The Thinker

Spellbound

Who likes a good challenge? Who also likes to associate a good challenge with masochism? If you like to solve crossword puzzles it seems that to prove that you are “good” you need to be a bit of a masochist. Or a cheat. Or both.

I’m not a great crossword puzzle player, which is likely due to not having much time or inclination for doing them. The key to successful retirement I’ve been told is to stay active, both physically and mentally. On the latter I am trying to stay mentally agile by doing the daily crossword puzzle in our local newspaper. This usually occurs over lunch when I get to that part of our paper.

It means exercising parts of my brain that don’t like to be exercised. So naturally Monday crosswords are best, i.e. easiest to do. I can usually finish it myself but if there are a few incomplete, I leave them to my wife who is a much better crossword player than I am. This is because while her body is declining too quickly as far as she is concerned, mentally she is sharp as a tack. She’s always been that way and it’s one of the reasons I married her. I like someone with an informed opinion and she rarely disappoints.

These puzzles are easier earlier in the week because that’s how they write them. By the weekend crossword though you want to spit nails. Not even a Jeopardy! champion is going to solve it without cheating. The clues become obscure if not downright misleading. The authors go out of their way to write long answer questions stacked on top of each other and write super obscure clues for the short answer words. I figure they must use special crossword puzzle software to sift through millions of possibilities. That is not enough of course because once you create the answers the idea becomes to obfuscate the questions so much that you will go on wild goose chases.

So you do what everyone else is doing: you cheat and turn to Dr. Google, or to Siri or to your favorite search engines. And invariably there are people out there that solved them before you and leave the answers for you. I’m doubting that a person solved these. I think it’s a computer, which may have provided a host of possible answers for human analysis. Just type in the question in the puzzle and it will pop right up but usually you have to scroll down a page for the answer. This is based I think on the theory that the hints they provide might allow you to solve it without scrolling down to the answer. But of course you won’t bother and you’ll scroll down then scribble it in with your trusty #2 pencil.

As the week progresses you realize that the only way to solve these puzzles is to find authoritative questions that cannot be wrong. Unfortunately, they tend to write fewer of these as the week goes along, but you have to work with what you got. That’s where the challenge/masochism starts because you have to use a correct answer to build the answers that join these words. And the clues will be obfuscated. At times it feels like playing charades because so many clues end in a question mark, which means the answer is really a huge stretch, which means it’s tangentially related at best or the answer is some sort of pun.

So at some point you ask yourself why you bother, and by Friday that’s how I usually react to the crossword puzzle: I won’t even bother, or I might pick at solving a clue or two then abandon it. Perhaps I’m a mental midget but I’m not a masochist. There is satisfaction in solving a puzzle that is fair. On Friday and Saturday they are not trying to be fair; they are trying to be obscure and deceiving. In short, they are being mean and it’s up to you to play along. It’s like going to Las Vegas and thinking you are going to win at slots. You know that the puzzle is rigged against you. It has become an exercise for the puzzle author to see how many he can defeat and frustrate. I am sure there are some geniuses out there so gifted in crosswords they can solve these without using the Internet or consulting a bunch of reference books, but in some cases you must consult a reference book because the answer is so obscure even a learned professor in the topic probably can’t recall the correct answer.

So here’s a call to puzzle authors to write fair crossword puzzles. It doesn’t have to be easy but it should not lead you down erroneous paths either. There is an implicit contract between the author and the player. At some point the puzzle reveals much more about who the author is as a person than the player trying to solve it. And it’s not flattering.

So puzzle on this, puzzle-masters. We enjoy a good puzzle but we don’t like being misled and we don’t think it’s fair to throw in answers that require scholarship to answer. A great puzzle is not based on how complex it is, but on how well it stimulates the far recesses of your brain based on accurate clues.

Don’t make me take up Sudoku.

 
The Thinker

Second viewing: Star Trek: The Next Generation (Season 3)

I’m working my way through this series again, now nearly thirty years in the past. Like a fine wine, STTNG improves with age and in this case subsequent seasons improve too. Season 1 was hardly watchable. Season 2 gave you some reasons to watch and introduced the neatest villain ever: the Borg. In Season 3 the first half leaves a lot to be desired then picks up and ends strongly.

You can read my reviews of Season 2 and Season 1 if you missed them. You can use my reviews to decide if an episode is worth bothering with. With well over a hundred and fifty episodes over seven seasons, there is little reason to see them all unless you are a diehard Trekkie, particularly those that disappoint, so use my reviews.

  1. Evolution. Acting ensign Wesley creates a science experiment with “nanites” that goes awry. It’s interesting that they conceived the idea of microscopic robots so long ago, an idea now starting to bear some fruition. The nanites become intelligent and declare themselves to be their own species, and when attacked hijack the Enterprise’s computer system. It’s an interesting premise unless you think about it a bit: mainly, why is there no proctor for Wesley’s creative experiments? Wesley and others on the Enterprise often do stupid stuff like this. C+
  2. The Ensigns of Command. Data is tasked to tell some colonists they must leave their planet or a species that claims their planet will destroy them. There are many skeptics among the colonists, so Data has to improvise. This is predictable stuff but it’s fun to see Data take on a human challenge. C+
  3. The Survivors. A verdant planet with millions of inhabitants is blown to smithereens except for a small patch containing an aging scientist and his wife. Why were they spared? The answer will disappoint. C
  4. Who Watches the Watchers? The Prime Directive gets the Enterprise in trouble again, but this time at least they have a good excuse: a Federation team silently observing these humanoids have their invisibility shields break down so they get discovered. Naturally, the Enterprise team is treated like gods and in the end it’s up to Picard to convince them there is a fake wizard behind the curtain. He succeeds but it feels too well wrapped up: the lady they bring aboard (Liko) is like, well okay we’ll all do our best to evolve naturally: see you in a few million years. C+
  5. The Bonding. An away team led by Worf ends in tragedy when one of the team, a mother, is killed. Her distraught son naturally blames Worf who was in charge and Worf gets a case of the guilts. Wesley tries to help the kid cope but then suddenly the kid’s mom is back. It’s some alien voodoo on the planet responsible for all this of course. The Enterprise crew feels duty bound to demonstrate that this “mom” is a fraud. Worf helps the kid cope with the loss in a Klingon bonding ceremony. Michael Dorn’s acting makes this otherwise predictable plot watchable. B
  6. Booby Trap. The enterprise gets sucked into a trap in the universe set to snare starships. Naturally the crew has to fight their way out somehow and Geordi gets tapped on the shoulder. To figure it out he needs the help of the designer of their warp engines replicated on the holodeck who he quickly falls for. B
  7. The Enemy. Geordi gets trapped on an inhospitable planet with a Romulan, which makes for strange bedfellows, literally. The plot feels pretty contrived but it’s fun and works somehow. B
  8. The Price. Deanna becomes infatuated with a dumb empathic negotiator who works through telepathic translators. Assassins get the translators leaving the negotiator to try to nonverbally bring two warring factions on a planet together in peace. Riker doesn’t look too happy with her choice in men, but he’s a nice guy at least. B
  9. The Vengeance Factor. The Enterprise gets involved in yet another clash of civilizations but in the process Riker falls for a woman who he eventually discovers is a carefully altered assassin. Can he keep his feelings from getting in the way of his duties? B
  10. The Defector. Why is this Romulan general defecting to the Federation? He says it’s to keep the Romulans and the Federation from open warfare. Fortunately, Captain Picard is smart enough to plan for the worst leading to a neat Corbomite maneuver at the end of the episode. A
  11. The Hunted. Again it’s up to Picard to figure out what’s really going on, this time at a penal colony. Unfortunately, they take on an escapee who seems (well actually is) engineered to get himself out of any box and he’ll take the Enterprise down with him. This is a lot of fun, keeps you hopping but again the Enterprise really needs to up its internal security defenses. You listening to me, Chief Security Officer Worf? A-
  12. The High Ground. A rare episode where Gates McFadden (Dr. Crusher) gets to shine, here as a hostage who has to be high-minded while evolving feelings for her captor on one side of a complex civil war where giving your life for the cause is part of the mission. Lots of modern parallels in this episode. (The Islamic State comes to mind.) B
  13. Déjà Q. Q gets his comeuppance from the Q Continuum who realize he may be God-like but he’s basically a jerk. Q (John De Lancie) is forced to struggle for survival as a human on the Enterprise and try to wend his way back into the Continuum’s good graces. Fortunately, it happens just in time before everyone on the Enterprise decides to strange him for being so insufferable. C
  14. A Matter of Perspective. Riker gets accused of murder and also seducing the wife of a prominent scientist. He gets a trial of sorts using simulations on the Holodeck. C
  15. Yesterday’s Enterprise. The Enterprise gets sucked into yet another quantum flux of some sort, but this one is fun as they find the Enterprise C is stuck in the same space. The Enterprise C was destroyed in battle, but the two captains (Tricia O’Neill is terrific as Enterprise C Captain Garrett) get to meet, along with their first officers, and it’s all good, except the Enterprise C is still doomed. In addition, a quirk in the flux allows Denise Crosby (playing Tasha Yar) to reprise her role from Season 1. She still dies, but has a better death and seems to find true love. Good stuff! A
  16. The Offspring. Data creates a “daughter”, who names herself Lal. Lal though quickly evolves as an android in ways that Data cannot, including being able to do contractions and feel emotions. It’s not easy for an android to have emotions and she keeps Counselor Troi busy. This is quite special and endearing. Hallie Todd as Lal is terrific. A
  17. Sins of the Father. In an earlier season, Riker got to try out being first officer on a Klingon ship. In this episode, a Klingon officer becomes the Enterprise’s temporary first officer, but it turns out he’s actually Worf’s younger brother and there is a serious problem involving factions trying to control the Klingon Empire where both he and Worf prove pivotal. Picard gets to stand with Worf and act Klingon-y, which is neat. In fact, this is just terrific, the sort of show you wait all season for and the best show of Season 3 with plenty of competition. A+
  18. Allegiance. Aliens kidnap and replicate Picard. An alien in his body does lots of strange things like putting the moves on Doctor Crusher. Naturally, the crew is wondering what happened to their Captain but he is genetically identical. Picard meanwhile is trapped in a room with other prisoners being used this way and they try to find their way out. C
  19. Captain’s Holiday. A prickly Picard reluctantly takes a holiday on a pleasure planet but wants to read books rather than get laid. The latter seems to be the point of the planet. There he meets Vash (Jennifer Hetrick), who recurs in future episodes as a beautiful but dangerous galactic vagabond. They go on something of a treasure hunt together. True story: Patrick Stewart and Hetrick started dating each other because of this episode, so the chemistry on screen was also going on off the set. B-
  20. Tin Man. A super-telepathic and troubled Betazoid and former patient of Counselor Troi comes aboard to help make contact with “Tin Man”, a strange starship that appears to be an alien life form that will soon be destroyed when the nearby star goes supernova. Tam (the telepath) doesn’t work and play well with others, but Tin Man becomes a perfect companion. B
  21. Hollow Pursuits. Reggie, one of Geordi’s engineers is not quite Enterprise material, is late for work and spends much of his time on the Holodeck engaging in inappropriate relationships with replicants of the crew. Naturally a crisis happens and Reggie must perform. Can he get his act together? This is pretty cringe-worthy. D
  22. The Most Toys. Data is kidnapped by a ruthless (but somewhat charming) kidnapper. Can Data kill to save others and himself? This is a bit predictable but fun. B-
  23. Sarek. Yeah! Spock’s father Sarek (Mark Lenard) is back with his newest human wife. Boo! Sarek is two hundred years old and is losing control of his emotions, but must negotiate a critical peace treaty. This requires Picard and Sarek to do a mind-meld so Picard can provide the stability Sarek lacks. Stewart proves again he is a first class actor and Lenard has lost nothing since 1968, including his looks. A
  24. Ménage à Troi. A Ferengi captain kidnaps Troi, her mother Lwaxana (Majel Barrett) and Riker but eventually only Lwaxana remains. The Ferengi captain surprisingly finds her hot and wants to make her his wife. It’s hard to know who is more annoying: Lwaxana or the Ferengi captain Daimon Tog. If you like the sounds of fingernails on a blackboard, you’ll love this grating and predictable episode. D
  25. Transfigurations. The Enterprise finds an escape pod containing a man with amnesia who they call John Doe. He’s very nice and empathic. Everyone loves him and Beverly starts falling in love with him. But he’s actually a hunted man with very special powers that his species needs to evolve but which they are resisting. B
  26. The Best of Both Worlds. The Borg are back so you know what that means: huge space battles against huge odds, and this one delivers these goods, a threat to Earth’s existence all while Picard gets kidnapped and turned into a Borg and Riker has to think on his feet. This has got it all and fits well as the season cliffhanger. It’s amazing though that it was bested by Sins of the Father. A+
 
The Thinker

The LGBT recoil

It looks like North Carolina is the latest state to discover the pitfalls of trying to govern from the extreme. HB2, passed in a special one-day session, specifically overwrote a Charlotte, North Carolina ordinance that allowed people to use the restroom that aligned with their gender identity. The hastily signed law by now-chagrinned Governor Pat McCrory requires North Carolina citizens to use the restroom aligned with the sex assigned to them by birth on their birth certificate or face the penalty of law.

The ink was hardly dry before the ACLU was filing a suit. And then the real recoil began. PayPal canceled plans to build offices in the state, at a cost of some four hundred jobs. The Boss (Bruce Springsteen) canceled plans for a concert in the state. North Carolinians can perhaps take some comfort in knowing that they are not the only state dumb enough to pass laws like these. Georgia’s governor vetoed a bill with similar intentions. Mississippi looks primed to follow North Carolina’s example with a “religious liberty” bill that gives permission to businesses to discriminate against people they don’t like because of God or something. It’s not even law and it’s promoting a backlash, causing Sharon Stone to move the location of her new film out of the state and the governor of Oregon to move the christening of the USS Oregon’s sister ship to his state. Of course Indiana got bitch slapped on similar issues last year, and even Arizona saw that light when convention bookings slowed down.

Why do these states do this? It’s like they have a death wish. In most cases there is no groundswell of constituents demanding these laws, but there are often fundamentalist groups who have the ears of legislators instead. The answer in part is because legislators in these states have their ears keenly tuned to hear messages from these groups who sustain their hold on power. But the only reason they have so much power is because states like North Carolina are gerrymandered to provide extremely disproportionate representation for conservatives. The nature of gerrymandering is that it is an artificial construct that cannot survive for long because it is unfair. A backlash was inevitable. Worse, these laws were entirely preventable and there were plenty examples of states who had already suffered the consequences. That would have at least suggested some caution, perhaps the governor shelving the bill for a few weeks to let tempers cool.

So much stupidity but perhaps the stupidest thing is that these laws try to solve problems that don’t even exist. Let me ask you what would be more disruptive: a trans man using a ladies restroom because his birth certificate says he is a woman, or a trans woman using a men’s restroom for a similar reason. The latter sounds the more dangerous to me; if I were a trans woman I’d literally prefer to pee in my pants before going into a men’s room. Of course that’s part of the problem. It’s hugely challenging when your gender misaligns with your sex and particularly during and after the transition process. It’s only now after a couple of decades that the trans community is starting to get some sympathy from the general public, mainly because most of us haven’t tuned into it. It’s a complex issue as I discovered some years back.

But the religious freedom arguments really sound shallow. Religious freedom in this case is basically government-approved bigotry. Doubtless there are passages in the Bible that suggest black people are evil (curious as most Jews are Semites and if not quite black have dark-hued skins.) Under the guise of religious freedom then anyone can assert they have a right to run a business that caters only to non-blacks. If it’s not in the Bible, it’s still no big deal. Create your own religion where only white people are holy and there you go. You can assert it’s your sincere religious belief and who can doubt you? These laws protect not the richest 1% but allow the most bigoted 1% to selectively shame people they don’t like with impunity.

The good news for bigots is that they have every right to be a bigot in their private lives. However, a business cannot be called public if it does not accept all comers. If I own a bakery and don’t want to bake wedding cakes for gay couples, I can get out of the bakery business. Or I can decide that I understand that being public means everyone can ask for my services and baking one doesn’t mean I support gay marriage but it does mean I have sanction to profit from anyone who walks in my shop door.

There is some concern that these laws will require ministers to marry gay couples or face the penalty of law. I’m not sure where this comes from but it’s a specious concern. You might as well worry that a Catholic priest will be required to perform a Jewish wedding. Religious marriage ceremonies require parties to agree to the marriage rules of the religion. I suppose it is possible that a state law might require any legal “celebrant” to perform a civil marriage, and that celebrant could also be a minister. In this case though the ceremony would be purely civil, does not have to be performed in their church and would have no religious connotation.

One thing that is clear is that these laws are toxic. Generations X and Y have made it clear that everyone must be treated equally under the laws, so at best these laws will prove to be short-lived. Perhaps it’s possible these legislators don’t understand how hurtful and shaming these laws are, but more likely they do understand and that’s part of their animus in voting them in. They will get their comeuppance in time. In North Carolina, a recent poll puts Governor McCrory four points behind his LGBT-friendlier challenger.

When you make it your business to shame others, you will inevitably find that it will shame you instead. Give it a few months as more businesses leave the state and I think North Carolina legislators will find a reason to quietly repeal HB 2. Mississippi, Missouri, Tennessee and other states in this boat will too in time but sadly are likely to look for less overt ways to discriminate instead. There are always those Voter ID laws.

 
The Thinker

Getting solar panels for your house is (usually) a no-brainer

I recently wrote about my father’s death in February and my thoughts on what to do with his inheritance. On the latter, I opined I might just give it away. It didn’t seem like something I needed to worry about, as we saw a copy of his will. It left everything to my stepmother, provided she did not die within thirty days of his death. In that event we were to get five percent of the estate. My stepmother’s will was similar so providing she didn’t change it, it looked like it would be some time before we would receive any portion of the inheritance, if any at all.

So I filed away what to do with the money as an academic exercise. A couple of weeks after my father passed away I got a call from my sister. “We have a problem,” she said. Dad had made me and each of my siblings (there are eight of us) beneficiaries to the money in his Merrill-Lynch accounts. This consisted of a money market account and two Roth IRAs. And this trumped anything in his will.

The problem was: do we take the money and run? Or do we honor what appeared to be the intent of his will and give our share to our stepmother? Regardless we each would get an eighth of the amount, and it was a considerable sum. We’d all have to voluntarily agree to give our share to our stepmother. After much discussion we figured that this was likely not an oversight; our father probably intended us to get this money, possibly to respect our late mother’s wishes for his estate. There was still something like half a million dollars in other assets that our stepmother could draw on. It was strange though that Dad did not communicate these details with us before he died.

So now we are assembling forms to try to claim our share of these accounts. As you might expect it’s a hassle. All inheritances are tax-free. Dear old dad had at some point paid a bunch of taxes to put much of his money into Roth IRAs, which made his withdrawals tax-free. If we moved our share of these funds into our own inherited Roth IRAs, we could let these funds accumulate tax-free. It’s almost like having a tax shelter but not having to go to the Cayman Islands!

Thus my hypothetical thoughts on basically giving the money away now turned more concrete. First of all, the amount of money was more than I expected. My dad turned out to be a good investor, which meant that he found a financial adviser he trusted and he turned it into a pile of cash. (Much of the startup money came from his parents.) Second, it made me think of what I might actually want to spend the money on. It turned out that only two things mattered and there would still be money left over to give a lot away.

First, I wanted us to be debt free again. We would get there in a year or two but with a windfall it seemed like a sensible way to spend Dad’s money. There is about $18K on the new mortgage. We actually were debt free for a few months after we sold our last house and waited for the new one to be constructed. It was surreal. I wanted that feeling again.

Second, I wanted to reduce our carbon footprint even more. Basically, I wanted solar panels. Our house is new and super tight, so it’s energy footprint is already minimal. We already pay extra to get our electricity through renewable wind power. But if we went solar we would probably pay nothing for electricity, once we paid for the cost of getting a solar system installed. Besides, about a third of the houses in our subdivision have them already so we are feeling the social pressure to go green.

So I started dialing around. It was strange that our condo association cares about your doorknockers but not solar panels. No permission was needed. If you have the money, solar tax credits make going solar a no-brainer. Uncle Sam will give you a 30% tax credit and the state of Massachusetts (where we live) will give a $1000 tax credit. Moreover there are the SRECs (Solar Renewable Energy Certificates). Basically the power company will give us money for our solar system because they must show that they are getting an increasing amount of their power from renewable energy. The credits expire after ten years, but the first year we will earn $1635 from our SRECs, which will taper down to $545 by the tenth year. (SRECs are not available in all states. See if you qualify.)

The estimates were all pretty close pricewise. We ended up signing with Direct Energy Solar mainly because they seemed the best capitalized. It turns out that we don’t need to cover the entire southern facing side of our house with solar panels. Based on our usage we need them just over our garage, twenty altogether. It’s actually counterproductive to generate more solar energy than you use because you end up with a credit you never can fully spend.

Not every house is ideal for solar panels. Lower latitudes certainly help. You need a roof that faces south and if there are trees in your way it probably won’t make financial sense. You don’t necessarily have to buy a system to go green, like we are doing. There are companies that will let you lease solar panels they put on your roof. You still pay for electricity, but usually at about five cents a kilowatt-hour less than what you would otherwise pay. If you run the numbers it makes a lot of sense to own your own panels. You can in theory take them with you to your next house if you want. We figure that our system will pay for itself in about five years. And we’ll get a cool app that will show us in real time how much electricity we are generating. Direct Energy Solar will even guarantee that we will generate the energy we need and will pay us in the unlikely situation that we don’t.

Going solar is really a no-brainer and probably worth taking out a home equity loan to finance it if necessary. You will get tax credits if you buy your system, earn income from SRECs that you will sell (if your state allows it), reduce carbon pollution and minimize your carbon footprint. Since these systems tend to cost $20-$30K to install, the only question is why builders don’t offer solar panels as an option for every house where it is appropriate.

The only downside I can find to solar is that you can’t get it quickly. A whole lot of coordination has to happen between various parties. We expect to have ours installed and turned on in 90-120 days. There is likely much that could be done to hurry up this process but the power companies don’t make it a priority and worry about whether all this “net metering” will stress out their power grid. They would like to charge solar customers for costs to maintain the grid. There is a bill to this effect in front of the Massachusetts legislature at the moment.

I’ll let you know how it goes in future posts.

 
The Thinker

Review: 10 Cloverfield Lane

Some month’s back I reviewed M. Night Shyamalan’s latest low budget movie The Visit, a pretty good example that less can be more in a movie. It wasn’t particularly hard to figure out, but it was still well done, creepy and plausible. The secret to a good horror movie is to make it something that you can relate to.

Last night we went to see 10 Cloverfield Lane and I can happily report that unlike most movies in this genre, it totally creeped me out. It creeped me out so much that I dreamed about it most of the night, naturally in morphed situations where I was in a similar role. It couldn’t have cost that much more than The Visit for except for some special effects in the last ten minutes it all takes place in a small bunker. And whereas The Visit had a cast of four, this effectively has a cast of three, unless you count John Goodman as Howard, whose immense bulk is hard to ignore. Maybe he counts as two. For the kids in The Visit, getting away from the grandparents is not too hard: just run away. For poor Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) and Emmett (John Gallagher, Jr.) there really is no escape. That’s the key here in this horror movie: the characters are put into a box from which it’s virtually impossible to come out alive.

And that’s because Armageddon has arrived. Emmett spent months helping the obsessed Howard build a survival shelter on his property. Howard may be sixty-something and massively overweight but at least he can sense when the end is near and he was prepared. The cause of Armageddon is unclear: was it nuclear war or some sort of massive chemical attack? Was it the Russians, the North Koreans or space aliens? As the youthful Emmett relates it (he managed to fight his way into Howard’s shelter) whatever it was, it sure was bad, but it was worth the broken arm to simply have the chance to survive. To the college-age Michelle, she had no idea Armageddon had even arrived. She got into a terrible car accident and found herself a dozen or more feet underground in Howard’s bunker, chained to a wall in a cinder block room with lacerations on her head and a brace on her leg. Needless to say she is terrified and she is dubious that the paranoid Howard is telling the truth about the outside, particularly when she occasionally feels the grounds shake and she hears loud noises above them.

John Goodman proves himself a hell of an actor and veers between weird, plausibly honorable, humorous, self-deprecating and homicidal. Whatever may be happening when the ground shakes, it is clear that Howard has plenty of issues and will rock their inner world. Given his size and that he has all the keys and a gun, it behooves Michelle and Emmett to be nice to him. There’s not much space in the shelter and even if Howard weren’t so strange it’s hard to share close quarters and not get on each other’s nerves.

I can’t say too much more without giving away great portions of the plot. The important thing to understand is this is a hell of a great premise and even better it had a terrific director (Dan Trachtenberg) to do it justice. And yet it could not have cost much to make, because both Winstead and Gallagher are virtually no name actors. This leaves Goodman to chew the scenery, but not objectionably. And boy is he creepy and gets more so as this story enfolds. A trip to a chamber near the surface convinces Michelle that Howard is telling some variation of the truth, but also surfaces clues that Howard is one messed up and very violent man.

If M. Night Shyamalan sees the movie he’s no doubt pissed that he didn’t get to direct it, but I doubt he could do a better job. It bears some semblance to his 2002 movie Signs starring Mel Gibson. I won’t report if there are aliens in this movie like there were in Signs but Howard can stand in for any alien from another planet. How do you win in this unwinnable situation? How do you come out alive, particularly when Howard is paranoid and his beneficence is often fleeting?

10 Cloverfield Lane inhabits a slim genre of movies that I see. I see plenty of movies and many of them are superstarred and airbrushed to within an inch of their lives. 10 Cloverfield Lane should end leaving you feeling like you’ve seen a movie. A movie is not just a movie, it’s a movie that makes an impact, will resonate with you, which actually feels special and which you can’t possibly forget. If you aren’t too squicked out by horror and violence, it’s quite a tour de force on what must have been a very modest budget.In short, it’s terrific so go see it if you don’t have a weak stomach and skip the bloated Superman v. Batman flick. 3.4 out of four-points. It ends in a way that suggests a sequel is possible, and I’ll be first in line to see it.

Rating: ★★★½ 

 
The Thinker

Craigslist casual encounters weirdness: April 2016 (Hartford CT) edition

I don’t know why but as I put together my monthly review of local Craigslist casual encounters weirdness, this snippet of lyrics from the musical Chess is running through my brain:

I’d let you watch, I would invite you
But the queens we use would not excite you

Anyhow, the first Friday of the month came early this month and that’s when I try to do these postings, as Fridays seem to be the best day of the week to find the weirdest of these postings, probably in anticipation of kinky expectations unlikely to be met by these posters over the weekend. So it’s generally anything goes. I decided to go back to Hartford, Connecticut’s section this month, mainly because I am lazy but also because my May 2015 post on Hartford continues to get lots of hits, 59 in March out of at least 166 hits for this stuff. That’s almost exactly 11% of my total web hits for March.

On the first page of postings I count:

  • 33 men looking for a woman
  • 41 men looking for a man
  • 11 men looking for a couple
  • 2 men looking for a transgender
  • 1 group of men looking for a woman
  • 4 women looking for a man
  • 4 couples looking for a woman
  • 5 transgender individuals looking for a man
  • 1 transgender looking for multiple men

Let’s jump into the postings and find the wheat in the chaff tonight:

  • Speaking of those two men looking for an attractive woman, they say, “Typically we’re available Sunday through Saturday with 2 days notice”, so I guess they never take a day off. They are 45 and 41, live in Norwich and have lots of explicit black and white pictures showing what they would do to a woman with men that obviously aren’t them, but at least the models are thoughtful enough to use condoms. Most likely they are married and probably need the two days to invent an excuse to give their wives for the odd hours they are going to put in at work. However, they are equal opportunity horn dogs, in that they don’t discriminate based on race but do discriminate on whether you are hot or not. That at least makes them more discriminating that most of their competition.
  • Here’s an ad from a woman looking for a man that sounds legit, mainly because she’s been scanning ads from men for women and finding them turnoffs. Are you real, as in not a creep? Then maybe you can get into her pants, but this is Craigslist so the answer is probably no.
  • He’s 26 and wants to go to the “art gallery”, i.e. Hartford’s “art” theater where apparently the stuff on the balcony is much racier than the XXX action on screen, or at least less faked than the stuff on the screen. But the balcony is only available to couples, so basically he needs a date in the hopes of seeing some people do kinky sex.
  • Ladies, no need to feel awkward joining this couple in their 30’s for a threesome because you won’t be their first.
  • If you are reading this, you are too late because this 46-year-old not totally gay man from Middletown is only available for the next hour or so.
  • Lady, I love the blue panties.
  • He’s a man from Suffield looking for a couple to have a threesome with but ick, none of this man-to-man stuff, he doesn’t want to even touch I would think that would make having a threesome very challenging and complicated. If that’s not enough to reject him, he’s also married and 52.
  • He might possibly be Richard Gere.
  • Here’s an unusual wish from a 50-year-old gay guy from Hartford: looking for a man with “alligator thick skinned ball sacks”. Maybe he should write bad erotic gay fiction. Oh wait, he just did.
  • Ladies: he’s here to serve you, be your slave and he’s not concerned about your body type or your age (unless you are over 60). Among the things he is willing to do is this one I haven’t seen before: be used as your footstool. Enjoy, dude.
  • She’s curious and looking for a Puerto Rican woman.
  • Guys: he wants you to be “IN SHAPE”, 18-30 and he appreciates a great haircut (see example pictures). In fact, he’s willing to be your stylist and is hoping you’ll want him to shave you bald or make you look like a Marine. Prefers college boys and will “manscape” you too.
  • It’s not easy being five months pregnant, especially when you are horny as hell.
  • Now here’s an unusual ad: a 35-year-old white dude is looking for a couple. He’s at Bradley International (Hartford area airport) in the cell lot and stroking until 11 PM. He’s probably in the car with the fogged windows. That’s good as it will be hard to be seen with him, although having a threesome in a car sounds very problematic. He may get a caller, but I’m guessing it won’t include a she.
  • He’s 25, gay, from East Haven, has a small one and wants to meet other men with small ones or big ones, just to compare.
  • I don’t know how this 18-year-old gay “twink” from Tolland can strictly be a “bottom” and has a “virgin ass”. I mean, how would you know unless you tried?
  • I’m sure hoping this 23-year-old Jewitt City man looking for a woman who is holding a newborn baby in his picture is a new uncle and not a new father. He says it’s been a while since he’s been with a woman. Maybe it’s because his wife won’t put out while pregnant or nursing?
  • Here’s yet another sexual practice that I have no idea what it is, but it must be something women do with each other. She’s 21, from Meriden, is a lesbian virgin but says she is into tribbing.

More next month.

 
The Thinker

Guns at the Republican National Convention? Of course!

So naturally when I learned of this petition to allow the open carry of guns at the upcoming Republican National Convention in Cleveland, I hurried over to change.org to sign it. Over 48,000 of us God-fearing, law-abiding, Second Amendment enthusiasts have signed the petition so far.

And there are good reasons to sign the petition. Without open carry, the delegates and conventioneers in the hall will have no way to defend themselves from burglars, pickpockets and lobbyists, unless you count fisticuffs and kickboxing which I think would be pretty hard to take away. The Supreme Court has already decided that owning guns is a right. No preexisting militia is required. Moreover, lots of states have laws allowing open carry and many allow even concealed carry. I checked Wikipedia and open carry is definitely legal in Ohio, probably thanks to Governor John Kasich.

Moreover, you needn’t worry about these convention goers. Guns don’t kill people; only people kill people. But since you never know when someone is going to attack you with a banana, and there are probably no sixteen ton weights at the convention center, a loaded semiautomatic weapon may be your only defense when a brigade of banana-toting liberals in Birkenstocks come charging at your delegation. You have to be prepared, you know.

I mean, what could possibly go wrong? It’s not like Cruz and Trump supporters would not limit themselves to shoving, fistfights and general screaming at each other as they lobby to get their candidate the nomination during a brokered convention. They are all family men and women, civilized I am sure and will be full of the milk of human kindness (and Jesus) during the convention. They are so civilized they won’t even shoot a celebratory round into the convention roof when their candidate clinches the nomination.

No, this is a matter of principle, and principle is vitally important to Republicans. They like their world completely black and white. The Supreme Court says that we can own guns; Ohio says you can openly carry them, so there is no way that anyone should be able to restrict that right. You don’t mess with Texas so you don’t mess with Republicans and their guns either. Putting all those armaments into such a confined space should cause no issues at all. After all the Quicken Loans Arena is not a troubled inner city neighborhood like Glenville in Cleveland. They are proud Americans, every one of them, but just in case residents of Glenville decide to storm the Quicken Loans Arena en masse, well, you got to be prepared. A handgun isn’t going to cut it. You will want plenty of rounds, something semiautomatic, and probably something with a scope on it.

So I’m shocked to learn today that the Secret Service nixed the petition. Imagine the nerve of these feds to tell us law-abiding Americans we can’t bring our guns with us into the convention! The Secret Service says it’s something about a federal law that overrides the Supreme Court’s decision. Clearly there is nothing to fear, and surely Trump, Cruz, Kasich and the senior leaders of the Republican Party will be completely at ease in a convention hall full of faithful lock-and-load brethren. After all according to the NRA the way to stop a bad man with a gun (not that it would ever happen at this convention) is a good man with a gun, and there would be thousands of them. He’d never have a chance!

I can’t believe that the candidates will roll with the Secret Service on this one. Trump says he wants to study the petition. As of this writing, neither Cruz nor Kasich has expressed an opinion on the Secret Service’s decision. How odd!

So I guess we will have to turn to prayer: pray to change the minds at the Secret Service and failing that pray that hoodlums outside the hall won’t storm the convention hall, or pick off conventioneers on their way to and from their hotel rooms and local brothels. Perhaps an emergency petition to the U.S. Supreme Court is now in order. We can only pray they see the light.

 
The Thinker

The Trump trap

Donald Trump has been punking a lot of people lately. The other week he punked his newest endorser New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, who attended his rally in Ohio. Christie was there to encourage people to vote for Trump. While Christie was on stage with Trump, Trump said that Christie was flawed because he was an absentee governor, which is not hard to be when you are a governor running for president. A few days later his former rival and newest supporter Ben Carson crazily punked himself, saying Trump wasn’t so bad because there were “two Donald Trumps” and one was a nice guy you don’t see. That’s like an abused spouse publicly saying she wasn’t that upset when her husband beat her black and blue because he’s actually a sweetheart. That Trump can do stuff like this and get away with it suggests he is a master bully indeed, so good he can put other bullies in their place and fool partisans like Carson that he’s not as bad a candidate as he has proven to be. I mean: just wow!

Trump hasn’t won the Republican nomination yet and there is some chance he won’t get a majority of delegates, leading to a brokered convention. Trump has already predicted that if Republicans try to deny him the nomination because he has only a plurality of votes that “there will be riots” from his frustrated supporters. If there is a brokered convention I don’t expect it to succeed in blocking Trump, in part because as a master bully Trump should have the Republican establishment pinned to the floor mat and screaming uncle long before the convention. Trump’s not so much a dealmaker as he is a master intimidator. Intimidation of course is a skill that bullies master. It comes from practiced insensitivity toward the feelings others. The empathy gene is missing from bullies except of course for themselves. Since they only look out for Number One, they are naturally nasty and tone deaf, in his case so much so that he will punk his former rivals offering them his support.

Trump can’t bully the whole country, so he is busy trying to make a deal with the American public instead. Like Bill Clinton, he plans to triangulate his way into the presidency. He will read the tealeaves and attempt to do or say anything to seal the deal with the electorate. Most likely he won’t succeed, given his high negatives particularly among women and minorities. He can hope for a crisis. A huge economic or national security crisis drives our primal fears and can change a lot of minds. However, with a decently growing economy, low unemployment and with Obama’s approval ratings now at or over fifty percent the odds will be against him. It’s unclear whether he will drive more Republicans to the poll than Democrats, but it is likely that voters on both sides will be highly motivated to turn out. This is because no one is neutral on Donald Trump. You either love him or loathe him.

My suspicion is that Donald Trump will eventually prove to be like the Hindenburg, that famous hydrogen-filled dirigible that exploded in flames in the early 20th century. He’s going to inflict a lot of damage whether he gets elected or not. Assuming that he doesn’t win, who loses?

Curiously some of the biggest losers will be his supporters. Whites — principally working class whites and white men in particular — are going to realize they were sold snake oil. First, their candidate will prove unelectable, so huuuge but unable to seal this deal, making him the Wizard of Oz behind the curtain. Second, they are going to realize they really aren’t all that special anymore. For if Trump can’t make the working class white special again, then who possibly can? They are investing all their hope in Trump. If he loses, then where do they go? What do they do?

Does this class finally shout “Enough!” and start an insurrection? This may not be too hard given all the guns they are stockpiling. Do they retreat into utter despair and hopelessness? Do they finally decide to put their racism behind them and make common cause with others struggling in the working class? Do they kill the Republican Party by abandoning it because they have proven incapable of making it do its will? Regardless of whether Trump wins or loses, it’s not hard to see huge danger signs.

If a Democratic ticket wins, they have to continue to wrestle with their feelings of disempowerment. If Trump wins we have a high likelihood of a President Trump that will be at best a quasi-constitutionalist and at worst our first fascist president. Or perhaps the real deal is that Trump is anticipating his defeat and will use it as a cry to foment real revolution.

Some of these scenarios are pretty far fetched. It’s not too hard to see that there will be one loser even if Republicans win: the Republican Party. For If Trump fails to win the nomination he may run as an independent. If he does win the nomination then he effectively controls the Republican Party, which will probably mean that its leaders will be sent packing. The stuff Republicans supposedly care about (religion, fiscal conservatism, smaller government) will morph into what they really care about: a classist state where they are in charge. And to do that you have to jettison the notion that we are a democratic state. We won’t be.

When I first wrote about Trump I wondered if Trump could be a Democratic mole. After all he supported progressive policies and candidates in the past. Maybe he is fooling everyone, but most likely he is simply tone deaf to the fact that while he is a very successful loudmouth, he’s really only just a blathering blowhard that leaves destruction from trying to gratify his own enormous ego.

Trump will cause major casualties. Whether overtly or covertly, the most likely casualties will be the very people he is trying to empower. And they are going to be really pissed.

 
The Thinker

Second Viewing: Star Trek: The Next Generation (Season 2)

Yes, it is strange to go back and see this series again nearly thirty years later. It was a wonder I stayed with it after the first season of this Star Trek reboot. Even so, the first season was no worse that the second season of STTOS (Star Trek: The Original Series). It must have been the franchise that kept me watching. Either that or it was Patrick Stewart.

Thankfully Season 2 is a big improvement on Season 1, but does not come close to the last five years of the season, and it introduces us to the Borg. But there are some peculiarities in this season. Most strange is the introduction of Dr. Katherine Pulaski (Diana Muldaur) as Chief Medical Officer. McFadden (Beverly Crusher) was fired at the end of Season 1 for reasons I don’t understand. She returns suddenly in Season 3, probably as a result of fan pressure. Curiously, Crusher’s son Wesley (Wil Wheaton) wasn’t sent packing. Supposedly Beverly was at Star Fleet Medical School. Muldaur is okay as Pulaski, but showed little energy in the role, while “Acting Ensign” Wesley wanders the ship like he’s missing mommy.

Still, we do get Colm Meaney, who shows up as Chief Transporter Officer. Like Stewart, Meaney was probably too good for Star Trek and his role was beneath his capabilities. We also get Whoopi Goldberg as Guinan, whose role is mysterious but who seems to have some sort of special relationship with the Captain while mostly tending bar in the ship’s lounge, Ten Forward, also new in the show. In reality, Goldberg was simply a devout Trekkie who leveraged her stardom for a recurring role. Since she had done The Color Purple just a few years earlier and probably worked for the union minimum, she was likely too good a deal for the producers to turn down. We also get Gene Roddenberry’s wife Majel Barrett back as Deanna’s mom and Q (John de Lancie) makes a reappearance. In addition Commander Riker grows a beard. These changes seemed to settle things down a bit. A writers’ strike reduced the season to 22 episodes.

I watched them to reacquaint myself with the series, but it also gives you the opportunity to skip the chaff and go straight to the wheat, if you read my capsule reviews below:

  1. The Child. A surprisingly touching tale of the mysterious pregnancy of Counselor Deanna Troi by some spiritual entity that delivers a boy that gestates and matures in a matter of days. No virgin birth here but it’s hard not to wonder about the biblical parallels. B+
  2. Where Silence has Lease. The Enterprise gets sucked into a void — basically to be toyed with by a mysterious entity. There are lots of episodes like this in STTNG that doesn’t really make much sense but do pad out a season. C
  3. Elementary Dear Data. Crewmembers get caught in a viral holodeck program based on Sherlock Holmes. It’s innovative until you think about it a bit: whoever programming holodeck software did a really crappy job with the security controls. You would think Worf (security officer) would insist on deactivating the thing. C
  4. The Outrageous Okona. This is mediocre love story hiding under a transparent interplanetary Indiana Jones character. Data continues his endless quest to become human-like through failing to understand humor. C-
  5. Loud as a Whisper. The Enterprise ferries a renown negotiator who is also dumb (cannot speak) and who has agreed to try to bring peace to two warring tribes on a planet. Little mystery to this one. You know the plot, but it is competently made. C+
  6. The Schizoid Man. A strange episode where a dying old man/scientist with affectionate feelings for his much younger and prettier lab assistant occupies Data’s circuitry when his human body dies and then puts the move on his assistant. This episode feels incestuous and weird. D
  7. Unnatural Selection. Another back-to-back creepy episode, this one where a planet full of people who can only clone each other (and who don’t do sex) capture a bunch of Enterprise kids including Wesley before all the cloning ruins their gene pool. Dr. Pulaski of course figures out a solution just in time. D
  8. A Matter of Honor. Riker takes on the challenge of a temporary assignment as first officer on the Klingon vessel Pagh and handles the culture shock with aplomb. Quite a bit of fun but you kind of anticipate that his conflicting interests to both the Enterprise and the Pagh will be predictably tested. B+
  9. The Measure of a Man. Is Data a person even though he is an Android? This episode deservedly won all sorts of awards. See it! A
  10. The Dauphin. The Enterprise meets a shape shifter and Wesley develops hormones, only his crush is not quite the young lady he thinks she is. B-
  11. Contagion. The Federation and the Romulans fight over possession of a portal on a planet in the neutral zone that can take people to various periods of time while a mysterious computer virus ravages both vessels. One wonders if their operating system was Windows. B
  12. The Royale. The Enterprise is shocked to find gambling going on in a casino on an otherwise lifeless and inhospitable planet. Apparently a third rate crime novel is constantly replaying and the away team has to figure out how to end it so they can beam back up. Nothing special here except Picard’s reaction from reading the badly written book. C
  13. Time Squared. The Enterprise finds its captain in one of its shuttlecraft, which is surprising because Picard is still on board. Apparently they are in another weird time rift. You see these a lot on Star Trek but this one is very well done thanks mostly to Stewart’s great acting. A-
  14. The Icarus Factor. Riker is offered a command and meets his estranged father with whom he has bad karma. Wesley helps Worf have a Right of Ascension ritual. B-
  15. Pen Pals. The Prime Directive gets in the way again when Data develops a pen pal relationship with a girl over subspace on a rapidly dying planet. Wesley gets to try leading a team that seems hostile to his youth. This plot feels overly contrived. C
  16. Q Who. Q (John de Lancie) is back to harass the enterprise, but this time for a good cause: to introduce them and the Federation to the Borg, still the scariest space villain of all time. If the episode is about the Borg, you know it’s good and this initial encounter whets your appetite for more at the end of Season 3. A
  17. Samaritan Snare. Picard has a bad heart that must be repaired which forces he and Wesley (who is on the shuttle to take a Starfleet entrance exam) to awkwardly occupy a shuttle. Meanwhile Riker tries to help a vessel seemingly piloted by imbeciles who have an unexpected strength. C+
  18. Up the Long Ladder. Two early settler colonies from Earth in the same star system find a reason to hook up, literally, although they could not be more different. Thirty years later the Irish stereotypes look pretty offensive. Still, it’s kind of fun. B-
  19. Manhunt. Troi’s mother Lwaxsana (Majel Barrett) makes life miserable for Troi and Picard. Troi’s mom is going through a menopause, which makes her horny and particularly indiscreet. Frankly these episodes with Majel (also the voice of the computer) are tedious and unfunny. No exception here. D
  20. The Emissary. Worf meets his match and a potential mate in a half human-Klingon woman he both loathes and loves. She arrives to help the Enterprise deal with a Klingon vessel on a 75-year mission finally returning home. They have to figure out a plausible way to tell them the Klingons are not still at war with the Federation. This is a fun episode and goes to prove that Michael Dorn (Worf) is an excellent actor. B
  21. Peak Performance. With the Enterprise in a war game practicing for a Borg attack, Riker gets to see if he can outsmart Picard. Then the Ferengi appear out of nowhere. B
  22. Shades of Gray. A poisonous plant stings Riker during an away team mission. This allowed the producers to do numerous flashbacks, giving fans effectively half an episode and half of the cast sent home early for the season. Feels and is contrived, probably in reaction to the writers’ strike. Deeply unsatisfying. F
 
The Thinker

Unwinding the crazy (or why Obama and Mitt Romney need to talk)

So my daughter has been chatting with me on Skype. She wants to know: “Dad, have politics ever this crazy?” She would actually take some comfort in knowing that demagogues like Donald Trump have actually arisen before and have had a stake put through their hearts.

I had to tell her no, not in my lifetime anyhow and not within the United States. There are plenty of demagogues out there all the time, but few come around as Donald Trump has to create cyclones of ill will all for the purpose of acquiring something close to the pinnacle of political power in the world: being president of the United States. I see him getting the Republican nomination; hopes of a brokered convention are just fantasies. There have been deeply evil politicians and presidents. Richard Nixon comes to mind but at least he was trapped by a political system of checks and balances. It’s not clear if Trump becomes president whether the system still has the backbone to deal with someone like him. I’d like to think so, but I am skeptical.

Over the years this blog has been around, I’ve made something of a second career cataloguing these demagogues. Democrats are not entirely clean, with John Edwards leaping to mind. Both sides of the party can be pandered to and inflamed. Mostly though these demagogues have limited appeal. Some of the many I have blogged about include Bill O’Reilly and Glenn Beck. I have read enough history though to know that Donald Trump is not quite unprecedented. Early in our history we had a president arguably as bad as Trump: Andrew Jackson whose portrait mysteriously adorns our ten-dollar bill.

We’ve also had our share of bad presidents but who were not demagogues. Woodrow Wilson was a racist who purged blacks from the government. President Harding dropped his pants for more than one woman not his wife and got embroiled in the Teapot Dome oil scandal. Herbert Hoover and a top-heavy Republican congress ushered in the Great Depression. Lyndon Johnson made the Vietnam debacle much worse. And I’ve shown 12 years ago that Ronald Reagan was pretty much a disaster of a president. Then of course there is George W. Bush. Still with the possible exception of Jackson none of these presidents rise to Trump’s level. None had the mentality that the ends justified the means. Trump’s success makes him a singular danger to our democracy.

So sorry daughter, we are living the Chinese curse of living in interesting times. Polls suggest a Trump election win will be quite a stretch, but if anyone could pull it off Trump is demonstrating he has the skills and oratory to do it. Trump though is not unique, but simply the most articulate spokesman for the Republican brand. It’s a brand full of chest thumping, racism, classism and staking out unequivocal positions that have devolved into concerns about the size of Trump’s hands and penis. They are all doing it without qualification, except possibly John Kasich. These candidates will denounce Trump on the one hand but won’t take the next obvious step: saying they will not support him if he wins his party’s nomination.

This is because for all their claims of principle they really don’t have any. It’s not principle that drives them; it’s the lust for power. This puts them ever further on the extreme right as well as makes them back down from taking principled stands like saying they won’t support Trump if he wins their party’s nomination. They are all jockeying for power as best they can by keeping their options open. I was puzzling through Chris Christie’s endorsement of Donald Trump shortly after dropping out. Why was he doing this? The easy rationalization is that both are bullies and he identifies with a fellow bully. But the same can be said for most of the Republican candidates. I think Christie is hoping to be nominated as his running mate. I think he is further expecting that if Trump wins office he will eventually be impeached and removed, leaving him as president. It’s a tactic worthy of Frank Underwood; he was just the first to go there. While Christie may admire Trump for being a master bully, I think his real motivation is simply a lust for power.

The larger question is how do you undo something like this? It’s not like we are at the precipice. Lots of people are already jumping off the cliff into the political unknown. It’s time for the grownups not just to speak up but also to take real action. Mitt Romney says he won’t vote for Trump but did not suggest an alternative, which is hardly helpful. Establishment Republicans are trying to persuade voters in keystone states like Florida and Ohio to vote for someone else, but they appear too late to the game to change the dynamics. President Obama recently spoke out, but it was at a fundraiser. Changing the dynamics here though is pretty much impossible when the other party will refuse to even listen to you. Just for starters Republicans in Congress won’t even allow Obama’s budget director to present his budget, the first time this has ever been done. A Republican Senate also refuses to entertain a nominee for the Supreme Court.

We need an elder statesman with mojo and credibility to bring the parties together to tone down the rhetoric and is some marginal way change the conversation and up the civility factor. There is no one such person, unfortunately. Jimmy Carter comes to mind but Republicans would dismiss him.

We urgently need a national timeout. All these key muckrakers need to have a private conclave and hash this out. If I were President Obama I’d be on the phone with Mitt Romney. I’d be penciling in a date in a couple weeks at a private retreat like Camp David and use the power of shame (if it works) to bring all these blowhards together in one place to hash this out. This would include Republican and Democratic leadership in Congress and all the presidential candidates on both sides. It would also include chairs of the Democratic and Republican national committees. I’d include trained facilitators and psychologists to help ensure the meeting moves forward productively The topics would include: setting baselines for acceptable political behavior and setting up a process involving some compromise so that Congress and the President can work together in some minimal fashion through the election.

Would it work? The odds are against my proposal but someone needs to step forward and we need two brave people on both sides of the aisle. I don’t see any others who can play this role.

Sadly, nothing like this is likely to happen, but it needs to happen. Is there a grownup in the room?

 

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