Posts Tagged ‘Politics’

Letter From Claverack 08 2017 And the robots are coming to get us?

January 9, 2017

Outside the cottage, it is a cold winter night.  It’s sixteen degrees and feels like three, per my Weather Channel App.  Tonight, I will be leaving the kitchen cupboard doors open and the faucets dripping.  So far, so good.  No frozen pipes yet.

Soft jazz is playing on the Echo and its Alexa technology was the hit of this year’s Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.  Auto manufacturers are integrating Alexa into their vehicles.  It is, apparently, the “Killer App” of this year’s CES, which was, apparently, all about technology coming to automobiles.

Alan Murray, who is CEO of Fortune Magazine and Chief Content Officer for Time, Inc. writes a daily blog called the “CEO Daily.”  I suggest you subscribe.  He wrote this week, from CES, that all companies are becoming technology companies.  It also appears, to me, that all companies are becoming media companies.  It is a huge transformation that is going on.

Despite all the rhetoric about jobs being lost to China and Mexico [and some are], the biggest danger to jobs everywhere is the rise of Artificial Intelligence.  A Japanese insurance company is laying off several dozen people because it has found software they feel will do a better job than the people, an offshoot of IBM’s super brain Watson.

Because of where the cottage is located, I have trouble with my mobile signal.  I have a micro-cell.  It has been giving me trouble tonight.  When I phoned AT&T, I had an entire conversation with a gentleman who was not, in fact, anyone. He was an AI interface.

There is an Echo in my home and so I am experiencing the Alexa technology first hand.  Amazing!

Great fun and a little disconcerting.  And more and more jobs will be lost to AI in the years to come because we are looking at technology to replace us.  There are a lot of Uber drivers out there but what happens to them when self-driving cars become common?  What happens to all the long-haul truck drivers when there are self-driving trucks?  What happens to all the crews of ships when we have self-piloting ships?

We are on the way to being replaced by technology.  And we need to figure this out.  Because it is happening.

Donald Trump is going to be sworn in as President of these United States.  A lot of folks voted for him, I think, because he was addressing the issue of job degradation which has been going on but, I think, it was a backward-looking view because the real worry right now, globally, is not moving jobs off shore.  That is so 2000.  It is about the fact we are losing jobs to Artificial Intelligence.  That is so 2017.  And I don’t hear Trump addressing that.

Since I was a kid, I have loved science fiction and I am living in an age which would have been science fiction when I was a child.  Excuse me, I just ask Alexa for a new jazz station and I get it. I ask her for the weather; I get it.  It’s amazing and now we must deal with the job realities of what we’re doing because jobs will disappear as we create more and more devices to take care of us.

In airports, we have all seen the iPad devices that let us order what we want which is then delivered by a human.  In about two years, there will be robots which will take care of that.  What happens to those human servers?

Oh, and does anyone remember Hoot-Smalley?  It was a bill passed in Congress to restrict trade after the stock market crashed.  It created the Great Depression and I am fearing we will do something like this with the Trump Administration.

Look, I’m lucky.  I am in the third act of my life; I have ridden the great American boom of the last half of the Twentieth Century to the max.  Not rich, not poor, full of life experiences I never thought I would have.  Every day I do my best to remember to be grateful.

And I hope I am not Louis XV, saying “after me, the deluge.”

Letter from Claverack 01 05 2017 God help us all…

January 6, 2017

For several nights now, I have attempted to write a letter.  A few sentences have dribbled out onto the digital page and then I abandon my effort, feeling unsatisfied, bereft of words. And hit delete.

When I spoke to my brother this morning, as we do most days, he, too, finds it difficult to think about, talk about or read about anything political.  He, too, feels bereft of thought and words.

Here I am in my cottage, Christmas bunting still glistening in the lights of my trees, the playlist, “Classical for Deep Thought” playing on my Echo.  And I am in deep thought.

A close relative of mine who voted for Trump has been forwarding me vicious articles on Hillary Clinton and the Obamas.  Going online, I seek to find out if there is any truth to these awful stories.  Most of it is balderdash concocted out of a single thread of reality.  “Unproven” is what Snopes says.

There seems no point in letting my relative know that it mostly or all  balderdash.  They don’t want to know.  This is their truth.

So, it is that for the last few nights, I have hidden out in the cottage where all things are good, listening to music, watching Netflix [just finished “Medici”].  I have been working on my consulting assignment for the Miller Center for the Presidency [oh, irony!] at the University of Virginia and diverting myself with helping some friends in California on the bible for a fictional series on which they are working.   It allows me to live another life.

Glancing at the evening headlines, I winced.  Republicans are working to defund Planned Parenthood.  Trump rebuts our spy agencies and doesn’t quite accept that Russia hacked us.  Certainly, not to help him.

And, oh my!  Putin’s popularity among Republicans is rising!  Why am I so not happy about that?

The Chinese are telling Trump to stop tweeting and that will probably only cause him to tweet more.

Trump has said that “torture works.”  Now that he is President Elect, human rights groups around the world are fearful that his remarks will embolden leaders who find torture a very reasonable way of getting their way.

It is just a discouraging world.

Republicans have been determined to unravel Obamacare since it was initiated.  They now will probably get their way.  My concern is that I haven’t seen any credible alternatives from them and, whatever you think of the flawed system that is the Affordable Care Act [aka Obamacare], there are far fewer uninsured than there have been.

Which also doesn’t much change the reality that while we spend more per capita on health care we are in the middle of pack in terms of health care results.

Look, Donald Trump is the President Elect.  I wish him well.

I am so concerned.  This Presidency feels as if it is going to upend the order we have come to accept for at least the last eighty years.  And that makes me concerned.

If it goes really bad, I hope my youthful activism will return and I will do my best to protest.  And I didn’t think at my age I would be asked for my youthful activism to return but it just might have to!

We will all have to see.  The roller coaster is leaving the station.

At least I have broken out of the paralysis of the last few days and written something.

We all care.  God bless America.  And God help us all.

 

 

Letter From Claverack 12 19 2016 What we need is a little Christmas…

December 20, 2016

A few hours ago, I asked Alexa to play the Holiday Station from Amazon Prime and Christmas carols have been floating through the house since then.  The lights are illuminating the creek and I have sat down, at last, to write a letter.  The last one was nine days ago, which is unusual for me.  Normally, I write every two or three days.

The frenzy of prepping for Christmas has given me ample excuses to not think about the world…

Two Christmas trees grace the cottage; one small real one, bedecked with as many ornaments as it bear and an artificial white tree, which has been my tradition for years now.

The first Christmas after my partner left, I went to the lot where we had purchased our trees and found myself paralyzed, not wanting to get out of the car and so I didn’t.  Decorating our trees had always been a big thing and I couldn’t imagine how to get through that Christmas.

So I did the unthinkable; I went to Walmart and bought a pre-lit white Christmas tree which was the silliest thing I could think of doing and it made my Christmas.  It was so silly, I laughed, which was what I needed to do that year.  And a personal tradition was born…

A white Christmas tree adorned with all the ornaments that matter.  There are a few from my mother, one White House ornament given to me by Buddy, who helped decorate the actual White House Christmas tree.  He is gone, lost to AIDS before anything could be done and I have the ornament he gave me and it has a place of pride every year.

There are the wonderful crystal ornaments Lionel and Pierre have given me the last few years, two Christopher Radko ornaments from when I was on the Board of Governors for the TV Academy, ornaments I purchased the first year I was working at Discovery – that was an animal themed Christmas.

christmas-tree

In the last twenty-four hours, I have made 16 quiches.  It has been my tradition for the last some years to bake quiches for my friends and neighbors and there are still a few more to be made but I have made most of them and will spend some of tomorrow delivering them.

My kitchen is not quite a catastrophe…

All of this is part of my life and a welcome distraction.

Today, Donald Trump’s election to the Presidency was ratified by the Electoral College, a fact I am still having a hard time getting my head around, which is why I seem to especially devoted to the Food Section of the New York Times.

At least twelve are dead as a result of lorry crashing into a Christmas market in Berlin.

The Russian Ambassador to Turkey was shot dead today in Ankara.

Aleppo is a catastrophe we grieve but seem to have no way to respond to and I still wonder about the boy in the photograph from months ago.  He will haunt me to the day I die.  Is he safe?

It seems I may never rest until I know and I may never know but I keep seeing that photo…

And as Christmas approaches, I am so grateful to be here, in the cottage, decorated as best I could for this most wonderful holiday, listening to Christmas music…

The world is always in trouble and it will continue to be that way.  And I will work to find ways to feel like I am helping the world not be in as much trouble as it is.  Maybe I will succeed, a little bit…

 

 

 

Letter From Claverack 11 15 2016 What George Washington said…

November 17, 2016

It has been a spring like day today in Claverack; the temperature scraped sixty degrees and it was possible to walk around with only a light jacket.  It was delightful and I reveled in the day.  Patches of yellow leaves float like Ophelia down the creek.

In this hard time, I have very little to say.

There is a popular blogger I follow named Shelly Palmer.  He wrote a blog today that I read and then tweeted but what was most important for me was that we, the Republic which is the United States of America, has been through times like this before and we have survived.

This is what George Washington wrote to a friend about why he did not seek a third term as President.

“The line between Parties,” Washington wrote Trumbull, had become “so clearly drawn” that politicians would “regard neither truth nor decency; attacking every character, without respect to persons – Public or Private, – who happen to differ from themselves in Politics.” Washington wrote that, even if he were willing to run for president again, as a Federalist, “I am thoroughly convinced I should not draw a single vote from the Anti-federal side.” For Washington, the nation’s political parties had soured discourse and created a climate in which, as he predicted in his 1796 farewell address, “unprincipled men will be enabled to subvert the power of the people and to usurp for themselves the reins of government.” Referring to the Democratic-Republicans, Washington wrote, “Let that party set up a broomstick, and call it a true son of Liberty, a Democrat, or give it any other epithet that will suit their purpose, and it will command their votes in toto!”

The times we are living in have been experienced before and we will survive what is coming and will, hopefully, emerge as an even better Republic than we are today.

It is what I pray for at church on Sundays when I light my candles for all the things for which I have said I would light candles:  myself, the family of a friend who recently passed after a horrific battle against brain cancer, the daughter of a friend whose daughter has traumatic brain issues, for my family, for peace in this agonized world.

It was a tradition started when I was in high school after a group of us went sailing; a storm came up and we had to swim to shore when the boat capsized.  All of us, except one, were Catholic and we walked to our parish that night and lit candles for our survival, which was not assured.  People waded out into the water to help us to land, exhausted as we were from the efforts of swimming too far with inadequate lifebelts, through waves that had been unmatched.

So I now will light a candle for the Republic every Sunday I attend church and pray we survive this time that seems so riven.

Let us find hope in the fact our Republic has been through times as troubling as this and has survived.

 

 

Letter From Claverack 11 14 2016 The world we are waking to…

November 15, 2016

On Sunday, as I was returning to my pew post communion, one of my fellow parishioners, Susan Schuette, reached out her hand to me and asked if everything was alright?  She had noticed a dearth of postings since Election Day.

Wednesday, the day after the Election, I had cataract surgery [which went very well] and it gave me the perfect excuse to be at home with the blinds drawn, to not listen to the news, to eat comfort food and to binge watch on Amazon Prime.  I ate enough mashed potatoes with gravy AND butter for a family of five.

In the slightly hungover state from the relaxants they gave me while working on my eye, I sought to absorb the absolute fact the Donald Trump, television reality star, billionaire real estate mogul, orange tinged with the magnificently weird hair, was President Elect.

Rejoicing is being had on the right while the left is shattered and, quite frankly, totally at a loss as to what has happened.

My dear, dear friend Sarah, known since we were three, and I spoke today.  She lived for seven years in Franco’s Spain and feels we are moving in that direction, to be living in that kind of fear.  A social worker, her Hispanic clients are terrified, if undocumented they fear a door to door search for them.  If documented, they simply fear being profiled and harassed or worse.

Events since the election have fueled all our fears.

At an Episcopal Church in Maryland, the times for Spanish language service were torn down, replaced by graffiti that said: Trump Nation.  Whites only!

At the University at Pennsylvania, incoming African American students received emails from a group called “Mudmen,” announcing a “Nigger” lynching every day.

In Wellsville, NY a dugout was spray painted with the words:  Make America White Again, with a swastika.

dugout-hate

The swastika seems to be a much used symbol for those who are doing these things.

It has been reported in St. Louis a group of high school students marched through their school halls with a Trump sign shouting, “White power!  White power!”

A Muslim woman at the University of Michigan was approached by a white man, demanding she remove her hijab or be set on fire.

Ah, yes, the milk of human kindness…

When asked what I think, I say that I expect the next few years are going to be experiential.

A friend phoned me on Thursday and we talked about the election and he said, well you don’t have anything to be worried about.  After all, Pence is the one who is going to be running things after all.

Pence is homophobic.  Mentioning that to my friend, I said I did not feel safer as a gay man in America since this election.  Some of Trump’s supporters say unpleasant things about us though Trump did say in an interview with Lesley Stahl for “60 Minutes” that gay marriage was the law of the land.

He also told, in a bit of milk toast sort of way, that his supporters who might be doing anti-Semitic actions or harassing Hispanics to stop it.  It didn’t sound all that forceful.

The New York Post has called “fake” incidents of hate crimes since the election.  Maybe they would have happened anyway.  I’m not convinced.

It is a sobering time.  It is now my responsibility to be vigilant and to work against moments of hate.  It is my responsibility to work to restore a more liberal voice in this country and I will.  I’m not sure how but I will find some way to do it.

Republicans own the White House, the Senate, the House of Representatives and 32 of 50 gubernatorial posts.  They have the run of the land.  Let us see what they do with it.

And let us be prepared to be the loyal opposition.

At Christ Church Episcopal on Sunday, safety pins were given out.  They are to say to those who are frightened because of color, sex, race, religion, disability that you are a person they can be safe with.

Safty pin.jpg

Mine will be worn tomorrow.  It maybe I will offer them to my students.  It is my hope we all continue to be safe and that we are not falling into my friend Sarah’s fear that we are living in a time that will evolve into Franco’s Spain.

 

Letter From Claverack 10 02 2016 We, of this island planet…

October 2, 2016

It is twilight outside the windows; classical music plays, a gentle piano sonata.  In the trail of grey days that we have left in our time wake, the leaves have begun to change outside.  Most are still green but yellow branches now sway with the green in the twilight wind.

It is a quiet, magical moment here in the cottage.  Marcel lays sleeping on the couch, tired after taking me on a tour of his domain across the street. I am a bit tired too, for no great reason.  Waking at a reasonable hour, I did some early morning work, showered and went off to church.

Going home, I briefly walked Marcel and went off to the gym and from there to the Red Dot for my normal Sunday brunch, visiting with all the folks I know who also frequent there.

While sitting at the Dot, I read the NY Times on the phone and perused my emails.

The world was rocked today that Trump in 1995 claimed a loss of nearly a billion dollars.  It shielded him from many taxes for the next eighteen years.  It was legal and staggering at the same time.  A billion dollars in losses in one year?  In 1995?

Badly managed businesses provided that loss, especially the catastrophe of his Atlantic City Casinos.  And it seems to me that those catastrophes kept happening over the decades.

The returns were mailed to the NY Times anonymously with a return address of Trump Tower. His campaign called the NY Times an arm of the Clinton campaign.

In another report today, a commentator reminded us that several weeks after the death of Princess Diana, Trump was on Howard Stern’s program declaring he thought he could have “nailed” the Princess.  He was apparently between wives and sent Princess Diana mountains of flowers. A few years ago, a woman who had been close to Diana said that she felt creeped out by them and a bit like she was being stalked by the American billionaire.

Barely cold in her grave, he was boasting he could have “nailed” her.  How gallant!

How disgusting.

A person very close to me sent me an email, asking me to disseminate it widely.  It was in support of Trump.  Having known this woman for eons, I wondered how she possible could be thinking I would do anything to support Trump?  Perhaps she was just tweaking me, even though she knows I know she will vote for Trump.

Columbia has been at war for over fifty years with the rebellious FARC.  A peace deal was negotiated and put to a national referendum.  It appears to have been voted down, leaving all of us to wonder if Columbia is to face another fifty years of internal war?

My sister lives in central Florida and has been wondering if Matthew [spelled with two t’s} was going to land upon them but it appears it will weaken once it has scoured Haiti, a country that can’t seem to get a break.

Another young black man was shot in Los Angeles and activists are calling for transparency.

There is no transparency or mercy, it seems, in Aleppo.  The Syrian government of Assad, supported by Russia, are pummeling Aleppo into submission, apparently deliberately targeting the resources they have to handle the bombings: hospitals.  The healing capacity of the city has been halved.

And where is the boy?  Where is the boy?

We, the US, have been warned by Russia to not target the Damascus government.

We are living on this island Earth, not really paying attention to the tectonic shifts in the eco-system while we kill each other all over the place.

It is now totally dark outside but it is not totally dark in my soul.  When I witness what is happening in the world, I also remember that for every dire act there is an act of kindness, of balance, of work to make this place, this planet, a better place.

It is why I still go to church.

 

 

 

Letter From Claverack, New York 08 23 2016 Generous souls…

August 24, 2016

It is later in the evening than I normally write; I did a roundtrip to the city today.  There were a couple of meetings and then I turned around and returned to the cottage.  It is dark.  I have turned on the floodlights so I can see the creek glitter with their light.  The trees are silhouetted by the light, green and verdant.  Nights like this are ones I love, with the floodlights giving an eerie beauty to what I see in the day.

Earlier today I had a long and good conversation with Sarah, who is my oldest friend.  We have known each other since we were three and except for one brief period have been a close part of each other’s lives.  She is one of the most loving and caring women I have known in my life and has always been that way.

In 7th grade, when Sister Jeron knocked me on the back of the head with a Gregorian Hymnal, humiliating me in front of our class, Sarah turned up that evening with one of her brothers and we went sledding down the hill by our house.  She knew I was hurting and came to help take the hurt away.  I remember that night as if it were yesterday.

Since I last wrote not much has changed in the world.  Aleppo is still a horror show.  Omran, the child in the photo, still haunts my dreams.

There are bombings hither and thither.  A Turkish wedding was destroyed by a suicide bomber who may have been no more than fourteen.  It was not the only bombing but it seems the most tragic with a child being used as a weapon.

Trump is attempting to moderate his tone and I hope it is too late.  Hillary is caught in the crossfire of the Foundation and her emails, which probably will never go away.  Even if she wins the Presidency, the Republicans will be chasing those emails and Benghazi into the next century.

The state of our politics this year is deplorable.  While discouraged, I remain hopeful that some good will come from all of this.  It must.

Out there in the wide world, North Korea has fired a missile from a submarine toward Japan.  Provocative as ever, the chubby little dictator is testing the limits of what he can get away with.

Remember the Boko Haram?  One of their leaders may have been badly wounded in a Nigerian airstrike.  I hope so.

The Iraqis are intent on reclaiming Mosul.  More than a million people will be displaced if they do it, according to estimates.  More refugees in this horrific war that never ends…

The Brits voted for Brexit and Brexiting are a large number of corporations who are moving their money out of Britain.  Not good for Britain who is going to have to do a lot of juggling with this Brexit thing…

It is late.  I am distracted.

Long ago and far away, I was friends with the Elsen family.  Don Elsen, patriarch of the clan, passed away today. He was 90, lived a good long life.  I saw him a year ago.  Unable to walk, he managed the world with a motorized wheel chair, mentally sharp as ever.

They were descendants of Germans and when I was with them, they could be screaming at each other and then burst into laughter and hug and hold each other.  It was amazing.  They were all full of love and Don was one of the most generous souls I have known in this life.

God rest.  Keep safe.  Be reunited in heaven with your beloved wife, Betty.  Your son, Jeffrey, and your brothers who went before you.

May I have such a homecoming someday.

 

 

Letter From New York 10 23 15 From looking Presidential to Hurricane Patricia

October 23, 2015

Shakespeare. Relish. Benghazi. Hillary Clinton. Rep. Jim Jordan. Trey Gowdy. Fox News. Jeb Bush. Donald Trump. Ben Carson. Iowa. Politics. Paul Ryan. Tea Party Republicans. Obamacare. Assault with a carrot. AIDS. Turing Pharmaceuticals. Imprimis Pharmaceuticals. China rate cut. Pakistan bombing. Kurd hostages. Nigerian mosque killings. Hurricane Patricia. The Red Dot. Lionel White.

Outside it is a brilliant, perfect fall day, demanding a warm jacket but not necessarily needing to be zipped, a clear blue sky filled with sunlight that ricochets off the golden leaves. Turning a corner this morning near a pond, my breath was taken away by beauty; sun glinting off water and multi-colored leaves, all ablaze.

My friend Lionel is up from Baltimore, tending to his house across the street from mine. We had lunch together at Relish before doing errands after having lazy coffee moments this morning while he helped get my printer back online.

I have been having a time with my electronics this past week. Ah well, everything now seems back in working shape. As Shakespeare said: alls well that ends well.

Not perhaps ending well for the Republicans, probably much to their chagrin, was the eleven-hour grilling of Hillary Clinton on Benghazi. Today’s reports have been mostly favorable to the former Secretary of State and not very kind to the Republicans on the Committee.

It never looks very good when angry white men spend eleven hours yelling at a woman, and one who maintains composure when they do not. Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio looked particularly bad, followed close behind by the Chairman, Trey Gowdy. One source said all that happened was that for eleven hours Hillary Clinton managed to look presidential while the Republicans didn’t even look Congressional.

And even Fox News had to acknowledge she did a pretty good job, which must mean she must have been spectacular.

In other political news, Jeb Bush is cutting his campaign spending and concentrating on early voting states. In Iowa, Ben Carson is leading Donald Trump, partly because he is evangelical and Trump is not.

With two more Republican groups signaling their support, Paul Ryan has agreed to run to serve as the next Speaker of the House but that doesn’t mean he is making Tea Party Republicans happy. He isn’t meeting their demands. One of which, according to The NY Times, translates, once stripped of arcane language, to: shut down the government.

Ah, Washington! That’s the place where Congress just voted to gut Obamacare, a move that will likely stall in the Senate.

A 14-year-old Virginia schoolgirl is facing assault and battery charges for throwing and hitting in the forehead her teacher, with a carrot. It is the center of much back and forth on the Internet.

AIDS is a devastating disease. Many of us lost friends and relatives to it in the 1980’s and 90’s. Then came drugs that did not cure but did extend lives and allowed people to live productive lives. It has become a disease that is not curable but is treatable.

Turing Pharmaceuticals sells one of those drugs, Daraprim. Recently, it jacked the price from less than $14.00 a pill to $750.00 a pill. A San Diego firm is going to offer an alternative to Daraprim for $1.00 a pill. You go, Imprimis!

The stock market soared today as China unexpectedly cut interest rates again, the sixth time in less than a year. The European Central Bank is thinking about another cut and The Fed probably won’t raise interest rates until early 2016.

Lest we forget, fighting continues all over the Mideast. An American soldier died in a raid to rescue Kurdish hostages in Iraq. Syria is still fighting. 22 Shiites died in Pakistan in a bombing while over in Nigeria, 42 were killed at mosques by suicide bombers.

The biggest hurricane ever, Hurricane Patricia, is about to hit western Mexico, right around the resort city of Puerto Vallarta. Tens of thousands are being evacuated. Its effects will be felt all the way into Texas, where flooding is expected.

The sun is setting and I am shortly off to The Red Dot for dinner with Lionel, where we expect to meet some friends. There is a pink tinge to the sky so that harbors well for tomorrow’s weather. “Red sky at night, sailor’s delight…”