It Was Only a Nightmare

Crying Lady Liberty

I had the worst nightmare last night. I dreamed that my country elected a narcissistic, racist, willfully ignorant, misogynistic liar to the presidency. And that at least one commentator said that millions of Americans considered this a “spiritual victory,” because it was a rebuke to a corrupt government. In the dream, it was a spiritual victory—but for the side of darkness, not the side of light. I woke up shaking with fear and disbelief—and then realized that it was all okay, because it was only a dream.

And then I discovered that it wasn’t.

Not quite half our population is in mourning today. The other half is celebrating. But this isn’t baseball or football; this is our future. After we mourn and dust ourselves off, it will be time to figure out how to move forward, protecting our democracy.

My first draft of this ended on a note of discouragement. But I just heard Hillary’s remarkable concession speech, and I liked the verse she quoted from the Bible: “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.” Those seem like pretty good words to live by, especially today.


Hillary or Bernie? Bernie or Hillary?

Bernie-vs-Hillary-on-HarryTomorrow (oops, it’s past midnight, so it’s today) is Presidential Primary day in Massachusetts. I still haven’t decided between Hillary and Bernie, because there are things I like about both of them. Bernie’s plain speaking* is majorly refreshing, and he has impressive and passionate grassroots support. On the other hand, his indifference (or opposition) to sensible gun control is really troubling, especially as we watch the scoreboard ratchet upward on crazed mass killings. On the other other hand, he knows Harry Potter.

(*I guess Trump supporters think he’s a plain speaker also. But there’s a difference between speaking plainly about the needs of the people and the need to work together, and plainly mouthing bigotry, racism, sexism, arrogance, and greed.)

Hillary favors reasonable gun control, and she has impressive foreign policy experience.  I admit I was unenthusiastic about her at first. But as I’ve heard her speak more, I’ve warmed to her a lot more. And yes, I think it’s time for a woman to be president, though I would not vote for her just on that basis.

I haven’t heard either of them speak on their support for space exploration, which would be relevant to me if I knew their stands.

Given that either is a mostly acceptable candidate to me, I think it comes down to two questions: Who is more electable nationwide? And who has a better chance of leading the country in the face of a hostile and dysfunctional Congress?

I’ll let you know what I decide.

Meanwhile, when it’s voting day in your state, please vote!

*Picture borrowed from

Life Imitates Art Imitating Life

Red line trainThis is nuts. On Thursday, an MBTA Red Line train in Boston took off without its driver (who had stepped out of the cab to throw a switch under the car). The train ran through three stations inbound from Braintree, with no one at the controls, until dispatchers cut the power to the third rail and brought it to a coasting stop.

Reports emerging from the investigation indicate that the driver had not properly set the brakes before exiting the car, and further had tied off the “dead man” lever that controls the train’s movements. (This has not yet been officially confirmed, so we’re going here by reports from The Boston Globe.)

This could be a remarkable instance of life imitating art, said art having already imitated life.

UnstoppableIn the 2010 movie Unstoppable, a runaway freight train endangers an entire city, due to its load of toxic chemicals and the sharp curve it is thundering toward. Only the heroic actions of engineer Denzel Washington and conductor Chris Pine save the day. The cause of the runaway: a dunderhead engineer* getting out of his locomotive to throw a switch without properly setting the brakes, and (I forget exactly how) leaving the controls in such a position that they start the train rolling under power.

That movie, in turn, was inspired by a real-life incident in which a freight train in Ohio, carrying dangerous cargo, rumbled along without anyone in the cab for 66 miles before finally being brought under control in much the same way as in Unstoppable.

It would be very hard to make this stuff up and have anyone believe you.

*In the film, the engineer was clearly a dunderhead. I’m not suggesting that the driver of the T train was. That’s for the investigation to decide.

Capt. Kirk Commands Cutting Edge Vessel!

posted in: public affairs 1

Captain James Kirk left port today—for real—on the bridge of the brand-new U.S.S. Zumwalt, the first of a new class of starsh-… er… Navy destroyer. It’s true. Capt. James A. Kirk really is skipper of the Zumwalt, according to the Associate Press, which reported it without so much as a blink.

USS Zumwalt1

The Zumwalt, named after the admiral with the memorable eyebrows and serious credits as a reformer in the Navy, is a controversial, super-high-tech prototype of a new kind of destroyer, which has a hull design more suggestive of a vessel from the 1890s crossed with the Civil War era Merrimack. This design, with the bow extended forward and down to slice into the water, and a superstructure totally enclosed in a box, reportedly makes it more efficient in the water and stealthier when it comes to radar avoidance. It’s turbine-electric powered, and has the latest in long-range weaponry. It’s also hideously expensive, so much so that the Navy cut its initial order from 32 ships to 3. Proponents say it will serve as a valuable test platform for ships of the future. Skeptics call it a boondoggle. I call it a great reason for Capt. Kirk to get back into his game. (Even if this Capt. Kirk went to Annapolis rather than Star Fleet Academy.)

Capt. James A. Kirk
Capt. James A. Kirk

Time will bring us answers to those questions of usefulness, no doubt. But right now, what I want to know is, why didn’t Capt. Kirk’s parents have the foresight to give him Tiberius for a middle name?

I suppose they must have had their reasons. Meanwhile, congratulations on your new command, Cap’n Kirk!

P.S. You can read a pretty interesting interview with Capt. Kirk here.


posted in: public affairs 2

So, having my big sale come out right after the horrific events in Paris feels crass, at best. (It was all set in motion, of course, long before those events.) I feel a bit weird about promoting books in the face of all that pain.

Truthfully, all I can think of to say about Paris is: People of Paris and France, my thoughts and prayers are with you. We’re all in this together, as you were with us after 9/11. 

Perhaps I’ll just point you to this piece, which offers some good thoughts about constructive ways not to respond to tragedies like this. Please read it.

And now that I think about it, maybe I shouldn’t feel too bad about offering redemptive entertainment in the face of real-life hatred.

Happy Birthday to All of Us—Play It, Sam!

No more do you have to pay a royalty to Warner Chappell Music if you want to use the “Happy Birthday” song in public, in a film, or in your dining room! For most of us, it’s been an interesting bit of trivia that the song “Happy Birthday to You” was under copyright. But for filmmakers and others, it’s been a significant expense. In fact, Warner Chappell Music has been making millions of dollars on it. Well, no more.

US district judge George H King, in Los Angeles, has ruled the copyright claim invalid. The history of the song rights is something of a convoluted story, which you can read about in the LA Times or The Guardian. The bottom line, according the court ruling, is that the 1935 copyright claim applied to a specific arrangement of the song, not the tune itself. And the lyrics apparently were never copyrighted. Warner Chappell Music may be facing significant claims for refunds of the millions they’ve charged over the years.

Play it again and again, Sam! Play it in public!

Volkswagen Cheats the World

posted in: public affairs 0

Every time I think I’m beyond surprise at what complete jerks large corporations can be, something comes along like the latest from Volkswagen. In case you’ve been on a camping trip and haven’t heard the news, the CEO of Volkswagen has admitted that VW has for years been installing software on their diesel-powered cars designed specifically to cheat emissions testing. Customers who bought cars thinking they were buying the latest in safety for the environment and fuel efficiency were getting neither.

This short video from the Washington Post sums the whole thing up in stunning detail.

What I’m wondering is why the CEO of VW is still employed and, for that matter, hasn’t been arrested.

More here.

Update: The CEO of VW has resigned. Who knew I wielded such power? 

Commas Rule, This July Fourth!

Do commas matter? According to an Ohio Court of Appeals, they do.

As we U.S. Americans celebrate the birth of our democracy today, it’s fitting to celebrate recent court victories on behalf of the common man (and woman)—and common sense. I’m not talking about the Supreme Court ruling in support of same-sex marriage equality, though I celebrate that, as well. I’m talking about the Ohio 12th District Court of Appeals ruling which overturned a West Jefferson, Ohio woman’s ticket-and-tow citation when she left her pickup truck parked on the street overnight.

The reason her truck was towed? A village ordinance makes it illegal to park “any motor vehicle camper, trailer, farm implement and/or non-motorized vehicle” on a street for more than 24 hours.

The woman argued that her truck was not a “motor vehicle camper,” and should not have been towed. The trial court ruled that the ordinance meant to say, “motor vehicle, camper, trailer, etc.” and that the missing comma was just a typo.

No way, said the Court of Appeals. If your meaning requires a comma, you need to put the comma in. We’re not responsible for your careless writing. Yay! Let’s hear it for clear writing, I say!

You can read the whole story in the Washington Post, which seems to have rereported it from the Columbus Dispatch.

Now, if I could just collect a fine every time I caught the Boston Globe mangling grammar, spelling, or punctuation (as opposed to “grammar spelling, or punctuation”). It would probably cover the cost of my subscription.

A special tip of the hat today to copy editors everywhere!


Blue Angels Over My Town

And I missed it!

I’ve always wanted to see the Blue Angels, the U.S. Navy’s precision flying squadron. Yesterday I had my chance—except I didn’t know about it! I was in the shower when I heard a thunderous roar of aircraft flying nearby. It sounded right overhead, which is occasionally the case with traffic out of Boston’s Logan Airport. But this didn’t sound like commercial airliners; it had the distinctive crackle of jet fighters. I tried to look out the bathroom window, but saw nothing in the sky but clouds. The last time I’d heard that sound in real life, it was a pair of F-15s flying over Fenway Park.

An hour later, I read in the online edition of the Boston Globe that the Blue Angels (flying their gorgeous blue and yellow FA-18 Hornets) had been in town for a photo shoot, and had just made several passes above the city, including over Fenway Park. It’s entirely possible that they did fly over my house, while I was in the shower.

I was fit to be tied. But I thought, at least I should be able to see some good video footage of it, from the local TV stations. Forget it. As it turns out, about the only videos I’ve found online have been clips from private citizens, probably shot on their cell phones. Here’s a still, though, from the Boston Globe. It’s pretty cool: the six-plane squadron plus a photo plane, passing behind Boston’s Prudential Center.

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