The Common Man

Sometimes, people say that Bernard Sanders “understands the common man,” or, “he is one of us,” or, “he’ll fight for the ordinary citizen.” And, of course, this is meant to contrast to Clinton, who, presumably, won’t.

I wonder what that means, “understands the common man.” Who is this “common man”? Am I a “common man”? This is one of those platitudes than spreads out like a blob of butter on hot toast, and the longer you look at it, the less there seems to be to look at. It just melts away.

So, let’s start with the 1%. Is the “common man” the other 99%? Well, that seems a bit overstretched; I mean, you might not be in the 1%, but still, if you’re in the next 1%, wouldn’t you be fairly wealthy — not “common” at all? Relying on memory, I recall that the income trend line is pretty steep at the high end, and if you make over $200,000 annual income, you’re in the top 5%.

So, should we say “common man” means everyone in the bottom 95%? Hmm, well, I don’t know about you, but it still seems like a family with an annual income of $175,000 is … well, not “common.” Now, that family might be struggling — huge medical bills, or a family member with addiction, or perhaps, they just overspent their income. But, still — is that what is meant by the “common man”?

So, maybe looking at income is grabbing the wrong end of the stick. Is the “common man” the guy who rides dirt bikes in the woods, goes to tractor pulls, remodels his house on his own, hunts deer in the Fall? Or, does he work out at the gym, run marathons, and work remotely via the internet and VPN? Or, maybe, all of the above!

Just who is this “common man”?

Hillary Clinton – Awards and Honors

  • 1969 first Wellesley student to deliver commencement address (selected by acclamation by the other students)
  • 1988 voted one of the 100 most influential lawyers in America by National Law Journal
  • 1991 voted one of the 100 most influential lawyers in America by National Law Journal
  • 1994 Living Legacy Award by the Women’s International Center for “… her vast contributions in so many fields, especially honoring her work for women and children.”
  • 1995 the New York University Annual Survey of American Law dedicated its 52nd volume to Clinton. (Each spring since 1942 the NYU Annual Survey has dedicated a volume to a preeminent attorney.)
  • 1997 winner, Grammy Award for Spoken Word Album: “It Takes a Village.”
  • 1997 Lincoln Medal from the Ford’s Theatre Society, presented annually to “individuals who, through their body of work, accomplishments or personal attributes, exemplify the lasting legacy, and mettle of character embodied by” Abraham Lincoln.
  • 1998 the United Arab Emirates Health Foundation Prize, “… given to a person or persons, an institution or institutions, or a nongovernmental organization or organizations having accomplished notable advances in the health field since the promotion of the global strategy for achieving health for all by the year 2000 elaborated following the International Conference on Primary Health Care, which was held in Alma-Ata in 1978.”
  • 1999 the Lifetime Achievement Award by the Children of Chernobyl Relief Fund “… in recognition of her long-standing efforts to improve children’s health in Ukraine and around the world.”
  • 1999 the Mother Teresa Award by the government of Albania, for “… Mrs. Clinton’s work for humanitarian aid in the Balkans.”
  • 2004 Nursing Health and Humanity Award from the University of Rochester School of Nursing, “… given to someone who has made significant contributions toward advancing the science of nursing and influencing the professional practice and public image of nursing.”
  • 2006 Outstanding Public Service Award from the National Family Planning and Reproductive Health Association, “…  for her work in support of women’s reproductive health.”
  • 2006 Remembrance Award from the Northeastern New York Chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association
  • 2007 honorary doctorate in medicine by the University of Gothenburg in Sweden, for being “a strong advocate for increased investment in medical research” and for “raising awareness of the increased health problems linked to obesity, poor quality food and physical inactivity.”
  • 2009 Margaret Sanger Award by Planned Parenthood “… to recognize leadership, excellence, and outstanding contributions to the reproductive health and rights movement.”
  • 2009 Salute to Greatness Award by the Martin Luther King Center “… to recognize individuals and corporations that exemplify excellence in their leadership and have demonstrated a commitment to social responsibility in the spirit of Martin Luther King, Jr.”
  • 2010 George McGovern Leadership Award by the World Food Program USA“… for her commitment and visionary approach to ending global hunger.”
  • 2012 Champions for Change Award for Leadership by the International Center for Research on Women “… in recognition of her long-standing dedication to empowering women and girls worldwide and ensuring their human rights.”
  • 2012 Lifetime Achievement Award for Peace and Reconciliation by theWorldwide Ireland Funds “… to salute her commitment to peace and reconciliation in Northern Ireland over her two decades as First Lady, US Senator and Secretary of State.”
  • 2013  Department of Defense Medal for Distinguished Public Service, the highest Pentagon medal given to private citizens
  • 2013  Warren Christopher Public Service Award by the Pacific Council on International Policy, “… presented to those who demonstrate commitment to international and domestic affairs, to the highest ethical standards, to promotion of the common good, to equality and fairness, and to government service as a noble pursuit.”
  •  2013 Chatham House Prize by Chatham House, “… in recognition of her personal leadership in driving a new era of US diplomatic engagement and for her particular focus on promoting education and rights for women and girls.”
  • 2013 Liberty Medal, by the National Constitution Center, “… for her career in public service and advocacy efforts on behalf of women and girls around the world.”
  • 2014 Ripple of Hope Award, by the Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Center, which “… celebrates leaders of the international business, entertainment, and activist communities who have demonstrated a commitment to social change.”
  • 2015 Barbara Jordan Public-Private Leadership Award, given to “a deserving woman anywhere in the world who has made the highest achievement during the preceding year or years in any honorable field of human endeavor in the public or private sector.”

Hillary Clinton’s CV

This list originally compiled by Tricia Beliso; I augmented it with sources and dates, as well as additional material.

  • 1965-1969 Wellesley College
  • 1968 elected President of Wellesley College Government Association.
  • 1969 graduated with departmental honors (political science)
  • 1969 first Wellesley student to deliver commencement address (selected by acclamation by other students)
  • 1970-1973 Yale Law School
  • 1973 postgraduate study at Yale Child Study Center
  • 1973 “Children and the Law,” Harvard Educational Review
  • 1973 staff attorney, Children’s Defense Fund and consultant to Carnegie Council on Children
  • 1974 research assistant, House Committee on the Judiciary, during impeachment proceedings regarding President Nixon
  • 1974 one of only two female faculty members, University of Arkansas, Fayetteville, law school
  • 1976 state campaign chairman in Indiana for the Carter campaign
  • 1977 Rose Law Firm, intellectual property and patent infringement law, with pro bono in child advocacy
  • 1977 Rodham, Hillary; Steiner, Gilbert Y. (June 1977). “Children’s Policies: Abandonment and Neglect”. Yale Law Journal 68 (7): 1522–1531.
  • 1977 co-founded the Arkansas Advocates for Children & Families, a state affiliate of the CDF.
  • 1978-1981 member, Board of Directors, Legal Services Corporation
  • 1978-1980 chair, BoD, Legal Services Corporation, during which period, she tripled funding from $90 million to $300 million
  • 1979 Rodham, Hillary (1979). “Children’s Rights: A Legal Perspective”. In Patricia A. Vardin, Ilene N. Brody (eds.). Children’s Rights: Contemporary Perspectives. New York: Teachers College Press. pp. 21–36.
  • 1979 first woman to become full partner at Rose Law Firm
  • 1979 chair of the Rural Health Advisory Committee, where she secured federal funds to expand medical facilities in Arkansas’s poorest areas without affecting doctors’ fees
  • 1983 chair of the Arkansas Educational Standards Committee, where she sought to reform the state’s court-sanctioned public education system
  • 1985 introduced the Arkansas Home Instruction Program for Preschool Youth, a program that helps parents work with their children in preschool preparedness and literacy.
  • 1982-1988 member of the BoD, of the New World Foundation
  • 1986-1992 member, BoD, Children’s Defense Fund
  • 1987-1988 chair, BoD, New World Foundation
  • 1987-1991 first chair of the American Bar Association’s Commission on Women in the Profession, which addressed gender bias in the legal profession
  • 1988 voted one of the 100 most influential lawyers in America by National Law Journal
  • 1988-1992 member of the BoD, Arkansas Children’s Hospital Legal Services
  • 1991 voted one of the 100 most influential lawyers in America by National Law Journal
  • 1992 first “First Lady” to hold a postgraduate degree, and the first to have her own career up to the point of entering the White House.
  • 1993 appointed to chair the Task Force on National Health Care Reform
  • 1995 helped Janet Reno create an Office on Violence Against Women at the Department of Justice;
  • 1995 “Women’s rights are human rights” speech, UN Fourth World Conference on Women, Beijing
  • 1997 with Senators Ted Kennedy and Orrin Hatch, created and got passed the State Children’s Health Insurance Program, and conducted outreach efforts on behalf of enrolling children in the program once it became law.
  • 1997 promoted nationwide immunization against childhood illnesses and encouraged older women to seek a mammogram to detect breast cancer, with coverage provided by Medicare.
  • 1997 initiated the Adoption and Safe Families Act, and the Foster Care Independence Act
  • as FLOTUS, she visited 79 countries to amend their relations with the United States
  • 1994 Living Legacy Award by the Women’s International Center for “… her vast contributions in so many fields, especially honoring her work for women and children.”
  • 1997 winner, Grammy Award for Spoken Word Album: “It Takes a Village.”
  • 1999 the Lifetime Achievement Award by the Children of Chernobyl Relief Fund “… in recognition of her long-standing efforts to improve children’s health in Ukraine and around the world.”
  • 1999 the Mother Teresa Award by the government of Albania, for “… Mrs. Clinton’s work for humanitarian aid in the Balkans.”
  • 2000 first woman & first former First Lady to be elected as U.S. Senator from New York
  • 2006 reelected to the Senate
  • 2009 Margaret Sanger Award by Planned Parenthood “… to recognize leadership, excellence, and outstanding contributions to the reproductive health and rights movement.”
  • 2009 Salute to Greatness Award by the Martin Luther King Center “… to recognize individuals and corporations that exemplify excellence in their leadership and have demonstrated a commitment to social responsibility in the spirit of Martin Luther King, Jr.”
  • 2009-2013 US Secretary of State under the Obama administration
  • 2010 George McGovern Leadership Award by the World Food Program USA “… for her commitment and visionary approach to ending global hunger.”
  • 2012 Champions for Change Award for Leadership by the International Center for Research on Women “… in recognition of her long-standing dedication to empowering women and girls worldwide and ensuring their human rights.”
  • 2012 Lifetime Achievement Award for Peace and Reconciliation by the Worldwide Ireland Funds “… to salute her commitment to peace and reconciliation in Northern Ireland over her two decades as First Lady, US Senator and Secretary of State.”

Sanders Supporters

Increasingly,  I find supporters of Bernie Sanders’ Presidential campaign arrogant, condescending, and narrow-minded.

Sanders himself is an ordinary career politician. He has spent most of his adult life in political office. The only time he’s ever held a “real job” has been when he was between political jobs.  I don’t object to career pols the way some people do.  I prefer to vote for people who know what they’re doing.  You don’t hire an individual to run your company because he just graduated from university and thinks “running a company would be cool.” You ask that individual to show you a CV that demonstrates the ability to run your company. Only in politics is ignorance of the job’s duties, and no demonstrated ability, considered a virtue, by some. 1 Sanders has demonstrated the ability to keep the political bacon fried to tasty perfection for his state: Vermont, sixth smallest and second least populous of the 50 states, with the second highest proportion of non-Hispanic whites and the forty-eighth highest proportion of blacks. In regard to the latter number, the 2010 Census puts the black population of the state at 1% of the total population, or 6,260-odd in a population of 626,000. 2  Only one state has a higher proportion of white folks, and only two states have a lower proportion of black folks.

The open question is: How has his thirty-year career in the national legislature, working the bacon grill for Vermont, prepared him to be President?  One ought to be able to ask for a CV that shows leadership within the Congress on any of the important issues.  Did he lead the fight for financial regulation? Did he lead the fight against military intervention in Iraq? Did he lead the fight to make health care legislation more inclusive? In what legislative battles, over the past 30 years, can the figure of Bernie Sanders be seen in the forefront?  Well, the answers are no, no, no, and none.  He has spent nearly his entire adult life in an elective office, or running for one, and yet, never has bubbled up to the top of the pyramid, never been the go-to guy when help was needed.

Which is the reason why, if you ask a Sanders supporter for an example of Sanders’ leadership on an issue — any issue — the response will be in the form of talking smack about Hillary Clinton.  No Sanders supporter appears to have the plain, old-fashioned gumption to admit that support for the candidate is based on emotional attachment and not on rational evaluation.  Nor will the Sanders supporter admit that, when push comes to shove, one of the core beliefs of the Sanders supporters is that “any idiot can run the country.” It doesn’t take skill, experience, or knowledge, to be President. Anyone who can get the votes can do it. In this instance, that “anyone” is Bernard Sanders, erstwhile Senator of the sixth smallest state of the union.

I believe that one of the reasons that Sanders supporters are so nasty to Hillary Clinton supporters is that she has the record Sanders lacks.  She has the CV of leadership, skill, experience, and knowledge, that make her a credible candidate for the Presidency.  Many people say that her position on this issue or that disqualifies her from that office.  She voted to support the war in Iraq, or she opposes the dismantling of the “war on drugs,” or she changed her mind about gay marriage; and, therefore, she should not be President.  That’s fine — one can support or oppose a candidate on many issues.  Sanders is an opponent of gun control3, which is one of my hobby horses.  I could, following the paradigm of the Sanders supporters, denounce his candidacy on that point alone.  That’s not how I roll.

One of the lessons I have tried to teach my kids is, “You can’t make yourself look good by making someone else look bad.” Sanders supporters didn’t get that lesson, or it didn’t take.  As a result, there’s no effort by his supporters to convince others that he’s the right guy for the job.  There’s simply a relentless personal smear campaign to make the other candidate look unfit.  The operational paradigm is that Sanders’ undistinguished record will look good, if Clinton’s record can be obscured by personal animus.  It might work.

There might be a President Sanders sworn into office in January 2017.  The result of that swearing in will be a colossal failure of “progressive” politics.  Although it is considered axiomatic in American politics that a politician “will say anything to get elected,” Sanders supporters have been adamant that their candidate is different, and he’ll do everything he says he’ll do.  Well, — no, he won’t.  We won’t have single-payer healthcare in America in my lifetime (which is drawing to a close).  We won’t see an end to private prisons in the next decade.  We won’t see a decline in gun violence under President Sanders, nor will we see greater restrictions placed on firearms buyers and sellers. We won’t see any improvement in American schools, or a decline in child poverty, as a result of a Sanders Presidency.  We won’t see banksters in jail, and we won’t see the big banks broken up.

As a result of Sanders’ failure to keep his promises, progressive politics will be sent even further into the wilderness for another generation.  And, really, that’s what I most get angry about.  Because, in my view, the Sanders campaign is born out of the intellectual laziness and emotional immaturity of supporters who want some political Moses to lead them to the Promised Land, so that they won’t have to struggle in the desert.  Real, successful progressive politics always works from the ground up.  Unions work because they’re organized by, composed of, and run by, the people in the communities where they exist.  The Civil Rights Act was not a hand-me-down from some “leaders” in the national government.  It was the government’s response to relentless pressure from progressives — real progressives — on the ground, in the communities.  Those progressives moved the national consciousness, the consciousness of voters.  Voters brought about changes in the law, not Messianic legislators.

Bernard Sanders is a Jew, but he’s not Moses. The Promised Land to which he promises to lead us, is a myth. I can excuse him for getting caught up, and believing his own press releases. He’s a politician.  I can’t excuse his supporters, for their uncritical acceptance of everything he says as Biblical Truth. The very first rule of responsible citizenship is, Question Authority.

Old saying: You can fix the blame, or you can fix the problem.  At the end of the Sanders regime, banished and humiliated “progressives” will return to fixing the blame, because fixing the problem is hard work.

  1. On the right, these people are known as the “TEA party.” On the left, they’re known as “progressives.” 
  2.   “Vermont.” Wikipedia. Wikipedia, 5 Feb. 2016. Web. 5 Feb. 2016. <;. 
  3. At the Federal level, “it’s a state issue” is his official line.  He voted for a bill in Congress to immunize firearm manufacturers from product liability lawsuits. 

Just the Fax, Ma’am

It happens that I am occasionally the victim of the need to send a fax. Yes, this vestigial technology persists in the slackwater bayous of the internet world. Every printer I’ve owned in the past 15 years has had some kind of proto-fax machine embedded in it, and every one of them has had a dorky and clumsy interface. The Jurassic Period saw the worst case scenario, having to manually punch in the phone numbers on the printer itself, with the printer additionally required to have its own phone line.

But, even if you have advanced into the modern era, and your printer can “fax” via the internet, wait — it’s a document that you have to sign and date and then send. You mean — yes, it’s a Word document, received via email, that you now have to print out, sign, date, stick it onto the printer’s “copy” window, then return to your computer to punch in the phone number and — by this time, it’s Miller time, and you’re ready to bong a gallon. Look up clusterfuck in the dictionary, and this scenario will be one of the definitions.

Some businesses, I know, still use fax extensively. Ordinary folks might send a half-dozen, usually in a legal or financial situation, or sending the office order over to the local deli, which promotes its “with it” status by accepting takeaway orders via fax.

So, what happens when you encounter this PDF form that has to be filled out, signed, dated, and faxed? — and, of course, this is a matter of pressing importance and must be completed and sent immediately.

You print the form, fill, sign, date. With a sigh, you slip the paper onto the copy window and return to your computer. Oh, no. You haven’t installed the “fax” software that came with the printer, because you figured you’d never use it. Oh, man, — haha! Good luck finding that CD! That means a Google, followed by a trip to the printer manufacturer’s web site, a massive download of the bloatware, an interesting experience with Windows Installer … and then, having propitiated the gods with an exceptionally excellent stream of curses, you bring up the software interface, negotiate its arbitrary design quirks, put in your fax number, create a “fax cover page,” and send your fax.

All this reflection on the gentle art of faxing is by way of setup. I am not in the habit of giving free adverts to products, but I’m excepting the rule with a web service called “HelloFax,” that is easily accessible via a browser extension.

Warning. The following description involves the use of technology.

HelloFax is specifically designed to address all the absurdities of the adventures described above.

You upload your uber-important document to HelloFax. You edit it as needed, sign and date it. You create/select an address book entry for the phone number. You click “send.”

Wait … what? How can you … ?

After you create your HelloFax account, you sign a blank piece of white paper, in the manner you would sign a document — your legal signature. You then use your phone’s camera to take a photo of the signature. You upload the photo to HF. On the HF server, the image is processed to make the background transparent. If necessary, you can resize the signature image to make its appearance relative to a document appropriate.

From this point forward, you can sign and fax any document without ever having to approach any machinery, without even leaving your seat.

You upload your document to HF, open it in the HF editor, and insert your signature image in the appropriate location. Since the background is transparent, the signature visually appears to have been the product of pen on paper. You can insert a date, if needed. It also is inserted as an image with transparent background, so you can drag it around into the appropriate position with your mouse.

If you have a document or documents that are resent periodically, you simply open the appropriate item in your “sent faxes” folder in HF, edit as needed, and click “resend.”

You can create and add a coversheet, if desired.

There may be other, similar tools. Adobe has one, which in my observation is clumsy and a PITA to use. I had an account at for a time, but really, it was not useful for the kind of service provided by HF. And it’s expensive, if you need only send or receive the occasional fax, and don’t use the service more than a few times a year.

HelloFax is not free. In fact, the cost of the full-service solution 1 would not be justifiable for the occasional user, unless you were in some situation in which immediate access to it was an absolute requirement. But, HelloFax allows you a certain number of free faxes, so you can treat it as free, up to that point. This number of freebies has migrated somewhat since I signed up for the service.

The FAQ reports:

The free plan comes with 5 free fax pages. When you run out, it’s only 99 cents / fax for faxes up to 10 pages and 20 cents for every page after. Note, this is just for sending faxes. To receive faxes, you can pick one of the paid plans.

The implication is that you get five free pages, period, and then after that you have to pay (the entirely reasonable) specified fees. However, HF seems to be running promos on some of the cloud services (in my case, Google Drive), and I’ve been faxing with reckless abandon for six months at no charge. 2

Aside from the convenience — I just filled out, signed, dated, and faxed a financial document in less than 5 minutes — HF represents to me a well thought out, and cleanly implemented, process design. Someone analyzed how computer users handle faxes, and realized that it blows chunks. The analyst then went the next step, and asked the money question, “What technology is available to address the pain points in this process?” And, finally, the stroke — instead of yet another special-purpose software application, practically invisible in a sea of such: a web-based service easily accessed via a browser extension. HF integrates the faxing of documents into the computer user’s daily workflow.

  1. Both send and receive faxes, and an assigned fax telephone number. 
  2. I am not disturbed by the fact that this is a send-only option. I have no anticipation of ever needing to receive a fax. 

Quantum Biology

Below, are some notes from a documentary on quantum physics in nature, and how the study of quantum behavior has resulted in a new field of quantum biology.

Things that make you go, “Hmm.”

  • Frog metamorphosis
    The metamorphosis of a frog is enabled by a combination of enzymes and quantum tunneling. Tunneling is the ability of particles to penetrate surrounding materials and reform on the other side; analogously to light passing through a window. The tunneling enables the enzymes to break down structural tissue within the tadpole, so that it can be reformed in the shape of the frog.

  • Smell
    The ability to smell is based on vibrating strings (as in, String Theory). Aroma is based on the harmonics of the vibrations, which is why it is possible for two different objects, with two different molecular structures, to smell the same — they have the same harmonics.

  • Bird navigation
    Bird navigation is based on quantum entanglement. Entanglement is the association between atomic particles that causes two particles to exhibit predictably the same state or opposing states. The earth’s magnetic field causes one of the pair to shift state, and this shift enables the bird to determine which way to fly.

  • Photosynthesis
    Photosynthesis depends on Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle, which states that it is impossible to know the state of a particle at any given moment. The photon of light triggers the release of a particle, the exciton, that must travel to the binding or receiving molecule by the most efficient means. It does this by exhibiting the quantum behavior of a wave, traveling all directions at once, until it finds the receptor.

  • Genetic Mutation
    Genetic mutation is caused by protons “jumping” across the barriers that occur in genes and which are designed to hold the genes in a particular shape. This shape determines which other genes are allowed to bind in the DNA framework. The proton movement changes the shape of the gene, so that other genes are able to bind to it.

Congress and “Career Politicians”

A persistent meme, from both sides of the aisle, is the damaging effects of having the country run by “career politicians.”

Let’s think about what that means

A career politician can be defined as someone whose life’s work requires the holding of elective public office. This might be someone dedicated to public service, or someone who just doesn’t want to get a real job. Or, can’t get a real job.

At the time the country was founded, the newly-minted Americans had a serious fear of “aristocrats,” and anything or anyone that smacked of old world, monarchical rule. This could strike one as odd. Although the fight for independence was fought by the yeomen, it was precipitated, organized, and consummated, by “aristocrats” — the wealthy and the well-to-do, who at that time ran the country.

An artefact of this fear and loathing is the belief that persists to this day among Americans, that “anyone can run the country.” America has a long history of electing people to public office on that basis. You do not, in fact, have to demonstrate success at any level of life, to get elected to the United States Congress. (In the early years, at least one candidate elected to Congress was illiterate.) The only requirements for getting elected are, the ability to: be personable with your electorate; raise money to pay for your campaign; keep your political activities in front of your electorate (so that it looks like you’re earning your money).

The “Congressional scorecard” that rates the effectiveness, attentiveness, and leadership abilities, of members of Congress, is — the election. This is exactly how the writers of the Constitution envisioned elections. They were to be the “check” on corrupt behavior in the national government. 1

The most significant element of the design of the Constitution was intended to be its transfer of elective power from politicians to citizens. Recall that under the Articles of Confederation, the national government was composed of politicians elected by the state legislatures, not by individual voters. It was a confederation of states. As a result, the members of the national government were beholden to the legislatures, not the individual citizens of their respective states. The legislatures could, and did, dictate to their Congressional members how to vote on particular issues. And, the Congress members wanting first and foremost to keep their jobs, did as they were ordered. 2

So, what happened?

In modern times, almost all discussions of the national legislature come around to “term limits,” like most discussions of social or political issues come around to “Hitler.”

Elections are “term limits” — that is exactly how the writers of the Constitution saw them. It is the reason they wanted national elections for the Presidency. It’s the reason they wanted the national legislature out of the hands of the state legislatures. The creators of the Constitution wanted to form a government, the powers of which could be checked without resorting to violence, and at the same time, not subject to the venality of the state legislatures. National popular elections were the answer. 3

Elections have not become ineffective at their intended purpose — they simply are not being used that way. Since American voters, by and large, require no demonstration of competency for elected officials, it cannot be considered surprising that so many elected individuals are incompetent.

The now infamous TEA Party “insurgency” in the 2010 elections is the textbook example of the casual election of incompetent legislators. Consider Joe Walsh, a serial bankrupt and deadbeat dad, who used his child support money to take his girlfriend on vacation in Mexico, and then swore in court that he could not pay the $100,000 he owed, because he had no money. He is emblematic of the venal characters that can talk their ways into public office.

Representative Paul Ryan, now Speaker of the House, the apostle of “personal responsibility,” “hard work,” and “private enterprise,” has never worked a job in the private sector in his entire adult life. He went from university to work in a Congressman’s office, to jockeying a desk at a “think tank,” to his own Congressional office. And yet, his followers uncritically accept his asseveration that he is the world SME 4 on the benefits of working in the private sector. Benefits of which he himself has no direct experience, and, apparently, no desire to experience.

These are two of many examples of individuals elected to public office without any examination of their CVs.

Joe Walsh’s basically non-existent political skills gave him an early exit from public office. Ryan’s highly honed skills have advanced him to the Speakership. In both cases, the essential fact is that skill as a legislator never entered into the decision to give them the job — or, take it away.

What Can Be Done?

If someone suggested that the CEO of a company should be fired after 5 years, without regard of his effectiveness as leader of the company, most people would think the idea absurd. You fire someone for incompetence, or failure — not because his “term” is up. The essential element is that the CEO is judged on effectiveness in office.

Elections work. The incompetent Walsh was turfed out. Even if it was for the wrong reasons, he still was “term limited” out of office.

What can be done is to judge legislators on their effectiveness in their roles. The topic that is not considered is, “What defines an effective legislator?” That question needs to be addressed.

But, as long as people remain fixated on firing legislators without regard to their effectiveness, and hiring people to the position without regard to their competence, nothing can be done — nothing at all.



By the Numbers: Longest-serving members of Congress

Congressional Careers: Service Tenure and Patterns of Member Service, 1789-2015 (PDF)

Articles of Confederation

Morgan, Edmund S. Inventing the People: The Rise of Popular Sovereignty in England and America. New York: W. W. Norton & Company. 1989.

Jensen, Merrill. The Articles of Confederaton: An Interpretation of the Social-Constitutional History of the American Revolution, 1774-1781. np:University of Wisconsin Press. 1940.

  1. James Madison had been elected to state government, and hated it. He thought the state legislatures were venal, bureaucratic, and corrupt. In his time, of course, electoral laws sharply limited the membership of the electorate. 
  2. A read of the Articles of Confederation can be rewarding. The Articles in many ways embody the type of government now praised by libertarians and right-wing Republicans. Merrill Jensen has written an excellent short book arguing the case for the superiority of the Articles over the eventual Constitution. 
  3. Morgan, Edmund S. Inventing the People: The Rise of Popular Sovereignty in England and America. New York: W. W. Norton & Company. 1989. p. 273. 
  4. Subject Matter Expert 

Mass Shootings Data Summary

Research on Mass Shootings

Everytown Research has produced some white papers studying mass shootings. The details can be found there.

  •  A mass shooting is defined as 4 or more people shot to death.
  • Jan 2009 to July 2015, 133 mass shootings have occurred in the United States.
  • They’ve occurred in 39 states.
  • The median age of the shooters is 34 years old.
  • 57% of the incidents were domestic violence, in which the targets were family members.
  • 94% of the shooters are male.
  • 50% of the victims were female.
  • 11% of the shooters had known or suspected mental health issues, but only 1% had issues that prohibited them from having firearms.
  • Mass shootings account for less than 1% of homicides.
  • 62% of mass shootings were committed with legal weapons.
  • 8% were committed in a workplace (4%) or a school (4%).
  • 67% were committed in private residences.
  • 13% were committed in so-call gun-free zones.
  • 16% were committed in areas in which CCW was permitted

I looked at details on the twenty five shootings between 20 February 2014 and 15 July 2015. This was an arbitrary number, as it took several hours of reading dozens of news reports to get details of the crimes, the shooters, and their families. After 25 events, I just wore down.

Of the local and national news stories on the shootings, seven events had stories which discussed the families of the shooters; all of those families classify as “conservative.” I identified as conservative families whose members expressed white supremacist sympathies, were demonstrative church-goers and active members of their communities, who had military affiliation that extended beyond service in the Armed Forces. These are stereotypical, but probably accurate.  The other 18 families either were not discussed, or were discussed in ways that made it not possible to identify them on the political scale.

It’s likely that, due to the high median age of the shooters, family background was not a topic for discussion at the time of the events, except with respect to domestic violence and mental illness.



The majority of mass shootings in the United States are events of domestic violence, and the targets are family members.  It’s telling that the dominant public image of the mass shooter ignores the reality, that half the victims are women, and the majority of victims are family members of the shooters.  Domestic violence remains the unacknowledged reality in America.

The Value of Provenance


When [García Márquez] heard that I was going to translate Don Quixote, he said, “Dicen que me estás poniendo cuernos con Cervantes” — “I hear you’re two-timing me with Cervantes.” Brilliant! — Edith Grossman, 2011


Many years ago, about three decades, I guess, I made the decision to stop reading literature in translation.

This decision was made based on two experiences of the time. One was, reading the translator’s introduction to Freud’s book on psychoanalysis. In the introduction, the translator explained that Freud was a compulsive punner, and the essays/lectures are littered with puns in the original German, that cannot be adequately translated into English. This was a “thing that made me go ‘Hmm’,” that what you are reading in the translation is significantly divorced from the original.

The second event parallels the first. It was the translator’s introduction to a novel by a Russian author, in which the same point was made. Many of the words and turns of phrase used by the author, only had significance in the original Russian. Russian readers would recognize them, and “get the joke” in the way the author was expressing himself. Like many writers living under repressive governments, this author was a master of saying one thing when he meant another, and trusting to the reader to “get the joke.”

This caused me to step back, and ask myself, What am I getting in this translation? And the answer, to me, at the time, was, I’m not getting what the author wrote, I’m getting what the translator thinks he wrote, or what the translator thinks he should have written.

It was especially common in early translation efforts, for the translator to act deliberately as a filter and editor, excising text that he (or she) felt was irrelevant or offensive. Early translators of Hugo, Zola, Balzac, Dumas, and others, Bowdlerized the texts for the delicate sensibilities of their English-language readership. They cut “unnecessary” scenes wholesale, to make the novels “move faster.”

Much later, I enrolled in French classes at university, as part of my degree program when I returned to school. I made the decision that I was not particularly interested in learning to speak the language, but I wanted to read and write it. So, as soon as I had some basic grammar, syntax, and vocabulary, I began reading. I asked my mother, a retired teacher of French, what authors would be most approachable, and who I might avoid. Because popular genre novels are generally considered “light reading” in America, I thought they might be a good approach for reading in French.

No, she said, in fact, it’s the opposite. Genre fiction depends a great deal on the assumption that you know the dialects and idiomatic usages of the authors and the times in which they were writing. I found this to be true in a practical manner — I tried to read one of George Simenon’s Inspector Maigret novels and found it impossible to follow. I just couldn’t “get the joke” of the many idiomatic usages in the writing, with my primitive schoolboy French.

In the early 2000s, I was looking for a “vacation beach” book. For reasons that escape me now, I looked at The Count of Monte Cristo. Translations of this novel, like those of so many other novels, have an execrable history. It turns out that many of the “new editions” available from various publishers, are simply updates of an original translation done in the 1840s. In other words, they are not new translations, they are simply modifications of a translation done more than 150 years ago.

Say what? Quite a bit of rooting around, and I found the only truly new translation of the novel was by Robin Buss, for Penguin Classics, in 1996. I bought it. And the first thing I noticed was that it was fully 1/3 larger than the standard “Signet Classic” edition I already had. Yes, if you read a version of The Count in English, and it was only 600-700 pages long, you got a rewrite or reissue of the 1846 translation that hacked out the “offensive” and “unnecessary” passages. The Buss translation could double as a boat anchor, at 1200 pages (of tiny print).

The other aspect of the Buss translation is that it restores the character of the Count to something like its original. The Count of the translation I read as a youth was a heroic figure, who overcame injustice. The Count in the Buss translation is a sociopath who systematically destroys the lives of people who had wronged him. He kills people who had done him no harm, because their deaths will inflict grief on the people who had done him harm. He wants his betrayers to suffer. Only at the very end, after emotionally destroying and then murdering the people on his enemies list, does he show anything like compassion — and it’s compassion that will not be visible to his enemies.

It’s a completely different novel from the one you probably read.


Since that time, I’ve had something of a rapprochement with literature in translation.

Modern translators are more aware of the pitfalls, and spend more time ameliorating the effects of the translation process.

Edith Grossman elucidates the problem well in an interview.

MCS: What makes a book translatable?

EG: I’d like to rephrase that question. I can’t say what makes a book translatable, but I do think that all texts can be translated. The question of whether or not a work is “translatable” stems from a mistaken and widely held notion that a translation is really a one-for-one set of equivalences with the original–a straightforward lexical problem–when in fact it is a rewriting of the first text. Some, of course, are immensely difficult (they’re usually just as difficult in the original) and challenge the translator’s sensitivity to nuance, levels of meaning, and artistic impact in both languages. I see my work as translating meaning, not words.

I add emphasis to the last sentence. This makes sense to me. Of course, much meaning is encased in the original language. When I read Camus’ l’Etranger, during my bout with French literature, I was struck by the rhythm of the language, of the writing, that is completely absent from the translations I had read in my youth. A (good) translator could get much of the story, and the metalanguage of the story, but a translation will never capture that particular usage of language that epitomized Camus.

I think the essential difference is that…and I’m not saying that translators always have to do this, there are reasons for departing a little bit further from a writer’s text where it just won’t work in English. I found on the contrary what really worked better in English was to follow Hugo much more closely than anyone else seems to have done. So I’ve actually followed his syntax as closely as possible, I’ve followed the rhythm of his sentences and I’ve actually broken it up the way he has and stuck more closely to what he says. — Julie Rose, interview, 2009

You have to take that as axiomatic, I believe, when choosing to read literature translated from another language. It’s not the same book, in a different language. It’s not. Now, if you want to put on some airs, you can pretend that this translation or that somehow captures the author’s intent by adhering to some kind of lexical purity in translation. Giving you the words, and making no attempt to convey the meaning. But that’s intellectual posturing, a kind of pathetic snobbery.

It took me thirty years to get around the kind of mental roadblock thrown up by that realization. 1 It was the honesty and firm intellectual ground on which these translators based their work, that brought me around.

So, provenance is important. When I look at a work in translation, the first item to be examined is the translator — who, when, and the goal of the translation. In these times, finding this information can require the dedication of a detective. Audio book publishers are especially bad about concealing the translators of books. It is something, I suspect, that they just don’t consider important. I still don’t read many books in translation. I don’t feel it’s a loss. I have stacks of books written in English, that I never will get through in my lifetime, because they never get any smaller. But, when I do get a hankering to read some particular work, I’m only going to do it if I feel that the translator has held a level of intellectual rigor equal to that of the translators I mention below.

Some translators whose work I’ve investigated and read, and given the Stamp of Approval.

  • Edith Grossman

Her translation of Don Quixote (2003) is now considered definitive; this is another novel that will look completely different to the reader from the version read 30 years ago. And she is also noted for her translations of the works of Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Garcia Marquez told an interviewer that he would rather read Grossman’s translations of his novels in English, than the original Spanish. She received the PEN/Ralph Manheim Medal for Translation in 2006.

  • Tiina Nunnally

Translator of Scandinavian novels, along with her husband, Steven Murray. Her translation of Kristin Lavransdatter, Book III, won the PEN Translation Prize in 2001, and her 1993 translation of Smilla’s Sense of Snow won the American Translators Association’s Lewis Galantière Prize.

  • Julie Rose

Translator of French literature, most famously the new translation of Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables. She has translated around thirty books, won a PEN Medallion for translation; finalist for the French-American Foundation’s translation prize in 2009; won the NSW Premier’s Prize in Australia for her translation.


Tiina Nunnally (Wikipedia)
Interview with Tiina Nunnally (blog)
Steven T. Murray and Tiina Nunnally: On Translating and “The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo”

Interview with Julie Rose (blog)
Julie Rose on Translation (interview)
Translators for le French Book (Publishers) (Julie Rose)
What Julie Rose Adds to Victor Hugo (interview)
A new translation of Les Miserables (Julie Rose, interview)

The Art of Translation (NPR)

The Making of a Translator: An Interview with Edith Grossman
Edith Grossman Frowns: On the Challenges of Translation in America

  1. It’s not like I didn’t have any useful or valuable reading to do. So many great writers write in English, that one is hardly at a loss for “what’s next.” Here’s a bit of math. If you read a book a week, that’s roughly 50 books a year. In twenty years, you’ll have read around 1,000 books. In a 50-year lifetime of reading, you’ll have read 2,500 books — if you maintain the mark and read 50 books a year. In that perspective, one could never read a book in translation, and hardly dent the library of literature on offer.