Monday, May 30, 2011

If Only Dogs Had Better Vocal Cords...

Dear George,

Years ago there was a Sociology grad student in my seminar named Bella who had worked in a veterinary hospital. When we discussed an article by philosopher George Herbert Mead that proposed a qualitative difference between human communication via symbols and dogs’ communication by signs, Bella was indignant. She argued that dogs had a much greater capacity for understanding human communication than people think and that the supposed differences between dogs and humans are mere matters of degree. I didn’t really disagree with Bella since I tend to believe that dogs are just small furry versions of human beings, but I did try to defend George Herbert Mead.

I was reminded of Bella’s convictions when I recently read in the New York Times about psychologist John W. Pilley’s research. When he retired, Prof. Pilley decided to see how large a vocabulary he could teach to his border collie, Chaser. He began spending four to five hours a day showing her an object, repeating its name up to 40 times, then hiding it and asking her to find it. Chaser loved her task and constantly begged for more. After three years Chaser’s vocabulary included names for 800 different stuffed animals, 116 balls, 26 Frisbees, and numerous plastic objects. When they reached a thousand words, Pilley switched to teaching her grammar. First he taught her the words for three different actions: pawing, nosing, and fetching. Then he presented Chaser with three different toys, and gave her different commands for each, e.g., “paw the pink ball.” Chaser reliably did whatever her master told her. He also found that Chaser understood abstract categories, e.g., “Fetch a Frisbee” or “Nose a ball.” Pilley believes that most border collies could learn as much as Chaser and that failures result mostly from the teacher’s impatience.

Even before I ran across Professor Pilley’s research, I’d begun compiling a list of human language that our sheepdogs Mike and Duffy understand. Some of these are commands that they learned as puppies at Obedience School, e.g., sit, come, heel, down, stay, wait. The main difficulty in judging the dogs’ comprehension of these instructions is their own stubbornness. “Sit”, for example, works 100% of the time when I have a piece of food in my hand, but the dogs are less obsessive about “Sit” in the absence of food. I think they understand “Down” o.k. but prefer not to do it because of arthritic hips. “Wait” works excellently at the stoplight, and “O.K.!” works even better when the Walk light comes on. “Here comes Katja” leads both dogs to race to the back door, jumping and barking. Likewise, “Let’s go upstairs!” precipitates a dash in the opposite direction. When I ask Duffy, “Where’s your Kong?” he runs straight to it, bringing it back to play tug of war.

There are other human vocalizations which the dogs don’t pay much attention to. “Stop barking!” and “Stop pulling (on the leash)!” have little effect, nor do most other “Stop” exclamations. “Let’s go pee-pee” or “poo-poo” don’t have much impact until the dogs are biologically ready. In fact, there seems to be a reverse effect -- the colder or wetter the weather, the longer it takes for these suggestions to take hold. Likewise, “Leave that alone!” (with reference to smelling another dog’s poop) falls on deaf ears. In all these cases I think the dogs know what their humans are saying. They just prefer to do their own thing.

The most recent conversation in English I’ve had with the dogs was when I left the house this morning. They both suffer from separation anxiety, so I explained on my way out: “O.k., I’m going to go to my office now. I’ll be back a little later. Probably in about three hours. Possibly less. Duffy, you’re in charge. Mikey, you do whatever Duffy says. Bye bye, see you later. Be good.” Both dogs sat transfixed, paying close attention to my every word, and they appeared to nod their heads at the end of my speech. I think they got the gist of it, though perhaps not every tiny detail.

So what is one to make of this? My conclusion is that border collies are probably the smartest, but Old English Sheepdogs are right up there in second place, and they are about as intelligent as dolphins, great apes, ten-year-old children, and people with early onset Alzheimer’s. It’s sort of scary because, like little kids, they are always watching and listening and comprehend more than we give them credit for. I am waiting for the day when doctors figure out how to transplant human vocal cords into dogs. You can bet there will be some very thought-provoking discussions around our house when that occurs.



G-Mail Comments

-Jennifer M (5-31): Funny post. Reminded me of this: Click where it says, "The New Science of Understanding Dog Behavior." Really interesting.

Thursday, May 26, 2011


Dear George,

Today is the two-year anniversary of my first entry on this blog. Wow! That’s both pleasing and scary. On the scary side, it means that time is flying by much too quickly. On the pleasing side, this is the 240th posting that I’ve done, so that’s a lot of fluff to have sent out into the electronic ether-world. I don’t even remember how I got started. I do know that before I retired I went to a department workshop on innovative teaching which included how to create a blog for your students. Since I only had a few weeks left in my very last class, I must have decided that writing a blog for non-students is also possible.

Doing a blog is a strange enterprise. It generates contact with family and friends, and I’ve also re-established connections with some friends from childhood. On the other hand, practically anybody in the world can happen upon a blog’s content. I wrote a story about a local cemetery and heard back from the president of the cemetery the next day. I posted a silly story about college experiences, and soon after the college alumni association had directed all the alumni to it. I write lots of things about our hometown and was surprised to hear back recently from the director of the Chamber of Commerce. These, of course, are mostly positive happenings, but they also sensitize you to the fact that you have no control over who reads one’s writings. When you’re busy trying to be amusing and poking fun at this and that, it can be a tricky business.

Partly I like doing on a blog because I enjoy working on writing. Writing about personal experiences and recollections is a lot easier than academic writing. One doesn’t have to do much research or worry about meeting the editorial standards of a professional journal, and the material flows easily off the keyboard. It’s also a meaningful task for my current life stage. Psychoanalyst Erik Erikson suggested that seeking integration and reflecting upon one’s life course is the major developmental task of one’s “mature years”. I guess “mature years” is where I am these days.

Like much writing, blogs are about oneself to a degree, and that’s especially true of personal blogs. Sometimes I worry whether this is all too narcissistic, but then I decided that I like to read about other people’s experiences, so I shouldn’t worry about writing about my own. Probably my deepest anxiety is that I’ll be boring. After two years I also worry that I’m about to run out of stories. But as soon as I think that, something happens that triggers a new idea. Once in a while, another family member or friend will send a letter that ends up as a blog posting, and that’s very pleasing.

The biggest event of 2011 is Katja’s retirement which begins next Wednesday. That will be a huge transition, definitely for her but also for me. One of our friends counseled us years ago not to retire at the same time, or we’d simply be sitting in the living room looking at one another and not knowing what to do. Katja actually has stayed with her job longer than she’d planned. Since she arranges most of the exceptional things that happen in our lives (e.g., parasailing, hot air balloons, sheepdogs, motorcycles), I figure exciting times are ahead. There will undoubtedly be a daily supply of blog material.



Monday, May 23, 2011

Bill Cunningham, Could Be a Hero

Dear George,

It’s hard to believe, but last Thursday was the first time I’ve gone to a movie in the afternoon since I retired. Since I’m an inveterate movie-goer, you’d think I would have gotten around to this sooner. I went to the Esquire to see Bill Cunningham New York which was showing for its last day. I’m really glad I went.

Bill Cunningham is an 80-plus year old New York Times photographer. For four decades or more he’s gotten up each day, hopped on his bike, and made his way through midtown traffic to Fifth Avenue or other Manhattan locales to shoot photos of fashions that women are wearing on the street. Cunningham believes that the cutting edge of fashion is to be found, not in New York or Paris boutiques, but rather in the emerging styles that creative people wear in their daily lives. He’s completely absorbed in his quest, and he takes tons of photos, all recorded on film rather than with a digital camera.

Iris Apfel, Interior Designer and Fashion Icon

Cunningham’s street photos appear in a Sunday Times page called “On the Street”. He also does society fashion photos at night-time Manhattan parties and galas (“Evening Hours” in the Times). Based on comments of the many people who appear in the documentary, he appears to be loved and respected by members of high society and the fashion world. In one of the many touching scenes in the documentary he was awarded the title of Officier de l’ordre des Arts et des Lettres by the French Ministry of Culture.

Eddita Sherman, Carnegie Hall Neighbor and Fellow Photographer, Age 96

The documentary centers on Bill Cunningham as a person. I would describe him as a shy, warm, often giggly man who is totally and unself-consciously absorbed in his craft. He’s very simple in his needs. He supplied photos to Women’s Wear Daily for years, but refused any payment because it would compromise his freedom and liberty. He’s totally obsessive. His room above Carnegie Hall (from which he was recently evicted) was completely filled with filing cabinets which hold every photograph and negative that he’d ever taken, with no bathroom or kitchen facility and only a makeshift bed supported by milk crates. He seems to own almost no material objects. His tiny wardrobe of clothing is hung from a filing cabinet’s drawers. Almost none of the interviewed people had ever seen his private space, nor did most know anything about his personal life. Toward the end of the movie he was asked by an interviewer if he’d ever had a romantic relationship. He smiled and asked if the interviewer wanted to know if he were gay. He said they never talked about such things in his family, so he’d never thought about it, though his family’s negativity about his obsession with fashion may have meant it was on their mind. He said he’s always been too busy to think about having a romantic relationship. The interviewer asked if he had friends, and he had to think for a moment, but he did say yes.

Patrick McDonald, Fashionista and Fashion Writer

There are a lot of reasons I liked the film so much. It’s about life in New York City. It’s about photography. It’s filled with a wide array of extraordinary characters, including Tom Wolf, Editta Sherman, Patrick McDonald, and Iris Apfel. But most of all, it shows a completely unique man in his 80’s who is emotionally engaged in his lifelong pursuits, loved by others, and fulfilled, happy, and successful in his mission. A really good role model. Everybody should see this film if they have an opportunity.



G-Mail Comments:

-JML (5-23): sounds like a winner, i'll netflix it. hey, i saw a show on tv a few nights ago called "extreme couponing". it's about ladies who have a coupon system that saves them tons of money. one lady bought $1000 dollars worth of groceries and only paid $21 with her coupons. anyway, thought of you and felt this would be a good hobby for you. see you soon, love justin

ps several times a day for the last week leo has said "we go to cincinnati and see nana?"

Thursday, May 19, 2011

We're Ready for the Rapture

Dear George,

We’ve been reading lately about the belief of many Christian groups that Judgment Day is finally going to happen this Saturday, May 21. It’s known in religious circles as “The Rapture”, i.e., the day that Jesus will return to earth and gather up the faithful to transport them to heaven, thereby rescuing them from the period of horrible tribulation on earth that will precede the end of time. Katja and I haven’t worried a lot about this – partly because Jesus probably wouldn’t take us away even if he does arrive – but you know how these things can percolate at the back of your mind.

Recently we’ve started to get anxious about what will happen to Mike and Duffy if we do happen to be whisked away. As far as we can tell, God has no plans to include sheepdogs among the holy few who will be saved (though we personally think our dogs are a lot holier than many humans who will be making the trip).

Lucky for us, we’ve run across a solution. A fellow named Bart Centre from New Hampshire has founded Eternal Earth-Bound Pets (EEBP) which offers an insurance plan for pets who will not be joining their owners in Heaven. Bart is a confirmed atheist, so it’s certain that he will still be hanging around after the Rapture. Likewise, all of his nationwide staff members have declared in writing that they are atheists, do not believe in God, and have blasphemed the Holy Spirit in accordance with Mark 3:29 (so they have no conceivable possibility of joining Jesus on the trip).

It looks to me like Bart Centre has developed a very well thought out plan. You can check out the details at They will hold all of a subscriber’s info in complete confidence, and EEBP representatives only get your address, pet names, etc., after the Rapture has occurred. All pets will be placed in loving atheist homes, and subscriptions will be limited to the number of loving homes available (currently a very large number). Though the Rapture will result in extreme chaos and disruption (e.g., see recent tornado and Mississippi flooding reports for a mere inkling), EEBP anticipates picking up all subscribed pets in less than 24 hours. EEBP will arrange for food likes and dislikes, medications, favorite pet toys, and specific care instructions. If Jesus decides not to invite a given pet owner to Heaven, the rejected owner can, of course, stay at home with his or her pet. The total fee for Post-Rapture pet care for ten years is only $135 (paid in advance by cash or credit card). If you have more than one pet – which is very relevant to us, of course – it’s only $20 for each additional loved one. While $135 doesn’t seem like a lot for ten years, the pet care is actually free, and the $135 is only a token fee for travel and web-site expenses and profits. Dogs, cats, birds, rabbits, guinea pigs, and other small mammals are all eligible. In selected Northeastern and Western states, facilities are also available for horses, camels, llamas, and donkeys. Eternal Earth-Bound Pets currently has 258 signed contacts with pet owners, though it appears that there will be a major rush on contracts in the next 36 hours.

May 21, of course, is almost here, so it’s now or never in terms of taking action. Katja’s in charge of dog well-being in our family, and she’s been debating whether to sign them up. Actually, she was making a telephone call behind closed doors last night that she was rather secretive about, and I suspect it was to EEBP. Because Katja is certain that our family in New Orleans will all be going to heaven, she’s also talking about taking out a gift subscription for sweet Titus, their family dog. A really great feature of EEBP is that if the Rapture doesn’t occur precisely on May 21, the contract remains good for a full ten years after that. Of course, the Rapture still might not arrive after ten more years, but certainly a few hundred dollars is a small price to pay for the long-term peace of mind that you get in return.



G-Mail Comments

-JML (5-19): I've been seeing those May 21 signs in New Orleans since Mardi Gras. If it doesn't happen I'm going to make a t-shirt that says something to the effect: "Jesus, I quit. You won't fool me again!" They had a thing on NPR the other day about a group of Christians in the 1920s who thought the world was going to end on a certain day - they all dressed up in their best clothes and waited all night along the Mississippi river levee. Most fell asleep and woke up disappointed.

-Donna D (5-19): david, this was hilarious, really fun! is it true that you and katja have talked about all this or was that part made up? donna

-Jennifer M (5-19): Very funny one! Since I'm quite certain that I won't be taken away, I'll save the money and buy Rosie some new toys.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Terrible T.V. Traumas and Torments

Dear George,

Cable TV these days is astonishing. We must have 500 channels available, all in High Definition; hundreds more movies and shows available on demand or by pay per view; a DVR to record anything we might have missed; etc. We could watch 24 hours a day and still cover less than one percent of it all. The only hitch is that our local cable company has made so many recent technological advances that the system keeps going haywire. Aside from our “on demand” movies being inaccessible or freezing up in the middle, we’ve had to have the cable company replace three cable boxes in the last six weeks.

The most recent breakdown occurred with our old Toshiba set which we’d moved down to the living room when we got a new TV for our upstairs den. It just quit working one day. The cable box seemed to have gone out, and we couldn’t even get the TV set to turn on. We waited five days for the cable guy to come. He said the cable box was shot, and the TV seemed dead as well. He replaced the cable box. Then he fiddled with the TV set, pushing the Power button and bending the prongs on the cord and replugging it into the wall outlet. Nothing. He said the TV set was done for and not worth repairing. I asked if the failure of the cable box and the death of the TV set were connected to one another, and he said that probably a power surge had ruined them both. He did say they were having a great sale at Wal-mart where they were disposing of some of last season’s models for a hundred dollars. That cheered me up a little bit.

I told Katja when she came home, and she was unruffled. She said we’d just get a new TV. I told her about the hundred dollar sets at Walmart, but she said flat out that she doesn’t patronize Walmart. The following Sunday I looked through the newspaper ads and found that H.H. Gregg was having a sale. A 32” TV was on sale at H.H. for $279. I showed it to Katja, but she was only mildly interested. “How much do you think we should pay for a new TV?” I asked. “No more than $700,” she said. I was aghast. I tried to explain that we rarely watch the downstairs TV and we don’t need a super-deluxe model. Then I suggested that we go together that very afternoon and get a TV on sale at H.H. Greg. Katja said she’d rather go by herself. I asked why. She said the two of us have too much difficulty shopping together. I couldn’t imagine what she was talking about, but I didn’t push it. I did ask if she would agree to buy a 32” TV for $400 or less. She was sure she could.

I went out to the forest with the sheepdogs, and Katja went shopping. She got home in late afternoon and asked me to help her bring the groceries in. No TV in the Honda’s back seat. I didn’t bring it up. At 10 p.m. I finally asked if she’d had a chance to look at TVs. Yes, she said; she’d gone to four stores and wound up buying a TV at H.H. Gregg. It was going to be delivered on Tuesday. I didn’t ask how much it cost. I was pretty sure it would be under $400.

The delivery people called at 8 a.m. to say they would be arriving between 1:00 and 4. At noon they called to say they’d arrive around 1 p.m. Even though Katja had told me that they would install the new TV, I decided to make a diagram of all the cords and connectors in case I had to do anything myself. First I checked the wall outlet that the cable guy checked, bending the prongs one more time and reinserting the power cord. He was right – no power, nothing at all. Then I went to the back of the machine and drew a map of the six or seven cords which connected to the VCR, the cable hookup, the TV, the wall, etc. The last cord ran back to an electrical outlet in the floor, and I noticed that it was partially pulled out. “Oh oh,” I thought to myself. I plugged the cord in and pressed the power button on the remote. Voila, Channel 5 popped onto the screen. I’d inadvertently solved our problem. Our old Toshiba TV was working perfectly.

My heart nearly stopped at that point. I called Katja at her office. I could not believe that I hadn’t checked more carefully to see if the TV was plugged in. Even worse, I couldn’t believe that the cable guy didn’t check it correctly. He’d tried the VCR plug instead. I told Katja what had happened. I said that I’d like to refuse delivery of the new TV. “Oh no,” she said, “we’ve already paid $69.95 for delivery charges.” I reiterated that the old TV was working just fine and we no longer needed a new TV. Katja said to not worry about it; we’d just get rid of the old TV. We talked for a moment about putting it in our spare bedroom, but there’s no cable hookup there. Then I thought about selling it. Katja said we should just ask the delivery people to take it away.

Later on I talked to one of my friends at the office. I explained the details of our mixup, and she asked (incredulously) what sort of marital arrangement we have. Namely, when Katja and I disagree about something, do I just give in with no further discussion? I thought about it, then told her that our household is sort of like Libya before the recent uprisings. Katja is like Muammar Qaddafi, and I’m like the ordinary people. Muammar makes the decisions, and the people carry them out. My friend just said, “I’m sure you’ll enjoy the new TV.”

The delivery guys came. I showed them the old TV and told them, unlike most TVs they probably take away, this one worked perfectly. I added that my wife and I had simply decided to get a more state of the art machine. Apparently sensing my anguish, the delivery guy said we would be very happy with our new TV. It had a 42” screen, about a quarter larger than I’d anticipated, and it was the top of the line model. The deliverers were quite efficient and had it all hooked up in minutes. The picture was a lot better than the Toshiba. Tomorrow I plan to watch the Miami Heat play the Chicago Bulls. If the Bulls win, I’ll probably start feeling better about our purchase.



G-Mail Comments

-Vicki L. (5-17): David Oh David.... You left out the most important part of the story ... i.e., how much did the new

TV cost? Sis

-David L to Vicki: Hi Vicki, Part of the story is that I never asked. I like to believe that Katja honored my wish to keep the price under $400. Given that, I conclude that she got a really fancy TV for some great bargain price. What a shopper. Dave

-JML (5-16): that tv blog was a good one. how frustrating… J

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Republicans for 2012: You're Kidding, Aren't You?

Dear George,

I started paying attention to politics sometime in the 1950’s. Dwight D. Eisenhower and Adlai Stevenson ran against each other in the 1952 and 1956 elections, and I remember my father saying that the country couldn’t go wrong with two such outstanding candidates. I think it was a more civil era. The major parties clashed, but their exchanges weren’t automatically marked by hatred. And there were some Republicans who actually seemed of sound mind, e.g., Nelson Rockefeller, Tom Dewey.

Current politics are a different kettle of fish. I can’t remember anything quite like it. It’s some complex product of severe economic strain, gullibility of the American public, media celebrity, the Internet, extremist interest groups, and evangelical fervor. Anyway, the contenders lining up against Barack Obama for 2012 are a once-in-a-lifetime lot. A recent CNN poll found that the favorites, in order of popularity among likely Republican voters, are Mike Huckabee, Donald Trump, Sarah Palin, Newt Gingrich, Mitt Romney, Ron Paul, and Michele Bachmann. Collectively, they would make a terrific sitcom cast or perhaps an amusing group of castaways on Survivor. Here’s what strikes my eye.

(1) Mike Huckabee. We’ve watched Mike Huckabee a couple of times on John Stewart’s Daily Show where he comes across as personable and funny. Given that the Republican Party’s base is predominantly white, Southern, and evangelical Christian these days, Huckabee, a three-term former governor of Arkansas and Fox News talk show host, is a natural. A graduate of Ouachita Baptist University, Huckabee was a popular Southern Baptist minister before entering politics. He states that it is impossible to separate religion from politics, has billed himself “a Christian leader,” believes “all Scripture is totally true and trustworthy,” and has said, “I hope we answer the alarm clock and take this nation back for Christ.” In the 2008 campaign he credited his improving poll numbers to divine intervention: “There’s only one explanation for it, and it’s not a human one.” Huckabee strongly opposes abortion, stem cell research, gun control, and federal funding for AIDS research. He favors the death penalty (why do all these pro-life people like the death penalty?), displaying the Ten Commandments in public schools, teaching creationism in biology classes, and increasing defense spending by fifty percent. Huckabee stated in 1992, “I feel homosexuality is an aberrant, unnatural, and sinful lifestyle.” He has described Wal-Mart as epitomizing “the genius of the American marketplace,” and he informed an NRA group, “I am pretty sure that there is duck-hunting in heaven.” Huckabee seems to have lined up God on his side which is a big plus.

(2) The Donald. Real estate mogul Donald Trump is the richest of all the rich Republican candidates (worth roughly $3 billion), has the most unique hair style (a double combover), and is best-known to the public as the host of his own reality TV show, The Apprentice. Trump actually began his real estate career in Cincinnati where he accomplished his first multi-million dollar deal with the Swifton Village apartment complex in Bond Hill. Trump now seems to own most of the prime real estate in New York City – e.g., Trump Tower, the Trump World Tower, Trump Park Avenue, the Trump International Tower, the Trump Building on Wall Street, etc. – along with multiple casino resorts, world class golf courses, luxury hotels, etc. He is ready to shell out $600 million of his own cash for his campaign: “I mean, part of the beauty of me is that I’m very rich.” Trump describes himself as a business conservative. His recent policy statements have been anti-abortion, anti same-sex marriage, anti-gun control, anti-foreign aid, anti-China, and anti-engagement in Iraq and Afghanistan. He didn’t vote in a single primary election from 1989 to 2010. He claims that Barack Obama will be known as the worst president in U.S. history, and, until recently, he has based his campaign on the totally vacuous conspiracy theory that Obama wasn’t born in the U.S. This may be what prompted SNL comedian Seth Myers to comment, “Donald Trump has said he’s running for president as a Republican — which is surprising because I thought he was running as a joke. “

(3) Sarah (Mama Grizzly) Palin. Given several years of media exposure, we know Sarah Palin best. She was nicknamed “Sarah Barracuda” on her high school basketball team, won the Miss Wasilla beauty pageant and came in second for Miss Alaska, went to six colleges, worked as a TV sportscaster, became mayor of Wasilla by a margin of 651 to 440 votes, was elected as Alaska’s youngest and first woman governor at 42, and then ran as McCain’s V.P. candidate. Having lost, Palin quit her job as Alaska’s governor, purportedly to make a fortune on the book/lecture circuit and prepare for her presidential run. She sold two million copies of Going Rogue and has made $12 million since leaving office. Like Huckabee and Gingrich, she is a Fox News commentator. A darling of the Tea Party movement, Palin opposes Obama’s health care reforms; opposes same-sex marriage, stem cell research, and abortion; supports abstinence education; is a lifetime member of the NRA, hunts moose, and opposes banning assault weapons; supports teaching creationism in the public schools; supports off-shore drilling; and is skeptical about causes of global warming. Some commentators speculate that Sarah Palin is on her way out, as her presidential poll numbers shrink, her Fox ratings slip, and her media profile wanes. However, we think it wise to keep in mind Palin’s observation that “the only difference between a hockey mom and a pit bull is lipstick.”

(4) Newt Gingrich. Remember Newt? He was Speaker of the House in the late 1990’s, having co-authored the “Contract With America” and led the 1994 Republican Revolution which ended 40 years of Democratic party dominance in Congress. Gingrich’s platform was a precursor of today’s Tea Party ideology. A historian, ex-college professor, and prolific author, Gingrich was the most visible Republican voice opposing President Bill Clinton. Having led the Republican impeachment of Clinton for the Monica Lewinsky affair, Gingrich was done in by his own checkered past. At age 19 he married his high school geometry teacher. He left her 18 years later during an affair with another woman because she “wasn’t young enough or pretty enough to be the president’s wife,” visiting her in the hospital after her cancer surgery to discuss details of their lop-sided divorce. In the mid-90’s Gingrich began an affair with a White House staffer in her twenties and phoned his second wife on Mother’s Day to announce he was divorcing her. He then remarried again. Gingrich’s public explanation for his infidelities was that he was “partially driven by how passionately I felt about this country…” When the Republicans experienced the worst results in the 1998 midterm elections of any party in 64 years, polls indicated that Gingrich was widely unpopular because of his efforts to remove Clinton from office. Gingrich promptly resigned as Speaker, then resigned his seat in the House. He commented, "I'm willing to lead but I'm not willing to preside over people who are cannibals.” Apparently memories fade after 13 years of political exile, and Newt is ready to make his comeback.

(5) Mitt Romney.

George Romney was Governor of Michigan during much of our Ann Arbor graduate school days, and we always considered him very handsome and presidential looking. Now his son, Mitt, is the handsomest and most presidential looking of the Republican male candidates. A devoted Mormon, Romney received his B.A. from BYU and served as a Mormon missionary in France. His most important accomplishment at Governor of Massachusetts was to institute the universal health insurance plan that served as a model for the Obama administration. Romney has received severe criticism for being a flip-flopper. He registered as an Independent and voted in Democratic primaries up till his 1994 Senate campaign, expressed support for abortion rights and gay rights early in his political career, urged environmental protection, and favored tolerance on social issues. In the course of becoming a candidate for the 2008 presidential primaries, Romney shifted to more traditionally conservative views, becoming anti-abortion, withdrawing support for aspects of stem cell research, and discovering newfound enthusiasm for hunting and the NRA. He talks as little as possible about health care in Massachusetts. In response, many Republicans and others accused Romney of not having any core principles. One journalist wrote that Romney "came off as a phony, even when he was perfectly sincere.” Romney himself has said, "If you're looking for someone who's never changed any positions on any policies, then I'm not your guy." According to Donald Trump, Romney "doesn't seem to resonate."

(6) Ron Paul. If you’re seeking a super-maxi-alternative candidate, Ron Paul is your man. He’s an M.D. and has been a Republican congressman from Texas off and on since 1976. Paul’s not really a Republican. He’s a Libertarian, and, as such, he has clashed regularly with leaders of both parties. Perhaps his most notable achievement is that he has the most extreme conservative voting record of any of the 3,320 congressmen since 1937. He’s been called the “intellectual grandfather” of the Tea Party movement, and his nickname on the House floor is “Dr. No.” He opposes just about everything: membership in the U.N., membership in NATO, any kind of foreign intervention, federal involvement in health care, any proposal for new government spending or taxes. Paul has attempted through legislation to negate Roe vs. Wade, advocates terminating nearly all federal agencies, and has expressed a critical view toward the Civil Rights Act of 1964, arguing that it infringes on individual liberty. One of Paul’s newsletters to constituents, written in the first person, stated, “Boy, it sure burns me to have a national holiday for that pro-communist philanderer Martin Luther King.” Another Paul newsletter said, “Homosexuals, not to speak of the rest of society, were far better off when social pressure forced them to hide their activities.” Paul does favor legalization of heroin and cocaine, which helps account for 500 college campuses having “Ron Paul for President” groups in 2008. He won recent Republican presidential straw polls by the Tea Party Summit and by the Conservative Political Action Conference and came in second to Mitt Romney in the Southern Republican Leadership Conference.

(7) Michele Bachmann. Most people think Michele Bachmann is completely out of her mind, but others aren’t totally convinced. She is in her third term as a Republican member of the House of Representatives from Minnesota and leads the Tea Party Caucus. She earned her law degree at the Bible-based Coburn School of Law, an affiliate of Oral Roberts University. Though she grew up in a Democratic family, a passage in a Gore Vidal novel that she read as a college student offended her, and she decided she must be a Republican. She served in the state senate in Minnesota, but “God then called me to run for the United State Congress…and we took 3 days and we fasted and we prayed and…he made that calling sure.” Bachmann seeks privatization of Social Security, favors retaining a nuclear strike option toward Iran, is a long-time opponent of legal abortion, and, ever since her 23 foster children entered public school, supports teaching intelligent design. She’s been particularly vocal in her efforts to ban same-sex marriages or civil unions, believing that LGBT people suffer from “sexual identity disorders” and that referring to homosexuals as “gay” is “part of Satan.” Bill Maher summed it up: "Michele Bachmann threw her hat into the ring. We think she's going to be running for president. For those who find Sarah Palin too intellectual. Michele Bachman for President. As a comedian, all I can say is, where can I donate to this cause?"

There are some lesser known possibilities too: John Huntsman, Obama’s ambassador to China; Tim Pawlenty, former Minnesota Governor; Mitch Daniels, Governor of Indiana; Herman Cain, Godfather Pizza magnate; Gary Johnson, former Governor of New Mexico; Rick Santorum, former Senator from Pennsylvania; and some non-running but often-mentioned figures: Rudy Giuliani, Michael Bloomberg, Bobby Jindall, Jeb Bush, Chris Christie. A couple of these politicians are actually a little more centrist than the frontrunners. It’s hard to predict what’s going to happen, but it promises to be a tumultuous political season.



[Sources include:;;;;;;;;;;; candidates’ web-sites; and miscellaneous other websites]

G-Mail Comments

-JML (5-10): These guys plus Obama nailing Osama.....I'm feeling much better about 2012

Friday, May 6, 2011

Woozy Thursday With Doggies

Dear George,

Life is pretty overwhelming these days. Japan’s been demolished, the Mississippi threatens to destroy the Midwest, joblessness continues to stagnate, Republican governors are attacking public unions, etc. I went to bed at 11 p.m. the other night but lay awake forever. I probably only got two hours of sleep, if that. Usually I go to the fitness center and then to my office on Thursdays, but I was just too tired to go anywhere and decided to just hang out with our sheepdogs, Mike and Duffy. Because I was so exhausted, I thought I’d better keep a photo record in case any calamities occurred. Here’s how the day went.

I was glad that being wiped out didn’t interfere with my taking attractive photo portraits of the dogs.

Mike and Duffy just stood around, watching me and looking nervous.

I can’t imagine why the dogs would be nervous because I’m sure I looked like my normal self.

When Duffy gets upset, he goes and communes with the Giant Mother of All Sheepdogs. It’s hard to believe but this is actually not a real sheepdog, but rather a stuffed version that Katja bought at the discount store for $10. Duffy thinks she’s so quiet because she’s a good listener.

About 2 p.m. Mikey reminded me that I had forgotten to feed him breakfast.

Duffy has actually learned to open the refrigerator door when I forget to feed them.

Lately I’ve just been throwing the dogs’ food on the kitchen floor because it’s more like life in the wilderness. The dogs seem to appreciate their meal more when they have to search around for it.

We went out on the front porch for a while. The dogs like to look at things, and it’s more entertaining than lying on the living room floor.

Then, horror of all horrors, Duffy heard a skateboarder going by. You can see the adrenalin pumping through his veins.

The only thing that calms Duffy down from skateboarding terror is his rubber chicken.

By 5 p.m. the doggies knew it was about time for Katja to get home, so they started watching for her.

Then there she was and everything was all right again with the world.

So that was our day. We had a pretty nice time. However, the dogs probably think it’s just as well that I go off to the fitness center and my office.



Monday, May 2, 2011

Our Town

Paper Mill, Menominee, Michigan

Dear George,

Recently Katja and I went to see Thornton Wilder’s “Our Town” which the university’s theater department was putting on. Katja wasn’t that keen about it, since she isn’t a small town/nostalgia sort of person and prefers contemporary theater, but it was right up my alley. It didn’t disappoint. The polished student performers brought Grovers Corners, NH, to life on the stage, and the script touched on many different things: the vagaries of small town life, families, young love, social standing in the community, aging, marriage, social change, tragic death and grieving. The last act was set at a cemetery where all the residents who had died in recent years were sitting silently in chairs, occasionally chitchatting softly about events in the town. Both Katja and I got pretty choked up.

My home town has been on my mind a lot these days, partly because e-mail, Facebook, and blogging has brought me back in touch with several close childhood chums. One of my correspondents, Dooley Worth, recently e-mailed to us a collection of photographs that she’d gathered from her parents Jean and Margaret Worth’s family albums. I’d estimate that the images are mainly from the 1940’s, though I could be off a bit in either direction. They brought back lots of memories. Here are some that particularly caught my eye.

Menominee County Courthouse

The courthouse is Menominee’s most distinctive landmark. It was built in 1875 and added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1975. A lot of my dad’s legal activities as prosecuting attorney were centered there, though he rarely discussed any of his work in our presence.

Marina Park

Marina Park is on the Green Bay shore in the center of the town’s business district and is a major community gathering place. We hung out there a lot as teens, swimming and joking around. Years later we’d go there for the Waterfront Festival when home in August for family reunions.

Henes Park

Henes Park is Menominee’s top tourist attraction. It housed buffalo and deer herds in a huge fenced-in enclosure, later added a small zoo with a bear and other local animals. Plus swimming, picnics, softball, hiking, a duck pond, summer fun.

The Leisen-Henes Brewery

This is the home of Silver Cream Beer, my parents’ favorite summer beverage and ours too when we came of age. As a kid I used to go behind the brewery and gather up pieces of broken colored glass from bottles which had been worn down by the waves on the sand and turned into polished gems. The brewery closed its doors in 1961 and burned down in 1966.

The old Caley mansion

The Caley mansion, perhaps Menominee’s most distinguished architectural structure, was right next door to the brewery. Dooley and her younger sister Jeane used to go there on Xmas eve, along with a bunch of other kids, to watch Santa’s arrival (played by a doctor from Marinette). Jeane was scared of what certainly looked like a haunted house. It’s long gone now, replaced by a condominium complex.

The fire department

I’m surprised we needed a ladder this tall in Menominee, but I guess the brewery was that high. Both Dooley’s dad and our dad brought their kids to the fire department from time to time. Dooley got to work the engine’s fire siren, but had the tip of her finger cut off by the rotating blades.

Menekaunee Bridge

There were three bridges across the river between Menominee and Marinette. This was the easternmost and connected Sheridan Road in Menominee with the Menekaunee fishing neighborhood in Marinette. As teens we “cruised the loop” in our cars and were always annoyed when the swing section of the Menekaunee bridge was opened up to allow a sailboat to pass through, halting auto traffic for what seemed like forever.

J. W. Wells Lumber Co.

The Wells Lumber Co. was the last of its era, and it was still in operation in our youth. One of my friends used to take me over, and we’d walk around on the catwalks over the production floor. The company ended its business in 1966.

Totem pole

The man on the ladder is a Seattle artist named Tom Wells who is creating an ice sculpture of a totem pole. Jean Worth watches from below, along with his daughter Ann and her friends.

Hunting camp

We enjoyed many big family gatherings at the Worth hunting camp, just outside of Cedar River. When we reached our mid-teens, the sons joined their dads for deer-hunting expeditions, poker, and Jean’s many rich stories of Cedar River in the olden days.

Friends at camp

Our parents had a wonderful friendship group. Here they are at the Worth camp in a photo taken by my dad. This was an amazing bunch of people – creative, smart, knowledgeable, committed to their community, full of fun. It’s difficult to accept, even comprehend, that their entire generation has disappeared from the face of the earth.

So that’s why “Our Town” brought a tear to my eye.



G-Mail Comments

-John D (5-9): Dave: I saw Dooley’s post on your Blog. Dooley and her family were real good people to know as a kid. Her dad was as smart and articulate as anyone in town. Dooley and I went to grade school together and even then she and I shared something: irreverence. Then the Worth family moved to Marquette, but later I ran into Dooley in Ann Arbor. She had not become any more reverent. It was the mid 1960’s, and Dooley was leading the way for the social revolution that would sweep the country by the end of the decade. I especially liked the photo of the group at the hunting camp, and then the photo of the Caley Haunted House next the brewery. All the kids in the neighborhood remember that place more for the ghosts as for the visits by Santa Claus. Long after Santa quit visiting, the ghosts still lived there. And scared us! The best chestnut trees I have ever seen were in front of that Haunted House… John