Posts Tagged ‘Bob Gaydos’

Trump Shakes, Rattles and Rolls

Thursday, November 16th, 2017

By Bob Gaydos

U.S. President Donald Trump smiles with other leaders, including Vietnam's Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc and President of the Philippines Rodrigo Duterte, as they cross their arms for the traditional "ASEAN handshake" in the opening ceremony of the ASEAN Summit in Manila, Philippines November 13, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

Donald Trump “smiles” with other leaders, including Vietnam’s Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc and President of the Philippines Rodrigo Duterte, as they cross their arms for the traditional “ASEAN handshake.” REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

It was almost painful to look at. That handshake. The apparently traditional one in which the world leaders attending the Association for Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) conference line up side-by-side, reach their arms across their bodies and shake hands with the persons next to them. Right hand to left side, left hand to right side. A little unorthodox, but heavy on symbolism.

The dotard-in-chief at first couldn’t figure out the logistics of where his hands should go and whose hand to shake. After flailing around for a few seconds, he finally got it. Then came the painful part. As he reached across his body for the hands of Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phu and Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, Trump grimaced as if in serious pain.

It’s obvious as you look at the photo that all the other participants are relaxed and smiling. Trump is straining, trying desperately as photographers continue to snap to look as if he’s smiling. The man can barely manage to hang on to Nguyen and Duterte.

All the stories I saw on the handshake called it “awkward.” Well, sure it was awkward. We’re used to awkward from dotard. But it was only the photographers who reported that he was grimacing, not smiling, as if it were a reach too far across a flabby, out-of-shape body.

Look, as far as I’m concerned the question of whether Trump is fit mentally, emotionally, intellectually, morally or ethically to be president was answered convincingly during the 2016 campaign and has been reinforced every day he has been in office. He’s not. Yet for some reason we’re still debating this. I’m tired of restating the obvious, which is why, I think, the handshake photo struck me.

In addition to all the above, the man is also physically unfit to be president. He actually winced as he reached for Duterte’s hand, which ought to be a fairly unchallenging physical feat.

Trump is obviously overweight. During the campaign his “doctor” reported Trump’s weight as 236 and height as 6 foot 3. A lot of people say he’s really 6 feet 2 inches tall, but that would change his Body Mass Index, moving him from merely overweight to obese and, well, that would simply be unacceptable.

Like exercise. Trump has famously said he doesn’t exercise because he believes everyone has a “finite” supply of energy and exercising uses it up. What can you expect from a guy who stared at the sun during an eclipse.

This is not nit-picking, people. The man is 71 years old and lives on a diet of fast food and red meat. He sleeps three to four hours a night. He watches a lot of television. He prefers to skip breakfast, but does wash his hair and check Twitter. He has one of the most pressure-filled jobs in the world, yet, unlike other presidents, he has not had a physical exam since taking office, at least not that we know of.

His only physical activity is golf, which is not particularly strenuous, especially since he rides his golf cart everywhere, including onto the green. (He also used a golf cart in Saudi Arabia while other dignitaries walked because he was “exhausted.”)

In a sense, Trump’s blithe disregard for his physical health is in the same vein as his demonstrated lack of interest in history, geography, economics, science, the Constitution, diplomacy, appropriate social behavior, the truth, business ethics, common courtesy and how government actually works. Add your own to the list.

The point is — and his loyal supporters who see the emperor well-clothed ought to really care about this — if he can’t manage his own personal health with all the imaginable resources in the world at his call, how can he be relied on to manage America?

Let me be clear. With Pence and Ryan in the bullpen, I’m not especially eager to have some physical ailment remove Trump from the Oval Office. (Again, one wonders why his supporters don’t care.) Actually, I see his denial of his basic health needs — and his secrecy about his physical condition — as just another symptom of his emotional unfitness for office. That should disqualify him. It isn’t so much that he doesn’t care as it is that he doesn’t seem to realize he should care, at least for himself and his supporters and family.

If he really wanted to make America great again, the dotard would set an example of something positive he’s doing. Take a walk. Eat some vegetables. But he’s got nothing. He body shames people, especially women, as if he has never looked in a mirror. Or, psychiatrists would say, maybe because he has looked in a mirror. One way or another, it’s always about him and whatever the subject is he alway thinks he’s the smartest person in the room. It’s the kind of attitude people like Vladimir Putin thrive on. That Republicans have allowed it to continue and sought to exploit it will be to their everlasting shame.

Here’s just a small example of how Trump’s disregard for his health and his responsibilities does not make America great again: A couple in Jacksonville, Fla., went to their elementary school to see their son receive a National Physical Fitness Award. Being bright as well as fit (he could probably handle the ASEAN handshake blindfolded), the boy immediately noticed the certificate was signed by former President Barack Obama, not Trump, even though it was dated May 23, 2017.

The family was upset, not over politics, but at the apparent lack of, well, attention to detail. Can’t the “best people” a president can hire get a simple certificate right? All things Trump being connected, it may well have something to do with the fact that the President’s Council on Fitness, Sports and Nutrition, which provides the coveted awards, still has no members and no chairperson after nearly 10 months under Trump.

Because, well heck, there’s only so much energy to go around.

rjgaydos@gmail.com

 

Facebook Has an Algorithm Problem

Wednesday, November 1st, 2017

By Bob Gaydos

facebook thumb downAlgorithms are cool. I get it. I mean, I get that they’re cool, not how they work. I like to think that, if I had to, I could probably work really hard to understand them, but I dropped out of engineering school to do this. No regrets.

In fact, writing about life in all its complexities has given me an appreciation for what people — real people, not some numbers-crunched algorithm people — have to deal with on a daily basis. It has exposed me to the value of compassion, compromise and common sense.

Our universal dictionary, Wikipedia, defines an algorithm as “an unambiguous specification of how to solve a class of problems. Algorithms can perform calculation, data processing and automated reasoning tasks.”

But they can’t, obviously, do ambiguous.

I’m thinking about algorithms because Facebook, an Internet empire built on them, recently said it was going to hire 1,000 people to review ads in response to the embarrassing revelation that users’ news feeds during the 2016 U.S. presidential election were awash in political ads run by Russians, undoubtedly using their own algorithms to target various groups in an effort to influence the outcome. Facebook said Russians bought about $100,000 in ads — with rubles — but apparently the social media giant’s algorithms detected no ambiguity afoot with Russians arguing to protect Americans’ Second Amendment rights or stirring up anti-gay feelings, not in Moscow, but in the American heartland.

Congress is investigating. That’s good. It should do something this year. But Facebook has more than a Russia problem. It has become the major source of news for millions of Americans, yet its news feeds have been shown to be awash in fake news. Lots of really fake news, not Trump “fake news,” which is real news.

Facebook — actually Mark Zuckerberg — is talking about becoming a more responsible source of reliable news information and hiring “content moderators” to review, well, content, and a lot of additional people to look out for violent content on the site. Swell. 

If you will permit me a self-serving observation, he’s talking about hiring people to exercise judgment over what appears publicly on Facebook because: (1) algorithms can’t think or feel like people and (2) this is how responsible newspapers have operated forever. Just saying.

In the interests of full disclosure, I also will say I have had my own personal experiences with Facebook algorithms. Recently, I received an e-mail telling me that an ad I wanted to run boosting a column on a Facebook page I administer was rejected because it had too much copy. It didn’t say the copy was boring or poorly written or even offensive. Just too much of it.

OK, I’ve had editors tell me the same thing, but I was also never prepared to give an editor ten bucks just to run the column. Oh yeah, the ad in question was proposed in July. I got the rejection e-mail on Halloween.

Then there’s the friendly way Facebook greets me every day with news of the weather in Phillipsport. “Rain is in the forecast today, Robert.” Thank you. If I Iived in Phillipsport it would matter a lot more, but it’s a half hour drive and there’s a big mountain range between us and my page unambiguously says where I live. Can’t the algorithm read?

But the incident that really convinced me that Facebook had an algorithm problem was its response to a complaint I filed regarding a post that was being sarcastic about the dotard-in-chief. I am guilty as charged of leveling (much-deserved) sarcasm at the Trump, but this cartoon had him in a coffin with a bystander saying to Melania, “‘Sorry about the assassination, Mrs.Trump, but he knew what he signed up for.”

As a “content moderator” for newspapers for several decades, I would never let such a tasteless, provocative, potentially dangerous item to be published. I told Facebook the same thing. I said they should delete it. It encouraged violence at a violent time in our history.

The algorithm replied that the post did not violate Facebook’s standard of, I don’t know: Acceptability? Appropriateness? Decency? Who sets this pathetic standard?

I use Facebook a lot. It has many wonderful benefits. But “automated reasoning” is not a substitute for good old, gut-instinct common sense. It’s the best way to connect people with people. Maybe people cost a little more than algorithms, but I think Zuck can afford it and there are a lot of laid off editors looking for work. If it’s not fake news that he’s serious about running for president some day, he’ll be glad he did it.

I’m also curious to know what Facebook says if I decide I want to pay to boost this post. I wonder if they’ll let me run a picture of Zuck. Can I even call him Zuck?

Stay tuned.

rjgaydos@gmail.com

Positive Vibes for Negative Times

Sunday, October 29th, 2017

By Bob Gaydos

good news jpgTrump to Puerto Rico: Drop Dead!

Trump to Americans struggling to afford health insurance: Drop dead!

Trump to North Korea: Drop dead!

Trump to the free press: Drop dead!

Trump to the LGBT community: Drop dead:

Trump to immigrants: Drop dead!

Trump to NFL players: Drop dead!

Trump to Iran: Drop dead!

Trump to pregnant war widow: He knew what he signed up for.

Trump to anyone who will listen: I am not a moron!

                                                         ***

In reply to my recent column on the Nibiru planet hoax and efforts to contact intelligent life elsewhere in the universe — maybe even set up a colony on Mars — my friend Ernie Miller commented: “It is nice you can maintain a positive outlook amidst the carnage and cacophony that is daily life.”

“Ernie,” I replied,“it ain’t easy.”

In truth, it has never been harder in the half century I have been writing about “daily life,” as it were.

As it is, today it is sometimes unbelievably depressing and infuriating to reflect upon the “carnage and cacophony” in which we are seemingly enmeshed. And writing about it? Everyone is writing about it. Social media is awash in it. Yes, actual factual information is vital, but that steady drumbeat of ignorance and arrogance at the center of most news stories today only seems to add to the great wall of negative energy engulfing our universal consciousness, making us act, if you will, as if we were all collectively unconscious.

Thank you, Carl Jung, for allowing me to misappropriate and mangle your theory for my own personal benefit. In my defense, my hope is that whatever bits of positive energy I can contribute to the greater consciousness can only be for the good of the collective universe.

So, here goes:

  • I’m getting a 2 percent raise in my Social Security check next year. That’s good news not only for me, but for millions of others who receive monthly checks (thank you, FDR) and who have not had a raise since 2012 because the government figured inflation wasn’t bad enough and the cost of living wasn’t going up so’s you’d notice. Some of us noticed. I could feel the vibe of 66 million recipients ripple across America when I read the story. It’s the first substantial raise in years. Most recipients are seniors over age 65, but some payments also go to the severely disabled and orphans. The average check is currently $1,377 a month, meaning next year’s increase will raise the typical payment by $27 a month. Listen, it’s a start.
  • We also learned that, despite the devastation Hurricane Maria visited on Puerto Rico, the Arecibo Observatory, made famous in the films “Contact” (Jodie Foster) and “GoldenEye” (Sean Connery), survived with what was called “fixable” damage and no casualties. This is positive news because Arecibo is a star in the search-for-life-in-the-universe universe. The radio telescope,  built in 1963, was the first to find planets around other stars, the first to provide an image of an asteroid and — back to Carl Sagan’s “Contact” — sent the famous Arecibo Message to M13, a cluster of bodies 25,000 light years away. The message informs any sentient beings who receive it who we are and where we live. Send us a text message. Of course, it’ll be at least 50,000 years before we get an answer, but it’s the sending that contributes hope to the universal consciousness. Arecibo’s radar has been called “by far the most sensitive planetary radar in the world” and the folks who fund it — the National Science Foundation — say it does “excellent science.” Alas, in this era of anti-science, an official at NSF says, what with the damage Arecibo did incur, “If you look at the overall sweep of things that we’re funding, we do have to make choices and we can’t keep funding everything that’s excellent.” Perish the thought. So, here’s looking at you, Arecibo, and here’s sending some positive vibes about you into the nearby universe.
  • Staying in Puerto Rico and the notion of doing what you can for the collective good, Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla, an alternative energy company, made the initial installment of his promise to restore the island’s power grid with solar energy. San Juan’s Hospital del Niño – a children’s hospital with 3,000 patients — has power again, supplied by a collection of Tesla solar panels in the parking lot. The Tesla Twitter account posted: “Hospital del Niño is first of many solar-storage projects going live. Grateful to support the recovery of Puerto Rico with (Gov.) Ricardo Rossello.” All kinds of positive energy here. Musk, of course, is also the one talking about establishing a colony on Mars and who’s willing to bet against him?
  • In an extraordinary example of quantum positive energy, a  hand-written note by Albert Einstein sold at auction in Jerusalem for $1.56 million. The note was written in November 1922, when Einstein, then 43, was in Japan for a lecture series. While in Tokyo, he learned he’d been awarded the Nobel Prize in physics. When a courier came to his hotel room to make a delivery, Einstein did not have any money to tip him, so he handed the messenger a signed note, written in German: “A calm and humble life will bring more happiness than the pursuit of success and the constant restlessness that comes with it.” A kind of e=mc2 for a peaceful universe. The message was obviously paid forward several times before someone realized what Einstein clearly knew at the time — a bird in the hand (a signed note from a Nobel laureate, say) is worth two (or even more) in the bush.
  • Chris Long, who plays defensive end for the NFL’s Philadelphia Eagles, is donating his entire year’s salary to improve educational opportunities in the United States. Long used his first six game checks to provide two scholarships for students in Charlottesville, Va., his hometown. He’s dedicating the remaining 10 to launch the “Pledge 10 for Tomorrow” campaign. “I believe that education is the best gateway to a better tomorrow for EVERYONE in America,” he wrote on Pledge It.  “I’m encouraging fans, businesses and every person with a desire to join in my pursuit of equal education opportunities for all students to make their own pledge.’ He hopes to double his pledge with this collective effort.
  • In a somewhat desperate effort to find some positive news, I typed “good news” in the Google search bar. Voila! The web is awash in other folks looking to add positive energy to the collective consciousness. Duh. Some of the above came from that search. It’s good to remember: We are not alone, even in the private universe of our anxious minds.
  • Speaking of synchronicity, hurry it up, Mueller.

rjgaydos@gmail.com

Fly Me to the Moon, Please!

Saturday, October 7th, 2017

By Bob Gaydos

Look! Up in the sky! Our ancestors.

Look! Up in the sky! Our ancestors. Nibiru was a no-show again.

Trump thinks he’s an emperor.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and about 70 percent of the country think the president is a moron.

Of that remaining 30 percent, a sizable portion believe Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, Maria and the earthquakes that rocked Mexico were god’s vengeance on humankind for (a) the mere existence of gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgender persons and (b) the idea that such persons should be allowed the same rights as “normal” people. Others in this group take it as fact that there were a pair of dinosaurs on Noah’s Ark.

This is by way of reporting, in case you missed it, that Nibiru once again failed to live up to its hype. This is not disappointing, but it is getting old.

If you somehow missed it, Nibiru is a “giant planet,” supposedly discovered by the Sumerians, which, according to one translation of ancient Babylonian texts, passes by Earth every 3,600 years to allows its inhabitants to interact with earthlings. NASA says it’s a hoax, but the prediction has evolved (or mutated) into Nibiru (also called Planet X), flying into or close by Earth, causing cataclysmic problems. That was supposed to happen in May 2003 and again in December of 2012. 

Also, Sept. 23 just passed. Missed again, although the “end of times” had been predicted by David Meade, a conspiracy theorist and self-proclaimed “Christian numerologist” who must have miscalculated, as did all those web sites dedicated to Nibiru.

It’s the interactive fly-by of Nibiru that caught my attention, though, not the hellfire and brimstone and rising tides theory. One would have to think that any celestial visitors these days would only have to slow down enough to take a peek at the headlines and decide to come back in another 3600 years when maybe we had our stuff a little better together.

Some people, however, are not willing to wait that long for contact with beings from elsewhere in the universe. Doug Vakoch is one of those. The president of METI (Messaging Extraterrestrial Intelligence) is moving along with announced plans to send messages to stars with planets thought to be capable of sustaining life. First transmissions are scheduled for next year, despite warnings from some noted scientists that in sending messages rather than just listening for them he may be inviting trouble in the form of nasty aliens, as portrayed in many science-fiction movies.

Vakoch and his crew of serious scientists dismiss those portrayals as the result of active imaginations and a situation for which we have no actual data. “One of the reasons people are so afraid of METI is that it seems riskier to do something than to do nothing,” he says.

Ironically, one of those who have voiced warnings about METI is Elon Musk, CEO of SpaceX. Musk is not the sit-around-and-wait -for-things-to-happen type.

Last month, as earthlings were breathing a sigh of relief at having been spared the wrath of Nibiru once more, Musk was in Australia at the annual meeting of the International Astronautical Congress moving up the deadline on his intent (some say pipe dream) to launch a manned mission to Mars. He’s talking 2024. Yes, seven years. Employing a really big rocket with lots of powerful engines, his plan is to launch two cargo missions to Mars in 2022 and four missions in 2024, two cargo and two with crews. Eventually, the goal is to create a colony, with the rockets transporting 100 people per trip.

Paying for his grand plans is always a question with Musk. He says he figures on building lots of rockets (smaller than his original plan) which can also be used to fly people to Paris or London or Tokyo instead of just Mars. He says his system could move people between any two cities on this planet in less than an hour, for an appropriate fee of course. People would be the payload on the Mars rockets, also. Investors welcome.

Closer to home, Musk says the really big rocket could be used to take people to the Moon. “It’s 2017, we should have a lunar base by now,” he said in Australia. “What the hell is going on?”

Well, sir, as stated above, the president (whose business advisory councils you quit and who named a climate-denier to head NASA) thinks he’s an emperor, the secretary of state thinks he’s a moron and 30 percent of Americans — some of whom think dinosaurs were on Noah’s Ark — are apparently still OK with all that.

So, Messrs. Musk and Vakoch, if you don’t mind, let’s get those rockets and inter-planetary messages going quickly, before the emperor declares war on Nibiru.

rjgaydos@gmail.com

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