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Month: June 2018

Repeat Posting: Thoughts on “the Longest Day in the World”

Repeat Posting: Thoughts on “the Longest Day in the World”

This piece initially appeared a year ago, on June 21, 2017, the Summer Solstice. Today it is once more the Summer Solstice in the Northern Hemisphere, and the actual solstice officially took place at 6:07 a.m. EDT/10:07 UTC this morning. The time and other references and weather comments in the piece are as they were last year, when the post first appeared. I hope you enjoy it.

It’s June 21, the day of the summer solstice in the Northern Hemisphere, the winter solstice in the Southern Hemisphere. It’s a day that holds various meanings for different peoples, and its significance goes back millennia. The solstice, whether summer or winter, officially took place at 12:24 a.m. U.S. Eastern Daylight Time this morning, or 04:24 UTC.

Just to set the record straight and dispel any questions about my scientific knowledge, I know it’s not the longest day in the world. It’s the longest day of the year in the Northern Hemisphere, the shortest day in the Southern Hemisphere. But we’ll get to this a bit later.

It’s been a mixed bag today here on the West Coast of Florida. We’ve been having a lot of rain, something we didn’t have much of over the winter, and the rainy times are interspersed with sunny breaks. Right now, as I look out the window of my boat, the sun is mostly out but I’m looking at the light through rain-drop spattered glass. At least we’re not getting the effects of Tropical Storm Cindy, which is much further west and at this moment dumping lots of water on the upper Gulf Coast.

In this country, the summer solstice marks the official beginning of summer, though in other places and other cultures it marks the middle of summer, as indicated by the name Midsummer Night, which can occur anywhere from the 20th to the 24th of June. And really it is midsummer, since the days, which have been lengthening since the equinox three months ago, now will start to grow shorter, the nights longer.

The sun has reached its apogee in this hemisphere, as it stands today directly over the Tropic of Cancer. I feel summer ending, we already are on the downhill side, the side that will take us through the hot coming months but already on the slide back into winter, the cold time of year. Just as in the Southern Hemisphere the days will begin to grow longer as the seasons move back to summer.

A year ago on this day I was in Alaska, where there never really was a night. Where I was, well below the Arctic Circle, the sun went down sometime around midnight, but there was a kind of twilight that lasted until the sun rose again a few hours later. Above the Arctic Circle on this day, the sun never sets, and it truly is the Land of the Midnight Sun.

My thoughts turn to other things on this day. Someone asked me the other day, which was Father’s Day in the U.S., what thoughts I had of my father on that Sunday. But really, I think of Father’s Day as a commercial holiday. I also remember the last Father’s Day I had with my father, and how my mother did her unwitting best to create conflict between me and my father. While I may wish a happy day to the fathers I know on Father’s Day, it is today, the day of the solstice, that I think of my father. June 21 was his birthday, which in most years coincides with the solstice. I was told as a child that it was the longest day of the year, which I translated in my own way into it being the longest day in the world, and I would go around telling everyone who would listen that it was.

“It’s the longest day in the world!” I’d exclaim each year on his birthday, from morning until night.

I think today of my father on this day, the 21st of June. Gone now, for nearly 48 years. And I think back to the day of his birth, June 21, 1913. One hundred and four years ago. Even had he not died young as he did, just 56 years old, it is hard to imagine that he would still be alive today had he not died when he did. A prolongation of the inevitable.

A factoid I learned earlier is that today is not the longest day in the history of the world, as one might imagine it to be given that the earth’s rotation on its axis generally was slowing. Rather, the longest day in the history of the world is believed to be June 21, 1912, and things like the earth’s tides and recession of the glaciers have caused a slight increase in the rate of the planet’s rotation since then. My father was born a year later, which arguably could have been the second or third longest day in the history of the world, if not the actual longest day in the world.

I wonder what it was like on that June day, the day of the solstice, the longest day of the year, the day my father was born, in Jersey City, New Jersey. Did his father and mother, his Italian parents, my grandparents that I never knew, know it was the solstice? Did they even know of the solstice? Regardless, I’m inclined to think they did not think of it, if for no other reason than that they had something else on their mind that day. And then I think of the things people from then knew and were taught and how many of those things have been lost today, in these encroaching new Dark Ages in which we find ourselves, and I have to wonder. Perhaps they knew, better than most people today know. Or care to know. And they did note the auspicious day on which their son was born.

I’ll think of my father again on July 27, the anniversary of his death, and by then even our summer, the summer as we define it, will be half over.

The solstices, like the equinoxes, serve as a kind of punctuation for me. I watch the ebb and the flow of the days, the seasons, the years, and they mark the passage of time, time that increasingly slips by way too quickly. All of life is punctuation, I think. Slowing. Stopping. Breaking things, even waves on the water, into different parts, different pieces, different rhythms and fugues and movements and phrases and sentences. It is through such punctuation that we mark our lives, mark our transit through summer and back into winter, from day into night, from life into death. Watching, as a reader of a story does, while the time of our lives flows past. When we lose that punctuation, everything blends into one big mass, and we feel lost in the current, flailing and drowning as we’re pulled inexorably along. At least I do.

Enjoy this song, which I found today amid my files, and with which I end this post, and enjoy the time that nature and life give us.

This piece also appears on Medium. Follow me there, and here.

The Orchestrated Smoke Screen on the Southern Border

The Orchestrated Smoke Screen on the Southern Border

I had resolved not to fall for the smoke screen that as been raised in the media about children being separated from their parents on the southern border, and here I am about to deal with it.

I call it a smokescreen since it’s pretty obvious that it has been raised at this time and in this way to distract attention away from the hearings going on in Congress this week over the Inspector General’s report detailing unprecedented corruption and malfeasance within the FBI, beginning with the Hillary Clinton email so-called investigation.

I’m not going to ignore that report or those hearings, but the din over the children on the border has gotten to the point where it’s virtually impossible not to deal with it, and there is so much utter nonsense and dishonesty embedded in the blather that it offends the senses of anyone even vaguely familiar with what is going on. So, despite my best intents, here I am discussing the border issue. The other, no less important, issue will have to wait for a subsequent posting. Okay, let’s get going with this.

No matter where you come down on the question of whether children should or shouldn’t be separated from their parents when the parents are apprehended for crossing the border illegally, if for even a moment you think this isn’t an orchestrated crisis, I have several hundred miles of border fence I’d like to sell you at a very good price. Neither the timing nor the volume nor the shrillness of the cries nor ferocity of chest beating and rending of garments over this latest border crisis isn’t without behind-the-scenes orchestration.

To establish where I’m coming from on this, I will cite my background as a U.S. consular officer posted to what is called a high-fraud post. That’s a post that gets a high percentage of fraudulent visa applications. It was awhile back and in a different part of the world, but I saw lots of fraud and lots of tactics used by people who would enter and stay illegally in the U.S. And much of what I saw can be applied to interpreting the current situation, including how people would use and abuse their children when their goal was entry to the U.S.

Let’s start with the issue of political asylum, since a big part of the media angst has been over children separated from parents seeking political asylum in the U.S. And let’s start with the facts and not the emotions. For a moment, let’s assume (and it’s a big assumption) that someone has bona fide grounds for seeking political asylum. According to the international standard, they should seek asylum in the first country they come to where they might find protection. In this case, for those coming from Central America, that would be Mexico. But these people are not seeking asylum in Mexico. They want to declare it in the U.S., which is a long way from the countries in which they originate.

Next thing: If you wish to declare yourself as a political asylee, you do it at a port of entry. A regular border crossing. You are showing yourself openly as having a legitimate reason why you should be admitted to the country. But most of these alleged asylum seekers are crossing the southern border illegally, like any other border jumper. Then when they’re caught by the Border Patrol they say they are seeking political asylum. Well, they can say anything they want, can’t they? If they got away with entering the country illegally and managed to make it to the hinterlands, for one moment do you think many, if any, would then apply for political asylum? I highly doubt it.

When I was at that aforementioned high-fraud post, we received a communication from someone at the State Department in Washington. They explained they weren’t supposed to do this, but thought we needed to have something brought to our attention, which was that many of the people we were issuing visitor visas to were declaring political asylum once they got to the U.S. This person in the Department also sent copies of the letters that were filed on behalf of these “asylees,” and every single one of them had been typed on the same typewriter (this was back when typewriters, which had distinctive characteristics, still roamed the earth), were all worded the same, and were all put out by the same bottom-feeder immigration attorney in San Francisco. That was bad enough, but the country we were in and from which these “asylees” hailed had then none of the conditions that would justify a claim of political asylum. Let me just say we tightened up considerably on our already tight visa-issuance consideration standard.

I think it would be naive to assume that all these people showing up across the southern border and declaring political asylum just spontaneously came there. Let’s not forget that a few years ago the Obama Administration put out word on the radio and in the newspapers in Central America telling people what they needed to do to get to the U.S. so they, too, could declare political asylum. More on that period a bit later. But clearly there is something more than just chance behind this latest wave of arrivals.

As for the question about whether children should be separated from their parents, that is one especially prone to emotional responses. Assuming the adults are the children’s parents – which not all are – personally I think it’s not a great policy and generally think it can lead to more problems than it avoids. That said, let’s not be Pollyannish about this whole thing.

One has to wonder what leads a parent to put their children through the danger of a long journey through a country like Mexico, to put them at the mercy of coyotes who exploit and abuse and rape and even kill immigrants, and in some cases to put the children up on the roof of a train for a journey of several days and nights. And then those same parents take their children across the Rio Grande or into the Arizona and New Mexico desert, and all the dangers entailed in that. These are all things that might be considered, in calmer moments, child abuse, and would have the parents charged by CPS and the children taken away from them. I mean, parents have been charged with abuse for letting their kids walk home unaccompanied from school in the suburbs, and yet there are those who would defend these egregious practices that can lead to death and serious injury for the children. What is wrong with these people?

Let me tell you another tale from my consular posting, if you have any delusions about how some parents will exploit and abuse their children to get themselves into the U.S. We handled immigrant visa applications for citizens of a neighboring country which had, at the time, the highest overstay rate in the U.S. That’s the rate at which people arrive with valid visas and then don’t leave when their stay is up.

Adults from this particular country – and I’m sure it’s not the only country in which this occurs – would get a visitor visa, go to the U.S., and stay for years until their numbers for immigrant visas came up, based on some family relation or another. At that point they would have to leave the U.S., go back to their home country, and go through a visa interview, which is where I would come in. Meanwhile, these folks would leave their children behind while they were overstaying in the U.S. to be raised by the children’s grandparents in the home country. We’re not talking a few weeks or months here. We’re talking several, even many, years, so the children who might have been infants when the parents abandoned them were pretty well grown into preteens and teens by the time their parents returned to claim them. I had no compunction against asking those children, in the visa interviews I conducted, how they felt about being abandoned like that by their parents. I can tell you, most of them weren’t too happy about it. And for their part, all the parents could do was squirm in their seats and grin stupidly. Frankly, I thought it was disgraceful, and I had no problem telling the parents that. Unfortunately, this kind of child abandonment wasn’t grounds for denying them the visas they sought.

That was bad enough. But what do you say about a parent who would subject their children to the kinds of risks that they face on the trip north to the U.S., or once they cross the border? Those opposing the Administration’s policies seem to be silent on the topic.

The numbers in the current “crisis” don’t come anywhere near the numbers of unaccompanied minors and family units that overran the southern border back in 2013, 2014, and 2015, under the Obama Administration. Currently, we’re talking about a few thousand children and families. Compare that with fiscal year 2013 when, according to U.S. Border Patrol statistics, 38,759 unaccompanied minors showed up on the southern border. Or the next fiscal year, when the number of unaccompanied minors swelled to 68,541. Meanwhile, “family unit apprehensions” numbered 14,855 in FY 2013 and 68,445 in FY 2014. Do you recall the kind of outcry then that we’re seeing now? I don’t. I do remember the images of what the detention centers looked like at that time, and I have to agree with what President Trump had to say about them.

“You look at the images from 2014,” the President said, “I was watching this morning and they were showing images from 2014 and they blow away what we’re doing today. I saw images that were horrible.”

If you watched Fox News at the time, as I did, you would have been shocked at what you saw nightly. You might not even have seen those images if you watched some of the other media. Those same media that are screaming about what is happening now.

Which leads us to the conclusion that this current outcry, along with being a smoke screen, is politically motivated. It’s one more – pardon the expression – trumped-up offense the Dems think they can pin on the President. The angst and tenor of some of the rhetoric is over the top. And then, when the President relents and signs an executive order stopping the separation of children from their parents, the Dems aren’t happy with that, either. Anything short of releasing all those who cross the border illegally into the general population, never to be seen again (and ostensibly to eventually become Democratic voters, the real goal), won’t appease them. Just keep moving the goal posts and criticizing the Administration and claiming there is nothing you can do about it by getting serious about passing meaningful immigration legislation, and you can fool at least some of the people.

Many of the anecdotes coming out of all the hysteria would be amusing, were they not so serious. A bit of levity did, however, come on the news Tuesday evening when Florida Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz and Senator Bill Nelson, the valedictorian and salutatorian of Democratic hubris and grandstanding in the Sunshine State, whined about not being granted access to a youth detention center in Hialeah, Fla.

Balderdash” – I’m not making this up – is the word Nelson actually used to describe what he had been told in being turned away. Obviously they thought they could just barge their way into the facility and then use it to make political hay. Or, more likely, they knew all along they wouldn’t be granted entry without going through the usual channels. Whatever. Are people naive enough not to see through this sort of thing? I fear they are. However else can these people get elected to office?

Then we have actor Peter Fonda (remember him? Easy Rider? What, 1969?) urging the kidnapping of the President’s young son, Barron, and placing him in a cage with pedophiles. Now if you, kind reader, or I were to make that sort of goad I can just about guarantee that we’d be paid a visit by the Secret Service or the FBI. I wonder what will happen in Fonda’s case, even with First Lady Melania Trump referring him to the Secret Service for investigation. Oh, he’s issued an apology. So sincere, I am sure. Like his calls for raping DHS Kirstjen Nielsen and other tasteless tweets that, were he not of the leftist persuasion, would bring down outrage. Instead we get the sound of crickets from that side of the political divide.

And then there was the near riot that broke out when DHS Secretary Nielsen was cornered inside a DC restaurant – it’s hard to ignore the irony of it being a Mexican restaurant, an irony not lost on those organizing the demonstration, either – by a shouting, jeering mob of Washington Democratic Socialists. So much for democratic discourse and tolerance amid the orchestrated hysteria (a call to the demonstration was put out in a series of tweets).

Finally, one can only wish that someone on the Democratic side of the aisle would call for an end to the offensive references comparing the Administration’s border policy to Nazi Germany and the round-up of U.S. citizens of Japanese decent during the Second World War. Really? Concentration camps? But that’s not going to happen, since some of those offensive references are coming literally from – surprise! – that side of the aisle.

Okay, I’ve said my piece, for now, on this subject. I can almost predict that all the frenzy will blow over as soon as the hearings on the FBI and the abuse of power that went on within it are over. We’ll get to that matter in due course. Meanwhile, don’t believe much of what you see and hear in the media maelstrom centered on the southern border which, I assure you, is more about putting up a smoke screen than anything really to do with the children.

The Singapore Summit: Cautious Hope, But All Bets Are Off

The Singapore Summit: Cautious Hope, But All Bets Are Off

By the time this piece is posted we’ll be minutes away from the historic face-to-face meeting in Singapore between President Donald Trump and North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un. As I’ve said in my previous posting on the question of what to do about North Korea, it’s a fool’s bet to try to predict outcomes. It takes either more hubris than I am willing to muster or more in-depth knowledge than I am willing to claim to predict with any degree of confidence what is going to come out of this summit.

I will claim a few good calls, though. While many were deriding the President’s rhetoric as risking provoking Kim into pulling the trigger and attacking (fill in the blank: South Korea, Guam, Japan, the U.S., the dark side of the moon), I saw it as one bully using the language the other bully might understand. And that’s pretty much how it shaped up. That exchange of nah-nah-na-yah-nah was actually pretty productive and through it Trump told Kim he wasn’t going to be pushed around or sweet talked, as previous presidents had been.

It undoubtedly also took persuasion by the DPRK’s few allies, most notably China, to encourage Kim to consider a new tack in relations with the U.S. and, by extension, South Korea. And one can’t discount the flair and pageantry and the positive PR value of the two Koreas joining together for the Soeul Olympics.

None of this is to say that Kim and Trump will become bosom buddies and that North Korea will abandon its nuclear program or the weapons it already has. Perhaps the best that can be hoped for is that there will be an agreement and framework reached for advancing a process, most likely a lengthy and contentious process, that could eventually lead to some sort of normalization in relations between the U.S., the DPRK, South Korea, and other countries in the region. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo already has said that he is prepared to brief the leaders of the region’s countries on the summit, a kind of preparation for next steps.

There has been one troublesome development in the past few hours, which is Kim’s announcement that he plans on leaving Singapore later today, cutting short his stay. I’ve not only seen this tactic before, but was the victim of if when it was used on me in a key negotiation I had been engaged in. What I fear is that the North Korean leader will discuss most of the key issues with Trump, and then bow out with the most important and crucial issue left untouched. As an experienced negotiator, I trust the President will see through this ruse, but I can’t help but think this is Kim’s plan.

I don’t think it would be any surprise if either Trump or Kim, or both, walk out of the summit. One thinks back to the 1986 Rejkjavik Summit between Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev, when talks collapsed, but the framework was laid for what eventually led to the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty between the U.S. and the then Soviet Union. And one wishes that Barack Obama and John Kerry had been more willing to walk out on the Iranians rather than agreeing to the weak nuclear treaty that President Trump recently pulled the U.S. out of.

Well, it’s almost show time in Singapore, so get your beer and snacks, pull up a seat, and get ready to watch the festivities.