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Tuesday, July 18, 2017

On the importance of labeling the inept clown posse in Trump's scandal

by John MacBeath Watkins

We must, without further delay, label participants in Donald Trump's Russia collusion "the Inept Clown Posse."

Watergate had a compelling name, especially when you consider that the water gate to the Tower of London is also known as "Traitor's Gate."

From Wikipedia:
Prisoners were brought by barge along the Thames, passing under London Bridge, where the heads of recently executed prisoners were displayed on pikes. Notable prisoners such as Sir Thomas More entered the Tower by Traitors' Gate.[2]
The people who committed the "third-rate burglary" at the Watergate Hotel also had a water-themed name: The plumbers.

Once we've labeled the Inept Clown Posse, we can start working on a name for the scandal as a whole. So far, we don't have a colorful geographic label for it, like Watergate or Teapot Dome. The Trump Collusion, provided that collusion is proven (and many claim that the Donald Trump Jr. meeting to receive proffered Russian government help in the election has settled that issue) has a certain, Robert Ludlum-y, "The Subject Predicate" feel to it.

Language gives us the categories we use to think about things. The connotations of the terms we use -- the feelings we associate with the words -- are an important part of the way the label resonates with listeners.

Trump yearns to dominate every relationship. Calling him and his co-conspirators the inept clown posse points to the greatest source of his weakness, his own incompetence and that of some of the people on whom he relies most heavily. The Trump Collusion encapsulates the problem, and has an appropriately third-rate pulp spy novel feel that goes to the heart of Trump's willingness to court the aid of Russia, a country the last Republican nominee for president called our "number one geopolitical foe."

Trump, and many in the Republican Party, saw his Democratic opponent as his biggest political foe, and defined a hostile foreign power as an acceptable ally in defeating her. This willingness to accept the aid of a foreign enemy  against his domestic opponent shows that he cares less about being an American than about beating an American.  The most likely reason he hasn't released his income taxes is that they would show how dependent he is on Russian money, and demonstrate to all those willing to see that he places his own avarice over the good of his country.

Now, I'm not claiming Inept Clown Posse is definitely the perfect label for him and his enablers. It does fail to capture his subservient behavior toward Vladimir Putin, or his adoration of people like Putin who have managed to eliminate the democratic limits on their power. But I submit that at least for now, it carries the right connotations to make him an object of ridicule, which is one of the worst things that can happen to a would-be strong man.

Friday, July 14, 2017

If the Trump saga were a Robert Ludlum novel

by John MacBeath Watkins

As a bookseller, my knowledge of what really happened in the interaction between the Trump campaign and the Russians is no better than yours, dear reader, but I know how Robert Ludlum would have written it.

First of all, to appeal to the prurient interest of the reader, the Russian kompromat tapes of Trump paying prostitutes to pee on each other on the bed he knew Barack and Michelle Obama slept in would have to be real.

Second, Trump's unwillingness to make public his income taxes would have to be because they would show that without Russian money, he's bankrupt and destitute. And they would provide enough clues to set the special prosecutor on his trail for money laundering for the Russian mob.

Third, Donald Trump's July 7 meeting with Vladimir Putin would have gone badly. He urged his staff to come up with "deliverables" that would satisfy Putin, even though he had been unable to lift the sanctions on Russia, as he had promised, but Putin wasn't satisfied.

Putin therefore decided Trump needed more motivation. He demonstrated his power over Trump by throwing Donald Trump Jr. under the bus, and used his allies on the White House staff to leak the information in order show Trump just how little control he has over his fate.

In the Ludlum version of events, Putin would have cultivated Trump for years, exploiting his narcissism and greed to compromise him enough to act as a Russian (unwitting?) asset. Putin would have promised his aid in getting Trump elected, and delivered.

In this spy novel Trump knows the Russians hacked the Democratic National Committee's emails, as well as those of John Podesta, Hillary Clinton's campaign chairman. He knows that his get out the vote campaign was very targeted and effective because of the information the Russians supplied after they hacked the voter-registration rolls from about half the states, and the information they supplied from hacking the Democrats' get out the vote files. Putin has told him that his narrow margins of victory in the upper Midwest are due to Russian hacking of the vote totals, and he has no reason do doubt this, so he's directed the Justice Department not to investigate.

In the Ludlum version of events, the apparent May 14 suicide of Peter Smith, a Republican operative who had begun talking to the Wall Street Journal about his efforts to get Russian-hacked emails from Hillary Clinton's infamous private server would not be a suicide at all. Ludlum would explain in thrilling detail how the Russian assassin managed to asphyxiate Smith with hydrogen after making him write a note apologizing to authorities and saying "no foul play whatsoever" was involved in his death.

The spy novel would include some social commentary, showing that Republican leaders were aware that Trump was horribly compromised and probably the pawn of a foreign power, yet helped conceal this from the public and refused to consider impeaching him because A) their lust for power meant more to them than their patriotism, and while Trump would be a Russian asset in the White House, they considered the Democrats their real enemies and B) they are afraid that Republican voters will punish them if they act ethically against this monster.

The novel can't end with an impeachment. Congressmen indicting Trump and Senators voting to find Trump guilty of high crimes and misdemeanors would be naive in the context of a spy novel, indicating far too much faith in democratic institutions. The ending, like the rest of the novel, would show how shadowy figures run our world while most of us are able to sleep at night because we don't know what's really happening.

This gives the reader a paradoxically reassuring feeling that someone is really running things, rather than the apparent chaos they see on the news being reality.

There are several ways Ludlum could end the book.

Putin, who really doesn't understand the constraints an American president faces, could decide that Trump had betrayed him, and have his agents inside the White House spike Trump's Coke with polonium.

Or Trump, knowing that Putin will destroy him by releasing the pee tapes, could try to destroy Putin first with a nuclear strike, only to die in a struggle with his Secretary of Defense, who is determined to avoid a nuclear holocaust. Picture reports of a gunshot in the White House, followed by a pale Jim Mattis facing the Secret Service agents and announcing that he shot the President in a struggle for the gun an increasingly paranoid Trump had insisted on carrying.

Or, Robert Mueller III's investigation as special prosecutor could result in a circular firing squad as desperate underlings plead state's evidence to save themselves, leaving Trump lonely and afraid. As even his children and his wife start to testify against him, Trump issues blanket pardons to his underlings and family. A compliant Republican congress, a supine Supreme Court mainly appointed by him, and a Republican-dominated military agree to make him president for life. The American dream is over, and the nightmare has begun.

Fortunately, real life is not so dramatic. Nothing to see here, folks, move along.

Saturday, July 8, 2017

The Seattle Wooden Boat Festival, mostly the Quick & Daring boat building contest

by John MacBeath Watkins

The Seattle Wooden Boat Festival was over the weekend of the 4th of July, and I'm only just now getting the photos up, but here you go, with a Sea Mew to start with:

A 14' Sea Mew class boat, property of the Center for Wooden Boats, on
 display. The 1916 Frederick Goeller design was built on Bainbridge
Island by a mechanic, whose name I do not know.
But most of the time, I was judging the Quick and Daring boat building contest. This is the first year we did it without Dick Wagner, the founder of the Center for Wooden Boats, who shaped this competition more than anyone. It was the last thing he did as a hands-on project.

This year it looked like we would have eight contestants, but the Fisher sisters, who have won this competition several times, were unable to come. One contestant was unable to finish his boat, and two sank shortly after launching (it seems like every year, someone sinks -- it's part of the attraction of the event, like crashes in a stock car race.)

The wind was inconstant for the rest of the competitors. It blew from the north on the first leg, leading all the contestants to paddle that leg, then died, then shifted to the east, which was on the nose for the competitors for the second leg, and finally settled from the south, which meant that only boats that could sail to windward could finish a sailing leg. Of the four boats that were still afloat, only two completed a sailing leg, and one had to paddle back to the first mark because its sail was designed as a spinnaker, and it could not sail against the southwest wind.

The winner was Lickty Split, which was decorated as a banana split and whose team, Dusty and Corinne Wisniew, distributed free bananas as part of their showmanship. This was Dusty's 13th time competing in Quick & Daring (some were built with his son) and his first victory. Apparently, there's a learning curve.

The boat had a keel, but it was the one with the spinnaker for a sail. The boat that performed best on the water was the cardboard catamaran, seen below on the dock. It's deeply veed hulls were sealed with varathane, which worked pretty well -- the boat showed little sign of melting even after continuing to sail for about 20 minutes after the race. It was surprisingly expensive and took a long time to build, but by being only one of two boats to complete the sailing let, it was guaranteed to win at least second place, which it did for its builders, Marc Rothschild and Dallas Duel (Marc scheduled his stopover from his wife's posting at the Mauritius embassy to the Austrian embassy so that he could compete in this contest.)

With two safety boats, the Center for Wooden Boats was taking no chances on the seaworthiness of the contestants.

The red boat above, with paddle wheels,  a spoiler, and a Jaguar grille, would have easily won the Peoples's Choice Award if CWB still did that.

Rob and Merle Smith continued the family tradition of whimsy to their entries with F2, including showing up in suits intended to look like the ones racers wear, and helmets to match. Unfortunately, although the rig looked effective to windward, the boat did not have enough lateral plane to sail to windward, so it wasn't eligible to beat the boats that completed a sailing leg. They finished DFL.

Bill Hass and Jana Boeking had the same problem with Ducky, a better version of last year's boat that sank. Ducky would have done quite well had they managed to complete a sailing leg. To my eye, it was the most attractive boat in the fleet, and it was the fleetest of the boats under human power. A canvas-on-frame canoe with a duck figurehead, it was waterproofed with paint and came back to the dock

One nice thing, the winner of the Quick & Daring in 1987 showed up. Teal, built in a day to a Sam Rabl design, has been in use for 30 years and is still going strong. The flat bottomed 15 foot skiff still sports the same leg of mutton sprit rig she did 30 years ago when she won the contest, but Brian Lenz and Craig Vierling have added a varnished deck and some copper cupholders.

More on Teal below, in a letter Brian Lenz wrote to Judy Romeo, the staff member who put untold hours into organizing the event this year.

It is hard to believe but this year’s Lake Union Wooden Boat Festival will mark the 30th anniversary of the built-in-a-day launching of the “Teal”, shown below in a mid- 1990’s photo. I would be curious to know if any of the CWB members remember our build and race days. Craig and I had talked about building a boat, and being a couple of contractors thought the contest would be a great way to both make it happen and have a good time. Our only goal was to end up with a nice looking seaworthy vessel, so we didn’t think to much about scoring points in the contest. We brought a table saw, power plane, Skilsaw, router, sawzall, jig saw and multiple drills and screw guns, and the contest official who tried to stack them up on the scale merely chuckled and wrote down “100lbs plus”. We used all marine grade materials so our cost there was at least quadruple the $150 CWB reimbursement, which we were thrilled to receive. We had no grand ambitions about speed of construction, and figured we needed about six hours, but being construction types we of course missed the mark by quite a bit, and were finishing up in the dark at 9:30 pm with only the cleaning crew as onlookers. Ours was not a particularly sexy design, so I am sure we got few points in the Originality and Aesthetics categories, and since we built on Day 2 of the festival, we had no time to do any painting other than a rather thin translucent coat of white primer on the outside of the hull. It took six of us to gently lower it into the lake for the race, all collectively holding our breath and expecting water to come rushing in from some un-glued/un-sealed joint, but there was nary a single drop.

Now the race, after a very rough start, was an entirely different matter. We made a big blunder and located our two pairs of temporary plywood oarlocks way too close together, and were bashing into each other with every attempted stroke during Leg #1. A stiff breeze out of the north had picked up, with some rain added in, and we were falling so far behind the other five “paddle-friendly” boats that our fans (girlfriends, parents and friends) bailed out and went inside the Naval Reserve Center. None of the other boats had large and stiff enough keels or centerboards to handle the overly ambitious sails that had looked so good up on land. All five were getting blown off course and couldn’t get around the first buoy. We hadn’t had time to put a clip on the main sheet, so Craig was battling to thread the frayed end of the line through an undersized grommet in the clew, while I struggled to keep us pointed into the wind. He finally succeeded in threading the needle, pulled in as much line as he dared, and we were off on a beam reach at a speed that seemed supersonic relative to our pace under oars. We finished the race, and with none of the other boats in sight, completed another full lap before another team got anywhere near the finish line.

Arriving back at the dock anticipating a hero’s welcome, we were disappointed to have to track down our friends and family, and then spend 15 minutes trying convince them that we had won the race handily! It took the rest of the summer to finish the painting, bright work, and rigging, but since the 1987 christening the Teal has spent many hours out on Lake Union and Lake Washington. We made some improvements to the seats and rigging, and decked over the hull from stem to mast as can be seen in the photo.

Long story short, we would be very interested in exhibiting this “graduate” of the Q & D program at this year’s festival, particularly if it could be sited somewhere near the build location. I was thinking it could be another small tribute to Dick Wagner that a couple of carpenter/contractors used one of the early Lake Union Wooden Boat Festivals as the place upon which to build both a friendship and a boat that each have spanned thirty years in and around Lake Union. Craig and I have always been “makers”, but for me it was stumbling across the Festival in 1986 and seeing the Quick & Daring contest in action that got me hooked on small wooden boats.

There were plenty of other boats at the show. One of my favorites was a jewel of a Poulsbo boat with a gaff rig. Unfortunately I don't know the builder, it was apparently a lifetime build for the owner's father and a few more years for the son after he passed.

The controls on this boat are all brass and there's a lot of brightwork, so it's a highly gentrified little fishing boat.

Lest anyone should think I only noticed boats rigged for sail, her's Miss Wahoo, Mira Slovak's old ride. It's an Allison-powered unlimited hydro, from before Merlins, Griffins, and later Lycoming turboprops stole the show. Seattle has a pretty illustrious history with the invention of the three-point unlimited hydro.

The most impressive human powered boat on display, at least to me, was the log canoe Saduuts carved a few years ago at the Center for Wooden Boats. It and he were on shore during the show, so here's a shot I took during Dick Wagner' memorial, with him paddling it. Saduuts is Haida, so I presume this is the appropriate style of canoe for the Haida.