Wednesday, May 22, 2019

The Tooth Picker

Dedicated to Walt Whitman

I am a man of the narrow spaces
There no space remains
To breathe, to grow, to live
To chew, to brush, to floss.

Something is stuck in the narrow spaces
A morsel lodged between my teeth
I yearn to be free of it 
I am the tooth picker. 

In my dreams rotten teeth crumble
My mouth a horror of broken stumps
I must choose new teeth
I am the tooth picker. 

Broken-down busboy, trailer park carny
We share the same fate, grimacing and ashamed
Yet hope remains for smiles and laughter
A new day dawning in my mouth. 

False teeth sustain me.
New mouth set me free.

Sunday, May 12, 2019

Nightmare Alley (1947)

Last night, watching Turner Classic Movies, I stumbled across a film that I've been searching for since childhood. I saw part of it on television as an adolescent, and while I’d forgotten the title and most of the plot, two scenes made a big impression on me all those years ago. 
The Geek

 In one, a carnival barker tosses a live chicken to a sideshow performer styled The Geek, announcing: "And now ladies and gentlemen, it's feeding time."  In the second, a pretty female carny demonstrates her electric chair act for a sheriff. He’s snooping around because he’s been told of performances involving live chickens and women in scanty outfits. 

 I can now report that the movie containing those scenes is Nightmare Alley (1947). It's an excellent film noir with many redeeming features, including some great acting by Tyrone Power, Joan Blondell, the fetching Colleen Gray (who plays Molly/Electra) and Helen Walker. 

 I was hoping Nightmare Alley might also contain another scene from a movie whose title I’d forgotten, involving a runaway carousel. But as it turns out, that’s in Alfred Hitchcock's Strangers On A Train (1951).

Thursday, May 09, 2019

Trump-Induced Constitutional Crisis

I'm very proud of myself for not posting this on Facebook, which I almost did a moment ago. So I'm going to vent here and now. 

According to this article in today's New York Times"Some who previously urged caution are now saying impeachment may be inevitable." 

By Sheryl Gay Stolberg, New York Times

Let's back up for a moment. Special Counsel Robert Mueller has concluded his investigation and submitted his findings. I've read Volume II of the report (well, the executive summary and selected pages, at least).

Congress is seeking an unredacted copy of Mueller's report. They are also pursuing multiple investigations of Trump's doings.  Mr. President and Attorney General Robert Barr are refusing to cooperate and "fighting all the subpoenas", as Trump puts it. 

After the Mueller report was released, over 400 former federal prosecutors released a statement which included the following: 
Each of us believes that the conduct of President Trump described in Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report would, in the case of any other person not covered by the Office of Legal Counsel policy against indicting a sitting President, result in multiple felony charges for obstruction of justice.
It's hard to ignore a statement like that, coming from so many legal professionals. To me, it's a call to action. And it is Congress which must act now.  Trump cannot be indicted as a sitting president. He is effectively above the law unless Congress decides to impeach him. 

I once hoped this country would never have to endure another impeachment. But sadly, my view is that Congress must impeach to uphold the rule of law and the Constitution. This is part of the system of checks and balances that has held our democracy together for centuries.  

There are others who agree with me. In an April 27 articleThe Economist opined that impeding an investigation and accepting help from an enemy (which interfered in the 2016 election "in sweeping and systematic fashion", as the Special Counsel's report put it) are precisely the sort of actions the founding fathers would view as grounds for impeachment. That article went on to say: 
Democrats fear an unsuccessful effort to remove Mr Trump would help the president. But just moving on as if it were business as usual seems unacceptable too, signalling as it would that the only limit to the power of presidents is what they can get away with politically. How Congress and American political institutions respond in the coming weeks to Mr Mueller’s report will set precedents that could last for decades. 
A few final, dismal observations: not so long ago, the President and some of his supporters in Congress called for an investigation as to why the Special Counsel was appointed in the first place. Others would like to see the Obama administration and Hillary Clinton investigated.  And in a particularly mind-bending twist, there are those who call for an investigation of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, to determine whether the FBI spied on the Trump campaign. 

Our federal elected officials are stuck in a seemingly endless cycle of investigating one another. This activity is a huge distraction. They should be dealing with critical issues facing this country: health care, gun control, national security, the federal deficit, climate change. But there's no time for that now. We've got a constitutional crisis on our hands. 

Thursday, February 07, 2019

Nevada Gaming Control Board vs. Wynn Resorts

On January 25 the Nevada Gaming Control Board filed a complaint against Wynn Resorts, owner and operator of the luxurious Wynn and Encore hotel/casinos on the Las Vegas Strip. In that complaint, the Gaming Control Board asks the Nevada Gaming Commission to fine Wynn Resorts and "take action against" the licenses held by the company.

Las Vegas Review-Journal,  January 28, 2019
The complaint contains numerous allegations of sexual misconduct by Wynn executives, including Steve Wynn himself. Even worse is the Gaming Control Board's claim that various senior executives were aware of these incidents, but did not report or investigate them -- a violation of the company's own sexual harassment policy. Even the chief human resources officer and three separate people who held the position of general counsel are said to have failed to act in this regard.

In other words, the company did not apply its own policies and procedures to Mr. Wynn. And it goes beyond that. A former Wynn employee now stands accused of facilitating sexual relationships between cocktail servers and guests of Wynn Resorts (see page 16 of the complaint; link below).

Read the complaint:

The following is a summary of the allegations contained in the Gaming Control Board's January 25 complaint.
  • A Wynn employee complained to her supervisor that she had been raped by Mr. Wynn and became pregnant as a result. The company settled this complaint for $7.5 million. See page 9 of complaint. 
  • A cocktail server at Wynn Resorts claimed that Mr. Wynn pressured her into a nonconsensual sexual relationship. Wynn Resorts settled this claim for $975,000. See page 11.
  • A former Wynn cocktail server and flight attendant claimed that Mr. Wynn engaged in sexual misconduct against her. See page 12.
  • Separately, a flight attendant sent Mr. Wynn a letter alleging that he had engaged in sexual harassment with several flight attendants. See page 14. 
  • Three employees of Wynn's Encore Spa claimed that Mr. Wynn engaged in sexual harassment during massages that were performed on him. See page 13.
  • A former general counsel of Wynn Resorts received an e-mail alleging that a former executive "loves sleeping with cocktail servers". The general counsel did not investigate or report the matter, according to the complaint. See page 17.
About a year ago,  some of these accusations were made public in the Wall Street Journal. At that point, the Board of Directors of Wynn Resorts began investigations. Wynn has since resigned his position and divested all his holdings in the company.

It is not clear to me why it took the Nevada Gaming Control Board so long to file the January 25 complaint. A year has passed since the Wall Street Journal published its article. Perhaps that's how long it took for the Wynn board to complete its own investigation.

Speaking of the company's board of directors, many of the allegations in the complaint relate to things that happened over 10 years ago.  How could something so wrong go on for so long without coming to light? Why didn't the board come to grips with this sooner?

You may wonder why I have put so much effort into writing this post. And I shall tell you. If the January 25 complaint is accurate, Wynn Resorts has committed an outrage against its own employees and against the city of Las Vegas. Worst of all, of course, is the damage done to employees. But there's a business concern as well. This sordid tale fulfills the coarsest "Sin City" myths and expectations that so many people have come to believe. That tarnishes the reputation of our city. It's bad for business in so many ways. Just as an example, stories like this make it harder for local companies to recruit quality employees to relocate to Las Vegas. No wonder we have a shortage of doctors in this town.

Read the story in the Las Vegas Review-Journal:

Wynn Resorts admits wrongdoing, Nevada regulators find more sexual misconduct allegations

UPDATE: On February 26, the Nevada Gaming Commission fined Wynn Resorts $20 million for the conduct outlined in the complaint, according to The New York Times.  This follows a settlement reached between the Gaming Control Board and Wynn Resorts. The timeline for the settlement is curious. All parties signed the settlement on January 25. That is the same day the Gaming Control Board filed its complaint.  I wish I had a better understanding of this timeline. Why didn't the Gaming Control Board mention the settlement in the complaint? Or was the settlement speedily reached after the complaint was filed and signed on the very same day? 

Thursday, January 03, 2019

Bible Reading Project: On Track

In September 2017, I outlined a plan for reading one page of the Bible per day. Ever seeking to celebrate small accomplishments (a good morale booster), I am pleased to report that I'm ahead of schedule.

488 days have elapsed since that post. During that time, I have read 719 pages.  That's 47% more than required by my self-imposed schedule.

Despite all this reading, I still lack the faith that Christianity requires.  But I have gained understanding, if not faith. Sometimes it's interesting reading, and soothing as well if taken in small doses.  So I shall plod on. At this rate, I should be finished in....oh, about four years.

N.B. The version I'm reading is The New Oxford Annotated Bible, College Edition, New Revised Standard Version. It's quite useful, with a nice ecumenical point of view and plenty of annotations and reference materials to make the text more accessible.

Friday, November 02, 2018

Strength in Unity: Letter to the Editor

To: William GIbbs
Editor, Coin World Magazine


I enjoyed Chris Bulfinch’s article Fasces on U.S. Coins in the October 29 edition. I’d like to expand on the symbolism behind this bundle of rods. To me, the fasces represents first and foremost the idea that there is strength in unity.  A single rod is easily broken, but a bundle of rods is very difficult to break. 

Viewed from this perspective, the fasces represented much more than authority and power. It was a potent symbol of ideals for citizenship and governance. We are stronger united than divided - an idea worth pondering in the midst of the bitter divisiveness that plagues our nation.  

“E pluribus unum” - from many, one. 

Image: Wikimedia

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Pittsburgh Synagogue Shooting

A few days ago, a man named Robert Bowers killed 11 Jews in a Pittsburgh synagogue. News reports indicate that the shooter believed Jews are the "children of Satan". 

Most of us will agree that this is a thoroughly despicable point of view. But let's be clear about this: there is language in the New Testament that supports Bowers' vile belief.  In John 8:44, which Bowers cited in one of his social media posts, Jesus says to a group of Jews:
"You are from your father the devil, and you choose to do your father's desires. He was a murderer from the beginning and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him."  
I have no desire to attack Christian beliefs. But the fact remains that the New Testament contains statements such as the following which openly blame Jews for the death of Jesus. These are the roots of anti-semitism.
  • John 7:1: "The Jews were looking for an opportunity to kill him [Jesus]."
  • John 8:34: "Jesus answered them [the Jews]...' you look for an opportunity to kill me because there is no place in you for my word.'"
  • John 11:53: "So from that day on they [the Jews] planned to put him [Jesus] to death."
  • John 19:6: "When the chief priests and the [temple] police saw him [Jesus], they shouted 'Crucify him! Crucify him!' "
  • John 19:14: "He [Pilate] said to the Jews: 'Here is your King!' They cried out 'Away with him! Away with him! Crucify him!' "
  • Matthew 27:20: "Now the chief priests and the elders persuaded the crowd to ask for Barabbas and to have Jesus killed."
  • Matthew 27:25: "Then the people as a whole answered, 'His blood be upon us and our children.'" This is perhaps the worst of all, extending guilt to all the descendants of the biblical Jews.
Mainstream Christian thinking has evolved on this matter, becoming more Jew-friendly. I know this because I was raised as a Christian, baptized and confirmed in the Episcopal faith. I was never taught that Jews are children of Satan, or killers of Christ, or inferior to Christians. In fact, quotes like the ones listed above were never mentioned at all. Biblical scholars offer various explanations for the anti-Jewish language in the New Testament, implying that it is not quite what it appears to be. James Carroll, in his excellent book Constantine's Sword: The Church and the Jews explores this in detail.

Yet these harsh words remain in the Bible, which some still believe is the literal word of God and the ultimate moral authority. It is no wonder this hatred is still with us today.

Except where noted above, all biblical quotes are from The New Oxford Annotated Bible, Fully Revised Fourth Edition, New Revised Standard Version. For those who prefer the King James version, John 8:44 reads, "Ye are of your father the devil, and the lusts of your father ye will do: he was a murderer from the beginning, and abode not in the truth, because there is no truth in him."