Shinnecock Brought The Pros To Their Knees, And I Loved It

Yesterday Brooks Koepka, an American, won the United States Open golf championship in a hotly contested and exciting competition. But the tournament had many sidebars that gave golf duffers like me some comfort about how tough it is to play the game of golf.

Suffice it to say I’m very unhappy with my game. I played competitive sports in high school and college, so I pride myself on being a pretty good athlete, even at my age.

But golf, which I stared playing over 50 years ago, has been my nemesis. In summary I’ve made little progress over the years. In recent times I began to play more and take lessons with little improvement.

What is my problem, you ask? It has nothing to do with athletic prowess and everything to do with what’s going on between my ears. In a nutshell I need a golf shrink, not a golf coach.

My wife is amazed with the self-loathing that my play evokes every time we are on a golf course. She is shocked when I lose my cool and start to whine over a silly game. But golf is not silly, and I want to play better. Yet I always return for more disappointment.

This year’s US Open was refreshing. I loved the fact that all the studs on the PGA Tour were struggling mightily. I didn’t have to witness final scores of 15 or 20 shots under par, drives over 350 yards in the middle of the fairway and spectacular up and downs from off the greens. Shinnecock Hills Golf Club, the site of the US Open, brought the professionals to their knees, a place where I spend most of my time (on my knees, I mean).

Many of the pros were whining, just like me, about the wind, rain, high rough, fast greens, pin placements and tight lies. Alas, Mother Nature beat up the professionals, and bad. In the end the winning final score was over par.

It was cathartic to see these great players shanking from the two-foot high fescue grass and topping chips across lightning fast greens into more trouble. Double and triple bogies abounded. The players actually seemed human at times. The spread between my average score and theirs for a round actually decreased.

Of course I could never break 100 playing a course like Shinnecock, especially in those condition. But it made me feel better.

Frankly I was a little disappointed by some of the pros that complained about the course. Everyone knows the USGA (United States Golf Association) tries to increase the difficulty of the course for this championship. The usual tactics are to grow the rough, increase the speed of the greens by mowing and not watering and hoping the Mother Nature delivers some bad weather.

The fact is everyone is playing the same course, so the degree of difficulty is moot. The man who shoots the lowest score wins, plain and simple. If a hole is 490 yards long, uphill and against a 30 mile per hour wind, everybody plays it.

One golfer said the course was fine except the pin placements on two holes were unfair. To whom, I ask? For everybody, I respond.

I really enjoyed the US Open telecast. The young fellows are, at last, replacing the old timers like Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods. Phil turned 48 years old over the weekend so he should start thinking about the Senior Tour where he will win every week. His behavior after making a bad putt was weird and unbecoming. I still like Phil.

The golf world is hoping that Tiger returns to his old self, but it’s unlikely. I appreciate that he’s good for the game of golf, but he doesn’t have it anymore. The fans screamed for him, and the TV announcers made excuses for his poor performance. But Shinnecock ate his lunch, and Tiger missed the cut. It’s not easy to get old as an athlete.

I’m trying to draw inspiration from the US Open. It hasn’t happened yet. Nevertheless I will continue to hack away.

Something Is Rotten At The F.B.I.

As my source, I used a New York Times front-page article to recapitulate the missteps of James Comey and the FBI. Things are truly rotten at the FBI.

It must have been difficult for the Gray Lady, aka the Times, to indict the FBI, a supposedly apolitical government organization, for breaking rules, distorting the truth, supporting Hillary Clinton, denigrating Donald Trump, leaking to the press and trying to influence the 2016 presidential election.

The comments you are about to read below are those made in the Times and were not subject to editorialization.

 

  • The FBI has a destructive culture and Comey, specifically, was insubordinate.
  • Senior officials of the FBI implicitly and explicitly backed Clinton.
  • Comey broke longstanding policies.
  • Comey publicly discussed an investigation of Clinton relating to her misuse of a private server handling classified information.
  • The Inspector General referred five FBI employees for possible discipline over pro-Clinton or anti-Trump commentary in electronic messages.
  • FBI agents were far too cozy with journalists.
  • There was a breakdown in the FBI chain of command, as the Attorney General acceded to Comey during the most controversial moments of the Clinton inquiry.
  • Public confidence in the FBI has been damaged.
  • There is doubt about the FBI’s mishandling of the Clinton investigation, and it remains politically divisive two years hence.
  • Two senior FBI officials, Peter Strzok and Lisa Page, exchanged disparaging texts about Trump.
  • Christopher Wray, the current FBI head, said he took the IG report seriously but that “[The FBI’s] brand is doing just fine.”
  • Comey injected the FBI into presidential politics.
  • FBI officials have been reprimanded for injecting their opinions into legal conclusions.
  • Comey withheld his plans about future investigations from his Department of Justice superiors.
  • FBI agents wanted prosecutors to be more aggressive [with Clinton] creating tension between them and FBI leadership.
  • Andrew McCabe, the former deputy director of the FBI was dishonest.
  • A large number of FBI personnel in constant contact with journalists impacted the FBI’s ability to identify the sources of leaks. [This comment makes no sense. In effect the number of leaks is preventing an investigation of leaks.]

 

The big question is: should Americans be disenchanted and disappointed with the FBI for its actions relating to the 2016 election? Absolutely yes. The FBI was biased towards one candidate, and it and tried to protect Clinton while simultaneously attempting to discredit Trump. Ironically, Comey and his people were so incompetent that they hurt Clinton’s chances for reelection.

What rubs many Americans is that Comey is still on the loose, lying and distorting events and denying his culpability while earning millions from his book. Since when does our country allow scoundrels to earn money from their misdeeds? It happens too often.

The FBI’s reputation has been besmirched whether anyone in Washington wants to admit it or not. It’s time that new leadership is installed that isn’t stained by the actions of Comey and will not give wrong doers a pass on their misbehavior.

FBI field agents are just as effective as ever. It’s management of the organization that needs to be revamped, starting with Wray who feels that everything is just fine.

 

 

A Kinder, Gentler and More Patient Trump

It’s very early in the game for Trump and Kim Jong-un. There are many potential pitfalls that could derail the summit meeting between these two impetuous leaders. But, there is also a possibility that the negotiations will lead to a lasting peace between the US and North Korea.

Very few situations during the past 100 years, as serious as this one, have ended without violent conflict. The Cuban missile crisis is the only substantive moment  that is comparable to what is taking place today. A potential nuclear confrontation was averted without firing a shot, even though the participants were not friends after it ended.

Personally I have been moved by the deft way that Trump has proceeded. Consider that just a few months ago, Trump and Kim were on a collision course. Name-calling, threats and the potential of a nuclear strike on the American homeland were a distinct possibility. Trump was relocating military assets to the region in preparation for an invasion. Today the volatile leaders are talking, negotiating and trying to find a path to peaceful co-existence.

At no time has Trump or his negotiators deviated from the primary objectives to demilitarize the Korean Peninsula and ensure it stays that way with uninhibited inspections. This may not all happen in the next week or two, but the president seems to understand that any concessions by the US should not be made until Kim progresses towards the aforementioned objectives.

By treating Kim respectfully, Trump seems to be making progress. He and his capable advisors (Pompeo and Bolton) must educate the young leader of North Korea and make him understand that the best deal he can obtain is one that secures his regime and opens up trade for his country. The possession of nuclear weapons and the prospective costs of maintaining them are not as valuable to Kim as improved economic conditions. Trump and company must convince Kim that he will insure his longevity as leader of North Korea by giving up the nukes, not by threatening to use them.

It has been rare to see a kinder and gentler Donald Trump. His relationship with his political opponents, insubordinate aides and other world leaders has been turbulent to say the least. His recent brouhaha with Europe and Canada over trade imbalances is an example of vintage Trump. He thinks he can bully his way to favorable relations.

But now, inspired by the gravity of the problem posed by North Korea, Trump has taken the high road. He must become an advisor to the young leader of North Korea. He must make him understand that isolation, threats and dependence on only China are not going to bring tranquility to his country.

It is very weird to see Donald Trump employ such diplomatic acumen to the North Korean crisis. But he’s doing it, and all Americans should applaud and support him. After all we are talking about the elimination of a credible nuclear threat.

A Kinder, Gentler and More Patient Trump

It’s very early in the game for Trump and Kim Jong-un. There are many potential pitfalls that could derail the summit meeting between these two impetuous leaders. But, there is also a possibility that the negotiations will lead to a lasting peace between the US and North Korea.

Very few situations during the past 100 years, as serious as this one, have ended without violent conflict. The Cuban missile crisis is the only substantive moment  that is comparable to what is taking place today. A potential nuclear confrontation was averted without firing a shot, even though the participants were not friends after it ended.

Personally I have been moved by the deft way that Trump has proceeded. Consider that just a few months ago, Trump and Kim were on a collision course. Name-calling, threats and the potential of a nuclear strike on the American homeland were a distinct possibility. Trump was relocating military assets to the region in preparation for an invasion. Today the volatile leaders are talking, negotiating and trying to find a path to peaceful co-existence.

At no time has Trump or his negotiators deviated from the primary objectives to demilitarize the Korean Peninsula and ensure it stays that way with uninhibited inspections. This may not all happen in the next week or two, but the president seems to understand that any concessions by the US should not be made until Kim progresses towards the aforementioned objectives.

By treating Kim respectfully, Trump seems to be making progress. He and his capable advisors (Pompeo and Bolton) must educate the young leader of North Korea and make him understand that the best deal he can obtain is one that secures his regime and opens up trade for his country. The possession of nuclear weapons and the prospective costs of maintaining them are not as valuable to Kim as improved economic conditions. Trump and company must convince Kim that he will insure his longevity as leader of North Korea by giving up the nukes, not by threatening to use them.

It has been rare to see a kinder and gentler Donald Trump. His relationship with his political opponents, insubordinate aides and other world leaders has been turbulent to say the least. His recent brouhaha with Europe and Canada over trade imbalances is an example of vintage Trump. He thinks he can bully his way to favorable relations.

But now, inspired by the gravity of the problem posed by North Korea, Trump has taken the high road. He must become an advisor to the young leader of North Korea. He must make him understand that isolation, threats and dependence on only China are not going to bring tranquility to his country.

It is very weird to see Donald Trump employ such diplomatic acumen to the North Korean crisis. But he’s doing it, and all Americans should applaud and support him. After all we are talking about the elimination of a credible nuclear threat.

Reconnecting With Old Friends Was A Rewarding Experience

During the past weekend, five of my high school classmates and I participated in a mini reunion in Florida. We graduated in 1966, 52 years ago. It was a trip down memory lane, and the gathering was tinged with bittersweet sentimentality.

The last time we spent significant time together was just after graduation, over a half century ago. A lot of history has taken place since then. Four of us are retired, two still work, but at a much slower pace.

The fact is each man is now in the twilight of his life, striving to enjoy each day and stay healthy. But old age plagues us all to an extent. We had many conversations about medical issues including blood pressure, prostates and doctor performance.

Everyone fondly spoke about his extended family. At times it seemed the guys were rehashing glory days through thier children and grandchildren’s experiences.

Sad memories surfaced, as we encountered challenges over the course of our lives. To a man, all have had crosses to bear. Sadly, two attendees had children who passed away, and most, if not all, of our wonderful parents are now gone.

Memorable moments were analyzed and perhaps exaggerated just a bit. Former love interest dramas along with great athletic achievements abounded. Boys will be boys.

It’s fun to recollect about how my friends acted way back when, and whether these tendencies are now prevalent in their golden years. Who is/was effusive? Who is/was shy? I think most of us are, pretty much, the same, personality-wise.

It was confusing to analyze five other men during such a short period of time. Are they people I could have as close friends now? I think yes, although our worlds are very different. We have a plethora of common interests including family, food, travel and exercise.

Regarding the later, I anticipated all the men would be fairly vibrant athletically. Their athletic prowess when they were young ranged from excellent to great. In fact, the group represented six starters on the high school football team. All six played intercollegiate sports, five football and one rugby.

As proof of these exploits, we have our fair share of lingering injuries after years of physical punishment. Scars on knees and chronic aches and pains are plentiful. Limping was prevalent, especially after a few rounds of golf. We really needed a hot tub soak and massages.

Not surprising, we managed to find a baseball game to attend, a single A contest. We managed to stay for about six innings. Most admitted that they never stay to the end of any sporting contest because of the traffic. Being hungry was our excuse to leave early. No one objected.

The dinners were particularly interesting. There was a minimal amount of alcohol consumed. This is in marked contrast to the old days when we drank to great excess, ate too much and behaved up to the limits of the law. Not one of the attendees was intoxicated during the weekend. Some said they couldn’t drink because of doctors’ orders. Other said their prescription pills wouldn’t mix well with alcohol.

We laughed a lot and reminisced. It was great fun. Of course we talked about our former classmates and their idiosyncrasies, and about those who passed away.

Of note was the absence of one member of our gang, who was unable to make the trip because of a health issue. We were in constant communication with him via social media.

And the photo ops were endless. At every meal, tourist event and round of golf, we took pictures and asked strangers to snap a few photos on our IPhones. They were then immediately posted on Facebook or Instagram for family and friends to enjoy.

For some time I’ve been concerned about my growing inability to remember names and facts, and some occasional forgetfulness. My buddies made me feel much better about myself. None of us could effectively recall facts, so we constantly called upon “Siri” for assistance. And, the boys were constantly misplacing personal items. It’s not easy to be old.

But the most humorous thing was the utter inability of some members to drive from one location to another, find cars in parking lots and obtain directions to restaurants, golf courses and the airport from their IPhones. It was hysterical and offenders were lampooned accordingly.

Is it important to keep in touch with old friends? Absolutely. I heard things about myself that I haven’t thought of in years. It was like being in a time machine.

I really wanted to be a team player and so I went with the flow, for the most part. And, I should point out that every other buddy did the same. We recognized that six old guys, who are set in their ways, could not get along if everybody was trying to be the boss. I give the group an A+ in this area.

Even though I haven’t seen these guys for many years, I feel very attached to them. I empathize with their issues, be they physical or any other facet of their lives. And they feel the same way about me.

Occasionally it got a bit melodramatic. We were constantly hugging each other and saying we were glad to be together. Even though I have not been a part of their lives for half a century, they acted like they missed me and really wanted to keep in tough prospectively.

Of course there was an eight hundred pound gorilla in the room. If we were so close in 1966, why the hell weren’t we close in subsequent years? I pondered this question all weekend.

The Vietnam War and its derivative impact on us was one factor. We were all living for today while in college expecting that we would be headed to Southeast Asia after graduation and a violent death. Ultimately some of us joined reserve units to avoid fighting the yellow man (to quote Bruce Springsteen). Some lucked out and had high numbers in the first draft lottery. And some had physical ailments that disqualified them for military service.

Another factor is we all were trying to make a life, find a bride, build a family and get a job with great potential. Some went to graduate school. Some moved to other places. When high school ended, we merely disbanded to live our lives.

In any case, phone calls were not made until recently. I’m very happy they were. The trip to Florida was highly emotional. As we departed, I fought back tears. I really love these guys, and my relationship with them affected my life. I wish Chuck, Keith, Billy, Larry, Joe and George happiness, and more happiness on top of that.

Apathy, One Issue Voters And Teachers Hamper Our Voter System

Americans are among the worst voters in the democratic world. The vast majority are either apathetic and do not vote, or they vote based upon one issue.

Both of these phenomena are problematic, and frankly shocking, especially when you compare Americans to voters in other democratic countries.

There are about 325 million people in the US, 235 million of which are eligible to vote. In 2012 54.9% voted. During midterm elections the voting rate is even lower at about 40%. The US ranks 26th in voter turnout among countries that have democratic elections. The first five are Belgium (87%), Sweden (82%), Denmark (80%), Australia (78%) and South Korea (77%). Also, Germany has 69%; France has 63%; and the UK has 63%.

Apathy arises for several different reasons, all of which are unacceptable. Beginning in elementary school, children are taught that voting is a privilege and a civic duty. So, why do so many voters shun their responsibility, which incidentally should take away their right to complain about government?

The most common excuse for not voting is “I’m only one of so many people, so it doesn’t matter if I vote.” This perspective is illogical as every citizen has one vote, so each is equally important. It’s true that in some states, like California and New York, Democrats campaigning for national offices, including the presidency, senate seats and congressional spots, will likely win in this day and age.

Yet, for the House in particular, votes are greatly influenced by local issues where Republicans have a strong following. Even a few victories in these places could have a significant impact on the majority in the House. Even though Democrats hold most of the positions in California and New York, Republicans have had (and currently hold) gubernatorial seats, mayoral offices and scattered House seats. Further, if Republicans do not contest these positions, Democrats will reign in them in perpetuity.

But the real rub is that in America, a country with very high educational standards and extremely comprehensive political reporting, most people vote for candidates because of one issue. The implications of this are significant.

For instance, a person who is passionate about more gun control, accessible abortions, greater woman’s rights and influential unions would likely vote for Democrats. Conversely anyone who is fervent about gun ownership and the right to life would likely vote for Republicans.

This suggests that most elections are greatly affected by social issues, and not on a broad-based assessment of the candidates intellect, government experience, foreign policy background, military service, integrity, etc.

What is the result of this? It means that a candidate who is a National Rifle Association member will not receive many votes from liberals even if he or she is socially liberal on other issues and is highly qualified. This could be one reason why our nation and elected officials are so partisan and unable to compromise for the benefit of good government.

A final point relates to the insular education of our young people. It comes as no surprise that children of liberal parents usually are liberal. The same holds true for the other persuasion. A child that constantly hears from his or her father that gun ownership is the most important right of an American will probably be a loyal Republican.

Hampering efforts to give our children broad exposure to political issues is the vast majority of educational institutions and teachers that tilt towards the left. Some of the reasons why teachers are liberal as indicated by “The Educator’s Room”**** are that: they pursue happiness, not money- they are more tolerant than conservatives- they are frustrated about the number of prison inmates in the country- they are unionized- they want to sustain democracy- they are concerned that conservatives want to dismantle the public school system. [Note: the author does not subscribe to this assessment.]

Teachers have a great impact on their students’ political beliefs, if not quite to the extent of their parents. Sometimes, in their zeal to impose liberal ideals, teachers knowingly refuse to expose their students to both sides of important issues. This is tantamount to an attack on free speech. Berkeley most notably exhibited this last year. The students and faculty rioted and destroyed property to prevent a conservative speaker from expressing personal opinions in a speech.

The chasm that has grown between political opponents has never been greater. And it’s spread to Washington where government has been in a constant state of atrophy in recent years.

Disagreement with other’s political perspectives is healthy so long as both sides have an opportunity to express their views without fear of violence. Free speech is not one side being given a platform while the other side has no chance to respond.

The political process is the method by which we elect leaders. All Americans should be part of the process. At this point in time our participation has been unsatisfactory. Yet more people who do not vote have the audacity to complain about government.

It’s time for all Americans to consider more than their most immediate needs when they pick a candidate. There is ample opportunity to do so with so much media attention being directed at politics. Of course you must recognize that this information is sometimes tainted and “fake.”

To Survive, Kim Must Comply With Trump

Kim Jung-un is probably confused about his options. But he shouldn’t be. Yet his state of mind could make deliberations very difficult and even cause negotiations to break down. A poor decision by Kim to retain his nuclear arsenal could occur because of the young despot’s inexperience, reluctance to rely upon the instincts of informed advisors and a burning desire to save his regime.

Ironically, NOKO has no reason to fear military intervention if it gives up its nukes. Frankly, the danger to the country is exponentially greater if Kim moves forward with his nuclear aspirations. This strategy would only serve to infuriate the US, South Korea and Japan, and increase the threat of military action and/or greater economic sanctions.

If the US guarantees NOKO’s security and economic well-being along with China, Kim has no one to fear other than his own people, who will likely press him to improve economic and political conditions. Economic prosperity would be eminently feasible if the US and other nations began to trade with NOKO, and if Kim stops spending money on military assets.

Trump and Chinese leaders must convince Kim that his regime continues to be in great jeopardy. At 30-something years of age, he could enjoy a long tenure as head of his country. If he continues to base his power on nuclear weapons, the future will be cloudy for him and his countrymen. Kim should recognize that his own people will rebel and destabilize the country if he fails to make a deal with the US.

It’s reasonable to feel that President Trump is not the best person to be orchestrating this delicate negotiation. The good news is that the president is relying on, among other people, Mike Pompeo who is developing a productive working relationship with Kim and his lieutenants.

The progress Trump has made, as compared to all the US presidents since the Korean War, is startling. Trump is wise to be very measured in his promises. He is masterfully managing America’s expectations, and for good reason. The North Koreans have been very unreliable over the years. It may work out, and it’s looking pretty favorable at this moment. Americans should not expect immediate gratification. As Trump has described it, negotiations will be part of a longer-term process.

The true risk for the US is a deal that does not achieve the stated objectives because of Trump’s desire to make a big splash. Like Obama and Kerry, he could be influenced by the accolades of doing a deal, even a bad one. As we know, the definition of success is denuclearization and unobstructed inspections. If Trump is swayed by talk of a Nobel Prize and such, the NOKO deal could be as ineffective as Obama’s deal is with Iran.

Mr. President, you are dealing with the greatest threats to the human race- nuclear proliferation and war. Make the right decisions without being seduced by personal gain.

Iceland: A Family Trip Worth Considering

While all my readers were suffering through another week of Trumpian drama, my family and I visited Iceland. It was a welcomed divergence from the 24-hour news blitz dedicated to a tweet addict, distortion of facts by both political parties and Trump detractors keenly intent on destroying his presidency.

For a change of pace Softball Politics will be more culturally sensitive. I will tell you about our fantastic trip to a tiny and remote island in the middle of the North Atlantic.

Let’s start from the beginning. A Norwegian Chieftain named Arnarson founded Iceland in 874 A.D. The people acceded to Norwegian rule in the 13th Century and Iceland became a republic in 1944.

The population of Iceland is about 350,000 (most live in and near the capital city of Reykjavik). About 75% of the inhabitants are of Norwegian descent and a large portion of the balance are from Ireland, slaves of the Vikings. Its area is about 40,000 square miles (the same as Kentucky). Iceland is the most sparsely populated country in Europe. The nation is volcanically and geologically active. Sand and lava fields, mountains and glaciers characterize the interior of the country. It’s located just south of the Arctic Circle on the 66th parallel. The climate is moderated by the Gulf Stream, although Iceland is never described as warm, even in the summer.

Iceland’s topography is not arable. It consists mostly of lava rocks and residue, so the country imports a great deal of food from elsewhere. Ranchers raise sheep and horses. Both of which are butchered and eaten. Horses are also raised to race and for dressage contests.

The principal industries in the country are fishing, tourism and the processing of alumina, the main raw material in aluminum.

Fishing is an age-old occupation along the southern coast of Iceland. Fresh seafood is a very enjoyable benefit in most restaurants.

Tourism has become a gigantic part of Iceland. Many tourists visit the island arriving by plane to a modern airport and by cruise ships. The sights most frequented by tourists will be discussed in detail later.

The production of alumina, a seemingly odd product for an island nation a thousand miles from civilization, is based upon very inexpensive costs of electricity derived from geothermal sites, waterfalls and rivers blanketing the country. Electricity is the greatest cost of the alumina process, so it’s no wonder that this business has grown to such an extent in Iceland.

The principal religion of Iceland is Lutheran. Nevertheless the country does not mix church and state matters to any great extent.

A parliamentary system and a Prime Minister govern the country. Iceland has no standing army and no mandatory military service. The country is not a member of the European Union, and it has its own currency. It would be accurate to describe the country as socialistic as are Norway and other Scandinavian countries. Health care, education and many social services are free. The US maintains a military base in Iceland, as it is strategically located between North America and Europe.

The country has a long history of myths dominated by trolls and elves. We enjoyed many stories of very colorful characters that the people of Iceland love so dearly.

Virtually every Icelander speaks English. Every child learns English early on in school. But Icelandic is possibly one of the most complex languages in the world. For two things it has many more letters in its alphabet than English, and umlaut-type notations frequently accompany them. Of particular note are individual names, which are complex and usually impossible for outsiders to pronounce and remember. My family partially solved this growing dilemma by branding our guides with nicknames. We called our touring guide “Hammer” (reminiscent of Thor and his hammer), and our snowmobiling guide was dubbed “Killer” (his name had “kil” in it I think). These two men were amused by our issues relating to their names, especially Killer who is a real mountain man.

Let’s now get down to brass tacks. What would a family or group of friends do in Iceland for four or five days? Just so there are no illusions, if you want to be pampered each day and shop, Iceland would not be your cup of tea. The country is a rough and tumble place. It’s overall landscape reminds one of the moon or a scene from a “Mad Max” movie. Very few places in the interior have businesses, homes or anyone living in the area.

Following is a description of the most important tourist sights on our trip.

After we landed in Reykjavik we immediately went to the Blue Lagoon Geothermal Spa. This was the only place we visited all week that catered to comfort. It’s a combination new and modern hotel and spa where one can get massages and roast in saunas. The main attraction is wading in crystal clear glacial water that is heated like a gigantic hot tub. It was a refreshing activity after a red-eye flight. One member of our group also had a facial.

For the first three nights we stayed at the Eldar Lodge, which was a fair distance away from the capital city. It’s frequented, we heard, by many celebrities because it’s remote and very private. The facility consists of just eight luxury suites (we were the only people there at the time). The accommodations, food and service were off the charts. It was a joy to return to Eldar after a tough day in the Icelandic outback. Every day we jumped in the hot tub and then feasted on a cornucopia of food prepared by a fantastic chef.

The next day we took a helicopter tour over the South Coast of the island on the only day that was safe to fly.  Observing black sand beaches, volcanoes, glaciers and waterfalls from the air was our secondary mission. The primary activity was a helicopter landing on the Tungnarkisljokull Glacier (I told you the names were tough), and a trek with a guide. We landed on a spot at which the glacier was melting. It was an extraordinary experience.

On the same day we flew by helicopter to the Laugarvatnshellir Cave where we learned how families survived in Iceland 100 years ago.

The next day we drove in a blizzard to the Langjokull Glacier for a snowmobile tour with Killer, the guide. We rode around as the snow and hail pelted us mercilessly, in a white out. Our clothes were drenched through the provided snowmobile coveralls. It was touch and go but great fun. Later we traveled a short distance to see the Fullfoss Waterfall, and an active geyser, the only one in the country.

The following day we were scheduled to fly by helicopter to the Langjokull Glacier for a trip into the core of the glacier. The weather was bad so we drove for three and a half hours across the interior of the country. It was a harrowing experience as our driver and guide, Hammer, negotiated incredibly difficult terrain with our monster SUV. The tires on the vehicle were gigantic enabling the truck to negotiate deep snow and lava rock.

The drive was worth it. Arnie escorted us into the glacier a hundred or so feet down. He was the only person we met on the trip whose name was pronounceable. In the glacier we learned about how it reproduces itself over the years. Each year the tube is reamed and the various rooms, a chapel, boardroom and outhouse are refurbished. While there I was invited to sing a song in an area that was an echo chamber. I sang and danced to “Satisfaction” to the delight of Arnie, who followed me with a rendition of a traditional folk song.

On the final day we drove to a ski resort, which was closed. We dismounted from our monster truck and hiked about two miles to the Thrihnukagigur Volcano where we descended 400 feet into the crater. This is the only crater in the world that can be explored by tourists. After we got off the elevator we entered a humongous area about 400 meters across that was lit up for our inspection. It was a unique experience being in the center of the Earth.

Our trip to Iceland was a great success. We saw many things that fascinated and amazed us. The people, hotels, food and guides were all terrific. I would recommend this adventure to all those interested in roughing it for a few days.

 

“The Boys In The Band,” A Play About Gay Life In 1970

Inspired by a CBS News story about the playwright Mart Crowley’s insightful “The Boys in the Band,” I sought out an old movie adaptation of the play, and then attended the performance on Broadway a few days later. It was a unique and educational experience for me.

The first thing you should know is that the show is not a musical. However the cast danced to great, recorded music during the performance.

The play showcases the trying lives, issues and choices gay men faced 50 years ago in America. In the opening moments of the show, the dialogue was light and witty about the band’s persuasions. The players jousted with each other. It was funny, although their comments would be resented if uttered by a straight person in 1968 or now in 2018.

I was taken aback as the boys aggressively needled each other. Supposedly they were friends celebrating the birthday of one of their own. Yet I came to realize these comments about sexuality, morals and intelligence were an important element of the show.

The play is shrouded in comical quips and one-liners, but the subject matter is not a laughing matter. The audience responded loudly, but they were not so amused by the time the performance ended.

The reality is that gays and lesbians have been persecuted by society since the beginning of time. To this day some homosexuals hide their sexuality fearing the ramifications of not doing so. Coming out has to be a major event for every gay person. How brave these people are. Revealing one’s true sexual feelings publicly must be a monumental ordeal in spite of greater tolerance in recent times.

In the day, gays hung out in bars and other places that catered to their edgy and sometimes perilous lifestyles. These places provided a modicum of safety. In the case of the boys, they chose to have a party in the apartment of one of the members to avoid interference by outsiders.

That was the plan until a college classmate of one of the attendees phoned and showed up unexpectedly. Mostly everyone assumed that the interloper was straight and tiptoed around the subject of homosexuality. It wasn’t hard for the guest to ascertain what was transpiring.

Without giving away the story, the sexual persuasion of the new attendee was in question. Even in the comfort of a gay man’s home, the group was walking on eggshells relating to their own sexuality. The new man upset a fragile balance and evoked a raft of self-loathing and paranoia among each member of the band.

Are the prospects of gays and lesbians better now than in 1970? For sure they are. It’s illegal to discriminate against anyone based upon sexual preference. Gay and lesbian couples may now marry and be recognized by the state.

The big question is why were homosexual couples only permitted to marry just recently? Why were they denied an opportunity to be happy and find personal and financial security? How did our country benefit by not allowing members of this group to formally and legally recognize their relationships?

It’s all behind us now, hopefully. Yet it’s sensible for the LGBT community to remain diligent and careful about covert bigotry. Gays and lesbians remain at risk and are vulnerable in spite of great strides in recent years.

I recommend everyone see “The Boys in the Band,” live or the original version on demand.

Suppose Trump Does All These Things. Will You Support Him?

Suppose Trump is cleared of all crimes related to Russian collusion, relating to the US elections, and obstruction of justice?

The noose is getting looser every day. Robert Mueller indicated to Rudy Giuliani, Trump’s counsel, that he has no intention to indict the president. In fact, existing Department of Justice guidelines prohibit such an action.

Mueller has been working diligently with his merry band of Trump haters to manufacture crimes that will take down the Trump administration. Alas, to no avail.

Given the burning desire of lawmen to leak to the press, it’s inconceivable that Mueller has anything substantive on Trump. If he did, the New York Times would already have reported on it.

Five relatively low-level hacks have been indicted for “lesser” crimes, some of which predate Trump’s political campaign. The biggest fish was Michael Flynn, former National Security Advisor, who was convicted of lying to investigators. Paul Manafort, a political consultant, is being prosecuted for money laundering and not registering as a foreign agent. Nothing has surfaced that ties Manafort to any collusion with Trump.

The Mueller investigation will likely second the fact that Russia attempted to influence the 2016 elections. But Americans already know that Russia has been active around the world for some extended period of time from a number of other investigations. There is no proof that anything other than Hillary Clinton’s incompetence was responsible for her loss.

The Special Counsel is going to be the laughing stock of Washington if he does not find a large fish to take down. His only remaining possibility is to trap Trump in a lie, which is the primary reason the president should not agree to be interviewed by Mueller.

The Special Counsel could also tilt towards Hillary Clinton who has chalked up a number of dubious and suspicious activities relating to her campaign and time as Secretary of State. Of note are obstruction of justice for destroying evidence, lying to investigators and Congress and improper disclosures that resulted from the infamous and inaccurate Steele dossier.

Suppose Trump is able to negotiate a rock solid disarmament deal with North Korea?

Trump promised denuclearization of the Korean peninsula, and the ability to verify that North Korea will have no nukes or processing facilities prospectively.

It appeared that Kin Jong-un was prepared to agree to these conditions but recently has had a change of heart. At first it was the joint military exercises with South Korea that he objected to, and now he seems to be equivocating about the meaning of denuclearization. Is it elimination of all existing weapons or an arms agreement, in which North Korea agrees to not manufacture any more weapons?

If Kim really wants to solidify his regime by improving economic conditions, he can do it by dismantling his arsenal of nukes and obtaining large financial support from the US. If he balks, which he, his father and grandfather have been doing for the past 70 years, Trump will likely increase sanctions that will destabilize the country and mark the end of Kim’s regime.

Suppose Trump can renegotiate the Iran nuclear deal?

The first thing that will happen if Trump is successful is that France, Great Britain and Germany will be eternally grateful.

But, what is the definition of success? It’s the same as North Korea- no nukes and the ability to inspect without restrictions.

What if Iran resists? It’s really simple. The US should continue to ramp up sanctions and totally isolate Iran economically. This will destabilize the country and result in a regime change. Sanctions and bankruptcy are the modern day weapons of mass destruction without any blood or death.

Suppose Trump continues to take actions that improve the economy?

It’s always the economy, stupid. Trump has over two years to prove his policies are improving economic conditions. Low unemployment, negligible inflation, higher wages, growing consumer confidence, greater profits for all major industries are the measures of success. Voters will appreciate and reward these results.

Suppose Trump is able to restructure the Paris Accord so that China, India and Brazil assume a grater role in reducing pollution?

If this occurs and the US’s responsibilities are ratcheted down to more reasonable levels, the global climate problem will begin to subside. The US cannot make the environment better without the cooperation of the other largest polluters who happen to be in the throes of their own industrial revolutions.

Suppose Trump is able to convince voters that Democrats are nothing but obstructionists prior to the 2018 mid term elections?

Given that bashing Trump is the only political strategy of the Democratic Party, one might think that Republicans will not lose ground in Congress, but will actually gain seats. Old political trends don’t seem to apply to Trump. So why shouldn’t the majority make gains in a mid year election on the coattails of the president?

What if Trump is able to obtain money for the wall and beefed up border security? And suppose that this materially decreases illegal immigration?

The US would then be able to focus on the DACA children and young adults and illegals that have made a life in America with their families. These groups deserve to have a path to citizenship. Without increased security and a cessation of new illegal immigration, the law-abiding illegals in the country will remain in limbo for the foreseeable future.

Trump’s methods and management style are not admirable. But in this day and age a strong leader who is unafraid to challenge the system and end bad habits can bring us forward and make America more secure and prosperous.