RBG’s Other Role

A high school friend from the east coast is here visiting her grown son, daughter-in-law, and new grandbaby — visits Laurie and I both cherish. The documentary RBG is around Seattle, and Laurie shared with me that Ruth Bader Ginsburg was her camp counselor back in the day. Three years ago the bunk had a 70th birthday reunion, and RBG showed up — affirming that many of the values she’s held in adult life she learned at camp.

When I was growing up in Kearny, NJ, in the 1950’s and early 1960’s, all the Jewish kids who were my friends went to camp — most of them for the whole summer. The culture of summer camp was a profound influence in their lives. I didn’t go, not even to day camp, although after my father died and my mother went back to work, my younger sister Wendy did. I don’t think I had any bonding experience that was similar until the Peace Corps.

Sara and Matt both went to camp. Matt attended Camp Stella Maris, in the Finger Lakes district of upstate New York, quite near our home. He was a camper, counselor, and finally waterfront director. At least one of his best friends to this day came from that camp experience. Sara chose to go to a different camp every year, and finally to break out of the camp routine entirely to go on trips which she planned and arranged and convinced us to allow her to join. Her first one was a bike trip, supervised, from Amsterdam to Paris. As we all know about Sara, she logged that one into her experience bank and kept on going.

I Finally Know Who Ivanka Reminds Me Of

Eva Peron. Ivanka Trump reminds me of Eva Peron. Both are beautiful women, elegantly dressed. Both have a certain amount of native intelligence. Both are inseparable from the men who made them successful — by their own choice. Both are world class enablers. Both are filled with empty words that attempt to soften the cruelty of their male sponsors. Eva stood by the side of Juan Peron, a bull-necked thug who was nothing like the elegant Jonathan Pryce portrayal in the film version of Evita. Ivanka stands wordlessly at the side of her father, a florid, overweight old man with oddly colored hair but some sort of mystical appeal to angry and fearful white voters. Eva slept her way to Peron’s side. We assume Ivanka and Donald are not on those terms, although his relationship with both of his daughters is oddly sexualized. He might very well, he tells us, be dating Ivanka if she were not his daughter. He apparently asked a friend, when his daughter Tiffany was born, if the friend didn’t think the infant was “hot”. What kind of father says that?

Eva Peron enjoyed the adulation of the poor of Argentina — does to this day, even though she died in 1952. She was their Santa Evita. I don’t think Ivanka gets that kind of adulation from anyone. Perhaps it’s a different era; people are no longer quite so willing to accept the pre-packaged version of whatever Ivanka is trying to sell.  Eva Peron had a terrible death of cervical cancer at the age of 33. Perhaps Ivanka will fare better in life, although when Donald finally passes from the national scene I fervently hope she does too.

I’m all in with Karen Tumulty of the Washington Post, who has this to say about Ivanka:

Her tenure in Washington has amounted to little more than an elaborate personal branding exercise, to burnish her modern-working-mom aura. But that image has gone the way of her soon-to-be-defunct line of shoes and dresses. In the case of both, no one is buying it anymore.”


Bruised v. Broken Kneecap

French rider Philippe Gilbert had to withdraw from the Tour de France after a crash that left him with a broken patella. But before he withdrew, he finished the stage, some 60km from the point where he went over a low stone wall on a fast downhill just after a brutal bend in the road. This was roughly the same spot where Italian rider Fabio Casartelli was killed in 1995 crashing into a similar stone wall head first. The Tour de France race route is very challenging, and these riders don’t mess around by putting on the brakes very often.

Regular readers of the blog know that a little more than two weeks ago, I fell hard on a steep part of Queen Anne hill, crashing my knees on the hard sidewalk. After an X-ray of my right knee, I am nursing a bad bruise, not a break. But the knee was very sore and swollen for several days, bad enough to interrupt my sleep. I can’t imagine riding a bike 60km on a bruised knee, much less a broken one.

If you’re wondering about the medical judgment of letting Gilbert ride with a broken patella, race doctors generally defer to the rider if he can get back on the bike and go. A more thorough assessment comes after the race stage is done. No team wants a rider — a valuable asset into which they’ve invested a lot of money — to cause himself permanent injury by riding when he shouldn’t. But that judgment isn’t made until after the race stage, unless the rider has a head injury and is clearly unable to make a lucid decision at the point of the accident. Lawson Craddock, a young American rider who fractured his scapula during the first stage, is still riding — although he ‘s dead last. He’s finishing within the time limit outside of which riders are disqualified, and that’s saying a lot with such a painful injury.

Professional athletes deal with injuries all the time, but I can’t imagine a sport in which the competitors are tougher than at the Tour. If you’ve ever had a bone break, or even a bad bruise, imagine getting on a bike and riding up a mountain like the Alps. The Tour de France is the crowning event of the professional cycling year, and competitors in the race unlucky enough to suffer accidents do it all the time.

Being the Last Man Standing

Quite improbably, there is a man living alone in the Amazon jungle. He’s thought to be in his 50’s. He is the last surviving member of an indigenous tribe whose other members were killed in the 1990’s, perhaps by ranchers.

That means he’s lived alone and been self-sufficient for twenty or more years. It’s a long time. The government helps him indirectly, by leaving seeds and tools where he can find them, and by trying to keep loggers and ranchers and drug dealers who might harm him away. The man shows no desire to make contact with other people — he fired an arrow at a representative from the National Indian Foundation who tried reaching out to him.

The government of Brazil sees the man as a symbol of “resistance and resilience”, and believes he has a right to live out his life in his chosen way.

I’m a pretty introverted person, but I’d have a really hard time living entirely by myself in any environment, much less a jungle. I can barely imagine what this man has survived, using only what is available around him. I wonder if he ever had a partner, or children, or whether he misses the others from his tribe. If he does, he shows no signs of giving up on life.


Tour de France: A Boy Named Lilian

French rider Lilian Calmejane is in the Tour again this year. He’s a very handsome young man, and a professional athlete skilled enough to make the Direct Energie’ team for this year’s Tour.

We have a lot of gender neutral names in our country, but Lilian isn’t one of them. I wonder what his friends call him for short? Being named Lilian here would be a heavy burden indeed for a boy, sort of like the Johnny Cash song “A Boy Named Sue”. I’m glad Lilian lives in France.

Cher in Her Full Glory

Cher is 72. Good God. How is that possible. I forgot we were that close in age, and she looks one heck of a lot better than I do.

Mamma Mia 2 is coming out next week, with Cher in the role of Ruby, Meryl Streep’s mother. Cher sings Abba’s hit song Fernando, and the clip is already out on Buzzfeed and on YouTube.


This is Cher at her most magnificent, in her full glory, one of the greatest pop singers of all time singing Abba, one of the greatest pop groups of all time. No one will ever sing it better.

Film Review: The Remarkable Fred Rogers

Sara and Matt watched Mister Rogers Neighborhood almost every day when they were little. The show came on at 4:30pm, and was a perfect way to settle them down and lead into a calm dinner — no matter how much excitement they’d had that day. I’d overhear from the kitchen, which was adjacent to the room we’d made into a play area and TV room. I loved Fred Rogers’ calm voice, his endearing characters both live and in puppet form, his ability to talk to young children — the show was geared toward 3-5 year olds — about the most difficult subjects in a way that respected their inherent dignity and intelligence.

In the documentary film “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?”, Rogers recounts an early conversation with a small group of children that set the stage for what the show would become. One little boy looked at Rogers and solemnly announced that the ear of his beloved teddy bear had come off in the wash.

I’m paraphrasing, but Rogers responded in a way that was intuitively brilliant and opening of a deep conversation about children’s real fears. “That happens sometimes with our favorite toys, doesn’t it? But OUR ears don’t come off. Our noses don’t come off, or our arms, or our legs.”

Rogers was spot on. The children jumped into the conversation, and a wonderful interaction ensued.

Rogers had a particular philosophy of how TV should be used to teach young children: not with noise and slam-bang and distraction much less with violence, but with a slow-paced visit to a neighborhood where Mister Rogers was familiar, the characters were familiar, where people are valued for being just who they are, and where adults keep children safe. Mister Rogers neighborhood had one other key feature: honesty prevailed, no matter what. The TV show began in 1968, a deeply troubling year on our national stage. Mister Rogers did a show about Bobby Kennedy’s assassination, built around a balloon popping in Lady Aberlin’s hands. Balloons had popped in that auditorium in California, where chaos ensued after the sound of gunfire.

Not for nothing, but Mister Rogers’ neighborhood exposed children to a new vocabulary. Sara had a particular attachment to Ornythorhinchus Anatinus — a platypus puppet character — whose correct name she could pronounce at three years old.

I wasn’t aware of the controversies about Fred Rogers. When he died, protestors massed across from his funeral because he’d affirmed Officer Clemmons, who was gay — not on the show in that era, but in life. Conservatives accused Rogers of being a narcissist, of telling children they were special when they really were not. Actually, Rogers was an ordained Presbyterian minister, and his show was his ministry. His message was the fundamental Christian message of the dignity of the human person, without qualification or reservation.

“Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” is a remarkable documentary about a remarkable man. Most of us in the audience were near tears at the end, at the basic human decency of the man, about his wisdom and grace and ability to connect with small children and with adults on a most profound level. The contrast to our current culture was unmistakable, and I think the tears were not only about nostalgia, but about what we’ve lost.


Serena and Billie Jean King

My heart is with the early morning live Tour de France, but I switched to the Wimbledon women’s semi-final during ad breaks and caught a bit of Serena’s decisive victory. Right behind her in the stands was Billie Jean King, my alter ego and the Queen Mother of women’s tennis. The 2017 film “Battle of the Sexes” was largely true: more than anyone else, Billie Jean King elevated women’s tennis from what men of the time considered “the girls in tennis skirts entertaining around the margins of serious men’s competition” to “professional athletes with big money winnings of their own”. The luminaries of women’s tennis who came later, including Serena, owe much to Billie Jean. I’m so glad she gets to sit front and center, getting to enjoy what her own talent, vision, grit and determination has wrought.

Lucky Serena

Serena Williams is one of the greatest tennis players, male or female, of all time. She’s currently in the semi-finals at Wimbledon. She’s also hit a streak of luck, which helps when you’re an mature athlete. Williams is 36 — old for a professional still playing at top form. She was out most of last year for the birth of her daughter, now 11 months old. Recovering peak performance at her age, and after giving birth, is effortful. She didn’t have an easy time of it, as this sensitive article describes.


For some inexplicable reason, almost all of the top seeded women players got blown out in earlier rounds. I wouldn’t have thought Serena had a shot against some of the top players, like Mugarutha or Kerber or Halep. Of those, only Kerber remains. Serena is playing her semi-final match against someone named Gorges. I hope Serena wins.

Not everyone likes Serena. She’s bold and brassy and a big presence on the court. Some years ago she lost her temper and towered over a line judge, berating the woman and drawing a penalty. She’s managed her temper better since then. But regardless of how anyone feels about Serena personally, her talent and discipline and work ethic and contribution to the sport is without question.

I hope she takes the top prize, which would be her 24th Grand Slam win and tie her with the great Margaret Court.