Archive for May, 2024

The Wrong Question

The unequivocal “Guilty” verdict in the Trump hush money case has pundits and politicians all scrambling to answer one question: How will that verdict affect the November election?

The problem with focusing on that question is that it ignores a far deeper and more important question and that is how on earth such a profoundly unethical and unscrupulous man is still in contention for the presidency.

Trump had already been convicted of sexual assault, followed by two separate convictions of defaming the woman he assaulted. Now he’s been convicted of thirty-four felony counts of falsifying business records. He’s claimed that he could shoot someone on Fifth Avenue and get away with it. And the day after the latest guilty verdict, the news came out that he’s suing his niece for revealing details of his sordid behavior dealing with his own father’s estate.

That doesn’t even take into account his attempts to turn a mob on his own vice president and his attempts to overturn the 2020 presidential election. Or the boxes of classified material he illegally tried to hide at Mar-a-Lago. Nor does it include report after report of his vindictiveness, or his unparalleled record of documented lies.

Yet he’s still in close contention for the Presidency.

Some pundits claim that much of the vote for Trump is more of a vote against the too-liberal Democratic Party. That may be, but Trump’s record on carrying out his professed agenda is abysmal, possibly because his real agenda is simply to obtain personal power. Despite the Trump and Republican rhetoric on illegal immigration, both Biden and Obama actually have done more to slow the flow of illegals than Trump did, but they couldn’t say much because too many Democrats oppose stringent immigration controls. Biden’s done more to bring jobs back to the U.S. than Trump ever did.

Yet Trump is still in close contention for the Presidency.

The right question just might be:

Why is half of the United States so desperate that they’ll vote for a lying, scheming criminal whose greatest skills are wildly exaggerated and fallacious self-promotion and vicious untruths?

Concentrating Only on the “Now”

Last week Maryland Senator Chris Van Hollen took issue with former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton after she criticized student pro-Palestinian protestors for not knowing enough about the history and politics of the Middle East and, for that matter, history in general. Van Hollen insisted that the protesters understood the current situation.

Yes, they probably do understand the terrible loss of civilian lives taking place right now, if only because that’s what the media is currently emphasizing, but Clinton is absolutely right in insisting that the vast majority of students aren’t all that knowledgeable about in-depth history and politics, including the history and politics of the United States.

Although recent tests of U.S. students’ proficiency in civics and history show a marked decline over the past four years, Americans have never excelled at history, which makes the latest declines even more worrisome. Americans have, for better or worse, never concerned themselves much with the past, as exemplified by Henry Ford’s contention that history was “bunk.” What Americans have always had trouble realizing is that the past determines the future, and our current media-centric concentration on the “now” means that fewer and fewer Americans have the knowledge base to realize just how much the past matters and how it influences the present.

Some of those student protesters have such a short attention span that they seem to have forgotten what happened on October 7th, barely six months ago. Most of them appear to have no understanding of how and why the creation of Israel occurred. Nor do they understand the past brutality of Hamas, or the fact that some two million Palestinians supported or acquiesced in allowing Hamas to take over Gaza with the avowed goal of destroying the only Jewish nation in the world.

Is Israel perfect? Hardly, and Netanyahu is little better than a Mafia don in silk suits, trying to hang onto power by cultivating and placating the worst elements in the Israeli government. But Hamas is far worse, with leaders who’ve made no secret of the fact that they’re willing to sacrifice the vast majority of the Palestinian people in an effort to destroy Israel.

Yet all too many of the student protesters in the United States have little or no comprehension of a history of anti-Semitism that extends some 3,000 years into the past. Not only that, but those so-idealistic student protesters conveniently overlook the fact that the Palestinian people themselves support or allow the subjugation and brutalization of their own women.

As one old saying goes, the past is prologue, but since the U.S. student protesters don’t read history, much less understand it, and apparently don’t want to, how could they know?


As I’ve mentioned upon occasion, my wife the college professor was an opera singer. In addition to singing professionally, she also has taught voice and directed the opera program at the local state university for the past thirty years.

Unfortunately, teaching young singers has gotten more difficult every year, not because she’s gotten older, but because of the increasing restrictions placed on teachers, especially in her field.

Classical music is a small world, where the slightest impropriety or poor behavior is immediately spread, but as a result of the #Me Too movement, any professor who uses those words to warn young singers, true as they are, can face disciplinary action because those words are automatically classed as a threat.

In recent years, more and more vocal competitions have been conducted in the initial stages through video or zoom, which artificially reduces a singer’s full range and overtones, while increasing the importance of appearance, dress, and physical presence.

Yet, at the same time, the university has effectively forbidden professors to even suggest ways for students to improve their attire or physical presentation, because doing so would “belittle” the students. Even though grossly excessive weight reduces vocal capabilities and limits stage performance, and even though singers are also judged on their professional demeanor and appearance, professors cannot even make a bland observation for improvement in those areas.

In addition, constructive criticism, i.e., telling students what needs improvement and why it’s necessary, is frowned on unless surrounded by lots of praise. Heaven help a voice teacher who bluntly tells a student that they’re singing out of tune and that they will not get into graduate school or have any chance at a career if they don’t get the basics down first.

Unsurprisingly enough, at my wife’s university, the popular “cheerleading” professors have far fewer graduates who go on to professional careers in music than those who “tell it like it is,” but the professors who tell it like it is get poorer faculty and student evaluations, despite producing more successful graduates.

So, in effect, by insisting that teachers “protect” the poor delicate souls, these well-meaning administrators (or perhaps those terrified by the thought of legal action) are reducing the ability of professors to improve the chances of their students to compete and succeed, and that’s especially true in the case of less prestigious state universities, which is exactly where undiscovered students with raw talent and little else often end up.

Knowing the Real Market

My wife, the university opera director, is always looking for chamber operas suitable for largely undergraduate performers. And while there are more than a few chamber operas out there, she seldom finds many that her students can perform. Why?

First, far too many operas written today, including chamber operas, are far too experimental and musically difficult for undergraduates, and also have limited audience appeal because melody too often takes a back seat to “experiment” and “novelty.”

Second, like most university opera directors, she’s limited in the number of talented male singers with a surplus of female singers, particularly sopranos, yet the vast majority of operas, both past and present, require more male singers.

Chamber operas that are meaningful, musically sound, melodic, and dramatically interesting, with more female roles, are rare. When she finds one, such as The Ghosts of Gatsby, which her company presented in 2023, she’s delighted.

But, as an economist, what I don’t understand is why so many composers today ignore the opportunity presented by hundreds of university opera programs, all of which have “too many sopranos” (actually a title of a good chamber opera). Presumably, given the excess of starving composers, such composers would like to have their work presented and receive a chance at royalties for their effort.

Yet in going through some twenty recently composed chamber operas available for production, my wife could find exactly one where the number of female singers exceeded the number of males.

At some point, this might change, that is, if composers actually want to have their works presented and to be paid.

On a parallel track, of sorts, when I started writing professionally, most writers were male, and most wrote science fiction, as did I. The speculative fiction field both grew and changed, and I changed with it. When I looked at the best-seller lists for the past three months, I noticed that something like 60% of the best-selling books were by women, and most of the men on the list were older. Even Brandon Sanderson is approaching fifty, and I’m certainly no spring chicken.

So… maybe, just maybe, those classical opera composers should think about why so few of them are getting produced.

Changing Times

Sometimes, shopping at Walmart can tell you far more about how life is changing in the United States than all the polls and surveys. Why do I use Walmart? Because the prices on staples are far lower than the other three markets in Cedar City, and since Cedar City is on I-15 – the most direct route to California – the produce is not only better, but far less expensive.

Because my wife the professor works long hours on a regular basis, and I can shop when it’s not crowded, I do almost all the grocery shopping, usually once or twice a week. On my last trip, I had two items on my list that I only need to replenish once or twice a year, if that – black boot/shoe polish and black edge-dressing or scuffcoat.

Except this time, Walmart had neither. And it wasn’t that they were out of stock. That whole small shoe section had been reduced to one shelf, with neutral polish and other items having nothing to do with polish, surrounded by insoles for all sizes of feet.

Perhaps it’s my upbringing, or possibly the years in the Navy, but I’ve always liked my boots to be polished. And I wear boots because almost any kind of shoes, even expensive designer shoes or high-end athletic shoes, get painful within hours, if not a few minutes. Except for my work boots, scuffed and dirty boots or shoes, to me at least, suggest a certain slovenliness or lack of character. It’s not that I particularly enjoy polishing boots, but that I dislike appearing unkempt or sloppy (except when engaged in manual labor, where I can quickly get unkempt).

As I was pondering the lack of shoe polish, I realized another fact – that the local cobbler had closed his shop a month previous, and there was no one repairing or resoling shoes or boots in Cedar City any longer. I’ve had some of my boots more than ten years, and I’m hard on them. So I’ve needed new soles and heels on a continuing basis, but getting them repaired is obviously coming to an end.

So, I suspect, are the days of polished leather boots and shoes, replaced by the ubiquitous sneakers or extraordinarily expensive athletic shoes that wear out quickly, none of which are designed to fit my clearly Neanderthal feet.

And it’s not just me. For years, my wife has bemoaned the fact that it’s almost impossible for her to find shoes that fit, ever since shoe manufacturers simplified their sizing. If a woman has a moderate forefoot and a narrow heel, she’ll end up slipping out of a standard shoe (although some manufacturers supply pads), and any shoe narrow enough to fit her heel will be too tight to accommodate her forefoot.

Yes, the times are definitely changing, from head to foot, especially for feet.

Déjà Vu, the Lilacs

Almost every year in late spring, just about this time, I write about my lilacs and their never-ending battle against the vagaries of the climate here in Cedar City. My lilac bushes are deep purple, and I love their scent – provided I have the chance to enjoy it.

We’ve had a comparatively warm winter, often with rain instead of snow, and by the first of April the daily highs were in the mid-sixties, and it was no longer freezing at night. By the twentieth of April, daily the temperature was flirting with all-time highs. Last Wednesday, the temperature neared eighty, and the lilacs decided that it was time to leaf out and bloom. By Friday night I could smell just a trace of their scent.

By Saturday morning, however, the wind picked up, ranging from twenty to thirty miles per hour, blowing away any scent that the lilacs emitted. Sunday morning, the wind was even fiercer, with cold gusts well over forty miles per hour. Then, around three o’clock we got small hail that turned into sleet, which after fifteen minutes turned into heavy snow. The temperature dropped to thirty-seven degrees and by six o’clock we had some four inches of snow.

For the lilacs, it didn’t get any better, because by ten o’clock the temperature dropped to below freezing and stayed there until sunrise. By then the temperature rose above freezing, although the lilac bushes –and blossoms — were still festooned with snow. By midday, it was clear and sunny, with a temperature of 48 F, and there was no trace of snow on the lilacs, and the blossoms weren’t frost-bitten.

Unfortunately, the combination of wind, snow, and cold destroyed any chance of enjoying the rare chance smelling lilacs in bloom… again.


We all tend to hold memories in which we firmly believe… but sometimes those firm memories aren’t as accurate as we think they are.

For years, I “remembered” when the Denver Broncos opened the season by winning eight straight games, and then lost eight straight and never made the playoffs. But when I checked the actual records, I discovered that no such season ever existed. The closest season to that was in 1962, when the Broncos won six of their first seven games, then lost six of the final seven games. While that was close to what I remembered, obviously my brain wanted to emphasize the magnitude of the Broncos’ collapse, for whatever reason, possibly because of how bad the Broncos were in the early years.

Now, some people have better memories than others. A relative of my wife was a singer and a conductor. More than forty years ago, he conducted university choirs at a program where the late Grace Kelly, the former actress and then the Princess of Monaco, gave a poetry reading. He honestly didn’t remember that, and his former wife had to dig out newspaper clippings to prove he had conducted Kelly’s program there and had even been at the reception. I think it’s fair to say that a former professional musician who cannot recall being on a program with Grace Kelly has definite memory difficulties.

On the other hand, I’ve learned that, if my wife recalls something – that was the way it was, because what she recalls is always accurate, particularly with regard to people and events. She does not remember telephone numbers well, which, as I mentioned some time ago, created difficulties with a financial institution, who insisted she had to remember the telephone number of the house where she lived some forty years ago (back before the era of cell phones).

Despite my mis-recollection about the 1962 Broncos’ season, I’m generally more accurate with numbers and facts, but obviously not as accurate as I’d like to believe, and I suspect that’s true of most of us.