Sunday, June 16, 2024

Sunday Reading

Happy Birthday, You Old Felon — Susan B. Glaser in The New Yorker.

On Thursday, when Donald Trump met with Republicans in Washington, it was the first time he’d visited Capitol Hill in the four years since he pressed Congress to overturn the results of the 2020 election. In a statement, former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi criticized him for “returning to the scene of the crime” and warned that he was on a “mission of dismantling our democracy.” Trump’s allies in the Republican Party, meanwhile, suggested that he would be in forward-looking policy mode as he talked about plans for a second term in the White House. Yeah, right.

Trump, it will perhaps not surprise you to learn, has not been reborn as a statesman or a wonk. Reliable accounts suggest that his private remarks before the House Republicans were pretty much in keeping with his public appearances these days—sclerotic, rambling, nasty, and often incomprehensible. Fox News’s senior congressional correspondent reported, rather tactfully, that the ex-President meandered through “lots of tangents”; a small sampling, from the many accounts to emerge of what went on in the room, included Trump sharing his opinion on everything from Taylor Swift’s prospective endorsement of Joe Biden, to the “dirty, no-good bastards” at the Justice Department, to why he is a “big fan” of William McKinley. (Tariffs!) Trump wondered if his close ally Marjorie Taylor Greene was being “nice” to Speaker Mike Johnson these days. He called Biden a “dope” and, in one of those split-screen moments that tells you everything about the stakes of the 2024 election, warned that Ukraine is “never going to be there for us”; Biden, meanwhile, was in Europe, pledging unequivocal support to Ukraine in the form of a ten-year bilateral security agreement. Trump even trashed Milwaukee, where Republicans are soon to meet to nominate him as their Presidential candidate for a third straight election, as “a horrible city.” Once Trump’s comment became public, there were many competing explanations from attendees as to why he might think so; he apparently did not say.

In another notable soliloquy, Trump opined about Pelosi, seeming to suggest that maybe he and the eighty-four-year-old former Democratic Speaker could have made a good couple if only she weren’t older than he is. Huh? Here’s the full comment from Trump, as reported by Punchbowl News’s Jake Sherman: “Nancy Pelosi’s daughter is a whacko,” who “told me if things were different Nancy and I would be perfect together, there’s an age difference though.”

Even among House Republicans, whose ranks have been purged of all but two remaining members who voted to impeach Trump after the events of January 6, 2021, the performance wore thin. “I lost interest after about 45 minutes,” one Republican representative told Chad Pergram, the Fox News senior congressional correspondent. Speaking to reporters after the session, Johnson merely expressed relief that Trump had been so nice to him and his members. Trump “said very complimentary things about all of us,” he recounted. “We’re grateful for that.” A cult of personality, I guess, does not require the object of one’s veneration to be coherent. It is perhaps most telling of all that the packed breakfast meeting began with a chorus of House G.O.P. members singing “Happy Birthday” to their former President.

On Friday, Trump will turn seventy-eight years old. If he wins another term in the White House, he would become the oldest President ever—except for the current President. Biden’s eighty-one years tend to get much of the attention these days. But why, exactly, is that?

If there were ever a case for age-related diminishment of a candidate, Trump is it. The ex-President’s bizarre rambles and odd obsessions—remember the whole cancer-causing-windmills thing?—have long characterized his public performances. But, in the 2024 campaign, the weird has got decidedly weirder. Just this past weekend, Trump interrupted a campaign rally in Nevada for an extended discourse on what one should do about a hypothetical shark attack when aboard a hypothetically sinking electric boat, and how he himself would prefer electrocution to being eaten by the shark—a sentence, which, as I am writing it, makes absolutely no sense and yet is a more or less accurate summary of what Trump said.

It’s also worth noting that Trump, pushing eighty, has made so many gaffes involving mixed-up names and places that they are hardly treated as major news—he has confused Pelosi with his Republican primary opponent Nikki Haley, forgotten that he is running against Biden and not Barack Obama, and once thought that he was in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, when he was in Sioux City, Iowa. Wherever one stands on the broader question of Trump’s mental health, the evident decline in his ability to speak clearly and coherently feels striking. Just look at some of the clips assembled by the health-news service STAT back in 2017, when they consulted experts who saw clear evidence, in the course of decades, of Trump’s cognitive “deterioration.” That was seven years ago. When I look back at Trump’s speeches from 2016, or even from 2020, they seem positively lucid compared with his 2024 rallies.

Four years ago, in fact, age was a significant factor that counted against Trump in his first race with Biden. At least in part, that was because of the scrutiny attracted by the man’s own big mouth. Who could forget Trump’s famous brag in the summer of 2020, to a visibly uncomfortable Fox News interviewer, that he had aced a mental-acuity test? “Person. Woman. Man. Camera. TV.” He even congratulated himself on air for remembering the five words in the correct order. “It’s actually not that easy,” he said. “But for me it was easy.” Thanks no doubt to such performances by Trump, Biden’s older age did not seem to materially hurt him in that fall’s election.

Not this time. The combination of a years-long barrage by Trump and his allies to brand Biden as “Sleepy Joe,” and the very visible signs of Biden’s physical aging in the past four years, have made the question of the President’s continued fitness for office perhaps his toughest obstacle to reëlection. Many members of his own party, never mind swing voters, remain unconvinced. They see a President slower in step, wispier in voice. In a Times/Siena College survey this March, seventy-three per cent of voters agreed that Biden is “just too old to be an effective President,” versus forty-two per cent who said the same of Trump. When the Wall Street Journal recently ran a long story about Biden’s age issues, the bulk of the reporting leaned heavily on Republican politicians who have endorsed Trump claiming that Biden was slipping. “He’s not the same person,” the former House Republican Speaker Kevin McCarthy said in the story’s lead-off quote. Trump did not make an appearance until well into the piece, in a few to-be-sure paragraphs that also quoted a spokesperson as saying he was “sharp as a tack.” The Journal has not run a similar reported piece about Trump and age, on its front page or anywhere else.

Is it because there is just too much material already, and all available in the public record? The Journal, I should say, is hardly alone on this, and the reasons for the uneven coverage are not necessarily evidence of bias. Trump has so many liabilities as a candidate that it can be hard to single out just this one. How does age rank, after all, against multiple criminal indictments, including for helping to incite an insurrection? For Biden, age is at the top of a much shorter list.

Whatever the rationale, it should not be lost on anyone that deflection has long been one of Trump’s favored tactics for dealing with just about any vulnerability. “He can’t put two sentences together,” Trump complained of Biden earlier this year, on the very same day that he confused Haley and Pelosi. His evident delight in mocking Biden as a doddering old fool has inspired a robust marketplace of Republican imitators, who post clips of Biden’s every halting stutter or blank stare as proof of his senescence, while ignoring the many miscues of their own leader. Among the many political lessons that the right has learned during the Trump era in politics, one of the most successful—and pernicious—is this: With Trump, don’t defend the indefensible; simply pretend it does not exist.

No wonder House Republicans kept the birthday celebration for Trump on Thursday morning private. I say: Bring out the cake, strike up the band, let him blow out the candles in public. Trump loves it when he’s the center of attention, and I can think of no better subject for the public’s attention than the fact that Trump is getting another year older.

Doonesbury — Camping out.

Saturday, June 15, 2024

Friday, June 14, 2024

Happy Friday

Sunset in Valdez last night was at 11:24 p.m.  Sunrise is at 4:16 a.m.

We’re coming up on the last couple of days of VTC 2024 and already drawing up plans for next year.

Thursday, June 13, 2024

Cruising Down The Sound

One of the events at the Valdez Theatre Conference is an evening cruise down the Valdez Channel to see the Shoup Glacier and the outlet to Prince William Sound.  Here are some pictures from the trip last night.


We saw the tails of humpback whales just before I took this picture.


Apparently there are some mountain goats in this picture.


Ice-fall from the mountainside.


Apparently there are some otters frolicking.


Anderson Falls, the tallest waterfall in the area, with a 400-foot drop.


Sea lions relaxing on a buoy.


Where we were.

Wednesday, June 12, 2024

Weather Report

I woke up to reports of flooding and torrential rain back in Miami.  I hope there’s not too much damage from over a foot of rain, but on the up-side, we need it there; my lawn looked like granola in places.  My house is on what’s left of an old coral reef, so the rain is absorbed into the soil and drains rapidly.

Here in Alaska, we’re under clouds and occasional rain showers with the temperatures rarely getting above 50 F.  It’s a nice change from the heat and humidity as long as I’m here, but I know I could never move back to this climate.  For one thing, the land of the midnight sun in summer has the near-permanent dark six months from now.  I couldn’t stand it when I lived in northern Michigan, which was just above the 45th parallel: half-way between the North Pole and the Equator.  Valdez is at the 61st parallel; the Arctic Circle isn’t that far from here.  I love the sunlight.

Meanwhile, as I’ve noted elsewhere, Valdez is beautiful no matter what the weather.

Tuesday, June 11, 2024

After-Party

In my thoroughly biased and humble opinion, the reading of “Cabana Boy” at the Valdez Theatre Conference exceeded my expectations in every respect.  The actors hit their marks and flew past them, bringing depth and nuance that showed an understanding of the characters that every playwright hopes will come through.  Thank you, Matt, Chris, Seth, and Heidi, and thank you, Kyle, for finding the meaning in places that I frankly didn’t see myself.

If you missed the live feed on YouTube, it was recorded and will be available for the next few weeks.  I hope you get to see it, and let me know what you thought of it.

Monday, June 10, 2024

“Cabana Boy” In Performance

Click here to watch the performance of “Cabana Boy” live from the Valdez Theatre Center at 2:4 p.m. AKDT, 6:45 p.m. EDT.  If you can’t make it, it will be on YouTube for the rest of the month.

Rehearsal

On Sunday afternoon I got to watch the cast of “Cabana Boy” take it through from start to finish under the guidance of director Kyle Walker.  It really struck a chord to hear the play live and with the actors interacting on stage, even if they were reading the script and standing behind music stands.

Thank you, Matt, Chris, Seth, Heidi, and Becca.  See you Monday afternoon.

Sunday, June 9, 2024

The Road To Valdez

This is the first time I’ve taken the bus from Anchorage to Valdez; every other time I’ve taken a 45-minute flight.  But this year the bus seemed more practical, both financially and scenically.  So here are some photos I took on the eight-hour bus ride that covered the 256 road miles that included two stops for provisioning and a potty break.  Enjoy the view.

The greenish tint on some of the photos is from the glass in the bus windows.

Saturday, June 8, 2024

Good Grief

Allen J. Pfannenstiel
September 7, 1964 – June 8, 2018

Six years later, I still miss him.  I always will.

He would be turning 60 this year.  That’s hard to believe about someone I met when he was 19.  But the years don’t take away the memories of what he meant to me and his friends and family.  And his last words, written on a white board because he couldn’t speak, were “never stop laughing.”

He’s always with me, in my memories and in my writing.  I even took him – or at least his ashes — to Valdez last year when we read “A Tree Grows in Longmont” because I know he would say “You went to Alaska and didn’t take me?  What the hell?”  So I did.

I will always call you sweetheart.