Did the Mexican president blink in inviting Trump?

August 31, 2016

So after painting all Mexicans traveling north over our border with a broad brush and saying they were rapists and murderers and declaring he would as president build a wall at the border and make Mexico pay for it, and after becoming one of the most disliked gringos in all Mexico, presidential candidate Donald Trump is set to meet with the president of Mexico today (Wednesday) in private in Mexico City.

This just ahead of what is billed as a major immigration policy speech set for later in the day in Arizona.

In the past days his position on immigration seems to have been softening, although it is always unclear because of his offhand way of speaking and backtracking, and saying one thing and then another, either because he is not sure of anything or he just wants to keep people off track so he cannot be pinned down or to appeal to people of on each side of opposing views.

But if nothing else it is a good publicity stunt. And I guess Trump can say or would say the Mexican president, who has blasted Trump for his remarks, has blinked first.

One of my siblings reminded me the other day that everything Trump does is part of negotiating (and I thought that was half in jest because of all the nonsensical and outrageous things he says). But it could be that Trump thinks his crude and racist indictment of a whole people was just a clever negotiating tactic.

(And of course in his Trumpian way even when he was insulting the Mexicans out of one side of his mouth, he was praising them as some wonderful people out of the other side. Had he meant that there is just a Mexican criminal element like in all societies he could have and should have made that clearer, but he did not.)

Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto has reportedly invited both Trump and his opponent Hillary Clinton. No word on what Clinton will do and as of writing this it was reported that her campaign would not confirm whether she ever received an invitation. But she has not been the one insulting our southern neighbor.

A professional Mexico observer was quoted as saying the Mexican president and other government officials are just being realistic and want to find out what they might be facing after the November election.

The problem is that even if Trump were to hit it off with the Mexicans after all (not likely) and even if he were to stick to the script and come off as more moderate and more broadly acceptable in his scheduled Arizona speech, who could really trust or be comfortable after all the rude and outrageous things he has done these past many months — well his whole life?

And if he is always someone who is just negotiating and all his words just represent tactics, then who could ever trust or be comfortable with him?

When political satire and reality merge it’s scary…

August 30, 2016

It began as kind of strange and funny but it’s not funny anymore.

Two of the least liked people are vying to be President of the United States.

Barring some unforeseen scenario one of them will be our new president — the most likely now is Hillary Clinton, who has supporters who say they will vote for her despite their distaste or uneasiness with her (oh, wait a minute, much the same can be said for her opponent).

But Donald Trump, the only other realistic choice since third parties historically never make it, has proven to be someone with much nonsensical and sexist and racist bluster and surprisingly scant knowledge of his own nation or the world.

Mrs. Clinton does seem to me the safer of the two, being conventional, but boy does she carry a lot of baggage.

And if all of her past problems were not enough, her most trusted advisor, Huma Abedin, has a major distraction in that her notorious husband, one Anthony Weiner, an ex-congressman, has been sexting again, sending at least one (more I imagine) photos displaying his, well the same as his last name, to a woman not his wife, and to make matters worse, his son was in the photo with him. Okay, that is not Mrs. Clinton or her aide, but to be in any way connected with such a pervert is not good for a presidential campaign and like I say, is a distraction.

And then the email controversy keeps dogging Mrs. Clinton. Her and her using her private email with a private server in the course of her job as Secretary of State, with the possibility foreign entities would have access to confidential governmental information — heck even war plans.

And while she says she had no knowledge of the problem way back, emails now show that her aide, Huma, did (and of course with that Mrs. Clinton must have). Abedin advised all staffers not to use the Clinton email and their Blackberries when on a trip to Russia because it would not be secure.

Now I have thought much of the email fuss was much ado about nothing, but it won’t go away and Mrs. Clinton suffers because she tried to stonewall the matter instead of getting out in front of it and being forthright with the American people. Being forthright just is not in her DNA.

(I admit that early on I thought really nothing bad happened and that she should just say everything was fixed and go on, sticking to her story — but one, I did not know all the facts (she did), and two, as the old saying goes: once we practice to deceive…)

And then of course there is the whole Clinton Foundation thing and its connection with Mrs. Clinton’s term as Secretary of State — the implication that is it was pay to play — pay the foundation for favors from the secretary. If someone pays someone else or that someone else’s charitable organization and then gets special attention was that a bribe, just a coincidence, or the old dodge of paying for access not a direct favor (and what’s the difference in that anyway — both wrong or unfair)? And I have not read there is any solid proof of anything illegal, but it sure smells.

However, with all of her flaws, Mrs. Clinton is still much safer than the nonsensical and very dangerous demagogue and buffoon with Nazi tendencies Donald Trump.

Yes, Mrs. Clinton is not always candid, like most or all politicians, but there seems to be some truth and meaning to what she says. There is none of that from Trump. As I have written here before and as is evident to anyone who has even listened to him for a minute or two, he is quite capable in taking multiple stands on anything in one sentence. There is no meaning whatsoever to what he says.

Nothing he does makes any sense. I heard comedian Lewis Black say that with the Trump candidacy satire and reality have met and become one. Black says now anyone can do satire by just quoting Trump.

It would be nice then if we could all just have a laugh, but while I usually enjoy political satire, this is not funny. Trump has denigrated women, people of foreign origin, a disabled person, anyone he judges to be ugly, and he has done such dangerous things as suggest he would have the armed forces violate international law and kill families of terrorists, and he also says he would have our people engage in torture (which has been done to some extent but is both illegal and immoral). He has created ill will within and without the nation. Trump being president would be a disgrace to the nation.

One might just shrug and say that I don’t care for his politics. But I don’t see him as having any brand of politics, right or left or center, maybe just fascist, the latter of which is not really an ideology but a method to gain power for a small minority at the top, like one man or a cabal, by using fear and prejudice and intimidation.

And really in all of this I have said nothing new, I know.

What is there to say?

I’m fairly certain we will see our first woman president in November.

She may well get past her scandals and her problems with candor (or not), and I feel she does have the ability, nonetheless, to be a good president.

And yet I feel uneasy and disappointed that our political process can’t serve us up a better choice. But too late now.

If by some quirk or misfortune Trump were to be elected I’m not sure whether he would continue with his outlandish and dangerous behavior or settle down. I think he might find that Washington does not necessarily jump when the president says something. He might find that presidential power is severely limited when one does not have mainstream or inside-the-beltway support. And one must have support from his own party — Trump is light on that, even though he is the nominee.

(Judging from Trump’s wishywashiness of the past few days, I would not be surprised if he became quite malleable in the face of Washington inside forces and in an effort to maintain face adopted their line as his own all the time — and even that could be dangerous or undesirable, with the peoples’ will still being ignored.)

JFK suffered from lack of support by the Washington establishment while in office, even though in death he is legendary, and Jimmy Carter was elected as an outsider, and there could not be anyone more polar opposite to Trump than Carter, a god-fearing, moral man (even if he did tell an interviewer that he had lusted in his heart — hey he’s only human). But Carter’s presidency seems to be mostly viewed as a failure in most respects. He got the vote of the people but not the insiders. He never made it past his first term.

But my point was that saying things on the stump does not directly translate into action once in office.

We can only hope for the best at this point.

A long ways travelled in Spanish, a long ways to go

August 28, 2016

I’ve come a long way in my study of Spanish from the days I tried to impress a Spanish-speaking friend with my scant knowledge of the language. We were at a little restaurant and I said: “paso el tacos por favor” (actually thinking it meant pass the tacos please).

I was informed that it was more like: I want to spend some time with tacos.

And I am not trying to teach Spanish here, but I guess maybe I could have said: me pase el tacos por favor. But as it turns out paso (which at the time I thought only meant pass) is the first person singular of pasar, which means to spend time.

But I did not mean to go into a Spanish lesson here and please don’t depend upon me in any way — I’m a kind of perpetual beginner.

The point here, if there is any, is that in order to become fluent in any language you have to actually use it in the real world, and use it a lot, and I should add read it too. I mean that is why so many of us are not as good at the English language as we should be — many of us do not read as much as we should. Worse, when we do read, we may be reading stuff written by people who are not well versed in the language either. I know. I used to work at small newspapers. Some of the most illiterate people you ever met work there (I won’t say what I was). No, you have to read stuff that you feel comfortable might have gone through an actual editing process by people who knew what they were doing.

(Of course in literature, grammar rules are sometimes broken, but ironically you cannot appreciate that unless you know the rule in the first place. And the assumption is the writer knew he or she was breaking the rule. Literary license, as it were.)

And good English (or good Spanish) is not just good for impressing people, it is important in proper communication. I have been in the trucking world for two decades, and most of the memos I have ever read are full of errors, sometimes embarrassing but sometimes just wrong. I mean the memos say the opposite of what was trying to be said. One knows from logic they have to be in error — but still. I mean why were they written in the first place?

But of course I am off the subject here.

I first enrolled in a Spanish class in high school but I was way too immature. I had no concept that when you go into a different language you just can’t transfer word for word. And that’s kind of strange I think because I feel I have some aptitude for foreign language — I guess something I have developed since those days.

One thing in my own life that has persuaded me that learning a foreign language has value is that I have gone from resentment to appreciation and a better feeling about others. I used to resent the use of Spanish on my job. I felt people were trying to hide behind it, or use it to talk behind my back or actually in front of me without me knowing what they are saying — and that all can be true but it is not always. But once you learn some of the lingo it is kind of neat to feel you are included and once you let on you know some, you are not as likely to encounter that secret nefarious use.

I knew almost no German when I was in the U.S. Army in Germany so many years ago. It put me at a major disadvantage when travelling outside of the army life. I on a couple of occasions travelled with a German speaker – a fellow soldier who grew up in a German-speaking household in the states. Things were so much more fun and exciting with his use of German, that is until I started Speaking English — the mood changed. Funny how people in a foreign land expect their own language to be used (or is it?).

Getting out there and speaking your new language is the only way but it is tough. Two things come to mind: one, once you start talking to someone they tend to talk back and you tend to not understand a thing they are saying. Two: lots of times the foreign speakers actually prefer to speak in English, either because it is a hassle trying to decipher your rudimentary use of their language or they want to let you know they are educated and multi-lingual. But you can’t let yourself be put off by that. Because if you spend much time in a foreign language environment, and that can be right here in the USA as well as another country, you will have many opportunities to use the new language and will find it rewarding.

The best thing or a definite added advantage perhaps about learning a new language is it helps you improve your own.

I forgot to say that I took up Spanish again when I returned to college in my 40s, then it lay dormant for a long time, and I finally picked it up again a little when I went into the trucking world where there is so much of it, and then went much deeper into it when I first visited Spain a few years ago, and then way deep when I took an intensive month-long course in Madrid last year. But I am way behind and trying desperately to catch up. I’m going to Spain in a couple of weeks for my third trip. No school this time but I hope a lot of communicating and enjoying the culture.

But as I was saying, in studying a foreign language, especially Spanish, you learn so much about English, because you have to re-acquaint yourself with grammar rules and the parts of speech and so on. And they take on more of a meaning because when you learned your native tongue you were basically copying what others said. But when you learn a foreign language you have to somehow transfer words and phrases from one language to the other and in doing that you must have some concept of grammar rules. And you find yourself actually understanding grammar a little better than you might have all that time ago in grade school.

But if I were to teach Spanish, I think for beginners I would concentrate on learning common phrases and getting them down pat and only then go into the grammar. I mean isn’t that how we learned English?

And by the way, I’m not an English-only person when it comes to the use of language in my native land, except I think English is our national language (although not by law) and must be learned and used by all citizens. It is an important part of our United States of America heritage and is vital for communication necessary to maintain our economy and ability to live with one another.

But take it from me, or not, travelling outside the USA is a lot more fun with some foreign language knowledge. I’ve done it both ways. I could have enjoyed Germany a lot more with some German language knowledge, and I have a lot of German blood in me.

I have used what Spanish I know in both Mexico and Spain, and it has made a lot of difference.






The poor will always be among us; wealth and poverty are relative…

August 26, 2016

The poor will always be among us…

That is of course part of a famous line out of the Bible, and it is not the whole quote and the quote itself is of course written in slightly different ways depending upon which version of the Bible you read and, of course, I am referring to the Holy Christian Bible.

There is argument as to what exactly it means or what the significance of it is. I am not about to wade into some kind of theological discussion — I am not qualified.

But I have some thoughts nonetheless, not about what the verse means, but about the fact that the poor will always be among us.

One thing I have thought of for a long time is that it is impossible for everyone to be rich in material things when most of our resources are limited or finite. You can’t have more than others — which pretty much is what we mean by being rich — unless someone else or some others have less. So there you have it, the idea that if we all just worked harder and kept our noses to the grind stone we would all be rich is just not so (and what do we work at when there is no work offered?).

But poor is a relative thing. Yes, we do have real poor people right here in the good old USA. But so many people who think of themselves as poor don’t know what poor is. Just ask anyone who is still alive and lived through the Great Depression. Or if you were to ever meet anyone surviving from before those times you would really learn the truth. No free cheese, no nothing. No government programs.

Don’t get me wrong. Government programs for the poor are necessary. Before Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society, many poor people — and yes, even white folks — picked fruit and vegetables in squalid conditions, sometimes with nowhere clean to sleep or even use the restroom. And then there were employers who would take poor folks in and give them some work and even some housing in return they got slavery from those disadvantaged. I know — I did not suffer this fate, but I witnessed it.

But if you were to go to a system where everyone shared that would be dismal — study, look at photos and documentaries of the drab lives people lived in East Germany under communist rule — free health care, but a super drab existence — no thank you.

And communes. The hippie idea of the 60s. Well the way that works is the industrious work and the lazy get to share even though they do little to nothing. The lazy will always be among us.

But there is a role for cooperation. As an example, farmers can join together in a cooperative to get better price leverage in buying fertilizer or marketing their products while running their own operations privately.

I don’t know how cooperatives work when workers buy out a failing company. I mean I don’t know the track record. I am familiar with at least one paper mill up in Oregon were the workers bought it out to save their jobs, but they could not manage any better in a disappearing market. It went under.

Capitalism really, to me, is the natural way. Even though it is often subverted giving unfair advantage to some, in its purer form it simply responds to demand. I have it, you want it, you are willing to pay the price. I win because I get the price, and you win because you get what you need and/or want. Of course there has to be some regulation on all that for obvious reasons — unfair trade practices, the tendency for some to skimp on safety and quality, and pollution concerns, and so on.

But now we are back to the poor will always be among us: that is why we have to have social programs — not socialism, but social programs. And I don’t think private elements or even churches should or can carry the whole burden on that. One problem is that they usually want control or unfair advantage of some kind as a price for their charity, which can hold the disadvantaged as prisoners. But those entities can and will always play a role. Government has to have a role, but the debate will always be how much.

The poor will always be among us — how much we tax ourselves to alleviate their suffering is the question.


I did not address spiritual or moral wealth. I don’t see much of a connection there with material things or money. Didn’t Jesus say something to the effect that it would be easier for a camel to be threaded through the eye of needle as to see a rich man go to heaven? Yeah I don’t know exactly how to interpret that one either.








Green Party candidate trying to start from the top, but I think you have to begin from the bottom

August 21, 2016

Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein says that neither Donald Trump nor Hillary Clinton have earned our votes.

Well they have not earned my vote, I can say that. Hillary would be more tolerable to me, but that is a low bar when you consider it is her as opposed to The Donald.

While this presidential campaign has been unprecedented, at least in my lifetime, I still don’t see a snowball’s chance in hell of any third-party candidate being elected.

The first and only time I have heard Ms. Stein speak was a minute or so before beginning this post. I liked a lot of what she said but I can’t get past the fact that if I vote for her I have essentially helped Trump by denying Hillary a vote. But there is something to be said for making a statement. I would not be the only one voting for her, and she has risen ever so slightly in the polls.

But I think — who was it? Anyway the guy who said third parties have to work their way up from the bottom not begin at the top (I’m sure many have said that) was likely correct.

Stein is a medical doctor turned environmental and social activist. She has run for a lot of public offices but has not made it yet. We need more like her running for offices at all levels.

I won’t go much farther than this now. The one bright spot about the otherwise dismal milieu of this election cycle is that there seems to be heightened public interest (seems to be. I’m not sure really). I know Trump likes to take credit for that. Fine, give him some credit.

Just don’t give him the job.

My experience as a little businessman…

August 19, 2016

I’m not a natural businessman but it is not for not getting an early education in the commercial world.

When I was maybe nine I came home from school one day to discover I had a job. And I wasn’t even looking for one. I mean I had a 25-cent per week allowance, or maybe it was 50 cents. I think I got a raise. But I was informed that I was to report to the circulation director at the newspaper where my dad worked as a photographer-reporter. I would be a street sales newspaper boy.

As I recall we were given 15 newspapers (and of course we could get more if we sold them all) and were sent out onto the street of the little town where we lived at the time. And I think we got three cents for each paper and the company got seven out of the 10 cents-per-copy sale price.

My first day I sold one newspaper.

The second day I sold none.

I’d walk down the street or stand on a corner and yell “paper, paper”, and sometimes read a headline, and yell “read all about it”. I don’t think I yelled real loud.

But after going a whole day and not selling one newspaper I was pretty discouraged.

I think it was on the third day that another newsboy, “Harvey,” let me in on the secret.

“We all have regular customers, Tony,” he told me.

Sure we would sell to anyone who would buy them, but the boys had people who they could count on to buy a paper each day, so they’d never come back with no sales.

The good news was that Harvey said his family was moving out of town and that he would “give” me all of his customers.

Wow, what a deal.

Well nothing comes completely free. I was Harvey’s slave for the next week or so. “Hey Tony, go get me this, go get me that, buy me a coke. You want my customers don’t you?”

But he was not too demanding really and I did get his customers. And along the way I got some new ones on my own. It was not that I was aggressive about it, most of them just fell into my lap, so to speak.

But to this day (and all this was like 58 years ago) I can still recall most of my customers. And I should add, I used a bicycle to get around — I had quite a bit of ground to cover.

I began by selling a newspaper to a woman who worked at the JC Penney Store. Her name was Hope. I remember one day I could not find her, and they told me she was down in the basement. I still remember yelling down into that dark stairwell: “Hope, Hope…”

She came up and bought that paper.

I also sold one each to the ladies who ran two different dress shops. And I sold one to Alma of Alma’s Café and then would go to each booth and lunch counter stool and ask patrons if they wanted a paper.

I also went to a couple of bars, even though I was told they were off limits. But the bartenders would buy a copy and sometimes patrons would and they would give me a tip.

I sold a copy to a man who worked at the hardware store. And I sold one to a guy at a cab stand. But one day some wise guys at the competing cab stand across the street hoisted my bicycle onto their roof or actually an overhang. But my customer across the street came over and yelled at them, demanding that they give me my bike back, adding:

“You leave my god damned paper boy alone!”

I also sold one to a school mate’s dad who worked at a tire store. One day I could not find him right off. I wound up crawling up onto a big mountain of tires outside to deliver his daily newspaper.

One of my favorite places to go was a trucking company way on the edge of town. I enjoyed the calendars they had on the shop wall, although I tried to look at them without anyone noticing.

I also sold one each day to a woman who worked at the A&W Root beer drive-in. She would give me a free root beer.

And I had another restaurant on my little route. One day a young businessman bought a paper from me, and I had to give him change. Now I knew how to count change, and even the old-fashioned way of stating the amount owed without giving the customer anything yet, and then counting from that amount up to the amount of the coin or bill he gave me (I think I’ve said that right). But I was never good at giving back change in the most efficient way, even if it was the correct change. He tried to explain things to me but I just froze and could not understand him and just wanted to get out of there. Business was really not my thing. But I think this junior chamber of commerce type just wanted to help the fledgling little businessman.

I also sold a paper each day to a man who ran a funeral parlor. I would go in the back through a little screen door directly into his office. But one day he was not there so I proceeded into the building. I walked down a dark hallway and opened a door and saw a bunch of caskets — none were opened but it was so quiet and dark and downright spooky in there that I ran all the way back and out the door. No sale that day. And you know? Dead people don’t buy papers.

Seems like I told this whole story or parts of it before. Figures. But anyway my last stop of the day was the post office steps, just before 5 p.m., to catch what was a kind of rush hour for business there.

One day an elderly woman stopped and bought a paper and asked if I knew what the significance of the date of the that particular day was. I did not. Turns out it was Pearl Harbor Day, Dec. 7 (the anniversary of course of the Japanese attack on us in 1941). I never forgot it.

Saturdays were usually our worst day. But one day a guy stopped me and said his girlfriend’s picture was in the paper. He bought them all.

For a while I was selling a paper to a guy who lived in an apartment building. But I was told to lay off that because he was in a route carrier’s territory. Gee maybe that route carrier should have been a better salesman, I thought.

I also remember the liquor store guy sending me over to an apartment building to deliver a guy a bottle in a brown paper bag. Don’t recall if he bought a paper but I got a tip for the delivery.

Lots of times when we would try to sell someone a paper they would brush us off saying they got the bigger paper from another city.

But one day I swapped some papers with the street sale kid for the competing newspaper. I was in a café and went to a booth and sure enough the prospective customer says: “No son, I read the other paper”. I turned my stack over and displayed that other paper. With a slight look of surprise and shock on his face he bought it.

I thought I’d really beat the system until I returned to the newspaper office that evening and faced the wrath of the circulation manager who had heard about my trick.

I have had a couple of brief forays into sales since — I’ll just stick to my boyhood memories and leave it at that, thank you.






The U.S. should stay out of the Middle East as much as possible, but no easy way around it all…

August 14, 2016

I was waiting on my car to be repaired at the shop so I had a lot of time on my hands and so I began to read one humongous story in the on-line New York Times, the longest one they have ever written they say. It is called: “Fractured Lands: How the Arab World Came Apart”. I read quite awhile and was engrossed, but finally I succumbed to fatigue and almost fell asleep in my chair — but I will try to continue it. I think it is important.

What I think I will probably get out of it is a feeling more than ever that the United States should as much as possible let that world deal with its own problems, except that its problems have a way of becoming our problems, whether we like it or not. And we are often accused of helping create its problems — but all that is problematic in that we are the world super power and it is inevitable that we find ourselves involved to at least some degree. And today it is harder than ever to be isolationist in that we live in a world that is so interconnected and interdependent.

But, but I say, still we need to avoid getting bogged down in that world that we can perhaps never fully understand due to a culture there that is so different from ours.

Have not read the full article yet (just begun as I said) but I imagine the reason the so-called Arab Spring did not result in a magical transformation to Western-style democracy for the Middle East is that unlike, say the U.S., they did not have a historical movement toward democracy to support them. Western society began moving away from rule by divine right and by lords of fiefdoms and such centuries before the colonists revolted in the American revolution. When the colonists defied the British monarch they were not demanding some new rights, they were demanding “the rights of Englishmen”. Those rights to some extent were proclaimed hundreds of years previous in the Magna Carta (although British historians say Americans put more stock in that document than they do — but that is another subject). There is no long history of individual rights or self-government or movement beyond the tribe in the Arab world. But one day, perhaps, they will get sick and tired of being backward and will on their own, thankyou, decide to copy or borrow from our ways (maybe even improve upon them, who knows?). In fact, if we did not meddle in their affairs they might find it easier to do so.

Of our two leading candidates for president, Hillary Clinton may be the most likely to get us mired even more than we are in the Middle East — I’m not sure. But she talks tough. I think she both is more of a hawk and she finds it necessary as a woman to talk tough, tough as a man.

Women can be decisive in such matters. As I recall people darn near laughed when Margaret Thatcher dispatched the British fleet to the Falkland Islands. But under the leadership of the “Iron Lady” they dispatched the Argentines, who tried to snatch British territory inhabited by Britons.

Donald Trump: his position is indecipherable. He is both for staying out and bombing the hell out of them (in the Middle East). I think he likely does not have a clue. He would not be the first American president to not have a clue when it comes to use of the military. We have had a run of bad luck on that one.

In summary, I would just say that I think the policy of the U.S. in the Middle East should be to stay out when at all possible, but of course we have to protect our trade routes and economic interests. No easy way around all this for sure.



I’m not just talking to myself, I’m practicing my Spanish…

August 13, 2016

This morning I was up early — estaba de madrugar.

It is my 67th Birthday (having been born on Aug. 13, 1949 in San Francisco, Ca. And by the way, my mom and dad would always tell me that you only have one birthday and that the rest are anniversaries of your birthday — I’ll stick with birthday; sorry mom and dad, rest in peace).

I thought to myself, partly in Spanish, about what I was going to do. I thought how I needed to conjure up as much Spanish as I could, and to some extent I even talked out loud to myself (come on you know you do that too, that is talk to yourself out loud, at least sometimes).

I’m scheduled to visit Spain next month (September) for the third time in my life. I think it will be a welcome relief from politics, which I write a lot about. Of course the people there have their own politics, but I don’t plan to get into that, except if I pick anything up I will be interested.

But I am going for the sights and the experience of a different culture and in my continuing quest to learn to speak (and write) Spanish, something that has become an obsession with me.

(And a quick aside here: I happened to tell someone I was going to Spain and hoped to improve my Spanish and the person suggested that they really don’t speak Spanish there — well maybe as the English don’t speak English exactly like we do, but pretty much that’s where Spanish comes from, Spain — Spain = Spanish, get it? And I know, in Latin America and in the U.S. it is spoken differently than in Spain — yada, yada, yada).

Learning Spanish is just one of the reasons for the trip or maybe I should say it is an added advantage, and it will enrich my experience to have more familiarity with the native tongue. Then again, Spain deals with multilingualism. I guess you would say I am learning mostly Castilian Spanish or castellano. But in some parts they speak Galician, and then there is Catalan, not really Spanish at all, and of course there is the Basque language, also completely separate from Spanish. Under the long-running dictatorship of Francisco Franco the Basques were forbidden to speak their own language. Catalan was once barred too. And there are other dialects in Spain as well.

As I already stated, this will be my third trip to Spain, having made one each the previous two years. My experience with studying Spanish before that was three semesters of college classes in the language. But unless one is exposed to it and goes out on a limb to speak it, one just does not reach anything even approaching fluency or even gain much utility value from it.

And I have read that one finds him or herself starting to understand some Spanish long before one is able to actually respond in a timely fashion or even at all. I agree with that — it can be very frustrating. And of course the big problem for beginners is we work up our nerve to actually say something and then we get a response, sometimes in what seems like a torrent of language we don’t understand or just in an accent that keeps us from deciphering the words and meaning.

Maybe a little alcohol helps at times (although it could also be disastrous too for a host of reasons). I was at a dinner at someone’s home a couple of years ago in Spain. Most of the several people there spoke little to no English. I found myself explaining the American fascination with guns and the Second Amendment (I did not bring up the subject, they did, as in: “what’s this thing Americans have for guns?”). I was not trying to defend or attack it, just trying to explain. Although I think my little presentation or my comments, as they were, were very basic, I thought I was pretty accurate. I got some polite but puzzled or unconvinced looks — not sure whether they did not agree with the premise or the Spanish.

I told of our right to bear arms. I think I said something of derechos tener armas (rights to have arms). As I recall my vocabulary was a little too limited to get into a detailed and nuanced discussion on the theories of a citizen defense force and perhaps citizens being able to protect themselves from an out-of-control government that would rob us of our rights. But the Spanish know all about things like that, having had their own civil war.

And more than once but once in particular I found myself in a conversation (kind of one-sided) in which someone who spoke no English but had a lot to say kept looking for a response from me. You see I had been introduced to the man and even invited to his place one afternoon where I and some others shared some wine and snacks — cheese and cold meats. Well sometime later while watching the events of the fiesta he came by and struck up a conversation with me. I could understand as much as he thought folks in his hometown ate pretty well (I agree with him there, well at least at fiesta time) and how great it was to live in such a fine place (and I could believe him there too). But from time to time (de vez en cuando) he would ask me direct questions, some I understood (which does not mean I could answer them well) and some not. But I was on the spot, and fueled by that wine no doubt he was insistent, so I did my best to respond politely. I could only hope my answers were responsive to the actual questions and that they were not rude in any way or simply the wrong answers. I survived. But that is how one must learn I think. And once you get some understanding or you have some success in communicating it is quite a reward — like an actor getting applause maybe. I was going to write like a comedian getting a laugh, but somehow I thought that might not convey the meaning I wanted. You can get inappropriate laughter at times when you goof up. And you’re perhaps lucky if it is only laughter.

I actually attended a Spanish language school for a month last year in Madrid — an intensive four-week course. And the paradox of it all is that I almost lived in a bubble, failing to get outside of it and into the real world, which is even more demanding but much more colorful and fun, as much as I would have hoped. Some of that was because of lack of time, but a lot of it out of my own timidity.

It’s do or die (well only figuratively I hope) this year. No school, except the school of the real world.

But I did try it on my own last year somewhat:

I bought a shirt at a department store but did not try it on. I did see the sign that said something about probar, which is a verb having to do with testing or trying on something or tasting (and don’t hold me to my Spanish here; I’m not a teacher or authority of any kind). Well when I got back to the place I was staying I realized it was too small. I took it back. I rehearsed the Spanish I would need, something like:

Por favor, necesito cambiarlo. No es una talla correcta. Not sure what all I said or how my delivery was, but the cheerful young lady at the counter responded in a helpful tone with the suggestion, spoken in perfect and very understandable English: “we can do this in English.”

But I am already practicing for this time — talking to myself a lot. That is in fact what the article I read the other day suggested. It’s sometimes easier to try it on yourself first, your Spanish, as well as your shirts (las camises), I would add.


And that kissing on the cheeks. I was not used to it but it seemed simple enough. But once I got carried away or lost you might say. I was introduced to a woman and proceded to kiss her on one cheek and then the other, she of course doing the same to me. But I guess I lost count or something and she backed away and said something I did not understand except that I had obviously made some kind of faux pas.

Another woman explained: Señor: ¡ solamente dos besos !

(Sir, only two kisses!)




Trump uses simple language; simplicity good for some things but not for being president…

August 12, 2016

It seems pointless to comment on Donald Trump or even Hillary Clinton but maybe I can move on with my next post. For now I just want to say that Trump is appealing to the modern-day Know Nothings. And I am referring to the so-called Know Nothings before Lincoln, who were anti-immigrant and anti-Catholic populists. Today’s crowd is primarily anti-immigrant and anti-intellectual and would rather know nothing. Sometimes it might be handy to be simplistic and not cloud your mind with complex thoughts — it really depends upon the task at hand. But being president of the United States, the beacon of freedom throughout the world and the super power of the world, and our own nation if all that is not enough, should require the ability to process complex thoughts and to convey them in speech.

(And I am not talking Adlai Stevenson or Jimmy Carter or Jeb Bush intellectual — I mean intellectualism can itself be problematic at times.)

It kind of reminds me of my own challenge in learning a foreign language (I have attempted three but have settled on Spanish). While I have learned enough to convey simple requests or thoughts when I want to go farther I frequently find myself at a loss for words and phrases and I end up working around it by using the simple ones I know. Works for ordering a beer, but not so good for explaining what I think about certain subjects and being able to back up what I think. And now I have to rob from a post I have not yet posted: I was in Spain and doing my best to converse in Spanish at a dinner at someone’s home, and most of the people there either did not speak English or only a little. Someone wondered aloud what the fascination with guns among those in the U.S. was all about. I tried to explain something about the Second Amendment using Spanish. I could not get much beyond the fact that we hang our right to keep and bear arms on that amendment in the constitution. Really all I said was that the right is in our constitution. But I could not give the theory behind it or even arguments as to the interpretation or even the ambiguity of the Second Amendment. Actually I don’t think I translated the word amendment. I just said constitution (constitución). So the point is, one needs to speak at a slightly higher level to discuss such matters intelligently.

In the last news cycle, Trump has made the simplistic (if absurd) claim that President Obama and Mrs. Clinton “created ISIS” (the terrorist group). I think it was reported this morning that he backed away a little and said he was being sarcastic. I guess the idea is that he meant through their policies they helped create the conditions for it to grow and thrive (even though I heard him stick to the original blunt statement with one sympathetic interviewer — and that is Trump’s method, keep everyone confused as to what he means so he cannot be pinned down). But for a whole news cycle he kept to the stark claim that they purposely created it (I actually don’t know at this time what his current line is). And this follows a pattern. Trump just utters absurd and simplistic statements without complexity and without nuance.

UPDATE: So after originally posting this, later in the day I run across the following, concerning the Trump ISIS accusation, in Politico:Hours after stating his claim of Obama as the founder of ISIL was “sarcasm,” Trump says maybe it wasn’t.

Read more: http://www.politico.com/story/2016/08/trump-obama-islamic-state-sarcasm-226947#ixzz4H9kz3uwH
Follow us: @politico on Twitter | Politico on Facebook


Another demagogic device he uses is to say things like: “I’ve heard it said”. In this way he does not obligate himself to back a statement up by citing any sources and even admits by inference or implication that it might or might not be true, with the implied emphasis on it is true — and he adds a shrug of the shoulders and a wink of the eye and a sardonic, lopsided smile.

For professional journalists who, despite what many people think, were schooled with the idea that one must be objective in straight news reporting (as opposed to commentary or editorializing), it is hard to impossible anymore to be objective when it comes to Mr. Trump. He just says absurd things or flat-out lies and the lies are so obvious. The rule in objective journalism (I took journalism in college) is to print what the man said but try to balance it with what the other side said. Sometimes it is legitimate to point out inconsistencies by putting in what is called background — in other words, facts that tend to point out discrepancies in what someone said — but that is full of peril because too much background is often interpreted by the reader or observers of your reporting as bias.

(It is somewhat difficult for me to comment on today’s journalism because my experience was in print — even as broadcast had really taken over — and before the introduction of the internet and social media. Methods have changed and the lines between straight reporting and commentary have blurred to the extent they are often not even visible.)

But when someone says something that is on its face a lie or outright crazy it seems absurd to just report it and let it stand. But in Trump’s case one would have to spend all of his time trying to explain what he might have meant or why he seems to be in error or why he might be spreading falsehoods. You would write more words in explanation than about what he really said. He does speak in choppy sentences void of various parts of speech, such as verbs.

And for balance, I have to say that Mrs. Clinton constantly couches her answers to questions in legalese like the lawyer she is. She would probably not think she was telling outright lies as much as simply not unnecessarily or unwisely admitting things — as in everything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law.

Barring some unforeseen new scandal or new facts in her present scandals, Mrs. Clinton would seem the only clear choice for president, unless for whatever reason one just can’t stomach voting for her.

She is intellectual and knowledgeable about the nation and world, while Mr. Trump has constantly demonstrated he is not. His skills are more in entertaining (even if I personally don’t see it), questionable real estate deals, using the bankruptcy courts, and using other people’s money. He would flunk a class on civics or world affairs. More than that he would be dangerous as the leader of the world’s only super power.

Hillary must have good traits but straight answers are not among them…

August 11, 2016

What did Hillary Clinton say? She may have “short circuited” or her and her interviewer might have been “talking past each other?”

No matter what I might think are the good points about Mrs. Clinton I have to resign myself that both her and her husband are not ones to give straight answers. With Bill it was questioning what the meaning of “is” is to wiggle out of any guilt that might come his way via a legal deposition.

With Mrs. Clinton it is saying she never knowingly received or sent any classified emails or that she turned over each and every one of those emails requested by investigators when it appears such may not be so. But caught in an apparent case of being not totally candid (lying?) she says she may have “short circuited”.  Just what the hell that means I have not a clue.

You see, the problem is one has to go back and read or listen to everything she might have said and see what she is referring to specifically point by point and see how she might be using some phrase or parsing of words to keep from admitting something she would rather not.

I wish she would just come clean and say something like: “I have already admitted I made a mistake using my own non-secure private server to commingle public and private business. I am not aware that any actual classified material was compromised or that any material that may have been considered classified, was clearly marked as such — the FBI director himself said some of the material might not have been clearly marked. Government agencies often over classify, so if something was not marked as such, one might not know. I am from a generation who came up before computers and I am not the only one in government dealing with a steep learning curve. I have learned my lesson. I have been thoroughly investigated and was not prosecuted because it was found there was no intentional wrong doing on the part of me or my staff — let’s move on.”

Of course that does not end Mrs. Clinton’s email headache. Due to legitimate investigation and hacking new emails have come to light that indicate special favors were given to or considered for donors to the Clinton Foundation during Mrs. Clinton’s tenure as Secretary of State. On that she can only maintain that no special favors were ever given — the fact that everyone knows that money buys access and the legality is always murky being understood.

I don’t blame her for not wanting to talk about these issues, it never helps her case, but when she can’t escape it, she ought to resort to the truth rather than another lie, which seems to be her default position.

When at first we practice to deceive, oh but what a tangled web we weave