Thursday, March 5, 2020

Super Tuesday

“It’s a good night.  I’m here to report that we are very much alive.  It may be over for the other guy,” Joe Biden

Like the much-hyped Super Bowl, Super Tuesday does not always produce dramatic results; but in 2020, as CNBC reported, “Joe Biden is the front-runner again after he shocked the world.”  The tide began to turn three days before, in South Carolina.  After U.S. House Majority Whip James E. Clyburn endorsed him, Biden cruised to a landslide primary victory over Bernie Sanders thanks to overwhelming support from African Americans. Pundits doubted this would have a major impact on Super Tuesday since many voters had cast their ballots early, Biden was almost out of money, and his campaign had almost no foot soldiers on the ground in key states such as California, Texas, and Minnesota.  Then, in short order, billionaire Tom Strider, Mayor Pete Buttigieg, and Senator Amy Klobuchar, seeing the handwriting on the wall, dropped out of the race and endorsed Obama’s former vice-president.  On election eve, Texan Beto O’Rourke embraced him at a rally where both Buttigieg and Klobuchar made eloquent speeches on his behalf. Biden won 9 of the 13 contests, including Texas and Minnesota, and picked up almost as many delegates in California as Sanders.  Next day, Mike Bloomberg dropped out and threw his support to Biden.  Elizabeth Warren has suspended her campaign, so it appears to be down to a two-candidate contest.

For the first time in weeks, I am cautiously optimistic about Trump being a one-term president. That’s the most pressing issue for most Democrats, and Bernie heading the ticket would be a disaster.  At bridge Terry Brendel was similarly buoyed by the outcome.  When someone, probably a Republican, said she wasn’t for Sanders but thought others were unfairly ganging up on him, I replied that other Democrats should gang up on him, he’s not even a Democrat but rather an Independent and socialist.  Had Republicans ganged up on Trump in 2016, I added, maybe the country would have been spared the scourge of his unprincipled presidency. 
Here’s Ray Smock’s take on the sudden shift in momentum:
     It appears that Democratic Party primary voters had an epiphany when Jim Clyburn, the House Majority Whip, and a powerful voice in South Carolina politics, endorsed Joe Biden for president. Congressman Clyburn cut through all the campaign hype and talked from his heart about how fearful he was about the situation in our politics right now. He said we were at an “inflection point," a time to change the arch of our political trajectory because we cannot sustain the current situation. While Clyburn mentioned issues such as affordable and accessible healthcare, education, and housing, he talked mostly about Joe Biden’s integrity and his commitment to the cause of good government. He said it was an inflection point because we needed “to restore the country’s dignity; the country’s respect….”He said “I know Joe. We know Joe. Most importantly, Joe knows us.”
    Jim Clyburn’s emotional call for decency and integrity in our nation and in the person we send to the White House struck that deep chord in many voters. It cut through the fog of the campaign and its myriad issues. We want normalcy to include dignity and respect. If our leaders do not have integrity, if they cannot speak honestly to us; if they do not have strong character, a character not measured in TV debates but in what we see in their hearts, then we will continue to be fearful of our future. It’s not that the other Democratic candidates lack honesty and integrity, or any appearance of normalcy, so much as the strong perception that Joe Biden stood for these things above any other issue. He conveyed a presidential gravitas the others could not match.
    We want desperately to believe that normalcy includes goodness. We want a person that can unify the nation and begin to heal the wounds of vicious partisanship that have too long dominated our politics. The Super Tuesday elections confirmed what Jim Clyburn set in motion. We will see if the upcoming primaries will sustain the amazing momentum, a leap toward normalcy, that Democrats see in Joe Biden, as if for the first time.  Democratic Party primary voters across the board said Joe Biden best exemplified the qualities that make him the standard bearer who can do battle against a president who does not appeal to our better angels and is not normal.
Lois Turco responded to Ray’s post and photo of Biden: “I like a President who eats ice cream in a cone. Normalcy is comforting.”

After a historian labels our sixteenth president a self-serving, racist politician who hated abolitionists, as Fred Kaplan does in “Abraham Lincoln and the Abolitionists: John Quincy Adams, Slavery, and the Civil War” (2017), one might expect a cool reception in the Journal of the Abraham Lincoln Association.  Reviewer Daniel Feller, University of Tennessee Knoxville historian and editor of the  Andrew Jackson papers, didn't disappoint; he skewers Kaplan as incompetent and his book as incoherent, then lists several dozen factual inaccuracies, including Lincoln leaning toward Jackson’s Democratic Party before that party came into existence. Feller concluded: “Kaplan’s sanctimonious prating about what Lincoln should have known and should have done is at first grating and in the end insufferable. . . There are many fine books out there worth buying and reading.  Don’t waste your time on this one.”
Lincoln funeral train
Faring much better was “Mourning Lincoln” (2015) by Martha Hodes, reviewed by John McKee Barr, who praised its “thorough research, stirring prose, and aptly placed quotations.” Here’s how Barr summarized the reaction of most Northerners to Lincoln’s assassination : “Astonished.  Astounded. Startled. Stupefied.  Thunderstruck.  A calamity.  A catastrophe.  A dagger to the heart.  A thunderbolt from a clear blue sky.  The feelings that had engulfed the confederates less than a week earlier now overtook their conquerors.”  Barr acknowledges that most Southerners were overjoyed, Copperheads not unhappy, Radical Republicans apprehensive but hopeful that Andrew Johnson would be more malleable, and freedmen devastated and in intense mourning. Nearly a million people witnessed the Lincoln funeral train as it meandered on a 1,654-mile journey from Washington, DC, to a tomb in Springfield, Illinois, lying in state at a dozen locations, including Indianapolis and Michigan City, Indiana.

Driving to Miller, I dropped off my new Steel Shavings to Ron and Nancy Cohen and Celeste and Michael Chirich.  Ron gave me a New York Review of Books issue with a Kara Walker drawing on the cover. Accompanying the article by Zadie Smith, “What Do We Want History to Do for Us?” was a 1994 illustration showing two grotesque woman, slave and mistress presumably, bound by a rope, whose identities were forced on them rather than chosen.  Mike and Celeste had just returned from Puerto Rico, where they had stayed at a condo a block from the Caribbean.  One night they heard police cars and helicopters hovering overhead, attempting to capture, they learned later, a boatload of immigrants who’d arrived illegally from the Dominican Republic. I had intended to drop off a magazine at Ayers Realtors for Judy and Gene Ayers, but police cars were blocking traffic – apparently a traffic accident.

In Breakfast of Champions author Kurt Vonnegut’s alter ago Kilgore Trout, an unappreciated science fiction writer whose only outlet for his work was in porno magazines, found this message in the men's room of a seedy New York City movie house: “What is the Purpose of Life?”  Trout’s answer: “To be the eyes and ears and conscience of the Creator of the Universe.”  In “Pity the Reader: On Writing with Style” (2019) Suzanne McConnell noted that the implication, as a Vonnegut character put it, was that the creator was “the laziest man in town.”  Thus, it was up to writers to be that conscience.

Vonnegut poked fun at pretentious critics. Midland City English teachers, he wrote, constantly berated students for grammatical mistakes, incorrect pronunciation, and poor choice of words:
  They would wince and cover their ears and give out flunking grades and so on whenever students failed to speak like English aristocrats before the First World War.  Also: students were told that they were unworthy to speak or write their language if they couldn’t love or understand incomprehensible novels and plays about people long ago and far away, such as Ivanhoe.
    The black people would not put up with this.  They refused to read books they couldn’t understand – on the grounds they couldn’t understand them.  They would ask such impudent questions as, “Whuffo I want to read no 'Tale of Two Cities?' Whuffo?”
    Patty Keene (a white waitress who had dropped out of high school and had programmed herself in the interest of survival to be stupid on purpose) flunked English when she had to read and appreciate Ivanhoe, which was about men in iron suits and the women who loved them. And she was put in a remedial reading class, where they made her read The Good Earth, which was about Chinamen.

Vonnegut claimed to be in the business of making jokes and compared his method to setting a mousetrap: “You build the trap, you cock it, you trip it, and then bang!”  Here is an example from “God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater,” about quixotic philanthropist Eliot Rosewater, son of a conservative Indiana senator, who believed Kilgore Trout to be a genius:
    “You know,” Eliot said to the Senator, “Kilgore Trout wrote a whole book about a country that was devoted to fighting odors.  That was the national purpose.  There wasn’t any disease, and there wasn’t any crime, and there wasn’t any war, so they went after odors.”
    “This country,” said Eliot, “had tremendous research projects devoted to fighting odors.  But then the hero, who was also the country’s dictator, made a wonderful scientific breakthrough, even though he wasn’t a scientist, and they didn’t need the projects any more.  He went right to the root of the problem.”
  “Uh huh,” said the Senator.  He couldn’t stand stories by Kilgore Trout, was embarrassed by his son.  “He found one chemical that would eliminate all odors?” he suggested to hasten the tale to a conclusion  
   “No.  As I say, the hero was a dictator, and he simply eliminated noses.”

In a Bridge Bulletin letter titled “Worst Hand Ever?” Ken Parker claimed that, sitting West at a game in Leland, North Carolina, he was dealt a hand containing four 2s, four 3s, three 4s, a 5, and a 6. After North bid a Diamond, his partner doubled, a force bid once South passed.  Parker bid a Spade, his only 4-card suit, and his partner raised to 4 Spades.  Parker actually made the bid after getting a favorable opening lead.  I scratched (that’s a good thing, meaning I earned master points) at Chesterton Y on Tuesday with Joel Charpentier and  at Banta Center on Wednesday with Dottie Hart.  On the final hand Dottie made 3 Spades doubled for high board.
Liz at El Camino Real, by Al Schuette
Liz Wueffel emailed: Allison and I are in Santa Fe on spring break and enjoying the full sun. It’s cold at night, being 7000 ft above sea and the start of the Rockies, but beautiful during the day. Today we’re off to the Georgia O’Keefe museum and then we’ll hike a bit!  I replied: When the OHA was in Albuquerque, I was in Santa Fe with Toni and granddaughter Alissa when she was a pre-schooler.  We toured a Native American museum.   It happened to be near Halloween and merchants were welcoming trick-or-treaters.  Alissa didn’t have a costume, so Toni put a camera around her neck and she went as a tourist.  Making out like a bandit, on the bus ride back to Albuquerque Alissa handed out treats to fellow OHA passengers.  An unforgettable memory.

Bowling against Just Friends, the Engineers won the first two games but in the third were down 13 pins going into the final frame.  Our leadoff man Joe Piunti doubled to get us close.  I threw a strike and then buried my next ball only to leave the ten-pin.  Frank had an impossible split but picked up 2 of the 3 pins, keeping us close. Our clean-up man, Don Geidemann doubled but so did theirs, Denny Cavanaugh, so we lost by 3 pins. We made them earn it though.  Mikey Wardell seemed delighted to receive Steel Shavings, which mentions the delicious fudge he often brings to share.  In fact, I enjoyed a caramel treat he offered me.  George Leach, to whom I’d given a copy the week before, enjoyed the remembrances of retired Gary cop Al Shanahan, passed on to me by Jesse Salomon.  George recalled such Glen Park joints where Gary veteran cops hung out as Pete and Snooks and Junedale Tap, which on Friday nights served delicious fried lake perch dinners.  
March has been designated National Reading Month in honor of Dr. Seuss’s birthday.  Miranda read “Wonder” by R.J. Palacio to her students, the story of a kid born with facial bone abnormality who enters public school in fifth grade after having previously been homeschooled.  A reviewer for The Guardian concluded that it has “such charm and heart, even in the sad parts,” and called it a “great emotional journey that . . . will leave any reader feeling better.”

James is on a two-week semester break from Valpo U. At dinner we had leftover Chinese fortune cookies for desert. Mine read: “You are the master of every situation.”  If only that were true.

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