Hits and Misses

Hits and Misses

Saturday, December 9, 2017

Knife, by Tim Hayward

Tim Hayward's Knife:  The Culture, Craft and Cult of the Cook's Knife (Quadrille Publishing, London, 2016) is an appealing book, with excellent photography by Chris Terry, first-rate illustrations of knives by Will Webb, and Shokunin Manga by Chie Kutsuwada.  But the more one reads of the text, the more one is put off by its over-the-top rhetoric.

Hayward is clear that he intends Knife not to be comprehensive but selective, reflecting his own personal views.  It's not surprising, therefore, that he never mentions the Inuit ulu, a wonderful chopping and cutting tool, nor the existence of ceramic knives, despite his avowed love of technology.  But he seems not to know how handy a small knife with a serrated edge is:  not only does it slice tomatoes easily, it saws through corrugated cardboard and plastic clamshell packaging.

His own views owe less to personal experience than to the desire to write vividly.  The result is pretentiously vacuous. Take the sentence from the last paragraph of his introduction:  "A knife has a beautiful purity of purpose, it's almost the perfect expression of form that precisely follows function, and yet it is at once a seething mess of elusive, impalpable qualities."  Some knives have a purity of purpose, agreed, but knives are too varied (as the book itself illustrates) to be lumped together and then abstracted as "a knife."  Form in a knife can indeed follow function, so what is the quality that calls for "almost" and hinders or prevents that "perfect expression of form"?  And if to some degree these claims are valid, how can "a knife" at once be "a seething mess of elusive, impalpable qualities"?  A seething mess?  In a knife?  Give us a break!

In like fashion, a horizontal cut is described by Hayward as "the utterly lethal and desperate 'last slice' cut, in which a piece of (usually) bread or meat is squashed flat to the board with the palm of the hand, the fingers stretched back and up in fervent but usually futile hope, and the blade sawn between hand and board" (p. 15).  Ever since I first read Marcella Hazan nearly forty years ago, I have been using that cut to slice a chicken breast horizontally in half so it cooks faster and stays tender.  I've never, ever cut myself.  So what are we to make of  "Utterly lethal"?  "Desperate"? "Fervent but usually futile hope"?  This is a seething mess of feverish rhetoric.

Let me just touch on other problems with Hayward's statements:

Steel is not "a metaphor for permanence, solidity and purity" (p. 18).

Slicing a lemon with a carbon blade will not turn the lemon black, as he asserts (p. 45). The citric acid of the lemon will discolor the blade, however, unless you clean it promptly.

Making a knife blade from steel involves two heat treatments, not one:  he ignores tempering the steel.

A newly purchased Chinese cleaver does not arrive "with a lifetime of patina and dripping with butch chic" (p. 78)--at  least none of mine ever has.  

His first rule of carving, "Rest the Meat," contains an amusing mistake:  let the meat rest until its core temperature has dropped to 50 degrees Centigrade or 32 degrees Fahrenheit (my italics, p. 174).

Leaving aside the empty rhetoric, Hayward's major shortcoming is ignorance about sharpening knives:  not only does he misunderstand wire edges, he doesn't realize what steeling and honing a blade accomplish.  As a consequence, he abrades his knives to get them sharp.  That is a waste of good steel.

Sharpening poses a problem for many people, but the solution is not to be found in Hayward.  Rather than spend the money for Hayward's Knife, buy a book or video on how to sharpen knives.  One book I can recommend is Ron Hock's The Perfect Edge (it's also available in video).  You'll learn about steel from a master blade smith as well as learn how to sharpen a knife properly.

Saturday, December 2, 2017

Michael Flynn Pleads Guilty

Goodness how delicious: To see the chickens coming home to roost!  On April 3, 2017, Charles Blow commented in The New York Times that Michael Flynn had offered to give testimony to the Congressional committees investigating the Trump's campaign's relationships to Russia:  "Michael T. Flynn, the former national security adviser, has offered to be interviewed by House and Senate investigators who are examining the Trump campaign's ties to Russia in exchange for immunity from prosecution, according to his lawyer and a congressional official."

Last fall, The Washington Post reported that Michael Flynn appeared on "Meet the Press" as a key campaign aide to Donald Trump.  Speaking about the reports circulating that aides to Hilary Clinton had been granted immunity so that they could be forthcoming to the FBI about Hilary's private email server, Flynn declared, "When you are given immunity, that means you have probably committed a crime."

In my post of April 17, 2017, I suggested that we could call this remark of Flynn's a boomerang statement, on the grounds that after the statement hits the airwaves it returns to smack the speaker in the mouth.  And yesterday, December 1, 2017, as part of the special counsel Robert S. Mueller's relentless investigation, Flynn admitted committing a crime.  Flynn pled guilty to lying to the FBI about the content of his communications with Sergey Kislyak, the Russian ambassador, last December.  Unfortunately for Flynn, he is not getting immunity for his crime.

Sentencing is being deferred, presumably as a stick to ensure Flynn's continued cooperation and as a carrot to ensure minimal or no jail time.  As the editorial board of The New York Times commented today, Mr. Mueller has no reason to go easy on recommending Flynn's sentence unless Flynn has valuable information.  One piece of this information would be naming the "very senior member" of Trump's transition team who directed Flynn to talk to Kislyak about a United Nations Security Council resolution.  That person could well be Jared Kushner, Trump's son-in-law, who perhaps was acting on his own--or perhaps was not.

Will Flynn say that Trump himself directed him to communicate with the Russians?  If so, when,  what about, and how often?  The circumstantial evidence hardly favors Trump. After Flynn was fired as national security adviser, Trump tried again and again to get Flynn off the hook, even to the extent of directing Sessions to fire the FBI director, James Comey.  Why, precisely?  Just how deep does this rot go?

Saturday, September 2, 2017

Millers Falls Hand Drill No. 1, Before and After a Paint Job

Hand tool woodworkers are periodically confronted with a dilemma:  either the tool you want is no longer in production, or, if it is once again being made, it's pretty expensive. Tools manufactured to a handyman's price point are almost never of adequate quality. Buying a cheap tool and then having to replace it because of its defects wastes both time and money.

One way out of this dilemma is obvious:  buy used tools.  Yes, you will make mistakes, but typically those mistakes will cost you less than buying a new tool of poor quality and then having to replace it with a better one.  One old tool I especially like is an eggbeater hand drill with double pinion gears made nearly 100 years ago by Millers Falls.  Here is a picture of my well-used Millers Falls No. 1.

My reasons for liking this drill are simple:  if I'm restoring a piece of antique furniture, I try to take it slow and carefully.  An electric drill is indispensable, but it can go zzzzzp! and suddenly you have a hole to patch, one that due to Sod's Law is always in the worst possible place.  Cranking a hand drill, you proceed slowly, so you have ample time to realize you are on the verge of making a mistake.  

These eggbeater drills are pretty straightforward, but I don't recommend buying one sight unseen.   One or more of the three jaws in the chuck can be missing, screws can have vanished, and the handles of older ones--they started being made in the late 19th Century--can be cracked.  If the drill is otherwise fine, cracks in the handle can be re-glued with Hot Stuff, a glue with no surface tension that wicks into cracks.  The No. 1 has a bit container in the handle, but the eight bits may or may not be there.  For me, that's not important because the chuck accepts drill bits up to 13/64". 

At some point, you may consider repainting the drill.  I rather like the indications of honest use on a wooden tool:  they remind me of the better woodworkers who used this tool before, and imitation is the first step toward mastery.  But badly worn paint seems a different matter, and I recently felt the urge to restore the paint on my Millers Falls.  After all, these drills when new were meant to call attention to themselves:  the wood on my No. 1 is cocobolo; what now appears to be a brass collar was nickel plated; and the iron frame was splendid in glossy black with the drive wheel in glossy red. 

A local hobby store had a wide selection of gloss enamels, including a red that replicated what the now faded remnants must have looked like when new.  I unscrewed the drill's handle, unscrewed and lifted off the drive wheel, and scraped the chipped black paint off the frame.  After lightly sanding the metal and degreasing it with brake cleaner, I applied two coats of enamel.  To my eye, it looks much better than it did:  decidedly not new, but better cared for.  Some Break-Free CLP in the two lubrication holes on the back of the frame and some dry lube on the gears made it run even more smoothly.

If you want to have the ultimate version of this kind of drill, check out two websites.  One is Wiktor Kuc's website.  According to Christopher Schwarz, when Wiktor Kuc has finished restoring a Millers Falls drill, it's better than new.  The other is Ted Hoeft's at Lone Pine Toolworks:  he restores a variety of tools, charging according to the amount of work involved.  Judging by his photos, he does beautiful work.

For myself, I'm happy with the middle road between buying a remade drill meticulously restored and buying a ratty one and leaving it alone:  that five dollars I spent on gloss enamel and the few hours I spent cleaning, painting, and lubricating it have resulted in a Millers Falls No.1 that looks as good as it works.  Come to think of it, a couple of coats of Tru-Oil would bring up the sheen of the cocobolo handle and knob and make it look even better.

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Republican vs. Democrat: A Longer Perspective

My wife and I recently acquired an antique sideboard.  The surfaces are made of walnut, and the interior woods are yellow pine and tulip poplar.  These interior woods strongly suggest a Southern origin.  Mahogany was readily available at this time in coastal cities of the South, but the use of walnut indicates it was probably made in the "backcountry" of the South.
Hoping to find out more about the furniture from this area, I borrowed though Cornell’s library Southern Furniture 1680-1830: The Colonial Williamsburg Collection by Ronald L. Hurst and Jonathan Prown (1997).  Their book wasn't helpful in regard to our sideboard, but Prown's description of how the Southerners living in coastal cities regarded the people living inland started me thinking of the way Democrats tend to regard Republicans today and vice versa.

The longer-settled, more urban, better educated, and more mercantile inhabitants of the 18th and early 19th centuries in the South were unquestionably prejudiced about the inhabitants of the backcountry.  As Jonathan Prown comments, "Regarded by outsiders with a combination of fear, fascination, amusement, and contempt, the backcountry represented a place of cultural chaos.  Nonurban and noncommercial, the early backcountry rarely is hailed for its cultural achievements.  Instead, the region more often is cited for its cultural anomalies--whiskey stills, minimal education, family feuds, desolate living conditions, first-cousin marriages, and rowdy behavior."  It's much to the point that these aspects resonate even more strongly today.

As David Hackett Fischer has persuasively argued in Albion's Seed:  Four British Folkways in  America (1989), the settlers in the Southern backcountry were different from those who had come to the colonies earlier because they came from a different part of Great Britain and determinedly kept to their own traditions.  Caricatured--think of Ma and Pa Kettle, Hee-Haw, or Justified--these anomalies soon were appropriated.  With a reversed kind of pride, "backcountry" became "country."  Jeff Foxworthy’s red-neck jokes going viral are an obvious example.  Those in the backcountry looking outward toward the coastal population probably saw themselves as embattled defenders of traditional values of hearth and home, family and kin, the Bible and the rifle.  They were the pioneers of what became known as Manifest Destiny, those who made America great.  And they are still with us as those who passionately believe that Donald Trump will indeed make America great again.

From the Republicans’ point of view, the best government is the least government (as long, of course, as reformers don't touch their Medicare benefits).  In the 18th century, this backcountry distrust of government and the governing class was rational:  North Britons wanted to escape oppressive regulation by the government; French Huguenots and German Protestants wanted freedom of religion.  They all wanted land of their own and to have like-minded people as neighbors.

But, as my son used to say as a five-year-old, "That was then and this is now."  In our time, regulation by the federal government is the only hope of preventing the excesses of 21st century capitalism, be they fraudulent investment practices, pollution of air, ground, and water, the crippling cost of medical operations, or the obscene pricing of medications.  As Trump and the Republican majority in Congress make government (except for the Defense Department) smaller, it is a near certainty that they will destroy America in order to save it.

What used to be a cultural divide in the South has gone national, and it cannot be overcome by ever more narrowly pointed political targeting of fly-over country.  We have far less to fear from terrorists from without than from fanatics within.  Cultural chaos is at hand.  Unfortunately, we need something more than "a combination of fear, fascination, amusement, and contempt" to restore a moderate balance of power.  I have no suggestions for a solution, but I can say that unless one is found quickly, we are entering the last days.  It's one thing for America's greatness to wane; it's another for it to implode.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

The Need for Revision in James' The Ambassadors

Henry James’ The Ambassadors may well be the world’s worst-written great novel.  His prose calls out for for an editor with a red pencil.  At best, a number of his sentences have to be read twice to be comprehensible; at worst, some remain incomprehensible.

Here, in a least-to-worst listing, are nine faults I see in The Ambassadors.

1.  Confusion over pronoun references.  Some of the dialogue so mixes “he” and “him” or “she” and “her” that one has to mark up the text to figure out who is saying what.

2.  Comma omissions.  The story goes that when the novel was going to be printed James systematically removed commas from the text that had been published in serial form in The North American Review.  As a result, we are faced with many unpunctuated heaps of modifiers:  Mme. de Vionnet makes a remark with a look of  “refined disguised suppressed" passion on her face (IX.1).  The similar endings in “ed” in that sentence come through strongly in another heap: “He was . . .easy and acute and deliberate—unhurried, unflurried, unworried, only at most a little less amused than usual” (VIII.i).  Here the “ed” endings chime strongly, while James’ habitual use of negatives in this novel—“un-, un-, un-” plus the internal rhymes of “hurry, flurry, worry” together form a sentence that pleads to be rewritten.

3.  Telling, not showing.  Often, James uses lists to convey information about a character.  These lists are almost like getting something down in brief, a kind of shorthand that he would come back to and expand--except he doesn't do so.  Take his description of Mamie on the balcony in IX.iii:  a second look presents her as “beautiful brilliant unconscious” Mamie, a Mamie used rather shabbily, but “absorbed interested and interesting.”  This pattern of listing reaches its extreme in James’ statement when Strether thinks about the cessation of Mrs. Newsome’s letters.  In her silence, Strether reflects, she demonstrated a greater intensity:  "deep devoted delicate sensitive noble” (VII.iii).  For this reader, his listing is unpersuasive:  we may know what James wants us to think, but there's no context to make us respond accordingly.

An even greater problem concerns Strether's characterization.  Near the end of the novel, we have character after character telling Strether how "wonderful" he is.  The problem is that saying so doesn't make it so.  James simply has other characters testify to this without providing the context for such a view.

4.  Odd locutions.  In their first meeting (I.i), Maria Gostrey remarks to Strether, “My own fate has been too many for me, and I’ve succumbed to it.”  “Too many”?  Another, Strether to Chad:  “You see therefore to what tune I’m in your family” (IV.1).

Another example:  “He [Chad] was modestly benevolent, the boy—that was at least what he had been capable of the superiority of making out his chance to be; and one had one’s self literally not had the gumption to get in ahead of him” (III.ii). 

5.  Excessive Repetition of significant words and phrases.  “Came over” in the fourth paragraph of II.i is an example.  How many times does “case” occur?  So many times it becomes a crutch.  Equally overused are “in” versus “out.”  “Save” occurs so often it becomes tedious.

6.  Mysterious allusions that remain mysterious.  Waymarsh seems to function primarily as a foil to Strether.  Rather than being open to what Europe in general and Paris in particular have to offer, Waymarsh glowers grandly at what’s before him.  This glowering is described as Waymarsh's sacred rage.  “It’s the sacred rage, Strether had had further time to say [to Maria Gostrey]; and this sacred rage was to become between them, for convenient comprehension, the description of one of his periodical necessities” (closing paragraph of I.iii).  Repeated periodically (II.i; IV.ii; VI.ii; X.ii), this phrase “sacred rage” never becomes comprehensible, let alone conveniently so.

The term “pagan” is another.  Strether realizes relatively early on that Chad must be a pagan:  “Pagan—yes, that was, wasn’t it? what Chad would logically be.  It was what he must be.  It was what he was” (IV.1). But what does this mean?  And why does James capitalize it near the end of this chapter?

7.  Excessive rhetoric.  Some extended metaphors simply expire from their own weight.  For example, in II.ii, Strether is taking a walk:  "He wasn’t there for his own profit—not, that is, the direct; he was there on some chance of feeling the brush of the wing of the stray spirit of youth.  He felt it in fact, he had it beside him; the old arcade indeed, as his inner sense listened, gave out the faint sound, as from far off, of the wild waving of wings.  They were folded now over the breasts of buried generations; but a flutter of two lived again in the turned page of shock-headed slouch-hatted loiterers . . . "[and off the sentence goes in another direction.]
Perhaps aligned with “pagan” are the sacrifices to strange gods on alien altars.  Strether comments to Bilham, “I’ve been sacrificing so to strange gods that I feel I want to put on record, somehow, my fidelity—fundamentally unchanged after all—to our own.  I feel as if my hands were embrued with the blood of monstrous alien altars—of another faith altogether” (X.i).  Are we meant to respond to such phrases with appreciation of Strether's facetious irony?  I don’t believe so.  If this is the case, James is altogether too heavy handed.  And if it’s not the case, why is James employing “embrued with blood,” the kind of heightened rhetoric derived from Senecan tragedy and delightfully parodied in the Pyramus and Thisby episode in A Midsummer Night’s Dream?

8.  Strether’s incomprehension that love can be carnal.  Strether’s realization that Chad and Mme. de Vionnet are physically intimate is set up as the climax of the novel, and he is shocked, truly shocked, by this knowledge.  But, as indeed Maria Gostrey asks in effect, What did he expect?  She herself wondered if Strether were grandly cynical or grandly vague (XII.iii).  Perhaps the most we can say to excuse Strether’s incomprehension is that he took Bilham’s reassurance that their relationship was “virtuous” to mean “chaste,” but that only ducks the question of why James chose to have Strether be so credulous.

9.  Inept portrayal of women.  James is not good at portraying women in this novel as anything other than perceptive listeners who can help a man formulate his thoughts about other issues.  Mamie Pocock is a good example.  Her role in the novel appears to be the person who can save Chad (II.i).  For Strether, she represents the best of American womanhood:  “she was handsome and portly and easy and chatty, soft and sweet and almost disconcertingly reassuring” (IX.iii).  Even her teeth are lovely.  And, unlike her sister-in-law, she turns out to be altogether on Strether's side.  But what does James make Strether reflect?  “Mamie would be fat, too fat, at thirty; but she would always be the person who, at the present sharp hour, had been disinterestedly tender” (IX.iii).  Why on earth would James include the dismissive attitude of the first half of that sentence?  Might it tell us more about James than about Strether?

Maria Gostrey starts off as someone attractive, but her function in the novel is soon reduced to being a sounding board for Strether.  Were she more, we might be bothered by Strether’s paying no attention to her  assertion,“There’s nothing, you know, I wouldn’t do for you,” and then following that with:  “There’s nothing,” she repeated, “in all the world” (XII.v).  The scheme of the novel demands that Strether finally stand on his own two feet and face an uncertain future with less than adequate financial resources, so we can understand why James has to have Strether insist on his own disinterestedness.  Whether we are persuaded that is what someone like Strether actually would do in these circumstances is a different matter.

Sarah Pocock is almost completely unrealized.  The second of the two ambassadors, she exists only as the real presence in Paris of Mrs. Newsome's unyielding will in Woollett, Massachusetts.

Mme. de Vionnet fares much better, in part because Strether has to ascertain who she is and her status.  Even when he has, however, James is careful to keep her at a remove from Strether.  When Strether meets her accidentally, it’s in the sacred precincts of Notre Dame.  Strether appears to be afraid of entanglements with her, even though he is determined to “save” her.  As I noted above, he has a less than accurate notion of how Chad relates to her until, in a pastoral scene that owes much to landscape painting, he finally sees them on the river.  After that episode, James has Strether lecture Chad on how he should treat her:  if Chad were to leave her, he would be “a brute,” “guilty of the last infamy,” “a criminal of the deepest dye” (XII.iv).  At the risk of appearing insensitive to the text, I detect no irony here on James’ part.  He appears to believe what Strether says but, unfortunately, what Strether says is not only hyperbolic but absurd.  Like saying to a child, “Don’t even think of putting string beans up your nose,” Strether's condemnation implants the very idea he means to prohibit.

This is a long list of negative aspects, I realize.  What, then, are we to make of this novel?  At moments, it is wonderful.  I daresay that no one who has read it ever forgets Strether lecturing Bilham:  “Live all you can; it’s a mistake not to” (V.ii).  At its best, the novel represents a relatively cultured older American trying to come to terms with a European mode of life he doesn’t understand.  If he makes some mistakes in enlarging his comprehension, he imagines most of it correctly, and through this sustained effort of imagination he gains his own independence.  

I have never read a biography of James, so I have no idea about what was going on in his own life while he was composing The Ambassadors.  Did he write it in his own version of a hurried, flurried, worried state of mind?  If so, why didn’t he revise it when it was going to come out in novel form?  There’s no question he could write better prose:  The Beast in the Jungle was also published in 1903, and its prose is deft, direct, and to the point.  (It’s also possible, I suppose, that a good editor went over that piece before it saw print.)  As the old saying has it, writing is comparatively easy; it’s revision that’s hard.  Good as The Ambassadors is, it would have been even better if James had spent more time revising.

Friday, April 7, 2017

Michael T. Flynn's Request for Immunity: the Saga Continues

On April 3rd, Charles Blow commented in  The New York Times that Michael Flynn had offered to give testimony to the Congressional committees investigating the Trump's campaign's relationships to Russia:  "Michael T. Flynn, the former national security adviser, has offered to be interviewed by House and Senate investigators who are examining the Trump campaign's ties to Russia in exchange for immunity from prosecution, according to his lawyer and a congressional official."

Asking for immunity is permissible, of course, but it almost always raises the question of why that person is doing so.  "Immunity, for what?" becomes the question on everyone's mind.  What makes this question the more compelling is Flynn's own comment about granting immunity last fall.  As The Washington Post reported, Michael Flynn appeared on "Meet the Press" as a key campaign aide to Donald Trump.  Speaking about the reports circulating that aides to Hilary Clinton had been granted immunity so that they could be forthcoming to the FBI about Hilary's private email server, Flynn declared, "When you are given immunity, that means you have probably committed a crime."

We could call this remark of Flynn's a boomerang statement, on the grounds that after the statement hits the airwaves it returns to smack the speaker in the mouth.

One last remark about appearances:  When Trump recently called a press conference to announce two executive orders dealing with trade, reporters questioned him not about trade but about Michael Flynn and the Russian question.  According to Paul Krugman and CNN, Trump not only didn't sign the executive orders but walked out of the room, leaving Vice President Pence to gather up the documents and follow him.  It's difficult not to wonder, Why wasn't Trump willing to answer the reporters' questions?

Follow-up, May 24:  The NY Times reported two days ago that the Senate Intelligence Committee ordered Flynn to turn over emails and other records of any dealings with Russians in 2016.

Flynn formally rejected their subpoena on the grounds of the Fifth Amendment.  His lawyers reiterated, however, that Flynn was still willing to testify in exchange for immunity. But as Flynn himself said earlier, "When you are given immunity, that means you have probably committed a crime."  Given that former FBI head Mueller can bring criminal charges in his role as Special Counsel, it should be interesting to see how the saga of Michael Flynn plays out.  And, of course, the degree to which Donald Trump is involved.

Friday, March 31, 2017

An Army Flying Instructor Hoist with His Own Petard

In his memoir, Burning the Days (1997), James Salter gives a wonderful example of an action backfiring on its initiator.  A flying instructor in the Army Air Force (as it was called in WW II) had a favorite trick he'd play on students who were slow to learn how to land:

"After exhausting the usual means, above the traffic pattern somewhere he would shake the control stick from side to side, banging the student's knees--the front and rear sticks were connected--to get his attention.  He would then remove the pin holding the rear stick in place and, with the student twisting his neck to see what was happening, wave it in the air and toss it over the side, pointing at the student with the gesture You, you've got it, and pointing down.  It had always worked.  One day for still another lagging student he rattled the stick fiercely, flourished it, and tossed it away.  The student nodded numbly, bent down, unfastened his own stick, and ignoring the instructor's cries, threw it away also.  He watched as the frightened instructor bailed out and then, fame assured, reached down for the spare stick he had secretly brought along, flew back to the field, and landed."

Burning the Days has the best account I've read of what it was like fighting the Russian MIG's in the Korean "conflict."  Salter eventually left the Army to become a writer of novels and screenplays, but the second half of his memoir doesn't match the interest of his West Point and flying days.  The first half, though, is well worth reading.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Trump vs. Truth: Last Week Tonight with John Oliver

On February 10th, I posted about Gregg Phillips, a self-proclaimed expert on so-called voter fraud in last November's presidential election.  It turns out he was registered to vote in three different states!

The credibility of Gregg Phillips is also one of the topics highlighted by John Oliver in his most recent show, "Trump vs. Truth:  Last Week Tonight."  If you haven't seen the show, it's well worth watching:


Friday, February 10, 2017

You Have to Laugh: Voter Fraud

We all know that the Democrats fraudulently rigged the vote for the presidency, right?  That's why Hillary beat Trump in the popular vote:  voter fraud!

I just caught up on one instance of fraudulent registration, and golly gosh, guess whom it concerns?  None other than Gregg Phillips, one of Trump's go-to experts on this topic!  Here's what Salon reported on Jan. 31, 2017--you just have to laugh:

"A man who President Donald Trump has promoted as an authority on voter fraud was registered to vote in multiple states during the 2016 presidential election, the Associated Press has learned.

"Gregg Phillips, whose unsubstantiated claim that the election was marred by 3 million illegal votes was tweeted by the president, was listed on the rolls in Alabama, Texas and Mississippi, according to voting records and election officials in those states. He voted only in Alabama in November, records show.

"In a post earlier this month, Phillips described 'an amazing effort' by volunteers tied to True the Vote, an organization whose board he sits on, who he said found 'thousands of duplicate records and registrations of dead people.'

"Trump has made an issue of people who are registered to vote in more than one state, using it as one of the bedrocks of his overall contention that voter fraud is rampant in the U.S. and that voting by 3 to 5 million immigrants illegally in the country cost him the popular vote in November.

"The AP found that Phillips was registered in Alabama and Texas under the name Gregg Allen Phillips, with the identical Social Security number. Mississippi records list him under the name Gregg A. Phillips, and that record includes the final four digits of Phillips’ Social Security number, his correct date of birth and a prior address matching one once attached to Gregg Allen Phillips. He has lived in all three states.

"At the time of November’s presidential election, Phillips’ status was 'inactive' in Mississippi and suspended in Texas. Officials in both states told the AP that Phillips could have voted, however, by producing identification and updating his address at the polls.

"Citing concerns about voters registered in several states, the president last week called for a major investigation into his claim of voter fraud, despite his campaign lawyer’s conclusion that the 2016 election was 'not tainted.'

"'When you look at the people that are registered, dead, illegal and two states, and some cases maybe three states, we have a lot to look into,' Trump said in an ABC interview [DJT's incoherence; my emphasis]."

Oh, and Mr. President?  While you're investigating this topic, would you mind glancing at how many black and Hispanic votes were suppressed by legislative rulings in the states of South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, and Texas after the Supreme Court ruled in Shelby County, Ala. v. Holder (2013) that those states no longer needed to comply with the Voting Rights Act of 1965?  Just a thought!

Update on voter fraud:  Salon also reported on 3/22/2017 the arrest of Steven Curtis, the former chair of the Republican Party in Colorado, for voter fraud.

According to Salon, "The former chairman of Colorado’s Republican Party, who just last year suggested on his “Wake Up!” talk radio show that Democrats were largely to blame for fraudulent votes, has been charged with voter fraud and forgery.

According to the Weld County District Attorney’s office, Curtis allegedly filled out his ex-wife’s absentee ballot for last year’s presidential election after it had been sent to his house, and forged her signature. He was charged with one count of misdemeanor voter fraud and one count of forgery, a Class 5 felony, according to local media. The 57-year-old radio jock, who served as state party chairman from 1997 to 1999, faces up to three years in jail if convicted.

I wish I were making this up!

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Duly Noted: Philip Roth on Donald Trump

In The New Yorker issue of January 30, 2017, Phillip Roth was interviewed about his 2004 novel The Plot Against America and its possible relevance to our new president.  Roth suggested that a more relevant book about Trump's presidency would be Melville's "The Confidence Man," which, Roth observed, could just have well been called "The Art of the Scam."

"I was born in 1933," Roth continued, "the year that F.D.R. was inaugurated.  He was President until I was twelve years old.  I've been a Roosevelt Democrat ever since.  I found much that was alarming about being a citizen during the tenures of Richard Nixon and George W. Bush.  But, whatever I may have seen as their limitations of character or intellect, neither was anything like as humanly impoverished as Trump is:  ignorant of government, of history, of science, of philosophy, of art, incapable of expressing or recognizing subtlety or nuance, destitute of all decency, and wielding a vocabulary of seventy-seven words that is better called Jerkish than English."

What is most terrifying about Trump, Roth concluded, "is that he makes any and everything possible, including, of course, the nuclear catastrophe."  That throw-away "of course" is the more chilling because it's so matter of fact.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Spinach Pasta with Fresh Spinach and Gorgonzola Sauce

I live in the Northeast, and when the temperature goes below freezing, I start to think about pasta with gorgonzola sauce. This is not a dish for dieters, but hey--you need calories to keep warm in the winter, right? Rationalizations aside, if you try this please spend a bit more money for imported gorgonzola (preferably piccante) and imported pasta. Otherwise, I don't see why you'd bother.


1 16 oz. package of spinach pasta (if you can't find this, substitute fettuccine)
2  cloves of garlic, finely chopped
1 cup of heavy cream
1/2 pound Italian gorgonzola, cut into bits
4 generous handfuls of baby spinach, washed and spun dry (a tip of the hat here to Rachel Ray)
2 tablespoons of butter, ditto of olive oil

Bring pasta water to a boil, add a teaspoon of salt, then cook pasta al dente.

While that is cooking, heat butter and olive oil in a large sauté pan. Add chopped garlic, cook briefly but do not brown (which makes it bitter).

Add cream. When it bubbles, add the gorgonzola and lower heat. If it looks too thick, add some pasta water.

Drain pasta and add to the pan. Stir, then add baby spinach leaves until they have wilted, stir again, and serve. If your pasta pot has a strainer, a faster way to wilt the spinach leaves is to dump them in the hot pasta water and then add them to the pasta. Lashings of black pepper are in order. Parmesan could be added, but I typically don't. Salt to taste.

If you don't care for spinach, toast some chopped walnuts in peanut or walnut oil, then sprinkle on the pasta after serving.


Thursday, January 12, 2017

How Long, O Lord? Trump's Delay in Releasing His Tax Returns

Gail Collins has a good comment in her January 11, 2017, Op-Ed piece in the New York Times, "Trump, Sex and Lots of Whining."

Referring to his press conference the day before, Collins notes wryly that President Elect Trump declared that "he'll release his taxes once the audit is finished.  (You remember that audit.  Its friends call it Godot.)"

Jan. 23, 2017, Postscript:  Today's NY Times reports that Kellyanne Conway declared on ABC's "This Week" yesterday that Trump "is not going to release his tax returns."

That puts our new president in the dubious position of being the first president since the early 1970's to decline to release information on his taxes.

Why is this important?  Two reasons.  Only by releasing his taxes can we assess how much he owes to whom.  Only through examining his returns can we see whether he's separated himself enough from his businesses and therefore will not be subject to conflicts of interest.  Nothing about the audit would have prevented him releasing this information earlier; nothing prevents him releasing it now.

So three questions emerge.  First, what is President Trump determined to hide?

Second, What alternative universe is he living in that he thinks he can get away with this?

Third, Just how stupid does he think we are?