Friday, March 31, 2017

Why Do So Many Americans Believe in Their Own Exceptionalism?

Recently, I had a small discussion with someone online who expressed dismay that so many Americans seemed to be returning to the bad old days of demonizing Russia and all things Russian.

This was a reminder that far too many Americans in general seem to feel so comfortable dismissing other countries and nationalities as a whole, relying on silly and outdated stereotypes. For example, many Americans (far too many to dismiss) assume that the French are arrogant and rude, while not realizing that dismissing a diverse country of well over sixty million with thousands of years of history is pretty rude and arrogant in and of itself. Many Americans also believe that the Polish are stupid, even though their education system is so successful right now, that many American officials are beginning to advocate it as the model that we should be following. There are countless such stereotypes, with drunken Irish, or greasy Italians, or lazy Mexicans, or that all Arabs are terrorists at heart. Increasingly, we are seeing the reemergence of the nasty, untrustworthy Russian bad guy, the unofficial mafia type, with one strongman (Putin, at the moment) being the brains behind everything. Again, that does not take into consideration the fact that it is a huge country in terms of both geographical size and overall population, and that it has a long and complicated history, having both invaded and been invaded numerous times. Sometimes, the stereotypes are not even negative, but betray an overly simplified and lazy interpretation of how things are, such as the belief that Canadians are always polite, come what may. The problem is that all of these stereotypes (and there are plenty more than the ones I just mentioned) can be used to buttress the impression that Americans have of themselves that they are unique and special and, yes, superior and exceptional. 

It is conditioned almost from birth. I learned the pledge of allegiance at an age when those of us reciting had no idea what many of the individuals words even meant, and so we had no concept of what the pledge implied. Yet, what we understood is that good young citizens do the pledge every morning before school, and stand up, take their hats off, and hold their hands to their heart while doing it.  You see the flag everywhere, from gas stations to car dealerships to government buildings (of course) and even in people's front and backyards. Increasingly, you see some form of it on people's clothing. And when you keep having it hammered into your head that this is the greatest and most powerful country in the world, that it is God's country, that we have earned something called the "American exception," and they hear people chanting "USA # 1," and when our leaders (regardless of party) end their addresses to the American people with "God Bless America," then you begin to understand how so many people here unquestioningly subscribe to it, and how for them, all that is relevant in the world basically ends at the American international border. It's not just the redneck element that seems to subscribe to this anymore, either, as increasingly, this mindset is prevalent among urban people who should know better, with their supposedly more sophisticated education and way of thinking. 

That, in turn, helps not only foster enthusiasm for the American war machine, and for our wars (which only grow unpopular when things start turning sour), but it also helps corporations and the politicians that they have in their pockets to sell Americans on notions that are detrimental to Americans themselves. Thus, they believe that any and all forms of something called socialism will inevitably lead to fascism/communism (as if those two things are one and the same). Once people believe that, then any form of single-payer, affordable, universal healthcare is basically out the window, even if we are the only remaining developed country that fails to provide it's own citizens with such a system. And it also becomes easier to dismiss other things that are seen as basic rights in other countries, including maternity leave, strong vacation time, better public transportation, and stronger environmental regulations. After all, it is not that surprising that those who deny climate change usually are suspicious that this is some kind of scam designed by non-Americans to slow down the American economy by hurting American businesses. It was inevitable, really, that we would get a Donald Trump telling us that he will put only America first, and who believes (or claims to believe) that climate change is a scam invented by the Chinese to hurt us economically.

This belief in their own superiority gives them, at least in their own mind, the right to be the exception when it comes to challenging what is accepted knowledge and/or wisdom literally everywhere else. After all, how do you explain the defense of many Republican congressman a few years ago, who prefaced their knee-jerk denial of climate change by clarifying that they themselves are not scientists? In other words, we should understand that they are not themselves scientists, before we can digest their refutal of the actual science behind climate change. It calls to mind Isaac Asimov's suggestion that Americans had collectively grown so bold in their anti-intellectualism, that they believed, as he suggested, that "my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge." When you get morons with a big public profile, such as game show host Pat Sajak, suggesting that those who advocate action on climate change are “unpatriotic racists.” Here is what he tweeted in full:

I now believe global warming alarmists are unpatriotic racists knowingly misleading for their own ends. Good night.

Sajak also expressed how he thought it was fun to poke a stick into the hornet's nest. Too bad he does not apparently think it is as much fun to do some research and know what the hell he is talking about. Or maybe we really should take him at his word, and dismiss some of the most brilliant scientific minds of our times, such as Stephen Hawking, because, you know, they must surely hate America, right? After all, if you are a climate change denier, then following that logic, you must literally believe that climate change is a host propogated by the world's scientists and/or by China, with the sole purpose of hurting the American economy.

Then, once you accept this belief, it is not too far of a step to believe Trump when he suggests that climate change is a scam invented by the Chinese, and indeed, as Sajak suggested, that only the most unpatriotic among us would actually believe in such nonsense. Or that a single-payer healthcare system actually covering everyone could actually work. Or that we should curtail our massive military expenditures, because Eisenhower warned us about the military industrial complex.

Indeed, these days, this exceptionalist bent takes the uninformed under their wings, and riles them up with what are tantamount to conspiracy theories. And I think this is what worries so many people about what is going on right now in the United States, and why there are comparisons to Germany in the days leading up to outright Nazi rule. Because paradoxically, the very belief held by so many Americans that the United States is always the exception has become a self-fulfilling prophecy, as Americans increasingly believe (at least in their collective political expression) things that put them at odds with the rest of the world, such as that they are and of right ought to be recognized as the greatest country in the world, and that the rest of the world somehow owes them something. Or that climate change is a hoax. Or that socialized medicine - Gasp! - simply cannot work, and would be a first step towards some fascist takeover (which the election of Donald Trump actually probably is, in reality). Or that public education is actually good for the country, and should be promoted, rather than curtailed, or left to the elites with more money and more opportunities. Or that freedom means allowing the very wealthy and the corporations to shamelessly exploit everyone else in order to retain their privileged status, and that any efforts to curb these tendencies, and to promote more equitable distribution of our resources, is most unAmerican, and worthy of contempt. There are more such beliefs that actually do set Americans apart, and for all of the wrong reasons. And increasingly, those who subscribe to these viewpoints are intolerant of what they perceive as the unpatriotic behavior and thinking of those among us who think otherwise, and try to take a deeper understanding of the issues. This is why the climate in this country right now feels to volatile and dangerous.

Because it actually is.

16 Hilarious Reactions to Pat Sajak's Nutty Climate Change Tweet

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Another NFL Relocation & a Clear Message of Bullying

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You might have thought, or at least hoped, that after the debacles of sending firmly rooted NFL franchises out of their major cities back in the 1990's, only to sweat bringing teams back to those cities years later, that they might show some reluctance to allow franchises to move out of their markets these days.

But you would be wrong.

Back in the 1990's, the Cleveland Browns skipped town and left for Baltimore, where they became the Ravens, and even won a Super Bowl, just five seasons after leaving. But the city of Cleveland retained the rights to the names and colors and records of the Browns, and an expansion team named the Cleveland Browns came back in 1999. The Houston Oilers moved to Tennessee, and eventually became the Tennessee Titans. But Houston got an NFL franchise, the Texans, in 2003. And the Raiders and Ram both skipped out of Los Angeles following the 1994 season. Now, the Rams are right back in Los Angeles, and the Chargers have moved there, too.

Yes, but the only thing is that the heartbreak that the Rams gave to Los Angeles had to be felt in St. Louis, a city that has now seen two NFL franchises leave, and unlike Los Angeles, they only had one at a time. And the Chargers left San Diego, where they had been for decades.

Now, the Raiders are leaving Oakland, and not for the first time. They left Oakland back in 1982 as well, to become the Los Angeles Raiders. Then they moved back to Oakland in 1994. But here we go again, as they are packing their bags once again.

The Raiders are going to Las Vegas. Vegas offered the franchise a glitzy new stadium, while Oakland simply did not. And so, rather predictably, the Raiders are heading for greener pastures in every sense of that word.

But the frequency of their departures out of what seems to be temporary home markets for them makes you wonder if what happens in Vegas will stay in Vegas, or if they will find greener pastures within a couple of decades once again.

Yes, by a vote of 31-1, the NFL approved the move of the Raiders out of Oakland and to Las Vegas. But it will take at least two years, and possibly three, which will make things awkward in Oakland for a while. That could be especially true if the Raiders, who went 12-4 last season, manage to reach a Super Bowl, and especially if they win it.

For his part, Raiders owner Mark Davis, the son of the late Al Davis, seemed to downplay the awkwardness of the situation, and even suggested that the Raiders could win a Super Bowl for the Bay Area again, although one wonders just how enthusiastic their fans in Oakland would be about that, knowing full well that the franchise is skipping town. Davis said:

“The Raiders were born in Oakland and Oakland will always be part of our DNA. We know that some fans will be disappointed and even angry, but we hope that they do not direct that frustration to the players, coaches and staff. We plan to play at the Coliseum in 2017 and 2018, and hope to stay there as the Oakland Raiders until the new stadium opens. We would love nothing more than to bring a championship back to the Bay Area.”

Star quarterback Derek Carr, who was a candidate for last year's MVP award before his late season injury that took him out the rest of the way, expressed far more mixed emotions than Davis did:

“As I sit here and see a vote that takes the Raiders to Las Vegas, I am overwhelmed with emotion. I don’t know how we should feel. I feel the pain of our fans in Oakland. I also see the joy on the faces of our new fans in Las Vegas. As players, we will show up and give everything we have. We will compete and we will do our best to bring a championship to the entire Raider Nation.  

“While I am from California and would have loved playing in Oakland my whole career, I understand the business side of the NFL. It affects us all. Oakland, our team loves you, and my family and I love you. WE will be resilient and WE will stay together because that’s what true Raiders do. WE are loyal, even when it’s hard. WE stick together, especially when it’s tough.  

“So Las Vegas, you can count on us bringing a piece of Oakland with us and you are getting a tough, loyal, and competitive fan base and team. When the time comes, I hope you are ready. For now, it’s about 2017 and our diehards in Oakland. God bless & Go Raiders!”

Not sure how that will play out in Oakland, though.

Al Davis would probably be rolling over in his grave right about now.

You also have to wonder how other fairly small markets not willing to put the kind of big money towards wonderful new stadiums are feeling right about now. Because the fancy stadiums in Phoenix, Dallas, the New York/New Jersey region, and in Santa Clara, California, would seem to suggest that some of the other franchises with relatively old stadiums are vulnerable.

And I'm telling you, that sooner or later, the fans will start to become sick of these kinds of business dealings. What they want is to escape the real world, to escape corporate America, and not be reminded of it. You don't sit home on Sunday and think that you are routing for this corporation over that corporation. But moves like this are a reminder of that essential fact, when everything else is stripped away. Fans do not want to feel like their favorite team is holding a gun to their head, demanding a shiny new stadium, or else.

Eventually, I suspect that the fans themselves will begin to turn away from these franchises, if not from the league itself. Already, there may be evidence that the NFL reached it's maximum popularity, and that the only way to go right now would be down. The league has an image problem, with major issues like sports injuries, particularly concussions, hurting the league, as well as there seeming to be a whole culture of violence thing. The league still seems to sweep cases of rape and/or other acts of violence as if these were minor issues or inconveniences, and not major crimes that far outweigh the importance of playing a sport. Already, I personally have lost respect for the Pittsburgh Steelers, a franchise that I used to have enormous respect for back in the 1980's and 1990's based on their incredible past accomplishments. I was never an out and out fan of theirs, but once it became clear that they were keeping their star quarterback, who has not one, but two serious allegations of rape against him, it became impossible to respect them. It serves as yet another reminder that these teams are corporations trying to protect their own image, and it is impossible not to give it pause for thought.

All of these things seem to have caught up with the NFL, and compromised it's popularity and credibility in the public eye. If they keep relocating franchises so freely - and this is the third NFL team to relocate in just over a year now - then this, too, will catch up with them.

Not all that long ago, when I first began to get into sports, and particularly the NFL, this kinds of relocating of franchises was still relatively rare. But I became a fan of the NFL in 1981, and since then, we have seen the Raiders leave Oakland, the Colts bolt Baltimore, the Cardinals leave St. Louis, both the Raiders and Rams leave Los Angeles, the Oilers leave Houston, the Browns leave Cleveland, the Rams leave St. Louis, the Chargers leave San Diego, and the Raiders leave Oakland again. Add to that the threats of teams relocating, such as when there were whispers that the Jaguars and/or Vikings might leave their present locations for the city of angels, and the NFL does not really look all that different than the NFL, where franchise franchises relocating appears to be a constant threat, particularly for struggling teams up north, at or near the Canadian border. Two Canadian teams already left in the 1990's (although one of them eventually returned), while other northern teams in Minnesota and Hartford, also left. One Canadian team was cheated out of the Stanley Cup, eventually losing to one of those southern expansion teams. And the threat of relocating constantly hovered over franchises like the Edmonton Oilers, the Calgary Flames, the Ottawa Senators, and the Buffalo Sabres. And when you see that the Montreal Expos in baseball relocated and became the Washington Nationals, and the Vancouver Grizzlies and Seattle Supersonics of basketball also relocated to Memphis and Oklahoma, you really get the sense that this is becoming all too common. It is always a threat, and obviously, the fact that a franchise resides in a major market is not security enough, as the Raiders and Rams clearly showed.

This really is not all that rare anymore. 

Except now, it is a grim reality of what might await a community beloved sports franchise. Sure, there are some teams where it really seems impossible that they will leave. Who can picture the Green Bay Packers or New York Yankees leaving town? Who can imagine the Cowboys anywhere but Dallas, or the Steelers anywhere but Pittsburgh? The Lakers are not about to leave Los Angeles, right? 

However, the number of less iconic franchises are far greater than these kinds of iconic franchises with long roots and an extensive history of glory in their locations. Indeed, it is all too easy to picture less immediately iconic teams having the figurative gun held up to their heads, with franchise and league officials demanding these shiny new stadiums and arenas, or else! In some cases, like with the Vikings and the Falcons, stadium deals are secured. In some other cases, like with the Rams and the Chargers and the Raiders, the teams leave. There was discussion about the Bills possibly moving to Toronto. The Phoenix Coyotes always seem on the verge of leaving, and the Atlanta Thrashers already did. There have been discussions in almost all of the team sports about other possible moves, such as the Sacramento Kings possibly relocating. So the threats will keep coming, and most likely, so will franchises relocating.

At least until fans start to get sick of it, and it hurts ticket r merchandise sales and/or ratings. These leagues show no loyalty to anything but their own short term financial interests, and their good public image. But if they keep making these corporate kinds of moves, which are not all that different from corporations relocating headquarters to other states or countries with more accommodating taxes, then the innocent fun that fans still get from these leagues will itself be compromised, which will in turn make these corporate leagues more vulnerable, especially if some smaller leagues, perhaps even farm franchises, start to gain in popularity, as happened in baseball here in the United States, or smaller hockey leagues in Canada. 

Raiders' relocation to Las Vegas reaffirms NFL's cold message to cities  Charles Robinson,Yahoo Sports, March 27, 2017:

Will Oakland support Raiders amid realistic Super Bowl expectations? It could get awkward   Eric Edholm of Shutdown Corner, Mar 27, 2017:

Derek Carr: Raiders “bringing a piece of Oakland with us”  Posted by Michael Gehlken on March 27, 2017:

Monday, March 27, 2017

2017 Blue and Gold Dinner Bloomingdale Pack 86

Yes, last night, on the evening of March 26,  2017, my son graduated from being a Webelos II and finally became an out and out boy scout.

He has been a part of this for quite a few years now. Originally, it was my idea, thinking that it would be something potentially fun and clever for him to participate in. In time, however, his mother kind of took over, and started taking him not only to all of the regular meetings, but the vast majority of other scout activities, as well, including the hiking and camping trips.

There were a few times when I remained active with his scouting activities. I remember taking him on a hike last last winter, for example, to a local abandoned mansion that bears a striking resemblance to an Old World style castle of old.

Even though my own role in this regard became increasingly diminished, I did support him, and was glad that he seemed to engage creatively in the activities, which also included regular participation in the Pinewood Derby. Last night, he received his award for coming in second place (pictures of this will hopefully be added soon). My entire family has, at one time or another, helped him to make some of those wooden derby cars, and we still have most, if not all, of them.

He has learned some things during the hiking trips and/or the scout camp, Camp Yawpaw, that he attended the last few summers. These are definitely some good memories that he should long cherish for many years to come, even if his scouting years will become an increasingly distant memory for him as the years go by.

I am very proud of him for sticking with it and finally making it to the status of outright boy scout. He was excited by the prospect all weekend, and it was a pleasant evening, for the most part, that we enjoyed last night, with a good dinner to boot. They also had entertainment from "Mad Science: Fire and Ice," which really seemed to fascinate all of the kids!

In any case, below are some of the pictures, as well as a brief video of the evening, that seemed worth sharing here:

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Pearl Jam & Former Drummer Dave Abbruzzese Continue Controversy & Drama Over HOF Snub

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There's a new movie out called "Searching for Abbruzzese" which is soon to be released.

Not sure why it has such a strange title, or what it exactly has to do with the former Pearl Jam drummer. My guess is that it has something to do with him having been the drummer during the peak time of the band's success, when they rose and became essentially the biggest, most popular band in the world. However, he was slighted by not being included as a member of the band once they got into the Rock 'n Roll Hall of Fame. 

This has been generating controversy almost since the band was inducted, and Pearl Jam recently finally broke their silence and addressed this issue.

Of course, there were tensions that existed within the band at the time that Abbruzzese was the drummer, and rumor had it that Vedder wanted him out. At the time, Vedder was the big star, and everyone in the band wanted to keep him happy, so the other members essentially sided with Vedder, and when the time came, Abbruzzese was out.

This drama was documented in what was surely the best book about the band that I have ever read or know of, which was Kim Neely's "Five Against One." She describes in very understandable terms just what the tensions were that existed in the band at the time, particularly between Vedder and Abbruzzese, and specifically described some of the most telling moments that betrayed just how deep the divide between the two went.

It has been a few years - quite a few years, admittedly - since I read the book. Probably that happened in 2003, which means that it has now been almost a decade and a half. Still, as I recall, the tensions were essentially that Abbruzzese was very excited about the band's success, and saw no problems showing just how excited he was about it, while the stance of the rest of the band was more in line with the rather severe discomfort that Eddie Vedder at least outwardly expressed towards the band's growing fame and fortune. This was in keeping with the expressed discomfort towards the same by Nirvana's Kurt Cobain.

However, Abbruzzese felt that there was nothing to be ashamed of in this regard, and so he got a tattoo of the band's stick figure logo (see picture of the logo above). The other band members asked him if he knew that this tattoo was permanent, which was perhaps the first tip-off that the drummer's status with the band was itself not permanent.

There was also the time that Abbruzzese excitedly showed the band his new car, and the members all stood silently staring, wordlessly. Vedder in particular seemed displeased, and one of the band members (I forget who, but think it might have been bassist Jeff Ament) said something to the effect that fame and money really do change people.

Then there was Abbruzzese's seemingly glee during a prominent awards show, which the rest of the band expressed disapproval of. This disapproval was particularly pronounced with Vedder, who claimed that he had never been so humiliated in his life.

It should also be noted that there were some political differences between the rest of the band. Again, this was particularly pronounced in the case of Vedder, who even went so far as to write part of the lyrics to one of the songs on the second album, Versus. The song is Glorified G, and it is an anti-gun song, although at least a part of it was taken by an actual exchange between Abbruzzese and Vedder. When asked by Vedder if he had bought a gun, Abbruzzese responded, "In fact, I got two." This wound up being incorporated into the lyrics of Glorified G.

It is not only Vedder who has expressed criticism of Abbruzzese and his behavior while part of Pearl Jam. Ament also publicly expressed criticism, although allegedly, the two got along fairly well while the drummer was in the band, and he got along very well with guitarist Mike McCready, who was going through a serious alcohol problem at the time. But after the drummer was released from the band, Ament spoke of the differences:

"Dave was a different egg for sure. There were a lot of things, personality wise, where I didn't see eye to eye with him. He was more comfortable being a rock star than the rest of us. Partying, girls, cars. I don't know if anyone was in the same space." (taken from Wikipedia's page on Dave Abbruzzese).

Guitarist and founding member Stone Gossard sounded a bit more conciliatory:

"It was the nature of how the politics worked in our band: It was up to me to say, 'Hey, we tried, it's not working; time to move on.' On a superficial level, it was a political struggle: For whatever reason his ability to communicate with Ed and Jeff was very stifled. I certainly don't think it was all Dave Abbruzzese's fault that it was stifled." (also taken from Wikipedia's page on Dave Abbruzzese).

For his part, Abbruzzese stated:

 "I didn't really agree with what was going on. I didn't agree with the Ticketmaster stuff at all. But I don't blame anyone or harbor any hard feelings. I'd be lying if I said I wasn't furious and hurt for a long time. But now I just wish there was more music from the band I was a part of." (also taken from Wikipedia's page on Dave Abbruzzese).

Eventually, these differences led to the band getting rid of Abbruzzese. Even though he said that he got along with all of the other band members, Vedder was the star, and Neely suggested in her book that the other members of the band wanted to keep the star happy. This was Abbruzzese's take on it, as well. He also suggested that Vedder was not entirely honest, and recalled one time when Vedder seemed at least publicly to be strugglnig with alcoholism. During a show, Vedder appeared to be acting in a drunken and slurred manner, and Abbruzzese approached him, trying to rein in his behavior, when Vedder, suddenly seeming very sober and coherent, hissed at the drummer to not get in his way. If true, this would suggest that Vedder's whole angry, anti-establishment demeanor at the time was in fact an act, and that the alcoholism was at least an exaggeration, if not an outright act. Abbruzzese was clearly taking a shot at Vedder's credibility, which probably hit hard, since Pearl Jam as a band always struggled with credibility, having a past where some notable other music figures - most famously Kurt Cobain - took well-publicized swipes at the band, and questioned just how original and full of integrity the band was.

Still, Abbruzzese was a capable drummer, and he was undeniably a member of the band during some of the most important years for the band, when they were on top of the world in terms of public profile, and were likely the most popular band in the world. He was reluctant to join Pearl Jam, but did so while the band was still out touring and promoting their first album, which would soon have an explosion of popularity. Abbruzzese also played drums on the band's next two albums, "Versus" and "Vitalogy." He wrote the music for some notable Pearl Jam songs, including "Go," "Last Exit," and "Angel," which was not on an album, but on one of the band's special Christmas releases. Abbruzzese also famously threw his drum sticks against the wall in frustration after recording "Rearviewmirror," and this was kept, and can still be heard at the end of that track on the second album.

This was shortly after the explosion of the so-called "Seattle Sound" of the early nineties, and by the end of 1992, arguably, Pearl Jam was the biggest and most successful band in the world. Their release of the second album, "Versus," late in 1993 far outsold Nirvana's "In Utero," and the band enjoyed a fairly long run of uninterrupted success that lasted at least into the summer of 1995, and arguably well into 1996. However, the band's popularity started to wane a bit with the release of  the band's fourth album, "No Code." Abbruzzese was long gone by then, though, of course. "No Code" purposely had a different sound, as the band at least claimed to want to pull the plug on their success, and to tone it down a bit. It sold remarkably well during the first few days of it's release, but the singles never were as radio-friendly as some of their previous hits had been, and album sales began to taper down shortly afterwards. In the meantime, other bands were rising in popularity, and before long, what was left of the whole Seattle scene from the early nineties seemed to go out right along with Pearl Jam's incredible popularity at the time. A lot of the drama surrounding the band, and Vedder's discomfort with his own popularity (and surely some of it was real, as one woman obviously completely taken by him once drove her car into Vedder's home), began to wither away shortly thereafter. Soon, Pearl Jam became a band with a very changed image. They remained big, and still are big to this day. However, they conceded their popularity for "the next big thing" with their change in musical style and overall image following the release of "No Code."

After his dismissal, the hard feelings between Vedder and Abbruzzese ran deeply on both sides. Not long after Abbruzzese was released, he was asked to sign a copy of Pearl Jam's second album, "Versus," and he immediately turned right to a picture of Vedder and apparently scribbled him out.

That drama seemed to more or less fall into simply being an obscure chapter in the band's history, until these tensions seemed to once again rise to the surface last year, after Pearl Jam was inducted into the Rock 'n Roll Hall of Fame, and left out Abbruzzese as a member of the band. The band has had five different drummers, and they selected only two of them to officially receive recognition, which was something that some people - most notably Abbruzzese himself - took strong exception to. Pearl Jam has been trying to reconcile, and apparently has invited Abbruzzese to the Hall of Fame induction ceremony, although it is still unclear if this issue has finally been resolved, or if there are still lingering resentments, and more drama to be played out.

Time will tell.

In the meantime, however, here is a bit more information on a rare public message by Dave Abbruzzese, as well as on the film that bears his name (which was not his idea, and actually caught him by surprise):

Pearl Jam’s Dave Abbruzzese Releases Touching Video To Fans By Brett Buchanan -  Mar 21, 2017

Some Remarkable Subway Stations of Canada & Germany

Sometimes, something as simple as a pleasant subway stop can help lighten up your day, and make the drudgery of everyday routine essentially recede, at least for a little while.

In that spirit, it seemed fitting to share this link to some cool photos of better than average subway stops.

Admittedly, the title of this link gave me the impression that there would be pictures of exotic subway systems from around the world. In reality, there were only photos of subway stops in Canada and Germany here. That leaves out some other pretty cool, and even beautiful, subway systems. I've seen some nice ones in Paris, and know that there are some in Russia, particularly in Moscow.

Anyway, some of these were pretty cool to regard, and so it seemed worth sharing:

These Beautiful Photos of Subway Stations Will Transport You From Your Daily Commute See the most striking transit systems from Montreal to Munich.  By David Doochin AUGUST 01, 2016:

Thursday, March 23, 2017

President Trump's Nonchalant Response About Biggest Losers Under 'Trumpcare' Being From Pro-Trump States

When tens of millions of Americans decided to vote for Trump in November, and essentially gave the man the highest office in the land, they achieved little more than giving the biggest narcissist in the country, and one of the most blatant examples of narcissism in modern history, yet another big title to add to the already extensive list of things for which this man believes himself to be great.

He outright stated that he, and he alone, could save this country.

Imagine that! A nation of roughly 310 to 320 million people needs him to save them.

Some people questioned his qualifications for office, while others felt that he was the kind of guy that "could get things done."

Well, he has gotten things done so far, alright. It is just that none of it seems to have made the country any better. Also, none of it is quite like how he promised it would be. 

Let's review:

The wall that he promised is being built, although it will be Americans, not Mexicans, who pay for it. 

The Muslim travel ban that he promised is illegal, and so far, judges have stricken down the two official bans that the Trump administration put forward.

He did not lock Hillary up, like he promised. He did not defeat ISIS within 30 days, like he promised he would. 

What he did suggest was that cases of major fraud in the past election would be investigated. He offered not one shred of proof, and the investigation never happened. Same with Obama's wiretapping, which he again offered no evidence for.

Of course I would mention that environmental standards have already plummeted, as he has made it a point to make it a lot easier to allow big polluters to dump disgusting toxic chemicals into our waters. Also, he seriously slashed funding for the EPA, and weakened the agency in other ways as well. However, one thing Trump never promised was to be friendly with the environment, so even though he should be held accountable for that, even though this is one of the few areas in which he did exactly as promised, much to our misfortune.

No major reaction from Trump supporters through any of this.

In fact, the man is still holding rallies, as if the damn presidential campaign is still happening. It's as if he is still in celebration mode, and apparently, he does seem to be having fun, because he sure seems to be playing a lot more golf than he promised he would. 

But now, in the signature promise from not just Trump, but all Republicans dating back to the better part of a decade, now, they are going ahead with their attempts to repeal Obamacare.

However, we are finding out that their plan would, rather predictably, fall hardest on the poor, while the rich would, rather typically, receive many benefits, to the point that they would be able to line their pockets with friendly legislation clearly intended to benefit them once again. 

Seniors making $26,000 would have to pay more than $14,000 in deductibles within a decade, which obviously makes no sense. They would get a tax credit for up to $4,000 back, although that clearly will not be much of a help.

All of this illustrates - rather clearly illustrates, I might add - that Trump is exactly what his detractors suggested he was. The man not only is a narcissist and a liar, but he is no supporter of the American working class. One of the first things that he did was make owning a house for middle class Americans more expensive, and now, this healthcare bill, which he and his fellow Republicans are pushing hard, would make healthcare once again more profitable for the very rich, and less accessible for the rest of us.

The people who would be hurt the most include many of his biggest supporters, including the white working class. When he was asked by Tucker Carlson about this, Trump acted nonchalant, as if it really was no big deal.

He responded by saying, "Oh, I know."

Then he added, "It's very preliminary, Tucker."

No big deal, in other words. Not for our president, even though the people being affected this time are his own supporters, the ones who got him into the White House to begin with. It does not seem to trouble him much, although he once again, quite typically, made vague promises that improvements will be made.

Of course, he added some things, and made some more promises. Here, according to Bob Bryan's recent article, is how he fully responded:

"A lot of things aren't consistent. But these are going to be negotiated.

"And by the way, if we're not going to take care of the people, I'm not signing anything. I'm not going to be doing it, just so you understand."

Right. That's why he's pushing so hard for it right now, and urging his fellow Republican Congressmen to vote for this bill, which some are already suggesting is a huge early test on the entire Trump presidency itself. He basically has been asking members of the GOP whether they want to do as they promised, and repeal Obamacare, or not.

Well, this is our president. He has made plenty of promises that he has outright broken already, and even those things that he seems to be delivering have an impact on the country and it's people that are, at best, suspect, such as slashing funds to the EPA, and generally weakening it.

And now this healthcare bill, which will hurt the very people that he rode the backs of to get the presidency to begin with. Only now, when it is already too late, are some of these people finally waking up and realizing that they indeed might have been had.

Unfortunately, that seems to be the way of things politically in the United States these days. Voters are sold a bill of goods by self-serving politicians, and then they can only complain once they realize it. Or, of course, they can ignore it, pretend that it is not so bad. And that seems to be the trend with candidates from both political parties. Nothing is quite as glittering as promised. But while the people suffer, the very same  elected officials continue to fatten their wallets, and still eat great meals with shiny forks and knives. If something happens to them, they have wonderful healthcare plan that takes care of them. 

Too bad that they do not extend it to the rest of us, though, huh?

Trump when told the biggest losers under 'Trumpcare' would be his own voters: 'Oh, I know'   Bob Bryan    Mar. 16, 2017:

Neil deGrasse Tyson Mocks Trump Administration for "Making America Stupid"

There really have been precious few moments of political levity since the United States took the plunge and voted eccentric and xenophobic billionaire Donald Trump into the Oval Office. Since that second Tuesday in November, there has been a relentless blitzkrieg of rants and tweets and relentless showing off about the size of Trump's electoral victory, and I'm just talking about Trump himself. When you add to that his appointed cabinet picks, his baseless accusations (particularly about election fraud and Obama wiretapping him) and, of course, the relentless lying, it has been a pretty depressing thing to wake up to every day. 

Yet, if there is a silver lining in all of this, it is probably in getting some laughs which, these days, seems to come more easily to people in the public eye.


Probably because holding up a mirror to the ridiculous behavior of the Trump administration has been akin to being in a political fun house of sorts, with all of the mirrors greatly exaggerating the images, except that in the case of Trump and his cronies, it is hardly much of an exaggeration.

With Trump having recently releases his proposed budget, he is going ahead and doing what he suggested he would do during the campaign. He is increasing the military budget significantly, while slashing just about everything else. That includes the arts, the EPA, science, education, and even Meals on Wheels. Of course, he is receiving plenty of criticism for all of this.

And recently, Neil deGrasse Tyson in particular took exception to the changes that would result from this proposed budget. Fittingly, he did so in a series of tweets, hopefully with language that the president will understand. 

He did it using Trump's own big phrase of "Make America Great Again" against the president, suggesting that Trump's policies and actions thus far hardly qualify as doing anything to making it great. Quite the contrary, in fact.

This is cool, and well worth taking a look at:

Neil deGrasse Tyson Slams Donald Trump For "Making America Stupid"

Neil deGrasse Tyson unleashes hot fire on Trump in angry tweetstorm

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Prominent Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein Suggests Trump Will Soon Resign

Generally speaking, I am not one to count my chickens before they hatch, and so all of the websites that assure people that the end of the Trump presidency is upon us, and that top-ranking government officials are unofficially suggesting that there is now enough irrefutable evidence of Trump's crimes or guilt to impeach him.

Well, by and large, most of these seem to just be wishful thinking.  Hell, there are some who are demanding that Trump step down, and that Hillary Clinton step in! Like it or not, by the rules that this country is governed by, Trump defeated Clinton in the election, even if he lost the popular vote by nearly three million. 

Now, I know that was a rude awakening, and his harsh style is a spit in the eye not only to class, but to civility itself. He is just the epitome of the ugly American. Frankly, being French, a nation who's people are often criticized by Americans, and cited as the example of the most rude people on Earth, Trump himself perhaps reveals something about Americans that they would not want to be seen as. This guy expresses his ignorant opinions as loudly as possible, and always, always claims to be the biggest expert on everything, even while he reveals his own ignorance. Unless, of course, you believe that he knows more than scientists about climate change, or more than his generals do about ISIS. He treats some allies of the United States with contempt (like with his telephone call to the leader of Australia, or his recent meeting with the leader of Germany), and he goes to extraordinary lengths to conduct himself in as trashy and classless a manner as possible with his personal attacks on those he sees as his enemies, with his ridiculous Twitter rants. 

Still, it is difficult to see this guy being truly held to account. Not when members of his own party control every branch of government, especially in this age of political partisanship. Also, many hate Trump so much, that they are convinced that nothing about him is legitimate. Don't get me wrong, I can't stand the guy, but he won the election, and it had nothing to do with Russia. It increasingly seems that there was some Russian involvement in the election, but convincing yourself that Russia somehow was so powerful that it swayed the election? That is what I personally find hard to believe, to the point of not believing it. Frankly, it divorces Hillary Clinton and the mainstream Democrats who unconditionally supported her from any culpability. They proved themselves corrupt during this past election, and their actions betrayed the trust of the American people. They failed to win that trust, and ignored the warnings that fully two-thirds of Americans did not trust or like Clinton. They brazenly expected her to breeze to the White House, and clearly, on election night, there was an atmosphere of expectation, as the Jacob Javits Center was ready to explode into celebration, so sure they were of the win. 

That was such a blatant example of the very spirit of entitlement and smugness that many Democrats have been criticized for, that it was frankly hard to feel bad for them, even though I personally absolutely loathe Donald Trump probably even more than Hillary Clinton. 

Ever since then, though, mainstream Democrats have made a point of pounding into everyone's head this stupid notion that everyone else is responsible for their humiliating and devastating loss on election day. It's the fault of Bernie Sanders and his supporters, or Jill Stein and her supporters! It's the fault of James Comey! It's the fault of the Russians! It's the fault of those racist and sexist rednecks who voted for Trump because they could not stand either a black man or a woman in the White House, as if literally, each and every person who cast a vote for Trump was necessarily a racist or a sexist. Granted, I personally do not understand how anyone could look at the man and see someone fit to serve as president. But there is a reason that Trump won, and I suspect that it had everything to do with the woman who he was running against (and I don't mean Jill Stein). 

So, ever since his election win, the most obnoxious president in history has been Tweeting away and bragging to anyone who does not run away about the size of the crowds on his inauguration day, or the size of his electoral victory, which actually was not that grand, frankly. Obviously, his style is going to grate on the nerves of many, which means that almost equally obnoxious mainstream Democrats have gone on the offensive (as much as they are capable, anyway, under the circumstances), and attacked Trump for everything from Russia and the alleged hacking of the election, to claims of voter fraud (which were as groundless as those claimed by Trump himself) to more reasoned criticisms for his conflicts of interest regarding his holding that office and still having business interests. 

Also, there have been rather relentless (and equally groundless) claims that impeachment is inevitable, and already in the works. Frankly, despite some seeming reservations towards Trump by members of his own party, it still is difficult to picture the Republicans impeaching one of their own, especially when the whole Russia controversy is so much hype still. After all, blasting Russia for releasing a few emails and some evidence of Democratic wrongdoing is tantamount to the White House blasting the sources for certain leaks, while completely ignoring the incriminating evidence that was released to begin with (even though they seem to get away with their wrongdoing time and time and time again!).

However, very recently, the first major Washington politician has spoken of a move towards at least trying to impeach Trump, and she seems to feel that there is a serious case to be made on it. She even suggested that Trump might just take it upon himself to do the country a favor and resign.

Here is how it went down:

An 83-year-old protester asked Feinstein:

“We know he is breaking the law every day. He has obvious dealings with Russia. There’s so many things he’s doing that are unconstitutional. How are we going to get him out?”

To which Feinstein answered:

“We have a lot of people looking into this. I think he’s going to get himself out.”

Now, of course that's not insurmountable evidence that the end of the Trump presidency is at hand. However, it was the first time that I heard a sitting prominent member of the government actually suggesting that there is enough on Trump and his conflicts of interest to make a real case for impeachment, and that the president might just actually opt to resign. Still, knowing Trump's legendary narcissism, even this is difficult for me, personally, to believe in.

Yet, we can hope, can't we? After all, if ever there was anyone who served as president who simply just did not deserve it whatsoever, it is him!

Donald Trump will resign 'soon', says top Democrat Dianne Feinstein Senior Senator on Judiciary Committee drops hint she knows more than she can say 'right now'  Rachel Roberts, March 21, 2017:

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

RIP, Chuck Berry

One of the true pioneers of rock music has died.

Chuck Berry, the man who greatly influenced the Beatles, and who was well-known for playing the guitar on stage while hopping on one leg, or doing the duck walk, has died.

Berry was hugely influential to many of the pioneers of early rock, including the Beatles and the Stones, particularly Keith Richards. The Beatles even famously covered one of his songs, "Move Over Beethoven."

I had the privilege of seeing Berry in person back in 1997, during a legends of rock 'n roll tour that also including Little Richard and Jerry Lee Lewis. It was quite an incredible experience to see these legends on a stage, knowing that they influenced decades of rock music to come.

Berry had gone a long, long time without releasing an album, although ironically, he was set to release his first album later this year, in June.

Tributes have been pouring in from other notable rock legends. 

Monday, March 20, 2017

Spring Equinox

Earth from Space with Stars

Photo courtesy of DonkeyHotey Flickr Page:

The old button from the Environmental Club days which I just happened to find on Earth Day! It is a little beat up (particularly the ends of the ribbon), but no worse for the wear, I think. And it is one of the few items that I have left from those days, so it carries a lot of great memories for me! Nothing Changes Until You Do!

Here is a picture of a very similar logo, with the same message, that was on the t-shirt that I purchased from the BCC Environmental Club and, if memory serves me correctly, may even have helped to make. There were a few projects like that which club members, myself included, were regularly involved with. It has been so long, however, that I no longer recall specifically if I actually helped to make these or not, although I do believe so, since I remember seeing the process of the t-shirts being dyed. In any case, I loved this t-shirt, and have kept it ever since, even if I do not regularly wear it. Since it was part of my experience with the BCC Environmental Club days, as well as more generally having an environmental theme, it seemed appropriate to share it here. 

"Earth provides enough to satisfy every man's needs, but not every man's greed."

~Mahatma Gandhi

"Change is the law of life. And those who look only to the past or present are certain to miss the future."
~John F. Kennedy  

Today was the spring equinox, which means that winter has finally yielded to the more moderate winds of the spring season.

Spring is, of course, the season of new life. Soon, the grass and leaves on the trees will be bright green, and vegetation will bloom. Duck and geese will have marching little chicks behind them, and new life will be in evidence everywhere.

Now, this was hardly the most brutal winter that we have had. In fact, we had ourselves a fairly mild winter here in this part of the northeast, by the greater New York/New Jersey area, and the worst part of it seemed to come in the final week and a half to two weeks. 

Thinking back to some of the winters that I can recall, this one was positively wimpy. Maybe not quite as wimpy as the mildest one, which would have to be the winter of 2011-2012, when we literally had no major snowstorms during the actual winter (we did get one October snowstorm that did some damage in the area, though). 

Still, this was not like some of the rougher winters that we had, either. Not by a long shot. I remember the winter of 1993-94, which was the worst one that I can recall. It snowed maybe a couple of days after Christmas, and from that point onward, it never seemed to warm, and we never went more than two or three days between significant snowfalls. It felt like as soon as we dug out from one snowstorm, there was another one to prepare for. Also, it was very, very cold, and the snow that had fallen would turn to ice, which meant that it never melted, so the snow just kept piling up higher and higher. I remember having to really lift and throw the snow up high in what was feeling like small mountains or canyons of snow creating walls everywhere.

There was also the winter of 1995-96, which was not as brutally cold, and where we did not have the relentless number of snowstorms, but where we actually had a record amount of total overall snowfall. There were the winters of 2002-03 and 2003-04, where we seemed to have numerous annoying snowfalls of small amounts, not enough to close business and/or roadways, but just enough to make things slick and dangerous. And some recent winters, when the temperatures got brutally cold, and we got familiar with the new term, "polar vortex."

Indeed, winter can produce a great degree of stress and annoyances, which is why the spring equinox in particular always feels especially welcome. The rigors and annoyances of the winter at least can make you appreciate the mildness of the warmer spring season, when the arrival of the next winter season is still as far away as one can get. 

And so, I just wanted to take a moment to acknowledge this wonderful, natural event. It is perhaps not a holiday, although we will have Earth Day soon. But right now, we should feel good about the arrival of the season of life!

CBS Sunday Morning Report Illustrates Why Denmark is Happiest Country in World, and What Americans Can Learn From the Danish

So, I was enjoying a relaxing Sunday morning earlier. My girlfriend is out sick from work, and this is one of the weekend when I have my son with me. It is my weekend off from work, so this morning was especially relaxing, which was nice. It was a bright, sunny morning, the last full day of this winter, and outside, the sun was shining and the snow was melting. This was audible, as the dripping water from the meltings of our recent snowfall were everywhere.

At around 9am, I put down the book that I was reading ("A Fire in the Mind" - a biography of the life of Joseph Campbell), and put on CBS's Sunday Morning, which is a show that is particularly enjoyable waking up to on a Sunday morning. it also happens to be a family tradition, dating back probably to at least the late 1980's. 

Anyway, they had one particularly interesting story, which came first following a tribute to noted rock legend Chuck Berry, was about happiness. Particularly, about measures of happiness in each country.

What we learned is that tiny Denmark was rated as the happiest country in the world. This, of course, is no surprise, because Denmark has been at or near the top of such lists for many years now. In fact, all of the Scandinavian countries seem to be there, and they seem to take turns with one another at or near the top. There are a few other countries who usually ran very highly, as well. Canada and Australia, for example. New Zealand, maybe. And in Europe, there is also Switzerland and the Netherlands which normally rank highly, and Germany usually is not too far behind.

The United States ranked 11th on the list, and it has generally been sinking now for many years, even decades.

That begs the question: can Americans learn from the example of these other countries. What are they doing right, that we Americans are doing wrong?

Well, this report focused on that very question. And for people like me who pay attention to these stories (admittedly, not everyone is interested to even here such stories, and what they have to say) is that Americans can indeed benefit by getting past some notions that have come to be traditionally very accepted in the United States. In particular, the notions are about wealth, and excessive focus on trying to show off our wealth. You know, that whole "keeping up with the Joneses" thing that many feel basically defines the American economy today.

Of course, you will find no shortage of detractors, those people who dismiss this out of hand, and will yell and scream that this is socialism, and we Americans do not believe in socialism.

Alright, but Danish people enjoy some things that we Americans can only dream of. They have affordable, universal healthcare for one. They also have affordable childcare and a considerable amount of maternity leave and paid time off. They have completely free education, which contrasts markedly to the amount of debt that many young Americans are acquiring to obtain their educations (which, by the way, are increasingly not enough to land a decent job or secure a good future). In urban areas they, like other European nations, enjoy much better public transportation systems than what is generally found in the United States.

Now, Americans are often adverse to those kinds of things, because when they hear it, it smacks of the label "socialist," and socialism reminds many Americans of communism. Indeed, in the comments section of the video below (which can be found on Youtube), there were several fairly typical responses dismissing this report, some downright calling it nonsense. However, Europeans tend not to focus so much on their consumer possessions to the extent that Americans do, but there are certain aspects of their lives which are recognized as more enjoyable. Sidewalk cafes are only beginning to catch on a bit in the United States, but they are pretty well established all over Europe. History is more present in Europe, because they do not make such a point of tearing down older buildings as a rule, and this allows both reminders and charms from days past to thrive.

Also, Europeans tend to have much more of what the French call "joie de vivre." They know how to simply enjoy some of the things that they have, which includes sidewalk cafes and restaurants, enjoying local delicacies and treats (Europe is known for good eating), but also includes some of the  great and well-maintained public parks and wonderful architecture, as well as the arts and historical sites that are richly scattered throughout Europe. It can be a real pleasure to stroll through cobblestone streets and to view beautiful old buildings, and to simply know that the place that you are in looked much the same a century or two ago, and to imagine all of the history that the place saw. There just is not that same sense of these kinds of small pleasures here in the United States. Public parks here in the United States often are neglected by way of comparison, as many people would prefer spending their time in their own backyard, with barbecues and/or enjoying time at the pool. Or, perhaps, playing a round of golf, which has always seemed to me a game that people particularly obsessed with their own status in life tend to play.

In any case, take a look at the story through the video below, and check for yourself whether you agree that Americans could learn something about happiness from the Danish, or whether, as quite a few Americans explained in their comments, this was utterly nonsense and an example of unfair and biased reporting:

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Yale Professor Warns That Time is Running Out on American Democracy Itself

Let me preface this blog entry by stating outright that I was one of those people guilty of not taking Donald Trump seriously. Frankly, I still do not take him seriously, at least not what he says. Unfortunately, though, we all have to take his role as president seriously.

It just all seems surreal, doesn't it? I mean, this guy was a joke for a long time! In the 1980's, he reminded me of the Grinch, and the fictional character that seemed to most resemble him was Gordon Gekko, who was no hero. Then, in time, he got his own reality television show.

Fine. Whatever. I was not a fan, but was surprised to see that quite a few people were, given that he seemed like such a scumbag, quite frankly. He disgraced himself further in the wrestling ring, pretending to get pounded by men who, if they really had wanted to, could have killed Trump with their bare hands.

Also, there were some war of words, particularly with Rosie O'Donnell. Not being one who generally cares about celebrities, or the drama between them when they feud, I took it with a grain of salt, but noticed that Trump seemed to particularly lack class in his attacks.

But then, suddenly, he was addressing the Conservative Political Action Conference (better known as CPAC) in around 2011 or 2012. Also, he was the main guy behind the whole "birther" controversy, calling into question the legality and legitimacy of Barack Obama even being president. Finally, Trump ran for the White House then, too, although his campaign did not make a big splash at that time, and he lost. This was pretty much as most people figured it would be, myself included.

Then I heard he was running again for the White House during this past election. Initially, my thought was that he simply did not take a hint. Instead, he took the lead.

Still, not to worry, because there were 17 candidates on the GOP side, and even though some were worse by my estimation (Scott Walker or Ted Cruz, anyone?), surely one of the other guys would win, and bring some normalcy back to the Republican Party.

Only, it did not happen, and Trump continued to lead. He had briefly generated some notice back in 2011 and 2012, but it had all come to nothing, so it seemed likely that the same thing would happen this time around, as well. After all, Trump might be a lot of things, but a politician was not one of those things.

Somehow, though, time kept on passing, and Trump kept on leading. The reality that he might be the nominee still eluded me, personally. My esteem of the Democrats has taken a serious hit over the course of the years and decades, but truth be told, I never thought much of the Republicans. Still, though, they surely had not stooped so low that they would actually nominate a clown like Trump, right?

Well, actually, they did. He survived all of those challenges, and brushed aside all of the big and more established names that in more normal years likely would have made short work of him. But 2016 was a year unlike any other, and one by one, they all dropped out. Suddenly, hard as it was to believe, Trump was on his way. He survived Cruz without too much damage, and just like that, he was the Republican nominee.

Even then, though, Republicans had mixed reactions towards him. Congressional leaders seemed to want to keep him at arm's length, while other prominent Republicans, like Jeb Bush, John McCain, and Mitt Romney, seemed to be actively suspicious of him, and warned prospective voters that he was a con artist. Ted Cruz even remained critical of Trump after the race between them was over, refusing to outright endorse Trump during his big speech at the Republican National Convention.

At that point, it seemed like the wheels were coming apart on Trump's campaign, and that he was every bit as hopelessly unhinged as many were suggesting. But Hillary Clinton was a poor candidate in her own right, and despite holding the lead through much, if not most, of the general election, she nonetheless could not seem to get a strong enough lead where it seemed in the bag.

Still, Trump's buffoonery just seemed too much. I was not exactly excited by the prospect of a Hillary Clinton presidency, but figured Trump's clown act essentially and inevitably would lead to Clinton gaining the distinction of being the first woman president.

Yet, I have to admit that it was alarming to see just how many pro-Trump bumper stickers and campaign posters were out there. It seemed like for every one Hillary Clinton poster and/or bumper sticker I saw, there were ten - at least ten! - Trump posters or bumper stickers. Still, northwestern and central New Jersey were not the entire country, and many of Trump supporters, like the man that they loved so much, had big mouths. So, the presence of many more posters surely was not indicative of how people would vote, right?

But they had the effect of normalizing Trump, of showing that he was accepted in local communities. Add to that other processes in which Trump was normalized, such as his ridiculous appearance on the Late Show with Jimmy Fallon, and it seemed to not bode well.

Then, in the last couple of weeks of the general election, it seemed like all of Hillary Clinton's momentum just stopped dead in it's tracks. Perhaps it was the James Comey announcement that the investigations to her email controversy were still active. Or perhaps it was the alleged Russian hacking, which still feels like an overblown story to me.

Mostly, it seems to me that Hillary Clinton's mediocrity just caught up with her, and when the circus that was Trump's campaign calmed down a little bit, and the man was normalized, then suddenly, he seemed to own all of the momentum heading into Election Day.

It was not shocking to see him win, although it felt to me like a punch in the gut. Had the country lowered it's standards to this extent, that we could actually vote in a complete incompetent, a con artist and a transparent phony like this?


Suddenly, the clown and his campaign were no longer laughing matters. Suddenly, he seemed like a dangerous threat - surely the most serious threat to American democracy that this nation has ever seen.

How bad was he? People were comparing him to Hitler, and even though such comparisons were ridiculous and trivialized the extent of the crimes committed by Nazi Germany, the fascist and racist leanings of Team Trump were indeed starting to grow seriously worrisome.

Sometimes, I think about the fact that over 60 million Americans saw this man as fit to lead the country, to be the name and face and voice of the country for at least the next four years, and it is as depressing as it is horrifying. It sometimes feels like we are living in different universes, where certain things that seem obvious to me - such as climate change being real, the American healthcare system failing it's people and the need for a universal, single-payer healthcare system that will not leave anyone behind, and the obviousness of Trump being a phony and a shallow narcissist - just are not accepted by a good number of people. Indeed, it has been shocking and alarming not only that the guy has supporters, but in how enthusiastic those supporters are! The fact of the matter is that I have quite a few friends who unpleasantly surprised me by their support of this man, and it admittedly has become difficult for me to take their viewpoints seriously, when they cannot see through a man who always seemed to represent the very worst and most extreme traits of Americans.

As alarming as all of this has been, perhaps more worrisome is the militancy of his supporters. I overheard conversations where Trump supporters sounded downright threatening in their intolerance of opponents of Trump, particularly "the protesters" as they were derisively called. At these times, you can definitely see the fascistic, authoritarian leanings of the pro-Trump crowd.

But the shock value has been lost since November, and President Trump is a reality. Yes, it is every bit as ridiculous and seemingly unhinged as the campaign often seemed, and as the man himself often seemed well before all of this. Yet, let us not forget that he won the election, and that he is not a man to be underestimated. After all, he is the president, and now, his jingoistic and xenophobic viewpoints are indeed a serious threat to democracy.

This is apparently so much the case, that no less of an authority than a history professor at Yale, Timothy Snyder, is warning of the urgency of the situation, and claiming that we have, at most, a year before our democracy is eroded to the point that it no longer exists.

This is where we have to get that sense of shock back, where we maybe have to take these warnings seriously. Indeed, I was guilty of always viewing Trump as a conman and a clown, but he also is the president now, like it or not. And we have to take him seriously.

Snyder is warning us that we are running out of time, that winning the election did not humble Trump, or force him to grow up or compromise. Any hopes that his ridiculous fixation on Tweets would be pushed aside by the awesome weight of ruling the leading superpower of the world is obviously proven false by now. Trump is the same as he has always been, except now, the office that he holds truly does demand that we pay attention and take the man seriously.

Trump always has had a "style" that many people described as provocative. He is an unapologetic hoarder of wealth and excess, having been born with a silver spoon in his mouth, and inherited a fortune as the foundation with which to build his empire. Many have speculated that this empire of Trump's was built on the misery of those unfortunate enough to have to work to try and build it, so that this narcissist's name could be up in glittering and lit letters, dominating the skylines of our modern cities. Many, in fact, suggest that this man was nothing more than a swindler, than a con artist, and that almost everything that he did and created was one big scam, an elaborate get rich quick scheme. Perhaps the most infamous of these was his encouragement for business-minded folk to sign up and attend his "Trump University." People paid a lot of money - in the tens of thousands - for what has since been described as the ultimate scam.

That is why so many people, including members of his own political party, were so worried and, yes, outspoken, that his entire political approach would be essentially the same thing. After all, Trump has never shown a capacity to be or to do otherwise.

Yale history professor Timothy Snyder actually worries that Trump will bring a lot more than the equivalent of some elaborate get rich quick scheme into the White House. He worries that Trump may very well bring fascism to America's doorstep:

"Trump’s policy is a provocation, which is probably meant to provoke an event like the assassination of the German diplomat Ernst Eduard vom Rath on November 7 1938."

Indeed, Trump's whole style can likely be seen as provocation towards his enemy. And it was one thing when this kind of approach was used in business. It was bad enough there, but it could be argued that this is the way in which businesses are run. The whole idea today of how American businesses, and how our present incarnation of the capitalist system (or what passes fort he capitalist system these days) works is one guy basically getting over on the other, pulling the wool over him, and walking away with the better deal. Trump obviously believes in this approach, and he apparently believes, as many here in the United States believe, that the country as a whole not only could, but should be run in much the same manner.

It has not yet been fully two months since Trump gave his much criticized inaugural speech, where he relentlessly reiterated his message that from this day forward, it will be only America first. Yet, already, many of his campaign promises have fallen by the wayside. Mexico will not pay for the wall, Americans will through their taxes. In fact, if Trump would get his way, American consumers would pay twice over, as his proposed tariff on imported Mexican goods would essentially make American consumers of Mexican goods foot the bill, paying for his wall twice over. To many, this sounds like the political equivalent of his business schemes, sounds like he is schooling us at his "university" about the art of the deal, as he sees it. Ditto with the healthcare bill, which as a candidate, he promised would cover all Americans. Now, as president, he is championing a bill that is projected to have 14 million Americans lose their healthcare coverage as soon as next year. He also promised to release his taxes, as well as to divorce himself from his business interests, so as to make clear that decisions and gifts made by foreign governments will not have undue influence over decisions made by the White House.

When you add to that Trump's well-established tendency to lie, often blatantly, it indeed buttresses the notions that he is a scam artist. This has been well-known for some time. Yet still, tens of millions of Americans saw fit to elect him to the highest and most reputable office in the land. There were suggestions that the awesome power of the presidency might change Trump, that it might even humble him. Unfortunately, there seem to be no real signs that this is the case at all, at least not thus far.

Many criticisms of Trump's first days in office, from opposing Democrats to even some Republicans like McCain and Bush, have focused on both Trump's style and his stance on issues. Indeed, so far, it does feel a bit like the political equivalent of his whole business style, which is to say that he is more than willing to crush anyone in his way - assuming that it is in his power to do so. When it is not - and this has already often been the case despite his newness to the office he now holds - he seems to whine and complain that it should be within his power, and this is what has folks wondering. When the second version of his travel ban on Muslims is struck down by another appellate judge, and he describes this version as very watered down and suggests that what he really wants is, indeed, an outright ban on Muslims coming into this country, that has many worried, especially when these remarks are accompanied by his trying to discredit the judges that keep his power in check, and his suggestions that the system should be changed, and that he should have the power to overrule these judges.

The system of checks and balances that was established at the very inception of this nation's history by no less an authority than the Founding Fathers is being seriously threatened by Donald Trump and his trademark style. It is obviously worrying many people, and his critics have been many, obviously including Timothy Snyder. Of course, Trump himself dismisses any and all criticism and protests of his actions in the White House as irrelevant, tainted, or skewed. But indeed, the worries are serious, and this goes beyond the more common disagreements over a president's policies or stance on the issues. Many worries have been expressed that it is American democracy itself that appears to be threatening, and that there are troublesome signs that it is already eroding and vulnerable.

Of course, there is much disagreement over the extent of the threat, as well as the time frame that we are talking about. Some would suggest that the foundations of American democracy are strong enough to withstand the challenges to it by the Trump administration. Others suggest that it is not as strong as we might think, and some are even waiting for Trump's Reichstag fire, another kind of 9/11 which will give this administration the excuse to grab even more emergency powers than George W. Bush and his administration did a decade and a half ago, after the September 11th attacks.

Here, no less of an authority than a Yale professor of history is warning Americans that we have less than a year to act and safeguard our democracy. He takes the threat of Trump very seriously, and he is urging action to ensure the survival of democracy, because he feels that the alternative is fascism right here in the United States. It can happen here, he is saying, and we just might want to take his warnings seriously.

Below are the links to two articles on Daniel Snyder, and how he feels Trump might just effectively eliminate American democracy itself, and usher in a whole new, and most unfortunate, era in American history and politics:

If We Don’t Act Now, Fascism Will Be on Our Doorstep, Says Yale Historian by Steven Rosenfeld, March 15, 2017:

“We have at most a year to defend American democracy, perhaps less“ published by Süddeutsche Zeitung International, February 10, 2017: