as a consequence. His papers are archived at Syracuse University. Most of them deal with urban-planning and housing, though, at the bottom of the pile, there might be an old summons or a newspaper clipping.)

The Indirect Approach

Besides a tuned-up Harley and dreams of mayhem, this early Spring has also brought joyful new blooms. Within a single week, I’ve attended two soul-satisfying concerts, the first by the Choir of Concordia College, one of the best ever; the second by the Colorado Symphony Orchestra (CSO), likewise.

In the second half of the Choir’s concert, their Director, Rene Clausen, told of recently hearing a performance of America, the Beautiful, arranged by Colorado composer, Cecil Effinger. He and the Choir loved it and, at the last minute, added it to their concertUnknown-1 repertoire.

Initially, I wasn’t inclined to lend this any significance beyond welcoming a lovely and moving piece. It was both those, and more, and, when it was done, the audience rose and cheered. No one had to say anything. We knew what it meant.

Only a few days later, the CSO presented Robert Schumann’s Piano Concerto in A Minor, a beautiful piece played brilliantly by the orchestra and soloist Jeffrey Kahane, but not susceptible to any political interpretation.

The audience loved it (as they love Kahane, who was once Conductor of the CSO). They demanded and got an encore from Kahane that began, very quietly and unrecognizably, almost as if uncertain where to go, but slowly revealed itself as an introspective America, the Beautiful that subtly transposed into a minor key and finally, just as subtly, made its way back to its original, cautiously optimistic, major key.

Just as at the Concordia concert, the audience stood and cheered (well, as much as any refined classical audience can be said to cheer) and, just as before, no one had to say anything.

UnknownIt may not be marching on the Pentagon or joining a Pink Pussy Hat rally, but music hath power to stir, as it hath to soothe, the savage breast. Think of Bob Dylan or Woody Guthrie, or, far away on the Russian/Finnish border, Sibelius.

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Duck Donald

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imagesIn the few months since the elections, I’ve found myself uncharacteristically edgy. I managed the post-partum depression pretty well, but the residual effect kicked back in, especially in my left shoulder, my unfailing barometer of tension.

I tried a number of remedies:

  • Reading more fiction, always my refuge, but some vindictive demon seemed to stalk me: Madame Bovary (will surely end badly); Oliver Twist (if Fagin had built a hotel empire …); Heart of Darkness (will surely end in horror).
  • Watching more hockey on television, but my team, the Avalanche, were clearly in need of Federal Disaster Assistance, which I knew would not come.
  • Marching with proud women. They lifted my spirits, and I especially loved the sign that read PUTIN: RELEASE TRUMP’S TAX RETURNS, but my left shoulder still told me I needed to find a more lasting remedy.

I plunged back into crosswords and cryptics, usually an ideal distraction for a word nerd. Nada. Perhaps I was imagining some grand puzzle-constructor conspiracy, but it seemed that things persistently pointed back to the source of the problem: 15 Across: Go one better (TRUMP); 41 Down: Huey’s uncle (DONALD); 55 Down: Id’s governor (EGO); 63 Across: Enormous, slangily (YUGE).

I found temporary distraction in numbers. Sudoku, especially, offered politics-free, total concentration, but how long can you live in a world bounded by 1 and 9?

I thought of board games, but Monopoly is the only one around the house, and it’s just too close to the bone. Besides, if he’s not going to Jail, why should I?

I knew I had to go back to words, on my own terms. I decided to try medication (Editor’s note: that should be meditation). I knew I’d need a mantra and decided, why not, I’ll face my demon head on — Donald Trump, Donald Trump, Donald Trump, Donald Trump, DONALD TRUMP, DONALD TRUMP, DONALD FUCKING TRUMP, DONALD F …

No, that definitely wasn’t working. Perhaps, if I used his actual middle-name, it might work (in some cultures, evil spirits can only be conjured with their full name). I looked it up: Donald John Trump. OMG, his middle-name is my first name, and my Dad’s too, a good name, a name to trust — John the Baptist, Elton John, John Barleycorn, John Wilkes Booth … But, no, maybe that last one brings it too close to the edge.

Then I thought maybe the opposite tack would work — take Donald Trump and transform him, make an anagram of him, rearrange him like the Replicator in Star Wars or the Omega 13 in Galaxy Quest. OK, it’s just a diversion, but it gave me hours of exhausting pleasure:

DUMP OLD RANT … DAMP OLD RUNT
LOP DAMN TURD … MAD LORD, PUNT

PORN-MAD ‘DULT … DOLT AND RUMP
PRAT, DUN, MOLD … DONALD TRUMP

Try it. Start simple (MIKE PENCE = PEEK MINCE).  It’s word therapy and it works. Andunknown-1 let me know what you come up with. I’ve scarcely had a printable comment in years.

When Donald Met Jeeves

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imagesWe Americans may think of Jeeves and his employer, Bertie Wooster, as quintessentially British. What we may not realize is that, influenced by their biographer, P.G. Wodehouse, who became an American citizen, Jeeves and Bertie have long divided their time between London and New York.

President-Elect Trump, working on his high-level appointments andunknown-1 long fascinated by Jeeves’s fabled brilliance, invited him to Trump Tower one late-November evening:

Ah, Jeeves, I’m glad you could drop by.

One endeavors to give satisfaction.

Come again?! Oh yeah, I get your drift. You Brits are such a stitch. But I hope I’m not lobbing too many Americanisms at you.

Not at all, sir. A gentleman’s gentleman must always be cognisant of regional linguistic variations lest he do a disservice to his master through any failure to comprehend the lexical and dialectical idiosyncracies which comprise his quotidian encounters.

Ummm … yeah … that is so great … and so right … great … and right … really. Anyway, Jeeves, I understand you’re a first-class brainiac, especially after you’ve had a fish dinner. Is that true?

One does as one is able. As to the question of piscine alimentation, one would not wish to exaggerate its benefits, though one often does feel a postprandial effect upon one’s cerebral processes.

Yeah … sure … that thing you just said. Anyway, I do have a kinda problem I’d like your thoughts on. Some people say I’m a little too abrupt and, now that I’m about to be President, I gotta act more Presidential, use more elevated language, though frankly, between you and I …

Begging your pardon, sir, but the correct usage would be “between you and me” since the preposition renders its referent pronoun in the objective case.

Really? Good to know. Well, anyway, I think you see where I’m going with this.

Indeed, sir, there is that ratiocinative aspect of political discourse which, in reasonable balance with the emotive, augments the potential to render the recipient of one’s message susceptible to assent.

Y’know, Jeeves, I don’t have a fucking clue what you just said, but …

One does beg your pardon, sir. No offense was intended.

And none taken, my man. That’s exactly the point. Whatever it is you’re saying, you weave a spell that’s like when some delicious chick knocks your socks off and it takes time before you get your act together and can grab some pu….

A most apt simile, sir, though one would never wish to be thought of as someone who would willfully obfuscate.

If that word means what I think it means, count me as agreeing. Straight talk is what got me here — Bomb it; Build it; Grab it; Screw it — but sometimes you gotta make ‘em stop and think, float it at ‘em like a knuckleball, dazzle ‘em with your slider. But, I forgot, you probably don’t follow baseball.

To the contrary, sir, many have been the happy hours spent at Yankee Stadium, where I have thoroughly imbibed the jargon of America’s version of cricket.

Dammit, Jeeves, you are something else! You’ve convinced me. Here’s my proposition: I want you to be my White House Spokesman! You’re a goddam verbal magician! The stupid, lying media won’t know what hit ‘em!

Thank you, sir. One is humbled.

So, it’s a yes?

That would be somewhat premature, sir, and a transgression of the obligations one owes to one’s employer. However, considering such past successes as when one persuaded Mr. Wooster to remove his mustache and to cease wearing purple socks, one is confident that one will shortly be in a position to give satisfaction.

Great! Stay in touch, or rather, do endeavor to maintain telephonic contact. See, I’m getting the hang of it!

Very good, sir!

Gwen and Barack

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gwenimages-1

In the course of about two months, we will have lost two of our most comforting public figures: Gwen Iffill, who died on November 14, and Barack Obama, who leaves office on January 20.

Calling them comforting may seem almost condescending, as if they were cuddly puppies or down-filled blankets on a cold morning. They are much, much more (I refuse to use the past tense). But comforting does sum up both their personal warmth (Gwen, a little more than Barack) and the thoughtfulness, fairness, and integrity — call it character — that clothes a core of burnished steel.

We sometimes call our President our Comforter-in-Chief, and Barack has too often had to reassure us that the sun will rise tomorrow.

It is not quite so apparent that a journalist might fill that role, but Walter Cronkite, a stern but kindly uncle, did it after the Kennedy assassination. Gwen has done it, under less fraught circumstances, more like a loving parent, letting us know that, as bad as the news may be, it is not the end of the world.

One should never fall in love with one’s newscaster. I stepped across that particular boundary long ago. What could I do? That beautiful face, that glorious, toothsome smile, that laugh.

There is less danger that one will fall in love with one’s President. He (She, next time!) has to be as enigmatic as open. There are secrets to be guarded, interests to be manipulated, players to be orchestrated.

Gwen, the mother; Barack, the father.

The days and months ahead will see changes in policy and changes in the substance and style of the media, but, as always, we and our ship of state will be slow to turn. Each of us will have some victories and some defeats. More jarring, but no less important, will be the personal effect of changes in attitude, style, personality, and, deeper still, spirit, values, and character.

We may long for the likes of these two, who have embodied goodness and given solace. If we are in despair, at least we will have the comfort of knowing that such people are possible.

We Lost It, But Let’s Not Completely Lose It!

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imagesSnatching victory from the jaws of defeat is laudable. Snatching defeat from the jaws of victory is lamentable. Snatching defeat from the jaws of defeat is laughable, but a few of us liberals apparently want to give it a try.

One way to do it is to urge Trump’s Presidential Electors to vote their conscience. Conscience!? Our whole campaign was based on the premise that Trump and his acolytes have no conscience. Why would they be different now, after they’ve won? (Perhaps we want to make them die laughing?)

Even if there might be a few who would forsake the darkness for the light, who’s to say that the call of conscience might not persuade as many Hillary supporters, drawn by the aroma of victory, to cross in the other direction? We liberals may think of ourselves as angels, but we shouldn’t forget that Lucifer was simply an angel who saw an attractive job-opening.

There’s something more serious in this spasm of mindlessness. One of the pillars of our opponents‘ temple is States Rights, a philosophy that, though grounded in the Constitution, has reeked of bigotry, injustice, and violence since the Civil War.

The Electoral College is, in a way, a protector of States Rights, designed originally to keep the Union intact by giving the less populous states of the South greater political weight than their raw popular vote would have warranted. In this election, States Rights states, in the South and beyond, were, by and large, Trump states.

To a liberal, for whom the Federal Government is usually a better guarantor of consistency, fairness and justice than is the theology of States Rights (remember civil rights legislation), it might seem nonsensical to favor the Electoral College over the popular vote. The alternative, however, would radicalize these angry states, drive them further to the right, and into the arms of the Voldemort also known as Texas.

Another good way to discredit our liberal principles would be to support the stated intent of some city and state political leaders not to cooperate with, possibly even to stymie, Federal immigration efforts now that Trump is to be President. It was only a couple years ago that we were blasting Arizona, and the notorious Sheriff Joe Arpaio, for interfering in immigration policies which, we argued, were the prerogative of the Federal Government.

Have these policies suddenly devolved to the individual states, each with its own policy and border control? Have liberals become States Righters? Just because there are fundamental moral issues involved doesn’t mean we should change our strategic position that, over the course of time, the Federal Government is the best bet for giving moral principles the force of law.

If you lose the game, you don’t change the rules so that they favor your particular weaknesses. You remedy the weaknesses. The Cubs got a new front office, a new manager,unknown new players, a new attitude. They didn’t pout, at least not for long.

OK, so the Presidency isn’t as important as the World Series. But pretend it is. Otherwise, it could be 108 years before we get back to the White House. That’s a long time to pout.

What I Learned on the Campaign Trail

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images-6I did a lot of Hillary canvassing this year. I had to, in order to stay at least borderline sane. There is something comforting in going door-to-door, with simple questions — Are you registered? Have you decided? Will you vote? Have you voted? — as Election Day approaches.

Grand strategy and weighty policy positions are important. But it’s the ground-game that does the gritty job. In our post-election wake, organizers said that Hillary’s victory margin in Colorado was largely attributable to the canvass effort. Consolation, though small.

At my advanced age, it’s an open question whether I’ll be able to pound pavements and climb stairs four years hence when Elizabeth Warren or Kristen Gillibrand challenges Trump. So, it’s vital to share lessons learned:

Dogs: With a dog at-home ratio of one-in-two, and humans only one-in-six, you are more likely to be bitten than punched. Don’t take the yapping personally. They sound like Trump supporters, but they can’t vote … yet.

Dog Owners: At least they know you’re there, even if the doorbell is broken or your first knock was inaudible. They’re usually apologetic. Use that advantage to press home your message. You may have to shout.

Doorbells: A recent study shows that Democrats’ doorbells are twice as likely to be broken as Republicans’. If you can’t hear the ding-dong, assume the worst and knock. No one’s going to admit they heard you the first time, but ignored you.

Knocking: Since most doors require a hard knock (the majority of Democrats’ door-knockers also do not work), be sure occasionally to give your favored knocking hand a break. The Party wants to shed its bloody-knuckles image.

Holding Your Clipboard: Alternating your knocks means shifting your clipboard from hand-to-hand. Now, your knocking-hand is holding and your holding-hand is knocking. In that confused state, and considering all the rest you have to remember in order not to fall down the stairs, concentrate especially on your name. If you can remember that, the rest is easy.

Holding Your Clipboard in a Windstorm: Your clipboard contains all your contact pages, which you must regularly remove from the top and re-insert at the bottom; plus reams of promotional material you are expected to slide, hang, stuff, or wedge. Your clipboard is briefly very vulnerable. One gust at the wrong moment could get you nine months for littering. Be exceptionally careful; better yet, ask to be reassigned to a large, non-gusty, apartment building.

Large Apartment Buildings: Getting through the lobby door is the challenge. Fortunately,images-1 Democrats tend to live in buildings with broken front-door locks and laid-back tenants. If only for that reason, I’m glad I’m a Democrat.

No Soliciting Signs: When canvassers swap stories after-hours, the biggest laugh-getter is the No Soliciting sign, the canvassing equivalent of the Do Not Block This Intersection sign. Ignore it but, on the very slim chance you do get yelled at, apologize and go immediately to a different floor or neighboring house, and continue your rounds unafraid. The Party has very good lawyers.

Keep Yourself Well-Watered: It does the campaign no good to have canvassers collapsing at people’s front doors (though the possibility of a sympathy vote shouldn’t be dismissed). Carry a water bottle. But be judicious. Having finally gained entry to a buttoned-up building, there is nothing more self-defeating than sacrificing it all for a pee.

Keep Yourself Well-Peed: Pee if you must. The Party may be rigorous taskmasters, but they don’t want to lose their troops to kidney failure. Before you start, have a pee-plan — the nearest Starbucks, a gas station, a 7/11. But don’t let your guilt at using their facilities induce you to buy a coffee or a Slurpee, which will keep you on an endless urinary merry-go-round and could cost the Party votes.

imagesAbove All, Have Fun: Most people are pretty nice, and some really appreciate what you’re doing. Even if it was only one vote that, otherwise, wouldn’t have gone our way, You Made a Difference!

God Loves Baseball …

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… and, it seems, He follows it religiously. Otherwise, why would all those players kiss their finger-tips and, gazing beatifically, point toward heaven after a decisive home run or a rally-ending third strike?

You don’t see this in hockey, basketball, football, or soccer, where God must be watching, at least for form’s sake, since He is present in all things.

Perhaps God loves baseball more.

It’s possible. He’d have to be inhuman not to be thrilled by a pitch as fast as a race car; a leap above the outfield wall to pick off a home run; an infielder’s graceful double-play pirouette at second. Why else but for love of The Game would He have created Willie Mays, Joe DiMaggio, and Ernie Banks (but not Pete Rose or Alex Rodriguez)?

It seems, too, that God doesn’t simply watch. He intervenes. What’s more, so our worshipful players seem to be saying, He takes sides, blessing the stalwart home run hitter and damning the errant pitcher, even though both are equally His creatures.

How could this be? After all, this is not a case of good vs. evil (unless you’re a Red Sox fan and the Yankees are involved).

Some argue that God isn’t really taking sides. In a perfectly just world, He will, in time, bless the victimized pitcher with a crucial strikeout just as He may make the once-proud home run hitter the victim of this very strikeout. And, since pitcher and hitter are simply parts of a larger game, God assures equity by seeing to it that, at the end of the season, the combined wins of all the teams exactly equal their combined losses. What could be fairer?

Others, however, question this reasoning, asking how, but for His malign intervention, could the Cubs and Indians have gone more than a combined 160 years without winning a World Series? And, though one of them must win the 2016 Series, He still took an unconscionably long time to bend the arc of the universe toward justice!

This brings us to the question whether, beyond individual instances, God favors those players who demonstratively thank Him for His blessing over those who do not. In the long run, do the former hit more home runs or toss more strikeouts than the latter?

Statisticians have investigated and come to a startling conclusion: no matter what the measure (batting average, home run total, pitching wins and losses, earned run average and the like), players who publicly praise Him rank significantly below those who do not.

Interestingly, players in the higher-ranking group include those who credit Him, but privately, and those who credit themselves, even the publicly boastful chest-thumpers.

In other words, God uniquely punishes those who publicly credit Him with their success. If He is just, why would this be so?

Theories abound: God is not pleased to have His obsession with baseball made public; He feels he must counter the assumption that He is biased; He wants to make it clear that, in the 2016 World Series, though He wants justice for both teams, only one of them can escape its sad history.

No one knows for sure, though there is a growing body of opinion that, in those whounknown publicly attribute their personal success to Him, God sees, not modesty, but a kind of juvenile pridefulness (God loves Me best!), and THIS REALLY PISSES HIM OFF!

America the Beeeautiful

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My dedicated reader knows that I am not fond of The Star Spangled Banner. I have long unknownwished we could substitute America the Beautiful, which has a nice, singable tune, and celebrates aspects of America — especially its extraordinary physical beauty — that all of us, whatever our ethnicity, gender identity, race, creed, or political persuasion, might agree on.

Be cautious what you wish for! I was excited to learn recently that Donald Trump, seemingly agreeing with my sentiment, intends to make America the Beautiful our national anthem when he becomes president, and that he, too, finds the theme of extraordinary physical beauty compelling. His interpretation, however, is slightly different, as his changes in the words suggest:

O beeeautiful for spacious thighs, for Amber, Dawn, and Jane,
For nippled mountains’ majesties above their “fruited plain!”
America! America!  god shed his grace on Me
And crown My good with all things nude, from she to shining she.

O beeeautiful for pretty feet that, with impassioned stress,
Upon My chest divinely beat, while I look up their dress.
America! America! god bless Me, without flaw.
Confirm My soul, but don’t control, My liberty! My law!

O beeeautiful for bimbos proved more luscious than My wife,
Who more than self their master loved and foreplay more than life!
America! America! May god My gold refine
Till My success be happiness and every gain be Mine!

beeeautiful, voluptuous dream that sees beyond the years.
Mine alabaster cities gleam, and damn the human tears!
America! America! god shed his grace on Me
And crown My good with plenitude from Me to shining Me.

If nothing else influences your vote on November 8, think of what you might be forced toimages stand and sing at the beginning of the next ballgame!

 

Agony Anthem Revisited

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th-5The I Did It My Way version of our National Anthem causes me pain. I dutifully stand, eyes closed, victimized. I want to sit, with my fingers in my ears, but haven’t the courage. My coward’s refuge has been my seniors’-night-out fictional alter-egos, whose booing set off a riot at a local hockey game as a student group lacerated the Scar Strangled Banger (Agony Anthem; October, 2011).

When I first heard of Colin Kaepernick’s decision to sit out the National Anthem at an NFL football game, I cheered, fleetingly imagining an aesthetic ally. When I learned the real motivation — his protest at America’s treatment of African-Americans — I realized I was wrong.

But was he wrong?th-3

He certainly raised a whirlwind! How could he dishonor the two great symbols of our country — our flag and our anthem? How could he so disrespect those who defend the freedoms these symbols represent? How could he threaten football’s hallowed place in the American psyche?

In an on-line vote that The Denver Post publishes daily with, at most, a few thousand responses, its question about Kaepernick’s action got over 62,000 responses, about 80% of them negative.

Condemnation, however, was not universal. Some pointed out that, by taking so public and controversial an action, he was, simply and courageously, exercising America’s most fundamental right — free speech — whose protection, especially of controversial speech, our flag and anthem symbolize.

In following weeks, other football players joined Kaepernick’s protest, kneeling rather than sitting, a new posture Kaepernick also adopted.

Kaepernick was not wrong to sit, and he and his fellow players were, subsequently, not wrong to kneel, just as the majority — players and fans alike — were not wrong to remain standing. All were exercising their rights and contributing to a lively debate that is the essence of free speech.

However, their choices, all of them, came with limitations. Sitting does differentiate the sitter from the standing majority, but its implication is passive opting out. Kneeling, too, differentiates the kneeler from the standee, but its symbolism of subservience is probably not the message these protesters would want to send. Standing is strong, but, like sitting, leaves little room for nuance.

There is a possible compromise: the crouch. The croucher is a standee with attitude, moving down into the middle ground, symbolizing neither apathy nor fanaticism, but rather a give-and-take attitude that is the catalyst of democracy. The croucher can dip to whatever level is appropriate to the occasion — bending the knees slightly to signal agreement but with reservation, or hunkering all the way down in a posture of strong, but not absolute, dissent.

Exceptions, like recent knee- or hip-replacements, would be accommodated. Partisans at either extreme would still have the right either to stand tall or sit tight. But the rest should be pleased at the chance for a more accurate, calibrated expression of the moderate views most of us hold. Stronger thighs and better balance are an added bonus.

I can report favorably from personal experience. Recently, I gave a crouching ovation to a performance of The Glass Menagerie, voicing my reservations at its fevered overwriting and the lead’s mannered acting, but still applauding the other actors, who triumphed over the play’s weaknesses.

th-4I was relieved not to have to sit defiantly as all about me rose to their feet, but, standing at half-mast, to be able to express my divided emotions and, by the way, getting the kinks out of legs stiff from sitting through a very long play.

I have recommended my solution to Mr. Kaepernick as a way to remain standing while expressing his views with a deep knee-bend that, by the way, should help keep him warmed up for what really counts.

I’m expecting a response any day now.