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Now Available: Volumes I, II, III, and IV of the Collected Published and Unpublished Papers.

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Thursday, May 23, 2019


I really am taking what they call in kindergarten a “time out” but something happened yesterday that was too delicious to ignore.  I learned what “hectocotyliferously” means.  A word of explanation is called for.

Seventy years ago, when Susie and I were high school girlfriend and boyfriend, we used to read together the poems of e. e. cummings [lower case intentional.]  cummings was the son of a Harvard professor and a graduate of Harvard.  One of our favorite poems [#201 in Susie’s copy of Collected Poems] is a hilariously cruel portrait of a Radcliffe student.  It is one of cummmings’ longest poems, filling two pages.  The opening lines are:

" Gay " is the captivating cognomen of a Young Woman of cambridge, mass.
to whom nobody seems to have mentioned ye olde freudian wish;
when i contemplate her uneyes safely ensconced in thick glass
you try if we are a gentleman not to think of(sh).

the world renowned investigator of paper sailors — argonauta argo
harmoniously being with his probably most brilliant pupil mated,
let us not deem it miraculous if their(so to speak) offspring has that largo appearance of somebody who was hectocotyliferously propagated. 

Those lines have stuck in my memory for almost three-quarters of a century, but in all that time it never occurred to me until yesterday to find out what “hectocotyliferously” actually means.  Well, Google supplied the answer and it was worth the wait.

hec·to·cot·y·lus  noun  a modified arm used by male octopuses and some other cephalopods to transfer sperm to the female.

I shall return to my self-enforced silence.

Wednesday, May 15, 2019


I have been blogging regularly and at great length for ten years, with the occasional break for a safari or a trip to Paris.  I began in a bad mood.  Let me quote a paragraph from my post of October 4, 2009:

“The truth is that at seventy-five, I am simply weary of being constantly, gut-wrenchingly angry all the time. I started getting angry in the late Fall and early Spring of 1960-61, over the impending invasion of Cuba. I worked myself into a permanent frenzy over the threat of nuclear war. I got angrier about Civil Rights and the Viet Nam War. I exploded in rage at the outrageously discriminatory professional treatment of my first wife, which triggered my successful effort to get the American Philosophical Association to establish a standing committee on the status of women in the profession. I was livid about Nixon, furious about Reagan, contemptuous of the first Bush, appalled by the second Bush. As Lily von Shtupp [Madeline Kahn] sings in Mel Brooks' immortal movie, BLAZING SADDLES, I'm tired!”

And here I am, ten years later, beside myself at eighty-five, as I was at seventy-five, sixty-five, fifty-five, forty-five, thirty-five, and thirty [I was pretty laid back when I was twenty-five.]  Now, I am not a low energy guy, but it takes it out of you being mad for more than half a century.  When I was a boy, “late capitalism” was an analytic category.  Now it is a sad in-joke.  Bad as things were then [and they really were godawful if you were Black or female or gay or poor], I honestly thought they could get permanently better.  Seventy years later, I am not so sure.

It is well understood here in the retirement community where I live that it takes old folks longer to recover from injuries.  Usually, that is a reference to breaking a shoulder or a hip, but it is true for injuries to the spirit as well.

So I am going to take a little time off to heal.  I have already explained that I will be unable to blog for about a month, due to plumbing work in my building combined with a two week trip to Paris.  I am going to add a bit more time, and bid you all adieu until July 5th, when I shall be back from Paris and, I hope, an Eeyore no more but a Tigger reborn.

Before I go, I have one brief comment on a recent event.  Two days ago, Doris Day died.  The stories said she was ninety-seven.  My first reaction, when I read that, was “Wow!  How old she was.  Extraordinary!”  But then I reflected, the lady who lives across the hall and the lady who lives in the apartment under us are both ninety-six, and they are chipper, very witty, a bit slowed down to be sure.  I don’t see either of them leaving us any time soon, and next year they will both be ninety-seven.  That is old, but it is not that old.  Good lord, I may be blogging for another ten years.

See you after the Fourth.

Tuesday, May 14, 2019


There is increasing reason to fear that some time in the next year, the Supreme Court will overturn Roe v. Wade.  I leave it to you to check the news and seek out Justice Breyer’s warning that the High Court seems increasingly ready to overturn precedent.  This would be a disaster for untold numbers of women.  What can be done?

I leave to one side fantasies about a car crash on the way to the Inauguration of President-elect Warren in which Justices Kavanaugh, Thomas, and Gorsuch are killed, and also pie-in-the-sky plans to increase the Court by two positions.  Let me suggest a radical but perhaps manageable plan that could adapt to the new legal landscape.

According to Google [citing the Guttmacher Institute], there are maybe 930,000 abortions a year in the United States,  Many of them are performed in states where abortions would continue to be legal if Roe were overturned.  Inasmuch as California and New York are among many the abortion friendly states, I will assume that perhaps 400,000 of the yearly abortions are in states intent upon criminalizing the procedure.  Now, it is of course legal for a woman in one of those benighted states to take a plane to another state and have the abortion there, and I am sure even now, when states like Texas have made it so difficult to obtain an abortion, there are a good many upper middle class women who can afford to do just that.  Let us assume that leaves 300,000 women a year needing abortions for whom arranging and taking such a trip is either very difficult or in fact impossible.

What to do?

Here is an idea, bizarre but legal and, with sufficient organizing skill and enough money, manageable.  Suppose a national organization were to be formed, using many social media platforms, to offer an abortion assistance service.  Once the organization was contacted, it would send a representative to the woman’s home [in a random, unmarked, ordinary unnoticeable car].  With the driver would be someone trained to administer a pregnancy test.  If it is positive, and if she can produce proof that she is not a minor, the driver will either drive her to another state and call ahead to arrange for the abortion at a safe clinic, or book a flight for her to an abortion-friendly state, where she will be met and taken to a clinic.  She will stay overnight and be taken home.  If she is a minor, she will have to be accompanied by a parent or legal guardian.

What would this whole business cost each year?  For 300,000 abortions, I am guessing 1 billion dollars [$3,300 each] should cover it.

So, the plan would require the public to donate a billion dollars.  That is a lot of money, but it is entirely doable, with sufficient public relations promotion.  Perhaps Planned Parenthood could run the whole thing.

Obviously anti-abortion forces would do a variety of things to disrupt the operation.  It would be a struggle.  But if Roe is overturned, the ground level outrage is going to be deafening.

Lord knows, I cannot organize such an effort.  But someone could.

Sunday, May 12, 2019


In the flurry of heated comments on this blog in the past several days, one stuck in my mind and piqued my curiosity.  Two days ago, in what I am pretty sure was meant as a devastating criticism of me and my blog, Talha wrote:  “If one were to seek a definitive "jump the shark" moment for this blog, this would be it.”  I thought to myself. “Now what exactly does that mean?”  I knew it had something to do with Happy Days, Fonzie, and water skiing, but pretty clearly the expression had taken on a larger life.  So, as I always do when I am puzzled, I Googled.  Here is what I found:

“Jumping the shark is the moment when something that was once popular that no longer warrants the attention it previously received makes an attempt at publicity, which only serves to highlight its irrelevance.”

Huh.  That was odd.  Was I once popular but now no longer warrant the attention I previously received?  It was pretty clear that Talha did not intend to pay me a compliment – I got that.  But the rest of it puzzled me.

Once popular.  This blog occupies a tiny backwater off a trickle of a stream that never quite makes it as far as even a secondary waterway.  For some years now, if Google metrics are accurate, it has been attracting between 1000 and 1500 views a day.  Allowing for the faithful who click multiple times and the occasional visitors who nod in from time to time, there might be as many as 2000 folks worldwide who come to visit, among whom maybe a dozen comment with any frequency [that last may be a bit generous.]  Every so often, Brian Leiter links to something I have said, and for a day the views soar to 3000, but then things settle down and putter along.

Now, 1000-1500 a day is fabulous if you are standing in front of a classroom, but in the Blogosphere it is pathetic.  The serious blogs record daily visits in the scores of thousands or even millions.  My total viewership would be within the margin of error of a real blog.  However – and on this I take my stand – it is constant, neither growing nor dwindling. 

I am afraid that expression is like many that once had a precise meaning but now simply convey a generalized scorn.  Sort of like gaslighting.


My old friend, William Polk, has just circulated an important essay on Trump's policy toward Iran.  I have uploaded it to, accessible via the link on this page, where it is listed as "Essay on US."  I strongly recommend it.


This doesn't sound technocratic to me.


One of my ways of preserving some semblance of sanity is to do the TIMES crossword puzzle each day.  Mondays are dead easy, then each day is a bit harder, until Friday and Saturday are really challenging.  I do them in ink, since pencil does not read as easily.  The Thursday puzzle always has an interesting gimmick in it, sometimes very hard to decipher. The Sunday puzzle is very big but only about as hard as the Wednesday puzzle.

On Sunday, there is sometimes a DoubleCrostic, and that is where the problem arises.  I love doing DoubleCrostics but I hate filling in the letters and I am constantly making mistakes.  I have long thought that if I were as rich as Bezos, I would hire someone whose whole job would be to fill in the DoubleCrostic letters for me.

And then it struck me:  This is a perfect job for an App.  It should be child’s play to design an App that automatically links the letters in the answers to the clues to the places in the puzzle where they go.  Surely there must be an online DoubleCrostic site that does that.