Facing a new year and a new era

All of the kerfuffle about the electoral college and recounts is over and we face reality:  Donald Trump will be the next President of the United States.  I have a number of resolutions for this new era.

First, bear witness.  For me this means a bit more blogging than in the past couple of years when I have slacked off considerably.  More shorter pieces will be my mantra.

Second, try to maintain a sense of humor.  I have friends to help me including Robert Waldo Brunelle, Jr. who explains things.

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Third, work for good local and statewide candidates.  Remember that in two years there is a midterm election.

Fourth, distract myself from 24 hour politics.  There are the Red Sox and bird watching for example.  There are many, many books to be read.

Keep reminding myself that life does go on.

G. K Chesterton, Jane Austen and Mr. Wickham

In his collection of essays, “Come to Think of It” published in 1930 we find this little gem On Jane Austen in the General Election.  I’m not interested in what Chesterton writes about how political commentators are using – or misusing – Austen to argue about the New Woman as much as I am in his observations about George Wickham.  When my husband handed be a print-out of the short essay, I was just finished with my annual re-reading of Pride and Prejudice.  This includes re-reading the novel, watching the Colin Frith/Masterpiece Theater adaptation, and more recently, re-reading the P.D. James sequel, Death Comes to Pemberley, so everything was fresh in my mind.

For anyone who has not read Pride and Prejudice or seen one of the many adaptations, there is a kind of love triangle between the heroine, Elizabeth Bennett; the handsome, wealthy, brooding Fitzwilliam Darcy; and the charming, handsome, impoverished George Wickham.  Darcy is private and quiet; Wickham, open and talkative.  When we, and Elizabeth, first meet the men, Wickham is the more attractive.  Made more so, perhaps, by the fact that Mr. Darcy, proud and aloof, publicly refuses to acknowledge Mr. Wickham.

Wickham

It is Wickham’s explanation that Chesterton writes about.

….A writer in a leading daily paper, in the course of a highly optimistic account of the new attitude of woman to men, as it would appear in the General Election, made the remark that a modern girl would see through the insincerity of Mr. Wickham, in Pride and Prejudice, in five minutes.

Now this is a highly interesting instance of the sort of injustice done to Jane Austen.  The crowd, (I fear the considerable crowd) of those who read that newspaper and do not read that author will certainly go away with the idea that Mr Wickham was some sort of florid and vulgar imposter like Mr. Mantalini. [Mantalini, a character in Dicken’s Nicholas Nickerby, is a handsome man who lives off his wife and eventually ruins her.  Also described as a gigolo.]  But Jane Austen was a much more shrewd and solid psychologist than that.  She did not make Elizabeth Bennett to be a person easily deceived, and she did not make her deceiver a vulgar imposter.  Mr. Wickham was one of those very formidable people who tell lies by telling the truth.

Wickham tells Elizabeth the part of the story that puts Darcy in the wrong.  She has no reason not to believe him and neither do we until we learn the rest of the story from Mr. Darcy himself.  As the story unfolds we learn that while Wickham may not be vulgar, he has a lot in common with the gigolo, Mantalini.  But I digress.

Chesterton, thinking of the General Election, views Wickham as the perfect politician.

….For Mr. Wickham was, or is, exactly the sort of man who does make a success of political elections….And he owes his success to two qualities, both exhibited in the novel in which he figures.  First, the talent for telling a lie by telling half of the truth.  And second, the art of telling a lie not loudly and offensively, but with an appearance of gentlemanly and graceful regret.

George Wickham as the perfect member of Parliament and perfect politician.  I love it!  Maybe the problem with politics today is there are not enough George Wickhams.

Photograph is a still of Adrian Lukis as George Wickham in the 1995 BBC/Masterpiece Theater version of Pride and Prejudice.

 

 

 

 

Main Stream Media

I confess that I am a news junky.  I will watch disaster coverage until it gets repetitious because there is nothing new to report.  I signed Bernie Sanders’ petition to get the MSM to cover him more (maybe after Iowa and New Hampshire?).  I have news alerts from the New York Times as one of my apps and I get email from at least 3 news organizations.  And I have even been known to watch the Brattleboro Selectboard meeting on local cable.

Part of what I watch on cable news is how breaking news stories are handled.  That is why I loved the Mutts series that ran last week.  I have long been a Patrick McDonnell fan following the adventures of Mooch and Earl (I get the new strip emailed to me every morning) closely.  They don’t often make what I would consider political comments unless about the environment but this was such as gentle poke at news coverage, I have to share it.  Here they are:  Monday through Saturday.

 

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Day two:

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Day three features Mooch as the reporter:

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Day four:  The family interview

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Day five:

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And the happy ending:

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Drawings by Patrick McDonnell.

Some cartoonists view the 2014 mid-term election

There are some great cartoons this Sunday on the President and the mid-terms.  Here are a few.

First from Signe Wilkinson

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Another view of the President and Congress from Nick Anderson.

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And my favorite from Stuart Carlson.

 

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I have to think that President Obama is expecting the Republican Congress to erect roadblocks and force him to veto some of their legislation (like repealing the Affordable Care Act), but I’m not sure there are many Republicans left who understand that their job is to actually govern.  We shall see.

Writer’s block

I’ve been quiet for a few days.  Have lots of things I’m thinking about and have started some posts, but not finished any of them.  Is it because I am depressed and anxious about the upcoming election?  (I keep reading about the evils of a Republican takeover of the Senate and fear that voter turnout will be low.)  Or is it because there is no fall excitement with the Red Sox in the World Series?  (Although I have to say the games have been exciting with the Royals and Giants.)  Maybe I’m suffering from sleep deprivation since I have a cat who has decided she needs attention at 10:30, 11:30 and between 12 and 1 am.  I think she may be having delayed moving anxiety.  Whatever.  I still don’t sleep.

Then I came upon this humor piece from the New Yorker by James Thomas  

Well, here you are, looking at this, trying, hoping, floundering, scrabbling, wishing, dying to find out the mystery of “how to” write a sentence. Or possibly you have tried write sentence and failed utterly.

Ideally, you’ll aim to begin on the left (in this case, with the word “ideally”), head right (through the middle of the sentence), and stop at the far end of the sentence (in this case, right here).

Sentences have been around since the dawn of paragraphs, and indeed since before that, for sentences are essentially the building blobs of a paragraph. Right here, if you’re looking closely enough, you may notice that what you are now reading in fact is a sentence. But also—some will have noticed even more well—what you are reading is a paragraph. And I could go further than that, even, to declare that you are also reading words, letters, and indeed this entire page. Nobody thought you could do it, but here we are now and aren’t you having a good time?

All I need to do according to Mr. Thomas is write a bunch of sentences and blob them into paragraphs and before you know it I will have a post!

Even furthermore, you’re reading everything that has ever been wrote, but you’re starting with just this bit, because reading everything at once would be too much for anyone to attempt. Too much words in one go is unacceptable, and your writing should reflect that. Keep it concise and don’t stuff your sentence with unnecessary, superfluous, gratuitous content that smothers your prose, muddies your intentions, confuses the reader, clogs up the page with excess text, pads out the work with inelegant drivels, irritates the eye, examines giraffes, and renders your point unclear.

Also, keep your paragraphs short.

How importan is spelling? Well, very important. I don’t know why anyone would even ask that. If you have any sef-respect, you ought to be diligent about and with regard to spelling. If words are the bulding blocks of a sentence—and I would argue that yes, they are—then spelling is the stuff that holds them togteher.

Maybe tomorrow, after absorbing all this advice, I will finish one of my draft posts.  After I finish planting my bulbs for the spring.

Lady writer

Illustration from Mindy’s Muses @ mindysmuses.blogspot.com

 

Random thoughts on the state of the world on the first day of spring

Today, the first day of spring, is warmish outside.  I think it actually broke 50!  We had a few hours of sun, but now it is mostly cloudy.  I finally purchased John Grisham’s “Sycamore Row”.  I had been resisting but succumbed because I loved “A Time to Kill” and I ended up getting 45% off the cover price.  Don’t know if a new Grisham is a sign of spring or not, but I’m going to take it as one.

It is hard for me to concentrate on much the last few days.  There is just too much news! Between the missing Malaysian airliner, Crimea, and worrying about the Democrats retaining Congress in the fall, things are pretty depressing even for someone who tends to be an optimist.

Unfortunately, I think that time ran out a long time ago for the passengers on the airliner and now all we can do is watch as the world tries to locate the remains of the plane and the black box.  While everyone points out that they did eventually find the Air France plane that went down in the Atlantic, it was very difficult even though we had a much better of idea of where it went down.  I see the families on television and wonder what I would feel if I just didn’t know what happened.  At this point one almost has to treat it as a forensic mystery to be solved.

I don’t think we are on the verge of a war over Russia and the Crimea, but I do think that things will be difficult internationally for a while.  This will affect negotiations in Iran and Syria as well as people in the Ukraine and Crimea.  But the ultimate losers may be the Crimeans.  David M. Herszenhorn had an article in the New York Times yesterday which pointed out that the troubles there may just be starting.

Many A.T.M.s in this sun-dappled seaside resort city in Crimea, and across the region, have been empty in recent days, with little white “transaction denied” slips piling up around them. Banks that do have cash have been imposing severe restrictions on withdrawals.

All flights, other than those to or from Moscow, remain canceled in what could become the norm if the dispute over Crimea’s political status drags on, a chilling prospect just a month before tourist season begins in a place beloved as a vacation playground since czarist times.

He points out that Ukraine could cut off electricity and water supplies and that there is no direct overland route between Crimea and Russia.  The story ends with this

Some Crimeans said they were already feeling the financial sting from political instability.

As crowds in the cities of Simferopol and Sevastopol held raucous celebrations well into Monday morning after the vote, here in Yalta, Ihor B., the owner of a small travel business, went to bed with a growing sense of dread: The roughly two dozen bookings that he had received since the start of the year had all disappeared.

“I got 10 requests from Germany, and 10 assignments from Ukrainian agencies for Western tourists; a couple of requests from Dutch tourists and cruise ships,” said Mr. B, who asked that his last name not be used for fear of reprisal by the new Russian government. “At the moment, all of them, absolutely all of them, are canceled.”

In the same issue of the Times was a long cautionary story about South Ossetia which was liberated from Georgia five years ago.  But things have moved on and South Ossetia is not doing very well.

When Russia invaded Georgia, repelling a Georgian attack on South Ossetia and taking control of the separatist enclaves of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, it seemed most unlikely that the Kremlin was thinking about long-term consequences.

As in Crimea, the war was presented to Russians as a humanitarian effort to protect its citizens, and more broadly as a challenge to encirclement by the United States, which was aligned with Georgia. Television stations gave the intervention blanket coverage, and it was wildly popular in Russia, lifting the approval ratings of Dmitri A. Medvedev to the highest point of his presidency.

The aftermath of recognition, however, has presented Russia with a long series of headaches. This week, economists have warned repeatedly that Crimea, if it is absorbed, will prove a serious drag on Russia’s budget, but their arguments have been drowned out in the roar of public support for annexation.

Aleksei V. Malashenko, an analyst at the Carnegie Moscow Center, said Russian officials “will be shocked” with the challenges they face when trying to manage Crimea — reviving its economy, distributing money and influence among its ethnic groups, and trying to control the corruption that accompanies all big Russian projects. And, judging from precedent, the public’s euphoria will fade, he said.

“I think that in Russia, the majority of the society forgot about Ossetia, and if it weren’t for the Olympics, the majority of the society would also forget about Abkhazia,” Mr. Malashenko said. “Of course, Crimea is not Ossetia. But anyway, the popularity of Crimeans, and the Crimean tragedy, will be forgotten in a year.”

So maybe we don’t need to do anything except some sanctions and make sure that Russia and Putin’s next move is not to march into eastern Ukraine.  Forget John McCain’s mockery and advice.

As for domestic politics, I recalled Andrew Sullivan’s March 13th blog entry on The Dish. The Boring, Relentless Advance Of Obama’s Agenda.  To read the entire piece one has to subscribe [which I would encourage you to do], but here is his conclusion.

…One side is theater – and often rather compelling theater, if you like your news blonde, buxom and propagandized. The other side is boring, relentless implementation. At any one time, you can be forgiven for thinking that the theatrics have worked. The botched roll-out of healthcare.gov, to take an obvious example, created a spectacular weapon for the GOP to hurl back at the president. But since then, in undemonstrative fashion, the Obama peeps have rather impressively fixed the site’s problems and signed up millions more to the program. As the numbers tick up, the forces of inertia – always paramount in healthcare reform – will kick in in defense of Obamacare, and not against it. Again, the pattern is great Republican political theater, followed by steady and relentless Democratic advance.

Until the theater really does create a new majority around Republican policies and a Republican candidate, Obama has the edge. Which is to say: he has had that edge now for nearly six years. Even if he loses the entire Congress this fall, he has a veto. And then, all he has to do is find a successor able to entrench his legacy and the final meep-meep is upon us. And that, perhaps, is how best to see Clinton. She may not have the stomach for eight years in the White House, and the barrage of bullshit she will have to endure. But if you see her as being to Barack Obama what George H.W. Bush was to Reagan, four years could easily be enough. At which point, the GOP may finally have to abandon theater for government, and performance art for coalition-building.

Plus, it is spring.

Mutts by Patrick McDonnell

Mutts by Patrick McDonnell

About traffic studies

Unless you’ve been in a coma or cave or maybe sequestered somewhere you’ve heard about the traffic problems on the George Washington Bridge last September.  Everyone is investigating:  A joint special committee of the New Jersey legislature, the United States Attorney for New Jersey, at least two Congressional Committees and a great many news investigative reporters.  But until subpoenas come due in a week or so and people have a chance to digest all the material that will be submitted, including listening to cell phone conversations and searching for text messages and email, there is likely to be no new information.  So in case you are suffering from bridgegate withdrawal, here is some information on traffic studies.

Trust Calvin Trillin to be on the case.  First, his poem as published in the Nation.

Fort Lee Jam   

Chris Christie insists he knew nothing at all
Re jams at the bridge lanes. Well, maybe.
But, now, those commuters are smiling. They say,
“So who’s in a bigger jam, baby?”

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And then we have his imaginary consultant’s report from the traffic study published in the New York Times Sunday Review.

FINAL REPORT OF A TRAFFIC STUDY CONDUCTED AT THE FORT LEE, N.J., APPROACH TO THE GEORGE WASHINGTON BRIDGE, SEPT. 9-12, 2013

Object of the study. The study was designed to ascertain the effect on traffic if two out of three tollbooths at the Fort Lee, N.J., approach to the George Washington Bridge were closed.

Study designer. The traffic study was designed by Duane C. Milledge, Ph.D. Dr. Milledge was most recently the designer of a traffic study submitted to the agency that operates the two bridges that cross the Missouri River near downtown Kansas City, Mo. The design for that study calls for furnishing commuters on one bridge with $20 bills and instructions to say to the toll taker, “Sorry, it’s the smallest I’ve got,” collecting no tolls on the other bridge, and observing the result. Dr. Milledge is a member of the American Association of Traffic Engineers, a contributor to Queue Quarterly, and a Republican precinct captain in Summit, N.J.

Hypotheses. The principal hypothesis of the study was that the tollbooth closings might ease traffic flow onto the bridge, due to fewer cars from Fort Lee being able to gain bridge access.

Additional benefits that might accrue if the two tollbooths were closed permanently. It was posited that the space occupied by the two tollbooths in question might more efficaciously serve the revenue-flow needs of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey through a use other than collecting tolls — for instance, concessioning them out as a Shake Shack or a retail outlet for selling such souvenirs as George Washington Bridge coffee mugs, Springsteen memorabilia and CDs of Don Imus drive-time radio shows from the ’80s.

¶ Methodology. The methodology of the study was to shut down two out of three tollbooths and see what happened.

Interaction of researchers and commuters. The research team had no problem collecting data from individual drivers waiting to go through the one open lane, since their cars were virtually stationary. There were only 14 instances of violence directed at the survey takers, almost all of which consisted of commuters throwing coffee from travel mugs or paper cups. Fortunately, no researcher was scalded, since the drivers had been waiting so long that their coffee was cold.

…Corporal Sicola [research assistant]  found that 58 percent of the motorists in line shouted some imprecation, ranging from the sort often heard in the stress of a rush-hour subway or an overcrowded emergency room (e.g., “You people should burn in hell” or “You can take your study and stick it where the sun don’t shine”) to rare curses, presumably ethnic in origin (e.g., “May streetcars grow on the back of your throat”).

As we all know the lane closures were ended on Day 4, so a follow-up study is recommended.

Now, here is advice from Dr. Gridlock of the Washington Post on how to do an actual traffic study.

For close to three millennia— from the days of the Romans until the interstates were built — conducting a traffic study was simple, dreary work: send somebody out with a clip board to count ox carts or stage coaches or automobiles.

Did this create traffic jams on the Appian Way or Oregon Trail? Probably not.

Like everybody else who drives, Christie knows about traffic cameras. New Jersey has almost as many of them as it does cranberries,  and they outnumber the pigeons on the suddenly-controversial approaches to the George Washington Bridge.

Back in the days before he acquired a chauffeur Christie had to listen to the same radio traffic reports as the plebeians. As an observant fellow, he’s bound to have noticed that in the past decade they’ve gotten much more sophisticated.

Those cameras have helped, but a major advance has been because a company called Inrix and a few competitors take the heartbeat of traffic and supply local radio and TV stations with what they report. Inrix has a world-wide network of transponders installed in most trucks and what are called “fleet vehicles” — rental cars and delivery vans.

Those transponders provide real-time information, so your cheerful traffic reporter can tell you exactly how much traffic to expect — or where the major tie ups are — on, for example, the George Washington Bridge.

And then you can take the data collected and do some computer modeling.  Bill Baroni who was the one who tried to explain the fake alleged traffic study would have had some really nice charts to show them.  You don’t need poor Corporal Sicola!

Illustration by Peter Arkle for the New York Times