Republican Manifesto of Conscience

REPUBLICAN MANIFESTO OF CONSCIENCE

First Trump slandered the Mexicans

And I did not react because Republicans aren’t Mexican

Then Trump insulted the Muslims

And I let it slide because Republicans aren’t Muslim

Then Trump insulted POWs, mothers of war heroes and the handicapped

And I just shook my head and said, “Whatever…” because they’re not a large Republican voting bloc

Then Trump unloaded on a former Miss Universe

And I rolled my eyes, but c’mon, I’m not going to disavow him over one beauty contestant

But then Trump made crude remarks about women in general

And I ran for the hills because -FUCK, you can’t win elections when you piss off all WOMEN!

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FEELING SAFE IN TRUMPWORLD

stan@stansinberg.com      @ssinberg1 www.stansinberg.com

Just for a moment, put your critical thinking skills aside, and accept the scenario of Donald Trump’s America, as laid out in his acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention. An America that’s under siege, at home and from abroad, where crime is rampant, neighbors live in fear of each other, terrorists lurk around every corner, and ill-meaning immigrants jauntily traipse through our unguarded borders like giddy tourists on Free Disneyland Day.

Just for now, accept this as true, because Donald Trump said it, despite overwhelming evidence that, with the exception of occasional spikes, the crime rate has fallen to historic lows over the past 30 years,  Isis has lost most of its territory and is on the run, and immigration from the south – where that wall is to be constructed – is close to a net zero.

Also accept -again, just for the duration of this rant – that this crime/terrorist threat is so overwhelming that there’s not even a second of a 75minute speech to devote to dangers like global warming or everyday gun violence whose toll is roughly 35 deaths a day, but which would have been booed down if it was acknowledged. Other problems that no time could be spared for include affordable health care, runaway college costs and any other domestic problem not caused by totally rotten trade deals.

OK. Got that? America is a lawless landscape, a veritable Wild West extending North, South, and East.. And Trump promised that as president he will make America safe again, not “soon” but “very soon” and emphasized that, quote– “Only I” – can fix it.

Except that the devil is in the details, and Donald hasn’t told us HOW he’s going to do that.

So, as John Lennon encouraged us to do, let’s “Imagine.”

To prevent every unforeseeable crime and terrorist-inspired attack –  and that’s the goal, since President Obama – and Hillary – are blamed for Every incident that occurs, even the ones done under the radar by “lone wolves” – and police are city and state-run departments -  for Trump to take charge would seem to necessitate a suspension of civil liberties, allowing him to declare a national state of emergency and place armed National Guardsmen on virtually every street corner. The local police, meanwhile, will have to be empowered to stop anyone they deem “suspicious” for whatever reason. If you liked unarmed African-Americans being killed by police and the Black Lives Matter movement that arose in protest, then you will positively LOVE the scenarios that this will bring.

Trump must also authorize the NSA to unconditionally monitor all our internet activity and emails, Edwin Snowden be damned. When you consider that the Republican Party’s platform cites pornography as a public health crisis, well, you just might want to lay off Pornhub for the next 4-8 years, too.

A big part of keeping us safe “very soon” is rounding up those 11 million undocumented immigrants, by way of federal agents going door to door, business to business, mosque to church, scooping folks up unannounced and in waves, breaking up no families, making zero mistakes, and leaving the rest of us happily unperturbed

When the Muslim shooter killed all those people in Orlando, Trump confidently, and without evidence, said “The Muslims knew what was going on. They have to say something.” So, we can expect neighbors to be required to inform on neighbors, with the FBI investigating a lot of “terrorists” who, in reality, just pissed off their neighbor for not picking up after their dog.

Donald Trump, of course, is quick to give credence to conspiracy theories. He’s famous for declaring “Something is going on” and insisting that we get to the bottom of it. There was something going on with Obama’s birth certificate. After the 5 Dallas police officers were slain, Trump said there was something going on with Obama’s body language, which exhibited, he said, sympathy for cop-killers. There is something going on with Muslims, who want to kill us, something going on regarding the Hillary Clinton/Vince Foster murder theories, something going on with Ted Cruz’ father and Lee Harvey Oswald, and many, many more. That’s Good – we want a president with an inquiring mind, after all – even if it’s also nice to have a president who can discern facts from wild paranoid fantasy – but that likely portends a President Trump ordering investigations into the lives of every citizen potentially touched by Alex Jones’ latest bizarre leap off the deep end.

By the way, all this is being brought to you by the party that wants to keep government out of our lives and off our backs. But not to worry, because the government will only be monitoring everything you say and do in order to ensure that our democracy remains safe.

And now, you can open your eyes and stop imagining. Because in a few short months, it could all become a reality.

Are you feeling safe yet?

 

 

 

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DAY 42 – THE ALMOST CALAMATOUS JOURNEY HOME

6/11 – And the part that WAS planned turned into a near disaster. Had a crack of dawn flight to Shanghai so I could pick up my return flight home, but it was canceled due to bad weather YESTERDAY and I had to go stand-by on another airline. When the “Flight Manager” issued my stand-by ticket, he motioned to the ticketing agent to check my luggage – jumping me in front of a lot of people on line, who didn’t see the gesture. One woman gave me the evil eye and I was like “HE told her to take it! I’m not one of THOSE jumping-in-line people!”  It was like a “Curb” sketch. But my stand-by flight was delayed a couple hours, so I clearly wasn’t going to make it to Shanghai in time. So scurried to the  International Terminal, which is like a 15 minute shuttle bus ride away – it’s like a separate airport – I’ve never seen anything like it – to see if I could get the Air China people to just let me board the *&^% plane in Beijing, where it STOPS ANYWAY.  The best I could do, after going back and forth between domestic and international terminals three times – and spending about 3 ½ hours – was getting a “change fee” of $200, which is okay because I’m SUPPOSED to get a refund of about $100 for my Shanghai canceled flight. That’s yet to be seen, but spending an extra $100 not to go to Shanghai and spend extra hours on the plane is worth it, even if a few of those hours were tense and shuttling between terminals.

They kept asking me if I wanted to change my flight and I kept saying, no, I want to KEEP my flight – same everything, except I missed the first part of it, I still want to take the main part. If it was a sitcom, I would’ve explained that I was saving the airline money on fuel (my weight) and meals, etc, so they should be paying Me. It’s crazy. Why should I have to pay $300-500 more to sit in the same seat? One girl agent said “You’ve been in China six weeks. Why did you wait till today to come to Shanghai?” like I was supposed to stay there for a week before my flight or something. I’m exhausted from lack of sleep and this turn of events and still have to work on a place to stay in the next 3 hours, etc. Then it turns out that the plane from Shanghai arrived in Beijing really late, so maybe I could’ve made it after all. Anyway, I finally board the plane. And that, friends, puts the button on my blog.

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DAY 41 – A GREAT WALL-OP OF A FINALE

6/10 – My last day! Off on an excursion to The Great Wall. On a tour with the hostel, to a distant part of the wall. Janshanling, 3 hours away. And three hours back. And 2-3 hours hiking. Going to a relatively untrammeled section to get away from crowds, but there are about 25 people I’ll be hiking among.
The last week or two – ever since I re-discovered hostels – I’ve been talking with a lot more people, or at least over-hearing them. It’s usually pretty interesting, and makes me question my “thing” about traveling mostly solo and not wanting to insulate myself with westerners. First of all, these folks are international – and, of course, they have their own unique experiences to share about the country. And they’re young and have different perspectives. Plus, of course, it’s just less lonely. And it’s certainly not like I was able to meet many Chinese people outside of places like Beijing. And maybe I would’ve gotten more tips earlier on things to do and the culture scene. Also, I didn’t look up any ex-pat communities online, which probably could’ve pointed me to my dream of fronting for a Chinese business, and engaging in a little “foreign intrigue.”

And now I’ve done the Wall…
Well, I have to say, for an unplanned trip, I couldn’t have planned the ending any better! Spent the last day climbing – yes, climbing – The Great Wall of China. A Wall-op of an ending. Went on the hostel trip to Janshanling, which takes 3 hours to get to, and we walked 6km up majestic, awe-inspiring, jaw-dropping steps, through forts and outposts to ward off the murdering Mongols. Amazingly beautiful, although that’s probably not the first thing that was on the minds of the garrisons defending China. A light rain at first which stopped about 1/3 of the way through, making it perfect because it dampened (!) crowds – we were almost the only ones there – and it wasn’t too hot or humid. Not sure what I was expecting, but this more than lived up to its hype.
It also gets to the essence of traveling: no matter how many videos you watch or what you read, you can’t approach the experience of being there yourself. For impact, atmosphere, ambience and people – you need to be there.

Speaking of people, the local farmer women who saddle up alongside you carrying goods to sell are marvels at what they do. The instinct is to wave them away, but they’re so beatific, non-aggressive, and smile so sweetly – they just walk alongside or ahead of you and smile – and before you know it, you’re talking with them and they’re acting as a de facto guide, and even giving a helping hand – and they’re your companion. And then later on they ask you to buy something. My guide was Lisa (I think) and very broad smile and decent guide. She walks up the wall every single day except in winter. She’s a local farmer with a husband and 18 year old child and she’s 42, and aside from crinkles around the eyes, she could probably pass for 25. Some of the women hauling stuff up the wall are much – or seem so – older. They have no guarantee you will buy anything or give them anything, but chances are most folks do, because they’re so SWEET. Really masters at what they do.
The wall was insanely steep in places – both steps and flat ground, and both up and down. Sometimes going uphill it felt like I was encountering g forces and going down and up at steep angles in quick succession felt like one of those “crazy houses” at amusement parks when I was a kid.

Went back to town, ate again on Ghost Street – had another dish set in a big pot of oil – this was a lot of fish – with squid, shrimp and some fish I don’t know – abalone, maybe? – and of course it was hot and I made a total mess between using a dozen napkins and putting shells everywhere and just slurping onto the tablecloth. Huge. No matter how big a dish you order, the waiter always asks “One?” skeptically, like you should be able to put at least two of these puppies away.

Had a bad cough when got back to the hostel. Roomie who lives in China says he’s had Beijing cough, too, and it goes away quickly when you leave Beijing. He read some pollution indicator on his phone that read “150” and he said when that number is “30” in LA it’s considered a hazardous day. So pollution is pretty, pretty bad. So hopefully cough will dissipate. Went to sleep quite late. And that was China!!!!

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DAY 40 – BEEN THERE, DONE THAT (MOSTLY)

6/9 – Have a mostly “pulling it together” day. Have to secure a place to stay in the States, have some work from Fenwick that needs doing, spend a bit too much time trying to get my wechat app to work so I can send Law Shu pics, etc. Go to the Lama Temple, which is supposed to be the greatest temple in Beijing, and it certainly is sprawling and extensive and beautiful, but at this point I’m “templed out” and barely take photos. Not that I understand much, but things that would’ve impressed the hell out of me a month ago and had me snapping away photos – people bowing, waving incense, and halls and halls of Buddha & Friends, now it’s – Ahhh, Been There, Done That. Amazing how we can get so jaded seeing jade idols in so short a time.

I also go to the Confucius Temple, which is more serene and contemplative and there are students there, and it’s nice, but also don’t stay long. Come back, take a nap. Do some more work. Late at night I go to Ghost Street – wow, what a misnomer. It’s all lit up like Reno (not quite Las Vegas), dozens of  large outdoor restaurants. It’s supposedly famous for its spicy food. I have a melon hot pot – it comes in a full melon, with cold, uncooked fish inside, and a pouch accompanying it. I have NO idea what to do when it arrives. Funny. Then the guy cooks it at my table. Takes about 10 minutes. You don’t eat any of the melon, so not sure of its function, unless it infuses the fish with flavor. Pretty good and I have “hot pot” crossed off my list. Go to bed at an ungodly 4am. Also, I seem to have developed the “Beijing cough” which is actually a thing.
Beijing reveals itself slowly. I’m sure I’ve seen just a fraction of “the scene” here, and haven’t even been anywhere near downtown or a skyscraper. So it may warrant another visit in the future. Weather can apparently get VERY hot in the summer, so that’s to avoid. And as bad as the pollution is, apparently a year or two ago it was way worse.

Beijing has much less honking, at least in the section I’ve mainly traversed. It’s almost normal. Also less hocking. I think educated, “sophisticates” realize these things don’t reflect well upon them. I don’t think I’ve seen young people hocking much, if at all. It has more people speaking English, more western tourists (by a large factor), more of an arts scene. Don’t recall seeing dogs here.

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DAY 39 – ENTER: A LIKE-MINDED TRAVELING COMPANION

6/8 – Futz around in the morning, do my exercises for first time in a while. I tend to get very late starts- 4-5 hours after awaking. Of course I “do” stuff – in this case, I had to book my flight to Shanghai – even though my plane stops in Beijing they won’t let me board there – so I have to leave about 8 hours early and spend about $120 just to come back to Beijing airport – pretty ridiculous.  Then go to Summer Palace. At first I’m not that impressed – the big lake dominates it, and I’ve been to Hangzhou, which has the best lake, but getting away from the lake and going up the hills makes it much more interesting, including Souzhou (?) Street, which is a recreation of an old village along the canals. There are also good views of Beijing from the hillside temples. It’s another preening example of the self-indulgence/aggrandizement of the emperors.  Vast temples/buildings are constructed for “single use” facilities. One palace was constructed for the empress who had a bad dream the first night she slept there, thought the Buddha was sending her bad vibes, and then, if I understand correctly, she only slept there once a year. Another time she thought she saw snakes, even though there were no snakes, and after berating her staff, had carvings or something made to ward off the snakes. So clearly, a lot of wasted work – and probably lives – transpired because of a crazed ruler. Many examples of excessive opulence, while, one imagines, the peasants starved.

Then I met Law Shu. She was wearing a flannel shirt and I just liked her presence, and I asked her “Aren’t you warm?” as it was very hot. She laughed and said yes, but on the plane it was cold and she’d just arrived. And from that moment, we just started walking together and it was very natural. She’s probably 30 or 32 and if, well, pretty much everything had been different, she could’ve been my “Chinese girlfriend.” The different things being she has a boyfriend who she lives with for 7 years and “I trust him and he trusts me,” and also that she was only around for a couple days and after that returns to Chonquing (I think) where her vacation time is severely limited, although she told me that “all” Chinese get two weeks off a year at the same time – once in the spring and once in the fall, and you can piggyback your five days off on top of that to have 12 days concurrent vacation.  We also share our disdain of noisy tour groups and the noise bubble they travel in. She’s a very ‘modern’ woman, traveling alone, and doesn’t think it’s brave to do it, just like me. We’re 30 years and thousands of miles and a cultural divide apart, but I feel like we’re kindred spirits, and I want to spend more time with her. Anyway, within 15 minutes we’re asking each other which way we want to go, and if I want to go into a temple, she’ll “wait” for me. We talk about how we both like to travel solo because we don’t like being with other people who want to “rest” or spend two hours eating or go to the hotel early, etc, and she also likes to walk and walk and walk and see as many things as possible. She came to Beijing this time just to see parks. I start joking about the “single use” facilities of the Palace and Forbidden City and she finds it funny, and picks up on it and makes her own jokes about it, which are pretty good. So we walk for several hours – way past when the park is supposed to “close” although while they shut down the buildings, concessions and attractions, they keep the park open a few more hours, and past the sunset. Then we go to a local restaurant to eat and she insists on paying for me, because without me the day would’ve been “boring.” Then we go our separate ways. Unconsummated, chaste, have no idea if she would’ve been interested in me, but I feel like I “met” someone in China.

AMERICAN NAMES
Law Shu tells me her American name is “Linda.” Why does she have an American name? I tell her I don’t have a Chinese name! She said her teenage students gave it to her. Many of them have American names that they choose from a celebrity that they admire, and that they will change it when they have a new favorite. It’s very odd. Don’t they have Chinese idols? I’m sure they do. It reminds me of “Roots” when Kunta Kinta (?) was whipped into submission into changing his name to “Toby” only this is voluntary.

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DAY 38 – IT’S GOOD TO BE THE EMPEROR

June 7 – Katja and I have breakfast. I’m struck by how it seems exactly the same as if we’d been intimate the night before. Nothing too revealing, but somehow familiar. Seems odd in a way. Then, with the subways now open, she takes off.  Then I make a foray to Forbidden City, which, at least location-wise, is easily accessible. Plump right in the middle of Beijing. And well, it’s awesome, HUGE, sprawling, filled with wonders man-made (jewelry, jade sculptures, porcelain – which the Chinese invented) and natural (knotted, twisted pine and cypress trees, giant gnarly rocks that look like creatures). And of course, all the splendor of the emperors of the Ming and following dynasties. Built in 1420 – at least some of it – and was inhabited by emperors until early 20th century. Not that long ago was it abandoned. Or overrun, really. By a popular uprising. The three main palaces had different functions. They were maybe 100-200 feet apart, but, for instance, the middle one, the Hall of Medium Harmony  would be used by the emperor to “rest” the day before he was going to an important function in the first hall, The Hall of Supreme Harmony, and I think he dressed or something in the third one, the Hall of Who’s Been Sleeping In My Bed?  Like being an emperor was so hard he needed to rest, and prepare to walk the couple hundred steps to the main palace. I guess you get lazy when your main exercise is giving thumbs up or down on whether you’re going to execute someone. Then there were other rooms for concubines. One who was put to death by the empress was later “rehabilitated” and raised in status in the Concubine Hall of Fame, although I don’t think that was the official name.

Spent about 4 hours there, then went across the street to Jinquin (?) Park. It was a Sunday, which is “social” day in China, and all through the park you could hear groups of people singing opera – or at least, operatically.  Some of them were quite large – 30-40 people. They all sound good! Some folks in the group dance – solo or along someone – and they have a great time. Very lovely.  I also ascend a hill for a panoramic view of the city.  So far I haven’t been “downtown” – I don’t even have a clue where that would be – but Beijing so far seems much more down to Earth and livable than I imagined, and certainly more so than Shanghai. More Confident of itself, I’d say – like it doesn’t have anything to prove. The numerous hutongs are quite interesting and varied. I accidentally stumble across one I was looking for – on NaningXious – about 1 km long and MOBBED –lots of cafes, bars, shops, but a much different vibe than the lake – and much more attractive. I find a hostel there and get a bed in a triple room for 110y, and it’s EMPTY! ALL MINE! For just 20 more yuan than living hunched over in a cubicle. It feels like a palace!  HAHAHAHA!

At night I go out late and get a couple of ‘sticks’ of food – one of them is shrimp – and I bite into the head – which I wasn’t aware was the head OR that you’re not supposed to eat it – and a bone gets lodged in my throat. For a couple seconds, it seems serious. The Chinese couple I’m talking with laugh, thinking I’m coughing because the food is spicy – but eventually – by turning blue, I suppose – I convey that I’m choking. The woman whose food stand it is thrusts a bottle of water at me which helps dislodge the shrimp head – and afterwards tells me I owe her 2 yuan. First they choke you, then they charge you to cure you. I thought maybe she was giving it to me so I’d live. I guess that was supposing too much.

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DAY 37 – I, POD

June 6 – The guy who drove me to the Harmony Inn takes me to the railroad station. The man doesn’t  believe in the concept of waiting your turn. He takes my luggage and hurls it on the security belt, completely ignoring and seemingly resentful of other people waiting to do so. He goes to buy my train ticket and muscles right up to the window agent and throws money at him while he’s mid-transaction with another customer. Amazing. He gets away with it, too.

I take bullet train to Beijing. Arrive around 1PM. I take the subway and before long I’m at one of the hutongs (alleys) that leads to a lovely lake, with a million music bars around it. Hutongs range from one narrow block long to a small labyrinth of back alleys that intersect with others, but they’re all characterized by their narrowness and are united and organized around a communal idea. At least that’s what I believe the original concept was. They are generally too narrow for cars to pass, and while motorbikes may go through, they are usually pretty quiet.

This particular hutong is big, spilling out onto a lake, and features row upon row of interchangeable, for the most part, music clubs. Each club positions the stage on the same side of the room as the next, I suppose by mutual consent, so the bands are literally not playing back to back. As it is, they overlap and “non-blend” with each other on the street. Sometimes you pass one club and hear music emanating from the band next door. “Boy bands” are the operative word here. Most of the band members don’t look old enough to patronize the joint they’re playing in. They look, on average, 16.  The sheer number of clubs is numbing. It’s literally one after the other after the other after…etc. There’s also a lot of solicitations for “lady bars” some of it a bit aggressive. Some hawkers plead “Ohh, come on-nnn,” to walk into their club. Personally I’ve always found “pleading” to be a persuasive sales technique!

Hotels in Beijing are much more expensive than where I’ve been, and I didn’t even realize it was a Saturday night, so a few places are sold out. Two cute young girls, one of them with glasses who laughs “I’m really nervous” walk around trying to help me find a hotel. In the course of it, THEY find a hotel, but apparently there are a few hotels that don’t rent to foreigners. News to me, but sure enough, my guidebook confirms it happens. It’s about 6pm, it’s raining a bit, and I’m tired of lugging my bag, so when I come to a youth hostel and there’s one “pod” room available, I take it sight unseen.  “Pod,” indeed. It’s so small you take a picture of it to show your friends back home, who wouldn’t believe it otherwise. 8 feet long, and my head and feet simultaneously touch the walls width-wise. It’s also on the second “floor” meaning I have to climb a few rungs of a ladder to access the room, as it’s about 5 feet off the ground, on top of another pod. You can’t possibly stand in the room. And it’s 100 yuan. Cheap, but not That cheap.

POD ROOMS
The best thing about China’s “pod rooms” is that they don’t pretend to be something else, like “cozy” or “intimate.” They are pods. At the Drum Tower hostel in Beijing, my pod was perhaps 8 feet long, and considerably less than 5’9” wide, because that’s my height and width-wise my head touched one wall and I actually had to crouch so that my feet could plant themselves simultaneously on the other.  The second best thing about them is they’re cheap, although not as cheap as they should be. Mine was 98y. In Suzhou (?) I had a veritable Presidential Suite for 120y. The third best thing about them is if you’re ever thrown into solitary confinement in prison, you can look around your cell and shrug, “I’ve had smaller.” In case the similarity doesn’t strike you immediately, the room has cross-metal “bars” – that cross-serve as both a door and ventilation.

The most important thing to remember, is, if you have a room like mine on the “upper” level, is remembering you have to descend a ladder when you go pee in the middle of the night. (You didn’t think this pod had a bathroom, did you?) Otherwise you’ll fall five feet or so. You also have to remember to back out backwards from the room, and crawl back in, because you can’t possibly stand up. The only time you can be upright is when you’ve pulled yourself up onto the mattress (one hesitates to call it a bed, although technically it is). Some pods apparently are a little larger and do include a bathroom, though that’s hard to imagine. I cull through my luggage and take what I need for the next day and leave the bag under a table downstairs. There’s no way I could or would want to lug that monster into the room. There’d literally be no room to step around.

Late night on my way “home” I walk into a restaurant because I see a girl with curly red hair with her back facing the street inside, so I know she’s a Westerner. When I walk in to feign read the menu, I see she’s cute. She’s twirling her noodle dish around her chopsticks, using them like you would twirl pasta with a fork. It’s also cute – and effective. She’s getting a lot of noodles on those sticks! She’s the only person I’ve seen doing that. So I go up and say, “I don’t know much about chopsticks, but I’m pretty sure that’s not the approved Chinese method of using them,” or something like that. Her name’s Katya, from the Ukraine, and we talk for a couple hours. She’s teaching English to kindergartners.

I’ve barely mentioned women in these annals because, except for a couple of instances in a couple cities in which I either briefly met or interacted with someone, it wasn’t much on my radar. In the smaller places I was, which was most of them, I was going up mountains or down rivers or here today gone tomorrow and there didn’t seem to be much opportunity. Also, unlike Latin America, where I could go to a dance club at least, there were no equivalent places that I found. Plus, again in the smaller cities/towns, there was a dearth of English speaking denizens. And most people always seem to be with others. And there was no way to make my intentions known. So a host of reasons. Also, it wasn’t a priority. Hard to believe perhaps, if you know me, but it wasn’t. In Beijing, though, nearing the end of my trip, that changed somewhat. People spoke, or knew, English. It was a cosmopolitan city. There were also Westerners. It just seemed doable. And it was a last chance to have a trip fling.
So anyway, amazingly Katya tells me she has no place to sleep because she’s out of money and she lives an hour away and has to wait for the subway to open in the morning. So, I don’t leap on it, but a few minutes later I say she can sleep in my tiny pod room which will make us instant ‘close friends’ and she unhesitantly accepts. I take this as a positive sign that sex may occur, but when we get to the room, she goes to sleep wearing all her clothes – even her socks – and when I drape my arm around her, she forthrightly removes it. In reality, sex in that room was pretty nigh impossible, and certainly not romantic and every little squeak or moan would be instantly heard throughout “Pod-ville.” In fact, the guy in the room below snored during the night and I thought it was Katya. So whether anything would’ve occurred if I’d had a “normal” hotel room is hard to say. But the “rooddd-ette” sealed the deal that it wouldn’t.

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DAY 36 – Not A Dream, Not an Hallucination…

6/5 – Looking for the North Gate bus station for bus to Jeu Jei – en route bus to Mianshan, I can’t find it, get exasperated and jump in a taxi. I think the guy understands where I want to go, but I’m wrong. He takes me to the railway station, and then a bus passes us, and I point to the bus, and he stops at the bus. Then I take out my translator, which says “Bus station” and he takes me to the next bus STOP. Like I just happened to want to go there. What a dimwit. Get another taxi who brings me back where I was ½ hour ago, just didn’t notice the bus station in the back. Turns out there’s a bus straight to Mian Shan which nobody, including the guide books, seemed to know about. Bus starts out as the slowest bus ever. Picks up a little bit, but mostly he was just toodling along. Get to Mian Shan. It’s very hard to figure out because English is pretty much non-existent there, but finally get going and there were parts about it that were hard to believe actually exist. They seem the thing of myths and legends. Entire monasteries and temples built centuries ago high onto and out of mountain cliffs, so grand and splendid and remote it boggles the mind. Took a cable car up to see one temple.  As I was coming off the cable car, a photographer took my photo and was quite aggressive about showing it to me so I’d buy it. I waved him off a few times. Several minutes later this guy comes up huffing and puffing. I didn’t recognize him. I thought he’d just finished ascending the mountain walking, but he actually ran after me to show me the photo. He even tried to use his being out of breath as a point to get me to buy it. But I didn’t.

Taking the cable car, though, led to me taking the “chutes and ladders” part of the hike in the opposite direction from most people. This was a section of metal steps mounted into the mountain, along a cliff’s edge, overlooking a rock-strewn river. Sometimes there was quite a high elevation. The only support is a metal chain that’s also clamped to the mountain. It’s similar to the “most dangerous hike in the world” trail that I opted not to do the other day because it was, well, too dangerous. But while that one got that designation apparently because beneath the steps was a precipitous drop that would surely kill you, a fall from this parapet would’ve certainly, at the very least, broken bones and damaged internal organs, if it didn’t downright kill you, which I actually think it would’ve done. The direction I was going in was “down” which made it much more hazardous – and very scary. And unlike that other “dangerous trail” this one went on and on – section upon section – interspersed with suspension bridges whose first steps were almost at 90 angles. They looked impossible to descend. Plus they were wet. Obviously I survived, but there was one long step where I actually closed my eyes as I descended – like I was afraid I was going to fall into the void. I’d venture that section took ½ hour and while it wasn’t physically exhausting as much as challenging and mentally taxing, after that I was spent. It was also Very hot, and while I did manage to trudge up to one more Taoist monastery after that – with many residual temples – it was definitely a slog.

At the Taoist temple there were monks there and they invited me to sit down. Being enlightened and all, they asked the same questions that everyone else asks – where I’m from and my age. One of the monks gave me a double-DVD of some movie with “earth-shattering lessons” so I had to make an offering When I was going to put money in the donation box, all the monks got up from what they were doing and watched me intently. Pretty funny. Also, they noticed that my tablet is broken and found that amusing and then asked what it cost and the fact that it was somewhat expensive made it being broken even funnier. Stupid monks. I don’t know how it is that I never even heard of this place until yesterday. It’s staggering.

I also think I might’ve been propositioned. It’s very, very hard to know, but this woman who was in a small group went out of her way in a couple different places to talk with me, and was pretty persistent, and I thought she was looking me up and down quite interested. It’s possible this has happened other times as well, but I have no idea how to pull these off without anybody speaking a word of the other person’s language.

WORKERS
As in other Asian countries, people are working at the crack of dawn, and stay there until well after nightfall. Day after day after day. They play cards, talk with their friends and co-workers – they seem to have an amazing amount of stuff to talk about all the time, considering they don’t go anywhere or do anything and nothing is really “new,” but I don’t know how they do it, on an existential level. Every day seems exactly like every other.

Other businessmen/entrepreneurs seem to believe that blasting –and I mean blasting – the same incredibly loud, irritating message or jingle in constant repetition will get customers to buy it. One store I heard today from blocks away – just some crazed, excited recorded voice repeating the same message every 10 seconds at earth-screeching volume. One old guy riding his bicycle and hauling a small trailer of goodies had a perpetual message machine playing the same tune and slogan every 15 or so seconds, also at a din. Hour after hour, day after day, the same loop goes through his brain. Either he’s the most enlightened, peaceful man on the planet or he’s completely insane. There’s no middle ground here.

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DAY 35 – China’s a Nice Place to Visit, But…

6/4 – In the morning, I finally find the ATM – I had another attack of Temporary ATM Blindness, it seems – but my two ATM cards don’t work! They’re both ‘temps’ – for different reasons – and they expired, with no way or reactivating them. I have about 8 dollars left in my pocket, and I have no way to leave Pingyao, no less China!  Things are not looking good. Fortunately – and surprisingly – my credit card companies are able to remotely help me set up a Pin # so that I can get cash advances. I didn’t think they’d do that, but they saved my bacon. Say something bad about Mastercard, and you’ll have to cross me first!

After that near fiasco, I took a walk around half the wall of the old town, which wasn’t as interesting as I would’ve thought. Then went to a couple more of the attractions, including Confucius’ temple, which was very impressive. But I could’ve cut a day off Ping Yao. At night I go to the restaurant where the woman proprietor offered me a free beer if I brought in her flyer. For the life of me, I couldn’t find it, but I was sure she’d remember me and give me the beer. I was half-right. She remembered me, but wouldn’t give me the beer, because “those are the rules.” Really irritated me, and I let her know. It’s customer –relations! You made me an offer to get me to come back and it worked! So the flyer itself isn’t important. Chinese minds beg to differ.

Saw a poster in the hostel about Mian Shan – temples built directly into the mountains and it looks incredible, so decide to make another trip to an area I never heard of.

I start talking on the street with a 75 (?) year old guy who could be me in a dozen years. We both wear fedoras, are about the same height. He’s Austrian, but he’s traveling 3 months this trip, and does 3-6 month long trips all the time. He’s retired and apparently single, and just roams around. He’s retired, sleeps in hostels and has a low budget so he can do it. He was in decent shape. It made me wonder if that’s what I want to be doing when I’m his age. It was good to see it’s ‘possible’ but also seemed a little lonely, everyday just looking at new things without anyone to share it all with.

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DAY 34 – THEY’LL ESCORT YOU TILL IT HURTS

6/3 – If you’re over 60, the 150y pass to see everything worth seeing in Pingyao is FREE! FREE! And not just for Chinese! For me, too! Oh, Pingyao, I take back everything negative I said about you in the last journal entry. I LOVE YOU! Your generous spirit shines through like a beacon for all China –nay, all mankind – to emulate. Now I have to go see them.

The treasures and beauty of Pingyao lies behind its ten, fifteen, thirty foot brick walls. Walking the streets and gives no hints at what’s behind them. Every so often there is a huge, heavy door, almost always open, that gives a glimpse of the houses behind. They are entries, it appears to courtyards, where a cluster – or maybe one big – family lives. Most of the time I didn’t venture inside – it seemed like walking into someone’s home – but a couple times I did, and there was no blowback. Four ladies playing cards, shushing a dog who sniffed at me… some of the more ornate were hotels with lavish courtyards. Beautiful.

During the day I frequented about half the 22 attractions that are FREE if you’re over 60. An “Escort Service” that was a MILITARY escort service for bankers and businessmen – the first bodyguards. The first banks, a Confucius Temple, City Government Building where they showed off their old prison and “instruments of interrogation” – I almost confessed just looking at them. The homes of ancients, with their elaborate and labyrinthine courtyards and backyards. A lot to see and do.

Spent another colossal waste of 2 hours looking for an ATM that would accept Visa or Mastercard. None in the Old Town. Ventured outside the walls, on the directions of the woman proprietor of the hotel, but she wasn’t specific enough. Once there, there were too many directions to choose from, and I obviously picked a wrong way. Went round and round and round and came up empty. Kind’a wrecked my plans, such as they were, which included getting a full body massage for 60y.

Oh – and remember that ocarina store? Well, first of all, I’m pretty sure I spotted a SECOND store that only sells ocarinas. So maybe there’s an ocarina price war going on. But those are like Wal-Mart, traffic-wise, I imagine, compared to the “gourd” store I came across. Nothin’ but gourds. And if you don’t know what a gourd is, join the club. I thought it played music or something, which at least an ocarina does, but it does NOTHING. It’s strictly decorative. Problem is, it’s not particularly attractive. The girl said something about it’s supposed to bring luck or prosperity or something, but then you’d think a whole STORE of them would be doing a lot better.

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DAY 33 – “THE CHINA OF YOUR (NOT MY) DREAMS”

6/2 – I buy a first-class train ticket to Pingyao for $6 more than second-class, but mid-way in the trip, the compartment suddenly becomes second class, and new passengers come swarming in. Sheesh. Today I read about a passenger boat on the Yangtze River capsizing with 450 people aboard!  It wasn’t near my route, so it wasn’t exactly a “close call” but it feels a bit like one. Horrible disaster. 250 kids from the same high school were onboard. Hard to imagine what that will do to the community.

Arrive in Pingyao about 5PM. This driver picks up people at the train station and brings them to the Harmony Hotel, which I was planning on checking out anyway. He says it’s a free pick-up, but it’s not, but that’s a different story. He’s driving a mini-van, and turns onto this narrow alley/street where the hotel is. Coming in the other direction is a three-wheeled vehicle lugging a little wagon behind. There’s a place for one car to pull over and let the other pass, but neither does that. My driver accelerates so that he’s directly in front of the hotel. Then he parks the mini-van, berates the other driver for something or other –probably trying to do the same thing he just did – and the poor dim bulb just sits and takes it and can’t come up with a witty retort. Then my driver gets out of the car, takes my bags into the hotel, and starts looking for the manager. Meanwhile, the poor soul other driver is stuck there, waiting. So instead of slowing down and pulling over for 10 seconds and letting the dim bulb guy go through first, my driver speeded up to get there first and waste 10 minutes of the guy’s time. Unreal.

Based on the first few hours, PIngyao is lovely but a disappointment. My book described it as “the China of your dreams,” because of the old town and red lanterns and pagoda styled buildings. It has all that. But the streets are grid-like, not meandering alleyways, there are three (or four) main commercial streets that have flat stone sidewalks, all the buildings are the same height, and it’s not nearly as mysterious or “of the past” as the book suggests. Tomorrow I’ll go to a bunch of attractions here, so hopefully my mind will change.
I did see my first “only ocarina” store. Yes, it sounds like a Saturday Night Live sketch, but this store sells nothing but ocarinas. In dozens of sizes and shapes. Ironically they don’t have the kind I’m looking for.
That’s a joke. Not the store part. That I was looking for an ocarina.

The other night in another town I passed a store after 11PM on a not particularly busy street that was an “eyeglass” store. Optometry. Why were they still open? Are there that many people close to midnight who suddenly think, “You know, I think I need a new pair of eyeglasses,” or “This night blindness is starting to drive me nuts. I need glasses now!” Or is it that they just stay open hoping, hoping, hoping for that one last sale? Many stores here, particularly restaurants, but others as well, stay open till all hours, I think, because that’s their home. There’s nowhere else to go, really, and the business is airier and larger and more social an environment than their small, drab (I’m conjecturing), un-air-conditioned apartments.

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DAY 32 – AN ARMY WITH – LITERALLY- CLAY FEET

6/1 – Go to see the Terracotta Warriors. Actually saw an exhibit of them in San Francisco where you could approach them more up close, but, of course, that was of a relative handful, this was a couple thousand of them, at the actual excavation site. They were only discovered in 1974 when a poor farmer digging for water struck proverbial gold, hitting literal pay dirt. He was only paid 10y at the time for his discovery, but subsequently became very famous in China and now he sits at a table aside the merchandising goods and – I don’t know – signs his name, shakes your hand – whatever – probably for a small fee. Not sure, because he was sleeping sitting up at the table when I passed. It’s over 40 years ago, and he’s apparently living off that single, fortuitous tapping ever since. You’d think there would only be so much you could mine from this incident: “I was searching for water, and – I hit something. I instantly knew it wasn’t water, because it was hard, and it was way too hot for it to be ice, but I dug a little more. And suddenly I was face to face with a fearsome clay soldier. I was scared, but I didn’t flinch.” And that’s pretty much it.  But, good for him, I guess.

Anyway, the exhibit was fascinating, and of course, owes itself totally to militarism, this time to protect the psychotic emperor whose idea this was, in the after-life.  The workers (slaves) who built these figures knew they would be killed when they finished working (to protect the location and nature of the project), so they probably kept asking for overtime. Not much of an incentive to do a good job or work quickly, I’d imagine.

At night I go to “China’s biggest water fountain show” with Francisco, a Portugese guy I met on the tour who is staying at the hostel. Similar to the one in Hangzhou, and way too long and doesn’t “build,” but still impressive. There was also a crazy “sky” screen in the nearby mall, that looks, I suppose, like the one they have at Caesar’s Palace in Vegas, except this one changes: one is a psychedelic aquarium, another a surrealistic planetarium night sky, a third a “scroll” of ancient Chinese civilization. Pretty over the top, and totally great.
Stay up way-yy to late talking with guys from the hostel and debating with myself if I want to traverse “the most dangerous hiking trail in the world” at Hua Shan (Mountain) (Spoiler alert: “No.”)

UNDERSTANDING IS OVER-RATED.
Pretty much the whole trip there have been tours passing to and fro, led (usually) by women who (almost always) squawk loudly and shrilly into a megaphone and yap on and on about what they’re looking at. Clearly I’m missing a lot of information! I am the Man Who Knows Not What He Sees. Still, I am extremely glad not to be a part of these groups, because they sacrifice experiencing for fact-gathering.  While “learnin’” is good for historical sites, when it comes to gazing at mountaintops and being amidst nature, I gotta say: Understanding is over-rated. The guides, for instance, point out the various names the “ancients” gave to the oddly-shaped peaks. But guideless, I’m free to visualize my own fabled scenes, fantasize my own anthropomorphic rock relationships. Certainly the “ancients” who were devoid of guides had no problems invoking their subconscious. At Tianzi Mountain range alone, various peaks carry names like Mouse Watching Sky, Dragon Flying Out of the Water, Birds Worshipping Phoenix – which involves the double-task of first imagining a phoenix, Latent Celestial Bridge (I have no idea what that is), and Peacock Spreading its Tail. Clearly everything looked like animals to the ancients. Then there is “Pigsy Looking in the Mirror.” Who is Pigsy? A beloved childhood storybook character? An exceptionally ugly child? A misspelling of the word “piggy?” I need context!

Context would also provide a lot when viewing One Finger Peak. Clearly the ancients thought this spire resembled a finger. But which finger?  Is the peak a giant “Thumbs Up?” Or is the peak piqued, and thrusting us The Middle Finger? Is the entire park giving us tourists a big “Fuck You?” “One Finger Peak” is an exceptionally ambiguous name.

Finally, some peak names hint at romantic liaisons, such as Sweethearts Tryst and Expecting Lover’s Return Peak. If the “Lover” in the latter is the same person as one of the “Sweethearts” in the former, the “wait-ee” in the latter may have a long wait.

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DAY 31 – 100,000 BUDDHAS CAN’T BE WRONG

5/31- Today Masy and I go to Luoyang and the Longman Caves that are nearby. There are 2,300 caves there dating back from about 500 AD  and 100,000 carvings of Buddha. I believe Masy photographed every one. Man, the guy takes a lot of pics! They count little cut-outs from the rocks as a cave, so the number is pretty inflated. The Buddhas range from a few inches in height to 20 meters and several tons. If you were planning an advertising campaign for Buddhism, you might go with  “100,000 Buddha sculpture Carvers Can’t Be Wrong!”

Looking at the caves was like playing the world’s easiest game of “Where’s Waldo – Gautama Edition.” Where Isn’t Buddha? Some of the Buddhas were in high, pretty inaccessible places to reach and it’s hard to imagine how they were constructed, or why. Is it veneration? Feeling that the more Buddhas, the better? OCD? Contrast this with Islam, where you can’t have a SINGLE image of The Prophet. At this cave site, it looked like they’d behead you if you DIDN’T carve a likeness of the Buddha. Lots and lots of steps as per usual, and very hot and humid. Enervating, but amazing. Then we took a pedi-cab to another famous pagoda, but I didn’t go in. I waited at a restaurant across the way with a couple bottles of water and the fan turned squarely upon me. It was bliss. Then we ate some food and came back.

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DAY 30 – WAR! HUH! WHAT IS IT GOOD FOR? TOURIST ATTRACTIONS!

5/30 – Masy, my new best friend, and I go on “tour” together. First we go to top of wall in walled city He bikes it, I take a little open air jitney. It’s pretty disappointing. Hot, not scenic. But boy, what a fortress. They built it to keep out invaders, of course, And there were all sorts of defensive structures, parapets, water barriers, etc. Other places I went to in recent days also were all predicated on warlords and fighting, etc. The evening news back then would’ve been portraying a perpetual bloodbath. We go to Stone Museum or something that’s quite interesting. Stones/inscriptions/sculptures from various periods in China’s history. Then to Muslim Quarter which is linear street with many, many stalls, open-air markets. Not like a medina at all.

There’s a giant Mosque and Massa goes to pray. He’s Muslim! Who knew? When the men pray, it’s so-ooo quiet. Then walk back to Bell Tower. At night the streets are mobbed. Not particularly interesting or charming or anything except cacophonous and crowded. Then we go eat. Spent the whole day talking English, and more than I’ve spoken in four weeks combined.

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DAY 29 – CRACKING THE CODE

5/29 – It is POURING in the morning. Figure out, briefly, how to access the Holy Grail of the Internet in China, VPN, which allows access to “forbidden” sites, like “Facebook,” and “Youtube” and “Pornhub.” Also have access to my Gmail account for first time in a month. There is exactly Zero emails of interest. Didn’t realize what a depository of crap it was! Also figured out finally how to download my photos into Onedrive in “the cloud” so don’t lose them. And Marsha, the woman I housesit for, has deposited a couple of decent checks! Woo-hoo!  I can make it home!

I walk in the “old street” and then around 3PM, as it’s cleared up, head back to the park. Take a nice walk up the “10 mile” (i.e., 5.8 kilometer) road, but don’t get to either the cable car or the elevator, which I wanted to do, as the visibility was good. So a disappointing “do nothing” day, really.  Take late plane to Xian. Take airport bus around 1:30am into downtown with no plan or hotel. The guy next to me, when we’re getting off, asks if I know where I’m going. I say no. He speaks English! He’s from Toronto. Named Masy. I go with him to hostel in a taxi, and get a cheap dorm bed. Got lucky, it worked out.

 

 

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DAY 28 – THINGS GET DARK

5/28 – Today is a lazy day. I go to a nearby cave, which is described as the “most beautiful cave in China.” It’s huge – at one point we walk up 328 steps – and filled with stalagmites and the other one – one descends from the ceiling, one “grows” from the ground – I forget which is which – and there’s a 15 minute boat ride through it as well, as well as the requisite multi-colored lighting. It’s beautiful, I suppose, but I’ve been in similar caves and it’s close to impossible to find the exit, and I’m hungry, so some of it is lost on me. When I exit, I see my town and hotel have a blackout. The major hotels have power and street lamps – the few that there are – are on, but otherwise several blocks are blacked out, I suppose on account of all the rain. After taking a brief nap, I head out a few blocks to the part of town with power, where I’m composing this.

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DAY 27 – ANOTHER DAY, ANOTHER COUPLE THOUSAND STEPS

May 27 – Go back to the park. Weather is nicer. Walk up steep trail that follows a river for a while with probably a thousand steps to Huangwai (?) Village. Again, beautiful, awe-inspiring spires. This entry will be better … Continue reading

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DAY 26 – THE LONG & WINDING MOUNTAIN ROAD

5/26 – Day takes a while to get going, but I go to the mountain park about ½ mile from my hotel. It also has admission of about 250y, but it’s good for four days, and there are many attractions. I take the free bus to the “10 Mile Gallery” electric cart train which turns out to be 5.8km, so why it’s called “10 Mile” beats me. I don’t know where I am when I get off, but people are walking down steps, so I decide to walk up them. I figure it’s a little loop. Turns out I’m walking to the top of the mountain. Easily a couple thousand steps. I was the only person going this direction, opposite hundreds coming the other way. But I liked it, even though it was lightly raining. Found it invigorating, stimulating. Felt good that I could do it “at my age.” Felt my lung capacity is very good. Views were limited because of dense clouds, but there were still some stunning rock formations and peaks. Again, coming down involved many connections, and I can’t figure out why. First you walk to the bus. Then 2) take a 35 minute bus ride on windy roads at too high speed, then 3) walk about a half-mile until you 4) take a glass elevator where you’re staring the mountains right in “the face” and descend rapidly, where you 5) take another half hour bus ride and 6) switch buses for yet another 15 minute ride. It wasn’t this long coming in, and it’s hard to believe I walked this high and far to account for all the difference, but it must be the case.

As for food, I have sticker shock, both on the low and high end. For breakfast I had a plant based drink, a bao, and a big other roll and it was 4y. I reiterated for the woman what I had but it was still 4y. For dinner, I had a fish killed for me, then some greens and an eggplant dish and it was 216y – $35! I figured the most it would be was 120y. So, almost double. It was delicious but in the future before I order fish, I gotta ask what it costs. Whoo!

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DAY 25 – DISCRIMINATION REARS ITS EXPENSIVE HEAD

5/25 – I arrive in Zhangjijie at 6AM so do some “paperwork” in McDonald’s. I can see cable cars nearby so follow them go to buy a ticket up Mt. Tatian (?)  It’s supposed to be the world’s longest cable car, and I can believe it. It’s also supposed to be ½ price for over 60s, but they tell me that’s only for “Chinese.” Discriminatory and prejudicial! After putting up a fight, I reluctantly fork over 261y – that’s like, $45! – for one attraction. In China that’s major money. But it’s hard to claim it’s a rip off – the views at the top are spectacular and the cable car ride takes 25 minutes and rises at seemingly impossible angles. It boggles the mind how it was constructed.  Also, at the top there are trails that include glass walkways (which make you feel tentative walking on it, even though it’s an illusion, as it’s as sturdy as the rest of the path) a suspension bridge, and you walk a path along the side of the cliffs that is just staggering in its beauty. Then, going down first you A) walk, then b) Take six successive LONG escalators each one taking 3-4 minutes, then 3) come out at the mid-way point and walk down 999 steps. THEN take a bus down this windy, narrow road, and THEN take the cable car ride to the bottom. With the help of this guy I met up the mountain, I grab a bus to Wulingyuan.

TRAVELING WITHOUT PLANS -  I pull into Wulingyuan – a place I’d never heard of four days ago – about 7:30PM, and a man with a motorbike immediately asks me if I want a place to sleep, nearby, for 120y – about $20 – and I turn him down. I realize that I’m very unconcerned about finding a place to sleep. An internet search earlier already showed that economical rooms were to be had, so I’m sure I can secure one. It’s very similar to how I traveled in my 20s, except that back then I was hitch-hiking in the US and I would TURN DOWN FREE ACCOMMODATIONS because I knew SOMEONE “BETTER” WOULD OFFER! Now THAT’S “brave.” I can’t imagine doing something like that today.

But while the country and culture are different, there’s still an internet, there are still hotels and restaurants and “civilization” still holds forth, so for the most part, it doesn’t feel brave to be doing this. Almost a month into “winging it” there have been relatively few hitches. Aside from frequently wondering if I’m on the right bus, hiking trail, things like that – which would occur anyway since things are in Chinese – my plans have seldom backfired, because I have no plans! Like with booking the Yangtze cruise, I’ve had my share of luck, and I’d be nowhere without the help of the people here at times, but that also would be true if everything was planned out in advance.

One major reason this type of itinerant itinerary is possible is because airlines and trains barely raise their fares as the departure time grows imminent. That allows for maximum flexibility without incurring a major financial penalty.
Sure enough, I get off the bus in Wulingyuan by a park where a large group of people are dancing – it’s an exercise class.  After a short time this young girl Ginny comes up and asks if she can help me. Another aspect of traveling without plans is trying to hone an instinct on who to allow to help you. Sure, she COULD be leading me to some dark alley where muggers await, but considering how few lone tourists pass through here and stop at this particular park, the odds that anyone is lying in wait is pretty miniscule. She leads me to a hotel for 100y a night, and then the lobby quickly resembles a sitcom.  I want to do laundry and the old lady in the lobby who works there volunteers for 30y even though it’s a load of smelly stuff.  I think she’s asking for too little. Not to worry. She quickly starts complaining that it’s too little even though that was her price, and asks for 40, and I’m happy to give it to her. Then this woman offers to carry the bag to the room, but she goes two floors too high, and there’s more commotion between her and the guy behind the desk. So once again I set off a “scene” which is entertainment. I go for a walk and pass by a coffee/wine café. I go in, look around, and tell them I will be back “later.” The guy asks “When?” I laugh, and say ‘In an hour or hour and a half.” When I return about 1:45 later, the guy says, “Finally.”

Wulingyuan is beautiful. A river runs through it, it’s surrounded by mountains, it has a lot of upscale hotels and many tour buses, but the streets are pretty westernized. Go for a delicious street meal – beer, grilled mushrooms, grilled squid, grilled eggplant with garlic, another fish filet, and a tofu square – and it’s 33y. Nutritious, delicious and filling.

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DAY 24 – DAM, YANGTZE

May 24 – Do my exercises on-deck early. Relatively big crowd watches parts. Breakfast, time to go. We leave the boat for good and take a bus for an extended trip to the Three Gorges Dam which, I have to hand it to the Chinese, is pretty impressive. I can’t begin to explain or describe it, but it was a BIG deal, and even though it displaced probably tens of thousands of rural Chinese, it’s been a boon, and certainly a major tourist attraction and source of pride. There. Everything you need to know about the dam. Who needs Wikipedia?

We’ve been busing it all day, and we arrive in Yichang around 1pm.
I spend the next few hours catching up online and then I go to Walmart to see what it’s like in China, and end up spending about 2 ½ hours there, mostly on trying to find moisturizer, because a couple of women try to help me, and one saleslady from L’oreal keeps pushing that on me, but I can’t tell what anything is, and one woman keeps calling her husband who speaks English and we have about four conversations before HE ACTUALLY COMES TO THE STORE TO HELP ME. It’s amazing how much time the women spent with me, and how much comic tumult this caused. I’m not even sure I wound up with the right product. For all I know I might be putting white shoe polish on my face each morning. Then the guy (David) and me went to Starbuck’s and talked for about an hour or more. Then did email and online stuff and hung out hung out and hung out until it was time to take the overnight train to Zhangjijia.

Although I paid for a soft sleeper on the bottom bunk, I was assigned a top bunk. I don’t even know how I would’ve climbed up there, it was very high, and there was NO place for my luggage. Fortunately, I appealed to the agent and was given my own compartment. The train left late, felt at times like it derailed, seemed to go five miles an hour at stretches, and it still managed to arrive on time to the minute.

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TOURING WITH DOG MIND

One of the remarkable things about dogs is their willingness to go anywhere on a moment’s notice. Jangle the leash or snap your fingers indicating “Let’s go” and a dog never raises his brow and asks “Where?” or “It’s a bit early, isn’t it?” or “Should I bring a sweater?” They just bolt towards the door, eager to follow wherever you lead, happy to spend quality time with their master and sniffing around.

As the only Westerner (and non-Mandarin speaking) person aboard the four day three night cruise on the Yun Chun, the “Domestic” or “Chinese” boat down the Yangtze River, I realize when it came to taking the several excursions off the boat, I had developed “Dog Mind.” Most of the time I had no idea what was going on: what attraction we were going to see, what the lure was, or what time we had to be back on board. Once in a while, out of all the thousands of sounds my leader uttered, he spoke a couple of words I understood, like “Boat. 9 o’clock,” and I was beside myself with joy because I had some idea of where I was supposed to be.
But mostly, I had no clue what was happening.
Nor did it matter. I was just happy to get back on land and go for a walk. Because I didn’t want to risk getting lost and missing the boat, my highest priority at all times was staying close to my guide. Carrying the dog analogy one step further, in essence I was his “bitch.” As long as my guide was near me, I was happy. But because he spoke to the rest of the group in Chinese and I didn’t understand a word, I occasionally got bored and followed my nose and wandered off. When my attention refocused, sometimes I couldn’t find my guide anywhere! I got nervous and started whining. After a little frantic darting about, I relied on my other senses. I pricked up my ears and listened for tourists barking in the background. Sometimes I wouldn’t spot my guide but did recognize a fellow pas&senger on the boat who had thrown me the proverbial bone by speaking to me, and that perked me up immensely, because I knew he would lead me to my guide. But it wasn’t until my guide was in sight that I became deliriously happy. It was all I could do to restrain myself from licking his face.

WARNING: SHIT – AND I MEAN SHIT – HAPPENS
I usually refrain from writing about things scatological, but I have to make an exception here. Things get gross. I suggest you skip over this section.
Seriously. *%^&*$******END OF GROSS SECTION


This second excursion is “the big one.” 4 ½ hours and through two of the three gorges. Wu Gorge is very dramatic, with very high peaks and close walls.
It’s a three-story boat and I sit on the top level which costs 30Y in the form of a “bottomless” cup of tea The top level, of course, is the one where you can see all around, as opposed to sitting inside, where you can see very little. The seats (and our teacups) were actually saved for us on the return trip, after we disembarked to go on the second, smaller boat through the second gorge.
I don’t know why, but for the trip through the second gorge, they decided to turn the experience into a Disney World type theme ride. There are singers in costume awaiting us when we arrive, the guide is a comedian of sorts, and sings a call/response song to which almost everyone responds, (the boat behind us and the one behind that each echo the same call/response 20 seconds or so later). There are also costumed performers we pass en route, singing, playing the lute, other stuff. It’s kind of tacky, like China doesn’t have confidence in this gorge to carry its weight. Then we do the entire trip in reverse.

After dinner we’re called up on the deck for a talk about the mountains we’re passing. I’m not sure if it’s the third gorge, but the peaks are tremendously high, every turn reveals an even higher one. It’s splendid. Very beautiful. It’s also an opportunity to have most of the people on the boat in the same place, for farewells and farewell photos. A couple of my “friends” take pix with me and I do likewise. It’s funny how you can “take” to some people even though you can’t speak a word. Judging from reactions to me, I’d say I acquitted myself well on the boat. I’m not sure why.

I’ve discovered that many people like me better when they can’t understand me. And vice-versa.
If I guessed further, I’d say it’s because I did my own thing (exercise, work on the computer) but also interacted well, was responsive when talked to, looked friendly by smiling a lot,  and didn’t put myself separate or above them.
Between excursion one and two, I had a hot shower and BOUGHT SANDALS (rubber) for 15Y and WHAT  a pleasure to finally have clean, DRY feet. It’s wonderful. Very good day. Relaxing for the most part, beautifully scenic, and felt like I’d made some friends.

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DAY 22 – CRUISIN’ DOWN THE YANGTZE

May 22 – Get up around 5:30, go up on deck and do my boot camp exercises. A couple people watch me, but I expected to see ladies doing tai chi or something, but they’re not here. This boat is fine, but if it rained, it could be really confining. There are very few places to sit outside one’s room. But the Chinese seem to like staying in close quarters, or are at least used to it. The 3 people in my room – 2 ladies, a man – I don’t believe they’ve left the room the entire trip, including the excursion this morning. But they are extremely nice – almost pushing their food on me.

One teenage girl onboard treats me almost like a rock star – she grins and giggles and gives me a big hello every time she sees me. Another girl who is kind of sexy talked to me earlier and when she looked at my photos, she leaned in to me, almost like a girlfriend does when she wants to snuggle. Then she got up, and her male companion took her place and did the same thing! It’s just what they do. People come over when I’m typing and have no compunction about looking over my shoulder at what I’m writing. Maybe privacy has a different meaning, or concept here. Many people hang their laundry up on the upper deck. I’m guessing – although I could be wrong – that they don’t do that on the luxury boat.

Found out that I could purchase all seven meals on this trip for 100y – $16. Lunch was a slab of rice, with green vegetable, mushrooms, and tomatoes in egg. Pretty good, actually. They are served cafeteria style, on a silver tray with five compartments, on which are piled a brick of rice (replaced by bao for breakfast), and assorted vegetables and the occasional meat are dished out from large vats. There is no Column B. You can also buy provisions in the store. One characteristic of China entrepreneurship is when a business has a captive audience, it doesn’t feel (or is ordered not to) jack up their prices. I bought rubber sandals because my sneakers and socks were soaked and I craved dry feet, and bought them on the boat for 15Y.

One guy who seems to be a group leader, or at least is charismatic and last night briefly sang on the deck, tried to show me the proper way to use chopsticks, which is to get under the food, lower your face to the bowl, and shovel it in. It’s precisely the opposite of what we consider refined dining in the US.

The excursion was good – we went to Benghazi: The Unforgotten Scandal. I mean Fuguzi: The Ghost City. It’s 2,000 years old, has monumental monuments – the gigantic gold bust of a head at the top of Ming Mountain is certainly a marvel – and would make a great subject for a ‘heist” movie – and we went through The Gates of Hell – which two guards actually ceremoniously prevent us from passing until they’ve judged our character – at least that’s what I think was going on  – and then let us through – for a photo op! Kind of like an “Underworld” version of airport security. As far as I know, no one gets turned away. But lots of temples, Buddhas, etc. Buddha is very jolly. You never once see a portrait of Jesus smiling. Lots of uphill walking and more stair climbing. At one point coming down, I see a group of about 20 Westerners walking up stairs and they look like a different species – they’re not particularly large, but compared to my group, which is typical Chinese – they’re huge. And lumbering. And dragging their butts. When I go home, the difference will probably be startling for a bit.

Pretty interesting, and lasted about 3 hours, then had the ‘optional’ second excursion to see that gold figure up close– which cost another 100y. On this latter excursion, we keep going “up” and it keeps getting later – the boat is supposed to leave at 11AM. I recognize a couple people from my boat on this tour, but I get nervous that the boat will leave if we’re not back. Because I understand nothing, I get nervous, and head back before we reach the giant gold head – and then get nervous because I take the jitney bus back to one of two docks – and there are ships docked at each, so I’m not sure I’m at the right one. But all the others appear to be big cruise ships – there seems to only be one “Chinese” boat – so I head to it, and it’s the right one. I arrive 10:56, but in truth the boat doesn’t leave till 11:15 or so, and the other people made it onto the ship, so I guess the situation was under control.

We just were passed by one of the “luxury” ships – the Yangtze Something or Other. Certainly compares well with our little frigate, but the boats all stop at the same places. Even on the “international” boat, which I assumed would be mostly Westerners, they seem to be overwhelmingly Chinese.
Our next excursion is not until – I believe -10PM tonight. I can’t imagine what that is.

My room is immediately adjacent to the dining room, and when its mealtime, a great ruckus and commotion ensues, with people lining up and pushing slightly forward, like cats who can’t wait for you to open the can. I can’t even get out of the room for a few minutes.
The way some people stay in their rooms, or don’t go on the excursions, makes me wonder if some people are actually using the boat for transportation, as opposed to a cruise.

So far, cruising down the Yangtze, we are regularly passing homes and small midsized colorless cities. There’s no charm about them. The residents have TV, and probably internet, and I’m sure they have their own local music and theater groups, but I can’t imagine they have much “culture” in these places, isolated as they are. Maybe they don’t miss it or need it and get by with friends and family and work. The operative word for most of these towns is DRAB. One town had all old, weathered white buildings with exactly one visible red neon sign, either the first burgeoning sign of color or the last gasp of life before being swallowed up by endless white.
We passed one bridge that could have been the model (or vice-versa) for the Golden Gate Bridge. When 10pm came, we disembarked and walked up dozens of stairs to get to a temple and overlook.
CFF: In some hotels and tourist attractions there will be a row of squatting toilets with one at the end marked “handicapped.” That’s the western style sit-down toilet we’re all accustomed to. Whether that’s a subtle dig at us or not is impossible to know, but “handicapped accessible” these are not. They’re  barely wide enough for the average able-bodied American to squeeze into, no less enter with a wheelchair.

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DAY 21 – PLANES, TAXIS AND BOATS

5/21 –I leave Guilin intact: with my ATM card, computer “fixed,” some clean clothes and my shoes don’t stink to high heaven because I washed the insoles. I’ve made assumptions again, that I’ll get to Chonquing and easily book a boat for a cruise down the Yangtze tonight, but that could certainly be wrong. We’ll see.  This is the half-way point of the trip, just about.

I’m constantly misplacing or packing away the very papers or cards I need. In this case, I have an address on my computer of a hostel in Chongquing that speaks good English and can book the cruise, but when I go offline, I stupidly lose it, and have to search for the hostel on foot which is hard because of my luggage and because there’s a HIGH divide in the road that I have to traverse. I head instead to the central ticket office where English is rudimentary at best and I’m told the boat for tourists is sold out. But I get online long enough to find where the hostel is, and head over.

The girl there gives me total misinformation: that there are no boats tonight: that I have to travel 4 hours the next day to another village to get a boat because the water is low. This doesn’t jibe with either my guidebook, the main ticket office where they were going to sell me a ticket for tonight if it wasn’t sold out, and the fact that the large luxury “international” boats are leaving from here, which doesn’t make sense. So I press her some more, nicely, to call the ticket office and sure enough, there is a boat this evening and there are berths available. I scurry to get some money and food, and hustle back and get on the boat.

For sure, it’s not the lap of luxury. Rooms for 4 are very small and the bathroom strikes me as very unsanitary. You basically shower where you shit. So as much as possible I’m going to try to wait till I’m onshore to do the latter. And the common rooms seem to be basically non-existent. Compared to the deluxe ship which is a real cruise ship, and all lit up, we look like a low-rent favela. And they have wi-fi, we don’t, and have meals included and we don’t. But that boat costs $425 plus tips for “4 days, 3 nights’” which, in real time, is 2 ½ days: cruise starts at 9PM and ends the fourth day at 1PM. Plus, excursions are $50 extra per.  By contrast, my boat is $100 plus excursions, but I get all five excursions for another $125, so the whole thing comes to $225. The other boat is certainly worth more money, but it’s not worth the equivalent of my airfare here. I thought there would be some American backpackers onboard, but I seem to be the only Westerner among roughly 250 passengers. And outlets are scarce, so I’m typing this standing up in the lobby. Fall asleep about 10:40pm, have an excursion starting at 6:40AM!

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DAY 20 – BRIDGE OVER – AND UNDER – TROUBLED WATER

5/20 – Pouring rain in the morning. Laptop not working. Or maybe it is. I forget already, its “recovered’ and not booted up so many times. After a couple of unproductive hours in my room, I venture out for a walk in Eco-Park. Hitch a ride to Li River Trail, because road is covered with water. Where I get out, two old women have house where they give you peanuts and oranges and show you around – it’s an historical house, and you give them a contribution in return, although they didn’t specifically ask. Keep walking, go to nice little restaurant/hotel. Girl Amy with glasses who works there is one of those eerily cheerful, friendly girls who look like somehow they will never be adults. Continue walk, it’s very nice. At one point come to the bridge which looks like it has a ‘Danger Do Not Cross’ sign posted, although its in Chinese, along with people just hanging on the side. But a guide leads two people across so I decide to follow. Motorbikes carrying wide loads of shit come across and almost run me into the river. Then a bit of the river starts to overflow onto the bridge, and I run back to the side I was on.  I go back to the bank and finally retrieve my ATM card, and my computer seems to start working again. Also the knot in my back is better. So I’m back up to snuff.

In the evening, in town, where I am right now, it’s the most cacophonous restaurant in the world. Music coming from at least three different bars converges here.  I don’t say this in a way to be kindly to karaoke singers, but there really is not much difference in the ability of karaoke and real “performers” to carry a tune here. In the hotel for which I paid too much ($25), I am eaten alive by mosquitos. Wake up feeling like I have a misshapen head, and all night I am so itchy. Also in morning there is no hot water – I want to wash the itch off. This hotel was a bad idea.

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DAY 19 – YOU’RE EITHER ON THE BUS OR OFF THE BUS

5/19 – Get on tour bus, but my promised English guide is missing! It’s me and a bunch of Chinese. Go on boat ride on Li river. Chinese tour guide tries to keep everyone inside the boat for some reason, but it’s crazy for me to sit inside listening to gibberish and with people smoking, so I refuse. She says ‘Money’ like I should pay her to stand outside. I refuse.

Gorgeous spot, but we don’t do the second part of the trip we were promised. Half the boat takes their photo with me. Group of ladies are singing and dancing on upper deck when they finally open the deck, and they want to take their photo with me, so I start singing and dancing with them and they love it.

Then group goes to stupid Totem Park, which is supposed to recreate how people lived in Guilin 12,000 years ago. “Performance” show features guys who look like they learned the dance yesterday – or later. I split from the tour. Second time I’ve done that on this trip, and second time it’s paid off. Flag down 3 wheel taxi for 1 ½ hours and he takes me to tremendously beautiful sights: Moon Hill, small village, rice paddies. Awesomely beautiful. I go to the bank to get my card, but they tell me to come back tomorrow. West Street is around the corner, which is like the Bourbon Street of Yangshuo, and talk to a 26 year old Chinese guy who is traveling and meeting up with his father. Two groups of impossibly cute young girls approach me and want to ask me questions for their homework. Everything I say is “Cool.” They guess my age, and when I say I’m 63, they gasp. “You have very strong body” I hear for the third time on this trip. It doesn’t get old. Flag a taxi to go to my hotel along the path to the river, but driver passes it about 10 times before we finally find it.

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DAY 18: HOLD ON, WE’RE IN FOR A BUMPY RIDE…

5/18 – I’m on a bus to go on a river cruise and the Chinese guide starts talking and the passengers immediately get incredibly animated. I’ve never seen that kind of reaction from a guide. At first I think he must be amazingly entertaining, but as time goes on, I sense something is wrong, and we turn around. My tour on a bamboo boat down the Li River has been canceled due to high water. I take bus to Yangshuo instead, which is the boat disembarkation point. I sit in the back. It is the bumpiest, jarringest ride I have ever been on on a “main” road. All my organs wind up in different places from where they started. I feel like a Picasso painting.

Yangshuo is beautiful, though it’s raining, so there are no tours, no night show, no nuttin.’  I spend a lo-ong time looking for my hotel, which I booked online. At one point I believe I’m standing right in front of the address – the numbers all line up – but the hotel is actually several blocks away. No matter how close I ever am to my destination, or how big the hotel, when I ask directions, the person invariably calls the number on the card. No one knows where anything is. Then the two of them have a long conversation! This happens regularly. I am just standing there doing absolutely nothing, and yet, I’m sweating like I’m in a sauna, no exaggeration. It must be 500 percent humidity. Add the spicy food in, and … wow.

When I get to the hotel, I have a conversation with a tour booker using the translator app – I talk, it translates and speaks, she talks, it translates and speaks– it’s absolutely amazing. It’s totally reduced my incentive to learn Chinese. That it’s Free, and residing on a flat paneled device makes it so much like a Star Trek futuristic device, it’s astounding.  I wander into town, go down a path towards the local Eco-Park and find a hotel for the following evening. I give the woman my very last 98 yuan. Then I look for an ATM – and I can’t find one. For like, 45 minutes. I think maybe this is a town without ATMs or banks. I’m wandering everywhere I can think of. I’m suddenly the…
Poorest Man in Yangshuo. I have two hotel nights and 1 tour booked, but not a yuan to my name, and I have no money to eat or leave town. Then I notice that I also haven’t passed a McDonald’s, Starbucks, or even the ubiquitous KFC, and I start to believe that maybe this really is a town without banks. I’ve started to hallucinate ATMs: I think I’m seeing them in massage parlors, ice cream shops. I’m thinking there MUST be an ATM in a tourist town like this, or else I’d see Walking-Dead like tourists flailing around groaning “A.T.M. A.T.M.” Or a cemetery compiled of tourists who starved because they couldn’t leave town. Then quite suddenly and in the middle of a non-descript block, I spot an ATM and get money. I touch and re-touch it to make sure it’s not a hallucination. It’s such a relief that I leave my ATM card in the machine. When I go back one minute later, the machine refuses to give me back my card! I call a 24 hour # and press the extension for English, and when I get a person, they say, “I’ll connect you to someone who speaks English,” and the next person does the same. This happens 3 subsequent times in the course of calling: I press the extension for “English” and it takes two transfers to get someone who can understand me. When I leave the ATM, there’s another ATM right adjacent, and then I turn the corner and there are two more banks with ATMS! And then another a block or two later. It’s like I was struck with Tempory ATM Blindness (TATMB) or Temporary Bank Blindness (TBB) at the precise time I needed it most. So, I’m down to one ATM card, and when I come back to my room, my computer is not working, on account, I assume, of the weather: humidity, electrical storms, rain, whatever. Kind of freaks me out. Plus, I have a tightened lower back muscle pull, and I’m not really seeing many great things, so it feels like the trip is falling apart.

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DAY 17 – RICE IS NICE

May 17 – Take tour to rice field paddies. Sit next to guy from Oman – very nice guy, I know nothing about Oman. It’s a nice small group, only six people. Our guide Suzy, is cute. I like the way she sounds speaking English. Our first stop is to the Long-Hair Show. It’s a village in the paddy area – this apparently only exists in this area of China – where the women cut their hair once when they’re 18, and then never again. Suzy explains that they either conceal their hair or not depending on whether they’re married, and that men look for big (or little) finger which is conducive to being a good knitter, a big butt because it’s believed they can get pregnant easier, and a strong voice, because they work in the field and don’t have cell phones. Also, to show they like a guy, they pinch his butt – I think I understood that – and the harder they pinch, the sexier it is considered. I learn more in those few minutes than my previous couple weeks. The value of a tour. Their hair truly is astonishing, and the show is actually entertaining.

Then we take cable car up to the village and walk around (after a lunch) and I walk down by myself and take a wrong turn for a few minutes which gets me into a little panic going back down the stone steps. But I make it and then we stop at a tea house, where girl explains rituals, different kinds of teas, what they heal, how to prepare them, etc. It’s very nice, we get a variety of teas to taste – and one couple in our group buys something, so we’re not total deadbeats.

Back in town, get some very spicy squid dish and Guilin noodles, a specialty, which is quite good. Sweat is pouring out of my pores, and there’s not a napkin in sight. I don’t get it. I’m wiping my hands on the tablecloth. I get the idea for next great Chinese reality show: Americans Eating Without Napkins.)

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DAY 16 – THE LULL BEFORE THE STORM, ON ACCOUNT OF THE STORM

5/16 – Sleep till 11:30! Basically leaves me little option but to take my room another day. I was clearly exhausted, but I don’t think it was from Huangshan or anything “good,” but rather roaming around yesterday with my luggage in the rain looking for the &%^$ room. Since I have no window, I have zero idea of the weather outside, but assume it’s raining. It’s not, which means I could’ve gone on one of the tours after all. Instead, I will have a third day in a row without much happening. This seems amazingly counter-intuitive, but since coming down from Huangshan, my knees actually seem to be feeling somewhat better.

OBSERVATION: SEX (1) – Many, if not most hotels, seem to rent “hour” rooms, which could be used by  businessmen to sleep, but of course they’re mostly used for liaisons – although I don’t the “cheating”/”young people need private place” split. The women don’t dress especially provocatively – I have seen very few plunging necklines or cleavage here. But an English Chinese publication did a sex survey of its readers – who might be atypical as they speak English to start with – but 1/3 said anonymous one-night stands were fine, with another 25% or so saying they “had to know someone first” before sleeping with them. Only a tiny percentage held out for marriage. So something is going on somewhere. But they must have good birth control, although I don’t see condoms for sale, and there’s no porn sites that are viewable – at least not the ones I know, and I doubt there are any. I do get offers for “massage” and “young girl” although not nearly in the quantity as in Vietnam.

Do my boot camp workout, and download a very good translator app, which understands my English perfectly and translates it into Chinese- and speaks! This could be a game changer. Can input my own phrases – “you are very pretty” and it says it in Chinese. Also find a good podcast app, a better camera (called A Better Camera), do some more emails and blogs. In evening wander around for 7 hours, stumble upon night market and big bar area, and see the giant copper and silver pagodas and walk around lake. Not a terrible day, but ready for some ACTION.

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DAY 15 – INTERLUDE, INTERLACED WITH NUMEROUS OBSERVATIONS

5/15 – The airport shuttle bus I’m on to catch my plane is lingering at the railway station and I decide I have to take a taxi, but the driver and baggage guy are very nice and tell me to cough up my ticket and they give it to a passenger getting on and give me his unused ticket and they point me to the ticket office to get my 20y back. They certainly didn’t have to do that, and it’s hard to imagine people in the US doing that voluntarily for a foreigner.

Hail a taxi to the airport with a couple other people. Driver is very sociable and not driving fast. A couple times when cars were ahead of us, I’m thinking “Why don’t you use your HORN?” The cab driver puts on his seat belt two seconds before coming to a toll booth, whereupon he immediately unbuckles it when we pass through. It’s a miracle I make my flight, but it turns out to be a mixed-blessing. It’s raining hard. Mine was virtually the last flight to make it to Guilin without being delayed/canceled.  So there were no airline shuttle buses into town because “they only go when full,” and I was the only one waiting. I wonder about people who want to make it TO the airport. What do they do?

I also realize (not for the first time) that I make bad presumptions sometimes, and am not a close reader. I assumed that I could arrive in Guilin mid-day and hop on a boat down the Li River anytime. WRONG! They all go at 9-9:30AM and after that, you are SOL. I make that assumption simply because I didn’t see anything to the contrary. So now, I have to “kill” the day.  I duck into a wifi café without wifi and then another place WITH wifi and book my hotel, but spend an inordinate quantity of time in the rain searching for the place, which makes it a good time for a rant on…

OBSERVATION: STREET ADDRESSES – These make no sense! One block is 4-18, 4 -16, which leads one to think you’re heading towards the lower numbers, but the next block is 30-12, and you’re nowhere. Then the next block is 15-4 and WTF? When I ask anyone directions, even if they’re two blocks away from the place, they invariably consult their smart phones. One wonders what they did before GPS? Wander the streets endlessly? Maybe this is how China’s great migration started: people helplessly looking for their homes? I go into a a store with 3 girls and they all point me in the direction from which I’ve just come, and say ‘taxi.’ I backtrack and have no idea how far so I go into an electronics store and they point me pretty close to where I’d asked the girls for directions. I take a taxi – it’s a short ride – and the hotel entrance is around the corner, on the side street.
The room is probably the biggest $20 room in the world. It’s HUGE – no window, but I think it makes its own climate. The only room I’ve seen where the wifi connection works off the TV. Turn on the TV, get a network on your computer. I change into dry clothes and wander around and discover I have landed in the world of Seriously Cheap.

Chonsang’s, a very popular noodle place, sells bowls of noodles with beef or pork (no other options I could ascertain) for 3y-8y. My good sized bowl cost 4y. I wander to a side street and it’s so cheap, I get another bowl of noodles, more substantial, with more stuff in it (what, I’m not sure) for 6y. Got a little dried mango and some other chewable substance for 1 ½ y. The following morning I get a grilled pastry with greens and some other pancake thing with diced chicken (I think) and other fillings  for 6y total. Even coffee is cheaper. At KFC the coffee that was 13y in Guilin is 6y, and maybe I’ve been away from “coffee” for too long, but it’s not bad.
So, here’s a Valuable Travel Tip: CHECK THE WEATHER!!! Maybe you should alter your itinerary for a few days.

Ok – here’s a test: My e-book says, regarding visiting the rice paddies near Guilin, “the best time to go is after the May rains.” Question: Does this make May a good time to go there? BZZZ! NO! I got that wrong, too. The operative and key words being “May rains” – it RAINS in May, and “after.” After. Not “during.” Like, go in JUNE. Unfortunately, this cogent level of analysis and scrutiny was only applied when I’d already landed in Guilin in a maelstrom of puddles and rain. Ergo…
I book a tour for the next day to go see the rice paddies, but I get a call a bit later informing me it’s postponed due to numerous accidents on the road that day. I guess it was very muddy. The river also will be “yellow” so she suggests waiting another day to book a tour. So I’ve had two pretty boring days in a row, with another to follow, it seems. I suppose we can call it “interlude.”

NEXT MILLION DOLLAR IDEA: A pedestrian horn – just like the drivers incessantly use, except I’ll use it on the streets as a pedestrian. It would be a great joke, only problem is, it would probably catch on, and I’d be responsible for a whole new level of noise pollution. Back in the States, it could be marketed as a Twalker Alert, or Twalker Stopper – to scare the &*^% out of people who are obliviously texting or tweeting while walking down the street. Instead of side-stepping them, just blast them with a honk. Could probably have them made for fifty cents, sell for six or seven bucks with clever packaging, and maybe could contribute to solving the plight.

OBSERVATION: BEDS – You know that bed company in the US where you can dial the firmness number you want? In China, their settings would be “Rock” and “Hard Place” with one setting in-between. Every single bed in more than two weeks has caused me to emit an involuntary “Oomph” from the resistance I encounter plopping down.. There’s no “sinking in” to be had. While I think they’re too hard, I must say that I generally sleep well, and don’t wake up with pains in my back from a sagging mattress. So maybe there’s something to it, although if I had the option, I’d dial the setting down a notch or two. What I am surprised about is the uniformity – they’re virtually all the same.

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DAY 14 – KEEP MOVIN.’ NOTHING GOING ON HERE, FOLKS.

May 14 – OK. In the NFL, not every play makes the “highlights reel” and today is the equivalent of one of those plays. This day was mainly spent looking for a laundromat. They are few and far between and most people seem to wash clothes themselves and hang them out to dry. Finally found one in a hostel almost at day’s end.

The only thing worth mentioning is eating at Grandma’s, the incredibly popular 3 story restaurant and I order A LOT of food to justify my existence there. Seafood soup – mostly clams but some fish and a couple small shrimp, tofu stuffed with vegetables, and a spicy vegetable dish – all for less than $9. 53y.

At the hostel I book a dorm room for 70y because I’ve given up on the idea of leaving town tonight. When I take my room, the girl writes down my passport number and a guy I met tells me she has “one chance” to get it right because if she makes a mistake, the government fines her 200y, which is an enormous amount of money. It sounds preposterous, but he insists it’s so.

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DAY 13 – MORE UPS AND DOWNS

May 13–Go see another sunrise, and wake up ridiculously early – the sun’s not even out yet, for God’s sa – well, I guess that’s the point. Windy, but not as cold. Sunrise is all right, doesn’t live up to the hype. The woman next to me watched the entire thing through her 3 inch viewfinder on her camera. Ridiculous. There are people so intent on photographing it, that they miss the entire oomph of the event. She’s not the only one who was doing it.

Stop at adjacent Shilin Hotel for big – and pretty good – breakfast buffet for 50y. Big attraction is unlimited coffee, where a single cup can cost 40y. So have a few needed jolts to the head. After lingering for a bit, I take the cable car down. But even getting to the cable car involves walks not for the timid – over a mile, and a lot of steep up and down. En route, I go up “Starting To Believe Something Really Great Is Going On Here” peak or a name similar, and it’s breath-taking, with a sheer drop that’s dizzying despite the low-wooden fence that discourages any sudden urges to fling oneself off the side. Then onto the cable car, which, going down, makes me wonder how the hell I ever walked up. If I’d taken it up, I’m sure I would’ve been convinced that walking up was IMPOSSIBLE. So-ooo high and sheer.

CHANGING MONEY: Before I leave, I change the last of my US money at the bank. For all its modernity, the banks here change money like it’s 1954. Forms are “carbon copied” in triplicate, hand-stamped with a big red stamp, inserted into something that looks like the Original Fax Machine, the bills are minutely examined, the clerk stares and stares and stares into a computer screen, and at least five times I was moved to mutter, “WHAT could be taking so long?” with breaks in between each outburst. The process easily takes 15 minutes, and it doesn’t matter how small the amount. It just takes forever.

Now I’m the bus to Hangzhou and something must be said about the HONKING in this country! It’s ridiculous! Out of control! It’s jarring for all the wrong reasons, and disturbs even the most placid environments. I would tend to think that “good” drivers know better, but some of the worst offenders are bus drivers, like the ones I had coming and going here, who honk INCESSANTLY when they’re on city or town streets (they’re better on the “highway.”) I can’t help but mutter “Shut the FUCK UP!” numerous times, and it’s probably good that they don’t understand me. They honk like it’s a driving aid, like a turn signal. Only it’s an “all-function” horn: to tell the driver that he’s approaching (NOTE TO DRIVER: YOU’RE A BIG *^%% BUS!!! HE CAN SEE YOU!!!!); to tell them to move over, get going, drive faster, or I haven’t honked in thirty seconds and my hand is getting antsy. And there’s no polite “beep beep” to gently alert the driver in front to stop texting, or the light turned green. Everything is a full-on BLARE, a full-fledged HONK, often two or three times in a row. Followed by an encore performance to the very next driver. Often these honks are met with retaliatory honks, like the “Fuck you” honk or the “My honk is louder than your honk” honk, which sets off a chain reaction. It’s maddening. I was standing still on a sidewalk and was looking at a motorcyclist creeping towards me (as they’re wont to do if they feel like it) and we made eye contact, so clearly I saw him, and he STILL honked at me. What is the freaking point??? It’s virtually impossible to be on the street and not hear honking for over a minute. Maybe less. I’ll have to run a test one day. And the bigger the vehicle – like a truck – the more incessantly they honk. Like they think they’re driving in a Cloak of Invisibility and no one can see them.

Get back to Hangzhou surprisingly fast. Lake is HUMMING! Like it’s a Sunday afternoon. People are dancing in that same spot (they’re also dancing there the next afternoon. Maybe it’s all the time.) Performers are out. Fantastic dancing water show goes on every little while. I listen to William Tell Overture set to dancing water. Eat eking duck & potatoes for $5 from street stall. At least I think that’s what it was. Go back to hotel where I stored my luggage. It’s sold out! This never occurred to me. Guy is very nice and I book Pod Inn hotel but don’t know where it is, and the guy starts walking and walking and walking, and leads me right to it!

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DAY 12 – UP AND DOWN AND ALL AROUND or “SUNRISE, SUNSET”

May 12 – I don’t think I’ve ever seen the sunrise and sunset in the same day. It’s pretty rare. You have to be at a very high altitude, for one thing. Or have one crazy day flying. But today is the day.  Arise 4:30AM to see the sunrise.  I believe we have one of the clearest days of the year. Just gorgeous. Cold, though. Ironically, the weather for the next couple days is too good. It’s the kind of weather that’s perfect anywhere else, but here you actually want some clouds and mist, for that “sea of clouds” effect. Some people at the top are wearing polar fleeces, others are just wearing little sports coats. And they’re skinny!  What’s keeping them warm? Sunrise is OK, not tremendous or anything… Come back to hotel, wait for it to warm up, go out about 9AM, to West Canyon walk, which is incredibly dramatic and like what you see in the photos. Descend quite a bit, but at the bottom of the canyon, there’s a cable car that takes you back up!

Back on top, I go on another hike which really helps me appreciate the marvel that was built here. We descend steeply down one side of the mountain and at one point we can see people climbing stairs way-yyy across on another peak. It turns out it’s the same path! We go down, down, down, traverse a path that goes clear to the other side, and then we’re to the spot where we start climbing. And workers carved out steps every inch of the way. It’s hard to imagine how – or even why, really, it was done, and impossible to imagine something like this being built in the US. But at some point we get to a peak where I check the map and realize the reason all these people are going in one direction (mostly down) is that this is either the way out of the park or to the cable car going down (I think). In either case, it’s not the way I want or need to go, so I do some serious backtracking.

Back, I head up to Bright Spot, which has a big white ball atop it, and then through a meadow to the Xixac hotel – something like that. It turns out to be near a great place to watch the sunset, so I kill 90 minutes having coffee and “chillin’” and then hike up to the peak. Lots of people go up. It’s very windy, and I’m worried about descending the steps and especially when it’s dusk  – my confidence going down wanes – and sucks, basically. Always has. Sure enough, there are a couple of tough spots for me and a girl grabs my hand and helps me down. She’s very nice, lives in Chongdo, which, she says, has a “Dinosaur Park,” and without her help, it would’ve been tough going. I’ve been very fortunate in this regard. Sunset was great – mostly due to the setting, but I’ve seen more spectacular. One woman was walking up one step at a time, way behind her group, and I wondered how she was ever going to go down.

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DAY 11 – UP, UP AND AWAYYYY –

May 11 –It’s up and early to catch the bus to Huangshan, China’s most famous mountain! The one immortalized in those scroll calligraphy paintings, with the craggy cliffs, acute angles and clouds below the summit. I’ve assiduously packed as little as possible, because there’s said to be much climbing, but at the last minute I add another five pounds because I decide I need my laptop, for skype, mostly.

I meet 5 young students on the bus, a couple of whom speak English. This turns out to be very fortuitous, because they’re hiking up the mountain, which I want to do, but virtually everyone else takes the cable car and I wouldn’t have the cojones – or whatever they’re called in China – to hike it by myself. Too much chance of being injured and just … laying there. Or making a wrong turn and being found six months later in Tibet.

It’s three hours of virtually all uphill, step by steep step. This is probably where Mao got his “ journey of a 1,000 miles begins with a single step” aphorism, because it feels like it at times. Also, it’s raining on and off, which, while not slippery, does make the trek seem more treacherous. Still, I’m game because as the girl, Summer, says, “It’s no fun on the cable car. You are there in 8 minutes.” I agree. You miss out on the whole experience of how high and powerful the mountain is. I’m concerned that my knees, which have been problematic, will hurt, or that I’ll cramp up. This is not the kind of mountain you decide you can’t do in the middle. Once you go, you’re committed.

First though, we lunch in a restaurant in town. I get soup and buy supplies including top and bottom pancho, little booties, a giant water, two meals to carry, and two Snickers and it costs 60y. Very cheap. They warn me how expensive everything is on top, but it doesn’t seem that outrageous, actually, once I get there, and I just got a half-pint of something that tastes like ouzo, at the top, for 15y, which seems amazing. Since my sneakers are already wet, I have the brilliant (not being sarcastic) idea of wearing the booties over my socks, to keep my feet dry, and the sneakers over them. This is a GREAT idea because my feet are dry most of the trip.

I try to walk up fast, as I always do, because my hiking philosophy is similar to someone who drives fast because they want to get to their destination before they run out of gas. There are a hundred steps at a time, it seems –but I do it, laptop and all. Must be over 1,000 by the end. On the way up, the group keeps asking if I’m ok, because of my age. I keep boot-camp training in the forefront of my mind. I tighten my stomach (core) and buttocks (which I learned in physical therapy) to let these muscles do their work and take some of the burden off my legs and knees, and also keep my shoulders back, so don’t put undue pressure on them or my back. It seems to work really well.

As I get closer to the summit, the skies get clear and there are clouds below, “in” the trees -this is the famous “sea of clouds.” At the top it’s not clear where my hotel is, so I walk up towards Cloud Hotel. It’s another few hundred steps up – just when you think you’re done, you’re not. And I’m just in time for a spectacular sunset, which I wasn’t expecting. It’s fantastic, but it gets me worried, because this is not my hotel and it will be dark soon. The girl at reception gives me confusing directions and I start going the wrong way. Finally, a worker puts me on the right path. I’m starting to panic because this is not the place I want to walk in the dark. It’s about a mile away. Plus, it’s downhill, which I wonder about. So, it was the one part that was not pleasant. But the hotel is great, lavish. I expect to be more tired and sore than I am, and I’m proud of myself for doing it, but I’m sleeping by 10pm.

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DAY 10 – LINGERING BY THE LAKE

May 10 – This morning I wake up and go to the park where I know there will be ladies doing tai chi and I can do my exercise right near them, and sure enough, that’s what happens. They’re stretching, doing fan dances, moving gracefully, I’m doing push-ups and planks and sit-ups. I’m again impressed by the women in their 60s and 70s being so limber and graceful. Take a long walk around the lake, including to a giant pagoda that actually has an escalator in it. I go back to the tea café on the lake where I was yesterday, and four 22 year old boys want to interview and video me for their English project. They’re very sweet. After that, I take lo-onng walk around and across lake – really long, really beautiful. Carp pond, more pagodas, lily pads, it seems the whole park is planned for balance and serenity.

There are also big groups of dancers, doing a variation of the foxtrot, and also some Chinese dance that looks a little like cumbaya. These people are always there. It doesn’t matter, day or night. That’s their spot and people are always dancing.

After I leave the park, I start thinking about a place to stay and waste a couple hours trying to figure it out. Meet a 37 year old girl from Moscow and we walk and talk for a while looking for the hostel, but I eventually go back to where I stayed the night before.

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DAY 9 -HANGING OUT IN HANGZHOU

MAY 9 – I’m still in Tongli in the AM and when I walk to the plaza right near my B&B (without the second ‘B’) there are women doing tai chi. So I run back to my room and get my exercise clothes and do my boot camp work out in the plaza, a little bit away from them. Maybe this will become a ‘thing’ – if they can do it, so can I, and they probably like seeing me doing it. They are incredibly limber. Women in their 70s, I think , raising their legs as high as dancers using a bar, and balancing on one leg and squatting an inch off the ground with the other leg extended. That exercise has gotta be good for something. They are in much better shape than our elderly. Yesterday I saw an old man just sitting with his chair out in the evening, no newspaper, no anything, just enjoying sitting. He looked so serene. Today I saw him walking, and he was really spry. It’s almost like watching one of those movies where old people discover the Fountain of Youth.

Kept looking for, but couldn’t find the Sex Culture Museum, which is supposed to be pretty good. Maybe it was knocked down for this new hotel being constructed. A bunch of teens eagerly surround me and want a piece of American money – anything. I give them a penny and they are excited and take photos with me.

When I left Tongli, I took a taxi to another town for the bus to Hangzhou. The cab driver immediately picked up a girl across the road, and we traveled a lon-gg way, and she got out first, so I thought we went way out of my way and I was going to get charged for it, but it turned out she and I were going very near each other, and the driver pro-rated the fare. I’ve found the Chinese very honest so far – certainly he could’ve charged me the meter, and there were a couple other instances of this, too, where I could’ve easily been gouged, but wasn’t.

The bus ride to Hangzhou was bumpy and the bus station was nowhere near the lake and there are 4 bus stations, so I didn’t even know which one I was at, and there was no signs or help or anything, and for one of the first times I feel defeated. I didn’t know where to start to ask for information. But I got help, took a taxi to the lake, and the day immediately improved.

The West Lake is world famous and is amazing. Of course, in the photos, it’s always serene and peaceful. In reality, it’s SWARMING with people, especially on the weekend, which it was. But really, anytime. Hangzhou is not even considered a major city, and it has OVER 6 MILLION PEOPLE. Around the lake there are many entertainers, singers, music groups, doing traditional music but also opera, and a group of young guys doing rap. I don’t see anyone with a hat out or collecting money, so I’m not sure what’s the gig. The lake is enormous and the landscape varied. With the boats and pagodas and temples and flower gardens and traditional villages within. And so many people walking. I sat at a café overlooking boats and did internet and planned the next part of my trip.

CFF: If it’s one thing that gets Chinese people excited, it’s SQUIRRELS! There were three trees in a row in which 30 or more people were squealing and excitedly pointing cameras. And at the other end of it were …squirrels. Being squirrels. Not doing anything in particular. Very odd, especially when considering all the other odd stuff going on here.

I want to check into a hotel using Ctrip, and have a very hard time, because it needs a phone number for my reservation and my phone is dead and I can’t input it. I get to the hotel, pretty disorganized, trying to find the card with my phone # so I can make the reservation for the discount price, but can’t, and the proprietor is amused. I write down the price I want, which is 210, the girl behind the desk writes 290. I write 250. The proprietor writes 258. I write 251. He thinks that’s a riot, my going up 1 yuan, and wags his finger at me like Robert De Niro to Billy Crystal in “Analyze This:” like “You..you’re all right. You know how to do this. You’re a character.” So I get it for 251.

In evening, I go to a jazz bar a couple doors down. The singer is ok.

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DAY 8 – PEOPLE, PEOPLE EVERYWHERE

MAY 8 – Have an egg and tomatoes dish with coffee at one of the “canal cafes.” When you enter Tongli, it being a World Heritage Spot, you buy a ticket for 100y (or 50y, if like me, you’re over 60. Being 60 gets you half price into a lot of things. Also, if you’re a teacher with 30 years’ service, you get a substantial price break, too. Imagine that! They honor their teachers!) For that price, your ticket comes with a list of attractions – pagodas, gardens, ancient houses – and I see a few that I didn’t see on my first day. Then I take a day trip to Zhounshuang, which bills itself as China’s #1 Water Town, so it’s into competing. The bus fare is only 1y. The town is very crowded with tourists, and is more like a theme park, which is too bad, because otherwise it’s lovely. You really have to go early in the AM or later in the evening, and definitely not on the weekends. You can also wander far afield from the madding crowd for a little peace, but really, the crowds were staggering. It makes me feel glad I got to Tongli a bit late the day before, because the crowds are bad there too, during the day, parading around behind the guy with the flag and the megaphone. It’s really NOT the way to see these places. It’s when they all leave that the towns evince their charms. I wander by a stage just in time to see a 20 minute performance of traditional Chinese opera which was interesting, but I wouldn’t make an evening of it. Wandering in Zhounshang, I come across a proprietor/barista of this bar/restaurant playing harmonica along to recorded music. He’s quite good and the songs were lovely. He also played, per my request, on the bells. Two young Chinese guys call me to join them for a beer which is conveniently already sitting there waiting for me to drink it! Not sure how that happened. They are nice and friendly and we take pictures and clink glasses and one of them asks me “How old are you?” and when I tell him, he says, “You have strong body!” and the other asks if I’m a truck driver! Made my day. Continue wandering, and it really starts raining hard. Somehow I miss the last bus back to Tongli, which is stupid and I hail a taxi for $13 back, which is reasonable, and then the driver heads off the main road into the woods and I get very nervous. He’s only doing it because the road’s less bumpy, but it’s one of those moments when I suddenly felt very vulnerable and realize that if something happened to me, no one back home would ever know about it. But thankfully he’s not a homicidal maniac and eventually I make it back and dry off and eat. The last couple days have been the best so far, with moments of genuine joy.

CFF: When you get water from a dispenser, it’s HOT! I learned that in what is probably a common experience for Americans. By getting burned when I filled up my water bottle. They just drink hot water here, sometimes with a tea in it, sometimes not.

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DAY 7 – WATER, WATER EVERYWHERE

MAY 7 – Didn’t quite slink out of my hotel, after the previous night, but didn’t leave waving a banner and calling attention to myself, either. Wasn’t sure whether to lug my luggage (and I’m really understanding now why it’s called “lug-gage”) to Tongli, a 1,000 year old water village about 40 minutes away, but decide to take it in case I decide to spend the night. It keeps that option open. It turns out to be a great decision, because Tongli is wonderful. But first, the equivalent of an Uber driver picks me up at the request of this guy who had called him and is waiting at the same spot I am, and they drop me off at the bus terminal for free. Which, of course, was very nice. The bus fare to Tongli was about $1.25, and then I’m in the “Venice of the East” as it’s called, for good reason. Just gorgeous setting, little bridges, cafes and restaurants along the canal, no cars, peaceful. Central plaza has a big stage/pagoda. Place to just wander around, get lost, get re-found. Great, just great.

TRIP HIGHLIGHT: This evening I went for a fish massage! I’m walking on one of the commercial streets and there’s a store with fish tanks filled with blue water and about 100 “big guppy” sized fish. And you stick your feet in the tank and they converge on your feet and start nibbling at the bacteria! They especially loved my toes! They did a great job cleaning them up. It tickles and is incredibly fun and invigorating at the same time. Is it wrong to get turned on by fish biting at your toes? Well, then I don’t want to be right!  You can keep your feet in there as long as you want, and the whole thing costs 20y. After, I continue walking down the street, and there’s an identical store about 20 yards away. Apparently there’s a big market for “fish chow-down.” The whole thing is win-win-win. I get a cheap, unique massage and get my feet cleaned, the fish get dinner, and the owner? What a business model. He doesn’t have to spend any money feeding the fish, because his customers pay him for the privilege of being fish food!

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DAY 6 – ALMOST PROVOKING AN INTERNATIONAL INCIDENT

MAY 6 – I awake early, dreamless, and eat a delicious egg pancake thingie from a street vendor for 4y. Then go for coffee at Burger King for 13y, which makes no sense. But that’s cheap for coffee! (more about that later). Suzhou is famous for its walled in gardens. I head to the giant pagoda near my hotel, and am met by some folks holding signs looking to book people like me on tours, a tour that I’m actually interested in taking. I run into the same problem – I WANT to book it, but there’s no way of telling when or where it starts/leaves from. They don’t get the “wrist” body language. How can people not get that? Finally, because it’s only $20, I say “Okay,” and wait to see what happens, whereupon I’m directed to jump on the back of one of the group’s motorcycle, who drives me to where a bunch of buses are lined up, and sends me off on one.

The tour leaves at 9:30AM and we start off with a boat tour down the canal which is very nice, but our guide, a very well-put together woman, never shuts up, and holds her microphone too close and speaks in a loud, shrieky tone. I wonder if she gets paid by the word. She also starts a lot of sentences with ‘AHHHH,’ like she is answering a question that she just asked herself.

Next stop is the silk museum. Silk has its beginnings, apparently, in this area, and because the Chinese are so into symbolism, the silkworm’s cocoon symbolizes eternal life, or going up to heaven, or something very good. It also conveys status, especially in the past. So we rush through 2 or 3,000 years of the history of silk in 10 minutes so we can spend an hour in the gigantic silk emporium in the adjacent halls. Then we’re whisked off to lunch and directed into this huge restaurant, which I opt out of in favor of the cheaper, emptier place next door, which is pretty mediocre.
Then we go to the ‘Calm’ gardens, one of those famous Suzhou gardens, only it’s on every tour’s itinerary, all of whom have guides who, whether male or female, sound like my guide and talk way-yyy too loud into their megaphones. So the gardens are noisy and anything but ‘calm.’ Then we’re off to a pearl factory, and it’s a replica of the ‘silk’ experience – hustled through the exhibit halls, only to come to a prolonged halt at the shopping area.

Apparently this is standard practice on tours like these. One tour operator was in the news for severely berating her tourists for not buying enough at the respective stops, and she threatened that if they didn’t spend a lot more, their plane tickets home would be canceled! Someone videoed her and posted it and she was fired, but stuff like that probably goes on all the time.

I jettison the tour while we’re marooned in the pearl shop, and hop a cab to the Suzhou Museum, which is fabulous looking, and designed by I.M. Pei. Then onto the nearby and heralded Humble Administrator’s Gardens, which is definitely a trip highlight. Truly fantastic, gorgeous, beautiful, with lakes and pagodas and hills and bonsai and filled with attractions with great names, like “Appearing Nearby Pagoda” or “Hill of sweet-smelling rice,” stuff like that.

Then walking (!) back to my hotel, because I actually know the way, I stop at a neighborhood restaurant. I’m looking at the menu and when I look up, six middle-aged people are standing at my table, watching me. There’s no embarrassment at all. They smile and think it’s entertaining. I smile and am all, “What?” and then when I order they laugh and watch me eat with chopsticks. I find it funny. I get an enormous amount of food for 30y, or $5. Spicy green beans, vegetables, a large plate of noodles. Plus, eating out is even cheaper because there’s no tax added, and no tipping waiters (or anybody).

OK. So here’s a Big Travel Tip. Before you report that your hotel room was ripped off, go through your things five, nay 8 (lucky number) times. I imagine every trip to a foreign land is going to have a cringe-worthy moment, and I just hope this was mine and I got it out of the way early.

When I got back to the hotel, I couldn’t find my driver’s license and two of my bank cards and a credit card. I had taken them out in the morning and left them in my luggage, but can’t find them on my return. I look and look and look. Then I realize my suitcase is on the floor, and I was almost positive I left is on the table, and my clothes seem jumbled and zippers are opened and it’s NOT the way I remember leaving it, so I’m sure it’s been ransacked. Plus, my bed is ‘made’ – sloppily, but made – which is something I wouldn’t have done. So I report it downstairs. At first they don’t take it seriously, but I come back later – after looking through stuff again – and use the word “police” so they start to pay attention. I’m thinking the odds of this actually happening are small, and I’m not yelling or acting accusatory or anything, but it is a big deal. The young staff – and a young tourist guy who speaks rudimentary English – come up to help me. Then they go downstairs to get the manager, and while they’re doing that, I go through the lining of my luggage AGAIN and I feel the outline of what feels like cards, and I almost wish they’re not there, but they are. All except one ATM card, but at this point I can’t say with any conviction that it was stolen. When the manager and staff knock, I’m too embarrassed to admit that I made a mistake – after causing all this upheaval – so I try to save face by saying I took care of the problem and canceled the cards, but I’m pretty sure the manager knows I’m BS-ing. It’s very embarrassing. The weird part is I’m still Not convinced the room wasn’t gone through because of the way the luggage looked. This worries me somewhat, because the last couple years my mother was alive, when she was in assisted living, like a lot of old people, she was always accusing the staff of stealing from her, even stuff that made no sense stealing. And when I found it, she still was convinced that they’d stolen it, and put it back, or something. This wasn’t that bad, but it reminded me of it, which was enough.

When that kerfuffle was settled, I took a taxi to Shangtang street, which was BUSTLING with outdoor restaurants, tacky music, and side streets with canals and more quiet restaurants, which was very nice.
OBSERVATION: One thing that immediately makes me enthralled with this country is when you tell people you’re a writer, they’re EXCITED! They think it’s fantastic! They wanted to BE one! They’re really thrilled. AS opposed to the US, where when you say you’re a writer to, say, a woman, she thinks “poor” and looks for the investment banker.

OBSERVATION: THIS COUNTRY DOESN’T BELIEVE IN NAPKINS!! WHY?? EVERYTHING NEEDS IT!
CFF: CHINESE PEOPLE DON’T CLAP. At ends of songs in park, or in cafes, there’s virtually…nothing

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DAY 5 GOODBYE SHANGHAI, HELLO SUZHOU

MAY 5 – The concierge at my hotel, Kim (male) helps me with many things: finally get a cheap cell phone (!), get info on Suzhou train, he writes out the destination in Chinese (which I start doing every time I’m traveling from that moment on), gets me a cab, and explains how and why I almost set the room on fire. Actually buying the ticket at the train station, of course, is very complicated, but I manage, and leave Shanghai for Suzhou. A young guy in the Suzhou station tries to help me find the hotel I’ve booked , but steers me completely in the wrong direction. Luckily I get off near an English language institute and a subway, so make my way back, but I waste a couple of hours. I got the phone just in time, because I never would’ve found the hotel without it.

PRACTICAL TRAVEL TIP: The website www.ctrip.com is good for booking hotels, although in China, it’s www.english.ctrip.com. You get a discount, but more importantly, you get a sense of what hotels in the area cost, and availability, because for every one that’s on there, there seem to be ten more in that same category when you actually arrive in town. Also importantly, it’s an English speaking service, so they can answer your questions on the phone.
CFF: Men in China sport almost no facial hair. I’m the only person in China with a Fu Manchu beard!

CFF: Pedestrians REALLY don’t have the right of way. More about drivers soon.
I’m like a total illiterate. I can’t read the signs or speak a word. Even my body language fails. There was a tour that I wanted to pay and go on, but when I ask what time it leaves they don’t understand, and I point to my imaginary wrist watch, which I assume is the universal symbol for “What time is it/will it leave?” but they don’t get it at all. So I couldn’t go.

In evening I take a taxi to the Ping Yao area. I’ve started taking taxis and they are very cheap. The meter starts at around $1.75, but then it barely moves. The next 3 km it doesn’t move at all, and then it “jumps” 1 yuan every so often. It’s the only place I’ve ever gotten bored watching the meter, or actually rooted for it to go up because I felt bad for the driver.

Ping Yao is a long street that straddles a canal, and there are lots of branches running off it, and many “sweets” shops and cafes. It feels very ‘arty.’ A middle-aged man sits at a table under a lamp and draws six-inch long calligraphy paintings, one after another, all different, for $3 apiece. Unreal. I buy a few as gifts.

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Day 4 – JUST ANOTHER DAY IN SHANGHAI….

May 4 – This time I have a weird political dream. I’m ushered into the White House and Putin is sitting in a chair. He’s muscular, charismatic, handsome, and he asks my opinion about the role of government. I tell him that the first order is to feed and house the people, and after that it’s to provide for their happiness. I give him examples of people being able to use their potential. I tell him I once was in Russia while it was still part of the Soviet Union and remember that even though the apartments were crowded and small, people came outside and serenaded each other on guitars and lovers were tender with each other in the parks. In that, they’re like flowers. They look for a place to grow and flourish. In the dream, George W. Bush was on the couch and made a remark about getting drunk or something and literally hopped up and down. He was a complete moron. Putin was very impressed with what I said.

I haven’t seen anything resembling a laundromat, and even people in upper class apartments hang their laundry outside on terraces to dry. There might be a laundry service, but since I don’t have a clue how to ask for it, I wash ‘essentials’ in the bathtub. Have very mediocre buffet breakfast and try to go through my remaining *&^ papers. Then head to Yu Ann Garden, which is highly recommended, but it’s extremely hard to find. There are street signs with arrows that point to things, but then they just stop, and you’re still not there. Some other Americans were having the same problem. I finally find it, but not before traversing through old-style, tacky bazaar filled with shops. Big Colonel Sanders logo on front of large pagoda, because nothing says “Buddhism” like the Colonel. At one point, a young couple asks me to take their picture. They’re fun, and their English isn’t bad and they ask me to join them for some show. I beg off, but they say we can meet up later. He’s a middle school teacher of American history and recites more facts about the US than most Americans know. I tell him I’m glad I came to China to learn American history. I finally found the gardens, which are beautiful, harmonious, sprawling. There’s a calligraphy hall/shop on the grounds and the girl, who speaks pretty good English, starts following me around. She’s trying to sell me stuff, but not aggressive about it. But when someone speaks English to me, I immediately react like a starving man being offered water.

When I emerge, I run into the couple right away. What are the odds? They ask me to go to the show with them, and I say OK. When we get there, it’s one of the over-priced tea ceremonies my guide book has warned me about. It was only $8 – to start – not too bad, but the book said it was a scam, and I’d wind up with a large bill, so I deferred even though I couldn’t tell what the rip-off would be. When I begged off, they were still pleasant, but kind of insistent – at one point he said something like “We spent a lot of time asking you…” Anyway, it was disappointing, because they seemed genuinely charming, and I’m not 100% sure it was a scam anyway. Walk through “Old Street” which resembles market streets in the countryside. Few blocks long. Then go back to hotel, and gym. Then to French Concession, with many alleyways with shops off the main narrow street. It’s kind of the bohemian area.

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DAY 2 – SLOWLY GETTING IT TOGETHER

MAY 2 – It’s raining. Looking for a local Starbucks for some coffee in my neighborhood, which seems working class, I stumble upon a kiosk where I find my beloved charger! Also a gym! So suddenly I’m powered up, in both senses of the word. Still no phone, but my hotel has wi-fi, so I’m finally online. But there’s no gmail. That’s because China and Google seem to have declared war on each other for some reason. Can’t ‘Google’ anything either. I head back to the jazz festival but it’s rained out, so wander into posh martini lounge which is empty because it’s early and read about China! Good idea! Then head to The Bund, this long boulevard of ornate European style buildings that line the riverfront. HUGE tourist mecca, both for the buildings and the waterfront walking paths. “Selfie sticks” proliferate here. Many people seem to like nothing better than to put themselves in every photo they take. Note to “Selfie Stick” people: When your friends watch pix of your trip, they want to see the SIGHTS. THOSE change. You, believe it or not, look the same as you did five minutes ago. Then go to Nanjing East Road, which is a pedestrian mall/shopping mecca. It’s mobbed. People seem to travel a lot in groups, and families generally are hauling around one kid, who they dote on and are affectionate with. Everyone seems happy and well-adjusted and it feels very safe. One family stops me and want to take a photo with me in it. They are very pleased when I agree.

CFF: I read a story about how they put up, like an 80 story skyscraper in 37 days. They build these things in factories, pre-fab, I guess, and then just put ‘em up. I passed by another area where they were putting up residential “towers” – they had to be at least 60 stories high – and they were building dozens of them simultaneously.

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THE TRIP THERE – APRIL 29 & 30.

These two days count as one, because there’s a 15 hour time difference between the west coast and China, so although I leave mid-day on the 29th, when I get off the plane, it’s night time on the 30th. 15 hours ahead is like living in the future! When I’m getting ready to go to sleep in China, your day on the west coast has barely begun! I’ve got the whole day under my belt, and you don’t even know what you’re having for breakfast! I’m sure I’m making more of it than it is, but I’ve never lived 15 hours in the future before, and it strikes me as amazing.

But back to the flight. I get the best seat on the plane! For some reason, they switch my seat, and give me the entire emergency row, immediately behind First Class, and it’s two feet from the bathroom. This is great, and not only for the obvious reason. I’ve brought along so many papers – bills, pages torn from books that I need to input, miscellaneous articles I vowed to read before I left – that I just need a big garbage pail to throw them in. See? I couldn’t research my trip: I didn’t even have time to go through the pre-trip crap! Hence, multiple trips to the bathroom. Which maybe looks weird. But I don’t care. Having been moved from my “regular” coach seat, I don’t know how I would’ve survived the flight if not for the switch. I desperately need the legroom, and spend a fair amount of time just walking up and down the aisles.
Air China puts babies in the front rows, because they have room for bassinets, which I find charming. Don’t know if US airlines do that for international flights, but somehow I doubt it.

I have a 2 ½ hour layover in Beijing airport, and while that seems like a good break, in reality, it’s incredibly short. I have to clear customs, which has a big line, and switching planes involves going to a completely different part of the airport – and it’s far. Even though things go smoothly, I have almost no wiggle room. The Chinese are planning on everything running smoothly. Any delays anywhere, and I’d miss my connecting flight. This also screws up my “plan,” such as it was, to book a room online during the lay-over. There’s no time. So I will arrive in Shanghai 10PM, hotel-less.

I take the airport train downtown, but can’t get online anywhere, because all the coffee shops, like Starbuck’s – and I can already tell that they’re as ubiquitous here as they are back home – require you to get a code texted to your phone number – and I don’t have a phone yet. So I’m really stuck, until I happen upon two German guys walking down the street and I ask them if they can have a code texted to their phone that I can use. Happily they agree, and I sit on the deck of Starbuck’s outside (it’s closed) searching for hotels. It’s a couple hours after I arrive – well after midnight – when I book one and take a taxi there. Aside from any jetlag, I’m just very tired.
PRACTICAL TRAVEL TIP: Aside from possibly selling out, which didn’t seem to be an imminent threat – there was no price advantage in booking a month, two weeks, or even a week ahead. Air China had seats on sale, with a scheduled end date, and as long as you booked during that time – even if your flight was tomorrow, you could get it for that sale price. Unlike American airlines, which have something like 10,000 different fares for flights, depending on the micro-second you book and how many days out, etc.

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15 HOURS IN THE FUTURE

Ni hao.
That mean “hello” in Mandarin, and pretty much sums up my total preparation for my 42 day trip to China.

I’m not a big fan of prepping out everything beforehand, preferring to tailor my trip along the way – staying longer or shorter in certain places as experiences warrant, stumbling upon new towns along the way, letting serendipity take its course – but even by my limited standards, this trip is woefully lacking in advance prep. It’s like I was planning a trip to Hayward instead of halfway around the world to a totally foreign culture. Why? No reason, particularly. Just decided to go about three weeks in advance and had things I had to wrap up on the home front. Why China? Why now? “Now” because I’ve been spending the past several years in a house-sitting situation, and when Marsha, the owner, comes back, I gotta go somewhere, and when you’re not paying rent, traveling is not all that more expensive than renting a temporary space where you live. So I’ve tried to do that when I can. And China? Well, it’s on my “bucket list.” (When you’re over 60, your “Things I want to do” list somehow transmogrifies into a “bucket list.” And Spring is a good time to go. Plus, and this was no small part of the calculation, fares were astonishingly low. A round-trip ticket from San Francisco to Shanghai could be had for $632! This was so cheap that I chose not to use the frequent-flier miles I’ve been saving for the past two decades in anticipation of a trip like this.

Finally, it’s about a 16 hour flight. I figure that gives me about eight of those hours to bone up on where’s good to go in China. Plus, I’ve already decided to spend my first 4 days in Shanghai, so that gives me time to figure out my next couple of moves. IF I can get online, which I’m uncertain about. I have a couple of ideas where I’m going to stay my first night, but haven’t even gotten that far. I only found out in the nick of time that I needed a visa, for God’s sake, and scrambled to get one. Forget about the recommended vaccinations for typhoid (typhoid?), hepatitis A & B(although apparently you don’t have to worry that much about “B”), malaria and a couple others. Didn’t get ‘em. Also, I lost my cellphone the week before I left, took it as an opportunity to switch to Boost Mobile, a lower-priced company, but found out, literally on my way to the airport, that their phones (or at least mine) don’t include sim cards, so I won’t be able to switch it out for a Chinese card, meaning I don’t have a phone in China. The other thing that slipped through the cracks is I didn’t get a power adaptor for my laptop or tablet. Can I Skype? Don’t know. E-mail? Don’t know. Travel freely? Don’t know. I guess I’ll find out soon enough. So read along, and we’ll find out together.

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Michelle Obama Vows To Take Down Hecklers in Cage Match – Newslo

WASHINGTON — Emboldened by her recent take-down of a rare heckler, Michelle Obama today announced that anyone who interrupts her in the future will be “dealt with” in a cage match.Unlike her husband, who is known to listen to hecklers and even engage them, the First Lady recently stepped off the podium at a private Democratic National Committee fundraiser when a woman in the crowd began heckling her, calling for an executive order on lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights. The First Lady confronted the woman, saying “You can take the mic. But I’m leaving. You all decide. You have one choice.” The crowd roared its approval for Mrs. Obama to continue speaking.After her speech, according to sources, Mrs. Obama was “pumped” and was overheard mumbling, “I should’ve taken that bitch down.”

via Michelle Obama Vows To Take Down Hecklers in Cage Match – Newslo.

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Tea Party Stunned to Discover It Was Right About Something – News Makeup

WASHINGTON — When members of Tea Party-affiliated groups learned that it was among the groups targeted by the IRS to be audited, they were flabbergasted.

“We’ve been saying for years that the government was intrusive, overstepping its boundaries and wielding too much power,” said Sandra Well, a spokeswoman for one of the groups. “We had no idea we had any idea what we were talking about.” Well said that the group was guided by the “splatter philosophy”: “You know, throw any old nutty stuff against the wall and see what sticks,” but that this was the first time anything had actually stuck.

“We couldn’t believe it. After years of birtherism, baseless claims that ‘Obama is a terrorist,’ ‘Obamacare sets up death panels’ yada yada yada, we finally got something right. You could have blown me over with a feather.”

via Tea Party Stunned to Discover It Was Right About Something – News Makeup.

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Hands off! Why Self-Flushing Toilets Will Be the End of Us All

We are well on the road (so to speak) to having driverless cars, but while we are waiting, Ford has already put plans into motion to produce cars with steering wheel and other biometric sensors that monitor our stress levels, shut off our cell phones, tablets and can even prevent us from driving altogether if the car decides that we’re too agitated. Call it an “auto-vention.”

The good news is you soon will be able to purchase a car with the money saved not having to pay a shrink who would have just told you the same thing.

via Hands off! Why Self-Flushing Toilets Will Be the End of Us All | Article 3.

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Child’ Gun Maker Opens ‘My First Funeral’

MILTON, Pa. – Keystone Sporting Arms, the manufacturer of the Crickett, the .22 caliber “children’s gun” marketed as “My First Rifle” which was used by Kristian Sparks, 5, in the recent accidental shooting of his 2-year old sister Caroline in Burkesville, Kentucky, has opened its first “children’s funeral parlor,” called “My First Funeral.”“Keystone clearly sees the opening of a children’s funeral parlor to be a logical extension of its brand,” an attorney for Keystone, John Renzulli, said. “It creates a synergy between the gun line and the cemetery. It’s almost literally a cradle-to-grave business model.”Keystone has reportedly chosen Newtown, Connecticut—where the Sandy Hook massacre took the lives of 20 children—as the site for the inaugural “My First Funeral” home.“We’re a little late getting into the Newtown market, but since Newtown remains a haven for rampant gun use, we’re confident our strategy will pay dividends in the near future,” Renzulli said.

via Child’ Gun Maker Opens ‘My First Funeral’ – News Makeup.

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John King Announces He is Leaving CNN For NewsMakeup.com

WASHINGTON — Days after erroneously reporting that a suspect had been named in the Boston Marathon bombing and embarrassing himself and his network, CNN correspondent John King announced on the air yesterday that he was leaving “the most trusted name in news,” and joining NewsMakeup.com, “ the best thing since news.”

King said, “It’s become obvious that my credibility is completely shot, and nothing I report can be taken at face value. It’s for that reason that I’ve decided to join an organization where my playing fast and loose with the facts will be an asset.”

Twenty minutes later, King issued an on-air retraction.

“Reports that I plan to leave CNN for newsmakeup.com are wrong. We made a mistake. I’m staying right where I am.”

via John King Announces He is Leaving CNN For NewsMakeup.com – News Makeup.

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I Won A MAGGIE For “Best Profile In a Trade Publication”

013 MAGGIE Press Release Western Publishing Association RecognizesTop Trade, Consumer and Student Publications,Mobile Apps and WebsitesApril 26, 2013 Los Angeles, CA The Western Publishing Association WPA announced its 2013 MAGGIE® winners in 90 editorial and design categories at the 62nd Annual MAGGIE® Awards, April 26th at the Sheraton Gateway Hotel at Los Angeles International Airport.More than 300 people from all areas of publishing were on hand to honor the “West’s Best” in both print and electronic publishing. An enthusiastic audience cheered as winners accepted their awards and later watched the MAGGIE® trademark “Montage of Winners” video at the close of the banquet.Considered to be the most prestigious award in the publishing industry, the 2013 MAGGIES drew more than 1,200 entries from 24 states west of the Mississippi River.

There’s a long list of winners. Authors’ names aren’t mentioned (Why not, MAGGIE?) but my award is the “Best Profile in a Trade Publication” about 2/3 of the way down the list…

 

via 2013 MAGGIE Press Release :: Western Publishing Association.

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Anthony Weiner Weighs New Mayoral Run, Dick Jokes – News Makeup

NEW YORK — Former congressman and one-time New York City mayoral favorite Anthony Weiner, who resigned from office after tweeting photos of his bulging underwear to women not his wife, is reportedly considering returning to electoral politics and being the butt of a million dick jokes.

The surprise announcement came just a couple of weeks after photos of actor John Hamm’s prominent “package” made the rounds of the internet.

Speaking at a press conference, Weiner said, “The publicity surrounding Hamm made me realize how much I missed having my penis in the public arena, and what a contribution the combination of that penis and my name could add to the public discourse of dick jokes.”

Weiner then added, “But my platform to achieve this will be enhanced – not that I need to be enhanced,

via Anthony Weiner Weighs New Mayoral Run, Dick Jokes – News Makeup.

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Millions of Americans File for Extension to Cheat on Their Taxes – News Makeup

WASHINGTON — The Internal Revenue Service reported that an estimated 75 million Americans applied to extend the deadline for filing their 2012 income tax return, up 20% from last year. Tax experts attributed the increase to “more Americans needing extra time to figure out how to maximally cheat on their returns.”Said Max Ingress, a Washington, DC-based CPA: “As the economy started to come back this year, millions of newly employed Americans who had been on the dole for some time filled out their 1040 returns and were shocked to discover that they owed taxes for the first time in years. Their reaction was ‘Nuh-uh. I finally made some money. No way am I giving it back.’”Rather than pay their taxes on time, these would-be tax evaders decided to file for an extension and see what kinds of bogus backdated receipts they could gather and which expense accounts they could pad.

via Millions of Americans File for Extension to Cheat on Their Taxes – News Makeup.

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Obama, Google Team Up to Do Brain-Mapping

WASHINGTON — Following up on his proposed $100 million plan to map the human brain, President Obama today revealed that that the firm slated to do the mapping will be Google.At a press conference, President Obama announced, “Millions of Americans depend on Google Maps every day to get them to where they want to go. I can think of no better company to help us map our ‘inner workings,’ and by using Google Brain Maps in the process, the hope is that this will help people ‘find themselves.’ ”Along with mapping out the locations of millions of neurons, Obama said Google Brain Maps could help Americans find their house keys, proceed logically from Point A to Point B, develop a career path, find direction in their lives, and “get a clue.”But some Republicans sounded the alarm at the announcement. Michele Bachmann R-MN held an urgent press conference at which she said, “I read an unsourced email or tweet or maybe a fortune cookie that warned that President Obama has ordered Google to direct all ‘right-thinking’ Americans to ‘make an immediate sharp left-turn’ in their thinking and become socialists like the President.”As an example, Bachmann said that the email, or message in a bottle, or Ouija board prediction, or

via Obama, Google Team Up to Do Brain-Mapping – News Makeup.

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Tell Twitter You’re Thirsty and It’ll Tell You What to Drink

I may open a Twitter account just so I can send Nihal Mehta nasty tweets.

Mehta is one of several hot young social media “mavens” or “hotshots” or some might say, “parasites” spotlighted in a recent issue of Entrepreneur magazine. The item about him was not more than a couple hundred words long, but long enough to make you put down the magazine and say to yourself, “That, right there, is everything that’s wrong with social media.”

Mehta is the youngish CEO and co-founder of Local Response, a New York based firm that is described as “levera(ging) social media signals to run intent-targeted ads.” It’s truly astounding how much a tech writer can mangle English in nine short words.

But what this means in English English, according to Entrepreneur, is that if you tweet, say, “I’m hungry,” the next thing you might see on your mobile device is a banner ad for Pizza Hut.

Such are the things that media mavens are made of these days.

via Tell Twitter You’re Thirsty and It’ll Tell You What to Drink | Article 3.

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GOP Embraces Science – To Bring Back ‘Extinct Voters’ – News Makeup

WASHINGTON — Spurred by recent scientific advances in genetics that are getting close to being able to revive long-extinct species like the dodo bird and raptor dinosaurs, House Republicans today called for emergency funding for the National Science Institute for a “priority program” to bring back “extinct and near-extinct Republican voting groups,” including John Birchers, “traditional women,” and their largest base, “old, grumpy white men.”

“If scientists can bring back dodos, they can bring back Republican voters,” declared Rep. Paul Broun, a member of the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology, who last year memorably declared at a church picnic that evolution and the Big Bang theory “are lies straight from the pit of Hell.”

MSNBC host Rachel Maddow countered on her show that the putting “dodos” and “Republicans” in the same sentence was “redundant.”

The announcement caught many political observers by surprise because in recent years the GOP has become known as the “anti-science” party, largely due to its opposition to teaching evolution in schools, its refusal to acknowledge the age of the Earth or fund stem cell research, and its insistence that climate change is not a real phenomenon.

But Lamar Smith, the current chair of the House Science Committee, explained it this way: “Most of us

via GOP Embraces Science – To Bring Back ‘Extinct Voters’ – News Makeup.

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GOP Declares Itself Party of “New, Inclusive Intolerance” – News Makeup

WASHINGTON — Republican National Chairman Reince Priebus today announced that his party, after weeks of internal bickering over how it can broaden its base and reach more voters, has agreed to adopt a “bigot tent” philosophy, which embraces “a new, inclusive intolerance.”

“We cannot remain the party of intolerant old white men,” Priebus announced. “For our party to have a chance at winning future elections, we have to reach out to prejudiced, racist and sexist people of all persuasions–regardless of color, creed or denomination.”

Since the November 2012 elections, in which the GOP took a drubbing at the polls, the party has been

via GOP Declares Itself Party of “New, Inclusive Intolerance” – News Makeup.

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Mayor Bloomberg to Appoint Cannibal Cop to “Look at Fat People Funny” – News Makeup

NEW YORK –   An irate Mayor Bloomberg, stung by the last-minute blockage of his much-touted ban on the sale of large sugary drinks, threatened to appoint convicted “cannibal cop” Gilberto Valle to roam the streets of New York and “look at fat people funny” if his law doesn’t go through.

Bloomberg also said that Valle would mosey into restaurants that would’ve been prevented from selling super-size sodas and give customers ordering these drinks “the evil eye.”

At a hastily convened press conference, Mayor Bloomberg announced, “I might be legally prevented from

via Mayor Bloomberg to Appoint Cannibal Cop to “Look at Fat People Funny” – News Makeup.

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Republicans Pass “Passive-Aggressive Violence Against Women” Act – News Makeup

WASHINGTON — House Republicans, gloomy in the wake of the passage of the Violence Against Women Act, quickly regained their mojo and overwhelmingly passed the “Passive-Aggressive Act Against Women Act.”

“This is an historic day for the Republican Party,” House Majority Leader Eric Cantor proclaimed. “Today, by reluctantly declaring that rape, murder, disfigurement and senseless beatings against women have no place in today’s GOP, we no longer will be confused with the Taliban. But by passing the Passive-Aggressive Violence Against Women Act, we reaffirm the sentiments of Soul Brother Number One, James Brown, that it’s still ‘A Man’s World.’”

Republicans were forced to abandon their support of more overt violence against women in the wake of highly-publicized and embarrassing remarks by representatives like Todd Aiken who coined the phrase “legitimate rape,” and others who said that “date rape” didn’t really count.

PAVAWA codifies that it’s still okay, and perhaps even encouraged, for men to express hostility towards women by: withholding child support; placing onerous restrictions on obtaining an abortion; paying 70% of what men make for the same job; denying promotions; making it harder for women to get credit; sleeping with her friend; insulting her intelligence and looks; calling women who sleep with you ‘whores;’ staying out all night without explanation; and a host of other oafish, offensive behaviors.

Cantor continued, “I’m proud to say that in regards to women’s rights, this squarely places the GOP all the way up to ‘1965’ sensibility, marking the first time that our party has been within a half-century of

- See more at: http://newsmakeup.com/republicans-pass-passive-aggressive-violence-against-women-act/

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Obama Announces 34,000 Troops Leaving Afghanistan, Looking for New “Host” Country – News Makeup

WASHINGTON – Announcing that he is keeping his pledge to pull American forces out of Afghanistan, President Obama said today that he is looking for a new “host” country in which to to put them.

The President said, “With our troops leaving Afghanistan, we now have the opportunity to find another, new country on which we can impose our will.”

Obama laid out several conditions that the new host country needs to have, including a weak central government, natural resources that we crave, an apathetic populace and indoor plumbing.

“The troops have told me that under no circumstances will they go to another country without flush toilets,” the President added.

Critics complained that they were led to believe that when the troops left Afghanistan, that they would be

via Obama Announces 34,000 Troops Leaving Afghanistan, Looking for New “Host” Country – News Makeup.

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Niger, Burundi Send Aid to Carnival Cruise Line Passengers – News Makeup

MOBILE, Ala. – Citizens of Niger and Burundi, the second and third poorest countries in the world have banded together to send CARE packages and relief assistance to passengers stranded on the Carnival Cruise ship that lost power and was stuck at sea due to an engine fire.

Said Allawa Mondono, a farmer in Niger who earns roughly $1.10 a day, “We know how it is to live without power, running water, sanitary bathrooms and Off- Broadway revues. What’s ours is theirs. Our hearts go out to the victims of the luxury cruise ship.”

Then he added, “By the way. Normally I make $1.20 a day. But things are a little slow now.”

Usuela Balinga, a nurse’s assistant in Burundi, who was donating a goat’s head and oxtails, said her husband was mad at her for assisting the passengers.

“My husband said, ‘Usuela, why are you helping them? They are much richer than we are.’ I told him, ‘No, husband. It cannot be true. CNN, the world leader in news, devoted hours of programming to the horrible conditions on the Carnival Cruise ship story, and has never run a story about poverty in Burundi. So that proves they are much worse off than we.”

Meanwhile, passengers on the ship were entering their sixth day without internet service and their ninth

via Niger, Burundi Send Aid to Carnival Cruise Line Passengers – News Makeup.

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DON’T PRAY FOR THE POPE!

 

When Pope Benedict XVI shocked the world and announced that he’d be the first pope in six centuries to retire, primarily due to declining health and increasing infirmities, tens, if not hundreds of millions of people around the world (mostly Catholics) prayed for the pope’s well-being. At which point the pontiff slapped himself on the head and said, “Why didn’t I think of that?”

That’s a joke. The Pope didn’t say that. (At least I don’t think so). In fact, the odds are pretty good that he’d been praying about his health for quite some time. Which made me wonder what those tens of millions of others thought they were accomplishing by praying for him. I mean, the pope’s one of a handful of beings on the planet who is supposedly on God’s speed-dial. If the Almighty hadn’t interceded to boost Benedict’s immune systems by now, even with all the cardinals joining the choir, why would He intervene because some shoemaker in Poland suddenly beseeches Him? Or is the mentality that it’s like those White House online petitions, where if enough people sign on, the President himself responds? That Jim Morrison was wrong, and you can “petition the Lord with prayer?”

Personally, I think prayer has gotten a free ride for way too long. (milleniums, actually). I’ve had folks pray for me, usually to change my ways… (more)

DON’T PRAY FOR THE POPE! – stan sinberg – Open Salon.

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“Women in Combat” Supported by 95% of Divorced Men – News Makeup

Women in Combat” Supported by 95% of Divorced Men

Written by Stan Sinberg 29th January 2013

(Photo Credit: Shutterstock)

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA — A new survey reveals that the recent decision by Defense Secretary Leon Panetta allowing women in the military to be sent into combat has the support of 95% of recently divorced men.

“Hell, yeah,” Greg Jarslag nodded, between knocking back brewskis at The Stool, a hole-in-the-wall bar in Toledo, Ohio. “Definitely. Send ‘em all over there.”

According to Gallup poll, 78% percent of recently divorced men favored putting women on the frontlines “tomorrow,” even if the U.S. wasn’t currently engaged in a military conflict.

“Not having anything to argue about never stopped my wife from fighting before,” chimed in Hank Paisley, divorced six months. “Just send her to some country we get along with fine but want their oil or something, and my ex will get a war started between us and them in fifteen minutes. Guaranteed.”

When it was pointed out that the United States has a volunteer army, Paisley nodded. “That’s fine. Can I volunteer her?”

Support for the decision among happily married men or those who recently got engaged was much lower.

In the poll, most respondents who favored putting women into combat cited “fairness,” or “equal rights.” Divorced men were the only group whose main reason for supporting the decision was “payback.”

Paul Guglio, a twice-divorced accountant said he thinks women like his ex could be used even more effectively to convince captured terrorists to reveal their attack plans.

via “Women in Combat” Supported by 95% of Divorced Men – News Makeup.

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A PC USER INFILTRATES MACWORLD

Up until a month ago, I’d never owned anything “Apple.” Then someone bequeathed me a used IPod and I was immediately flabbergasted to learn that to download any new music to it from my computer, I’d first have to erase the 400+ songs that were already on it, something I never had to consider with my good ol’ non-iPod mp3 players. So incredulous was I that I checked with my friend’s “Apple-holic” (or whatever they call themselves) son, who shrugged, “Yep. It’s kind of fascistic,” but wasn’t otherwise bothered by it.
Oddly enough, this increased my curiosity as to why 95% of the young, hip kids in my neighborhood coffee house have Macbooks and iPhones and iPads and all things Apple, so I decided to head to MacWorld, the annual 3-day convention/lovefest at San Francisco’s Moscone Center, to finally see what all the Mac-Fuss was about.
From what I’d read in the past, when Steve Jobs would attend, I expected utter pandemonium and the halls filled with the Apple version of “Trekkies.” So I was pretty disappointed that the crowd looked and acted, more or less, like a normal cross-section of folks. It was only some hours later, when I overheard a woman say that MacWorld hasn’t been nearly the same since Apple withdrew from it in 2009, that I realized I’d missed the cutting-edge by oh, four years. Macworld without Apple and Jobs was apparently like holding a Beatles’ reunion headed by Peter Best and Julian Lennon.
Nevertheless, there were thousands of attendees, a couple hundred exhibitors, celebrities including Ashton Kutcher, will.i.am and Fred Armisen expounding on things Apple, indie bands who used iPads to make music and videos, an iPhone Film Festival, and many, many lectures and presentations about how Apple apps and hardware can increase your creativity, artistry, productivity and smugness.
Back in the Exhibition Hall, where I spent most of my time, there were a shockingly high percentage of booths dedicated to protecting your iPad and/or iPhone from assorted mishaps, including scratches, spills, splashes, drops, falls, failures, breaches, rips, prints and someone looking at it cross-eyed. There were cases, covers, shields, screens and skins in a variety of materials, designed to keep your iPad intact in case you inadvertently decided to take it scuba diving, or in the event of a nuclear explosion.
This might just be me, but if I spend upwards of several hundred dollars on a tablet or phone, I kind of expect it’ll already have a cover, or something to protect it from breaking if someone blows on it hard. I mean, after I buy a car, the manufacturer doesn’t tell me, “The body costs $2,000 extra.” This is true for non-Apple products as well, of course, but those rival products generally cost less to begin with.
Then there were the products designed to secure your data, via organizing, managing, storing, backing, encrypting, uploading, obscuring and password-protecting. I heard the NRA was selling a mini-AR-15 disguised as a mini-cam on your MacBook that shot anyone entering an erroneous password, but I can’t vouch for it.
Considering that this past December New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg blamed a rise in crime entirely on the stealing of iPads and iPhones, I’d think there would’ve been less emphasis on the theft of the iPad’s data and more on the theft of the iPad, but these devices I didn’t notice.
There were, however, a number of products that extended the reach of iPhones and iPads including attachable lenses, tripods, an iPole that enables you to dangle your gadget over a cliff or waterfall for photo and video-taking, and a magazine, Legacy, that each issue extended the legacy of Steve Jobs.
It goes without saying that there were also numerous booths touting new and amazing apps, to go with the hundred thousand or so already on the market.
All in all, it was an impressive expo, although I never did receive a satisfactory explanation as to why I had to erase those 400+ songs from my iPod.

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Wayne LaPierre Calls for Giving Guns The Right to Vote – News Makeup

WASHINGTON – Sensing that his recent comments about putting an armed guard in every school had backfired, and that gun control advocates were gaining ground, NRA vice-president Wayne LaPierre issued a new proclamation Sunday.“Some irresponsible members of society are calling for an end to guns. But we live in a democracy where guns outnumber people. In a democracy you don’t disenfranchise a group without letting them have a say in the matter. That’s unconstitutional. That’s why I call for a constitutional amendment giving guns the right to vote.”LaPierre then was seen emitting a smug, self-satisfied smile and muttering, “boy. That logic was unassailable.”

via Wayne LaPierre Calls for Giving Guns The Right to Vote – News Makeup.

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NFL to Replace Kickoffs with “Moments of Silence – News Makeup

In the wake of the tragic shootings in Connecticut and the recent murder-suicide of Kasandra M. Perkins by Kansas City linebacker Jovan Belcher, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell announced plans to permanently replace all “kick-offs” with “moments-of-silence.”The NFL has been campaigning to show its sensitive side for several years. This October marked the fourth year in a row that players wore pink add-ons to their uniforms to show support for breast cancer research.In a press conference, Commissioner Goodell announced, “We’ve already been starting more and more games with heads bowed, remembering victims of some unspeakable tragedy. Now we’re taking the next step and incorporating it into the game itself.”

via NFL to Replace Kickoffs with “Moments of Silence – News Makeup.

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The War on Christmas Music

sEvery year Fox News and other conservative media types get their Christmas stockings all balled up over the “War on Christmas” that liberals are supposedly waging — evidenced by sporadic protests and objections to displays of “manger” scenes and the like on government-owned properties, violating the principle of separation of church and state.Yet somehow Christmas endures. I think that’s probably because there isn’t, hasn’t been, and never will be, a “war on Christmas;” not even by the protesters who just don’t want government publicly favoring one religion over another with taxpayer dollars.However, I think there would be a lot more support if we could declare a war on Christmas music.Each year, the day after Thanksgiving is the start of a veritable non-stop blitz-Kringle of Christmas music in malls, shopping centers and retail stores around the country. It’s like the Christmas music army invaded and jazz, rap, rock, r&b, country and pop surrendered without a shot.

via The War on Christmas Music | Article 3.

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CNN Viewers Hurling Selves Over Actual Cliffs to Avoid Listening to Network’s Coverage – News Makeup

CNN Viewers Hurling Selves Over Actual Cliffs to Avoid Listening to Network’s Coverage

NEW YORK — Tormented by almost around-the-clock coverage regarding the impending fiscal cliff, scores of CNN viewers have begun throwing themselves off actual cliffs.

From the instant that Obama won reelection, CNN began pushing stories about the fiscal cliff, a potentially cataclysmic situation the United States will face January 1 if Congress doesn’t come to a budget agreement before then.

“Twenty-four hour news networks, like nature, abhor a vacuum,” said noted media analyst Wilfred Bunting. “And after Obama won, CNN needed to fill that void with another big story, hence the fiscal cliff hysteria.”

via CNN Viewers Hurling Selves Over Actual Cliffs to Avoid Listening to Network’s Coverage – News Makeup.

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SNAP Provisions (formerly food stamps) are a Little Hard to Stomach | Article 3

SNAP Provisions (formerly food stamps) are a Little Hard to Stomach

By Stan Sinberg | December 11, 2012

Which of these things doesn’t belong?

A) The U.S. poverty rate has increased to 15%.

B) The number of folks receiving food stamps has hit 47 million, almost doubling in four years.

C) The unemployment rate still hovers around 8.0%, with many others “under-employed.”

D) Obesity in the U.S. now affects a record 36% of the population, and is going (where else?) up, up, up!

Trick question! Actually they all belong together. You’d think the answer would be D), since logically people without enough food and money shouldn’t have a problem with eating too much, but it’s a long known truism that poorer people tend to eat their weight (so to speak) in highly-processed nutritionally- meager artery-clogging fried and sugar-saturated foods, and that they also disproportionately frequent fast-food establishments that heavily promote ginormous portions for a little more $$. Add on a lot of those meals being washed down with bucket-sized sodas (except in New York City!) with their so-called “invisible” calories.

via SNAP Provisions (formerly food stamps) are a Little Hard to Stomach | Article 3.

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Dick Morris Sues Fox News for Letting Him Make Election Predictions – News Makeup

Photo Credit: R. Gino Santa Maria / Shutterstock)

NEW YORK — Dick Morris, the Fox News analyst who has received widespread ridicule for his recent – and extremely wrong – prediction that Mitt Romney would win the recent presidential election “in a landslide,” accumulating well over 300 Electoral College votes, has sued the network for employing him as an analyst.

“By giving me air-time, they’ve completely ruined my credibility,” Morris complained. “Look, I’ve been wrong about virtually every single thing for the past few years. I predicted that the 2008 presidential contest would be between Hilary Clinton and Condoleezza Rice, for God’s sake. How could anyone take me seriously after that?”

Morris continued, “After Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans, I wrote, and I quote, ‘Responding to disasters is a source of presidential strength and popularity, and Bush is about to show how it is done.’ Do you understand what I’m saying? I said that President Bush would be acclaimed for how he responded to the hurricane!’ If that wasn’t a cry for help telling Fox that they should save me from myself, I don’t know what is!”

“Recently Dick prognosticated that Bill Clinton would vote for Mitt Romney!” said Morris’ legal counsel Rachael Doyle. “He’s obviously insane.  But Fox keeps putting him on the TV. Why? It can’t be because he has any idea what he’s talking about. The only other plausible reason is for the entertainment value my client provides by being the worst pundit in America.”

On hearing about Morris’ lawsuit, neo-conservative commentator Bill Kristol piped in. “I’m as wrong at least as often as Dick Morris,” he said, citing his calling for John McCain to nominate Sarah Palin as his running mate months before McCain even had heard of the Alaska governor. “I think that alone qualifies me as the worst pundit in America,” Kristol said, proudly. “But I haven’t rested on my laurels. I make crazy predictions almost every week!”

Kristol then announced that he would see if he could join Morris in a class-action suit against Fox.

Morris, once a friend and advisor to Bill Clinton, had a falling out with the former president after Morris was caught in a scandal in which he tried to “pump himself up” with a prostitute by letting her listen in on a phone call he was having with Clinton while he was still in office.

“Fox News should’ve known right then that my judgment wasn’t very good,” Morris noted in his lawsuit. “The signs were all there.”

There are indications, though, that Morris has learned something from his almost one-hundred percent wrong track record. After filing suit against Fox, Morris announced, “I predict that I’m going to be laughed out of court.”

via Dick Morris Sues Fox News for Letting Him Make Election Predictions – News Makeup.

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Dear GOP, The # 1 Thing You Did That GUARANTEED You Lost Is…

Dear GOP,
It’s already begun: the hand-wringing, gnashing of teeth, and much ruminations, fulminations but little illuminations amongst you regarding why Mitt Romney lost the election to Barack Obama. Especially since you thought it should’ve been a “gimme.”

After all, Obama had to run on his record of presiding over a stagnant economy, huge rise in debt, instituting the hated Obamacare, and a never-before-has-an-incumbent-president-been-re-elected-at-a 7.9% unemployment rate. Plus he was still black, and according to large numbers of you, a Muslim and not even an American-born one at that.
How could you lose?
And yet you did, and somewhat resoundingly at that.

Noted Republicans even went on record saying that if you couldn’t beat Obama, you should dissolve the party and start from scratch.

I don’t think that’s quite necessary. In fact, I’m going to give you one piece of “secret” advice you won’t hear from anyone in your party how to, if not ensure that you win next time, at least not “guarantee” that you’ll lose.

But first, let’s review some of your party’s own internal theories:

The Tea Partiers amongst cry that you should’ve nominated a “true conservative.” But Romney was clearly way more conservative than Obama, so it’s hard to see how veering further right would’ve pulled in non-Republican votes.

Others say the opposite: that the Party has veered off into the extreme reeds of the political landscape and needs to GPS its way back to the center. While alienating women, blacks, Latinos, gays and other groups that collectively constitute roughly 80% of the population isn’t instinctively a winning strategy, the fact remains that you still do well in Congress employing this stratagem. Besides, “moderate: Mitt didn’t do much better than “severely conservative Mitt” and anyway going “moderate” at this point just muddies the “brand.”

Still others vent that you have to weed out the obvious “loonies” – the Bachmanns, Akins, Mourdocks, Wests – the ones who excuse rape, consider it “God’s plan,” or make fantastical claims about issues unhinged from science and reality. But while being associated as “the party of crazy” isn’t great, how would it look for the “pro-life” party to “abort” some of its own by casting them off? Not good, is the answer.

Other “suspects” are the “lame-stream media,” class-warfare, Chris Christie, Sandy, “the 47 percent,” and virtually everything that isn’t “people just don’t like our ideas.”

Personally, I don’t care what you do – even if it’s something as totally “out there” as appealing to women and minorities (!) I’m about as interested in giving you my advice as you are in taking in.

However, because I believe in retaining a vibrant two-party system that offers an honest choice between two competing visions of America, I proffer one wisp of wisdom as to how your party can offer us that choice in 2016. You may not win with it, but at least you’ll have a chance:

Next time, don’t nominate a lying sack of shit as your candidate.

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NATE SILVER, YOU ARE MY ROCK ( a poem)

Nate Silver
You are my rock
During this turbulent presidential election season
When the race has appeared so close
And Apocalyptic Predictions persist that Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan
Might actually occupy the White House come January
Your daily fivethirtyeight.com blog
Has been my anchor
Assuring me that Barack Obama remains the favorite
To carry the Electoral College on November 6.
Your reporting and analyzing virtually every political poll
In the Swing States using micro, and
Frankly often incomprehensible methodology
Has given me Hope and Solace throughout the campaign
Even if I often did not understand
What the heck you were talking about.
In the Darkest of Dark Days
Otherwise known as “After the First Debate”
When Mitt Romney seemed ascendant and
The President went into free-fall
And amongst Democrats there was a
Great Wailing and Gnashing of Teeth
You were there with your Statistics
Your unemotional, non-hysterical numbers
To grant us Perspective.
To show us that while Obama’s odds of victory
Had fallen from over 80 percent
To around 60 percent
He still remained the Favorite
And that Romney’s “bounce” might well soon fade.
Which it did.
And during these Final Days
When Wolf Blitzer and his ilk declare the race a “Dead Heat”
And the pundits call it a “Toss-Up”
And “Neck and Neck”
You steadfastly insist that it’s Not So.
That Obama has an 80 percent chance of carrying Ohio.
And an 85 percent chance of being re-elected.
Bless you, Nate Silver
You are the rock I cling to when I am buffeted about
By waves of a rising Red tide
The website I return to for comfort
When I hear the race is “tightening”
The nebbishy statistician that I embrace
Amidst reports that Romney is cresting
In Colorado or Florida.
And come Judgment Day
This Tuesday
If election results start to pour in that look ominous
I will keep you in mind
When Obama supporters around me begin to succumb to panic and despair.
I will soothe them by saying
“Don’t worry. Nate Silver has accounted for this, I think.”
So bless you, Nate Silver, for giving me succor and
Keeping me sane these past weeks.
But there is one caveat.
If on Wednesday morning we wake up
To President-Elect Mitt Romney
There is a 100 percent chance, Nate Silver
That your credibility is shot
And an 85 percent chance
That you will be blamed
For making us Obama supporters over-confident and complacent.
So bless you, Nate Silver
But you’d better be Right.

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IS HALF THE COUNTRY REALLY THAT STUPID?

After we’ve finished sputtering, splaying and spasmodically displaying our outrages and anxieties about the upcoming presidential election, every conversation I’ve had in the past couple months about it comes to a point where somebody forlornly shakes their head and says, “How can anybody vote for Mitt Romney?”

This isn’t a hyperbolic question, meaning “How can Texas vote for Romney?” or “How can Romney be tied in the national polls with Romney?” but literal. “How can anybody – anybody! – vote for him.” It’s not based on the governor’s position on any particular issue – nobody knows what his positions are, for the most part, most likely including Mitt himself. Rather, the incredulity is that anyone can be taken in by what is Romney’s prevaricating, pandering, two-faced, shameless, flip-flopping, tax-hiding, detail-free entire candidacy.

You hear Romney supporters on TV say, “Romney’s got a plan to get the economy back on track,” and you want to shout at them, “Really? Do you know what it is, other than Romney saying ‘I have a plan?’”

You hear them say how Romney is going to balance the budget by cutting programs, and you want to scream, “Which programs? Aside from Planned Parenthood and NPR, he hasn’t mentioned one.”

You listen to them rail about how bad Obama is, and you just want to rail back, “If Obama’s so bad, why does Romney have to constantly LIE and distort the president’s positions on Medicare and the auto bail-out and take his ‘You didn’t build that’ comment out of context? Why can’t he present Obama’s record honestly and run against that?”

And you hear them talk about how Romney’s a “leader,” and you want to tear your hair out and cry, “A leader doesn’t change his positions based on what he thinks each particular audience wants to hear!”

Or how Romney will be able to “cross party lines” and work with Democrats and it’s all you can do not to rage “Really? You think after all the lying and pandering and chameleon-like position changing that is the only constant thing about Mitt Romney,that Democrats are honestly going to think, “I can work with him, because he’s someone I can trust to keep his word?”

So after all this knocking your head against the wall, you’re left with the fact that the national vote is neck-and-neck and there’s a chance that we’ll wake up Wednesday morning with a Prevaricator-In-Chief, someone who nobody – from fervid Tea Party supporters to Move On enthusiasts – will be able to predict which Mitt Romney will show up for work on January 20.

Which brings you back to the question “How can anybody vote for this guy?”

This invariably brings you around to remembering how half the country doesn’t believe in evolution or is convinced that Judgment Day will occur during their lifetime, or that a high percentage of Republicans still believe Obama is a Muslim or born abroad, and you get to the point where you just wonder “Is half the country really that stupid?”

I prefer to think that they’re ignorant, which in some ways is worse than being stupid, but at least is curable. After all, if the first time you ever paid attention to Romney was during the first presidential debate, then you might indeed find yourself thinking he wasn’t so bad, since he disavowed many of the positions he’d been espousing the past 18 months, to sound more moderate, a pattern he accelerated during the ensuing two debates, to the point that he was basically regurgitating Obama’s positions in the final one. In fact, whether you’re conservative or moderate, you might find yourself agreeing with Romney if you only closely listened to him once – the time he was addressing – and pandering to – your particular demographic. Because you think you know where he stands. Romney’s motto might be, “The less you know, the better I appear.”

Sure, there are a few outliers who will vote for anybody who will let them pay less taxes, or deregulate everything, hang the consequences to the country and environment, so they’ll have more money in their pockets. But once you get past naked greed and willful ignorance, you are once again left sputtering and splaying:

“How can anyone vote for Mitt Romney?”

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“The Panderer” (Mitt Romney Parody Song)

THE PANDERER
(To the tune of “The Wanderer”)
Verse 1:
I’m the kind of guy
Who wants to be the Prez
A man who wants it oh-so-bad
He don’t care what he says
I instituted healthcare
But now I take it back
ASk ‘bout my core beliefs
I got a whole staff keepin’ track
‘Cause I’m the Panderer
Yeah, the Panderer
I pander ’round and ’round and ’round and ’round and ’round and ’round

VERSE 2:

O – bama’s on my left
And Paul Ryan’s on my right
I wonder which rich Super Pac
I’ll pander to tonight
My position’s changed on China
And a women’s right to choose
I say whatever crap they want
So how come I’m gonna lose?
I’m the Panderer
Yeah, the Panderer
I pander ’round and ’round and ’round and ’round and ’round and ’round

BRIDGE

Oh, I roam from town to town
I change my tune at each event
I’m prayin’ that I don’t melt-down
Faking that I give a damn about that forty some percent

VERSE 3
I’m the kind of guy
Who’ll say whatever fits
In Michigan I praise the trees
‘n the south I’m eating grits
You’ll never know what I believe in
My views never stay the same
I embrace ‘em then I leave ‘em
It’s really great I have no shame

When I’m the Panderer
Yes the Panderer
I pander ’round and ’round and ’round and ’round and ’round and ’round and ’round
Oh I’m the panderer
Yeah, the Panderer

I sold my soul my soul my soul my soul my soul my soul

I’m the Panderer

Fadeout…

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Florida, The Rodney Dangerfield of Swing States

Considering that swing state Florida has 29 electoral votes, greater than 50% more than runner-up swing Ohio, with 18, it doesn’t seem that the Sunshine State is getting the love it deserves.

All the pundits talk about is Ohio, and Romney and Obama visit the state so often that it – not Wisconsin – should be dubbed the “Badger” state, since that’s what they’re doing to the voters – badgering. Virginia, with its 15 votes is being dissected up the wazoo, pitting its coal country conservatives versus its suburban progressives, and even Colorado with its puny 9 votes – more than an Ohio-ful fewer votes than Florida, is being called by some the “next Ohio” – as the locale that under a certain set of circumstances might pick the winner on November 6. It pains me to mention that New Hampshire – with its 4 – 4! –measly electorals is also being trotted out as a state that could – if balloting in the rest of the nation breaks a certain way – be the “decider” as to whether there’s a winner or a 269-269 tie.

If all this ignominy wasn’t enough, Nate Silver, of the NY Times fivethirtyeight.com, the site that Obama supporters obsessively turn to, treating Silver like a psychic able to read electoral tea leaves who can predict the outcome, calls Florida the ninth most influential state this time around, behind even ones that Florida could hide in the Everglades and no one would ever notice.

With most polls showing Obama behind less than he is ahead in Ohio, and that if he wins Florida he almost certainly doesn’t even need to win Ohio, Virginia, Colorado, etc., you’d think that the President and Romney would be stopping cars at intersections and begging Floridians for their votes, but no. The candidates apparently have better things to do than spend their time with us.

So why is that? Maybe both sides view Florida as a “crazy uncle,” a hopeless eccentric who will do whatever the heck he wants on Election Day and there’s nothing anyone can do about it. Maybe, still haunted by nightmare visions of 2000, the powers-that-be just assume Uncle Florida will screw up the ballot and it’ll turn out that half the Jews vote for Mussolini. Or perhaps it’ll be determined they did indeed vote for Obama, but it was 2008 Obama and not 2012 Obama and so it doesn’t count. Something.

The one thing we’re pretty sure of: Florida is not going to go smoothly, so perhaps the candidates are throwing up their hands and saying, “Let’s put our energy into things we can control,” and venture off to lands where the voting is close, but comprehensible.

Despite Florida receiving “no respect, no respect at all,” no one seemed to tell the state’s voters, many of whom were lined up around the block at many polling places at 7AM Saturday, when early voting commenced. Florida may be turning into this election’s “sleeping giant,” but if the state turns blue on election night, the rest of the swing states can just go chad themselves.

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Obama LIVE! – Florida Swing-State Blog Day 2

Day 2 of “Stan’s Swing State Saga,” which has taken me from California, a presidential electoral non-entity except as far as candidates dropping in to plunder our pockets so they can go buy media coverage in “important” states, to Florida, one of the swingiest of swing states, actually began Monday night, with the 3rd presidential debate, which took place just down the road a bit from my cousin’s house, and over-spilled into Tuesday, when Obama appeared live at a “victory” rally to rally 8,000 or so troops to vote, canvas, call and convince over the next two weeks, on his behalf. (I’ve re-read this sentence several times, and there MUST be something that makes it “not a sentence” but I can’t figure out what).

Although I was proximate to the debate, except for being momentarily inconvenienced by a motorcade traffic snarl-up, local newscasters hyper-ventilating on the airwaves about how the debate is HERE, in OUR city and “Morning Joe” broadcasting from Mizner shopping center the morning of the event, there wasn’t too much “advantage” to being close. Security roped off a VERY large area – blocks long – preventing anyone without an invite or proper creds from getting anywhere close. (This was much more extensive than security for either candidate appearing alone. Perhaps the thinking was if they Both get taken out at the same time, we’ll be left without anyone to vote for except “Roseanne” who IS on the ballot as a candidate. )

Still, the very nature of the debate taking place within (theoretical) walking distance did contribute to an air of immediacy.

By the way, shoudn’t there be a group “Undecideds for Romney” since HE can never make up his mind where he stands EITHER!
The much-more-exciting event took place Tuesday morning, when the President himself appeared at a rally in an 8,000 seat stadium in downtown Delray. Doors for the ticketed (but free) event opened at 7AM, but by the time we got there at 6:10, the line spilled around 3 blocks. Apparently, 12,000 tickets were distributed, to insure that “no-shows” wouldn’t leave empty seats, leaving potentially 4,000 disappointed supporters locked out, or as Romney’s people might characterize it, “the 33% of people Obama just didn’t care about.”)

For a presidential appearance, the logistics were amazingly smooth. I’ve had more trouble passing through security at a rock concert (of course, we weren’t allowed to bring in anything larger than a pocketbook, so that expedited things), and the atmosphere was anxious, but festive.

Some up-tempo rock, with a smattering of hip-hop kept us juiced while the crowd streamed in, and then a few speakers made their way up to the stage, including organizers, the local congressman running for re-election, and once-Republican-turned-Democrat former Governor Charlie Crist, wearing a polo shirt and resembling more a member of today’s Beach Boys than the ex-guv.

But the guy who personally got to introduce the President was Scott Van Duzer, the pizza guy who bear-hugged Obama a couple months back and whose pizza emporium lies about an hour or so north. It seemed “cool” that he was picked, and, being a pizza guy, naturally he “delivered.” He was garrulous, charming, enthusiastic and even funny, while declaring that while he was still a Republican, he’d be voting for Obama for the second time, and we should to. Considering the flack he got from some Republicans in his area (who called for a boycott of his store), it was heartening to see that he embraced the fray.

And then Obama finally emerged, speaking for 20 or so minutes. He’s getting good at this, as you might expect, after delivering the same version of the speech a zillion times over the past couple months, and as they say in comic-book land, if he ever decided to “use his powers for evil,” it was easy to see how he could make a good demagogue. He really relished the “Romnesia” jokes and refrain (whoever thought that term up must have gotten a raise and promotion). If Obama’s worried (which he must be, given his frenetic, whirlwind schedule till November 6), he hid it well.

Whoever loses Election Night will have to be completely devastated – after thousands of rallies and phone calls and speeches and appeals for support – and then, in one night, it’s all over and you go home. At least Obama would still go back to the White House for a couple months, but Romney… I don’t know, I’d watch him when he got into his car-elevator…

The only “bad” part was I can sense “creeping swing-state envy” setting in. Virginia got a free Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band concert. What? Are we in Florida “chopped liver?” (Ok, so part of the aging Jewish population is probably partially constituted of chopped liver, but you get my point.)

In California, of course, we don’t even get political ads, so I shouldn’t complain

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Holy Moley! There’s a Place Where Votes Count!!!

Literally overnight I have been thrust into the thicket of the presidential election.

The mere act of emerging from a red-eye flight from San Francisco to Florida has transported me from a land where the citizens worry about how “they” will vote out yonder in the hinterlands, to a fervent hotbed of activity where every single vote- the vote of people we pass in the street!- counts and the candidates not only hold debates (President Obama and Mitt Romney, tonight, right down the road in Boca Raton), but linger on afterwards to rally us, not just for our money, but for our actual votes! Our votes! They are not taken for granted. They are not “gestures.” They matter! We matter!

This is not a theoretical epicenter, either. This is Boca Raton – home of 2000’s infamous “Butterfly Ballot,” the vastly confusing, ill-conceived monstrosity that caused thousands of elderly Jews to inadvertently and tragically cast their vote for Pat Buchanan rather than Al Gore – hence costing Gore the Presidency.

The first sign I was somewhere different was – signs! They’re everywhere – lawns, windows, along the side of the highway. Many of them say, “Romney,” but who cares? Who has ever been persuaded to vote by a “sign?” But that’s beside the point. In the Bay Area virtually the only signs one sees are for down-ticket offices: comptroller, councilman – and for propositions. No one bothers to post an “Obama/Biden” sign, because it’s assumed that’s who you’re voting for, and a “Romney” side would only invite derision and perhaps mild vandalism. Not to mention it being an act of futility.

But here, in Florida, there are endless ugly signs besmirching the landscape – and they’re beautiful! Reminders that there is a very real war, beyond the pundits on Fox and MSNBC – for the hearts and minds of flesh and blood Americans, who will help chart the future course of our nation.

Here, in Florida, one’s participation naturally goes beyond checking fivethirtyeight.com hourly. A mere few hours after arriving, I found myself in a coffee shop, eavesdropping on a middle-aged honest-to-God “undecided voter,” recounting to his friend on the phone how he didn’t like Romney, but Obamacare calls for the mandatory implanting of computer chips in children to keep track of their medical histories, and I engaged him! Told him that what he was talking about was nonsense, the latest scare version of “death panels.” He assured me I was mistaken and referred me to the Affordable Care Act – it’s buried in the fine print, he insisted. Even if I turned out to be wrong, it wouldn’t matter, of course. Romney’s too flawed – no matter which Romney showed up January 20 to run the country if elected, to ever win my vote. So I continued to engage him – because it mattered! – and who knows? – maybe I helped push him in Obama’s direction. That’s two votes I’d be responsible for – one less for Mitt and one more for Barack – and it’s only my first day here!

I could now be engaged in a 16 day campaign whereby I single-handedly change the world. The next two weeks will tell.

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Pope Scalia

“The death penalty? Give me a break. It’s easy. Abortion? Absolutely easy. Nobody ever thought the Constitution prevented restrictions on abortion. Homosexual sodomy? Come on. For 200 years, it was criminal in every state.” – Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, explaining why being a “textualist” makes short shrift of complex issues, to the American Enterprise Institute.
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Last month, when the Catholic Church shocked the world – but especially the eight other U.S. Supreme Court justices – by announcing that it had elected Antonin Scalia to be the new pope, the Holy See issued a statement that read, in part, “We chose Judge Scalia to be pope because after over 2000 years of doctrines piled upon doctrines and Vatican Councils impulsively issuing new proclamations every century or so, we wanted to go back to the text. To the words of Jesus! As a ‘textualist,’ Justice Scalia believed in interpreting the United States Constitution strictly by what the Founding Fathers said. If Justice Scalia can set the United States back 240 years, we can only look forward to how far Pope Scalia can set back the Catholic Church.” The spokesman then added, “Plus, he’s Italian!”

Upon being named pope, the former justice was asked why he broke tradition by not naming himself after a previous pontiff. Pope Scalia I shrugged, “I’m an originalist. There’s never been a Pope Scalia. Plus, I didn’t want to be bound by what my predecessors had ruled.”

The new pontiff wasted no time putting his indelible imprint on the office with his first official act: ordering the church to stop celebrating Christmas on December 25.

“Jesus never said he was born December 25. There are no references to apostles throwing him a party around this time of year, or Mary and Joseph baking him a birthday cake,” Pope Scalia I said, adding, “Doing away with this birthday date, no pun intended, was a piece of cake.”

Pope Scalia’s next act was almost as startling: eliminating the Eucharist. “It’s hardly plausible that while Jesus was alive he would’ve encouraged people to eat him. Jesus wasn’t a cannibal. Especially of himself!” Plus, the pontiff added, while Jesus was recorded multiplying fish and turning water into wine, “Nowhere is there any evidence that he ever transformed wafers and wine into his body.”

Nor, according to the pope, did Jesus ever mention “original sin.” “Look through the New Testament. It’s not there. That entire concept stems from interpretations of the Old Testament that came centuries after Jesus died,” pontiff Scalia noted. “Ergo, since Jesus didn’t say it, we have dispensed with ‘original sin.’” Added Scalia, “That was a cinch. A no-brainer.”

If that wasn’t shocking enough, in a statement that many would have regarded as unimaginable when he served on the High Court, Pope Scalia I lifted the Church’s ban on homosexuality. “Believe me, I looked very hard,” the pontiff explained. “But in the Scriptures, Jesus doesn’t say one word condemning it. Therefore, I have no choice but to conclude that man-on-man action was okay with him.”

It also turns out that Jesus never specifically condemned pedophilia, rape, threesomes, gambling, computer internet scams, intellectual property crimes, or point-shaving.

“It’s all good,” Pope Scalia I said, throwing up his hands in a “What can I do?” gesture.

In his first news conference, Pope Scalia I was asked whether, as a textualist, he had any problems with the Vatican’s vast wealth, considering that Jesus railed against money-changers and preached that it was easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter Heaven. The pontiff shook his head vigorously, snapping curtly, “The Vatican is not a person, my friend.”

But the pope was caught off-guard when a reporter questioned his very validity, pointing out that Jesus never said anything about bishops, cardinals, a church, or, for that matter, a pope. By Scalia’s own standards, the reporter argued, he should therefore abdicate his position. Pope Scalia I disagreed, citing Bush V. Gore.

“Give me a break! There are times when expediency trumps text.”

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The Great Presidential “Failure” Debate of 2012

 

If the first Presidential debate was based upon the TV ads ….  

Jim Lehrer: Welcome to tonight’s first Presidential Debate. As anyone who’s watched the negative TV ads or listened to campaign spokespersons from either side the past couple months knows, this year’s presidential election offers voters a stark choice: between continuing the failed policies of the Obama Administration, or returning to the failed policies of the Bush Administration.  Tonight’s topic: “Whose Failed Policies Should Americans Vote For?” We begin with opening statements. Mr. Romney, as the challenger, you go first.

Romney: As the only candidate standing on this stage who hasn’t failed yet, I’d like to say: President Obama’s policies have failed. Why continue them? Thank you.

Lehrer: Mr. President. Your opening statement.

Obama: We tried the Republicans’ failed policies for eight years. They didn’t work. That’s why they failed.  Why return to them? Thank you.

Lehrer:  It sounds like the central question is whose failed policies are better. Or worse. I’m a little confused.  Mr. Romney: Why should voters return to Bush’s failed policies?

Romney:  Because Bush’s policies haven’t failed for almost four years.  The President’s policies are failing right now.

Obama: Our policies are only failing because Bush’s policies failed so-ooo miserably that our successes still statistically measure as “failures.”

Romney: President Obama can’t keep blaming all his failures on Bush.

Obama: Can to.

Romney: Can not!

Obama: Can to!

Romney: Not!

Obama: Anyway, Bush’s policies failed for eight years. Our policies have only failed half that long! They could still work!

Romney:  But Bush’s policies didn’t clearly fail until his second term. Your policies have already tanked. .  By that measure, your next four years will really blow.

Obama: Our policies distribute the failure equally.  Governor Romney’s policies heap the failure on the middle and lower classes.

Romney: Excuse me for believing that it’s better to fail upwards.

Lehrer: Excuse me. With all the negativity coming from both sides, it seems the American people don’t believe politicians can succeed. Mr. Romney, what did you think of Governor Chris Christie recently introducing you at a rally as “America’s next failed president?”

Romney: Well, I spoke with Governor Christie after, and he attributed it to a sugar high.

Lehrer: President Obama, how do you respond to Republican charges that all your policies failed?

Obama: Well, Jim, as you know, Republicans declared Obamacare a failure even before it took effect! And son my very first day in office, House Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said that his highest priority was that my policies failed. So if I did what they wanted, you’d think that they would support me!

Lehrer: Gentlemen, you both make compelling cases for your failed policies. Let’s turn to the topic of Health Care, where some say you both actually can claim success. President Obama?

Obama:  Governor Romney is running away from his only success:  his health care plan.

Romney: My health care plan was expressly designed to only succeed on a state level, and to  monumentally fail when promulgated nationwide, a la Obamacare.

Obama: In 2009, the governor said that Romneycare should be the model for national health care. And, incidentally, who says “a la” in a presidential debate?

Romney: The President’s made many disgraceful attacks against me, but insisting I inspired the model for a successful national health care plan is the most vile one yet. Have you no shame, Mr. President?

Obama:  Your plan was the blueprint for Obamacare.

Romney: Jim, make him stop saying that!

Lehrer: Gentlemen, we’re almost out of time. Each of you may give your closing statement. Governor Romney?

Romney:  I’d like to close by saying I love America. And I brought my birth certificate. Something that I bet the President failed to do.

Obama:  Well, I brought my last ten years’ worth of tax returns.  The governor failed to do that!.

Romney: You failed to produce your college transcripts!

Obama: You failed to prove when you left Bain!

Romney: You failed in two attempts to produce a boy!

Obama: Wha-? You failed five times to produce a girl!

Lehrer: That’s all the time we have. I’m glad we were able to elevate the level of discourse in this presidential campaign. Tune in for our next debate when the topic is “Whose Completely Taken Out Of Context SoundBytes Sound Worse?”

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Vote Against Your Interests!

Every election cycle, we Democrats in the “blue” states look at the big swath of Southern and Midwestern states blocked out in “red,” shake our heads, and grumble about how that populace “votes against their own interests.” Thomas Frank even expressed it in book form, in “What’s the Matter With Kansas?”  Much of this grousing concludes that the folks who vote “red” have been fooled, tricked, hoodwinked, cajoled, lied to, and otherwise duped into buying a bill of goods because, the reasoning goes, there’s no other possible explanation for why they would cast their ballots for Republicans who throw in their lot with the rich.

While it’s certainly true that there’s an enormous amount of chicanery going on, especially in political ads, it strikes me as too facile to attribute vast stretches of the country voting Republican over decades to sheer “gullibility.”

Be that as it may, what I really take exception with is the basic premise that people should vote their interests. In fact, I’d argue the reverse: that the problem we face is that too many people vote strictly in favor of their narrow interests.

Let’s start with simple math: automatically voting for whoever favors your self-interest is incredibly selfish. As a matter of “numbers” alone, it means that you’re putting your own self-interest above the good of 300 million other Americans.

The very concept of “society” depends upon us voting beyond, and in many cases, contrary to, our personal interests. We vote to tax ourselves to build schools and roads, even though we may not have children or live near that road; we elect to provide a safety net for the needy, even though we may be well-off; we intervene in stopping slaughters abroad despite its cost and endangerment of American lives. A majority of Americans now support gay marriage even though, for at least some of those supporters, it goes against their personal or religious beliefs. The same is true for abortion rights.  One could argue that most social progress in this country would’ve been impossible without members of the “privileged” class at the time being willing to cede some of that privilege and extend it to include others.

Contrary to the “Frank” outlook above, I’d say the real problem progressives have with many conservatives is the perception that these voters only cast ballots based on their self-interest.

Because they are against abortion, they don’t want it allowed for anyone. Because they are opposed to gay marriage, they want it denied to others. Because they have an ideological or economic interest in denying climate change, they’re willing to put the entire planet at risk.

This argument certainly extends to economic self-interest. To many on the left, the very essence of villainy is embodied in the Koch Brothers and Sheldon Adelson, billionaires who are literally trying to buy the election solely to advance their own economic self-interests, or in the case of Adelson, to reportedly also stave off possible criminal charges. For many years, and today still, to a lesser extent, tobacco companies were judged the epitome of evil because they acted solely to protect their economic self-interest, the greater good and health of the public be damned.

It’s true that progressives tend to perceive that their personal interests often align with “the greater good.” Hence Occupy’s “We are the 99%,” and Obama’s appealing for middle-class votes by promising to keep their taxes down while raising them on the rich. But on issues where they don’t align, or simply don’t intersect at all, a central tenet for progressives, libertarians and even a certain strain of conservatives is the willingness to recognize the legitimacy of society’s interests beyond our own. The resistance too often comes, not from those who vote against their self-interest, but rather from those who consider nothing but.

 

 

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Stan’s News

I’ll be adding news and commentary through my blog.

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