Compared to Trump…

I attended the funeral services of two of my heroes a couple of weeks ago. Mignon Waterman and Bob Ream were both spiritual giants who led lives with outsized positive results for the world.

Mignon was a leader for women and children and mental health, and made her mark through politics and leadership in a wide variety of organizations. Bob was a leader in science and the environment, and made his mark through politics and leadership in a wide variety of organizations. The world is a demonstratively better place because of the two of them.

When I compare myself to them, I realize how little I have done with my time on this earth, and how little chance I have of following in their footsteps.

Rather than feeling sorry for myself, I can cheer myself up by comparing me to a billionaire reality TV star who is now the most powerful man in the world. This is an easier comparison. In fact, I am very much like Donald Trump in significant ways:

I am 70 years old.
I was born into a family that had all the money we needed.
I have been the beneficiary of white male privilege in this country.
I have traveled very little outside this country and know almost nothing about other cultures.
I have bad hair, but I don’t care.
World leaders, both friend and foe alike, have complete disdain for my leadership abilities.
Not one of the White House staff respect me.
I have not read a single word of the new bill to gut ObamaCare and don’t intend to, but that does not prevent me from being very sure what Congress should do with it.
I exercise very little.
I believe that I have fooled people into thinking am I better than I know I really am.
Melania Trump does not want to have sex with me. Women who aren’t my wife don’t want to either.
I am sure that I know more than Congress about almost everything, despite my remarkable ignorance.
When I repeat alternative facts, I am not deliberately lying. I am just ignorant.
I have absolutely no desire to be president. It’s too hard.

There, I feel more important now, even though I know I’m just fooling myself.

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Limericks are Still Legal, So Far

Back in the halcyon days of the Montana Logging and Ballet Company — well, okay, the pedestrian days of the MLBC — Steve Garnaas-Holmes wrote all of our songs and much of our political satire. Now that he no longer has that creative outlet, he muddles through by preaching in his United Methodist Church in Acton, Massachusetts, and writing a daily spiritual blog (Unfolding Light<>) which has thousands of followers. His blog is usually poetry, sometimes verging on the mystical, and often deeply moving.

He hasn’t lost his MLBC satirical bent, however, as shown by these limericks I stole from his Facebook. Don’t ask me how. I’m not on Facebook myself.

Daredevils that make our hearts pump?
Or horses that gallop and jump?
No, the circus in town’s
Just incompetent clowns:
It’s Barnum and Bailey and Trump.

Every Freudian shrink understands
That the size of the bomb Trump commands
Is the ego at play
Of a man who will slay
To show us the size of his “hands.”

A traveling man was excited
To start on his trip with United.
He was dragged off his flight–
What a horrible sight–
But his luggage was all expedited!

The president met at a diner
To make deals with the leader of China
It was such a success
He came home with no less
Than, um, well, a pair of chopsticks.

Checking Russia out makes Trump get sore,
“Cause he hopes we won’t look any more.
For the news-minded faction
He’ll try a distraction:
“Hey, look guys: I started a war!”

You have to admit, those are their own sort of Zen understanding of our present reality or rather unreality. I got so excited that I tried my hand at the limerick, which is the sincerest form of mockery available to the amateur.

Ms. Kellyanne Conway just said,
“I’m so lucky that I am not dead.”
To prepare for her selfie,
She reached for the shelf, the
Big microwave dropped on her head.

Okay, you see why Steve did most of the writing for us.

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Rebuttal to “A Modest Proposal”

I received a rebuttal to my last week’s modest proposal to make our president more knowledgeable by having his children read to him from the New York Times, a source that does not specialize in the alternative news he prefers.

No, the rebuttal did not come from the White House. They were apparently too busy to reply to me because of the failure of the attempt to replace “ObamaCare” with what I call “RepublicansDon’tCare.” Imagine it. Their plan would have reduced the number of people with insurance and driven up costs substantially for the poor, especially the elderly. It would have been devastating to rural hospitals. In other words, it was a real hit on Trump voters. It did have the usual Republican carrot — huge tax breaks for the wealthy.

In the aftermath of the failure of the Republican effort, I’m guessing that President Trump’s advisors were busy covering for his statement that he never promised to repeal ObamaCare in only 64 days. Technically he was telling the truth, because he never once said that. He did say at almost every campaign stop that he would repeal ObamaCare on Day One of his presidency. Perhaps he isn’t very good at math either.

I hope it is possible that the White House will now consider my proposal favorably. However, a friend from childhood, Peg Herbert, sent a rebuttal. My modest proposal was predicated on the observation that our president is functionally illiterate, which I defined, without a shred of scientific backing, as being unable to read or comprehend beyond the fifth grade level.

In her rebuttal, Peg offered an alternate explanation of Trump’s erratic behavior. I will quote her entire critique and alternate theory:

Fifth grade? Surely you jest! He never made it that far. But the best part is the current investigation of the Russians. Clive Cussler predicted it all in his 1984 novel “Deep Six”. The president is kidnapped by evil Koreans who sell him to the Russians. And the Russians put a chip in his brain that will let them control what he thinks, says and does, and they can listen in during cabinet meetings. So when the President is delivered back to Washington (he said he was fishing), the first thing he orders is to get all the US troops out of NATO. I couldn’t believe I was reading a 40-year old novel! But the good guys win in the end. I’ll try to be optimistic.

Thanks, Peg. I’ll try to be optimistic too.

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A Modest Proposal

Here is a modest proposal to help Donald Trump become a better president. It won’t make his policies less racist. That will be impossible as long as he has a white supremacist as his top advisor. It won’t make him more supportive of equal rights for women. When you look at the women on his team like Kellyanne Conway and her comments about Obama spying on Trump through the microwave, it will be hard to convince him that women are in any way equal with men. It won’t make his policies less xenophobic. Hate and fear were essential ingredients to his winning, so he can’t back off now.

This proposal is concerned with his poor spelling, though it won’t improve that any. Donald Trump is the worst-spelling president in history, by far. No previous president has ever written “unpresidented” when he meant “unprecedented”. Few of Trump’s short tweets have every word spelled correctly. When making the unverified accusation that Obama used wiretapping to spy on him, Trump spelled one word “tapp.” Our fifth-grade grandson, Greyson, is a far better speller than our president, as are most fifth graders. However, if a man hasn’t learned to spell “tap” with one “p” by the time he is seventy, and doesn’t care enough about a message going out to millions either to get a spell-checking program or a proofreader, he isn’t going to learn to spell now.

No, this proposal deals with the underlying reason for Trump’s inability to spell and his admission that he reads very little because he is too busy.

I believe our president in functionally illiterate. He probably cannot read and comprehend material beyond a fifth grade level. There are people who can’t read but who are smart. However, his inability to read and his viewing only “news” sources that are little connected to reality, lead him to comprehend very little about what really goes on the world. He asked, “Who knew health care could be so complicated?” The answer is — anyone who can read a newspaper.

So here is my modest proposal. Mr. Trump seems to love his children. Every evening one of them could read two entire articles from the front page of the New York Times to the president. Over the course of a month or two, our president will increase his knowledge about what is really going on by tenfold. He will avoid ridiculous mistakes, propose better policies, and be able to meet and greet foreign prime ministers without making a fool of himself and us. We will all sleep easier, and the world will heave a sigh of relief, just from a little bedtime reading.

It’s a modest but effective proposal. I do what I can.

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Everything You always Wanted to Know about Retirement, But were Afraid to Ask

You: So what is it like to be retired?
Me: I love it. I don’t know how I had time to go to work because there are so many…

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The Danger of Success

Today is a good day to read the paper. My name wasn’t in the obituaries, nor was Pat’s. There wasn’t even anyone I knew. That’s my standard of goodness anymore, and it often isn’t met, because that’s the age I am. That doesn’t mean funerals aren’t on our minds.

In a few minutes, our family will leave for Missoula for the memorial service of Rev. Hugh Herbert. He was one of the giants, in every sense of the word, of the United Methodists in Montana. He was the key figure in convincing our father to move from his job in Nashville as the international youth leader of United Methodism (well, it wasn’t “united” until later) to Montana. Dad spoke at a Methodist youth camp at Luccock Park, south of Livingston. The camp was such fun, and Dad and Hugh hit it off so well, that Hugh was able to convince our father to move us to Montana. Hugh had no authority to offer him the job, but that apparently didn’t stop him from offering and Dad from accepting. Then it was the little matter of working it out with the Bishop and giving notice to the church hierarchy in Nashville.

The Harpers and Herberts were close, because Dad and Hugh usually took their whole families to church camps and Pastors’ School when they were counseling or running the camps. Hugh’s wife, Helen, and our Mom were friends. Helen was one of the world’s kindest and most loving people ever, along with our mother, Dorothy. The Herberts’ second daughter, Peg, was one of my best friends in high school, despite not living in the same town. My brother Hal and David Herbert were pals.

Robbie was the youngest of the four Herbert children, and Nancy was the second youngest of the five Harpers. At a work camp for building the new dining hall at Luccock, adults and high schoolers were reaching the point of putting tar on the roof. Nancy and Robbie were young children, but wanted to do their part. They borrowed a bucket of tar and applied much of it to the inside of the little Dutton chapel, not far from the dining hall.

Their handiwork might have gone unnoticed for much longer, except that they were present when Hugh shouted, “Where is that tar bucket?” The two children were too young to know that their best answer was not “It isn’t in the chapel.” The Harpers and Herberts have been stuck together ever since.

Hugh was a tremendous preacher, powerful and spell-binding. My brother Steve says he has heard tons of graduation speeches in his career as a high school and college student, parent, and professor at Carroll College. The only one he can remember is Hugh Herbert’s address to Rocky Mountain College grads. He talked about the dangers of success.

Hugh told the story of his son David, who was a large child (and would eventually become a giant man like his father). Whenever the family would go to the camp at Luccock Park, David’s two older sisters would hike to Pine Creek Falls. The trail to the spectacular lower falls is one “Forest Service mile” (which is substantially longer than ordinary miles I can attest from experience) with the last part of the hike being a pretty fair uphill climb. David was not able to walk all the way, so he didn ‘t get to go. One time David convinced his dad to take him along. Not too far up the trail, David said he couldn’t walk any farther. Hugh picked the child up on his shoulders and managed to make it all the way up to the falls. As they climbed the last rise and saw the beautiful falls, David shouted from his father’s shoulders, “I made it!”

Hugh said the danger of success is that we think we have made it on our own, when that is never the case.

My father used to talk about the self-made man who worshipped his creator. We can all think of a leader to whom that applies perfectly. There is no use in pointing fingers, because most of us forget all the family, friends, teachers, and sometimes well-timed strangers who play a key role in who we become and what we achieve.

Today at the memorial we will sing great music of the church and the camps and tell Hugh Herbert stories and hug old friends. It will be a fine celebration of a great life, and also a time for us all to give thanks for the man and family who helped make us who we are. Thank you Hugh and all you Herberts.

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That’s No Joke

For some time now, I have been anxious because I lost my sense of humor. I used to be funny, just like all my siblings. We learned it the hard way, by being forced to tell corny jokes in public by our father.

Dad — Rev. George Harper to many of you – was a genuinely funny human being who was the youth leader of the United Methodists in Montana when we were growing up in Great Falls. When we were young, for example 11, 9, 7 ,5, and 3 years old (all born in November except for the premature Nancy born October 31), our parents would take us to several high school church camps led by our father every summer. We loved being around the older kids, except for talent night, when we children would often be pressed into skit service. Dad would be the Sunday school teacher, and we would answer the Bible questions.

When was baseball first mentioned in the Bible? In the big inning.
When was tennis first mentioned? Joseph served in King Pharaoh’s court.
Smoking? Rebecca lit off a camel.
Who was the shortest man in the Bible? Not Knee-high-miah or Bildad the Shuhite, but the man who slept on his watch.

Most of these jokes would not even be recognizable for teens today who don’t read the King James version of the Bible and have never heard of Camel cigarettes.

There were lots more Bible questions and it seems like we added some new ones every year. Apparently these corny jokes were funny to teenagers when children gave the answers, especially if one of us got confused and gave the answer intended for a different question.

When are fireworks first mentioned in the Bible? Rebecca lit off a camel.

In college and later, I wrote and told jokes on stage with the Montana Logging and Ballet Company and the predecessor groups with me and Fitz. That was just for fun. I got really serious about humor when Pat and I had our two daughters.

Telling corny jokes keeps your children on their toes and off balance at the same time. After I told an especially bad joke, Molly might say “You have just made me dumber,” and Robin would add “Please tell me I’m adopted.” The children would retaliate by telling nose jokes, since they did not receive the great gift of the Harper nose, but instead took after their mother. “Can you sit on the other side of me, Dad? I’m trying to read and you are blocking the light.” “Will you please keep your nose out of my business – oh I guess that’s impossible unless you turn the other way.”

Yes, nose jokes aren’t funny, especially to those of us who are not nasally-challenged like the rest of you, but they served to make my children very funny people, and, more importantly, gave them an exquisite sense of embarrassment. Embarrassment is important when girls become teenagers. Parents use it because it is the last tool of control they have, and it often works. Fortunately for parents, teen women never literally die of embarrassment, or scenes like this would be commonplace: “Molly, is that your dad in his underwear letting the dog out in the yard?” (Whump.) “Wow, she’s dead.”

So everything was fine until our country went crazy. Sometime in there I thought I lost my sense of humor, so that I walk around depressed much of the time. Now I am starting to suspect I didn’t so much lose my sense of humor, as that it was stolen from me.

I suspect that because I got a ransom note. When I told Pat, she said “Don’t answer it. What if they send back all your bad jokes?”

The ransom note said “#makeamericagrateagin: we will not give you back your sinse of humer until you stop righting turrible things about the gratest precedent ever.”

I’m guessing the original note was tweeted, and then some flunky printed it off and mailed it to me, since I don’t tweet or twit and have no desire to learn.

I’m in a dilemma. I would like to get my “since of humer” back, although I suspect I could then only tell redneck jokes like “What do two rednecks say when they decide to get divorced? ‘We can still be cousins.’” Or “Did you hear about the man who won the Tennessee $3 million lottery? He gets $3 a year for a million years.”

Is a sense of humor really worth it, if I can only get it back by no longer righting turrible things about the gratest precedent? I wrote back and said, “He does grate on us, and he is setting all kinds of precedents never before seen.”

I got the reply. “That’s no joke.”
No argument there.

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Just Show Up

It snowed last night, so our first spring is over. Every year in Montana we have maybe 10-12 springs, each followed by winter except for the last one, which is followed by summer (or occasionally fall.)

For several glorious days, highs in Helena were in the 40s, so the knee-high snow in our back yard slumped down to just above ankle-high. Water ran in the streets over all the ice, which made it much more slippery than an ice rink. This isn’t Seattle, so a little snow and ice won’t cause any snow days for schools and people will still show up at work.

Woody Allen said “Eighty percent of life is showing up.” Montanans take that seriously.

Pat and I showed up with 500 or so friends at a rally to talk to our Republican US Senator, Steve Daines. He garnered national attention, and embarrassment for Montanans, by using a little-used Senate rule to prevent Sen. Elizabeth Warren from reading a letter from Coretta Scott King on the Senate floor. Imagine that — a millionaire Montanan so out touch with Montana values that he told a woman to shut up because she was reading a letter from Martin Luther King Jr.’s wife as part of the debate about whether a racist should be confirmed as attorney general. The next day, parts of the letter were read into the record on the floor of the Senate, but a male senator did it, so I guess it was acceptable to Republicans.

We showed up at a rally, because Sen. Daines has avoided holding town meetings or even meeting face to face with individual Montanans because of the large groups of people protesting his actions, including his voting for the unqualified Betsy De Vos for Secretary of Education after she donated $46,800 to his campaign (she would not have been confirmed without Daines’ vote) and other issues. The rally was scheduled because the senator was supposed to address the Montana legislature, but he didn’t show up, probably because he found out there would be lots of people outside wanting to talk to him.

Rally organizers did a great job. There were a few powerful speakers, and we did some fine chants like “You work for us” and “No hate, no fear, refugees are welcome here.” Most important, we were given the opportunity to hear about other coming actions and how to join with different groups that are being vigilant about what is happening in the country and our own legislature.

One key issue with Sen. Daines is his fear of meeting with constituents unless they agree with him. One of our friends, Al Beaver, who is part of Helena Rising, signed up for a “telephone town hall” held by Sen. Daines to prove that he is “listening.” The only access was by signing up on a list, and then waiting by your phone until you were called. Al signed up, and was patched into the call by the Daines people an hour and fifteen minutes after it started, and just in time to hear the senator closing the meeting. Other constituents were never called into the “town meeting.”

At our rally, one woman from Missoula talked about how the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) had saved her life when her cancer was discovered, because she would never have been able to afford the life-saving treatment without it. After emails and phone calls got no response, she traveled to DC to speak to our senator, since he has been avoiding Montanans here. She wanted to ask him what the Republican alternative to ACA would be, once they kill the hated Obamacare that has provided coverage for her and millions of other people. Sen. Daines not only wouldn’t meet with her, he had Capitol Security remove her from the office. Cowardice is not a Montana value either.

Our only Montana US Representative, Ryan Zinke, will soon be confirmed as the head of the Department of Interior. He is preparing for the confirmation by not showing up – he has missed over 80% of the votes in the House in 2017, according to a news article last week. Although neither he nor his office would respond to reporters’ questions, political analysts say it is surely to avoid any votes which might then come up in the confirmation debate.

The future of our democracy is more uncertain now than at any time since the Civil War. We ordinary people will have some say in whether we persist as a nation with good values. True, we don’t face the temptations of people in power. No one is going to offer us more than the average Montana family’s salary for a single confirmation vote, but we must do what we can.

We can show up to advocate for the good and oppose the evil. Over time, as happened with the protests against the war in Viet Nam, we can make a difference if we persist. Show up. That’s not all we need to do, but it is the foundation of making a difference together.

If you are in the Helena area, sign up with Helena Rising at to receive notice of opportunities to show up, call, email, or write to Montana legislators or the President or Congress as issues come up. There are similar groups providing information in all the other Montana and American cities.

Don’t be a fair-weather citizen. Snow or no snow, it’s time to show up.

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The Ministry of Truth

During the Nazi rise to power, an educated “Christian” nation fearfully traded freedom for economic and political security and nearly took the whole world down with it. In the aftermath, in 1949, George Orwell penned his horror novel, 1984, in which the Nazi formula has been taken to its extreme.

The “hero” of the novel, Winston Smith, works for the Ministry of Truth of Airstrip One (formerly called Great Britain), a province of the superstate Oceania. The job of the employees of the Ministry of Truth is to monitor the latest pronouncements of the government (built around the personality cult of “Big Brother”) and then to find any past evidence which contradicts the current truth. All past evidence must be destroyed, so that there is never any proof that the current version is not absolutely the truth.

In 2017, presidential spokeswoman Kellyanne Conway came up with the felicitous phrase “alternative facts” as the new Trump-speak for clearly fallacious statements, like the non-existent “Bowling Green Massacre.” Her meaning was clear. An “alternative fact” is a lie that the administration wants people to believe, and so will repeat it until it is “true.”

Yesterday President Trump spent an hour-and-a-half press conference mostly attacking the media which report anything at all negative about him, his administration, or his alternative facts. According to the AP writer, he bullied reporters, by name, and often interrupted before they could finish asking questions.

The press conference was astounding not just for the unbelievable opinions that his White House is a “finely tuned machine” and that “there has never been a presidency that has done so much in such a short period of time.” There were the usual bragging falsehoods. He referred to receiving 306 electoral votes, the largest since Ronald Reagan. When a reporter with access to instant fact-checking noted that he got 304 votes, which were fewer than Bush Senior’s , both of Bill Cinton’s, and both of Obama’s victories, Trump shut him down. The most frightening part of his open war on the free press was his suggestion that any negative coverage of his administration was “fake news.”

Let me state the obvious. Every President, and almost all politicians, lie at some point. The only politicians who don’t ever “lie” are dictators who never make a mistake, who know more than everyone else about everything, and who (like North Korean Kim Jong Un) bowl nine perfect 300 games in a row. Such people have a Ministry of Truth to wipe out any evidence that contradicts the current “truth.”

We have a president who can never admit he is wrong, even when confronted with evidence which are not alternative facts. To use men’s locker-room talk, “If you don’t have the cojones ever to admit you are wrong, you aren’t really a man.” To use political locker-room talk, “If you don’t have the cojones ever to admit you are wrong, you aren’t really a president, you are a wannabe Kim Jong Un in 1984.”

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In Praise of Trump

There has been a lot of criticism of our president in his first few days in office, so much that his polling numbers are the lowest in history for any new president. This must hurt a man who cares very much about being the best, the first, the winner. Let me set the stage and then say a word on his behalf.

On the campaign trail he said things like these:
“I know more about ISIS than the generals do.”
“I know more about the federal government than anyone.”
“I will eliminate crime.”
“I am the only one who can fix what is wrong with our country.”

He is obsessed with being the most loved man ever. When he should have been trying to mend bridges with the CIA, he bragged about having the biggest inauguration crowd ever, despite clear photographic evidence that it wasn’t even the biggest in this decade.

The saddest part of a sad campaign was the debate between Donald Trump and Marco Rubio about who had bigger “hands.” It is not unusual for immature high school or college boys to boast that “Mine is bigger than yours.” When a man who just turned 70 (welcome to the club, Donald) is still making that boast, both figuratively and literally, we can assume two things:
1. He is very insecure.
2. He has reason to be.

My friend Ron Waterman, one of the top attorneys in Montana, pointed out that President Trump has actually been the best in some categories that we should applaud. He said the Montana ACLU, the group that defends the individual rights and liberties guaranteed by the constitution to all, has experienced unprecedented growth, as has the national organization.

I did my fact checking, and found a Time Magazine article dated Nov. 14, 2016 that said right after the election, in just a few days, the donations to national ACLU increased by 7000%, as they collected “roughly 120,000 donations totaling more than $7.2 million.”

In those same few days, Planned Parenthood received 80,000 donations, many of them in the name of Vice President Mike Pence, but our president should get credit for those as well.

The Anti-Defamation League, which “fights anti-Semitism and all forms of bigotry” experienced a “fifty-fold” increase in donations.

Add to this the size of The Women’s March the day after the inauguration. Was it the largest demonstration ever in DC or was that the civil rights march with Dr. Martin Luther King? No matter, if you add in all the marches around the US and 30 other countries that happened the same day, Donald Trump turned out the biggest American demonstration in history.

Let me make a bold claim for which I have no factual support except the ones previously stated (although Pat assures me that facts are no longer necessary in our country today) in praise of Donald Trump.

I believe that he will turn out to be the best fundraiser and membership recruiter in history for every group that supports and defends the victims of bigotry, misogyny, xenophobia, gay-bashing, or who oppose every attempt to increase the power of the presidency over Congress, the courts, and the law.

This is an outcome that a large majority of us in the US wholeheartedly support. Donald Trump, in some ways that make a positive difference in our country, you are indeed the best. Thank you, Mr. President.

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