English practice in Inner Mongolia

Paul Grennan, an English teacher at Inner Mongolia University of Finance and Economics, used some of my ten minute plays as a way for his students to practice English.

He sent me a clip from “In the Ductwork.”

The play actually makes sense. This is not the whole thing. The noise they are referring to is a possum that’s stuck in the ductwork.

According to Paul, Mongolian students are wonderful to teach and very shy when speaking English. They speak Mongolian and study Chinese and English. They are very traditional. Their families are shepherds.

Paul says these students are in a rather special class.

It looks to me like Paul is rather special himself.

A meeting with the Congressman

Emily Perry, a good citizen of Salisbury, has been dealing with some health issues — and she knows many other people who are also.

When she saw the CBO report that the health care bill passed by the House of Representatives would cause 23 million Americans to lose coverage, and that it would primarily affect the most vulnerable among us, she became furious.

She wrote and called her congressman, demanding that he explain his vote in favor of what she considers a cruel piece of legislation. The congressman scheduled her for an appointment to speak with him.

Emily is an unaffiliated voter, but she happened to mention her appointment to Geoffrey Hoy, who is not unaffiliated. Geoffrey is the chairman of the Rowan County Democratic Party.

Geoffrey asked if he could tag along, and Emily was agreeable.

At a party meeting, Geoffrey asked if anybody else wanted to tag along, and some of us did.

So we had a nice, small, friendly little sit down with Emily, her sister, Charlotte Giles, a few Rowan Democrats, and Congressman Ted Budd this morning. We had a lively discussion about his vote for the health insurance bill.

The Congressman was generous with his time, respectful, and a good listener. He demonstrated that he, himself, can relate to health care issues. He is his mother’s son, and his mother had cancer. It’s something he is dealing with.

He was reluctant to take responsibility for the bad stuff in the bill, because it’s in the Senate now, and therefore “not complete.”

That’s true. It’s not. And I appreciate that he’s listening to those who do not like it. (Technically, though — his vote in favor of this bill is complete).

Unfortunately, he’s a free market guy when it comes to health care. One would expect this, since, like most of Congress, he’s pretty much bought and paid for by the Koch brothers, the ultimate free market guys.

I like free markets too — but not in matters of disease and well-being and human being. I like free markets for things like real estate and eBay auctions and peanut butter.

In matters of air, water, food, shelter, healing, and health, I’m believe in peace of mind, not free market. At the risk of sounding like a Miss America contestant, I think we should all work together to provide peace and harmony and love in the world.

His view of health care has less to do with human care and more to do with insurance companies competing for business.

He refers to diseases with expensive treatments, such as cancer, as “exceptions.”

Maybe that’s a political term, or a health care economics term. It strikes me as absurd. Most human beings will eventually become an “exception.”

At one point, he rightly deduced from my comments that I was suggesting a single payer system. I said I was. Why should anybody be left out?

He explained that this would take away the incentive for people to take good care of their own bodies. He used himself as an example, saying that he might feel it was okay to weigh 300 pounds if he knew his health insurance would not go up.

What did he say about the fact that this bill would would likely provide him and other members of Congress, and other Americans making over $200,000 per year, with a nice tax cut? He seemed to think that was only fair, since the ACA raised taxes on those making over $200,000 per year.

He was also extremely focused on the fact that 70 out of 100 counties in North Carolina only have one company providing health insurance policies, and that this offered no choice. He repeated that one several times.

I noticed that the overall obsession for Republicans is choice.

It’s not about choosing between a number of comprehensive health insurance plans. The ACA has different plans. They have silver, bronze, gold, and young adult. Choice.

It’s not about choosing your disease, or choosing your treatment, or choosing your genetics, or choosing your level of well-being.

It’s about choosing your insurance company. They want lots of companies, with lots of different plans — for those who can afford it.

It’s not about people being taken care of. He made the point that Medicare, VA, Medicaid, and employers already provide the vast majority of the health insurance. So we’re only talking about the gap. We’re only talking about the tens of millions of people who are not covered another way.

The Republican solution seems to focus on the virtues of having lots of insurance companies completing in a vibrant marketplace.

Geoffrey pointed out to the congressman that he was obviously a decent person who loved his family and wants to do good, and requested that he consider the suffering this bill will cause to elderly people in nursing homes who have sold their houses and spent all their money and rely on Medicaid for their very existence. Geoffrey suggested that the bill he voted for is not a match for the decent person he seems to be.

Alas, it was time for his next appointment and our meeting came to an end. Waiting in the wings was one of his own, Republican office holder Greg Edds, Chairman of the Rowan County Commission.  (Republicans hold all the offices around here and have for decades — so if you’ve got a problem with government, blame them).

After we got up and watched the congressman flash an impressive smile for the camera, we lingered for a moment, and it occurred to me that I should seize this unique opportunity to pontificate a little. 

“I wonder when we’ll start worrying more about the health of people instead of worrying about the health of insurance companies,” I said.

“We need to do both,” the Congressman said.

And that pretty much sums it up.

14 things I learned from Mom

1. People are extraordinary, and fascinating.

2. Family overrides anything and everything.

3. Making a C may be average — but average gets you a two hour lecture.

4. Making a D is below average and also gets you a two hour lecture, annually.

4. Cholesterol is bad. Chopped liver is good.

5. If you want something, and somebody says no, then ask somebody else.

6. Children are blessings.

7. When a dog dies, get a puppy right away.

8. Unless there’s a deadline, clocks and time are meaningless.

9. Saying “shut up,” or “stupid,” will get your mouth washed out with soap.

10. Soap does not taste good.

11. Love is not about giving up on people, and it’s not always about being nice.

12. Men are okay, but women are smarter, work harder, and get paid less.

13. Communication is the joy of life.

14. Forgive always. That’s different from forgetting.

a couple of flakes amid the avalanche

Trump’s first week has been an avalanche. It’s too much to process.

That’s not an accident.

This is just a smattering of thoughts I encountered while bopping around in my car today. These are a few things that should give everybody pause — democrats, republicans, others, and those in between.

– The Trump organization plans to double the number of hotels in the United States over the next four to eight years.

– On January 1, 2017, Mar a Lago raised the price of their memberships from $100,000 to $200,000.

Thought: The president will be using his office to make money for himself. This whole thing has been an advertisement, at our expense.

– In recent months or years (it was on the radio and not specified), more people have been crossing the border into Mexico than into the United States from Mexico.

– The majority of illegal immigrants in the United States are not Mexican and came to this country on a jet plane, landing in an airport.

– Some estimate that the wall will cost $20 billion. That would pay in-state college tuition for $20 million students.

Thought: Mexicans, and Muslims, are being criminalized and scapegoated. He’s a fascist would-be dictator.

How and why to see La La Land

Talk about a spoiler.

We pre-purchased tickets for a 10pm screening of La La Land. It played at the Regal Park Terrace, in Charlotte — the only theatre in the area showing this film, as of tonight (it opens at others tomorrow).

We already have our Christmas Day movie picked out. We’ll be seeing Fences. So tonight was the night for La La Land.

That’s a one hour drive. I thought we were running late and I sped. We got there at 9:55.

All three of us — my wife, daughter, and myself — used the facilities.

We entered the theatre at 10:03. The theatre was packed and we had to sit very close.

The movie had started. No previews. That’s odd — but I thought that might be something they do with movies at that hour. Who knows?

I hate to miss the beginning of a movie — and I love previews — but it seemed like we had only missed a minute or two, maybe even just a few seconds. That is, it seemed like the beginning of a movie.

Ten minutes later, the movie ended and the audience got up to leave.

My first thought was that I had read the times wrong. Then my daughter said, “We’re in the wrong theatre.”

We rushed into the next room and sat down in time to see the ending of a preview and the entire movie — including the ending, again.

Ordinarily, I would not recommend watching the ending first.

That said, it’s a beautiful movie, start to finish — so seeing a bit of it twice is really a bit of a bonus.

Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling are classic big screen stars. Los Angeles glitters. The music is quite beautiful, and in one sequence, Gosling’s character explains why.

Although this movie was made well before anybody thought we would have such a catastrophic election result, I’d say there’s nothing better for a Trump infested country than movies like this. Good, big, bittersweet musicals with plenty of singing, dancing, and bigger than life beautiful stars who fall in love and overcome all their obstacles.

Keep ‘em coming, Hollywood. We’ll need more of these.

Have a Rodgers and Hammerstein Thanksgiving

It’s Thanksgiving and I’m grateful for many things.

One thing I’m grateful for is that I have a big, loving family — and they are all liberal Democrats.

We have our moments, but there won’t be any heated arguments with Uncle Joe who voted for Trump.

Last Thanksgiving, we had some disagreement about Bernie and Hillary.

But this year, before the conversation even begins, I’m confident that we will all generally agree that the president-elect is a scary, albeit entertaining, celebrity who is surrounded by seedy racist characters and destined to do a lot of damage to our great country.

That said, let’s have a happy Thanksgiving.

If you have opposing political factions at your table, consider that there are more important things in life than politics.

And — perhaps take some comfort in these favorite Rodgers and Hammerstein show tunes:


Earn a degree in discrimination


Need something to do after the election?

Earn Your Associates Degree in Discrimination Science at  the new Trump University.

Registration for Spring Semester opens at 8pm, November 8, 2016.
Classes begin January 20, 2017.

Degree Requirements: This two-year, non-accredited program requires the completion of all 24 courses. Tuition for entire program must be pre-paid. No refunds.

Hate Studies
HS 101 Introduction to White Supremacy
HS 112 Introduction to Misogyny
HS 113 Mexicans
HS 115 Blacks, Muslims, and Jews
HS 212 Practicum in Disrespect, Trolling, and Flaming (8 hrs, includes lab)
HS 235 Advanced Xenophobia
HS 245 LGBT Attacking
HS 379 The History of Stereoptyping
HS 436 Advanced Seminar on Superiority – Racial and Religious

Destruction Science
DS 101 Making Stuff Up
DS 112 Introduction to Insults
DS 115 Name Calling
DS 245 Gaslighting Techniques
DS 345 Advanced Blame
DS 356 Practicum in Lying
DS 365 Attention, Domination, and Division
DS 425 Advanced Seminar on Conspiracy Theories

Harassment Arts
HA 101 Introduction to Sexual Harassment
HA 111 Clowning
HA 111 Locker Room Lingo
HA 212 Body Shaming and Rating Systems
HA 231 Humiliation Studies: Walls, Banning, Stop-and-Frisk, and Extreme Vetting
HA 335 Slurs: Mexicans, Muslims, Asians, and Blacks (including children)
HA 355 Maleness: Snorting, Tic Tacs, and Pussy Grabbing
HA 360 Advanced Interrupting
HA 441 Seminar on Groping and Rape

Honors Program
Highly qualified students are invited to apply for admission to the honors program. Participants must be white, male, and over 50 years of age. Completion requires a technology and writing component.

1) Technology component: Student must sit at a computer and successfully go online and locate the website www.breitbart.com.
2) Writing component: Student must write a complete sentence about building a wall. The sentence must begin with a capital letter, end with a period, and include a subject and verb. There can be no more than three punctuation errors.


Alex Jones Ann Coulter David Duke Stephen Bannon
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McCrory and Trump — obsession with genitalia

mccrorytrump-1Republicans seem to be obsessed with human genitalia.

McCrory is proud of protecting girls from transgender predators in the bathroom.

He calls them transgenders, but he’s really talking about men who dress like women in order to attack girls in the ladies room — a group of people that seems to exist only in his vivid imagination.

Trump is proud of his accomplishments as a sexual predator. He’s interested in grabbing women in their private parts, etc.

They pretty much attract the same group. The same voters!

I’m a hypocrite too. We all are. I assert that that is part of the human condition.

But there’s gotta be a great joke in there somewhere.  I just can’t think of it.

Biased toward sentences, paragraphs, coherency, and punctuation

Earlier today, I saw a Facebook post reprinting an article in the Salisbury Post lamenting the decline of unbiased reporting in that thing we cherish that has been so widely and weirdly demonized of late, “the mainstream media.”

I attacked the piece’s sorry punctuation. In my view, if you’re going to attack the entire landscape of American newspapers, in a newspaper, then take a bit of care with the English language.

That, of course, was an invitation. I was called “twisted and biased,” and other things. I was scorned because my comment did not garner any “likes.” I was told that I was rude and to get that trash off of Facebook. One comment said, to me, “Most people are working to support the 47% that depend on the [sic] goverment to even think about punctuation just saying that’s a totally stupid statement to bring into the discussion.It’s facebook by the way if you have not figured that out.”

All valid.

That was rude, so I did remove it from Facebook.

But I felt a need, given Trump’s constant attacks against the horrors of the media he so worships, to defend newspapers, journalism, and mainstream media.

The guy running for president has little regard for the words of our third president, Thomas Jefferson, who said: “Were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers, or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter.”qtq80-jehSAA

Here’s my defense, previously posted deep in the bowels of Facebook and now posted here.

I am biased. Absolutely. I would assert that almost everybody is, and that it takes some effort to generate objectivity in today’s politically charged climate.

There is a tradition of objective reporting in journalism. We don’t see as much of that as we used to. There’s a lot of noisy stuff out there. But it still exists, and many newspapers and reporters in other media are committed to that good ol’ fashioned objective news reporting.

The author of the column in question makes the case that mainstream news outlets are all biased liberals, but it’s carefully concealed and most of us are too stupid to see that. They do it consistently. Intentionally. Maliciously. The examples he cites are ludicrous.

Yet, given the depths of his hate for anything Clinton, I can understand how it would look that way.

This is an invitation to look from a different place.

Consider that this is an extremely unusual election.

In 2012, according to the American Presidency Project, 41 major American Newspapers endorsed Obama. Romney earned the endorsement of 35 newspapers.  23 did not endorse.

This year, 2016, so far, 17 major American newspapers have endorsed Clinton. Zero have endorsed Trump. 3 have endorsed Gary Johnson. One (USA Today) has endorsed ‘Not Trump.” One did not endorse.

In years prior to 2012, it swung back and forth.

According to these numbers, one can speculate that one of two things is happening. 1) Either the media has swung sharply to the left in the past four years, or 2) the editorial staffs almost unanimously think that Clinton is more qualified to be president than Trump. With all the emotion around this election season, the endorsements are costing some publications precious subscribers.

Consider that newspapers are also biased toward accuracy and coherent writing. A sentence is an expression of a thought. A paragraph is an expression of an idea. Certain people develop skills in building thoughts and ideas into coherent narratives that are fit for public consumption. We call these people journalists, editors, writers, and other things. They sometimes find employment at newspapers. The ones who do, spend their days gathering and reporting news.  Many of them are highly trained and take their objectivity very seriously.

They do have a bias. They are biased toward communicating.

If we don’t agree with them, we accuse them of bias. Some of them are biased. Many of them are professionals who seek to report news in an objective fashion, leaving their bias aside. They also happen to be human beings and sometimes make mistakes. They generally accept disagreement, abuse, and accusations.  That’s part of the job.

Some publications, of course, have a stated political bias. They usually own up to that and are proud of it.

Sometimes the truth itself is biased because it supports one side over the other. For example, when the New York Times reported the 9/11 attack, Osama bin Laden smiled. He considered it a victory.  America wept. Of course the New York Times was not biased toward Osama bin Laden.

Even though it occurs to many as a Clinton bias, the nation’s newspapers are biased toward what they see as the truth:  that Trump is unfit.

Not a single living president or major American newspaper has endorsed Trump. I’ve heard people demonize them all. Fine — but that begins to strike at the heart of our democracy. It would have more power to present a compelling argument.

The author of the column in question suggests that all major American newspapers are only pretending to be objective. He says they are, in reality, biased. In other words, they are unscrupulous. All of them? This is absurd. This also begins to undermine the basic fabric of our democracy.

It’s perfectly legitimate to point out bias.  My point, however, is that if one wants to argue against a publication’s sneaky bias, then it has little credibility if it’s not done in the same language as the publication in question. It would make no sense to write a rebuttal in Chinese to an article written in English. That’s why it occurs to me as ridiculous when I see a rambling string of words that’s not grounded in the basic rules of common English usage attack the most coherent thinking and writing that’s being published in the top newspapers in the country.

North Carolina. Is this a surprise?

It’s not just the police.

While people in Charlotte protest (and riot), in response to the police murder of Keith Lamont Scott, consider that things don’t happen in a vacuum.

People in North Carolina have been treated in a callous, hostile manner for years.

If this incident had not precipitated a reaction, something else would have. A context was present. The seeds were sewn.

Here are a sampling of the things that have happened since Governor McCory took office and signed off on the Republican agenda the General Assembly had waiting for him:hb2-protest

  • They enacted a voter restriction law that, according to a U.S. appeals court, targeted African Americans “with almost surgical precision.”
  • They denied Medicaid expansion, as provided under the ACA, offering health care for low income people.
  • Immediately upon McCrory taking office, they abruptly eliminated unemployment benefits for 70,000 residents in a distressed economy.
  • They declared war on public and higher education, including steps that cut teachers’ pay, cut teachers’ assistants, and cut teachers’ job security.
  • They passed laws that legalize discrimination — not only for transgenders in the bathroom — but for all minorities in the workplace. This lost the state hundreds of millions of dollars. It caused tech companies to look elsewhere. The hospitality industry has been struck down. Artists have canceled events.  And it also lost one of our state’s most precious assets — NBA, ACC, and NCAA basketball games!

The governor and legislature did this. How have the people reacted to HB2? By arguing. McCrory has been the Governor of Wedge Issues. One after another. The Democrats say we need to repeal HB2 and get our state back. According to my social media feed, many Republicans say things that poo poo the artists, companies, and athletic organizations. They say things like “Good!” and “Leave!”

And now the people are in the streets.

Is this a surprise?