Category Archives: Random Thoughts

Festivus in March Redux

The 'Festivus Miracle' Lives On - The New York Times

It has been three years since I last proposed Festivus in March. This time, maybe it will catch on. The past couple of weeks, I found myself yearning for an early Festivus, knowing I could not wait until year’s end to practice the Festivus tradition of “airing of grievances.” So please forgive my channeling my inner Frank Constanza, but “I’ve got a lot of problems with you people. And now you’re gonna hear about it.”

Grievance #1: The Washington Post

On March 19, a headline on the front page of the Washington Post read as follows, “Mixed signals from Ukraine’s president and his aides leave West confused about his end game.” Let me share the comment I posted to this story.

WTF. Did the writers pay no attention to what happened last Wednesday? Zelensky asks for a no-fly zone, but adds, “If I can’t have that, I need…” And hours later he gets most of “that” from the U.S. and NATO. That didn’t happen by accident. Do you really believe Zelensky is not talking with Biden and European leaders about his “end game?” The person he doesn’t want to share it with is Putin. Just like folks stopped talking about what arms were and were not arriving in Ukraine. Neither the war nor peace should be prosecuted in the media. Sorry if your little feelings are hurt because Zelensky is not willing to lay his cards on the table for you and Putin to see before the hand is over.

Grievance #2: It Takes a Special Kind of A-Hole

Friday night, Wild Amelia, a local non-profit that promotes protection of the local environment through education held a fundraiser comprised of a sunset boat tour hosted by Amelia River Cruises. Among the attendees with one older, white gentleman (I use the term loosely) with a beer belly covered by a politically incorrect tee shirt who felt it necessary to proudly don his “Let’s Go Brandon” gimme cap. I know, I could have simply said he was wearing the cap and you would have guessed he was no spring chicken, white, had a beer belly and a questionable sense of fashion. And to make sure everyone on the boat saw him, he would occassionally walk up and down the aisles with his belly puffed out.

The next day I received a call from one of the board members who asked me what I thought of the incident, especially since some members of the Sierra Club who came to support Wild Amelia had complained to the boat captain this “gentleman” had ruined their evening. She wondered what they could have done about it since the “gentleman” has the right to say whatever he wants. (See Grievance #4 for more on the First Amendment.)

I told her this was not about free speech. He knew he was not going to convert anyone to his cult. His goal was to be the center of attention. And sadly, some attendees let him do that while most of us simply ignored him.

Not every person who voted for the former guy in 2016 was a “despicable.” Not true of those who still relish being part of his cult. So if the “cap fits, wear it.”

Grievance #3: Military Disservice

If you get a package from the Disabled Veterans National Foundation (DVNF) filled with swag you will never use, asking you to help disabled veterans, Google their Charity Navigator rating. It is ZERO out of FOUR stars. Why? Because the organization spent 86 percent of their revenue in 2020 on administration and fundraising including a $15 million contract with a marketing firm in Connecticut. By the way, in 2014 DVNF was fined $25 million for abuse of solicitation laws after which current CEO and former U.S. Marine Joseph VanFonda claimed they had cleaned up their act.

My wife and I always give the calculators, pens and other “incentive” gifts to Goodwill or other organizations to distribute to those who might actually use them. This package also contained a real check for $1.50 made out to me. But, of course, the cover letter from VanFonda urged me not to cash the check because it would take money away from veterans who needed it.

I had a better idea. I cashed the check and sent a donation to the Wounded Warrior Project, to whom I regularly give in honor of our daughter’s service in the Air Force. Instead of the typical $100 donation, I made the check out for $101.50 and simulteneously emailed VanFonda, informing him that I appreciated his $1.50 and had passed it on to a legitimate charity that might actually put it to good use.

I encourage others to do the same.

Grievance #4: King for a Day after Day

Finally, I am really getting sick and tired of people who appropriate Martin Luther King, Jr. to justify policies and actions that are the antithesis of what King stood for. The latest is FIRE (Foundation for Individual Rights in Education). This past week they started running ads with the tag line, “No Free Speech. No I Have a Dream” over a picture of the August 1963 civil rights gathering at the Lincoln Memorial. It is followed by, “Without the First Amendment, this historic speech would never have happened.”

Really? The First Amendment had been on the books for 174 years and there was no “I have a dream.” You can bet if George Wallace and Bull Connor were fighting integration today, they would be on Fox News and InfoWars claiming to be victims of “cancel culture.” And the First Amendment gave them the right to use the N-word and incite violence against people they feared would replace them. Take a look at the crowd surrounding the Reflecting Pool that day. There were too kinds of people. Black Americans who were tired of being second class citizens. And “woke” white Americans who, after watching the beatings and dogs and fire hoses, said, “Enough is enough. This is not what America should be about.” I’d bet the farm all of those people would have still been there with or without the First Amendment.

Want more proof. South Africa had its own “I have a dream” moment without the benefit of a First Amendment.

And by the way, if you asked Michael Jordan, he would probably admit, “It wasn’t the shoes.” NIKE and FIRE have more in common than four letter names. Both want you believe if only you wear their shoes or yell First Amendment on a college campus, you will be a superstar despite the lack of any causal relationship.

So Happy Festivus in March. Now, all we need to do is get Amazon and local merchants to adopt this faux extension of a faux holiday to discount merchandise as they do in July. Black Friday in March could be just as successful as Black Friday in July.

For what it’s worth.

Dipping into the Private Dole

…Or why I oppose congressional term limits.

The recent passing of former Kansas Senator Robert Dole is one more of those occasions on which I had an opportunity to reflect on past experiences. In February 1996, I was responsible for facilitating Senator Dole’s appearance at the National Governors Association winter meeting in Washington, D.C. Responsibility for invited guests at NGA meetings is assigned to staff who do not have a major content role at that particular event.

This assignment had an added burden as it was generally believed Dole would be the Republican nominee for president and the only plenary session in which Dole could participate would also include a presence by sitting President Bill Clinton. A senior member of Dole’s staff called to tell me he would be doing the advance work for the Senator. As you will soon learn, I have since erased this individual’s name from my memory banks.

Two days before the scheduled appearance, I met this staff person at the J. W. Marriott hotel to do a walkthrough. Knowing Clinton would also be in the building, I explained the President would be going first. I had reserved a “green room” for Dole where he could wait until the Clinton entourage cleared the meeting room. He asked, “Do you know where Clinton would be exiting the building?” I did not at the time, but asked, “Why?” “Because we think it would be awkward if they ran into each other.” [HISTORICAL NOTE: Dole, then Senate majority leader, and Clinton had just spent weeks together in meetings to address the growing budget deficit. Those meetings resulted in an agreement to raise taxes which resulted in three fiscal years of budget surpluses.]

There are only two public entrances at the Marriott Hotel, the main entrance on 14th Street and one on Pennsylvania Avenue. I suggested we look at both and I would get back to him with the plans for the presidential motorcade. When we got to the 14th Street entrance, the staff person informed me, “The Senator does not like revolving doors; so, please have the doorman ready to open one of the other doors for him.” Strange, but no argument from me as I assumed it had something to do with his disabled right arm. There were no revolving doors at the Pennsylvania Avenue entrance.

The next day, I called my Dole contact and informed him the White House let us know Clinton would be leaving through the 14th Street entrance. I would meet the Dole party at the Pennsylvania Avenue entrance. However, as you might imagine, nothing is ever cast in stone when dealing with a commander-in-chief, especially true of the Clinton White House. On the morning of the session, I was informed Clinton would be making another stop before heading back to the White House, and therefore, would be picked up on Pennsylvania Avenue. I immediately called my contact and informed him of the change. Then I met with the hotel doorman to inform him to be prepared to hold the door for Dole.

Clinton speaks and leaves the meeting room. No Dole yet. I get a call from my contact. They are running late but have left the Capitol and will be there in a few minutes. When the limo arrives, Dole jumps out of the back seat and whizzes through (drum roll) the revolving door. He apologizes for being late as I escort him to the plenary session.

What does this have to do with term limits? For every member of Congress there are numerous staff who often float between offices as one member leaves and another takes his place. Like my Dole contact many believe, not only do they know what their bosses want, but also what the nation wants. Far too often neither of these are true. More importantly, they are not elected and voters do not hold them accountable. If term limits are enacted, institutional knowledge and long-term working relationships, will reside with staff, not elected officials. It amazes me conservatives, who raise concerns about an unelected, bureaucratic deep state, do not see the same danger if congressional staff become more influential following the more rapid turnover of elected senators and representatives.

Let me close by explaining the title of this post. After his meeting with the governors, I escorted Dole to the Pennsylvania Street entrance where we were told the limo would meet him. It was not there. I assumed I might get to see the reported Dole temper in full display. To the contrary, as we waited for his ride, Dole asked me about my work at NGA and then shared how he was looking forward to a campaign trip to New England. As I read and listened to so many of the tributes by colleagues on both sides of the aisle, I know they were sincere. And do they to this day, like I, wonder why it seemed so difficult for the “private Dole” to come through in public.

For what it’s worth.

A Thanksgiving Carol

Craig Ferguson remaking late-night talk with silliness | Games |

As Craig Ferguson used to announce at the start of each of his late, late show monologues, “It’s a great day for America.” [NOTE: Ferguson became a naturalized U.S. citizen on February 1, 2008, an experience chronicled in his memoir America on Purpose: The Improbable Adventures of an Unlikely Patriot. He took particular pride in the timing, making him eligible to cast his first presidential vote for Barack Obama. For so many of us, that was truly “a great day for America.”] One has to wonder, however, would he still feel the same way over most of the past five years.

However, as I went to bed last night (Wednesday, November 24), I found myself echoing Ferguson’s jubilant sentiments of old. Yesterday, two events suggested maybe, just maybe, America was ready to turn the page and begin leaving the stench of Trump and Trumpism behind in the rear view mirror. At 8:30 AM, the Department of Labor announced the number of new unemployment claims for last week fell to an unexpected 50+ year low of 190,000. Then at 2:00 PM news broke that, at least in the town of Brunswick, Georgia, self-defense did not apply when a defendant creates the situation that leads to the victim’s death. (Wisconsin, are you listening?)

I pessimistically believed neither of these outcomes was likely and had originally considered titling this entry, “The Ghosts of Thanksgiving Past.” In anticipation of more disappointing news leaving little to celebrate this Thanksgiving, I was going to suggest we take this occasion to commemorate things from previous years that still deserve recognition and appreciation. Teachers and mentors who contributed to our skill sets and confidence that led to success. Those individuals who stuck with us in more desperate times. Events or experiences that still bring a smile to our faces or a tear to our eyes. And appreciation what we have been given, not just this year, but over one’s lifetime.

It was the antithesis of Jacob Marley’s exhortations of a life poorly lived. Visions of the past and present were not warnings, but reminders of what is possible when we surrender to our better angels. In my vision, Marley is not played by Leo G. Carroll (1938) or Garry Oldman (2009). Instead, James Earl Jones again tells us what he told Ray Kinsella as they ponder the meaning of a baseball field, “It reminds us of all that once was good and it could be again.”

So, you may ask, what about the ghost of Thanksgiving future? He appears and shares the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., delivered on March 31, 1968 at the National Cathedral. “The arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice.”

So, here are a few things I hope to give thanks for in the years to come.

  • A person of color can get justice without need of a video tape to confirm the facts of the case. If not, as in the case of Ahmaud Arbery, may an accomplice record then share video of the crime. Or need of a young bystander with a cell phone who understands America may not yet be ready to accept her word over that of a police officer who has violated his oath of service.
  • In hindsight, the magnitude of death and severe illness from the current pandemic convinces purveyors and believers of misinformation and conspiracy theories that choices they made contributed to the severity and duration of this health and economic crisis.
  • Voters reconsider casting ballots against their own self-interests, paying more attention to actions rather than sound bites and promises.
  • But most important of all, the ability to look back and identify many more occasions when we can truly say, “This is a great day for America.”

Until then, Happy Thanksgiving 2021 and as always, I am grateful for your past, present and future support of this blog.

For what it’s worth.

All the World’s a Stage

BLOGGER’S NOTE: Today marks the first entry in a new category “Comic Relief,” a subcategory of “Random Thoughts.” The reason for this addition is my sense of ennui associated with the current state of affairs in the United States and around the world. It feels we are in the middle of a five-act Shakespearean tragedy (though hopefully everyone will not die in Act V). I know many of you feel the same way and have remarked how this blog has helped you get through the last five years. So, rather than pile on, I thought it was time to add the equivalent of a modern-day Rosencrantz and Gildenstern, for just a moment, taking your mind off the drama and focusing on the less monumental absurdities of life.

The bigger discussion about the frustrations around casting is because many people don’t have a chair at the table. There must be a levelling, otherwise we are going to carry on having these debates.

~Eddie Redmayne re: “The Danish Girl”

The above quote appeared in Redmayne’s interview with the Sunday Times, during which he regrets having been cast as Lili Elbe in the Oscar nominated movie. His comments were in response to criticism by members of the transgender community including writer Carol Grant who felt Redmayne’s performance was “regressive, reductive and contributes to harmful stereotypes.”

My purpose today is not to determine whether director Tom Hooper erred when he selected Redmayne to play Lili. Instead, this current debate which is as old as lip-syncing Natalie Woods’ portrayal of Maria in “West Side Story” and Jonathan Pryce’s Tony Award- winning performance as Tran Van Dinh in the original Broadway cast of “Miss Saigon” raised questions about the choice of leading actors in other iconic roles.

Christopher Reeve proved not be a “Superman.” Did the fact Meryl Streep never left her real-life children to be with a female lover disqualify her from playing Joanna Kramer opposite Dustin Hoffman? But what about some of the other memorable performances in stage and filmdom history? Consider the following.

  • Lon Chaney, Jr. as the hirsute monster in the werewolf franchise. If there is ever a low-budget remake, adult movie star Ron Jeremy (pictured below) was made for the part and could save the producers a fortune in makeup.
Vlad the Impaler (1451 AD) : r/fakehistoryporn
  • Ann Baxter as Eve Harrington to Bette Davis’ Margo Channing in “All About Eve.” With the obvious difference that the older understudy is trying to replace a younger rival, Camilla Shand, Duchess of Cornwall, knows exactly what it feels like waiting in the wings for her chance at the lead role.
  • Dustin Hoffman as Raymond Babbitt in “Rain Man.” However, casting a more appropriate Raymond is easy, as Hoffman’s character was inspired by the late “megasavant” Kim Peek (pictured below).
The Story Of Kim Peek, The Real Life Inspiration Behind For "Rain Man"
  • How was Robin Wright in any way qualified to play the power behind the man as Claire Underwood in “House of Cards?” She never influenced any actual national policy decisions. The only person knowledgeable and experienced enough to understand what it means to pull the strings of the marionettes who surround the president is Ivanka Trump. Of course, she may be too busy competing with Nikki Haley as another option to replace Mike Pence in the forthcoming disaster movie “2024.”
  • Russell Crowe as psychotic genius John Nash in “A Beautiful Mind.” Actually, this may be a case where director Ron Howard could be accused of type-casting. If only Crowe was a Noble Prize laureate in economics.

On a more serious note, I do worry that Hollywood’s concern about appropriated culture may go too far. But it is hard to argue the pendulum needed recalibrating after John Wayne as Genghis Khan in “The Conqueror (1956),” Mickey Rooney as Mr. Yunioshi in “Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961)” or even Sir Lawrence Olivier as “Othello (1965).”

If you think this form of type-miscasting peaked in the mid-20th century, think again. 2013 was a particularly awkward year when you consider Johnny Depp as Tonto in the remake of “The Lone Ranger” and Emma Stone as half-Asian Allison Ng in “Aloha.” But considering the critical and box office reception of these two flops, it was more likely a case of necessity as no Native American or Asian thespian with an ounce of professional integrity would have auditioned for these roles.

However, depriving an actor of an opportunity to step out of his/her own background or life experience is equally discomforting. Is it not equivalent to suggesting a young black child born in poverty cannot become a successful business person a la Oprah Winfrey or dismissing the next J. K. Rowling who overcame the challenges of being a single parent to become the highest paid author in the world? Would a modern day Gary Cooper be passed over as Lou Gehrig because he does not have ASL? For that matter, would the role of dead bodies on a battlefield be restricted to actual corpses?

Like most things in life, moderation is the order of the day. That does not mean filmmakers will, on occasion, push the envelope resulting in flaps similar to that raised by Redmayne’s portrayal of Lili Elbe. And there will just as likely be occasions when audiences do not get to enjoy an unexpected breakthrough performance. Dustin Hoffman as Ratso Rizzo comes to mind. Hopefully, through trial and error, a happy medium can be found.

Until then I look forward, based on this past weekend’s outing, to auditioning for the role of Charles Barkley in “Worst Golf Swings Ever,” assuming there is no African-American in his right mind willing to stoop to the level of self-depracation required to emulate the former NBA star’s style on the links.

For what it’s worth.



I never claim to be the smartest person in the room…with one exception.  It is a right reserved for every Ph.D. candidate on the day of the oral defense of his or her dissertation.  Having spent years (in my case, five), focused on a narrow topic which theoretically no one else has ever explored as deeply or from such a unique perspective, you are the master of your tiny piece of the intellectual universe.

My time came on a November 1979 morning, before two professors of political science and one each of psychology and history.  The topic?  “Crisis and Change:  Voting Blocs in the U.S. Senate 1963-1972.”  Using methodology designed to isolate different types of abnormal behavior, developed by Dr. Warren Torgerson, then chair of Johns Hopkins’ Psychology Department, I was able to statistically identify trends in the formation of coalitions across hundreds of votes cast on the Senate floor over a decade beginning with the Kennedy assassination and ending with Watergate.  The major finding?  The make-up of a voting bloc was highly predictable based on the macro-topic of each bill.  For example, procedural votes, not unexpectedly, were always cast along party lines.  Civil rights bills were decided based on a senator’s region of residence.  Social welfare bills on ideology.  When professors Peabody, Cummings, Torgerson and Palumbo gave four thumbs up, it was more about relief than celebration.  (NOTE:  Dr. Palumbo did not put his hand to his forehead and say, “Uh, just one more question,” though he did somewhat physically resemble Peter Falk.)

I often thought about how I might duplicate the feeling of that moment.  To some extent this blog has served that purpose.  My goal has always been to approach a subject from a perspective that others have missed.  To see different aspects of society through a counter-intuitive lens.  In 2003, having just finished reading Best Evidence, David Lifton’s highly criticized account of JFK’s assassination and aftermath, I wondered if there was any scenario under which Lifton’s theory the dead president’s autopsy had been falsified might be true.  The most questionable aspect being the necessary participation or cooperation of individuals within Kennedy’s inner circle.

But a counter-intuitive approach does not stop with a single question. It requires a flood of questions.  Lifton’s narrative requires that all the planning and execution take place between the 12:30 pm CST when Oswald fired his rifle and the arrival of Air Force One at Andrews AFB at 6:00 pm EST (approximately four and a half hours).   Was that possible?  If not, were there insiders involved prior to November 22?  If so, who and for what purpose?  Addressing those questions and others was the genesis of 18 years of on and off research in search of a “Rosetta Stone” which might make a seemingly implausible story credible.  Last year, I found it buried in the digital archives of the Kennedy Presidential Library in Boston.

I now find myself in the same position as I was in the spring of 1979.  I had completed the research on my dissertation.  All that remained was writing it.  After several fits and starts, I decided to alleviate as many distractions as possible, including selling my first sailboat.  In a little over six months, I completed and twice edited a 300+ page document.

Therefore, it is time to put aside other things and focus on the singular task of turning the pages of notes, timelines, decision trees and documents into a fact-based political novel (ala Gore Vidal’s Burr).  That includes this blog.  So TTFN (Ta Ta for Now).  If all goes according to plan, I hope to finish drafting the novel sometime next spring.  At which time, with the mid-term election in sight, I intend to be back on this blog with regular posts.  And I have no doubt, in the interim, there will be some event or issue which requires an occasional exploration here.  But those will be few and far between.

In closing, I want to thank all the readers who have given me the energy and desire to keep this up on a regular basis for six years.  It has served a secondary purpose which was critical to my tackling this next project.  Writing any major work, fiction or non-fiction, is a marathon which demands stamina and discipline.  This blog has been the equivalent of base-mileage, those three to five day a week workouts needed to prepare for a marathon.  I could not have reached this point without your support and encouragement.

For what it’s worth.