The Cynicism of Donald Trump

Trump Caricature by DonkeyHotey

There were some truly extraordinary exchanges in the Republican Party debate earlier this month. To read the full transcript available here is to come to a deep “appreciation” for the circus-like atmosphere that characterizes so much of our politics in this media age.

And make no mistake, that circus is every bit as much (or more) a creation of the modern news industry, with its personality/ratings/polls-driven sensibility, as it is of the candidates. And the candidates have certainly taken notice—every one of them looked to have been schooled and rehearsed to death by their handlers in the fine arts of cliche-mongering, sound bite policy proposals, question-dodging and general fact-twisting bloviation.

That impression only grew for me in reading the debate transcript...

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“But” And “Yet”: The Arrogance Antidotes

Mongolian Highway by NMK Photography

Back when I made my living as a journalist editing a weekly newspaper for which I wrote the editorials, I noticed something over time.

I got far and away my most laudatory feedback when I was the most certain of my position and conveyed as much in no uncertain terms. When I fired away with all guns blazing, rat-a-tat-bang with an occasional grenade of  humor, I would draw admiring comments from a cohort of readers who collectively said, via one expression or other, “You go, Boy! Take it to ‘em!”

And when the subjects deserved to be taken to, as in the stupidity and just plain heartlessness of so much of the AIDS-phobic anti-gay rhetoric of the time, it was easy—bringing a kind of smug satisfaction—to carpet-bomb the opposition and consider it a good day’s work.


It bothered me a little that in cases where I wasn’t nearly as certain of my “position,” where there were at least valid cons...

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A Poem: “The Last Japanese Soldier”


(Hirō Onoda was a World War II Japanese army officer who surrendered only in 1974, having hunkered down in the jungles of the Philippines for nearly three decades, refusing to believe the war had ended. He returned to a hero’s welcome in Japan, where he died in early 2014.)

I’ve been tracking him, trying to ascertain
what has caused this severance from reality,
this deep ignorance of the situation awaiting him.

Duty-bound to a fault, he goes about his pinched days
calmed by routine and subservient to no one save
the fear of exposure from the dark of his hut.

The world closes in.

It’s tragic, how he missed the good news that
followed the bad, the war’s disconsolate
end opening to vistas so long obscured.

I go in alone, no cover or air power behind me,
hoping to coax him into conversation and the
beginnings of trust, understanding, rapprochement.

My heart goes out to him...

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Why Bother With Poetry?

Leaf Drop by Marg

Because there’s a drop, on a leaf, and it seems to weigh a hundred pounds, but it’s not falling, and you are amazed, and you want to help it along but you just watch dumbstruck instead as the morning sun brings forth some back light and still you wait, it’s almost unbearable, this wonder, this anticipation, this incipience, and someone really should write a poem about it.

So you see if someone has.

Because entire civilizations of ants are at your feet, in the garden dirt, scurrying.

Because of them.

Because of vultures mad with the sight of the fresh-felled antelope, and the lion who has finally yawned and stretched and left it behind.

Because of the flaps of a million wings, and a thousand camera clicks trying to capture them.

Because sometimes you get to bursting, and you try to find a word or three and all that tumbles forth is, “Wow, that’s so great!” But you know that won’t cut it.

Maybe p...

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Anti-Police, Anti-Government: What’s the Difference Between the Far Left and Far Right?

Mission District Mural by Gwendolen Tee

I was walking through San Francisco’s Mission District the other night at the tail-end of an all-day City wanderlust when I inadvertently snagged this little bit of walk-by conversational snippet, one young man asking another on the sidewalk, “Are you going to the anti-police rally?”

The “anti-police rally.”

The phrase immediately struck me at the time as being rather odd and discomforting. Why would anyone be “anti-police?” If you’re “anti-police,” does it mean you’d prefer the police would just go away so we could all go back to some self-regulating state of nature, with no police at all?

Of course I understood the context out of which this phrase and whatever rally was to take place was drawn...

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To My Daughter on Her 17th Birthday, and the 70th Anniversary of Hiroshima

Dakota Newborn

Dear Daughter,

I will admit that annual observances of the nuclear bombing of Hiroshima weren’t much on my mind when you entered the world in the early evening of August 5, 1998. I was too giddy with anticipation for what was about to transpire as I huddled with your mother, grandmother, a doctor and a rotating cadre of nurses around your birth mother’s bed, doing what we could to comfort her in her travails while hoping to speed you down that birth canal.

You finally made it, after some amount of struggle and a few tense moments when I noted the doctor casting a nervous eye on the gizmo that showed your blood pressure and suddenly adopting a very stern voice in telling Natasha, “You HAVE to push REALLY HARD now, we HAVE to get this baby out of here!”

And so she did, and so you came, and nothing in my world has been the same since.

Hiroshima is 16 hours ahead of Pacific Standard Time, so the bomb...

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Crossing Over: Three Classical Music Tunes That Became Pop Hits

Rachmaninov Score by Aurelie Solenne

“Rhythm stirs our bodies. Tonality and melody stir our brains.” So writes Daniel J. Levitin in This Is Your Brain on Music.

I find myself wondering why he didn’t say “brains and hearts” about tonality and melody, given their powerful capacity to inspire, stir and deepen human emotion.

I know that rhythm goes right back to the heartbeat of the mother who begat us, and is central to our moving about in this life. Rhythm plays a key role in my own writing as well—each sentence has to match some internal hop-and-skip-along, and if it doesn’t, I discard it until the feel is right. If it feels clunky rhythmically, it goes.

That said, in music, I’m a melody man, which is why rap, with its 100 percent rhythm, and modern classical music, with its disdain for tone and melody, leave me mostly unmoved. They can be “interesting” intellectual exercises, but honing my intellect is not why I listen to music...

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Going Slow: In Life, In Play, In Love

Drop by Barbara Walsh

I was going to read Carl Honoré’s groundbreaking 2004 book, In Praise of Slowness: How A Worldwide Movement Is Challenging the Cult of Speed, in preparation for this post, but given my jam-packed life that never seems to have a moment to spare, I couldn’t possibly afford the time. So I did the next best thing: I watched the (strictly time-controlled, 16-minute) TED talk he presented on the subject 10 years ago.

Ten years, I might add, that, if you’re anything like me, seem to have zoomed by with inordinate, inexplicable, “Now where were we?” speed.

But enough of the speed-tinged ironies about slowness now, for we are here to address a serious point: In 2015, in an era of unprecedented technological prowess, armed and awash with every time-saving tech device thus far imagined by the finest scientific and engineering minds, half a century after futurists were predicting we would by now be enjoying l...

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A Poem: “Public and Private”


I am gazing across mud flats to a public dock where
a steady procession of fishers and crabbers have spent
the day casting their hooks and nets to the shifting tides.

Faceless and unobserved behind my patio screen,
I see a young couple descend, he fishing,
she in a beach chair thumbing a magazine.

A feathery rain starts falling through diffused yellow light,
the world gone silent and still as the woman turns her chair
into an umbrella under which her lover comes to join her.

It is a scene of such startling and natural intimacy that
I think to avert my eyes, but of course I don’t, can’t,
the moth of my heart drawn to this universal flame.

The lovers barely move over long minutes, and I think of the
fine Latin phrase “in flagrante delicto” as they stand fully clothed,
public and private, open to the world and naked in their cave.

Memories form of lovers careful to lock doors and wi...

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Five Photos Challenging Our Notions of a Benevolent God

Eagle Closeup by Loren Webster

“Aren’t two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them falls to the ground apart from your Father’s will. Even all the hairs on your head are numbered.”

That’s the gospel of Matthew, verses 29-30, positing a benevolent and merciful God who cares for and directs the lives of his creatures and creation down to the very last detail.

And in this corner, Tennyson’s “Nature, red in tooth and claw,” his famous poetic line denoting the unblinking savagery with which creatures stalk, tear into and consume other creatures for their own sustenance.

Which vision reflects reality, once we set down our books and toys, cast off our fanciful cloaks, and head out from our cloistered drawing rooms to confront the challenges of day-to-day survival?

This question is perhaps particularly relevant to the carnivores among us, who rely on slaughterhouses to go about the business that lesser animals must tend to ...

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