Flowers and spiders and Trump, oh my

A lovely, soft morning here on San Francisco Bay. I have been sitting out in the garden, partially shaded by a large, green beach umbrella and feeling the warm sun on my bare feet.  The garden and our apartment are at the back of the building, so it’s like living in the middle of a square city block, a refuge from this increasingly horrific world. It’s good to get away once in a while, to notice the bees buzzing around the flowers, the humming birds flitting by with a flash of iridescent green. One delicate pink flower that looks asIMG_2306 though it should be waving in a mountain meadow, is the bloom of a succulent.  When the sun is on it, it actually glows. I’ve no idea what it’s called. A bit to the right, I’m presented with an intricate web constructed between two dried up spider plant blossoms. Again, I’m ignorant of the genius that created it. Not an orb spider, that’s all I know.IMG_2309 ed
It’s a good time to be thinking about flowers and spiders and such, but of course I can’t for long. I’m reading an interview with Tony Schwartz, ghostwriter of Donald Trump’s The Art of the Deal, in the latest New Yorker. Wow, what a reality check! In his interview by Jane Mayer, Schwartz, who was previously a well-regarded journalist, admits that he “put lipstick on a pig”–sold out for money when he wrote the book. Once Trump’s campaign for President began to look serious, Schwartz felt he had to speak out:

“Trump has been written about in a thousand ways from Sunday, but this fundamental aspect of who he is doesn’t seem to be fully understood,” Schwartz told me, “….And that is that it’s impossible to keep him focussed on any topic, other than his own self-aggrandizement, for more than a few minutes, and even then…” Schwartz trailed off, shaking his head in amazement.

Later in the article, he expands on this theme:

“I created a character far more winning than Trump actually is.” The first line of the book is an example. “I don’t do it for the money,” Trump declares. “I’ve got enough, much more than I’ll ever need. I do it to do it. Deals are my art form. Other people paint beautifully on canvas or write wonderful poetry, I like making deals. That’s how I get my kicks.” Schwartz now laughs at this depiction of Trump as an artisan. “Of course he’s in it for the money,” he said. “One of the most deep and basic needs he has is to prove that ‘I’m richer than you.'” ….He saw Trump as driven not by a pure love of dealmaking but by an insatiable hunger for “money, praise, and celebrity.”

From a man who spent eight months dogging Trump’s footsteps, listening to every business phone call, and keeping his real thoughts to himself in a personal journal, it’s a pretty frightening story.  Nothing in Trump’s campaign, or, more particularly, in his speech accepting the nomination, does anything to contradict Schwartz’s portrait.

Enough! I’m going back to the garden.


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Immensity taps

A gray morning and cool. With luck, the fog will burn off by noon, the usual summer pattern here.  To the east a steep ridge holds back the fog, so where my daughter lives, 20 minutes away on the other side of the ridge, it’s usually at least 15°F warmer, sometimes 20° or 30°. Very weird. (And how come weird is not wierd, as in ‘i before e, except after c’? That’s also weird.)

My husband has driven into the city for the day, and I am doing laundry and musing over the latest news that Congressman Steve King of Iowa laid out his belief in white supremacy in a cable television interview aired  on national TV and featured at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland:

King: I’d ask you to go back through history and figure out, where are these contributions that have been made by these other categories of people that you’re talking about, where did any other subgroup of people contribute more to civilization?

Interviewer Chris Hayes: Than white people?

King: Than, than Western civilization itself. It’s rooted in Western Europe, Eastern Europe and the United States of America and every place where the footprint of Christianity settled the world. That’s all of Western civilization.

What’s astounding about this is not the view, which is shared by many in this country and probably in Europe, but the willingness to say it aloud in a public arena. Following the civil rights and black power movements and the widespread riots in black urban neighborhoods across the country in the 1960s-70s, most, or at least many people who held those views were afraid to air them in public. Now they’re not. Many believe Donald Trump’s racist and misogynist views have made this possible, but it seems to me it’s a much older story. It was Richard Nixon, after all, who in 1969 declared the ‘War on Drugs’  that has resulted in the mass incarceration of black men. And that ‘War’ has been supported or expanded by every administration since, criminalizing the black population.

“Arguably the most important parallel between mass incarceration and Jim Crow is that both have served to define the meaning and significance of race in America. Indeed, a primary function of any racial caste system is to define the meaning of race in its time. Slavery defined what it meant to be black (a slave), and Jim Crow defined what it meant to be black (a second-class citizen). Today mass incarceration defines the meaning of blackness in America: black people, especially black men, are criminals. That is what it means to be black.”
Michelle Alexander, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness

Looking back at the three-quarters of a century I’ve been on this planet, the 1960s and 70s look more like a blip on an otherwise downward slope toward ignorance, illiteracy, and racism. Views about the inferiority of non-Western civilizations and non-white people were commonly expressed when I was a child. Also about the inferiority of women, which the Trump campaign certainly is helping to revive. It’s depressing and disturbing to see such loathsomeness, but perhaps a nation built on  wealth produced by  land-theft, genocide and slavery can do nothing else.

“Our nation was born in genocide when it embraced the doctrine that the original American, the Indian, was an inferior race. Even before there were large numbers of Negroes on our shore, the scar of racial hatred had already disfigured colonial society. From the sixteenth century forward, blood flowed in battles over racial supremacy. We are perhaps the only nation which tried as a matter of national policy to wipe out its indigenous population. Moreover, we elevated that tragic experience into a noble crusade. Indeed, even today we have not permitted ourselves to reject or feel remorse for this shameful episode. Our literature, our films, our drama, our folklore all exalt it. Our children are still taught to respect the violence which reduced a red-skinned people of an earlier culture into a few fragmented groups herded into impoverished reservations.”

       –from Why We Can’t Wait, by Martin Luther King, Jr.

What would this country look like if we had leadership that asked people to look at those beginnings, to apologize, to make amends? What a glorious upheaval it would be!

Out of the huts of history’s shame
I rise
Up from a past that’s rooted in pain
I rise
I’m a black ocean, leaping and wide,
Welling and swelling I bear in the tide.
Leaving behind nights of terror and fear
I rise
Into a daybreak that’s wondrously clear
I rise
Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,
I am the dream and the hope of the slave.
I rise
I rise
I rise.
–from Still I Rise  by Maya Angelou

And this, because what we create, good or bad, comes back to haunt us:

It is foolish
to let a young redwoodredwoods-near-home
grow next to a house.

Even in this
one lifetime,
you will have to choose.

That great calm being,
this clutter of soup pots and books—

Already the first branch-tips brush at the window.
Softly, calmly, immensity taps at your life.

Tree, by Jane Hirshfield



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Fearing the future

Sick at heart at the events of the past couple of weeks–mass murders in Orlando, Istanbul, Dhaka, Baghdad (did I miss any?), the latest police shootings of black men in the U.S., the sniper shooting of police in Dallas, on and on. Today I read about a lynching in Atlanta. A lynching!

Two of my grandsons are black. One is 16, the other 13. Every day, I’m scared for them.The mood in this country is so poisonous, so hate-filled, so irrational, so racist. It’s scary as hell. Black Lives Matter the demonstrators chant. Don’t white lives matter? the (white) bystanders mutter. Of course they matter. The problem isn’t that they don’t matter, the problem is they matter more than everyone else’s.

Thank god people are protesting. In San Francisco last night, 2000 people marched down Market Street to Civic Center, calling for an end to racist police murders and prosecution of the officers involved. In Oakland, a thousand gathered in what is widely known as Oscar Grant Plaza, in memory of black youth Oscar Grant, who was shot six years ago lying face down on a Bart (our rapid transit) platform by a transit policeman. The crowd marched to a freeway on-ramp and blocked all north- and south-bound lanes of Interstate 880 for something like four hours.  Usually when protesters block a freeway, the news is full of complaints and outrage from drivers caught in the mess. This time the drivers quoted were sympathetic and supportive.The videos documenting the deaths of Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge and Philando Castilles in Cleveland have rocked people all over the country. Let’s hope it doesn’t end there.

I cannot imagine how this must look to the rest of the world. America, the entitled, flag-waving, self-deluding superpower having its racist underbelly outed in public. Not that it’s the first time. It was television coverage of the terrorizing and beating of black people in the south that helped get the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts passed. It helped get me to Selma to join the march on Montgomery.

Sad to think so little real progress has been made. Sad for my black grandsons and granddaughter. Sad for us all. For all sorts of reasons, I fear what the future holds.

A friend recently posted a mass choral version of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” on Facebook. “It’ll sooth you,” she wrote. I’d like to share it here with you.


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Monday musings

Started a post yesterday about Father’s Day, but was interrupted by…a father: my younger son. I am so proud of my sons for the kinds of fathers they’ve become, so thoughtful, and loving. My own father, dead for 35 years, was a good and thoroughly nice man, but most fathers played only a minor role in their children’s lives back then, especially their daughters.

It seems odd that I don’t have clearer memories of someone I loved so deeply, but watching my sons with their children, I’ve realized my father didn’t actually spend much time with me, and when he did…well, let’s just say that being told you “throw a ball like a girl” leaves you in an impossible position. I mean, I was a girl, so who else was I supposed to throw a ball like?  Clearly, like my brother.But I wasn’t actually supposed to be like my brother. Tomboys were bad, dainty and graceful were good. The message I received was that I wasn’t supposed to be throwing balls at all. So complicated and confusing, all those messages. I wish I could say it’s not like that any more.

I am reliably informed (I suppose the Washington Post is a reliable source?) that today’sStrawberry moon rising over Rome solstice coincides with a full moon tonight known as a “strawberry moon,” so named by the Algonquins because of the moon’s color when it’s low in the sky and seen through summer haze. This conjunction of the solstice with a strawberry moon last happened in 1967, according to the Post. So why don’t I remember it? Surely living in the Haight-Ashbury during the Summer of Love someone would have mentioned the strawberry moon? We were into these portents. Or were we all too stoned to notice? Very perplexing. Anyway, I’m not going to miss it a second time. Two hours after sunset, I will be out there in the street looking for the biggest strawberry of them all.

And I won’t be stoned.





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Naming the problem


Thousands gather during the Sunday evening vigil in the Castro district to mourn and honor the victims of the massacre at Orlando’s Pulse nightclub. Photo: Gabrielle Lurie, Special To The Chronicle

A beautiful, bright day here in the Bay Area, where thousands of people are mourning the victims of the Orlando Pulse Club massacre. It’s all too horrible and familiar–the outrage, the weeping, the posturing by political candidates, the dual stereotyping of Muslims and LGBT folks, calls for gun control, calls for closing the borders. Many view with grim amusement efforts by the right to condemn ‘Islamic terrorism’ without appearing to support homosexuality (such a difficult PR problem, poor dears). Mostly, though, it’s horror, outrage and fear. Who’s next? Where? Why? How soon?

Sane people fear retaliation against all Muslims and the failure to address homophobia as a national problem. Sane people believe automatic weapons should not be part of the home arsenal. (Some of them even believe there shouldn’t be any home arsenals.)

For many of us, though, it almost doesn’t matter who was massacred this time–school children, postal workers, government employees, co-workers. What matters is that it happens over and over and over again. We are a country that was born in violence, built its wealth on genocide and slavery, maintained supremacy through war, racism and exploitation. Why are we surprised that over and over again picking up a gun looks like the solution to problems?  I believe we must look to our origins: murder and exploitation for profit. How can we progress if we can’t name them and make amends?


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Redwoods forever

In the late afternoon, rising winds blow fog hovering along the coast through the Golden Gate, across the bay, and into South Berkeley, where we live. The light turns white, intermittently at first, shadows flickering; eventually fog covers the sun and colors dull. Before that, though, in that in-between period, there’s a burst of birdsong and, often, train whistles in the distance. I love this transition, one moment the colors rich and bright, muted the next. Change can help you see anew.

In the back of the garden is what I’m told is a marmalade bush, covered wIMG_2300ith glorious orange blossoms. It is a most satisfactory garden shrub, blooming on and on, a stopover for bees and humming birds. Every now and then, someone cuts it back a bit, and it responds within days with a profusion of new blossoms, as though daring anyone to limit its growth.  We should be like this, responding with vigor to threats and setbacks, not curling up in misery like whipped pups. I’m continually amazed at the regenerative power of the plant world–and thank the gods for it, since plant life is certainly challenged these days. Doesn’t it gladden your heart to see weeds poking through cracks in the sidewalk? Across the street, the sidewalk is buckling from the roots of a redwood tree. Where it used to be level, there’s now a little peak to climb and descend. Some good Samaritan poured concrete into the downhill side to smooth the slope; now it’s buckling, too. Rule Britannia, my foot! Rule redwoods!

I’m trying to get used to writing again. I tell myself the sitting down and doing is more important than the end product, but I hope you’ll bear with me while I relearn this process.

The fog has moved on, the birds have quieted, the marmalade bush glows in the sunlight. The gray cat, now 15 years old, has squeezed into the tiny space between the laptop and my stomach and is purring loudly, not at all concerned to be interfering with my efforts.  Another day older and deeper in debt.


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What they don’t tell you about old age

Greetings to all my long-lost blogging friends. I’m sorry to have gone silent for such a long time. I hope some of you are still out there.

They say 55 is the new middle age, but when you get to be 76, it’s hard to quibble with the terminology.  I am old. NOT elderly, senior, in my golden years. Ugh! Call a spade a spade, for godssake. Maybe the realization that, at best, I have another 10 or 15 years on this planet, is what’s motivating my reappearance here after more than two years. I want to leave a mark, however tiny. A little pinprick that says I was here.

What can it possibly matter, once I’m gone? I don’t know. But the more retreat from the world is forced upon me, the more I want to push back, reach out, feel part of things again, leave some remnant of the person I was.

What they don’t tell you about old age is that graceful acceptance is completely impossible. I don’t spend all day raging against the dying of the light, but it infuriates me that I can’t read the fine print on a medicine bottle anymore, or see well at night, or carouse with my grandchildren. My shin bones have no padding on them. Any little bump hurts like crazy and leaves a big ugly bruise. Hair grows where it shouldn’t and stops growing where it should. Weird spots appear on my hands, white crusty lesions on my arms, skin tags under my breasts. It’s just sun damage, says the dermatologist, a life-time of exposure to that California sun. Every new spot looks like malignant melanoma to me.

I’m seeing a physical therapist for neck pain. Good posture helps a lot, he says. We practice. But both of us know at 76 years of age with severe scoliosis, good posture is not in the cards. Nor is pain-free living. I’d give my right arm for some pain-free living. Well, okay, my left arm. Maybe. So he mentions posture, and then we talk about Warriors basketball while he applies traction to my neck. Maybe it’ll help me regain those three inches of height I’ve lost.  Three inches! Good thing I started out tall.

So, dear friends, you’ve probably read many things you didn’t want to know. I do not apologize; knowledge is power. Go climb a mountain while you still can.

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Wednesday morning

A bright and noisy Wednesday morning, rap music coming from the apartment building to the east, hammering and drilling from the back of our lot, more hammering and power saws from the apartment building to the west.  A fire caused by accumulated lint in a dryer displaced a large family some months ago, and the building owner is finally renovating. I’ve no idea what happened to the family. I last saw them huddled on the sidewalk watching large men wrestle giant hoses toward what used to be their home.

How life can change in an instant–a fire, a diagnosis, a death. Even if we learn to be wary, tread cautiously, watch where we put our feet, some things just fall out of the sky.

The news is full of Crimea (“If Not a New Cold War, a Distinct Chill in the Air”) and the missing Malaysian plane, an increasingly bizarre story. Oh, and let’s not forget the latest from the Edward Snowden leaks, that the NSA has now built a surveillance system “capable of recording ‘100 percent’ of a foreign country’s telephone calls…” and storing them for 30 days.  “A senior manager for the program compares it to a time machine–one that can replay the voices from any call without requiring that a person be identified in advance for surveillance.” (Washington Post, “NSA surveillance program reaches ‘into the past’ to retrieve, replay phone calls,” March 18, 2014)

Honestly, isn’t it kind of crazy that they can lose an entire plane with 239 people aboard, but can listen in on Maud discussing laundry detergent with her niece Sally? Will our children and grandchildren grow up just assuming the police can listen in to every phone call, monitor every text and email, locate them in time and space wherever they are? It’s the Stasi on steroids.

Cartoon by Chappatte, Int’l Herald Tribune


I think about these things when I spend time with grandchildren, as I did yesterday. My daughter’s childcare arrangements for her six-year-old have fallen through, so I am contributing to the patchwork of substitutes by picking up my granddaughter at noon every Tuesday at her kindergarten. The first time was yesterday. The teacher holds the children in the classroom until she can identify who’s picking them up, so there was a crowd at the door, at the back of which was my granddaughter, jumping up and down and waving madly. My daughter told me she was terribly excited that I’d be picking her up, and last night I got a text from her saying, “I love my mom’s mom.”  How irresistible is that?

First we went to a hofbrau for lunch–chicken nuggets for her, a burger for me–then to the ice cream store, where she insisted on a sugar cone for her strawberry ice cream with carnival sprinkles. First the sprinkles fell off, then the ice cream.  Happily, we were sitting at a table outside, so she could pick it up and plop it back on the cone. Then we walked to a wonderful park with huge green lawns, two playgrounds, benches and picnic tables. Within minutes, my granddaughter found a friend from preschool, and off they went to do whatever six-year-old girls do when an adult isn’t within earshot. When it was time to go, I walked across the lawn and found them in an amphitheater, prying up pieces of cracked earth and heaving them onto the benches. My granddaughter said she couldn’t leave because she was having too much fun.

And now, all the workers have gone to lunch, the rap music has disappeared, and I’m hearing twittering birds and cawing crows. The orange cat is asleep in the sunshine, the gray cat stretched out on the brown fuzzy blanket, and I am contemplating going out to buy fresh ginger for the chicken and cauliflower curry I’m cooking for dinner tonight. But no rush. It’s not even noon yet

What a lucky life.


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Friday rambles

Cloudy this morning, the whine of the power saw competing with the robins. As the weather gets warmer, people throw open their windows and voices from next door drift across the landscape. I like hearing neighbors’ voices. I’m not so enthusiastic about their TV programs or throbbing basses from idling cars, but it sure beats the freeway noise I lived with all those years.

Photo from the Evening Standard, March 14, 2014.

Saddened to hear of the death of Tony Benn, described by the Guardian as “the lodestar for the Labour left for decades, orator, campaigner, diarist and grandfather.”  Democracy Now interviewed him in 2009 when he was 83, a day after he’d led a protest in London against the war in Afghanistan. His response, when Amy Goodman asked him about the protest:

But, you see, I think you have to understand the history of this. Britain invaded Afghanistan in 1839, captured Kabul, and was defeated the following year, and 15,000 British troops were killed in the retreat. Britain invaded Afghanistan in 1879. Britain was in Afghanistan in 1919. The Russians were in Afghanistan. I led a delegation to the Russian ambassador in London to protest that. The United States government, President Bush, the first one, funded Osama bin Laden to fight the Russians to get them out of Afghanistan.

And the situation now is very straightforward. The United States and NATO, 40 countries with 64,000 troops, in eight years have been unable to defeat the Taliban. And this is a Vietnam War for America and for the rest of the–well, for the people involved, soldiers and civilians on both sides, it’s an absolute tragedy….

….I think you just have to ask yourself the question: Is it a war on terror, or is it a war on Afghanistan? It’s a war on Afghanistan. And to call it a war on terror just entitles you to do what you like. And I don’t think it’s going to succeed.

Giant footprints, hard to fill. He will be missed.

A sentence from Kundera’s The Book of Laughter and Forgetting (1979):

The assassination of Allende quickly covered over the memory of the Russian invasion of Bohemia, the bloody massacre in Bangladesh caused Allende to be forgotten, the din of war in the Sinai Desert drowned out the groans of Bangladesh, the massacres in Cambodia caused the Sinai to be forgotten, and so on, and on and on, until everyone has completely forgotten everything.

I suppose you could pick any decade in the last century or this one and make a similar list.  It makes me sad to have lived so long and seen so little progress toward a more peaceful world.

The sun is out now, and my neighbor in the front apartment is talking to a squirrel. I go outside and we stroll about looking at plants and blooming things.  The tree fern is madly producing ancient curled beginnings of fronds. Surely there should be dinosaurs wandering through. Apocalypse Meow, the Siamese cat who has adopted my neighbor and turned his back on his owner in the next lot, follows us around, throwing himself in our paths and begging to be petted.  She reaches down and scratches his neck. When she stops, he tries to catch hold of her pant leg and keep her there.

A man walks by carrying a bottle of Grand Marnier.  “This is the good stuff, right?” he says, holding it up.  I say, “Um…” My neighbor says, “maybe not for early afternoon.” “I bought it as a present for my grandmother,” he says, “because it says Grand Ma… on it.” We laugh and he walks on.

Quiet now, the workers are at lunch, laughter from next door, the orange cat rolling luxuriously in the sunshine. Reading a mystery in which one of the characters has a horrible hangover, I am thankful once again to be free of the demon. Well…not completely free, perhaps. I expect there’ll always be a little tug there, but it’s not a part of my life anymore, and whatever troubles and moods and despondencies I have, I can manage other ways. I’m very happy for that.

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Rough winds

Thursday afternoon, and the fierce winds of the last few days are finally dying down. I’m glad I wasn’t out on the bay in a sailboat. How do people manage in winds like that? Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May (only it’s March, and supposed to be raining). Shakespeare’s sonnet #18. My mother used to recite it by heart when she put us to bed at night:

Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?
Thou art more lovely and more temperate:
Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,
And summer’s lease hath all too short a date;
Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines,
And often is his gold complexion dimm’d;
And every fair from fair sometime declines,
By chance or nature’s changing course untrimm’d;
But thy eternal summer shall not fade,
Nor lose possession of that fair thou ow’st;
Nor shall Death brag thou wander’st in his shade,
When in eternal lines to time thou grow’st:
So long as men can breathe or eyes can see,
So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.

My mother didn’t have much of a singing voice, so poems were our bedtime lullabys.  I loved the ones about the sea–John Masefield’s “Sea Fever,”

I must go down to the sea again, to the lonely sea and the sky,
And all I ask is a tall ship, and a star to steer her by,
And the wheel’s kick and the wind’s song and the white sail’s shaking,
And a grey mist on the sea’s face, and a grey dawn breaking….

The “Seal Lullaby,” from, lord help us, Kipling’s The Jungle Book:

Oh! hush thee, my baby, the night is behind us,
And black are the waters that sparkled so green.
The moon, o’er the combers, looks downward to find us
At rest in the hollows that rustle between.
Where billow meets billow, then soft be thy pillow,
Ah, weary wee flipperling, curl at they ease!
The storm shall not wake thee, nor shark overtake the,
Asleep in the arms of the slow-swinging seas!

My mother’s voice soothed the night-time terrors, rocking me like that baby seal.  The ogres and monsters crept back in the closet, and I was safe–not that the world was safer then than it is now, World War II raging, an invasion on everyone’s mind.

My two-year-old granddaughter is afraid of trees in the wind. She expects them to fall down on her. This may be a sensible response. When the wind blows and the trees sway, she grabs my hand and says, “Go inside! Go inside!”

One of my grandsons was afraid of trees, too, but it was their spooky shapes, sinister arms reaching out for him.

How do we make our children feel safe when the TV nightly news is filled with violence and death?  School on Lockdown as Police Search for Possible Shooter; Police Capture Man Wanted for Shooting People Talking Outside his RV; Man Carjacks SUV with Boy Inside. You couldn’t make this stuff up.

Somebody said to me today, “How come the NSA can’t find that Malaysian plane? They can find everything else.” He told me a story about a lefty journalist–someone like Jeremy Scahill, though it might not have been him–watching whole sentences disappear from an article he was writing on his laptop, apparently being sucked away by some unseen hand. It wasn’t every sentence, only the ones attacking the NSA. Probably apocryphal, but believable enough in the present climate to make the rounds.

And what a climate it is.  Per Bob Dylan,  you don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows–and no wonder so many end up in the drink.







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