Rothman At-Large

The Impossible Dream: The Speech Trump Should Have Given

February 1, 2018

Brilliant scientists from MIT and Berkeley deployed a powerful ray gun against President Trump before his State of the Union speech. This brain-altering gadget did not kill him. Instead it jacked up his IQ 50 points as intended, gave him a conscience and forced him to tell the truth. Wait. I’m dreaming. But here’s an excerpt from the speech President Trump should have delivered, post rays. 

First, I promise to stop my crazy Tweets against Kim Jong-un—to lower the chance of nuclear war. Proactive nukes are off the table as an option against North Korea or any other nation. Enough said. I’ll use my Tweeting time instead to make love—with Melania—rather than war. Speaking of which, no more affairs on the side. Enjoy my big hands, Sweetie!

Second, I apologize for selling out the United States. Failing to divest myself of my existing holdings, in a meaningful way, has clearly violated the foreign emoluments clause of the U.S. Constitution.

All along, Vladimir Putin and friends have owned me at least indirectly. But no longer. Tonight I am coming clean and releasing thousands of documents showing how I hoped to make millions off Russian deals at the expense of our country. I’ve learned from my mistakes. I’ll cooperate with investigations into collusion and possible money laundering and obstruction of justice. Not only will I ask my attack dogs on Capitol Hill to end their smears against Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller, I’ll work with Congress on new legislation to end clandestine foreign influence on American voters. It continues to this day.

I also apologize to former FBI Director James Comey and other victims of my cover-up efforts, including the Real News journalists I’ve smeared. Comey…terrific guy. Sorry, Jim! I agree—your loyalty should be to the U.S. Constitution, not me. Scary to think I could try to turn GOP into the Anti-Law and Order Party.

Let’s hope that the judicial system will recognize my current good intentions and show due mercy. If I must go to jail, I’ll be a model prisoner.

Third, I admit I’ve been a divisive bigot. I deeply regret my racist comments on “s***hole countries.” Tonight I am asking for more foreign aid for low-income nations in Africa and elsewhere, as well as meaningful disaster relief for our own brown-skilled Americans in Puerto Rico. Foreign aid of all kinds takes up just a speck of our four trillion-dollar federal budget. More for aid can mean less money for bullets. Here’s to American soft power! I don’t need a bloated defense budget to show how big my hands are.

I also want to acknowledge that “some very fine people” were not on both sides when Nazis and others clashed in Charlottesville. I deeply regret that hate crimes have risen under my presidency.

Furthermore, Speaker of the House Nancy Pilosi is right. My immigration policy has aimed to make America white again. Instead of seeking to slash the number of legal immigrants, I am asking tonight that the quotas be quadrupled to make us a more more vibrant nation.

I passionately agree that Tech As We Know It Would Not Exist without Immigrants. The Dow would be thousands of points lower without the talent and hard work of immigrants.

Fourth, I admit that global warming is not a Chinese conspiracy. Clean energy counts. It sickens me to think of the onerous tariffs I’ve imposed on Chinese solar panels. Many more people work in solar and wind power than in the coal mines, and my actions could cost thousands of American solar jobs if I don’t reverse them. I’ll support research and other measures to make U.S. solar panel manufactures more competitive without harming the American now at work installing panels.

Fifth, but of equal importance to the other points, I acknowledge I’ve been less of a Robin Hood than a Sheriff of Nottingham. I’ve helped the Republican Congress steal billions from the poor to benefit me and my billionaire buddies. This has to stop. We need to make the rich pay their share. I will investigate ways to undo the damage from the tax cuts. For example, instead of asking for more military spending, I’ll request major defense cuts, as noted—so we can spend more on healthcare in an efficient way, education, Social Security and other social services, as well as small-d democratic financing of infrastructure. No need for new highway tolls that raise the cost of commuting for the poor and middle class. They’ll get free digital passes while the rich pay.

Likewise in the economic area, I now recognize that a high Dow does not necessarily mean prosperity on Main Street, especially since workers claim a much smaller share of national income than in the past. I love investors, but not everyone has money directly or indirectly in the stock market. And speaking of investors, you bet I’ll retain and strengthen financial protections for them and savers. Apologizes to Elizabeth Warren and other consumer advocates. Fantastic woman.

And finally, a huge hug and passionate kisses for my dear Melania right now. (Gestures for her to rise and walk over to him.). Melania, come to Big Hands! Like I’ve said, no more messin’ around. I can see why you’re POed. I promise to love you enough for us to arrive at the next SOTU together, if I haven’t been forced by then to resign in disgrace. If behind bars, I’ll be a true gentleman if they allow conjugal visits. None of this dossier stuff.

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‘Across Two Novembers’: The Diary of a Blind Pepys

October 31, 2017

Going blind was a major fear of Samuel Pepys, the 17th-century English diarist (he did not). 

Still, Pepys would have loved Across Two Novembers, by David L. Faucheux, a Louisiana man now in his early 50s, who, as a teenager, did lose his sight to glaucoma. 

Don’t let Faucheux’s blindness put you off. He can still hear, taste, smell, and feel life’s joys, and the one sense he lacks he makes up in wit and thoughtfulness. And so Pepys would have enjoyed Across despite his fears, and, in fact, given Faucheux’s inspiring resilience, maybe the book would even have assuaged them a little.

Faucheux, yes, has suffered his share of woes. He made Phi Beta Kappa and earned a masters in library science at Louisiana State University. But no full-time permanent library job ensued, just internships and freelance work reviewing audiobooks for Library Journal. Too many managers in the library world today care more about skills such as prowess in technology---a challenge to many blind people of Faucheux’s generation in this era of graphical interfaces---than about a passion for books. And Faucheux wanted to stay in the American South, so dear to him, as a long-time resident of Lafayette, a gourmet paradise said to have more restaurants per capita than New Orleans or New York. Hence, no big-time library career.

Despite Faucheux’s misfortunes, however, he has not written a tear jerker. Rather he both lives and writes about his life with dry humor and aplomb; and in his diary, set in the years 2013 and 2014 and subtitled A Year in the Life of a Blind Bibliophile, he is far more eager to educate us and share his joys than to seek our sympathy. What else to say about a trivia-loving blind man who dreams of appearing on his beloved Jeopardy? Or who can jet off to Paris with friends, then dig up such gems as a critic’s critique of the Eiffel Tower, “a black asparagus.”

Before going on, let me reveal that I myself am a friend of Faucheux---he contacted me out of the blue after hearing me on Jim Bohannon’s radio show, and for several years I posted his entries to Blind Chance, perhaps the world’s first regular audioblog by a blind person. But I’d talk up his diary even if I did not know him. As an example of Faucheux’s prose style and scarcity of self-pity, at least as expressed in public, I’ll quote him on a kitchen accident: "I nicked my left little finger tip while peeling potatoes. It bled a bit. I hope I do not have a trail of red drops along the counter and on the living room carpet. I love eating, and I like the idea of cooking, but I dislike actually cooking; you can become a casualty! I’d rather paraphrase Cold Stone Creamery’s catchy trademark this way: I’ll dream it and have someone else ice cream it. Laura Martinez, I am not. She was featured several years ago on a news program as being the first totally blind chef. I am amazed. I wonder who her support people were. Even using a potato peeler, I have to be careful, because it can skid on a bump on the potato surface and catch on a finger, gouging it.” 

Here's another Faucheux sample. Recalling the late Nader, his service dog at LSU, Faucheux wrote in the blog that his yellow lab enjoyed the university library. “He seemed to like to snooze under the table while bits of knowledge rained down on his slumbers. It’s basically easy to handle guide dogs in the library as their book needs are very small.” Here’s a Nader-related MP3 from the blog.

To be sure, Across Novembers may try your patience at times---it is not a book for all. 

You may love the details in the above depiction of Faucheux’s kitchen adventures. But you might not be so fond of lists of what he ate at certain times. Instead you might favor a narrative with a well-defined story arc and only selective details, as opposed to a Pepys-style diary. Still, that is issue with the genre---even as a contemporary of Pepys you might have not have enjoyed the famous diarist’s work.

If, on the other hand, you are a patient, literate reader and love books, food, trivia and travel and can appreciate the sheer joie de vivre that permeates Faucheux’s pages, then you should give Across a try. I would especially recommend it to librarians and others working with people with special needs, including vocationally related ones. Based on various statistics and personal experiences, David Faucheux says three-fifths or more of blind people cannot find work. If nothing else, given Faucheux’s intelligence, curiosity, talent, and perseverance, his diary reminds us what we’re missing when even gifted people like him are left in the cold. As a bonus, disability historians in the future may find Across Two Novembers to be a treasure trove.

You can buy Across Two Novembers, self-published, at independent bookstores, Amazon, B&N, Smashwords and elsewhere or, yes, ask your local library to order it directly. The ebook costs only around $5.

Related: Upbeat review from AccessWorld Magazine---published by the American Federation for the Blind---which I did not see until I finished the above.

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R.I.P. Carly Rothman—Lover of Library eBooks, Jimmy Dean Sausage Biscuits, and Me

September 5, 2017

When Carly and I were among strangers, we would sometimes hold hands, gaze into each other’s eyes as if newlyweds, and tell gawkers: “It’s ok. We’ve only been married two days. We’ll get over it.” Of course, we never did—not in 26 years of marriage.

My wife was an easy love, affectionate, caring, loyal, even-tempered, and almost always logical: we discussed rather than argued. But in many ways, albeit not the very most important ones such as values, we were opposites. Perhaps our real-life Love Story can offer a little hope in this era of widening chasms of class, ethnicity, religion, and geography.

I was a D.C. area native raised in Fairfax County, Virginia, on its way back then to becoming an upper-middle-class citadel. Carly had grown up in Conover, North Carolina, a little blue-collar town known partly for the NASCAR auto racers from there. She worshipped all things Southern except for the bigotry, which she abhored. Not that the North was perfect. We agreed to disagree over the Confederate flag. Same over food. The more fried it was, the more Carly savored it. I was a health-fixated lactovegetarian.

She loved not only Jane Austen novels but also bodice-rippers with Fabio-chested men on the covers. I read Sinclair Lewis, say, or Philip Roth or, more commonly, staid nonfiction. She watched network TV reruns. I favored MSNBC and quirky movies on Netflix. Carly enjoyed classic rock. Me, too, but also baroque.

Carly was Methodist, complete with a minister brother-in-law. I was Jewish. Never, though, did religion come between Carly and me. Values above all! The Rev. William Draughn and I enjoyed many talks and walks together despite opposite political views. Both of us, regardless of our different beliefs, hated the cruelty that the American plutocracy had inflicted on the rest of the country. I’m looking forward to another hike with Bill up Stone Mountain in the Blue Ridge Range.

Sometimes Bill joked about my wife’s “Hebrew name.” “Carly” was not her original name—she loved to sing and picked up her new one from the pop star Carly Simon, while noting that it could mean “little” or “womanly.” Her favorite Simon song was “You Belong to Me.” Carly Rothman disliked “Tommie Nell” even though she was meticulous in using it in doctors’ offices since it was her legal name. Her parents had named her Tommie because they liked the sound of it; perhaps they also appreciated the overlap with her father’s name, Tom. But “Tommie” just wasn’t feminine enough for Carly even with the ie instead of a y. I couldn’t have cared less. I would have loved her by any name. Out of respect for her family, when visiting Carolina, phoning or emailing, I always tried to say “TN” or “Tommie Nell.” By law, a certain percentage of Southern newborns each year must bear double names.

Telecommuting for an education association, Carly was the same as toward me: likable, considerate, empathetic. Her bosses relished her swiftness in learning new software—she lived up to her maiden name, “Sharpe”—but complained she spent too much time on individual calls helping the association’s members. I wouldn’t have wanted Carly any other way. I preferred a caring friend and lover, not a heel-clicking careerist. Even in a business sense, it would have been better to let Carly be Carly, given all the people she charmed in the service of her employer with both her beautiful voice and her Tar Heel friendliness. That said, the newlywed shtick notwithstanding, she tended to be far more of an extrovert on the phone than in person, and definitely not a partier.

For medical reasons but perhaps also by temperament, Carly even was teetotaler. I was, too. Call me in that way an honorary traditional Methodist. She herself was an honorary Jew fond of the related humor and cuisine. Her biggest weakness was macaroons.

Physical attraction? Of course. Carly’s hair was long and thick, and she stood 6’1″ in her prime. I enjoyed being vicariously tall. She overdid “zaftig”—I worried about her health and urged her to diet—but I’ve always believed that feminine beauty can defy the traditional American stereotypes. Carly’s pale skin was that of a woman decades younger, a miracle of wrinkleless.

Due to Carly’s delicate health, we never had children. But our stuffed animals were very articulate, and when she and I disagreed, they generally took her side. Allergy-ridden, Carly couldn’t enjoy the companionship of a real dog or cat. Dander from the Golden Retriever that she owned, before our marriage, had sent her to the emergency room and almost killed her. Toward the end of her life, she would watch the Kitten Rescue webcam site out of Los Angeles, keeping up with all the gossip about each cat’s health and odds of adoption. I’ve always been a rotten recaller of human faces. But from several thousand miles away, Carly knew her kittens cold.

Carly loved high technology and the online world, which helped us get to know each other in depth, while she was living in Arizona, before we even met face to face. When she lacked access to a printer needed to turn in a school paper on time, I faxed her professor a copy of her email. She favored ebooks over paper ones and held cards to enjoy the digital offerings of three library systems. Carly liked the ability to blow up the type. Tired most of the time from fibromyalgia in her last years, she could stretch out in bed and change the pages with less effort than a paper book required. I wish the anti-ebookers could understand what digital library books meant to my wife.

Not so coincidentally, Carly was on my mind in the early 1990s when I begin pushing for a national digital library system and dirt-cheap gadgets to read ebooks with, so that even Americans in the poorest Southern hamlets could pick from millions of titles. The library campaign goes on today on the site. Certain members of our academic and social elites laudably care about “digital preservation” but not quite so much about the nuts and bolts to let the masses share the riches and improve their lot. Some even want public libraries to back off from popular-level books, the very stuff that in digital format helped sustain my sick wife when she was unable to visit the stacks. A gift in Carly’s memory will be made to our public library here in Alexandria, Virginia, to increase its ebook collection.

Would that the super rich valued public, K-12 and academic libraries as much as others do! All the library endowments in the U.S. total only several billion or so. Harvard’s endowment alone is worth some $36 billion. Bill Gates and other Ivy-educated philanthropists would do well to remember the Carlys, donate far more than now to public libraries, and resist their gentrification, which could diminish tax support or at least their effectiveness as literacy-spreaders. Yes, libraries are for education. But they are also for entertainment, often a first step toward the former. 

Class conflicts, of course, rage on most everywhere in American life. But our marriage transcended them. The Rothmans were white-collar people. Carly’s father, Tom Sharpe, was a union electrician who almost lost a good part of his retirement benefits at GE due to cutbacks there. My late mother-in-law, Annie, worked in dusty textile mills despite her asthma. Carly could have thrived at Duke University, Melissa Gates’ alma mater, but her high school teachers and counselors never gave her the encouragement that the daughter of a well-off family might have enjoyed. The Duke dream died. Carly thought at one point of becoming a librarian, and sometimes I wondered if she read Jane Austen with “might have beens” in mind.

Even as an alum of an obscure community college, Carly was still a catch for me. Her emotional intelligence, along with the EQs of her parents, her sister, Kay, and The Reverend Bill, was off the charts. They got along flawlessly with difficult me, after all; what better recommendation? Simply put, the Sharpe family was an in-law joke in reverse. Other positives abounded. Kay was a gifted amateur artist who also shared Carly’s knack for gadgets and, in fact, worked as a computer programmer for a bank until a disability forced her to quit. Logical minds ran in the family. So much alike in many ways, the two sisters could spend hours and hours talking on the phone.

Sunday morning, at Capital Caring Hospice in Arlington, Virginia, it all ended for Carly and me—our happy times together, the newlywed shtick, the shared passion for ebooks, and the rest of the marriage. Carly was a mere 61. The normal survival period for pancreatic cancer, after diagnosis, which generally happens too late, is months or even weeks; that’s about how long it took her father to die of the the disease after learning his fate. Same for one of my favorite Southern writers, Pat Conroy. But Carly lasted two and a half years thanks to her oncologist, Dr. Ivan Aksentijevich, her radiologist, Harold Agbahiwe, her internist, Scott Whittaker, her physical therapist, Chaney Hindman, and the vigilant nurse case managers we hired, Liz Shifflett and Suzanne Hanas. Not all pancreatic cancer is the same. But as a lay person I truly believe that the high-quality care Carly received made a difference.  This week or next, my family and I will scatter Carly’s ashes off the coast of Ocean City, Maryland, in line with her wishes for cremation and the sea.

R.I.P. my dear Carly. I hope that your eternal life is like the happiest moments in a Mayberry RFD rerun and that you can eat all the Jimmy Dean sausage biscuits you want without gaining an ounce.

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