Archive for the ‘Bob Gaydos’ Category

On Science … Some Fake, Some Real

Sunday, November 22nd, 2020

By Bob Gaydos

The Arecibo Observatory in Puertu Rico is being decommissioned.

The Arecibo Observatory in Puertu Rico is being decommissioned.

        While states were counting and recounting votes to keep proving that Joe Biden convincingly won the 2020 presidential election, there were three significant scientific events the past week. This is a brief look at all three. It is offered as a kind of public service, since, if there’s one thing the last four years have demonstrated, it’s that many Americans have a tenuous, at best, relationship with science.

  1. Atlas shrugged. Dr. Scott Atlas, the quack White House coronavirus adviser, told Fox News viewers to ignore the advice of public health experts who warned Americans to avoid indoor family gatherings this Thanksgiving because the virus was spiking again in America. Atlas is a professor of neuroradiology with no background in public health. Not only did he tell American families to gather together for the holidays, he said it was for the good of their elderly relatives, those most susceptible to being seriously impacted by the virus. He said: “This kind of isolation advice is one of the unspoken tragedies of the elderly who are now being told don’t see your family at Thanksgiving. For many people, this is their final Thanksgiving, believe it or not. What are we doing here?” In other words, hey, they’re probably gonna die soon anyway, let them eat turkey on the way out. Never mind that gramps might be planning on a few more Thanksgivings. Callous doesn’t even cover this attitude. Atlas also says masks don’t protect against the virus and is a fan of so-called “herd immunity” — let the youngest and strongest prevail. The doc’s Stanford colleagues disagreed with his prescription, as did many members of the White House task force and pretty much every public health expert, all of whom were shocked at his casual disregard for older Americans. Of course, this anti-science attitude is what got him named to the Trump task force in the first place. Only the best.
  2. The CDC spoke up. Basically, it said do the opposite of what Atlas said. This is significant because, for much of the pandemic, the Centers for Disease Control, which should have been leading the effort to control the spread of the virus, has been muzzled by the Trump Administration. Here’s what the agency said: “As cases continue to increase rapidly across the United States, the safest way to celebrate Thanksgiving is to celebrate at home with the people you live with. Gatherings with family and friends who do not live with you can increase the chances of getting or spreading COVID-19 or the flu. Travel may increase your chance of getting and spreading COVID-19. Postponing travel and staying home is the best way to protect yourself and others this year.” This is not necessarily what you want to hear, but it’s short and to-the-point science with Covid-related deaths approaching 250,000 in this country. 
  3. Arecibo went silent. Oh no, what will Jodie Foster do? The famed radio observatory in Puerto Rico, which was featured in the movie, Contact, has suffered damage to two major cables that suspend the platform over the dish. Engineers for the National Science Foundation say it is not reparable because of the danger to the people who work there. Scientist said they should be able to preserve the visitors center and a couple of other scientific programs at the site, but the telescope, which has produced many scientific discoveries over nearly six decades, will be decommissioned. This is a major loss not only to NASA, but to the promotion and appreciation of science in general. That’s because Arecibo, which was vital to research in radio astronomy, atmospheric science, and radar astronomy, also was involved in the search for extraterrestrial intelligence (SETI) programs. This is one area of science in which Americans actually demonstrates an interest, even if it is often based on science fiction. Its role in the search for ET gained Arecibo prominence and popularity with the general public through movies and TV shows. The observatory was featured in the James Bond thriller, GoldenEye, the sci-fi horror flick, Species, and the afore-mentioned Contact. The popular film was based on Carl Sagan’s wonderful novel of the same name. The observatory was also featured on TV in the X-Files episode “Little Green Men.” In the movie, Contact, Foster’s character, Ellie Arroway, gives up a teaching position at Harvard University to take a seat at Arecibo’s radio telescope. Why? From the movie: Her supervisor says, “Dr. Arroway will be spending her precious telescope time listening for … uh … listening for …”  Ellie Arroway replies: “Little green men.” Precisely. We get it. They’re out there. Basically, Arecibo is a movie star and we miss movie stars when they leave us. The difference here is that this star shone even brighter in real life. Maybe we can scrap Trump’s Space Farce for a new set of space ears.

rjgaydos@gmail.com

Bob Gaydos is writer-in-residence at zestoforange.com.

America Has a Narrow Escape

Friday, November 13th, 2020

By Bob Gaydos

 

Celebrations, like this one in Philadelphia, irrupt it across the country at the news of Joe Biden’s victory.

Celebrations, like this one in Philadelphia, erupted across the country at the news of Joe Biden’s victory.

We got off lucky. Four more years of Trump might have killed the Great American Experiment.

     It has taken me a few days to sort through the feelings I’ve had since Joe Biden won the 2020 presidential election. There was relief, of course. But more. When I read that Biden had finally been projected as the winner, four days after the election, it felt as if a huge weight I didn’t know I was carrying had been lifted off my shoulders. That’s apparently how worried I was about the future of this country.

     I do not state this lightly: No president in my lifetime, not even Richard Nixon, has done more to damage the basic foundations of this nation than Donald Trump. For point of reference, Franklin Delano Roosevelt was president when I was born.

     Trump has not done it alone, of course. He has had the willing, cowering support of most of the Republican Party, top to bottom, in his assault on decency, democracy.and the rule of law. He has had the fawning, self-serving support of white Evangelical grifters, who convinced their followers to pray for Trump and donate to their always needy churches, to forget the hypocrisy and immorality of it all. He has had the angry, armed support of rejuvenated, suddenly hopeful, groups of white supremacists. The KKK credo (“America First”) and Nazi flags had a rebirth, thanks to Trump. And he had the unwavering support of millions of seemingly ordinary Americans who I’m sure would deny vigorously that they had any racist, bigoted, misogynistic bones in their body or that they were too lazy or too embarrassed to find out if those conspiracy theories, like much of what Trump said, were lies that fed their pre-conditioned biases.

       Harsh? I think not. Just look around. It’s still going on. But the thing is, this time the rest of America isn’t buying it. The rest of America voted overwhelmingly for a return to sanity, competence, compassion, truthfulness, and respect for the law in the Oval Office. And state election officials have performed their duties in a professional manner, making Trump’s claims of fraud sound ridiculous and desperate. To be sure, many of his followers still claim “it’s not over,” but thousands of Americans danced in the streets when Trump lost, because they knew they were free of the menace of the man who broke bread with dictators, insulted allies and called American veterans “losers.”

         We got off lucky. Yes, we endured four years of arrogance and paralyzing incompetence in the White House, culminating with Trump’s criminally negligent response to the Covid-19 virus, but we also learned some valuable lessons:

         — Racism is not only alive, but widespread in America. It came out of hiding in full force with the permission and encouragement of Trump. Its presence was announced daily on social media, in police actions and in people’s routine daily activities. The videos are there as evidence. Racism is a tear in the fabric of our society that Trump has widened. To continue to blindly support him is to endorse racism. Period. There is no “nice” way to ignore this. But now we at least know that there is much work to be done. Kamala Harris as vice president is an excellent start.

         — The Republican Party has abandoned any pretense at bipartisan governing. In handing control of the party to government-hating Tea Party members and power-at-any-price opportunists, Republicans have become worse than the Know-Nothings of the 1850s. In their blind obeisance to Trump, they have demonstrated that, not only do they not know, they don’t care. America now knows this. Democrats now know this. Disaffected Republicans now know this. A two-party system should be about cooperative governing, not constant pursuit of absolute power. Can the Republican Party be reclaimed by those who know and care?

           — The Electoral College is obsolete. Whoever gets the most votes should win. Trump played on the fears and resentments of a largely ill-informed minority. He gave them a feeling of power. He lied to them, used them to, mostly, feather his branded nest. The country paid the price.

           — A lot of Americans don’t know a lot about a lot of things. I’ve tried to say that as delicately as possible. Willful ignorance has been a hallmark of the Tea Party from the outset. (Where is Sarah Palin, today?) Somehow, being educated, knowing about history, science, literature, economics, the law, health, the arts, philosophy, math, geography … is seen as a bad thing. Higher education is something to be ridiculed, not admired. (Except of course for wealthy conservatives.) The level of gullibility for much of the nation has been raised over the years by daily radio feedings of bigotry and bull from the likes of conservative commentators such as Rush Limbaugh. But Fox News on TV has been the primary purveyor of the “fake news” Trump likes to talk about. An entertainment enterprise masquerading as a news outlet, it has fed on people’s fears and justified their feelings of resentment, all in order to make lots of money for Rupert Murdoch. It has been particularly damaging to the concept of a free press. It has lied shamelessly, with no significant repercussions, and today millions of Americans have no clue about how to verify if something is true or not. If a statement reinforces their bias, that’s good enough for them. However, closed minds are unable to compromise and we need to be able to do this to live together. The challenge to remedy this demonizing of learning falls primarily to our educators. I’m not even sure where to begin. Well, maybe Alabama, Mississippi, Kentucky, Texas. Also, getting rid of Betsy DeVos as Education Secretary.

          We got off lucky, America. It could have been far worse, as Germans well know. Authoritarianism and blind allegiance to a power-driven, truth-hating leader lead to fascism. But Trump’s incompetence ultimately undid him, as it has always done before. Whatever happens to him and his many enablers, there is much healing to do for America and there will be resistance. But now at least we know what we didn’t know about ourselves and our 244-year-old system of government, though it bent, eventually held up. With some adjustments, beginning with the Biden Administration, hopefully we won’t have to rely on luck to survive in the future.

rjgaydos@gmail.com

Bob Gaydos is writer-in-residence at zestoforange.com.

A Vote Against the GOP, Top to Bottom

Saturday, October 31st, 2020

By Bob Gaydos

   9B18EF52-9B62-47A7-8AB6-22A41F774E44 I voted by mail three weeks ago. Easy. I voted Biden/Harris and every Democrat across Row A. Also easy. There was really no other choice.

    The hamlet where I live is tucked in to the southeastern tip of Sullivan County in upstate New York, about an hour’s drive to New York City. It’s between the Catskill Mountains and the Hudson River Valley. Pretty country. A lot of it is Republican country, but not as much as it used to be. Our area’s congressman and state legislators are all Democrats. A recent change.

       When I say there was no other choice on the ballot aside from Democrats, I don’t mean there were no Republicans running for local or state offices. I mean, in my opinion, no Republican candidate for office even deserved consideration for my vote if he or she had failed to publicly voice any kind of  criticism of the Trump disaster despite having four years and countless opportunities to do so. None had.

       Republican silence on Trump goes well beyond party loyalty to the realm of blind allegiance to their leader and/or sheer cowardice, neither of which I want in an elected official at any level. As far as I can tell, it is a pandemic of its own within the Republican Party in every state at every level. Silence, obedience … or unhinged vocal support.

          I cannot think of one local Republican official in the three-county area (Orange, Sullivan, Ulster) which I call home who has publicly said a negative word about Trump. Not one. Four years. To do so, many apparently fear, would cost them votes and maybe end their political careers. The thought that it might gain them respect and new votes apparently hasn’t occurred to them. A flaw to examine.

         Of course, there are those Republicans who support Trump vocally, if not vigorously, yet deny that this defines them as racist, bigoted, fascistic, phony, cruel, anti-science, anti-free press, ignorant of the law, misogynistic, double-dealing, anti-education, anti-veteran, hypocritical, self-absorbed, lazy liars. There’s more, but you know it all. If the Republican Party, individually and as a whole, supports Trump, it is Trump. The whole ugly package,

     Most of the attention to the Republican Party’s enabling and self-serving reaction to Trump Has been focused, rightly so, on Congress. Not only did the Republican-controlled Senate fail to convict Trump when he was impeached by the Democrat-controlled House for trying to bribe/extort Ukraine into concocting a scandal involving Biden, Senate Republicans refused to even allow any witnesses at the trial. So much for checks and balances.

      Indeed, there has been barely a murmur of anti-Trump protest out of the Senate Republicans, save for an occasional comment from Mitt Romney, who voted guilty at the impeachment “trial,” but managed to look the other way most of the rest of the ttime. House Republicans, for their part, have become a classic case of devolution, marching backwards intellectually and morally since the Tea Party took over the GOP.

      It’s as if the party’s last glimmering morsel of self-respect, honor and sense of duty to country died with John McCain. Personally, I like politicians who honor their oaths of office.

      So, after four years of incompetence and embarrassment in the Oval Office, my fervent hope is that: (1.) Joe Biden, a decent man with a lifetime of service to country, wins a resounding victory and begins the essential task of restoring dignity and respect to the presidency from the first day of his term and (2.) The Republican Party suffers a sweeping, top-to-bottom death by ballot equal to the pain it has, by action or inaction, inflicted on this nation. It should not rest in peace.

      Decency says there is no other choice.

rjgaydos@gmail.com

Bob Gaydos, a lifetime independent voter, is writer-in-residence at zestoforange.com.

For the Record: I Am Not an Old Coot

Tuesday, October 20th, 2020
 This is an old coot, according to society.

This is an old coot, according to society.

By Bob Gaydos

    My chiropractor called me an old coot recently. At the time, I was lying on his table on my stomach while he used a snappy tool to somewhat painfully but successfully loosen my upper back, so I didn’t say anything. Out loud.

    To myself, I said something along the lines of, “Who the hell is he talking about?“ Only it was a bit more vulgar.

     For the record, I am not an old coot. Nor am I an old codger. At 79, yes, I guess I am chronologically old. And I have in the past been called a curmudgeon. You can’t be a young curmudgeon.

      You can, however, be a young whippersnapper, Doc.

      Some definitions are in order before I talk about ageism.

      An old coot, according to Oxford Languages, is “a foolish or eccentric person, typically an old man.”

      The Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English goes further: “An old man who you think is strange or unpleasant.”

       Not exactly complimentary.

       The term, “old codger,” which some think is the same as old coot, is not. According to the Free Dictionary, “old codger” is “used affectionately to refer to an eccentric but amusing old man. codger. graybeard, greybeard, old man, Methuselah — a man who is very old.”  It sounds a bit less insulting. But it’s not.

       Curmudgeon, according to Merriam-Webster, is “a crusty, ill-tempered, and usually old man.” Dictionary.com defines it this way: “A bad-tempered, difficult, cantankerous person.” No age is mentioned. However, other dictionaries pretty much define it as a stubborn, cranky old man. Your pain-in-the-butt, “Get off my lawn!” neighbor.

         I plead not guilty to all three.

         Back to the chiropractor. The label was applied to me with a slight chuckle in his voice, suggestive of the foolish or eccentric person category. The conversation that prompted it revolved around me not doing something or other which others felt would be in my best interests. The term is presumably meant to be affectionate, but it’s dismissive. It suggests that the older person in question is incapable of making rational decisions for himself and for his own benefit, or that he simply cannot occasionally make an unwise decision on his own. That sometimes he’s just a.dumb ass. No, the term suggests that he does what he does because he’s a foolish or eccentric old man. An old coot.

          This assumption was further borne out when the chiropractor asked my partner to make sure I filled out my Medicare form before the next visit even though I was seated a mere 8 feet away from him and within hearing distance. Again, dismissive. By the way, I have excellent hearing.

          Now, it’s possible that I am being overly defensive about this incident. It has been suggested that I sometimes take things personally. And I know the chiro meant no harm and he’s helping this old body to be more flexible. But I feel that at a time when the guy I already voted for for president is 78 years old, the guy I never want to be president is 74 years old and the guy I would’ve preferred become president is 79 years old, someone has to stand up for people who have lived three-quarters of a century and are still contributing to society. And I don’t necessarily think that those with maybe half a century of experience are the best judges of the capabilities of septuagenarians.

         Call it personal. That’s the curmudgeon in me. I’m not suggesting that there aren’t foolish, cantankerous, eccentric, cranky, stubborn old men out there. I know some and I think most of them were probably that way when they were young, too. I don’t know what you’d call them. Sir, maybe.

         And yes, I have my moments. But so do we all. It’s the old coot label I object to and the assumption that comes with it that this is a person not to be taken seriously because he’s old. He’ll be fine. Help him find his slippers. 

          I picked on the chiropractor because actually he’s the only one who’s ever called me an old coot (so far), but his remark was, I think, simply reflective of a lot of people’s attitude towards older men. This is especially true about older men who still have opinions about things and are not hesitant to express them. Yes, that would be me and that’s where the curmudgeon label comes from.

          The closest I can come to for a similar term for women is “old biddy.” You don’t hear that used a lot because women today won’t stand for it, for good reason. It’s dismissive and insulting and most likely used by people who have no clue about what the woman who just annoyed them is really like. She’s just an old biddy. Labels are risky business.

       

This is not an old coot.

This is not an old coot.

   One more thing about old coots. If you have any doubts about whether the term is really insulting, just Google “old coot” and click on images. It’s not a pretty picture. The drawings and photos are remarkably similar in their unpleasantness. Not one distinguished or even normal-looking older man among them. This is how society sees old coots — weird-looking, gnarly, even threatening old men. Someone you might run from rather than go to for mature counsel. So yes, it’s personal.

           I speak here for all men of a certain age and mindset. I may occasionally say or do something that annoys you. If so, I apologize in advance. I’m human. But there’s still a well-functioning brain behind this (hopefully) non-threatening facade. So save your labels for your jelly jars. I am not an old coot.

rjgaydos@gmail,com

Bob Gaydos is writer-in-residence at zestoforange.com.

 

        

Banning Books, an American Tradition

Tuesday, October 6th, 2020

By Bob Gaydos

 Captain Underpants

Captain Underpants

   It would appear that I’m the kind of guy who, when visiting a book store (remember book stores?), headed straight to the banned book section and got comfortable. (Remember how comfortable.book stores could be?)

     I do not make this confession arbitrarily or boldly, but rather matter-of-factly. Also a bit surprisingly. Until recently, I had no idea that I was such a fan of banned books, Then, Banned Book Week showed up on Facebook and other social media and I started looking at the various lists of books that have been banned or challenged, as the American Library Association puts it.

       I’m a few days late to mark the annual reminder of the importance of freedom of expression, but in a time when voices of protest and outrage are being stifled, I figure any day one can promote the free expression of ideas is a good one. So, my list, in no particular order, compiled from a few lists found on the Internet:

        — The Catcher in the Rye

        — To Kill a Mockingbird

        — The Lord of the Flies

,       — 1984

        — Lolita

        — Catch 22

        — Brave New World

        — Animal Farm

        — The Sun Also Rises

        — Invisible Man

        — Howl

        — One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest

        — Slaughterhouse Five

        — In Cold Blood

        — Rabbit, Run

        — Moby Dick

        — Canterbury Tales

        — Captain Underpants

        — The Kite Runner

        — The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

        —.The Adventures of Tom Sawyer

        — Fahrenheit 451

        — Moll Flanders

     I’d be interested in hearing what banned books are on your list so I can add to mine. And I know some of you are voracious readers. So please contribute.

     I’m writing about this because we are living in a time when reading, indeed, learning of any sort is under attack by forces — Republicans, Evangelicals if you want to be specific — who seek to maintain power by discrediting education of any kind. “East Coast Elites” is supposedly an insult. Higher education, Republicans believe, is a threat to America, a survey tells us. We hear claims of fake news and hoaxes and Fox News is full of outright lies. It’s all nonsense, created and disseminated out of fear. Fear of others, of the unknown, of feeling inferior, of discovering that long-held beliefs were simply not true.

      Education is the answer, but our education system — already challenged with adjusting to distance-learning because of Covid — has a lot of work to do to repair the damage done in recent years. Encouraging reading is a good place to start. Even in Covid America, books are available as never before online. Some free. I read “Slaughterhouse Five” and reread “1984” on Kindle. Seemed appropriate. And there’s plenty of time to read. 

       The American Library Association began Banned Books Week in 1982 in response to increased challenges to books in libraries, schools and other public places. Its stated aim is “to celebrate the freedom to read and to promote silenced voices.”

      Reasons why books have been banned or challenged include: LGBTQ content, sexually explicit language, profanity, racism, violence, religious viewpoint, sex education, suicide, drug and alcohol use, nudity, political viewpoint and offensive language, Sounds like a shopping list for Republican politicians. It also sounds a lot like life and one person’s “offensive language“ is another person’s truth.

       The decision on whether any book is appropriate for a child or a teenager theoretically belongs to the parents. I say theoretically because some parents don’t get too involved in such things. My parents were not book readers, although my mother devoured at least four newspapers every day. I don’t remember them expressing an interest one way or another in what I was reading. I guess that’s a decision by default. They trusted me and my teachers. I think it eventually worked out fine for me.

       Other parents, however, are extremely interested in what their children are consuming. That can be a good thing, I think, if it allows for a variety of viewpoints and room to explore. By the way, Captain Underpants is on my list because I have two sons, now grown. I also think a couple of my books were high school reading assignments for one of my sons. Kudos to the teacher.

        Anyway, in a country in which clearly anyone can grow up to be president, I think it would be a good thing if he or she had actually read a book or two, including some that challenged his or her beliefs. But maybe that’s just the Orwell, Vonnegut and Salinger in me.

rjgaydos@gmail.com

Bob Gaydos is writer-in-residence at zestoforange.com.

 

Watermelon and Other Amazing Things

Thursday, September 24th, 2020

   

 The amazing watermelon.

The amazing watermelon.

By Bob Gaydos

  I have recently taken a brief break from writing, well, just because. It helped. For one thing, I learned that if you can turn your gaze away from the chaos of the day, even briefly, sometimes life can be amazing. For example, you know what’s amazing? Watermelon. Watermelon’s amazing.

       Think about it. It is sweet, juicy, virtually free of calories and is loaded with nutrients, including Vitamin C and lycopene, a combination which, the science suggests, may fight off cancer, heart problems, macular degeneration, inflammation and cell damage, while protecting your skin and hair. Also, being mostly water with a little fiber, it’s good for digestive health. You can eat it or drink it, it grows anywhere that it’s not too frigid and if you binge on it, it’s a terrific diuretic. Yum today, gone tomorrow.

        Amazing. Who thought of this?

        Well, we don’t really know. It was just kind of here, like a lot of other stuff, just waiting to be discovered, apparently in West Africa, from which it spread to Egypt, India and by the 10th Century, China, which is today’s largest producer of watermelon. Europeans brought it to the New World in the 16th Century and the Japanese, to the dismay of seed-spitters, developed a seedless variety in 1939. Today, there’s a watermelon variety for every palate or picnic.

        One more bit of watermelon trivia: In 2007, the Oklahoma State Senate declared watermelon the official state vegetable, although the rest of the world considers it to be a fruit. Oh, Oklahoma.

         But the point here is that this fruit grows abundantly, is both delicious and healthful and has virtually no significant risks associated with it. It’s like someone left us a gift and hoped we would find and appreciate it: You’re going to need and enjoy this, earthlings. Until recently — well, just now — I hardly gave it a thought. But no more. Go ahead, I know the season’s about over, but find one and take a bite.

       Amazing, right?

       You know what else is amazing? Benford’s Law. In fact, it is mind-numbingly amazing, in my humble opinion. It’s also called the Newcomb–Benford law, the law of anomalous numbers, or the first-digit law. By any name, it’s well, you know.

        As simply as I can explain for the non-mathematicians or non-accountants (like me) out there, the law states that in naturally occurring sizable groups of numbers, be it dollars in a budget, acres, heights of mountains, populations, street addresses or stock prices, the first number of each entry is likely to be 1 about 30 per cent of the time, while 9 is the leading number only about 5 percent of the time. And, the frequency moves downward from 1 to 9 in a predictable curve. This happens all the time, unless the sample is too small or there are restrictions in the collection, such as the height of basketball players (5 to 7 being the range).

 The Benford’s Law curve of probability .

The Benford’s Law curve of probability .

         In practical terms, this means it’s possible to determine if someone is cooking the books, the natural tendency of humans being to distribute numbers randomly, with each number having an equal chance of lead status. The law has been admitted in criminal fraud cases at local, state and federal levels. The IRS must use because it won’t even comment on it. A recent study of reported Covid-19 cases indicated that results from Italy, Portugal, Netherlands, United Kingdom, Denmark, Belgium and Chile are suspicious, because the numbers don’t match the Benford Curve.

    I learned about this amazing law from the Netflix series, “Connected,” which I recommend for those who like their science approachable and with a little humor. It turns out the law had a leading role in another Netflix series, “Ozark,” in which it was used to detect fraud in a cartel financial statement. And in the 2016 movie, “The Accountant,” Ben Affleck uses It to expose the theft of funds from a robotics company.

    So I’m really late to the game on this one. But that doesn’t make it any less amazing that, in the seemingly randomness of our numbers-crazy society, someone/thing/power has provided order, if we only know where to look for it. Physicist Frank Benford knew where to look in 1938 when he did an extensive test of the phenomenon first noted by astronomer/mathematician Simon Newcomb in 1838. Newcomb noted that the early pages in a book of algorithms were used much more often than the later pages. Benford took Newcomb’s observation and gave it meaning.

       Here’s one more amazing thing I just learned after years of taking it for granted — horses can jump fences even though they don’t really see them the way humans do. It’s not as simple as see the fence, jump the fence.

        For starters, horses’ eyes (the largest of any land mammal) are not in the front of their heads like ours are. Horses have one eye on each side of their face. Just take a look. Never gave it much thought because, well, it looks right and normal, which it is. But it also means horses have to turn and raise their heads a lot more than we do to see the full picture of things in front of them, including fences they have to jump.

         Briefly, according to British Eventing Life, horses have two kinds of vision. One, monocular vision, means they see each side separately with either eye. This gives them a remarkably wide field of vision, except for what’s right in front of them. So they can see both sides of the fence as they approach it, but they can’t tell how close they are until they’re within about six feet. That’s when their binocular vision kicks in. They raise their heads to see directly in front of them to judge distance and height. Not much time when you’re cantering.

    

 See the fence; jump the fence.

See the fence; jump the fence.

    This feat also requires considerable teamwork from the rider, whose job is to give the horse every chance to succeed. That means providing a good approach and verbal, hand, leg and seat prompts, if necessary. Well-trained horses make it look easy, but here’s another amazing thing: Horses’ brains have a left side and a right side, that act as two separate brains, meaning horses have to be trained from both sides. Their amazing double brain quickly computes the data received from both visions as the horse approaches the jump. Up and over. I don’t know who thought of this. By the way, if I messed up any of this explanation, I hope horse people will forgive me. I just find this animal to be amazing.

        Finally, I guess my point here is that, at a time when amazingly evil and stupid things are happening, it is still possible to find some amazingly positive things in everyday life. I just need to keep looking for them. Peace.

rjgaydos@gmail.com

Bob Gaydos is writer-in-residence at zestoforange.com.

 

On Unwritten Rules, in Baseball and Life

Friday, August 21st, 2020

Fernando Tatis, rule breaker.

Fernando Tatis, rule breaker.

By Bob Gaydos

  Life is full of unwritten rules. Please and thank you. Don’t interrupt. Don’t double dip. Flush the toilet. But is it really a rule if it’s not written down? And is it really a rule if sometimes it’s OK to break it? Is it a rule, say, if your young slugger hits a home run on a 3-0 pitch to put the game on ice?

The big controversy of the week, refreshingly, involved baseball. Welcome back, boys of summer.

      The young slugger is Fernando Tatis Jr., who plays for the San Diego Padres. Tatis says he never heard of this rule we’re about to talk about. Sounds like another unwritten rule: When in doubt, plead ignorance.

       Some baseball purists, as well as the pitcher, manager and other players on the opposing team, think that Tatis broke one of the sport’s long-standing unwritten rules. That is, when you’re at bat and the count is three balls and no strikes, you do not swing at the next pitch. It’s thought to be even more of a rule when your team is winning by a significant margin, lest you be accused of rubbing it in. (I am explaining this in a little bit of detail for those readers who may not be baseball fans.)

      The Padres were leading the Texas Rangers by seven runs in the eighth inning when Tatis came to bat with the bases-loaded. He had already hit a homerun in the game. The Texas pitcher, who shall go nameless here to spare him further embarrassment, was shaky and threw three straight balls to Tatis. If Tatis followed the unwritten rule, he would not swing at the next pitch on the odds that it would be ball four, he would walk to first base and the runner from third would score. If it was a strike, he would be free to swing at any succeeding pitches.

      But young Fernando gets paid good money to hit home runs and drive in runs, so he swung. The ball soared out of the park for a grand slam homerun and instead of one man walking in with a run, four Padres crossed the plate. Instantly, San Diego was up by 11 runs instead of seven runs.

      The Rangers, who eventually lost 14 to 4, complained more about that swing on the 3-0 pitch the next day than how they were embarrassed by the shellacking they had just taken. But a lot of other major league players and managers who were interviewed, including a number of pitchers, said the responsibility is on the pitcher to make a good pitch in that situation and not look for an easy strike expecting that the batter won’t swing. After all, in baseball, as well as other endeavors in life, the idea is to win the game and the more runs you have the more likely you will win. Also, baseball today is different from baseball a generation or two ago. Teams all have young sluggers and score runs in bunches today and seemingly safe leads are no longer safe.

       So I’m with Tatis on this one. I am not a fan of rubbing it in, but even Little League doesn’t say the game is over until one team is ahead by 10 runs. What’s more, it turns out I’m consistent. My Facebook memories the other day included this serendipitous post: “I called the green light for Astros’ Carter on 3-0 pitch. You have to know he’s swinging. Boom! 3-run shot and Yankees lose. It’s not a complicated game.” Aug. 19, 2014. Another slugger in a situation just crying for him to swing at the three and oh.

      By the way … if you want to use politics as a metaphor for life, the Republican Party seems to have come up with an unwritten rule: Do not ever publicly speak ill of the leader. In nearly four years of the Trump Administration, four years of lying, incompetence, race-baiting, dismantling of government safeguards, disregard of the Constitution and all-around ignorance of presidential duties, I have yet to hear one local elected official publicly say a negative word about the party leader. Never mind Congress members; they fear for their “careers.” I’m talking about locals. Apparently, saying he blew it on Covid would be somehow a bad thing for potential voters to hear, deaths notwithstanding. A sign of independent thought? Forbidden. They are “leaders” without courage. An odd combination. Also by the way … the Democratic Party clearly has no such unwritten rule.

       By the way … when I decided to write about unwritten rules I did what everybody does today – I Googled it. Turns out a lot of people have written about unwritten rules. Or rather, a lot of people appear to have written about unwritten rules. One of the things that is abundantly obvious with just a little research is that what looks to be the best current list of unwritten rules has been repackaged, reheadlined and reimagined dozens of times as someone else’s list of unwritten rules. Reddit appears to be the original source of many lists. It includes such handy advice as:

— Don’t ask for something if the person only has one left — gum, cigarette, piece of cake, etc.

— If you use up all of the toilet paper, you refill it.

— Don’t mess up an apology with an excuse.

— Buy a plunger before you need a plunger.

— When someone shows you a picture on their phone, don’t swipe left or right.

— When the host starts cleaning, the party’s over and you need to go home.

— Let people get off a bus, train, or elevator before you get on.

    There are plenty more and you can Google them yourself, but my internet-driven unwritten rule is one that reporters learn the first day on the job — cite your source. Don’t take credit for someone else’s work. A few sites who repackaged the Reddit list did (Buzzfeed for one), but many did not. That’s just not nice.

       By the way … speaking of “not nice,” not long ago I led a column with someone else’s spoken, but unwritten rules for life: 1. If it’s not yours, don’t take it; 2. If it’s not true, don’t say it; 3. If it’s not right, don’t do it. The rule-maker prefers to remain anonymous, but I like to think I’ve given them more legitimacy by, you know, writing them down.

       And finally, back to baseball, Texas pitcher Ian Gibaut, who relieved the pitcher who gave up Tatis’ grand slam, was suspended for three games and fined by baseball officials. Gibaut, a rookie, came in and immediately threw a fastball behind San Diego’s next batter, Manny Machado, apparently as a warning for the Padres daring to smack Texas pitching around the park. It’s supposedly another baseball unwritten rule — if you embarrass us by showing our ineptitude, we will throw pitches at you. That’s not exactly an example of number three above, doing the right thing. More like, see how petty we can be. There’s another sports (and politics) unwritten rule: Don’t be a sore loser.

       PS: According to AP, before the controversial game, the 21-year-old Tatis was leading the majors with 11 home runs and 28 RBIs. And you groove a pitch to him with the bases loaded? More unwritten rules of life: Don’t assume anything. Always RSVP. Never give Fernando Tatis anything but curve balls.

rjgaydos@gmail.com

Bob Gaydos is writer-in-residence at zestoforange.com.

The Perils of Covering Chaos 24/7

Saturday, August 15th, 2020
Geraldine Ferraro and Walter Mondale, the Democratic Party's presidential ticket in 1984. She ran for veep.

Geraldine Ferraro and Walter Mondale, the Democratic Party’s presidential ticket in 1984. She ran for veep, making history, as Maureen Dowd recalls.

By Bob Gaydos

     It gives me no joy to say “I told you so.” Maybe a bit of personal satisfaction, but I’ll deal with that. 

From time to time, in this era of constant chaos known as the Trump Administration, I have lamented that it is virtually impossible for those who comment on the news of the day to write about anything but the Drumpster. The fact that he lies constantly, is monumentally inept and psychologically unfit for the Oval Office only adds to the need for constant — daily — attention. It is exhausting and, ultimately, depressing. And this, I have said, could eventually scramble the brains even of veteran journalists who still do it fulltime for a living.

      Cases in point, Maureen Dowd and David Brooks. One on the left, one on the right. On a recent Sunday, the New York Times played it right down the middle.

     On Aug. 9, I decided to peruse the Views section, once my automatic go to, but for some time now a repository of more of you know what about you know who. The psyche needs a rest. Having had one, I skipped to Dowd in the back, leaving Brooks’ rare front-page splash for later.

       Dowd has been nothing if not devoted to telling us how awful and dumb Drumpf is. She does it well. I enjoy her writing. But on this Sunday she had to write about Democrats and that part of her brain apparently was fried from all the juice emanating from the Republican side.

       She was writing about Joe Biden’s much-anticipated selection of a female vice presidential running mate. She was also waxing nostalgic of her days covering Walter Mondale’s selection of Newburgh native Geraldine Ferraro as his vice presidential running mate in 1984. She was the first woman to run as a vice presidential candidate on any major party ticket. Dowd recalled that that “fairy tale“ had a “sad ending.“ They lost.

     But then Dowd wrote: “It’s hard to fathom, but it has been 36 years since a man and a woman ran together on a Democratic Party ticket. To use Geraldine Ferraro‘s favorite expression, ‘Give me a break!’ “

     I’ll cue in the Jeopardy final question music. Do do do do do do do, do do do do do do do…

     I’ll take it, Alex. Who were Hillary Clinton and Tim Kaine in 2016?

      Correct, Bob! Hillary Clinton chose Virginia Senator Tim Kaine as her vice presidential running mate in July 2016. And that was the last time a man and a woman ran together on the Democratic Party ticket.

       How soon we forget. Dowd was so focused on the number two pick, she forgot all about Clinton clobbering Trump by several million votes and still losing the presidency a mere four years ago. Dowd wrote about all the biases Ferraro faced as the first female vice presidential candidate and projected that Biden‘s choice would have to be prepared to be portrayed as too bossy, too bitchy, too aggressive, too ambitious, etc.

    Of course, those are all things that were said about Clinton a mere four years ago when she ran, not for vice president, but for president. Real history. She won and she had it stolen from her as I recall.

     Kamala Harris, Biden’s eventual VP pick, will probably be able to handle all those attacks, in part because she’s highly competent, but also because Clinton already handled them, as I said, four years ago. Maybe Dowd can make it up to Hillary in a future column, but I submit that that’s what covering Drumpf 24/7 can do to you

     As for the conservative Brooks, he chose to take on the question of “Where Do Republicans Go From Here?” He’s not sure other than that, however many smart conservatives work on renovating it, Trump’s impact on the party will last for decades. And he puts the party’s future in the hands of four Republican senators in their 40s: Marco Rubio, Josh Hawley, Tom Cotton and Ben Sasse.

      Sheesh. All four are supposedly more enlightened populists who don’t always see government as the enemy and feel more must be done to help America’s working class. Rubio and Sasse occasionally try to sound like they disagree with some administration policy that harms regular people, Hawley is hawkish against corporate elites and Cotton is, at heart, a bomb thrower. They all voted not to convict Trump at his impeachment trial and none has shown the courage to consistently speak out directly to contradict the administration. Not much leadership in evidence.

      Brooks, who’s supporting Biden, writes, “The Republican Party looks completely brain-dead at every spot Trump directly touches.” I agree with him on this. And so, how are these four young stalwarts going to reshape their party so that it survives as a major political force? Stick with the working-class philosophy, but without the racism, Brooks suggests. Aha! Therein may lie the rub. How does the GOP unbecome the party of white, racist middle-Americans who hate “coastal elites”?

     Brooks takes us through many inches of well-thought-out rationales and says others are also working on the “brain-dead” issue. But Rubio, Hawley, Cotton and Sasse? They’re “inching” their way to a new GOP, Brook writes, finally ending with: “What are the odds they’ll succeed? They’ve got to be way under 50-50.”

    Swell. That’s what used to be known as burying the lead, David. After all this, you’re saying the best hope for a new GOP lies in the hands of four senators with little hope of shaking off the stench of Trumpism? Please. Give it a rest.

      Anyway, I get it. The point here is purely personal. As I said, it’s crazy-making having to write about Trump every day, like living with an alcoholic. I appreciate the efforts from both of you, but why not forget about you-know-who for a while? Take a week off. Maybe write about the plant-based food craze instead. I myself am a fan of the Impossible Whopper.

rjgaydos@gmail.com.

Bob Gaydos is writer-in-residence at zestoforange.com.

 

Hamill, Voices, Opinions, Dogs, August

Saturday, August 8th, 2020

By Bob Gaydos

Pete Hamill

Pete Hamill

Some random observations of a Covid-weary pundit in the month of August …

By the way … The death this week of Pete Hamill, at 85, got me to thinking about journalism — by which I always mean print journalism — and the voices I listened to as I followed my own path as a newsman. Hamill was right there with Jimmy Breslin, the voices of New York, whose columns were more than words on a page. They were conversations in a diner. I heard them in my head. That’s because they were honest and true to their creators. Nothing phony. Less noted than Hamill’s recent death was that last year of Russell Baker, longtime New York Times columnist and two-time Pulitzer Prize winner, whose “Observer” column was as much a must-read for me as any of Hamill’s columns. Totally different, but required. Brilliant satire that was like having a cup of coffee with a very clever friend. 

   I had a couple of other favorites — Jim Murray, who never wrote a sports column the way they taught it in college, and Jimmy Cannon, whose ”Nobody Asked Me, But …” columns were required reading and the inspiration for this obvious knockoff. The voices in my newspapers are all gone. What remains with me is the now-conscious, but onetime unaware, conviction that a writer must be true to him or her self first. Do not try to impress or be what you are not. Tell the story as best you can so that people will actually want to read it. Trust your voice and your opinion.  Check your facts, use proper grammar and know how to spell, too. It seems I’m in search of some new voices to read today.

    By the way … They call these the dog days. Why? Have you ever known a dog to like the hot, humid days of August? No dog I’ve ever known, including each half of the current duo, Taj and Prince, has ever suggested taking a long walk on a 90-degree day and maybe playing some Frisbee later. It’s usually let me out to do my stuff and let’s get back inside with the air-conditioning, fast! And before some smart Alec with an itchy Google finger hurries to straighten me out, I already checked with Merriam-Webster. Apparently, the phrase was first used in 1538 and referred to the rising of the Dog Star, Sirius, in the skies in the period from early July to early September. OK, but it’s been almost five centuries, people. Let’s give dogs their due with a star in the skies, but let’s not pin this crummy weather on them. They had nothing to do with it and they like it even less than humans do. Prince told me so.

    By the way … Try as I may, it is virtually impossible for someone writing about life as we know it today to avoid writing about the Embarrassment Administration. I’ll go easy, with a pass at the putz-in-waiting, Mike Pence. The nearly invisible and virtually mute vice president had something to say this week. He should’ve kept it to himself. Pence thinks Chief Justice John Roberts is a “disappointment” to conservative voters. Maybe it’s that lifetime appointment and separate and equal branch of government thing that Pence doesn’t understand. Maybe he doesn’t get that people in high government office, even vice presidents, are allowed and even expected to have their own opinions on issues and be willing to stand by them. And, in Roberts’ case, be protected by a lifetime appointment.

        The Chief Justice “disappointed” Pence by siding with the Supreme Court’s more liberal judges on cases involving LGBTQ labor rights, reinstatement of the Dreamers, a rejection of a Louisiana law restricting abortions and a rejection of. a Nevada church’s attempt to avoid limits on attendance because of Covid-19 restrictions. Pence said his boss would make sure to appoint more reliable rubber stamps to the court if he is re-elected. He’s even planning on putting out a list of potential candidates, not that he would dream of politicizing such an important position just before an election.

            Roberts, of course, cast the deciding vote in a previous 5-4 ruling that preserved Obamacare. Pence’s boss promises to provide a substitute for this healthcare plan about every couple of weeks. But apparently his golf gets in the way. I’d like to say it was nice to know the vice president actually speaks, but then, he is what is waiting in the wings. You, sir, are a disappointment to the majority of Americans. On the other hand, Mr. Chief Justice, well done.

rjgaydos@gmail.com

Bob Gaydos is writer-in-residence at zestoforange.com.

The GOP is Now a Party of Yohos

Tuesday, July 28th, 2020

By Bob Gaydos

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Ted Yoho

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Ted Yoho

    For as long as I can recall, I’ve been referring to people, usually men, who do and/or say dumb things as yohos. As in, “Rudy Giuliani, what a yoho!”

     I’m not making this up and, until I Googled to my satisfaction, I was unaware that I was actually making the word up, at least as far as my definition of it.  And I most certainly was not aware that there was a member of Congress who was actually called Mr. Yoho.

     He’s a Republican, of course. Ted Yoho. What a yoho.

     Yoho is a 65-year-old veterinarian/businessman, who has managed to represent the Gainesville area of Florida for the past eight years without much national fanfare. Then he ran into Democrat Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez on the steps of the Capitol. Enter the yoho factor.

       Getting involved in a public shouting match with a 30-year-old first-term congresswoman from Queens who is already known nationally and everywhere on social media by her initials — AOC— is just dumb. It is also against the rules of civility by which members of the House of Representatives like to say they comport themselves when discussing issues. Doing it in front of a reporter for a news organization that covers Congress? Yoho.

       The story in The Hill that grabbed national attention is that, following a heated exchange on the steps, in which he called her “disgusting” and “crazy,” Yoho referred to Ocasio-Cortez as a “f****ng b*tch” as the two walked away from each other. She apparently did not hear the remark. A day after the story appeared, Yoho apologized on the floor of the House for his “abrupt” behavior, but denied using the vulgar insult attributed to him by the reporter. Yoho said he actually said “f****ng b****hit,” referring to the congresswoman’s views.

      Yoho said it “is true that we disagree on policies and visions for America, but that does not mean we should be disrespectful.”

       He also said, “I will commit to each of you that I will conduct myself from a place of passion and understanding that policy and political disagreement be vigorously debated with the knowledge that we approach the problems facing our nation with the betterment of the country in mind and the people we serve. I cannot apologize for my passion or for loving my God, my family and my country.”

     Occasio-Cortez responded on the House floor the next day, in a classic takedown, in effect calling Yoho’s apology B.S. and an insult to all women. Republicans believed Yoho. Most of the rest of the world agreed with the reporter and AOC. That’s kind of the problem with Republicans these days. They’re convinced of their moral superiority and righteousness, but no one else is listening to them because no one believes them anymore. About anything.

      As a fish rots from the head down, so has the GOP. Their leader is a bully, a liar and a misogynist and they know it. Rather than rise up in moral indignation, they have chosen for nearly four years to emulate or remain silent. A sincere apology on Yoho’s part —: “I said it in a fit of anger, but no excuses. I am embarrassed and sorry and regret any hurt I caused.” — would have likely ended the story. But humility is not in the Republican playbook.

      (If you sense — correctly — that I’m believing the reporter’s account, not Yoho’s, that’s because I honestly believe that any man who has lived five or six or more decades in this country can put himself in Yoho’s situation at least once in his life. It happens. Denying or justifying it makes it much worse. Apologizing and looking for the source of the anger is much better.)

     Getting back to being yohos … The Florida congressman’s stated beef with Ocasio-Cortez is her view linking poverty with crime. Fine. But his vehemence in disagreeing is more likely tied to the fact that she is young, female, smart, attractive, outspoken, courageous and popular. Ambitious, too. A magna cum laude who used to tend bar. How dare she?

    It’s the modern Republican Party’s attitude towards accomplished women who don’t come from wealth — Anti. Republicans also used to be Anti-deficits. Not so much anymore.

     The party still is Anti-taxes for the rich, as we know, and it is also: Anti-science, Anti-history, Anti-math, Anti-logic, Anti-proper English, Anti-ethics, Anti-reading, Anti-psychology, Anti-philosophy, Anti-clean energy, Anti-regulation, Anti-immigration, Anti-Social Security, Anti-civics, Anti-government, Anti-law, Anti-answering subpoenas, Anti-choice, Anti-peaceful dissent and Anti-institutes of higher learning. A majority of Republicans actually believe that colleges have a negative effect on America.

      To be fair, there are men of all (or no) political persuasions who disrespect women. Republicans don’t have a monopoly on it. But they do seem to have patented the right to be as dumb as they choose and be proud of it. They have, in fact, become a party of yohos.

 

rjgaydos@gmail.com

Bob Gaydos is writer-in-residence at zestoforange.com.