Archive for the ‘Bob Gaydos’ Category

It’s a Burger … and So Much More

Saturday, September 2nd, 2017

By Bob Gaydos

The burger that is sweeping the country, apparently. Throw in a side of fries, too. What the heck.

The burger that is sweeping the country, apparently. Throw in a side of fries, too. What the heck.

“Write about something other than him,” my inner voice said.

“Write about something other than him,” she pleaded.

“I’ll try,” I said. “I’ll really try.”

***

… So I was scrolling through my Facebook feed the other night when a photo grabbed my attention and made me stop and look at it more closely. It was a promotion for an eatery in my vicinity and the obvious attempt was to be as mouth-wateringly appetizing as possible. Good idea if you’re selling food.

For me, however, the effect was heart-stoppingly different. The photo was of a burger, but not just any burger. In today’s highly competitive world of restaurants, even a burger has got to be somehow special. Bigger. Untraditional. Jam-packed. For me, this one definitely qualified. In addition to the hefty bun and lots of char-broiled ground beef, it included a slice of cheddar cheese, two slices of bacon, tons of fried onions and — this is what got my attention — a fried egg to top it all off.

Be still my heart, is obviously the response the creators were hoping for. Heart-attack special, I thought. Do people actually eat those things? I wondered. Is the egg really necessary? I asked Google.

Apparently, yes, such burgers are not only eaten. but there is a competition to see who can pile as many calories and as much fat and cholesterol into cheeseburgers and market them as great sources of protein.

I get it. People love it. They eat it up.

Well, some people. People who are concerned that they are overweight, or have high blood pressure, or diabetes, or high cholesterol, or heart disease — which is millions of Americans by the way — are not necessarily enamored of the super burger. Nor are people who are simply interested in living a longer, healthier life. Certainly they don’t make these burgers a regular part of their diet.

Again, what struck me was the fact that this burger was apparently not so special in that lots of food establishments — fast and not-so-fast food — offer some variation of the heart-stopper. A lot of Americans do eat this way fairly regularly. Even as the fast-food giants scramble to put more healthful-sounding (if not actually healthful) items on their menus, the kitchen-sink burger reigns supreme and lean (as in meat) is mean. Fat’s still where it’s at.

Listen, what you eat is your business and nobody likes a know-it-all or scold, especially when it comes to food. I don’t expect to change anybody’s diet by pointing out that the federal government’s 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend keeping your body’s cholesterol levels low by eating as little dietary cholesterol as possible. There are no limits, true, but the body makes its own cholesterol and doesn’t need help from such foods as red meat, egg yolks, dairy products, butter. Overdone, they tend to clog things (arteries) up. The guidelines also suggest you really want to limit your sodium intake, eat very little in the way of added sugars and saturated fats (regular ground beef, baked goods, cheese, pizza, French fries, ice cream) and no trans fats (baked goods, fried foods, packaged foods).

That’s pretty much your whole diet, right? It used to be mine. But, as I said, it’s your choice. I chose a few years ago — after a warning about being overweight and having high cholesterol and blood sugar counts — to pretty much eliminate red meat from my diet and to significantly reduce sugar (which figures in cholesterol and heart disease problems as well as diabetes), salt and unhealthy fats from my diet. I had help making that decision.

I cheat only rarely, have lost significant weight and — other than some bones broken in a recent auto accident — am in pretty good health for a 76-year-old. I do not deprive myself of foods I love that aren’t going to wreak havoc on my body. I also don’t drink alcohol or smoke.

So what’s the point of living, you ask, if you can’t have a few beers and polish off a half-pound of beef dripping with bacon grease and cheese, topped with salt and ketchup (sugar) and a fried egg?

For me, I guess living is the point. If I knew that all of that stuff would not do any noticeable harm to my health, I’d probably indulge more. But they will, so I don’t. As a result, I get to keep doing what I enjoy — writing —  hopefully without becoming a burden on others. I believe if the body stays healthy so does the mind. It’s a package deal.

The healthy mind part, to me, includes not dismissing out of hand any scientific information just because it doesn’t fit with my preferred view of the world. In addition to the epidemic of obesity in America, there is also a rising addiction, I believe, to willful ignorance: Science is wrong, the willfully ignorant say. Doctors are wrong. Historians are wrong. Nutritionists are wrong. Teachers are wrong. Journalists are wrong. Everyone who upsets my apple cart is wrong and I have a right to my opinion.

So, my opinion: The Earth is round, human behavior has caused significant warming of the planet’s temperature and indulging in an unhealthy diet out of some perverse notion that eating healthfully is some elitist plot is not just your personal opinion if it affects me. The cost of medical care and health insurance rise as our national health profile falls. As we neglect our bodies by rejecting science, so do we neglect our minds. As a nation, we become lazy, mentally as well as physically. 

That’s why it’s important to us as a nation to pass along sound, scientifically proven advice to our children on living a healthful — perhaps happy and productive — life. Even such a small example as former First Lady Michelle Obama’s initiative for more healthful school lunches is helpful. The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act took effect in 2010 and has been the source of controversy from the beginning. Among other things, it calls for more fruits and vegetables and less salt in school lunches.

It’s a simple way of teaching young people how to enjoy eating a more healthful diet. Since adults’ choices generally become their children’s choices, the national obesity issue does not involve just adults. So I was disappointed, on checking, to note that this year the rules for healthful school lunches have essentially been abandoned.

Still, I said to myself, there is always the exercise and fitness part of the equation. That’s important to pass on to kids and we have long had JFK’s-inspired President’s Council on Fitness, Sports and Nutrition to set a good example in that regard. The council has typically recommended 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity every week. Keep those bodies moving, kids.

I visited that government site, which contains plenty of good information on living a healthy lifestyle. I was pleased to note that it encourages Americans to “follow a healthy eating pattern across the lifespan” and to support such patterns for everyone.

Great, I said. What else might the council have on its agenda? I wondered. And who’s on the council, anyway, I also wondered, remembering that Arnold Schwarzenegger, former Mr. Universe, California governor and Terminator is a former chairman.

Here’s what I found under the “Meet The Council” heading on the web site: “The President’s Council engages, educates, and empowers all Americans to adopt a healthy lifestyle that includes regular physical activity and good nutrition. The President’s Council is made up of athletes, chefs, physicians, fitness professionals, and educators who are appointed by the President and serve in an advisory capacity through the Secretary of Health and Human Services.

“Council Co-Chairs — To Be Announced …

“Council Members — To Be Announced …’’

There is no council.

Like I said, folks, it’s your choice. You’re on your own.

But at least I didn’t write about him.

rjgaydos@gmail.com

Musk, Killer Robots, Trump, the Eclipse

Wednesday, August 23rd, 2017

By Bob Gaydos

Donald Trump looking at the solar eclipse.

Donald Trump looking at the solar eclipse.

Elon Musk and Donald Trump made significant scientific statements this week. Digest that sentence for a second. …

OK, it’s not as strange as it sounds because each man was true to himself. That is, neither message was surprising, considering the source, but each was important, also considering the source.

Monday, Musk and 115 other prominent scientists in the field of robotics and artificial intelligence attending a conference in Melbourne, Australia, delivered a letter to the United Nations urging a ban on development and use of killer robots. This is not science fiction.

Responding to previous urging by members of the group of AI and robotics specialists, the UN had recently voted to hold formal discussions on so-called autonomous weapons. With their open letter, Musk and the others, coming from 26 countries, wanted the UN to be clear about their position — these are uniquely dangerous weapons and not so far off in the future.

Also on Monday, on the other side of the planet, as millions of Americans, equipped with special glasses or cardboard box viewers,  marveled at the rare site of a solar eclipse, Trump, accompanied by his wife, Melania, and their son, Barron, walked out onto a balcony at the White House and stared directly at the sun. No glasses. No cardboard box. No problem. I’m Trump. Watch me give the middle finger to science.

Of course, the only reason Trump shows up in the same sentence as Musk in a scientific discussion is that the man with the orange hair holds the title of president of the United States and, as such, has the power to decide what kind of weapons this nation employs and when to use them. Also, the president — any president — has the power, through words and actions, to exert profound influence on the beliefs, attitudes and opinions of people used to looking to the holder of the office to set an example. Hey, if it’s good enough for the president, it’s good enough for me. This is science fiction.

Please, fellow Americans, don’t stare at the sun during the next eclipse.

Trump’s disdain for science (for knowledge of any kind, really) and his apparently pathological need to do the opposite of what more knowledgeable people recommend, regardless of the topic, are a dangerous combination. When you’re talking about killer robots, it’s a potentially deadly one.

The U.S.Army Crusher robotic weapon.

The U.S.Army Crusher robotic weapon.

How deadly? Here’s a quote from the letter the AI specialists wrote: “Once developed, lethal autonomous weapons will permit armed conflict to be fought at a scale greater than ever, and at timescales faster than humans can comprehend. These can be weapons of terror, weapons that despots and terrorists use against innocent populations, and weapons hacked to behave in undesirable ways.

“We do not have long to act. Once this Pandora’s box is opened, it will be hard to close.”

In fact, it’s already opened. On the Korean peninsula — brimming with diplomatic tension, the rattling of nuclear weapons by the North Koreans and the corresponding threats of “fire and fury” from Trump — a fixed-place sentry gun, reportedly capable of firing autonomously, is in place along the South Korean side of the Demilitarized Zone.

Developed by Samsung for South Korea, the gun reportedly has an autonomous system capable of surveillance up to two miles, voice-recognition, tracking and firing with mounted machine gun or grenade launcher. There is disagreement over whether the weapon is actually deployed to operate on its own, but it can. Currently, the gun and other autonomous weapons being developed by the U.S., Russia, Germany, China, the United Kingdom and others require a human to approve their actions, but usually in a split-second decision. There is little time to weigh the consequences and the human will likely assume the robot is correct rather than risk the consequences of an incorrect second-guess.

But it is precisely the removal of the human element from warfare that Musk and the other AI developers are worried about. Removing the calculation of deaths on “our side” makes deciding to use a killer robot against humans on the other side much easier. Too easy perhaps. And robots that can actually make that decision remove the human factor entirely. A machine will not agonize over causing the deaths of thousands of “enemies.”

And make no mistake, the robots will be used to kill humans as well as destroy enemy machines. Imagine a commander-in-chief who talks cavalierly about using nuclear weapons against a nation also being able to deploy robots that will think for themselves about who and what to attack. No second-guessing generals.

Musk, a pioneer in the AI field, has also been consistent with regard to his respect for the potential danger posed to humans by machines that think for themselves or by intelligences — artificial or otherwise — that are infinitely superior to ours. The Tesla CEO has regularly spoken out, for example, against earthlings sending messages into space to try to contact other societies, lest they deploy their technology to destroy us. One may take issue with him on solar energy, space exploration, driverless cars, but one dismisses his warnings on killer robots at one’s own risk. He knows whereof he speaks.

Trump is another matter. His showboating stunt of a brief look at the sun, sans glasses, will probably not harm his eyes. But the image lingers and the warnings, including one from his own daughter, Ivanka, were explicit: Staring directly at the sun during the eclipse can damage your retina and damage your vision. Considering the blind faith some of his followers display in his words and actions, it was yet another incredibly irresponsible display of ego and another insult to science.

Artificial intelligence is not going away. It has the potential for enormous benefit. If you want an example of its effect on daily life just look at the impact autonomous computer programs have on the financial markets. Having weapons that can think for themselves may also sound like a good idea, especially when a commander-in-chief displays erratic judgment, but their own creators — and several human rights groups — urge the U.N. to ban their use as weapons, in the same way chemical weapons and land mines are banned.

It may be one of the few remaining autonomous decisions humans can make in this area, and the most important one. We dare not wait until the next eclipse to make it.

rjgaydos@gmail.com

A One-sided Story: Trump Must Go

Friday, August 18th, 2017

By Bob Gaydos

A white supremacist carries a Nazi flag into the entrance to Emancipation Park in Charlottesville, Va. on Saturday, Aug. 12. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)

A white supremacist carries a Nazi flag into the entrance to Emancipation Park in Charlottesville, Va. on Saturday, Aug. 12. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)

Apparently a lot of people in this country are under the impression that the news media are obliged to present both — indeed, all — sides of a story equally, which is to suggest, fairly, and which is to imply, inevitably, that both (or all) sides have equal legitimacy.

This is nonsense. In the first place, a free and unfettered press as protected by the First Amendment of the Constitution is under no obligation to be fair, unbiased or even factual. You just can’t make stuff up with the intent to hurt someone. That’s why there are so many unreliable sources of information in this country making money while posing as responsible journalism. Take Fox News, as Henny Youngman said, please.

The idea of the press being responsible and reliable as a source of useful information has evolved over time with the most responsible sources establishing themselves with readers and listeners through dedication to one thing overall — truth. Not truth as a publisher sees it. Not truth as a big advertiser sees it. Not truth as a politician, even a president, sees it. And not necessarily truth as everyone on all sides of an issue would like it to be seen.

Just the plain and simple facts of the matter. Here’s what happened. Here’s what people did. Here’s what people said. And yes, here’s what we think based on all those facts.

The United States and its Allies fought a worldwide war to defeat Naziism, anti-semitism and the belief that certain fair-haired, light-skinned people were born superior to others and that millions of those “others” had to be murdered to protect the so-called super race. The U.S. and it Allies won that war, at great cost. Hundreds of thousands of Americans died to defeat Nazis, white supremacists, fascists, anti-Semites. Fact.

There is no “other” side. Those who sought to subjugate and slaughter others because of their religion, nationality, or race were rejected. Nazis and fascists were rejected. Those who defended or sought to appease them were rejected. Some were sent to prison.

The United States also fought a bloody Civil War to defeat white supremacists who believed they were born superior to people with dark skin and, thus, could use and treat those “other” people as property, as slaves. Many Americans, including President Abraham Lincoln, disagreed. Some people in the South tried to argue — still do — that the “other,” legitimate, side of the story was that the war was over states’ rights. That’s only if you consider that the “right” the Southern states sought to protect in seceding from the Union and starting a war (treason) was to own and treat people of color as slaves. The South lost. Fact.

Hate was rejected. White supremacy was rejected. Slavery was rejected. Nazis and fascists were rejected. Anti-semites were rejected.  Case closed. We did not agree to disagree. In words the current president of the United States might understand, Americans agreed that bigotry and racism were “bad.” That the KKK, neo-Nazis and other white supremacist groups were “evil.” That there were no “fine people” who support such groups and their hateful messages. That America stands for inclusiveness. That our differences make us stronger. That it is the primary job of the president to spread that message and to make sure it is enforced.

I’ve said it before, but it bears repeating — “alt-right” is a bogus word created to give a veneer of legitimacy to white supremacists, Nazi sympathizers and wannabe fascist bullies. These are hate groups parading under the absurd banner that white men have been somehow denied their due because of the color of their skin. To deny this absurdity or to remain silent about it is to give these groups a false standing. It suggests a moral legitimacy that hundreds of thousands of Americans gave their lives to deny.

This is a time of serious unrest in America, stoked by the divisive language and actions of Donald Trump and those who advise and enable him. There is no other side to that story either. He was elected on a campaign built on lies, bigotry and bullying. The Republican Party allowed it. They continue to allow him to shred the fabric of this nation. They own him even though he is not and never has been one of them. That is the price of silence in the face of fascism.

There was never any chance that Trump was going to “grow into the job” of president. He has not grown emotionally in his 71 years. Regressed, more likely. He must be removed from office, by Republicans or Robert Mueller, the special counsel. More likely the latter.

But ultimately every American has a stake in this fight against authoritarianism. Trump has disgraced the Office of the President. He has failed at every opportunity to display moral leadership. Congress, world leaders, his own staff do not respect him. At most, the white supremacists in his circle use him for their own agenda.

This is not a theoretical exercise. It is personal. The question for every American is: Do you support the statements from the president that “both sides” bear responsibility for what happened in Charlottesville, Va.? In sum, do you grant neo-Nazis, white supremacists and Klansmen moral standing to the point that you create words like “anti-Nazi” and “antifa” (anti-fascist) when all that used to be necessary was “them” and the rest of us. Evil. Good.

I have spent more than half a century in journalism, three decades writing editorials about every possible topic. This is simply by way of saying that I am programmed to look for both sides of any story and then write about it. For this, because he is uncomfortable with any straight reporting of the things he says and does — including pointing out inconsistencies and lies as well as insults — the wholly unqualified president has declared me and my colleagues to be an “enemy of the people.” That’s a line used by every fascist in history about the press.

Trump should not be president. Those who voted for him were wrong. Many have had the honesty to admit it. Some, for their own reasons, never will. History will remember those who allowed him to disgrace this nation. It will not be a pretty tale. There’s only one side to this story.

rjgaydos@gmail.com

Trump, Korea, the Marines and a Photo

Friday, August 11th, 2017

By Bob Gaydos

The photo that inspired a nation ... in spite of the facts.

The photo that inspired a nation … in spite of the facts.

“Well, that’s good,” I said to myself with a tension-reducing sigh. Congress is taking August off and the Senate actually took steps to keep Trump from making any recess appointments should he decide to, say, fire the attorney general or anyone else. That probably didn’t sit well with the Donald, but what the heck, I figured, he’s going on another vacation, so what trouble could he possibly get us into?

 Yeah, I know. A momentary lapse of judgment on my part, perhaps prompted by a need for some relief from the constant drumbeat of incoherent, inarticulate, insensitive, insulting, indecent and incredibly embarrassing flow of bigotry and B.S. coming from the White House. A vocabulary-challenging administration.

I guess he figured a man can’t play golf and tweet all the time, so why not go mano-a-mano with North Korea over nuclear war. Ramp up the language and fire up the still-remaining base of support who don’t want to think about Russia or losing their health insurance because, after all, the Muslims are coming, the Muslims are coming. And Kim what’s-his-name, too!

It has come to this: Trump’s own staff members are telling us to ignore what he says. Don’t worry, says the secretary of state. Senators and generals are ignoring what he says. But the world is not ignoring what he says because, like it or not, he speaks for this nation.

I don’t like it.

Not when he talks so cavalierly about taking the lives of hundreds of thousands of people because of his ego. Not when he shows no awareness of the devastating power of nuclear weapons. Not when he displays no comprehension of the wisdom of trying to avoid war through frank and honest diplomacy: You have weapons; we have more weapons. We will suffer greatly. You will be destroyed. No one wins. What do you want to allow your people to see what a magnificent leader you are by giving up your nuclear weapons and giving your people a better life? Let’s talk.

What gets lost in this frenetic, theoretical talk about war is the simple fact of the individual lives that will be ended. Even efforts by some politicians to lower the threat level to Americans by saying any war with North Korea will not be nuclear and will be fought on the Korean peninsula ignore this fact. It is obviously intended to relieve Americans’ fears of war on their homeland, but conveniently overlooks the fact that, in addition to Koreans, it will be young American men and women fighting and dying on the Korean peninsula, which they have already done once before. Failure to negotiate a peace settlement after that war has led to a divided nation and well-armed ceasefire for more than half a century.

Trump’s ”fire and fury” remarks regarding North Korea coincided with the anniversary of the U.S. dropping an atomic bomb on Hiroshima, to hasten the end of World War II with Japan in 1945. The reasoning by President Harry S Truman and his advisers at the time was that a traditional military invasion of Japan with a million or so troops would cost  hundreds of thousands of Allied deaths given the Japanese strategy of everyone, soldier or not, fighting to the death.

Whether or not one agrees with Truman’s decision, he and his advisers were undoubtedly correct in their assessment of a traditional invasion. Not long before the bomb was dropped, U.S. Marines fought their bloodiest, most courageous, most decorated battle on Iwo Jima, an island fortress defending the Japanese homeland. As recounted in often painful detail in the book, “Flags Of Our Fathers,” by James Bradley and Ron Powers, the conquest of Iwo, commemorated with the planting of the American flag on Mount Suribachi, was the result of sending wave after wave of young American men, with no cover, to attack a heavily armed, entrenched, literally underground, Japanese army and eventually overwhelming the enemy by determination, incredible bravery, and sheer numbers.

That is a strategy. A terribly costly one as it turned out for thousands of American families who lost sons, brothers, fathers, uncles, friends on the beaches of Iwo and on the slopes of Suribachi. It was thought to be necessary by some, at the time, in order to defeat an enemy that didn’t recognize any so-called rules of warfare. Maybe it was, but a nation that respects and cherishes its young people still ought not casually consider sending them off to die or be wounded in any war, however justified it may sound.

That’s what I hate most about Trump’s and others’ flippant remarks about war. They ignore the cost in lives, in futures, in dreams, by wrapping everything in a flag of patriotism. Duty. Honor. Courage.

In addition to being a chilling account of combat, “Flags Of Our Fathers,” which I’m reading as part of a stash of used books I recently bought at the library, provides a perfect example of Americans refusing to take an event at face value and, instead, repackaging it to fit their preconceived notions. It is about one of the most famous photographs ever taken — six Marines raising the American flag on Mount Suribachi. The photo brought hope to a war-weary nation, became a famous monument, propelled a successful bond tour to support the war effort, inspired a John Wayne movie. Today, it remains a stirring symbol of American courage.

But the photo itself was not of a heroic moment. As the authors recount, it was a lucky shot by AP photographer Joe Rosenthal at a second flag-raising, after the heroic one following an assault up Suribachi a day earlier. The Marine commander wanted a larger flag flying over Iwo. The men who planted the second flag happened to be there. Photos were taken. One was dramatic. They became heroes back home, sought after everywhere for much of their lives. As often as the three flag-raisers who survived Iwo Jima tried to tell the real story of the flag, they were ignored. The photo was too powerful. It said so much of what Americans wanted it to say. Needed it to say.

Bradley’s father, Jack “Doc” Bradley, was identified as one of the six flag-raisers, but even that remains questioned today. A medical corpsman who was awarded the Navy Cross for his actions on Iwo, all he and the others ever said was that the real heroes were the Marines and Navy corpsmen who died on the island — 6,800 of them. The Japanese suffered 22,000 casualties, mostly deaths. American casualties exceeded 26,000. One battle. One island. Two flags.

As a nation, we have a tendency to try to make things — flag-raisings, presidents — fit our perceptions (our hopes and wishes perhaps), so that we don’t have to face reality. War is brutal. Talk is cheap.

The Iwo Jima photo, while it does not represent an actual heroic moment in combat, has come to symbolize the heroism of U.S. Marines, especially at Iwo Jima. It has obtained true, lasting value because it represents something real — the courage, determination, resilience, loyalty, and brotherhood the Marines demonstrated on Iwo Jima and, indeed, have demonstrated throughout their proud history. If you need to raise a flag, they are there. They are the real deal.

Take as many photos of Donald Trump as you want. Wearing that silly Make America Great Again cap if you want. Wrap him in flags and give him tough-sounding words if you want. Gild the lily all you want. It doesn’t matter. The image will never match the reality of the man’s history. Gutless and callous and phony to the core.

rjgaydos@gmail.com

Real GOP Mavericks: Murkowski, Collins

Saturday, July 29th, 2017

By Bob Gaydos

Sens. Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski at work, governing.

Sens. Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski at work, governing.

If you’re looking for a maverick, you don’t go to Arizona where they brag about the “dry heat” and almost everybody is a retired something or other from somewhere else looking to be left alone while they head for the air-conditioning. The state motto in Latin is Ditat Deus, which means “God enriches.” Whether one is a believer or not, that certainly doesn’t suggest an attitude of going out and stirring the pot to make things happen. It’s more like, “Well, OK, let’s chill and if it doesn’t work out, it’ll work out.”

No, if you’re looking for a maverick, by which I mean in this case, an independent-minded person, you go where it’s cold a lot of the time and winters are rough and people don’t have time for pettiness and pettifoggery. “Get on with it! What are you talking about? That’s nonsense; don’t waste my time.”

You go to Maine or, better yet, Alaska. If you’re lucky, both.

The Maine state motto is, “I direct,” or “I lead.” Alaska’s is “North to the Future.”

Action words. Follow me. I know the way.

On the floor of the U.S. Senate early Friday morning, John McCain, the Arizona senator whose reputation as a maverick disappeared in a puff of “Holy smoke!” at Liberty University when he was running for president in 2008, staged a dramatic moment in which he cast a “no” vote — complete with a theatrical thumb-down — on the Republicans’ last-gasp effort at repealing Obamacare.

Boom! The bill was dead. Gasps from Republicans. Applause from Democrats and millions of Americans. The maverick — fresh from surgery for brain cancer at a Mayo Clinic Hospital in Phoenix — was back.

Not really.

Yes, McCain’s was the deciding 51st “no” vote, which killed the bill. But without the preceding “no” votes from Republican senators from Maine and Alaska, McCain’s would have been meaningless and those two senators had been in the forefront of opposing their party’s hypocritical efforts at “health care reform” from the outset.

In the matter of saving Americans from the cruel reality of the disastrous GOP effort to kill Obamacare (as opposed to passing its own health care measure), the real mavericks were Sens. Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska.

Both women endured insults and threats from male (Republican) colleagues in Congress — and the president — as they stood firmly opposed throughout the sham process conducted by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. No last-minute theatrics for them. They let McConnell and the president know where they stood from the outset — on the side of truth and reasonableness, no petty politics.

For doing their job, voting their consciences and what was best for their constituents, rather than toeing the strict party line, Murkowski and Collins were referred to as “witches” and “bitches” online by the Trump troll patrol. Rep. Blake Farenthold, another sad excuse for a legislator from Texas, said that he would challenge them to a duel if they were men. He’d never survive.

The narcissist-in-chief tweeted his displeasure with Murkowski and suggested, in true Kremlin style, that her state might face retribution by the administration. In fact, Senate Democrats said they would ask for an investigation into calls from Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke to Murkowski and fellow Alaska Sen. Dan Sullivan, in which Zinke threatened projects important to their state if Murkowski persisted in voting no. That was merely more thuggery from an administration that has no respect for laws or rules of conduct, much less respect for differing opinions.

Collins displayed no patience for McConnell’s nonsense from the beginning of the latest Republican effort to squash Obamacare, pointing to the lack of information and debate on the measure, as well as its negative impact on millions of Americans — the things most other Republican senators were fully aware of but chose to neglect in voting yes.

Collins and Murkowski, of course, were not among the dozen white male Republican senators appointed by McConnell to try to figure out how to repeal and replace Obamacare. No women were on that special panel.

This is today’s Republican Party. A misogynist, or worse, in the Oval Office and a bunch of dumb white men trying to tell women to mind their place.

McConnell, of course, famously shut off the microphone of Democratic Sen. Elizabeth Warren during a Senate debate, only to listen as she persisted. Clearly, he has similar feelings about Republican women, senators or not.

But Murkowski, who vowed to defend funding for Planned Parenthood (eliminated in the GOP health plan), was elected as a write-in candidate over a Tea Party opponent who beat her in a GOP primary. She doesn’t scare off.

After the big GOP health care flop, she said, “My vote yesterday was from my heart for the people that I represent. And I’m going to continue working hard for Alaskans and just focus on that. I have to focus on my job. I have to focus on what I came here to do.” She had earlier said that it would be nice if some “governing” actually went on in Washington, rather than constant campaigning.

Collins was heard on an open microphone saying Trump’s handling of the budget was “completely irresponsible.” She opposed the Republican health process from the beginning, including the vote to even allow debate. McCain described that tactic as irresponsible, before voting for it. Then he actually voted for a GOP health plan offered later. Collins, Murkowski and several other Republicans voted “no,” (as did all Democrats on every vote). McCain saved his “maverick” vote for the end.

Some called it statesmanship. It was political theater — the deus ex machina coming in way too late. We’re glad you did it, senator, make no mistake, but where have you been all this time, through all this arrant nonsense from McConnell and Trump?

It brings to mind another “mavericky” theatrical moment in the McCain biography, one that also involved an outspoken woman politician from Alaska. Sarah Palin, senator. Remember her? What were you thinking? Were you that desperate for votes in 2008 that you had to sell out to the loony fringe now running your party? Don’t bother answering. Thanks for this decision; it’s a big one. But it doesn’t come close to making up for that earlier one.

No, if you’re looking for statesmanship and courage in this story, look to Senators Collins and Murkowski. If the Republican Party hopes to reclaim its soul, it needs more mavericks like them.

rjgaydos@gmail.com

Lining Up for The Smell of Death in D.C.

Saturday, July 22nd, 2017

By Bob Gaydos

People viewing -- and smelling -- the corpse flower (titan arum) in Washington, D.C.

People viewing — and smelling — the corpse flower (titan arum) in Washington, D.C.

There was a distinct stench of decay in the nation’s capital last week and thousands of visitors showed up to get a whiff — heck, a full, deep inhalation — of it. What’s that? No, no, this had nothing to do with the White House or Congress … stick with me. The odor emanated from, of all things, a flower.

The corpse flower. These large malodorous plants are not for sale at your local garden store. For one thing, they’re huge — this one is 8 feet tall — and bloom rarely. Unpredictably, really. And then for only two days at most. This makes such occasions an excuse for people to line up around the block, as they did at the U.S. Botanic Garden Conservatory, to look and smell.

A plant scientist who is public programs manager at the U.S. Botanic Garden, told the website LiveScience “… once you get into that room, it really hits you pretty hard. It reminded me of a dead deer on the side of the road in the Florida Everglades with a big pile of really soggy, moldy laundry next to it. It was really, really unpleasant.”

I think I know what the man is talking about. In my neck of the woods in upstate New York, about 75 miles from New York City, some farmers have taken to spreading what they say is fertilizer on their land, but which, to noses familiar and comfortable with normal fertilizer, smells like dead deer times ten. Death smell, we call it. Really unpleasant. The farmers never said it was the corpse flower, though. Duck eggs is the story they’re going with.

Unlike the corpse flower, no one around here lined up to take a good, deep whiff. You really only had to drive by to get it. A lot of people did complain to public officials, however, and that may have stopped the practice. Lately, it’s just been good, old-fashioned cow manure.

In Washington, though, Amorphophallus titanum was holding forth last week to no apparent purpose. While it rarely blooms and no one can say when one will bloom, the plant can be long-lived and botanists say the blooming has a specific purpose. Get this: The corpse plant uses its death smell to attract flesh-eating bugs such as beetles and flies that will carry its pollen to cross pollinate other corpse flowers.

So its purpose is simply to perpetuate itself apparently. Thank you, Mother Nature. One bloomed in the Bronx last August, but the plant is native to the rain forests of Sumatra and I suppose it makes sense in the ecological framework of western Indonesia. As for the D.C. transplant, I’m not certain.

This particular plant, which blossomed for the first time, is said to have grown from 4 feet tall to 8 feet tall just in the time it was put on display in the greenhouse — less than a week-and-a-half. It reeked of death for a couple of days then withered.

The folks at the Botanical Garden said this particular plant was the first corpse flower to bloom in Washington, D.C., since 2007. So for eight years — from 2008 to 2016 — there was no call to line up for the smell of death in the nation’s capital. This year — bloom!

Hmmm. Maybe I was wrong about the plant’s purpose. Maybe it’s trying to tell us something. Let’s see … what blooms big and garish without warning for no purpose other than to promote itself, attracts a crowd, appeals to flesh-eating bugs, stinks to hell for a brief period and then withers and goes away for a long time?

Maybe they’ll have a clue at the White House.

rjgaydos@gmail.com

 

Hellooooooooooooooooooo, Out There!

Wednesday, July 12th, 2017

By Bob Gaydos

The Arecibo Message ... sent in 1974

The Arecibo Message … sent in 1974

I pause in my search for intelligent life in the White House to ruminate on another project which may well promise quicker results — the search for intelligent life elsewhere in the universe.

The search is known as METI: Messaging to Extraterrestrial Intelligence. This is not to be confused with SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence), which deals with searching for messages from aliens. To/from. Therein lies the difference as well as a major scientific/philosophical dispute.

The SETI project was popularized in the novel, “Contact,” by astronomer, cosmologist, astrophysicist Carl Sagan, who was central, along with astronomer, astrophysicist Frank Drake, in creating the program by which huge radio telescopes have listened for decades — still do — for signals from far-distant civilizations.

The book was later made into a movie starring Jodie Foster. You may remember it. It vaguely resembles the book, which I only recently finished reading as part of my return-to-reading movement that was sparked by a “sudden” appreciation of the science of synchronicity. In brief, I started noticing that coincidences led to more coincidences — books led to other books, ideas to other ideas, etc. — and that I ignored the connection between events/people/things at my own loss.

There was a reason that article by Steven Johnson about METI appeared on the cover of The New York Times Magazine two weeks ago. It was to catch me up on where the search for evidence of life elsewhere in the universe had gone since Sagan’s book was published in 1985. What purpose it may have served for you, I haven’t a clue, but for me it meant there was probably some issue to write about that could lead to more fruitful thought than that monotonous White House disaster.

The fact that I live in Pine Bush, a hamlet in upstate New York known as the UFO capital of the Northeast, just clinched the deal. Of course, in Pine Bush there are quite a few people who believe that extraterrestrials have already been here more than once. Checking us out. Maybe so, but since I have yet to experience a UFO, I’m interested in the debate going on over SETI vs. METI.

It boils down to: It’s all well and good to listen for messages from outer space. If we receive one, it means there is other life out there. We can then decide how, or whether, to respond. The hesitation has to do with not knowing if the other life is friendly or not. If we send out a big hello to the universe, the nay-sayers argue, any civilization that receives it will be far more advanced than ours and could well look upon us as Columbus did on the Native Americans. As Stephen Hawking, the most prominent METI nay-sayer, pointed out, that experience “did not go well” for the Native Americans. Do not advertise our presence, he says, and Elon Musk and many other scientists agree.

But many others disagree, arguing that another civilization, advanced enough to receive our message, would likely also be advanced enough to  understand the value of being peaceful.

So, what to do?

METI’s web page lists several objectives, including:

  • “Promote international cooperation and collaboration in METI, SETI, and astrobiology.
  • “Understand and communicate the societal implications and relevance of searching for life beyond Earth, even before detection of extraterrestrial life.
  • “Research and communicate to the public the many factors that influence the origins, evolution, distribution, and future of life in the universe …”

I’d say the non-profit agency has noble, worthwhile goals. It’s the kind of project that could serve to remind all of us Earthlings of our relative insignificance in the universe and serve as a unifying, educational mission for our querulous planet. Of course, with even scientists being in disagreement about whether to send or just keep listening, I’m skeptical about political leaders being able to reach agreement. In fact, there’s an argument just waiting for the anti-science crowd to adopt: The Fermi Paradox.

Enrico Fermi, an Italian physicist who created the first nuclear reactor, asked (I paraphrase): If the universe is so big (100 billion galaxies, 50 sextillion Earth-like planets) and so old (13.82 billion years), there should be 10,000,000,000,000,000 intelligent civilizations in the observable universe and, after millions of years of technological progress, an alien civilization should be capable of long-distance space travel. So where is everyone?

Well, as I said, there are some neighbors of mine who say aliens have already been here. How could we miss them? Government coverup of UFO sightings is a popular — and not wholly dismissible — theory.

Either way, I say the METI people — who used to be the SETI people — have the right idea. Be pro-active. Send out a big hello to the universe. An inter-galactic tweet. Get an international group of smart, sensitive people from various walks of life to create it. Set up contingencies for what to do if we get a reply … or a visit. War or peace. Then push the button over and over again for however long it takes for some life form out there to receive and understand it.

For the record, a three-minute message was sent out to the universe from the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico in 1974, under the direction of Drake. It has yet to reach its destination, but it drew immediate strong opposition from the Royal Astronomer of England at the time, who, like Hawking, warned of placing the earth in peril. Since then, we’ve been mostly listening.

I don’t expect to be around when the message is received — they’re talking about light years here, remember — but I do think it’s the synchronistic thing to do. Someone has to get the ball rolling. Douglas Vakoch, the head of METI, says the fears are exaggerated. He thinks 100 years of television and radio signals sent into space should have — for better or worse — already alerted aliens to our existence and he plans to start sending messages next year.

So … hello, world.

rjgaydos@gmail.com

The Republican Party: Mean to the Bone

Saturday, July 1st, 2017

By Bob Gaydos

Trump signs a bill allowing the shooting of alaskan bear cubs, as they hibernate.

Trump signs a bill allowing the shooting of Alaskan bear cubs, as they hibernate.

In much the same way that a broken clock is correct twice a day, so did our narcissist-in-chief (NIC) stumble into a truism the other day when he described a “health-care” bill approved by the Republican-dominated House of Representatives as “mean.”

Why did our clueless leader suddenly think a bill he had only recently pushed for and extravagantly celebrated at the White House was “mean”? Surely not because almost everyone who knew anything about it except for Tea Party Republicans thought it was mean. That’s never bothered him before.

I suspect it had more to do with the fact that he needed the Senate, also run by Republicans, to also pass a health-care bill so he could brag about it again and he just happened to be in the room, sitting there like a broken clock, when someone said if there was any hope of getting a bill through the Senate it had to be different from the House bill, which was, as he subsequently repeated, “too mean.”

Those are the kind of simple words the NIC understands. Big. Great. Best. Bad. Fat. Lousy, Mean. He likes to use them. A lot. Mean is not good. It’s bad. People don’t like mean things. How is the bill “mean”? Nuance is another matter.

Well, the bill that was presented to the Senate by a 13-member, all-white, all-male, Republican-only task force was apparently only a tad less mean than the GOP House bill, which means most of the country still thinks it’s awful policy, as do a handful of Senate Republicans. Actually, a lot of Senate Republicans think it’s not mean enough. In fact, not enough Republicans like it for Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to bring it to a vote that would carry, so he put it off to allow for arm-twisting and bribing.

As he apparently demonstrated at a ballyhooed arm-twisting meeting with all the Senate Republicans at the White House, the NIC doesn’t know — or even care — how the bill works. He’s apparently confused about the difference between Medicare and Medicaid, stuff like that. No matter. Mean or not, he just wants a health care bill passed so he can have another Rose Garden celebration and thumb his nose at Barack Obama. That’s pretty much the entire Trump policy.

McConnell, for his part, resorted to his favorite weapon — bribery — to try to get 50 Republicans to buy in to the bill. That comes in the form of billions of dollars in local projects for Republican senators who might face difficult reelection if they vote for the still-mean health care bill.

Tell me that’s not an awfully mean way to conduct public policy. And to no purpose other than to give tax cuts to the wealthiest Americans so they will continue to fund campaigns and vote for Republican candidates who promise to cut taxes even more, to eliminate pesky regulations that force businesses to be accountable for any harm they do, and to remove all those “deadbeats” Rush Limbaugh rails about from the Medicaid, food stamps, unemployment and welfare rolls.

In other words, Republicans have totally lost the concept of governing for the public good. They have been against everything for so long they don’t know how — or seem to even care to try — to work with Democrats on creating useful legislation. I’ve been trying to figure out when “mean” became the Republican go-to word in policy. Maybe it was Ronald Reagan’s phony trickle-down spiel. The middle class and poor are still waiting for the first nourishing drops. A lot of them — many Trump supporters — are those supposed “deadbeats” of Limbaugh’s. Of course, they did have to suffer through a major economic disaster brought on by those rich individuals and corporations, who apparently didn’t have enough stashed away from the tax breaks so they had to simply cheat people out of their money. And they got away with it.

By the way, Republicans just voted to do away with an Obama regulation that required people dealing with other people’s money — brokers — to tell their clients what was in their best financial interests, not the brokers’. Bad idea, according to Republicans. Mean, I say.

Mean is slashing hundreds of millions from Medicaid, which pays for health care for 20 percent of Americans, including seniors in nursing homes, simply to cut taxes for those who don’t need it — the one percent. The very wealthiest Americans. Mean is cutting funding for Meals on Wheels and food stamps. Mean is promising coal workers that their dying industry will be revived while creating no jobs for them, but allowing coal companies to dump their waste into streams from which the workers get their drinking water. Mean is putting the Environmental Protection Agency, which protects Americans from such things as water pollution, under the direction of someone who wants to eliminate the agency.

Mean is looking to do away with hundreds of regulations that protect people from health and safety risks posed by unscrupulous cost-cutting minded corporations looking to improve their standing with shareholders. If Republicans want to take an object lesson about such short-sighted governing, they need only to look at the recent Grenfell Tower fire in London that killed 79 people.

The fire is believed to have been started by a faulty refrigerator and spread rapidly up the high-rise, fueled by a highly flammable exterior wrapping, called cladding, that is banned for use on high-rises in the United States, but which its maker is allowed to sell in places where regulations aren’t as stringent. In the aftermath of the deadly blaze, Arconic — formerly Alcoa — said it would no longer sell the cladding, which has a polyethylene core, for high rise projects anywhere in the world. The company makes a more-expensive, fire-resistant cladding. Grenfell is a public housing project whose residents had complained for years that there were no fire alarms, no sprinklers, no safety tests and only one stairwell.

Public housing. No safety features. Total disregard for safety regulations. Cheaper construction material. Years of complaining with no response from British politicians more concerned with helping businesses save money rather than protecting people’s lives. Mean.

Since Republicans took control of the White House and both houses of Congress, they have eagerly worked to erase safety regulations issued late in the Obama administration, including rules to keep coal companies from dumping waste in streams and denying federal contracts to dangerous companies. And it’s not just people who are the target of Republican callousness. The NIC recently signed a bill to allow the shooting of bears and wolves — including cubs — as they hibernate. Heartless.

This list could go on and on and undoubtedly will so long as Republicans, once the proud party of Lincoln, now seemingly a collection of mean-spirited individuals lacking in compassion and tolerance, have access to power. Trump is not really even a Republican, but party leaders have been cynical enough to try to use him to advance their cruel agenda.

It is an utterly depressing state of affairs that calls for new Republican leadership or a new party entirely. If you’re a Republican and are offended by any of this, that’s your problem. The rest of us are appalled. It’s your party. You are responsible for what is being promulgated and promoted in the seats of power in Washington. Your silence is tacit approval.

Like the clueless one said, “Mean.”

rjgaydos@gmail.com

‘Daddy Is an Idiot, but We Love Him’

Sunday, June 25th, 2017

By Bob Gaydos

Donald Trump and his happy family.

Donald Trump and his happy family.

“Daddy, to be honest, is an idiot. A lying SOB, too. A nasty drunk. As long as you praise him, he’s all smiles and charm. Disagree with him and he’s a bully, or worse. He likes to act like a big shot — ‘I’m the smartest guy at the office …,’ ‘the fastest runner …,’ ‘no one knows as much as me …’ ‘I really showed them …’ Yes, he’s somehow always late paying the bills, if he pays them at all, and he seems to owe a lot of people money. He’s not around much lately — busy I guess — but when he is he’s always telling us about how great it’s gonna be when we: a) get a bigger house; b) buy a new car; c) go on vacation; d) move away from this lousy neighborhood.

“We’re still waiting, but we know he’ll figure it out eventually because he’s Daddy and he said so. We love him.”

Welcome to another day in the life of a typical American family locked in the grip of massive dysfunction bordering on delusion. Actually, maybe they’ve already gone across the border.

Of course I’m talking about Trump. You know I’m talking about Trump. The only ones who don’t know I’m talking about Trump are members of the aforementioned family. The delusionals. They stuck with him before and they’re sticking with him now. He’s family. They’re stuck with each other. Hey, nobody’s perfect. “We gotta stick together or they’re gonna take away our jobs. Then our schools. Then our church. Then our kids. Then our guns. Then what’ll we do?”

“Don’t worry. Daddy will know.”

(But remember? Daddy’s an idiot.)

How do you survive in life when all your tools — morals, knowledge, social skills, sense of self, pride, compassion, ethics, economics, tolerance, honor, curiosity, courage, ambition, faith — have been conceived, nurtured and twisted in such a fashion that, although you know instinctively that up is not down, you agree with the head of the family anyway when he says otherwise and you defend him vigorously when others says he’s an idiot? To do otherwise, after all, is to admit your significant shortcomings in those areas and to invite the shame and ridicule you imagine you’ll receive for not recognizing reality. For not kicking Daddy out or leaving yourself.

That’s life with an abusive (often alcoholic) parent. Donald Trump’s America. The drug of choice in this case is applause, not alcohol, but the behavior is the same. Me, me, me. Predictably unpredictable. Trump’s diehard supporters are stuck with each other and with him — one, big, dysfunctional family, lies and betrayals notwithstanding. Indeed, to question Daddy is disloyal, to leave, a betrayal. And where would you go anyway? It is, after all, a scary world out there. Daddy said so. Many times.

Breaking away from any such family is no easy task. It’s who you are, after all, isn’t it? You and your brothers and sisters and cousins and aunts and uncles and … Heck, it’s like daddy told you — it’s your brand. “Us against the world.”

Breaking away from the family of Trump — acknowledging that he is a fraud, rejecting the brand — would take enormous courage. First of all, it would mean admitting you have been wrong all this time to have placed your trust in a man with no moral compass, no sense of duty, no trace of compassion for the less fortunate, no regard for the truth and a total lack of interest in anything that does not feed his ego. (Get him a beer!) To admit that, one would have to be a fool, right?

Secondly, it would mean learning an entirely new set of life skills and placing your trust in people who believe pretty much the opposite of everything Daddy has told you. Talk about scary. Besides, how can you be sure those people aren’t lying, too.

“Everybody lies. Don’t believe what the media say. They all lie to make money. Daddy knows. He used to be on TV. He was great. At least Daddy has the guts to stand up to the liars and fight to get what we deserve. Maybe he hasn’t gotten it yet, but at least he’s trying. He’ll come through for us eventually. He has to, doesn’t he?”

Of course, there are 12-Step programs for people who grow up in this kind of ill-functioning, mis-functioning, dysfunctioning household with an unpredictable, abusive, addictive parent at the head. But one has to first admit there’s a problem before those programs can help. Then, one has to be willing to change — to break the chains of denial and dependence on the parent and learn to live one’s own life. To be honest with oneself.

Rather than being the act of a fool, it takes a lot of courage to say, “Daddy’s an idiot and if I keep depending on him, excusing his behavior, I’m going to wind up an idiot, too. I have to face reality.” Sometimes, it take an intervention or a profound spiritual experience, a moment of clarity, for this to happen. Both have been known to work miracles and either one would be acceptable right now.

In the meantime, the key for the rest of the more-functional families in the neighborhood is to continue to recognize that the family down the block has an addictive idiot for a Daddy and that to try to tell them so is to invite insanity into your home.

rjgaydos@gmail.com

A 70-year-Old Rookie in the White House

Monday, June 12th, 2017

By Bob Gaydos

Trump says it ... Ryan excuses it: "He's new."

Trump says it … Ryan excuses it: “He’s new.”

“Give the kid a break; he’s new on the job.”

Of all the excuses Republicans have come up with for the words and actions of Donald Trump, leave it to feckless Paul Ryan to come up with the dumbest. And Ryan is two heartbeats from the presidency.

Ryan’s excuse (I paraphrased for emphasis) came, of course in response to questions about his reaction to the narcissist-in-chief’s (NIC’s) pressuring former FBI DIrector James Comey to drop an investigation of Michael Flynn, whom Trump had just fired as his national security adviser. “He’s a good guy,” Comey said the NIC told him in a private meeting. Testifying to a Senate committee, Comey said he agreed with Trump. But he also knew Flynn had neglected to mention several meetings with Russian officials while he was part of the Trump transition team. So, no, Comey, said, he could not “let it go.”

More to the point, Comey told the senators he was uncomfortable that the NIC had even asked the then-FBI director — traditionally an independent official — to drop an investigation and, furthermore, asked for a pledge of “loyalty” from him. All in private conversations. Inappropriate in spades. Possibly illegal.

Rookie mistake, as far as Ryan is concerned. To quote him precisely: “He’s new to government, and so he probably wasn’t steeped in the long-running protocols that establish the relationships between DOJ, FBI and White Houses. He’s just new to this.”

Is that an appropriate excuse for the president of the United States? Ryan was asked. Perhaps not, he acknowledged, adding, “It’s just my observation.”

FIne. Here’s my observation, Mr. Speaker of the House. I like to know that the person widely regarded as leader of the free world has at least some working familiarity with the rules of the road — the protocols of the office, diplomacy, a sense of history, the basic do’s and don’ts of the job. Also, respect for the law of the land. Stuff like that.

“Let’s Make a Deal’’ was a TV show, not a meeting of NATO countries. “The Godfather” was a novel, then a movie in which Marlon Brando asked a bunch of people for “loyalty,” but they weren’t in an Oval Office darkened by closed blue curtains, which, on other occasions, might afford a wary FBI director a place to try to hide from the NIC.

There are certain times when “he’s new on the job” doesn’t cut it. I recently underwent surgery for fractures of my left knee and right wrist. Same accident. The surgeons said they were going to perform the operations simultaneously, since they were on opposite sides of the body and they wouldn’t get in each other’s way. Only one anesthesia that way, they said.

Sounds good, I said. You guys ever do this before? I asked. Sure, the knee guy reassured me. Is he any good? I asked the nurses. He operates on the Mets’ pitchers, they said. OK, I said. No rookie. Knee and wrist are mending well.

A little more personal history from the other side of the issue. As a new court reporter early in my career I made what could have been a serious rookie mistake. After talking to the local district attorney about his most recent grand jury, I wrote an article about the indictments, including someone who was named in a sealed indictment. Sealed indictments are not made public so the people don’t know they have been charged with a crime. (For example, some reports have suggested the NIC himself has been named in a sealed indictment.)

“I think you may have broken the law,” the DA told me after he read the article in the paper. He was smiling, but I was mortified. My inexperience might have tipped someone off, blown the DA’s case … put me before a grand jury?

I was lucky. The DA had his guy and was understanding. He knew I was “new on the job” and had no malicious intent. Still, I was embarrassed and apologized profusely and paid close attention to the rules of the road from thereon. I did not deny or excuse what I had done. I learned a lesson.

This was in a small town in upstate New York, not in the White House. I was maybe 25 years old, fresh out of college, six months of infantry training and a year as a police reporter. Trump is 70 years old and, to hear him tell it, a successful man of the world. The artist of the deal. A brand name. President of the @#$%# United States!

His response to the Comey meetings? He went to Twitter to accuse Comey simultaneously of being a liar and leaking classified information, meaning the conversations. Apparently he’s not sure which desperate excuse would work. Mea culpa? Trump doesn’t speak Latin. Learn from a mistake? Trump was relentless in stalking Comey for ‘loyalty.”

That whole learning the ropes argument is, of course, just a way for Republicans to avoid admitting the man in the Oval Office is not only frighteningly unqualified for the job, but doesn’t seem to regard learning about it as especially important. And consequences? Not his concern.

The rookie president went to Europe to meet with our NATO allies. He figured he could shame them into spending more for defense. After much debate, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and other advisers managed to get a sentence included in Trump’s speech reaffirming the United States’ commitment to mutual defense — the core function of NATO. Trump left it out. On purpose. Out of spite.

Several days later, at a press conference with the president of Romania, which can’t afford to spend any more money on its military, the NIC said the U.S., of course, remains committed to NATO. But he had another surprise for Tillerson.

Just 90 minutes earlier, Tillerson had said the United States was willing to help negotiate in the escalating conflict in the Middle East with Saudi Arabia, Egypt and several other Arab nations closing borders and setting up blockades on Qatar, accusing their neighbor of supporting terrorist groups. Tensions in the region had become heightened after Trump, who is fond of dealing with the Saudis, also blamed Qatar for supporting terrorists, thereby taking sides, encouraging the Saudis to get more aggressive and, by the way, ignoring the presence of 11,000 American troops in Qatar, which is a major launch site for U.S. military activity in the region.

Tillerson’s comments about negotiating thus were seen as an effort to cool things off. Cover up for the rookie. Yet less than two hours later, Trump was again pointing the finger at Qatar.

I happen to think the Middle East is no place for a president to be learning the ropes. Yes, all new presidents have to learn things, especially in the area of diplomacy where blurting out whatever is on your mind is generally not a good idea. But, again, presidents’ words and actions have wide-reaching consequences. At the very least, someone who was serious about learning the job would seek — and take — advice from those with more experience. It’s a sign of maturity. He would admit misstatements. It’s a sign of humility.

If you’re a reporter, you don’t publish the names of people named in sealed indictments. If you’re a president, you don’t repeatedly ask the FBI director to “let go” of an investigation and ask for a pledge of loyalty and you don’t keep throwing your secretary of state under the bus. At some point, if you’re serious about the job, and especially if you’re a rookie, you study and read and discuss and learn. Maybe you don’t play golf every weekend — unless you’re really more interested in just playing at being the president, rather than doing the work.

Kind of like Paul Ryan playing at being speaker of the House.

rjgaydos@gmail.com