A Critical Election Day in Virginia

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Vote 2I am not a Democrat, but today I will be voting for Democrats in the Virginia state and local elections.

I’ve been open in my disdain for what the Republican party has become. As I noted in a previous post, the Republican party has institutionalized dishonesty. It’s essentially their platform. The party that once was the party of Lincoln is now the party of the KKK, neo-Nazis, and a pathological liar and con man. This isn’t an opinion. This is demonstrated unequivocally by the facts.

That doesn’t mean I agree with everything the Democratic party proposes. I don’t. But the Republican party has been so dishonest for so long that they ensure we can’t even have an honest discussion about anything. Rather than debating different means of reaching solutions, the public has to constantly refute the blatant lies and misrepresentations of the Republican party. Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell epitomizes the disdain for the American working public that drives the dishonesty of the Republican party.

The 2016 election told us a lot about ourselves. The three years since then have reinforced that lesson.

But we now have a chance to correct our misconceptions and make amends for our past votes. Today there are critical elections in Virginia, Kentucky, and other states. It’s a chance to set the stage for next year’s presidential and congressional votes by showing other Americans that it’s okay to admit previous errors, to choose what is right this time rather than feel trapped by what in retrospect was wrong last time.

In my recent book on Abraham Lincoln I wrote about his legacy. Lincoln would not be a Republican today, without question. I said:

Today, Lincoln almost universally ranks at the top of any “best president of all time” poll, with both Democrats and Republicans claiming the mantle of Lincoln. Ironically, the Democratic Party has a clearer case. Republicans in his time were for inclusiveness, personal freedom, and positive government action. Lincoln championed federally funded internal improvements to build infrastructure, at one point arguing, “The legitimate object of government, is to do for a community of people, whatever they need to have done, but cannot do, at all, or cannot, so well do, for themselves.”

Today these characteristics are reflected by the Democratic party. Democrats today reflect all Americans – white/black/brown/yellow/red, Christian/Jewish/Muslim, poor/wealthy/middle class/working class, straight/LGBTQ, male/female/non-binary. Republicans reflect largely white, male, evangelical. That’s it. Again, not an opinion; facts shown by the almost universally monochromatic, and largely male, elected officials of the Republican party. Ah, but not just white, male, evangelical – also, the rich. Every policy pushed by the Republican party benefits the rich and gets the poor, the working class, and the middle class to pay for it.

So today I vote for the Democrats. All of them.

Once the Republican party has been purged, perhaps they can return as a viable major party. But it won’t happen until they are gone. Every one of them.

For those Republicans who say, “Wait, not all Republicans are dishonest,” all I have to say is prove it. Refusing to speak out against your own party’s institutionalized dishonesty is being complicit. It is aiding and abetting Anti-Americanism just as much as not reporting a vicious crime you directly witnessed, thus emboldening the criminal to continue to commit the crimes.

So to reiterate what I said in my last post, adapting what Lincoln once said about lawyers:

Resolve to be honest at all events; and if in your own judgment you cannot be an honest politician, resolve to be honest without being a politician.

Drop out of the Republican party. You don’t have to become a Democrat; become an Independent. Some of you have. It’s the first step at atonement. Then vote for what is right, not what the Republican party lies is right.

These same admonishments apply to Democrats as well. But what we’ve seen is a Democratic party that has tried to represent ALL Americans fighting a Republican party that has blatantly attacked MOST Americans for the benefit of the few. Worse, the Republican party has been lying to working class whites to get them to vote against their own interests. Then the Republican party laughs at them as Republican leaders pocket the cash from the very rich.

This is why it is critical to vote Democratic today. Not because you always will support their policies, but because at least the Democratic party believes in all Americans. We can argue about specific policies, but first we need honest politicians to argue with.

I will be voting Democratic across the board today. I urge all voters with elections today to do the same.

David J. Kent is a science traveler and the author of Lincoln: The Man Who Saved America, in Barnes and Noble stores now. His previous books include Tesla: The Wizard of Electricity (2013) and Edison: The Inventor of the Modern World (2016) and two e-books: Nikola Tesla: Renewable Energy Ahead of Its Time and Abraham Lincoln and Nikola Tesla: Connected by Fate.

Check out my Goodreads author page. While you’re at it, “Like” my Facebook author page for more updates!

 

Republicans and Democrats Have a Chance to Back America

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colorized_lincoln_photo_cropRepublicans and Democrats have a choice today. They can back American values by voting for the House Resolution directing the appropriate committees to continue their investigation stemming from accusations of impeachable activity by Donald Trump. Or they can attack American values by refusing to support the investigation, and worse, promoting falsehoods and cover ups invented by Donald Trump, and likely, Vladimir Putin.

This is a no-brainer folks.

The Republican party has been screaming for a full House vote on the impeachment process. Their arguments are specious, no, downright dishonest, as no such vote is required by the Constitution, which the Republicans fully know. In fact, the Democratic majority in the House is using the same set of rules established by the Republican party when it was in the majority. In addition, the Republican party has been dishonestly complaining that the proceedings to date have been done in secret. That’s simply not true. Like any grand jury type investigation, testimony is taken in private so as to avoid potential witnesses conspiring to synthesize their stories. Republicans on the three relevant committees are in the room hearing the testimony first hand; there is nothing secret about it. Yet Republicans scream.

Another reason for such closed door testimony to gather facts is to protect witnesses from blatant witness intimidation and obstruction of justice by Donald Trump and repeated sophistry in Congress like that most blatantly by Republican Representatives Nunes and Gaetz.

And now the House is voting to do what Republicans kept dishonestly asking for – bring the investigation and hearings into public view. The resolution even gives Republicans the opportunity to question the witnesses (which the Republican members of the three committees already have had the power to do) and to subpoena witnesses.

As we’ve already seen, the Republican party has already tried moving the goalposts, again. Their actions prove that they have no interest in getting the facts or looking out for American interests; instead, their entire goal is to obstruct investigations and cover up the obvious and repeated wrongdoing of Donald Trump and Mitch McConnell.

Today’s vote gives all Republicans and Democrats a choice. Stand up for America, or stand up for Vladimir Putin and corruption.

Republican Representatives Nunes, Gaetz, and others seem to disdain American ideals. But the rest of Republicans in the House – and later the Senate – have a chance at redemption. You made a pact with the devil, now is your chance to reverse course and show that you care more about America than you do about the corruption of your party leaders.

Most Democrats have indicated they will vote for the Resolution. For those Democrats who aren’t sure, the above applies to you too. This isn’t about party. This is about choosing between American values or corruption.

To adapt Lincoln’s famous quote, originally referring to lawyers:

“Resolve to be honest at all events; and if in your own judgment you cannot be an honest politician, resolve to be honest without being a politician.”

Whichever choice you make will stay with you forever, both while you remain in Congress and in your private and public lives afterward.

It’s your choice. America, or Corruption.

David J. Kent is a science traveler and the author of Lincoln: The Man Who Saved America, in Barnes and Noble stores now. His previous books include Tesla: The Wizard of Electricity (2013) and Edison: The Inventor of the Modern World (2016) and two e-books: Nikola Tesla: Renewable Energy Ahead of Its Time and Abraham Lincoln and Nikola Tesla: Connected by Fate.

Check out my Goodreads author page. While you’re at it, “Like” my Facebook author page for more updates!

Let Them Eat Cake

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let them eat cakeI’ve alluded to my relatively traumatic educational path in previous posts, a path that has residual effects to this day. There was my first day of school spent standing in the hallway, the time I made my French teacher cry, and the shock of learning that the class participation part of the grade required actually speaking up in class. But one of the most embarrassing was the infamous “let them eat cake” incident.

Whereas most high school teachers were closer to the age of my fellow students than retirement, Mrs. Lovely (and yes, that was her real name) was an older woman who had been teaching for forty years. She lived for the joy of stimulating the minds of impressionable adolescents.

In my sophomore year I had Mrs. Lovely for a course called “Contemporary Best Sellers.” Essentially the class was about reading. We were required to read something on the order of 15 to 20 books, which we could choose from a list she provided. Most were in fact contemporary, including a few by John Updike, a town resident at the time (I played soccer with his son), best known for his double-Pulitzer winning “Rabbit” series of books. Besides reading Updike and J.D. Salinger (who also had a salacious connection to the town), we could pick from many dozens of books, all of which were available in the library.

Being more than a little introverted (Translation: “had no social life”), I was quite the bookworm. I blew through the 15 required books and started racking up extra credit. Mrs. Lovely, ecstatic to find someone who enjoyed reading, started feeding me more and more books, enticing me like a drug dealer feeding an addict. Quickly running out of available contemporary volumes, she began suggesting obscure (and slightly more risqué) writers such as Mary Renault. I zipped through the depths of at least three of her historical fiction/Greek mythology based novels, then moved on to plenty of other authors I hadn’t heard of before Mrs. Lovely introduced them to me.

By semester’s end I had read 56 books.

Ah, but we couldn’t just read the books. For each one we had to write a short summary, replete with specific details that proved we had actually read and understood the book. These weren’t onerous – it had to fit on a standard 3″ x 5″ index card – but likely is why I still keep track of all the books I read and write reviews for many of them.

Here is where the difficulty came in. In addition to reading and writing the summaries, we would spend much of class time discussing the books being read. Students would be randomly (or perhaps arbitrarily) selected and had to be prepared to offer insight. Often Mrs. Lovely would pose a question to stimulate discussion.

“Can anyone tell us what Marie Antoinette said when the peasants rioted, complaining they didn’t have enough bread to eat?”

Yes, I know this, fist-pumping in my head. My hand shot up.

“Yes, Mr. Kent, what did she say?” The smile broadened on her face. Her star student was about to speak.

“Let them eat bread!” I exclaimed cheerfully, then immediately realized I had screwed it up.

“Well, close. She actually said ‘Let them eat cake!’ Thank you Mr. Kent.” The smile disappeared as she moved on to the next question. Snickers from around the room screamed decibels in my brain.

This watershed incident kept me silent the rest of high school, college, and into graduate school [See “B+ for A Work“] It was at this moment that I willed myself into invisibility. As the class returned its attention to Mrs. Lovely, I mentally pummeled myself from my seat along the windowed wall of the class, wondering if I would survive the fall (or if I wanted to survive the fall) should I decide to escape my ignominy. How could I have belted out the wrong phrase? Am I really that stupid? No, I knew the correct answer. I had “let them eat cake” on the tip of my tongue. Why did “bread” come out instead of “cake”? What is wrong with me? [This self-interrogation went on for the rest of the class, and probably for the rest of the day and week; in any case, long after the rest of the students had forgotten my existence.]

Only many years later did I come to understand how this had happened, and the reason seemed to explain many of the other issues I had had along my educational path. More on that in a later post.

P.S. Technically, there is no record of Marie Antoinette actually saying “Let them eat cake!” In fact, the original suggestion (likely untrue to begin with) was instead of “cake” she had said “brioche,” which is a luxury bread enriched with butter and eggs. In either case, the idea was that she was horribly out of touch with the plight of the masses, which might explain how she ended up being executed by guillotine along with her husband, the late Louis XVI. Which, ironically, led to the widespread use of a Shakespearean phrase, “Off with their heads!”

David J. Kent is a science traveler and the author of Lincoln: The Man Who Saved America, in Barnes and Noble stores now. His previous books include Tesla: The Wizard of Electricity (2013) and Edison: The Inventor of the Modern World (2016) and two e-books: Nikola Tesla: Renewable Energy Ahead of Its Time and Abraham Lincoln and Nikola Tesla: Connected by Fate.

Check out my Goodreads author page. While you’re at it, “Like” my Facebook author page for more updates!

Vanity Plates ‘R Us

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SCITRVL2_crop2It’s seems I’ve developed a little obsession. Not one of those dangerous or creepy ones; a rather silly one, if I must admit it. Every since I got my own automobile vanity license plate signifying my writing business (Science Traveler), I’ve been seeing vanity plates everywhere. So I began collecting them.

Most plates (or tags, as some folks call them) follow standard patterns of letters and/or numbers. They are randomly assigned by the state DMV when you register your car. Boring. Most states also offer the option of picking your own plate designation, presumably to draw attention to your particular passion, hence the term vanity plates.

Giving in to my newfound obsession, I’ve noticed some common themes. Many plates highlight the driver’s career. For example, my SCITRVL is joined by the likes of UROLADY (a female urologist). Others their favorite sports teams. [Interestingly, my area not only celebrates the local sports teams but also the New York and Boston teams.] God and/or religious themes seem to be popular forms of license plate proselytizing (I particularly liked PIUS XII; look it up if you don’t get the connection).

Speaking of proselytizing, drivers of the all-electric Tesla cars love to rub oil on the faces of fossil fuel cars drivers with plates like GAS GONE, NO GAS, WUTS GAS. One Tesla driver paid homage to the man whom provided the name: NIKOLA. The electric Chevy Volt joined the fun with GA5 FREE.

The “5” in place of an “S” in that last one highlights the games drivers have to play to force fit their preferred idea when there isn’t room. “5”s become “S”s. “3”s become “E”s. “4”s don’t replace letters, they go for whole words (IAM4ARTS). “8”s are particularly useful to form words such as GR8 SHOT (Great Shot) and DEVI8 (Deviate).

It’s clear that many of the ideas are not original. Imagine showing up at Starbucks to buy your egregiously expensive soy latte, only to park your STRBCK next to a STRBUK. Of course, STARBUK and other variations were already taken. You know Bohemian Rhapsody fans who picked QU33N and QWEEN are envious of the guy who got the purer idolatry tag QUEEN.

I wonder if the driver of XMAS GUY ever parked next to 1GRINCH. And what does the guy with DOUBT, doubt? Is FRAUDI someone flaunting their fraudulent practices, or are they a German married lady named Diana?

One of my favorites is YNOT TRI.

In any case, I’ve “collected” photographs of hundreds of vanity license plates from several states. I’ve been thinking of starting a Facebook page to encourage the use of vanity plates as writing prompts. Something to do when I can find the time.

Until then, feel free to send photos of your favorite vanity plates. I would love to add them to my collection.

David J. Kent is a science traveler and the author of Lincoln: The Man Who Saved America, in Barnes and Noble stores now. His previous books include Tesla: The Wizard of Electricity (2013) and Edison: The Inventor of the Modern World (2016) and two e-books: Nikola Tesla: Renewable Energy Ahead of Its Time and Abraham Lincoln and Nikola Tesla: Connected by Fate.

Check out my Goodreads author page. While you’re at it, “Like” my Facebook author page for more updates!

My Uncle and EEE

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funeral flowersThree months ago I wrote that my uncle offered his support following the death of my father. Yesterday we buried that uncle, a victim of eastern equine encephalitis, EEE. This has been a particularly bad year for this exceedingly rare disease, but for our family an excruciatingly personal one.

Normally EEE affects only 5 to 10 people a year nationwide. About a third of those cases are fatal, with most of the survivors requiring months of recovery and experiencing some degree of brain damage. This year there have been 11 fatalities so far. One of them was my uncle. Other relatives that live in that area say they are afraid of going outside. The town has instituted a curfew of sorts, closing neighborhood ballparks at dusk and warning people not to venture out during times when mosquitos are likely to be active. This weekend is the annual illumination, the sending of floating lights down the river. The smell of DEET will likely join the aroma of scented candles this year.

My uncle was the youngest of nine children. He was always willing to take charge of events, and always supported the family with gusto and faith. My mother and two sisters are all that remain from that large coterie along with my uncle’s wife and another late uncle’s ex-wife, both as true aunts as the blood sisters. They carry on a family legacy that has been inspiring to all in my generation and the next who have learned from their fine examples.

Still, it’s been a rough year or two. Unexpected passings, lost employments, health issues and more pile on the background noise of our current political strife. There seems constant reminders that life is to be lived while we have the opportunity.

My heart goes out to my dear aunt and three cousins whose grief is magnified by the suddenness of this calamity. I weep for my other aunts, my mother, my extended family. I take solace in knowing they all continue with the fond memories of my departed uncle.

David J. Kent is a science traveler and the author of Lincoln: The Man Who Saved America, in Barnes and Noble stores now. His previous books include Tesla: The Wizard of Electricity (2013) and Edison: The Inventor of the Modern World (2016) and two e-books: Nikola Tesla: Renewable Energy Ahead of Its Time and Abraham Lincoln and Nikola Tesla: Connected by Fate.

Check out my Goodreads author page. While you’re at it, “Like” my Facebook author page for more updates!

 

We Are All Activists

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Tumblr-Activists-of-New-York-FeatureSixteen year old climate activist Greta Thunberg has in one year gone from a solo protest to the impetus behind four million people demonstrating across the globe. At times like these I wonder if I have done enough, and yet I realize that, in our own ways, we are all activists.

Thunberg isn’t alone in her struggle to save the future. Other young climate activists have also been leading the call. People like seventeen year old Helena Gualinga from the Ecuadorian Amazon, Bertine Lakjohn of the Marshall Islands, and many others. Parkland survivors Emma González, David Hogg, and their school mates have spoken up against gun violence. Jazz Jennings speaks about transgender and LGBTQ rights. Malala Yousafzai is synonymous with the fight for female education in Pakistan. There are more.

All this youth activism reminds me that we all have a responsibility to speak up. Despite my fervent denial of creeping gray hairs, I must admit I no longer qualify to be a young activist. Nor was I particularly active when I was young (except for those “Letters to the Editor” that resulted in my undergraduate school newspaper being temporarily shut down and retooled).

But no matter what our age, we are all activists. If we speak out against dishonesty and corruption, we are activists; if we do not speak out against dishonesty and corruption, we are allowing it to continue. Inaction has as much, and often more, effect as action. Complacency is taking a stand for the status quo, especially when that status quo is hurting our fellow Americans and the world.

It goes without saying that not all of us can be world leaders, but we can be leaders within our individual worlds. Our influence might not span Greta’s global reach, but we can influence our families, our friends, our churches, our schools, our clubs, our bar buddies, or even our blog readers. The key is to speak up.

Martin Luther King, Jr. reminded us that: In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.

Thurgood Marshall noted our obligation to speak up: Where you see wrong or inequality or injustice, speak out, because this is your country. This is your democracy. Make it. Protect it. Pass it on.

And if you think you don’t have the power to create change, listen to Pulitzer Prize winning author of The Color Purple, Alice Walker:

The most common way people give up their power is by thinking they don’t have any.

We are all activists.

We don’t need to be active in every contentious matter. Each of us can pick an issue or two that we feel particularly strongly about or have potential influence on. As a scientist I’m interested in helping people understand – and demand action on – climate change and other environmental and health issues. As a Lincoln historian I’m active in bringing a greater understanding of Lincoln and his times to the public, and helping all of us apply lessons from Lincoln to today’s society. As an honest American, I speak out against injustice and corruption while promoting the integration of integrity into politics. Our current political turmoil demands activism on all three areas. 

Perhaps your issue is LGBTQ rights. Or health care. Or gun violence. Or racism. Or any number of important issues were taking a stand can determine whether we can keep our Republic. Whatever it is, it is critical to take that stand. Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel said: We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. That includes whether that victim is an individual, a demographic, our planet, or our Constitution. Lest you think you cannot be a victim, remember the words of Martin Niemöller:

First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a socialist.

Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out— because I was not a trade unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

We are all activists. And we must be.

[Photo credit: Cindy Trinh, Activists of New York, activistnyc.tumblr.com]

David J. Kent is a science traveler and the author of Lincoln: The Man Who Saved America, in Barnes and Noble stores now. His previous books include Tesla: The Wizard of Electricity (2013) and Edison: The Inventor of the Modern World (2016) and two e-books: Nikola Tesla: Renewable Energy Ahead of Its Time and Abraham Lincoln and Nikola Tesla: Connected by Fate.

Check out my Goodreads author page. While you’re at it, “Like” my Facebook author page for more updates!