“I hear and behold God in every object”

 

 

I hear and behold God in every object, yet I understand God not in the least,

Nor do I understand who can ever be more wonderful than myself.

 

— Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass

 

 

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I am not sure how the last part of the assertions made by Whitman might apply to me. But, I felt the truth of what he says about God’s presence everywhere during a day long ramble yesterday on Staten Island.

 

 

— Roger W. Smith

   November 26, 2017

 

 

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SI 1

 

 

 

 

IMG_1514.jpg

 

 

 

SI 2

 

 

 

SI 3.JPG

 

 

photographs by Roger W. Smith

Posted in musings (random daily thoughts), Walt Whitman | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Jean Renoir

 

 

In a previous post of mine

 

“on aesthetic and cultural appreciation of literature and film; my favorite directors”

https://rogersgleanings.com/2017/09/15/on-aesthetic-and-cultural-appreciation-of-literature-and-film-my-favorite-directors/

 

I discussed two of my favorite directors: Yasujirō Ozu and Robert Bresson.

I would like to add a third name: Jean Renoir. Renoir is better known than Bresson and certainly Ozu.

 

 

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Son of the impressionist painter Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Jean Renoir (1894-1979) was a French film director, screenwriter, actor, producer and author. He made more than forty films from the silent era to the end of the 1960’s. La Grande Illusion (The Grand Illusion, 1937) and La Règle du Jeu (The Rules of the Game, 1939) are his best known films.

Other films of Renoir which I have seen are La Chienne (The Bitch); Boudu sauvé des eaux (Boudu Saved From Drowning); The Southerner (1945), one of Renoir’s American films, which I saw at the Museum of Modern Art in New York; and The River (1951), Renoir’s first color film, which was shot in India and is based on the novel of the same name by Rumer Godden.

 

 

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The River is my favorite Renoir film; I have seen it many times over. It is a coming of age story of three young girls in colonial India. I love the cinematography, the local color, and the music. The soon to become famous (and marvelous) Indian director Satyajit Ray was an assistant on the film.

Rumer Godden (1907-1998) was a prolific English author who grew up with her three sisters in Narayanganj, colonial India (now in Bangladesh). Her father was a shipping company executive. The film is true to these biographical facts. It beautifully portrays female adolescence, about which I would ordinarily have little insight or understanding. As compelling as the film is, I had the experience of reading the novel (being motivated to do so by the film) and, though it was well written, I had trouble understanding parts of it.

From the opening notes of the film, you feel like you are in another place (India), another culture, another time (colonial India in the 1920’s). You are immediately caught up in it. The film has a sweep, dramatic pace, and compelling details of plot, setting, and character that keep the viewer riveted. The music is outstanding.

A Wikipedia entry states:

 

A number of Godden’s novels are set in India, the atmosphere of which she evokes through all the senses; her writing is vivid with detail of smells, textures, light, flowers, noises and tactile experiences. … Her plots often involve unusual young people not recognized for their talents by ordinary lower or middle-class people but supported by the educated, rich, and upper-class, to the anger, resentment, and puzzlement of their relatives.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rumer_Godden

 

This is on target and accurate. Godden collaborated on the screenplay for the film.

 

 

 

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This past week, I had the opportunity to see, for the first time, one of Renoir’s best films, Le Crime de Monsieur Lange (The Crime of Monsieur Lange, 1935), in a newly restored print, shown at the Film Forum in New York. It’s a wonderful film, one of Renoir’s best, I feel. In fact, I would say that it is more “modest” than La Grande Illusion and La Règle du Jeu, and I liked it better. Le Crime de Monsieur Lange is based on story by Jean Castanier that was adapted for screen by the well-known French writer Jacques Prévert.

Watching the film reminded me what I like most about Renoir:

— wonderful characters; so many of them all together “on stage” at the same time joshing and jabbering and interacting in all sorts of ways, often trying to one up/get the best of one another; flirting, boasting, conning another. Funny, authentic, original, they keep popping up, doing something whacky, touching, or inimitable, or saying something piquant; and returning a minute or two later

— it’s wonderful to hear them speaking French

— the characters are completely individual and inimitable; so idiosyncratic; Renoir exhibits a love of humanity in all its imperfectness and wonderful individuality

That’s what I like best about Renoir: his apparent love of people with all their foibles (as well as Paris). At the end of Le Crime de Monsieur Lange. … (Well, I won’t spoil the plot.) As in the Japanese director Ozu’s marvelous films, Renoir’s characters seem to be REAL; they don’t seem to be actors or to be acting. It’s hard to believe that they are not the same persons as the characters they represent.

Compare Hollywood. Is there, was there ever, such a Hollywood actor?

 

— Roger W. Smith

   November 2017

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Roger W. Smith, piano lover; Rudolf Serkin; my stereo; the Oak Crest Inn

 

 

 

On November 22, I saw a solo piano concert by Sachiko Furuhata-Kersting at Carnegie Hall. Her program consisted of:

Beethoven’s Piano Sonata No. 14 in C-sharp Minor, Op. 27, No. 2 (“Moonlight”)

Beethoven’s Piano Sonata No. 21 in C Major Op. 53 (“Waldstein”)

Schumann’s Fantasy in C Major, Op. 17

Chopin’s famous Scherzo No. 2 in B Minor, Op. 31

 

I have a particular fondness for the first two pieces, especially the “Moonlight” sonata (though I love the “Waldstein” sonata too, especially the third movement).

 

 

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The “Moonlight” sonata has a unique structure, as is explained in a Wikipedia entry:

Although no direct testimony exists as to the specific reasons why Beethoven decided to title both the Op. 27 works as Sonata quasi una fantasia, it may be significant that the layout of the present work does not follow the traditional movement arrangement in the Classical period of fast–slow–[fast]–fast. Instead, the sonata possesses an end-weighted trajectory, with the rapid music held off until the third movement. In his analysis, German critic Paul Bekker states: “The opening sonata-allegro movement gave the work a definite character from the beginning… which succeeding movements could supplement but not change. Beethoven rebelled against this determinative quality in the first movement. He wanted a prelude, an introduction, not a proposition.”’

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Piano_Sonata_No._14_(Beethoven)#Form

 

 

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I thought it was a splendid performance, though it seemed to me that Ms. Furuhata-Kersting could have played the second movement of the “Moonlight” sonata (marked Allegretto) a tad more softly.

I was hoping there might be a review of the performance. I was dazzled by her keyboard technique, but I am no expert when it comes to performance mechanics and performance styles. I only know, insofar as I know anything, what I experience as a listener.

Nevertheless, I was thinking about the piano as an instrument, why I love it, what seems to make it so compelling and powerful as a solo instrument. I was thinking about the following:

— it is played with TWO HANDS, which can play off against one other. This is key. It must be incredibly difficult for a pianist to develop the ability to do this;

— it’s a percussive instrument. The keys make the hammer strike with such force. You get hammering sounds, banging sounds. You also get soft, tinkling sounds. It’s hard to fall asleep!

There is such richness and variety of sound in one instrument, such emotional range. (I am speaking simply as a non-specialist listener.)

To hear such things, you almost have to hear a live performance. I was reminded of this when hearing what was Ms. Furuhata-Kersting’s debut Carnegie Hall performance.

 

 

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I couldn’t help but think — as is the case with me and everyone else when it comes to music ranging from classical to pop, it seems — of the circumstances under which I first heard the “Moonlight” sonata. I had just begun to become a full-fledged classical musical lover.

It was the summer of 1964. My parents had bought me a portable stereo as a present upon my high school graduation. It seemed like such wonderful gift. I took the stereo with me to Cape Cod, where I had gotten my first ever paid employment, a summer job as a night watchman and night clerk at the Oak Crest Inn in Falmouth Heights, Massachusetts, a ramshackle summer hotel of sorts that was beginning to show its age. Rooms, if I recall correctly, were priced at four or five dollars a night. The owner, one Paul Wassseth, was a would be Donald Trump. There were a couple of guests who took a room for the entire summer and got special treatment.

My hours were 9 p.m. to 7 a.m. seven days a week, at a salary of thirty-five dollars a week, plus room and board. The food was barely edible, but who was complaining? What does a teenager know about diet or cuisine? I actually liked the job. In the morning, I would eat breakfast, cooked by the crusty old cook Leo (who used to delight in making off color remarks and dirty jokes at the waitresses’ expense), with the hotel staff (all female, other than myself and Leo, consisting of waitresses and chambermaids) just reporting for work. Then I would go upstairs to my “bedchamber,” a tiny little room of sorts in an attic that you could barely fit into to. I would crawl into bed and sleep for only a few hours, then get up and go to the beach.

I would fall asleep in the early morning (post breakfast) listening to my precious new stereo. Often, I would play an LP with a performance by Rudolf Serkin of Beethoven’s “Moonlight,” “Pathétique,” and “Appasionata” sonatas.’

I have never forgotten Serkin’s performances, and still prefer them to all others.

 

 

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A final note that may seem trivial. When Ms. Furuhata-Kersting came out to play a second encore, someone approached the stage and handed her a bouquet. She put the bouquet at her feet, sat down at the piano bench, and began to play. I would have probably have done more or less the same thing, and have done sillier things often in similar situations. People have called me inattentive, so that I will forget (or neglect) to tie my shoes or put something down in an odd place in public and forget that I put it there — as if I seem at times to be at sea. I plead guilty. To her, the important thing was the music. Who knew what to do with the bouquet?

 

 

— Roger W. Smith

   November 2017

 

 

Posted in music (from the point of view of a listener), personal reminiscences of Roger W. Smith | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

an exchange about political correctness, pedagogy, and LANGUAGE

 

 

A reader of a post of mine from the day before yesterday

 

“Mozart, Alexander L. Lipson, and Russian 1 with Professor Gribble”

https://rogersgleanings.com/2017/11/18/mozart-alexander-l-lipson-and-russian-1-with-professor-gribble/

 

sent me an email.

 

 

His response was complimentary. However, he did critique a few assertions I made, namely, the following:

I love studying grammar and cannot understand why modern day self-appointed language “experts,” as they style themselves, want to or simplify, essentially emasculate — in the name of political correctness or conforming to their misguided, benighted theories of how language and English composition should be taught — language instruction.

[Addendum] The 1960’s, a learned friend of mine once opined, was the Golden Era of American education. I would not dispute this. I experienced it in English and history courses, in foreign language courses, and in mathematics instruction. To get an idea of how low conceptions of foreign language pedagogy have sunk since Alexander Lipson’s time, one might take a look at the following article: “Toppling the Grammar Patriarchy,” by Carmel McCoubrey, op-ed, The New York Times, November 16, 2017

 

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The respondent to my post, a high school Latin teacher, wrote:

 

As one teaching a language today I do take issue with a couple of your assertions:

— to say the sixties was a Golden Era in American education is to assume it is now in a period of decline. Surely it is under assault (by the current administration, for starters), and educators have much to learn from successful models elsewhere (take Finland, for example). But there are many noteworthy successes that combine the best of traditional approaches with effective innovation.

— in the New York Times article to which you refer the teachers who ask for change on both philological and philosophical grounds raise important issues. To dismiss them as PC police with misguided and benighted theories is a straw-man argument. I, for example, will inform my students that 99 Roman women and one Roman man would normally be referred to as Romani, masculine gender. That is the fact. But this then invites a discussion of how ancient Roman society was patriarchal, as revealed in so many ways in their language, and what are issues with patriarchy then and today. The word virtus or “virtue” in ancient Rome meant manliness (vir = man) as shown, for example, in bravery in battle. In Victorian England virtue probably most often referred to a woman’s chastity. Gender as it pertains to language and grammar is a legitimate issue in constant need of review and revision, so while I might not agree with every position taken by the French women [discussed in the New York Times article], I respect what they are doing.

 

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I responded by email as follows:

 
I guess we have to agree to disagree.

I do appreciate that you read my blog post and took the time to respond and critique it.

I respect your opinions and how you present them.

My view is that

— critiquing current trends such as political correctness does not necessarily imply faulty thinking or a straw man

— languages and their grammars are organic — the product of a long evolution — and should not be messed with

— educational standards have declined out of a zeal to make the curriculum “inclusive” and palatable to all … you can see it in English and writing classes, math, social studies, etc.

I realize that you are a foreign language teacher with impressive academic credentials. It seems that you have surpassed me in the study of foreign languages and knowledge of linguistics.

Still, if it’s “la table” in French and “el mano” in Spanish and the “collective pronoun” in French for they is “ils,” masculine, I think things should remain that way and the language police should be shunted aside.

I don’t like change.

Languages have such complicated, intricate grammars. … I have read that this is true of languages of unlettered, supposedly “primitive” civilizations such as the Iroquois family of languages (which I read about in a classic work by Lewis Henry Morgan) … they are exquisite structures that should inspire reverence as the study of plants would.

To mess with languages to me is equivalent to uprooting a stately old oak tree and trying to “treat” it chemically to produce nicer foliage after being replanted.

 

— Roger W. Smith
 
  November 20, 2017

 

 

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See also:

 

“will ‘ladies and gentlemen’ go the way of the dodo?”

https://rogersgleanings.com/2017/11/13/will-ladies-and-gentlemen-go-the-way-of-the-dodo/

 

Posted in philology, political correctness (PC) | Tagged , , , | 9 Comments

“try and catch me!”

 

 

I was walking in Central Park at 11 a.m. today.

A blustery day.

There was a girl about age 8 or 9 running with head down and long blonde hair blowing in the wind, on the pathway leading to the Fifth Avenue and 69th Street exit, shouting over and over again in a high pitched voice to her father, who was walking a few paces behind: “try and catch me!”

To be young. How I loved to play Hide and Seek.

 

 

– Roger W. Smith

October 19, 2017

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Mozart, Alexander L. Lipson, and Russian 1 with Professor Gribble

 

 

On Thursday, November 16, 2017, I heard a performance at Carnegie Hall of Mozart’s String Quartet No. 16 in E-flat major, K. 428 by the Tetzlaff Quartet. Mozart’s K. 428 is one of his Haydn Quartets, a set of six string quartets that he dedicated to Joseph Haydn.

It is a flawless work. It exemplifies Mozart’s genius. It also brought to mind a sentence in my first-year Russian textbook — written by a famed Slavicist and foreign language teacher, Alexander L. Lipson — which was as follows: “Как и Моцарт, Пушкин написал только шедевры” (Kak i Motsart, Pushkin napisal tol’ko shedevry. Like Mozart, Pushkin wrote only masterpieces.)

The Russian word for masterpieces, shedevry, is the same as and is derived from the French. (Makes me think of the French used by the aristocracy in War and Peace.)

The Mozart piece brought to mind the comparison between Mozart and Pushkin made in the textbook from my college Russian course, and the course itself.

 

 

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I was eager and thrilled to be able to take introductory Russian in my sophomore year at Brandeis University. The course was taught by Charles E. Gribble. Professor Gribble, who held a doctorate from Harvard, began his teaching career at Brandeis. When I took the course with him, he was in his late twenties. At that time, Professor Gribble was in the preliminary phase of founding an important publishing house for Slavicists: Slavica Publishers. He was the firm’s editor for thirty years.

I was motivated to study Russian for several reasons:

I had discovered the works of the Russian émigré scholar Pitirim A. Sorokin in my senior year in high school. I was totally engrossed in books of his such as Leaves from a Russian Diary. This led to a fascination on my part with Russian culture.

At the time, the Soviet Union was regarded with outright hostility, fear, and suspicion. Being by nature a contrarian, I tended to think differently. Politics aside, I saw, as did Sorokin (to quote from one of his works), “an essential similarity or congeniality in a number of important psychological, cultural, and social values” between the USA and the USSR: vast territories with all that implies (such as various climates, topography, and regional characteristics); rich natural and human resources; major cultural and urban centers; the fact that both countries were world powers; and so on. I was a sort of Slavophil without knowing it.

Russia as I imagined it was a country with vast expanses like us and a multiplicity of nationalities and ethnic groups and with a rich, continually growing culture, including Tolstoy and Dostoevsky (whom at this stage of my educational development I had not yet read) and composers such as Tchaikovsky and Shostakovich (whose works I had already become acquainted with and admired — in fact, Shostakovich’s fifth symphony almost in and of its itself made me a Slavophil). Just like America, Russia was huge, diverse, all encompassing, culturally fertile; and with a vibrant economy. And, I felt intuitively, a rich language.

 

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My previous language study had consisted of a year or two of French in junior high school (a complete waste); four years of high school French, on the basis of which I was placed into third year French at Brandeis University; and two years of high school Latin. Romance languages.

It was a thrill for me to be studying a Slavic language and one with a different alphabet.

Learning the Cyrillic alphabet, in both cursive and print form, was a stumbling block for me, a hurdle to be overcome. It often felt like I was back in the first grade learning my letters and being taught to sound out words phonetically.

Our professor, Charles Gribble, knew the author of the textbook we used, Alexander Lipson, personally. Lipson taught at either MIT or Harvard; I forget which.

Lipson’s first year Russian textbook was in developmental form; it hadn’t yet been published. It consisted of pages that had been copied and bound, but not in book form. Without covers.

It was a clever and entertaining text, besides being well conceived from a pedagogical standpoint.

I was fascinated to find that Russian had cases — six of them — like Latin. (I love studying grammar and cannot understand why modern day self-appointed language “experts,” as they style themselves, want to emend or simplify, essentially emasculate — in the name of political correctness or conforming to their misguided, benighted theories of how language and English composition should be taught — language instruction. See Addendum below.)

 

 

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The genitive case (possessive) in Russia was introduced early, as follows. There would be an entertaining reading with a lot of words ending in –ого (-ogo), indicating the Russian form for a noun such as doctor’s used in a phrase such as “the doctor’s office.” Even Russian proper nouns have a possessive form, so that “Tolstoy’s house” becomes “Дом Толстого” (dom Tolstogo).

In the next or a subsequent chapter of Lipson’s textbook, the genitive case and its usage and endings would be formally introduced and explained. Since one already had a rudimentary familiarity with it in the previously encountered reading, one assimilated the grammar point with ease. This is sound pedagogy. It’s how we learn the grammar of our native language.

 

 

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Despite being motivated, I had difficulty with the course.

Some of the students had already taken Russian in high school, which, in the case of a language like Russian with a steep learning curve, put me at a competitive disadvantage, so to speak.

Nevertheless, I persisted. I tried very hard. I spent hours in the language lab, but — despite my best efforts — I always seemed to be a couple of lessons behind the rest of the class.

Professor Gribble said he would take into account class attendance and effort in grading. He kept his word. I got D on practically every quiz and exam. My final grade for the 6 credit course was C.

I have always had a very high aptitude for foreign languages. In French and Latin classes in high school, I was usually (but not always) the best student in the class. The same was the case when I took Spanish as a postgraduate student at Columbia University.

So how does one account of my struggles with introductory Russian? My former therapist, Dr. Ralph Colp, Jr., had an explanation. He regarded it as a case of what one might call “learning inhibition.” When a student feels uncomfortable with the classroom setting and the instructor. This was true of my experience with Professor Gribble. Strangely enough, he was actually a good guy. I went to a web site containing his obituary at

https://slavic.osu.edu/news/memoriam-charles-edward-gribble-1936-2016

and it was clear that this was the case. (The obituary mentions his concern for and rapport with students.) In the following year (I did not enroll for second year Russian), I would occasionally run into Professor Gribble in the snack bar. He was always pleasant and seemed interested in how I was doing.

 

 

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Alexander Lipson died in 1980 at the age of fifty-one. He was the author of a three part textbook, A Russian Course, which in its prototype/preliminary form, we had used as our text in Professor Gribble’s course.

In a review published in The Slavic and East European Journal of the book Alexander Lipson in Memoriam (1994), Catherine V. Chvany refers to Lipson as follows:

… language pedagogue extraordinaire, maverick entrepreneur, linguist’s linguist, travel tour designer, and enfant terrible. Though Lipson never completed his own Ph.D., members of his now gray-haired cohort have claimed in my hearing they learned more from Alex Lipson — about language, about Slavic, and about teaching — than from any of their professors.

She also notes “Lipson’s broad interests [which reflected] Lipson’s profound if irreverent knowledge of Russian literature and culture.” One could sense this in the text of his we used, which was much more fun and informative than most language textbooks. And, often, downright funny.

For instance, I will never forget how Chapter One began:

Хулиганы сидят в парке весь день и курят. (Khuligany sidyat v parke ves’ den’ i kuryat; Hooligans sit in the park all day and smoke.)

This was a mockery of Soviet attitudes towards deadbeats.

Another chapter had a reading devoted to the topic of навозные мухи (navoznyye mukhi): manure flies. This was a satire on life on the Soviet колхоз (kolkhoz; collective farm). After this chapter, the Russian word for fly, муха (muka), was permanently implanted in my mind.

Then, there was the aforementioned chapter with a reading on Pushkin. It included a short poem by Pushkin, “Ты и Вы” (“Thou and “You,” 1828) that was accessible to first year students and from which I got a feeling for the enchanting musicality and the sensuality and power of Pushkin’s verse.

 

Пустое вы сердечным ты
Она, обмолвясь, заменила
И все счастливые мечты
В душе влюбленной возбудила.
Пред ней задумчиво стою,
Свести очей с нее нет силы;
И говорю ей: как вы милы!
И мыслю: как тебя люблю!

 

Pustoye “Vy” serdechnym “Ty”
Ona, obmolvyas’, zamenila
I vse schastlivyye mechty
V dushe vlyublennoy vozbudila.
Pred ney zadumchivo stoyu,
Svesti ochey s neye net sily;
I govoryu yey: kak vy mily!
I myslyu: kak tebya lyublyu!

 

She substituted,
by a chance,
For empty “you” — the gentle “thou”;
And all my happy dreams, at once,
In loving heart again resound.
In bliss and silence do I stay,
Unable to maintain my role:
“Oh, how sweet you are!” I say —
“How I love thee!” says my soul.

 

Russian — as with the French tu and vous or Spanish tu and usted — has two forms (formal and familiar) of the second person pronoun.

 

 

— Roger W. Smith

   November 18, 2017

 

 

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Addendum :

 

The 1960’s, a learned friend of mine once opined, was the Golden Era of American education. I would not dispute this. I experienced it in English and history courses, in foreign language courses, and in mathematics instruction. To get an idea of how low conceptions of foreign language pedagogy have sunk since Alexander Lipson’s time, one might take a look at the following article:

“Toppling the Grammar Patriarchy,” by Carmel McCoubrey, op-ed, The New York Times, November 16, 2017

 

Posted in college (my courses & professors), general interest, language (vocabulary, usage); language in the abstract as it pertains to writing, political correctness (PC) | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

philosophy class

 

 

Sarah Huckabee Sanders, in a press conference on November 17, 2017, asked about why President Trump tweeted ridiculing and criticizing Al “Frankenstein”

(but had no comment about Roy Moore)

was asked to elaborate on this in view of the fact that more than a dozen women have accused Trump of groping.

Sanders: “Senator Franken has admitted wrongdoing and the president hasn’t. I think that’s a very clear distinction.”

Sound reasoning?

What would Socrates say? … I. F. Stone (a worshipper of Socrates)?

Where did Sanders go to school? What was her major?

Does it matter?

 

 

– Roger W. Smith

November 18, 2017

 

Posted in general interest, politics | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment