Sunday, October 23, 2016

Doing your homework

Ground game matters. 

"In critical swing states where Trump and Clinton are competing for electoral votes, the disparity is stark. The Ohio Democratic Party has 502 staffers on payroll. The state Republican Party paid just 104 people in its last payroll period.

More than 300 staffers were on the North Carolina Democratic Party’s payroll at the end of September. That’s three times the number of state Republican Party staffers on the ground.

In Nevada, where polls show a tight race, the state Republican Party employs 67 staffers. The state Democratic Party has several times that number, 240.  Iowa Republicans, who hope to preserve Trump’s relatively strong poll numbers, have 32 staffers. The state Democratic Party has 206 paid staff.

In Pennsylvania, a must-win state for Trump’s campaign, state Republicans employ 62 total staff — and state Democrats have 508 people on payroll. Florida Democrats have 678 paid staffers, compared with 150 people who work for the Republican Party of Florida."

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Make America Tate Again!

Wither Wallonia

Something is rotten in Belgium, and it due to Wallonia. The Seussian-sounding Walloon Parliament, which represents the small region of Wallonia in Southern Belgium, is blocking a European continent-wide free trade deal with Canada. 

 It's not a story that is going to get a huge amount of attention, but it is an important one because it is in the continued vein of Brexit and the Colombian peace process referendum in that benefits of the many are being hijacked by the special interests of the disgruntled.

Friday, October 21, 2016

Al Smith

The single biggest epitome of the difference between Trump and Clinton was at the Al Smith Dinner yesterday night:

Trump was bitter, and inappropriate, and it got awkward. I have never heard anyone truly booed at a charity dinner.

 And Hillary was impressive. A tremendous counter-puncher, who was witty, funny and insightful. 

It's a shame Mayor Bloomberg isn't speaking here tonight, I am curious to hear what a billionaire has to say." 

She makes you proud to support her, just watch. Her "lesson" on Al Smith's candidacy was poignant, as well as her take-away on "the other."

 And she continued to man-handle Trump in debate.

 Trach warning on the moderator

Necessary Noise

Congrats to Dr. Cherie Rivers Ndaliko for the release of her new book: "Necessary Noise"

Here is a synopsis below:

Since 1997, the war in the east of the Democratic Republic of the Congo has taken more than 6 million lives and shapes the daily existence of the nation's residents. Author Chérie Rivers Ndaliko argues that cultural activism and the enthusiasm to produce art exists in Congo as a remedy for the social ills of war and as a way to communicate a positive vision of the country. Rivers also shows how art has been mobilized by external humanitarian and charitable organizations, becoming the vehicle through which to inflict new kinds of imperial domination. Written by a scholar and activist in the center of the current public policy debate, Necessary Noise examines the uneasy balance of accomplishing change through art against the unsteady background of war.

You can order the book here.

Thursday, October 20, 2016


The question is not if that buffoon concedes, but what the Republican Party does in wake of a defeat. Will the Republican Party uphold the Democratic norms and values that have made America great? Or will they back the rantings of a debased candidate who proves to be a sore loser? Will the Republicans finally give up this charade of obstinance to actually working towards governance? That is the real question.

Hillary Clinton’s 3 debate performances left the Trump campaign in ruins

"The dominant narrative of this election goes something like this. Hillary Clinton is a weak candidate who is winning because she is facing a yet weaker candidate. Her unfavorables are high, her vulnerabilities are obvious, and if she were running against a Marco Rubio or a Paul Ryan, she would be getting crushed. Lucky for her, she’s running against a hot orange mess with higher unfavorables, clearer vulnerabilities, and a tape where he brags about grabbing women “by the pussy.”

There’s truth to this narrative, but it also reflects our tendency to underestimate Clinton’s political effectiveness. Trump’s meltdown wasn’t an accident. The Clinton campaign coolly analyzed his weaknesses and then sprung trap after trap to take advantage of them.

 Clinton’s successful execution of this strategy has been, fittingly, the product of traits that she’s often criticized for: her caution, her overpreparation, her blandness. And her particular ability to goad Trump and blunt the effectiveness of his political style has been inextricable from her gender. The result has been a political achievement of awesome dimensions, but one that Clinton gets scarce credit for because it looks like something Trump is doing, rather than something she is doing — which is, of course, the point."
-Ezra Klein, "Hillary Clinton’s 3 debate performances left the Trump campaign in ruins"

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

On books; On Language

"Books are humanity in print"
-Barbara Tuchman, from The Tattered Cover bookmark

"With language, you are at home anywhere."
-Edmund DeWaal, The Hare with the Amber Eyes.

This never-ending election....

"The American Psychological Association found that more than half of Americans now identify the 2016 presidential election as a source of stress in their lives. "
-Harper's Weekly Review

Silver lining: the new Silent Majority is with Hillary, writes Matthew Yglesias.

And kudos Ecuador for keeping Assange out of the US electoral process.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Strike a pose...

"Vogue has no history of political endorsements. Editors in chief have made their opinions known from time to time, but the magazine has never spoken in an election with a single voice. Given the profound stakes of this one, and the history that stands to be made, we feel that should change.

Vogue endorses Hillary Clinton for president of the United States....

Can Clinton unify a deeply divided America? Heal the wounds of this unbearably fraught political season? Our divisions are real, and it will take more than one intensely qualified leader to heal them.

And yet two words give us hope: Madam President. Women won the vote in 1920. It has taken nearly a century to bring us to the brink of a woman leading our country for the first time. Let’s put this election behind us and become the America we want to be: optimistic, forward-looking, and modern.

Let’s head to the polls on Tuesday, November 8, and vote."

Monday, October 17, 2016

On regret

“The most regretful people on earth are those who felt the call to creative work, who felt their own creative power restive and uprising, and gave to it neither power nor time.”
-Mary Olliver (I think)

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Sunday round-up

"Trump isn’t Hitler. But in 1922, Hitler wasn’t Hitler, either. And Hitler was the culmination of a long era of anti-Semitism, fueled by polemics about wealthy foreign elites that met in secret to plot world domination, trample national sovereignty, and suck the blood of the people. Let’s not go down that road again. Let’s not even get close." -
-William Saleton, "Nobody's like Hitler, but Trump is getting closer"

-A great article on the fury and failure of Donald Trump by Matt Tabibi of Rolling Stone 

-An incredible, real "American History X" story--and truly a testament to the value of bridging "the last three feet" that separate us.

-"I am the Deplorax.  I speak for the sleaze."  And other Trump Dr. Seuss.

Foreign Spouse, Happy Life

"My husband, I had to remind myself, is a courteous person. He is not a misogynist, a narcissist, a bigamist or any other agent noun that would predispose him to freezing his wife out of a conversation. As far as our prospects for cultural misunderstanding go, however, it’s worse than that: He’s French....

There’s freedom in carving out your own way of doing things. You have to think, hard, about your priorities when you can’t simply default to a shared norm. For me, learning French has been a profound gift; just being able to read the news in another language is like discovering that your house has an extra room you never knew existed. When you make a family with someone from another country, you get double the music, double the movies, double the teams to pull for, double the holidays. You travel. Your parents travel."
-Lauren Collins

On life with a foreign spouse.

Bruxellian Golden Hour

I turned left out of the building, towards the convenience store that I knew.

The Bruxellian sun was setting resplendent on the far Royal Palace.  The palais was outlined golden in the sun's setting light and stood out crisp in its golden outline.

I walked the two blocks and did my business.

On my return, the huge green-domed Eglise Royale Saint-Marie of closer encounter was shading pink on its marble facade in the sun's fading light.  Pastel shadows wrapped around the gothic buttress ribs and spires.  I was enraptured in beauty.

As I was nearly back, I peered left to sight that stopped me in my tracks, a scene straight out of the Kingdom of Heaven.  In the far distant horizon, the tapered art deco dome cupola of the Basilica of Sacred Heart was a dark silhouette in the golden skyscape--the giant enormous round bulb dome darkened in the shade of the golden sunset across the sky.

I was transfixed.

I stood in golden awe as I fumbled to get Bach's cello suite in my ears.  I stood there for a full piece, softly sighing at the beauty before me and wondering if anyone would notice the incredible scene I was staring at: the golden palace of the Kingdom of Heaven.

Could I bring my friends down from their penthouse apartment top to see this exquisite beauty, or would it be faded by the time?  I decided that this was just for me.

The rest of the return back featured the green dome pastel masterpiece in my purview.

I returned and babbled out my glorious experience in the Bruxellian golden hour in resplendent exclamations.

But there is a convenience store just at the end of this block at the corner, if you turned to the right, my friend Gernas said.

Yes, but I would have missed it all.


While over at my friends Cristina and Gernas' flat for a lovely Saturday brunch, I noticed that on their bookshelf was a glass jar with little nondescript scrolls rolled up and tied in a gold string.  The neck of the bottle said: honoritas.

I asked Cristina what it was, and she smiled.  She said to choose one.  I did.  This is what the little luminous scroll said in Romanian, translated:

I'm like a spy in the service of the one above.

The saint that is beloved for God is the ideal eunuch (castrata).  Life ends where the Kingdom of God begins.

If you want to stay in the sphere of the religious, then you have to fight.
-Ludwig Wittgenstein

It is so difficult to imagine the world without God, so that if God was to forget it, the world would immediately disappear.

If I believed in God, my arrogance would be without borders.  I would even be able to walk naked in the streets.
-Emil Cioran

If God made this world, I would not like to be that God.  Contemplating it would break my heart.

"How do I know that two people understand the same thing, when each says they believe in God"

After all, I made a doctoral thesis at God.
-Alexanderu Dragomir, whom studied under Heidegger

And another thought to end on, from a conversation at Cafe Belga with a fellow named Jean-Pierre who was sitting next to me and marveled that I was reading/translating Tintin while he was reading a book on the unknown symbols of Hergé: le hasard n'existe pas (chance does not exist).

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Intelligent life

Wild Roses
by Ann Wroe

Some smells seize you by the throat.  Others are gentler, elusive.  Some surround you, whether you want them or not; others, diffident, offer you a choice in the matter.

This is the way of most wild flowers, whose scent scarcely travels farther than a bee can scramble.  You must make a detour to smell twinning honeysuckle, and stand on straining, teetering tiptoe when you find it.  Bluebells, even by thousand require you to kneel among them; for scented violets you must wriggle under the hedge.  Even then you may still be disappointed, for the scent of wild flowers is largely anticipation.  The smell of wild violets should be the one we find in livid sugared petals, mauve fondant creams and the handbags of elderly aunts; but under the brambles air, rain and shyness will have thinned it away.


by Philip Pullman

Frying bacon: is there any smell that prompts the saliva glands to gush more freely?  Roasting coffee is almost as good, perhaps, but bacon is king.  And it has to be fried.  Grilling the stuff makes it self-conscious and prim.  Grilled bacon is for people who are too polite for sensuousness, let alone sensuality.


Baking Bread
by Edward Carr

From sweet peas to sour milk, every smell is a combination of synapses and electricity.  Molecules fire up receptors in the membranes of your nose and signals stream through a delta of neurons into the dark recess of your brain.  By some alchemy, action potentials and dopamine can render an entire world.

There is one smell that casts the same spell in the physical world.  Flour and water incarnate blankness.  They are empty sheets of lined paper.  But mix them with yeast and knead them and heat them hard and they are filled with sublime verse.  The object start with flour and water and the mind with chemical and electricity, but at the apex of both is the poetry of bread, baking in the hearth....

The smell of bread is the smell of home and of motherhood.  In a cynical world, those things are scorned as sentimental.  But when your head is fill of baking bread, you are hungry to believe that everything will turn out right.  Psychologists have found we are more likely to help a stranger when we are outside a bakery.  I have found that bread in the oven fills me with hope.  When we speak the Lord's Prayer, the first thing we ask for is bread.  And when a loaf is baking, we live in a "house of bread" - a Beth-lehem.


The Rain
by Robin Robertson

Autumn air was leaf-mould and woodsmoke, truffling for spent fireworks and their mysterious bright, damp canisters reeking of gun powder; spring was turned earth and hawthorn; summer, the coconut flowers of the gorse, and its seed-pods detonating, the ursinous jasmine, a newly tarred road.  All year, the doors of the bars swinging open to a dense, secret sweat of beer and cigarettes, wet tweed and whisky.  And all year, every year of my childhood, and in the later years of shape-changing into something else entirely; always there - overlaying the intimate comforts of an oiled penknife blade, the inside of my leather watch-strap, or the new fumes of sex and blood - was the rain, and the smell of the rain which is no smell at all but only a washing-away, a cleanness, and yet another chance to start again.

"What is the best smell?"
Intelligent Life (The Economist), March/ April 2013

Thursday, October 13, 2016


""The essence of a libel claim, of course, is the protection of one's reputation...Mr. Trump has bragged about his non-consensual sexual touching of women … Nothing in our article has had the slightest effect on the reputation that Mr. Trump, through his own words and actions, has already created for himself... We welcome the opportunity to have a court set him straight."

Mic drop by the NYTimes.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Break fast

I had such epicurean delights to begin my Fast, and how do I end it? With a kebab, frittes and a mars bar for dessert. And I enjoyed it nearly as much as the first meal.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Erev YK Passage

At the erev Yom Kippur service at the IJC, I was asked to read a page from the prayer book for the service.  I found the passage quite moving and appropriate for the Day of Atonement, and I am sharing it here:

This day demands of us an unsparing effort to face the truth about ourselves, naked and undisguised; to acknowledge the many blemishes which disfigure us: greed and envy, self-pity and self-indulgence, cruelty and callousness, prejudice and arrogance, hatred and destructiveness.

Each of us shares in some measure these and many other failings.  Who is so righteous that they can say: I have not sinned?

How we diminish our stature! So many are the opportunities for love and growth -- and instead we heap misery upon our own heads: the misery of time and talent wasted, the agony of inner conflict, the torment of self-accusation, the frustration of being so much less than we might have been.

And how much hurt we inflict on others!  Through our failures, families break up and children suffer; poverty and crime degrade our cities; the weak are robbed of their rights; headless of the cost to future generations, nature is greedily exploited; starvation claims its victims; efforts at reform are obstructed; and people fall upon one another in savage wars.

These faults by which we damage ourselves and one another, also estrange us from the Divine, as it has been said: "Your iniquities have separated you from your God, and your sins have hidden God's face from you."  Our weaknesses, too lightly condoned; our bad habits, too long indulged; our evil deeds, too often explained away-- these drive God out of our hearts and our lives.  The Divine presence recedes; the vision fades; the voice grows silent; the faith falters.  In the end we cease to search for God.  We are left with a deep unease, but we no longer understand its source.

We wander alone in a meaningless world. and we despair of redemption.

But there is deliverance if we will only grasp it.  On this day, may we find our way back from the wilderness of our failings; may we recapture the awareness of blessed moments when the clouds parted and the sunshine broke through to us, if only for an instant, to heal our wounds and fill our souls with hope and joy.


Welcoming in the Yom Kippur Fast with Moroccan poulet roti from the local boucherie, fresh-baked round Moroccan bread from the neighborhood bakery, basmati rice and Israeli salad, and a Chimay Trappistes Blonde. A petit gâteau for dessert. All for less than 5 euros. Have an easy Fast everyone!

May your sins melt away like my gateau!

Sunday, October 09, 2016

Raging Bull

In German, "backpfeifengesicht" means: a face that needs a fist to fix it.

Robert DeNiro goes full Raging Bull on Donald Trump, and it is a thing of beautiful rage: 

Saturday, October 08, 2016

RFK in Africa

"Few will have the greatness to bend history itself, but each of us can work to change a small portion of events, and in the total of all those acts will be written the history of a generation. Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million centers of energy and daring, those ripples build a current which can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance."

H/T Abba.

Friday, October 07, 2016

Happiness is...

Happiness is warming up in my apartment on a chilly Autumn Brussels Friday night over a bowl of tomato soup with a dollop of crème fraiche and croutons on top--with a glass of red wine to wash it down. Netflix and peppermint tea to come. Happy Shabbat to all!

On Rich and Poor

"When the rich rob the poor, it is called business.  When the poor fight back, it is called violence."
-Mark Twain

Thursday, October 06, 2016

Civic Duty

And I just voted absentee from Brussels!

FUCK YOU Donald Trump, you FUCKING FUCK! Never has "doing my civic duty" felt so fucking cathartic!

C'mon Hillary, let's do this. #ImWithHer!!

Monday, October 03, 2016

RH 5777

"Well the first days are the hardest days, don't you worry anymore"

The words of the Dead, sung by a Parrothead in my ear.  I spent nearly 45 minutes lost, wandering around Brussels looking for different streets.  I had directions, but I think I daydreamed past a turn.  It happens.

But the Belgians are kind, and helpful with directions.  They are more laid back than the French, and they are quick to switch to English with no hesitation or pretensions.  Although I always found the French charming and surprisingly helpful--or at least they offered a great mouth pfff if they didn't know.  One thing I miss here in Belgium is French expressiveness.  The Belgians may speak French, but they are definitely not French.  Brussels is art nouveau and comics to French impressionism.

While I was sitting writing this, the bus sped right past me.  Yes, I spent 45 minutes lost looking for the bus stop--only to find it 4 minutes before the bus came.  Only to miss the bus because it didn't remotely slow down for my stop.

I hopped into the street but it was already far gone.  A group of friends on the corner witnessed my travails and tirade, and could just weakly smile.  Merde.

The next bus was in half-an-hour, and it was starting to rain.

I found a nearby bistro that was warm and tasteful in its art nouveau charm.  The bar was warm and so was the wine, and I fished a fly that flew into my wine out with a knife then watch him fly wobbly.

I caught the next bus, and asked the driver about the stop.  We went on a bit, and I recognized a sign that I was supposed to look for.  So I asked the bus driver if this was the stop.  He told me we passed it.  I hopped off and started heading back, but I kept walking and wasn't finding the street.  I was getting incredulous and thinking I got off too early.

I stopped at a gas station, and asked an Afro-Belgian for some directions.  He knew it was close by, and tried to show me directions on his phone.  Except it was taking a long time to load.  And finally when he got it working, the thing shut off the direction page.  So he told me to hop in.

The fellow gave me a ride the last 5 minutes to the synagogue.  I smiled the whole way, thinking of the Stranger in the night.  When we arrived, I explained the fellow that it was Rosh Hashannah, and he had done a great mitzvah, and that i would pay it forward.

And I found my way to services and arrived in-time to catch the tail end of the potluck and perhaps the only kosher food I will find here in Belgium.  I ended up at the kids table, and had a nice time chatting with the teens.  I was reminded how precocious third culture kids can be.

Services came, and it was a nice, enjoyable traditional, Reformative service.  With a lot of community and introspection, and didn't drone on long enough to trigger my ADD.  In short, it was a nice service. I enjoyed the evening and the community I met.  I dipped challah and apples in honey, then bade goodbye--sorry that I couldn't come for Rosh Hashannah today because school was starting for me.

I got a ride back into town to catch the bus on home ahead of the first day of school.

PS: I paid it forward today by buying a homeless man a chicken sandwich.  I explained in my stilted French that someone had done something nice for me, so I was trying to do something nice for him.  I think he understood me.

I wish I grew up in Utah....

The list of Jewish holidays that these two brilliant kids came up with in Utah.

Come se dice "Brexit" en Espanol?

Ay Colombia, you damn fools. You can have your peace, or you can have your vengeance. But you can't have both.

Friday, September 30, 2016

The Brussels Diaries

I sped out on the high-speed rail from Amsterdam to Brussels.  The trip was fast and smooth, and I grumbled at the inability to get good high-speed rail in America.  I arrived to the Belgian capital in the mid-afternoon, and made my way to my AirBNB sublet.  It is a cute apartment on the top floor of an old building in the Ixelles neighborhood.  It is a small two-story space with small bedroom and shower on the lower floor, and kitchen and small living room upstairs.  It is light and airy, with a lot of light peering through the skylights.  I like it.

Brussels always fascinates me.  The city straddles the linguistic and cultural divide between Northern Europe and Latin Europe.   It is a fitting capital for Europa.  Somewhere between Paris and Amsterdam, although the city itself is not about to be mistaken for either.  Lacking in the charm of Paris or Amsterdam, the Comic City instead has moxie.  Comic City is littered with giant murals of different comics.

Brussels' diversity feels more check-to-jowl than Paris or Amsterdam.

I was once told that Belgians are divided culturally and linguistically, but united only in their love for frittes, chocolate, waffles and beer.  Anyplace cemented together by such delights is a place I think I am bound to like.

Sheets in the wind

The pitfalls of trying to be a polyglot, take two: I spent the better part of a night and morning looking for sheets.  The problem was that I kept asking stores for sheets ("feuilles") as in pieces of paper or leaves, not "drap" as in bedsheets.

Thursday, September 29, 2016


Bienvenue à Bruxelles! Welgekomen bij Brussel! I arrived today to Brussels, the Capital of Europe to study French for the next month.
I have a lil flat in Ixelles, for a whole 33 days. This breaks the shortly held record of stay for me for the last 2 years, which previously was Medellin (32 days). It the longest I have had my own solitary flat since my sabbatical days in Paris in the Summer of '14.
I am excited to be a Kiekefritter (chicken-eater), which is the nickname of the Brussellians.

Flag of Brussels

PS: There is speculoos tiramisu here. Belgium and I are going to be good friends. 

Who is Thalys Gault?

I am always reminded how shoddy American rail infrastructure is when I am on a train in Europe (or Taiwan or Japan or China). Super smooth and quiet.  Great wifi, as I type this.

Amtrak sucks.  And so do the Republicans because I distinctly remember President Obama proposing more high-speed rail, and the GOP opposed because they opposed everything he proposed.