LONGSHOT: an attempt or undertaking that offers much but in which there is little chance for success

Probably this word, longshot, is most familiar from the realm of horse racing. It is a horse that is not believed to be awfully good. The odds on the horse winning are very low. The person who bets on this horse is said to be betting on a longshot, who, if he wins, will pay a big return.

When I go to the races I will study the charts, pick who I think will do well, and bet on that horse. But I might also put down a $2 bet on a longshot who might pay 25 to 1 or something like that. Sometimes the longshot wins by a fluke. It’s a big thing to those of us holding that ticket. If he loses, as expected, it’s not a big deal.

We also hear the term longshot used in the realm of politics. A longshot candidate is someone who has a really distant chance of being elected. In the current race for President, two longshots were former Governor Linc Chafee (D-RI) and former Governor Pataki (R-NY). They both gained some national name recognition, but the chances for them being nominated for President were pretty far fetched.

I must admit that at the beginning of this election season I would have said that Donald Trump was a longshot for the Republican nomination. It was hard to believe that anyone would treat his candidacy seriously, given a flawed personality, many negative qualities, and his total lack of experience in government. But over the course of several months, the longshot has emerged as the likely nominee. The longshot has become the poster child.I’m glad I didn’t bet on Trump’s ascendancy. I’d be out a few bucks.

It’s hard to be clear about what drove this candidate’s campaign. He says it is anger on the part of the Republicans. Anger over ineffective and unresponsive government. They seem to believe that a man who has been a bully in the market place can also be a bully in government and get something done. It may be an accurate assessment. But what he is angry about scares me.

Trump identifies anger of immigration issues. “Foreigners” are sneaking into this country and destroying the economy. They are stealing our language, our culture, our opportunities. We have to kick them out of the country and build a huge wall between the US and Mexico to keep them out.

Women are taking over the country according to Trump. They are turning our nation into a homeland for wusses.

The war in the Middle East has gone too long and too far. We have to go in there and bomb them all and get it over with.

The economy is weak because we are too concerned with the middle class and the lower class. We need to give industry more breaks to be more successful. It is the old “Trickle Down” theory that if we give more economic advantage to wealthy industrialists, the benefits will trickle down to less fortunate people.

Each of these issues is clearly a problem in our country. But the solutions suggested (there are many more) are not consistent with what we believe a modern democracy should profess.

In any case, many, many unhappy people have flocked to Trump’s camp and are ready to make him the President of the United States. The longshot is picking out the drapes for the White House. It scares the heck out of me. My support for Hillary Clinton is even stronger and one of my reasons is to block Mr. Trump. However, I hope she is listening to the issues Mr. Trump is raising. Not the solutions…the answers. They are legitimate concerns which must be addressed by the next President.

FAIR: free from bias, dishonesty, or injustice

I’ve just finished listening to the President nominate Judge Merrick Garland for the empty seat on the U.S. Supreme Court. His choice is a good one, which appears to be based entirely upon Judge Garland’s credentials and temperament. That is what the Constitution asks for, and President Obama has used great discretion in making this nomination.

There is no sign of political advantage to this appointment, and there is no scandalous history to prevent it. In a year when it would be easy to choose a crony, the President has acted appropriately, and is to be congratulated for that.

But already the Republicans in the Senate are laughing and saying that he can nominate until he is green in the face, and they are not going to move. There will be no interviews; there will be no hearings. There will be no votes to either approve or disapprove this candidate. As long as Barack Obama is President they will no act. IN SPITE OF THE FACT THAT THE CONSTITUTION LAYS OUT SPECIFIC RULES FOR THE SENATE REQUIRING THEM TO ACT IN RESPONSE TO THE PRESIDENT’S NOMINATION.

This is disgraceful. Barack Obama is the President of the United States until mid-January,2017. If the country is attacked by a foreign nation before then, it is required that he respond. If there is a disaster in this nation, the President must make assistance available for those requiring help. If the military runs out of money, the President must push to provide adequate resources for them to continue to protect and defend this country.

And, if there is a vacancy on the bench of the U.S. Supreme Court, the President must nominate a replacement…and the Senate must act to approve or disapprove that nomination. It is as urgent a matter as a military attack. For the country to go a whole year without a full court is unthinkable.

But for a Republican-led Senate (not for long, I hope) to refuse to act because of politics is not only refutable…it is not just or fair.

In his remarks at the nomination event, President Obama called for the Senate to act on this nomination, and to do so quickly. He asked them to be fair.

In a recent blog on justice I pointed out that one definition for the word justice is fair. It is a simple word, one which children and adults can understand. It doesn’t take a constitutional lawyer to define it. Kids know that fair means that there is an evenness in the game. If there are five members of one team, there should be five on their team also. If the players on my team are all fifth graders, the other team should not be from Middle School. If there are boys on the team, there should be girls also. If I win your marble, you should give it up to me. If Mom says “be home by five o’clock”, I should not be punished if I’m home at 4:30. Rules count. That’s fair.

If the Republicans reject this understanding of the Constitution, and refuse to respond to the President’s appointment…it isn’t fair. It isn’t just. It destroys all else that the Constitution requires of us.

A True Story

Last week my wife and I went into our favorite independent bookstore, Books on the Square, in Providence. We found our book quickly and went to the counter to pay for it.

There was a little girl, probably about 8 years old, standing there with her desired purchase in her hand. She handed it to the friendly clerk and he rang it up.

“That book will cost you just $6.49,” he said.

Her face froze and her eyes became like deer in a headlight.

“I only have six dollars,” she said in a soft, frightened voice.

“Oh, wait a minute,” the clerk said. “I made a mistake. You see, we have a policy here that college students get a 10% discount. I can tell from looking at you that you plan on going to college. Am I right? Do you plan to go to college some day?”

The little girl nodded her head and quietly said, “Yes.”

“Oh, that’s great. Because since you plan to be a college student some day, you are eligible for the 10% discount. That means that your book will only cost you $5.40. Well, look at that! You even get some change back.”

She handed him the $6.00 and he handed her back sixty cents. She beamed.

With her book secured in a bag and a bookstore bookmark she almost skipped out of the bookstore.

My wife and I were so impressed with the clerk. He not only sold a book…he inspired a little girl who won’t forget that incident.

Neither will we. Impressive.

DARN: to mend, as torn clothing, with rows of stitches

We live in a disposable society. I first realized this one day several decades ago when someone referred to us being a “Bic Society.”I thought they were saying “Big Society” until it clicked with me. They were describing Bic Lighterswhich are disposable, throw-away lighters. When the fuel in them is gone, instead of refilling the fluid you simple throw them away and buy a new one. They are cheap.

The point is that in our modern American society, it is easier and almost as cheap to simply throw something away rather than fixing it, mending it, or repairing it. It’s true, unfortunately. That’s why we have an ocean full of plastic waste and the sides of highways littered with throw-away trash.

That’s a wordy way of getting around to the point of this posting. I want to discuss darn. No, it’s not a more decent way of saying “damn.” It could be, but that’s not where I want to go. I want to talk about the verb “to darn.”

It’s a sixteenth century word from the Middle English which is taken from dernen, meaning “hidden from view.” It’s not hard to figure out how we got from there to contemporary American English.

When I was a kid my grandmother used to sit in the swing on our porch for hours darning. She had a pile of clean socks, a darning needle and a darning egg. The needle was larger than a regular sewing needle. It had a bigger eye in it, making it easier to thread. And the “egg” was a wooden device which looked like an egg on the end of a sturdy stick. She would pick up a holey sock, put the egg into the sock so that it filled the toe or the heel area like a foot, and begin darning.

She stitched the hole without pulling it tight enough to close the hole. Then she came back the opposite way with the stitch, and repeated the process numerous times until the hole was somewhat covered with the stitches. Then she turned the sock and did the same thing the other way, but always moving the tip of the needle over and under the existing threads to form a patch. When she was done, the sock was almost as good as new.

We throw the sock with a hole in it away. In those days the socks were somewhat precious, having cost enough in the post-war economy that we couldn’t afford to dispose of them. Purchasing a new pair of socks was an expense we didn’t need to endure. (That’s how we measured things in those days.) It was, after all, not only post-war, but it was post-depression when Americans discovered the value of things when there was not sufficient money to go shopping whenever the desire hit us. So the socks endured two or three darnings before being rendered expendable. And then they didn’t get thrown away. They became dust rags, or…better yet…shoe shining rags.

If men’s socks were expensive, women’s stockings were even more so. They were much more difficult to darn, and the result was not as hidden much of the time. My wife describes a teacher in her school who used to darn her sheer stockings with black darning thread. The result was legs with black spots all over them. The kids laughed at it, and she developed some clever nicknames.

I suspect there are some left-over people who darn socks today. But for the most part, we throw the damaged sock away and head for the store to replace them. Given the economy, a pair of socks is a bargain. But when I remember the peace my Grandmother felt when she sat on our porch darning socks I suspect something has gone missing. And it isn’t that sock that gotten eaten up by the clothes dryer.

Burglar in the House : story

A short-short story by Jed Waverly

It was a dark and stormy night.

Rick and Sarah were comfortably asleep in their second floor master bedroom. It had been a long day, and sleep came easily to them.

They had arrived home just before midnight, having driven through the storm, avoiding tree limbs falling, flooded streets, and live wires every place. The TV meteorologist had been warning about the intensity of this storm for days now, and here it was, just as he had predicted. Rick felt sheepish admitting that he had ignored the warnings.

Close one after close one made him embarrassed that he had not listened to Sarah’s concerns before heading out to the dinner party in a Boston suburb. But Rick was not one to admit his doubts about weather and other “acts of God” that might stand in the way of an enjoyable evening.

Nevertheless, they were home, in good shape, and having enjoyed a wonderful lobster dinner with fresh lobster from the Boston seafood market. What more could one ask for? When he voiced that to Sarah on the way home, her answer was muted by the thunder. “Maybe getting home without being killed.”

It was well after midnight when the phone rang.

“Damn,” muttered Sarah as she reached for the land phone on her bedside table. “Who has the guts to call at this hour?” She prepared herself for the handing out of a firm warning to whomever it was on the other end of the line.

“Hello,” she said.

“You will regret being home right now,” the mysterious voice said. “I hate it when there are people home.”

There was a click, and the phone disconnected.

“Who was it?” Rick asked, hearing the phone get slammed into its cradle.

“Nobody. Just a prank call.” But the sound of that mysterious voice bounced around in her head, and it was only a few seconds before she sat straight up and spoke.

“Rick. The voice said he didn’t like it when people are at home. I’m a little scared. I’m not sure I can go back to sleep.”

Rick sat up, turned on the light and looked around.

“Did you recognize his voice?”

“No, it was creepy, though. And he didn’t sound at all tired. I’m concerned that it was somebody casing the house. Do you think I’m being overly reactive?”

“Maybe I should call 911,” Rick said. Just then a crash sounded from downstairs…the sound of a window breaking.

“Make that call,” Rick ordered her. “I think he’s in the house.”

Sarah picked up her cell phone and started to punch in the numerals. But they soon realized it was too late…they could hear footsteps on the stairs.

The situation had moved from a “spooky one” to a downright frightening one in a matter of seconds. The fact that someone might be considering robbing them to one of an actual break-in…complete with a burglar heading up the stairs…changed the circumstances completely. Thinking about getting a safety system for the house ‘in case” they were ever challenged moved to knowing that there was a burglar in the house and they needed to do something immediately. The possibility became real time!

Isn’t that similar to what the Republicans are facing right now (and all of us potentially?) There is someone trying to “steal” the Republican nomination. For quite a while it was a threat, and everyone was comfortable thinking about it, but delaying going to The Home Depot to purchase a security system would have been a safer bet.

Now, however, the situation is real, and the method of overcoming the threat is imminent. The burglar has entered the house, shut down the security system, and is filling his bags with the spoils of a burglary. And he’s on the steps coming up the stairs. There’s no time for advanced planning. That should have been done months ago. The threat turns to immediate action now. Defense to Offense. (Or is it the other way around?)What to do?

GLOBAL: a way of thinking that goes beyond one’s local issues

There was a time when it seemed as if one’s thinking about such issues as conservation, farming, industrial development, and similar statistics could be restricted to what happened within the region in which one lived or worked. After all, how I plowed my fields, planted my products, or fertilized the earth was something that went as far as my property existed. What happened on the other side of the property line was my neighbor’s problem. We might need to share our situations from time to time, but for the most part, there was no need to be dependent upon each other.

Or, at least, that seemed to be true.

But as time as progressed we have come to realize that our area of concern needs to be expanded. In fact, it is important that we see ourselves as citizens of an entire planet. Our thinking, therefore, needs to be global rather than local. The onset of chaos theory provides us with the very vivid example of what we have come to call the “butterfly” concept. To paraphrase it, the fluttering of the wings of a butterfly in Brazil affects the way in which the atmosphere is experienced by a person in a place like Topeka, Kansas. It is a way of defining the interdependence of the creatures and conditions of the world.

Beyond environmental thinking, however, global is a sociological phenomenon. To think globally is to recognize one’s citizenship of the world. The pollution one’s small factory in the Ohio Valley puts into the air ultimately affects the breathing of a person in Belgrade, Yugoslavia. Or, the ability to curb the spread of a disease in Houston, Texas, has significance for a community being affected in a similar way in Bejing.

To put it in a negative way of thinking, our ability to fund research in cancer is not limited to the community in which that cancer is being studied. Rather, the entire world is implicated in the results of such research. The closing of a factory in Germany creates an economic bump which may well affect the interest rate of a bank in Argentina. The price of oil affects tourism, which may play a major role in a downturn in the economy of Australia. The uprising of a political crisis in Pakistan can affect the decisions regarding nuclear policy in North Korea…which can affect the military and security policies of every nation on the globe.

And to take it to an extreme…the invention and promotion of the computer and social media has the ability to affect the myriad of levels of thinking and believing throughout the world.

One of the discoveries we have made in the 20-21st centuries is that the world has shrunk considerably. Communication, travel, and economic dependency has made countries that never saw themselves as neighbors into inter-dependent elements, formerly thought to be restricted to geographical proximity.

This concept of global dependence and global thinking is not a matter of choice. It is a reality that pervades our so-called foreign policies of every nation in the world. Some nations have chosen to pretend that it isn’t true for them…to their despair. Even in our own country, some in high places, such as candidates for the Presidency, tend to believe that we can make decisions unilaterally that protect us from “whatever.” But they, too, are deceiving themselves. There is almost no political, economic, social, or military decision made today on Earth that does not affect the entire world.

In taking this even further, we have to begin to realize that global thinking is not enough. Our world is part of a celestial community greater than our imaginations. But that is for another posting at another time.

BROWNSTONE: a reddish-brown sandstone, used extensively as a building material

We’ve lived in cities around the country where apartments or condos were located in what are called brownstones. They are buildings constructed with the reddish-brown sandstone that give them that name.

For the most part, brownstones we have seen are located in upscale portions of the city…and are very expensive to rent or own. There is a cultural warmth to them, and they are located in parts of the city which tend to have a historic quality to them. Many times they are fronted by parks or other greenspaces which make living there somewhat attractive.

Sometimes the brownstones have fallen into disrepair and the neighborhoods have deteriorated to a lesser level of residence. But I suspect it is only a matter of time before they are restored to what become gentrified. That means that the renovations and promotions make the cost of them more than the people who had lived there previously can afford. When a neighborhood is gentrified, the brownstones have priced out the previous residents and the nature of the area begins to change ethnically, racially, and economically. Even the stores and restaurants spruce up and appeal to people of a higher income bracket.

What happens to the former residents?

They are forced to look in other more downtrodden areas of the city.

Brownstones, it seems, were built for people of a higher income bracket. They tend to have high ceilings, decorative markings, and even attic or basement rooms for the “hired help.”

One of the characteristics of the brownstones is the stairway and “stoop” which signify the entrance. They add a dignity to the building, and also tend to lift the main floor of the residence off the beaten track, away from the noise and clutter of the street. This leaves the lower floor exposed to some degree, for such renovations as offices, kitchens, and…additional sleeping areas. Sometimes they are separate living spaces from the upper brownstone.

The term brownstone dates back to the mid-nineteenth century. As urban life was rejected for more suburban existence after World War II, the brownstones in many cities faced deterioration. However, in more recent times,as urban life has become more attractive to families, the brownstone has returned to its place of elegance and class. In places like Georgetown, Washington D.C., the negativity never took hold, and the community who live there have continued to be prosperous.

H-SAM: “What were you doing on your third birthday?”

As one who is beginning to be concerned about the things I can’t remember…even from this morning…it is strange to find myself flipping to the extreme opposite. That would be people who have a condition identified as H-SAM. It is an acronym for the condition of hyperthymesia. That stands for “Highly Superior Autobiographical Memory.”

Hyperthymesia is a Greek word combining the prefix “hyper” (meaning “excessive”) and “thymesia” (meaning “remembering.”) Put them together and it makes sense as to what its modern meaning is all about.

It is a condition in which a person can “recall almost every day of their lives in near perfect detail as well as public events that hold some personal significance to them.” We all have seen or known people (sometimes autistic or others with mental illnesses) who have an uncanny ability to remember dates. And there are some who have unbelievable capabilities of doing mathematical calculations, or playing an instrument without any hesitation. They are considered “savants” and can be very happy people who just have an unusual capacity to perform That may be related but it is not the same thing as H-SAM.

These people (H-Sam people) remember personal (autobiographical) details of days in their lives which may not be otherwise significant. They remember all of the events of that day, and when called upon to call them to mind their mind keeps going in a chronological way, moving on and on in that time frame without ceasing. H-Sam people suffer from this condition in that there is no “stop” button to push and their mind becomes cluttered with details of extended periods of time, sometimes pushing out the present and preventing the person from focusing upon their current needs. There are only a few dozen verified cases of H-Sam known to scientists.

People with H-SAM or hyperthymesia may develop psychological issues brought on by the stress and anxiety of being “bombarded” by memory. Some clients of this condition slip into living in the past and not being able to bring themselves to present-day issues, needs, and desires. The fact that H-Sam individuals relate primarily to autobiographical information and events differentiates them from people who are able to compute data or recall information about others not specifically related to them. As I said above, they find themselves “re-living” the event, slipping back to those days decades ago and taking up residence there.

One of the problems for H-SAM people is not that they can remember; to the contrary, it is that they are unable to forget. I heard a woman on NPR who has the H-SAM condition. She is unable to forget the details of the day her husband died a number of years ago. She is burdened by the grief, and is unable to move on in her life, since the details of that day are so vivid and real to her. It disables her, and leaves her incapable of maturing in her emotions.

Obviously, my spelling out of information about H-SAM is limited, based upon a very cursory review of information regarding the condition. I chose it to write about because it is so fascinating, and it is my belief that not many people know of it. If you are interested in more details about it or hyperthymesia I would suggest that you start with the information on the internet, and I am sure there are magazines and books that are more authoritative.