Help! I’m Stuck On Zillow And Can’t Get Out

Help!  I’m Stuck On Zillow And Can’t Get Out

I have a house.  I like it a lot, probably wouldn’t sell it even if somehow the market here in Oregon bounced way past the price we paid, which, by the way, was at the absolute top of the housing bubble.  My track record is impressive:  Bought four houses, lost money on every single one.  I offer myself as the single best hedge against poor investments; if I’m in, it’s time for you to get out.

All of that aside. there was a moment several years ago when we thought about moving maybe try to find a place a little closer to kids and grandkid, maybe near Portland or Salem, maybe McMinnville.  Southern Oregon is green and rivers run wild, but we are more than five hours away from city life and literally trapped in the Rogue Valley when ice and snow block the passes.

The real estate aggregators had not been available when we bought our last house; to be completely candid, the internet was not available when we bought our last house. I heard about Zillow on NPR, figured it had to be a reasonable place to start a search, and fell into a rabbit hole from which I am now only starting to emerge.

Part of the problem is that I like to buy houses, except for the buying part.  I like nosing around, peeking into storerooms, scaling creaking ladders to an attic that last saw daylight in 1956, dropping into basements that smell like backed up urinals at a deserted truck stop in Arkansas.  Ok, basement are a lot less interesting.

Part of the pleasure I find is in seeing the “bones” of a house, how it has functioned and imagining what the place might look like with a deck, or a porch, or a second story.  I’m not alone, obviously; the Home and Garden Network sucks millions of us into flipping and flopping, fixing up, tearing down, and totally financing make-overs, and I confess to watching the same house brought to bare studs over and over, if only to calculate just how far into bankruptcy I would have to go in order to add the office/sauna off the garage.

I can still remember houses that I’ve shopped years ago.  A yellow house in Millbrook, New York, had the playroom I had always wanted to have as a child.  A sleek mid-modern in Grosse Pointe, Michigan was as close to a Frank Lloyd Wright house as any I could have conceivably owned.  A smallish, tidy house on a golf course in Aroyo Grande was completely  unsuitable in every way but had a bathroom to make a Roman Senator weep with delight.

I go to Open Houses without any intention of buying, just nosing around one more time.  Yes, I am that guy.

So, when the digital universe offered me virtual snooping into houses of every size, in any location, sorted by price, acreage, bedrooms, baths, proximity to restaurants, my heart fluttered just a bit, and I entered the Zillowverse.

The virulence of the addiction varies as events in the real world press upon me, but I manage to check in on at least one or two properties a week as I entertain thoughts of living near my daughter in Massachusetts or wonder what it would take to find a weekend home near Ann Arbor during the football season.  To be clear, I can afford neither prospect, but the search continues.

Cautiously, recognizing that others may be as vulnerable as I have been, I present my most recent set of search-swamps, set off by a lingering wish that I had held on to the house we once owned in Wellfleet, Massachusetts, a lyrically inappropriate place to live year-round and absolute folly in terms of any of the activities I most want to pursue.

Our old house seems to be Zillowestimated at about $300,000.00, a figure which at one time would have had me roiling in envy as I sold the house for considerably less.  But, a friend who is a realtor advised me that the Zillow Estimate could be off by as much as 60%.  So, armed with that consoling piece of information, I soldiered on, taking the highly questionable amount suggested as the cost of the Wellfleet house and applied it to a search for a comparable home near Ann Arbor, just to see, you know, not to actually buy or anything.

Good news!  I was given approximately 742 houses in or near Ann Arbor that might suit my search.  Using the rest of the search criteria, I was able to whittle that down to 48, any one of which would suit me, except for small issues easily remedied by a few calls to contractors.

So, off I go to a separate site, comparing the cost of construction per square feet in Ann Arbor to that in Oregon.

Heartbreaking realization!  Construction costs are more painfully expensive in Michigan, leaving me no choice but to look for homes near Eugene, where the Ducks might conceivably play Michigan or Michigan State at some time in the next two or three decades.

Hours of life dutifully tossed into the slag heap of house hunting finally wear me down.  I close the computer, check the time, and kick myself again, wishing I could find a real estate twelve step program to help me kick the habit.

I’ve stopped the automatic alerting of great deals in suburban Portland and ended the connection with Salem and McMinnville.  One day at a time, I’ll find a way out.

Still watching Fixer Upper, however.  Starting to think life in Waco might be pretty sweet.  Better call my sponsor.





A Chicken For All Seasons – Fond Farewell To America’s Best Mascot

A Chicken For All Seasons – Fond Farewell To America’s Best Mascot

After more than 5000 performances, 510 in a row for the San Diego Padres, Ted Giannoulas is hanging up his beak.  Giannoulas first put on the feathers in 1974 as a stunt sponsored by a San Diego radio station; his first gig was handing out Easter eggs to kids at the San Diego Zoo.  From that humble beginning Giannoulas created a mascot that has earned a spot in the pantheon of great mascots, to many observers, the greatest mascot of all time.  Baseball fans in San Diego count The Chicken as their own, and his work with the Padres established him as the capon crusader, but almost from the start, he also supported the Clippers who then played in San Diego.

The San Diego Chicken evolved into the Famous Chicken when Giannoulas fled the coop, taking his show on the road.  At this point, he’s flown more than a million miles, and, boy, are his arms tired.

As a student and sports fan at San Diego State, Ted Giannoulas wanted to bring fans of all ages a way to enjoy a game, particularly during the “down” moments, between innings or before the first pitch.  Mascoting is a rare art; few are able to bring a costumed character truly to life.  Ted Giannoulas was a star from the start, almost immediately winning the hearts and minds of San Diego’s fans.  So devoted were San Diegans to Giannoulas’ Chicken that they massed in protest when KGB radio fired Giannoulas in 1979.  In what must have been a virtual barbecue, fans loudly booed the replacement pullet, driving him to defeat and obscurity.

Once restored to his rightful place in the pecking order of mascots, Giannoulas kicked his performance into an even higher level of confrontive gymnastics.  In describing his oeuvre, Ted Giannoulas is quick to assure his fans that he has been the only performer in that suit since his restoration in 1979.  He admits that he can no longer do the splits as he once did as a spring chicken, but says he stills starts down until he collapses, adding yet another piece of schtick to the aging chicken’s routine.

I’ve seen The Famous Chicken in ballparks from coast to coast, and have had the particular pleasure of seeing Giannoulas take on other mascots in almost every setting; they simply do not have a chance.  With his customary brio, The Chicken approaches his foe with a deliberate and challenging heavy step.  A flick of the wing invites battle:  Bring It On, Lehigh Valley Pig Iron!  Whatcha Got, Modesto Nuts?  Hey, Topeka Train Robbers, I Gotta Whole Lotta Sumpin’ For You!

I lived in Huntsville, Alabama, home of the Huntsville Stars, during Michael Jordan’s break from basketball.  When he and the Birmingham Barons came to town, it was on, even though the teams’ mascots were unprepossessing.  Their lame mascot, “Babe Ruff” looked like a Pound Puppy on Welfare.  The Stars weren’t much better; “Homer, the Pole Cat” was as significantly shabby.  At that time, the Stars were the A’s Double A franchise in the Southern League having recently sent Jose Canseco up to the majors after an MVP season in Huntsville.  Jordan was the main attraction, of course, and the games were sold out, but the mascot battle paled next to the stunning display of Jordan’s largesse in providing his team a luxury bus so they could travel in comfort and style during the steamy southern summer.  The bus cost Jordan $350,000.00 and can be yours at auction with an opening price of $20,000.00.  At the time, however, it was a thing of wonder, and many fans missed the first innings walking around the bus in the parking lot.

In  addition to the Barons, the League did present some notable franchises and notable mascots.  The Tennessee Smokies had colorful mascots, Homer, Slugger, and Diamond (really); The three bear”ish” things were actually more garish than colorful, kelly green, navy blue, and mango.  The Montgomery Biscuits, however, provided built-in drama.  Monty the Biscuit was chased by Big Mo a biscuit-hungry … thing.  The big news from Montgomery is that, while Mo stays, Monty has been replaced by a miniature pot-belly pig entitled, The Duchess of Pork.

The Chicken was henpecked in court following a series of ill-advised match-ups, one of which I was privileged to witness.  My kids had been entranced by Barney, the much beloved (by them) purple dinosaur, but fortunately had just outgrown their allegiance as we attended our last game in Huntsville.  The Memphis Chicks were in transition, finishing their relationship with the Royals and just about to become an affiliate of the soon-to-be defuncted Expos.  As a result, their mascot was AWOL, and a good thing too, as Blooper,  had been designed when the Chicks were the Chickasaws (nice).  As noted, Homer the Polecat was not an impressive specimen, so spent most of the game walking through the crowd, looking for some sort of validation.  The main event, therefore, was a tussle between something that looked an awful lot like Barney and The Famous Chicken.

It probably goes without saying that Barney took a beating from one side of the diamond to the other.  My kids still talk about the chicken scissor kick that propelled Barney into the Chicks’ dugout.  Whoever was in the Purple suit did a good job of feigning injury, although I’m pretty sure I heard him pleading, “No mas, no mas”.

What do I say to a chicken that is one of my children’s happiest memories?

Thank you, Ted Giannoulas, and I hope you’ve put away a nest egg commensurate with your contribution to the great game of baseball.


Trump’s Endgame May Be Much Worse Than We Imagined

Trump’s Endgame May Be Much Worse Than We Imagined

The appointment of Stephen K. Bannon, Chairman of the Breitbart News website represents a disturbing decision by Donald Trump, who has “advisors” but whose campaign is all about him, as all his efforts are.  Bannon and Breitbart send a strong signal, to the Republican Party and to Trump’s faithful.

No more Mr. Mainstream.

A Breitbart Trump is a Trump thrusting a middle finger to the Party functionaries who have begged him to moderate, modulate, seek support from the center.  This Trump is kicking over the last barrier ordinary political strategy that might have restrained him.  Pundits wish there was more obvious strategic impact in the choices the Trump team has made; this campaign just doesn’t make sense to them.

Because they have their eyes on the electoral count in November.

It’s not about that for Trump anymore.

Donald Trump is narcissistic but he isn’t stupid; he knows what the numbers portend.  He is going to lose this election; he knows it, and he is not going to lose gracefully.  Every decision since the foot-in-mouth disaster of the weeks following the Democratic National Convention is about building the “I was robbed” narrative.  The campaigns were rigged, the conventions were rigged, the election is rigged.”

Where does a man such as Donald Trump go after the votes have been cast?  He’s had the full attention of the nation  and the world for a year, and he is not likely to step aside and allow Hillary Rodham Clinton get the attention she actually deserves.

To use an unlovely image, someone is going to piss in the punchbowl; in fact, there may be a whole lot of people lining up to add their own measure of contempt to the exercise of voting in a representative Republic.  Trump advisor, Roger Stone, has used the word “bloodbath” to describe the response of an outraged public if Trump is cheated of his victory, but the Breitbart folks have language of their own that it would be wise to consider.

We have weeks of campaign reporting ahead, poll watches and predictions regarding electoral vote; we will be stunned if Hillary Rodham Clinton is not elected President of the United States, but none of that has anything to do with the climate of free-form ugliness of spirit and provocation to violence that Trump’s campaign will unleash.

Unleash is the right term.  He has created a beast, hungry for vindication and unwilling to return to a polite resumption of business as usual.  We have reason to fear that the outcry will not simply be frustrated rhetoric, but a call to violence.  This losing candidate just may cry havoc and let loose the dogs of war!







You, Sir, Are The Greatest Athlete In The World – From Jim Thorpe to Ashton Eaton

You, Sir, Are The Greatest Athlete In The World – From Jim Thorpe to Ashton Eaton

In 1912, King Gustav of Sweden handed a prize to Jim Thorpe, winner of the decathlon, declaring,  “You, sir, are the greatest athlete in the world”,  to which Thorpe is reputed to have said, “Thanks, King.

Thorpe was an extraordinary athlete.  In the Olympic Games Thorpe competed in the high jump, the long jump, the pentathlon in which he also won the gold, and the decathlon.  He ran the 100 yard dash in 10 seconds flat, and the mile in 4:35.  His long jump record was 23 feet, six inches; his best in the high jump, six feet, five inches.

And those were perhaps the least of his attributes.  Thorpe had emerged as a prodigy upon entering Carlisle Indian Industrial School in  Pennsylvania as a sixteen year old Sac and Fox Indian from Oklahoma.  Legend has it that in 1907, Thorpe walked by the school’s track, saw students practicing the high jump, and cleared five feet, nine inches in his street clothes.  By 1912, he had became Carlisle’s best track athlete, played lacrosse and baseball, and competitive ballroom dancing, winning the intercollegiate ballroom dancing championship.

He was also pretty good at football, starring as a running back, defensive back, and kicker; by pretty good, I mean the best player of his time, stunning a powerful nationally ranked Harvard team in a  major upset, and devastating Army by reeling off a 92 yard run that was called back and following it up on the next carry with a 97 yard touchdown romp.   Carlisle won the national championship and Thorpe was named an All-American in his junior and senior years.

Football was his first love, but his coach, Pop Warner, was also his  track coach, and it was Warner who convinced Thorpe to begin training for the Olympics.  Competing in several events with shoes he had found in a trash bin after his own shoes had been stolen, Thorpe commanded the attention of the world and returned to the U.S. honored by a ticker tape parade down Broadway.

Within months, however, the International Olympic Committee discovered that Thorpe had been paid to play baseball during the previous summer.  They stripped him of his medals, declaring that he had lost his amateur status.  Now branded a professional, Thorpe accepted a contract with the New York Giants, playing major league baseball within months of having won the decathlon.  Thorpe would continue to play baseball until 1922, but he jumped at the chance to play football once again, eventually playing for the Canton Bulldogs , one of the strongest professional teams in the pre-NFL era.

Jim Thorpe won a place in the Football Hall of Fame, the College Football Hall of Fame, the Olympic Hall of Fame, and the National Track and Field Hall of Fame; his Olympic medals were eventually returned to him.  It hasn’t been easy to follow Thorpe; he was named one of the top three athletes in the 20th Century (Babe Ruth and Michael Jordan make pretty good company).

The  winner of the 2016 Olympic decathlon, Ashton Eaton, is a double gold decathelete, sunny, generous, and entirely representative of the spirit of the Olympics.  Does he climb into the pantheon after his second Olympic victory?  Probably not, although he has found a place on my shelf of athletes I respect.

Part of the issue, I think, is in the way the decathlon is televised, or in this case, not televised.  We checked in with Eaton at a few points along the way, kept track of his Canadian wife, also an Olympian athlete, winner of the bronze medal in the heptathlon,  and watched the entirety of the 1500, the final test of the decathletes, but we did not have the opportunity to see one of the rarest of all athletic undertaking with anything like the attention the drama deserved.  Commentators seemed assured that Eaton would win again, gave us about eight minutes of mild uncertainty, and went back to Eaton, his mom, and his wife, Brianne Theisen Eaton.

What makes a decathlete so extraordinary?  Why do we assign them the tag of greatest athlete in the world?

Imagine a race horse, maybe not the fastest in the world, but among the top hundred fastest, who climbs trees, tosses boulders, plays darts, and skis.  Over the course of two days.  Against other equally able equines.

The events that make up the decathlon starts with a sprint, the 100 meter dash, then moves to the sand pit for the long jump, to the field for the shot put, back to the high jump, and finishes the day with a 400 meter race.

Day Two  The decathletes warm up with the 110 meter hurdles.  Hurdlers at this level have a fairly specific skill set, combining a sprint with the clearing of hurdles that are about 42 inches high.  Hurdlers do not generally sprint or run distance races; I’m just about a thousand percent sure that they don’t put the shot or sail into the high jump.

OK, hurdles hurdled.  Next up is the flipping, hurling, throwing, spinning of the discus.  Again, not for everyone.  In the first place, the discus is described as a lenticular disc weighing about four and a half pounds; in the second place, the thrower has to spin anti-clockwise in order to get this lenticular disc up and away.    Think about that for a few moments; try an anti-clockwise spin and see in which direction you end up.

Same day, few minutes later they jog to the pole vault where the decathlete runs with a pole that can be as long as seventeen feet.  I say run, because the key to vaulting is in the speed of the approach (well, and the sheer guts it takes to hang on while a bending pole carries you the the height of a second story building).  I’m no physicist, but I have been assured that the trick of the pole vault is to translate energy (1/2 x mass x speed) to vertical propulsion (mass x height x gravity ) or something.  In any case, pole vaulters, too, are a special breed.

Surely, you say, that is enough.  Let them go, for God’s sake, let them go.

Ah, no.  Having vaulted several stories, the athletes then repair to the tossing of the javelin.  There’s no way around it; a javelin is a spear.  This spear, however, is about eight feet long.  Eaton, who is not a javelin specialist, chucked the eight foot long spear a distance of roughly 200 feet, about what I hit with my driver on a very good day.

As has been the case in every interesting Olympic decathlon, victory depended on performance in the 1500 meter run, and it was in that race that Eaton pulled ahead for good and secured his second gold medal.  It’s just a race, slightly less than a mile.  Decathletes, however, describe it as torture, not because the stakes are high, but because they have spent about 36 hours in athletic competition at the highest level, and things are starting to cramp and fall off.

So, as I say, there is more than enough drama in any decathlon to absorb the attention of the world.  Ashton Eaton, who is both handsome and fashioned with the physiognomy of a real mortal, will smile at us from a box of Wheaties, and I will be happy to see him.

When it comes to heroes, I’m embarrassed to admit, my clock stopped in 1952.  I was six, and Bob Mathias won the decathlon for the second time, at the age of 21.  He had won the decathlon at the 1948 games in London, taking time off from high school to start training in ten events, eight of which he had never seen performed until his track coach suggested that he might want to give it a try.  He said goodbye to his pals, gave up his job loading sacks of sulfur into crop dusting planes in Visalia, and at the age of 17, took a flight to London, where his lack of expertise in the shot put was so unfortunate that he nearly fouled out of the event; he had learned how to pole vault out of a manual.   A quick study, Mathias plugged along, staying in contention until the discus toss, an event he knew very well.  Rain pelted London on the second day of the decathlon, pushing the events so far into the early evening that cars had to be brought in so as to provide illumination for the javelin area.  Rain continued, darkness was thick by the time the athletes set off on the 1500 meter race.  Mathias finished not knowing how he had done, but by the next morning he was crowned the winner of the 1948 Olympic decathlon.  Reporters asked Matthias what he intended to do to celebrate the victory.  “I guess I’ll start shaving,” he said.

Pretty good story, but it doesn’t stop there.

My favorite chapter happens in the fall of 1948.  Bob Mathias, decathlon champion, decides he wants to go to Stanford.  He had attended Tulare High School, and his preparation had not been up to Stanford’s standards, so Mathias enrolled at Kiskimentas Springs Prep in Saltsburg, Pennsylvania.  Now known simply as Kiski, the school provided Mathias with a good academic foundation and allowed him to continue to participate in the sports he loved.

In a prominent place on my bookshelves is the Kiski yearbook for the year 1949.  Bob gets the sort of senior write up any nice kid from California might earn in a goofy yearbook – good guy, played football, helped the track team.

Helped the track team?  He’d just won the Sullivan Award as the best athlete in the country, beating out some pretty good college athletes.  Among the runners-up were Norm van Brocklin of Oregon, Doak Walker of SMU, and Jackie Jensen who played both football and baseball at Cal.

I like to imagine what it felt like for the kid from Hill, or Peddie, or Mercersburg  who lined up next to the Olympic gold  medal winner on a frosty April day in central Pennsylvania.  Once again, Mathias is mentioned among the members of the track team.  “In the first meet of the year, Kiski was edged out by a good Central Catholic High School team, 60 -65. ..Mathias was first in high hurdles… took the shot put …won the discus …”  I sense some real restraint by the Kiski coach; the winning vault in that meet was 10 feet, 6 inches, and Mathias had already cleared 12 feet.

It’s hard to remember that there had not been an Olympic Game since the Third Reich had welcomed Jesse Owens to Germany.  As the first Olympic champion in more than a decade, Mathias stayed out of the limelight, quickly shedding the mantle of celebrity to slog through math and chemistry in Saltsburg, PA.  Upon entering Stanford, he decided to concentrate on track and field, giving up football and basketball.  Pigskin fever at Stanford was building, but Mathias held out for two years, directing his efforts toward setting the world record in the decathlon in 1950.  In his last two years, Mathias played fullback, returning a 97 yard punt by Frank Gifford of USC and taking Stanford to the Rose Bowl in January of 1952.

Then, he was off to Helsinki, another set of Olympic Games, another gold, another world record.  Once again  returning as a global hero, Mathias quietly finished up at Stanford, turned down a bid from the Washington Redskins to play in the NFL, and served as a captain in the U.S. Marines before taking up a life as an actor, the director of the U.S. Olympic Training Center, and from 1967, serving four terms as a member of the House of Representatives, a congressman representing the San Joaquin Valley District in California.

The U.S. has produced remarkable athletes, including twelve gold medal winners of the decathlon, from Jim Thorpe to Ashton Eaton.  My hope is that the Tokyo Olympic Games will allow us to see the struggle, event by event, as the greatest athletes in the world contend for the gold in 2020.






Sangfroid, Schadenfreude, and Double Entendre

Sangfroid, Schadenfreude, and Double Entendre

I have a friend who uses the word schadenfreude fairly regularly in ordinary conversation.  He is something of a word-smith, likely to pitch a new metaphor my way at the least provocation, but I find myself surprised each time he so evocatively describes the pleasure that people take in the misfortune of others.  It got me thinking about other words that communicate states of being that English cannot so effectively describe.

I started with sangfroid, primarily because it is so egregiously mispronounced by folks who think the word is sounded as if Freud sang.  OK, we have phrases such as “cool as a cucumber” (?!?) and “cool, calm, and collected”, but the closest analog in terms of translation might be “cold blooded”.  Sangfroid, however, carries a sense of self-possessed calm surprising in the moment described, not so much heartless, or even cool, but unflapped and competent.

Sticking with phrases taken from the French, double entendre has no real competition among lame English substitutes.  “Double meaning”?  Hah!  “Suggestive”?  Nah.

De rigueur for example.  Necessary obligation?  Set of expectations?  Uncompromising etiquette?

But consider this contemporary critical piece.  I cannot acknowledge the author of this quotation found on Quotes Codex, but it does pull our attention away from affairs of state and dinner at the embassy

“I don’t watch reality TV much, but sometimes I’ll be on the E! channel and see that show “Total Divas” about female wrestlers.  It’s like fake t___s are de rigueur.  Nose jobs are de rigueur.  Exaggerated a___s are de rigueur.  Twerking is de rigueur.”

Point taken.  And, in an unexpected insight, “twerking” may well be a word that communicates much more than any translated single word might attempt.

The list of French phrases that animate our conversations is rich with equally powerful locutions, but the remaining untranslatable, I think, is roman-a-clef, literally, “novel with a key”.  Exactly.

So, here’s a purposefully clumsy description of the genre:

Say everyone knows that the novel, The Election of Ronald Frump is fictitious, but also knows that the fiction overlays accounts of real people and real settings.


The novel is a novel, but the people and events are real … but not.

Doesn’t help, does it?

In any case, try getting through any serious discussion without making use of:

Tete-a-tete, au courant, raison d’être, nouveau riche, laissez-faire, joie de vivre, femme fatale.

As a reader of mannered British mysteries, many of which involve bright young men just down from Oxford, most of whom could not dress themselves without the assistant of a valet, I encountered a phrase that seemed to indicate an unwillingness to engage, or an inability to enter into a fray, or something.  Inexplicable but happily, the phrase turned up in a novel by Lawrence Block, The Burglar Who Liked to Quote Kipling.

“With the alarm hors de combat, I turned my attention to the thick oak door, an hors of a different color.”

So, terrible pun aside, hors de combat is not simply broken or unavailable, but “out of the fight” with a suggestion that there is no question of cowardice or unwillingness on the part of the non-combatant. Unfortunately it also brings to mind – “Do you like Kipling?”  “I don’t know.  I’ve never Kippled.”

My schadenfreude pal presses me to find phrases in German with equal impact.  Quite a challenge for a number of reasons.  WWI and WWII spring to mind, but the greater impediment, Ich denke, is that many of us have difficulty with uvulars and pharyngeals, sounds made by jamming the tongue against the back of the throat.  Schadenfreude isn’t bad, but take a shot at schilttsschuhlaufen, ice skating or streichholzschachtelchen, small match box.

I lived near Zürich for three years, attempting to learn both hochdeutche (high German as spoken in universities in Germany) and Schweizerdeutsch (Swiss German, which, by the way, varies from canton to canton).

In hochdeutsche, a cheesecake (simple enough) is kasekuchen (I have no umlauts available, so take a guess).  Again, simple enough,really.  Kase – cheese / kuchen – cake.

In Schweizerdeutsch, the same object is eins chas-chuechli, and every single syllable is way back there by the uvula, I promise.

Ja, naturlich/ Yo natuurlich.  Time to trot out at least a few standby words or phrases in German.

Let’s take food off the table; no surprise to Wiener Schnitzel, obviously schnitzel (cutlet) as it is prepared in Vienna (Wien).  The one curious mix-up for travelers, however, is that a doughnut (without a hole) is a Berliner, as is a person who lives in Berlin.   Kennedy’s speech in 1963, “Ich bin ein Berliner” was directed toward the city, not the pastry.

Schmaltz, a word used in English to convey sentimentality, is the German word for lard.  So, there’s that.

Doppelganger works beautifully to express not simply a double, but the presence of one life form precisely identical to another.

Gesundheit (a state of healthiness) speaks for itself.

Dollar, from the German thaler, silver coin mined in Bohemia.

Hinterland, blitz, wunderkind, kaffeklatch, Gestalt, dachshund, Volkswagon, kindergarten, kaput, nix – all obvious.

But there are at least four words that are irreplaceable in any language.

When affected by ennui or a malaise (SO FRENCH), we may be subject to weltschmertz, literally, “world pain”, occasionally described as the painful state of knowing that much that exists in the mind cannot exist in the real world.

Or, being bummed.

As a teacher, I often brought books to the classroom that described the coming-of-age of an adolescent on the brink of adulthood.  In German, elegantly, that is a bildungsroman, a novel of formation.  Really no substitute.

I first met the phrase, realpolitik, when studying the machinations of Otto von Bismarck, a cunning and dangerously pragmatic manipulator of contending forces.  The word came up again, surprisingly, during Richard Nixon’s presidency, when the United States established a détente (SO FRENCH) with China.  Nixon’s Secretary of State, Henry Kissinger, was eminently pragmatic and determined to grab advantage in the great game of diplomacy.   Again, the terms pragmatically political or realistically political don’t come close.

Caught in a perplexing maelstrom (a famous whirlpool off Norway), you may feel the effect of sturm und  drang, which is used to mean, “storm and stress”, but more evocatively translates as “storm and urge”.  It’s hard to think of a more devastating state of being than being simultaneously tossed by storms of emotion and urges that cannot be satisfied.  Ach du lieber! (Oh! My dear!)

Enough.  Genug. Assez.









We Still Need Hatewatch And The Southern Poverty Law Center

We Still Need Hatewatch And The Southern Poverty Law Center

I live in southern Oregon.  You know, Oregon – liberal state on the liberal west coast?

Even better, I live near Ashland, site of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival and Southern Oregon University, a notably tolerant, relatively diverse town (for Oregon), more inclined to active progressivism than sleepy liberalism.

And yet … this spring one of the Shakespeare Festival’s most accomplished actors, Christiana Clark,  a superbly talented Black woman,was accosted by an angry racist on the street in Ashland’s “Railroad District”, a leafy area sprinkled with upscale boutiques and an ambitious coffee emporium.  Clark is appearing as Horatio in Hamlet this season, has had leads in Much Ado About Nothing and A Midsummer Night’s Dream among other main stage productions, accomplishments that meant nothing to the white supremacist who stopped her on the street and screamed, “It’s still an Oregon law, I could kill a black person and be out of jail in a day and a half. Look it up. The KKK is alive and well here.”

Well, his legal expertise is deficient, but the Klan and other white supremacist groups  are alive and well, in Oregon and across the nation.  Portland may have had a socialist mayor in recent years and hipsters may abound, but the state and the city were founded as a white homeland; exclusion laws passed in 1849 were intended to keep Black Americans out of the territory.  Oregon was the only territory in the union to be admitted as a state with an exclusion law, but Klansman have had their way in many other states that pride themselves on their distinguished history.

Founded in 1971, The Southern Poverty Law Center was founded by lawyers Morris Dees and Joseph Levin, offering pro bono legal representation in civil rights cases intended to destroy institutions funding the KKK.  Dees was the son of a sharecropper who worked his way through the University of Alabama Law School and established a marketing firm with Millard Fuller who went on to establish Habitat for Humanity.  The sale of the firm provided Dees with the seed money needed to establish the Law Center.  Julian Bond was President of the Board from 1971 to 1979, during which time, Dees and Levin went after the Ku Klux Klan by representing the families of victims of hate crimes.  Records of those years were destroyed when the center was firebombed in 1981.   In  those troubled times, Dees and the Southern Poverty Law Center established Project Klanwatch, an attempt to identify Klan organizations across the country.  In the course of the next decade, the SPLC broadened its scope, creating Hatewatch which monitors the activity of extremist right-wing groups, presenting their findings in The Intelligence Report.

Starting at the top in the courtroom, Dees took on the United Klans of America.

The United Klans of America operated out of their headquarters in the Anglo-Saxon Club outside Tuscaloosa, Alabama.  Led by Imperial Wizard, Robert Shelton, the United Klans of America was tied to the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, the murder of Viola Liuzzo in Selma, and the lynching of Michael Donald in Mobile.  Representing Donald’s mother, Dees won a seven million dollar settlement against the United Klans, bankrupting the organization; all funds collected in their settlement went to Donald’s family..  The SPLC then went after Tom Metzger’s White Aryan Resistance, winning a twelve million dollar suit and after the Aryan Nations, winning a six-and-a-half million dollar suit, bankrupting both organizations.

A brief survey of the SPLC’s signature court cases gives some idea of the scope of racist, supremacist  violence in the United States.  They represented Vietnamese fishermen working in Galveston Bay who had been terrorized by sniper fire and boat burnings initiated by the Texas Emergency Reserve, an offshoot of the Klan.  The SPLC won an injunction against the group and shut their para-military training camp.   The next case was in North Carolina where the Carolina Knights of the Ku Klux Klan were prevented from terrorising Black neighborhoods.  Grand Dragon, Frazier Glenn Miller, Jr. then morphed his followers into the White Patriot Party, which broadened its aim to include undertaking a war against Jews.

The twelve million dollar victory over Tom Metzger and his East Side White Pride and White Aryan Resistance  followed the beating and killing of an Ethiopian student in Portland.  In Florida, the SPLC took on “The Church of the Creator”, an Aryan group preaching RAHOWA, racial holy war, after the murder of a Black veteran of the Gulf War.

Moving to South Carolina, the SPLC won a thirty million dollar settlement against the Christian Knights of the Ku Klux Klan and the Invisible Empire, Inc.  In 2000, death threats against Dees multiplied as he and the SPLC took on the Aryan Nation, dismantling their training compound now donated to North Idaho College as a “peace park”.

Although suits have been brought against supremacist groups in Texas, Kentucky, Mississippi, Montana, and Idaho, extremist hate groups can be found in almost every corner of the country.  The SPLC began a program called Teaching Tolerance which offers workshops, classes, films, and teaching kits and followed up with the establishment of Hatewatch, which reports hate crimes and organizations planning hate crimes.  One aspect of Hatewatch is the Hate Map, now following eight hundred and ninety-two groups, including one in Ashland, Oregon.

Much was made of David Duke’s endorsement of Donald Trump and Trump’s seeming unwillingness to disavow the supremacist, but the campaign has done much more to agitate extremists on the right, many of whom have become vocal in their hatred of laws protecting the rights of LGBT citizens, Muslims, immigrants, Mexicans, Hispanics, Asians, and Jews.

Retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, one of the men considered for the office of Vice President and an ardent Trump supporter responded to the allegation that Russia was the source of leaked DNC emails in a re-tweet that he quickly removed.

“The corrupt Democratic machine will do and say anything to get #NeverHillary into power. This is a new low,” he tweeted, sharing a link to a tweet from a user named Saint Bibiana (@30PiecesofAG_) who wrote “>Cnn implicated. ‘The USSR is to blame!’ … Not anymore, Jews. Not anymore.”

I hope to God that the results in the general election in November do not set off what Trump advisor, Roger Stone, has called a “bloodbath”, but I do expect that reconciliation this time may be a difficult task.  In times such as these we need to work together to support organizations such as the Southern Poverty Law Center.


Where Do Olympians Come From?

Where Do Olympians Come From?

Let’s just start with Stanford.

Stanford has had an Olympian in the games since the 4th Olympiad, the 1908 Olympics in London, and a Stanford graduate on the medal stand in every Olympics since first winning a medal in 1914.  Up to the start of this Olympic cycle in Rio, Stanford athletes had won a total of 280 medals.  Kaitie Ledecky will add another four gold medals by herself.  In the 1996 Atlanta games, Stanford won more medals than all but three nations, more than China, France, and Great Britain.

That’s impressive.  More than impressive.  Stunning.

At the start of this year’s games, however, Stanford ranked 2nd in medal tally behind USC (288).  UCLA (230) had been in the second spot, but now lags behind Trojans and the Cardinal.  Stanford has now added another 17 medals (9 gold), bringing their medal total to 297 while USC has added another 7 medals to push their total to 295, leaving Stanford in the lead, at least until competition in track and field is in the count.

Cal Berkeley was 4th with 185 medals, but their dominant swimming program sent a number of Berkeley Golden Bears to Rio, where they have racked up 12 gold, 4 silver, 4 bronze a full week before the end of the games.

In the fifth spot, the University of Michigan with 134 and counting, remembering that Michael Phelps was a swimming Wolverine in preparation for the 2008 Olympics.

The University of Texas, Harvard, Florida, Yale, and Ohio State round out the top ten.  Texas, Florida, and Ohio State are far more likely than Yale and Harvard to pump out current Olympians, but Harvard still has 9 Olympians competing this year and Yale 8.

Texas sends 22 athletes to the games, one of whom, Kevin Durant, is likely to add to the Texas medal count, while Florida packed 30 competitors off to Rio.   Ohio State is not likely to jump too dramatically in medal count, as they are sending twelve Buckeyes to the Rio games.

Harvard’s 10 and Yale’s 8, however, do reveal a particular slice of Olympic competition.  The Harvard contingent includes 6 rowers, men and women, a fencer, a shot putter, and a wrestler.  The rowers represent the U.S., South Africa, and Bermuda.  The shot putter is Nigerian, and the wrestler hails from Uzbekistan.  Yale’s athletes provide a similar profile.  Three Elis row, two for the U.S.and one for Canada.  Three more are sailors, joined by a fencer (Brazil) and one lone track athlete.

Other significant entries?  The University of Georgia is sending 11 athletes, but so is Princeton.  Tigers will be competing in rowing, field hockey, and steeplechase.  Dartmouth is represented by 9 athletes, in track, cycling, rowing, javelin, rugby, and dressage.  The Big Green represent the U.S, Korea, Greece, and Canada.

It’s not surprising that the University of Washington is sending 11 athletes, many of whom will row as they have for the Huskies’ championship program in crew.  The University of Oregon in Eugene is a haven for runners, and the 12 Ducks will take the track in a number of events.

Equally unsurprising are the number of women who played soccer for the University of North Carolina and now have a place on the national team; UNC has 13 Tar Heels in Rio.

Less widely known but widely respected, the volleyball program for men and women at Penn State has dominated national competition and sends many of its best to the Olympics as 13 Nittany Lions land in Brazil.  The University of Connecticut’s absolute dominance of women’s basketball is clear in the selection of the women’s coach, Geno Auriemma, and stars Sue Bird, Maya Moore, Breanna Stewart, Diana Taurasi, and Tina Charles.  Other Huskies will compete in field hockey, track, and soccer.

Small colleges also add diversity to the mix.  Williams’ swimmer Faye Sultan will compete under the Olympic flag rather than the Kuwaiti flag as she did in 2012.  Amherst’s Michael Hixon won a silver medal in synchronized diving in Rio, and Middlebury sends three panthers to Brazil, two cyclists and a marathon runner.

Melodrama In Pinstripes

Melodrama In Pinstripes

I have never had occasion to stick up for Alex Rodriguez.  He’s been the highest paid player in the game,  suspended for the use of PEDs, set records that can’t count, engaged in constant cat fights with Yankee brass, took awful advice from mega-agent and shark, Scott Borus, shanked in post-season play after gigantic contracts were inked, and loudly removed himself from the Derek Jeter fan club.

On the other hand, he had been in the major leagues for 22 years, 12 of those with the Yankees.  He’s not only 4th on the all-time career home run list  (696) behind Bonds(762*), Aaron (755), and Ruth(714), he was the youngest to reach 500.  He holds the record for the most grand slams in a career (25), had 2086 runs batted in, and piled up 3115 hits.

When word came down from the front office over the past weekend that A-Rod was done as a Yankee as of Friday night, Coach Joe Girardi said he would find a way to give a slumping Rodriguez a few at bats and maybe a turn in the field.

Then didn’t.

Slumping Mark Teixeira kept the clean-up spot (he’s hitting .196 this season),  and Aaron Hicks (.192) trotted out to right field.  “My job description does not entail a farewell tour,” Girardi tweeted, defending his decision to sit Rodriguez as the Yankees battle to hang on to their spot, eighteen games ahead of Tampa Bay, six games behind the Orioles, seventh on the list of AL Wild Card prospects behind Houston, Seattle, Boston, Detroit, and Toronto.

Hey, every game counts.  No room for sentiment in a dog eat dog pennant race.

Rodriguez asked to play in his last tilt against the Red Sox at Fenway Park.  Not much of a farewell tour, but enough to give him a sense of closure.  As he sat on the bench, Sox fans chanted, “We Want A-Rod, We Want A-Rod” until he came to the plate as a pinch hitter in the seventh inning on Wednesday night.  As he walked to the plate, the booing began; the fans had been aching to roast Rodriguez one last time.  I remember the sounds of displeasure when Barry Bonds came to the plate at the end of his career, when he had altered his physiology with pharmaceutical, head-expanding voodoo; he was still the most feared hitter in the game, walked more often than pitched to.  Rodriguez hasn’t been fearsome for a while, and the reception he got at Fenway was contemptuous with barely a whiff of respect.

But … Last night, Number 13 suited up as a Yankee for the last time, came to the plate after a hard rain softened, not knowing what he would hear as his name was announced, shoulders slightly lowered, claiming the batter’s box as he has from the start, ready for whatever came his way. Like the event itself, the skies over Yankee Stadium had been clouded, charged.  Rodriguez himself joked, “It’s perfect.  I’m a lightening rod!”

The pre-game “celebration” had all the earmarks of a grudging Yankee farewell coupled with ominous cracks of lightning, thunder, and torrential rain.  Mariano Rivera and Reggie Jackson were on hand, representing the Yankee pantheon; Derek Jeter was not.  Hal and Jennifer Steinbrenner offered lackluster congratulations.  Ducking for cover with his daughters in tow, carrying the base signed by teammates, A-Rod scurried off the field with little fanfare; his career ending in darkness.

I don’t believe in fairy tales, heavy-handed sentiment or saccharine Hallmark moments, but I have been moved to tears again and again by acts of grace and courage in sports.  When it comes to hockey, I do believe in miracles; when it comes to baseball, I believe in fans.

For all the ugly and confusing episodes in the Alex Rodriguez story, despite his very human flaws, A-Rod has been the best player in baseball at times, the best player on the Yankees for much of that time.  When he came to the plate in his last game as a Yankee, we saw him as he has been all along, a gifted ballplayer who loved the game.

He expected jeering cat calls at the very least, deafening booing at worst.  Almost as one, however, the crowd stood for Alex Rodriguez.

Fans cheered him with true affection.  They went wild when he stroked a sharp double in his first at-bat, driving in a run.  One more hit, one more double, one more run batted in.  The fans showered him with all the love they had withheld for years.  Against all odds, in that moment, Alex Rodriguez was what he had hoped to be – a beloved Yankee.

Sports are funny.

Joe Girardi had grouched his way through the week, resisting pressure to give Rodriguez something like recognition as his career ended.  Then, on Friday, the game allowed him to toss Rodriguez a glove and send him out to play third base, A-Rod’s first game in the field this season.  After the game, a sports commentator watching Rodriguez ground out in his last at-bat said something like, “Now you see what a forty-one year old ballplayer looks like.”

That’s not what I saw.

I saw A-Rod grab his glove and run from the dugout to third base like a kid getting a break in late innings in a Double A game for the Trenton Thunder.  His grin ran from ear to ear.  That’s the Alex Rodriguez I want to remember.


Draft King

Draft King

I don’t gamble.  Not at all.  Never.  On anything.  The house always wins, my judgment is awful, I let emotion rule, I love a good story more than good odds, on any given day … and so on.

So, here I am about to put another twenty-five bucks in my Draft King account.

This comes up, of course, because the NFL football season is coming soon to a brain near me, and while hockey and baseball were my first true loves, I can’t not watch football.  Since I’m going to watch anyway, doesn’t it make sense that I ought to invest a little extra prep time so that I can see the game on a whole new level?  There’s research to be done and rosters to explore.  No more just grabbing a sandwich and a diet soda, plumping up the pillows on the couch and leaving family and the petty exigencies of life behind for a few (eight) hours.

No, my viewing now demands daily review of players moving to and from the trainer’s table and whirlpool, scanning scouting reports, keeping track of vets and rookies, new coaches, new schemes, suspensions, rivalries, contract extensions, and that’s just the start.

Let’s say I’m looking at a rookie.  Is he a high motor guy, a natural waist bender, does he have a bubble butt, is he quicker than fast, does he have oily hips, is he a dancing bear, is he a space player, can he click and close, can he throw an effective jam?

Full disclosure.  I have never asked any of those questions, but I do scan the opinions of those in the know, each contradicting the other, the result of which is that I’m lucky if I can make my twenty-five bucks last through the entire season.  Last year?  Ended up with one dollar in my account.

So I start this season with twenty-six dollars to plunk down, three bucks at a time.

I do understand that there is some dislocation of fan attachment when I’m less interested in the outcome of the game than the number of yards my tight end has put together or the number of sacks my defense has recorded.  Some would call it rationalization, but I consider myself now a fan of football rather than hanging on to a provincial attachment to one team over all others.

I might also be a Detroit Lions fan, so there’s that.

Look, I have principles.  I don’t goof around with college football, the last bastion of amateur sport; however, with no money on the table, this might be a good time to predict a top five finish for the University of Michigan.  My allegiances in hockey and baseball are so misguided and absolute that I’d be through my small stake after three games.

I like to think of myself as a student of the game of football, an earnest aficionado, but there are moments when I think of Romans roaring encouragement to that week’s favorite gladiator, urging a final act of mutilation so profound that no opponent could crawl from the arena.  Surely, hoping for a blitz so effective that the quarterback has to be scraped from the field with a spatula is nothing like that?

Well, as Julius Caesar is reputed to have said, “Alia iacra est” (The die is cast!).  My twenty five bucks are in; might as well cross the Rubicon and check out the stats on Jimmy Garoppolo.






Trump Camp Warns of Bloodbath, Trump Hints At Assassination

Trump Camp Warns of Bloodbath, Trump Hints At Assassination

“Hillary wants to abolish, essentially abolish the 2nd Amendment,” Trump told the crowd in Wilmington, N.C. “By the way, and if she gets to pick if she gets to pick her judges, nothing you can do folks. Although the 2nd Amendment people, maybe there is. I don’t know.”  LA Times/ August 10/ 2016

As his poll numbers drop (and Trump feeds on polls), the candidate is speaking recklessly and provocatively.  And the more dangerous Trump becomes, the more dangerous his more unhinged supporters become.

Trump and his spokespeople have bristled at the injustice the media has shown in suggesting that Trump’s remarks were anything more than a call to gun advocates to get out the vote.  Jason Miller, a senior advisor in the Trump campaign, called the media “dishonest”, and Trump himself happily told Sean Hannity that the flap is actually good for him, as it further identifies him as a champion of the Second Amendment.

Too easily lost in the (terrifying) reality of a presidential candidate playing fast and loose in prodding gun advocates to “action” is the further threat accompanying Trump’s familiar charge that the election is rigged.  The primaries, we recall were rigged, the convention was rigged and now, should the Trump candidacy not prevail, the entire electoral process is rigged.

In the face of devastating polling predicting the election of Hillary Rodham Clinton by a huge margin, after a week of grotesque blunders, and after the defection of many notable Republicans from Trump’s candidacy, Donald Trump has begun telling his audiences that he “hears” more and more that the election will be rigged and the Presidency stolen from the people and the Republican Party.  It will come as no surprise to any who have watched Donald Trump that he might seek to play the martyr and agent provocateur.  Equally unsurprising that he his team is even more willing to jettison the Constitution (except the Second Amendment).

What’s left to say as the poll numbers continue to slide, and the reality of imminent defeat become increasingly likely?  How about asserting that the only proper response to an election Trump factions consider illegitimate is civil disobedience and the recognition that the government no longer has the ability to maintain the rule of law?

 “The election of the winner will be illegitimate, we will have a constitutional crisis, widespread civil disobedience, and the government will no longer be the government.”

That remark and some of the nastiest suggestions are coming from Roger Stone, a professional disrupter of political civility and increasingly a voice Trump hears clearly.

Roger Stone is one scary guy.  Even before he attached himself to the Trump campaign, Stone was known in political circles as a “seasoned practitioner of hard-edged politics.”  Stone has used a less restrained moniker in describing himself as a hit man for the G.O.P.  Faced with the overwhelmingly critical reaction to Trump’s petulant rant following the televised speech of Khirz Kahn, it was Stone who tweeted the outrageous assertion that Kahn was an agent of the Muslim Brotherhood working in league with Hillary Clinton, and directed attention to a website purporting to prove that his son, decorated captain, Humayan Kahn, may have been a terrorist.

Roger Stone @RogerJStoneJr

Mr. Khan more than an aggrieved father of a Muslim son- he’s Muslim Brotherhood agent helping Hillary 

7:40 PM – 31 Jul 2016


Stone’s involvement with Trump goes back well before the campaign began; he had been behind a series of ads smearing a competitor in the casino business, ads and has been a Trump advisor for years.  Stone’s first political hatchet jobs were in aid of the committee to reelect Richard Nixon; he’s been playing political hardball since.  How far is Stone willing to go?

“If you can’t have an honest election, nothing else counts,” Stone said. “I think he’s gotta put them on notice that their inauguration will be a rhetorical, and when I mean civil disobedience, not violence, but it will be a bloodbath… We will not stand for it.”

Stone’s rhetoric is more than enough to worry the casual observer; his personal attacks on opponents have been so vile that he has been banned from CNN and MSNBC.  Stone admits that his tweet identifying journalist Roland Martin as “a fat negro” was a two martini tweet; he has been less apologetic to others he has defamed.  Recent reports have surfaced that Stone is in contact with Julian Assange, hoping to coordinate the next leak damaging to the Clinton campaign.  Whatever Assange leaks, it is believed, will be delivered by hackers operating in Russia, perhaps with the knowledge of Vladimir Putin.

Stone is also a partner in a powerful lobbying and consulting firm, Black, Manafort, Stone, and Kelly.  Paul Manafort, the founding partner of that firm, is the chairman of Donald Trump’s campaign committee.  The group has advised Republican presidential candidates; Manafort has personally advised Jonas Savimbi, Ferdinand Marcos, Mobutu Sese Seko, and Victor Yanukovych.

Yanukovych, former President of Ukraine, was ousted after rejecting  an agreement with regard to membership in the European Union in favor of a bailout loan from Russia and closer ties with Russia.  Popular protests against Yanukovych were met with force which quickly escalated to a virtual civil war.  Accused of murdering civilians, Yanukovych fled to Russia where it is believed he was granted  emergency citizenship by Vladimir Putin.

Keeping track of Donald Trump is tough enough; add the powers behind the throne and the campaign’s early abandonment of political probity, and the stakes just keep getting higher.