Je Suis Paris: We Remember – Part II

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Today I continue to translate The Washington Post’s French language descriptions of those were brutally murdered by terrorists on Friday night in Paris.  To read the first installment, click here.

Mayeul Gaubert, 30:  “Gaubert was a 30 year old lawyer, AFP reported.  From the outlet: ‘Originally from Saône-et-Loire, he’d been working for five years for the startup company Cegos, where he was described as ‘funny, considerate, efficient, very professional.’  He died following wounds received at the Bataclan theater.  On his Facebook page, he had posted ‘I am Charlie [Hebdo].’”

Olivier Hauducoeur, 44:  “A Facebook post by ENSICAEN wrote of Hauducoeur: ‘An amateur runner, he had been working for a year for the Arval French classic car club, a subsidiary of BNP Paribas’ banking group.’”

Raphaël Ruiz, 37:  “Ubiqus, where Ruiz had worked for over 10 years, confirmed his death Monday, writing in a statement: ‘The Ubiqus community is in mourning.  He was 37 years old and was appreciated by everyone for his professionalism, devotion and immense gentleness.”

Vincent Detoc:  “Vincent Jeanbrun, mayor of L’Haÿ-les-Roses, where Detoc grew up, write: ‘All our condolences and all our wishes for courage go out to the family and loved ones of Vincent Detoc, child of L’Haÿ-les-Roses, unjustly struck down by the bullets of barbarians.’”

I encourage you to read the stories of all of those lost in the Paris terrorist attacks here.

Tomorrow:  When I wasn’t looking, my parents got old!

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Je Suis Paris: We Remember – Part I

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Warning:  Better get a box of tissues for this one.

On Tuesday, The Washington Post published photos and brief descriptions of those whose lives were tragically lost in Friday night’s terrorist attacks in Paris.  They were murdered during a metal concert at the Bataclan Theater, at restaurants, in bars and cafés, and in the street.  More power to the Post for telling each of their stories, one at a time.  You can read them here.

Many of the victims’ stories in the Post were provided by their families or drawn from information posted on Facebook and Twitter.  While some of these stories are in English, many are in French.  I encourage you to go read the English language accounts.  For those of you who do not speak French, I would like to make the victims’ stories accessible by providing some translations here.  Disclaimer:  My French is far from perfect, but I will do my best to convey the essence of the message.  I take full responsibility for any errors.

Armelle Pumir Anticevic, 46:  (Her husband, Joseph, speaks about how he and his wife were separated at the Bataclan Theater): “When the first policemen arrived, Armelle said to me ‘Come on, let’s go.’ We weren’t far from the exit.  Armelle was behind me, everyone was rushing to get out.  She fell.  I thought that she had tripped over a dead body.  I picked it up the corpse, I carried it.  But on arriving close to the door, a cop grabbed me by the arm and I had to drop it.  Damn!  I never saw Armelle again.”

Baptiste Chevreau, 24:  “According to France Bleu, Chevreau was originally from Tonnerre and the grandson of singer Anne Sylvèstre. ‘This young man did his schooling at Tonnerre.  His passion was music, he participated in the activities of the conservatory and was going to find work in a music school in Paris.’”

Cécile Misse, 32:  “The Suresnes Jean Vilar Theater confirmed Misse’s death in a statement posted to their website.  The theater wrote: ‘For us, she will remain forever a magnificent example of devotion, involvement, enthusiasm and rare professionalism.  We will never forget her as we continue, together, to pursue our craft.’”

Christophe Lellouche, 33:  “Libération quoted a friend, Florian Giraud, who described Lellouche as a composer, musician and sports fan. ‘We met because we were both fans of OM.  I knew him for his sense of humor and the way he enjoyed joking around.  When I met him, I was surprised:  He who had trashed lots of people on Twitter was actually a fine person.”

Cédric Gomet, 30:  “Patrick Simonin, a colleague at TV5MONDE, posted to Twitter: ‘The staff of @TV5Monde gather in tearful pain in that one of its own, our friend Cédric Gomet, was cut down at the Bataclan.”

Hyacinthe Koma, 37:  “Just ask anyone about him and they’ll tell you he was ‘a love,’ ‘the essence of gentleness.’  He had a wry sense of humor and a ready smile, he was a friend.  This was a simple person whose presence was always sweet and comforting.”

Madeleine Sadin, 30:  “Sadin’s death was reported by Le Parisien, where she was described as a lover of rock, swing, and above all, her profession of teaching.  ‘For two whole days, her young students wrote RIP over and over again on social media. “Shocking,” “sad,” “horrible” were their reactions.  Some just couldn’t find the words.  Others went right out on Saturday to display a flower or a candle to pay their respects as soon as possible to this ‘incomparable’ teacher.’”

Marion Jouanneau:  “Jouanneau’s uncle, Frédéric Potier, spoke with L’Écho Républicain: ‘Marion Jouanneau was a young woman full of plans.  She was going to leave to continue her studies in New York.  It is her French youth and vigor that we loved and of which we are so proud.  She leaves a saddened family and a younger sister, age 23, for whom she was a role model, her uncle insists.’”

Pour être continué . . . (to be continued)

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The Joy of Receiving

For quite some time now, the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants has hosted a website,, that is devoted to promoting savings and planning for retirement and other personal financial goals. I have a vague recollection of hearing about this site some years ago, but it again came to my attention recently due to a billboard posted in our neighborhood. The message on the sign (and I paraphrase) read “Be the rich uncle that you always wished you had.”

This is wrong on so many levels that I don’t know where to begin. It calls up a visceral reaction in my gut that makes me want to scream.

Allow me to start by saying that I do believe in the importance of saving a portion of one’s income “for a rainy day.” I get it that the AICPA is trying to encourage Americans to save, something that very few of us do on a regular basis. I see this as a laudable goal, but I also think they are utter fools if they believe that billboards like this one will change anyone’s habits.

Giving and saving are two things that are near and dear to our hearts. My wife and I tithe 10% of our income to worthy causes, such as our local food banks, and to family members in need, of which there are unfortunately more than a few at this time. At the holidays, we always end up giving extra, which is something we plan for during the year. And, yes, we do save our pennies. Literally. We have a canister for collection of stray pennies and a “change up” for collection of nickels, dimes and quarters. In summary, the message of the importance of savings is not lost on us. Nevertheless, I find the AICPA’s sign offensive.

I realize that we are entering that time of year known as the season of giving, but I believe that signs like the one I saw posted fail to acknowledge the important of receiving. Remember that in order to give, someone has to receive. I was reminded of this recently when we tried to give a few bucks to our niece. She is only 19 years old and having a rough time of it, what with having a 3 year old daughter and a job that recently cut her hours back to three days per week. Nevertheless, I could see that we were making her very uncomfortable by trying to press a twenty into her hand. We knew she needed it and she knew she needed it, but that doesn’t change how awful we feel when we’re reduced to a position in which we need to rely on the charity of others. We all want to be self-sufficient. Years ago, I saw a poster emblazoned with the logo “poverty sucks.” ‘Nuff said.

Squirming is a natural reaction when on the receiving end of largesse. I think this goes beyond the sadness that is bound to accompany acknowledgment that we are in need. It is indicative of the fact that Mom and Dad never taught us how to receive gracefully. Most of us were taught “to give is better than to receive.” The moral imperative of this statement aside, certainly it is preferable to be in a financial position to give rather than to be in such straits that we need to put our hands out. But it is not possible for us to give unless someone is willing to receive. Giving and receiving are two sides of the same coin, and I cannot put that coin into your hand unless you are willing to receive it.

I know what it is like to get laid off, to be unemployed for a year and to have to spend down savings and rely on family and Food Stamps to get by. I know what it is like to stand in line for hours to receive a U.S. Department of Agriculture food handout. I’ve been there, folks. And if this economy doesn’t improve sometime soon, I may be there again. In the meantime, however, we do what we have learned to do best: Saving and giving.

But please, please, do not tell me to be the rich uncle that I always wished I had. There is no substitute for having a generous relative and being one yourself is not the same thing at all. Remember, when you are on the receiving end of someone’s generosity, you are allowing that person to bless you. Conversely, if you are unable to accept gifts gracefully, you are preventing someone from blessing you. Think about that next time someone tries to do something nice for you and you feel weird about it.

I’m sure most of us do wish we had rich uncles to bankroll our every whim, or even to grant an occasional wish. There is nothing wrong with this. Unfortunately, most of us don’t have this opportunity. Still, it is just fine to daydream about it. There is no shame in receiving or in wishing you could receive. Giving has its own rewards, but it can never compare to being on the receiving end of your heart’s desires. Generosity is lovely, but it can never substitute for the joy of receiving exactly what you always wanted. Hence, all those prettily wrapped boxes under our Christmas trees.

Not all of us can be the rich uncle, but all of us can experience the thrill of receiving, whether from a rich uncle or just from our neighbor. And that is nothing to be ashamed of.
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Pardon Me, Turkey


The Vegan Files

You know it’s getting close to Thanksgiving when memes like this one get passed around online.  I suppose the intent is to cause the viewer to laugh at such a preposterous proposition.  You’re dead, turkey!  I want to see you plucked, stuffed, roasted and on a platter for my personal enjoyment!  That’s right, I want you dead so that I can carve you up and enjoy eating your rotting flesh.  The fact that you want to go on living, associating with others of your kind and raising future generations of birds means nothing to me.  Tofu??!! Yuck!

It would be particularly sad if I thought that we had no regard at all for our fellow creatures.  I know that this is not true because of the billions of dollars each year we spend on our pet dogs and cats.  Even when it comes to turkeys, each year the president “pardons” two of them to live out their lives well taken care of on a farm.  A couple of years ago, I read that this farm is in West Virginia and that the birds seldom survive for more than a few months past the date of their pardon.  This is because commercially raised turkeys are fed a diet designed to increase the size of the breast to grotesque proportions in order to satisfy consumer demand.  While there is such thing as free-range turkeys, for the most part, the birds are raised in tight spaces that prevent them from moving around much so that they can be fattened up that much faster.  By the time they are ready for slaughter, they are so large that they can barely move even if they wanted to.  They are so unhealthy that they are beyond benefitting from the freedom of a farm and veterinary care.

Whenever I hear that the president is getting ready to “pardon” two turkeys, I hope that perhaps he is referring to certain members of Congress.  Certainly the turkeys have done nothing wrong that would cause them to require a “pardon.”


The other theme of the meme above has to do with tofu.  How laughable that a turkey should plead for its life by asking us to eat such disgusting stuff instead!  While I know numerous people who profess to dislike tofu, the unfortunate fact is that most Americans (with the possible exception of those whose moms engaged in traditional Asian cooking) have never even tried it.

The turkey is right that tofu is “really good.”  While much has been written about the possible health dangers of eating too much soy (we won’t talk about the firm connection recently made between eating meat and colon cancer), the fact remains that it is a solid source of protein and one that requires much less of a carbon footprint to produce than, say, poultry.  Plus, tofu doesn’t have bones to deal with, doesn’t have a carcass to dispose of once picked clean, and doesn’t need to be roasted for hours (or fried in peanut oil, a cause of multiple house fires each Thanksgiving).  My own favorite thing about tofu is that it has a very mild flavor and goes with anything.  Even if baked in the oven, it doesn’t stink up the house.  I am not much of a cook, so I most often prepare tofu by simply dicing it and serving it over baked potatoes with carrots or spinach.  I also like it in soup, what I call “faux pho.”  And, yes, I have been known to eat it straight out of the package.  Sure, there are fancy faux turkey roasts, but the great thing about tofu is that you don’t have to cook it if you don’t want to.  If you like it hot, slice it and heat it in the microwave or dice it into an oil-coated pan with some mushrooms or broccoli.  Otherwise, toss it onto a salad and eat it cold.  Its diversity can’t be beat, and I like the fact that, if I haven’t prepared any lunch one day, I can throw a package of tofu into a bag with some bread and fruit and I will have a protein-packed, satisfying meal.

But back to the turkeys.  My father is quick to point out that almost all turkeys currently alive would not exist at all if they weren’t commercially raised for slaughter and thence the freezer case at your local supermarket.  This fact seems to me a lot like playing God.  We get to decide when they live and when they die.

When my little grandniece was visiting with us last week, I began singing Christmas songs with her.  “It’s not even Thanksgiving!” my wife noted.  “But I don’t know any Thanksgiving songs,” I protested.  Later, while my grandniece and her cousin were running amok in Chuck E. Cheese, I repeated the story to my sister-in-law.  She admitted to knowing only one Thanksgiving song:

Gobble gobble gobble, fat turkeys, fat turkeys
Gobble gobble gobble, fat turkeys are
We’re not made for living
We’re made for Thanksgiving
Gobble gobble gobble, fat turkeys are we.

(With thanks to Ghost Academy for confirming the lyrics)

Suffice it to say that I will not be singing this song with my grandniece.  “We’re not made for living?”  Seriously?  If you’re not going to treat your dog or cat like a mere thing that you can kill and dispose of at will, I question how you can countenance doing the same to a cow, pig or turkey.

To make things worse, I hear that the above ditty is sung in schools, thus indoctrinating children into feeling nothing when it comes to our fellow creatures.  Surely, there is a more compassionate Thanksgiving song about the Pilgrims and the Native Americans together giving thanks to God over maize and yams?  (Notwithstanding the fact that the ready availability of deer indicates the likelihood that venison was also on the menu.)

Too bad those landing at Plymouth Rock did not bring tofu across the ocean with them.

While it is unfortunately a myth that Ben Franklin wanted the turkey to be our national bird (he actually referred to the bald eagle as “a bird of bad moral character”), I love the story and wonder whether, if true, perhaps we’d eat roasted eagle with gravy and cranberry sauce at Thanksgiving.  That is, if we found a way to force-feed the eagle and sing that it’s not made for living, just eating.

Tomorrow:  The Joy of Receiving

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Sorry is Not Enough

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I’m one of those voters who used to be known as a “bleeding heart liberal.”  Despite the fact that the world’s gone insane, I am unable to harden my heart to the pain suffered by others here in the United States and around the world as the result of senseless tragedy.

When I was young, it was the downing of Korean Airlines Flight 007.  Five years later, it was Pan Am Flight 003, known as the Lockerbie air disaster.  The former has been attributed to remnants of the Cold War, the latter to international terrorism.

Then disaster reached our own shores.  There were the school shootings, starting in the ‘90s with Columbine.  Then came the horror of my native New York City being torn apart at the seams.  After 9/11, I thought I’d seen it all.

Sadly, we picked right up with the mass murder at our schools.  Virginia TechSandy HookUmpqua Community College in Oregon.

This year, freedom of the press and freedom of speech came under attack with the Charlie Hebdo murders.  Then a jet full of vacationers returning home from the seaside is bombed out of the sky over the Sinai.  And now terror in the streets of Paris.  At least 132 dead, 77 survivors in critical condition.

Here in northern California, as everywhere else, we are far from immune.  You may not hear about the “little” local tragedies, but they arguably affect our communities even more than the major events that occur thousands of miles away.  This time last year, a couple from Utah drove into town and went on a rampage that included the killing two of our police officers.  Earlier this week, we locked the doors against the sirens that wailed throughout our neighborhood.  A few blocks away, there was a robbery, shooting and hostage-taking.  The SWAT team came out, and some streets were evacuated, residents being sent to the local elementary school to wait it out.  Then, Friday night, a local high school football player was killed in a drive-by shooting about a mile from here.

Tragedy, large and small, seems to be a fact of life in modern times.  There are days when I think that all we can do is be there to support those left to pick up the pieces, from emergency personnel to the families of the victims.

That, of course, is the bottom line.  Don’t let the steady stream of violence, tragedy and disaster in the news inure you to the real costs of these events to our society.  For every horror that you learn about on TV, in newspapers or online, there is a community that will never be the same again.  Remember that every victim is someone’s daughter or son, brother or sister, mother or father.

I thought about this while watching the debate between Democratic candidates O’Malley, Sanders and Clinton on Saturday evening.  The basis of our Western civilization tends to be reactive in nature.  We believe that everyone is innocent until proven guilty, that everything will be alright — until it isn’t anymore.  However, going through tragedy after tragedy ad nauseam begs the question of whether it’s enough to merely be reactive.  Perhaps I need to change my mindset that all we can do is be there to mop up the mess.  Perhaps the time has come to be proactive, to say hey, we’re sick and tired of this and we’re not going to take it anymore.  To realize that it’s time for our leaders to be proactive instead of reactive, to prevent those intent on terrorizing the citizens of the world from committing their murderous deeds.  It is heartening to see France taking forceful steps in this direction.  It is encouraging to see Germany offering the full assistance of its military resources.  And yes, we here in the United States, along with the rest of France’s allies, must do our part to help with the effort.

If we can’t pull this off, we will remain right where we are today, stuck in a time warp where all we can do is send condolences to the mothers and fathers who have just lost their children and to the children who have just lost their mothers and fathers.

Not being a military man, I don’t know what this will involve.  But it seems that it must start with improving our ability to obtain critical intelligence.  And so, presidential candidates, at the next installment of the debates in December, I’d like you to point out which one of you is up to the challenge.  Some are saying that Paul, Trump and Sanders lack the fortitude to do what it takes.  I must add Clinton to this list, who proved by her mishandling of the Benghazi crisis, that she falls woefully short of what Hemingway referred to as “grace under pressure.”

I already know that all of the presidential candidates, Democrat and Republican alike, are very good at showing up at the scene of tragedy and saying “I’m sorry” to the families of the victims in a heartfelt sound bite.

“Sorry,” however, is no longer enough.


Tomorrow:  Consider the turkey, a bird well esteemed

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That’s Disgusting!

chatter teeth

I am a second-hand television watcher.  By this, I mean that it is extremely rare for me to turn on the TV with the intent of watching a show (except an occasional dose of ANW, which counts as a guilty pleasure).  My tube watching generally consists of what I happen to see while sitting in restaurants or what I notice out of the corner of my eye while online at the kitchen table.  My wife, who works from home, generally keeps the TV on for background noise; I do my writing and reading while plugged into ear buds, lost in my own world of the finest music of the ‘70s and ‘80s.

Recently, however, while visiting my niece’s house for one of the kids’ birthdays, I found myself plopped on the sofa in their living room, directly in front of their big screen TV tuned to, of all things, Food Network.

While munching on chips and salsa, I got to witness the spectacle of three Chopped! competitors making their best efforts to prepare an “impossible” dessert out of a food basket filled with four wildly incongruous items.  In this particular case, the laughable basket contained:

  • “apple teeth”
  • gum drops
  • durian cookies
  • nacho cheese flavored chips

I must admit that I had never heard of apple teeth before.  They look somewhat like a cartoon rendering of a pair of dentures, perhaps the kind that wind up with a key to set them a-chattering.  I had to look this up online to find out whether they are really made of apples, and it turns out that they are!  I have no idea why the basket couldn’t have just included a few nice looking Red Delicious or Jonagolds.  Then again, I suppose that would not have been weird enough for this show.  Like any other reality show, the idea appears to be spectacle.

I know what durian fruit is, but I had never heard of them made into cookies.  The package shown looked just like regular vanilla wafers to me.  However, I know better.  Durian is a popular fruit in many southeast Asian nations, including Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore.  Known for its thorns and its odor, the durian has been called the smelliest fruit on earth.  I will spare you the gory details, but if you’re interested, you can read some graphic descriptions of the durian’s odor here. Let’s put it this way:  The durian is banned from hotels and public transportation in most of Asia.  The odor of a ripe durian is known to linger long after the fruit is consumed and the husk discarded.

In consideration of the above, I came to the conclusion that the producers of Chopped: Impossible were truly putting the screws to the competitors.  Hopefully, the excessive processing that goes into the manufacture of a commercially produced confection left the infamous odor far behind.

Which leaves us with sickly sweet gum drops and cheese flavored chips.  All in all, a rather disgusting combination.  I wasn’t surprised to see most of the contestants crushing and crumbling everything from the chips to the durian cookies to the apple teeth.

All three dishes came out looking roughly like a manic version of an apple crisp or brown betty.  I can only imagine what they tasted like.  I thought of my father, who always enjoyed apple pie with a slice of cheese on top.  Perhaps this is the general gist of apple teeth and nacho chips.  Assuming the durian smell was long gone, it may even have been edible.

I believe the point of this show is to highlight the resourcefulness and creativity of the competitors.  Accordingly, if the producers are reading this, I’d like to suggest that the basket for their next impossible dessert challenge contain (drum roll, please): dill pickles, Laffy Taffy, Oreos and lutefisk.

I’ll be running away now, thank you.

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So I’m a Vegan. How Do I Explain This to a Teenager?

The Vegan Files

My teenaged niece has expressed interest in learning about the vegan lifestyle.  As honored as I feel, I’m not sure I even knew that being a vegan is a lifestyle.

I recommended a book.  I told her about some websites.  But it turns out that she wants to know more about the reasons that I’ve committed myself to such a “difficult” way of life.  I am flattered that I’ve made such an impression, but I find myself at a total loss for what to tell her.

When we were together at a church event a few weeks ago, I told her a little bit about what factory farms do to chickens.  She just stared at me, clearly horrified.  The experience gave me chills.

It’s true that just out of sight are the bloody slaughterhouses that bring us our steaks, burgers and chicken.  It’s true that nursing calves are routinely separated from their mothers, that cows are kept pregnant constantly to make more beef and dairy cattle.  It’s true that it’s all about money.

Yes, I want my niece to know about these things, but this is not how I want to explain why I am a vegan.  She thinks that it must be so hard to give up things like Big Macs, beef tacos, cheese and ice cream.  But I don’t want her to think that doing the right thing means making painful dietary sacrifices.  On the contrary, I want her to see that, for me, being a vegan is an act of love.

At work this morning, I overheard a conversation between two young ladies that went something like this:

“Are you still on that vegan diet regimen?”

“Yes!  And it’s been a whole week!”

I grinned and kept walking.  There it goes again, I thought, the association of vegans with martyrdom and exceptional will power.  If only they knew how easy it is, I thought, as I heated up my lunch of veggie dogs smothered in soy cheese.

Later in the day, we held a going away celebration for a retiring coworker.  An enormous sheet cake covered in billows of whipped cream was presented.  I was offered a slice by several people and I declined each time.  No one can believe that I have the fortitude to resist cake.  Should I blow my cover and tell them that some of Duncan Hines’ cake mixes and frostings are vegan?  Should I let them keep thinking that I have the superhuman power to avoid sugar?  Or should I let them in on the secret that Oreos are vegan and so are the heavenly oatmeal raisin cookies sold by Trader Joe’s?

Last year, I stayed away from the company’s Thanksgiving pot luck, knowing that it would be very uncomfortable having everyone comment on the fact that I wasn’t eating.  This year, I plan to attend.  Now that I’ve been there for a while, many of my coworkers know that I’m a vegan.  I don’t think anyone will bat an eye when I show up with my own food in a little plastic container.  I will spoon it out onto a plate, grab a drink and sit down to eat with my fellow employees.  And I will undoubtedly endure a chorus of “Ooo, what’s that?  I didn’t see that on the buffet.”  That, mes amis, is tofu with mushrooms.  If you dare make a face, I will recount the gory details of where your drumstick and white meat came from and make you barf.

Sigh.  This is definitely not the idea that I want to relay to my young niece.  She might go vegan one of these days, or perhaps she won’t.  If she does, she’ll have plenty of time to experience the prejudice, the stares, the incredulity and the explanations that vegans are called upon to give over and over and over again.

For now, however, I’d like her to know that for those of us who love this planet, for those of us who love our bodies, for those of us who have an ounce of compassion, for those of us who give a damn, being a vegan is the only rational choice in an increasingly insane world.

Tomorrow:  Certain food combinations are just disgusting!

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Bernie and Donald

Bernie SandersDonald Trump

Photo credits:  Sanders, Wall Street Journal; Trump, NBC

A couple of weekends ago, while out to lunch with some of the family, my teenaged niece mused that she really ought to pay more attention to politics.  My guess is that she’s hearing a lot about the upcoming U.S. presidential election.  It would be hard not to, even though it is still a year away.  I smiled and nodded, unwilling to admit my own ignorance on the subject.

I suppose ignorance is a relative thing.  It’s not as if I can’t name the front-running Republicans and Democrats, but I’d have a hard time telling you what their positions are on the issues.  My education in this area is decidedly hit or miss, primarily limited to what I read in the Washington Post on my phone during my lunch breaks at work.  And I know that I don’t retain much of it.

Politics seems such a strange subject in America.  For example, it is said that religion and politics are the two subjects that should never be discussed in polite company (didn’t sex used to be part of that list?).  The point, I think, is that political disagreements can drive wedges between neighbors, friends, business associates.  While many don’t care a whit about politics, others have very strong opinions and feel compelled to argue the correctness of their positions.  Discouraging conversation on the issue, however, would indicate that most of us are so closedminded that we are unwilling to listen to the merits of other positions and decide for ourselves.  I am not so sure that I believe this.

Perhaps it is my legal training that has made me perfectly amenable to entertaining contradictory ideas on a subject.  As I’m fond of saying, there are usually more than two sides to every story.

In light of the above, it should come as no surprise that I am admirer of both Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders, presidential candidates who are arguably positioned at least six standard deviations apart on the political spectrum.  I see good and bad in everything.

I can’t ever recall having voted for a Republican for president in my decades of going to the polls.  However, they say there’s a first time for everything, and, for me, 2016 might be just that.  If, as expected, Hillary Rodham Clinton sews up the Democratic nomination, I expect to support Mr. Trump should he emerge as his party’s standard bearer.

The usual arguments against Clinton seem to have struck a chord with me.  Between her handling of Benghazi, the despicable email scandal and my repulsion with political dynasties that make us look like a Third World country, I simply can’t stomach the thought of a Clinton presidency.  The choice of Clinton disappoints me not only because I have heretofore been a diehard supporter of the Democrats, but also because I think it would be wonderful to have a woman as chief executive.  I have long admired Margaret Thatcher, Angela Merkel and Vigdis Finnbogadóttir (former president of Iceland), and I think the time has come for the United States to break the male stranglehold on this particular club.  But not with Hillary Clinton, dear God.  Carly Fiorina?  I’m listening.

I fully plan to vote for Bernie Sanders in the Democratic primary even though I am quite aware that I will not have the opportunity to vote for him in the general election.  Many who, like me, “feel the Bern,” insist that it is still quite early and that anything can happen in the twelve months between now and the election.  I believe they are deluded.  While I pray that they are right, I believe that a Sanders nomination would require nothing short of a miracle.  I doubt that he can even win the Feb. 1 Iowa caucus, despite the fact that he’s campaigning so hard there that he’s about ready to be declared an honorary Hawkeye.

Much has been made of Sanders’ self-characterization as a democratic socialist.  For some, “the S word” is anathema that they continue to incorrectly associate with communism.  While I find the term to be unfortunate, I believe that labels are best applied to bottles, not people.

I believe that Bernie Sanders has his head in the right place.  I believe that he truly loves America and its people.  His support of environmental causes, income redistribution, and access to college education and health care for all place us squarely on the same page.  I’m not exactly a cockeyed optimist, however.  I realize that, were Sanders president, he would have a hell of a time with Congress and the Supreme Court.  Then again, isn’t that what the Founding Fathers had in mind when they engineered the separation of powers between the branches of the federal government?

Which brings me to The Donald.  I have doubts as to whether he can secure the Republican nomination, but at least he seems to have a chance, something that Sanders lacks with the Democrats.  However, if he succeeds in the primaries and ends up running against Clinton, I will support him.  Like so many others, I like the fact that Trump does not mince words.  He seems to say what he believes, without regard to the fact that many may react disapprovingly.  I don’t agree with all of his ideas, but he strikes me as authentic.  Perhaps this is a product of his money and privilege.  And yet, I cannot overlook his success in business.  I admire the way that, in a recent debate, he deflected criticisms of his multiple business bankruptcies by retorting that there is no reason for him not to take advantage of the protections offered by the laws of the land.  That, of course, is how a successful business is run:  You make the most of the resources at your disposal.  I think we can do worse than to run the country like a business.  As I said, Carly, I’m listening.

As widely disparate as their approaches are, I believe that both Sanders and Trump are committed to creating maximum opportunity for the greatest number of people.  Sanders wants all of us to have access to health care and a college degree.  Trump says he wants all of us to have the opportunity to become rich like he is.  In some respects, they are taking different roads to get to the same destination.

So if the campaigns of Jeb and Marco, Ben and Carly, John and Chris implode in the coming months, I’ll be voting for Mr. Trump.

Unless, of course, Bernie Sanders pulls off the Vermont Miracle.

Tomorrow:  So I’m a vegan.  How do I explain this to my niece?

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Palabras Con Amigos

no es exit

I know the word “exit” is good in Spanish.  I have the proof:  Here it is on a Spanish sign in a restaurant!  Why won’t the Spanish version of Words With Friends accept it?

I’ve been playing Words With Friends on my phone for a couple of years now.  I usually have about a dozen games in progress at any given time.  Yes, I sneak in turns at work.  Yes, I check my games when I wake up in the middle of the night.  Yes, I play in the car on the way to work in the morning.

Alright, so I’m addicted.  Don’t judge.

Anyone know of a good 12-step group in northern California?

I play in very competitive rated Scrabble tournaments all over the west coast.  On some level, WWF (not the wrestlers) seems like a logical extension.  And yet, many of us Scrabbleheads won’t go near it.  Admittedly, it’s not for purists.  For what I assume must be copyright reasons, the values of many of the WWF tiles are different than those in Scrabble.  Plus, WWF accepts quite a few words that are not legal in Scrabble.  Words like FI and ZEN, for example.  And the “dirty words,” all perfectly acceptable in Scrabble, are no-gos in family-friendly WWF.  Well, except for shit.  I wonder how that one made it through?

Allow me to tell you about my current opponents.  In no particular order, they are:

  • A coworker from three jobs ago
  • A retired lady who used to work for me several years ago
  • One of my wife’s friends
  • A stranger named BigJo who has a Rottweiler avatar
  • Another stranger named 6Griffins
  • Someone named Daphne with whom I play in French
  • A woman named Mely from Argentina with whom I play in Spanish

So I play in three languages.  What’s it to ya?  You already knew I’m a strange one.

At least I speak French, unlike Nigel Richards, who won the Francophone Scrabble Championship in Belgium this year without understanding a word of français.  How is that possible?  He said he did it by memorizing the French Scrabble dictionary.  Go figure.

I didn’t say I speak French well.  But I can get by after having spent my teen years studying French in junior high and high school.  I even visited Paris once and found that I had no problem communicating at all.

Spanish, however, is another story entirely.  Not only do I not speak español, but I haven’t even imitated Nigel by memorizing the Spanish Scrabble dictionary.  Sure, I can order lunch in a Mexican restaurant (the poor employees try so hard not to laugh), I can ask where’s the bathroom and I once told a stranger soy perdido when I needed directions in Laredo, Texas.  I’ve gotten pretty good at reading the labels on cans in the grocery store, at least as far as distinguishing between proteína, grassa and carbohídrato.  I know some of the words to “La Bamba.”

This should give you a pretty good idea of just how very bad I am at my Spanish language WWF games.  One of my first problems was figuring out what to do with that maldito W.  That nasty little critter is worth 10 points in the Spanish game.  That’s because there aren’t any words in the language that use that letter.  Why should there be?  There is no “W” sound in Spanish.

Gradually, I discovered that the W can be used in Spanish to spell some international words that are pretty much the same in every language.  There is won (a monetary unit of Korea, or what does not happen to me at the end of any game played in Spanish) and there is watt (as in a unit of electricity, a thoroughfare here in Sacramento, or watt the hell am I doing playing in a language I don’t know?).  That’s about the sum total of my Spanish W knowledge.  All of my other attempts have bombed out.  I tried web (apparently, the word is la red), I tried war (it’s la guerra), I tried west (nope, it’s oueste).

Actually, that about sums up my strategy for playing Words With Friends in Spanish.  There are no “challenges” like there are in tournament Scrabble, so I can just try one combination of letters after another until I get lucky.  Throw it at the wall and see if it sticks, as they used to say back in the day.  If at first you don’t succeed, try again, try again, try again, grit your teeth, curse, hold yourself back from throwing the phone across the room because it cost $750 and you can’t afford to replace it.

Amazingly, I recently played my first bingo (play using all seven tiles in the rack) in Spanish WWF.  The word was melones.  Actually, I first tried an anagram, lemones, but then I remembered that the Spanish word for “lemon” is actually citrón.  No matter, I got my bonus points!

Of course, I finally got busted.  Mely, good sport as she is, tried to start a conversation with me over Zynga’s chat feature.  In Spanish, of course.  I was able to fake a few sentences before I had to sheepishly admit that no hablo español muy bien, soy gringo.

What really surprises me is that she still keeps playing with me, two Spanish games at a time.  I figured she’d stop at the end of our first few games, but nope, she keeps rematching me.  I guess I had it coming.  Serves me right for trying to be a big shot.

I’d better turn on the SAP function on the TV or start watching Univision or listen closely to the lyrics of all those unintelligible songs, replete with choruses of ¡ay, ay ay! that they pipe into Chevy’s Fresh Mex.

The ultimate irony is that I recently won my first game with Mel en español.

Su idioma es mi idioma.

Tomorrow on A Map of California:  Can a sane person support both Trump and Sanders?

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I drove down to the Central Valley to visit my octogenarian parents for a few days recently.  They live out in the country and generally spend their evenings watching TV, my father in the pitch dark of the spare bedroom, volume turned up to deafening decibels, my mother in the family room with all the lights on.  Sometimes they even watch the same show from opposite sides of the house.  Most often, however, my father is watching a documentary or drama (the more violent, the better), while my mother contents herself with BBC reruns or whatever reality show beams in clearly enough on one of the four over-the-air channels that my parents can pull in.

To my surprise, on this particular occasion both of them were sitting on the couch with their visitor.  And to my total shock, they settled on watching “American Ninja Warrior” on the Esquire Network.  At the same time.  In the same room.

For those who are not familiar, the show features well-muscled contestants who run an impossibly difficult obstacle course that seems to involve a lot of hanging upside down by the fingertips.  “Upper body strength” is what they call this skill.  Contestants get to shimmy up the salmon ladder one rung at a time, run up the warped wall and get clonked in the head by the propeller bar.  Losing one’s grip involves splashing down in the lagoon and then swimming for that Pom Wonderful towel.  This torture comes in four increasingly difficult levels, with no one having reached Level 4 until this year, when two contestants managed to make it all the way to the end.  The finale was thrilling, with Geoff Britten beating the clock in his long rope climb to hit the button.  After proudly announcing that he is the first American Ninja Warrior (which comes with a million dollar prize), Isaac Caldiero duplicated the feat, but even faster, causing Britten to lose his million.

As the hosts often mention, ANW is a United States version of the Japanese sport of saskei.  The Las Vegas finals course at the MGM Grand is known as Mt. Midoriyama, after the original Japanese location.  Someone needs to tell these people, who obviously don’t know the first thing about the Japanese language, that it is embarrassingly duplicative to call the place “Mount Midori Mountain.”  I write it off to ignorance.  What I don’t understand, however, is how the American version of this obstacle acquired the word “ninja” in its moniker.  My guess is that some manga fan decided that ninjas are cool, so why not?

So what the hell is a ninja anyway?  A Japanese warlord bearing a long, curved sabre?

The first time I ever heard the word “ninja” was in 1989 when one of my writer friends from New England informed me that the hottest new thing to hit the consumer market was called Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.  Books, movies, licensing deals for toys.  The whole nine yards.

Seriously, Dan?  Teenage?  Mutant?  Ninja?  Turtles, for God’s sake?


Yep, and they’re all named for Italian painters.

Wha?  Talk about mixing metaphors!  Reptiles, Tokyo and the Renaissance — you gotta know someone is getting rich.

I have to admit, however, that I still know as little about ninjas now as I did back then.  Then, while out to brunch the other day, I spied a little girl, maybe five or six years old, stalking the buffet tables in a pink T-shirt that proudly declared “I’m a ninja!  That means like you can’t see me!”

Despite being familiar with this particular pejorative speech pattern, I detest adding the word “like” to a sentence in willy-nilly fashion, particularly when it isn’t even surrounded by commas.  Once an English major, always an English major.

So, ninjas are supposed to be invisible?  I had to check this one out.  Wikipedia informs me that, in feudal Japan, the functions of the ninja included espionage, sabotage, infiltration and assassination.  Now I’m starting to see the mass appeal of larger-than-life military figures from the 14th century.  Apparently, the ninja captured the Japanese imagination hundreds of years ago just as it has done in America today.  Reading on, I see that, at least in folklore, the ninja had special powers, including invisibility, walking on water and control over the natural elements.  These types of super powers have been popularized in many cultures, with the latter two well-known by readers of the Bible.

A few weeks ago, one of my coworkers informed me that my workspace blatantly violates the tents of feng shui.  Why is that?  Because I face a wall and am unable to see people walking into my cubicle behind me.  I need to get a mirror, I was informed.  Then, if a ninja sneaks up behind me, I will see him and can quickly turn around and dispatch him with a throwing star.

Say what?

You guessed it:  I had to look up that one, too.  Apparently, a throwing star bears no relation to a shooting star.  While I’ve witnessed the latter zip across the night sky on many occasions, I now know that the former is a type of shuriken, a hand-held weapon designed more to injure than to kill.  Wikipedia tells me that the throwing star was intended to be a nuisance or distraction that injured the enemy when it was thrust at his eyes, face, hands or feet.

So it looks like, wherever I go and whatever I do, I’m going to have to get used to ninjas and their weapons, particularly since they’ve now infiltrated my workplace, my favorite restaurant and even my parents’ living room.

Note to self — Add to Christmas list:

  • Mirror
  • Throwing stars
  • Little plastic stand-up reptile kids with tortoise shells on their backs

No, Santa, I haven’t lost my mind.  Really.  It’s just that 14th century Japanese warlords are taking over my life.

Tomorrow:  The hazards of faking it in Spanish

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