Category Archives: Blog

New debate format

The Commission on Presidential Debates, about as arcane a group as one might imagine, is going back to the drawing board to add “additional structure” to the debate format “to ensure a more orderly discussion of the issues.” Yeah, sure. As if lack of “structure” was the problem.

The first presidential debate between Donald Trump and Joe Biden was a painful, disgusting, cringe-worthy debacle which made me embarrassed to be an American.

There was structure, a set of rules agreed upon by the two candidates. Basically, there were to be alternating two minute responses to questions from the moderator. During each candidate’s two minutes, the other would remain silent. But right from the beginning it was clear that Trump had no intention of abiding by those rules. Trump spent the full 90 minutes aggressively interrupting Biden, making mean-spirited personal attacks, taunting the former Vice President, trying to provoke. From my standpoint, it was a transparent and cruel attempt to cause Biden, who has struggled his whole life to overcome a stutter, to break by interrupting his speech.

Yes, Biden occasionally responded in kind. But for most of the 90 minutes Biden exhibited the Patience of Job. And a few of Biden’s retorts were memorable. “Shut up man” was my favorite. At one point Biden simply asked the audience, “Do you have any idea what this clown is doing?”

CNN’s Jake Tapper called it “A hot mess inside a dumpster fire inside a train wreck.” Tapper does have a way with words.

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The moderator, Fox’s Chris Wallace, asked afterwards if Trump had derailed the debate replied, “Well, he certainly didn’t help.”

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Which brings us back to the question of the hour. What can the Commission do to restore order? About the only structural change I can see them making is to give the moderator control of each candidate’s microphone. When your two minutes is up, your microphone is turned off. And while one candidate is talking, the other’s microphone is silent. While Biden is naturally soft-spoken, Trump has a big mouth and is known to shout and scream in rage. I think the microphone trick will be of marginal value at best.

Other Ideas – The Hook

I have some other ideas. On some of the amateur hour programs, which originated in the days of vaudeville, and more famously in the cartoons, there was the hook. You bring out the hook, and yank the offending performer right off the stage.

Other Ideas – The Gong

On a more modern incarnation of the amateur hour, television’s, “The Gong Show,” the judges had a large gong they could ring when they had enough of a performer. One solid and loud ring and you were done for the night.

Other Ideas – The Cone of Silence

And then there is my personal favorite. If the debaters get too loud, just drop the Cone of Silence on them. This little gadget from the TV show “Get Smart” was supposed to allow Agent Maxwell Smart and The Chief to talk confidentially without anyone overhearing them. The conceit was that once the device was lowered from the ceiling, they couldn’t hear each other!

Or….

We could just give up on the debates.

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Updates and tidbits

Back from Space

SpaceX’s Dragon Demo-2 flight has ended with the successful return to earth of NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley after spending more than two months on the International Space Station. As I wrote at the time of their launch, this flight marks the return to America of the ability to send humans into space.

After the retirement of the Space Shuttle in 2000, Americans who wanted to go the the ISS had to buy a seat on a Russian rocket. NASA began, during the Obama-Biden administration, what is called the “Commercial Crew” program effectively outsourcing this task to private industry. SpaceX is the first to successfully demonstrate this capability. This flight was named “Demo-2.” The first regularly contracted flight of the Crew Dragon is set to take four astronauts, three Americans and one Japanese, to the space station later this year.

As they left the capsule Behnken and Hurley thanks the SpaceX team. The SpaceX communicator said, “Thanks for riding SpaceX.” For America’s space program, a new day has begun.

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Trump’s gestapo comes to portland

Hard to believe but the fears I raised in my last column have now been realized and the situation is far worse.

The headlines exploded around the world on the morning of July 15th, summed up best by this Oregon PBS report, “Federal Law Enforcement Use Unmarked Vehicles to Grab Protestors Off Portland Streets.”

It is positively frightening. And it can happen to you. It can happen to me. It can happen to any one of us.

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Who the hell are these people?

Embed from Getty Images

What would you do if you saw these people advancing on you? What if they ordered you to stand still, or drop to your knees, or put your hands up in the air? One of these thugs, they do remind me of a motorcycle gang, is carrying a shield marked “police.” But you can buy one of those in any army-navy store. These guys have no badges, no insignia, no nametags, no proof they have the authority to order you or anyone else about. I don’t know about you but facing them I’d be scared stiff.

These ghost soldiers confronted residents of our nation’s capital city and it was a sight unseen in modern times. The residents these stormtroopers confronted were almost all peacefully protesting. That is a right guaranteed by the First Amendment to the Constitution. Actually, calling these guys stormtroopers is unfair to stormtroopers, who in Star Wars wore white. They are more like Robocop, the cyborg created by corporations to enforce their interests in a dystopian comic book future.

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Memorial Day 2020

On Memorial Day we in the United States honor the men and women who died while serving in the Armed Forces bravely defending the freedoms so many of us take for granted. It is a solemn occasion, meant to be a day for reflection. An acknowledgement of the sacrifices made and the lives cut short.

Presidents traditionally place a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington Cemetery. The Tomb is marked with the words, “Here rests in honored glory an American soldier known but to God.”

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The Justices Take a Landmark Step. Unwillingly.

Mark your calendar. Beginning May 4 and ending May 13, the Supreme Court of the United States will make history. It took the coronavirus pandemic to do it, but over six dates the Court will hear oral arguments on ten cases, and the people of the United States will be able for the first time to hear those arguments as they happen.

This is happening because the Court, like most of us, is practicing Covid-19 social distancing protocols, with the justices and staff working mostly from their homes. The Court first delayed these arguments, then decided to hold the hearings via teleconference.

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Issac Asimov at 100

I must have been eight years old. My Uncle Alan, my Dad’s older brother, had already established his expertise at “uncling” by introducing me to the Museum of Science and Industry buying me my first model train set, a Lionel Steamer, and showing me where he stashed his bottomless supply of Hershey chocolate bars.

Now he was to open up my world another notch by leading me to his stack of science fiction. The 25¢ pulp magazines of short stories, and the 50¢ paperbacks. On the top of the paperback stack was I Robot by Isaac Asimov. Right then and there began my decades long love for science fiction. Read more

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