Political Magic

magiccardsNow you see it. Now you don’t.

Since I was a kid, I’ve loved magic, learned and performed tricks with cards, coins, magnets, (foam rubber) rabbits, large silvery clanging rings, false bottom boxes, ropes, and guillotine-like finger “slicers.” I found Harry Houdini mesmerizing, and I still love going to a good old fashioned magic show – as I did the other day to watch a self-described “Hogwarts graduate,” Michael Barron, who does “magic tricks for a living.”

We know that magic is an illusion, that the finger sliced off when the blade falls will be restored, yet we scream, for our collective mind suspends its disbelief, wanting to believe we’ve observed a magical singularity defying all past experience and common sense.

We play the fool, indeed we crave to be deceived, so we may puzzle, “how do you suppose he fooled us?”

How is this like politics?

It’s similar but not so harmless.

In politics, we often have the oleaginous con, the pol who does not perform as well as a tyro carney magician, he may even appear to be a clumsy oaf, stumbling to speak, having nary an original thought, a slender resume to fill the elective post he seeks, but he searches cleverly, like a political dowser might, to find the wellspring of our hope or fear that he promises to satisfy – while our jimminy cricket whispers, “you know, he can’t possibly do that.”

You’ve heard it this silly season.

One says – Walls will go up I tell you.

Another – Opportunity will rise – beyond your wildest dreams.

There’s a high price we pay for being suckered by such political misdirection. Continue reading

Divided devotion

ironcrossI ran Sunday morning.

It was on an island, Vasilievskiy, in St. Petersburg, Russia, a long walk or a short taxi ride across one of several bridges from the island to the Hermitage or the main drag, Nevsky Street,

The island had hardly any traffic, and few stragglers, in contrast with the celebrations across the Neva River, at the center of St. Petersburg, commemorating Russia’s 1945 victory over Germany in World War II.

There were local parks and broad avenues to run, until the streets narrowed into a warren of quaint back streets, and I came upon some local folk walking, heads slightly bowed, speaking softly in Russian.

I stopped running, and was soon walking with them.

The women wore muted colored scarves pulled over their heads. The men were unsmiling but not unpleasant. The children were moderately respectful of their parents’ directives.

After a block or so, adult singles, couples and families, turned out in pleasant dress and manner, formed a swelling stream of humanity headed toward a narrow security gate just ahead.

A solitary thin woman in a long black dress stood across the street, not far from the gate, framed by a magnificent small church topped with sunlight brilliant gold eggs, each the height of five men, with crosses fixed above that brushed the blue sky.

The crowd gathered at the narrow check point, just past the darkly dressed lady, crossed the barrier, and marched onto a broad walkway.

It first appeared to be a park or garden, but then more like a natural forest.

It was the Smolenskoye Cemetery, hundreds of years old by the dated headstones.

Crosses standing over unseen grave sites emerged from a back lit growth of grasses like they were flowers instead.

Concordant with the complexity of nature, there was a harmony in this place of what is with what was.

Nature seemed to embrace and lend life to the dust we contemplate is our end, salving the pain of the living walking among their remembered loved ones.

A large crucifix lay flat on the ground, at an angle crossing the grave site, resting on a bed of flowers.

There were the signs left by the living in memory of those they lost, saying something about who they were and why they mattered and still do to those who are with us.

One family had placed photographs encased in aged porcelain of a married couple, in separate photos, smiling as they had before they left us for this garden of what was.

Those who bury their loved ones know such places.
Plainly, the people of this island in St. Petersburg struggled to find a way to say something special and different; the usual just wouldn’t do.

This was a place of grief but also a place of love and reconciliation and respect.

An older slight lady, in a warm sandy coat, weighing as much as her frail self, bent by age, a royal purple scarf about her head, sat by the side of the walk way, a bag of her things beside her, her white cane resting against the slight hill’s decline. She didn’t ask for alms except by the sad empathy that hung about her. I had only a few quarters, and no rubles. I gave her what I had. She looked up into my eyes and crossed herself.

russianwomanHard nerveless working men wrapped their arms about their women as they left. Some cried. They comforted each other. Young and old, comfortable and working poor, all made their devotions in different ways. Young children seemed to learn something from their visits – if their restrained and respectful conduct, as they were leaving, was any indication.

How can people around the world feel love for those they lose and still harbor hate and suffer division from others who care as much for those they’ve loved and lost?

Why does human kind suffer this arrhythmia?

Reality check

trumpfuReality TV has always struck me as cultural porn, transfixing bystanders with the participants’ non-stop trash talk, wrong headed views, erratic and impolite behavior, not to overlook their clumsy violence, cursing intolerance, calculated to demean each other “for amusement.”

The tv participants in these seemingly impromptu presentations are indifferent as to how they appear as long as they are being watched.

If the “players” have any sense at all, they know they are being abusive, even sadistic to one another.

Those watching are masochistic, as they submit, and perhaps even embrace this misconduct.

It’s not like a road side accident because this is no accident. “Huge” amounts of time and money and promotion are spent on this immersion “entertainment.” Parents reform a child’s worst impulses to act this way but disregard what they teach.

Marshall McLuhan studied cultural phenomenon and wrote how the “medium is the message” and how it forms our daily conduct. There could perhaps be no better example of McLuhan’s instruction than how reality tv has crossed over and embedded itself, compromised our “culture,” as it’s being mimicked increasingly off-camera, and is the latest in-your-face fashion this presidential season. Continue reading

Loudoun Water allegedly let Goose Creek run dry

We received a report from the Loudoun County Soil and Water Conservation District that alleges  actions by Loudoun Water halted the flow of water over Beaver Dam for two periods during the summer of 2015. The report begins:

The Loudoun County Soil and Water Conservation District Board passed a resolution, appointing the undersigned as Special Counsel, to inquire into whether Loudoun Water had failed to pump water into the Goose Creek Reservoir and whether, because of that failure, Goose Creek ran dry; otherwise, the assignment was to suggest what recommendations, if any, might cure this failure going forward.

John Flannery, one of our bloggers, submitted the report and will serve as the undersigned Special Counsel.

beaverdam goosecreekmap goosecreekflow beaverdamarial REPORT OF SPECIAL COUNSL_BEAVER_DAM_4_14_16_Approved_4_29_16

Father Dan

danielBerriganFather Daniel J. Berrigan, a saintly Jesuit, has died at 94 years of age.

In his 94 years, he saved many lives and souls because he believed that being spiritual meant doing justice.

Father Dan once wrote of “the poem called death” yet “unwritten,” while walking “patiently through life,” and coping with “the mind’s dark overflow,” awaiting “the violent last line.”
Few thought of Father Dan as “patient.”

When they say, “Give me some of that old time religion,” I’d like to think they were talking about Father Dan’s brand of belief.

In sharp contrast, we are overrun these days with pulpeteers spewing forth hate, intolerance and dispirited bile.

The Berrigan Brothers, Dan and Philip, a World War II vet and religious himself, dedicated their lives to non-violent protest on behalf of peace and love and a just society and, in ironic response, were arrested for breaking the law. Continue reading

A barrel of monkeys? – no, of rain water!

Peter Holden – on making a rain water barrel and why

Peter Holden – on making a rain water barrel and why

It’s not clear that a barrel of monkeys is much fun.

Nor maybe a barrel of rain water either.

But collecting rain water in a barrel is quite useful.

Peter Holden of the Loudoun Soil and Water Conservation District came out to Lovettsville last Wednesday to the Quarter Branch Barn, in partnership with the Town, to help the local folk to build or buy barrels to collect rain water.

Some may think that there’s so much water, that it’s quaint to collect rain water in a barrel.

Although 70% of the earth is covered in water, less than one half of one percent of all that water is fresh, available and drinkable.

That’s not a lot worldwide, particularly when some is wasted, compromised by pollution, and not where it’s needed.

It’s startling that one fifth of all the world’s fresh water is found in Lake Baikal in Siberia.

We should be concerned because water is right up there after air for our survival.

The world record for holding one’s breath is 22 minutes for a trained free diver, Stig Severinsen (after Stig hyperventilated to rid himself of carbon dioxide). But many can hardly hold their breath for even a minute.

As for living without water, three to five days is about right although it depends on your physical condition.

Many presume that water is free. But mostly it costs to treat and recycle it. Town folk pay water taxes. Away from sources of public water, homeowners and renters maintain well and septic systems and filters and pumps.

Harvesting falling rain water in a barrel lightens the burden on public and private water sources.

Peter said, “Rain barrels are an old technology that has come back into style as people focus on conserving our resources and minimizing the impact on the environment.” Continue reading

One man, little or no vote

Alexis de Tocqueville

Alexis de Tocqueville

Ever since the ancient Greeks, and long after Attica and Pericles, we arrived, by fits and starts, at an understanding that democracy, and the right of the people to vote, is how we overthrow kings, dictators, and corrupt political elites.

Many suffered and died when resisting those who opposed the popular vote.

We are engaged in a struggle over what the franchise means in this presidential election year.

Alexis de Tocqueville wrote that, “America is great because she is good. If America ceases to be good, America will cease to be great.”

What is especially “good” about America is that “we the people” can say directly or indirectly how we are governed by whom we may elect with our votes.

Thomas Jefferson believed that, “[s]hould things go wrong at any time, the people will set them to rights by the peaceable exercise of their elective rights.”

Republican voters are asking this year whether their “elective rights” have anything like the bang per vote they thought they enjoyed.

In the Republican primaries, we have seen how the votes of one man may be reduced to a fraction, or be treated unequal to another man’s vote, or may even wither until a nullity, void and of no effect whatever.

Harry Enten studied the variance in the recent Republican primaries and caucuses, focusing on how many voters it took to elect a delegate.

Mr. Enten found a range, how it took 52 votes to elect a Republican delegate in the Northern Mariana Islands, but 2,516 votes in Nevada; the insider caucuses, he concluded, invited outsized elite influence, requiring fewer votes to elect more delegates.

The orange canary in the Republican presidential primaries has been Billionaire Developer Donald Trump. Continue reading

Black lives matter

Jamycheal Mitchell

Jamycheal Mitchell

On April 22, 2015, Jamycheal Mitchell, 24, a schizophrenic, walked into a 7-11 in Portsmouth, and took a Mountain Dew, a Snickers bar and a Zebra Cake.

The value of these three food items was $5.05.

He was charged with trespass, and petit larceny, misdemeanors.

What do you think his bail should have been?

Whatever you think, you likely got it wrong.

He was denied bail entirely, and held in custody at the Hampton Roads Regional Jail, according to the Portsmouth Case Information System.

Every person accused of a crime, particularly a misdemeanor, has a constitutional right to be released on bail if they are not a risk to themselves or to the community.

There is no indication that Jamycheal posed any risk when arrested.

But the Magistrate denied him bail, and kept him in custody.

Jamycheal wasn’t released from jail a month later.

Instead, Judge Morton V. Whitlow ordered Jamycheal to be transferred to the Eastern State Hospital since he was deemed incompetent to stand trial on the misdemeanor shoplifting charges, and presumably remain there until he was competent to stand trial.

If that sounds bizarre, this Dickensian nightmare for Jamycheal and his family was hardly over.

Nor would it end anything like Victor Hugo’s famously wronged fictional inmate, Jean val Jean, who stole a loaf of bread, rather than a Snickers.

There was no room at Eastern State for Jamycheal. So he remained at the Hampton Roads Regional Jail. In fact, Jamycheal was never taken to receive any treatment.

Jamycheal reportedly paced his cell naked, ate little or nothing, lost weight, and had no visitors.

On July 31, 2015, when he appeared before the court, he was visibly thinner, his face emaciated, but the Court simply reiterated his earlier direction, that Jamycheal be transferred to the Eastern State Hospital.

Having seen Jamycheal in court on July 31, 2015, a least one family member reportedly called the jail and asked that he be transferred to the emergency room. But that didn’t happen.

On about August 17, 2015, Jamycheal was dead. Continue reading

Full court press

President Ronal Reagan nominated 9th Cir. Court Judge Anthony Kennedy and he was confirmed unanimously by the US Senate in 1988 – a presidential election year

President Ronal Reagan nominated 9th Cir. Court Judge Anthony Kennedy and he was confirmed unanimously by the US Senate in 1988 – a presidential election year

The Republican Majority Leader of the U.S. Senate, Mitch McConnell, and the Republican Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Charles Grassley, both insist that a nominee to the U.S. Supreme Court should not be approved in a presidential election year and they insist instead that the nation wait until the next President is elected, about nine months from now.

Nonsense!

Both Majority Leader McConnell and Chairman Grassley approved and voted for President Ronald Reagan’s Supreme Court nominee, Circuit Judge Anthony Kennedy, in a presidential election year, 1988, when President Reagan was a “lame duck.” (You may want to listen to what Chairman Grassley said in 1988 at Judge Kennedy’s confirmation hearings – http://www.c-span.org/video/?c4580671/grassley-supports-kennedy).

The vagaries of when a presidential nomination may occur has no bearing on what the constitution requires.

Especially when there have been 13 other Justices approved in presidential election years in our nation’s still young history including Justices Oliver Ellsworth (1796), Samuel Chase (1796), William Johnson (1804), Philip Barbour (1836), Roger Taney (1836), Melville Fuller (1888), George Shiras (1892), Mahlon Pitney (1912), John Clarke (1916), Louis Brandeis (1916), Benjamin Cardoza (1932), and Frank Murphy (1940).

The Senate’s refusal to meet its constitutional obligation has allowed us to see how the independence and function of the Supreme Court shall be compromised. Continue reading

Why do we war in the Mideast?

unknownsoldierI have heard it said about Lahore and Brussels and Paris and New York that the reason the “terrorists” attack “us” is that they hate “our way of life.”

I don’t think that’s it at all. Yet, this explanation is repeated after every one of these tragic attacks.

I don’t think a man, no matter his religion or ideology, blows himself up because he envies us, acting out a terminal case of Freudian status-envy.

An obvious explanation, the terrorists offer, is that they bomb our innocent civilians because we’re bombing their women and children in the mid-East.

After the tragic 9-11 attack, we recovered computer records from an al-Qaeda office in Kabul. Al Qaeda calculated that, after the 9-11 attack, we’d either withdraw from the Muslim world, or launch a massive invasion that would drain our treasury, and force America to leave the Muslim world anyway. We charged into Iraq, took out Saddam Hussein, kind of left, and thus made ISIS possible.

It is my hope, therefore, that our councils at the so-called “defense” department, the CIA, NSA, HSA, and when all those acronym-laden experts gather at the White House, that they’re discussing something a lot more nuanced than how terrorists envy our way of life.

We can’t make decent foreign policy decisions based on BS “intel” that “terrorists” envy our burgers, reality tv and sprawling malls.

You have to suspect, that this line is meant only for our consumption, so we don’t ask why we’re really in the mid-East.

The powers that be assume most Americans have no idea where Belgium is, and a vague sense it has something to do with waffles.

The Economist said last November that Belgium has “a scabrous reputation as an incubator of jihadi ideology and a paragon of law-enforcement incompetence.” I’m not vouching for the foreign coverage. But is anyone reading this stuff? The Economist knew something was likely coming. And it did. But still Brussels was caught Flemish flat-footed.

The public has to be informed at home that what’s going on, prompting terrorism, is so much more complicated than nation-state envy?

Let’s level with the American people. Why exactly are we fighting in the Middle East? Is this an extension of dollar diplomacy, of securing mineral rights, of taking oil, of hegemony in the region, of exploiting a political vacuum we caused when we charged into Iraq, of securing Israel, of honoring commitments to Turkey (against Syria). Why are we there?

It’s hard to swallow the oft-cited claim that, “We’re just there to help the innocent women and children,” when we are dropping bombs on them with quite a bit less precision than you’ve grown to expect watching the current blockbuster action flicks.

Nor can we ignore that we have our latter day Crusaders who believe this is a holy war against Muslims. Save us!

No matter what is our true rationale, we should understand that when we drop bombs on population centers and strike civilians in the mid-East, we can expect that violence to come back on us, in Europe, Pakistan, and the United States.

The “terrorists” are curing the world of the sanitized TV version of the mid-East war, as a distant encounter that need not concern us, by concerning us, by bringing the fight to those nation-states, mixing into the centuries of religious wars they’ve endured. The cliché applies – “What goes around, comes around.”

So, it would be really good to define why we’re at war, for Aristotle said, nothing improves your aim like having a target, and if we can’t say why, we should get out of it.