I won’t Put Lipstick on a Pig (but Tony did!)

Last year, an Op-Ed in my personal Blog, AWildDuck.com, caught the attention of a retired US politician. His staff contacted me, due to an editorial that was highly critical of his colleague (a younger politician who still holds office). Fearing an angry reader with clout, I was preparing to defend my position and my First Amendment freedoms, when the bigwig pulled the phone away from his assistant—and made me an offer.

He didn’t want me to retract the article about his colleague. In fact, he thought that the current US Senator was a bigger putz than I had portrayed. Instead, he wanted me to write his kiss-and-tell memoirs—


I was born in a house my father built…

a book that was guaranteed to be filled with all sorts of juicy revelations. I was ecstatic! This was a dream job—precisely the reason that I started the Blog: to land a string of high-dollar writing gigs.

His lawyers contacted me. We exchanged documents. I signed an NDA and provided writing samples in several different styles. His family and aides analyzed my writing for plagiarism, geographic or anachronistic idioms, and for level and clarity. Within the week, he hired me as his ghostwriter.

I began writing under the name of a well-known, national politician. During interviews, I was in awe of this internationally known historical figure, who—in the sunset of life—chose me as his personal conduit to history. Although I could not tell my family who was this important figure, my teenage daughter figured it out, based on overhearing my side of several interviews. She was sworn to secrecy.


“I put lipstick on a pig…I feel deep remorse.” —Illustration: J. Jaén

After three months, and several drafts of the first chapters, I backed out of the project and returned a sizable pile of cash. I was unable to apply my passion and zeal to this man’s shocking opinions and nuggets of “wisdom”, even though my name would not appear on the book. I just couldn’t bring myself to rephrase what he said in interviews and what appeared in his notes…

It’s unclear whether my employer had changed in his golden years, or if—perhaps—a racist misogynist was smoldering under the surface all these years.

Perhaps most surprising, for me, is that he had publicly championed women’s rights throughout an illustrious career, yet—at least today—he secretly feels that our country’s ills are a direct result of gains in women’s jobs, pay, education, rights and reproductive freedom. He wanted me to explain that empowerment of women during the 60s and 70s effectively castrated men both at home and on the job. He earnestly believes that the best place for a women is in the kitchen or the bedroom. He can barely tolerate a woman in the workplace, so long as she is a nurse or secretary or school teacher.

Today, I came across a similar story in The New Yorker. But this one has a very different ending. In this case, the ghostwriter completed the book, only to be filled with remorse!

Tony Schwartz,is the ghostwriter behind Donald Trump’s 1987 bestseller, The Art of the Deal. It is among the most successful business books in publishing history. Unlike me, he did not back out his gig. He is an excellent wordsmith, and—just like a good speech writer—he wove his compelling art for Donald Trump.

Tonight, Donald Trump accepts the Republican nomination for the highest office in our land. But, Tony Schwartz regrets “putting lipstick on a pig”. (Editor’s Note: I really like the metaphor!). Tony’s skillful pen made Trump look astute, insightful, savvy and successful. And it created an impression that hoodwinked the Republican nomination.


Puzzling Demographics of Trump Supporters

Who remembers the blue-or-gold dress of just a year ago? Who could forget?! For some, the photo clearly showed a blue & black dress, while others viewing the very same photo saw a dress that was plainly gold & white.

For the record, I see a dress that is sparkling gold and white. Although it appears to be shot under a harsh bluish-white spotlight, I can’t fathom that anyone with an eye and a brain perceives any blue in the material. blue_or_gold-sRevisiting this Internet phenomenon a year later, I just don’t see it. And black? Where is there any dark fabric? Is it the gold part or the white part? It’s just not there!

…And so it is for a presidential candidate. Who among us sees Donald Trump as anything short of a contemptuous, sexist, and bigoted buffoon—one who is incapable of keeping a dirty or hurtful thought to himself?

To be fair, I have no way to gauge Trump supporters, because I have never met one. Seriously—even with a sweeping lead in every presidential poll—I have yet to actually meet and talk with a real, live Trump supporter, or at least someone who admits it. But, I am not in denial. I listen to poll results. I read. I believe that the pollsters know their art. They can’t all be wrong. Clearly, a great many people want Trump to be our next president, and so—I assume—that many of these same people respect Mr. Trump.

But here, too, I see Mr. Trump differently. It’s a difference as stark as the different ways people view the dress. I imagine that Trump supporters revere his presence, his demeanor and his moral authority. They share his vision. I sense none of these things.

Anyone reading this Blog during the 2016 US presidential campaign hardly needs a Trump tutorial. I suspect that WildDucks have already made up their minds concerning The Don’s demeanor. But what about readers who come across this article in a century or two. In the interest of historical perspective, let’s review Mr. Trump’s recent comments about Mexicans, Senator John McCain, Carly Fiorina, Hillary Clinton, Rosie O’Donnell, Megyn Kelly and some of the female contestants on his former TV show.

[About Mexican Immigrants]
They’re bringing drugs, they’re bringing crime. They’re rapists…”

[About John McCain]: “He’s not a war hero. He’s a war hero because he was captured. I like people who weren’t captured.”

But, above all, Trump has serious issues with women. Perhaps a past wife cut off part of his manhood. After all, he has contempt for anyone with different plumbing. Here are some of his thoughts. I have verified each quotation below. If any of the links have expired, these Trump-isms can be verified with a Google search…

Megyn Kelly[About Megyn Kelly]:
“There’s blood coming out of her eyes. There’s blood coming out of her…wherever!”

(Confronted with this crude statement, Trump insisted that he was not referring to menstruation. He said that he meant to say blood was coming out of her ears).

He also called Ms. Kelly a bimbo, a 3rd rate reporter, a lightweight and “not good at what she does.” This week, Trump said that he “might be the best thing that ever happened to her,” because no one had ever heard of her before the August debate.

[About Carly Fiorina]: “Look at that face! Would anyone vote for that? Can you imagine that, the face of our next president?!…I mean, she’a a woman, and I’m not s’posedta say bad things—But really folks; Come on! Are we serious?!”

Fox & Friends confronted Trump about these particular remarks, in this follow up interview. Trump stated that he was talking about her persona and not her looks, but then he complained that no one stands up for him when someone criticizes his hair

[About Hillary Clinton]: (after Mrs. Clinton used a bathroom during a break).

“I know where she went—it’s disgusting, I don’t want to talk about it. No, it’s too disgusting. Don’t say it. It’s disgusting.”

Seconds later, apparently practicing his Yiddish, Trump exclaimed that Mrs. Clinton doesn’t have a chance of beating him, because “She got schlonged by Barack Obama” (referring to Clinton’s defeat in the 2008 democratic primary). ‘Schlonged’ means ‘screwed’ (if you can turn an anatomical organ into a verb), but the word describes the literal act, rather than employed as a euphemism.

Rosie-O-Donnell-s[About Rosie O’Donnell]: “Rosie O’Donnell’s disgusting both inside and out. Take a look at her, she’s a slob. She talks like a truck driver; she doesn’t have her facts; she’ll say anything that comes to her mind.”

[About a contestant on his TV show]:
When Trump was told that Celebrity Apprentice contestant Brande Roderick had gotten down on her knees and begged not to be fired, Trump looked toward the young woman and said “Must be a pretty picture—you dropping to your knees.”

Do respected, national leaders ever use such language or hurl hurtful remarks? Perhaps. I suspect that most anyone has uttered a flippant remark, perhaps in the midst of anger, booze or emotional turmoil. But, if Ronald Reagan or Jimmy Carter ever used this type of language, you can bet that it was occasional, among a very small group of friends, and with an expression of profound regret soon after. But not Donald. Each time he opens his mouth, he inserts a foot, and then he doubles down and chews on the entire shoe.

Are these the words of an executive or a politician in public discourse? Are they the words of any adult with respect for others or any semblance of self-control? Of course not. They are the words of a hysterical donald_j_trump-schild who is trying hard to assert stature on a playground. It seems incomprehensible that an individual running for high office would spew such taunts and potty humor on live television. Does he have any brain? –any conscience? –any internal mechanism of guidance or control?

This leaves me with a rather obvious question: What are the demographics of Trump’s sweeping lead in the GOP primary polls? Did they forget to poll women or anyone who respects women? Perhaps women who support Trump don’t mind that their blood and stool are staples of his redneck political rallies . Honestly—I wish someone would explain this to me.

Today, Fox Media claimed that Corey Lewandowski, a Trump campaign manager, threatened Fox News anchor, Megyn Kelly. A “threat” would be unacceptable, of course, but I call it bullying. Bullying is worse, because a threat, in this case, would be hollow—a presidential candidate cannot really hurt a journalist—but, bullying shows Trump for what he is—a misogynistic jerk.                                Continue below image…

Trump Campaign Bullying

I am certain that Lewandowski is echoing his boss’ words. After all, Trump has attacked Megyn on camera. Why? Because he can’t control her questions. He wants control over content and spin, but most importantly, he wants an absence of powerful women in his field of view. He has stated it clearly: He is more comfortable with them on their knees.

As Donald Trump said himself, “Seriously Folks. I mean C’mon! Are we serious?! We can’t continue to be nice, folks!”

Of course, that remark relates to his intentions for China and Mexico. Somehow, he believes that they will send a great deal of factories and jobs back to America and then help us to build a wall so that their drug peddlers and rapists can’t get in to steal those jobs. (This is the central tenant of his entire campaign).

But that statement about voters “getting serious” precisely expresses my sentiments about Trump’s popularity as a political candidate. I can only hope that it is a bad dream, a joke, or transient. Just as NBC and Univision dumped The Don after he spewed forth xenophobic venom toward Mexicans, I wonder when Republican voters will dump Donald for a more credible candidate—Marco Rubio or Chris Christie, perhaps? If Republicans don’t wake up to Donald, like they did to Sarah Palin, voters in the general election will do it for them. Hillary Clinton is a lot more credible that Donald Trump! She is smart, experienced, just as strong as Donald. Most importantly, she doesn’t assault detractors or insult voters.

Conclusion: More of a question than a conclusion

Concluding that Trump is sexist and a jerk isn’t just my opinion, it is the opinion of every mainstream media outlet, every independent pundit, every former contestant, most journalists and political analysts, and many of his friends.

Sure!—it’s fun to buck the expected and the mainstream; it’s fun to toss polite behavior to the wind…just to shake things up once in awhile. But when a grown man wallows in a world of potty humor and misogynistic rants, one eventually wonders just who are his proponents? trump_on_playgroundFrom where does he rally a commanding lead in every poll? Are they all dunces?!


More Trump TV insults

  • Trump hosted The Apprentice , a US television series for 14 seasons. During that long run, he threw a stream of invectives at at guest contestants—calling them, alternatively, slobs, pigs or just plain disgusting.
  • In a New York Post interview, contestant Mahsa Saeidi-Azcuy explained that Trump asked male contestants to rate female contestants based on their looks.
  • The Post also reported that Trump made one female contestant come around the board table and “twirl around”. Apparently, he wasn’t satisfied with boobs—and decided to gaze at her butt.
  • The Washington Post reports that Trump told one contestant “I bet you make a great wife.
  • Trump’s crudest remark was to a contestant after being fired from his show. When a producer explained to Trump that she begged on her knees to remain on the show. He said to her: “Must be a pretty picture—you dropping to your knees.”

Donald Trump exhibits a threat response to almost anything: people with less money or fewer votes, anyone who is educated, articulate, or who disagrees with his opinion, and especially confident or empowered females. He cannot keep his thoughts to himself, no matter how crass or off-topic. He attacks opponents based on any perceived slight.

 NBC and Univision decided not to air the Trump-owned Miss Universe Pageant. Macy’s dropped his signature clothing line. New York Democratic Mayor Bill de Blasio has ordered a review of Trump’s city contracts, and NASCAR moved an annual banquet from the Trump National Doral resort in Miami.

—All that backlash was the result of just one of Trumps off-color remarks.


Stephen Hawking speaks with virtually no muscular movement

Next January Stephen Hawking will be 74 years old. He has lived much longer than most individuals with his debilitating condition. In addition to being an unquestionably gifted cosmologist, he has invited controversy by supporting the pro-Palestinian, Israel-BDS boycott and warning about the dangers of alien invaders who tap into our interstellar greetings

Antisemitism, notwithstanding, this man is a mental giant. He is Leonardo. He is Einstein. Like them, his discoveries and theories will echo for generations beyond his life on earth. He is that genius.

Forty years ago, when Stephen Hawking still had mobility, he delivered a paper on a mystery regarding information-loss for entities that cross the event boundary of a black hole.

In the mid 1970s, Astronomers were just discovering black holes and tossing about various theories about the event horizon and its effect on the surrounding space-time. Many individuals still considered black holes to be theoretical. Hawking’s analysis of the information paradox seemed extremely esoteric. Yet, last month (Aug 2015) , at Sweeden’s KTH Royal Institute of Technology, Hawking presented a possible solution to the paradox that he sparked.

I can barely understand the issue and cannot articulately rephrase the problem. But my interest in the black hole event horizon takes a back seat to my interest in the amazing tool created to compensate for the famous cosmologist’s handicap. Watch closely as Stephen Hawking offers a new theory that provides a possible explanation for the paradox.

Near the end of the video (beginning at 7:22), the camera begins a steady zoom up to Hawking’s face. Unlike a year ago, when he could still smile at a joke or move his eyes, he now appears completely motionless. Throughout his speech, there is no sense of animation—not even a twitch—with or without purpose. His eyebrow doesn’t move, his fingers are not restless, he doesn’t blink anymore.

Hawking-smile-sSo, how, then, does Hawking speak with normal cadence and just a short delay between sentences? (If we assume that his computer adds emphasis without additional effort, I estimate that his ASCII communications rate is roughly equivalent to a 1200-baud modem, circa 1980). Yet, clearly, there must be a muscular conduit between thought and speech. How is it that his thoughts are converted to speech at almost the same rate as someone who is not paralyzed?

That magic is enabled by a tiny camera that monitors a slowly deteriorating cheek muscle. It is Hawking’s last connection to the outside world. What began as index cards with words and then an Apple II computer, has evolved into a sophisticated upgrade process involving cutting edge analysis of the professor’s slightest tick combined with sophisticated computing algorithms. The camera and software that interprets this microscopic Morse code is tied to a process that optimizes options for successive words and phrases. He is actually communicating at far less than 1200 baud, because—like a court stenographer—he employs shorthand and Huffman encoding to compress words and phrases into his twitch pipeline. Drawing on a powerful processor and connected to the Web, his gear is constantly upgraded by a specialized Intel design team. StenographerThey are engaged in a race to offer Hawking the potential for communication up until he has no capacity for interaction at all.

In a recent documentary by Hawking himself,* he laments the likely day when he will no longer have any capacity for output at all. No ability to discuss physics and cosmology; no way to say “I need help” or “I love you”; no way to show any sign of cognition. At that time, he reflects, the outside world will no longer be certain that there is anything going on behind his blank stare. They will never really know when or if he wants them to pull the plug. Even more mind boggling, humanity will never know what secrets his brilliant mind has unlocked to mysteries of the cosmos.

* Referring to his 2013 autobiographical film and not the 2014 feature film about his life, Theory of Everything.

Dump cursive, if you must. But learn to read script!

scriptFor five centuries, school students have learned to write in longhand about two years after they learn the alphabet. Prior to the introduction of the ballpoint pen in 1945, as World War II was ending, they also endured endless drills to refine the polish and pizzazz of their script. Learning cursive was taken for granted and good penmanship followed closely behind.

Penmanship doesn’t just make handwriting legible. It elevates it to an expressive art. If you have ever held an old letter or a high school yearbook, then you are nodding in agreement. There are no scribbles. Every thought is written with style and class.

Penmanship like this requires more than skill. it requires a quill or a fountain pen.

But after the war, schools largely abandoned the effort to write legibly. After 1950, well formed script was something that circled the classroom ceiling. (For some reason, every teacher staples it up there). The banners of our childhood gave a focal point to many childhood daydreams. We glanced upward and learned that there are two ways to draw a lower case ‘r’ and an upper case “Q”. Of course, no one that we knew had ever written a “Q” like the number 2. But there it was for all to see.

Kids today are no longer expected to write beautifully nor even legibly. With the emergence of keyboards, we are in the habit of mixing printed characters with an occasional scribble. The handwriting of doctors has long been the butt of jokes. In the end, we hope that our teachers, employers or patients grade us on content and not on handwriting.

A few years ago, journalists lamented the death of penmanship. But those news stories were just fillers. After all, in this century, few people write with the style and panache of John Hancock. Our new Treasury secretary can’t even sign his name. He draws a series of four circular loops.

penmanship-01It wasn’t always like this, of course. Look at the inscription in an old book or at the notes written into a yearbook. You will find that little Mary had more style and class than a modern day calligrapher. Based on the letters and old books that I come across, it appears that the general population lost this ability sometime between the World Wars.

It’s a good bet that the loss of well-formed handwriting has something to do with the ballpoint pen. A great deal of the style and flair in John Hancock’s signature requires a quill pen or at least a fountain pen with a nib that can be drawn across the page at an angle and broadened as the user applies pressure. The flow of ink is also controlled by pressure and speed.

Penmanship vs. Cursive

Whatever the reason, the demise of penmanship doesn’t seem like a big deal, because it predates most of us. But now, we are faced with the demise of cursive altogether. Is that a problem?

Perhaps learning to write in cursive is no more necessary than learning to calculate with a slide rule—just another anachronism of concern only to historians and nostalgia buffs. I stopped using a slide rule when the Bomar calculator dropped below $100. That was 1974. By the mid 1980s, my high school physics teacher, Mr. Overboe, abandoned his slide rule, even though he still sported a bow-tie and horned-rim spectacles.

Jacob Lew-01

What does that squiggle say? Treasury
Secretary, Jacob Lew, is no John Hancock!

Throughout America and in any region using a Roman alphabet, school boards and state curriculum committees are tossing cursive to the wind. Time that was spent learning how to write is now spent learning keyboard skills.

So far, this seems fair. I will not give up handwriting, but I accept that children a bit younger than my 6th grade daughter may never master that skill. After all, the purpose of writing without lifting pen is to speed the communication process. And since we eventually need to get our thoughts into a computer or a smart phone, it is no longer useful. Right? But wait! When you change a tradition, there is a little problem that tends to bite us in the a*s. I call it Ellery’s law of unintended consequences

This weekend, I went to Aunt Suzi’s house for Mother’s Day brunch and I learned something that shocked me. It even shocked my 12 year old daughter who agrees that handwriting is not a critical skill. Suzi’s nephew, Timothy is fifteen—3 years older than my daughter. Timothy is very bright and attends a good school. Apparently, in his district, cursive was abandoned years ago. No problem so far…But during a discussion about the merits of keyboard vs. handwriting, Timothy informed us that he not only lacks the skill to write longhand, he can’t read it either!

Come again? Whaahzat?! Timothy can’t read handwriting?!!

continue below…

fountain_penI dismissed the need for good penmanship long ago. After college, I lost the ability to write with beauty or flair. Eventually, I lost the ability to write in cursive. My right hand can not guide a pen any better than the left. (Caveat: I can still write my signature!). The news that schools across the land are dropping cursive barely registered. It was a dinner table discussion for just one meal.

Personally, I’m glad that I once knew how to write longhand, but perhaps the fun and pride that I feel is based on nostalgia and a resistance to change. This is the Internet Age. It’s time to make way for the keyboard, gestures and voice input.I can certainly live with that. Perhaps, one day, we will communicate directly from our brain to paper or our Facebook friends.

But wait! What about reading someone else’s writing? Paper and pen is our legacy. It’s everywhere. The thoughts of our ancestors will be lying around for generations…

When people talk about cutting the unit where children learn to read history from the pen of Benjamin Franklin or William Shakespeare, I am really beginning to fear for our future. I didn’t stop to think that this new world order means that kids turn into adults without even figuring out how to read cursive. That’s ludicrous!

We’re not talking about ancient Sanskrit. We’re talking about The Constitution, The Gettysburg Address, Ronald Reagan’s Diary and Grandma’s next birthday card. Who the heck decided that our children only need to read a text message or an email? (They certainly don’t read newspapers—and no one can read a road map).

I cannot accept this. Imagine leaving a note for your executive assistant, “Tell the customer that I will call in an hour”, only to learn that it is as cryptic as if it were in a foreign language or a secret code. If that same assistant tells me that I should have texted him or left a voice message, he will be looking for new job. Are we prepared to lose written language in a single generation? Really prepared?!! What about you? Do you care?



Cause and Effect: Salt, ball games & heart risk

Years ago, I began to hear warnings about salt consumption. Salt is known to cause high blood pressure, and high blood pressure is a risk for heart disease or at least undesirable heart events.

This puzzled me, because we had known both of these things for decades, but—somehow—I felt unsure that the two facts were transitive. That is,

If A leads to B and if B leads to C
does A necessarily lead to C?

I was also puzzled, because my mother used to give me salt pills on very hot days, whenever I was drenched in sweat after physical activity. Salt pills help retain fluids and they also re-establish electrolytes, along with plenty of water, of course. Was my mother ignorant of the dangers of salt? Why didn’t she realize that it leads to heart disease?

Later, as the salt scare reached a crescendo, I was seeing a cardiologist every 6 months. I visited him for my regular checkups, accessing his services as if he were an internist. But he wasn’t an internist. His other patients were referred to him as a high-value specialist. And he wasn’t just any cardiologist. He was a heart surgeon affiliated with the famous Framingham Heart Study. He was a pioneer in health research and respected as a teacher.

Relax. It’s not cocaine! It’s just salt.

Relax. It’s not cocaine! It’s just salt.

I asked this cardiologist about salt. First, he explained that his opinion was in the minority (i.e. I should take it with a grain of salt! — pun intended). He said that there was no merit to the popular fear about salt consumption. He felt strongly that, someday, the salt bogeyman would be de-mythed.

While he agreed that blood pressure is an indicator of cardiovascular health (because blocked arteries cause an increase in pressure), an increase caused by a temporary stimulant, such as salt, caffeine or exercise, was not cause for alarm. He believed it to be a risk only for individuals with long term hypertension due to an existing, systemic condition.

The experience taught be to be vigilant for the very common error of overlooking cause and effect. This can be tricky to unwind, because the nature of our language makes it subtle and because we all tend to make this mistake. And so, I prefer the following ‘Ball Game’ example. It is not part of my cardiologist’s explanation, but he agrees that it perfectly illustrates the point:

In the 1960s, a historical study of several thousand middle age males in the Chicago area found a high correlation between those who attend 2 more professional sporting events each week and a reduced incidence of heart attack. Although the study was not a double-blind, clinical trial (it was conducted by survey), the controls were rigorous. It included verification of facts, re-interview, and a statistical analysis to ensure that selection and participation represented a random cross section of the population.

The study concludes that men who frequently attend ball games have fewer heart attacks and live longer. But wait!… That’s not how the results were reported. Or at least, it’s not what people remember after hearing of the results.

What most people chose to hear was this:

       “If you go to two or more ball games each week, you will live longer”
       “If you go to two or more ball games each week, you will live longer—even if you hate professional sports”

David Wells

Former Yankees pitcher, David Wells, loves baseball

Of course, neither statement is true. Not even the first one. The first words, “If you”, distort the conclusion. In fact, they suggest the opposite result! The report said “People who”, not “If you”

To say that ball games improve or prolong life is to confuse cause and effect. Although the study didn’t isolate cause and effect, a bit of reflection suggests that perhaps the reason people who regularly attend ball games live longer is because they…

  • are doing something that they love
  • have the luxury of spending weekdays away from work
  • have more money and less stress than individuals of average means
  • have partners who allow time for their favorite leisure activity

Now, suppose you don’t care at all for professional sports. If you twist the conclusion and assume that ball games cause health or wealth (rather than the other way around), then giving up your job and forcing yourself to attend sporting events will probably lead to marital problems, stress, poverty and premature death. In fact, this contradicts the conclusion of a good study.

So what about salt?

Today, the Wall Street Journal published a very short article at the bottom of page A7. Although it is called out as a feature story, I think that it is getting far too little attention. Low-Salt Benefits Questioned. It ends with these words:

“The chairman of the committee that wrote the report said [that it] fo-
on actual health outcomes rather than just high blood pressure.”

In the mid 1980s, perhaps my cardiologist was ahead of his time. Or, perhaps salt will be implicated again, when new studies control for cause and effect. But my point was not about salt or ball games. My point was to illustrate a famous statement that is alternatively attributed to Mark Twain and to British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli:

“There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.”

Learning to recognize that a conclusion has made an assumption of cause and effect (or more likely, that ‘cause’ was attributed by someone rephrasing the conclusion of a study) goes a long way to restoring the validity and value of an accurate statistic.

Ellery is neither a linguist nor philosopher. But he is troubled
that cause-and-effect are so often confused or overlooked.