Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Summer and Schvitz

ANTIQUE_FAN_1_734_800South Florida has two seasons: wet and dry.  The astronomical calendar has summer starting around the 21st of June.  Here the wet season starts about Memorial Day, followed soon thereafter by the start of the hurricane season, which lasts until the end of November.  The air temperature doesn’t vary a lot: it can be 90 in January and in July.  The difference is the moisture: not just the rains that come on a regular basis between May and November, but the humidity.  It keeps the orchids happy, but it can be trying if you want to keep your clothes from getting soaked by your own perspiration.

I’ve lived in temperate climates of northern Michigan, alpine climates such as the Rockies, the desert of New Mexico, and in between.  I appreciate them all: snowfall in Michigan is beautiful, the mountains are magnificent, and the colors of a New Mexico sunset are beyond belief.  But I like it here, too, and I don’t mind a little schvitz as long as the hurricanes go someplace else, preferably out over the Atlantic.  And you don’t have to shovel the heat.

Supremely Stupid

Mike Huckabee, who will never be president of anything, continues to prove that he should never be allowed near any form of power other than the adapter on a Dust-Buster with this spewage of religious bile and historical ignorance.

Republican presidential candidate Mick Huckabee insisted on Sunday that the president of the United States would not have to follow a ruling that struck down bans on same-sex marriage because the Supreme Court was not the “Supreme Being.”

“You seemed to indicate that as president, you wouldn’t necessarily obey court rulings, even the Supreme Court,” Fox News host Chris Wallace pointed out during an interview on Sunday. “We have operated under the principle of judicial review since the Marbury v. Madison case in 1803.”

According to the GOP candidate, the United States would be operating under “judicial supremacy” instead of judicial review if bans on same-sex marriage were to be struck down.

“Presidents have understood that the Supreme Court cannot make a law, they cannot make it, the legislature has to make it, the executive branch has to sign it and enforce it,” Huckabee said. “And the notion that the Supreme Court comes up with the ruling and that automatically subjects the two other branches to following it defies everything there is about the three equal branches of government.”

“The Supreme Court is not the supreme branch,” he added. “And for God’s sake, it’s not the Supreme Being.”

Huckabee wondered what would happen if the Supreme Court ruled on “who was going to be the next president.”

“We would say, ‘Well, they can’t do that.’ Why can’t they do it? They can’t do it because it’s not in the law,” he opined. “We are sworn to uphold the Constitution and the law. And it has to be consistent and agreed upon with three branches of government. One can’t overrule the other two.”

Setting aside the fact that apparently Mr. Huckabee was not paying attention in Grade 6 Social Studies when most kids learn about the three branches of government system that we have and that one of the roles of the Judiciary is to review the laws and does have the power to invalidate them, chuckling over the cute little “Supreme Court v. Supreme Being” quip, the statement that gets my attention was his fear of what would happen if the Supreme Court ruled on “who was going to be the next president.”

Yes, indeed, what would happen?

Fortunately for the sake of the country and what’s left of the separation of church and state, the best that Mr. Huckabee can hope for is that Fox News will take him back.  If not, there’s always the role that Junior Samples played on the reboot of Hee Haw.

Driven To The Polls

Via Daily Kos:

A judge has sentenced an Arizona woman to 3½ years in prison for running over her husband with an SUV because he didn’t vote in the 2012 presidential election. Thirty-one-year-old Holly Nicole Solomon of Mesa pleaded guilty to assault charges stemming from injuries her husband suffered days after President Barack Obama was re-elected. She was sentenced on Thursday.

I think I saw an episode of Law & Order like that.

Short Takes

Twelve missing in floods in Texas.

Kurdish leader blames Iraqi forces for losses to ISIS.

Tornado kills 13 in Mexico border city.

Bug out: Ladybugs released as high school prank.

R.I.P. John F. Nash, mathematician profiled in A Beautiful Mind; Anne Meara, comedian and actress.

The Tigers lost split the series with the Astros and lost Monday to Oakland.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Cary Gossard Dunn — 1906-1952

IMG_0101

Cary Gossard Dunn was my great uncle, the younger brother of my maternal grandmother. He was born in 1906 in Indiana, one of four children. He married and had two children of his own.

I never knew him; he died in March 1952, six months before I was born. I knew he served in the military and had heard that he had been part of the D-Day invasion on Normandy in 1944. I don’t have a picture of him, but I remember seeing one in my grandmother’s photo album: a young man with familiar family features and a smile that he shared with my grandmother.

In May 2011, my parents and my brother and sister-in-law went to Arlington National Cemetery to find Uncle Cary’s grave. For some reason, the cemetery administration has no record of his burial, but through his daughter Susan they located it and took some pictures.

After I saw this photo I wrote to Susan and asked for information about her father’s service:

He was with the 467th Antiaircraft Artillery Automatic Weapons Battalion and was in the original landing at Omaha Beach, June 6, 1944. His rank was Captain and he saw service in Northern France, the Ardennes, and the Rhineland before returning to the states in 1945. He was awarded the Bronze Star. He left the military for a brief period of time, but rejoined and was promoted to Major and taught ROTC at the University of Pittsburgh for about two years. He was transferred from the Army to the Air Force in 1949 and was sent to Okinawa in 1950 where he worked as an engineer at Kadena AFB. He died of cancer at Barksdale AFB, Shreveport, Louisiana, on March 12, 1952 at the age of 45.

I wish I had known him. Given his siblings’ long lives (my grandmother lived to be 95), I would have been able to learn about what his service meant to him as I was becoming aware of my own feelings about war and peace, and to put a real connection between the stories I read in history books and the lurid tales depicted in the Hollywood movies about the war.

Susan’s description of her father’s service captures the simple facts, but like the men who served and tell their stories in such tales as Band of Brothers, the simplicity does not tell of the pain and the burden these men and women carried in service to our country then and now, and the honor and pride they have in doing their duty without any other thought than protecting the rest of us.

Rest in peace, Uncle Cary. Thank you.

Memorial Day

I grew up in Perrysburg, Ohio. It’s a small town, a suburb of Toledo, and when I was a kid in the 1950’s and ’60’s, it fit all of the images that small towns in the Midwest have: tree-shaded streets, neat homes, lots of churches, and a main street — Louisiana Avenue — with little shops like the drug store with the fountain, the dime store, the barber shop, the hardware store, the bakery with the smell of bread baking and the sweet scent of icing, and the bank with the solid stone exterior. They’re all still there, just under different names now, and my parents, who still live there, still call the drug store by its old name, even though it’s changed owners and become a jewelry shop. In the winter the Christmas decorations line the street, and each Memorial Day there is a parade that starts at the Schaller Memorial, the veterans hall, and proceeds up Louisiana Avenue, taking a turn when it reaches the Oliver Hazard Perry Memorial (“We have met the enemy and they are ours…”) and marches down West Front Street past the old Victorian homes that overlook the Maumee River.

When I was a kid the parade was made up of the veterans groups like the American Legion and the VFW, and platoons of soldiers and veterans, including, through the 1970’s, the last remaining veterans of World War I. They wore their uniforms and their medals, and those that couldn’t march sat in the back seat of convertibles, waving slowly to the crowds that lined the sidewalks. They were followed by the marching band from the high school, the color guard, the Cub Scouts, the Boy Scouts, the Girl Scouts, the drum and bugle corps, floats from church groups, all of the city fire equipment, antique cars, and the service groups like the Shriners, the Elks, and the Kiwanis Club. After the last float came all the kids on their bicycles decorated with streamers, bunting, flags, and all the patriotic paperwork we could muster. My friends and I would try to outdo each other, and it had less to do with patriotism than it did with seeing how many rolls of red, white, and blue crepe paper we could thread in between the spokes of our wheels.

I was about ten or so on one Memorial Day when I spent a lot of time getting my Schwinn Racer ready for the big parade. It was a perfect day; the sky was a sparkling spring blue and all the floats, cars, and fire trucks were gleaming in the sun as the parade organized on Indiana Avenue in front of the Memorial Hall. The high school band in their yellow and black uniforms marched in precision as the major led off with a Sousa tune, and as the parade slowly made its way down the avenue we could see the crowds along the sidewalks waiting and waving. As we waited our turn we wheeled our bikes in circles, just like the Shriners in their little go-karts, and finally we got the signal that it was time for the kids to roll. There was an organized rush to lead off, and then we were slowly pedaling down the street, waving to everybody outside the library, the Chevy dealership, even the people lined up on the roof of the pizza parlor. I looked for my dad shooting movies with the 8mm camera, but didn’t see him. Oh, well, it didn’t matter; we were supposed to meet at the home of friends who were hosting a post-parade picnic in their backyard. Their house was at the end of the parade route, so that was the perfect place to pull out of the parade and have the first of many Faygo Redpops that summer.

But for some reason I stayed with the parade, on down West Front, and then up West Boundary and past the gates of Fort Meigs Cemetery. The floats and the fire trucks were gone, but what was left of the parade — the color guard and the veterans — went through the gates and along the path. There was no music now, just a solemn drumbeat keeping a steady muffled tapping. The color guard turned at a small stone memorial, and then past it to a gravesite where a family was gathered; a mother in a black dress, a father in a grey suit, and a teenage son and daughter, looking somber and out of place. The grave was still fresh, the dirt mounded over, the headstone a simple marker with a flag. A minister spoke some words, and then the color guard snapped to attention. A volley of rifle fire, then Taps, and then a tall young soldier in dress blues handed a folded flag to the mother, who murmured her thanks and tried to smile.

I suddenly realized that I felt out of place there with my gaudily-patriotic bike and my red-white-and-blue striped shirt. No one noticed me, though, and when the people started to slowly move away from the gravesite and back to the entrance, I followed along until I was able to ride slowly back to our friends’ house, park my bike with all the others, and find my parents, who probably hadn’t even noticed that I was not there with all the other kids running around and playing on the lawn.

Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images.

This post originally appeared on May 25, 2009.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Sunday Reading

Obama on the Middle East — Jeffrey Goldberg’s interview in The Atlantic covers Iran, Iraq, and Israel, and the history of presidential legacies in dealing with all three of them.

“Look, 20 years from now, I’m still going to be around, God willing. If Iran has a nuclear weapon, it’s my name on this,” he said, referring to the apparently almost-finished nuclear agreement between Iran and a group of world powers led by the United States. “I think it’s fair to say that in addition to our profound national-security interests, I have a personal interest in locking this down.”

The president—the self-confident, self-contained, coolly rational president—appears to have his own anxieties about the nuclear talks. Which isn’t a bad thing.

Jimmy Carter’s name did not come up in our Oval Office conversation, but it didn’t have to. Carter’s tragic encounter with Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the leader of the Islamic Revolution, is an object lesson in the mysterious power of Iran to undermine, even unravel, American presidencies. Ronald Reagan, of course, also knew something of the Iranian curse. As Obama moves to conclude this historic agreement, one that will—if he is correct in his assessment—keep Iran south of the nuclear threshold not only for the 10- or 15-year period of the deal, but well beyond it, he and his administration have deployed a raft of national security-related arguments to buttress their cause. But Obama’s parting comment to me suggests he knows perfectly well that his personal legacy, and not just the future of global nuclear non-proliferation efforts (among other things), is riding on the proposition that he is not being played by America’s Iranian adversaries, and that his reputation will be forever tarnished if Iran goes sideways, even after he leaves office. Obama’s critics have argued that he is “kicking the can down the road” by striking this agreement with Iran. Obama, though, seems to understand that the can will be his for a very long time.

The Candidate the Tea Party Hates — Jenna McLaughlin at Mother Jones finds out it is not Hillary Clinton.

The tea party hates South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, and the feeling is mutual. It attacked the Republican lawmaker mercilessly during his Senate reelection campaign in 2014, but Graham held his seat with 55 percent of the vote. “Kicking the crap out of the tea party is the most fun Senator Lindsey Graham has ever had,” wrote Molly Ball for The Atlantic last June after interviewing the South Carolina Republican on the eve of his primary election victory, when he faced six no-name challengers, one of them a tea party pick, in his deep red state’s Republican primary.

On June 1, Graham plans to join the crowded GOP 2016 field, according to his preannouncement on Monday. And his soon-to-be presidential campaign raises the question: How will the Graham/tea pary feud continue?

The animosity between this three-term senator and tea partiers began before his 2014 reelection campaign, triggered in part by Graham’s intermittent attempts to work with Democrats in the Senate. Such moves have enraged staunch conservatives. The Greenville GOP compiled a list of 29 offenses that they “strongly disapprove of and hold to be fundamentally inconsistent with the principles of the South Carolina Republican Party.”* Right-wing blogs have nicknamed him “Flimsy Lindsey” and “Grahmnesty” because he disagreed with his party on climate change, immigration reform, and a few other hot-button Republican issues.

Climate change triggered the first tea party salvos against Graham. In the fall of 2009, tea partiers in South Carolina and beyond bashed Graham for his support of energy legislation that aimed at reducing carbon emissions. In an editorial titled “Graham’s Dalliance With Cap-And-Trade Crowd a Bad Move,” Michael Costello of the Idaho’s Lewiston Tribunewrote, “If Republicans really want to completely alienate this crowd and give birth to a third party, they should follow the lead of Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC). [He] has thrown his lot in with John Kerry (D-Mass) to push one of the worst pieces of legislation in American history, the carbon cap and trade bill.”

Soon after that, as Politico reported, the conflict between Graham and tea partiers “sparked a mutiny back home” in South Carolina. The Charleston County Republican Party, in a written resolution, slammed Graham for stabbing Republicans in the back and undercutting “Republican leadership and party solidarity for his own benefit.” Politico noted that “bubbling” conservative discontent blew up because of the climate change bill but was also fueled by Graham’s support for immigration reform and changes at the US detention facility Guantanamo Bay. Graham, a hawk who often criticizes President Barack Obama’s national security policies, didn’t try to make peace with his conservative critics. Instead, he called detractors of immigration reform “bigots” and refused to disavow or stop his occasional bipartisan efforts.

“I’m making that a tea party goal to get scoundrels like Lindsey Graham out of office,” Greg Deitz, a Charleston Tea Party organizer, told Politico.

London Mystery House — Ed Caesar in The New Yorker on the biggest house in London and the question of who owns it.

Witanhurst, London’s largest private house, was built between 1913 and 1920 on an eleven-acre plot in Highgate, a wealthy hilltop neighborhood north of the city center. First owned by Arthur Crosfield, an English soap magnate, the mansion was designed in the Queen Anne style and contained twenty-five bedrooms, a seventy-foot-long ballroom, and a glass rotunda; the views from its gardens, over Hampstead Heath and across the capital, were among the loveliest in London. For decades, parties at Witanhurst attracted potentates and royals—including, in 1951, Elizabeth, the future Queen.

In May, 2008, I toured Witanhurst with a real-estate agent. There had been no parties there for half a century, and the house had not been occupied regularly since the seventies. The interiors were ravaged: water had leaked through holes in the roof, and, upstairs, the brittle floorboards cracked under our footsteps. The scale of the building lent it a vestigial grandeur, but it felt desolate and Ozymandian. A few weeks later, Witanhurst was sold for fifty million pounds, to a shell company named Safran Holdings Limited, registered in the British Virgin Islands. No further information about the buyers was forthcoming.

In June, 2010, the local council approved plans to redevelop the house and five and a half acres of grounds, maintaining Witanhurst as a “family home.” It was the culmination of a long battle with other Highgate residents, who did not welcome such an ambitious project. Since then, Witanhurst’s old service wing has been demolished and replaced with the so-called Orangery—a three-story Georgian villa designed for “everyday family accommodation.” And beneath the forecourt, in front of the main house, the new owners have built what amounts to an underground village—a basement of more than forty thousand square feet. (The largest residential property in Manhattan is said to be a fifty-one-thousand-square-foot mansion, on East Seventy-first Street between Madison and Fifth, owned by Jeffrey Epstein.) This basement, which is connected to the Orangery, includes a seventy-foot-long swimming pool, a cinema with a mezzanine, massage rooms, a sauna, a gym, staff quarters, and parking spaces for twenty-five cars. In late 2013, the local council approved plans for a second basement, beneath the gatehouse, which will connect that building to both the main house and the Orangery. Earlier this year, the owners also sought planning permission to extend an underground “servants’ passage.”

When the refurbishment is complete, Witanhurst will have about ninety thousand square feet of interior space, making it the second-largest mansion in the city, after Buckingham Palace. It will likely become the most expensive house in London. In 2006, the Qatari royal family bought Dudley House, on Park Lane, for about forty million pounds; after a renovation, its estimated resale value is two hundred and fifty million pounds. Real-estate agents expect that the completed Witanhurst will be worth three hundred million pounds—about four hundred and fifty million dollars.

If a vast and lavishly appointed house in Manhattan—a palace nearly double the size of the White House—were being redeveloped on the edge of Central Park, New Yorkers would want to know who lived there. Londoners are equally inquisitive, and concerted efforts have been made to uncover the identity of Witanhurst’s owners. Shortly after the house was sold, it became known—from local gossip and publicly accessible planning documents—that Witanhurst belonged to a family from Russia. Several newspapers speculated that the owner was Yelena Baturina, Russia’s richest woman, and the wife of Yury Luzhkov, then the mayor of Moscow. (Luzhkov and Baturina reportedly enriched themselves while he was in office, before Luzhkov clashed with the Russian government; she now lives in London.) Baturina denied owning Witanhurst, and in 2011 she sued the London Sunday Times for publishing an article titled “BUNKER BILLIONAIRESS DIGS DEEP.”

The Baturina lawsuit and the continued secrecy surrounding Witanhurst have intensified the guessing game. Generally, the names of homeowners in Britain are listed in the Land Registry, which can be read for a small fee. But listings for properties owned by offshore companies do not disclose individual beneficiaries. In the British Virgin Islands, records reveal merely the name of the “registered agent” of Safran Holdings—Equity Trust Limited, a local agency that holds several such positions and is connected to the company by name only—and the company’s post-office box, on the island of Tortola.

A recent investigation by the Financial Times found that more than a hundred billion pounds’ worth of real estate in England and Wales is owned by offshore companies. London properties account for two-thirds of that amount. Charles Moore, a former editor of the Telegraph, says that London’s property market has become “a form of legalized international money laundering.” For Highgate residents, however, worries about the lack of transparency in the purchase of Witanhurst have come second to a more English concern. People irritated by the construction noise and the traffic that have blighted their normally quiet neighborhood have no owner to complain to—only managers.

Doonesbury — Everything you say.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Erin Goes Gay

Votes are still being counted in Ireland on the marriage equality question, but it looks like it’s a big win for the Yes side.  From the Associated Press:

DUBLIN (AP) — Leaders on both sides of Ireland’s gay marriage campaign say advocates of legalization have won a resounding victory with the ballot count still underway.

Senior figures from the “no” campaign, who sought to prevent Ireland’s constitution from being amended to permit gay marriage, say the only question Saturday is how large the “yes” side’s margin of victory will be from Friday’s vote.

An Irish Cabinet minister, Leo Varadkar, who came out as gay at the start of the government’s campaign, says Dublin looks to have voted about 70 percent in favor of gay marriage, while most districts outside the capital also were reporting strong “yes” leads. Official results come later Saturday.

Ireland is the first country to legalize marriage equality by popular vote.  All the others have been by legislation.

That makes it tough for the antis to say that it has been “rammed down their throats” (Dr. Freud on line 1) or that when it’s up to the will of the people, they support “traditional” marriage.

rainbow-shamrock

Friday, May 22, 2015

Ireland Votes On Marriage Equality

Via the New York Times:

DUBLIN — In 1993, Ireland was among the last countries in the Western World to decriminalize homosexuality. Some 22 years later, it could become the first to legalize same-sex marriages by popular vote.

With a rapidity that has astonished even proponents, Ireland, a country that rescinded its Victorian-era law governing homosexuality — the same legislation England used in 1895 to imprison Oscar Wilde — only after it had been dragged before the European Court of Human Rights, will go to the polls on Friday to decide on gay marriage rights.

Ireland becomes the latest place — though perhaps a surprising one — to take up the issue, in a global swing that in just the past few years has seen states, countries and people seriously considering expanding marriage to include gays.

We’ll know sometime today if Erin goes gay.

Boy Scouts Leader: Lift The Ban

Via NPR:

Robert Gates, the president of the Boy Scouts of America, says the organization must reassess its ban on gay adults, saying, “We must deal with the world as it is, not as we might wish it to be.”

Gates, a former CIA director and former defense secretary, warned officials in the organization in Atlanta on Thursday that failure to make changes quickly could spell “the end of us as a national movement.”

“I am not asking the national board for any action to change our current policy at this meeting,” he said. “But I must speak as plainly and bluntly to you as I spoke to presidents when I was director of CIA and secretary of defense.”

Gates said many local councils were already challenging the national organization’s membership policy, and many more could be expected to follow.

“While technically we have the authority to revoke their charters, such an action would deny the lifelong benefits of scouting to hundreds of thousands of boys and young men today and vastly more in the future,” he said. “I will not take that path.”

Welcome to the inevitable, Mr. Gates.

The Religious Reich is sure to get their knickers in a twist because as we all know, all gay men are pedophiles and no straight man would ever do anything indecent with underage children, right?

Tweets From Post-Racial America

Via the New York Times:

Within minutes of Mr. Obama’s first, cheerful post — “Hello, Twitter! It’s Barack. Really!” it began — Twitter users lashed out in sometimes profanity-laced replies that included exhortations for the president to kill himself and worse.

One person posted a doctored image of Mr. Obama’s famous campaign poster, instead showing the president with his head in a noose, his eyes closed and his neck appearing broken as if he had been lynched. Instead of the word “HOPE” in capital letters as it appeared on the campaign poster, the doctored image had the words “ROPE.”

The accompanying message said “#arrestobama #treason we need ‘ROPE FOR CHANGE.’ ” It was addressed to @POTUS by a user calling himself @jeffgully49, who has posted other images of Mr. Obama in a noose, and whose Twitter profile picture shows Mr. Obama behind bars. “We still hang for treason, don’t we?” his post said.

The writer, Jeff Gullickson of Minneapolis, subsequently posted on Thursday that his reply to Mr. Obama had earned him a visit from the Secret Service at home. Reached for comment, Mr. Gullickson responded by asking in an email how much The New York Times would pay him for an interview.

White House officials and a Twitter spokesman said they could not determine the percentage of postings to Mr. Obama that were racist. But they appeared to be a small number in what was an otherwise social-media-fueled show of love for Mr. Obama, who was drawing followers at a breakneck pace — nearly 2.3 million by Thursday afternoon — and hundreds of worshipful messages that welcomed him to Twitter and praised him on everything from his appearance to his policies.

“I love you, @POTUS,” wrote one person, @camerondallas, who has nearly five million followers, in a posting marked as a favorite more than 15,000 times.

But there was one measure of a specific slur. According to analytics compiled by Topsy, a research company that collects and analyzes what is shared on Twitter, the number of postings that included Mr. Obama’s name and one particular racial epithet jumped substantially on Monday, the day of the president’s first posting, to 150.

They had to know this was going to happen.  In fact, I’ll bet they were counting on it: draw out the trolls, let the sticks and stones fall where they may so we could see how pathetic the common clay really is.