I’ve already written about the 2016 Presidential election, and Chris Christie, who already appears to be signaling that he’d very much like to be president after Obama.

Charming. Maybe, if Chris Christie is a good boy, we’ll look him over and kick his tires and see if he’s the man for the job, so long as we’re all still alive in 2016.

But, as I wrote in my previous entry: please God, don’t subject us to this yet!

I am one of those people who just want elected politicians to govern. I want them to state their goals, and work toward them, and compromise (as necessary) until those goals (or some form of them) are achieved. I don’t want it to be all about us/them, for at least two years, and preferably for at least four years.

But there are political junkies who are really only excited by the competition, by the us/them. Sadly, some of our best political commentators are among them. Chris Matthews is talking about 2016 almost every night; he’s already talking about the facedown between Hillary Clinton and Chris Christie, and what a great race it’s going to be.

You’d think that a man as smart as Matthews is supposed to be would realize that a lot of things can happen in four years. The parties often alternate the Presidency, for one thing. Also, the economy (while just beginning to show signs of recovery) isn’t quite well yet, and Europe is still teetering, which could bring trouble to the USA also.

Chris Todd on NBC is another one; he’s not as bad as Chris Matthews, but he becomes visibly excited when he starts talking about the chances of one side versus another. The late Tim Russert, with his little handheld whiteboard on which he wrote numbers and vote counts, was another. They all love the struggle, and the numbers, and the victory.

The rest of us get tired easily, and just want to know that our rights are being protected, and our retirement and health care aren’t in jeopardy. We don’t care so much who’s in office, so long as the right things are being done. We mostly understand that things keep inching forward. The War on Drugs is showing (very belated) signs of dying, or transforming into something more realistic – not a war on potheads, but an attempt to keep cocaine and meth off the streets, the really dangerous drugs. Gay identity and gay marriage are both becoming less of an issue and more of a reality. And, as the most recent election mostly demonstrated, while people in general deplore abortion, it’s a fact of life, and a necessity. Theology (AKA “personhood of the fetus”) can’t be used to determine public policy; if a woman doesn’t want to be pregnant, it’s her choice, and no one else’s.

The old world dies, and we are born into the new world.

The birth pangs are painful.

Let’s not relive them, or pretend how they’re going to feel in four years’ time.

Let’s just try to get things done.


Mitt Romney: the sour-grapes candidate

romney bribed with gifts

There were many times during the 2012 election when Romney appeared to have lost the election. One of the most significant was the 47% video:

So, from this, we learn that Mitt Romney believes that almost half the American people are unrealistic, selfish, and greedy.  They can’t be enticed to vote for him, so he won’t bother talking to them.

Whether because of this video, or for many other reasons, he lost the election.

Most Presidential candidates shut up promptly after losing the election. The exceptions are interesting. Nixon complained in 1961 that Kennedy had stolen the election. Nixon then roared back in 1968 (and six years later resigned the Presidency in disgrace, having committed most or all of the crimes he’d accused Kennedy of in 1960). Al Gore didn’t shut up after 2000, with good reason; he’d won the popular vote, and the electoral vote depended on Florida, which was (effectively) decided by the right-leaning US Supreme Court.

But Mitt Romney won’t shut up.

He said, shortly after the election, that Obama won because he promised “gifts” to his followers. Please follow this link to hear that the Salt Lake Tribune had to say about that.

A MSNBC commentator made a very sensible point about this recently: of course Presidential candidates offer us “gifts”! They’re called campaign promises! If I’m presented with two candidates, and one of them promises to end legalized abortion, eliminate “unnecessary” programs in the arts and sciences and education, and opposes gay rights – I will tell him that these are not the “gifts” I require.

Most lately, Romney’s son Tagg (I love that name!) has stated that his father didn’t want to be President in any case. As follows:



“He wanted to be president less than anyone I’ve met in my life. He had no desire to . . . run,” Tagg Romney told the (Boston) Globe. “If he could have found someone else to take his place . . . he would have been ecstatic to step aside.”

The Globe article also noted that “Tagg … worked with his mother, Ann, to persuade his father to seek the presidency.”


So what’s all this about? Did Mitt want the Presidency or not?

Perhaps, as the New Yorker recently remarked, the GOP really ought to have run someone for President who really wanted to be President.


While in France I picked up a couple of schoolroom books on French history. One was a long list of French kings, from the Merovingians (circa 500 CE) to the present.

I was impressed, firstly, with the originality of the kings’ names back in the Dark Ages before Charlemagne. Dagobert! Clotaire! Sigebert! Gontran! Clodomir! Much more interesting than all those dull kings named Louis and Francois and Henri later on.

But even those later kings managed to pick up peppier names. Louis VI was The Fat; Louis VII, his son, was The Young; Louis VII’s son Philip somehow lucked into the agnomen “Augustus,” which is a lovely thing to be called. Later we have The Handsome, The Quarrelsome, the Well-Beloved.

Let’s try this custom on American presidents, shall we?

Taft the Fat: too easy. Teddy Roosevelt the Brave, or the Bold. Andrew Jackson the Stubborn.

Lincoln is difficult. I think of him as the Peacemaker or the Mediator – but he presided over four years of war. The Emancipator? Maybe.

Carter the Mild.  Kennedy the Young, maybe? Reagan the Old (though some would opt for Reagan the Great. Not me, though.)

Here’s the real poser: George W. Bush.

Not the Stupid. Better the agnomen of Ethelred II: the Unready.

In Old English, it meant something different: “one who would not take advice,” or “the ill-advised.”


Joe Kernen, Ebenezer Scrooge, and how not to be a gadfly


A gadfly is, by definition, a person who shakes up the status quo. He/she questions the status quo. He/she challenges complacency and accepted wisdom.

It’s an important role. Socrates was a gadfly, and died for it. Galileo was a gadfly, and paid heavily for it.

However (to paraphrase Monty Python): being a gadfly isn’t just contradiction. It’s something more substantial than that.

There are people in the media who pose as gadflies. They do it by saying ridiculous things, and then they defy their audience to contradict them.

For example: Joe Kernen on CNBC’s “Squawk Box” on weekday mornings.

Recently, Kernen interviewed someone on the topic of climate change. During thee interview, he told his guest that he (Kernen) was an MIT graduate, and that he (Kernen) knew that there was no such thing as “climate science.”

This isn’t being a gadfly. This is just being stupid.

Recently, Kernen was talking about foreign aid. “Someone told me,” he said (I paraphrase), “that going without government aid was a great incentive. Why don’t we apply the same idea to foreign countries? Don’t give them aid. It’ll encourage them to do better.”

Or, of course, they might perish.

From Dickens:

“At this festive season of the year, Mr Scrooge,” said the gentleman, taking up a pen, “it is more than usually desirable that we should make some slight provision for the poor and destitute, who suffer greatly at the present time. Many thousands are in want of common necessaries; hundreds of thousands are in want of common comforts, sir.”

“Are there no prisons?” asked Scrooge.

“Plenty of prisons,” said the gentleman, laying down the pen again.

“And the Union workhouses?” demanded Scrooge. “Are they still in operation?”

“They are. Still,” returned the gentleman, “ I wish I could say they were not.”

“The Treadmill and the Poor Law are in full vigour, then?” said Scrooge.

“Both very busy, sir.”

“Oh! I was afraid, from what you said at first, that something had occurred to stop them in their useful course,” said Scrooge. “I’m very glad to hear it.”

“Under the impression that they scarcely furnish Christian cheer of mind or body to the multitude,” returned the gentleman, `a few of us are endeavouring to raise a fund to buy the poor some meat and drink, and means of warmth. We choose this time, because it is a time, of all others, when want is keenly felt, and abundance rejoices. What shall I put you down for?”

“Nothing!” Scrooge replied.

“You wish to be anonymous?”

“I wish to be left alone,” said Scrooge. “Since you ask me what I wish, gentlemen, that is my answer. I don’t make merry myself at Christmas and I can’t afford to make idle people merry. I help to support the establishments I have mentioned: they cost enough: and those who are badly off must go there.”

“Many can’t go there; and many would rather die.”

“If they would rather die,” said Scrooge, “they had better do it, and decrease the surplus population. Besides — excuse me — I don’t know that.”

“But you might know it,” observed the gentleman.

“It’s not my business,” Scrooge returned. “It’s enough for a man to understand his own business, and not to interfere with other people’s. Mine occupies me constantly. Good afternoon, gentlemen!”

Seeing clearly that it would be useless to pursue their point, the gentlemen withdrew. Scrooge resumed his labours with an improved opinion of himself, and in a more facetious temper than was usual with him.



This was Scrooge’s idea of how to be a gadfly.

I hope you remember the rest of the story.

Merry Christmas, Joe Kernen.

The Electoral College

electoral college

The Rhode Island Secretary of State, Ralph Mollis, recently sent me the cutest email invitation, as follows:

Following the second-highest turnout in state history, our remarkable election year will officially end this Monday when we convene RI’s Electoral College for the purpose of casting votes for president and vice president.




The historic ceremony will begin at noon when the Kentish Guards in colonial military garb will escort the state’s four Presidential Electors and other dignitaries to the House Chamber, where the event will take place.




If you would like to attend the ceremony, please RSVP to elections@sos.ri.gov because seating in the House Chamber is limited. Capitol TV will also televise the ceremony live on Channel 15 on Cox Cable and Full Channel and Channel 34 on Verizon. In addition, we will set up TV monitors in the State Room to accommodate anyone who cannot be seated in the House Chamber.




State Rep.-elect Marvin L. Abney of Newport, Emily A. Maranjian of Providence, L. Susan Weiner of East Greenwich and Mark S. Weiner of East Greenwich have the honor of representing RI. By federal law, the state Democratic Party got to select the electors because Democrat Barack Obama won Rhode Island’s popular vote.


This is sort of adorable, in the way that the Beefeaters in the Tower of London and the Swiss Guards at the Vatican are adorable. We’re a small state, so we like ceremonies; it’s easy for pretty much anyone in the State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations to attend this, if he/she wants to. Notice the reference to “colonial military garb”: we’re one of the original thirteen colonies, right?

The Electoral College is a charming but unnecessary leftover from the early days of our Republic. But it needs to get lost. We need to elect our President and Vice-President by popular vote, nothing more, nothing less. Our history would be very different if we’d done this; there have been four elections (1824, 1876, 1888, and – surprise! 2000) when the popular vote went against the electoral vote.

There is an initiative running around among the states: the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact. In brief: states are declaring that they will give all their electoral votes to the winner of the national popular vote (so long as enough other states sign onto the compact).

Sadly, the only states to sign onto this compact so far are progressive/liberal states in the Northeast and West.

The red states seem suspicious of this initiative. I’m not sure why.

Maybe they just love their Kentish Guards.

Kids: time to put away childish things. Let’s get rid of this relic, the Electoral College, once and for all.

Gun control


I had some merry little screed planned for today, but something more important has come along.

Yesterday’s Connecticut tragedy underlines the need for gun control. Not “reasonable” gun control, but gun control: real waiting periods, real background checks, real licensing. It needs to be at least as hard to obtain a gun as it already is to get a driver’s license. Preferably much harder, since cars are at least useful.

This is a link to a petition on the White House’s “We the People” website. Here’s the wording of the petition:



Immediately address the issue of gun control through the introduction of legislation in Congress.



The goal of this petition is to force the Obama Administration to produce legislation that limits access to guns. While a national dialogue is critical, laws are the only means in which we can reduce the number of people murdered in gun related deaths.



Powerful lobbying groups allow the ownership of guns to reach beyond the Constitution’s intended purpose of the right to bear arms. Therefore, Congress must act on what is stated law, and face the reality that access to firearms reaches beyond what the Second Amendment intends to achieve.



The signatures on this petition represent a collective demand for a bipartisan discussion resulting in a set of laws that regulates how a citizen obtains a gun.



Please read. Then, please go to the website and sign.

Sesame Street, Elmo, and Kevin Clash

Over the past few weeks, a mini-drama has been growing over Kevin Clash, who voices Elmo, the little red Sesame Street monster.

First there was a man who claimed that Clash had relations with him while he was under 18; then he recanted his claim. Since then, however, two other men have come forward with the same story.

Oh dear.

I love Sesame Street, and the Muppets. During this past Presidential election, Mitt Romney said he was ready to end funding of PBS and CTW, the homeland of Sesame Street, and there was a backlash: people claimed (very fairly) that Mitt Romney wanted to kill Big Bird, inspiring images like this:

Well, Obama won the election.

And now it turns out that the voice of Elmo is a child molester.

Awful? Of course. But oddly timed. I can’t help wondering if this is Republican reprisal for the election, to weaken PBS as a whole. I wonder if they’ve been digging for dirt on PBS, and finally found some.

Clash, if guilty, should be punished. But PBS should not be punished.

The mission of PBS is to make America a little smarter. It made me smarter, back in the 1970s. As for expense: they (together with NPR) receive one one-hundredth of one percent of the Federal budget, for God’s sake!

If we have to jettison Kevin Clash, fine.

But let’s not jettison PBS.

Let your representatives and senators know how you feel about this.

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