Sunday, January 08, 2017

My Sunday Feeling

I can't say that I feel old as such.  Or not all that old.  I still work out on a regular basis.  I'm a little heavier than I have been.  But I'm working on it.  I killed the treadmill during my last visit to the cardiologist.  I haven't been sick since,well, I don't recall.  Sometime last Spring.  I don't count my mild recurrent sinus infections as qualifying for "being sick."  

So far so good.  

But last October or so I noticed something. Catholic High is not the most well-lit place.  But I noticed when one of the boys was waving at me from around 30 yards away I couldn't make out his face.  And this is one of the boys I know well.  

That was new.  I started paying attention.  In choir rehearsal, I noticed I couldn't make out the director's face from the stage in the auditorium.  I noticed that it took me longer to walk down stairs or recognize folks behind a windshield.

I didn't think much about it. My yearly visit to the ophthalmologist was coming up.  I figured I needed a new prescription.  Wrong as usual.  In November my 17 year old eye doctor told me I had cataracts.  She told me this after hearing me tell her that I couldn't make out faces in the hall anymore. 

She looked in my left eye.  "Yep."

She looked in my right eye. "And yep. Bilateral cataracts."

"Are you sure?" I asked her in disbelief.

She shrugged.

"You're a little young. But you have cataracts."

I'm not yet a candidate for surgery.  She told me to get prescription sunglasses for golf and driving.  

"See ya in a year," she said while dispensing a hug as we walked down the hall. "Really.  This is going to be OK."

And for the first time in my life I feel old.  Now if this is the worst I get told, and it will not be, I will be lucky.  Especially given the amusing fact that we Bowens tend to have bad tickers.  

But I have never considered-nor have I ever had reason to do so-how limiting even a slight visual impairment can be.  While I can see to drive and read and perform the average tasks of daily life, my depth perception, already rendered tricky by bifocals, is now for shit.  It's a pain to switch from regular glasses to sunglasses. And vice-versa.

Walking on uneven ground and/or going down stairs is kinda scary.  Especially at low light.  Indeed, the other night I walked off a neighbor's porch.  Stone cold sober at 7:30 PM.  In retrospect, I probably would have been more nimble if I had a snootful at the time.  

So I downloaded a flashlight app for my phone.  I now keep a penlight in the car.  All for walking down stairs at night.  

Which is depressing quite frankly.  Why didn't she just issue me a white cane with her farewell hug?

But then I think how much more depressing it would be to have this condition with no medical insurance to pay for the surgery that will be necessary in about a year.  Or sooner if I keep taking dives.  

And yet, the new Republican Congress is hell bent on messing with the 20 million folks out there who get their insurance through the Affordable Care Act.  They are opposed to expanding Medicaid.  They are talking about changes to Medicare which is one of the most popular government programs ever devised.  

Now, rabid partisans though they may be, Trump and the Congress he inherits are not complete fools.  They aren't about to create an instant bloc of pissed off voters.  They know that immediate repeal would be disaster for the economy.  And so this is why some have predicted that the changes to the ACA will be mostly cosmetic in nature.  

But if I got my insurance through Obamacare, I would be nervous.  Because insurance companies are all about managing risk.  And the longer the Congress screws around with this issue the less quantifiable will be the risk.  And insurance companies, except for the more unstable ones, will leave the insurance exchanges in each state.  And Obamacare will collapse under its own weight.  Which is maybe what the Republicans want to happen.  

So yeah.  I'm depressed by the cataracts.  But I would be a lot more depressed if I didn't have insurance.  I would be even more depressed, and angry, if my government was going to take it away from me.

Because it isn't fair.    

It just ain't fair.  

Sunday, January 01, 2017


I know.  Long time. No see.  My last hiatus from blogging took place after my brief tenure in the grove of academe.  Quite frankly, I was tired.  

This last departure?  I don't know.  Well, I do know.  

What I had reposed trust in, that there was no way Donald Trump could be elected President, at least not of the United States, proved to be completely wrong.  My prediction that we would be saved by the Electoral College was 100% backwards.  Hillary clobbered the Orange One in the popular vote.  Mr. Hamilton's firewall against someone with "talents for low intrigue, and the little arts of popularity" delivered us......this.  Hamilton also viewed the Electoral College as a check against foreign adversaries meddling in our elections. 

How quaint.  Then again, cyberwarfare hadn't been invented when they wrote the Constitution.  

Well, we have gone and done it now.  We have put the least qualified candidate in at least MY memory in the control booth.  And I will eagerly await the response of the "swamp drainers" and "lock her up" types when they realize that they have been rolled.  I really do.  

By the way, have you heard a peep from anybody about Benghazi or emails since the election?  Hell no you haven't.  They weren't really crimes, and nobody but the most fervent adherents to the world view of Fox and the Internet thought they were.  But they worked.  That much is beyond a doubt.

So, not that anybody cares, I just went away for awhile.  Took stock of things.  Made an appointment with my investments guy.  Burned my ACLU card.  Became rather inert after things I never thought remotely possible transpired.  

But I'm past that.  I'm back for the new year.  Why not?  Besides, it's humbling to realize just how wrong you can be.  

What about 2017?  I don't make resolutions as such.  But there are some things I want to do.  Assuming, that is, that a random thin-skinned tweet from the Oval Office doesn't start WW III. 

I want to get back to my home improvement projects.  The closets are pretty much cleaned out.  Next step is to reorganize (which implies there was some organization in the first place) my kitchen.  Then on to other tasks.  I'm giving this about a year.  I can do it.  I can even pay for it.  At least I can for now, seeing as how the international banking system hasn't blown up yet.  

I need to go ahead and pull the trigger on buying a car.  I've done some looking and I've seen some things I like.  I just find the passive-aggressive behavior of some car sales persons tedious in the extreme.  You tell them you are unavailable the next couple of days and you hear from them 3 times.  They say the will shoot you some numbers and then crickets.  Mercy.

My banker will be back next week.  I want to get this over with.  So does she.  She's tired of my bitching.  As are many of you.  

I look forward to spending more time with the kids at school.  I really enjoy teaching music and history when I get the chance.  It's better on a part time basis.  I like having the option to leave to go play golf or be a lawyer or something.  Having done it once, I'm not sure I want to do it on a full-time basis.

My little practice of law has picked up.  I broke down and bought malpractice insurance and I will need to get a business permit.  It's a good thing they don't require malpractice insurance for teaching.  My premiums would be through the roof.  But I like practicing law a whole lot better now that I have left the government.  It's nice to not be constantly getting second guessed or writing memos seeking approval to take actions.  I like being my own boss.  But I really miss Sovereign Immunity.  That sure came in handy at times.  

Speaking of hiatus, I'm going to get back to playing and singing again.  I just got too busy last summer and fall to practice.  I plan to make time this year. 

I'm going to hang out in Louisiana more often.  I went twice last year and really enjoyed it.  And I want to go back to the battlefield at Shiloh.  M and I went past it en route to Cleveland, Tennessee last month.  I need to spend a couple of days up there taking pictures.  After I buy a new car.

Speaking of M, she still hasn't come to her senses yet.  She, the kids and I spent 3 days in a cabin in the middle of no friggin' where outside of Chattanooga.  Nobody got killed.  There were a couple of close calls.  But all's well that ends well.   And so far so good.  

I can't say what the future holds although I would be lying if I didn't feel a good bit of apprehension about it.  

But I have my health.  I have my friends and family.  And evidently I have you.  That's a pretty good start if you ask me.

I'm determined to have a good 2017.  I have no control over WW III.  

Sunday, November 06, 2016

My Sunday Feeling

I was taking my 15 year old nephew home from school the other day.  He, out of the blue, asked me what I thought about the upcoming Presidential election.  I get this occasionally in the classroom as well.  In that latter arena, I try to best to be as non-partisan as possible.  I think I do a pretty good job of it,  In fact a kid told me about a month or so ago that every time he thinks he has me figured out, I say something that that gives him a second thought. That's my job.

But this was different.  Clarke wanted to know what I thought as his uncle. Not as the teacher.  

But even though I was unconstrained by the grove of academe I  felt that I had to tread lightly.  It was a serious question from a smart kid.  He deserved a thoughtful response.  

I began by telling him that I had been voting for many years.  And that I never miss a chance to exercise the franchise.  The voting booth is nigh unto a sacred place for me.  And I hope he feels the same way when he runs 18.  

I told him that I thought I had seen it all during my time in Louisiana and with the antics of Tommy Robinson here.  I told him that I thought that W was the worst president in my lifetime and that I didn't think we would make such a mistake again.  

But I told him that I had never seen a Presidential candidate like Donald J. Trump.  And I pretty much let it go at that.  Like I said, Clarke is a smart kid.  He can read between the lines.  

What I didn't tell him was that, while I certainly didn't vote for either George W. Bush, John McCain or Mitt Romney, neither did I question their basic fitness for office, Sarah Palin notwithstanding.  I would not have liked it if McCain or Romney had won.  But I wouldn't have viewed their election as a potential disaster for our country.  All of these people had won elections.  All of these people had public records.  I may have disagreed with their politics but I would not have questioned their fitness to serve.  Except for Sarah Palin.  And John McCain's decision to put her on the ticket pretty much cost him the election.  The electorate got it right.

Trump is a different deal altogether.  

This is a man who is particularly unsuited for public office much less the highest one in the land.  He is thin-skinned and xenophobic.  He is either an overt racist or does not mind it his candidacy appeals to those that are.  He has encouraged the fanciful idea that his opponent should be incarcerated and that the electoral process is rigged against him as he engages in that very process.

All politicians lie as a matter of tactics.  Trump does it as a matter of pathology.  He has tapped into all that is ugly and divisive in our culture and made it his base.  There is mad talk here and there of the possibility of violence in the streets should he mercifully lose the election.  He does not particularly discourage this mad talk.  He is not transparent about his taxes unlike all other candidates for President other than Richard Nixon.  As with Nixon, I suspect there is a reason for this.  

In Trump's world there are either "winners" or "losers" which is hardly a nuanced view of reality.  Indeed, "Losers" are typically anybody who disagrees with him.  He has questioned the impartiality of the judge who is presiding over one of the matter of his phony-baloney Trump University due to the judge's Mexican ancestry.  He has mocked the disabled and said ungallant things about women.  

And the scary thing is Trump's unhinged approach to campaigning strikes many of his acolytes as "honesty" and represents proof to them that he will bring sweeping change to Washington.  As if sweeping change is possible given the checks and balances in the system.  Change to what?  Not as diverse?  Do our own Brexit from engagement with the world?  Drop the big one on ISIS?  Prosecute Hillary? The con man believes in the con now, my fellow Americans.  And why shouldn't he? Even evangelicals support him, despite his historically libertine approach to sexual ethics and no known record of particular interest in religious matters.  

The wisdom of Hamilton and Madison has never been more plain. The Electoral College is the firewall against national self-destruction.  And it is my fervent hope that it will prove so next Tuesday.

I'm not crazy about Hillary, who is graciously referred to as a "flawed candidate."  Trump is flawed.  She is despised.  And only she could keep giving herself regular roundhouses to herself at the worst possible times.  She is overly cautious and defaults into corporate lawyer mode at the drop of a hat.  But at the end of the day, I could give two hoots in Hell about her emails.  Say what you will about her, she is qualified by experience and temperament for office.  Trump is not. 

And that is the low bar with which we are confronted in the Presidential election of 2016.  This is what we have come to at this juncture in history.  And the whole world is watching.  Really it is.  

I finished my talk with Clarke in this fashion.  I told him that it was up to his generation to somehow fix our country's politics.  

Because my generation has failed.    Here's your proof.  

God bless the United States of America.  May the firewall hold.  

Sunday, October 09, 2016

My Sunday Feeling

As I tell the kids, when it comes to writing, "beginnings and endings" ("ledes and walkaways" in the parlance of journalism) are important.  And I confess that I don't quite know where to begin when it comes to the latest revelation about Donald Trump, the Party Formerly of Lincoln's nominee for President.  But we have to start somewhere.  So here goes.

As the whole world knows by now, last week a tape was leaked of a conversation between he and the amazingly named Billy Bush as they were en route to Trump making a cameo appearance on the soap opera "Days of Our Lives" in 2005. These tapes were made for the reality show "Access Hollywood" of which Mr. B was a host. Or something.  

Suffice it to say, his remarks about women and his prowess with them (for lack of a better word) were shockingly lewd and juvenile for an (alleged) gentleman of his age and station. They will not be repeated here as you can easily find them elsewhere.  

I am no prude.  I am not one to be offended by coarse language or the off-color joke.  Lord knows I am perfectly capable of making the air turn blue, particularly on the golf course.  And while I try to be thoughtful in my choice of words I occasionally make a mistake, as I did a couple of weeks ago.  

And I have been in the company of all manner of men in my youth and adulthood.  In the locker room. On the golf course.  In the stands.  In the tavern.  In the hallway outside the courtroom.  

I've been with them when they were drunk, when they were angry, when they were under stress, and when they have tried to hit on women.  

I have been with men when they are unhappy with women in general or with their woman in particular.  I've heard the "b" word.  I've used the "b" word.  

My point, and I do have one, in the words of Ellen DeGeneres, is that I cannot recall anybody ever talking about women in general as Trump is heard talking about them on the tape.  You might expect that sort of attitude from a poorly socialized 15 year old boy.  You don't expect to hear that from a reputed business icon, one whose wife was pregnant at the time.  

But I will let others explain the gravity of those words from the female perspective.  I cannot possibly do them the justice this moment requires.  

But my biggest issue is not the words he used, vile as they are, or the attitude of superiority over women they convey.  It is Donald Trump's blind eye to place, circumstance or surroundings.  And/or possible consequences for his acts.

He was en route to tape a show.  He was in the presence of a TV personality whom he was favoring with his insights into the relationship between the sexes.  

Did it not occur to him that there might be a "live" mic somewhere capturing these pensees for all eternity?  Or did he just not care?  Was it a momentary lapse of judgment?  Or was it hubris?  

I have my grave doubts that there was ever a proper time or place for such reprehensible words.  But we may all agree wherever such a place might be it was not en route to a taping of a soap opera where audio recording technology abounds.  You would think that a person with his mostly self-hyped intellect and media experience would comport himself with a modicum of restraint and dignity in mixed company as the old expression goes.  

But he did not.  

Trump has apologized. Sorta.  And he says that those comments made 11 years ago do not reflect the man he is today.  Perhaps.  The task of judging men's hearts has not been delegated unto me in any event.  So I will not do so.

But do the American people really want to give the keys to the military and the apparatus of diplomacy to a man who exercised such monumentally poor judgment in 2005?  

Are we really willing to bet something that stupid won't happen again?  Over something that matters?  

Are we?  


Monday, October 03, 2016

The Real Point About The Trump Tax Records Dump

We talked about Trump's refusal to make his taxes public in class a couple of weeks ago. First of all, I told the boys that although Mr. Trump is the first Presidential candidate since Richard Nixon not to do so he has every right to keep his tax returns a matter between him and the IRS.  I told them what tax returns reveal and what they do not.  I explained the difference between tax evasion which is illegal and tax avoidance which is what I do every time I file a return with my paltry itemized deductions.  And I reiterated that Mr. Trump has a right not to have his tax information revealed. 

Well, somebody did it for him, by leaking the 1995 tax return filed jointly by ex-spouse Marla Maples and him to the New York Times.  Which was published last Saturday night.  It revealed that Trump took a $916,000,000 loss for that tax year.  Although while an extreme example of the practice, this is entirely legal and reflects the tax benefits available to real estate developers that you and I don't have.  

I have been asked my thoughts about all of this.  Here are my thoughts.

1) I don't care if these are so-called "paper losses" resulting from accounting prestidigitation or not.  You lose that much money you aren't nearly the shrewd businessman that you claim to be.  Which is only relevant because he has made his alleged business acumen a campaign issue.  And now we know-or can guess-why he didn't want these tax documents revealed.  It's not true.

2) Donald Trump, vile specimen of a human being that he is, has got rights just like you and me.  If he doesn't want his records made public he has that right.  The IRS should immediately initiate an investigation into how these records got released.  If it was an employee, there should be hell to pay.  Nobody has a right to reveal a taxpayer's information without his or her permission.

3) Unless it was-and you can put this in your "Hell Hath No Fury" file-Marla Maples.  She signed off on the return as well.  She can hand the damn things out in front of Macy's at rush hour with impunity.  I doubt it was her.  But karma, like water, seeks its own level.  And it is amusing to contemplate.

4) The New York Times has colorable criminal liability as well.  While a newspaper in general can publish illegal information that it obtained legally, there is a specific statute which forbids the publication of a taxpayer's information without permission.  This will be interesting.  If I'm Trump I raise holy Hell.  

5) But he won't do this.  Trump, naturally, has threatened to sue the Times.   He's got to know that discovery would be brutal.  In any event, he won't do it until after the election.  Because he would have to admit the tax records published by the Times were his.  He hasn't denied it.  But he hasn't admitted it either.  

6) And here's what else I think.  I told the boys that day that I get a retirement check once a month from Uncle.  My taxes come off the top.  Even at that I have to pay quarterly taxes.  Which, quite frankly, pisses me off.  

These particular classes are full of, if not Trump supporters, Hillary haters. I asked them if they thought it was fair if it turned out that I paid more in Federal income tax than Donald Trump.  To a man they said "No."

And that's the REAL issue and it's an issue a teenager can easily grasp.  The tax code is rigged.  And it's rigged in favor of guys that can take advantage of extravagant deductions not available to the average Joe.  

That's not fair.  And that's the real issue Mr. Trump's tax returns raise.

Sunday, October 02, 2016

My Sunday Feeling

 Yesterday was the 5th anniversary of my exodus from public service. It seems like 5 days.  The older I get, and I don't feel all that old, the faster time seems to speed up.   

Truth be told, it didn't really hit me until a week or so ago.  Then again, I'm pretty busy with a lot of stuff nowadays.  At least too busy to engage in a great deal of navel gazing.  And too busy to play cards at the AARP meeting room down the street.  

What a difference 5 years makes.  When I first "retired" I felt like a fish out of water.  Indeed, I left the government because I was tired of the job.  Not because I was tired of working.  It never occurred to me that I would not be doing something full time pretty quickly.  And, truth be told the first 6 months or so were pretty awful.  

After all, I had always had some kind of job since I was 14.  Not working was unthinkable for me.  Hence, the "fish out of water" feelings of cognitive dissonance.  Insert "alone on an island", "out on a limb",  or your own favorite metaphor for self-pity here.  

But guess what?  I am so over that shit.  And have been for some time.  

The following is an example of what I get to do instead of practicing law all of the time. Friday's exchange with a 5th grader went like this:

"So you still do lawyer work?" she asked.

" Yep."

"Do you have an office?"

"Yeah.  In my house."

"Are you a millionaire?"

"Yes I am."

So I'm not really a millionaire.  That was a "fib." It's only a lie if you put it on a financial statement.

I saw no point in explaining the concept of "solvency" to a 9 year old.  But is this funner than hell or what?

I am light years removed from 5 years ago.  I'm in a great relationship with someone who a friend described upon meeting her as "very tall and way cool."  I am pretty much in-house counsel for a small business here in town and I have enough people wanting me to do stuff for them that I have broken down and bought malpractice insurance.  

I spend a lot of time at Catholic High down the street and a little at St. Edward's Middle School where the above-exchange took place.  I used to do more writing than I do nowadays.  I think it's because I got hit with a lazy stick after teaching full-time last semester.  That's OK.  Never really had the opportunity to be worthless before.  I'll get over it one of these days.  Maybe.  

I wouldn't say that I worry about money but I think about it more than I used to.  Then again I've got a pretty good amount of money socked away that I have never touched.  Every month the eagle screams and I get a check sufficient to finance my slothful ways every month.  I will continue to receive it until my expiration date or World War III, whichever comes first. 

As an aside, I need to do something about my car.  I need to do some repairs or buy another one.  For some reason a new tightwad version of me is in full flower.  M says I need to quit thinking about this stuff and go buy a damn car.  She's probably right.  But I need to think about it.  Now I understand why the elderly ruminate overmuch on these things.  They have time to do it.  This self-revelation is frightening. 

Of course, if Donald Trump pulls off the con of his career and places his hand on the Bible in January, I will quit joking about such mundane subjects.  And I will start checking out real estate in Quebec or New Zealand.  

The state of my personal union 5 years out-knock on wood- is far better than I deserve.  I have my health, friends and family.  I do fun things with interesting people, some of whom are a little mouthier than is necessary. But that's OK.   Folks repose trust in me and I never forget what a sacred thing that is.  

All is well.  I am at peace.  

And I do not take it for granted.

But really.  It's been 5 years since I walked out of the Federal Building?

Sunday, September 18, 2016

My Sunday Feeling

"This is not Rome. This is the Republic of Ireland 2011. A republic of laws...of rights and responsibilities...of proper civic order..."

                           Irish Secretary of State Enda Kenney

"Which is more important to you, (sic) the Bible or the US Constitution?"

                           Facebook post earlier this month

In 2011, the Irish government excoriated the Vatican for allegedly attempting to block the investigation by the civil authorities of child abuse by clerics.  The church was told in no uncertain terms by a righteously indignant, I mean no pun, Enda Kenney that the civil law prevailed when it came to the safety and protection of children.  Of course, the negative pregnant in Kenney's remarkable (by Irish standards) pushback to Rome was that civil law was primary in all matters involving "rights and responsibilities" and "proper civic order."

I thought of the words of the Taoiseach (look it up) when I saw the above-referenced post on Facebook.  

For some people, everything is a zero-sum game.  Right and wrong.  Black and white.  

Which is more important to you?  The Bible or the US Constitution?  

One wonders what is going on out there that would prompt someone to ask such a question.  One can sense a certain paranoid construct in which such a question can live and do well.  A law may be constitutional but it might also be contrary to the Bible.  Or to a particular reading of the Bible.  In that case what?  Your personal morality trumps the civil law?  Indeed, there have been laws passed in a couple of states that say just that. 

And the most famous example of this theory was the decision by county clerk Kim Davis not to issue marriage licenses to same sex couples because to do so would offend would allegedly offend her deeply held religious beliefs.  

I prefer a more nuanced approach to the post to the extent a) the Facebook poster is serious and b) it is even a question.  

To borrow the wonderful phrase from Stephen Jay Gould, the Bible and the US Constitution serve different magisteria.  The Bible concerns matters of spirituality and morality.  The Constitution and the laws passed pursuant to it concern "rights and responsibilities" and "proper civic order." They are accorded primacy in that realm as the United States, like Ireland, is a republic of laws. 

And by the same token, the law protects the typical exercise of the believer's faith.  I can attend the church of my choice.  I can send my kid to a parochial school.  Conversely the law protects my freedom to play golf on Sunday instead of going to church if I so please.  Further, while I am free to believe or to not believe, I do not have the unfettered discretion to act on those beliefs.  My deeply held belief that the use of marijuana is integral to the practice of my religion is no defense if I am being prosecuted on a dope charge.  

Just for the record, I am a Methodist.  We do not smoke grass in church.  I raised a hypothetical.  I'm a lawyer.  We do that.  

So why am I making a big honking deal out of gibberish on Facebook?  Because it seems a lot of our national discourse about serious things takes the form of posts on Facebook or through tweets on Twitter.  But everything can't be a zero sum game.  Serious questions cannot be resolved in a sound bite. 

I talked about the post in question with one of the history teachers at school the other day.  Here's our response.

Which is more important to you?  The Bible or the Constitution?

Our answer is "yes."