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I'm a changeling (see me change)



I’ll take your Doors vinyl
As old as my father
As old as you

I’ll take your box of
Lizard faces
Engraved on pages of
Unwritten words

I’ll spend your time
Carelessly, like
Money for blow or smokes

When the music’s over
I’ll ghost away,
Tossing words of embroidery
Over my shoulder

Never noticing the thread is
Coming unraveled and you’re
Sharpening scissors.

The wrinkles inside my brain



It’s 10:15 a.m. when the coffee kicks in. I look at the floors. I have to run the vacuum cleaner over them, even though I ran it at 6 last night and they’re clean.

The bathroom’s white tile floor will need the most work. I’ll vacuum it once to pick up each speck that six dogs and three people track into the room. Then I’ll go over it again.

And then I’ll get on my hands and knees and clean each tile with a disinfectant wipe, even though I did it yesterday. I’ll use several wipes, even though I cleaned the floor last night. I’ll open the windows and close the door to make sure a whiff of the wipers doesn’t whisper into the rest of the house.

When the coffee kicks in, I’m sitting at my desk and see dust on the office furniture, so I add cleaning it to the day’s must-do list. I’ll have to empty every shelf and clear every surface, wiping them down with spray cleaner and a paper towel. Then I’ll have to polish it, just in case I left behind any streaks from the spray cleaner.
But first, I must ...Collapse )

'We are all the stuff of the stars'



"For my part, I know nothing with any certainty, but the sight of stars makes me dream," Vincent van Gogh said.

Stars don’t make me dream as much as they remind me how amazing the universe is. Take starlight, for instance.

Looking at starlight is like traveling back in time because, depending on a star’s distance from Earth, its light can take as little as four years to get here, or as many as 7,000.

Think about it the next time you’re looking at the Big Dipper. Light from its closest star takes 79 years to reach Earth. For the farthest, it’s 123 years. When I’m stargazing, I can’t wrap my mind around the idea that I’m looking at slices of history.

Still, we can make some sense of the night sky. Constellations help us see stars as groups rather than as scattered points of light.

Last summer, I spent more time stargazing than I ever have, and I began trying to learn constellations I didn’t already know. Many people can recognize at least a couple. The Big Dipper is probably best known. This time of year, easy-to-spot Orion (the Hunter) dominates the south sky.

I learn constellations by starting with ones I know and then trying to learn their neighbors. If a constellation has a bright star or distinct shape, it’s usually easy to figure out.

Once you can pick out the Big Dipper and Little Dipper, for example, it’s easy to find Draco (the Dragon) snaking between them. Once you know Orion, it’s easy to spot Canis Major (the Great Dog) scampering at Orion’s heel.

And after you use the brightest stars in Orion and Canis Major as guides to find the relatively obscure Canis Minor, you’ll be hooked. It’s a great way to relax.

You may be content with lying back on a blanket or folding lounge, looking at the constellations and planets, and watching for satellites and shooting stars. Or maybe you’ll want to look for more: nebulas, star clusters and galaxies other than our Milky Way. To see them, though, you need a telescope.

The most common advice for newbies is to buy a good beginner’s telescope instead of paying hundreds of dollars more for a better one, because it may turn out you won’t use it as much as you expect.

With warmer spring weather coming—and, I hope, clearer skies—I just ordered a small telescope. It cost less than $140, including shipping.

As I use it, I’ll be reminded of just how small our place in the universe is. But despite the smallness, we are still part of it.

Owsley Stanley, a key figure in the West Coast countercultural movement in the 1960s, said, "We are all here by the grace of the big bang. We are all literally the stuff of the stars."

Perhaps that’s why we look up at night—to be reassured that eventually, we’ll return to where we started and shine again.

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Donald at the bat



The outlook wasn’t brilliant down in Washington that day.
The score stood three to nothing with one inning more to play.
There were two outs and no one on. The crowd had no hopes that
The Donald, mighty Donald, would soon get a turn at bat.

But Bannon strode up to the plate—the bottom of the order—
And asked the catcher, “Did you sneak your way across the border?
“I know you are a Mexican—a most unsavory man.
“And once this game is finished, we’ll deport you if we can.”

Bannon stood beside the plate and hate filled up his mind,
He smashed a pitch and put it just inside the right-field line.
The fielder’s throw held him at first. He flashed an evil grin
And shouted, “All we’re going to do is win and win and win.”

The next man up was Spicer, who was batting next to last.
You’ve never heard a ballplayer talk more loudly or so fast.
His eyes bugged out, he ground his teeth, he snarled and he sneered.
The catcher heard the umpire say, “This guy is pretty weird.”

Spicer was a pitcher and was known throughout the land
For his combative throwing style. When pitches left his hand,
They made opponents laugh and mutter time and time again,
“I’ve never seen a pitcher who was so inept at spin!”

Spicer stepped and dug his cleats into the batter’s box.
His turns at bat were always news—especially on Fox.
Spicer hit a grounder and somehow the ball got through.
Now Bannon stood on second and Spicer was safe too.

With two men on, the fans were hoping for a winning play
When from the on-deck circle stepped Kellyanne Conway.
Her first swing clipped the baseball, but it went flying foul.
Rules say strike, but she said, “No, it’s alternative ball.”

The pitcher threw a knuckleball, and Conway swung and missed.
The fans began to mutter, “We don’t like the looks of this.
“Her batting average isn’t good, and though she has the nerve,
“She misses on the change-ups and she cannot hit a curve.”

With just one pitch now standing between victory and defeat,
Conway chopped the baseball right toward the pitcher’s feet.
The pitcher tried to fire to first. Instead, his effort floated.
It got there late. Conway was safe, and bases were now loaded.

The fans full knew the consequences of the pitcher’s blunder,
And up arose a mighty roar that sounded loud as thunder.
The women waved their handkerchiefs, the men tossed up their hats,
For Donald, mighty Donald, was assured a turn at bat.

The Donald raised his hand aloft to silence the crowd’s din,
And said, “This is a victory that I alone can win.
“Hillary was a loser and Obama was one, too,
“But all will watch in shock and awe at everything I do.

“I know that we’re down three, but I inherited a mess.
“What other batters would do now is lose the game, I guess.
“But I will stand here at the plate, and with a mighty swing,
“Will hit a winning homer and make baseball great again.”

The Donald swung at the first pitch, but all he hit was air.
He ran his little fingers through his oddly colored hair.
The pitcher quickly threw again and Donald watched it go.
“Strike two!” the umpired shouted out, and Donald shouted, “No!

“Fake strike!” he hollered. “Phony ump—for sure your eyesight’s failing!
“It’s all Bill Clinton’s fault!” he cried, all sputtering and wailing.
He kicked the dirt, he kicked the plate, spat on the umpire’s shoes,
Which led the ump to say, “I’ve almost had enough of you.”

The Donald scowled and then he turned to swing another time
And looped a flaccid pop fly high along the left field line.
The ball flew like a dying bird and drifted toward the stands,
Where it was caught by a young boy, who grabbed it with his hand.

The Donald stood there pouting in a raging consternation.
“These crooked pitches all require investigation!”
Then he turned to face the pitcher, who smiled wide, then he
Fired a fastball past the Donald. The umpire called, “Strike three!”

In the postgame locker room, Donald spotted a reporter,
And with an energetic wave, he shouted, “Come on over!
“It must have been a thrill for all the media to see
“How I turned defeat to a win—and singlehandedly!”

The sports guy said to Donald, “What’s all this you talk about?
“You didn’t win the game at all. In fact, you made an out.”
The Donald said, “You loser! Did you watch the game at all?
“I hit a winning homer high above the left-field wall.

“It was a hit the likes of which the world has never seen.”
The writer said, “You hit a foul. I think that you must be
“On drugs or drink. A youngster caught that ball with just one hand.
“And now you say that your weak sauce was really something grand.”

The writer turned and walked away. The Donald muttered, “Sad!
“I won the game all by myself. He must not understand.”
But all his teammates glared at him, and one began to shout,
“It was no homer that you hit. The Donald has struck out.”

Trying to live a life of respect and joy




This is my latest column for the local newspaper. It appeared today.

A Facebook friend and I have been discussing America’s future in light of the tone of our times.

It’s easy to predict nothing but gloom. Washington lacks leaders who can unite and inspire us. Instead, politicians divide us. Because of this leadership vacuum, people worry about their futures.

It’s not as bad as it seems.

For some perspective, watch the CNN series "The Sixties" on Netflix. Anxiety hangs over us, but 55 years ago, a turbulent decade started with the Cuban Missile Crisis—a confrontation over nuclear weapons between the United States and Russia. We stood at the brink of apocalypse.

During the 1960s, our nation faced upheaval—often violent—related to civil rights, racism, the war in Vietnam, and the slaughter of leaders such as John F. Kennedy, Robert Kennedy, Malcolm X and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Democracy itself was threatened in 1968 by thuggish police brutality at the Democratic National Convention.

And the Cold War loomed over all of it.

Yet we endured—not without bruises, but nonetheless, we endured.

Today, with polarization roiling the land, Americans are wondering about the future of hope. What can we as individuals do to restore it?

It begins with small acts of individual kindness. When I taught at St. Bonaventure, I learned about the university’s Franciscan values. To me, the most important one is to recognize the dignity and worth of every person.

This value transcends religion. It can be part of all of our lives.

How can we put this value to work? By saying hello to strangers. Smiling. Lingering to hold doors open for the people behind us. Paying compliments. Listening, instead of waiting for our turns to talk. And by reacting to life with joy—another Franciscan value.

We can each hope for a miracle that results in our bringing about sweeping, positive change. But it’s more realistic to believe each of us is a sandbag, working together to protect society from a flood of turmoil.

As the Sixties showed, democracy is tumultuous. It’s more clamorous today because everybody has a megaphone, thanks to social media, and social media grants anonymity to cowardly expressions of hate.

But in the ‘60s, Americans made society better—not perfect, yet better.

We are in bruising times again, yet we will endure—again.

Reading the creek, hearing the water


There's a creek about a five-minute walk from my house that the state stocks with trout. I've fished in it just twice, longer ago than I can remember, so I decided to revisit it last week to see how much it has changed and whether it's worth fishing in again.

Change: That's all streams do. Moving water cuts new channels, and old channels dry up. Trees, bushes and weeds fill the vacancies; often, it's hard to tell where the stream bed was. Once-deep pools fill with gravel and silt. And beaver dams can utterly change a stream's character.

This is not, though, a post about fishing. It's a post about trying to purge the never-ending din of living out of my head, if but briefly.

Walking along a woodland trout stream is hard work. Really. Growing trees line the banks; fallen trees need to be stepped over, making walking in a straight line impossible.

I have to pick my way through, under and around low-hanging branches. Vines catch hold of boots, arresting steps, causing stumbles and falls. Many of those vines have thorns that will draw blood even before I can say "ouch!"

When I don't wear a cap, branches scrape my bald head. Short-sleeved arms are left scratched and gashed. Fallen trees require a lot of stepping over. There are banks to climb, some of them steep. A tumble down them and a serious injury are a mere slip away.

There's always the possibility of stepping unawares into a woodchuck hole and breaking an ankle or leg. Cell phone reception to call for help is spotty at best.

In short, walking along a trout stream requires attention, caution and effort. The other day, my hundred-channels-of-noise brain quieted down to two channels. One was The Voice—the writer's voice. It's the voice that transcribes what I'm doing at the moment. It's almost always on. The second channel kept repeating a riff before the outro to the song "San Ber'dino" by Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention.

That's about as quiet as my heads gets.

The temperature was in the mid-60s, and I caught a couple of whiffs of the land waking up after winter. Just hints, though. The land is still sleeping off the cold.

The first hundred yards of the creek revealed promise for holding fish after I read the water for a while. It's one thing to look at water flowing by; it's another thing to read it. To read a stream is to look at it, to look beneath the surface and figure out where fish are hiding by watching how and where the water moves.

Once I worked my way upstream from that stretch, though, the water slowed down. It went silent. A silent stream holds no trout. Where the fish lurk, the water is always talking. The runs, the riffles, the splashes, the current sloshing against rocks—it's always there, speaking a language that says nothing and everything.

Once the stream quit talking, I noticed the noise of passing cars and trucks on the well-traveled, nearby county road. I realized how much I was sweating, how many gashes the thorns had torn in my arm, how tired my legs were, how thirsty I was.

The din of life's voices began to fill my head again. How I wish the water had kept talking.

When I taught introductory newswriting at St. Bonaventure, I would ask students two questions about stories they had written: What’s new here? What’s different?

Coverage of President Trump’s press conference last week reminded me of those questions. Reporters told us how contentious the event was, and Trump reprised his “fake news” complaints.

This isn’t news anymore. So why was it part of the coverage?
News Inc.Collapse )

Nobody's home



I am fighting to evict someone from a house in my head.

The lease is with a guest long vanished, but the house’s contents remain intact.

Inside lights have been dark for a year.

Snow on steps is free of footmarks. Rain overflows leaf-clogged eaves.

Newspapers flap against porch railings like trapped birds. Mail overflows the box.

This will happen:

Sun will bleach siding, exposing its grain, and it will gnarl in rain.

The roof will leak, warping floors.

Pipes will burst. The furnace will die.

The foundation will crumble; the house will list and fall. Rubble will tumble into the cellar, hidden by weeds and thriving vines.

This I will say:

The house was mine, but the tenant ruined it.

Leasebreaker.

Stop. Go.



I’m sitting on the front porch.

If you walk by and say hi, I’ll say hi.

If you stop your walk to talk, we’ll talk.

If you pass without looking, lost in thought, I’ll let you go. I won’t chase to say hey! C’mon back!

DeVos or Miley Cyrus: It's all the same


Betsy DeVos: as clueless as a cup of yogurt

Any U.S. senator who votes to confirm Betsy DeVos as secretary of education should be jammed into a burn barrel and launched into the Potomac River.

DeVos is as qualified for the position as a paperboy is to dispose of nuclear waste at West Valley. Worse, she is foaming at the mouth for a chance to gut the American educational system to make way for profiteering at the expense of kids’ educations.

She was as clueless as a cup of yogurt at her Senate confirmation hearing Tuesday. As Charles P. Pierce reported at Esquire.com: “Committee chairman Lamar Alexander locked the committee into a one round of questioning in which the members each had five minutes,” adding, “The strategy of putting DeVos' nomination on a rocket sled so as to avoid exposing too much of her abysmal lack of qualifications was so obvious as to be insulting.”

Her defenders probably would support Miley Cyrus for the position had she been nominated. After all, Cyrus shakes things up! She’s an outsider! The best qualification is having no qualifications at all!
A menace to educationCollapse )

Cyrus also has enough cash to buy confirmation votes. As Politico reported, “DeVos and her husband, Dick, have donated to the campaigns of 17 senators who will consider her nomination — four of whom sit on the Senate education committee that oversees the process,” adding, “DeVos’ contributions to the lawmakers who will decide her fate stand out in a year in which President-elect Donald Trump has pledged to ‘drain the swamp’ of Washington politics.”

DeVos ducked the dollars when Sen. Bernie Sanders asked how much money her family has contributed to the Republican party over the years. As Forbes.com reported, she said she didn’t know. Sanders said he heard it was $200 million. DeVos: “That’s possible.”

It must be nice to have so much money that you can’t be sure where $200 million went.

She responded with a barrage of bafflegab when Sen. Patty Murray asked, “Can you commit that you will not work to privatize public schools and cut a single penny for public education?" That question could have been answered with a simple yes or no—but here’s how DeVos replied:

"I look forward to working with you to talk about how to address the needs of all parents and students, and we acknowledged today that not all schools are working for the students assigned to them. I am hopeful we can work together to find common ground in ways we can solve those issues and empower parents to make choices on behalf of their children that are right for them."

Those 70 words contain as much substance as cotton candy.

Fox News reported DeVos “has for decades used the family’s influence and wealth in her home state of Michigan to advocate for charter schools and promote conservative religious values.”

In Michigan, about 80 percent of the state’s charters are operated for profit, according to the New York Times. Who is going to stop profiteers from cutting costs for the sake of profits, shortchanging kids in the process?

Here’s how charter schools should work: Every child in every school district should be selected for admission based on a lottery. Districts should be required provide transportation to those schools so poorer students can get there.

In that system, let’s see what parents of the remaining students say about taxpayer dollars being diverted from public schools to charter schools.

Then there’s DeVos’ love of the idea that parents should be given vouchers—public funds—so they can afford to send their children to private schools, especially ones that promote the conservative religious values she espouses. It’s all about student choice, she says.

Here’s the choice parents should make: Choose to send your kids to a public school, or choose to find ways to afford sending them to private schools. Don’t ask taxpayers for handouts.

As for church-affiliated schools, religious values should be taught to students at home or in churches. The government has no business spending money to promote those values.

For those who fear government overreach in education, consider this from Logan Albright, writing for Conservative Review: “Yes, federal vouchers would allow you to take your child to a private or religious school you otherwise might not be able to afford, but it also hands the federal government the purse strings of those institutions. If a school teaches something the government doesn’t like, there is always the threat of reclassifying the school in order to deny it voucher money.”

If the full Senate confirms DeVos, it will be an insult to students, parents, teachers and anyone who cares about public education. Instead, she should be considered for the post of secretary of the interior.

After all, she seems to know something about bears.

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The blues in the key of karma


John Lee Hooker

About a month ago, I got a Facebook friend request from a woman whose name sounded familiar. I couldn’t place it, though.

The moment after I opened the request, but the instant before I saw her picture, I remembered: She was my first serious girlfriend from college. I hadn’t heard from her in more than 40 years.

In that sliver of a second after recognizing her, I expected something to happen: a gasp, a surge of adrenaline, a quickened heartbeat. Instead, nothing happened. I was merely looking at a picture of a stranger whose name I knew. The not-feeling was unlike anything I’ve ever experienced.

I don’t remember much about her. Our time together occurred decades ago, and my brain has long since jettisoned those memories. Here’s what I do remember: Unlike my friends and me, she didn’t get high or use other drugs. She didn’t drink to get drunk, and she didn’t smoke cigarettes. She was a David Bowie fan. We never fought. That’s all I’ve got.
Back and forth in timeCollapse )

A shot from today's press conference

Here’s my take on Donald Trump’s press conference today. It’s not as well written or comprehensive as I would like it to be, which reflects how news is reported today: as quickly as possible, regardless of depth, context or polished prose. This took 31 minutes, which would not pass muster these days. I ran spell-check and then took just a quick read through it to look for typos and grammatical errors.

I just finished watching President-elect Trump’s first press conference, and my foremost impression is what a poor job the reporters did with their questioning. They often asked two or three questions at a time. The best (worst?) example of this was a series of questions by Major Garrett of CBS news, who asked about Trump’s tweet about Nazi Germany, his plan to nominate a Supreme Court justice, and Trump’s plan for a border wall between the U.S. and Mexico. I have to admit I chuckled at Trump’s response: “Do you have any more?”

The problem with the bam-bam-bam question strategy is that it allows the interview subject to answer the easier (or easiest) questions and then pivot away from the other two.

The TV is still on in the other room, and Garrett is complaining that Trump didn’t address his question about Trump’s Nazi Germany tweet. Well, duh.

The reporters also were unwilling to depart from their own lists of questions. Trump said several things that he should have been pressed on—how Congress will be able to replace the Affordable Care Act and replace it, in Trump’s words, “essentially simultaneously.” He called this “very complicated stuff,” and in my opinion, that’s a vast understatement, especially given that if the Republicans have a replacement plan ready to go, no one knows any details about it. Trump said the new plan will be “far less expensive and better.” I hope so, but I’m skeptical to the point of cynicism.

For what it’s worth, the press conference took an hour between Trump’s opening remarks and the end of the press conference. He spoke for 10 minutes before taking questions. The first round of questions lasted 10 minutes, and then a lawyer from a legal firm Trump had hired spent 15 minutes explaining what Trump planned to do to remove himself as far from his business dealings as possible and to demonstrate he has no plans to benefit from the office of president. I couldn’t help but think that had he done this, say, a month ago, he could have gotten in front of the stories about conflict of interest, emollients, etc.

A few more thoughts:

■ gave him a grade of C-minus on his tie knot. Very sad!

■ at his praise for media outlets like the New York Times, which he thought showed good judgment in the way they handled yesterday’s story about Trump’s alleged Russia connections. I read the Times story and, to be honest, I thought he’d criticize it. He clearly wasn’t happy with CNN, though, and seemed to be getting nasty with them toward the end of the press conference. (I don’t know, though, because I was on the phone with my wife, who had one of our dogs at a veterinarian’s office.)

■ Trump said, “I have no dealings with Russia.” Seems to me I heard one of his sons say something to the contrary several weeks ago.

■ Most-interesting quotation: “If Putin likes Donald Trump, guess what, folks? That’s an asset, not a liability.” Putin is a dangerous man whose sole interest is creating discord in America to erode our political process. Trump needs to handle him the same way he’d handle a puff adder.

■ Trump said “the only ones who care about my tax returns” are reporters. I don’t think so. I’d like to see if he has financial ties with Russian companies.

■ Trump quotation that ranked a 10 out of 10 on the no-kidding scale: “Intelligence agencies are necessary and very, very important.” That didn’t stop him from suggesting earlier that those agencies were leaking to the media material that made him look bad.

That’s all I’ve got. Other media outlets no doubt have different and more substantial reactions.

Kelly is worth every penny

Here's my latest column for our local newspaper.



Dollar signs danced through my head after news last week about Megyn Kelly, Congressman Tom Reed and Obamacare. Let’s start with Kelly and her new NBC paycheck, with its eight figures to the left of the decimal point.

Fox News wanted to keep Kelly so badly they reportedly offered her $20 million a year to stay. A Newsweek report pegged the offer at $25 million.

According to the Wall Street Journal, Kelly was making $15 million in the final year of her contract with Fox, so let’s assume she’ll make $20 million a year at NBC, give or take a few million.

Is Kelly worth it? She’s certainly worth it to NBC if she can do what network executives hope: increase ratings, particularly among viewers age 25-54. For broadcasters, that demographic is a mother lode of profit.
Is she worth it because of her journalism skills? Certainly not.

What do you imagine the combined annual salaries are for the 200 most recent Pulitzer Prize winners? Certainly nowhere near $20 million. It’s probably the same for the 200 most recent winners of the Peabody Award, which recognizes outstanding broadcast journalism.

Those journalists, though, don’t have the name recognition Kelly does. Her profile skyrocketed after the Aug. 7 Republican presidential candidates debate, where she skewered Donald Trump for sexist remarks.
In October, Kelly (a former trial lawyer) smacked down Newt Gingrich, who always comes across like he thinks he’s the smartest person in the room.

Then came the mid-November release of her memoir, Settle for More, which became news not only for its contents, but also because of the reaction to it by Trump supporters. As The Daily Beast reported, “On the day of its publication, Settle For More garnered hundreds of one- and two-star reviews on Amazon from suspiciously fast readers.”

As I said, I think Kelly is worth $20 million a year to NBC. After all, that’s what Matt Lauer, co-host of NBC’s Today show, makes—and no one will ever mistake Lauer for a journalist after his interview of Donald Trump in September.

The Observer’s assessment of Kelly as a “celebrity news actress” may be harsh, but then again, her résumé is so thin that it’s transparent compared to that of, say, Christiane Amanpour.

■ Kelly hasn’t been the only interesting name in the news. Wednesday’s Times Herald featured a story about Congressman Tom Reed.

The story indirectly quotes Reed, a Republican, as saying a priority for the new Republican Congress is repealing the Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare”). The Times Herald’s Rick Miller wrote, “Reed said it was not clear how a replacement package for Obamacare would be passed or what it would include.”

Fox News reported Saturday, “Congressional Republicans’ years-long mission to dismantle Obamacare is becoming more of an uphill battle, amid a growing concern among some GOP senators about voting to repeal the health care law without a replacement.”

However, the New York Times reported Friday, “Republican leaders want congressional committees to have legislation dismantling much of Obama's overhaul ready by late January. They're hoping Congress can quickly send a measure to incoming President Donald Trump phasing out the law, perhaps a couple of months later.”

I can’t believe Republicans will have an Obamacare replacement plan in place by then. After all, they haven’t come up with an alternative since the Affordable Care Act went into effect nearly seven years ago.
Reed says making sure there’s a replacement is one of his priorities. Let’s watch to see what he does if his priority clashes with his party’s gung-ho repeal advocates.


■ As for the Republicans’ replacement for Obamacare, here’s a question: Five years into the plan, which do you think is more likely—tens of millions of Americans will have better, less-expensive health insurance than they have now, or the insurance and pharmaceutical industries will have made billions of dollars because of the new plan?

I’m hoping for the first option, but consider this: According to OpenSecrets.org, a website run by the Center for Responsive Politics, the insurance industry spent more than $111 million on lobbying last year. The only industry to spend more was the pharmaceuticals/health products industry: $186 million.

Something tells me the money isn’t being spent to ensure people without health insurance get the best coverage possible at the lowest possible cost. I think those industries have different priorities.

I predict they’ll spend higher amounts on lobbying in 2017. The only question is how much more.

(Patrick Vecchio is a former Times Herald managing editor and retired journalism professor at St. Bonaventure University. He is a lifelong Olean resident and may be contacted at PatrickVecchio@roadrunner.com)

Terry and Kim Pegula, owners of the Buffalo Bills, announced today that their coach for the 2017-18 season will be Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones.

“Keef is a real street-fighting man,” said Terry Pegula during a press conference to introduce Richards. “We’re looking for someone to rip this joint, and Kim and I hope to avoid our 19th nervous breakdown with the coaching situation.”

Richards received a five-year contract that guarantees he cannot be fired before the contract expires. “Time is on my side,” he said when the Pegulas introduced him. “They first offered me a one-year deal, but that didn’t give me no satisfaction. I told them, ‘You can’t always get what you want,’ and they decided to throw the tumblin’ dice and make me happy.”

Terry Pegula said with a laugh, “I ain’t too proud to beg.”

Kim Pegula said, “The franchise is torn and frayed, all down the line. Our fans are the salt of the earth. They need an emotional rescue. We need to stop breaking down and not fade away.”

The new coach observed, “This team is like a jigsaw puzzle, but that’s all over now. We’re going to be respectable. We’ll play like wild horses and let it loose. Here’s our message to the teams we’ll play: “You gotta move, bitch.”

Richards said he will be tough on the players. “I have some sympathy for the devils, but when the whip comes down, they’ll be under my thumb,” he said. Even the locker room will look different.

“I’m going to paint it, black,” he said.

Merry Christmas, man



It's time for a Man Overboard holiday tradition:
(How the weed guy saved Christmas)

Funny but not funny

If you've got a moment to kill from time to time, I'm channeling Donald Trump on Twitter: @Trump_ish.

In the throes of confirmation bias



The musician Frank Zappa once said, “Some scientists claim that hydrogen, because it is so plentiful, is the basic building block of the universe.” He disagreed: “I say there is more stupidity than hydrogen.”

Zappa’s theory about stupidity is a good start in describing our presidential campaign. It applies better, though, if we also use words like “bitterness” or “hostility”—even “hate.”

For instance, let’s consider remarks attributed to a man named Paul Swick. The New York Times reported, “Mr. Swick considers himself a ‘Bible Christian’ and ‘Thomas Jefferson liberal’, and said he hoped to beat Mrs. Clinton ‘at the ballot box.’”

The article said Swick owns 40 guns. That’s his right. I don’t dispute it.

But Swick said something else so self-contradictory that I don’t know how his brain didn’t explode: “If she comes after the guns, it’s going to be a rough, bumpy road. I hope to God I never have to fire a round, but I won’t hesitate to. As a Christian, I want reformation. But sometimes reformation comes through bloodshed.”

Trump supporter Dave Bowman outdoes Swick. The website Salon.com quoted Bowman as saying of Hillary Clinton, “We’re going to have a revolution and take them out of office if that’s what it takes. There’s going to be a lot of bloodshed.”

Republicans have their own grievances. Some would say words like bitterness, hostility and hate apply to Democrats.

For example, Politico reported that after a Republican headquarters office in North Carolina was firebombed, Donald Trump tweeted, “Animals representing Hillary Clinton and Dems in North Carolina just firebombed our office in Orange County because we are winning.”

Trump also claims the Clinton campaign is paying protesters to disrupt his rallies.

Social media gives Trump’s supporters a chance to counter-attack people who criticize them or their candidate. I have seen them complain of “typical liberal hatred against anyone who doesn't agree with you.” The New York Times article I cited at the start of this column has been criticized: “You consider this journalism, NYT? All I read was about a handful of people speculating what ‘others’ may do if Hillary wins.”

Republicans return fire with charges of stupidity. “The only way Hillary can win is if all the crazies in America turn out to vote,” one wrote. “Because no normal sane person would even think twice about voting for such a wackado.” Another said, “If you vote for Hillary, you cannot call yourself a law abiding American.”

The avalanche of ideas makes it easy to fall victim to confirmation bias. In Psychology Today, Shahram Heshmat explains the term: “Once we have formed a view, we embrace information that confirms that view while ignoring, or rejecting, information that casts doubt on it.” In an age of multiple round-the-clock media, we easily can find information we agree with. Confirmation bias is easy to acquire, and once we acquire it during such a rancorous campaign, it’s easy to insult and dismiss people with other views.

We are obligated, though, to recognize our biases, acknowledge contrary information, and give it thoughtful consideration. Americans spend hours researching pluses and minuses of everything from toasters to Internet providers. In doing so, they accept information from myriad sources before deciding what to buy.

We should spend more time studying candidates than we take to decide which television to buy.

Trump's sexist stench harms us all



I went to a wedding reception at the Bartlett Country Club last weekend, and guess who showed up? Donald Trump.

Not his groping, grabbing self in the flesh. Instead, it was the odor of his sexism.

Many of the reception guests were college classmates of the bride and groom. They all took college courses from me and are now in their mid-20s.

I’m 62, well past the age where I became sexually invisible to women. At least I used to think that way. Trump, being 70 and married, has cast a new, shady shadow on men my age, even those of us who have been part of decades-long marriages.

I didn’t realize this until I was talking with one of the bridesmaids, another former student of mine, outside the church. “You look beautiful,” I said. “All of the women in the bridal party look beautiful.”

She replied, “The guys do, too.” That’s when Trump’s misogyny wormed its way into my thoughts and made me wonder if she were tacitly saying I was spending too much time looking at the women in the bridal party, particularly her.

That question was answered at the end of the night. In the meantime, I thought about how Trump’s words have strained interactions between men and women who are barely acquainted. Both sides have been harmed as a result of his words about his deeds.

Consider the degrading comments about the women who have accused him of shameful, if not criminal, behavior. The worst came from Trump himself: “Believe me, she would not be my first choice, that I can tell you.”

From others we have heard “why didn’t she report it before?” scorn and “she’s part of the conspiracy against Trump” paranoia.

Trump’s accusers aren’t the only women under attack. All women are under attack every day. Consider the continual threats, catcalls, body contact, lewdness, leers, and dismissal and devaluation of their work. There’s a word for it: oppression.

Because of it, women grow wary when they’re talking with men. If they’re wearing a skirt, they turn their legs to the side and cross them. They tense up if they think they’re showing too much cleavage, especially when they are seated and the men are standing. These seem to be instinctive postures.

This is true not only of women I worked with for years, but also of students I worked with for just a semester. I know why they’re defensive: because men have peered up their skirts and down their blouses throughout their adult lives.

Perhaps Trump’s “locker room banter” callousness and his seemingly unending disparagement of women have prompted more discussion about what women endure and what men should do in the face of it. If this is true, it’s the lone positive in all of this.

Because of Trump, I can no longer simply focus just on what women are saying. I also have to think of how I can present myself so they won’t worry if I’m sitting there scoring their bodies on a scale of 1-10. I used to think my respect was self-evident. Given Trump’s well-publicized boorishness, I’m not so sure anymore.

As for the woman in the bridal party whose remark unnerved me, she sat down in an empty chair next to me at the reception, and we talked about her many professional accomplishments since she graduated. Our cordial conversation cleared my mind of Trump’s sexist stench.

Sadly, Trump’s not the only man with this foul aroma. The stench isn’t gone for good.

Damned liberal media!



I get a “Today’s Headlines” email every morning from the New York Times, and the subject line is the headline of the lead story. The way my email is set up, I don’t see the entire headline, just the first snippet of it, which often is cut off in mid-word.

The lead headline yesterday was “Donald Trump Assails His Accusers as Liars, and Unattractive.”

Here’s what I saw in the subject line: “Today’s Headlines: Donald Trump Ass.”

Tens of millions of Americans feel the same way about him.

Keepers



I was killing time the other night in my work shed by going through some of the hardware my father used to keep in his garage. He and my mother moved to Florida many years ago, and he left most of his tools and all of his hardware behind. I took some tools and three hardware cabinets made of metal with little plastic drawers in them. The largest cabinet was the size and weight of a case of bottled beer.

I was in the shed because I was looking for a cotter pin and found one in the large cabinet. It was the heaviest of the three because its largest drawer was full of what looked like metal junk. I could see the contents through the front of the clear plastic drawer, but I had never opened it, so after I found the cotter pin, I thought I’d look at what was in it.

I immediately could tell it had been filled by a man who had grown up poor. It was jammed with old nuts, bolts, washers, wood screws, machine screws, gears, wing nuts, rivets and the like in dozens of sizes, shapes and finishes. There were steel bolts as long as my ring finger; iron bolts shorter than my pinkie fingernail; thin bolts with nuts on them; thick bolts with no nuts; washers the size of dimes; washers the size of silver dollars—the assortment was as messy as this paragraph.

Some of the hardware was used but still serviceable. The rest of it might have come in handy if I had been rebuilding a rusty steam locomotive. Why my dad held on to it is a question I can’t answer.

Was it because when you grow up poor, you hang on to everything that looks like it might have a use someday? Was it because he was obsessive-compulsive or a hoarder? I never asked—and I doubt he could have answered.

Besides, I didn’t know anything about his obsessive-compulsiveness until I was diagnosed with it myself, and then it was easy to see it in him. By then, though, he was dead.

Rather than simply dumping the old hardware into my metal-recycling pail, I started pulling pieces out of the drawer. Right away I found myself deciding to keep things I thought I might find a use for someday, even though they had been in my shed for a dozen years and I’d never used them. Then I realized what I was doing.

Eventually, I threw almost everything away. Almost.

While I was at it, I went through every other drawer of the cabinet. Some contained items I’ve used before and probably will need again—for example, cotter pins—and some contained items I could have used before: a spark plug socket for tight spots, for instance.

Most of the drawers, though, were filled with things only my father could have foreseen a use for. I dumped them into the recycling bin, too.

I know after I die, somebody will go through my work shed. They’ll find that filing cabinet, look at the contents, and wonder why I had kept it.

They won’t know the half of it.

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Wish I'd Said It

Nota bene: “Fear has governed my life, if I think about it. ... I always feel like I’m not good enough for some reason. I wish that wasn’t the case, but left to my own devices, that voice starts speaking up.” – Trent Reznor

“I hate to say this, but not many people care what you do. They care about what you do as much as you care about what they do. Think about it. Just exactly that much. You are not the center of the universe.” — Laurie Anderson

"The path's not yours till you've gone it alone a time." – William Carlos Williams

“Filling this empty space constitutes my identity.” – Twyla Tharp

"My definition of peace is having no noise in my head." – Eric Clapton

"The wreckage of the sky serves to confirm us in delicious error." – John Ashbery

"We are all here by the grace of the big bang. We are all literally the stuff of the stars." – Dwight Owsley

"For my part, I know nothing with any certainty, but the sight of stars makes me dream." – Vincent van Gogh

"It is only with the heart that one can see right; what is essential is invisible to the eye." — Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

"Forget about being a perfectionist, because entropy always wins out in the end." – Darren Kaufman.

"Impermanence. Impermanence. Impermanence." – Garry Shandling

"Fame is a vapor; popularity an accident; the only earthly certainty is oblivion." – Mark Twain

"There is no realm wherein we have the truth." – Gordon Lish

"Actual life is full of false clues and sign-posts that lead nowhere." – E.M. Forster

“Some scientists claim that hydrogen, because it is so plentiful, is the basic building block of the universe. I dispute that. I say there is more stupidity than hydrogen, and that is the basic building block of the universe." – Frank Zappa

“I try to leave out the parts that readers tend to skip.” – Elmore Leonard

“The secret of being a bore is to tell everything.” – Voltaire

• Journal title and subtitle: Ian Hunter, “Man Overboard”

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