HANDICAPPING THE 2016 PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION - JULY, 2015

Political pundits make predictions. Then they change their minds. Then, at the last minute, they change their minds again. And the only way that you'll know whether they were right or wrong at any point during the process is if Jon Stewart (or the replacement guy) does a piece about it on The Daily Show.

I'm going to handicap the American Presidential primaries and election. In the primaries, I'll call the Favorite, the Long Shot, the Wild Card, and my Prediction. And at the bottom of each segment, Republican and Democrat, I'll repeat my initial take on those four categories so you can rate my ability to prognosticate. I'll post about every month until the winners have emerged.

DEMOCRATS
It won't be a coronation but it's hard to bet against Hillary. Is the country ready to elect Bernie, a self-proclaimed Socialist? I don't think so. Not after eight years of a Communist like Obama. (That's sarcasm, in case you missed it.) Can a dark house, like O'Malley or Webb, match Hillary's money and name recognition? I don't think so. Is there a better political pro to have in your corner than Bill? I don't think so. Am I going to bet against Hillary? I don't think so.

I don't dismiss Bernie lightly. He strikes a chord. But I'm with Barney Frank, a guy with certified Progressive credentials. There's really not that much space between Hillary and Bernie, Barney says. I believe him. He's worked with both for years. Therefore, the inevitable animus of a primary fight will only hurt the Democratic Party and its chance to elect the next President. Without primary opposition, Humphrey beats Nixon and, maybe, Romney beats Obama.

The Wild Card is, of course, Elizabeth Warren. She says that she's not running. If she did, she'd certainly suck the air out of Bernie's candidacy. She'd be the female alternative to Hillary for women that Fiona will never be. And you have to admire a woman with the flexibility to be a Texas Republican in the 20th Century and a Massachusetts Progressive in the 21st. But I believe Warren. I don't think that she'll run. This time.

O'Malley and Webb are good men. Chafee has an interesting history. Biden is...Biden. And there are others. But I'm going to have to live with this for the next several months. So...

Favorite: Hillary Clinton
Long Shot: Bernie Sanders
Wild Card: Elizabeth Warren
Prediction: Hillary Clinton

REPUBLICANS
While the Democrats present a clear front-runner in Hillary, the Republicans can barely hold their noses long enough to proclaim Jeb Bush their favorite. Hillary may have baggage, but Jeb has steamer trunks - his grandfather, his father, his brother, and his conservative credentials will all be dragged into the mix. (If you don't know Grand Dad's story, you really need to do your research. It's fascinating in the way that the Kennedy story is fascinating. That is to say, cringe worthy.)

It should be noted that, as is the case with Hillary, in addition to name recognition Jeb has the second of the most important pieces of the puzzle in hand...money. In fact, he has raised almost twice as much money as Hillary for his campaign and his Super PAC combined.

After Jeb, anybody who claims insight into the Republican field is blowing smoke. Could Scott Walker or John Kasich be the next Mike Dukakis? Is Rubio too young? Huckabee too Christian? Cruz too crazy? Paul too Paul?

Trump? Look, The Donald is just smart enough to understand that he doesn't stand a chance of being nominated. But any publicity is good publicity, especially when you can solicit contributions from the average Joe to pay for it. Ben Carson? He's creating buzz but, just as the country is not ready to elect a men who calls himself a Socialist, so the country is not ready for two black Presidents in a row.

Don't forget, Rick Santorum was the last man standing against Romney in the last go round and he actually won eleven primaries. And, since Huckabee is the most likely alternative of the Christian Right, the two of them combine as my Long Shots. I have to admit that it's just too early to choose between (among?), in order of likelihood, Walker and Kasich and Graham and Cruz and Rubio and Paul...I promise that I'll narrow this one down in future.

Favorite: Jeb Bush
Long Shot: Rick Santorum / Mike Huckabee
Wild Card: Any Current/Former Republican Governor/Senator Not Named Christie or Perry
Prediction: Jeb Bush

#14 - U.N.C.L.E., BARRY BONDS, FETAL TISSUE

U.N.C.L.E.
Last week I made the point that our new Siamese kitten's name sounds like the name of David McCallum's character in The Man From U.N.C.L.E.. So I thought that it would be a good time to sneak a peek at an episode of what had been one of my favorite shows. It's been a lot of years. I tried the pilot.

Unwatchable. I mean, really terrible. Not camp. Just terrible.

What a disappointment!



BARRY BONDS
The government has dropped all charges against Bonds. He's been found guilty of no crimes. He has never failed a drug test. He's not in the Hall of Fame. He should be.

The HOF has enshrined drunks, bigots, and womanizers. But Bonds cheated, you say? Cheating is cause to prevent enshrinement in the HOF? Two words: Gaylord Perry. Performance enhancing drugs are cause to prevent enshrinement? Before steroids, amphetamines and other 'pick-me-ups' were in sufficiently common use that even Hank Aaron admits that he tried speed once. Just once, but he did.

So. Barry Bonds. Home Run King. Hall of Fame. Hold your nose if you have to. Just do it.

FETAL TISSUE
I don't like to talk about this. There's an ick factor. But I must.

According to the video that's being used to castigate Planned Parenthood, Planned Parenthood did nothing wrong. NOTHING. Abortions are legal. Fetal tissue is useful in research and therapeutically. What the video that's making the rounds and causing such a furor demonstrates, if you watch the whole video, is that Planned Parenthood first gets permission from pregnant women to donate fetal tissue, then takes care during the abortion to preserve the tissue, then sells the tissue just for the cost of procuring it, usually less than $100. All perfectly legal and perfectly ethical if you believe that abortion should be legal (It is.) and that it should be legal to donate fetal tissue that is the product of an abortion at cost and with the mother's consent (It is).

The folks who released the heavily edited version of the video didn't show the part where the representative of Planned Parenthood refused to sell fetal tissue at more than cost. Substantially more. Let me say that again. Planned Parenthood was offered a substantial amount of money to sell fetal tissue clandestinely and at a huge profit. And refused.

So what we have is a video of an attempted entrapment that failed. And this was a very elaborate setup. The person who videoed the conversation had spent two years courting Planned Parenthood, pretending to be a friend. And still, Planned Parenthood refused to break the law for profit. But because of the subject matter, the ick factor, the story is gaining traction. I am truly sorry for Planned Parenthood. They are being castigated for having demonstrated that they are not corruptible. How ironic is it that corrupt Washington politicians are now demanding that they be investigated?

#13 - ILLIAH AND ILLYA / CHAMBERLAIN, HITLER, AND IRAN

ILLIAH AND ILLYA
One lives with us and we're glad that she does. The other doesn't and we wouldn't mind if he did.




















For the children in the audience, that's David McCallum. You know, Ducky on NCIS. Illya Kuryakin was the role he played in Man From U.N.C.L.E. back in the day when TV was steam-powered.

CHAMBERLAIN, HITLER, AND IRAN
History has not been kind to Neville Chamberlain. But that's beginning to change. Folks are beginning to realize that Chamberlain did exactly what needed to be done given the lay of the land at the time. Read and learn.

England came out of WWI dazed and confused. The war had been brutal beyond imagining. Those men and women who survived and came home were forever changed. The social structures upon which British society was based were crumbling. Britain was not prepared physically, emotionally, or materially to take the steps necessary to thwart Hitler's European ambitions. Under the circumstances, the best that Chamberlain could do was to stall, to give his country time to take a deep breath, see the situation clearly, and make preparations to face the coming storm. That's what Chamberlain did, a thankless task as demonstrated by the inaccurate judgement of history that he facilitated Hitler's conquests. Rather, what Chamberlain did was to give his country just enough time to prepare, to endure, and finally to retaliate and win.

Iran is a different issue entirely but people who mistakenly accept the discredited view of Chamberlain are equally mistaken about the prospective nuclear agreement.

What are America's options?

1. Do nothing? Keep the sanctions in place, even tighten them? So what? All that means is that Iran, if it really was working on The Bomb, gets to continue working on The Bomb. From the initial round of sanctions in the 70s to their expansion in the 90s to the 'crippling' sanctions imposed in 2006, Iran has continued its slow march toward nuclear capability. The simple fact is that any country sufficiently large with sufficient brain power and sufficient will can develop The Bomb. Blueprints are on the web. Do nothing? Bad idea.
2. Bomb Iran? Really? How well has the idea that bombing settles things in the Middle East worked out so far? Is Iraq stable? Is ISIS on the run? Heck, has Israel managed to pacify tiny little Gaza through military action? Do we really want Iran - and probably Israel as well - actively engaged in all-out warfare in the region instead of working through surrogates. They're making enough mischief as it is. Bomb Iran? Bad idea.
3. Engage and negotiate? Let's look at two countries in Asia with which the United States has been at war - North Korea and North Vietnam. We are technically still at war with North Korea though we've beaten them back behind barbed wire. China, their only real friend, hasn't exactly been happy with them lately. They are an international pariah, isolated and alone. And they developed The Bomb. North Vietnam, on the other hand, chased us out and thumbed their noses at us. But now, after what hardly counts as a decent interval, they are a cruise ship stop and a trading partner. Barbed wire and isolation versus engagement and negotiation? Which approach has the better outcome in modern times?

JORDI SAVALL AT ABBAYE DE FONTFROID - CONCERT REVIEW


The annual concert series under the musical direction of Jordi Savall at the Abbaye de Fonfroid, a Cistercian abbey founded in the 11th Century near the city of Narbonne in the south of France, is a source of pure delight for aficionados of Early Music. Savall is a master of the viola da gamba and Hesperion XXI, the group that he founded over 40 years ago, is the gold standard when it comes to Renaissance music and similar forms. If we could afford to attend every evening during the week-long event, we wouldn't hesitate. This year, we chose to attend the concert entitled The Road of Slavery. With narration describing events from the 15th through the 20th Century, master musicians from Latin America and Africa joined Hesperion XXI and La Capella Reial de Catalunya (the choir founded by Savall 30 years ago to complement Hesperion) for two lengthy sets, music and narration without pause, shifting from Mexican to Brazilian to Andean to African rhythms with seamless ease.

As a music presenter of world music on WDIY-FM, the NPR affiliate in my old Lehigh Valley stomping grounds, I was particular pleased to learn that the African contingent included master kora player Ballake Sissoko, Rajery on valiha (African tubular harp), and the commanding vocals of Kasse Mady Diabate.

This was heady stuff, performed with skill and energy, hopping back and forth across the Atlantic, keeping the crowd in the ancient main chapel at Fontfroid enthralled in spite of the oppressive heat - easily topping 90F (32C) even though the concert didn't begin until 9:30 in the evening. The performance was taped for possible broadcast. If you have the chance, don't miss it.

By the way, the YouTube clip above gives you a taste of type if not scale. There were about 30 voices and instrumentalists on stage last night. Jordi is the guy with the silver beard.



BASTILLE DAY 2015 - QUARANTE LAYING OF THE WREATH

The Mayor and two ladies of the village laid the wreath, recorded patriotic music played, the Mayor gave a speech, and then wine was served in the community chapel.

Liberty! Equality! Fraternity!





RANDOM THOUGHTS #12 - CANDACE CAMERON-BURE, PLUTO PICTURES

CANDACE CAMERON-BURE
So some young lady by the name of Candace Cameron-Bure who is apparently an actress  (Full House, Dancing with the Stars... I looked it up.) is on my Facebook feed saying that comparing the civil rights struggle at Southern lunch counters to the bakery denying service to LGBT clientele is like comparing apples and oranges.

“I don’t think this is discrimination at all,” Cameron-Bure is quoted as saying when discussing businesses that refuse to serve LGBT clientele. “This is about freedom of association, it’s about Constitutional rights, it’s about First Amendment rights. We do have the right to still choose who we associate with.”

Someone ought to tell this young woman that's EXACTLY the argument that the segregationists used.

EXACTLY.

We are raising a generation of young people with a knowledge of American history equivalent to that of a fruit fly. And half of what they think that they know is mistaken.
  
PLUTO PICTURES 
They're coming, the first close-up pictures of Pluto. We'll learn about Pluto's planetary history and geological composition. We'll study its atmosphere. We'll achieve a better understanding of the genesis of the solar system.


Bull Cookies!

We'll get pretty pictures. We'll scratch our heads. We'll come up with more questions than we've answered. But we will get some awfully pretty pictures.

Don't get me wrong. That's what I want. Pretty pictures. I'm willing to spend all of the money that's necessary to be in a position to take those pretty pictures. But don't promise revelations equivalent to Revelations. Do the science, by all means. Tell me what you've learned. But the science had damn well better be wrapped up in a neat package complete with a bunch of very pretty pictures.

ENSEMBLE CAPPELLA MAGDALENA - CONCERT REVIEW

ENSEMBLE CAPPELLA MAGDALENA 

As the five women who performed as the Ensemble Cappella Magdalena in Quarante this past Monday night began singing in the back of the main chapel of the Abbaye de Quarante, processed down the center aisle, and completed their opening plain-song at the altar, I couldn't help but wonder how fully their voices filled the 1,000-year-old Abbaye, clear as bells, without amplification. Modern concert halls have spent fortunes and failed to duplicate the sound quality of those ancient churches that seem to have been built to showcase the human voice. And as I've been known to say repeatedly, the female voice in song is the most beautiful of musical instruments.

Please visit the website linked above and learn their story. Buy their music if it's to your liking. This is one fine troupe, five strong individual voices blended in sweet unity. In addition to plain-songs, they performed motets and other sacred forms with assurance and skill. And although they didn't interact with each other to any great extent, only the occasional nod or smile, they did seem to be enjoying the vocal interplay. We certainly did. This was heady, rare stuff performed with skill and respect for the music.

The only disappointment was the lack of a full house. Yes, the midsummer weather had been brutal. But the thick old stones of the Abbaye made for a relatively cool chapel. One-third full was not sufficient, almost an insult. The Ensemble Cappella Magdalena deserved a full house. If they come your way, don't miss them.

GREECE AND THE EURO

Yesterday, I posted that I was convinced that Greece would vote NO.

They did.

Yesterday, I said that the repercussions would depend on the bankers and on the oligarchs who own them. One of the determining factors, I said, would be the effect of the Greek vote on the euro. After a small, brief dip, the euro has held steady against the dollar. This tells me two things.

First, the financial markets have already taken into account the vote with the tanking of the euro by about 20% late last summer. After a few panic trades that dropped the euro by less than 1% against the dollar early on today, the euro bounced back up to its current floor price of $1.10. My guess is that it will stay at or near that level at least until the Fat Lady sings.

Secondly, the markets are also convinced that, when the Fat Lady does sing, Greece will remain in the Eurozone. The early general consensus being reported is that the Troika (the EU, European Central Bank, and International Monetary Fund) will come to a settlement near enough to Greek's terms to acknowledge Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras' victory and to cement Greek firmly into the fold.

On the surface, this might mean that there's more trouble ahead, that Italy and Spain might adopt the Greek tactic of threatening creditors and the stability of the Eurozone in order to work out a better deal on their debt. But I don't see it that way. If the Eurozone has backed down in the face of the relatively insignificant Greeks, can it afford to show backbone against more crucial Italian and Spanish economies, as weak as those economies may be? I doubt it. (Portugal? Too small to matter. GDP about the size of Greece. Spain's is 5 times Greece. Italy 8 times.) So now that the German-led program of austerity as medicine has taken one hit, it will almost certainly take more. And Merkel will put on a happy face and pretend to like it.

So there you have it. Greece stays in the Eurozone, as do the other debt-ridden economies. Once the banks begin printing money to ease Greek austerity and make good at least a portion of Greek debt, (and then perhaps Portuguese, Spanish, and Italian debt) the euro may indeed sink to parity with the dollar. But that's a story for another day.


RANDOM THOUGHTS #11 - SPANKING, BIBLICAL MARRIAGE, GREEK EXIT

SPANKING
A Massachusetts court ruled that spanking is OK.

The experts disagree.

The experts need a good spanking.





BIBLICAL MARRIAGE
The Texas Attorney General has told county clerks that they can refuse to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples on religious grounds. He then provided definitions of the differing roles of wives, concubines, and slaves; issued edicts requiring victims of rape to marry their attackers and requiring widows who failed to produce a male heir to marry their brothers-in-law; and provided guidance to barren women who were willing to have their husband impregnate the family's slave girls.

GREEK EXIT
I will be surprised if the Greeks don't vote for telling the bankers and the oligarchs who control the bankers to go jump in a lake. Having done so, Greece will create its own currency, forgive all public and private debts, and guarantee every citizen who works at least 15 hours a week an income equivalent to the German average, 90 days of paid vacation annually, 40 acres, and a mule.

I kid Greece. Because I love Greece.

Whether or not a NO vote leads to Greece exiting from the euro and the Union will depend on whether or not those same bankers and oligarchs decide which outcome will be most critical to their bottom line, a massive forgiveness of Greek debt or the uncertainty of the consequences of a Greek exit, taking into account the value of the euro and the effect on countries like Italy and Spain whose politicians are watching these events closely and could join Greece if they believe that doing so would solve their internal political and economic problems.

Is a YES vote possible? Of course. But I would be disappointed if the Greeks, having thumbed their noses at the European elite up to this point, settled for going out not with a bang, but a whimper.

Whatever the outcome of the vote, there's more to come. The question of what to do about a burdensome public debt juxtaposed with a corrupt government and an unproductive workforce in a socialist society is not a simple one and it's without simple answers.

CHATEAU DE SERIEGE - OPEN HOUSE

Cathey and I have been driving past the Chateau de Seriege since we first arrived in Quarante in the spring of 2014. A bit south of Quarante and roughly between Quarante and Cruzy, the chateau had clearly been at the hub of significant family holdings, including vineyards. But as we were to learn, although the wine making has continued unabated, probably since the 16th Century, the chateau itself was a later construct that had fallen prey to the ravages of time. Indeed, if I translate the history correctly, the chateau's construction, begun in the 19th Century by the Andoque family who bought the lordship of Seriege in 1775, was never truly completed.

But you can research the history of every such structure in the Languedoc for years and never know the true story. As they say, history is written by the victors. (Well, as Winston Churchill is supposed to have said. It's hard to imagine that Caesar didn't at least think something like that, if not actually say it. But I digress.) And since the Andoque family has been prominent in the region for 500 years, they can be considered victors.

Fast forward to modern times. The French government offers grants to rehabilitate facades of such buildings as the chateau. For months, the vans of the workmen parked on the lawn. Windows were replaced, the facade cleaned. Eventually, an open house was announced to show off the work on the interior. It's not done yet, just the first floor and bits here and there. But they are now open for events and meetings under the auspices of the current Mme. d'Andoque whose husband oversees the vinification.

So, available for weddings and bar mitzvahs, I give you the Chateau de Seriege.


A TASTE OF LOCAL CULTURAL EVENTS: COST OF LIVING IN FRANCE #4

In the USofA, we lived in the Allentown-Bethlehem-Easton metropolitan area. The State Theater in Easton brought in class acts like Preservat...